The Cure For What Ails You

Some people can find more ways to fuck up than you would believe. He was a hobbled nothing now – oh, hadn’t it all been so bright! He was in the league of cure for cancer – that bright and sunny and full of possibility. And now? Now he wasn’t worth shit. He deserved it. He had to deserve it, didn’t he? For it to be happening to him there had to be some effect he was pushing into the universe? He was so unsure of himself that he was even less certain about the environment around him, and how it might be impacting upon him. He sat down at the bar and ordered the house whiskey. The guy was genuine Irish, which surprised him. Wasn’t it an odd world when being served by an Irish man in a so-called Irish Bar was enough to cause some dissonance and psychic stress. The whiskey wasn’t Irish though; it wasn’t good either – the warmth almost disguised it, but not quite. Did any of the bar staff drink here? Probably not. That wasn’t a good sign.

He was looking for some kind of job; some kind of work that a low rent scumfuck like him would be able to hold down. There were certain kinds of job that he went for and they took one look at him and they didn’t even have to ask him a question – they knew that they didn’t want him; it was all conveyed in the momentary sneer that soured their whole face. When he was being entertained by employers who were a small half-step above him in the pondscum rankings they were a little less judgmental. Why? Because they knew what it was like to be coming from where he was coming – they had visited that very location themselves only recently.

Parmenter had a bad reputation as an individual, but he was supposedly a good employer – he paid what he promised and he paid it on time, and that was good in anyone’s book. Joel sat down opposite him and when Parmenter offered a smoke he took it – the brand was Zero Skull, which he liked because they were high tar.

‘So, what’s the gig?’

‘Something noble, Galahad. I know you like the Robin Hood shit, so what I have for you, come to me from a very reliable source, is that some bastard has a cure for cancer but is holding it hostage.’

‘What, and we’re gonna break in and steal it?’

‘In one, my friend.’

‘Where is it?’

‘Eight Gates Laboratory.’

Eight Gates was notorious for the way that it dealt with people who tried to break into it, and people tried to break into it on a regular frequency. Why? Because they had things like cures for cancer held there, that was why. This couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? That a man who had once stood alongside those scientists was now given an opportunity to liberate something that would help as much as the inventions which he had failed to deliver when he had worked there. How the mighty have fallen, and how those broken crippled phoenixes might rise.

They picked him for his inside knowledge, and he did not fail to deliver. He had to admit that until he saw it – until he read the specs and the lab results on the screen he had though that they were on a wild goose chase. When he read that report though he was so happy – it was real, and the best thing was was that he discovered some small part of what he had done when he had worked here had proved useful – he may not have made the intuitive leap necessary to formulate the cure but he had surely built part of the launch platform. In that moment it was fair to say that some of the fight went out of him – that he felt a satisfaction he had never known before. As the guard moved in on him, weapons hot, his knowledge that there was a cure for cancer cured something in him that had been broken long ago. He died a happy man.

Mr Shuffle

For Bram

The cold was biting, breath in the air, making him think of the cigarettes he had given up. The romance of the thought spiced his saliva with a wonderful analogue of nicotine – fuck the vapour from the electronic dick he had to suck to get his fix … it reminded of everything else that had gone south in his life. Synthetic alcohol that gave him a half-hour kick before the government sanctioned nano-purge rendered all that wonderful buzz generating drug out of his system. How long before even the vapour was kiboshed? You had to be a fucking miracle worker to tie one in Glasgow anymore.

Man, some people were dicks; some people were dicks in private; other people were private dicks. He was the latter, wondered lately with the nicotine cravings if he was being the second to his long suffering cohabit fuck-buddy, and feared he might be becoming the first just by default.

So, what was he digging into today? What pile of shit had his assistant floated across his desk this week? He breathed into the little tube on his hand-held and the screen flashed into life.

‘Fuck the Maskbook updates, skip the Shitter-feed, and just give me the work-notes.’

A face popped up – not the fresh-faced poppet he was expecting or wanting – nope, not even close … this dude looked like he’d sell crack to kindergarteners. Who the fuck wanted this bastard found? Everyone is someone’s dad always seemed such a lame cliche but if he didn’t find something to hook his interest on then he’d be about as much use as an e-cigarette to a nicotine addict. And there he went – reach in pocket, pull out Thomas The Tank Engine’s Tiny Inadequate Penis as he had come to think of it, and puffed on it. It wasn’t working properly. Shit, maybe gum was better after all, he’d looked like a freak wearing all the patches.

