It takes 20 lines of code to kill a man.

That’s an average. The relevant agencies worked it out years ago, piecing the figure together from hundreds of thousands of reported cases. In practice it’s probably a little higher – although that’s hardly a consolation to the victims.

It takes 20 lines of code to kill a man, depending on the fork he runs, the security on his corpus, and how elegantly you code.

You can flatline someone in five – pit systolic against diastolic and watch their aching heart tear itself apart. It’s simple, brutal, unequivocally messy and, in most parts of the sprawl, cheaper than a bullet. The downside is that you have to know the target’s DNAC token – the kind of secret that is only shared in intimate confidence, or gleaned from a re-engineering of a partners’ genome. So it tends to see use by jilted lovers; when the angelmen high on the hills say ‘she died of a broken heart,’ they’re being very, very literal.

Sixty three lines of code is the record minimum for cracking encryption on Wernicke’s Area – the little grey spongiform region that deals with speech processing and ends up generating what the scripkids call ‘godtalk’ – the disembodied voice of the deity of your choosing screaming directly into your mark’s hind-brain. Down in the marshland favelas ‘doing god’s work’ is an accepted plea for diminished responsibility.

The magic number – the eponymous twenty – is the most insidious. It’s the one that compromises the telomere repair routines in those privileged enough to be hosting them. Twenty lines and those protective clasps turn on their charges – tearing away at the little protein knots until apoptosis kicks in. But you won’t know if for days. Weeks. A dead man walking.

It takes 20 lines of code to kill a man.

How many would it take to kill a city?


Simyon thinks he knows.

He has been planning for years, testing exploratory materials on the flesh and tissue of the overgrown Petrobras refractories and refineries. He has been planning for years, ever since the city ate his mother and youngest sister – consumed them, repurposed the blood and sinew and trace neural lacework in one of its periodic expansion phases.

The day after he crawled out of the foaming wreckage – limbs scarred and body scoured – the old orthodox priest had assured him that their souls would live on in the new efflorescent, fungal growths – minds waiting out the passing of this imperfect earth in castles of air and concatenated bubbles of tensile concrete. He’d been nine.

Still, he knew it was a lie. They were dead – consumed by an uncaring city. They were dead – consumed without reason. They were dead. And he wore the city’s brand – the scars around his waist and the nape of his neck where the city-flesh had tried to intrude, to co-opt and consume.

He speaks of this to no-one, but the city was unable to take him. For some inscrutable reason it rejected him – body and mind and soul – where it had taken his mother and sister. He is not sure whether he pursues his purposes now out of revenge, or out of jealously. Perhaps it is more complicated – a sick, coagulated admixture of contradiction, like the city itself. Retribution and absolution. Punishment and perdition. Sickness and wonderment all at once.

Whatever drives him, he has been planning this for a long time. To his knowledge he is one of mere a handful with this kind of dangerous pre-occupation. He talks to fellow travellers, sometimes – in an argot of codeword and circumlocution – skirting issues, discussing finer points in a language of circumspection, couched in theoretical generalities. All of them hail from other polities; from the East-African city states, the hegemonic territories of the Pearl River and the pickled museum pieces of Old Europe. There is no-one as deeply embedded as he is – no figure so close to the new Feral Cities. They talk of policide, but only he – Simyon Cunha – is positioned to achieve it.

Sometimes he thinks that he is the only person in Rio who actually sees the city. Sees what it has become. He is not far off – the very notion of citizen has been eroded, excised as the social castes stratify, as the religions fragment into fractal offshoots, as compound augmented environments slide over each other, fighting for bandwith and clock-time on the heavy informational substrate of the metropolis. You can walk the corrugated length of the Avenida Presidente Vargas and pass through a million different, fractured realities. Some are closer than others – clusters of like minds, running similar architectures and memetic concepts. You can see the people acknowledging whatever consensuses they share – certain buildings; the distant granite massifs; the slow arc of the rising sea. They’re ghosts greeting ghosts. The ones outside their code-circles, their groundings, may as well not exist.

As for the city…

Sometimes he thinks he is the only person in the world who actually sees the city. The distended engorged flesh of the city beyond the city – the tumescent sheathes of urban fabric clinging to the hills – the stretched skeins of interconnecting road and rail-ways wreathing mouldering heartlands like vines around old-growth. The city beyond the city – the one you could never see if you ran your own little private polities – your own little contingent utopias, the digital overlays that link and enmesh even as they draw you down and out of the real.

Simyon – scarred, systems irrevocably and uniquely damaged – sees it. The city beyond the city – the city that doesn’t care – the city beyond caring. When the augmentations and overlays - all the vituality of a million imagined worlds tailor-made for every tastes and proclivity – liberated the citizen from the crushing reality of the mundane, it also liberated the city – unshackled it from responsibility. Citizens without cities, and cities beyond citizens; their needs, their long-ingrained behaviours, their scales, their sentiments.

The results are monstrous. There are facsimile cathedrals up on the highest peaks – transplanted stadia and marketplaces and great public plazas than no-one knows of; not hidden, but fundamentally inaccessible to the delimited mental maps of the un-city-dweller. He has seen them – walked though their hallways, past carbon black approximations of mid-century shops, through the podia of towers of accreted favela forms; houses without occupants, roads without vehicles, schools without students. A city that has transcended purpose.

Sometimes he feels an odd sympathy – they are both alike, both fundamentally scarred and broken. Sometimes he considers a third classification for his project – that of euthanasia. That feeling comes when he is deep in its bowels – the depravity of the totality conveniently hidden. Then he will surface, drawn out and up into some tower sintered together from bone and brick and god-knows-what and he sees the city, really sees it, stretching from horizon to horizon; unquenchable, unceasing. The city beyond the city – the city beyond measure. He is filled with revulsion.

Only Simyon sees the city, and only he knows how to kill it.