Monday, 30 August 2010

I dreamt I met Bruce Sterling

Laminated nanotech, vacuum-fixed in resin and ready for action. Road stares at the package with its shiny holograms promising manufacture of anything from enhanced breasts to high-performance batteries for sports cars. Literally nothing is out of his reach, so long as he has the pattern, the molecular spray that activates and constrains, a kind of proto-shape, an imaginary framework around which to build. It will become the nanites sole understanding of the world. Without it the package is just a useless lump of flastic.

Road tucks it back into his jacket. Overhead the central line stretches out of sight, its lights gently illuminating the baroque architecture of the docks, casting a haze over the loaders sucking and pushing cargo through the low-g. He checks the street is empty before heading out from the alley, barely casting a look backwards at the two kids who sold him the package. If they have suckered him he can find them again. He has to get to the next meeting.

THe nanotech is a controlled substance on the station. The enclosed, tiny eco-system is jealously protected from any potential imbalance, but there are ways. There have been any number of plagues testament to that, like the one that killed Road's parents and left him as trash sifting the dump for recyclables. Road finds a tunnel outwards, heading towards rim. Climbing down ladders and stairs there are only the metallic echoes of his feet and the dull rasp of his breath. It gets colder. The light becomes blue. He must be planet-side, the reflected sunshine bleeding through ports to be captured by mirrors and injected through the fibre-optic infrastructure lining the walls to carry it to the hydroponic gardens and the homes of the middle classes.

He turns a corner. A lone woman is stood, all leather and attitude. The leather is fake, grown from pig cells and textured to look like the real thing.

"You got it?" Road says, getting her attention.

She nods.

He reaches into a pocket and pulls out a cash card. He thumbs the recognition pad, prepping it for transfer. The woman passes him a small glass vial. He has no way of authenticating this without using it. His heart pounds. He has been stung before. The woman holds up her card. Road wills himself to have some way to know whether this is a valid knot. There is nothing. He holds his breath and finishes the transaction with a sweep, his conscious mind screaming no.

The woman turns, walks around a corner and is gone. Road rushes home. Crouched in his little pod he splits open the package and removes the little block. He has put together a small pile of old clothes, ready food for the assembler. Shaking his hand opens the knot and squirts it. The liquid soaks into the gunmetal surface of the nanites, turning it to quicksilver. There is a flash, a heat that flares from it. He closes his eyes until it is done. Within a few minutes there is darkness again. He opens his eyes and sees the suit in front of him. A perfect replica, down to every thread. The fibres of the jacket and trousers repel dirt and marks of any kind. The fabric is self-repairing, the nanites embedded within it and powered by piezo energy generated by the wearer. A black-market knock-off of a suit that he could never afford and the ticket to getting the job that will get him out. Out of the dump, and away from the station.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Hunter

‘Over here!’

The cry echoed through the gusting wind, breaking concentration, breaking the peace that had been driven by the white noise of the storm. Motjed strode over to the source of the shouting.

A stumpy man, inferior, stood with a supercilious grin obvious behind his dust mask. He nodded at Motjet as if he were addressing an equal. Motjet sniffed and ignored him.

There were traces here. Motjet peered into the near distance, catching the traces of her scent, visible through the wind and the dust. He pulled the sensual threads together into one; weaving the smells, and sounds and the echoes of sight together into a semi-coherent image.

Another man now appeared beside them. Motjet pretended not to be surprised by his stealth.

‘She was here?’ he asked, a deep voice, old and experienced. The face was almost entirely hidden behind an elaborate mask but the voice was clear and undeniable.

‘Yes.’ Motjet replied. ‘Not long since.’

‘And you can follow her from here? Hunt her for me?’

A nod.

‘Can you sense her fear?’

Motjet paused, realising only now that something had been missing and that the missing thing had been fear. He shook his head, unable to lie or mitigate. ‘No fear. Anger.’

The other man, taller, turned away. This information was unexpected. And unwelcome.

‘Your direction?’ Motjet asked. He wanted this over with. It had been a long cycle and he was tired of this life, one endless chase after another, with always the same, sad, end result. It was time for a rest season, a trip away from the dust planet, for peace and hormonally induced oblivion.

