a novel based on a dubiously true story
This is a work of fiction. References to names, characters, places, events, incidents and rock bands are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Lyrics of the Great Song remain the copyrighted material of the Pazanna People’s Republic.
Copyright © Claude Vicent 2017
Published by Claude Vicent at Shakespir
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
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Whatever money his good for nothing brother didn’t steal from him to get that gooey OrAngE stuff blown up his backside he would spend on old stuff. Dust collecting stuff. The kind of things no one had any real use for anymore. Things like batteries, typewriters, umbrellas, lightbulbs, binoculars and all other sorts of marvelous gadgets. So he bought himself a medium wave radio transmitter from one of those old shopkeepers by the wall. The big grey thing that surrounded them on all but one side. The side where the sandy beaches looked onto the silver sea and all that lay beyond it.
It was the kind of radio he’d seen as a kid. Before it all went pear-shaped and they turned the world into a seven sided cube, and with it changed the meaning of the word soul. One of the ear pieces from the headset was missing. It hadn’t help bring the price down.
“Take it or leave it,” he’d said.
Feeling into his back pocket he’d quivered for a second before handing the three-eyed cripple the stash of money.
“I’ll take it.”
The kid had smiled timidly and picked up the heavy thing and made for home. And as he walked along the seashore, the barbed wire fences lining the coral beach front where the fizzy waters met the grey sand, he’d seen one of those pirate rafts setting out across the bay. Carrying all manner of down-and-outs. Hopelessly lost people taking a desperate leap, an attempt to make a better chance of their already too miserable lives. Unknown to them they would soon be flipped head over arse into the acidy waters beneath, never to be seen again. No one ever made it across the bay. Anyone the pirates didn’t cast overboard the laser interception devices would take care of. And yet many chose to ignore the bloody statistics. The bay was a last resort for a few desperate men who had nothing left to live for, nothing to lose but for the heartbeat in their chest. As he stood there, holding the heavy orange and brown coloured radio transmitter, looking out over the silver flats, he could not help sparing a thought for those poor ones who would inevitably be turned to mince the second they’d fall into the sea. It was sad but he’d grown to learn to live with it like the rest of them.
On Fridays his brother would leave the shack, for his weekly night bashing routine of three legged whores and OrAngE TwanG. It was a Friday. He rolled down the blinds in his shed-like room and pulled out the transmitter from beneath his bed. As he pulled and twitched at the rusty wires he knew the danger he was facing. Handling something as hot as a trans-border communication device could translate into a world of pain. Getting caught trying to cross the border, or making contact with anyone across the other side, meant sudden and unequivocal elimination. But like so many kids, the harsh taste of rules and regulations hadn’t quite stained his youthful gland yet.
Rummaging around a wooden box, which he kept by his headrest, he pulled out a few leaky batteries and proceeded to hook them up to the transmitter. He removed the back panel and took a good look inside. Fixing here and there as best he could, like the old man at the bazar had taught him. Years ago, before he was taken off into the mist of the desert, taped to the back of a camel and left to rot in the heat of the sun. A dreadful punishment, handed to the old man on accounts of his wizard like skills.
The box soon started to make the first sounds as the knobs turned and the antenna reached left, right and centre for anything that might be floating around in the brume of space. Nothing but the annoyance of the universe’s static graced the speakers for over an hour so he put it to one side and picked up his trumpet and went to sit down by the sea. And as he played a few tunes, the ones the old man at the bazar had taught him, he noticed the first lights from across the bay starting to appear, one by one. In the distance the unmistakable purple clouds engulfing the Lactobia extracting rigs lingered in the evening skies.
He played himself into the night, eventually retiring to the shack and managing a few hours sleep. Dreaming of better things to come, only to wake up to the scene of his deranged, OrAngE TwanG infested brother tampering with the transmitter.
“What the fuck you doing playing around with this kind of stuff? I should fucking well smash this across the back of your head before they do!”
“Just you try it you sad piece of shit and I’ll wipe the smile right off your face,” he said ripping the precious gadget from his brother’s hands. He wasn’t afraid of the wimp whom nature had assigned as his elder, bigger, dumber brother. He’d been in enough fist fights to know he could take him down anytime. The old man at the bazar had taught him the hooks, jabs and upper cuts he’d used many a time. He missed the old man and thought of him often. He wondered if he was still of that world. Hard to believe given the harsh reality of the desert, but all was possible.
Later that day, sitting behind the shack in the shade of the morning sun he began to play with the knobs like he had done the night before. He tried desperately to make it work. And yet, for all his efforts, all he got was the crushing sound of nothingness. Then suddenly, after a few more attempts of a twist and turn he heard something come across the speaker and held his ear up to the device, dampening his breath to listen. Yes, he thought, yes. It was indeed the unmistakable notes of a rock song that came thrashing through the speakers like thunder through glass. Having heard something like it before, he sat there smiling. The old man had spoken to him on different occasions of the heaven-like blasts of music that once used to move freely through the skies. Now, as he heard it for himself it filled him with joy. He knew that someone, somewhere was risking their life to transmit the forbidden sounds in the name of freedom. There was still some soul left out there after all. And as he looked over across the bay to the promised land something told him it was there the music was coming from.
The rock music played in the background for a few more interminable instances. The squeaking sounds melding into a long scream which peaked in one, single, clear message at the end of the chorus, I’m back in black. He wondered what it might mean, what it could mean to anyone sitting across the bay. Then, just as it had come the music disappeared into the void, certainly the work of the border patrols who’s jamming devices worked incessantly across the line between the two realities.
Picking up his rusty copper trumpet he played a few mellow notes into the breeze, as the winds blew the purple clouds in all kinds of directions. Tapping ever so gently on the valves he blew through the very core of the instrument. Another of the many toys he’d purchased off the wizard at the bazar. And as he played he questioned whether the time hadn’t come to finally make the leap. To take one mighty jump and make an attempt at a life. Something he could fall asleep to at night and wake up to with a sense of purpose and pride every morning. Surely he would find something to do. The sun always shone on that side of the quadrant. He would always have the old copper trumpet to play if all else failed. There was talk of revolution in the streets. The pain and horror of the local regime were reaching new highs. He’d heard enough words spoken. It was time to put some of them into action. There was little left for him in that corner of the cube. For too long he’d sat there playing his tune, quivering at the lack of possibilities his dim future held. And all that wealth and hope just across the bay.
There wasn’t much planning involved. Just enough time to put together enough cash to make the payment. Selling his few belongings, apart from the clothes he wore and his loyal trumpet. He knew where they would make the jump. Anyone who had ears and a strong enough desire for change did. Down towards the edge of the 16th quadrangle. The spot was never the same. It changed continuously. The catapults could be moved at a moment’s notice. They had to be. It was a daily game of cat and mouse between the two sides of the wall.
It had started as a simple line. A line to delimit the edge of two very different realities. Like all such lines, it soon developed into a fence. When the time was ripe they added the barbed wire, and when one too many had been ripped to shreds, well then they decided to start building a wall. It had been done before.
The tunnels, boats and hot-air-inflated cows which had failed miserably, offered low or inexistent odds. The catapults allegedly guaranteed the highest success rate. Of course you had to know what you were doing. Like in all well respected ex-democracies the wrongs are put right by the darkest forms of organised crime, who for a respectable fee, are always more than happy to assist people in all manner of unfathomable escapades, no questions asked.
The catapults had taken off like wild fires. People making the flight over without a worry in the world. Then the other side had caught onto it all and started to build a wall where the fences once lay. The catapults got bigger. The wall got taller. They built bigger and stronger catapults. The wall got bigger. The catapults got stronger, more precise. The wall got bigger. Then the crooks on his side gave up caring. The wall stopped growing. Standing at a titanic 60 feet it would probably have continued to finance itself all the way up to the clouds had it only been given the chance.
So the game plan on the kid’s side of the fence had changed. One was no longer guaranteed a clean jump. Depending on wind factors and other mysterious variables, as for example whether the guy in charge of the catapult was willing and capable of properly calibrating the thing. A 50 percent success rate was all one could expect. So claimed some old wise man who sat by the old brewery and professed to having had visions of the promised land. Many had laughed at him over the years but few had ever dared contradict his captivating tales. 50 percent however was good enough for some, for most. A flick of a coin. A lifetime of savings well invested for the chance to watch the sun come up on the better side of the cube.
He had watched a couple of them getting splattered before. Unaware of their realistically poor chances of ever clearing the thing. They sat back in their seats holding onto the plastic bags containing whatever life belongings they wished to bring with them to the next life. The worried looks, yet the spark of hope blazing somewhere within the soul. He read it as a life-threatening ignorance.
A full moon lit the border the night he made the journey out to the hideout. The old seaman, Kalombo, had known him since he was a lad. In the jungle of uncertainty which plagued the land the kid knew he could trust him alone. The man walked with a heavy limp in his left leg and his lower lip hung heavily as he muttered words that few could ever comprehend. He was proud of the young man the kid had become, who would come to him for advice and listen to his stories. Watching him there in the early hours of a new morning it hurt him to see him leave, but he understood his reasons for doing so.
All along the wall the sound of slingshots being coiled, charged and released filled the otherwise silent fields. Poor, unknowing young men like himself meeting their end at a hundred feet per second on the cold unforgiving concrete of the wall. The grey monster they called it.
They exchanged a friendly look as the cash switched hands. Kalombo looked over to one of his men across the catapult standing behind some pulleys and levers. The nod of the head was a signal that the next one up was a go. No messing around. It was to be a proper attempt at a crossing.
“What you got in the bag boyo,” Kalombo asked him, picking the tar from under his lip. He sat at his rudimentary desk, his four-fingered hand holding onto the stained envelope containing the money the kid had handed him.
“You got that sound thing of yours hey? The shiny tube? Is this all the money you have kido? You know it won’t come in handy on the other side. They don’t use the paper any longer.”
“What do they use then,” he asked perplexed.
Dragging his limp across the platform Kalombo walked up close to where the kid sat, semi strapped into the catapult, his legs shaking nervously.
“When you make it to the other side boyo, just start running. Run. No matter what you do, what you think, just you run boyo.”
The kid could only nod to the old pirate. Then he took a good long look up to the moon and the stars. How many there were up there. Too many to count.
“Bite down on this,” Kalombo spoke, feeding him a soaked piece of bark. “It’ll help with the initial whiplash. Remember, just run when you hit the ground. Run like you got the fever boyo.”
“The OrAngE fever.”
A lonely cloud appeared out of nowhere as if to bless the crossing, adding to the disguise of the night which the moon had tried to wreck. The old man limped across the stand to where his accomplice stood, by the pulleys. The sound of ropes coiling behind him squeaked and croaked, pinched and pulled. Then, holding onto his only possession, the kid felt the flinching sound of his motionless body being projected up and into the heavens.
The dark leather case which held his trumpet went to float away from him but he was quick and reached out for it before they were parted. His legs, arms and head floated like a feather as he thought he could reach up to the moon and take one greedy slice out of it. Then the dread, as he realised he was on his way down.
He hadn’t processed it yet, but he’d cleared the grey monster by over five feet and would soon be landing in the safety of the marshes on the other side. The unguarded portion of the wall. The empty guard turrets were filled with cobwebs, empty liquor bottles and abandoned magazines with photos of all manner of naked mammals. Abandoned long ago, when the almighty Notobian bureaucrats figured enough of them were hitting the wall without ever making it over. There was no real need to man the whole border. A few irregulars here and there would do little to alter their casual reality. If the weather wouldn’t take care of them, the city life sure would.
“Does the wine always taste of purple velvet?” he asks, sitting back softly into the big black leather sofa, his head leaning weightlessly over the back of the morbid headrest like it had done so many times before. He can’t tell how long he’s been sitting there. It sure feels like a long time. There, is a stained army green sofa with deep crevassing rips in the armrests. He’s picking at the foam with what’s left of the nails from his right hand. His nails have been gone a long time. Substituted with a thin sheet of aluminium sheet, the stuff those old coke cans used to be made of before they became extinct. His hands are a mess. The cuts and bruises and the scars, and the stories they tell. The sofa is, by the way, a total disgrace. Tattered and blattered, and infested with all manner of suspiciously looking stains.
Now, is actually some time in the near future. All that obviously depends on what time and reality one finds oneself in and whether one choses to accept it as such. For all he can tell, the now felt, feels and could well come to feel all so much like the present moment but he couldn’t swear to that. He’d been to a lot of different places and times recently. It was starting to get confusing.
He’s far up, in some long forgotten building, in some government forsaken end of town. The lift only worked a third of the way up, so they had to walk the remaining 42 floors. It took longer than expected. They’ll be camped up there for a while, perhaps a few days, until he does something about it.
The degenerates he was forced to follow across town and up so many flights of stairs are starving for a hit. One precious mind boggling hit of the OrAngE stuff. Moving around the place like preying hyenas, the lot of them.
“Does the wine always taste of purple velvet?” He asks again, a little unsure of who he’s addressing. No one seems to take the least interest in him anyhow. There’s no point in pushing it any further. He’s found his own answer to the question. It’s a rhetorical question of course. The wine does taste of purple velvet. He’s sure of it. Just like the black leather sofa tastes of liquorice. His pink, dry skin of the sweet scent of caramel candy, the sweat on his forehead of tabasco sauce and the fresh air, whose scent he can taste and flavour on his tongue, it tastes of freedom. Of course it could all be down to the corrupting smell of Natroliium Peroxide coming from the damaged ventilation system, or perhaps just the deteriorating state of his ever decaying brain matter.
“Guess it’s already getting to you,” the punter says, as he sits there, bent over the glass table. Chipping away at some one thousand Kredit bills. Now that’s big money.
He just sits there, smiling. What else can he do. A victim of his own miserable circumstances. A prisoner, sixty odd floors up above the smoggy grey clouds. The guy’s holding his little, sharp pocket knife tightly in his clenched fist as he desperately tries to clip the notes into smaller pieces. How small is it humanly possible to cut paper bills he wonders?
The sound of the knife hacking away at the glass surface is enough to send the poor cat into a meta-contraptual tantrum. That tends to happen sometimes with some of those cheaper models. There’s a sudden bright flash and its’s only gone and duplicated itself. There’s now two identical copies of the beautiful grey and black striped cat with a pink patch on its nose. One of the two copies leaps up to the windowsill. There’s no telling which one is the original anymore. The one on the windowsill takes one last look at them all and dives out, 63 stories down into the busy streets below. Somewhere in the distance he hears a glass smash and another sweet looking piece of mechanics, child-laboured technology bites the dust. Its new duplicate looks a lot calmer. An instant adaptation, like a growing cell. This new version feline is bound to fit into its new surroundings a lot better than its predecessor. It has no other option, like us all. That’s evolution for you, nature at its worse.
Incidentally, these peculiar recurring events have become an integral part of his everyday life. He still hasn’t decided what degree of reality they belong to, but in the present moment it is all very real.
“How small you trying to get them?” he asks intrigued, biting away at the inside of his cheek. There’s a good dozen of them all over the table. Clipping at them ever so precisely. Like he’s trying not to harm the poor things while he coldly clips away limb after limb. Stacking them up into smaller and smaller piles, he continues to chop away at the blue coloured paper.
“The bills,” he hears the punter grunt between his teeth as he grinds them together like stones.
“The bills. They’re so fucking…”
He never does get the last few words of anything he ever says. His sentences are small continuous bursts of brilliance which always inevitably end up losing themselves in the vacuum which separates us all. Up there with the wonderful things, mainly words and ideas that float around in the ether. Wasted on deaf, unaware ears. Space must really be full of wonderful things.
“So, fucking big…I think I need…”
All he can do is smile.
“Where’s the fucking blender,” the fellow bursts out.
“The damn blender. Go get it! Now!”
That was loud. The frustration is evident in his jaw. The muscles in the side of his face are tensing like the back legs on one of those pumped up racing horses. Someone better get him that blender before he bites his teeth to shreds. He’s seen it happen once before. Not a pretty sight.
“I said, where’s the fucking blender,” the fellow cries out again. He’s dead serious about finding this blender.
Taking another sip he can’t help but be amazed at the taste of velvet silk. Or did he mean purple velvet? Shouldn’t it be burgundy? Perhaps it all makes sense, somewhere.
He’s slowly sinking back further into the infinite comfort of the sofa and wondering how it would feel like to ride time. Ride it like a wave. Like the intergalactic time surfer he is, or rather could turn out to be. It’s never too late. Of course he never learnt how to surf. The acidity levels had already reached harmfully high levels when he first tried to dip his toes into the sea as a dare. It was to impress some girl. The things one does. He still has the scars to show for it. Can he remember her name? Of course he does. Dorothea Tumbling. A dumb shit of a person she was. Wonder what corner of space she’s ended up banging her head into? Everyone does at some stage.
He’d do it naked. Surfing time that is. Surfing time naked, perhaps on a naked woman’s body. A beautiful specimen of a naked Hawaiian beauty. And him, riding her like a board on the never ending wave of time. The perfect wave. Time just seems to stop when strange things happen.
The search party is back from their excursion. One of them is handling one of those old-style blenders from one of its ears. He’s seen one before in one of those antique shops back in the city. They don’t make them any longer. A big glass jar on an electrical 12volt base with a spinning axel. One of those old plugs hanging out of a long black snake lead. He can hear the poor thing’s cries of despair as it’s displayed like some war-time prize, an animal in a circus.
“I hear you blender,” he can hear himself think, “I feel the pain. I’m an old-styler just like yourself and I suffer this modern reality as much as you do.”
The plug’s shoved into the socket on the wall with mighty force, yet the two seem to meet with gentle nonchalance. Like they’ve done it hundreds of times before. No need to be embarrassed. What is embarrassing is the state of the place. He hasn’t been there that long, but long enough to tell the room smells and looks like waste. Like shit. Like the shit normal folk have come to know all so well.
There’s laughter all around. The blender has come to solve their problems. Finally. Any longer and the fellow’s jaw would have come off like an unhinged door. He feels like a pigeon at a football game, goofing around cluelessly. He never did get his head round the game of football. Luckily he’s not a pigeon and this isn’t a football game so he takes another sip of his purple velvet.
He wonders whether purple velvet tastes of wine? Highly likely given the circumstances.
“This’ll fucking work like a bloody treat” someone cries out.
The guy’s jaw starts flinching rather violently. There’s bruises and scabs on the back of his head where he’s been scratching away at some invisible itch. An itch that’s been eating away at his insides for some time now, and has only recently made its way to his epidermis. Scratching will do nothing but ease the momentary feeling of discomfort that years of OrAngE Haze have caused the man and a whole generation. And now here he is, leaping down that same rabbit hole with them all.
He lived in a house with no windows. Had anyone ever bothered to ask him at the time, he’d have answered that his name was Jack Landan.
This is his story. It’s the brief tale of a few brave men, two very different worlds, and the civilizations that prospered and perished there, only to end up committing the same mistakes, as is generally the case. It’s Jack Landan’s story. His attempt to finish a book he never remembered having begun. The story of the world he came to call home and despise. The struggles he went through, like so many, to make it through this thing they call life. It’s a tale of all manner of bizarre occurrences that should, in the very least, keep you entertained. His name was Jack Landan, and this is a condensed version of the truth. It shouldn’t take too long.
Born thirty-four years ago from the conception of this work, give or take a few time lapses, on a distant place, in a world far from anything considered to lie within the acceptable boundaries of normality. That is of course unless you’ve also made the twenty-two-and-a-half-thousand-light-year journey to the remote Wallonian Constellation, where the small bright, blue planet, known in our tongue as Pazanna, hovers peacefully in the fabric of space. His parents were Eugenius Landan (an Earthling) and Trapezian Zorga, (a beautiful Pazannian female species of a woman, his mother). She gave birth to over forty-six individual eggs during the three weeks it took her to conceive him. He and his two sisters were the lucky ones who made it. It was decided that they should be delivered on Pazanna because of a lack of adequate structures on this, all so civilised, planet to provide the needed assistance to Pazannian females during their short delivery period.
Four days into their existence, with their brand new subcutaneous identification stems implanted into their arms, the new family made the long journey back to Earth to start a new life. Pazanna was still busy picking up the scattered pieces left over from half a century of civil war. It was no place to bring up kids. The rest, as they say, is just plain boring, at least until the meltdown happened and changed everyone’s life forever.
The Big Meltdown occurred in the usual manner the best of fuck-ups tend do. Like dumb kids and fire crackers. Fuck-ups just seem to happen when there’s too much time to burn and nothing much to do.
By some dark set of circumstances he was on a school trip to Callisto, one of Jupiter’s many moons. A memorable school trip it would have been if the scientists back home on Earth at the Antarctic centre for Meltdown Studies, as it has since come to be ironically known, hadn’t decided to cause the partial collapse of the Southern hemisphere.
The four week school adventure might otherwise have been remembered for very different reasons. The outrageous news that a classmate of his, fourteen year old Maggellana Townsporter had gotten herself pregnant. Not literally though. Someone had obviously helped her in the process. Her spacesuit had picked up a secondary, weak but unequivocal heart beat deep within her. It hadn’t crossed the minds of the awesome engineers who’d designed that particular feature for the spacesuit. They never foresaw it causing somewhat of an embarrassment and one hell of a headache. That is what happened. The biometric-scanning system unexpectedly decided to announce to a room full of students and dubiously drunk teachers that the subject in question was pregnant and that a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. The subject in question was 14 year old Maggellana Townsporter. Her inseminator, a 46 year old middle school teacher sitting across the room from her. A one Mr. Trippintoff, notorious alcoholic, teenage-flirting physics teacher. The scandal however was soon forgotten. For it was scenes of total silence and mystic sub-sonar laments when the news came, with nearly a week’s delay, of the terrible destruction and cataclysmic events which had taken place back home on the precious little blue and green planet they called Earth.
Science, or perhaps just simple scientists, had decided to make their way into the age of fourth generation natural resources with one Big Bang. Not as big as the one which gave birth to all of this, but big and destructive enough to destroy the lives of over two billion people.
In a split second, the lives of Jack Landan’s beautiful mother and hard working father were cut short. The day the world stood still and a few greedy, and incredibly short sighted men blew a hole into the one thing we should all hold most sacred.
As for his sisters, he forever lost contact with his youngest, Brezna. She was born 23 minutes after himself. She took off not long after the great meltdown and had never looked back since. For all he knew she could be as dead as a cat. There are no such things as cats any longer. Just cheap electronic replicas, but don’t tell anyone, whatever you do. Especially the kids.
His eldest sister Kabrina, born 42 minutes before him, made a lucky escape when she found refuge in an underground anti-missile bunker. The bunker had been built decades earlier to protect whatever power it was from whatever other nation it was they were all hiding from. Ironic that they should have to resort to such measures to hide from themselves, and no one else. They occasionally still wrote to each other. She stubbornly refused to leave the bunker. She and another 17,000 souls continued to live the life of a mole, three kilometres under the ground. According to what she’d written, the good Earth provided them with all they needed. Water, nutrients and most importantly, a shelter from a world which in their eyes had gone completely mad. He couldn’t really argue with her on that point. Few rational people could either. Shame that there should seem to be so few of them left. Most of them, of course, had accidentally blown themselves up on that dark day. Perhaps rationality isn’t the solution to all our worries after all.
For twenty-two months they orbited the Earth’s atmosphere, waiting for permission to return to the planet’s surface. And when they eventually did it was in a manner most unorganised and extremely confused. There was little or nothing for him or any of his 114 classmates and 12 teachers to go back to when they eventually got home. Home was a big dark hole from which nothing had been able to escape. The world was still busy coming to terms with the fact that a hole of biblically deep-space proportions had been blown into the underside of the planet and was threatening to get even bigger. There was also the more pressing issue concerning the manner in which it would affect the planet’s orbit around the sun, and how life on Earth would suffer because of that. Talks ensued about the possibility of using controlled explosions to give the broken sphere of the planet a more quadratic shape. Geometrically speaking, and metaphorically thinking, it was agreed that the planet would be much more stable as a spinning cube rather than the chewed up wobbly sphere it had become as a consequence of the meltdown.
No one had the time of day for 114 orphans travelling home from a school trip. And so it was that they were shipped, much like goods, to different holes across the globe, if one could still call it that. (Of course one couldn’t, but most of us still do.) Jack Landan was, like so many others, posted to one of an terminally awful amount of survival camps. When the time came, he was sent to what would eventually become his new home. Notobia. The stamp of refugee clearly embedded on his forehead, as if to remind the good people that took him in that they would now have to share whatever little they had with him, one of the unwanted, landless people. Few things ever change it would seem.
