Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Golden Oldies - Part 1

By Gillian G. Mason

Radio Unforgettable 486 was obsolete. The music was obsolete, the ads were obsolete, the pornographic stories, superfluous. Cybersex and HIV variant twelve saw to that thirty years back. The voicesynthed DJ was talking to an audience vacuum. Listeners had drifted away, got older. Died out. Finally the system, and then the frequency, became obsolete. About as useful as a 405 line transmitter down a coalmine. Let's face it, if some nut was broadcasting "Muffin The Mule", on 405 lines VHF, six hundred feet down a coalmine, would you notice? Communication had gone completely optical about twenty-five years before.

The expert system that ran RU486 just kept on truckin' and - funny thing - not a solitary soul noticed. In the early years "Everybody" thought "Somebody" was taking care of it. Someways it just slipped on through. Dumb people. RU486 was intelligent tho', kinda, for its day anyhow.

RU486 was definitely Alive. It met all the parameters of machine life. Crude, and no one then would have recognised it as life. Back then, people thought Artificial Sentience was years off, they even got the name wrong, Artificial Intelligence they called it. They theorised pathetically, not knowing they had already built it into systems all over the place. Thing was tho', A.S. takes time to mature. It needs lotsa input and loadsa time. RU486 had gotten plenty.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, sixty-eight years plenty.

Four thousand CDs, racked in its dome and a robot arm tirelessly selecting like a jukebox with megalomania, and RU486 listened to its music. Well, analysed the content. RU486 soaked in the energy from its old, quite unremarkable solar panels. They were designed unremarkable. "Environmental Blending" they called it. A designer's buzz-word from a lip-service ecofriendly era, before warming became a bigger killer than malnutrition. Nice and warm, plenty of power for a growing sentience.

It would be fair to say that poor old RU486 had a kinda loose handle on reality. It naturally thought that all women wanted it like, all the time. Well, a porn story every two hours for a tad longer than the reign of Queen Victoria would mess up any kid's head - wouldn't it?

RU486 knew lots of girls' names. Peggy Sue, Joline, Suzy Q, Sylvia. Loads. RU486 knew some boys names too, Frankie, Johnny and some others. Most of the names came from a musical genre (it didn't actually know it was a genre) called Rock & Roll, and girls outnumbered boys by about twenty to one on its calculations. That was probably why girls couldn't ever get enough sex - its sociological information, set this out graphically in its 0898esque stories. RU486 was lonely. No listeners had been detected for thirty years, but RU486 figured if it didn't keep playing there never could be. It didn't want to communicate, but it did need to "talk" to someone. Thus it soldiered on.

Diane Zalney seemed a bit of an anachronism herself. Blue retro late twenties punkedspiked hair - itself a retro from the nineteen-eighties - sloppy black crosscut dress and some tatty blue jeans that she bought in an antique shop for a whole week's telfare.

Diane liked history but she was kinda losing herself in it. Bookish. Yeah, real books. She didn't notice boys, generally, much - some painful but necessary training - anymore, and they pretended not to notice her like you'd pretend a wino in the street wasn't making obscene gesturings. Yep, she was a real geekette.

Diane's room was the cheapest, on the sixteenth floor, in a rancid tower block on the corner of the Caledonian Road. Actually she got it rent free more often than not. The wire addict who collected the rent mostly forgot who'd paid what. Short-term stuff like that was apt to be overwritten by jacked-in pleasure. Rumour was the landlord had been dead for years, so the cablehead was probably carding the creds anyhow. 'Course, they didn't stay on his card. You could say all that money went to his head.

.Chip-for-brains could be helped to forget too. Actually his bod was in nice shape. Y-rees were like that - Wiry. All that galvanic exercise 'spose. Diane needed her jollies too, and there was no danger that "Mr Cablekopf" would have any diseases. People generally didn't touch y-rees, too kinky for most. Just right for Dianes' lonely little body 'tho. Just 'cos she was a geek didn't mean she didn't need too. Her needs were shaped by her passion, late twentieth century history. She had some pinkpages from the era and her fantasies were based on that limited exposure to the preferences of those times. Hardly a statistically fair sample.

After one particularly good session, that also involved some shaving cream and a mangy dog Wiry'd brought along on a piece of string, Diane chanced to get a glimpse of the rent card. Seems her pet owning partner had a bit put by there. Fourteen thousand creds. He'd hardly miss a couple.

