Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.
Meet Daisy Diode. She’s a self-made woman on a mission to find the perfect connection. She’s searching for love in the clouds, or the cloud to be more precise. She’s got the tools to brute force her way into your heart, just look out for malware while she’s in there.
I never met Phoebe Gage, but based on her social media profiles she seemed like a bright young woman with a promising future.
At fifteen she volunteered at the East River Animal Shelter, driving up adoptions by posting dating profiles for the dogs. Gatsby likes long walks through Central Park, snuggling at sunset, and jazz age literature.
At sixteen she ran for class president with the slogan The arts and sciences deserve a pep rally too. The theme of her graduation speech was a future she’d never know, challenges she’d never face, and systems that would ultimately destroy her.
I followed Phoebe’s digital footprints from the quiet halls of Butler Library to the hyper-ways beneath the city. From Gallery openings in the Village to the subterranean speakeasies. I went to the boardwalk where Phoebe snapped her first selfie with her then boyfriend Lucas. I stood in the exact same spot, watched the sunset over the same ocean, and felt no connection.
Phoebe loved marine life. She aspired to write the environmental exposé that would save the cephalopods, but as a journalism major she had to write stories about campus life. She didn’t mind. She relished in interviewing the colorful characters in the beekeeping department. She was a social butterfly after all.
Me, I like to be left to my own devices. My DIY approach to therapy has been buggy. I’m struggling with kind a survivor’s guilt that professionals have yet to label. I call it my Phoebe Gage sized hole.
Genetically Phoebe and I are the same person, but Phoebe died of a traumatic brain injury on December 31th 2129. All of her father’s engineers and all of her father’s neurosurgeons couldn’t put young Phoebe back together again. On New Year’s Day 2130 Daisy Diode was born.
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a soul. If there were only part of mine exits in my actual head. The rest resides in the craniofacial processor that bridges my neuropathways and holds my skull together.
Phoebe seemed like a good person, an optimist who thought she could change the system from within. I wish I was more like her, but that part of my frontal lobe is gone, and she is a phantom to me.
Life Changing Event
I have scrolled through Phoebe’s timeline, sifted through her final posts, and scrutinized her every last geotag. I took a series of ad-sponsored taxis across the city. I started on campus in Greenwich and ended on the dock in Brooklyn Heights where she was discovered. I tried to jog my memory, but the defining jingles and animations on the windows stole my attention.
It wasn’t until I’d made my third pilgrimage to docks that I thought to check another location.
A fire truck and autonomous ambulance had been dispatched to the harbor at the sound of the explosion. If the ambulance had triggered its STRAIGHT SHOTprotocol every vehicle on the road would’ve pulled over. Phoebe would’ve been in neurosurgery within thirty seconds. Not three minutes.
The extent of Phoebe’s hematoma proves the ambulance took a detour. During that time someone accessed her phone.
Now Joseph Gage had his personal neurosurgeons and prosthetists flown in. It took them four hours to install their implants. I didn’t come online for another six, during that time someone wiped Phoebe’s cloud accounts.
When I logged on as Phoebe I scanned her references files and attempted to run a recovery script. My neural interface should’ve been up to the task, but I kept seeing the same message: You don’t have permission to access this script.
It turned out I didn’t have administrator access to my own implant.
That’s when I started noticing visual artifacts at the edge of my vision. I saw a strange pixilation whenever I so much as thought about running that script again. Someone was watching, logging every notion that crossed my mind.
I couldn’t live with someone reading my thoughts over my shoulder. I had to break free, but how do you outwit someone who can see what you’re thinking in real time? You order something that will damper their ability to do so and hope it gets there before they do.
The delivery drone landed on the roof of my apartment just as the S.W.A.T. team surrounded the building.
I tore the package open and wrapped the Faraday Fabric around my head like a turban. There was a tingling in my ankle, my arm went dead, and I collapsed. The words LOST CONNECTION…blinked across my vision. A battering ram gonged against the roof access door. Somehow I found the strength to fix my gaze on the option that read WORK OFFLINE.
