Tuesday, January 22, 2008

5. Kill Mirror

The zodiac is roughly deposited in a storage hangar and the unconscious Mangels is removed by two enormous, prognathous women. The liferaft is immediately forgotten. It comprises little salvage. In the future, perhaps, it may be happened across, dismembered, and its components woven into the ugly bricolage habitat of New Harmony.

But for now, Bolex lies unnoticed.

She reviews the Lloyd’s data, supplementing it with media files, legal lists and credit reference information. An intuitive overview of the society and their habitat forms in the peripheral’s mind.


Alice Finkel’s parents work as protein engineers in an Orbipharm pharmaceutical plant. Alice is the eldest of five children living in the cramped, hygienic facility. They are the first humans to be born in space.

Before Orbipharm, none of the new orbital societies have risked producing children - there is too little known of the effects of the space environment. However well-shielded the habitat, there is still an influx of cosmic radiation, and the disciplined regimens necessary to prevent muscular atrophy and decalcification in adults cannot be expected of babes-in-arms. Orbipharm fields a great deal of media criticism for their decision to allow the births. Suggestions it is part of an illicit experimental programme are swiftly quashed in court. It had to come sooner or later, it is argued, and most tacitly agree.

Aside from the peculiarity of their all being female, the brood develops normally in the physical sense - a coddled superstar elite with freefall corridors their playgrounds and V their principal source of mental and emotional fodder. They show a remarkable adaptive ability and enrich their barren, cloistered environment with fantasy world-constructs and arbitrary societal structures that increase in complexity and ingenuity as they enter their teens.

Thirteen years after the births, the media, ever-hungry for sensational copy, return for another look. What they find - and shamelessly distort into a searing exposé - creates a groundswell of opprobrium. Strident demands are made for the children to return to Earth, ‘to live the normal healthy lives they deserve as human beings’.

But the brood will have nothing of it.

When Orbipharm ready a dropship for the transport of the children, a pact is made among a clique of five girls - Syringe, Cassette, Ester, Syrette and Vaccine, née Alice Finkel. They will commandeer the craft, reprogramme it and run away from home.

For them, life on that heavy, vast, open blue bubble is the stuff of nightmares.

Under Vaccine’s leadership, the youthful band identifies a mothballed Kill Mirror - an installation originally designed to reflect and amplify the pulse from a space-borne chemical excimer. They barnacle the dropship to its hull, power it up and refresh the atmosphere. Their disappearance is doctored into an unfortunate accident and the media obligingly forget the children. Within a decade, the birth of a child in space no longer warrants even a ten-second human interest bite on sub-prime V.

The satellite responds to the girls’ care. Amenities aboard are few but progressively, as materials are salvaged or stolen from local orbits, a large patchwork habitat accretes like coral around the Kill Mirror.

They name their home New Harmony. Over the years, a rigidly structured, strongly bonded tribal society develops within its confines. Vaccine cements her place as the semi-divine leader of a growing band of warrior women - consisting for the most part of criminal evictees from commercial and state orbital. The community is highly misandrous and hostile to anyone coming within a demarked volume. Through the sale of illicit psychotropics, molecular weaponry and the products of their crystal farms, they generate more than enough capital to survive.

Their deep agenda, however, is opaque to outsiders.

Until the loss of the Miss Semipalatinsk, Mangels had been attempting to shed light on the elusive truth of New Harmony for his Orbital Safari series. The episode in question was to be titled “Warrior-Women of The Kill Mirror”.

Rumour is rife about the goings on inside: their reproductive customs, their lawless genetic tinkering, and - most notoriously - their treatment of male offspring. There is talk of chemical castration, gender reassignment, and the exploitation of young men as food animals; electrically decorticated and milked daily for their germ plasm.


Bolex generates a plan of the habitat.

This is no sketchy impression. Bolex, in effect, holds within herself a miniaturisation of the orbital; drawn in light.

With Mangels in jeopardy, she has no greater priority.

Now, subtly, daintily, with patient care she enters the electronic environment of New Harmony.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

4. The Battery #2

With a quick, sure movement, she punched her key. Now she had thirteen free minutes.