‘We hunt.’ The tall man said simply. The inferior man, his serf, snickered in anticipated enjoyment and was universally ignored.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


I stop, skin prickling, the hand holding my umbrella falls. Rain sparkles with an ozone crackle. Looking down along Oxford Street a void opens. A shift that is felt through buildings suddenly replaced with replicas, as though nothing has changed at all. There is a point where the light shifts in the air, refracted through a barrier between realities to move perception a fraction of a degree. People stop walking. Others, un-noticing, continue on their way; heads down, faces obscured by jacket hoods and umbrellas.

The presence of that other city hurts my eyes, tilting and flickering as a ripple pulls everything back to how it was. Buildings left in the collapsing gap suddenly implode scattering particles of clagging, grey dust. Everyone runs. I can't. There is a guttural, arboreal tear cutting deep into the primitive, instinctual layers of my brain. A creature has come through. It calls out again in fear and anger.

People run past me. Someone knocks into me, slipping on the wet paving stones. A hand grabs me, pulling me to the side, down a street lined with dark, student bars and shuttered fast-food restaurants. The dust catches up with us ripping away all light. The hand, its owner unseen and invisible in the cloud, pulls at me again. I follow.

Running through the cloud as it clears I start to make out the figure of a young woman, her hair dyed with points of blue, her clothing typical of student fashion; torn and ugly made somehow pretty by youth. She is yelling at me but I cannot hear her, only the cry of the creature. I notice that the light runs off her like sunshine reflecting off a stain-glass window. I stop, my breathing heavy, stinging. She is from the other side. She looks at me with concern, reaching out again. I wave her hand away. -Run, I say. -Don't worry about me.

She shakes her hand, grabbing me and pulling me along. I follow along red-brick back streets over-written with viaducts. We run until the dust is past, tempered by rain and distance.

-I thought you were dead. She says. Her voice slightly breathless with running but the hope is clear. She looks straight at me again. A recognition in her eyes fades. She realises. -You're not him.

She runs off again, disappearing around a corner. I am too exhausted to chase her. To find out who she thought I would be. The cries of the creature are gone, stifled by the sirens and helicopters. Maybe the attack is already over. It could have gone on to the next world, if this one was not to its taste. No-one really understands the mechanism for these appearances, or disappearances. The shattered separation of universes punctuated by things we can not really perceive.

I fall back to sit down on the ground, little caring about the damp soaking into my trousers, trying to catch my breath.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

White Goods

I woke to the percussive orchestral movements of noise from my kitchen. A cacophony of crashes and bangs made with deliberate chaos in mind. I sat up in bed and tried to discriminate between reality and the unreality of whatever dream state I had previously been in.

Turning to my partner I tried to shake her awake but with no success. She was deep, fast asleep, breathing hard, eyes squeezed shut in a stubborn attempt to ignore me completely even at the most superficial level. Her thinning grey hair spread out across the pillow, her wrinkled face still beautiful after all these years of togetherness.

I sighed, straining my ears in a vain attempt to pinpoint the noises as outside the house or mere fragments of my semi-conscious imagination. But there was no denying it – the noises were real and they were really coming from my kitchen.

Tentatively, as slowly and reluctantly as possible, I got out of bed, searching with cold toes for warm slippers. I reached to the hook and took down my dressing gown, wrapping it firmly around my otherwise naked body and tying it tightly, almost aggressively. Looking around I could see nothing that could pass as anything like a weapon so I clenched my fists in a spasm of faux-readiness and the released them in order to pull open the bedroom door.

A light shone from the kitchen downstairs, its reach reflecting up the stairs as a dull glow of barely yellow luminescence. I could pick out certain noises now in the rush of crashes: the wooden bangs of cupboard doors, the slightly hollow sound of the washing machine door being slammed against the neighbouring wall, the rattling clash of the dishwasher being raised violently up and then down again.

My anger began to rise. Rage at the idea of my home being violated in such a random way, disgust as the attitude of carelessness and lack of respect. I found my heart beating hard in my chest, sweat beading in my armpits, a difficulty in breathing. Anger started quickly to turn to panic and I felt myself stagger as I descended the stairs with a firm grip on the slightly wobbly banisters. As I moved gradually down I kept trying to peer round the corner into the kitchen, but the door was only slightly ajar and all I could see was the yellow of the main light and flashes of intense white light that I could not imagine a reason for.

