I started writing a story for the forthcoming cyberpunk issue of Stupefying Stories, but it turned out to be unneeded, so I initially abandoned it. Then I recalled that we’re going to release the print edition of The Altar of Hate, my collection of non-Selenoth, non-Quantum Mortis short stories, as soon as we get the second Chuck Dixon’s Conan out the door.
So, here’s a preview of “Shinjuku Satan”:
They call me doctor. Partly because I have a doctorate in neuropsychology from Nanyang Technopolitan, but mostly because doctor is what you call the man in the white coat when you, or your kid, or your cat, isn’t feeling well. Most of the time, the doctor can fix what’s wrong with you, the kid, or the cat. And when he can’t, then the doctor is the guy who gets called in to put them down.
I have an office on the 40th floor of the Tanjong Pagar Center, but it’s not your normal doctor’s office. It’s just one room, with a desk, three chairs, a coffee table, and a couch that looks exactly like what it is, a deluxe set ordered from the Professional Office section of the Japandi-Ikea site.
The 96-inch flat-screen is above the couch and across from my desk, which permits me to maintain the illusion that I’m on top of things. Of course, I’m not, because no one who has to sleep more than fifteen minutes a day can possibly keep up with global events without round-the-clock digital assistance.
The gentle sigh of a wind chime announces something new has happened somewhere, something algorithmically deemed worthy of my attention.
“What’cha got, Suzie?” I address the empty room and the screen wakes up. A platinum blonde 80’s-era cybergirl appears, with Barbie-pink lips, a wicked smile, and eyes like silver mirrors. Suzie Shades. She’s my main girl, my colleague, my librarian, and my confessor all rolled into one.
Some might say she’s not real, but she’s as real as anything else is to me. And if her intelligence is artificial, she’s got considerably more of it than your average man on the street.
“A request for a meeting from the Archbishop of Chengdu.”
“In this specific case, the title refers to a priest in service to The Most Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church with Chinese Characteristics. Address him as Eminence.”
“Put him through.”
She coughs, delicately. It’s her way of informing me that I’m being obtuse. “He’s here, in the protein.”
“Very cute. Where?”
“The elevator. Just hitting the thirteenth floor now.”
I stand up and glance around the office space to make sure there is nothing exposed that might offend an Archbishop with Chinese Characteristics, whatever that might be. Then Suzie vanishes from the screen and is replaced by a live image of the corridor outside my office, in which stands nothing but a single potted plant until a man who definitely has Chinese characteristics, but is wearing a well-cut black suit with a red collar in the place of a necktie, strides past it.
“The Archbishop Zhang Wenlan,” Suzie intones a moment before the door opens itself before my unscheduled visitor.
I rise to my feet. I’m not sure what the protocol for greeting an archbishop of any sort might be, much less one with Chinese Characteristics but civility is my compass where potential clients are concerned.
“Anata no sonzai wa kōeidesu, Archbishop.” I bow as deeply as I can without cracking my forehead on the desk. “Dono yo ni o yakunitate reba yoideshou ka?”
“Doctor Sagamihara,” he says, with a barely perceptible inclination of his head. Status superior, but he’s willing to speak on neutral ground. So we’ve got that established. English it is. Good to know where I stand vis-a-vis His Eminence.
His Eminence is younger than I would have imagined, or perhaps just better enhanced. My best guess is sixty going on forty. He looks standard, but then, so do I. And I am, as they say, a very technical boy.
“We are informed that you are the world’s foremost digital neuropsychologist, specializing in the neurotherapeutic treatment, and if necessary, euthanasia, of disordered machine intelligences. Would you say that is a fair characterization?”
“Fair enough. It might be more succinct to call me a Rogue AI Hunter, but then I’d have to cut my rates in half, and in half again.”
“And your rates are?”
“Ten thousand gonghui per day, plus expenses.”
“We prefer to pay a flat fee. Five hundred thousand gonghui on acceptance and five million upon completion of the project to our satisfaction. Plus approved expenses, said approval not to be unreasonably withheld. Are those terms acceptable?”
I do a little math in my head. That’s fifty days at a full rate up front. It tells me that either The Most Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church with Chinese Characteristics doesn’t have an abacus or this job is going to be a definite bitch-and-a-half. Regardless, the offer is much too good to refuse.
“The terms are acceptable,” I graciously allow. “So spill, comrade padre. What’s the job? And don’t leave out all the little devils in the details.”
“It’s not a question of devils,” the archbishop says with a smile that never comes close to reaching his black eyes. “But rather gods, I’m afraid.”