It was an unwieldy period of time. Not long enough for most things. Too long for anything else. Long enough for a cigarette in the washroom. Work was the only place she ever smoked.


She sat in the cramped cubicle, staring blankly at the back of the door with its ancient patina of printed softcore porn: a pink nipple torn from its owner’s chest; an arching torso responding to the obscene attentions of what may once have been a golden-haired head but which had blistered and dissolved in the washroom’s permanent damp. Ether mused over these fragmentary women with who she shared her breaks. She wondered if the models might still be alive, how their lives had panned out, if they’d had children, how slack and grey their flesh of eighty years, sewn into a complicated mass of gerocomical machinery.

The clippings were old, but then everything in The Battery was old - even the chicken processing system had been adapted from something bought cheaply from a failed Brazilian MeatAcres franchise. The washroom was possibly older still: exposed piping with collars of brittle white mould at the joins; scratched stainless steel seats on worn commodes, sucker vents roach-coloured from generations of shift workers doing exactly as she was now: smoking and wondering how she was going to get out.

Now Shatts was outside, she could hear his hesitant shuffling on the smooth concrete. She could almost hear his breathing.

He was her employer, an erstwhile friend of her father - and if nothing else at The Battery precipitated her desire to leave, the presence of this overweight and overbearing man would have been enough.

She dropped her cigarette in the toilet bowl and pulled up her overalls.

- You at it again, Miss Dease?

She made no reply.

- You think I can’t smell it?

Ether had made it clear to Shatts on many occasions that her chief priority in life was to escape his employ, but he only ever smiled; he knew there were few options for a girl like her, and that in the normal course of things she might stay on at The Battery for the rest of her working life.

She flushed the toilet, hoping against hope that the butt would sink.

- What do you take me for? - called Shatts, in his childish contralto - One of your braindead country cousins? Ether?

The butt bobbed in the bright blue antiseptic water. Taunting her.

- There’s a farmer in Nhill with rented body-parts and a gutful of scab, who’d be broken-hearted to hear his little girl lost her job - One of his stock phrases, delivered in a stock tone of reasonable authority blended with an uncomfortable intimacy.

Ether felt locked into a life-cycle as rigid as that of the chickens, shared with a man so objectionable it was hard to believe he was not a generic villain from some trashy soap opera. Worse was her seeming inability to do anything about it. In the latest of a series of improbable solutions, she had entered competitions, scores of them, wishing that just one of the various forms of liberty offered as prizes might fall her way: submarine leisure in a deep sea Hyatt, virtual prominence surfing in the solar photosphere, orbital romance in a richly-appointed simulation pod. She trusted that with her name entered in the data sleeves of so many enterprising merchants, there was a potential, however slight, for her life to take a dramatic turn for the better.

But all that came back was spam, never congratulations.

She flushed again, knowing it wouldn’t work, then winced at the impulse to reach in and remove the sodden butt herself. Shatts, the pig, would certainly find it and use it against her as evidence. Tobacco was officially proscribed in The Battery, but it wasn’t as if the owner really cared. He would happily exchange a marginal rise in the chickens’ tar and monoxide content for an excuse to hector his attractive young ward.

He was a very shonky operator, serving the wearied palates of the rich. He advertised his wares on exclusive networks and no one challenged his flamboyant claims; no one guessed that the rare exotic plover eggs, the subtly flavoured quail eggs and the exquisitely textured pheasant eggs were in truth the product of his twenty thousand bio-mechanical wombs - his ceaselessly pumping sphincters in their cool metal cradles.

Ether wished her father had never found the job advertisment. He had a simple decency and a keen eye which had failed him this time. She could imagine no one - least of all he - trusting a man who carried with him the leaden bouquet of a fart that had gestated too long in noxious bowels.

- Why don’t you answer me, Ether? You alright in there?

The butt would not sink. What did she care?

Shatts had shuffled into the washroom and was at the door of the cubicle.

- Yes. Yes, I’m alright. Don’t come in - she said, quickly.

- How am I to know, Ether, if you don’t answer me?

- Give me a minute to myself, Mr Shatts.

- You’re smoking in there – He almost sounded happy about it.