At some stage, about 35 years, into his miserable existence Jack Landan noticed his flat start to shrink. His obsessive habit of aligning every possible object in his vicinity with the nearest straight line available, soon started to drag him into an uncomfortable and spiraling situation. The lines and squares which had worked as the basis for everything in his little world had started to mutate unannounced. And like most unannounced mutations it came slowly and painfully.
A 50cl bottle of the good stuff. Roughly 16 and one third glasses, give or take a few decimal places, would get him through an entire bottle. Then he’d wake up a different day wondering to himself where the past had gone. That was back in the days when they still made the stuff from fermented potatoes. Before potatoes became extinct and they started using god knows what to replace them. There were a few people who could probably tell him how they made the stuff, but he chose to ignore them. In all his wisdom he still craved a little ignorance to get him happily through that thing they called life.
The sun had been in the habit of casting a shadow across his living room and onto the creamy coloured wall of his living room at an approximate angle of 58 degrees without fail for 17 long years, 103 days, 13 hours, 27 minutes and 46 seconds. On a good day the temperature in the room would crawl its way up to a miserable 14 degrees celsius. That was before the windows went.
He despised approximations. It was appro-ximations that had blown a hole into the underside of that once beautiful world. Of course they would never admit to it. Instead they had preferred to blame it on the poor quality of the imported prime element they had used to fuel the experiment. How very human of them.
His plastic basil plant lived happily on the dark wooden table in the hall, by the kitchen, 6.3 metres across the apartment from where he would sit and watch it. The door to his peculiarly small toilet was 4 paces, 3.75 metres from his habitual sitting place at his desk, which lay facing the South wall of his 4 by 5.27 metre living room. The fridge stood 3 cm to the right of the main supporting wall, which wouldn’t allow for the fridge door to arch open more than 63 degrees. The paintings all hung precisely 1.55 metres from the floor and no closer than 33.33 centimetres from each other and so forth.
Sometimes he too would wonder. All manner of useless measurements and obsessively compulsive bad habits defined the rules by which he lived his life. He kept all measurements and numbers updated in a little black leather notebook which he stacked under one of the floorboards by his writing desk. The desk measured four and a half hands by three hands and four finger. He’d started to use limbs as measuring units the day his tape measure went missing.
He first reacted to the dark shadow hanging over his left shoulder one grey, autumn afternoon. Flinching to peek over his shoulder he expected to find the demon himself standing there behind him. Instead he was depressingly met by the same predictable vision of his plain old living room. Only there was something ever so slightly different about it that time. He was on that first occasion unable to put a metaphorical finger on exactly what it was that had changed in the ever so mundane surroundings. And yet, a certain unease began to take hold of him as he struggled to piece together that something.
Like so many things, even dreams can begin to bore one into remaining awake. Even a beautiful flower needs to die and be born again. Only whiskey seemed to hold its unique grip on his poor soul. He would come out of his daydream-coma, one little realisation at a time, just like the other few before him had. The cracks in the pavement. The shopkeeper. The teenage girl rebel who would flash her freshly shaven pussy at the shopkeeper whenever she thought no one else was looking. The secret agent, piece of shit, noting it all down in his digital eye-piece. The acidy taste of the rain. He remembered how it used to taste like before the big meltdown. The cries of kids, the sound of laughter, the smell of laughter. “Have you ever smelt happiness?” someone had once asked him.
The poor beggar sitting in the cold, his arse turned to marble. His blood worth more to science than his presence to humanity. His smile. The first time he noticed his nails, the smell which his unwashed body emanated, and his smile. His ever so human smile. He could remember smiling as a kid. Recalling how it was the norm back then. Not something to be punished for. When they all smiled and no one thought anything of it. Before a smile meant I want to fuck you, and a misunderstanding meant a rape. Days when people still shook hands, kissed, looked at one another in the face and smiled. Would they outlaw that too and pin big heavy metal weights to their faces so that they wouldn’t be able to smile anymore like they did on Pazanna?
He remembered the day the beggar first smiled to him. It was the same day he noticed there was something horribly off with the accurately calculated geometry of his little apartment. When upon placing his shoes by the entrance he spotted the markings on the floor. The shoe-rack had scratched its way about an inch towards the door. It was then he began to worry that he may be showing the first signs of a madness.
Like a slow spreading cancer, the mould began to grow from the floor up and along the recently white painted walls. The smell of dampness infested every crack in his skin. The food in the fridge soon went off, no matter how cold it was. And there was no means of drying any of the clothes he hung up to dry. All manner of vermin and rodents began to move into his apartment, their new home. He felt the flat was gradually being taken over by a living form, a cellular organism that lived and breathed, and whose only goal was to kill and subdue his soul, his very reason to exist. And yet, despite the horrid living standards, just as he had done for years, he continued in his footsteps, working his body and soul into slavery. A slave to his own sad existence. Force-feeding himself all sorts of artificial junk before returning to the hole which was his small apartment, his den. And he returned to it, each time with the same sad hope that within its increasingly mouldy walls he might find some form of happiness. And every time he was tricked into believing that it would be so. And for so many years it continued, an unhappy existence, but one which continued no matter what, because there was always hope.
The painting of the black and white pelican hanging from the wall had by then grown nearer to his desk by a whole foot in length. As he sat with his back to the wall, typing away his thoughts on the Olympia Traveller de Luxe typewriter, he began to feel the presence of his very own shadow growing closer and closer every day as the apartment grew smaller. The ceiling had also dropped by about 16 fingers and he had been forced to remove the door to the toilet completely. Space was becoming a commodity which he could no longer afford. He had increasingly less space. Just as he had increasingly less time. He wondered if the two were connected.
The most peculiar things started to occur with ever increasing frequency. Returning to his den one day, he sat, trying to make the most of the 26 minute bus trip home, with his face up against the bus window, the sun shining dimly onto it, breathing a little life into his deflated soul and the cool glass. The girls were out in shorts and colourful dresses, their pale legs freezing in the winds. The boys with their dark glasses, sipped at their power drinks, and made dirty remarks about them, their hands suspiciously deep in their pockets. Between the smiles, and the red cheeks and the embarrassment someone, against all odds, actually managed to pull a girl once in a while.
He cropped off the bus and, with his head held low, made his way up the steep hill which to led to the apartment block. A block so limp and undecorated and so infested with rats that he was essentially the only two-legged being still inhabiting the premises. The short-lived comforting feeling of the sun warmed his back and shoulders, his forehead sweating as he pounded up the hill. For a moment he thought he too deserved to be happy, to have a dream, perhaps a few dreams. He too wanted a girl to call his own, and some people to call friends. He didn’t ask for much. He only needed a few. But that would all have to wait. He would soon have to deal with a much graver situation.
The eternal rays of our burning ball of fire shone across the dark tarmac surface of the street, and its loyal companion, the pavement. Somehow one defined the subtle boundaries of the other. The plastic flowers hanging from the balconies bathed in its glory, as did the pretty young girls in dresses. Yet all this glory and beauty was lost on him the moment he noticed, with much anguish, that the building, the entire apartment block at Park Avenue number 11, had completely disappeared. In its place only the empty space of nothingness.
He took a few steps back across the street to confirm his momentary hallucination. Indeed, it appeared to be just the way he was perceiving it to be. A dark cloud had momentarily blocked out the glory of the sun and cast an immense shadow there where his apartment block had once been. The yellow building at number 10 and the rusty orange building at number 12b were still both visible whilst there, where he had expected to find the keyhole to the front door of his apartment block, lay nothing. Just the gentle breathe of the acidic sea air blowing across town.
It didn’t strike him at first. The problem of where he might have to spend the night, now that he had nowhere to live. Rather he was taken aback by the meaning of it all.
He took refuge on the curb of the pavement hoping for something to happen. Something, would certainly have been better than nothing. He spent the first part of that peculiar first evening staring at empty space between the two four-storey buildings. Waiting for the apartment block to reappear. And funnily enough it did just that some 78 minutes later.
As the odd dark cloud eventually began to move on behind the hills surrounding the city, the first rays of light began to shine again. Slowly revealing to him the building, brick by brick. He suddenly noticed the top left corner of the apartment block reappear ever so slightly until enough sunlight shone all at once and allowed for the front door to appear. A few minutes later he was finally able to insert the key into the damn thing.
In the oddity of it all, he paced up the three flight of steps, not thinking much of what had just happened, brushing it off as some mystical cosmic fuck-up. He’d read about it before. One of many that had started to plague his existence of late. Rather more urgent was the fact that his apartment’s re-dimensioning had begun to accelerate. The kitchen cupboards had started to crack off their hinges as the walls grew closer to one another. And whenever he sat at his desk he could feel the oppressing presence of the ceiling pushing down on him. He knew he didn’t have much time left to finish his masterpiece. His desperate attempt at a first novel. A work which he hoped might incorporate everything he knew he should stand for. It was then that a certain urgency began to run through his veins. A tingling sensation that reminded him that somewhere there was a clock ticking. A clock with his name clearly engraved on it. And although there was no way of finding out how much time he had left, he knew it was ticking down to something.
Somewhere along the line, the end of the middle meets the beginning of the end. A cold room, the steam condensing helplessly on the windows. One early spring morning, god knows the fuck what March forsaken evening. The year was a blunder of a mystery like so many other things round his way. He’d stopped counting just the other day and it felt like years ago. The slick leathery surface of the wooden table. The one his cold elbows lay upon every other time he hit down on his typewriter was one of the few things he knew was real. It felt so. He was a writer. An unestablished one, but nonetheless a writer. Busy trying to find his soul in a place which seemed to have abolished the very concept of one. Apart from his thoughts and the paper he had to write them on, he had only the booze to keep him company. To remind him that he was still alive and that not all was lost yet. There was still much fight left in some hidden part of him.
The plastic basil plant lay slain across the table. The sun had all but checked out for the day. The photos, that had once told a story, stood limp around the place. The frozen figures they depicted, fading day after day, in the apartment he once would have been proud to call his own. The wooden floors were full of cracks, like hints of things to come, things past and worn-out, things yet to happen. The shivers rolled down his spine daily, they had done for some time now. For years he’d gone through the motions of life, one small dream after the other. The sleepless nights slowly but steadily beginning to blend into interminable and undistinguishable memories. He felt like he hadn’t had much of a say in anything that had happened to him. And perhaps that was part of the problem. Like a cork floating across the oceans, a victim of the currents flowing below the surface, unable, no matter how willing, to steer its own course.
“How do you know you’re not dreaming,” a gypsy girl begging for her life had whispered into his ears as he had crouched down to hand her a few cold Kredit coins. It must happen in that subtle moment when you realise that you might actually be dreaming he figured. A look into the mirror which is the soul, and just as you ask yourself the question the answer stares you straight in the face. Such moments can send even the sanest of people spiraling into a dark hole (of insanity).
In those days he had only the swollen, broken cracked skin on his knuckles, and a lifetime of empty whiskey bottles to show for a life spent. Spent doing something. Things, which he found increasingly hard to recall. Waking up, half way to some place he never remembered having set out to visit. His job. The people. The machines he was forced to deal with on a daily basis. Those 8 long years he’d spent working at the Population Ego Inflating Department. Sweating away for the state and its almighty power. The same vicious, heartless state which had taken him in when his home and family was swallowed into the dark deep hole. That had educated him and assigned him a number. The state, and its square mentality, the four walls of an institution which would eventually bring them all crashing down.
For days on end, for years he sat at his work desk. Checking in and checking out. His smile gaffer-taped to the back of his ears, telling people things they already knew. Reminding them on behalf of the great state that their very existence was down to the uncanny ability of the state to sustain peace in such times of horror. The days went by, and one by one citizens would smack him across the face. A custom brought along by the few in order to bring order to the many. And many a night he would spend seeing to his cracked lips and black eye, dreaming of one day dodging one of those hardy slaps and of slapping them straight back. He so very much felt like sticking it to them all. But between dreams and reality lies the ocean of uncertainty which few ever venture across.
What little joy the feeble warmth the sun ever did grant him was always cut short the moment he set foot on the trolley network. The mechanical like caterpillar monsters built of goodness knows what precious metal. Swirling and stretching its long neck across the whole city, like a constant current, a blood feed. There were no drivers anymore. They all got beaten up and killed or removed for making inappropriate remarks like most people. Personal opinions had long become a thing of the past, so last century. And yet trollies, trams, strasseban monsters, whatever one chose to call them, were the one place left where one might still be lucky enough to hear a whisper, a slight murmur of what might have resembled an opinion. So they got rid of the drivers and replaced them with an artificial heartbeat. A flat red line of an electronic pulse that opened and shut the doors on elderly war veterans and pregnant young ladies as they made desperate leaps of fortune in the attempt to get on board without losing a limb or their life in the process.
He smiled to a man on the tram once. He did. He took one deep breath, held onto his case and hoped for the best. As the muscles in the side of his face pulled ever so slightly, he figured he had seen him before. Spotted him a couple of times running his artificial wife in the park. Picking up her dumps in small green coloured bags and then walking her home, hand in hand. He thought he’d seen a smile on his face at the time.
So there he sat, waiting, one heartbeat after the other. And just like that he felt something occur, a little spark of life left in the being sat across from him. There was still the remains of a soul screaming from within it. It sat miserably in its seat, its eyes piercing through the deaf and dump lumps of shit standing between them. He watched eagerly, hoping for a sign, something to take home with him, something to write about. As its face contorted in a desperate attempt to smile back at him, he watched in horror as the thing’s jaw slowly dislocated from its sockets and began to slip down the side of its face, its eyes flinching like an old light bulb. And as the jaw dropped, the look of terror began to fill the poor thing’s eyes as its tongue surely started to melt out of its mouth. Such horrid sight continued under the scrutinising eyes of countless empty (soul) vessels standing all about. Had he not witnessed a similar event only a few days earlier he might have reacted like an empathy driven being, but instead he sat there like the rest of them, in silence, wondering when his stop would come. Only the week before he had spotted the resemblance of an individual which he believed to be an old acquaintance from his time in the refugee bog camps, where the shit they bore had more rights than the blood that ran in their veins. Kalahn Sanga, he called out to his existence from a distance. He was unsurprisingly ignored by the man, the thing he had become. And as he pulled at his shoulder calling out to him again he was met by the wretched look of a stranger, an alien entity that had taken over his old pal’s body and mind. And it stood there staring him straight in the eyes until he pulled at its hand in a move he hoped would cause some long lost memories to surface within the misty sea of its mind, but nothing. Only the shock of having ripped its cold, pale hand right off its arm. And the worms which had burrowed their way into its meat twisted and turned, cursing at him for destroying that which they held most sacred, their home.
The parasites were taking over every living thing. He wondered when his turn would come. Or perhaps it had already happened. Surely, he thought to himself, there must be others out there who remembered how it used to be. Others who would happily leave it all behind and risk their lives for something better.
He’d once managed to spark the sweetest of conversations with the oldest of ladies. She had claimed to be from a neighbouring planet within the Wallonian constellation, the shithole known back on Pazanna as Stratius. She claimed her age to be that of 157. He smiled back politely and figured she still hadn’t learned to compensate for Earth years. The blue blood pulsated calmly through the veins which stretched under her transparent skin. And yet again the warmth and humanity was short lived when as they stepped off the trolley car she knelt down suddenly in despair. And when he knelt down next to her to see what was the matter he noticed the two dark holes in her head where those blue eyes of hers had once been.
“Help me find them will you,” she pleaded. It was too late, some soulless government functionary in black leather boots and a grey uniform had kicked the things into the way of a coming waste disposal truck. Her precious eyes were gone forever. Mushed under the might of a uniform and that horrid skull and bones insignia.
The lines that defined his reality were starting to blur and blend with the ones that marked the beginning and end of his dreams. It was about then that he started to wonder, and wander.
“Many stars have fallen, they would say. Many suns have burnt out past their expiry date, and maybe on some distant planet in a near galaxy, some exceptional being is being born. Someone to call a genius, a saviour. We hope so. We need that kind of hope. Some say they’re still waiting for someone like that round here. The last one said he’d be back, but it’s been a while since.”
So that’s when they began to charge their tiring bodies up with electric impulses. After ten hours of long labouring hardships, when there wasn’t a joule of energy left in their lifeless carcasses, they’d plug them all into the wall like batteries. Just when they thought there wasn’t any more to ask of them, the high ranking bosses would come with their obscene requests, hopelessly falling on death, demoralised ears, faces, the lot.
“Double shifts for you all. Chop Chop!”
“What is one expected to give when there’s nothing left?” A pigeon once asked a another pigeon. More? What do you do after that? Surely it must end sometime.
Electric plugs up the backside was the answer. It didn’t take much of a current to get the muscles twitching and turning and the workers working. The right amount of amperage could keep a loyal employee going for an extra sixteen hours, long after his natural expiry date had come and gone. A couple of slaps in the face and an injection of an unspecified agent into the back of the neck would keep him talking and processing basic levels of information long into the next day. Of course they could have gotten monkeys to do the jobs. Thing was, there were none of them left of course. And if there had been, it would still have worked out cheaper to link them all up to the power grid and keep them going like there was no tomorrow, or yesterday. The way things were going meant there probably weren’t many left who could still tell the difference. Time kind of goes to hell once you’re that far out (into the next dimension.)
The electricity had begun to jolt the nuts out of the shed that housed most of his memories in those days. The time spent plugged into the wall was all a big blue haze which he could frankly have done without. There was no erasing that though.
The days on end spent sitting at his desk, that tingling sensation running down the back of his spine and down his arms, forearms fingers and out to wherever it was trying to get. Twitching like a muscle with twenty-thousand volts running through it, which he incidentally was. His mouth mumbling out all sorts of obtuse lyrics and noises as the muscles behind his eyes pulled and stretched his eyeballs. His face, contorting in all manner of perilous ways. Someone wondered how long it would last.
The answer was, not long. Like all things greedy, the greedy masters had developed mutated eyes bigger than their full, swollen bellies. And in all their wisdom they fried the shit out of some poor fuckers who gave everything they’d come into this world with, the skin on their flesh and the remaining spark of life in their eyes. Both ripped from them like shreds and thrown into the back alleys like used dildos.
There’d been 16 official casualties but Jack Landan could only put a name and face to one of them. That one chap had been Abraham Fry. Incidentally, that’s exactly how he met his end. His moist brain fried dry, by the very organization that had promised him and his family a future of prosperity, a disease free existence. So when the going got tough, the greedy got angry. When the greedy get angry they turn demanding. The demands started filtering down from the higher strata of the power chain, and like all good fellas they each took their orders. Like good old employees, right down to the lowest of the low without ever questioning what a hundred thousand volts might do the shit bags that held their souls. The image of his colleague’s face exploding into a blueberry pie before his eyes would haunt him long after, along with the thought that he had been next in line. It was only by sheer luck that he too hadn’t been splattered across the foyer of the visitor’s centre for the National Ego Enhancing Institution for Law Abiding Citizens.
Few could argue in favour of keeping such barbaric measures in place after that minor hiccup. Of course the old butt plug technique had meant preferably higher revenues for them all, but even the harshest of the most stubborn lot knew when to pull out of a sinking ship. They would just have to come up with better and subtler ways of squeezing the very life out of them, all in the name of profit.
That’s when the known teenage-raping, child slave enthusiast, the one Baron von Fucker Heinrich Eisenshower, expert sadist, trusted enforcer and soon to be franchise dictator, came up with the most tragic of propositions. The latest in employee exploitation slash humiliation technology, confirmed, tested and guaranteed to get the most out of even the laziest of employees. It was presented to them like the greatest invention to sweep the 12 galaxies since the cure for ignorance had been discovered under a rock some 4000 years ago, and then accidentally dropped into the depths of the sea. A cure. A medicine. A formula to improve their work rate, their contribution to the greater good.
They were all hushed into the small coffee room for a last-minute staff meeting during which they were given a demonstration of how the alluring power of sadism could be used to improve office efficiency. Not a full week had past since their former colleagues had met their end, fried to a crisp at their desks. There were still traces of where parts of the unlucky sixteen had met the walls and ceiling after the blood in their veins exploded beyond boiling point. Company policy, however, prohibited anyone from mentioning the unlucky happening.
A seven percent wage increase was enough to convince most of his unwitting colleagues that the new bladder and bowel implant was worth the risk. They had mouths to feed, partners to please, parents to burry and taxes to pay. All that was obviously enough to push them over the wobbly edge of which they were all soon to fall off anyways.
It happened over night, like most innovations that swarmed through the doors of the institution, taking with it all that was good and pure. They signed on the dotted lines, alas not really knowing what they were signing on for. Confusing, like the best of properly written contracts generally are. Then they took them, did things to them, their insides, and when they were done they posted them back to the offices in shiny new suits, courtesy of that all too desirable seven percent wage increase. 85 of the 113 office staff were fitted with state of the art bowel and bladder pressure controlling systems. This was it, their answer. It meant having your arse and plumbing wired up to the central brain of whatever hollow head that controlled the knobs a few floors above. You pissed and shat whenever they saw fit. That was the agreement. Clock in at 7:30 and out at 26:00 hundred. The extra two hours added to the conventional 24 hour clock to deprive the poor souls of an additional god given 120 minutes. The lucky ones were allowed to empty themselves once a day at most but only if the correct paper work had been filled in, stamped, posted to the correct office and returned, counter rubber-stamped, licked, bum-squaggled and handed in to the floor manager within the standard ten working day period. It was what the big bosses liked best, committed workers working the floor non stop. No time to be wasted on useless toilet brakes and annoying bureaucracy piss-permit papers to fill in.
The state of the art system failed miserably some sixty-two days into the new project. The hopeless souls took their miserable sewage infested bodies home that night for the very last time, ignorant of the fact that something in the main computer system had gone terribly wrong. The same system that was in charge of regulating their enslaved bowels and bladders. 67 people died that night. Their insides drowning in their own shit and piss, unable to do the one thing that had until a few months earlier come quite naturally to them. They were denied that too, and so they parted with this reality, unwilling. When the problem was solved later the next morning it was all too late.
Sitting at his desk the next day, the news came in of the unfortunate incident. The few surviving individuals stared at each other in a cleansing silence. Quietly and apologetically they sipped at their coffees, wondering to themselves what next. He couldn’t help think it was all just going to the dogs.
“Such is the way of solitary madness, a wise green elephant once said. One will just keep on going, no matter how hard things get. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again whilst hoping for a different outcome.”
And so accordingly, for weeks on end, he continued his sad daily routine, deep down hoping some hurricane would come to sweep him away. Of course nothing of the sort materialised and so he went about his business undisturbed. Living a life of obedience, servitude and morality. Following rules and striving to fit in with a system he had been taught to respect. A morphed kind of respect which he sensed had turned to fear somewhere along the way. Fear of dropping out of the rotten system which he, like so many others, had come to depend on. Still, he sat by the candle light and fought on. Typing away words, with the warmth of the whiskey pushing and encouraging him on. The shrinking surroundings only serving to strengthen his resolve. Word after word he wrote without much sense of where he was going with it.
The living room door soon snapped straight off the hinges as did most of the window frames. All of it, including the kitchen cupboards and the relatively new set of drawers were mercilessly chopped into firewood for the long winter, which he hoped he would live to see through. Only the front door into his little world seemed to adapt to its constantly changing reality. It shrunk, as did the door frame, by a whole three feet within a month of him noticing the first alterations the home was undergoing. Day after day he would return to the pad only to find that in its shrinking act some other piece of furniture had again succumbed to its undeniable end, more fire wood.
What writing he did, was done in the darkness of his windowless living room. All he knew was that it was a calling. That he was somehow fulfilling that which he was meant to do. That one thing that could fill otherwise dull moments of boredom with something one might call joy.
The art of writing did not yet belong to the ever increasing list of arts judged to be of disturbance to the greater good of the status quo. Somehow though, the same old ruling figures had found subtle ways of putting most people off reading or writing all together. Countless numbers of murders and disappearances had occurred over the years following the meltdown. Enough to make anyone think twice before they decided to call themselves a writer. It was risky business. A few brave ones still saw to challenge the authorities with the one gift they had. They lived the curious and bizarre life of quasi celebrities. The common folk venerated them and looked up to them as brave majestic beings, the few amongst the many, and wondered what it was they actually did with their talents. Although it was desirable to posses the things they called books, few ever read or could read. Writers wrote stuff, but exactly what, was known only to a few lucky ones. The rich, the ultra rich who could afford it, threw lavish parties of debauchery and late night feasts. And they would pay authors of all calibers vast amounts of money to join their dirty dancing gigs of gang-banging perverts. Secret underground events where the guests of honour would read passages from their books whilst all around them demonic like individuals succumbed to the OrAngE fever and devoured anything that was there for the taking. Such was the life of the modern day writer. Unwilling jesters to a depraved moving feast. A sort of intellectual prostitution, as someone had once coined it.
