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By Steve Aylett
Serif BooksCopyright © 2015 Steve Aylett
All rights reserved.
Darkness turns on a dime
The girl was surgeon and singing bird, deadly queen of sharps. Resentments at the ready, we met in a nerve storm club. I went in as an untextured nobody, walls showing through me. Scar incarnate, third generation cool and moral omitted, washing one drug down with another as the world toxified around us. Sad shadows in her hair, a slow ballet of cigarette smoke, cold bottle touch going warm as outcome diagrams traced our way. The streets, treasure lights bobbing underneath the real. Her rough ferrous oxide tongue as we went up in a cage elevator somewhere. Her hair hides the phone.
After that I lost track of time for a while. Someone's flat. I was looking at a strange box of bone parts, all hoaxed up with operation wire — an october switch, it was called. I had one of those, it was an activan machine. A what? My head frazzled through a series of pulls, releases and dissolves. The body is King on Earth, I remembered, a vital lie.
A lightbulb was swinging like a hanged ghost as I drew a thin blade through the smudged centre of the entry stamp on my wrist. The wound pulled open, stretching gluey blood. It looked like a mainline station in there, parallel tracks converging and splitting in a soak of red light. Who was I?
The elemental flutter of etheric draw flickered in the soda blackness to my right, barely visible through brain spuff. Outside influence, drawing like silver stage ropes.
I was in such a bad way. Deep cover — I'd lost myself in it again. I was Alix the ultravivid hero or something like it. I stood up, pushing through thick space, and pull patterns shrivelled like cobwebs around me. The girl was a loft baby, rigged up in a back room, the leather cocoon of her flightbag the centre of a massive kirlian web. Transformation adjustments mashed in the dark, heroine wear backing up, discovered and obliged to die. I had to do a techie before the end. Etheric strands were still trailing into me — all the better.
I used the blade to split the suspension bag — lengths of gelatinous activan stretched from her pale face, she didn't stir. Laying on hands.
An armchair was already dwindling into the corner as electrovistas opened up in front, the stream of cells blowing past. Bloodshot intervals of subterranean transport and the racket of magic.
Her head was a lovely little number. Creation-fresh, her spirit entering a litter of fallen winter, momentary people reproached her angrily for delicious visions and she died a notch or two. Together the years conspired, denying eachother. Fame admiration trapped the family, their lives in dry dock. Children were plucked like pillows and shoved into formation. Surgeons hand over a mistake, culture paints leaves green which were green, complete and repeated, sickening, and mother birds drop coins into the waiting mouths of chicks. She learnt to keep her eyes closed when crying, tears flowing under the skin and over the skull. Early dreams collapsed like empires. At least there was little chance of her rage dying among the lies. Truthful and ousted, she saw structures in events, sat in crowds watching the armatures of human need and fantasy angle-poising between the people, linking them in a jagged scaffold, and later learnt that others couldn't see this. Bloodshot canyons of wounds, ward screeches, remote money, a cell padded with snow, a white girl curled round a white soul.
And the Prevail picked her out of the chorus. New fathers taught her to use a sigil gun and walk with street-sensitive claws. Something of herself was left, a miniscule mischief which rifled a secret and took it away. Sacred telemetry. And this rushed into me the instant before her head jumped apart like a balloon filled with water.
The left side of my body was on fire and I was shaking with sobs, several layers of skin gone. She'd been achingly, corrosively beautiful under the make-up. People who've had a lot of good luck deny that luck exists — those who've had a lot of bad know it does.CHAPTER 2
THE SWEET HALFWAY
Inconsistencies are shown to be limbs on the same creature
The Internecine pulled me in immediately, my headshout summoning a unit before the Prevail swung by in response to the girl's phonecall. I was ghostburnt, in mourning and voiding lumps of the cover personality.
After a few days in my cell at the Keep, I went to see Lockhart in his study, a room tumoured with statuary and patched with a lot of detail. Chairs of red leather polished like cherry skin, floors of heart pine, fruit hugged in a bowl and a fire the colour of drugs. Here we sat and talked in the utter sadness and treasuring of golden mischief which came of knowing it was all for nothing. The Keepworks cloaking system rendered everything ironic instantly; and all the while we meant it.
'You know this bit of barefaced enlightenment could have smashed the neighbourhood?' Lockhart said, his face full of the vitality of old wisdom. Misery glows better with fibres of experience.
'I got sloppy, then lucked out — that's all.' I was healthier. Matter felt right. 'Where's Melody?'
'Paris, sidebanding the Prevail motherhouse. She sends her congratulations. She was interested to hear the Prevail have located the heart of god and this assassin girl of theirs happened to know about it. So you're to do the job.'
'Looks that way, doesn't it? Slingshot into the monster's eye. Why shouldn't it be me. A crack in the furnace may be fiercer than the mouth.'
'Quite. But I've been wondering, if the Prevail have the location, why haven't they carried out the hit?'