I reached the last step and paused. The noises had stopped suddenly, as if whoever was in my kitchen was as aware of my presence as I was of theirs. The thought was not a pleasant one.

But what choice did I have but to continue.

So I girded my loins, in whatever way you may interpret that phrase, and walked towards the kitchen door, one arm out in front of me to push open the door as I advanced.

It took a while for my eyes and brain to take in and interpret the scene I saw in front of me. The first things I noticed were my belongings, broken and strewn across the small expanse of the room. Chips and splinters of wood and metal littered the floor like straw in a stable. The cutlery drawer had been removed and apparently thrown into the air with no regard for its eventual resting place – silver glints of knives and forks and spoons and miscellaneous implements rested haphazardly around the kitchen, in the sink, on the floor, over the work surface. I thought instantly of the reaction of my wife, she would not be pleased.

It took longer for my brain to process the information it was receiving about the cause of all of this anarchic destruction. All emotion drained away as recognition dawned. But it was a qualified recognition in that, although I could instantly see that the being in my kitchen was outwith the usual threats of drug induced thieves or craven youths intent on mischief, I had no clue as to what it actually was.

The creature was supported by translucent tentacles, too many to count in a rush, that clung to various parts of the kitchen and commenced to oscillate in turn as they began again to slam and crash and throw drawers around the room. The tentacles, drawing my eyes in, met centrally in the terminus of a lump of amorphous muscle that hung suspended in space in the very centre of the room. Perched on top of that huge body was a tiny humanoid figure, its face dominated by a mad grin, a top hat on its head and an unkempt white beard descending from chin to knees. The figure held on with one hand to a strap that reached to a harness that straddled the larger creature, the other hand clasped a tiny hair-thin whip which the figure was using with glee to whip the creature into a renewed frenzy of destruction.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


I visited the market again last night. It is a place in my dreams. It is never quite the same, although I have been to it so often that it takes on the shape and feeling of a physical reality in my memory. So much that it is hard for me to accept that it is not real, that it is not somewhere I have ever been. The changes are frequent and large although there are similarities that inform me it is the same place. A corner of interzone that I am required to visit. Somewhere buried within it is a food stall, sometimes it's a sit-down restaurant although it never has moor than wooden chairs and plastic covered tables. It is in China, selling noodle soups and jiaozi, CHinese dumplings. They are the best dumplings and noodles I have ever had. The staff are as permanently changeable as the place itself. And although the menu is the same the actual servings are quite different. Always cheap, always delicious.

I am not always able to find the restaurant. Sometimes it is hidden, tucked around a corner I can't quite reach, past the fabric and plastic shops, the piles of blue and red striped bags, the grey clothing. The sky is often grey. Once it appeared on the grass near the end of Norris Road, although that had been stretched, houses moved out of the way. A perfect English park crushed alongside the chaos of the market. Sometimes I am alone, sometimes with others. People I have not seen in years, people I was in China with, or people who I have only just met, or do not know.

I have tried to pull at the memories that might inform the look of the place but they do not exist. The market is completely imaginary, and yet I have been there, as much as I have been to the Arndale Centre or Machu Picchu. It does not exist but that does not make it unreal. It calls me back to it, with the promise of one good, cheap meal more.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Walk

Kara and Angelo strolled along the alley, the rain-heavy branches of the trees dragged low over them, their hands linked together in peaceful togetherness.

They were arguing.

‘It’s not what you think.’ Kara was protesting.

Angelo responded angrily. ‘You have no idea what I’m thinking. You never have a clue.’

Kara was quiet. They continued to stroll along, both making a conscious effort to play the role of placid participant in this game of romance and intimacy, conscious too of the watchers. Expectations rode high on their performances today.

As they arrived at the centre point, the highlight of the walk, they paused, turning to each other and smiling. Their smiles were good, professional, but the eyes told the truth.

They kissed and then stayed firmly wrapped in a hug and embrace. Angelo took the opportunity to whisper in Kara’s ear, blowing away the auburn wisps of hair that framed her pixie ear. ‘I know you’re lying to me. I will find out why.’ He pulled away and looked for signs of recognition or acceptance on her pale face.