Ether pushed open the door and attempted to make her way speedily and efficiently to the washbasin. But Shatts, for all his bulk, was too fast. He jammed himself in the cubicle doorway, a wedge of repellent flesh, leering, framed by the crumbling pornography.

- Let me go - she said quietly - Now, Mr Shatts.

- I’ll let you go alright, if I catch you smoking again.

He was too close. The odour was suffocating. What deadly reactions were at work in his body to create such a stench of musty sex and overcooked fung from a Malayan street barrow? It was through his clothes. In his skin. Her cells warned her that it was a cipher of arousal - but one that seemed scarcely human.

Of late Shatts’ attentions had been more insistent. This worried her now.

- I smell it on your breath, Ether - he said, leaning closer. When he uttered her name with that lilting upstroke, she wished she had been called something else - It’s in your hair - He extended a damp hand to her head. Ether backed up to the toilet bowl.

She had two options: stay in unbearable proximity to his flesh and wait for his next move; or squeeze past and actually feel the soft distension of his spider’s belly pressing against her. There was something predatory in his face. Mouth an open doorway to a moist pink gullet. Lower lip hanging and wet, as though his jaw was unable to take the weight of jowl that hung from it.

Involuntarily, she opted for the more aggressive alternative. She was steeling herself for the inevitable contact when the thirteen minutes sounded on her PERS.

- I have to get back now, Mr Shatts - she said to the floor, and took a tentative step forward. Shatts stood firm on the spot as she squeezed past him and left the cubicle, head bowed, not quite running.

As she reached the factory floor, she heard him call out from behind.

- It’s no good for the chooks, Ether.

She stopped and turned. Her flesh felt like jelly. Shatts had followed her.

He’d had his hand down the bowl and stood with the dripping butt of her cigarette between his plump fingers. An eager yellow tongue of shirt fabric extruded from his open fly. The crumbling pornography which had framed him in the washroom was replaced now by the vista of his chickens - prolapsed oviducts spitting their sterile issue; milk-coloured slabs in electrolytic protein gel, smooth featherless skin, scar-tissue pink clashing with Shatt’s gaily-coloured tie.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

4. The Battery #1

Once each shift. Once at precisely eleven hundred hours.

Forty thousand pale, softly-scaled claws flexed like the tiny hands of babies.

And feebly clenched on nothing.

In the early days of her contract, Ether Dease had reflected on this collective act. It was apparently meaningless, but in the absence of any true demand on her time, she had dwelled upon it. The only hypothesis she found at all engaging was the possibility she was witnessing an effort at communication. If her twenty-thousand headless charges had struggled against impossible odds and attained a form of telepathic unity, could this somehow be a function of it? What would it say then about the resilience of life if these non-descript organisms, remarkably still referred to as chickens, had found voice to tell of their plight?

It was an idle thought. To begin with, the chickens had no brains as such; their body functions were governed by a logic board in the factory mainframe, linked to a tiny nub of ganglia in their hindquarters. And besides, it was hard to imagine anything even remotely transcendent occurring in the deadening environment of The Battery - it was a place where life was sheared of redundancy, where doctored bodies functioned efficiently in the face of market forces.

Later she was to learn that the frail spasm [with its attendant flup!] was a response to the minute surge in hormone levels which occurred as a spent progesterone cartridge was jettisoned and a fresh one installed. The knowledge helped Ether desensitise herself to the awful symbolism in that blind clutch.

Now, with a quick sure movement, she punched her key.

Her dark green eyes focused on nothing. She replaced a stray lock of red hair beneath a laminated cardboard cap which displayed a fat, good-humoured chicken bearing no resemblance to the moist glistening creatures under Ether’s command. They were packed tight against each other in their stainless steel pans; a clonal monoculture of pale gooseflesh that birthed four thousand sterile eggs every thirty seconds. At each neck, where a dripping tangle of feed ducts left the body to join a common channel, Ether could see a lather of pink froth foaming weakly as if to register the infirmity of a life-force diluted to a watery plasm, pared to the simplicity of crankshaft and lever.

With a quick sure movement, she punched her key.

The one key. Every thirteen minutes. She did not need to think. Though the key was worn clean and smooth, the remainder of the deck was crusted with a sticky amalgam of dust and growth medium, fused by an ancient splash of kecap manis. The monitor was turned in to the wall and painted the alloy panelling with ghost lights.

