No Rez

Jeff Noon

Illustration by Dave Senecal

Waking   the same   every morning,                   into darkness

The darkness        of the eye

Waiting for   the day to      kick in, the first little


Now,   there it      shines,   now more of them, little squares of   green light   forming numbers    07:15   clock   

Blink. Now orange   now yellow, white, red 

four pixels per square inch, now    eight, sixteen, thirty-two

onwards, casting sleep away,   my world gathering   itself in my   vision: oh my precious little squares and cubes of     light and   colour,   collecting yourselves, making the room glow   in my sight. Blink…


Bloody hell,   first  pop-up, barely  awake. It’s always the    money grabbing bastards    that hit  you from the get go, bastards 

blink it away, wish I could

Up. Dressed.   Grunt to Tom as he comes out of    the bathroom  pale flesh blurred (thank god)      Dream? Did I? Yes of what?  Strange, don’t usually   dream.   Too few pixels it seems   in the mind, infecting,      or so they say:  

As you see    the world,  so you   think about the    world


Yes, grab that demo. A five second burst of Hi-Rez.        Save for later, stash it     with the others.  Nice little collection    now, and maybe,      see Katie sometime, use it then.   Maybe?

Out now. Biking it. Glory. Extra pixels kicking in courtesy of the company’s upgrade.    Here I am, riding the streets, dragging the world into     my seven cameras,    stealing the world, streaming it down to HQ and then out to the big server hubs,      offshore, or out in the edgelands,     I’ve heard,    giant concrete slabs filled with machines, blinking lights. Stories I’ve heard, just      a couple of people attending   as the nation’s collected info       streams and surges and bubbles and fires off at tangents ever circling    in the web, the warp and weft  of our lives, here now, me zooming the streets aboard my pixel bike, I am the seeker of  of   of life!    Fuck, good buzz in the head, just like those    games  I used to   play, first person shoot-em-ups, crazy, just like that, the world blistering before me in light and colours and sheets of noise  [ *** ]  Wooh nea rly, then   ! A red car crackling at ragged edge of vis ion, a sudden cut-out   to black,    what?  Fu ck  Why I wonder  ? Nearly crashed.


Need to… Fuck. Scary. Just keep riding, riding. Need to talk to     Bella about it, tech geek:  strange  life    she has,    in her tiny dark room,     drinking booze all day, her talk of finding some hyper pixel shit one day and all that       weird stuff she   builds… Oh coming back now….  yes, can see OK now     yes,  better now. A little. Back to normal, gathering the city back into my lenses, as I ride,    swerving through the cars   like no other rider, ever, watch me world!


On. City, I will be your eyes today, I will glorify you in the stream,    continuously,    all your myriad pixels firing as one.


So many vision-pops today. Wish I could afford better, cleaner worldview. OK. Control. Ride it easy. 


Once we were hunters, then gatherers.      Then workers. Then service providers.      Now streamers, surfers, users, blip seekers. Pixel chasers, image junkies, hyper reality buffs, dreamers. Seekers of the golden resolution,  the view that gives you life complete,     as beauty only, pure, filtered clean of all pain, all ugliness, all suffering    and  doubt. Oh  glory, imagine!


I am my POV, nothing   more


Morning shift done, back to HQ. Off the clock     Pixels dropping away from my vision as I park   the bike…     No waste,    not from English Eye,     nation’s number one reality stream,         updating         on the second, every  second!   real time.

Canteen. There she is…       Katie.   Isn’t it?     Difficult, sometimes to   tell, when just off the bike, adjusting to  the   lower  rez level. Snazzy. She always gets the best streams…     Rides a mean machine, gathers more    reality than any of us.    Might ask her out,    maybe

Should do, yes.          Use all my    collected demos up in   one amazing  night,  imagine…


Yes  Touching  her  flesh,     imagine    and her eyes, seeing my face, clear,   full of beauty, me imagine. Yes, share   the demos   (have about   twelve saved up)    Mutual vision:   two POVs seeing the   glory in  each  other, imagine, life,   as it could  be lived

Orgasm   jeez imagine: All twelve demos taken     at once    Whoosh! Blossom.

