“HOPE IS OUR BUSINESS”
Returning to the roots of the sub-genre is often not so much more than an exercise in consuming the most common motifs of the genre being invoked. Hardwired is this to me… but it also couples the familiar with military fiction. While these beats are largely uninteresting to me because I don’t like military fiction, it ends up presenting moments I very much enjoyed. One of the strengths of Hardwired, I found, is the richness of the fiction when the two main characters lose themselves to their private, innermost thoughts. When the introspection ends up being cyclical it ends up being surprisingly satisfying. The answer to a recursive thought that becomes a final ringing tone which fades to black.
Thunder explodes over their heads and Sarah sees the silver sheet of water pouring down outside the broken barn door, Cowboy slumped against the wall with a rueful smile, the buttons in his head reflecting the lightning in blue-white pattern, silver and turquoise, like eyes gazing inward, into his head. Sarah feels a sweep of sadness for Cowboy, the dispossessed panzerboy, his boots leaving tracks in the dust above which he once flew with his mind flicking at the speed of light.
Sarah is a victim of many kinds of abuse which are used to parallel the loss of agency suffered in capitalistic systems, grinding down those without money like her down; tethered to a destroyed and destructive earth. This loss of agency is subverted with cybernetics, as one might expect in cyberpunk. A cybersnake dwells in her throat. A weapon only effective for intimate encounters that make them cringe at the kind of abuse she is a survivor of. Her dream is to leverage her skill set and agency to get a ticket off of earth for her and her brother, Daud.
Lucky Cowboy and his clean hands. By chance you had a talent somebody wanted, and now you're able to afford principles. Good for you.
Orbitals, the megacorporations above the earth, is the nebulous Thing on the horizon for her and most people, it seems. Those who remain are “in the mud”. But of course, the joke is on them because to get up there, to get the amount of money to purchase your ascension—you invariably end up becoming a part of the system of oppression you’re struggling to leave. They only allow the few to get there, money is damned, and the things asked of those who leave invariably stain their character, drawing a line in the sand: sell out and rise…or dwell in the mud, broke. Ironically far more clean in the mud than those in orbit, of course. Having never engaged in the depravity everyone with this true power is synonymous with.
“They’re up here, and they’re lost. Once their obedience to Earth gave them meaning, and then their struggle against it, but now they don’t know what to do. They’re too distracted by their structures. They got their independence, but they don’t know what it means, and they’re looking for the things that will give it meaning.”
To bridge Sarah and her dream there is Cowboy. A panzerboy who interfaces with cyberspace (or the interface, or ‘face) and his tank in a new frontier, having barely survived the old one. Before the tank, he flew planes, but the orbitals put a stop to that. They put a bullet in the wild wild west of the skies and threw him, and those like him, in the dirt. No more sky. His dream is the same as the one Sarah seeks to purchase: freedom, or some form of it. Sarah looking up to find it, Cowboy only catching it in an approximation from nostalgia when making a run in his tank through danger, dodging authority.
“…that’s what the Orbitals don’t understand, what their crystal world models can’t figure. That we’d have run the Alley for nothing. Because it was a way to be free.”
All this culminates into Sarah executing a score that requires her to literally reshape her body. But when the client turns on her, attempting to eliminate her and her dream, by proxy. They end up accidentally all but killing her brother. To pay for his medical bills, the technology that can actually give him his broken anatomy back to him. Flesh and bone that erases the mistake but not so far as to put him back together as he had sculpted himself for his clientele as a sex-worker. Sarah has no choice but to take a job she otherwise wouldn’t have risked. That job puts her on a collision course with Cowboy.
In true cyberpunk fashion, nothing is what it seems and it is far more lethal than both of them suspected. The goal shifts—as it often does in capitalism—from striving for a dream…to pure survival. Which asks the ‘punks to pull the trigger on those attempting to do the same.
What appears to be luck or chance concerning who lives or dies is instead more like resource management for those people who can actually see what is happening from a better vantage point.
“…he has a feeling he can work it somehow, flick a switch and things will turn out that way, if he just knows what switch and when.”
In the end, their hope becomes a commodity that has to be purchased like everything else. Instead of money as currency, though, the system asks for something else from Sarah and Cowboy. What of their humanity are they willing to strip from themselves? Who’s hope matters more? Your own or those people you care for because you can’t have both.
It's for us, Daud. To get us out, into the Orbitals...Where it's clean, Daud...Where we're not in the street, because there isn't a street...It'll be different. Something we haven't known. Something finer.
You should see your eyes when you say that...Like you've just put a needle in your veins. Like that hope is your drug, and you're hooked on it.
Advertisements aptly break up the switches of perspective from Sarah to Cowboy, each a subvocalization of the system that slowly communicates a message: in order to “win” you have to buy. And the cost, of course, is pulling the trigger on your own agency. The value proposition is only concerned in dealing with a sacrifice that shapes you into its own image.
The introspection the two characters often partake in is refreshing because it is constantly steeping this theme in real pain and various conflicting emotions they feel and glimpse in one another but are blind to themselves. Like recognizes like because the system has scarred their bodies.
“Sarah knows she's walking behind a man who's about to lose his first, his biggest war. She feels the dry, cool fingers of sadness touching her. No way to win without becoming one of them.
Sarah wonders if he knows it, if he's just playing on because it's all he knows how to do, or if he really thinks he has a hope. In a strange way she wants him not to know, to keep believing in his own star for a while longer, so as not to lose it all at once, all he ever worked for or dreamed....She knows too well how that feels.”
But even those who are seemingly broken can stop the commercial if they can manage to point the gun at the system instead of the many appendages that further its agenda.
It's the same as the city, Sarah knows, the same hierarchy of power, beginning with the blocs in the orbits and ending with people who might as well be the fieldmice in front of the blades of the harvester, pointless, countless lives in the path of a structure that can't be stopped. She feels the anger coiling around her like armor. The chance to rest, she thinks, was nice enough while it lasted. But right now another fragment of time must be survived.