He shouldered his way through the masses to get a better view of the proceedings. The overstretched car came steaming around the roundabout and up towards the corner where he stood among the many. The glass bell that encapsulated the honourable gentleman flashed in the sunny light of day, as the reflections of the sun blinded the masses ruthlessly. And from within his glass bell the famous individual sat waving to the incredulous crowd of people that cheered and threw flower petals, old car tyres and the occasional baby. Tears were shed, and fists flung among the heat and chaos. The white car and the white suit, the white teeth and the white power lurking within them all stunk unbearably of misogynist purity. The very same purity that only the most degenerate of individuals could possess. And there from the corner of the square, he stood in a confusing state of awe, wondering what it was he was going in for. The future he saw for himself as a writer of written words. Surely his need to write came from a deeper and truer place. He had never really given much thought to what it would mean to be famous and paraded around the place like a golden chicken in a glass cauldron.
As that thought left his head for another, he was blinded ever so suddenly by a flash of light before a thumping boom spread across the square like a wave. Pushing everyone back onto their heels and disintegrating those standing a little to close to the white vehicle. There were bits and bops of everything and everyone flung across the place like corianders. Broken bits of glass hanging from people’s eyeballs and sharp pieces of metal poking into people from all sides. For a while it was unclear if the execution had happened under the watchful eye of the state or if the secretive resistance, that lurked in the underworld, had anything to do with it. Few ever mentioned the resistance. It appeared seldom in state sponsored messages, and only as a word, void of any real meaning. Few really understood what the word stood for, and even fewer ever sought to seek out its true essence. After a few weeks of debate the matter was brushed off as an accident and life moved on.
That is what it meant to be a writer. He‘d smelt it and felt it and lived it first hand. And yet, something inside him told him it would be different for him. It was written somewhere, he knew, that he would make of his talent and uniqueness something special. With that one thought in mind he pushed through the heavy door to his future and prepared to face the nemesis which had become the completion of this unfinished piece of work. The one thing that had haunted him for so long.
It wasn’t until autumn started to show the first signs of its defeat to winter that he experienced the disappearance of the apartment block for the second time. The dark November clouds made an unexpected appearance that kept his home hidden from him for two whole days. Two miserably long days which he was forced to spend in the wilderness of the outside world. A world taunted with all manner of beings and individuals whose existence he had until then ignored.
A cheap motel two storeys underground, only metres away from where the people made their ignoble existence. The capsule room he paid for with what little Kredits he had left and a generous donation of semen that would soon find its way to the profitable black market. His sleeping quarters were just small enough for him to lie on his back with his knees tucked up to his ears, his ankles painfully folded behind his head. The forced contortions continued until the day the sun granted him access to his ever diminishing apartment.
Sitting at his own desk again, which along with all the furniture was showing worrying size mutations, his knees up close to his chest, he sipped from a shrunken glass of liquor trying to keep the mould from the ceiling off the back of his sweater. Everyone else in the world seemed to get on with their lives. Joyously smiling in the streets. Enjoying the open air and getting up to god knows what behind closed doors as he struggled at his typewriter, tapping painfully on the keys. His fingers frozen to the ice blocks which his hands had become.
At night, in his dreams, or perhaps in the somber sound of the silence which encompassed the city, he heard the screams of torture which occasionally rose from the underworld. The place where the real people lived their lives, outside the precious bubble that defined the lucky ones. The ones that lived high above it all.
The rain dropped like it was trying to say something. A grey day. A miserable memory of a day. Only the jazz playing in some low life bar across the street alleviated the mellow sense of despair and loneliness which engulfed him, as he sat on the curb across the street from where the apartment block had disappeared for the third time since the beginning of the end.
He bummed a cigarette off a rabbit in a grey military uniform who spoke with a soft German accent and wore a hat with a pirate skull and bones insignia. His ranks had been ripped off the sides of its shoulders. Its eyes loomed red and it stank of heavy drinking. It asked Jack Landan if he had anything to drink. The answer came in the form of a desolate nod of the head. They smoked in silence, only the fearless notes of the jazz and the sound of the rain in the background.
“Here my friend,” spoke the strange figure in between puffs, “if in doubt, these tend to work a treat,” he said, handing him an envelope with an orange ribbon and a waxed seal across it. And like that the rabbit got up and disappeared for ever into the mist.
It just happened one day. In the same way the best and worst of things happen. Suddenly, and without a hint or a trace his flat block disappeared for ever. And as he sat again by the curb, looking into the distance what troubled him most was not that he had nowhere to go. He’d been there before. What troubled him was that his life’s work, his masterpiece in the making, the one thing he had poured his life’s struggles into over the last few years, lay on his desk, within the shrinking room in the apartment which now appeared to have evaporated into the mystic fabric of space, and was showing few signs of coming back. That burned.
When a certain realisation, that we are all here to do exactly what we want to and nothing else, begins to creep into our minds and sends its shivers of life bolting through our nerves and veins, what are we to do? Break the rules, live a little, take a walk on the wild side. It made him wonder.
Just him and the hampering, recurring sound of the jazz. The rain, his inner self and that envelope, the orange ribbon, the pills and a need to feel alive. He was now bound to the streets. Not by choice but by fate. It neither scared him nor excited him. At the very best he was free, at last. To fight for his right to become the person he was always meant to be.
Running his tongue across the front of his dry set of teeth he took one last look up to the beautiful stars shining in the winter skies and popped a handful of the colourful pills the rabbit had given him. He was out for it now boyo. Perhaps somewhere in the mist he would come across his inspiration, the key to it all. He was turning over a new page, and as he looked at it he noticed it was plain and white, screaming out at him. Begging for him to do something with it.
The wonderfully deep-pocketed people of Notobia had never heard of the element before its sudden and unexpected discovery. Many of them had little or no knowledge of anything which had little to do with their blessed remote piece of land. Perhaps a few lucky ones might have, on one of their few trips abroad, come across the stuff and perhaps even witnessed some of the mystical things the awesome substance was used for. The rest of them were, however, as ignorant of its awesome power as they were about nearly everything else in the Universe.
Outside the borders of the small nation, the potential of the newly discovered element was overwhelming as well as endless. It eventually was introduced into all facets of daily and private life. Anything, from the manufacturing of outrageously extra-resistant condoms to the production of ultra-ejaculating, plasma, hydrogen-detonated, intercontinental, annihilation bombs used to anticipate and control the explosions of supernovas. A unique element. Plain and jelly-like to the touch, that held within it unthinkable amounts of energy. The thing stars and heroes were made of. Heroes of the past of course, there aren’t any left anymore.
The element was well known across time and space for its quasi spiritual powers, given the incredible amount of clean energy which was contained in relatively minute amounts of it. Earth of course being, as chance would have it, inhabited by one of the most backward civilisations in the known universe, became the sole greatest importer of the energy rich jelly.
To put it into context, an Earthling manufactured H-bomb, was to a basketball amount of the element, what a hand grenade was to a H-bomb. And to put that into context, an Earthling British teaspoon of the element was to a cubic centimetre of Lumilagro, what a kick in the balls was to the effects of a H-bomb. Quite staggering differences if you can get your head round it all, let alone your arms. Lumilagro, as it was incidentally known on planet Earth, was the Universe’s most energy-rich element. For lack of a better understanding on earthling’s behalf, it was referred to as something quite miraculous and heavenly. Hence its name, which means “Penniless man rises” in some tribal dialect which now escapes me. And that’s penniless, not penisless.
The dark recorded history of the cube, tells of when the United Corporations of Planet Earth did all they could to procure themselves as much of the precious element as possible. Having been on the brink of destruction and having scraped the barrel dry for all other forms of energy, they turned to the miraculous element for a lifeline, a last chance at getting it right. It was double or nothing time. And so it went for the best part of two and a half decades. Importing the stuff like there was no tomorrow. (Buying it cheap and selling it high.) Consequently financing the most dubious of inter stellar dictators, that would happily post them as much of the stuff as they could possibly afford. That was until something rather unexpected happened. In the midst of it all, a small, rather insignificant, until then, nation on planet Earth, known among its people as Notobia, discovered untapped amounts of the element under their buttocks. About 22 miles under their butts to be precise, in pockets buried deep, close to the core of the planet. The discovery of untouched reserves of the stuff was big news for Notobia, the cold little country, tucked conveniently away from all struggles of life, in the most remote of corners. Over night, the new fountain of youth would transform the small country into one of the galaxy’s richest lands creating wealth by the ton load for the wealthiest minority. Initially known to Earthlings as a very complicated Lactzeronaian-threpolatica, the universal energy-rich element was conveniently re-baptised by the careful propaganda machine of the Notobian regime to “Lact-obia”. (Borrowing the first two letters from its overly intricate scientific name, and its back end from the small, soon to be rich, nation.) The rest of planet Earth, however, could look forward to a future world of pain, as those most doomed, in due course, would fall prey to a precious yet devastating addictive substance. A sister synthetic version of the great element whose existence they owed to that one glass-testicle-hanging scientist called Dr. Vaporubsan.
The big deal occurred when the infamous pioneer, whose full name ran: Herr Proffessor Analmore Albert Vaporubsan, discovered that if he mixed half a pint of imported Austrian ostrich glandular milk, with 0.05 grams of Uranium Isotope 92, with an undisclosed amount of the precious gelatinous element, he could produce one hell of a pyscho-telepathic drug. A drug so powerful and addictive that it could blend the unconscious minds of all those who abused it. The perfect weapon of mass mind control. It would come to be known on the streets by an array of wacky and delicious names ranging from, Lac, Lactose, Lubaluba, Lo Milagro B, The Way, The Dragon’s tail, Orange Pepper, Orange Haze, Orange Bud, Orange Current and so on so forth straight into the mist, and if you were lucky enough, out the other end. Many were a spin-off of the word Orange. The common colour pigment which seemed to take over those who abused it most.
As is the case with any good drug, the side effects were neither to be overlooked nor underestimated. Apart from constant attacks of hyper-paranoia and mind altering hallucinations, which users and abusers alike were inevitably subjected to, male individuals (although it was reported to have occurred to the odd female too) would suffer from hours of painful, full-blown, bull-like erections. A quasi-mystical side effect which saw people going on all sorts of spiritual and raping ventures while under the effect. Explosions of lust so hard and long lasting that even the dullest and wrinkliest of penises was guaranteed its fifteen hours of fame.
In one of the most curious reported cases of OrAngE fever (the well documented side-effect of the famous drug), a young gun by the name of Hutchington Pleasure was incidentally committed at the tender age of 16 for claiming to have ripped the fabric of space and time with his penis while under the influence. When the secret services found out that the bright eyed youngster had in fact torn into the very essence of everything, not with his hardened member but with a thaw-cracking fart, they threw him into the back of a bus and posted him deep into the ground where scientists and priests alike questioned him vigorously regarding his paranormal escapade. The papers wrote about his sad demise for a short while, but there were soon other, more captivating stories to cover. He was never seen or heard from again.
As on countless times before the greatest minds on planet Earth had managed, against all odds, to turn one of the universe’s greatest elements into something quite despicable. A troubling prospect to say the least.
Notobia is, or rather used to be a beautiful place. One hell of a cold blazing place, like most of the planet, but still a decent place after all. Still, it was a whole lot better before the big meltdown, or so they say.
On a sulphur-free day you could climb to the top of the hills surrounding the city and if the purple fog didn’t get in your way you might just about be able to catch a glimpse of the beautiful rainbows, which the mining of Lactobia caused when the precious element made contact with the acidic seawater as it was extracted from deep under the seabed.
The drilling of Lactobia had long made a distant memory of anything resembling life in the depths of the ocean. There wasn’t a whale, or a sea-snail for that matter, left for anyone to fish in the acidy, murky waters which once gave birth to life on the planet. It wasn’t uncommon for OrAngE fevered citizens to poke their toes into the lifeless waters. Only a few lucky ones were ever able to walk out of it on their own two feet. Contact with the stuff would leave a grown elephant digested to the bone within a few seconds. It had happened. Sad affair. Of course it wasn’t a real elephant. It was an android replica. Made up of wires and chips. It still went down like a pile of shit. Fire and sparks all over. It didn’t scream. It hadn’t been programmed that way. Unknown to its inner software, the hardware was meeting its end. Still, it was sad to see it go. What a waste.
The drilling of Lactobia took off like wild fire soon after its initial discovery. The rigging platforms spotting the sea mile after mile. Notobia’s land mass had officially increased by 22% during the two decades preceding the meltdown because of the platforms alone. One could literally hop from one rig to the next without ever knowing one was actually at sea. Some tourist made it a priority of his to do just that and hop his way from one part of the country to the next. At the 36th rig he slipped, knocked his head on the next rig and dropped, to his sad end into the depth of the ocean. Needless to say they never did find him again. It hadn’t always been like that of course. Jack Landan could recall the reality of the world he was born into, before the great meltdown. Before it all went to the dogs, the ones with wires and chips in them.
Of course, when it first became apparent that small amounts of Lactobia could be synthesised into infinite supplies of mind altering drugs, politicians did what they do best. A good law was written with everyone’s best interest at heart. It prohibited all Notobians from ever touching, dealing, consuming or even mentioning the OrAngE stuff which the rest of the world, and galaxy, craved and so addictively abused. The new legislation did little to curb the spreading of the drug to the lower underprivileged levels of living but it insured, as intended, to shield the leading elite from the unnecessary dangers of a substance that might eventually cause them to open their eyes to reality. A reality which no good government ever really wants its peers and masses to flirt with too much. What followed was a general, mind infecting, blindness to the corruption the element caused, the wars it financed and the precious lives it ruined.
Once enough influential people had been coerced into that way of thinking, the almighty-wise governance of Notobia suddenly deemed its production and export to all round-corners of the galaxy legal. No questions asked, as long as the stuff was paid for in Federally accepted Kredits. Good old Notobians would then be free to plod on in life, worry free. Free to rake in the sterling profits, and to reap the benefits the sale of the element in all its forms produced. It mattered little to any of them that once touched up, synthesized, tested and rebranded, the cheap drug would make its way back onto the streets of the very same nation from whence it had originated.
That is how the scum of the scum of the cube, and soon the galaxy, began their crusade to pave their way to the highest strata of society. And in so doing consolidated themselves as an integral part of the small nation’s economy. All manner of space tyrants and rapists were reserved royal welcomes and red carpets upon their business visits to Notobia. “And there goes another drug lord,” someone would say, “and another so called freedom fighter. Twenty-thousand tons of Lactobia the better and friends as before”. The sad truth is, that whilst accumulating universalistic amounts of money, Notobia, and the wisest of its ignorant citizens directly contributed to all sorts of badness across the worlds, as well as a worryingly subtle human mutation among male human beings.
“Human nature is an odd thing. Inter-molecular travel has taught us that” Professor Rudcock Nutter once uttered to a disinterested audience of crime novelists, before realising he’d walked into the wrong conference room.
“Few of us ever master the skills, frowned upon by others as being un-human.” He had continued, figuring he may as well continue his speech until someone quietly ushered him off stage. “Skills necessary to be able to live a life of simple pleasure. The rest of us linger on, and dwell in our miserable puddle of breath and self righteousness. Slaves to our needs and victims to the cheap pleasure that buying, and the buying power of Kredits can bring us. All along oblivious to the waste, pain and destruction which we leave behind. Living in a constant depressing spiral of fear. Fear of ourselves and the greatness that lies within each one of us.”
Pirates being pirates, and drug dealers being drug dealers, few ever seemed to mention to their desperate clients that the OrAngE produced serious after-effects. These varied, from general hallucinatory episodes, to self cannibalistic tendencies. The worst of them all though, was unexpected and unexplained sudden explosions of the male genital regions in disturbing pulps of purple sludge. As with all drugs, the pleasure the OrAngE produced among its abusers was deemed to be worth the risk. For a few hours of heavenly bliss and mystical-like mood swings of madness, individuals were willing to pay richly and risk it all. The OrAngE was a high which many considered worth blowing up for.
24 to 36 hours of constant erection was, however, the most troublesome side effect the controversial drug could and would cause. The distressing ramifications of the spread of the drug included such ludicrous issues such as the need to invent a new way of allowing fully erect men to release their bladders in an acceptable manner. As funny as it may seem, it was no laughing matter. As were the disturbingly escalating amount of rapes that ensued in the worst years of the abuse. Quite unsettling was also the number of cases involving deranged adult men misleadingly self-mutilating their members in all manner of ways. They called it the OrAngE Fever. The well documented side effect that affected those who chose to abuse, or fell prey to, the jazzy stuff. The renown fever which induced OrAngE-faced, erection-bulging fevered men of all ages to viscously stick their pulsating cocks into anything that resembled a hole.
It took a long many years and billions of Kredits before the Julian Law was drawn up and later passed through the 13 houses of parliament. Named after a young man, who, under the influence of the famous OrAngE fever, had lunged his over-sized penis into the exhaust of his lithium-powered motorbike and blown himself and half his neighbourhood to kingdom cum during the process. The law called for all exhaust pipes to be redesigned and made to look less appealing.
Most Notobians were and to the author’s knowledge, still are to this day beautiful people. Unfortunately the huge influx of Kredits and wealth which the small nation experienced, was always bound to bring along that customary unstoppable and unavoidable change that the richest of conservatives despise.
In naively believing that the craving addiction would never cross the border into their perfect little world, they subconsciously forgot to take into account the corruptible nature of human beings. That natural instinct to long for everything it isn’t meant or allowed to have, for better or for worse. A trait which most Notobians, as humans, shared and displayed. It was only natural then that, when the first big Kredits began to swarm in, Notobians should suddenly find that they could have anything they ever wanted, needed or didn’t. Everything that could be bought they bought, with little thought for anyone other than themselves. Notobia went on a perverted spending spree of sexual proportions. The list included despicable depravities in the order of outer-stellar gang-banging circles of fire holidays, intra-body linked technology, pre-ordered multi-limbed sexual slaves. Testicular steel implants, inter-anal spelunking, and a whole lot more. If one could think it up, another would name it, then price it, and they’d buy it. Have it posted to them, fuck it, and when they were done they’d chuck it, before realising they hadn’t quite had enough of it. And so the vicious circle would start again.
Kredits incidentally, and not Credits were the currency with which anything that was worth anything was paid for. Although few of the folks on the street level ever dwelt upon the issue, Kredits literally translated into a specific amount of TDCs (Third Degree Citizens) one owned and was allowed, or rather expected, to trade and abuse. In the past they had used gold, then paper. It was only a matter of time before man should back the currency they called money with human beings. Not ordinary beings, but the ones they defined as third class.
Kredits bought things and could be exchanged for those citizens who lived in the darkness of the underworld. A labyrinth world built among the ancient ruins of cities and towns of the past. Where the sewers and the rats ran in unison. Where the people struggled and starved, and took care of the disturbing issue of waste, among other things.
Waste disposal had unfortunately become a complicated and painful process in the years following the nation’s explosive growth. The initial remedy had been to propel the sewage directly into skies. Easily affordable and vast amounts of Lactobia hade made it possible to propel cheap, shit-stuffed rockets into outer space. An intergalactic bill from 1483 AMD (After the Melt Down) however made the disposal of faeces and any other kind of human waste into the open heavens of space highly illegal. There was, however, no law written, implemented, thought up of or other, to do anything to stop the horrendous force feeding of the lowest casts of society with shit. Literally shooting them dead by the dozen and dumping their shit swollen bodies into the void of space. A 100 tons of shit floating around in space meant a 12,000,000,000 Kredit fine and one hell of an anal headache, go figure that out. A dead body, on the other hand, filled with shit and floating around about Andromeda was just another issue for some local bureaucrat to sort out. Nothing too annoying. They called them floaters. Something flushed away that would never have to be dealt with again. Problem solved. No one ever referred to them officially but everyone knew exactly how it was done. Another rich family trip abroad. And as the space vehicle pushes through the last grips of gravity something thumps against the side of the hull.
“What was that sound daddy?”
“Nothing to worry about,” says daddy, “just some space debris.”
“There isn’t a problem a good erection can’t solve,” they used to claim. Interestingly enough the rape issue was never really fully addressed or solved. Authorities tried installing silicon quick fix dolls around inhabited areas in the hope that OrAngE-fevered individuals might attack the artificial victims instead of opting for their defenseless human counterparts made of muscles and feelings. There weren’t however enough dolls installed around the place to solve the problem. The wording in the laws got lost in an orgy of OrAngE fever and the question became whether a victim had consented or not to being raped. Consensual rape victims were frowned upon, but not as much as those who had tried to fight back. Somewhere along the line, something got lost in the mist of lunacy. What a place to bring up your kids.
It wasn’t the cold weather, nor the mucus running down his face and freezing on his top lip, or the sore throat, the coughing. It was the dreaded feeling of failure, which sitting on the sidewalk caused a once honest working man to feel in the darkest corners of his bowels. Jack Landan had run out of nails to bite at, to feed off. His leather jacket wasn’t fit for human consumption. He wondered how human he still felt? How much of that basic instinct was still left in him. The days had begun to meld into a long nightmare followed by one long meltdown after another. He spent the nights wondering about the ghostly neighbourhoods of the underworld where the forgotten ones scraped a living. The dozing waking hours of day he passed begging for mercy and a little recognition on the sidewalks of the upper city.
Ever since his apartment giving up on him and the rabbit handing him the coloured pills, he’d roamed around among the rats, here and there, scavenging, surviving. For a few days he’d managed to live on what little Kredits he had left. Sleeping at the office, sneaking in after dark when the last cleaners were done, and napping under his desk. Hoping to wake up before the first colleagues came in for the morning shift. He’d lived that way for a few miserable days, until someone ratted him out. The fuckers. So they called him in for a meeting. Said he’d been letting them down lately. Weren’t they all? He told them he was just going through a hard couple of days. They thanked him for services rendered, handed him a cheque for twelve thousand Kredits, patted him on the back and showed him the door.
It had been three, four, perhaps six weeks. He wasn’t counting any longer. Not when all a day had become, was a miserable reminder of the undeniable fact that he wasn’t dead yet.
He stank like one of those rotting rats they cooked and served on the sidewalks of the underworld. But hey, he was free. Not a friend in the world, but then again he’d never had one. He spent the time observing. Taking mental notes. Wondering how it all fitted together. No matter how gloomy and grey it all looked, there was something inside him which still felt the need to hold on.
He’d been sitting at the same spot most of the morning. Watching the kids, the robotised pets and wives walking along, shopping bags in hand. He’d picked his spot carefully, hiding from the dreary eyes of the security cameras which surveyed every other inch of the place. Tucked away from the snow and acidy rain, yet still in sight of a few willing souls, his cup placed a couple of feet in front of him. Empty of course, but there was always hope. The shops had been open a couple of hours. The crowds were starting to pick up. They called them Current Booths, the latest craze. Where they spent the big money, where it all went down. Off bounds for under-sixteens, but he’d seen kids as little as four and five being dragged into them. Colourful stores with pretty girls in ridiculously high heels and florescent clothes welcoming unweary customers. It reminded him of those barber shops from back when. But these were no barber shops. There were seats alright. Cheap plastic coloured seats where they sat their untrained buttocks. Then those big fucking blenders, on small side tables, into which they would throw their hard earned cash.
Half a blender worth of Kredit notes got them a few minutes. A full one would stretch it a quarter of an hour. Anything longer tended to fry their brains to a pulp. He’d seen it happen a few times before. The bowels always gave in first. Awful trying to deal with a casualty amongst the engulfing stench of fresh shit. They never put that in the movies did they.
Pulling the chunks of bills out of their wallets and purses, their kids playing on the floor with miniature dildos and action-man rape-dolls, they dumped chunks of money into the blenders. Applying the electrodes to the sides of their heads and genitals and pressing the switch. Then it would start. The blender churning, and the paper soon turning to a mushy juice. Then, when it was ready, a tweaked electric current of OrAngE was pushed through the primitive circuit and violently up and through their brains. The ecstasy of an immediate high. A sexual kind of legalised pleasure for the rich (and famous). There were much more direct ways of getting a cheap high in the underworld. All sorts of ways.