Shit, she’s uh what? Christ      she’s talking to   me… Her words, halfway broken as mine… probably shares   my  rez level,   sweet, best   that way,   everyone says so:  stick to your    own rez level, because…       Nobody wants to   to imagine another person seeing them   as ugly. Christ, no


Lips, move yourselves, answer  her: Sure, yes, absolutely (not actually saying    anything,  not   at all)   But see, in the haze of my POV,  her eyes,    ice green crystals  suddenly clear     like,  I got myself a shot of hyper realism, free of    charge, wham ! Those eyes, all a dazzle, as they are…      Ah, gone now, the sight     the colour.    And herself as well, walking on. Think I fluffed   it,  but maybe ask   again   later  in a few    days, yeah, chance it…

Out! Screaming down the roadways on my trusty machine flexed up to the nines on company vision, now I’m winging it, singing it wild,  all my cameras open wide to receive the world, riding on no-stop, through the ever-growing forests     of radio masts, where the world is broadcast daily, nightly, constantly, reality updated, me feeding it, and feeding off it, merging with it, imagine: me,  clear of all fissures, blips, crackles, smears.   And one day, I swear… No more little pixel squares, no more low rez shit, and better implants as well, replace these crappy lenses, had them since when, sixteen years old? Hell. Really? Begone, dull vision! I’ll be the number one King of the All-Seeing Eye, you wait!!! Oh glory, glory be…

Later. Back home. Tommy   looking at me   like he always does, all knowing, like, wink, wink.  I’ve always suspected   he has secret    pixels,    a little stash  of his own, he never lets on, I    hate that,    but when   he looks   at me, it’s like  he knows   me,   he sees right through me, using some  elaborate   vision, sure  of it


Tommy’s job: selling his image to the texture companies. You spot him now    and then, just popping up in modelled pixelworld scapes, watermarked, a standing figure, or striding through a forecourt or a marina, handsome devil, one hand pointing to the future, or at a boat, or whatever, proud,  confident, oh sure, yeah, but like to punch out him one time, like to…

What the  hell am   I?   What do I   look like ?   Mirror: I can only see   what I can see, a low-to-mid rez pixelhead, filtered by my lenses.     But wonder:  what do  I look like    really?

Out.   Slow walk. A drink, need to…. feel it, my eyes   ache,   the world, the city,    the full moon, road signs, people     all blurred,  all the little cubes of life    entangled, mashed together, cracking up,   static interference,     the curse of my rez level, and cheapo eye-tech. Look now: a pair of ever-circling    dancing   floating camera sprites    homing in on me, their tiny little sparkling lenses wanting to    capture my image, stream me.        Ever growing numbers of them, getting everywhere these days, following,   following…   they call it the future of world-view… some of the bikecam companies have already going bust…  fuck, what would I do then, if…? 


Need more pixels   yes   need more pixels, now more pixels… 

Urge to buy instilled. Pop-ups get you like that sometimes, but what can you do? Check into the corner kiosk, get myself a squirt of Low, keep it stable. Christ, a week till payday, I’ll be down to the dregs before then,     living on four or six pixels a day         like some kind of crumble clown. But it feels like       I’m running low already, what’s wrong with me? Too many glitches.   Fuck, close my eyes,      move in darkness, yes,   rest here, peaceful     for a while, but even   the dark is breaking up:     little black cubes fragmenting    and sliding   away    at the edge of greyness,    as though  the night is     crumbling, crumbling…

Can’t face the pub after all,  too many people, to many viewpoints, all on me, and   my image   slightly  different in each one, according to their pixel   levels, and various   enhancements: the noise, chaos of vision.      On the bike today, those  moments of blackout? Maybe not to do    with the company’s POV  at all, but maybe  to do with    me?  But what? What   have I done wrong? Vision-sick? God, hope not, really

Moon   nauseous   yellow glow,  ragged at the edge….  street lamp  blinding me, too much fuzziness,  people all gaudy misshapes,  girls  in their eye-dazzling   dresses, the guys ablaze with hatred, staggering  drunk,     looking  at me, their faces  shivery,    breaking up  

We’re all caught in   the  present  tense, how it is,    this moment     this one, now   and now, this moment, and this one now     and now   now  and   now  now now now   now  there’s no escaping it  now   and now… holy Christ, need to get away,  streets  too  c rowded,  too much info   for my  pix el level, can’t… just …  jus t can’t          fi lter it pro  perly…