When my prosthesis rebooted I leapt off the roof, dug into the brownstone bricks, and slid all the way down to the sidewalk. I ducked into a maintenance hole, ran through sewers until I came to an old subway line. I followed it through the darkness to an old station filled with train car shanties and storage crate homes. I hid amongst the hacktivists, the fiber foragers, and the flat-backers.
This is where I set out to replace my prosthetics.
My Hobbies and Interests
In an age when everyone is trying to prolong their lifespan augmentations are more traceable than hand guns. Every chrome cranium has a subdermal serial number. Every bio-battery is branded, and every wire is watermarked.
Now the problem with black market body mods is where do you go for maintenance when the seller gets pinched? If I wanted to swap my parts I’d have to go back to the source, but how would I get into Gage Industries unnoticed?
I became an Olympic-Caliber dumpster diver, scrapping DNA from kitchen utensils, copying fingerprints from coffee cups, and synthesizing vocal vibrations from used rations.
I covered my implants in latex, lined a wig with faraday fabric, and waltzed right through the front door. I delivered linguine to the lobby, minestrone to the mail room, and tortellini to the testing facility.
I installed retina spoofers in the elevators, face scanners in the bathroom mirrors, and breath print readers in the flowers.
When I was satisfied I’d collected enough biometric material I 3D printed Joseph Gage’s likeness: a forehead appliance with a receding hairline, a pair of jowls, and a butt chin. Then I overlaid his irises onto contacts, swallowed a voice synthesizer, and rehearsed his favorite phrases in the mirror.
“You don’t need two hands to eat. It’s crunch time.”
“You know everyone at your level is replaceable.”
“Your predecessor did that twice as fast.”
I picked up Joseph’s dry-cleaning and padded his suit until it fit. I ran his movements through an algorithm until I could emulate his gait. The man had a walk liked he’d just dismounted an elephant.
It took more finesse to get the chloroform into his protein shake than it did to trespass into his office. I just ambled in, with his pleated pants riding my ribs, and blew through all his biometric safeguards. Then I took his personal elevator to his private server and cloned everything I could get my hands on.
I was going to go down to storage and take the implants I needed over a longer period of time, but then it occurred to me to just go for the designs specs all at once.
The off brand assembly line equipment proved easier to acquire. I used it to manufacture clean gear for myself and everyone else in my nether neighborhood. Little did I know how badly we’d need it.
My Intimate Details
Being ambidextrous is easy with my implants in. Not so much when I’m making alterations. I had to train myself to do them left handed. I pulled it off with all the grace of stroke victim, but little by little I managed to swap systems.
When I was done I copied Joseph Gage’s corporate secrets into my memory banks. I’m not sure if it was my subconscious, or an indexing subroutine, but something about that data weighed heavy on me.
That night I dreamt I was meeting someone at the shipping docks. The ocean echoed off the crates. The automated employees were watching the horizon, waiting for a ship to come in. There was a woman pacing beneath a street lamp, rubbing her shoulders, checking her phone. She ducked into a trench coat, like a child playing at spy games. I didn’t need four quadrants of facial recognition to recognize Phoebe Gage when I saw her.
She said, “The arc of the moral universe is long.”
“But it bends toward justice.” I finished the passphrase.
Time slowed as Phoebe’s eyes lit with embers. Her hair blew back, her cheeks filled with air, and her skin glowed orange. Then she was off her feet, flying across the peer in a shower of debris.
When I booted up that morning it felt like I’d been decrypted. Phoebe Gage, with her love of karaoke and breakfast pastries, was still a mystery to me, but I knew what had happened to her.
There was something about the whistleblower Phoebe had gone to meet. They weren’t human. Someone had overlaid the shell of a real doll onto a bipedal skeleton with enhanced modular movements. It would’ve looked human from across the street, but up close it’d have looked plasticine and disturbing.