'They're limousine rebels. Riddles retreat, if they're weak. This one keeps staring until they look away.'
'We don't. You don't. You're getting faster. If anything you're overconfident. We bleed outside the history books, Alix. However tempting to scorn through victory and leave it wrapped in whispers. Don't become so attached to your rep that you delay the final act forever. Allow for etheric wind-sheer — and that of cowardice.'
'What the hell does that mean.'
Lockhart's face congested with concern. 'People, unlike our target, can give way to pity. I believe the Prevail feel something like that. Individual versus society, or versus god. Either way it's the resistance to absorption. Independence of spirit. Pause any country and you'll spot subliminal torture in the frame. The sky of culture looks downward, obstructive and unambitious. The edgemen are a circus of parallel citizenry. So we sometimes forget the pain that drove us here in the first place.'
'God, camouflaged by sheer familiarity, different to nothing, essence of agony.' This was re-examined rote, out of an old but good edgemen book called The Ultimate Midnight.
'The debate is: Destroy the universe entire? Or cut god out like a cancer? We in the Internecine believe that in destroying god, we'll bring everything to an end — that it runs through all matter. Because the Prevail believe the universe will continue after god's destruction, their considerations are entirely different from ours. When men assume they'll continue, responsibility is postponed.'
'Listen, what if it made no difference, neither ended it all nor made it better — why do the hit?'
'At the simplest level? Revenge, and honour satisfied.'
'Then death wouldn't be punishment enough, would it?'
Lockhart twitched a small smile. 'You and old Quinas have a lot to talk about.'
I didn't like the sound of this — Quinas was a charred moon dropped from the sky, yesterday's hero gone to margin remnants and remains. 'I've met shamanic burnouts. Some shivering leftover with weird eyes? I haven't got the patience to hear about some gold-rimmed yesterday.'
'He's rather younger than I am,' Lockhart muttered tersely, and I felt like the idiot I was. I loved this kindly gentleman who had been born in the days before our enemy's existence had even been verified. 'In any case it's important you meet him before the big push. And be surprised by nothing you see or hear. He's ... on the night side of right.'
I decided I needed a little more recovery time. I'd stripped my gears being something deliberately counterclockwise to my idea of myself — someone out of control. Hip discord wasted my time. But I was the great age for edgework — faced with truth, the young merely fizzed with its acid clarity. They weren't crippled — they were connoisseurs of the delicate tension between alive and nonalive, the sweet halfway.
In my cell I watched the colloidal motion in the wall, and asked for stories. I knew books could see people around them, they ground their tiny teeth, tried to rattle like windows, stories to tell. Here were stored Arabian secrets uncynical and sensate, books tattooed in pain-ink, buds turning open, suburb flagstones, broken down gardens, a tin barrow red hot in the sun, insects in the dusk-fluctuating wind flying against shallow water, a mind where river floor scenes flutter unseen, all in the worming walls of the Keep. I treasured the safety here. Dead entrances withstood storms and there were aimless stains of music on the air. Outer platitude galaxies tapped ineffectual at the door. Kneeling to see along two thousand miles of architectonics I found the accumulated density of civilisation, the food chain binding scraps of posterity. Society flowed along the vibration, unchallenged and unchallenging. What kind of world was that for a growing lad?CHAPTER 3
PAINLESS BLOOD, A SECRET
Originality irritates so obscurely that people may have to evolve to scratch it
I went through the ivied gate to the locked quarters, a guard allowing entry. Quinas was meant to be batshit crazy and acquitted himself well. He sat at the centre of his cell like an albino frog, working at some obscure cabalistic grid, probably a malice puzzle. Proceeding around him was a polychrome exchange, the walls trancing with sickly refractions. His head was sprouted with white death-hairs, and when he turned my way I saw his eyes were liquid mercury, the surfaces flowing like oily water.
'My,' he said, 'people come and go so quickly here. Alix — I've heard of you. Dark harlequin, toxic clown or something, yes? Ridiculous that even among our kind we need our little superstars. Sit down. I wonder what they expect me to tell you? Maybe I'm just a warning of what can go wrong, like a mad uncle, eh? Last little initiation.'
'Whatever you like.'
'An open mind? I feel privileged.' He seemed to consider, his seemingly sightless eyes blank. 'Perhaps you need to know what's gone before. The winning side writes the history books, the losers adjust in translation, thus all is homogenised. The Sequel Coming, one messiah eaten by the next. The Internecine Order began with Tagore Ros, who over there in the asphalt world is mainly known for the saying "Say which exists and which doesn't — the gallows, harmony, yourself." He knew that genuine power doesn't have to enforce it by example. Assumed power, on the other hand, requires folks' belief — it depends upon the victim's industry. Without that, it ... just sits in a room, referring to itself as authority.'
'I know all that,' I told him. A lot of edgemen contracted that turn of the head that got them talking weird — past and future helixed together.