Instead he saw shock, unmitigated, unhidden, frank and honest shock and horror.

‘What? What is it?’ he wanted to shake an answer from her, his hands still on her shoulders as a reminder of their broken embrace.

She tried to speak but couldn’t seem to form the words necessary for meaning and instead she raised one otherwise limp arm and stroked her fingers across his head. He flinched slightly at the contact and at the feeling of dampness it invoked. And then he saw the blood on her hand and his confusion finally reigned over his anger.

Together, truly together again for now, they looked above them to locate the source of this blood which was so obviously not from Angelo’s head.

Kara took a couple of steps back and gasped in wonderment. Angelo stood his ground through fear rather than bravery, he was fixed to the spot, couldn’t have moved even if he had the mental capacity for it. Above them, tangled in the canopy of the wood, cushioned by the stern branches, a body lay, face down towards them, lank hair streaming towards them, blank eyes open and staring, or so it seemed, directly at them. It was from this body that a steady outpour of blood droplets came, dripping in a set pattern of timing and consistency, and had found a floor on Angelo’s forehead.

As they watched a bird flew from a nearby branch, disturbing the equilibrium of the system, and an arm from the corpse was knocked free. It swung for a few pendulous motions and then became still, the forefinger of the hand outstretched, pointing at them, accusing them, targeting them.

Angelo, still paralysed, acknowledged vaguely the knowledge of Kara running away down their chosen path, her breath coming in huge sobs. When he himself could move it was only downwards, to his knees, his face still turned towards the body, his head still acting as a poor receptacle for the body’s blood.

‘Forgive me,’ he said in a low, sincere voice, ‘I did not know.’ He bent his head in shame, tears dripping down his blotchy face into the leaf mould below.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

He looks upwards, away from me. A hand caresses the golden leaves that extend from his forehead, the way it always does when he is preparing to lie to me.

"It's work." He says.

I freeze. I don't dare move a muscle. My face tenses but I know this is barely visible. I don't look at him again. I let him think I am listening. He does not need to know the thoughts of anger, of fear, of betrayal that I can barely form in my mind. If I were to open my mouth they would tumble in an an incoherent rage. I would hurt him. I would beat him. And he would think he had won. That his new adventure was somehow justified by my pushing him away.

There is nothing I can do to keep him. Not even silence. A small, delicate bud curls under my chin, I feel it withering, un-cared for. I pluck it. The movement surprises him. His hand stops moving. The confident, new-born smile disappears from his face. Replaced with a flash of anger.

"Ok, it's not just work. I need time away. You need to get help. You need to see someone. Please. I can't take it any more."

More lies. I let the dead bud fall from my fingers. It tilts on the floor, a small, blue petal has edged through the green scales.

"Then go." I say. I pull my vines over my face, looking for comfort in their sticky, velvet touch. "Go."

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Fight

The Councillor followed his source through the overgrown tangled shrubs of the once exclusive cemetery. This part of town was shrouded in pitch darkness, no moon, no street light, no helicopters chasing criminals around the dark streets. The cemetery was an unseen mass, a pungent aroma of rotting vegetation and the whiff of recent rain, faintly blacker shadows revealing trees or gravestones or paths or people.

The Councillor shivered. He was out of his comfort zone here in so many different ways.

Rounding a corner of the gravel path the men were suddenly confronted with a huge edifice. The light sources scattered up its walls only accentuating the darkness of the remaining bricks. A tall tower, sharpened at the top, revealed a steeple fit for a church and the Councillor found himself shocked for an instant before he remembered. He remembered that the cities were littered with abandoned buildings. There was no reason why churches would have escaped the decimation of the population and the exodus from certain parts of town. Nothing had escaped.

The source beckoned the Councillor to follow him into the now open door of the church, its gaping light blinding him for an instant so that he didn’t see the other men until they stepped in front of his path to halt his faltering progress.

‘No weapons.’ One of the men said bluntly. He was large, well built, no apparent sign of intelligence in his face or manners.

The Councillor stuttered ‘I have no weapons.’ But the men weren’t looking at him, they were looking at his companion who shrugged and then opened his cloak and removed various guns, knives, throwing and poking implements. Some of these instruments were unrecognisable, others made the Councillor, not a squeamish man by rights, flinch.

