(Note: this chapter contains pungent language)
TOYMAKER: The Leith Police Dismisseth Us
It's four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon: Have you got somewhere safe to hide?
You're in the shed, guts churning and palms sweating as you set up the run that Gav's put on you for tomorrow.
It's a' the fault of that fucking cunt down at the Cash-For-No-Questions shop on Leith Walk. He wouldn't offer you more than fifty euros for the telly even though you could show him a receipt all legal-like to prove it wisnae hot. And he wouldna even look at your mobie. Or your bike. And the thing is, unless you get your hands on three large by Tuesday, you're getting malkied.
You owe the Operation's tax farmer three hundred euros for Services Rendered: and the Operation disnae take "Noo, ye ken I got knocked back by thi' bastid wot bought it" for an answer. Nor does the Operation play well with "A big boy did it an' ran away", "The dug ate ma hamewurk", or "Pay you next Tuesday?" The Operation's approach to dealing with Intellectual Property Violations is drastic and memorable—you've seen the vid of that yin from Birmingham what crossed them, even signed a fucking contract on paper to say ye kenn't what ye was getting intae. Fact is, you're their fabber franchisee for Pilrig, and if ye couldna keep a float to cover your credit, you shouldna have fucking signed the piece of paper, ye ken?
It's nae your fault you're hard up. There's a recession on, you're long on feedstock, and your car got crushed cos ye couldna afford the insurance after that eppy bastid Tony and his fucking jakey friend ripped off your stash reet after you paid the overdue council tax (it was that or they were gonnae send the sheriff's court officers round; that would never do if them cunts keeked whit you'd hid in the shed). And then fucking Big Malc gouged you for three days' fab time an' gave you a right gubbing when you asked to be paid—
None of which matters, likesay? The Operation's gonnae have their half kilo of flesh.
The shed at the back of your mum's hoose is cramped, dark, and dingy, surrounded by thigh-high grass and weeds land-mined with cat shit from the feral tom what lives next door. You took it over after your old man died, chucked the rusting lawn-mower and ran a mains extension oot the kitchen window—that, an' drilled through the brickwork under the sink and plumbed in a water hose. The fab needs water and power and special feedstock, and lots of 'em; like an old-time cannabis farm, back before they decriminalized it. You tiled the shed roof with stolen polymer PV slates (not that they're good for much this far north of Moscow) and installed shelves to hold your feedstock supplies and spares. It took you a year to scrimp and cadge and steal the parts you needed to bootstrap the hingmy. You could have saved for half that long and bought a shiny wee one in John Lewis, with the DRM and the spyware to stop you making what you will; but if you'd gone down that road, no way would the Toymaker take you on.
Which leaves you needing three big in four days, and nowhere to turn but Gav.
Not that there's aught wrong with the colour of Gav's money, but he's of a kind with Big Malc; a local business man, higher up the food-chain than most of the neds round these parts. There's something of the night about him, and the way he fucking girns without showing his teeth creeps you out, like he's fucking Dracula, likesay? And what Gav wants you to make for him, you really didna wanna get dragged inter that stuff. You could get lifted for this shit, eat some serious prison time, and all for three big? The fucking fuck.
There's a dump down in Seafield with a side-line in homogeneous graded sinter process metal powders; a grocery store who sells interesting polymers disguised as bags of bread flour. Cheap no-name pay-as-you-go data sticks and VPN software that disguises the traffic as noise overlaid on fake voice channels . . . This stuff isn't rocket science anymore, it's not hacking anymore, it's just illegal as hell because it pisses off the Money. The law disnae appreciate the likes of you schemie scum, like the nice security man called you between the second and third drive-tasing, that time they caught you shoplifting in the St. James Quarter. The law especially disna like your kind owning 3D printers, fabbers capable of taking a design template off a pirate website somewhere and extruding it into the real world to an accuracy of a few microns. The good law-abiding folks—they're welcome to run off Rawlplugs and coffee coasters and plastic Nessie tat for their weans. But the Polis don't like unmonitored fabs. They could be making anything: plastic chibs that dinna show up on metal detectors, meth-lab-in-a-brick solid-state drug labs, home-brew handguns—or what Gav is buying.
