The internet is a lonesome god.
Liverloin is a fractured man, a collection of personas—artificial constructs of wants, fears and needs—created by underground science-artists to help him hide in a hyper-connected world. But he can't hide from Big Momma.
She is the living internet, a benevolent AI who knows everything and everyone… and somehow is in love with Liverloin.
Agent Stevly works for DAIS, an AI on the other side of the internet: the darkness to Big Momma's light. DAIS's agents manipulate news, information and media and pull the strings behind world events, but DAIS cannot control Big Momma or understand why she loves Liverloin. Agent Stevly, bound body and soul to DAIS, will stop at nothing to find the answer.
I fell for Mário's writing the first time I read him, and it's been a delight to see his longer work come out, of which this is but a first taste! – Lavie Tidhar
"Rock'n'roll for the eyes."– The Times
"I really like the mishmash of styles… like order out of chaos."– S. Naomi Scott
"A frenetic, colourful tale with crucial moments of shade and thoughtfulness."– Run Along the Shelves
Alice, Before the Storm
Sometime during the first twenty-five years of Alice's life, her existence had become noncommittal. She'd begun to feel removed from the now, as if time, which moved faster every year, kept flitting her from the past to the future, back and forth, without the present in between.
She had turned from a quiet child to a quiet teen to a practical adult. A practical adult who realized she would get more out of her life if she developed a mindfulness of the now.
She decided she would reconquer her present. No longer would she starve herself of sleep, staring at a blue screen until all her melatonin seeped out of her thumbs. She would do the poetry-in-your-mind thing a therapist had suggested. She would meditate, she would work out, she would do things and go places, and be mindful of every second, of every sensation of her body. She would learn how to live in the now.
This was it. Her life was going to change.
Come morning, of course.
She woke up. She grabbed her phone. She checked all her social media accounts, one by one, exhausting content like Pacman eating dots. She liked a few things, throwing her approval into the hungry pit of someone else's fucked up dopamine receptors. She slid out of bed, phone in hand, took a piss, phone in hand, brushed her teeth, phone in hand, she wrote a few lines of poetry in her head, phone in hand. She felt like—
she's lived in this bathroom her whole life
milking out the last of the shampoo
adding exfoliated skin flakes like cereal
turning the tap as hot as it gets, to boil
noodles made of hair in the shower drain—
"Jesus fuck, are you seeing this?" Liverloin said.
Alice didn't blink. She didn't act startled. As smoothly as if she hadn't been somewhere else, she descended to reality, to the corner café, to Liverloin, who had another name then, a name he hadn't chosen.
Liverloin was staring at his phone bug-eyed. Alice resisted the urge to also draw hers. Never near him, she had decided. When near him, only him.
"They leaked all our shit!" he said. "Wait, did they leak my shit?"
Everybody else in the café was staring at their phones, different mouths curving into the same gaping Os. Alice peered over Liverloin's shoulder, at his phone, catching glimpses of the news.
The Bad Bleep.
"Big Momma," Liverloin said, calling everybody's favorite virtual assistant. "Please find if they leaked my shit."
"Googling causes of leaky gut syndrome," came Big Momma's pleasantly British voice.
"No! Check if I'm among the victims of the Bad Bleep."
Around them, people in the café too whispered to their Big Mommas. She was convenient, no doubt about that. But more importantly, and more surprisingly, she was becoming loved. Recently, she had made the news for preventing a terrorist attack, redirecting the would-be-bomber's GPS to a police station before he could blow up a comic book store. (The perpetrator was an old millennial unhappy with the casting of an upcoming comic book adaptation).
She was everywhere. A chatty goddess overfed by the computing power of all your devices, surfing the crest of a logarithmic tsunami. She was in your car, helping you park; in your stove, helping you cook; in your dildo, helping you fuck yourself. She was becoming the promised Internet of Things.
But the internet wasn't just things. The internet was people. And it was sad, Alice thought, that—
the internet was her, too
worming from her finger bones
to her bad back, to her brain stem
slashing brain matter as if
she could cut the arteries of outside
and bleed out in sweet,
Big Momma led Liverloin to a website called PrivacyWatchDoggo, whose logo was a keyhole with the view to a middle finger.
"They leaked my shit!" Liverloin squeaked. "All my debit cards are here… Good thing I'm fucking broke."
A stunned waiter came over to pour his matcha, a little thermometer on the cup assuring it was a perfect 80 degrees Celsius, because someone on Alice and Liverloin's friends' group had said that green tea tastes bitter if brewed at a boil.
