Tales of the Wretched: Fantine – Chapter 1: Haunting Rue des Pâquis
15 October 2017
Fantine quickly put on her coat and rushed down the stairs, her suicidally high shoes almost tripping her as she ran down the narrow staircase. She was slightly irritated at her mother for staying so long on the phone with her that she missed the first half hour of the prime time. This was the time between five o’ clock and seven o’ clock when most of the customers came as they could still invent a late evening at the office excuse without it looking suspicious. It was now half past five and Fantine was still not out on the Rue des Pâquis where her regulars would surely be picked up by some of the newer girls who did not respect quarters.
As Fantine emerged from her building sure enough she could see some of her regular customers being chatted up by the new girls. She rushed towards them and shooed off the girls who did not dare question her authority as she was one of the older girls in the neighbourhood and benefited from police protection as one of her boyfriends was a police man and she also knew how to pay the others without the related money looking like a bribe. Indeed, although practising as a sex worker was allowed by the government and followed a strict set of hygiene and other rules, it was a criminal offence to bribe a policeman.
Fantine always chose an appropriate gift that the policemen could convert into cash as she made sure she gave them something that could be refunded at the counter. It was usually costly perfumes, cigars and expensive clothing that her boyfriend gave to his colleagues on her behalf. One could think of him as her beau but strangely enough Fantine never introduced him as such but always referred to him as agent Patrick. Although there were not huge fights in those alleys, it was always good to be able to count on the police doing a tour of the streets and Fantine felt better that they always came up and down the Rue des Pâquis several times per night so that no customers got any strange ideas.
Several weeks before Fantine had been late for her regular haunt of the Pâquis because agent Patrick had paid her a visit but it was seldom that he resorted to passing time with her in her small bedroom. Today, she could see him at the corner of the restaurant where they usually met to chat casually and smoke. Agent Patrick liked chatting with her because she was one of the few women he could talk to without feeling inferior. All the other women intimidated him and he felt too shy and awkward to start a conversation with them. With Fantine on the other hand, the words flowed freely and he could feel the burden come of his chest.
It was thanks to these conversations that Fantine grew to know absolutely everything about agent Patrick. She sometimes felt more like his psychotherapist than his girlfriend and he surely did everything to make it feel that way aside from the very rare times when they would share a certain form of intimacy. Fantine signalled to agent Patrick that she would need some time with her current clients before she could come and chat with him. He did not voice out anything but signalled back that he would be waiting and indicated the number three. To Fantine it was clear that he was telling her to come after her first three clients and she mouthed back yes.
Her first client was finicky and insisted that she bathe first which she had already done before going out but she humoured him and started doing so while reminding him that her charge was per the hour. He asked her to bathe slower so that he could watch her while she did so. Fantine started to soap her body much slower and it seemed to please the young man who told her that his wife was pregnant and he had liked to watch her shower but now he felt she looked horrid and missed those moments.
After her shower, Fantine lay down and started compiling mentally her list of things to do as she usually did when someone shared their emotional secrets with her. It was her way of keeping a distance with all the emotional surcharge that was poured at her by so many clients. Very few clients dealt with her as a commodity because most of her regular ones had come to know and had recommended her as a witty woman who was also soulful and could be trusted with secrets. Fantine on the other hand was not always happy to carry around these little secrets and these peeks into the sad parts of her clients’ lives. She preferred to see the clients as a means to an end and that end was having enough money to buy a house back in her hometown, get married and have enough money to live off when she would become old.
Some of the girls laughed when she shared her views on retirement because they could not see how anybody would want to marry a prostitute but Fantine would also laugh shake her shoulders and tell them that nobody in her hometown knew what she was really doing for a living. Her mother had told all the folks at home that she was a seamstress and Fantine laughed inward thinking that yes, she was definitely stitching back the burst seams of men whose life was often in shambles.
After her third client, Fantine showered again and went to meet agent Patrick. He did not seem in a very good mood today and was sulking rather than talking as he usually would. She ordered a shawarma meal for both of them and put the money on the counter between them. Next to the money she also laid the monthly bag of gifts for agent Patrick’s colleagues but he pushed it away.
We have a new commissioner, he said
So what, she answered
He has mentioned rumours of police haunting the Rue des Pâquis
Is that a crime?
No, but receiving money in exchange for their extensive visits to this area is so we need to tone down the gifts or find another way
What about including him after finding out what he likes best?