Sexual intercourse between sweaty human beings, made of muscles and bones, had of course long been banned. He sat there watching, their bodies twitching under the colourful neon lights, their children occasionally looking up to a mother or a father caught in moments of full erection and total brain freeze disfunction. This is the future kids.
The froth and saliva collecting at the sides of their mouths. Some would over shoot the landing strip and would have to be helped to their feet. The OrAngE daze shining bright in their eyes and in the back rooms of their minds. Long enough to remind them that there was always going to be a little joy left in their lives as long as they had a few thousand Kredits left to blend.
The OrAngE Current Booth technology was a subtle spinoff of an antiquated military interrogation method. The procedure, however, seldom seemed to work on prisoners. Rather, it was reported to send them into instant gratifying bursts of ecstasy, before burning the fabric of their brains to an orange coloured dust. So when they figured there was nothing left in it for the military, some idea-ejaculating geezer sought to commercialised it. Where there’s money to be made, there always seems to be a way.
It fascinated Jack Landan to wondered how blurred the lines between what was fun and what just plain perversion had become. All that money. Blown shamelessly on bursts of mental ecstasy, before dragging their arses across town to fuck at the back of one of those robotic looking beauties, the android whores. It reminded him of an episode from his past. One he had transcribed to paper in the form of an entertaining short story in the days following the unfortunate event. It went something like this:
The sweat of passion always ran with an added fever on warm days. There was no escaping the scorching heat that the drug causes, as unwilling pints of blood are forcibly pumped into the ever growing penis. In rooms throughout the fabled brothel, men of all walks of life and strife pumped and humped, getting their pennies worth of the girls. Perfectly prefabricated pieces of artificial muscle, meat and bone at the mercy of a button-sized chip. The sole algorithm of which is to slave to the sexual perversions of a perverted drug-induced mass.
The graphic menus, hung off the walls like expensive paintings. Figurative explanations of the array of twisted notions one could experience for the right price. Nothing was deemed to be beyond reach. In a world where money could buy anything, it was only a matter of keeping up with the demands. Gone were the days of unforgiving, beaten up girls, whose pimp’s sensitivities could so easily be offended. Any sadist’s dreams and desires were but a few button taps away.
Suddenly, among the sounds of leather straps slashing, knifes cutting and orifices ripping, the moaning and groaning, there came a scream of sheer terror from room 8. The oversized beer-belly gorging, sweaty figure of a disgrace had until a few seconds earlier, been enjoying a menu special number 7. The infamous “In-house Deep-Throat Lucky Number 7”. It would come to cost him more than he could ever have bargained for. Perhaps one long leap too deep, a shake of the wrist too many, a little beer accidentally dropped into the eye socket of the oblivious thing. Who knows. Something in it short-circuited and bit down with all its might before shutting down for good. Damaged goods could never be trusted. The bulging member, which had once belonged to the devastated looking figure of a man, was never recovered.
Jack Landan had bumped into the fellow in work a few weeks later. The black eye, courtesy of the brothel’s owner for damaging one of his precious dolls. The urinal bag, courtesy of his doctor and of the cyborg he had contributed to ruining. He did his business in a plastic bag from that day forth. No more OrAngE stuff for him. They’d never spoken. Never would. Looks were all he’d needed to convey his sense of condolence to the unfortunate colleague. And yet, Jack Landan could not help thinking there was some divine providence in it all.
Back to his present reality, holding his frozen arm up to a few passers-by in the hope for some change, he tried to look into their eyes but not one of them found it in themselves to exchange the look. Only a little girl dared look his way and smiled, before she too was pulled off into the distance. So he sat and watched as their money blended away.
He couldn’t help think how but a fraction of what they were wasting away would get him enough to buy a pencil, perhaps a little paper. Anything, so that he might at the very least get back to that which he missed most. Writing. And then perhaps he might finally be able to complete that damn novel of his. It plagued him, like a pain in the side. Then looking down to his side, under the layers of jumpers and shirts, he pulled at a nail that had found its way into his flesh. Writing would just have to wait. Until then, he could only hope and imagine. One day he would go back to Pazanna. Claim it as his own. Buy a big house by the sands and bath in the warm gelatinous like sea, floating aimlessly and enjoying the tepid warmth of its two suns. Feasting on the delicious local cuisine, and of course he’d write. Sitting on the beach, the local herb lit and smoking from the side of his mouth. And all the peace in the Universe with which to fulfill his destiny. Was that too much to ask for?
In the background, he noticed a deranged looking fellow in woman’s clothes. Barefoot, his hairy chest hanging out of the top of a pretty white dress and what looked like a wig, holding onto his head with difficulty. Brutally he pushed a young lady to the floor and began to kick at her head as if it were a ball. Jack Landan called out to him at once, as he struggled to pull himself to his feet. Her tender body jerked and twisted and quickly succumbed to the horrid violence before her attacker made off into the fog.
Not a heart beat skipped, not a change of pulse, as all around citizens marched on, to wherever they were going. Rushing over to the pool of blood to attend to her, Jack Landan could not help but notice that her shoes were gone.
All good things start some place, some time. This particular story began about the same time Jack Landan’s grandfather, a tall, muscular fellow known as Gazillion Zorga, made the perilous journey from Pazanna to planet Earth. Crossing a few constellations and a few road holes on his way to Notobia, where he, like many others like him, hoped to make his zillions, inflation permitting.
“Things were tough back then,” he would answer whenever Jack Landan asked him why he’d decided to leave it all behind. Truth is, Pazanna was a complicated and, to Earthling-bred-beings like Jack, illogical place to exist. Deep down though, Gazillion Zorga always remained fond of his roots and was proud to call himself a Pazannian. The same was true for Jack Landan.
A lot had changed on Pazanna since the days when his grandfather had left. New laws had since been passed, for example forcing all Pazannians to have their notorious third eyes removed. That mighty, natural selective mutation developed by the wizard-like mind of mother nature. A priceless genetic modification designed to keep one from being unnecessarily stabbed in the back by an overly zealous neighbour. There were only four known civilisations in the discovered Universe which had developed three organs of vision. Two were extinct and one was at war with itself and soon to be vaporised. The facts had pushed Pazanna into taking drastic measures to join the universe’s surviving status quo.
There was big money to be made by surgeons when the first laws were passed. Pazannians ran in their thousands to have their inconvenient third eyes removed. Day surgeries popped up all over town. And by a curious set of circumstances they were all owned by local organised crime syndicates. Community serving organisations that would re-sell the amputated organs to restaurants. These would then be passed them on as Kraptlap eyes with which they would cook the famous and frighteningly expensive Kraptlap eyeball soup with. (A Kraptlap is basically a six foot Pazannian rat). The mischievous ways of a few always seem to make the rest of us into oblivious cannibals.
The happening, or the coming of a new age, came to Pazanna around the time their first ever radio receiving gadget was invented. There was little or no recorded history of anything worthy of mention on the little blue planet before that one great invention. Just a dark mist of war and desperation that few ever acknowledged or cared to remember. A dark time during which the first Pazannians had started to grow their famous third eyes.
As far as Jack Landan was concerned there were two versions of the truth. The two realities could not have been farther apart. The first was a romantic account of a nation’s rise from darkness into the light of self-awareness that he had read of in books. A change, come of the magic of a communal spirit, prayer and divine intervention, a culmination of Panzannian’s collective will to become better beings. The second, his grandfather’s version, was that of a bloody fight to the death. A tale of centuries of violence, gore and battles to the last man. A tale which the hardened space pirate would recount to his grandson, conveniently altering truths and omitting the underlying violence. There’s nothing better than a good old bedtime story.
The invention, or perhaps discovery, of the radio was to their cultural development what the steam engine was to the industrial revolution back on Earth. It was the enlightenment and coming of the son of the Creator of all things Blue. All packed into one big collective explosion of madness and unquestioning obedience which would shape their future for generations to come.
Although he couldn’t recount every detail, Gazillion Zorga would tell it like he was reciting a gospel, (the way he’d learned it as a kid back home on Pazanna). The story went something like this:
For centuries, the small planet had struggled in war and misery, with famine and death, all in the darkness of uncertainty and ignorance. Until the day one man, known as “Uranius the Great”, put together the “Great Box” and channeled the words of the Creator herself. The great box of course being a primitive version of a so-called radio-wave-receiver.
He had worked on the mysterious sound box for decades on end. Inspired by a dream, which had come to him years before whilst on a government sponsored trip to the outer limits of their atmosphere. (Some claim he had travelled beyond.) On the night of the happening, a crowd of Pazannians gathered around Uranius as he attempted, for the first time, to make contact with the heavens. The tale tells of how the masses gathered in bewilderment. Watching, captivated and baffled as Uranius twisted and turned the coloured knobs. Pressing away at the buttons and pulling at levers as it had been explained to him in his dream.
The smoke rose out of the back of the wondrously noisy thing that seemed to steam like an engine. Uranius the Great sat nervously before the contraption, the sweat falling from his big forehead which hid behind it the greatest mind ever created. Staring into the trivial monitor, hoping and praying for something, if ever so slight, to happen. Something, to show the people who had travelled so far and risked their lives to be there. If anything, he would have to show them something to avoid being lynched to a pulp by the masses. Anything less than a miracle would surely have spelt misery for the short, weekly framed individual whose notorious orange coloured third eye shone with the brightness of a star. It was one big rabbit they were expecting him to pull out of his hat.
His prayers were eventually answered, when all of a sudden, among the chatter of the crowds growing ever more impatient, among the ruffling sound of interspace static something happened that would blow them all out of their shriveled Pazannian skins. Their innocent souls and peanut-like brains could never have envisaged what was about to happen. One doubts Uranius himself dared imagine the blasting sound of space magic that he was about to unleash on his people. What they heard, through that demonic piece of technology, were the infernal chords to a song. Unknown and alien to the outer reaches of the Universe, and bound in due course to eventually make its way to planet Earth, where some still claim it first originated.
The radio signal which had travelled through the mysterious fabric of time and space had inexplicably become entangled in the small planet’s magnetic field, where it had orbited Pazanna for decades. Probably centuries, until that very dim afternoon when Uranius the Great reached out into the darkness of the Universe, and picked up the glorious notes of the famous rock song. A song which would some 200 years later be interpreted by a rock’n’roll band on good old Earth, (back in the days when the planet was still a sphere).
Such are the wondrous ways of the fabric of reality and time that we live in and share. Pity that it is all taken for granted. It begs the question of whom came first, the great song or the great band?
For centuries the lyrics, indecipherable to the average pentagonal shaped Pazannian ears, was all that the rudimentary radio receivers ever picked up. Playing the glorious notes of the looped signal of the dazzling song around the clock. 36 hours a day, 9 days a week. It was one hell of a space loop.
Not that the poor Pazannians could ever conceive of, or imagine the origin of the strange sounds. Pazannian astrology had until then limited itself to the purple skies which engulfed the little blue planet. No one had ever thought to question what lay beyond it. What reason could there possibly be to do so? As such there was no one able or willing to define whatever it was that the mysterious sound box was playing. All they could agree on was that it was heaven sent. From the skies it had come and as such it should be treated. That is what Uranius claimed, and they all went along with it quite happily. What had initially been the unwillingness to ask, would soon, under Uranius’ new ultra conservative regime, become the impossibility and illegality to know.
Before long a new legislation was forced into place, kindly inviting all Pazannians to refer to their new leader as “the Great One”. Uranius was to be hailed as the son of the Creator herself. She who had sewn the fabric of space and time together so beautifully, and had given them the world as they knew it. He, through whom the Creator herself spoke and blessed all Pazannians. Through whom the truth could and would be revealed, if however not thoroughly understood.
No one really knows much about how he ever came to acquire all the power he eventually did. History, or Pazannian word of mouth, seems to point to that fact that Uranius had a good number of individuals who happened to be thugs, which no one saw fit to argue with. They all conveniently seemed to support the newfound leader who himself saw nothing wrong with any of it. The rest as they say, was just horrible.
We’ve had our share of these kind of characters down our way, but this was a new and holy happening back on Pazanna. How could they possibly imagine that they were backing a shit show? I guess few ever foresee the oncoming danger of a beautiful utopia.
The Message, or “Sikapizunkaz” as it was known on Pazanna, became the one and only gospel Pazanna would ever know. The only one they would ever need, as the newly founded party line stated. Uranius the Great became the undisputed leader. The chosen one. Chosen to run the people into a millennium long hole of desperation, hopelessness and suffering, in the best tradition of unelected leaders.
For centuries they would do nothing but intone the words to the everlasting tune and pray to the spirit of their long living Great Leader, his ancestors, and their great Creator up in the skies. Imploring them all for everlasting life, happiness and peace. Of course they never got anything of the sort, but they were still most inclined to pray to them. Anything else would mean being called up as an unwilling volunteer for Pazanna’s notoriously dangerous outer space exploring programme, whose survival rate lingered around the three percent mark. And that was considered a light punishment.
As a matter of convenience to the Great Leader, the English language never made it to Pazanna. (Incidentally we should point out that Pazannian is a language most unpronounceable to us humans. An extra set of vocal cords renders most of their vocabulary unpronounceable to the average human being.)
Gazillion Zorga would still sing the song on occasions. He’d been beaten into learning it off by heart as a child. And he would do the dance. He had little or no hair left to pull at but he still made it look almighty frightening, and like all good things frightening it was entertaining. And Jack Landan and his siblings would laugh.
It went something like this:
“Bag een blak
eye eetda zee
afeesulon, amglad tobee bag
yesa le loose
dats kepa me anhin arown
Libbin onda za a
kaza geitme eye
fogera hurs kazal neva da
Ahgat, nan lives
uzingeveewanadam anarana wie
yezam-bag in blak
yezam-bag in blak.”
A mixture of joy and sadness would take over Gazillion Zorga whenever he sang the old song. It brought back memories, of the friends he’d grown up with. The same ones he’d seen skinned alive in one of the many battles they’d fought against the mighty stiff hand of the regime.
Music was a concept that few Pazannians would ever come to know, understand or fully appreciate. The only known record of any music on Pazanna dated back to just two and a half decades before the first recording of the holy message. All forms of music or anything sounding remotely like it was instantly banned by the Great ruler soon after the happening. It was considered too blasphemous. The message was a gift from the heavens and that was not something to be taken lightly. No common Pazannian could possibly compete with the glory of their Great Creator. Only in death would they be able to join her in her sanctuary in the skies, and sing along to the holy song which she had written herself. A Pazannian’s duty was to spend one’s existence practising the heavenly tune so as to be prepared for the day they would meet their creator-songwriter and join her in marvellous chorus for all eternity. That’s the kind of mind altering shit they were fed. Few ever tasted anything different, and so they acquiesced, unknowingly. How could they possibly imagine, that approximately twenty-two and a half thousand light years away, bearing forty-six degrees towards the Caesarean constellation and a little to the left, floated a small, ever so slightly green and blue planet, known among its inhabitants as Earth. A place where some two hundred years later, a Rock’n’Roll band composed of four very outstanding, yet pathetically normal by Pazannian standards, human beings would claim the great heavenly song as their own. Some hidden radio receiver in their heads would pick up the same tune floating around in space and play it on their six string devil-like electronic instruments, turning it into one of Earth’s all-time greatest hits. They would also go on to release a whole array of messages into the vastness of existence. Enough to cause even the greatest of thinkers to wonder whether the egg, the chicken or the taco had come first. If there were still any chickens left on Earth they might have looked into it in a little more detail. They would just have to take the man’s word for it.
And whilst youngsters back on Earth were starting to Rock’n’Roll (with two capital R’s) and getting up to no good, kids on Pazanna were still being made to learn their own version of the song. Their leaders, who incidentally were all descendants of Uranius the Great, had after numerous years of debating, decided to adopt the song as Pazanna’s national anthem. It was played incessantly around the clock. At breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, at weddings and funerals. At schools, restaurants, public parks, toilets, baths and trains. As a matter of fact there were few if any places where the mystical song wasn’t played across the radio waves. It was played extra loud and on constant repeat on the birthday of the first Great Leader which was celebrated every other third day of their 9 day week. And it played incessantly in millions of bedrooms across the land just before every good Pazannian was seconds from sleep or in the act, as more were being conceived and delivered. Whatever corner of their minds they thought they could escape to, the great message never truly left them. A few meditating individuals would on occasions manage to isolate a remote part of their brains and enjoy a few seconds of silence before the mighty roar of the message flooded into their existence yet again.
Not only had laughing been prohibited on Pazanna, but smiling had also been outlawed. The punishment for such an insolent gesture was to be forcibly pierced in the face with big, round steal rings. Large stone weights were then attached to them causing the cheek muscles to weigh down heavily, making it impossible for the individual to pull even the remotest of smiles. A first infringement would result in a week long punishment. A second infringement a month, and a third a life sentence. Doomed to carry the weight of the institution’s miserable lack of humour and empathy until the end of one’s days.
Funnily enough, as is the case with most things in the Universe, the Great Message eventually came, by some ironic sense of destiny, to represent the small, blue planet at the IUCS, (aka Interstellar United Constellation Summit) held every other rotation of the inner Cartesian core. Worlds, planets and conglomerations from all corners of the galaxy met to discuss things concerning trade, law and issues regarding the expansion into the next dimension. The 11th convention of United Interstellar Nations, which took place around the Earth year 2089, saw the 23 representatives from planet Earth causing a bit of a havoc when they began to giggle uncontrollably as the first notes to Pazanna’s national anthem played on the loud speakers in the main conference hall on the opening day. It made big news on Earth. Caused a few good souls to smile about it across the Galaxy. The same news never made it back to Pazanna. Or at least not that time.
In the days when interstellar travel was still legal on Pazanna, a few brave Pazannians began to make the long trip across time and space and the mist and dust, bringing home news that the Great Creator, the same one they had venerated all along, had materialised herself in the form of an Earthling Rock’n’Roll band composed of four, short, sweaty, two-eyed human beings. One of them further adding insult to injury by wearing a provocative school boy uniform. Needless to say the matter was immediately interpreted as blasphemous. The 16 explorers who had bravely brought back news of the discovery were quickly made to disappear and the matter was never mentioned again. Not long after traveling to Earth became a restricted luxury, reserved exclusively for the richest and most powerful individuals. Those few brave ones who continued to spread the word that the song was indeed a creation of the seemingly simple Earthlings, were cut down on the spot and fed to the starving masses. The Pazannian regime could not afford to undergo such powerful transformations.
Inter-mole-hole space travelling as they knew it and understood it, with all its benefits and belly-tickling diarrhoea related problems, was banned as relations between the two spheres froze to an absolute zero. Now that’s pretty cold.
Gazillion Zorga would only speak of the dark days on random occasions. The tall figure of a man, whom Jack Landan had always looked up to as a beacon of rationality, had once been an established member of TortellonE. A known interstellar, pseudo-criminal organisation in the eyes of the Pazannian regime. They had travelled left right and centre and a few more places, working behind the scenes and treaties which ruled the void. Specialising in the logistics of precious materials and using whatever methods they saw fit to achieve whatever it was they set out to do. The same organisation was to set the roots for the resistance movement during the 32 year 2nd Pazanninan civil war.
The flamboyant tales that Gazillion Zorga told had for many years given Jack Landan the impression of a man who had singlehandedly saved his people with the sheer power of his will and armed with a chocolate-bar-firing bazooka and fart igniting explosives. Gazillion Zorga had actually worked in the explosives unit of the resistance army that fought for a god given freedom to think freely and smile. According to the colourful tales he told his grandchildren he had blown up inter-stellar communication systems and wormhole connections with the power of his farts and a few matches.
Jack Landan had heard his grandfather’s version of the events a few times, with all its adventurous twists. How the ogre-looking Balakanamams had come in the dark of night. Guns blazing, trigger happy. A rotten comrade ratting their plans out within hours of their return home. How they took the lives of his 15 mates whilst they slept. Gazillion Zorga had been busy getting the inn keeper’s daughter pregnant with his future first daughter. That unique moment of lust, and perhaps a little love, was what ultimately saved him. And as he ran through the fields of Pazannian-like corn, he heard the sounds of the chocolate coated bullets firing in the background, the explosions of the cinnamon-pasted-bun-bombs exploding all around, as jellybean shaped sniper shots whizzed past his head. The rest was history. A war of guerrilla tactics and candy flavoured weapons which made his tales all the more entertaining for the kids. The knife sharp truth was always somewhat kept from them, for their own good, some would say.
Time would always seem to stand still during those journeys home. And indeed it would have, had they been traveling close to the speed of light. But wormholes worked differently. Some long nosed individual had attempted to explain it to him but he had been half through the third bottle of the amber stuff. Too tired to listen, way too drunk to care. Space was nothing more than a means to an end to them. Like a river or the sea was to a sailor. It held none of the transcendental meanings reserved for the untravelled philosophers and writers that romanticised about it back on Pazanna. Space was a cold dark place. Soundless and merciless. A place which left little room for error.
He would deal with the trips with whatever drug of choice he could find and he would sit back and hope the diarrhoea would not hit him too hard. And they would laugh at the younger recruits, their poor faces would switch colour as the small spaceship contorted and stretched under the mysterious forces exerted on it by the pull of the wormhole.
It mystified him. The way the ceiling, floors and walls of the old spacecraft would appear to come and go. Vanishing like mirages as they travelled through the stupefying tunnel. If he was lucky enough he’d drink and smoke himself to sleep and wake up on the other side, half of the crew still dealing with the disturbing side effects of inter-space travel.
He had looked forward to returning home to Pazanna that time. The struggle, as they called it, was far from over. A war for the freedom they had so long been denied. And yet, for all his loyalty and bravery, he wondered how long he could keep it all up. He looked around himself to the new generation. A younger generation that fought with valour and bravery, but without any real understanding of what they were really risking life and limb for. It was only the stories he and others like himself told, that kept their will and the fires in their souls ablaze. He knew it. He knew what it felt like not to be able to say no. Not to be able to do and say what he felt was right and free. For they had tasted the sweet life of freedom. He hoped and wondered if this new blood had it in them to keep up the fight. They had made great progress of late but there was still much to be done. There was no denying that.
He still had a few good battles left in him. He was only 35, but the wounds and the sub-sonar travel were starting to get to him. They never talked about it openly, but every time they awoke on the other side of any given wormhole they were all secretly relieved to have made it through in one piece, and with all the pieces in the right place. Wormhole travel was the equivalent of dropping a completed jigsaw puzzle into a tumble dryer and magically hoping for it to come out the other end the same way. It begged faith and a certain degree of madness which he sensed was starting to run low.
That night they touched down at the usual spot and unloaded the cargo of Lactobia they had brought back from their latest travels to Earth. They cut it into small squares and packed them into little heaps separated by a thing sheet of paper and stored it in large crates that were driven off to a secret location. Some they would sell on the black market to be used as a cheap form of mind altering entertainment. A popular fetish among the highest levels of the ruling Pazannian elite. The money they made was then used to pay for the war on the same regime that unconsciously seemed to fund them through its back door addiction to the Earth exported concoction. The rest of the heavy duty stuff they used at their discretion. Mainly as the powerful explosive that nature had designed it to be.
It was the first time he’d had someone there to welcome him back. Hence the first onslaught of feelings and the doubt about his role in the struggle, perhaps coming towards the end of its days. The possibility of giving up the fight and making a life for himself somewhere else. The thought had tickled his imagination during that last trip back to Pazanna.
The short walk back to the tavern, that they occasionally used as headquarters, was made all the more sweeter. His new found hots for the daughter of the innkeeper. He had made his move on her some months before and they had enjoyed a few happy days together in the peace and quiet of the outer regions controlled by the resistance. Unknown to the innkeeper they had spent a few memorable nights together. It had not involved more than holding each other tight, under the cover of the two Pazannian moons. Him telling her tales of the far distant places he had visited. Of Earth. That small planet hidden away past the Adromeda constellation and a little to the left. Where the land was all sorts of colours and the sea blue, but if one held it up in a glass it had no colour. That had tickled her fancy most.
The boys from the resistance had been wined and dined as per usual on returning home from a trip. She had served them along with her father. They had exchanged looks and she had managed to slip him a coded message. A code he had taught her. A code that would come in handy should her father ever find out. He had read it openly in front of his comrades who knew no better. It read: My room after lights out! He giggled to himself at her use of the words “lights out”. He would wait until they had all retired to bed and when the time was right he would calmly walk up to her room. And if anyone were to catch him about the place he would slap them across the face and claim he was on a toilet run. After all, he didn’t care too much for the opinion of others. It was the secrecy of it all that he enjoyed most. He had tucked the secret note into his pocket and taken another slurp at his glass. He would try not to drink too much that night.