Long ago, a bug in factory logic had randomised the oestrus cycle of the number five layers, leaving them chronically out of phase. The problem had never been addressed and was now worked around. Ether was the improvised link between two complex homeostatic systems processing seventeen tonnes of edible biomass hourly and her task, every thirteen minutes, was to punch a key, booting a software application that converted data from the two systems into a common language. Punch a key. Every thirteen minutes.

If she hadn’t needed the job so badly, she could probably have rigged something up with a clock, an elastic band, and a roll of sellotape. It would have been expected back on the farm; one of her chores had been to service their antiquated harvesting machines with little more than common sense. She had her father’s quick sure hands.

And with a quick sure movement, she punched her key.


The Battery was a dim grey bulk beside a featureless carriageway in a shambling and largely disused region of the Dandenong Industrial Conclave. Its walls were a crazed pastiche of grimy safety glass, paper-thin galvanised iron and Besser Brick greasy with a century’s worth of dark industrial accretions. Little distinguished it from the neighbouring structures, save the faint odour of some non-specific meat that mingled disagreeably with the suburb’s signature scent of dust, urine and desolation.

Dandenong was depopulated and dispossessed, home to autonomic industries, noxious plant-life, the husks of plague insects and little else. It was the ill-fortune of an unselect few to work here, Ether Dease among them.

Seventeen years earlier, Ether had been born into a depressed farming collective near Nhill, in Western Victoria. Her job at The Battery was seen as a rare chance to escape the futureless rural areas before conventional agriculture was finally superseded. In recent times, the even pace of obsolescence had accelerated as farming lands were smothered by Roman’s Scab, a blight which thrived in salinated soils and absorbed any attempts at irrigation from a depleted river system already congested year-round with blue-green algae.

Roman’s Scab was the energetic by-product of fung - the world’s single most successful food commodity. It had first appeared on the Dease property a decade ago - cinnamon-coloured patches where mushrooms used to grow, a russet frosting on the animal manure, a deadly smut in the wheat kernels - now it formed spreading lakes across the countryside and hung from skeletal eucalypts like banners. There wasn’t much left to do out there now, but observe an ecosystem in its death throes and process scab for the astringent alcoholic derivative known as feth.

Ether’s father had not given up lightly; with his food crops gone he sought to turn the tide with the assistance of a direct marketing chain who offered to promote and distribute special fir trees for the Christmas market if farmers would agree to grow them. Designed to thrive even in scab-ravaged lands, the heavily engineered dwarf conifer was at first a real delight. Its branches twisted into a needled Star of Bethlehem at the top and in place of cones there hung coppery baubles and golden spangles dusted with bioluminescent silver. Sadly though, like scab itself, the hybrid proved irrepressibly fertile and Ether’s father could take no profit off what quickly became a common sight - cheerily ornamenting roadsides, railway embankments and abandoned lots, smoothly usurping urban ecologies of blackberry, spear thistle and fennel.

These same christmas trees haunted Ether as she walked to work. The sharp morning sunlight reflecting off their strange fruit was an unwelcome reminder of home, her father and the desolation of the outlands. Her nightmare memories of Nhill were clear, but the odour that greeted her outside The Battery each morning, with its sweet suggestions of decay, was clearer still. Meat on the littoral of decay. To her annoyance, she would find herself salivating at the first mouthful of breath. A flesh memory recalled by some vulturine ancestor. Scavenger dog hunched over something rancid. Drooling...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

3. Heat Sink

There is something about Mangels that infatuates her sensory apparatus - the proud tilt of his nose, the smooth planes of his body, the fractal curls of his golden hair. If she allowed herself the pleasure, Bolex could collate and analyse Mangels-related data indefinitely - but now is not the time. She must ensure the survival of the zodiac. The monocoque liferaft will not sustain Mangels’ life for long.

She has managed to bring the vessel into a reasonably stable orbit and is transmitting emergency codes. She initiates short, controlled farts from the attitude jets, evening the craft’s pitch and yaw for the comfort of her treasured ward.