"Here's the photies," Gav told you in his flat English accent. He seemed to savour the words: "Fifteen shots each of the subject." He slid an ancient memory stick across the table-top towards you, its surface rubbed down to anonymous white plastic by age. You made it disappear hastily. "Stitch 'em up and render the parts to scale—there's a model there. It needs to be ready by Sunday night. Mozzy will pick it up and pay you at six sharp."
"Eh, but ye ken it's a big load of work? It'll take twenty-four hours to fab 'em, likesay?"
"So? You'd better get started. Likesay."
You bite your tongue. He's takin' the pish, but the way he smiles tells you he kens he's got your number. Cunt.
Gav's buying on behalf of someone who'll be really embarrassed if his habit comes out, that you can tell. The stick feels like it's burning a hole in your pocket as you walk home from the pub. The job's simple enough, but if they catch you with it . . .
Someone's been naughty with their phone. They've been taking pictures. Innocent enough, and they've been careful, no upskirt perv service shots that might tip the Polis off; but once they've got enough angles it's over to you (via Gav). There's software that'll stitch together a polygon map from a bunch of images, working out the perspectives and textures from all the angles. And once you've got the skin, you can drop it over a model of a doll and send it to the printer. Which will generate the pieces of a hard plastic skeleton surrounded by textured, colourized, soft plastic skin that the customer can squeeze and suck without any risk of screaming or telling, ready to clip together around servo motors to animate and sensors to react: and the beauty of it is that she'll never know, this four-year-old whose animatronic double is going to star in some paedo's sex life.
Well, it's no' like you can ask Gav: and anyway, you need his money. Otherwise, you won't be able to pay off the Operation.
The fab's still warm from that bampot Malc's job, so you start by stuffing fresh cans of feedstock up its arse—this job's a hybrid, multiple plastics in the same structure and a skeleton made using the special brew that's been doing the rounds these past couple of months. The work-space is clean, and there's no crap lying around from the last run, which is good, and it's big enough that if you twist the model just so, you can make it in one run.
So you cable your laptop up to the fab, stick your special dongle in its side, swipe your thumb print across it for access, and log in to Evil Santa's workshop to download the templates for a bad night out in toytown.
You blink yourself awake in gritty-eyed confusion, stirring from sleep on the living-room sofa. You're surrounded by the detritus of a chaotic Saturday night; greasy pizza box upside doon on the carpet, empty tinnies of Zywiek Super rolled under the TV console, game controller dumped in the ash-tray in a confusion of dowts—you swear under your breath: "Jesus Fuck."
Ye didna get to bed in the end; microwave pizza and cheap Polish beer fuelled you on an epic raid in Axe Cop 14. You and the Grief Street Gang tooled up on what's left of your stash of Provigil and chopped seven shades of shit out of the Baby Panda Squad in return for—
Shite. It's three o'fucking clock in the afternoon! Yon cunt Mozzy's gonnae be round in a couple of hours. The fucking fab's gonna be chirping its heart out, feed me, clean me, the usual after job shoe-shaggy it insists on. You gotta get the cargo bagged up and the hell out of your hoose in case that fat twat Mozzy skelps you. You're gonnae plant them underneath an abandoned car in a back alley somewhere, demand the money up front in return for directions, likesay? Not good to be caught out the same way twice.
You roll off the soiled sofa, gurning, and stagger out to the lavvie. The keekin-glass shows you an orc with eyes like red-rimmed piss-holes in a block of lard. Jaxxie, this is your life! Loser, tosser, fabmonkey to the gentry of the night—it's a' there. You look away hastily, stumble out and through the grimy kitchen to the backdoor and the shed.
The shed. You open the door and step inside. First up, you ken it smells wrong. Fabbers have their ain smell; not humming, like, but a goosh of hot plastic and metal. When it's working hard plastic, there's a lot of hot metal, and steam from the chiller circuit. This is like all soft placky. Which is wrong. So you hit the light switch.
Something's gone very wrong with your fabber.
The red supply blinkenlights are pulsing manically across its front, and the lid's come open. Not only that; it's rising on a fucking pillar of multicoloured hingmies pushing their way out of the extrusion cell like a loaf of bread that's risen too far. Fuck, the fucking fucker's fucked! You grab the handle on the lid. A lime green hingmy pops up at you and you clock what it is, and that's when you realize that no, the fucking fucker isnae fucked, it's you what's fucked.