Happily he sat back in his chair and looked to his comrades with pride. He could not recount how many had come to miss over the years. But he remembered the names of all those that had personally served with him in battle. He was considered to be one of the wiser of the group. And although they all took their orders from the central resistance post, the comrades had always looked to him for confirmation every time they received new plans of action. Now he sat there and enjoyed what he saw. The dull faced young recruits, listening attentively to the tales of gore and death the elders told. Red-faced and talking loudly. And here and there he would stand and join a few of them in talk. They were all exceptional individuals in his eyes. Willing to put their lives on the line for it all. Even Gonzobia, the rat, the loner. He too seemed rather amused, sitting in the corner all alone as per usual. He was the ugliest of the lot, short and ugly but he had proved himself well in battle. An able tradesman and a believer of the cause. They exchanged a friendly look and lifted their glasses, toasting to freedom and to the struggle. In hindsight he would realise what had been wrong with the man all along.
When the last man had been carried to his bunk and the last of the lights blown out, he lay there looking up to the bare ceiling. Waiting for the first sounds of snoring. Then, when he felt he could no longer wait, he pulled himself up straight in bed and made for the corridor. And as he paced quietly along the corridor he heard the sounds of the innkeeper mumbling in his sleep. He walked past the toilets and towards the back door that gave onto the courtyard. It was a clear night and the two moons shone brightly in the sky. All he could make out was the subtle sound of his boots along the hard ground. Round the corner and past the den where he saw the candle light flickering behind the small glass window. He needn’t knock so he pushed the door open and let himself in, locking the door behind him. She lay there waiting in bed, and smiling as he approached. Her mind was made up. There was nothing her father could do about it.
They came in the darkness of night. The dark forces. Spurred on by an inside informant. It couldn’t have been easier for them to surprise the group of 15 brave fighters in their sleep. Deep in the dreams that the long trip home and a night of celebrating had brought.
They came quietly. They parked their vans about a mile down the road and continued through the mist on foot, undisturbed. They didn’t even have to break down the door. The rat was there waiting for them. Pulling on a cheap smoke as they assembled before the main entrance to the tavern.
“Where are they,” a senior agent had asked rushing past him and shoving him in the gut as he did so.
“Upstairs, room at the end of the corridor. They’re all in there.”
Stealthily they proceeded up the stairs. Two dozen or more of them, armed to their third eyes with heavy duty slaughtering weapons of non discussion. The door had squeaked slightly as the first agent pulled at it gently but it hadn’t been enough to wake anyone. They were all fast asleep in the knowledge that they were in safe territory and that the rat was keeping check. It had surprisingly been his round to keep watch that night.
Then, when they were all in place, two men to a bed, the senior operating agent gave the signal and with that unleashed a mortar attack of fire. The exploding bullets and flesh-tearing projectiles tore their way through the young fighters taking with them their precious lives. Loud, powerful echoes of devastation were sent flying throughout the tavern and the farmyard. Gazillion Zorga and his young lover were deep in reciprocal appreciation. When the first blast reached their lover’s hideout he had not wanted to process it, but when it had continued into the roar of an execution squad he could no longer ignore the fact that something horrible was occurring not too far away. And as he rushed out and back across the farm towards the tavern he saw the rat still standing there with his smoke. There was a short exchange of looks as they both stood there in the fading light of the moons. Only the flashes of gunfire still firing away upstairs and shining out into the courtyard. The rat had only the time to let out a silenced squeal before Gazillion Zorga flung a concealed penknife into his throat. Gazillion Zorga watched him reach for the sharp object forever implanted into his flesh before dropping to the ground. Then, as he peaked into the tavern, he caught a glimpse of an agent standing guard by the bottom of the stairs.
“You there!” he heard the voice call out after him.
There had been no time for romantic goodbyes. He would be back for her sooner or later. Right then he could do little but run for his life. Run, run, run, barefooted across the wet, cold marshland that surrounded the farm. And as he made it across the first fence he began to hear the shots whizzing past his head and dropping into the rice paddies. Zipping and swirling, wishing and pitting. He kept up a steady pace. His chest burning but his mind clear. He ran until the dawn began to show in the distance. Then he lay down by a tree and assessed his situation.
The rat had sold them out. Gazillion Zorga would have a hard time proving it, and they would have a hard time believing him. He stretched his neck back to think and checked himself for wounds. It would not matter, he thought. He knew what he had to do. There was a plan. It had only been discussed among the elders. He would take it to completion, return for his love and leave. He could not run the risk of returning to camp. They might accuse him of setting up the rest of them. He knew the way they thought. Anything to keep the moral high and sharpen the pencil of discipline. No, he would do it himself, for his mates, for his comrades. Getting her out would not be too difficult. He knew they would not harm her. The rest would take care of itself.
He found refuge with a retired elder called Friedelund Bianco. He had been a brave fighter back in his time but a few too many worm holes had constrained him to his hut and he moved little. He had made peace with the fact and only cared for the four walls that surrounded him. The rest could go to hell. Zorga explained his reasons for not wanting to return to HQ and Bianco agreed. The resistance’s core spirit was changing for the worse. Bianco told Zorga to get the hell off of Pazanna. That night they toasted to past battles and friends lost.
“And to those damn wormholes,” Bianco had said giggling. Friedelund Bianco was one of 6% of people who had suffered the shuffling effect of wormholes. He had consequently not been re-patched all that properly. His head had been twisted on back to front and unrepairable damaged done to some vital organs inside. He had then voluntarily dislocated his shoulder as a solution which allowed him to face Zorga, his back to him, and still hold up a glass to his mouth and toast as much as he liked.
Gazillion Zorga came across some Lactobia through a black market crook who owed him a favour. With enough talk and the right amount of threat he got his hands on enough of it to cause the right amount of damage. The spot had been picked months earlier. The small hangout across the river where a number of senior officers and officials from the corrupt regimental army met regularly under the cover of night. Halfway between a brothel and an amusement shop, it was hidden away in some back alley, a stone throw away from the regime’s headquarters. It was a bare, barren place, nothing more than a bar, a few tables, an old piano that no one quite cared for, and a number of doors that led off to lavishly decorated rooms where all sorts of private negotiations took place. The resistance had chosen the spot specifically with the intent to send out a clear signal. Of course, if things went to plan the regime would try to hide any incident. It would however send out a powerful message, that no one was safe. The resistance would and could strike at any chance they had.
Such plans would normally have to be sanctioned by the resistance HQ but he was going to go at it alone. His mind was made up. He would complete the hit and get the hell out of there.
“You ever think things will change for the best Gazillion?” Bianco had asked him as they sat round the small fireplace that evening.
“I’d like to think so my friend.”
They drank a little longer and when Bianco had had enough he pulled himself off to bed and left Zorga to contemplate his next moves alone in the silence of the small hut.
During his preparation days he paid a young resistance hopeful, a child, to take a coded message to his love. The kid returned a few hours later. She would meet him by the river at the specified day and time. He had arranged to take over a level B ship that was rusting away in the one of the resistance’s scrap yards. The caretaker had tried to push the bureaucracy on him but it had been enough for him to raise his voice and the keys to the ship were his.
He hadn’t told her. It would not make any difference to her anyhow, nor would it to him for the matter. Given the old nature of the ship, they would not be able to shift through wormholes much to his liking. Instead they would have to travel away from Pazanna and through the empty space at the speed of light and perhaps a little faster than that. Although it pleased him to know they would not be munched and possibly mistakingly re-stapled by avoiding the wormhole, the second option would inevitably cause them to travel forward in time. It would mean little for where they were traveling to, but it implied that they would never be able to return to the Pazanna they knew. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The more he thought about it the more the idea appealed to him. It implied they might one day be able to return to a planet of peace and brotherhood. Who knew. He calculated they might only travel as little as 50 to 150 years into the future. Nothing he couldn’t handle. He would tell her when the time was right. His voyages into space had revealed enough foreign and advanced technologies and cultures. There was little out there that worried him or surprised him in equal measure. They had no other choice.
He sealed the small stack of Lactobian jelly to the underside of his inner coat sleeve. The timer he concealed in the wrist watch he wore with pride. They would not suspect him. He had been there before on a recognisance and all had gone as planned. If something did happen he would have to think quick.
The club was busier that expected. The fact filled him with a dark sense of satisfaction. Just as well. There were no innocent bystanders. There was no danger of collateral damage. He would be striking at the heart of the corruption. It might not make the biggest difference but at least he knew he was avenging his comrade’s deaths.
He was let into the bar unquestioned, his tidy suit doing the job. Around him he noticed the place steaming with high ranking officers and the occasional go-go girl. Chained to the floor like wild animals they swarmed about the place desperately trying to make fools of potential customers. On occasions someone would slap at their backside or kick the spit bucket in their direction.
There was no music playing but the chatter was loud enough. He walked up to the bar, nodding calmly to a lieutenant who looked him down suspiciously. He ordered a drink and stood, his arm up against the bar, scoping the place for options and exits. The one detail they hadn’t had the chance to discuss was where to place the charge. It mattered little. It was only a question of placing the explosive unnoticed and making a calm and quiet exit.
As the sound grew louder more and more officers of the law accompanied by all sorts of beings fled into the joint. He could not help think how normal and peculiarly silly they all looked. Had it not been for their impeccable uniforms he would’t have thought much of any of them. But the uniform was all, and it served to remind him that he was indeed not looking at ordinary individuals but at murderers. Bureaucratic rapists, who signed their names to anything that would and could increase their perverted grip on power.
He was approached on a few occasions by some of the fare looking female employees. Their bodies twisted and rendered abnormal by one too many space transmitted diseases but he had shrugged them off much to their disgust. Of course there would be collateral damage, something had said to him. There always is. Yet, it would have to go ahead. He took a swig from his glass and called for another. Then with drink in hand he made to the other side of the room, towards the piano, pushing his way through the crowd of drunken officers sitting at their tables.
“You play the thing?” a stern voice yet relaxed had called out, as he sat down at the noble instrument that had no doubt been imported years earlier when inter-space travel had still been legal.
“I’m not quite sure,” Gazillion Zorga answered as he gazed down at the splendid object.
He had seen plenty of them during his many trips to Earth. And he had sat in the same smokey bars, watching all manner of talented people drag the soul spirit out of the things. He had sat with a few of them and asked them to show him a few tricks, and they had.
He placed his glass above the lid of the piano and began to push down at the keys, gently. Surely enough the simple blues tune he had so admired and wanted to learn began to sound across the hall, the chattering and flirting quietening down as the audience began to focus in on that side of the room. And as one hand joined in with the other, his melody took on the beautiful colours and tones of the blues and he played it like he meant it. Like they’d shown him on Earth.
“Where did you learn to play if you don’t mind me asking?” he was interrupted as he looked up to a Lieutenant Colonel standing there by his side, his red eye glimmering and a glass of the good stuff in his hand. His missing left arm had all but been removed, most probably in a past altercation with the resistance.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure,” he continued holding out his hand, “Lieutenant Colonel Buttkrak Itch.”
“So where did you learn to play this fascinating piece of junk?” he added.
“One picks up a little here and a little there,” Gazillion Zorga answered with calm demeanour and still looking down at the piano, striking a key or two as he spoke. Their short conversation was abruptly cut short by the intrusion of a young officer who stomped to his feet, blind drunk and made for the piano.
“This is what it’s supposed to sound like,” the young man cried out to his comrades across the hall who applauded him on cheerfully. He pushed Gazillion Zorga off the stool and began to hit down hard at the keys. The horrible sound of random notes sending the crowd into a hilarious frenzy. Gazillion Zorga made friendly eye contact with the Colonel as he rose to make space to the young officer. He reached for his drink and leaned onto the side of the piano in a relaxed manner, smiling. The back of the instrument, he noticed with the corner of his eye, was exposed. That was his chance.
He had hoped to place the charge under the keyboard but he had been forced to improvise. The backside by the exposed strings would work just fine. Picking his moment carefully, and waiting for the curious Colonel to turn his back to him, he reached into his inside pocket and for the small charge. It was small enough to release a large enough explosion to see them all off. A moment later, when the wave of sound had risen to its highest and he figured no one would notice, he reached with his left arm behind the piano and applied the jelly in one swift action. A second quick movement allowed him to place the charge into the jelly, the timer connected wirelessly to his wrist watch. Sweating ever so slightly he returned to the bar pushing through the crowd again.
He was meaning to settle his bill at the bar when he felt the presence of the Colonel standing there staring at him.
“Pleasure, Gazillion Zorga, I believe we’ve never had the privilege.” he said audaciously.
“Indeed not,” the Colonel replied shaking hands. “Where is it you serve if you don’t mind me asking? Gazillion Zorga. I’m sure I’ve heard the name before,” the captain spoke before knocking back his drink.
“Special Branch Y, Pazannian National Resistance Front sir,” Gazillion Zorga said smiling. The words caused a shiver to shoot through the Colonel’s insides but he shrugged off the stranger’s humour and let out a nervous laughter.
“And now if you don’t mind Lieutenant Colonel, it’s been a pleasure,” Zorga spoke politely as he moved past the uniform and towards the exit.
It took the Lieutenant Colonel Itch about 56 seconds and a further drink before he was able to compute the name Gazillion Zorga. 56 seconds that could have spelt the difference. A quick sip. A look into the distance. A cherry-coloured girl pulling at his groin, which he had secretly lost in a previous visit to the same underground watering hole. Then, as he brushed her off, he recalled all of a sudden and felt the mighty fear of the universe shoot through his backside and up to his glandular sack in between his ears. Gazillion Zorga, known rebel leader. But surely not, he thought to himself, looking around for the intruder. He must have been joking. Not in here.
56 seconds were enough for Gazillion Zorga to vacate the premises and walk calmly back to the main street. He lit himself a smoke and walked past a few more drunken officers making their way to the smokey hole. Then, when he thought he was sufficiently out of range, he reached for his wrist and coldly flipped through the digital menu to the desired function. He took one more puff of his smoke and pressed down with calm determination. He threw his smoke to the ground and there it lay, still burning as the pounding explosion of souls was blast to kingdom cum in the background.
The old man sat in the shade, sucking and puffing away at his hand made pipe. Looking over the plateau that stretched as far as the eye could see, and perhaps a little further, there where the dreams lay. In the shade and comfort of his hut, the remains of the six legged camel still where he’d left it. The same camel they had strapped him to when they cast him into the unknown and banished him from all forms of so called civilised life.
The wind blew the sand up against the small hut and whatever else there was. At times the sand would cover it and it would disappear for a couple of days. On occasions for weeks. Then one day it would reappear.
He sat on his handmade chair. Made with the leather he had gathered from the poor being that had carried his weight for so many days across the desert before it lay down to rot. It had shown no signs of slowing down or of resigning. Surely and steadily it had continued, step after step until it eventually fell to a knee. Its heart gave it one last pump and then it was it. He’d lain there, strapped to its back, frying in the sun in the day and hallucinating in the cold at night. It had been months now, perhaps years. He couldn’t tell. He cared little for time, and he was more than happy to lead his life without the added restraint of something as artificial and pointless. He smiled about it when he thought about it now, but there was little to smile about at the time. He had lost a few teeth in the process, but had eventually managed to bite his way to freedom. There was nothing he could do for the camel.
Days had loomed on and turned into nights, and the same nights had sure enough turned into days. He had come close to starving. On the fifth night he set about doing something about it. He found a sharp rock laying amongst the sand and shrubs and cut out chunks from the cold flesh of the camel, and with it fed his insides. The next morning, reinvigorated, he set out across the infinite landscape that lay beyond. He walked for two full nights before reaching the green vivid patch of life. The oasis he now called home. The stuff of legends, like the tales he had heard of in his time.
In the beginning, unable to come to terms with his new reality, he spent deliriously long periods of time leaning back against the bark of a tall, thin tree that seemed to fruit, in the soothing shade that it cast over the steaming hot sands. When he finally managed to gather enough energy, he climbed to the top of the tree, cutting at the colourful fruits with his sharp rock and dropping a few of them to the ground. Then he began to munch away at them with feverish haste until he felt his belly bulge from within and he could take no more. The resulting hallucinations started not long after and would continue for weeks. Coming and going like gusts of wind. Sweeping him off his feet and up into the hight of the dark, cold desert skies. Days, weeks, years, millennia would fly by, and then, like a floating leaf, he would softly fall to the ground and fall into a deep sleep.
One day, when he felt the anguish of the fruits’ effects had ceased to haunt him, he decided to walk back into the direction he had come from, back to the carcass. Bit by bit he carried the camel back to his camp by the fruit tree by the edge of the oasis. There was much to be made of it yet. And bit by bit he took it apart. Roasting whatever parts hadn’t rotted on a bonfire. He would light one every evening before the sun set with the aid of a piece of glass he’d found in the beast’s stomach. Everything else he saved for material use. Its bones had become an integral part of his table and the chair which he still used. The skin he used as a sleeping bag every night when the cold would come and the howling of strange beasts would start in the wind. On those nights he would lay in bed, looking up at the skies and at times the moon. Then, when the howling had ceased and he felt like he could relax, he would recall the past. All that he had achieved and done with his time. Reliving his life, day by day, like one long tale.
At times he would speak to the camel. What was left of it, he made into a shrine. He called it Swalim. It meant friend in his dialect. Together they spent many nights in each other’s company. And he would tell the camel stories. And when he had eaten enough of the strange fruits from the tall, thin tree, Swalim would also begin to tell stories. But it was he, the old man, who talked most. He would tell of his journeys, of the people he had met, the places he had seen and the times he had cheated death. He had few or no plans for the future. There was enough material in him for some truly good stories.
Time and nature had been kind to the old man, authorities and governments a bit less. His long white hair still hung with youthful vigour, his shoulders still hung up high and strong and they held the rest of his body up straight like a good coat hanger. His fading tattoos. The one on his inner arm, Squazimmu zalam. Do more! A memento from his young days. The days he had spent across the way, whizzing around through all sorts of wormholes. The days before they had set up the fences, and the ugly grey monster. The infamous wall. Before the great explosion had sent them all, and all their plans to hell.
Hell was on Earth he believed. What was left of it anyways. He belonged to the generation that had grown up on a globe, a sphere. He had never bought into the bullshit about the cube and its financial implications. It was brainless propaganda meant for the brainless masses and he chose not believe it. Instead he chose to stand against it, them, the authorities. For that, and his apparent lack of belief, they would eventually punish him.
One night, whilst nibbling away at some of his favourite orange coloured fruits, under the cover of the purple evening skies, he began to recall. Back to when, nearly four decades earlier, he had been sitting at a bar in the comfort of his home town. Sipping thoughtlessly at the very last few drops of a whiskey, when a man, a few years his senior, took a seat next to him and began to talk.
“Say boy,” he’d said with a stern yet friendly voice, “you look like someone who’s in need of a new challenge! What you say, fancy a chance to make some money? See the world. Meet some beautiful ladies.”
“Sounds too good to be true.”
“That’s ‘cos it is kiddo!”
He’d met their kind before. Pirates full of promise and full of shit. Galavanting over the border like it was some kind of day trip out. Promising all sorts of things and wizardly boo. He’d seen it all before. So thanks, but no thanks.
“How about a drink instead?”
The fellow lit his cigar and blew it across the bar to the discontent of the beaten down barmaid.
“You see. Truth is, I ain’t like the rest of them.”
“What makes you so different then, if you don’t mind me asking?”
He puffed his cheeks full of smoke and then released it into the room. Then he gazed over to the other side of the bar where some fine looking ladies were crossing their three legs in manners way too provocative to be innocent. One of them smiled back at them both and revealed her ticklingly comic lack of teeth.
“We pick our people for a reason kiddo. We’ve been keeping an eye on you. We’ve being doing our homework and we’re in need of some extra help.”
“We? Who’s we?”
“That’s for later. What you say? It’s got to be better than hanging round this place, scratching out a living.”
He leaned on the bar and fiddled with the side of his face. Looking out of the bar and onto the streets it struck him how little there was out there, outside the four walls of that drinking shit hole. Only the misery of the streets. And there was someone, offering him a ticket to freedom.
“When was the last time you left this place kiddo?”
“I’ve never left the place.” He had always been quietly proud of the fact. Too many had leapt at the promise of something better. In doing so he believed they had betrayed that which was most sacred to them, their home. Suddenly there he was facing the same conundrum.
“Well, here’s your chance kiddo!”
“What’s this,” he asked as the fellow handed him an envelope.
“A one way ticket.”
“Ship leaves tomorrow. 27:00 on the dot. Dock 23, by the rigging plant. I’ll see you there!”
“I haven’t said I’m going yet!”
“You haven’t, but something’s telling me you are.”
“What you talkin’ about?”
“I’ll see you there kiddo.”
Then the enigmatic figure shot back his drink and left through the swinging doors like something out of a distant movie. The same ones his father had shown him when he was a young boy.
He was there the following morning. There was only one ship leaving from dock 23. It lay there in the water like a sleeping giant. A beast of a ship. The kind one should never wake without a good enough reason. It was resting. Resting from its intergalactic travels.
“Glad to see you made it son,” a voice called from the water front as he approached the dock. The hombre from the previous night welcomed him and held out his hand for a shake. The smell of cigar was still strong. It accompanied his presence wherever he went and it would do so for a good many years to come.
“Name’s Gazillion Zorga. Welcome on board.”
“I’m Zwein Arta…”
“Forget it kiddo. Where we’re going, you get to chose your own name.”
“Where is it we’re going anyways?”
“Not too far kiddo. Shouldn’t take too long anyways. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
That trip, and many more after it, would take him to all the darkest and some of the brightest corners of this banana shaped universe. He picked Maleba as his new name. It came from his local dialect and translated roughly to the “invincible”. No one ever asked what it meant. He went by Maleba alone and that was enough.
He was officially welcomed into the TortellonE import and export coorporation minutes after showing up at dock 23. His first trip was to the Azzorian constellation. A soft introduction to the wild new life he had chosen for himself. There would be darker and graver times ahead as well as a few good times.
They would be called everything going. Liberators, rebels, heroes, traffickers and terrorists depending on where they were. They worked hard and played hard. The stars became their stopping off holiday destinations in between missions and they burned the candle at both ends. He and Gazillion Zorga became good allies, then business partners and eventually life long friends. They shared a common love for everything green and Earth-like, and they dreamt of the day when they would retire to the planet, perhaps open a nice little place by the sea together. Like the best of friends though, after a good many years of each other’s company, they eventually lost touch. Perhaps pulled apart from incompatible dreams. The desire and need to rest. To be able to fall asleep at night without the fear of waking up dead. To create a family.
He settled down in the old neighborhood, in the poverty and misery which was the settlement across the bay from all that richness and wealth. He would commute daily across the waters to Notobia. Exchanging the beautiful desert flowers of his native land, that he picked himself, in exchange for precious technologies with which he hoped to improve the miserable and desperate existence of his fellow natives. He was one of the few who moved freely between the two worlds. A necessary evil which Notobian authorities allowed with calculating evil.
Back in his world they called him the Wizard. Down at the bazar where he had set up his little shop. Where he educated the young children of the streets. Teaching them the wizardry behind the mechanics of modern technology. Telling them all manner of wonderful tales. Of the distant places he’d visited, the weird creatures he had cut bread with. The fights he had fought and the wormholes he had travelled through, and the nightmare diarrhea it had caused him.
The young man which had once left the small bay outpost for the glory and adventure of the stars grew old. The scars of many battles fought slowly began to disappear into the crevices of his wrinkling skin. And as he, the Wizard, turned into an old wise man, so the legend of his adventures and of the mystical-like skills he possessed began to grow. Talk of him spread through the streets of the town, and seeped its way into the daily reports that were wired back to the darkest state offices across the bay, where they kept a close eye on the ongoings of their unwelcome next door neighbours.
Despite his best efforts, a happy family life had eluded him. He had met his fair share of women. All shapes and limbs. But none had ever rattled his belly like the one, the beautiful Zonia. A girl of the night, yet destined to become the mother of his child. The proud fruit of their love as he liked to think of it. He had begged her to follow him across the bay but she had resisted for fear of reprisals. She, like many others after all, belonged to the powerful conglomerate of power businesses that run the human trafficking and distribution of OrAngE up and down the coast in that sector of the cube. For an eternally brief time they would live a troubled but happy life, with the hustle and bustle of living between two worlds and the demanding pressure she felt at the prospect of becoming a fugitive.