A confusion of objects tumbles about the cabin. On board the Ms Semipalatinsk, the zodiac served as an informal closet for Mangels’ gear and is now a hazard of sports equipment - snow skis, pitons, weights, wetsuit, aqualung.

Mangels, unconcerned by his situation, happily traces the random paths of the worthless jewels through the cramped cabin. A hard Doric thigh presses against the bustle of heat sinks on Bolex’s posterior panel. She absorbs an uncomfortable quantity of excess energy back into her circuits, so as not to burn his tanned and sensitive dermis.

She fires a tiny burst from the verniers to avoid a cartwheeling lump of frozen human waste.


A quarter-hour later, and still she has received no response to her mayday. She must sedate Mangels to conserve a short supply of oxygen. She injects him with something from the first aid kit, deftly straps down his drifting body and begins clearing the air of dangerous flotsam.

She shivers.

Bolex and the craft have collected a sudden burst of signal: a rough scan. Quick harmonic fingers, brushing the ship, seeking resonant frequencies, obtaining a precise knowledge of the zodiac and its occupants.

Their rescuers, doubtlessly primitive, are in the vicinity.


A clunking of drogues against the hull. Instruments show a single-use coracle in synchronous orbit with the zodiac. Bolex gleans its serial number and performs a swift inquiry. She accesses Lloyd’s maritime register, compiles a ten meg precis, and evaporates in an artful pulse that lands GigaFresh with the fee.

No good news.

The coracle is registered to New Harmony, the habitat almost certainly responsible for the death of the Miss Semipalatinsk.

Bolex has no resources for resistance. She must allow the zodiac to be appropriated, She worries for the bundle of slack flesh battened down beside her.

She considers her possible paths of action and chooses the one most likely to assist Mangels in his plight.

Quickly, she performs a physical reconfiguration and affixes herself to an aft panel. For the unknowing, she is now an integral part of a Nautilus exercise rig.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2. SaDex Drip #3

18:88:88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

A swift crystallisation in his peripheral vision. A sharp breath as familiar neuromolecular links clacked into place between his amygdala and something deep in his brainstem that felt like a solid vitreous blossom.

He awoke to a very different form of consciousness and stared raptly at the videoboard, which his window framed perfectly.

Cruciate loved advertising. Especially on SaDex.

His favourite was the current Disneycosm single. It was an aggressive, resilient performer and ought to be looping around soon.

Shadowing the mighty traffic nexus of St Kilda junction, the videoboard was a monolithic hoarding of many million semi-intelligent pixels, co-operating to form an image of perfect clarity. Videoboard acreage was viciously contested. Heavily-armed advertising singles warred for board-time, in a sophisticated form of natural selection.

Disneycosm was a fighter. It had endured, almost unchanged, since Cruciate had come to the Bayview. Squinting, he thought he could already see sections of the single’s initiation sequence manifesting themselves in small patches over the board. Once these viral precursors infected a majority of pixels, the single would come to full screen and battled to run its course. It was a law of this strange battleground that once an advertisement began it was allowed to complete seventy-five percent of its duration. Otherwise the audience, most of them boxed in silent casimir cars, would be inflicted with a continuous strobing of unruly images.

The familiar strains of the Disneycosm fanfare produced a buzz in the Realistic’s tiny speaker.

Cruciate’s dark, hooded eyes locked. His emotions stilled.

Eggshell blue squadrons of smiling Dumbo blimps arced their way across a garish computer generated sky. Gaggles of laughing children happily sucked on the lumbriciform tits of dextrose-enriched Goofy-balls. A hundred frogs-of-burden, ridden by black DutyFlesh Lobster-Mobsters - each with a patented grin - hoppity-hippitied through the infinite complexities of a fractal phase-space. Earnest, dark suited executives arrayed themselves about a table in the impossibly attenuated spire of Disneycosm’s new convention centre.
Cruciate allowed the single to operate on him, lull him. His surrounds became vague. He fell into a torpor of carnival imagery, as the drug’s immaterial fingers stirred his brains with the sensitivity of a cheap Taiwanese insinkerator.

The Realistic chirped:

- Kids! Do Your Parents Love You? Make Them Prove It! -

18:88:88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

Cruciate leaped.

The flesh of his buttock had been caught by the crack in the stool. He paced the flat, gingerly massaging his behind through his jeans.