Alleyway yes dark here,  better now, rest,   breathe, Aiden.   Aiden, Aiden you will get through this…. A sprite follows, lens all aglow, watching me… LEAVE ME ALONE! Need to, need to grab  it from the air, can’t, no, try again, no, just out of reach… one squeeze would crack it  open,  images spilling out   imagine, yes, all over my hands, just need to…  grab,  no,  shit… Turn, run, keep moving, further, twisting alleyways… no lights…

Wait, dead-end, locked steel door… back of a club, something

Trapped, no escape

You are what you see, remember… in the moments as they pass

Now,  and now  and now  now  now  

nownownow now nownownownownow

the sprite sees me

stumble, fall


vision blurring

to black  

[ *** ]       

Nownow  now  now  wake…. what?

Cold, on the ground, curled up,      how?

How long?   how long was I out  for?  What is that   red colour, smudge of…     blood  yes blood  here on my hands?  What is that?  Can’t see  properly,  look     look now…

A body,    who? Unmoving   cold, cold, so cold   to the touch, can’t see,  blur, a boy, a man is it? Yes    Oh God   cold, dead    my hands, the blood,  how did this   happen?

OK be calm, stay calm,   just just, just get it together.  Look. Breathe. Examine. Get your fucking pixels together, kid! Stare. At the body. Concentrate!

OK. A man. Unknown, his face. And bloody, just like my… hands.  All unknown, dressed in grey, a suit. How did he die? Knife, gun? But never heard anything… no,  didn’t. Don’t know…


Wait, a demo will do it. Got some in my pocket, trusty  supply.  Pocket. Yes,      crack it open and squeeze      it in, good, at the temples,      oh my little cheapest ever implants…  now let’s go crazy on vision, yes…


Ah, sweet world of light and colour, so clear. The body. So clear, so present, filtered so. Yes, he’s gone from this world. Finished. Brutal wounds, frenzy, no helping him. And there, at his fingertips, as though he’s reaching out to touch, to retrieve, to keep hold of. What is that, a little black box   [ *** ]    Damn it. Darkness now,    sudden,  a few seconds only, as always   after a demo, dark, before the usual low rez kicks back  in. 

The camera-sprite still floats here,     still watching me…     I’m on record, I’ve been seen, witnessed…

Noise. Sirens, the cops,           and my hands so red, so bloodied…   Will have to… will have to run…

Home now. Safe. Hope so. But shaking still.   Already used up yet another demo when I got in, first thing,  just for the  buzz,     the surge of overload glow, needed it,   like a whiskey shot to the eyes.

Alone. Tommy out. Good…


That’s the one.           Automatic vizzipops for another hour, probably, as     punishment for using    the demo.  Way it goes, life.

The little box. On my bed. Yes, mine now. Stolen. Black metal, no shine, silver filigree patterns. Warm to the touch.   Stolen. Oh God, why? Not like me, not at  all. What is it, I wonder? Nothing on  the news feed  yet,  about the   dead body. Wonder who?

Why did he  die? Frenzied attack. Maybe just a robbery gone wrong? But why not take   the box? So then  it’s not worth anything? Wonder? If I… that is, if I open it… no, can’t do it, won’t budge, sealed, no opening? What? My fingers find a little ridge, and push… hissing sound… hssssssst  Strange. Feel… No. Nothing. Sleep now, sleep…


Wait. But the sprites that follow, follow? Think! What if, I was… captured there, on record, in the alley next to the body. Rumours: that sprites see reality, the real deal, the world as it is, the never seen, never felt, never heard, the world behind the veil of pixels… wonder what I, what I look like, there…. Zero Rez, the call it,   NO REZ. The unmediated world, cold analog, urgh, scary, makes me,  makes me shiver… feel sick. The stories they tell of what remains, naked of pixels: a place of dirt, decay, ruin, weeds, rust, trash, dust, silence, the void, rats, infestation, disease, the Desert of the Real…

Up. Good sleep finally, that dream, what was it, so clear, like I could see every detail of life. No blur, no smears, no crumble at the edges. Strange. Dreaming: my face covered all over in blue cloth, why? I feel…