He clicked the tab that came in the document about old stony face and accepted the job, got a new message that told him the money had already dropped, then got a second one that gave him a meeting place for the contact. It wasn’t far to walk – a brisk walk … how fucking jolly.

He sat down in the snug and he waited. What sat down opposite him was not what he had been expecting. His hope for some kind of cute female presence in this story, of whatever kind, seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. A bloody artificial clunked itself down – some pre-war rust-bucket that he was surprised was still working. He didn’t like it – an old man as his quarry, a meeting with an artie piece of shit; didn’t bode well; made him tink that first money drop was a fluke and the rest of the case would be as dry as a nun’s snatch.

‘So, what’s this all about?’

‘I, Mr Shuffle, am Centurion, and my owner, Mr Clavicle has gone missing, as you might say, and his daughter provided me with the funding to ensure he is found. She loves him very much.’

‘I’m sure she does. What, if I may ask, does Mr Clavicle do? If you don’t mind me saying, your appearance, and his both lead me to believe he is not necessarily kosher.’

‘Hence coming to you, Mr Shuffle, with your not so sterling reputation. That aside – his business? The finest Cuban cigars, Marlboros, and whiskey.’

‘Now, I know you have to be kidding.’

‘I haven’t used my sense of humour since before the war. Here is more pertinent data that you might need.’

He was glad to bid goodbye to the hunk of rust, and then he dug into the file. Ten seconds of synthetic alcohol buzz, a puff or two of vapour, and a vague glimmer of interest. This case should not take too long to work out. Clavicle had to be discreet – there weren’t too many places where he could talk about his wares, let alone sell them. Narrow it down further by the fact that there were not that many people with the pocket change to buy any of it. Shuffle knew a doorman at the Hilton and it would get him in long enough to speak to someone before the inertia of a shit-heel being in a rarefied atmosphere crashed into him and some unfriendly fucker showed him the door.

Gary was glad of the funds. Shuffle was glad of the Irn Bru he decided to drink instead of wasting his time for once. It cost a bit but it tasted good; gave him faith in something at least. Shawn the barman didn’t give a fuck what he said or he said it to – he was gossiping in the ten minutes before Shuffle approached him. Shuffle showed him the picture of Clavicle.

‘Oh yeah, I seen him.’

‘In here?’

‘Yeah, two nights ago with some big cheese.’

‘You have 360 cams in this place?’

‘It’s a bar, what do you think?’

So, then, the question was, how does someone pull off a deal with contraband in even this place?’

‘Can you get me a print of this guy and his guests?’

‘Sure, it’ll cost you.’

‘Doesn’t it always?’

The print was one of those pictures that is worth way more than a thousand words. Clavicle looking uncomfortable, Government Contraband Enforcer Smythe looking unctious and eager to please the third man in the picture, and who was that? Why – none other than Belsley Tincture, E-Cigarette and synth-hol magnate. He smiled. What fucking use was this data? Who was going to prosecute these bastards? It was obvious Clavicle met a sticky end.

He scanned the picture into his hand-held, dictated a long illustrative piece which he attached to it, sent one copy to Centurion and his owner’s daughter, explaining what he was doing, and one copy to Bump his editor friend. Bump would run the story as a speculation dot-the-dot provocateur piece, and it would do what it needed to do – get the right people looking in the right direction. Shuffle hoped it might sink the whole synth-hol and E-Cigarette business too.

He reached in his pocket, pulled out his least favorite thing in the world, and launched it into the cold night. Know what he was going to do? Find a pack of real cigarettes and inhale deep.

Kernel Pop

The future screams. It is not a comforting sound. Tap tap tap at the side of the head – his TV-eye has bad reception. He watches as the group scoping him to see whether he might be plunder-worthy are bringing their tech to bear on breaking through his nano-baffle. The dispersal pattern, his dress, and his general demeanour might suggest to most that he is not a vulture-worthy pick-over, but these wolves are a little smarter than your average bears.

A car pulls up in the parking lot. A Texas steps out and moves towards the building – people part and let him through. He’s holstered and a strong and silent type that invites no kind of close quarters consideration. Is he here to reload though? That’s what they are wondering. Why is he so far out of his jurisdiction? That is what they are wondering.