She gave birth to a commonly perfect baby whom they named Kayan, after the abnormal smudge on the inside of one of his palms that resembled the Kayan leaf. The big meltdown happened not long after, and just like that, they were parted, forever. He would never live to see the man his young child would grow to become.
In the dark years that followed, the aging man found meaning in life in the daily struggle he pursued in the name of his tortured people. Victims of a global socio-financial, concentration camp-like mentality that spread like wildfire after the meltdown. Still, the young men, that had once sat at his feet as children, listening and being inspired by the stories he told at the bazar, came to him again. This time as men seeking advice. And again they listened to his tales of struggle. Of battles of blood and ideology. Of the guerrilla campaigns on Pazanna in the name of a freedom its people had been denied.
The metamorphosis that followed was as natural as any that had come before. Inspiration turned to words, words to heated debate. The debate fueled the discomfort, the discomfort the pain, the pain the fear and finally the resentment, as the first of a succession of puppet dictatorships took power. Then came the wall. The great monster. Built with the funding aid of the great Notobian riches.
When the first shots were fired, and the first blood ran, like it had done before, the fearful authorities came for him. Blaming him for the rancor and violence which ran in the streets. The Wizard and his wizard like ways. They punished him with a hundred lashes and the most humiliating of ends. Strapped to the back of a camel and cast into the wilderness to fend for himself.
His stomach was used to it by now. Kayan Maleba however still wasn’t. He hadn’t been for a while, or perhaps had never really been. Awareness had been eluding him like so many others out there. His name at the time was still Cornelius Rosewater. He was essentially, and by all means, not aware of anything, including the signs his body tried to communicate to his brain on a daily basis. For better or for worse he could not tell if he was hungry, if his bladder was bursting, if there was dust in his eye or if there was an awkward itch up his pants that needed seeing to. During the course of his adult life he’d grown completely oblivious to his own body, and lived in it like a stranger squatting in some abandoned countryside villa, waiting and hoping for better days to come.
The grumbling grew louder, just as it always did round that time of morning. Like clockwork. He was useless without his gadget. They all were. The whole place was. The whole nation. There were those who had refused to give in to the technology. The good people, the real people. But they lived as outcasts in the underworld labyrinth of sewers and oceans of piss and shit. Down there, where the waste from the rich upper strata ran along the streets.
The rumbling in his stomach soon turned to nauseating losses of bodily gasses, and just as it was all about to go terribly wrong, the alarm clock on his gadget rang with a loud beeping sound to remind him it was time to go to the toilet.
The devices worked around the clock in order to keep them functioning on behalf of that better good which was Notobia. The nano-technology portable contraptions were conceived to be an integral part of their daily existence. Some even chose to have theirs implanted under their skin as a matter of convenience. Those who didn’t, carried it along in their pockets and purses, and reached for it whenever the confusing reality of life fell upon them. The gadget was, by all means, the one true common denominator that the wealthiest and blindest of Notobian citizens shared. From a young age, citizens were taught never to leave their gadgets out of sight. They were to be considered a man’s best friends. Dogs had long been banished and banned, along with dog owners. The despicable lot. The revolutionary movement of the second coming had little patience for such heinous inconveniences. In a life and death situation it was the gadget that kids were trained to turn to for inspiration. Every First Degree Notobian (FDN) had sadly come to rely on their little gadgets to keep them afloat. The thin white line separating those who took decisions from those whose decisions were taken for them, had been crossed way too long ago for anyone to remember or care about anymore. From the moment they woke up, to the moment they went to bed, decisions were made for them in the stress-free manner which the macrobiotic chip circuits of the 11th generation gadgets thoughtlessly computed, second after second of every soul-forsaken day.
All part of a daily routine that had been lost and surrendered to the infernal gadget, the integral part of a dream which they’d all bought into long ago.
And just like that, as he sat there relaxing his bowels, like he’d done a ton of times before, he looked up towards the ceiling. In the corner, where the wall met the ceiling, he focused in on a crack that was forming in the paintwork. He looked up at it a little puzzled. It wasn’t much. Just a small insignificant defect in an otherwise perfectly plastered room, but it seemed to call out to him. To scream his name out unlike anything he’d experienced before. It wasn’t only the white plaster that had started to crack. Something within him was following suit. Somewhere in the deepest depth of his mind a voice asked the question, “How long have you been sitting on this damn shitter?”
Never before had he taken the time to contemplate how long he’d been sitting on the toilet. He hadn’t done much thinking in some time. None of them had. It could prove drastically painful and possibly dangerous. So they’d been told. It had been shown to be true. Scientifically. And few could argue with science.
Like millions of others around him, Cornelius Rosewater couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a genuine thought. The word meant practically nothing to him, as did the act of contemplation itself. Not that his memory was any better. Never thinking meant there was little for his memory cells to record and store. The memory muscles hadn’t been getting that much exercise. But lightning does strike twice. And just like that, in the space of a few days, another spark of thought showed the first signs of spontaneously combusting in his head, as again he sat ever so calmly on the toilet to empty his toxic bowels. He was in danger of processing the very second conscious thought of his adult life when, all of a sudden, something terribly evil and unknown in his gadget sensed the danger of him doing something unexpected and let off the annoying sound of an alarm. Toilet time was up. A mysterious force rushed him from his resting place, and sent him across the house to prepare himself to be acquiescently cast into the controlled reality which he and another few hundred million souls lived in. Such was the official party line. There was no escaping this. It was a new natural part of man’s evolutionary fight for survival. Gadgets could and should be counted on to take care of business. It was only those who lived in the underworld and detached from the interface reality above them who saw it all for what it was. Not to say that they had it any better. One’s man drug, is still another man’s drug.
“When did you get fat?” He heard the voice in his head whisper from behind a corner in his mind, as he looked at the oversized belly in the mirror before him.
“Man, the flab hanging off those tits of yours is a bloody disgrace. Shame on you!”
The wind blew and whistled in and through his hollow thought box. The sound of water splashing and waves crashing on rocks. For a brief instance he awoke from his catatonic existence, responding to the voice. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it. The second in fact, but numbers meant nothing to him, nor did they to anybody who was anybody. He’d not counted a single peanut since the age of six.
His eyes met the reflection of his pale face in the sickening lights of the mirror. Worryingly he looked about himself. He had a vague idea of where the sound was coming from, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe it. His eyes moved around in circles, as if to check the inside of his eye sockets for something, or someone that might be hiding up there.
“You’re right,” he said to himself holding his chubby stomach in the palms of his hands, “I have put on some weight.” The rest of him was quite skinny. One might have thought he was sick, such was the deterioration his figure had experienced over the last decade.
The longest conversation he’d had with himself in over twenty-five years came to an abrupt end when the gadget sensed something was at fault and sounded the alarm. He picked it up and looked, lost, into the screen. The highly defined image of a woman deep in some multi-elliptical sexual position appeared for a split second with the intention of hooking his attention. He was hooked alright. Then the message: Time to clean your teeth.
When he was done, like so many times before, he returned to his day-sleep having forgotten the bleak attempt to discover the source of that strange voice. His brain just wasn’t programmed for that sort of complicated computation. He proceeded to wash his hands, put on his tie and joined his wife and two children in the kitchen for breakfast.
He’d never noticed it before, but as he walked down the corridor he looked in stupor towards the woman and the two children sat at the kitchen table. Responding to the annoying sound of the gadget he looked into the screen and read the words written across the small screen: Your wife, Clarice, and children. Twins Jeremy and Janette. Sit down for breakfast.
Unknown to his conscience memory, this was a scene that had repeated itself on a daily basis for years. As he sat down at the breakfast table he looked over to the lady in a yellow dress decorated in awful purple flowers, his wife. She reached for her gadget in a panic. The look of dread spread across her pointy face, not having recognised the stranger. Your husband, Cornelius. Some unknown thought process within her shallow self told her all was OK and that the gadget knew best. It was indeed only her husband. Nothing to be alarmed about apparently. She let out a burst of a breath, relaxed and sat down by him. Only moments earlier she’d experienced a similar kind of asphyxiating feeling when the twins had rushed towards her and leaped at her legs, hanging at them like those weird creatures she’d seen on the box a few moments earlier.
Holding her hand before her chest she regained her composure and handed over the bread basket to her beloved stranger. She strained a cheek muscle ever so slightly as she pouted to him and caressed his leg with her left hand. Cornelius Rosewater held the toasted piece of bread up to his face and examined it closely. Then the beep of his gadget. Eat.
He smiled, ever so slightly. His wife smiled back. His kids Jeremy and Janette fiddled with their gadgets. They were eleven years old. Separated only by a few minutes. They were being introduced to their new realities. The age limit had been brought down from 18. There was no time to waste. Two masters degrees each and an upcoming PhD on the mystical Science of Obedience, did nothing to diminish their kiddish excitement before the exciting new toy they’d received for their birthday. Their unique existence would soon be surrendered to the very device mankind entrusted with their lives and souls. Someone, somewhere quoted a popular rock band from the early millennium that went something like, “I think, therefore I am”.
“But if you don’t think, then what does that make you?” some echo from the vast darkness of space had come back to ask. The answer still lingered somewhere in the ether of all things unknown.
When the bells had rung, and the table cleaned, he walked to the front door of their apartment on the 109th floor of the Liberty Imploring Tower. He took one swift look at his gadget which reminded him to kiss his wife goodbye before making for the lift. A sand grain of doubt rolled around the bowl which was his empty soul as he looked at the woman that stood before him. She was beautiful. However, the word and its very meaning still meant very little to him. He looked at her again and acquiesced silently. Time for work.
He had reflected little on the mysterious force which pushed him to follow suit, it just felt right. He had no recollection of ever having questioned it before, but for the first time ever he began to wonder where and what he was heading to. Floor after floor after floor, he met the gaze of those who also followed suit, jostling their way into the lift getting ready for another journey to wherever the gadgets had in mind. For the first time, in a long time, or perhaps for the very first time ever, he noticed the numbers of the floors steadily decreasing on the digital screen before him. He vaguely remembered seeing them before, but never having pondered their meaning. He wondered how long the new device had been there.
The doors to the lift opened straight onto the lunacy which was the bustling street below. Him and another 103 individuals stood there in the morning, purple-coloured sunshine. Pale in the faces, heads slanted slightly confused to one side, until one after the other the gadgets began to ring. Messages, highlighted by captivating pornographic images, appeared on screens all round like some devilish equation causing them all to move on in unison. Each with their little daily mission to complete.
Somewhere, where people were literate, it was written in pink jelly that on that day, the 38th of Jupitan (a new month and a few days that were added to the old calendar to adjust for orbital changes caused by the Big Meltdown), something incredibly significant would happen to Cornelius Rosewater. It would start as an innocent push, a hurried fellow citizen bumping into him as they marched diligently to work across the Bronzian bridge. Just a slight nudge, but enough to send him bumping uncontrollably into the rail and causing him to drop his precious gadget into the vast depths which extended for a mile and a half beneath the bridge. All the way down, where the down-and-outs made a living. Where they scraped a desperate existence from the dust, shit and leftovers which made their way from the surface of the rich living quarters down to the shadows of the dark city below.
Not yet realising the significance of his loss, Cornelius leaned over the railing and watched for the odd ten seconds or so it took the gadget to make it to the bottom. A little clank and rattle was all he heard. He couldn’t even be sure it was the sound of the gadget hitting the distant floor beneath. And just as he had come, he turned to the human river of people walking down the bridge and continued undisturbed until twelve minutes later when he came to a road crossing and was enveloped by a helpless feeling of anxiety. A process which had until then remained dormant in the back caves of his mind coughed a few times and tried to ponder where the body should go next. He was lost and it was going to take one miraculous task to find his way after having been asleep for so long. He felt into his pocket for his gadget but nothing. In a panic he looked back towards where he’d come from. He vaguely remembered being on the bridge and dropping something. Was it what? What was? It sure was, or at least it felt so. But what?
For a while longer, much longer, he stood there as the world went by, unable to decide and comprehend what had happened and what he should do about it. The anxiety grew in him like a fever, starting at his feet and tensing every muscle in his body so tightly that he eventually found it hard to breathe. Undoing his shirt collar he just about avoided bumping his head as he lost his footing and couched down against a cold stone wall. The sweat profusely dripping down his face and neck. The patches starting to show on his blue collar shirt. Something within him was starting to register the new reality. He wasn’t to be the first or the last individual to lose his gadget and everything it stood for. Many had wandered off into the distances never to be seen again, perishing in the cold winter streets as their relatives continued undisturbed, the rest of society walking by ever so cool and collected. Not a worry in the world. A few had managed. Finding their way to the lower levels of the city and scraping a living any best way they could. Just as many though, had forever vanished, lost and forgotten without a hope.
Unable to let out the slightest cry or scream he ripped at his collar, pulling with might as a feeling of suffocation began to overwhelm his chest, the scream of doom growing within his guts. He was lost to the world. There was no telling where he’d come from or where he was heading. His name, his address, his age. It meant nothing to him. Alone and afraid in a world he never made.
The darkness began to fall on him as the sun shone all around. Holding his head desperately in between his knees he squeezed his hands into the side of his forehead as if to force a memory, a thought, something. The sponge in between his ears. Little had ever been recorded in there. It was going to be one hell of a job trying to retrieve anything from it.
For hours he sat there in the cold autumn winds, citizens walking briskly past his mellow figure. A figure like so many others spread repeatedly across the city. Lost and forgotten souls that were hardly noticed or acknowledged. And as the fear continued to grow within his weakened body he felt a warm cozy feeling spread across his crotch area as he unwillingly wet himself. Perhaps the first encouraging sign that his mind and body were finally starting to make a connection. With a look of dismay he watched the patch grow larger and spread down to his knees as the initial warm soothing effect of the urine was soon substituted by an unwelcome acidy itch. As he scratched at his crotch like he’d never done before, he noticed the death like presence of a young man sitting across the street from him. A pale, dull expression took over his face as his breath blew in the cold wind. A plastic cup lay before him in the street. He resembled a frozen piece of meat, like he had seen on occasions at the food processing plants.
He spent his first day as a free man in the world sitting in the cold across the road from the young man, wetting himself time after time. He eventually learned that it might pay to release himself up against the cold, stoney wall of the building where he would lay for the rest of the night. There was no one there to tell him otherwise. He would have to learn, rather quickly that it was time to take responsibility for himself.
Back home, his wife followed her gadget’s instructions to the letter and reported her husband as missing. Reports were duly made to the police and his name added to the missing people’s list. Cornelius N. Rosewater, as he was known in the citizen world of Notobia, was, according to official reports and a debatable order, never to be found again. His wife’s gadget made a sublet adjustment 24 hours after his disappearance and conveniently never mentioned his existence to her or the children ever again. It was as if he had never existed. Cornelius N. Rosewater had, for all means and purposes ceased to exist. It was time for Kayan Maleba to step into the world.
They spent most of their time in the shadows. Looking up every so often to the light shining down, deep from the heights of the sky and the upper crust of the cube. Up there where the wealthy lot made ends meet. For them, on the other hand, existing with dignity was hard enough. Few of those who lived down under ever had the time or privilege of wondering what it might have been like if…
Having little recollection of his previous life, he came into his new existence with the innocent ignorance that only children can be forgiven for displaying. He walked the streets in the days, bumping here and there and bouncing off shoulders. Wandering aimlessly about the place, not knowing how or where to look for something to eat, or where to suck for something to drink. All he could do was feel the thirst and hunger and cold, and suffer. And as the days went by he fell deeper and deeper into a mist of madness, hallucinating of little orange coloured beings talking to him from within the cracks in his dry skin. He was eventually picked up by some security agency or other, rubber stamped through some sort of system and duly processed for deportation.
Unmarked, unknowing, unwanted. They cast him to the maze of buildings and sewers down beneath without too much ceremony. His loose tie still hanging round his neck and his light blue suit, ripped here and there, and that dozed look of his. His eyes were fixed into the distance, looking but not seeing or quite understanding. They may as well have fed him to the acidy waters of the bay, or for all purposes put a bullet in the side of his head. Releasing him into the underworld like they did would only prove to be rather unwise in most cases. There was no one taking records at the time, but if there had been they would show that the average life expectancy, of anyone stepping into the under world of society, was of approximately 7 minutes give or take thirty valuable seconds.
The old drilling shafts of the elevators generally swarmed with hopeful criminals, waiting for their daily load of condemned individuals, forcibly sent to live with the rest of them down there, hoping to rid them of whatever could be sold and exchanged on the black markets. Most never made it past the first mugging, which generally implied a swift stabbing.
Against all odds, there was no one there the day they stuck him in the lift, took off the handcuffs and sent him on his way. When the doors to the underworld opened before him he found himself all alone in the darkness. Standing there in the silence, the warm gritty, smelly taste of waste hitting him in the otherwise cold air, suffocating him in a manner he had only ever experienced before in some of his most recurring nightmares. There he was, a bystander to his new reality, unable to do anything to improve his immediate situation.
Nothing would ever come close to making him feel the things he felt for the girl that came to his rescue that day. Banished from upper reality and cast into a very different world with the rest of them. It was a dire place down there, under the covers of darkness. The cold bit into the skin like blades and the frost stuck to the nose like glue. What fresh water anyone could get their hands on was used to distill whatever contraband they could force into a liquid liquor of sorts. And whilst there were those who abused it, others payed with their lives for indulging in the poorly prepared concoction. Food was scarce. Nothing fresh made it that low down. You had to know someone who knew someone. Then you might get a bit of a bit, if you hadn’t been ripped off in the process. In which case you might end up with a piece of shit. And if you were lucky enough they painted it green and passed it off as a vegetable. No one had seen a real vegetable for decades. It was always worth a try. Few things are ever too outrageous for the desperate.
The scavengers would rummage around among the vast fields of waste and whatever half nibbled scraps of dinner and lunch and breakfast they could get their claws on they would serve to heedless customers in their dinner joints. Roadside shacks where second hand meals could be purchased at premium prices. Still they lived a respectable life, within the boundaries of reason. And they did their business the old way. Some of this for some of that. A battery for some bread, a lightbulb for some spirit. Some copper for some ham. Of course there was no such thing as ham but news of that still hadn’t reached all, especially down in the shadows.
The corporations from the upper regions that ran the shit consuming establishments down under payed Kredits. Despite the allure money had, anyone desperate enough to visit one of the places was guaranteed a considerably shorter life expectancy than the already ridiculously low prospect of living past the age of forty. The ones that died in the streets disappeared quickly. They would come with black vans. Load them on the back like sacks of potatoes and drive off into the mist.
Not all was bad down under. People came together in their attempts to survive. The worst of times brought out the worst and best of people. But they struggled. And so, occasionally, they would climb the elevator shanks and risk the prison sentence involved in being caught doing so. And up above they would go unseen. Lying on the sides of the road, starving, singing, chanting. Just sitting there, hoping for someone to drop them a few Kredits. A shot at a future.
She had taken him in and showed him the ropes. And he had learned quickly. Mostly about himself. His true self. He was strong, they told him. Day after day he would learn that about himself too. He spent much time in the beginning sitting about on the road sides, by the bonfires, listening to the elders discussing and reminiscing. Learning, like a child. The old folks, the few who still remembered the days before the first gadgets were introduced.
It was during one of those discussions that he learned about his father. When one of the elders noticed the distinct birth mark he had on the inside of his palm, there was no way of convincing them otherwise. He was unquestionably the son of Maleba they claimed. The great wizard. The man who had brought them so much hope all those years back. When the elders finally agreed on his true identity they began to call him Kayan, “New Leaf”. The phoenix, awoken from the ashes. The ashes that would otherwise keep it from seeing the truth. Whether he like it or not, the cloud of expectation and action would soon begin to take shape over his being.
He seldom pondered on such matters when they were alone together. Instead time seemed to pass mystically. It wasn’t all bad. At times they would manage for weeks on some generous handout. She would sit in the front room of their place, an old cement shack, painting.
“What is it you paint?” he’d asked her once.
“I paint the future,” she had told him smiling.
Her hopes for the future. They coloured their living quarters with all sorts of flourishing objects. Anything colourful and lively they could get their hands on. Anything that would remind them, in every breathing second of their existence, that they were both alive and well. And they would sit in the shade, down by the sea front at times. Looking into the horizon, trying to catch a glimpse of the sinking sun, and they would fantasise about the day when they would leave that horrid place behind and build a house and perhaps have a family somewhere else. He knew full well it would take a hell of a lot more than her paintings and some wishful thinking. Still he smiled and held her in his arms.
One day, pushed by the constant struggle to find something to add to their empty stomachs, they made the perilous journey into the upper levels. It took them over eight hours to climb the old steel structure. The unused, abandoned rig that had once led Lactobian miners to work, deep into the belly of the world. It had been a day like many others they had spent up above together. Smiling and sucking in the magnetic energy of the few sun rays that shined for a full fifteen minutes in the summer months. A young bright girl even dropped a rather generous donation into their cup. They talked about how they might be able to sell some of her art. Not everyone was a damn robot up there, they told themselves. There were still beings that could see the beauty in the world and would be willing to pay to appreciate it more. They were, after all, human like the rest of them, he figured.
Had they seen the marching squadron of black shirts tramping down the street, they might have made a run for it. They never saw it coming. Instead they were rushed to their feet and held there by the scruff of their necks, as they searched their belongings, their few possessions. Throwing them around like they were toys to be had. How dare they, he whispered to himself.
One of the young squadrons made the mistake of trying to play sweet with her. Held his hand up to her face, pulling her in close as if he might want to stick his tongue down her throat. Giggling as he did so. She kneed him there where real men once had balls. Funnily enough he fell to the ground. Then a gun. Quickly and professionally drawn, it appeared to the side of her head. He took a few steps forward to prevent an already troubling situation from escalating. Push came to shove. The sweaty hands of an underpaid officer of the uncharted law could only lead to something bad. A shot fired, the gun, the head. And she fell to the ground. Slowly, beautifully. Like a feather. He stood there, in the silence which his brain had chosen for him. Just like that, she was gone. All around him, grown men in black shirts, officers of the state squabbled like children, screeching. The mayhem. He could only stand there and observe. All around they blamed and shouted, pointing fingers here and there. The sound started to turn, steadily louder, then louder, then louder in his head.
A flock of black armoured vehicles pulled up. A number of black suits rushed to the door of an old Mercedes with tinted black windows. From the back door he saw the tall figure emerge. First the feet, dark shiny shoes. Then the blue trousers and the navy blue suit, and the red tie. The dark briefcase, the strong looking hand holding on to it. And the eagle head. Its dark penetrating eyes, its bright yellow beak and its snow-white feathers hanging beautifully over the back of its white shirt collar. The big golden flashy chains hanging around its neck, its symbol of power. It walked stealthily towards them. The black suits opening before it like a curtain. A spine-chilling silence followed, as it walked towards the young Kayan. Then, when it was within spitting distance, it turned to face the still warm body of his true love lying there on the floor. The nerves in one of her legs caused her body to twitch reluctantly. A few breaths still hissed in and out of her dying vessel. The eagle reached into its jacket and to the side of its hip. It pulled out a rather rough looking semi automatic, cocked it and fired the gracing shot into her head, finally sending her on her way. The young Kayan Maleba noticed its overly long nails clawing into the side of the pistol as it whispered something to one of its crew. Kayan thought he heard its deep voice utter something, but he couldn’t quite tell what it was. And with that the eagle man turned its back to him and walked into the adjacent building. He was left there to fend for himself, again. Without her. The fire of insanity and revenge beginning to boil and sparkle within him. Fueled by a nuclear furnace that would not show the least sign of ever burning out. Something cold and calculating within him urged him to be patient.
It was in such tragic circumstances that he came to find his place in the world, his calling. Fueled by the pain that the loss of his true love would cause him. For her, and all other victims passed and yet to pass, he would call upon himself to destroy the one thing that stood between them all and liberty. The Eagle, the symbol of it all. That power-hungry, untouchable figure who ran the corrupt institution that still had the nerve to call itself the State. The iron fist in the silk glove, that only reserved its softness and goodness for a few lucky chosen ones, whilst the rest of them endured the might of its cold harshness. He would not settle until the day they would bring him the eagle’s head on a plate.
