Chapter 1 of “The Bower of Bliss”

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Franco Pinero sat in the deprivation chamber, in bliss. The jitney of Pink Floyd may have booming through the speakers outside the chamber in Club Heat, but Franco senses had descended into the NetherRealm. The NetherRealm was the street term for a place where all sensory deprivation addicts went to have their egos stricken from them; a vacuity. The chamber was an oblong pod, and an hour session ran his tab up to over one hundred dollars. Because of the recent uptick in deprivation addicts, who trudged Ocean and Collins with false memories associated with schizotypal personality disorder, people like Franco Pinero were tagged with barcodes on the back of their necks which signified that they were to be denied access to the deprivation chambers. If he so wished to do so, like right now, he’d have to find the façade of a building draped in a neon glow, and after that, tell a Gene-Weaver who manned the front entrance the passcode. Franco had pressed his finger up to the neural interface along his right temple and synced the password with the Gene-Weaver’s own neural interface: Eaves.

As Franco embedded himself in the diamond, celestial rush of ego death, galivanting through the NetherRealm, peculiar sensations overtook him; ones that were related to not paralytic deprivation, but actual sensations. His nervous system began to shut down. Red lights flashed around the room, which was draped in a blue haze, the walls disfigured with faux Salvador Dali paintings. A nurse named Sandra Cummings, who had had her license revoked two years earlier for assisting the Gene-Weaver at the front door with the botched gene snip of a telecommunications billionaire name Hunter Crane, rushed in and deactivated the tank.

The tanks nervous system shutdown waters were expelled through a tubing that ran under the Club and eventually coursed its way and expelled down into the Miami River. Franco was a gaunt, thin man, short, with heavy, violet eyelashes and a thick Spanish accent; he was, in all respects, a purveyor in the zealous revels of gene splicing, cybernetic interfaces, and the Transhuman Synergy movement, which had Hunter Crane as the head of the thirteen-colony snake.

Sandra, a heavyset woman in her mid-50s with salt and pepper, short hair, easily barreled her thick forearms around Franco and lifted him up out of the tank. “You’re going to be okay, Pinero,” she said, referring to him by his last name because of a prior relationship they had whereby Franco had made love to her with the libidinous passion of the Garden of Eden before the fall.

Sandra dragged Franco along the sleek surface of the room, the interface from cybernetic machinery installed around his temples scraping the floor. What had gone wrong? She thought to herself. Franco has been a regular customer for more than a year, but today of all days, when I’m supposed to attend a galleria party, the machine malfunctions?

Franco’s nerves were frayed at the ends and his SNS, or Sympathetic Nervous System, was jacked to the nines on a drug dubbed Soul Diffusion. He had failed to tell Sandra this out of fear that he wouldn’t receive his deprivation fix. As he came to, he began to jerk wildly in all directions, his limbs actuating like a speedometer on overdrive. The neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine released from the synapses within his basal ganglia and the preganglionic neurons released acetylcholine; the locomotion of his autonomic nervous system spry and supple, too much so.

A crash cart arrived five minutes later, and Franco Pinero was rushed to Mercy Hospital as Sandra watched in disbelief that so much could go so wrong so fast. It was a harrowing scene, one that would scar her for the rest of her life, for she depended on Franco Pinero’s donations, as she liked to call them, in order that she could pay a debt she owed to Carl Asher, a local, underground criminal kingpin who spent more hours in virtual than any other person she knew.

Carl was tall, slim, and had ash blond hair. His voice grated people with the sound of nails on a chalkboard. Never one to predict the shape of things to come, Carl Asher was a man who instilled fear in everyone he met, but that was seldom the case these days, Sandra though. Perhaps I can pay off my tab another way. Maybe, just maybe, I can recover the money by embezzling Franco’s hospital bills, and then use them to pay off Asher.

            Or she could consign her to the life of a synth-hooker and have half of her body augmented. But she didn’t want to do that, because for her, to have your flesh and blood half-torn apart and made available for cybernetic implantation would be to defy the sanctity of life itself, something her current husband, Jonathan Cummings, would highly disapprove of on account of his religious beliefs.

Sandra walked outside the front entrance of the underground sensory deprivation clinic and ascended a set of side stairs that led to the roof. As she felt the naturalized beauty of the moon garden, enclosed in a space in the center of the roof, the night-flowering moon flowers shook in the wind that blew from the Atlantic. Never would she have suspected that the red dot sight of a high-powered, military issue sniper rifle would find its place in between her eyes. Never would she see the splendor of the nightly coruscations of Miami again. Never would she have the chance to say goodbye to her husband and rectify what had amounted to a broken marriage built on distrust and duplicity.

Sandra saw the reflection of the red dot sight on the glass superstructure opposite the roof and, before she could let out a scream of terror, her sad, tumultuous life flashed before her jade eyes as though it were a metaphysical pageant whose panes refracted a prism of polychromatic colors. Frozen in time, bereft of actuation, standing in the Moon Garden amid the moon flowers that rustled beneath her feet, an auto-targeted bullet whizzed at over 4,000 feet per second through the bony structure of her skull; through the cranium and the mandible, the eight cranial bones splintering in all directions.

And then, she was no more; just an insentient shade whose life had come to an ignominious end.

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