Andy had never been much of an Author himself. Not that that’d stopped him being chosen for this mission. The employer having sent Julia to him with the material.
He felt his stomach clench. Around the hard, finger length capsule in his gut. Just for once… Andy wished he was one of those rare illiterates, immune to the biohazard of the Inspiration. He’d been lucky so far, as a mule, and in not being infected.
Most of the strains were weak, only a short high, where taking it with the right print text felt just like having a ‘great idea.’ Like in those pitiful ‘lit’ brothels you’ll find on the Continent. A good friend had visited one, years ago now, while it had still been experimental.
“Cheap theatrics.” That’s what he’d said about the experience. “When I stepped in the door, I almost groaned at all the faux-Victorian setup. They put it in tea for me, in a real china cup. It was only while we were waiting for it to steep—God, it’d been so long since I’d paid for it… I was looking everywhere but at the girl—looking around the room, that’s when I saw the text of novels printed everywhere. On the wallpaper, the rugs, stitched into the bedspread.
“When the drug kicked in, I wasn’t nervous anymore. It was fantastic. Romantic.” Andy hadn’t known anything about the Inspiration then, and it’d still been exciting to hear about. “I was told there might be a come down. That I’d be Jonesing for some chick-lit, but to let it pass. Damn right I had a come down! But I tried slogging through a tech-thriller instead.” It had been a good idea, as they hadn’t discovered a strain for that genre at the time.
Thinking about it now, waiting in the line, he tried to laugh it off, “as if a real man needs the ‘inspiration’ of a bodice-ripper’s script.” But it didn’t help. He’d never been asked to smuggle anything as simple as that—those jobs were for the House-trained mules. Whatever this material was, it was never going to be as simple as a weak genre.
Andy moved up the queue, amongst blank-faced Authors and their long suffering Editors. Damn. It had been years since he’d been this near an Author’s Retreat. Sure, it was the most lucrative kind of site for a man in the gray market of the bounds. But that made it one of the most dangerous too. It was where washed-up Authors went for their last chance at selling a book—Andy watched a man reach the front of the line: God, I recognise him. It was always sad to realise that Author’s you followed ended up with no choice but to sell themselves like this.
The short man was stripped of his dignified attire; the tools of his trade: tweed armour and personalised feeder. No one was allowed to bring personal material into the compound. Authors weren’t normally considered dangerous… per sae… but the Retreats wanted as little memetic slippage from one Author to another as possible. Or rather, the Patrons didn’t.
Authors on Retreat were being Patronised by anyone rich enough to want the guarantee of an exclusive bound. One that wasn’t also kept on archive in the King’s Cache, which text wasn’t out free on the Meta. Lucrative for the Author who’d nothing left for their careers; but forever to be doomed to a pathetic readership of one. That’s what the security was for. Why there were armed guards. Whatever happened on Retreat, must stay there. Only the exclusive bound must be allowed out.
‘Neilson,’ that was the Author’s name. He’d been big for a while, but after some… ‘damaging’ comments came out, his audience dropped him. Now he must have sold off a new book to the highest bidder. Good for him. The Agent at the front of the line who was dealing with the Author, pulled on latex gloves and begun a body search.
Jesus, what am I doing here? Andy had done as much research as he could, but no one—no one—spoke about what happened inside a Retreat. I hope they won’t bring out the damn truffle hogs, sniffing for Inspiration. He’d been searched by one of the randy pigs once before, but that had been coming back from a job.
Close call. No one liked a spy. But Inspiration wasn’t really what the Retreats feared.
He looked up at the smartwired walls, patrolled atop by heavily armed Agents. ‘Dangerous,’ because it would be so easy for the books inside, the bounds, to disappear forever. Maybe the Agents, maybe the Houses might let that happen, but they’d made their devil’s pact with the Librarians: no data ever lost for good. The highest score on the black market? A Ransomed bound. Stolen from right here, under everyone’s noses: and only possible, because of the Retreat’s own, wild security measures.
Andy stood up, now at the front of the line. The woman waited for him to write a paragraph or two on the Feeder, to prove his Authorial voice. She may have been pretty, with her dark hair and full, voluptuous hips; if she’d not been squeezed into her Agent’s purples.
Once he’d delivered the material to the Author already planted inside, he was on his own. Then Andy would have to Author his own book, a whole text the employer had requested. Cover. Just to get back out by the Agents.
Then the other, planted bound was to be Ransomed—making it too irresistible a target for the employer’s intended patsy.
Thankfully, however, that’s another man’s role.
End Nanograph One
By Paul McLaughlan