Something in him was half way through a rather heated discussion with Julius Caesar and Isaac Newton. Among other things, it regarded the logistical and physical implications of growing hallucinogenic water lilies on some distant planet. Then, whilst at the hight of the debate, he felt the cold, harsh hand of reality tapping him on the shoulder.
He was on the intercity train again, bound for nowhere, ticketless. He’d fallen asleep, something he had specifically planned on avoiding. Considering the staggering fine for getting caught in the act, falling asleep, and hence prey to the madness which had engulfed them all, could be a risky and expensive business. It took a few seconds for the mist to clear in his eyes. The moment he met the soulless stare of the train conductor he knew he was in a world of trouble.
A 900 Kredit fine would not, under normal circumstances have worried him too much. It was a reasonable and honest amount due for anyone dumb enough to get caught traveling without a ticket. However, given his recent cash flow problem, his chronic inability to find and hold down a decent job, added to the ever present dark shadow of his addiction to the OrAngE current, he figured 900 Kredits were just enough to propel him into a new deep pool of shit. There was no way he could afford the fine or the trouble involved in not paying one.
“So how would you like to settle the score,” he heard the humanoid in uniform ask.
Scrubbing the sleep out of his eyes he tried to act as nonchalantly as humanly possible.
“Why don’t you just send me the bill sir?”
“Very well,” it went on, scoping every inch of his putrid, drug ridden figure. “Name and address!”
“Name, and address,” he repeated unconsciously as the inescapable effect of all the OrAngE current abuse came back to haunt him.
“Name and address,” it poked on.
He struggled to avoid his mouth from mumbling as he focused in on the small splashes of fluorescent orange body fluids he’d gotten all over himself a few hours earlier. He wasn’t sure it was even his own. The last few hours were clouded by a bright blinding fog. The colours pulsated vividly before his eyes, as if full of life. He would happily have sat there observing them for the longest period of time hadn’t the stern voice come to haunt him again. He wasn’t going to get out of this one easily.
He’d grown accustomed to those passive observing moments of outer-body experiences, yet they still seemed to fascinate him now and then. He’d watch his body as somebody else took over his limbs and he could only observe from somewhere behind his eyes. Those were his fingers tickling away at his thighs, rummaging around in his pockets for something to bribe the ticket inspector with. The current had gotten to him again. Thoughts weighed down on his thinking operation. He was finding it hard to process the simplest of mental computations.
Still unable to connect with his limbs he sat there, a solid grin imprinted on his face. He didn’t mean to smile, his face was just stuck that way. There was no immediate way of making it change. The muscles in his cheeks twitched as he struggled to comprehend the state of affairs.
“Name and address, now!”
Some primitive mechanism within his mind started the cogs and springs. Finally in motion, he came up with a name to give the inspector. One of his eyes went numb as he looked up to the imposing figure of authority.
“Kayan. My name’s Kayan Maleba!” he said with some satisfaction. The creative juice. A welcomed side effect.
“That’s it,” he heard a voice call from a million miles away. “You’re either paying up now or I’m going to have to hold you until we get to the next station where the Enforcement Unit will be notified and take charge of you.”
“Christ,” he heard another voice burst out from deep within his chest. “No please, not those fascists sir. They would never understand, you see…” He paused as he looked for something remotely logical to express. Worse case scenario would land him a couple nights of cold, cemented prison cell, and not a drop of sweet OrAngE current to quench his needs.
“Fascists?” the authoritative figure questioned.
“I could hook you up with my sister. I will, I mean, I can.” The long single eye brow curled across his sweaty forehead, the expression on his face, unsuccessfully trying to appear uninterested. The incorruptible face of the institutions before him, unmovable.
“I’ll hook you up with her. You’ll love the girl, trust me. It’s what she does best. She’ll take good care of you. Make you forget all about this nasty ticket issue. What’a you think?”
Forty hours later and a drill in the side of the head kind of a headache, sitting at a table in the coffee shop adjacent to some unknown train station. That jerk of a ticket inspector had kept his ID card as a guarantee until they’d meet later that evening. His right index finger poking into the coffee, desperately trying to find a solution. He had six hours to come up with a sister he didn’t have. One willing to stand in for him and take one for the team. He’d better hurry.
The state of his gums had deteriorated considerably during the last forty-eight hours. He noticed it as he pulled out yet another tooth and laid it on the saucer next to the spoon. If only he could score some current. Get some creative OrAngE juices flowing again. There was only one place to make some quick money when one was down in the dumps. The answer was to venture under the surface and into the sewers. He figured a half a kilo of dump should sort him out just fine.
They served him his human portion of excrement on a recycled paper tray. Didn’t even get a spoon to go with it. If that is what it took, he thought to himself, he was willing to take it. Doing his bit for the world. That was how it worked. All the shit and piss from the ones up above had to go somewhere. That somewhere was down there where the rest of them existed. They’d pay him two and a half thousand Kredits for consuming half a kilogram of shit. Human shit.
Chances were it would give him an infection and kill him. That being the case, it was legal and cheaper to dump him on the outskirts of the solar system than it would have been to expel the half kilo of shit he’d ingested. The cunning of laws is always to be admired. Loophole after loophole after black hole.
He hadn’t had anything to eat in three days. It was better that way. Anything laying around in his stomach was only going to make him sick. There wasn’t even enough bile left in him to make him gag. They gave him some dark rain water to wash his face out with when he was done, curtesy of the house, who incidentally always had an edge.
As he picked up the first of thirteen frozen cubes and held it up to his mouth, he noticed the familiar colour, but was taken back by the seeming lack of smell. The odd, putrid essence had however been well preserved. He tried to swallow the ice cube in one go but nearly chocked on the thing. Unwillingly, he forced himself to hold it in his mouth until the thing melted. Then, when he thought he could force it down, he did so with the aid of the dark rain water they’d given him in a sawed off beer bottle.
Some fifteen minutes later, he was two grand up and ready and revving to score some current. The ideas were bound to start flowing back once he’d had his doze. That was how he rolled. He still had to figure a way to get his precious ID card back off the ticket inspector. Failure to do so could land him in a world of strain.
Six seconds. That’s all the current half a kilogram of shit and a possible lethal infection were going to get him at his local OrAngE current joint. Not to mention the mighty erections his blood sack of a penis was doomed to undergo.
Six seconds was all he got. It took longer than that to connect the thing up to his arse. And before he knew it he was stumbling out of the joint, penniless and as high as six seconds worth of current could get him. For a moment he thought he’d gone blind. Then he realised his eyes had tilted back into his head and they were stuck. He was literally looking back into towards the darkness of his head. He swore he could see little orange sparkles shining, calling someone’s name. Cornelius, Cornelius, Cornelius.
He could still feel the current in his veins, like a little army of ants, marching along his nervous system. Suddenly it was all so clear. His thought process stood clearly before him like a diagram. Every bit of it. The downside of such clear mindfulness was that once he managed to untangle his eyeballs, he still had to deal with his tongue hanging out of his mouth like a dead snail, and a general numbness in the left part of his body. Luckily, a pleasant and useful side effect of even the smallest amount of OrAngE current was that his erect penis had started to work as some sort of sonar homing device. He was again at last the master of his own fate, the captain of his ship. All he had to do was to trust his instincts and follow his penis, just like the rest of them did.
Later that evening he stood across the street from the soulless ticket inspector. The same one who thought he was about to go on a date with somebody’s perverted sister. Of course he was. He wasn’t going to let him down, not an honest working state employee like him.
The high heels hurt like a hell he knew well enough. The bra was a dozen sizes too small and it dug itself deep into his underarms. The florescent blonde wig was starting to itch like an army of ants. The rusted battery he’d plugged up his arse wasn’t giving him the desired effect. It was a cheap and desperate alternative to his expensive habit. There were OrAngE tears dripping from his eyes, and there was another loose tooth on its way to meeting the pavement any second soon. The OrAngE haze still messed within his vision but it gave him courage. The creativity was strong within him. The miracle of modern drugs he so admired.
“Have you got the card?” He spoke in the highest pitched voice he could master as he walked up to the inspector, struggling to balance on his newly acquired high heels. The state employee answered with a grunt, not too convinced with what he saw before him.
“What kind of a sick joke is this?”
“What? What you mean?”
“You sick son of a …”
“Don’t you like what you see?” He asked, feeling his breasts. Breasts he’d put together with some dirty toilet role and two purple rotting fruits he’d found in some garbage can. The young lady he had become was starting to lose the plot. She started gesturing like she was willing to give him anything he wanted. She’d blow him for a few seconds of current. In fact she would do anything for the OrAngE stuff.
The ticket inspector wasn’t having any of it. He pushed her violently in the chest sending her scrabbling across the floor. Then he turned his back to her and went to walk away. All she wanted was that bloody ID card back man. So he, she pulled herself back to her feet, removed one of the high heeled shoes she’d snatched off some poor girl earlier that night and did it. One swift swing and that was it.
The ticket inspector went to sit down on a dust bin. He lay there with his back up against the wall as he felt the hard heel and shoe sticking out the side of his head, his blood and brain slowly succumbing to gravity.
She didn’t look that bad after all. Of course the chest hair could do with some trimming.
He searched his first victim for money. The two cold eyes staring at him in the dark back alley. He found some car keys and his ID card and a big lump of cash. He kicked the fellow in the leg to check if he was still of this world. He wasn’t. He was dead. He was a tough job to lift into the back of the car.
A full minute of current would do him just right. He was up in the big leagues now. Where the money talked and no one cared why he was dressed like a drag queen, driving a banger of a car and crying OrAngE tears of insanity.
“Plug my but up and send me on that ride,” he cried out to the winds as he drove, swirling across the road, his left arm hanging out of the side of the car. The car hit the curb just outside the front entrance of a renowned Notobian OrAngE haze boutique.
“Ooh baby,” he cried out as he slammed the car door behind him and made for the club.
He felt like pulling his lips up across the back of his head. Einstein and Julius Caesar sounded quite impressed with his proposals this time round. The whole thing made so much sense. If he pierced his brain to a meteorite and used his penis as a compass he might just be able to… The sweet OrAngE current oozed deep into his nerves.
He couldn’t tell how long he’d been driving. It felt like he’d been away for the best part of a millennium.
“Thing is officer, its all a bit of a mist at the moment.”
“You realise you were driving without your lights on sir and 270 pesos over the speed limit?”
“Ahh, ye. I guess so.”
“You going to some fancy dress party or you on your way home sir?”
“Ya well, sir. Thing is, I can’t really…” remember who he was, where he was going or what year it was.
“You riding pretty low sir. You got anything in the trunk?”
He remembered that much, as an annoying itch went shooting through his left cheek. An itch, or a bright orange lizard that had crawled under his skin, started a colony and had plans to take over his brain.
“Sir, the trunk!”
“Listen officer, I don’t see where you’re trying to get with this, I mean what I done?”
“Driving with your lights off, that’s twenty thousand Kredits or an immediate ten kilo ingestion penalty, not to mention the speeding infraction. And now open your trunk sir.”
“Now listen officer, there must be something we can do about this?”
The battery up his arse was starting to make his tongue shake like a naked nun. The conversation better be over soon, for his own sake.
Crooked institutions, some voice called in his head, everyone wants something for nothing. If it isn’t a cock, it’s an arse.
“I could hook you up with my sister. I bet you’d love her. Trust me officer. She’s one hell of a blonde!”
A good short story would probably stop here. And that would be that. But this was supposed to be a novel of sorts. So we’ll say the officer never really bought his bullshit. He was no simple train conductor, he was a copper. The corruption was always going to be that much higher.
“Or maybe I could do you for something officer. Right here on the side of the road. Wouldn’t take a second and no one would have to know.”
The pig looked ever so interested. He pulled his hand away from his unlocked gun strap.
“I guess we could figure something out.”
They moved to the side of the road in the shadows, where all the worst things happen. She got down on her knees and stroked at his legs. The pig looked around like he knew someone was going to come running round the corner waving an axe any moment soon.
“Get on with it already you freak,” spoke the voice of the law. The same law that had all but forgotten the people it was always meant to protect.
In the distance, all sorts of sounds coloured the darkness of the streets, as all manner of injustices were being carried out in a world where man eat man had long substituted the term dog eat dog. They’d eaten them all a long time ago.
In a moment of total erectile excitement, the pig took a prolonged look to his left. A blissful mistake on his behalf, as she reached for his unlocked pistol, cocked it back and shot three rounds up his arse and through his helmet.
Seventy thousand Kredits richer and two corrupt agents of the state less. He felt there had to be something in it for him, some kind of career prospect. The high heels were starting to drive him insane. His knees were sore. As he drove off into the night he looked into the rear view mirror and looked at his new self. He’d killed two people in less than twenty four hours. Not any given citizen, but two corrupt officers of the same cancer. It was the start of something new. It was the birth and christening of a legend. A terrorist and freedom fighter. A mass murderer and avenger. A monster and a brother. A symbol, for which many, like him, would take up arms, fighting mercilessly and most of the time without goal or ideology. Fighting against the only thing that could and would fight back, the state.
In the months and years to come, the anarchist movement and the individuals that fueled it, would come to be known as Kayan Maleba.
The bar is where Jack Landan found the right strings on which to pull himself back into a life. A place he had romantically always seen for himself. Anywhere else would have hurt too much. The smokey surroundings, the smell of cheap perfume, the big tits, the fist fights, the constant humming of drunks, and that quiet corner of the bar, where they would keep a seat for him every night. The place where he could retire to with his thoughts, and put them down on paper. That is what he had always wanted to do in a way. Of course it would have been nicer had someone ever bothered to read any of the stuff he wrote, but the feeling that reading his own words gave him was good enough, most of the time. He did odd jobs here and there on the surface. The pennies they payed him there could be stretched a long way in the underworld. It wasn’t all that bad as they said it was. Of course there were rough patches here and there, but he soon learned to avoid them. The rest was a living hub of desperately normal people, most of whom had chosen to live the life of freedom, away from the poking eye of the state.
For the first time in a long time he had discovered the pleasure of sitting down to talk to a total strangers, common human beings. To feel the warmth and softness of a female counter part, to take a second here and there to really enjoy the way the cracks on a face would spread when the mouth smiled, and the eyes contracted and the soul warmed. It was the life he could remember having lived as a child. The place where the stories his grandfather Gazillion Zorga had once told seemed to come to life again.
Up on the surface, he managed a number of odd jobs. Under-paid, brain-draining work, that nevertheless allowed him to live the life of a free man down in the underworld.
The scribbles and notes that he took during his working day would translate into the tales and pages which he composed at the bar down under at night. The paper he wrote on was a papyrus like sheet that he would fetch for relatively good prices off a chap down by the water front. The pens he purchased up in the city, where a few still fancied the old ways. Locals referred to him as The Pen, he was liked, but they left him mainly to himself.
He rented a room down by the sea front, in an old terraced house that had withered its way into the modern area, taking with it the sweet characteristics of the old times. And the woman from whom he rented the small front room, on the first floor, was as old as the house. Sitting at his desk, watching the short lived sun set, he would suck in the energy from his surroundings and travel to places in time. Writing down the words to everything he saw. And when the lights would go he would light a candle and sit there. One word after the other, just him the paper and his pen.
He longed for the day he might be able to get his hands on a typewriter again, but given the rough quality of the paper down there, he doubted it would work. The pen served him just as well. Though he had to learn to dictate the speed with which he wrote. The super zapping speed which the typewriter allowed for could not be sustained when writing by hand. And although at times he would feel the pull to write as fast as he could, he would reign it in, enough to allow him to see the words coming, permitting him to consider their quality and flow before putting them to paper.
The drinks they made down there were of dubious origin, but they worked just fine. He’d seen enough time gone to waste. Now that he had all the time in the world, he made sure it was a focused effort. And then someday, maybe, if he pulled all the right strings, and he had enough luck, he might just write something good enough for people to read.
He hung down at the building some called The Library. A colourful collection of books populated the crooked shelves of the little brick building where he would spend numerous hours reading and rereading the classics. From the philosophers to the economists to the political thinkers that had been forgotten by so many.
The words that he so feverishly worked to put on paper, were an attempt to integrate the political reality that surrounded him into his fiction. He’d long left the self-righteous attempt at writing a novel behind. Instead he found comfort and joy in the simple purity of writing which generally took shape in short stories and politically charged manifestos which he would eventually begin to verbalise. He could no longer just sit and listen to grown men complain about the world with such little understanding of the workings of it. Born out of a need to educate, rather than to be condescending, he would talk and they would listen, for it was obvious that they were in the presence of someone who saw things for more than they were worth to the untrained eye and mind. They listened, and they brought him drinks. And at times, when he sat, with his head held low over whatever new piece of writing he was pouring his soul into, some young gun would approach him politely wanting to ask a question, his opinion.
People would come to hear him talk. “Is this the place?” they would ask, as they pushed their way through the crowds. And if there were too many of them there, he would have to stand on a table to speak to them all. And when matters got a bit grim he would read out one of his funny poems in which he would trivialise their dramatic reality, and they would laugh. It was good times, yet it pained him to see how little so many really understood.
He spent the day-hours up above. Living the seeming life of a slave, locked into the tight clutch of a heartless system. And a liberal, inspiring orator at night, down in the place where he felt like himself. But when the door would shut behind him at night, and he would sit at his desk, looking over the silver flats and to the other side of the bay from where so many around him had come, risking limb and life, he would question the meaning behind his own struggle. Wondering where, when and how the real change he longed for would come.
“So you’re the man with the pen and the big mouth,” a confident voice uttered to him one day, as a hand tapped friendlily on his shoulder. As he turned to look he saw the muscular, assertive figure of a man who looked like he had something going for him, that extra gear that lacked in so many.
“You mind if I take a seat?” the fellow asked with calm demeanour.
“Make yourself at home,” Jack Landan answered, intrigued at the possibility of exchanging words with someone he knew was going somewhere, with something to say.
“Kazawhena no taore.”
“Means pleasure to met you, in the old tongue.”
“What old tongue’s that?”
“Does it matter?”
“Guess it doesn’t,” he said smiling and holding out his hand to the man.
Jack Landan held up his hand to the loyal bartender and ordered two whiskeys. (They referred to the liquid as amber but it was far from resembling the colour or flavour of that assorted delicacy which had once been).
“Make mine a double,” the stranger called out with a smirk of delirium.
“Do you know what I do for a living Jack? May I call you Jack?”
Jack Landan shook his head slightly with a firm, friendly eye contact. He was confident he knew who he was dealing with and acted accordingly. He’d observed and heard enough to know who was who down that way. The drinks arrived and the stranger sipped gently at his with a satisfied expression at Jack’s answer.
“This thing, this movement, this whole thing, call it what you want,” he began as he ran his finger along the rim of his chipped glass. “It started off like many things do. A bit by mistake, a bit out of pure circumstance. One seeks to find meaning in this thing they call life. Hustling and bustling. Then, before you know it, the tables are turned and… Well, before you know it Jack, we’re caught up in something bigger than ourselves.”
Jack Landan held his chin in his hand as he leaned on the bar looking and listening with focused attention as not to appear disrespectful.
“I imagine you’re wondering what I’m doing down this way. I’m here to make you an offer,” he said, looking straight into the dark of Jack Landan’s eyes.
“And just what might the offer be, if I might ask? I’ve noticed some of your people around the place these last few days but not one of them was kind enough to fill me in.”
“For that I must apologise,” he said smiling. “Necessary precautions I’m afraid.”
“I understand,” Jack Landan said, implying genuine humility.
“The problem is Jack, I’m surrounded by good for nothings. Power hungry apes in search of nothing but power and the corrupting allure of rape. And that’s fine, no battle is won without those willing to do the dirty work. What I need now Jack, is the support of the people. Without them, our achievements will be for nothing.”
“What makes you think the people will follow your way?” Jack Landan asked, tongue in cheek, a cheek he knew would only serve to gain him some sort of respect. The stranger let out a burst of admiring laughter as he took his last swig at the whiskey.
“That is where you come in my friend. I hear they don’t call you the Pen for nothing. My people tell me you’re mighty fine with your words. Every movement has its reasons Jack, we’ve got ours. All we’re asking is your precious aid in putting words to paper in a way that will not leave any shadow of a doubt in the people’s minds. What do you say? I would hate to see your talent lost on this dark whole of a beer gutter?”
“What you offering in return?” Jack Landan asked knowing he was pushing his luck well out there.
“What is it you want Jack?”
“What is it all men want?”
“Ah ha, you got me there.”
The answer confirmed Jack Landan’s impressions of the famous outlaw. He was indeed a man of wits and ways of the world. Not a mere thug and womaniser as portrayed in the Notobian propaganda.
“Whatever it is you fancy yourself young man, I can promise you it once the struggle is over.”
“Sounds too goo to be true,” Jack Landan said looking around with a subtle smirk on his face. He was enjoying this quasi flirting. Flirting with possibly the most dangerous man on the known cube.
He’d noticed a few stiffs across the course of the night. Not Maleba’s men. Probably agency. Now there was one sitting directly opposite them in the corner. A subtle wire hanging from the back of his ear. Jack Landan stared him down until it was obvious he’d made him, then he lifted his glass to him.
When Maleba caught eye of the same suspicious figure siting in across the room he moved to his feet with gentlemanly briskness.
“I hope you’ll consider my offer with more seriousness now that we’ve had the chance to meet face to face Jack.”
“I will indeed Mr. Maleba.”
“Very well Jack, we’ll be in touch.”
Kayan Maleba made a quick exit. A second dark suited individual made out of the joint after him. Jack Landan ordered a last drink and went back to his paper and pen. The first agent still there in the corner, but there always was. Somewhere, he figured, his name must be shooting to the top of a black list of people.
He would never join them. Kayan Maleba fascinated him, but everything he stood for disgusted him. The Maleba movement was renown for its brutal and random use of extreme violence. There was no agenda in their acts. No higher calling. All Maleba wanted was war. A war to be fought on the streets, with the blood of the people. Change was possible and necessary but at what costs, and with what intentions?
He knew he would have to play it by ear. One step at a time, it would pay not to disappoint such people. If the worse came to the worse he would at least have something original to write about. His stories were just about starting to get a little stale.
Rudcock Nutter came to, suddenly awakening amidst a stormy sea like so many times before in his outspoken career as a dubious astro-analphysicist. His limp cock had somehow made its way halfway up some broad’s arse. The sweat pouring down the side of his head. The expensive scent of hotel sweat, and the colours of the strip lights beneath them in the distance. He could taste the stale air and flavour of tobacco that muffled the room. The semen stained carpet floors, unwilling witnesses to many a night of depravity and horror. How high could they possibly be?
As one thought after another crept into the hollow cavity which was his head, he began to wonder where the hell he was, and what he was doing pounding away at the back of some broad he had no recollection of ever having invited into the shabby looking room. Then again, as he stared at the nauseating mustard coloured carpet he noticed it wasn’t his own room but that it belonged to one of those fashionably disagreeable love hotels for perverts and degenerated soap suckers. He’d only ever heard about them, but now that he was in one of them something tingled under his skin.
As his senses slowly began to slither back, he felt the hard metal butt of a hand pistol in his right hand. A dull black, heavy weapon like he had not handled in years, decades. He stared at his own hand, perplexed, as it held the dark menacing tool up against the back of the poor girl’s head. She didn’t seem to mind it one bit. Their looks met ever so slightly in the oversized mirror on the wall to their right. He looked at the reflection of their bodies meeting. Skin against skin, pelvis against butt. And as her rear thumped back on his pubic bone he felt a sudden rush of OrAngE bud induced adrenaline shoot through every cell in his body. The colourful powder, the evil companion of many a party goer, lay across the writing table just a few feet away. Its presence oozed of a guilty feeling, which he sensed was bound to get him into the kind of trouble he knew he would regret. His head bent over backwards and he felt the blood fill the capillaries in his eyeballs.
One after another, uncontrollable attacks of misty pandemonium shot across his nervous system. Looking down towards her butt he noticed the guilty residues of OrAngE bud all over her back and the stained bed sheets. Still he held the gun firm to her head and pulled at her pony tail with his other, like a prop in some high stakes game of S&M. The girl let out a series of horrifying curses as she continued to pound back at him. Over and over again they clashed. He heard the high pitched music squealing in his head. His teeth biting down hard, he felt his jaw crunching. He was going on override. It was too much for his weak nervous system to handle, and somewhere between the back of his brain and his right index finger something twitched.