Pointer doesn’t like these bastards getting so close. He unleashes a low level meme-loop to crash their poke and prod routines. Is he going to get home safe? He thinks about calling Piecer Delivery whose motto is “Twelves Inches and Six Shots to Take You Home!”. He doesn’t want to have to kill anyone but he is a getting a little desperate as they follow him around.

He sets all of his weapon systems to stand-by with heat and proximity triggered decision making capabilities. This is the last time he comes out this late to the supermarket. How stupid is he? Popcorn does not balance out very well when you weight it against your life. They are prodding him and playing with his security to test its limits, but his security isn’t that stupid; it acts when it needs to.

When the right hook swings in, tiger in his tank roars and bites back harder than any of them were expecting. And then all of them are on the back foot. Too late. His defensive has gone offensive to handle this issue. He is firing heavy duty body shots at them while his locked in and locked on exo-skeleton is moving him towards home at a rapid clip.

Over his should Pointer sees Texas get in the middle of their mess, twigging immediately to what they were doing, and he cleans up. What a mess. Still, now he has his popcorn and can watch his movie in peace.

truly homeless

They step over him. He doesn’t wow them with the shell game anymore. He doesn’t do the street magic he picked up from watching carefully anymore. There are no amusing little anecdotes on the placards he sets around himself to request money. Give money or don’t – it has nothing to do with him. He knows that no one wants to speak to him, because he is a non-person.

Except her. She sits down cross-legged opposite him.

‘You gave up,’ she says ‘And that’s wrong, because you know the war is still going on.’

She chuckles: ‘Now, does that make you a traitor, or does that just make you a coward?’

‘I’m so tired.’

‘I’m so disappointed. Do you know how many bodies I have dragged around to fight this thing? How long I have lived out here in the cold? Out here in the dog-piss alleys? Do you have any conception? I may be alternative girl culture cute for the moment, but I was dragging an old man carcass around less than ten years ago. The standards are dropping though. You, Mercutio – you used to be someone I could rely on. The rapier wit turned to thick-tongued self pity – what’s that worth? Not a damned sight, right?’

‘Girl, stop harassing that man,’ said a half aware emissary from the shining kingdom of society.

‘Old lady, step away from something you do not understand. I commend your concern as a citizen, but we are of another world, and in that place you have no jurisdiction.’

The old lady stepped away with a confused expression on her face.

‘What would you have me do, Titania?’

‘Ah, you are a leaky battery indeed if you charge me with providing the mission with which you were instilled back when you stepped away from the warm streets of the shared dream.’

‘Yes, indeed – that is exactly the problem. I am truly homeless.’

‘What a sorry state of affairs. What magic would it take to restore you? Charity? A Death? A victory? None of it is cheap, and none of it presents at the asking. It requires some doing; it always did.’

With a flourish, summoned from somewhere where the dream still sparked, he tap danced through the parking lot. She smiled at him. He smiled at her. She bumped fists with him – time to continue fighting that war again.

the act of translation

dead astronauts collecting on the windscreen. time buckles and some unknown agreement retracts the laws of physics. he is in notional space and the atmosphere is a little strange; doesn’t seem to work the same way as navigating physical space. some days it is like flying through the heart of a remixed scrapbook … some brion gysin, lee ‘scratch’ perry dub session version of reality. somewhere in the distance augustus pablo, recast as a god, chuckles as he coughs out huge clouds of cannabis creation.

when he set off in HMS headfuck he, for some reason, hadn’t expected it to be quite this strange. he had slipped under the semiotic skin of the universe and he was finding the syllogistic logic broken and the syntax coming on like some glossolalia cut-up equivalent of cognitive dissonance. jenny looked kind of happy – like she had managed to plug into william burroughs head and now she had become a walking talking orgone generator.

what were they hoping to get to? well, the idea was that they were going to find their way between the apparently sane surface of text universe and seemingly insane subtext; the context engines were propelled through the space in their act of translation – which served to get them where they wanted to go and explained to them where they had been.

three days into the more extreme symptoms and memory started to leak; cognition started to curdle, and neither of them really recognised the other. what could they do? there was no way to input the data they needed to control the situation – the terminal was broken. or it wasn’t. just maybe it wasn’t. something was happening – maybe the something they had been looking for. time stretched, space collapsed, and they found new meaning.

it would take some time to understand it all. or maybe it wouldn’t.

