"The truth of the matter always stays concealed."

Light wakes me up. Roll out of bed and try not to step on any derms from last night's soiree. Coffee and some sparkle vitalizer, and away I go. Gotta go get that damn tester fixed - it still thinks I've got herpes. News flips on, oven zaps me a wheatie, and now I've got to make some decisions. First one being what benighted company will decide to take my photo stills for today's media canvas. Compad sends my resume, they get shuffled through a couple of billion combinations through the vast corporate and governmental infospheres, then the answers pop up within 30 seconds. Worst 30 seconds of anyone's morning. About as much stress packed into The Thirty as a 2-hour car jam was about forty years ago. You get a null response, you don't have a job today. Sorry, try again tomorrow.

It's Image again, though the bastards still refuse to upgrade my wage scale even after my quality simulacrum from Arizona was merged into the Daily Star frontpage. Still, another day another assignment. Munching on wheaties and peach jam I skim through the morning's downloaded global hotspots. My compad didn't come cheap, the reason being that it's a connector to some of Telepresence's more expensive imagery vaults. That gives me access to billions of ideas where I could start the day, all royalty-free. Access is $10 per quant, though, so a cunning sprite is essential. Sprite Fawn recites the listing as I dissolve a loogie tab in my mouth to bring me into focus.

"Image Corporation requests a full collage of textured simulacrums for the Allen Memorial Celebration in Fuzho-"
"Wait. Scope and Size" I said.
"Scope is 3 hyperlayers, size not to exceed 40 quants"

I'm a little peeved at having this kind of research demanded of me. Fawn gives me the rest of the detail but gets stuck when asked to describe the conceptual framework. A little beyond its coding, even though it is an evolved dataform.

The compad's glittering black orb of a projector pulses a quick newsburst across my retina. Sabotage attempt in Chongqing, 20 injured, atomic disassembler confiscated by American troops; False alarm at T'ian Orbital sends dozens of empty liferafts plunging towards Omsk; Europol magistrates arrest Francisca Mussolini on charges of murder and corruption during her ten-year reign at the European Southern Zone Directorate; Health Services in Sea-Port fail once again, and now the Medical Collegium is demanding a Level 1 quarantine of the entire area in the face of threats from American Senators; Famed eraser-painter Tom Wuhan donates twelve of his 'most interesting' simulacrums to the Sun Gallery in Shanghai...

Okay, that should be enough to get me going. The images stick in my mind like feathers to tar. Computer-assisted mental training at the Thorn Foundation must have something to do with it, but I'm not willing to think about it too much. Right now I need to think in a better environment.

"Fawn, den configuration".

The wall partitions rearrange themselves in a more cozy shape and switch textures to a light cherrywood panelling with subdued lighting. Several hours of painting later I'm almost done the preliminary structures and have toned down the music that Fong sent me yesterday. Now I need to take a short hop outside to gather some interesting images, all day-fresh and original too. Grab my lens and jacket, change its colour to green and take the elevator to the sub-basement.

I check the hydro in my car and decide to switch refuelers. The current one overcharged me when my tank was leaking. The tangy smell of aromatic oils mixes with my anti-phore cologne while I pilot the sleek German car into the main transport corridor. The textured body ripples for a moment as the shell reconfigures into high-speed mode and retracts its decorative flanges. The Tube locks onto the car and guides it into the slipstream of downtown Neurand. Speed notches up to 180 klicks as a cargo train passes me and pedestrians march to their office apartments in the sealed human walkways. Used to be that supercomputers were only saved for weather forecasting and military testing. It's funny that some of the finest Great Mind Intelligences would find their best application in the control of the thousands of kilometres of tangled intestines that form the guts of a modern megacity's underground traffic system. When you've got a million computer-controlled cars travelling to various destinations in a three-dimensional space, the problems of multi-variate computation become painfully clear.

I read a month-old copy of OF-SCHEM to see what the marketing people at Image consider to be cutting-edge this month. I'm not too surprised to see it consists of inverted-structure buildings - that was the June award for Brightest Future in Design at the Tate.

The car glides past the Rootshaft in complete silence. Compad gets a call from Oljin Maherhaft. "Answer."

"You'll got brass ones calling me today-" I start to grin. Oljin grins back with a hint of unease.
"Yah, it's not normal for me, but here I had you within shouting distance and not even your screener could explain why you were busy on a Sunday."
"Oljin, I paint for a living, and broker for a hobby, so it won't do you any good to offer me a scoop on my project unless you plan on hiring me tomorrow when I'm free".
"You said you'd share next time if it involved Image."
Accusations slide off Oljin's back like mercury off steel.
"I said I'd consider it if the contract was open. It isn't."

The car was momentarily blinded as it sped through a fine mist of cleansing antiseptic aerosols. I glanced aside for a moment and just caught Oljin considering something deep.

"Alright. So now I have to offer you a gift. Fine friend." he spoke with mock indignity. Fawn's tinny blip reported to me that a download had arrived. Was processing and purging it of accumulated spawn. Might take a while. Data traffic in the Neurand's Infosphere always ended up coated in several layers of viral shells. Part of being on the digital edge, or so think the city's administrators. The Neurand's notoriously unregulated computer networks make Cairo look civilized by comparison. Not something I usually consider, but the package wasn't something I wanted to worry about at the moment.

"Okay, Oljin, I'll consider it strongly in your favour, whatever the contents of the package. Thanks." I spoke with candour, but Oljin took in the wrong way.
"Right. I'll jet now and leave you to your important meeting."
"-bye." White screen. Oh well.

"Fawn, call Dr. Mark at the Eugenics Centre."
The image of a young Dutch man framed in a corona of white surgical armatures burst itself onto my retina. Jan was trying to cultivate the appearance of wisdom, but his thin beard barely made up for his youthful good looks.
"-kramerrung fiaster. Ya? Oh, right, the overlay. Wait..."
The Clinic's phosphorescent tri-serpent logo twined imperiously on the screen, to be replaced by an image of Dr. Mark carefully holding a transparent glass tableau covered in a finely-folded layer of pinkish skin.
"The code-maps arrived from Fuzhou four hours ago but we had to reset the clotis generator after last night's sponge infestation. Charge as usual."

Something gleamed strangely in the doctor's eyes. I sat staring impolitely for a second, then plastered an uneasy smile on my face and spoke quickly.
"Great! Won't Image be surprised when the simulacrum includes a real overlay from the Allen family..."
"Err, yes." Jan spoke hesitantly, continuing "Quite a nice project. Should seal your reputation over there."