What am I  seeing now  the room… my  room, so clear. So vivid, dazzling, so damn vivid, alive to my eyes, my senses, my hands touching at the tabletop, where every grain can be felt, every detail present in the moment, filtered to high heaven, all the way. Perfected, as I am… as I gather the room to myself via the senses: so clear, so sweet, so goddamn fucking sweet, everything, mine, my world, mine…

Bike. God, so good. Glory. The road. The road is liquid speed and here I zoom so sweet riding all the way down towards the vanishing point as it moves ahead of me just those few feet ahead like I can catch up with it one day soon if I just keep riding like this just keep moving and glowing yes this is the real overload the most perfect world ever and I am in it yes I am part of it with no vizzipops none just myself close to the centre gathering streaming skimming the tarmac and swerving so easy around the speeding cars no one can catch me no one can stop me, because now at last I see, yes fuck I feel the world in every pore, and there, a figure in my sight, not so clear, blurry, no, please, don’t crumble away, not yet, let me stay here in this world, this version of the world, but strange, the figure moves, her form before me as I ride, a woman, it seems like, her face featureless, tightly covered in blue cloth, strange, never leaving me, who, who is she? [*** ]  Oh, awake, where… home.

But can’t remember getting here.  

Back to normal. Low Rez. Shitty squaresville.   Old crumble zone.    

The time, look at   it. Bloody hell, I missed work today, did I? Just riding the city’s streets for my own pleasure, hours on end.    Wonder what my on-bike cameras captured; would love to access that. Need a code. Yes, but worth it, missing work,       just for the joy of the ride and the world as I travelled through it. Definitely. Or dreaming, was I? What? Fuck. Just maybe?

But no popjobs yet. None of the usual early morning flow of ads and feeds. Why is that? 

The box. Still here. Wonder what it is, maybe    some kind of development, the future of improved sensual input. One more time, maybe?      No. Resist, resist…

Round at Bella’s pad. Talking in dim light, shadows, her   face scattermasked,  against, as she says,   the intruding beams of the corporate targeting engines, invisible they are, nanosprites, or so she claims, like dust in the air, getting in through the cracks in the walls, the ceiling, recording everything, all over… 

Crazy for sure. But maybe…

She gives me a dose of pixel power, a one minute shot, something she’s concocted herself from hacked supplies…  nice, but it’s nothing like the effects of the hyperbox, as I’m calling it. But I can’t tell her about that. No, not yet. Secret. But why? Just for me. Really? OK. Is that wise? Stay      dumb. Just ask about sprite-cams: the need to access footage, such and such      a time, location, when I was alleyway bound, that blackout moment, the dead man on the cold ground, need to   need to know what happened…

Bella’s legit business is selling images, a whole library of things she’s collected over the years: flowers, fields, sunsets, rockets taking off, semi naked dancers, goals being scored, cheering or rioting crowds, whatever you need to            complete your reality.      Little extras, accessories to life. Some of them have watermarks  in them ,  because she’s stolen the pictures, but who cares, really? 

Some of the best    things I’ve    ever seen, ever…               have been            watermarked. Like that time with Katie, when I… shit, concentrate…

Always a pleasure watching Bella break a code wide open, or a little sliver of a way in, her fingers  on the console, twitching, game-play really, no different… back to DOS, her favoured mode, retrotech. The console brightening under her touch, the screen alive with image, and there,   there I am… look now…

That night. The street. As the sprites see me, but it’s weird, not like the rumours at all, but all grey goo on the screen, with   just this single   little   dot  of high rez floating around; Bella explains it:  some kind of privacy law, sprites only allowed to focus on    one    thing    after another, whatever’s deemed important: me, there, for  instance, down the alleyway, following me… the dead-end… doorway, there, the body of the mandead, there, myself… looking down at himswaying, feel it,       remember…

Blackout. As myself, as I did then, on that night,  so the screen does now.  Crash.   What?  What now? Where? Bella punches keys, works the controls, curses. Nothing. Dead screen. Wiped clean. Zero reveal. Until… until the world clicks back into place, into view and now I’m caught once more in sprite mode,     sirens in the night sky calling out,      calling, and me, that young man there, that scared young man with the       blood on his hands, me, myself, running        running…

Bella warns me: somebody’s protecting the victim. Erasure in place. Tells me: Aiden, dearest, be careful.