"Banks are canceling everyone's cards," a heavily pierced woman said on a nearby table, apparently giddy with the anvil-to-the-dick of everyone's lives. "Don't worry your pretty head, mate."
Liverloin acknowledged her with a helpless stare, then threw a terrified one to Alice. "Wait, did they leak your shit?"
Most likely, Alice thought, but she hadn't checked yet because panicking was her private vice, not fit for a busy café in a gentrified Swiss city.
"Big Momma, check if Alice is among the victims," Liverloin whispered to his phone, before Alice could stop him.
Liverloin squinted at the results, then he widened his eyes, then he quickly looked away in shame. "I didn't mean show me the leaks, goddamn it!" Handing the phone to Alice, he muttered, "Sorry."
She was in the leaks alright. Her private FB texts were there, her national ID number was there, her pictures from a childhood vacation in Montenegro were there, her tits were there, her whole fucking online life was there. And besides, wasn't the 'online' part kind of redundant nowadays?
She breathed in deeply. Her heart was out of rhythm. She felt like puking in all directions, flooding the whole fucking world in puke. The worst was that it was her own damn fault. It was her who had decided to put her whole life in there, in the wireless veins of a commodified new world. And now it was all a click away. Her thoughts and tits and secrets.
But it is what it is.
"Are you okay?" Liverloin asked. "I mean… besides the obvious?"
"I got in."
"What do you… Oh, that persona coding thing?" Liverloin smiled, wavered, smiled some more. It was too much all at once, for both of them. "That's fantastic!"
Was it? A program to teach you how to create 'personas', that new, uber-intrusive technology the internet was aflame with, flames that would probably now be doused by the Bad Bleep. Changing yourself for fun instead of leaving it to the whims of chance. In Alice's view, it was a bit of harmless fun, barely a step above ingesting some psilocybin and meeting the Mushroom God.
But Liverloin? He was made of different sutures. He had stitched himself up from a life of negligence and abandonment. He would never adopt somebody else's preference for overtoasted bread, or tolerance for people chewing with their mouths open, or belief in the good of others. No, to do that would require letting somebody in, and the only person Liverloin had ever accepted into his life was Alice herself. And his fuckup of a younger brother.
But that was then, before the storm. Before the sutures had come undone.
As if reading her thoughts, Liverloin threw a look over his shoulder, pretty neck muscles straining. "Where the hell is Daniel?"
"You know how little brothers are," Alice said, not knowing it herself.
"Cretin can't take a shit without taking his phone," Liverloin grumbled, "and yet somehow never picks up the phone."
Alice didn't say anything to that. Her poops were phone-dependent, too.
"Finally! Where are you?" Liverloin said to his phone, softening his voice mid-sentence. "Oh. How did that happen?" He began to relax. "That's because butter has a low smoke point, dipshit. Next time use olive oil, like civilized people." He scoffed. "How am I an extra virgin?" He placed a foot on the coffee table. "Who gives a shit about the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes?" He took his foot off the table when the waiter passed by. "Alright, let me know when you're free."
"Everything alright?" Alice asked.
"Yeah, don't worry. Daniel's not coming. Long week at work."
Yes, Daniel's work. His mysterious, uber-important NDA-ed work. Alice wouldn't have been surprised if Daniel was actually unemployed, mooching off some rich lady who'd taken a fancy to his puppy eyes. It wouldn't be the first time.
"Hope they're treating him right…" Liverloin muttered.
Something about that made Alice so damn sad. But she didn't know what, because that type of sadness was tangentially related to something she had seen online, something about an elephant who had been adopted by a family of hippos, and grown up unsure how to use its trunk.
Jesus fucking Christ. Was there even a metaphor in there? Could she please have a thought she hadn't already seen online somewhere?
"So… About the good news." Liverloin looked up at her. He had such pretty eyes, ever-so-slightly widened. "Is it going to change anything about our trip?"
"Of course not," she said. The two of them traveling the world, photographing derelict places. Two people who, if they were honest, had to admit they were in a platonic relationship. Finding touchless solace in the gap between strings of failed relationships. Nothing would stop me from going with you, she thought, but would never say. "The program starts in two months. Maybe—"
if we leave now, there's a train we can live in
tickets are cheaper than paying rent, and the cook is Italian
(he makes pizza in the furnace)
I will miss our little garden
but it was getting hard to sleep
with the waves beating upon our shore,
and sending sea spray over all we sow,
the soil, the grass, the leaves, the seeds—