It’s been a week since he found @Daisy grayed out and distraught in the Wipe Center lobby. @Sam still doesn’t know what happened to her that day, and @Daisy’s not telling. Or maybe she’s not able to tell. Either they scrubbed her fully clean of the day’s events, or she’s some kind of master manipulative sociopath, and he never knew it.
No kidding: when he sought her out that night, on their shared line, you’d have thought she had spent the day in the Perpe2ity daysp@.
He’d pressed her: “I saw you just before we scrubbed. Something horrible had happened. I could read it on your face.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was her answer. And she didn’t crack. There was no quake in her voice, nothing to suggest his questions had landed on any hard memory.
@Sam had asked her, then, what her assignment had been. Who had posted the job, what they’d asked of her.
“I don’t know,” she said. But she’d earned good money. They paid her $1500. And she was invited back on Thursday. It all had gone swimmingly, she was told. They liked her work enough to give her a standing offer — same AM/EDT shift, eight hours’ work at $400 an hour, every third day. An off-Lottery gig, it would run at least six months. They urged her, too, not to work on the in-between days. Hence the pay hike from the first day’s rate.
@Daisy is over the moon and making grand plans. “After six months,” she says, “I’ll have saved enough to put the both of us into school part-time. You’ll learn to code, and I’ll study design. Three years from now we’ll have our certifications, and we can leave the Lottery, the grunt work, this hand-to-mouth living behind.”
She’s gone back twice now. Same story each time: she comes home with a fat wad of dollars and a business card in her pocket, and no memory — not the first clue — of what she does for them. The business card reads like an appointment card you’d get from a doctor in the PhysWo. There’s a date and time on it, and an address — an IP address, in this case, and it changes with each appointment. Just enough information for her to find her way back to them.
That’s not ordinary. Job posters don’t wipe the whole workday from your memory, clock-in to clock-out. On the surveillance jobs, they just fuzzy up the details — things you saw and heard that bear on others’ personal privacy, and maybe they scrub out a little something extra (he’s been told), if you knocked heads or had a shitty moment with a co-worker. The whole point is to retain enough memory to be good at your job. And the employers that post Lottery jobs — the Movers and Shakers who hang their dollars over This Economy for all of us to jump at — they don’t just shower steady work and legit wages on rank-and-file PoMos.
@Sam is scared. What sort of work would the Movers and Shakers hire a girl like @Daisy to do … and then forget? He doesn’t have to wrack his brain for ideas. Last year The Onliner ran an exposé about “smashhouses”: rendered rooms where PhysWo sadists take PoMo women (men, too, sometimes) to be raped, beaten, tortured, left for dead, and finally paid for their pains. @BrionBurbridge mentioned the article to @Sam shortly after it came out. @Sam hadn’t taken an interest at the time. Rich Some Bodies exploiting No Bodies — this was the way of the world. Smashhouses? Just one more riff on the theme: a fresh outrage that teaches us nothing.
Three days ago, out of concern for @Daisy, @Sam went back and read the story, which as it turns out, Onliner owner and Editor-in-Chief @VioletWoolsey wrote up herself. She did a deep-cover shift in one of these renders. Two men had their way with her for three days. A single shift in a smashhouse goes on for as long as it takes to get the “client’s” rocks off. That can be hours, days, weeks. For the woman, it’s a 5-D render — a full sensory experience. So when they scream in outrage, when they cry out, writhe in pain, beg for mercy, a doctor, a blackout — for outright death even — they’re not acting. It’s this aspect, knowing they’re actually hurting an actual person, that drives the demand here. They’ll pay 100x over what they’d pay to slap around a bot.
When it’s over, the smashhouse operator scrapes the woman off the floor, gives her a glass of water, a memory scrub, and a big fat check. She leaves the session pain-free and in the same condition she entered it. The smashhouse owners say it’s all on the up-and-up, because the women sign a written informed consent document beforehand and a release afterward. The women consent and release because they earn more in a day than @Sam does in a week on the Jobs Lottery. And with clean memories, they go back for more: over and over and over again.
@VioletWoolsey submitted to seventy-six hours of torture in the smashhouse before her clients cashed out. She was able to report on what happened to her because she hacked her way out of the room before her “emcee” (read, pimp) arrived on-scene to do the memory-wipe. She will never get that wipe. The smashhouse owner says she breached the confidentiality clause in her contract, and he’s legally excused from performing that service. There are of course third-party scrub services that could do the work, but weeks have gone by since the session: the events have set in her memory, ancillary memories have accrued, through all the reporting and writing-up, and in any case third-party scrubs are known to be imprecise.
It’s fine, @VioletWoolsey wrote in her article. The three days I spent in the smashhouse, while too awful to remember, are too important to forget.
Having read the story through, @Sam himself wishes he could forget it. It’s parked right up in the front of his mind and won’t go away. To the point of distraction, he is wondering: could someone be using the Lottery to recruit fresh meat into these smashhouses?
More than once he has told @Daisy: he’s worried. He hasn’t explained why or what he’s worried about. He can’t bring himself to say it out loud. “I’m worried because they’re hiding something,” is all he will say.
“How bad can it be?” @Daisy answers. “The Lottery pre-screens all the job posters.” As if the Lottery were some shiny, principled institution that stood above the fray, when in fact like everything else in these worlds, PhysWo and PoMo, it’s a product of the ambitions and imaginations of corruptible men.
His thoughts go to dark places. It conjures up @VioletWoolsey’s experience, the blow-by-blow of it she relayed in the article — horrific, sickening abuse — but in his mind’s eye it’s not the activist reporter in that room. It’s @Daisy.
He considers what he would do, if people were hurting her and he could get into the room. The anger swells in him; it makes him out as something less than a hero, far less, as he turns on the attackers. It would not be good enough just to put a stop to this and save her. @Sam would need to inflict pain on these shadowy men who have no detail or definition in these rained-down imaginings, men in the PhysWo who can’t be reached. Who leer and laugh at him while he hacks at their rendered avatars with everything in their toolbox.
This has been going on for three days now, this business in his head. By now @Sam is totally fried. His suspicions have scattered his brain and are affecting his work. Charged with staring down video feeds from train stations, and yet he can’t bring his mind out of these rooms he’s never seen and that may not, for @Daisy anyway, exist. Earlier today a known bomb-maker entered Penn Station. Seven watchers on his team flagged the wanted man: everyone but @Sam. His Aggregate Performance Score is in the shitter, approaching 60. For crying out loud, Mobutu has @Brion leading his DHS shifts.
But just a minute ago, @Daisy gave him money. One thousand dollars even. Something about that money hitting his account, the cha-ching of it, and then the punch in the gut he felt seconds later, when he came to realize that whatever she’s doing or having done to her, she’s doing or having done at least in part for him — it’s brought him clarity. He knows what to do now.
He’ll write a letter to the Onliner, attn: @VioletWoolsey, tell her everything he knows, and ask her for help.