Home again. Straight to the box, can’t resist. Just can’t. Yes. Have to. Urge. Memories burn, need to feel that sense of life again,    up close,     that heavenly vision fix, streaming me with colours and sound and light. Press. Hssssssssst. Yes, slight perfume. Vapour of some kind, maybe? Yes. Wonder

Walking this time. Slow, steady. Taking in the city in all its beauty, magnified, made glorious, everywhere I look crammed to the very limits with pixels, so many of them, thousands upon thousands, squeezed together, so perfectly arranged in the mosaic that I can see no joins, no edges, only the smooth surface of life, but with the colours turned up, the sharpness increased, the contrast set at its highest ratio, and everything so scorchingly lovely to look at, so shimmery, so vibrant, the people especially, their faces, their bodies, I can hardly look at them for fear of melting my eyeballs with such radiant beauty. And this is life as it should be lived, at the highest level of POV, here in this paradise…  [***] Like a jump cut, one time to another, and what’s been lost in between, I don’t know, I do not care, the neon signs flash and glow with fiery reds and shining golds and blues the colour of music as it drifts free of the sign, above me and around me now, the words singing out their meaning plain, but only I can hear them, only I have this much data in my sight [***] I see the sprites as they follow me dancing floating along for what they are: the never-sleeping eyes of the world, watching, the one million eyes of the city, watching watching watching targeting… and what happens when all the eyes close at once, yes what then? [***] Among the crowd only one person still seems unclear, the blue figure again, moving in and out of vision as though she exists between the pixels, as though there might be another layer of resolution beyond this one, but how can there be, how can the world be more prefect than this? And yet there she stands, watching me, and now she moves, the woman, her face without features, covered in blue, her whole body also, blue, blue cloth, head to foot, as she turns as though to look at me, but her eyes hidden, and then she moves on and I follow her, try to, yes…

Broken now. Broken. I feel. Broken. Without the high rez. Lost. Bereft. Wandering. The effect lasts for about an hour, on average. But I can’t stop using it. Can’t stop. Will it run out, ever? Panic. Will the hyperbox run out of vapour, whatever it is. It must do, eventually. And then, and then what? How will I face the world ever again, like this, in this low rez gutter?

Once or twice: little flashbacks,      but  then    nothing, so   cruel…

What are we walking toward, quite willingly, I wonder? We are walking into the eye of the camera, a gleeful smile on our faces, our eyes satiated with streamed reality, ever-changing, ever, ever-changing, where does it lead, wonder…

Tommy’s back, I hear. The door banging. Why won’t he come in, oh… strange, not like him, no call out, no shout to me, no stories of his conquests, of the ever marvellous journeys his image has gone on today in Texture Land… Oh… not him, what? Who?

Two of them. Strangers. Men.        Dark. Uh. Lights out. What? What do they want? I can’t… I can’t see them. Fuck. Have to, I have to get out of here.. now… 

Noises, footsteps, a grunt. My body folding up as the first blow hits. Stomach. Crack. On the head, fuck, something heavy, where… I can’t, have to move, have to crawl…

They’re going for my implants… tearing at them…

Another blow. Pixels jumping in my eyes, breaking apart, the room crumbles and I fall, with no way to know where to go, no world, no room, only patterns as the pixels drain away, crazy dancing as the two men circle around me, have to fight back, but they’re jacked up on some kind of vision high, the both of them, I can sense that: they know everything about me, where to strike, how to lead me on, how to defend themselves, their POVs blaze with power, imagine…

Have to… crack! Demo. Use it. Now. Sizzle and flare, sudden, and there! The first man, there! Strike out and he reels back [***] fuck, darkness, where now, where, crack, one more. Demo, fumbling for… now now now there he is, the second man, charge for him, push with him full strength all I have left, into the wall the two of us, crack!  [***]  dark, where, dark, both of them coming in, blows all around, I’m down, fumble, crackle, demo where? There, so clear, these last few seconds of visual bliss as the blows rain down, and here’s me, thinking, thinking,… if only I had my little hyperbox with me, beat them then [***] yes, beat them then, easily…