‘And the rest.’

Again the shrug, again a rifling through clothing until a small white sphere was placed in the security man’s outstretched hand. It beeped shortly and a blue light flashed forlornly as the men were allowed to move further into the main body of the church.

Noise grew around them, the cacophony of many voices, mostly male, shouting and swearing, entreating and begging and threatening. And then people bustled around them, pushing them along an ill-defined route towards the centre of the chaos.

The Councillor tried to avoid physical contact but found himself jostled in ways unfamiliar since his school days. He struggled to keep an eye on the man in front of him; the man was, after all, his only link to the outside.

An overdressed waiter appeared from somewhere within the crowd and half-led, half-pushed, the two men away from the main crush of bodies and to a small booth, two chairs set inside around a small circular table. As they sat down the booth began to rise, floating above the floor and above the heads of the screaming masses. The Councillor could see other booths now, all hovering, bouncing slightly with the combined heat and moisture, surrounding them in all directions. He had never been anywhere like this before. He looked down, over the edge, in the direction in which all of the booths and, now he could see, all the attention of the gathered crowd was facing.

The centre of attraction was a simple square stage, surrounded by ropes, a boxing or wrestling ring. Inside the ring was a low bath of mud, nearly reaching to the edges, and in this bath two creatures tussled and fought, encouraged and coaxed and roused by the shouts of the crowd.

The Councillor could only call them creatures as they were made in such a way he had never seen before. The basic physiognomy was recognisable: one head, two arms, two legs, a torso. And the creatures appeared to be female judging by the overdeveloped breasts that dangled low to the ground. But only a single eye emerged from the centre of each breastbone and the naked skin of the creatures glowed creepily in the gloom.

‘Why am I here?’ The Councillor asked. ‘You said you would show me an Alternative but I see no Alternative here. All I see are infringements of our laws and a whole heap of trouble for me if I am discovered.’

‘Look down there.’ His source said briefly.

‘I see all I need to see.’

‘Are you not curious? Do you not long to know what they are and how they come to fight for our pleasure?’

The Councillor shook his head.

His companion frowned. ‘You must wait until the main event. Relax. Be patient. Have a hit.’ This last while indicating the collection of bottles and pipes that littered the faux-wood surface of their table.

Disdain filled the Councillor. ‘Do you follow no law? No law at all?’

‘I follow the natural law. You will see. Once you meet her then you will...’

The Councillor meanwhile was on his feet, his face turning puce with rage finally unleashed. ‘Her?’ Horror trembles through this single word and the man comes close to losing his balance. Realising the danger of tumbling out of their booth and onto the sweating heads of the men below the Councillor sits down again. Cautiously.

The other man laughed without humour. ‘Oh dear. You really are stuck in the old ways. Perhaps we made a mistake after all.’ He leant forward, the shadows and the proximity making his regular features sinister. ‘If so then it is a mistake that will be short lived.’

A moment of petrified clarity occurred to the Councillor. He mind-flashed his wife that he loved her but was cut off before he could indicate more. A sadness filled his heart as he stared open-mouthed at his aggressor.

‘Now now. None of that here if you don’t mind. You are among friends here, but friends can be just as... shall we say unpredictable as your very worst enemy.’


Monday, 2 August 2010

A billion years

A billion years pass.

Another billion, a fraction slower as he feels the explosion of his own body falling through the universe, becoming a part of it.

The signature of the ripples in space-time, the exotic sparkle of particles in the vacuum foam, coaxed and changed by his movements.

It feels a physical act but is only thought.

Body clings to him. Dust clings to him. World clings to him.

Coalescing into a dream of a world built from the imploding, slow-burn ignition of a sun.

Trails of gravitational attraction, tails dragged along into planets. Clockwork time broken by sucking and spinning, the playful destruction of asteroids.

He gasps for air. He needs air. He opens his eyes onto a street. He almost falls through it, catching himself in time. He floats slightly above it. Fortunately no-one sees him. The street is grimy, cold. Different yet the same. Shops and traffic. The people are different. Taller, thinner. Eyes somehow smaller, noses misshapen. He raises his hand to his face and rubs until his own head matches theirs. Now he would like a coffee.