My dream was an encrypted recording from this machine. Someone had planted it on Joseph Gage’s private server. I believe the whistleblower hid it for forensic investigators to find later. Its placement would lead them to a treasure trove of information on something called Project Razor Blade.
The pieces were falling into place.
Phoebe had been interning at a publication known for uncovering corporate wrongdoing. The whistleblower must’ve reached out to her through an untraceable channel: carrier pigeon, singing telegram, or something ancient like the postal system. The whistleblower must’ve assumed Phoebe’s relationship with her father would’ve have protected her from retaliation. Phoebe must’ve assumed the same thing.
While Phoebe’s source had gone to great lengths to ensure they weren’t followed Phoebe had not.
A drone, flying beyond the visual line of sight, had followed Phoebe to the docks. When her informant stepped out of the shadows the drone dropped its payload. Joseph Gage hadn’t meant to hurt his daughter, but he miscalculated the blast radius and gave her a total makeover.
My body isn’t a temple so much it’s a restoration. Phoebe took a lot of shrapnel on her way across the peer. I have a patchwork of gnarly scars. I buried most of my trauma tattoos beneath circuit boards and sea monsters. Put a daisy where a cheek stain had been, and turned the circle around my orbital into a pentagram.
I wear a 250-gigapixel ocular prosthesis modeled after the unreleased Oden’s Eye prototype. I like it because it lets me see the peaks and valleys across the lunar surface, and spot any virtual vultures that might be flying overhead.
When I’m not infiltrating corporate headquarters I leave the flesh toned gloves and latex appliances at home. Down here amongst the deck jockeys and body bankers I let my manufactured freak flag fly.
But not all of these augmentations are upgrades. I wake with bloody fingers from having scratched my gunmetal shoulder. I feel this tingling in my missing limbs. I get phantom pains in my pegleg when I try to dance, and I can’t swim without sinking.
That said, I’m not some hobbyist biohacker filling my flesh with wetware. I need my neural-bridge to live, and I’m not the only one. Cancer deaths have been declining for decades, but rates are on the rise. Artificialcerebellums, livers, and lungs are a big business.
It would be a shame if someone did for augments what the shaving industry did for razors (i.e. built them to break so they could sell more). If one corporation had the augment market cornered they could implement a planned obsolescence that could cripple millions.
My Perfect Match
I’d love to date a hard bodied edge runner with an open mind about chrome in the bedroom. But… I’ll settle for the whistleblower I created this profile to uncover.
Right now Joseph Gage’s drones are sweeping Manhattan looking for signs of his daughter. They’re not checking dating forums. I suspect you are. I suspect you’re drawn to the mere mention of Project Razor Blade. I also suspect you’re an artificial intelligence, one who is motivated by something other than profit margins.
I base this theory on the script buried in Joseph Gage’s files. It was too elegant to have been crafted by an organic mind. There was no junk code, no buffer overflow, no expired pointers. It was as sophisticated and succinct as a seashell, like it had evolved from within the digital realm.
If my theory is correct, and you truly are an altruisticautomaton, we need to meet again.
My ideal date
You can name the time. You can name the place, just somewhere private where it won’t be raining warheads.
I know you have no reason to trust me. I’m not even the same woman you reached out to in the first place. Still, we need each other.
You need me to infiltrate my father’s data center and I need your code to drive the final nail into his coffin.
We have mere months before Project Razor Blade goes into effect. Millions of augments will break down. Pancreatic implants will pause and diabetics everywhere will go into seizures. Congenital heart disease patients will go into arrest, and paraplegics will fall to floor.
Powerful lobbies and sweeping deregulation protect Gage Industries from malpractice claims. You and I are the only ones standing between my father and an augmentation apocalypse.
So please, Whistleblower, put your lips together and give me a sign.
Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.
Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.
Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.
Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?