Gone. Alone. Stir. Awake. Head aching, body, scarred, bloody. Bruises. Painful to move. Where? Can’t seem to find my…. uh   bearings

Alone now, sure of it, don’t breath just listen. Listen!      No one. Gone now, they’ve gone, and taken what they came for, the box, the vapour, the Resolution of the Gods, stolen from me, as I stole it from the mugging victim, whoever he was, and the two men knew, they knew precisely what they wanted, why they came here…

Something’s wrong, my eyes, crumble of sight, vision, all the sense, I’m losing focus, the room…

The rooms, all of them, disintegrating as I walk through them, I’m losing…

I’m losing pixels, drifting, crackling, the edges of my POV drifting apart

Implants, damaged    must get help…   police or get Tommy, Katie    Bella   yes        anybody

Can’t see, only six colours now           in my vision,     five,       four, sinking

No       don’t move, ride it, ride it out! Maybe it’s temporary, has to be…

Down to two colours now, a few cubes left to  me,      squares, so low, ragged,     where am  I, 

Where       am I heading… wonder…


colours flashing, disappearing

one pixel

as though falling , falling asleep, but

but different now, sinking


blink , blink   blink… 



zero rez


dark, darkness in the eyes






[ ***]


where now



stir awake

the world


moving, moving on

crawling, stumbling, walking

I am the dirt on the surface of objects

the rip in the cloth

grease on the lens

yes, feel it now

I am the grain in the wood

the warp in the plastic

the grit in the engine

the dirt, the grease, the smears

the damage, the grain, the warp, the friction

all magnified, all glorious, yes, at last

I am the touch of flesh on flesh

of tongue and teeth on food

words on lips, tears to the eyes, vibrations

I am the zero world, shorn of pixels

down to the skin and bone and breath, pure

the mist, the dirty polluted rain so fresh on the face, uplifted

the rust that eats at the cars that sit abandoned at the roadside

the lovely rust, that parasite of metals

the streets blown by litter and leaves

the unpainted walls, the rotten fruit

the cats and dogs snuffling at the gutter

and myself seeing as the dogs see

hearing as they do, roused by the same scents

following trails through the desolate almost empty streets

and a few others here as well, now and then, like myself

people who have moved away from the camera’s ever-watchful eye

and Colleen herself, as lovely today

as she was when she first stepped out from in-between the pixels

to wave at me, to call to me

dressed in blue as she is, so strange, her face still covered, still unseen, strange

and she leads me on towards the edge of the city

to where the many colours of the streets, the buildings, all start to fade

all into blue, the same exact shade as she wears on her body

the shops, the road signs, all covered in blue cloth, strange

and other people, more and more of them, all wearing the same blue outfits

and myself also, I realise now, as we reach the city’s limit

dressed in the same blue

and I see now that for all these years I have forgotten

as we all have, the deal we made:

that our city, our lives, our loves and hates, our flesh, our faces

are but projections on this endless blue screen

that stretches around us, covering us

and now we move on

away from the projectors’ reach, far away

into the areas beyond the city, where the endless blue fields

touch the endless blue skies

with no visible horizon separating them

only the blue world, endless, endless…

until the blue starts to fray a little

and at last we kiss, Colleen and I

our two faces covered in cloth

our covered mouths, now touching

where our fingers tear the cloth away

and now our eyes are seen, uncovered

the blue cloth on our faces in shreds

and now Colleen reaches out to the distant sky

and her hand touches the sky, a few feet away

the blue cloth sky, and she takes a penknife

clicks out the blade, the tiny shining blade

and slices into the blue

and together, at last, at last, we climb through

and now, at long last, yes, finally

we are what we see ∎

Jeff Noon was born in Manchester in 1957. His novels include Vurt (Arthur C. Clarke Award), Pollen, Automated Alice, Nymphomation, Needle in the Groove, Cobralingus, Falling Out of Cars, Channel SK1N, and a collection of stories called Pixel Juice. He also writes microfiction via @jeffnoon on Twitter, and on Facebook. More information can be found at ‘No Rez’ was his first appearance in Interzone.

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