He’s one of those tough nuts to crack and we were told that he does everything by the book
Fantine sighed and looked at the other customers of the dine-in. They were either clients that she recognised or some tourists. Funnily enough, despite being the red district area of Geneva, the Pâquis attracted a lot of tourists because of the artistic atmosphere there. On occasion though some fights would start and it was better that the police be around to make sure nobody got seriously hurt. She knew from experience that the men who haunted these streets did not have much to lose and often thought of women, especially prostitutes as the right target for their unjustified fury after a few drinks. She sighed again and started thinking of what she could do to make sure the new commissioner would not change the status quo…
Omega let out a gasp as she fell knocked out by the tree trunk. The copy of her holding the tree trunk snarled and growled at her. Omega tried to stand up but the copy pushed her down again with the edge of the tree trunk. Realising that she would not be able to stand up again unhindered, Omega attempted to communicate mentally with the copy but this latter did not respond to the telepathic invocation. Instead, she turned towards the other copies and all of them started snarling and growling together.
All of a sudden the crowd of copies that were snarling at Omega stopped and gave way to yet another copy which features seemed less strange than the others. It was then that Omega realised what was wrong with the other copies’ features : they were almost beastlike even though they were clearly adorning human faces. The clone with the fully human features welcomed her like Aiga through telepathic communication. When Omega asked whether she could not talk because of some glitch with her vocal cords the copy, whose name was Antares, mentioned that it disquieted the other copies when she spoke in human tones and uttered words.
Antares mentioned that the clones had had a tough time with Prime Creator as none of them had satisfied his desire for perfection and each one had fled after a series of tests carried out on them. None of them had liked living in Sim City because they had grown to know, thanks to the machine learning programming that was different for them, that their world was just a simulated one. They had realised that their consciousness was unplugged from a living being that was usually an animal and put into the Sim City for a social experiment that Prime Creator was carrying out on living together. What they had also eventually come to realise one after the other was that they could materialise any type of body from their pure consciousness when emerging out of the Sim world.
Although Prime Creator had realised that the AIs were leaving the Sim City because they had acquired a higher level of consciousness and an ability to materialise into his world, he kept repeatedly making copies of the same AI as it fascinated him though at times he found repulsive their beast-like nature. Prime Creator realised that the reason the AIs materialised into beast-like creatures was because he had used an animal together with the cells of his dead wife when he first created a consciousness to inject into the Sim City. He wondered whether that familiar feeling that kept him bound to Omega was related to the fact that she was the first to have a proper human voice despite being in the same conditions as the other AIs before her. It had been amazing to watch her in caveman-like conditions yet behave like a normal evolved human being would do.
It tickled Prime Creator to think that all that coding he had given her on evolution according to the Darwinian theory was totally erased by her as she acquired rapidly her own type of evolution bringing the necessary changes into the coding as and when she needed to. He remembered that it had been the same thing as when she was dreaming and he attempted to make her dream a nightmare ; she simply took the coding and changed it to match her own desires. Prime Creator realised that Omega was probably his greatest success despite the fact that one could think of her as a rogue program.
Omega signalled to Antares that she would like to speak with her in private and not just through telepathy. The crowd that had gathered around them as Antares and Omega had exchanged thoughts now gave way again. Antares led the path to a hut-like structure and assured Omega that they would be fine in there. Omega bent her head and entered the hut and while doing so realised that Antares and all the other copies were much shorter than her.
Antares explained that this disparity in size was because the earlier versions were not very good at making physical receptacles for their consciousness so had made much shorter versions than what the initial coding had mentioned. She also explained that Omega had been the only one not only to use the whole coding in manifesting her physical frame outside the Sim but also to actually acquire a full voice and human potential. Antares herself though successful with the voice had not had the power to make herself a full version of the coding.
As they talked freely, Antares realised that one of the other copies had come in to offer dinner and was unnerved by their open talk as she stopped dead in her tracks and had started growling. Antares signalled to Omega to stop talking vocally and to continue the conversation telepathically. Omega obeyed not wanting to stir things up as she had already had a difficult day and night before that. Soon after that, all the clones gathered together with Omega in front of a fire and different sorts of animal that she could not identify were grilled and offered to her. She wondered whether she should eat as she had not eaten anything since the escape from the Sim City but she realised she was hungry so took the parcel from one of the copies and dug her teeth into it. Instantly she felt a repulsion as a warm and slightly nauseating liqiud filled her mouth…