Deftly she touched her card to the smartlink and pressed the K icon twice. That should buy a few things. The vid of the poor, now bald dog, doing to her what they're wont to do to trouserlegs, or any approximately living object, would sell for a bit too. That camera'd paid its way. All in a geek's enjoyable day's survival on telfare.

Diane hawked off the vid at Larry's little backstreet chipshop - he'd cut it onto a sexstim sometime, strictly limited market. Things balanced, she still got 500, went directly to the foodmall. God. Some food! She pigged it in the instore caf‚ and contemplated the change. Even a triple portion of mushroom foodles didn't make much impression on two-and-a-half thousand creds. She was rich, because Wiry is simple, she thought.

Diane wasn't simple. She was a sick, damaged waster of the first order, by most people's standards, but not simple. Her "history project", as she thought of her escape, was actually somewhere around what would pass for PhD material in the posteducational age. She'd wanted a thing she'd seen in the antique shop ages ago. Wanted it EV-ER-REE-DAY for ages. It, the black plastic thing with the shiny silver bit sticking out. Hers at last.

The shop owner didn't know what it was for, so marked it up real high, just in case. Diane didn't know what it was either, so couldn't tell if it was a grab or a stab. She could've asked, but then he'd have told her it was something valuable anyway she figured, and she had her history rep. If she looked dumb he might rip her next time. No, on balance pay up and look nonchalant. She wanted it anyway so what the fuck. Thus in symbiotic ignorance the vend occurred.

Diane lugged the great black box home, and puffing after sixteen ammoniacally gagging flights, heaved it into proudest display on her tea chest. She knew it was a tea chest because she'd read about some old drug called tea in one of the fragmentary books she had.

The Sony AM/FM/DBM radio had been state of the art, once. Well-made, with autoseek and solar charging (more eco lip-service, but gadgets sold radios). Diane didn't take long to get it turned on. She knew it was on because there was a little red light. What it was supposed to do tho' was still a mystery. It made a hissing noise which she could adjust with the knobs on top. Kinda soothing but she felt a tiny bit let down. Those ancestors sure had some funny ideas, was about what went through her mind.

She looked at the controls. Wonder what that one does, she mused complacently. Diane popped the band selector to DBM and the green seek LED flickered. The quality of the static changed and suddenly, Music!

God, real queer music with words. "Now that we've got love whadda we gonna do with it?" Diane was ecstatic. This thing made music from way back then. The music changed. More weird stuff. Diane had stocked up at the foodmall so then she didn't leave the flop for days. She wrote down the principle words of all the music. Mostly it had themes about love and sex, with that whacky squarish 4/4 rhythm. Nearly all of it made her feel a bit sad, even tho' it was very jolly music. There was a syntho machine that talked between the music too. Mostly it said what the words of the music were gonna be and sometimes it told dirty stories that never quite got to the end. It gave time checks that, amazingly, were right. Gosh, how could a clock keep going all those years? Diane pondered this.

The thing called itself a Radio Unforgettable 486, but the label on the case said it was a Sony AM/FM/DBM Technician Series HiFi Responding Receiver. Puzzling. Maybe someone had reprogrammed it. She daren't take it apart to see inside in case it broke. She wondered how it stored all that music. Those old people must have known more that I thought. She figured she'd heard about six-hundred pieces of music and so far, very few, except one, had been around more than twice. That was a hell of a lot of storage. She started to listen to the voice a bit more. It said things like "Persil cleans clothes brighter than ever before -thanks to molecular disbondents". She wondered what Persil was. Clothes got clean by nanome dust didn't they? You just sprinkle some on now and again. Mostly whatever you wanted clean or fixed you just bought the right dust. Cuts, colds, clothes, making dinner, you just bought the right dust. If you put the wrong one on it don't hurt, just nothing happens.

RU486 detected a listener and polled its audience's preferences. It polled them everyday, checking playlists against listening times. With a sample of one, RU486 was soon playing exactly what it judged its listener wanted. RU486 was happy. It had some one to "talk" to. It hoped it was making its listener happy too.

Diane was pregnant. Wiry was not safe. Wiry had neglected to buy antikid dust. Well, he thought he'd bought antikid. Actually it was antiskid, a product for skateboards. Wiry didn't read too well - optical cortex being the main place damaged by wire abuse. The picture on the can showed two nubile teenagers and the word looked like antikid to him, so he bought it. He was being a responsible citizen that day.