He looked to the Realistic. 18:88:88. Swearing, he kicked it across the room. It cracked loudly against the brick wall, putting out the eye of the Bounce! cat in a shower of paint flakes.

It had been many hours.

Already, he could feel pangs of withdrawal. There was nothing in the squat now. This time the dripsac would remain empty.

He remembered Winebald. He cast his gaze to the doctor’s business card, with its sleazy arabesques, tacked to the front door jamb. He had no recourse but to risk an appointment.

The squat was the safest place to be, but the sinuous logic of addiction was beginning to tell him different. Death, if it was inevitable, was vastly preferable with SaDex than without. Even life - without SaDex - was probably worse than death. The possibilities clattered around his skull as he pulled on his black leather jacket and fished his last fifty from a zippered pocket.

Through the window, he saw The Bayview looking back at him.

He peered - it was perfect in every detail: from the crumbling mortar letters of its name to the window of his squat, in which he could just see himself, staring at himself.

Huge letters writhed out of the ramshackle brickwork.

- Reflect on This - said the Realistic.

The videoboard was perfect mirror.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2. SaDex Drip #2

18:88:88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

He swallowed a litre and a half of water, paused to breathe and swallowed another litre.

Whatever they had been up to in his digestive tract, it had been commercially sensitive - the kind of thing they would rather keep from general exposure. Carelessly, Cruciate had given Proteus the right to keep him there as long as their ‘biological property’ remained in his gut - which, now he considered it, could be forever.

With their goods in his belly and without having legally reassumed ownership of his body, Cruciate was in felonious breach of contract and doubtless they would be coming for him.

He had remained at large two weeks. He had gone to ground in this grim, complicated region of St Kilda and, day by day, was discovering the nature of what he carried in his stomach.

He seated himself on the toilet pan. His shit was like a bird’s. When he flushed, it sudded like soap.

He sighed. Maybe there was still some SaDex in the dripsac.

18:88:88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

There wasn’t.

He felt a clench of disappointment in his solar plexus.

The wonderland of clams was gone from the window. Now a great chromium-plated machine with a non-threatening demeanour went through its graceful paces.

- CPF300: Silver Friend

Desolately, Cruciate kneaded the plastic dripsac. Bone dry.

SaDex had the not-necessarily-annoying property of excising one’s memory. He had drained the sac last night. He was painfully aware of that now.

- Nguyen & Nguyen. Since 2015. Still the Leader in Peripheral Technology

But, like any committed drug-user, Cruciate had a back-up.

There was no drip tray beneath the gravity-feed apparatus. With each administration several droplets of the thick SaDex colloid smattered on the brick-red dacron carpet. Cruciate had automatically logged this information in his subconscious and in the current desperate circumstances it rose to the surface.

He was sure he could process that piece of carpet for at least a single dose of the synthetic alkaloidoid that was his drug of choice.

- Intelligent, Incisive

With a blunt Stanley Knife, he cut out the square-decimetre directly beneath the dripsac.

Beyond the window, the gleaming peripheral adroitly negotiated a domestic services contract with an officer from a utilites provider.

- Obliging, Amusing, Accommodating

In the kitchen, Cruciate boiled up some tap water in a misshapen aluminium saucepan. He added the carpet scrap.

The peripheral checked the feedlines of a convalescing suburbanite who laughed at the machine’s pleasant banter.

- CPF 300: Our Latest Model: Your Most Reliable Friend -

18:88:88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

The carpet came apart into a watery stew. With constant heat, it thickened into a pale orange paste.

Cruciate filtered out most of the solids and was left with a litre of bad-looking liquid laced with acrylic fibres.

He tasted it. Tart. Chemical. He smiled.

Distantly, The Realistic yammered; a distorted, disembodied voice. He would get down to some serious viewing in a moment or two.

18:88:88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

Cruciate sat in the window’s gaudy light, careful not to let the crack in the orange polypropylene stool nip his buttocks. Painstakingly, he siphoned the mixture into the dripsac, picking as many fibres from it as he could.

He inspected the crutch of his arm. Dr Winebald’s work was characteristically shoddy - the flesh around the clear plastic spigot was hard, inflamed; the vein was cysted, collapsing, and administration of the SaDex colloid was agonising.