'But do you see that even genuine power may have something to hide? Too inquisitive and it pulls rank. Always that in the end. It seems that whenever god has a fight with us it's never over what he's really angry about.'
'You're right, that's more of a girl thing. But we're living amid its moulted material, including the hothouse-cultivated hell some call civilisation. Democracy, for want of a better word, denies the song every day with a din of affairs, our opinions yelled above the sound of hope scratching in the dust, all in faith eyes and alarm. Though hysterical, folk are proud — and it's hard for people to stampede when they're strutting. Genocide, a million jet-trail outcries, easily ignored. Unconcerned we are not awakened — are we perfect or imperfect? Public fountains haven't answered us in years. And all the while a thin film of identity separates you and oblivion.'
By now bored and languid, I hadn't the patience for this crumb- cupboard past. The twists of tacking convention are pretty to some, not me. 'This is alot of damp news.'
'Yes — I apologise. You need to know about the Internecine's failed attempts, these things our own people bet their shirts on. Let's see then. Did you know they tried a sort of MK Ultra programmed agent scheme? But of course it could sense something — everything, in fact. They decided the only hope was to operate in a way about which it didn't care. We knew there's a vast percentage of events about which it doesn't especially care, and those involving human suffering seemed a safe bet — so we raised an agent from scratch. Lived in a monastery and so on, and died unaware he was a virus — to sneak him into heaven. He'd then be activated and do the hit. But they found the heart of the creature wasn't there — this "heaven" was just a place to get people squared away, one of countless infinite bandwidths for etheric soul material.'
This story was brand new to me. I couldn't quite believe it, but Quinas was transparent. I should have known a blaze of honesty is a fine decoy.
'I used to be the bigshot like yourself, but I believed a quick hit wasn't enough, I thought the creator should be tortured beforehand. I loaded our pain — guided crawling to the only choice, deference to the lucky, extorted worship, full-body entropy, incinerative powerlessness, the medicinal smell of lies — in to a million etheric traps throughout subspace. If one was tripped they'd all tip at once in to god's mind. But like a clumsy poacher, I managed to trip it myself.'
'If you survived, god certainly would have.'
'But it would have suffered more — with it being the source, the experience would have been a feedback loop. Torture was the point. Anyway, I realised it had delayed me from the inside. The sheer bravura of that, the regard the project would get me. Yes, I should have just gone for the hit. You see, we're part of our enemy. It hides by walking in its own footprints. It's everything. Luckily this means anywhere's an entrance to it, in fact we're already there. The question is, how to reach a vital organ.'
'Well I've found that, and you're wasting my time. All I want to do is say goodbye to a few people, let them know it's about to end, and do the job.'
'The stars of reason corrupt your sky, Alix. You're too coolheaded. You'll need anger that would turn sand to glass. God depends on our becoming distracted — as you have, with your style, as the Prevail have, with their politics. It knows you're coming.'
'We take precautions — we're hidden here.'
'The Keep's made of anglematter — antimatter reversed through its own dimensions to make a near-neutral greyspace. Tied off sidelong to society with false entrances of whole years. Normally the body eats space equal to its size. Not here. The Keep's not camouflaged. In fact it stands out like a scar that won't tan.'
'If it knows, why doesn't it stop us?'
Quinas smiled winterly. Geometrics whirled through the albescent walls. He was a fine one to accuse me of a lack of passion. The man had been ghostburnt to ice.
'Without consciousness there's no cruelty — only objects without pain. God made us conscious for a reason. It knew that when its cells became self-aware, they'd experience a pitch of pain that'd send them for revenge. We're nano-assassins. It just takes one of us little viruses to get to the right place. In our capacity as god's suicidal impulse the idea's always been to work covert, like a drink habit — god's cowardly, it doesn't want to know or take responsibility for what it's doing. That's why it delegated in the first place, yes? A part of it knows what we're doing, because we are that part of it. Just don't make too much noise. It'll let us sneak up. A telescope is god looking at itself. We are god cursing at itself. When we kill it, we'll be god killing itself.'
Behind him was the image of a nerve in earth growing a grassblade thin and already dying.
'Well,' I said, 'it's been good, Mr Quinas.' I stood, feeling headachy. Not good.
'You like books — let me give you a going-away gift,' he said, standing as an opalescent shelf extruded from the wall. Amid the junk I noticed curse needles and a very rare spinelight camera. He took down a book of mirrors, flipping through it in an absorbed sort of way — I thought he'd forgotten me. Then he handed it over, his dead silver eyes knowing exactly where I stood. 'Acqueville's Flightless Land Without Clouds. It's said this book learned the ultimate secret, lain in sun on the tiles for a million years — the pages extracting a store of the mystery, closing. Truth revealed, the sky one big X-ray.'
Excerpted from Shamanspace by Steve Aylett. Copyright © 2015 Steve Aylett. Excerpted by permission of Serif Books.
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