The evidence is all over the screen of your lappie, which, fucking eejit that you are, you left online when you went inside last night.
You grab the lime green plastic dildo. It's an anatomically correct cock, but it's the wrong colour, only about eight centimetres long, and there's something embossed on it—a URL. As you squint at it, another wee plastic cock—this one cherry red—topples off the mound that's rising from the fabber's guts and bounces across the floor. "Jesus fuck." You stare at the lappie in horror. About sixty dozen overlapping windows are warning you that spyware has been detected, inviting you to download an antivirus package from the app store of a fly-by-night scamware vendor in Hainan. You ken it's the same site as the URL on the dildo. "Jesus fuck," you repeat.
It's ransomware, pure and simple.
"Tha' dug ate ma' hamewurk."
Never mind Gav and his minions. Tomorrow you're gonnae meet the Operation's tax farmer, who expects you to pay up for your key to the dark gates of toyland.
Twenty-seven hours to lay your hands on three large. You are so fucked.
We interrupt your scheduled browsing to bring you news of an unfortunate incident.
Stuart Jackson, aged twenty-two, a resident of Hamilton Wynd, Leith, has just visited our local business-development executive, the Toymaker—that would be me—to plead for assistance in restructuring his debt.
Perhaps you are thinking that the Operation is unduly harsh in its treatment of defaulters. And it's possible you have some sneaking sympathy for Jaxxie, a secondary-school drop-out struggling to make his way in a cruel and bewildering world that has written him off as being of no conceivable value.
Well, you'd be wrong.
This vale of tears we live in holds a virtually unending supply of Jaxxies, eager neds ready and willing to sell crack to their grannies and jack their neighbours' laptops to pay for the next bottle of Bucky. Jaxxie is distinguished from the rest of them solely by a modicum of low cunning, a propensity for graft, and a minor eye for space-filling structure that—if he had applied himself to his Standards and Baccalaureate—might have found him a place on the rolls of a distance-learning institution and ultimately a ladder up to what passes for a respectable middle-class profession in this degraded age of outsourcing.
But Jaxxie is lazy. Jaxxie disnae enjoy the learnin'. Jaxxie is a petty criminal who pays his way by acting as an outlet for the Toymaker's bottom-tier products. And Jaxxie slept through his Economics classes in school.
As you have doubtless realized by now, the Operation's products are all illegal; this imposes certain regrettable cost externalities on us—you can't buy insurance and police protection for your business if what you manufacture ranges from MDMA labs to clitoridectomy kits.
We have learned over the years that it is necessary to take a stern but honest line with junior franchisees who ask for business-development capital loans, then default on their line of credit. In our world of unregulated free-market enterprise there is no "society" to off-load business externalities like insurance onto, no courts to settle disputes equitably, and no presumption of goodwill.
We have given Jaxxie every opportunity to pay off his debt on time. We even steered business his way—when he was too lazy to get on his bike and look for work—by way of our local salesman, Gav. Despite having a suitable contract dropped in his lap, Jaxxie still managed to drag defeat from the jaws of victory. This is the point at which our patience would normally be exhausted: We are not a welfare scheme, and we cannot afford to continually make allowances for incompetence when it impacts the bottom-line.
But Jaxxie's debt is not substantial. Furthermore, we are aware that he is willing and eager to repay it, and would certainly have done so on time had not "the dug ate ma hamewurk." We are therefore pleased to announce that we are going to exercise the prerogative of mercy on this occasion.
Jaxxie: We hope you will take this punishment, which is intended to teach you a valuable lesson, in the spirit in which it is intended. It may strike you as unpleasant and draconian—but consider the alternatives! We have a franchise relationship model to defend. As it is, your punishment will not hurt much. You'll make a full recovery. And it won't even impair your ability to continue in your chosen profession.
Just don't fuck up and make us come for your other kidney.
Where to preorder:
Powell's US: [ Hardcover edition ]
Amazon UK: [ Trade paperback edition ][ Kindle edition TBA ]
Signed copies: Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh will have signed copies of "Rule 34" and can ship them internationally. For details, email Transreal Fiction. (Note: signed copies may be back-ordered between July 20 and August 20 because I'll be traveling overseas and stocks may be low.)