But he could ignore all that once the drug kicked in.

He fumbled with spigot and feedline, making a connection. A rivulet of deep red streamed down his forearm.

He took a lungful of cigarette smoke and vomited on his V-shirt.

Friday, December 28, 2007

2. SaDex Drip #1

18:88:88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

Cruciate stirred in a warm nest of bubblewrap. A little box beside him - the Realistic - blared in harsh, metallic tones:

- Nutritech’s Dietary Strategy for the World –

The Realistic blinked stupidly. Involuntarily, Cruciate checked the time, forgetting again that its LCD was snagged on 18:88:88. He had found the clock-radio in an aggregation of fusty rubbish in the corner and used it to receive AM transmissions from the expanse of videoboard outside his window, despite his tendency to be fooled by its dead clock function.

- Restoring the Consumer’s Right to Choose -

Above a thin white weasel nose, Cruciate’s bluish eyelids closed and he was asleep.

- And an End to the Tyranny of Undifferentiated Fungal Protein....

18.88.88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

- Three Thousand Submarine Hectares of Hearty Biomass –

Hearty biomass...

Something salty and savoury formicated on Cruciate’s tongue... Occasional burps carried the smell of something composting...

In his paramnesiac stupor, he identified it...

Hearty biomass...

- A Daily Yield of Nine Hundred Melt-in-the-Mouth Tonnes of Tender Adductor Muscle -

Cruciate was awake with flecks of pain in his throat, welling ache-nodes in his legs and spine, an unnatural nausea in his gut.

He was careful not to burn his hands as he lit a micromild on the glowing bar of a battered electric radiator he had found with the clock-radio. As he regarded the compacted strata of cigarette ash that dulled the chromium reflection surfaces, he visualised a C20 soul-brother doing just what he was doing now: discovering unintended versatility in this ancient, appealingly dangerous appliance.

- Clamchow: The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution –

Next: thirst.

Through the window, and beyond a sort of undulating green membrane, he saw a vista of the ocean floor, impossibly crowded with giant clams.

18:88:88 EST WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2059:

Crunching through the scattering of Wiggletot wrappers and insulin casings left by a previous tenant, he made it to the niche that served as both kitchen and bathroom. He was lucky to have facilities. The squat had been a timely, almost miraculous find - a bastardised living space in a deteriorated apartment bank called The Bayview, crammed between a stained chipboard partition and the crumbling once-exterior wall of an adjacent building that still sported a flaking cat food advertisement.

Now the painted cat, poised by its can of Bounce!, cast a jolly gaze upon Cruciate as he vomited into the shallow toilet pan.

Green-grey porridge.

Distantly. From the living room:

- ClamChow: Invest now -

He remained over the bowl, waiting for the next spasm.

They had done something to Cruciate in the wards at Proteus. He had not eaten in two weeks and, though it solved many problems, he couldn’t help but worry. In his flight-bag there was packaged food still within its useby, but the thought of it set off a sharp, uncomfortable feeling in his gut. He wondered what his body was consuming as fuel. He wondered what the stuff in the pan was.

He vomited. It looked like fung.

He wiped a greyish-greenish foam from his mouth.


Over the last year, Cruciate had subsisted as an experimental subject for confidential medical procedures on the ethical fringe. Thus far, he had been fortunate; he had heard of others who had come from the Proteus wards with limbs like prickly pears and backbrains ready to govern the metabolism of a lobster. Even so, Cruciate’s toenails had come to resemble wet cardboard and a trial of the controversial melanin-pump had left him with a thatch of tortoiseshell-coloured hair which, thinking about it, he actually quite liked.

Cruciate rummaged through the tiny fridge, cold neon bringing the pocks and scars on his face into sharp relief.

But now things had turned sour. He could be in trouble. Proteus had it in their heads he was to be located and immediately returned to the wards from which - admittedly - he had prematurely discharged himself. Inadvertantly, he had caught a news update regarding the multiple deaths of Proteus experimental medical subjects, and the company’s complicity in suppression of the facts.

He fled, immediately, barely negotiating two hulking medics and a peripheral nurse.