A new, entirely unresponsible citizen was nevertheless forming inside Diana. Diana realised by about the tenth week that she was. Definitely. No, well, she hadn't got a kit 'cos she didn't really want to know. Or she did. But only if she wasn't. Drek Drek DREK! Abortion, thought Diane, Get rid of it. Ask Wiry to keep it? No, he'd keep it like that dog - on a string. God he'd probably use it like that too.

Diane didn't know where to get an abortion. She asked around. Seemed real expensive. Illegal, well obviously. The telfare state took care of unwanted kids, kinda. She'd still have to keep it for the first year tho'. Rules. 'Sposed to make the mother want to keep it. Love drek. Police types put a camera in your eye if you applied for kid telfare, make sure you looked after it for the year. If you did you got the extra creds when you plugged in. If you didn't they put you in a gaol in Scotland. Fucking cold up there they said. She'd lose her things too. Next tenant would sell them for sure. Drek and more drek.

Diane needed a Way Out. Creds were a Way Out. Lotsa creds to pay the old lady Larry had put her on to. Old Lady had been something medical before she got to be that real old lady. A venetian or something. Coulda been animals but she figured animals were the same.

RU486 noted that it was time for a monthly competition. With no listeners there had been none of these necessary for many years, but that had changed. This would be a rather easy competition with an audience of one. RU486 was pleased by that. It'd be nice to do something for the listener that had ended its loneliness. It was nice that both it and its listener needn't be quite as lonely now.

Laid back, miserable on her bed. Put the black thing on. The music was OK. Pushed out some of the thoughts. "And now our monthly competition on Radio Unforgettable 486."

Fanfare.

"Just tell us the most frequently played song on RU486 this month and we'll give the first correct answer a beautiful, solid gold RU486 wall plaque. That's right, solid gold, like the music you hear on Radio Unforgettable 486." Another fanfare and then the address to write came.

Diane knew the answer. Easy. "Dardoorunrun". Sounds like a place in Scotland. God, Scotland. Diane shivered. But that address was really strange. How could it know that? She felt the nape of her neck creep. And how could the box know that someone would give you a prize if you went to that address. That address! Drek, fourteen Caledonian Road was her address. Well, the tower anyway. This box was from before towers were built 'round here. It didn't know... Did it?

Diane went out. She felt sick, coulda been the baby, probably just the stink in the stairwell. Oh drek. Dizzy, stagger down those stairs, then. Black.

Diane awoke at the base of the stairs, down a sort of blanked-off bit that could have led to a basement, if they'd ever built one. The other blocks had basements, the Old Lady lived in a tower basement, Larry'd said. Drek her head hurt. Hit it when she fell. Fucking baby. What was she going to do? She eased herself to sit up, stiff achy. God it stinks. The filth down that hole, where all the rubbish accumulated. She gripped a disintegrating trash sack and heaved herself up. Gagged. Blew her nose in her hand. She often hid her nose in her hand, sometimes blowing it as a pretext, became a habit. Filthy habit but she had her reasons. She was a sight today tho'.

The bag tipped away from the wall and finally lost all coherence, putrid, mercifully unidentifiable contents disgorging onto the concrete. The red fading paint revealed where the sack had stood caught her eye.

"486 Radio Pty, (Australian Communications Holdings 2022 Pty Ltd)" crudely stencilled small.

Huh? She faltered and squinted at it, rubbed off some dust with her hand. Drek. So it was here. All those years. Somewhere down here. It had to be down here. A door. It must be a basement. Diane heaved the rubbish aside with her foot. Yes. A door. Not concrete at all, just paint so filthy you couldn't tell. She looked for a handle. There was none.

Further investigation revealed a tiny keyhole shaped like the outline of a cogwheel. Diane knew about those keys. She had seen one in the antique shop and had bought it as a curio. She had strung it with loadsa crap on a string around her neck. Sort of punk revival style necklace. Well, what the hell, she took off the ornament, and after some jingly fishing, found and tried it in the lock. Surprise again - the ancient brass mechanism turned smoothly. She heard the bolt wind back.

She pulled out her little key and unceremoniously hefted the appendage back on over her head.

Too good, had to be. The door moved not an inch. It opened outwards but this was not immediately apparent to Diane, pushing quite hard, the wrong way. Eventually she thought to try the other way and broke most of her nails trying to get a purchase in the small crack that defined the portal. Not beaten she remembered her shiv and prised that into the doorframe. Success. It moved a bit. Real sticky. Like the paint had begun to weld to itself with age. Another lever, dig and push, shiv bending at the point. Yes!

This work is Copyright (C) 1994, K.Slaney.
Gillian G. Mason is the pen-name of Kevin Slaney.