Never Tired Of Hanging Around

He has enough independent wealth to do whatever he likes. He likes to be around humanity stripped raw – something he has found harder since his worth grew a hundredfold. So what is he doing today? He is sat in the gridlock he spent the early morning driving to find, wishing really hard for it, driving just well enough not to die, and just badly enough that he might be a stone sending out ripples across the surface on the pond and create the perfect storm that would bring this standstill into being.

He likes standing in line. He likes waiting rooms. He will get himself embroiled in all kinds of things he should probably keep out of, just to feel that peculiar pressure of people packed in like sardines and feeling uncomfortable; tension building. Is this Freudian womb desire? Is this, as his hypnotist told him, derived from that past life experience of being buried alive in a mass grave? Too complicated – drive towards something simpler.

He adjusted himself inside his tight blue jeans. Odd – a boner? In such a sexless and sex-thought-free life his body acting this way actually surprises him. Was he unconsciously aroused by the girl in the convertible next door? Her smile curdles into a sneer when the light shining in her eyes lessens and she sees he is older than she thought he was at first – she doesn’t need or want a sugar daddy; she is an independent woman. He turns his head and smiles to himself, a thing he knows she would misconstrue. He doesn’t mind witnessing arguments but he doesn’t want to be part of one.

The horns have been getting louder. The colourful epithets are getting more colourful. It is music to him. For him this was something he did a lot. Not many people knew about it, but those who did wondered if there was something loose in his noggin. He felt he was totally sane, and that these actions he indulged in actually contributed to that. This was going to last quite a while.

His money brought him in contact with those people who wanted to find some way to wrestle control of his life from him for his own good, and those who worked hard to make it known it was not important and then it came to occupy a different kind of place in their relationship. Sat here, all this humanity pressed in close, this felt real – it was artificial, but it gave him what he needed. Hendrix came on playing Crosstown Traffic – what a perfect day.

See Horse Bleed

Look through the right eye. Look through the left eye. Look through both. Binocular vision is an interesting thing, makes him feel a little alien within his own skull when he becomes aware of it. He thinks of the idea of the bicameral mind. He wonders about the holographic universe. And then he ponders how having someone to talk to can have a similar deepening of perception.

He is alone. He is confused. And all the people in the cafe move around him unaware. They smile – and his lazy reflection fools their surface read. He comes here for this, even just for this … it’s something. It is something.

She refills his coffee cup, and he salutes her and she giggles. If she weren’t this friendly to everyone it might mean something, but it doesn’t. The country-fried breakfast sausage platter tasted good – he might regret it later, but for now it hits all the right spots. He eyes up the pies – he is thinking chocolate velvet, and maybe pumpkin. A couple of slices. He is getting out at least, right? Right.

How long has it been? How long is it since the break-up seemed like a legitimate excuse for the depression? Did it ever? It stretches thin over everything and it was a worn drumskin from early on. He doesn’t even have the energy to pull off even a vague echo of the early rhythm he used to throw into the patter that became his rehearsed excuse. He feels sad. And some of that sadness is that he keeps relying on this shorthand distancing mechanism to handle people. Keep pushing and see how many people continue to push back – it saps the energy.

A mouthful of chocolate velvet. A mouthful of pumpkin pie. A mouthful of coffee. He smiles like a big kid. The waitress sees him transformed into the younger man he has forgotten how to be most days, and it pulls forth the smiling younger woman that she has forgotten how to be. The moment is brief but it is a a little sacred interlude in the everyday.

He remembers the seahorse he saw at the aquarium last week, he remembers the facts about them – the whole male pregnancy thing, which frees the female up to produce more eggs. Wasn’t he a seahorse for a while? He smiles. They called it Couvade Syndrome, named for the old spell that used to be cast to transfer the pain of childbirth to the man. But as she said – he didn’t really know what it was like to have a life growing inside him – something spiritual and not purely physical. For him it was a symptom. He told her he felt the loss like she did, but even as he said it he knew that couldn’t ever be true. It was the wrong thing to say. That thin tenuous link between them ruptured and blew away in the strong wind of her grief. He did feel grief, but it felt like such a selfish thing.

Another mouthful of chocolate velvet. Another mouthful of pumpkin pie. They have turned to mush. Another mouthful of coffee. It tastes lukewarm and muddy. He doesn’t even know that he is crying. Anyone who sees it turns away. This isn’t the place for that kind of thing. A middle aged man crying in a family diner? Who ever heard of such a thing? It just isn’t right.