The sound of the round exploded like a wave across the dull lit room and all of a sudden he awoke, as if by magic.
Staring at his semi naked, blood splattered body in the mirror he let the gun drop. Looking down to his hands and penis he failed to recognise them as his own. The poor girl’s brains rested in peace, on the blood-drenched head rest of the king sized bed. It had once been pink. New tones of wine red had now been added to the décor.
It was the pounding thump of his heart beat that spurred him on. Like someone banging at the door of his brain, he struggled to wipe himself clean and find enough clothes to look presentable. One last look into the infinite mirror which extended for miles beyond his field of vision. He realised he would have to try to control the noticeable OrAngE bud twitch in his neck and right shoulder if he was to make it out of the lobby unnoticed.
The corridor was a merciless continuation of the same sickening pink and green theme he’d so admired in the room. The lift was even worse. It pushed all the wrong paranoia buttons a bud-head could ask for. The confined space, the dull brown colour and the annoying sound of the music playing in the background only helped to make the camera in the top left corner of the ceiling all that more menacing.
He still had one hell of erection, pushing and thumping out painfully as he tried to hide it in the bulge of his pants. The corner of his vision was still blurred by a subtle film of orange. As long as his eyes didn’t start bleeding, he figured he’d be alright. He would just have to make it through the foyer and get the fuck out of there.
The gentle jingle of a bell signaled he’d reached ground floor. The twitch grew steadily more and more uncontrollable as he stepped into the lobby. He heard his teeth screech as he bit into them with force to try to succumb to the electric burst of force that caused his neck and back muscles to spasm. He had only another forty feet to walk before he was out.
“Mr Senator. Mr Rogers sir,” he heard a friendly voice call out behind him. He was in no mood.
“Mr Rogers, sir,” still he ignored the voice, as he felt a mighty whip of a twitch build up in his neck. How long would it be before his arse gave in and he shat himself. Then a hand came crawling across his shoulder and he felt the dread of a newly baptised murderer as he turned to face the polite face of the concierge.
“There’s no need for a cab, Mr. Rogers, there s a limo waiting for you outside. Compliments of the house.”
He struggled to let out a meagre “Thank you,” as the concierge shook his sweaty hand.
“They’re taking care of the room as we speak. Nothing to worry about,” he added with a smile.
He squeezed his sphincter muscle with all his might in order to avoid filling his pants, before he retracted his hand from the handshake and rushed out into the frizzling heat of the day. A chubby valet held the doors of a silver limo open to him and smiled. As the door slammed behind him he couldn’t help noticing the remains of a few particles of OrAngE dust on the valet’s left nostril. He’d noticed it, there was no hiding it. He’d noticed everything. Everything.
There were 62 floors in the hotel, but 59 buttons in the lift. The concierges’s name was Princeton. There were 16 people in the lobby the moment he’d walked through. 4 women, eight men, two kids, a prostitute and a transgender wearing a blonde wig and a rabbit in a grey military suit. A vase with 13 green velvet tulips singing by the window. The gun he’d accidentally fired into the poor girl’s head was a beretta .45. The girl wore a double D and had size 6 feet. Her name was Jenny DaZuna. It was on the driving license she’d used to cut the OrAngE bud. They’d met the night before. At the roulette table. He was winning. Then the drinks started. Then he got talking to her by the bar. She was a student. She was dead. Splattered all over room 169.
“Where to Senator?” the limo driver asked, interrupting his visual memory recall.
“Just drive,” he answered, as he peered into the future, trying to predict every move. It was a chess game. Then as he felt into the breast pocket of his suit he pulled out a card. It hand’t been there when he’d left the room, he was certain of it. He held it up into the light. His left eye was slowly sinking into the OrAngE mist, but he just about made out the message. It was hand written.
“We can do that again any time. Thanks for the tip, Jenny.”
“Anywhere in particular sir?”
“Just drive already!” he burst out irritated at having to repeat himself.
“Sure thing dirty boy,” he heard the limo driver say as the shivers ran down his neck. The same words the girl had spoken moments before he’d blown her head to bits.
As he saw himself in the rear view mirror things started to pour back into his memory chamber. It wasn’t his body he was in, but he recognised the unmistakable smirk of Senator Rogers. The same individual they’d kidnapped a day earlier. What had they done to him? Turned him into a pawn and made their first move in the chess game against the almighty power of the state and its despicable individuals.
His heartbeat took a few steps back as he relaxed into the leather limo seat. Rubbing the sweat from across his forehead he remembered that afternoon, a day earlier in Kayan Maleba’s hideout. The day they made the swap. Connected his neuro-kinetic wave patterns up with the Senator’s. Such was Maleba’s latest employment of the powerful drug with which he planned to black mail the leading figures of the power house of cards they were fighting. The senator was just a test run.
The conscious takeover would last another couple of hours. The senator was still in there with him, but merely a bystander. He could feel him in the background, like some guilty pleasure itching deep within. An itch he knew he could not control for much longer.
“How you enjoying your freedom?” one of the guards called out to Jack Landan across the hall as the cell door slammed shut with the incredible might and force of a whole regime. They checked in on him from time to time to make sure he was suffering just enough to keep him on edge. The smell of the earth and the muck, the rusty piping and the drying blood oozed in every pore of his sweating body. The blood pumped hard and regular though the swollen parts of his face. That night he succumbed to the cold cement bed as he lay there in silence. The whispers of the wind blowing through the cracks in the walls. The same cracks that had been purposely put in place to give prisoners some unfathomable sense of hope.
“We’re fucked man, I’m telling you,” someone howled out over and over again from the cell across the hall. All pointed to the fact that it was going to be one long night. The coldest of nights. He lay there with his arms crossed behind his head, looking up to the pale grey ceiling. He could hear the cracking sound of someone biting and ripping away at their dirty nails. The sound of fear starting to seep through in his voice as the wind blew through his prison cell.
“What’s your name pal,” Jack Landan called out to the neighbouring cell.
“What difference does it make?”
“Just trying to kill time here. Relax. We’ll be out of here before sunrise. That’s the way they do things round here.”
“The hell it will,” he heard the voice from across the hall cry. All he could see in the darkness was a pair of hands holding onto the rusty bars. Outside, in the corridor just the dripping sound of some leaking tap and the occasional cough in the distance.
“You don’t understand.”
“Understand what?” he asked.
He struggled to finish his words. The other fellow never registered his question. Instead he held on tighter with all his might but the bars weren’t going to budge.
“This girl turned up. She put her hand on my crotch and took me up to some room. Then she whispered something into my ear. Next thing I know I’m waking up with my trousers round my ankles and my portable generator’s gone along with my butt-plug and as if it weren’t bad enough there’s another broad with her head blown to bits across the back of the bed rest and I’m holding this fucking gun and the hell knows what else.”
“They must have been on to me for some time. I’m sure of it. Fucking shit. Shit! Shit! Look here, hey man, I’m talking to you! Take a look at my neck and see if you can spot anything. I’ve got an itch. I’ll bet you whatever you like they’ve inserted me with a subcutaneous anus-ometer!”
He held his neck up to the bars of his cell so that he could see, but Jack Landan couldn’t see shit.
“Looks pretty good to me pal.”
“Take a closer look will’ya. There’s got to be something back there. I can feel it for Andromeda’s sake.”
“Looks just fine, that’s all I can say.”
“God damn sons of bitches must have found another place,” he said returning to his feet and looking into the distance, which incidentally wasn’t further than eight feet away into the mist of the greyness of his cell.
“Just take it easy alright pal. I guess the OrAngE mescala’s getting to you a tad. Take some deep breaths. Here, fancy a gum?” he said flicking one across the hall. “It’ll help the erection settle down.”
It landed within arm reach of his cell but he ignored it like a gorilla would a winning lottery ticket.
“There’s no time for this. They’re probably already on their way. They’ve used a forth generation sub-cutaneous tracking device. They’re already onto the others. It wouldn’t even leave a scar. I’ve been compromised for weeks, I just can’t figure out when or how the… I gotta get the hell outa here.”
“Ye, good luck with that pal. Now listen man. I’ve told you. You’re on the juice. Take a knee and chill the fuck out before one of those guards comes in and gives you a good old hiding.”
He showed no signs of calming down. Erratically the fellow started to search the spartan cell for something. He searched the corners, behind the bars, behind the toilet seat. Down the drain pipes and in his pockets. His pacing up and down picked up in speed and determination as he worked up a sweat and began to speak uncontrollably quick, lost on some ultrasonic train of thought that was dangerously close to derailing.
“Fuck it! I gota get out. Gota find a way. You gota help me man. I mean it!”
“Sorry pal. I’m out of here in the morning. There ain’t no six armed chick’s pussy that’s going to get me to do anything dumb before I’m out of here. Just take it easy already. I’m getting tired of telling you.”
“Fuck you kiddo. Ye, fuck you. You one of them? Fucker!”
“Serve yourself pal. Just keep it down,” Jack Landan said, “I wanna get some sleep before they throw me out to the streets in the morning. I don’t think I can take another battering.”
He’d had enough of the ranting. They’d taken his statement. Played their gestapo bullshit card and got nothing out of it. He’d committed no considerable crime in hanging out with peek figures from the underworld resistance’s army. He’d fed them the same old story, the truth. It was research for a book he was writing at the time. His life’s work. Before he lost his house and job and all that went with it. They had nothing on him. He’d only met the resistance as an underground “enthusiast” no more than a few times. And even so, it was a mist of a memory. An orange haze of debauchery which he would have struggled to recall had they forced him to. They were just playing mind games with him. He’d be out in the morning. He still had three thousand Kredits hidden away in the seam of his trousers. It was enough to see him off for a couple of days before he’d figure out what to do with the rest of his time in existence. The other guy could knock himself out for all he cared. There were obviously bigger issues at play behind those OrAngE glazed eyes of his.
“Will you just please pack it in already,” he cried out to him as he stood at the iron bars, biting down hard on them with a constant rhythm. It was too late. All contact had been lost. The fellow lashed for the wall and hit it hard. A huge thump reverberated in the darkness as he fell back onto the cold floor like a dead piece of hope.
“The hell you doing boyo?” Jack Landan called out across the hall to him.
“Just you watch and see Kiddo. You demented fuck. Just you watch.”
He pulled himself back up to his feet and made for the wall a second time with just as much force.
“You keep that up pal. You’ll make it out eventually,” Jack Landan commented sarcastically.
“Just you sit there and watch. It’s been done before. You’ll have something to write about once you’ve seen this.”
How does he know I write, Jack Landan heard himself think.
“Only a dumb wit writer like yourself could be as nonchalant about being locked up in a place like this. Plus, you’ve got the look. The OrAngE stuff hasn’t quite gotten to you yet Jack. Ain’t it so?!”
He spoke calmly as the bashing routine continued.
“How you know my name pal? We met before?”
“It’s a simple matter of physics.”
“Sure it is. Hey! I’m talking to you.”
“Atoms and forces and stuff.”
“Of course. Hey,” Jack Landan called out, “how the hell you know my name?”
“You wouldn’t understand anyway. Too much of a dum shit.”
“Enlighten me,” he said angrily, kicking at the bars of his cell.
“My name’s Rudcock Nutter. We’ve met. Not too long ago. You were out of your head. With Kayan Maleba’s crew. Writing your piece of post punk journalist shit or whatever the hell you were up to. Remember?”
Rudcock Nutter. The name reverberated in his head a few times before it struck one of a many few bells in there and he realised who he was dealing with.
“The Rudcock Nutter?”
“No not The. Just plain old Rudcock Nutter,” he answered poignantly.
Jack Landan could kind of remember having met the man before. That name. It belonged to a different age. The age of thought. Was it him? Quite possibly. Yes, of course. Now he remembered. One of a few surviving scientists from before the big meltdown. Physicist, turned resistance fighter turned most wanted criminal, topping the chart at number two after Kayan Maleba in the list of most wanted enemies of the state. Considered by many to be the resistance’s weapon of mass destruction. Most commonly known as the man who had solved the belly tickling issue of diarrhoea attacks whilst travelling through wormholes. A common affliction known to have sent even the hardest of space travellers to an early decomposition.
Another thump echoed throughout the cold prison block before he took a few seconds to recover his breath and began to explain his actions.
“So what happened?”
“They hung me out to dry, that’s what happened. For years that shit bag of Kayan Maleba’s been promising me this, that and start the other, look at me now!”
“Weapons? Hell no. What good would that do. They’d only go and build bigger ones. We’re talking serious messed up stuff here.”
He talked, never taking his eye off the wall for a second, knocking it and checking it here and there for something in between words.
“No, weapons wouldn’t solve anything.”
Rudcock Nutter looked around as if to check if anyone else was listening but there was no one around. Then he saw his face for the very first time. The heavenly look of someone who knew too much.
“Dualistic Time travel. Simple as. I cracked it years ago. Just never thought we’d find a good enough use for it to justify the expenses.”
“What do you mean by we? Who’s we?”
“We, us. I mean us as a species. Too many unsolvable, mind boggling variables that would, could, probably will cause a total prolapse of reality.”
“What you mean?”
“Hard to say. Bit of a total shit show to be honest. Here’s the thing. Travelling back in time is all good as long as you stay there. Doesn’t matter if you alter the course of things because that will be the course your time river-flow-reality will take. Stay in your new reality and you’re the master of your ship. The shit show starts when you want to come back to the present or your old reality. The almighty great eye in the sky, she doesn’t like that one little bit.”
“Ye she. She, Her, Elle. The creator of all things good, bad, hard and smelly, tickle your belly. Call her what you will. She doesn’t take too well to reversed time travel. Doesn’t fit in with her neat scheme of chaos theory, which incidentally is a load of bumble bee tit.”
“What? She tell you or something?”
“She did as a matter of fact,” Rudcock Nutter replied smiling in the darkness.
“So what does that make you then?”
“What was the deal with Maleba and the resistance?”
“My wife. She passed away in the explosion.”
“The meltdown. Call it what you will. Maleba had the cash and manpower as well as copious amounts of pure Latobia. All I needed.”
“So you’re building it?”
“You fucking with me? A second ago you said there was nothing out there to justify building one.”
“There isn’t! Well, not for humanity as such. It would only serve to mess things up for everyone. Especially in the hands of Maleba and his bunch of crackpots. As for me, I’ve built myself a one way ticket back to the my dear Elen-Marie.”
“What with Maleba?”
“Hah, Maleba. Ye, he won’t take it too well. Matter of fact, I think he hasn’t taken to it too well at all. I’ve been keeping him in the dark to say the least. Guess he ran out of patience in the end. Kind of explains how he sold me out this way.”
“So what you gona do?”
Rudcock Nutter proceeded to examine the wall again as if looking for a soft spot.
“There was this professor. Austrian I think he was. From Brussels. I think that used to be in Europe. Anyways, the capital of Paris or something. His name was Flamacks. Professor Flamacks. Stank like a drunk beaver. I attended one of his lectures years ago. Fascinating stuff. The guy had all sorts of fancy theories. He confessed to me over a glass of the red stuff one night, that he’d escaped an interrogation cell during his time as a resistance fighter under the nazi occupation.”
“Anyways. You gota see it to believe it. He proved it to me on the night. Fascinating stuff. Keep bashing to masses together until the atoms in them get too tired to care any longer, a little confused and before you or they know it, you’re passing through each other like ghosts.”
“Is that your plan?” Jack Landan asked, laying back down in bed to admire the fascinatingly dumb ceiling.
One. Every eight to ten seconds. Deep, low, piercingly monstrous thumps, like a drunken rhino, bashing into a tree. It nearly put him into a deep sleep. Every so often he’d turn to take a look towards the professor’s cage to see how he was doing. There he was, constantly wiping the sweat from his rugged forehead with his green handkerchief after every other thump into the solid wall.
“How you getting on pal?”
“Fuck you Landan,” was all he got out of the man. “How do I know you’re not one of them. That they haven’t turned you too?”
“What you on about old sport? If I was one of them, wouldn’t I try to stop you?”
“Perhaps. In the end it doesn’t matter. Where I’m going no one will be able to follow.”
“What you mean? What you mean by no one would be able to follow you?”
“The lady in the sky. She’s taken care of it all. When you cross into the past you kind of branch off the main river of time. Once that new reality is created, there’s no way for anything or anyone to reach that new point in time. It’s just the way it works.”
Jack Landan’s hopes of getting any sleep that night were laid to rest, as the Nutter continued to pursue his mad hope of making it out of the prison block in one piece. For the next few hours he went on bashing, interminably and insistently, until suddenly a somber silence fell throughout the hall.
“Rudcock? Yo, Rudcock!” Jack Landan called out in a pronounced whisper.
“Hey boyo, that’s gona hurt in the morning,” he said jokingly as he pulled himself up to his feet. Gazing into the twilight of darkness that surrounded him, he felt the holy shit-giggles go firing down his bowels quicker that a sand pellet through a wormhole. There was no sign of Rudcock Nutter or anything resembling a crazy scientist in the cell across from his.
Hanging his face in between the bars he pushed as far as he could, peaking into the darkest corner of the other cell. He squinted like a time traveling space wizard looking for something, a hole in the wall or something. There was nothing. No opening or cavity through which he might have made his escape. He had to punch, feel and pinch himself a few times. Kicking rather forcefully at the bars just to make sure he hadn’t been hallucinating, but he was gone. World famous, resistance fighter, wormhole diarrhoea syndrome solving physicist Rudcock Nutter had managed to disappear through a foot of thick cemented wall. Sure as the knuckles on his hands, the tray of cold soup and mouldy maggots still lay on the floor of his cell untouched, proof that there had actually been someone there only a few seconds earlier. He’d certainly had his fair share of bad trips, but what followed nearly sent his beating heart blasting out of the back end of his trembling netherlands.
“Laaan daaan,” he heard an echo of a failing voice call out to him from the distant universe of the cold cell holding block.
“Laaan daaan, can you hear me? I’m here.”
“Professor?” Jack Landan whispered back. “What the hell just happened? Where d’you go? Did you make it through? Surely not!”
“Landan, can you hear me? I’m in here. I’m stuck in the wall. Something must have gone wrong. I’m stuck. I never made it through to the other side,” he spoke with casual calmness.
“What do you mean you’re stuck in the wall. What in the hell of gastric implosions are you talking about? Where d’you go?”
“Landan can you hear me?” The professor obviously couldn’t.
“Landan, you jerk of a humanoid shit bag. If you can hear me knock three times.”
Unfazed by the fact that a ghost was trying to make contact with him he gently hit the cell iron bars with the steel cap of his boot. Three times.
“Good,” he heard a voice speak from a ridiculously distant vicinity.
“Something obviously didn’t work out. It was a risk I was willing to take. When you too will be in love I trust you shall understand. Now listen you shit bag for I do not know how long I will possibly continue to exist under these conditions.”
“I like you kid, I always did deep down. We’ve kept eyes on you ever since your place disappeared. Maleba was quite keen on you in the beginning. Then he realised you were your own man, and that you were never gona go along with his crap. He wanted you dead the second time you came around. Never bought into your book writing bullshit. He figured you were selling him out to the men in black.”
“Say, you still there Landan? Knock three times if you are.”
He did so. Quietly.
“There comes a time in every being’s existence, when the greatness and oneness of everything ceases to make sense and fuses into one wonderfully bewildering mess. If that’s confusing, it is because it is exactly that. It is your time to take this thing into your own hands and shine. You’ll have something to write about once this is all over. Trust me.”
“Now, Kayan Maleba’s a fuck fest. A terrorist. I never liked him. He carries too much anger with him to do any good. Cares to little for the gift of life. All he wants, is to travel back and forth in the fabric of time and space with no concern for the destruction that such acts will entail. That, I, we, cannot allow. Now here’s the thing. Listen carefully!”
The next three hours were a feverish experience of mystic proportions as Rudcock Nutter spoke to him from within the atoms of the wall. Pouring out his heart to Jack Landan, and more importantly revealing to him the location of his dualistic time traveling machine and the know-hows of how to operate it. Step by step, he revealed to him his plan. The plan he had drawn out for himself from the very first day. The day Kayan Maleba had ordered him to build a time travelling machine.
His, their mission, was to destroy the thing. His gift to Jack Landan for doing so, a once in a life time, one-way ticket to whenever he wanted. The contraption would then be programmed to self destruct, saving the fate of so many innocent citizens in the process.
The last words the crazy wall-imprisoned scientist spoke before the guards came with their heavy boots to drag him to an interrogation room would stick with Jack Landan forever. Like a galactic echo, forever reminding him of the importance of his very own existence.
“Don’t fuck this up Jack Landan! I mean it!
They dragged him and his aching body out of the cell, kicking and screaming by the sideburns and armpits hanging from his frail figure. Beating him in the sides and piercing his nipples with electricity. Torturing him with the high pitched sounds of an opera soprano as she sang, as they squealed and contorted their perverted, disease infested bodies around him. Demanding, ordering him to tell them where Rudcock Nutter had gone. All he could do was laugh and hope to make it through to another day as they drew first blood.
“Your new friend seems to have disappeared in thin air,” he heard a deep menacing voice claim from behind the safety of a bright light.
“You’re right,” he replied calmly, “he was there one moment and next thing I knew…”
The next thing he knew he was being walloped across the face with what felt like the back of a bus. There was little place for humour within the four set walls of that one almighty institution.
“Do you know what you are being held for Mr. Landan?”
The boy within him still struggled to comprehend their lack of willingness to be entertained.
“Well I sure as hell hope it ain’t because of my novel, ‘cos I haven’t even finished it yet.”
Another whiplash of a bench came thrashing down on the back of his head.
“Your maternal grandfather, a certain Gazillion Zorga of Pazanna. Ex freedom fighter, accused but never tried in seven galactic provinces for piracy, intergalactic terrorism and smuggling. Hell of a CV for one fellow. What have you got to say about that?”
He took a moment to collect the spit and blood in the side of his mouth before spitting it onto the closest foot he could make out. The next few words he spoke would cost him a finger.
“Mr. Landan,” he heard when he eventually regained consciousness and realised his testicles had been linked to the city’s power grid.
“I hope you will appreciate the seriousness of the circumstances and the measures that this state is willing to use in order to protect the peace and calm of a system which has served and continues to serve so many.”
Then he saw the eagle headed figure. The yellow beak, the strong physical presence. Clothed in that marine-blue suit. The skull and bones insignia hanging off its golden necklace. He noticed its erect penis protruding against its trousers. Its black leather boots squeaking on the linoleum floor as it paced around the small room.
There was not enough energy left in that poor body of his to do anything more than look the thing in the eyes and listen to its dogmatic crap whilst trying not to swallow too much of it.
“Your known affiliation to a certain Kayan Maleba, suspected head of the resistance army would be enough for us to fill that shit sack of your body full of dung and blast you out into the darkness of space. Of course we’re not going to do that. Thing is Mr. Landan, we know you’re a good man. We’ve been keeping an eye on you. And we trust that you too, would want to see a known terrorist brought to justice. That is why we’re offering you a way out of this. What d’you say?”
Amongst all the pain he wondered why they hadn’t picked Maleba up when they’d had the chance. The agent sitting nervously in the corner. Then again, it struck Jack Landan all of a sudden. They had no idea what, who, when or why Kayan Maleba was, went, did or meant. To them, it might as well have been a coded word for an underground ballet society. A man, a movement, a name. They didn’t have the remotest clue. That would explain their sudden interest in him, but why him. His conversation with Professor Nutter. Surely, they must have listened in to every word. They must have been on to him for some time. He knew he’d been followed on a few occasions, but that it would lead to this…
There were a few many of them, lurking around in circles. Urban vultures. Overgrown beasts of prey, the few living creatures to have survived the depraving expansion of humanity. They hunted for the left overs of Saturday night, forgotten kebabs, that’s what they used to call them back in the day. The mist floated on the water, like a puffy cloud come to rest for a while, before having to return to its duty somewhere else, high up in the sky above the city and them all. The sun was a distant mirage. A sign of hope in the grey infested place.
The blazing wind blew into his collar as he tried pointlessly to protect himself from the cold. Families with young kids were out feeding the dam seagulls.
He sat there watching the horrible sight, his stomach growling within him. Among the cries of laughter and joy one could, if eager and attentive enough, distinguish the low desperate tone of the damned as they froze slowly in the weather. Black fingers and toes turning to stone as the crowds rushed past. A lonesome gypsy kid played away at his trumpet by the fountain. A couple of miserable coins lay in a cap on the floor in front of him. His knuckles glowing blue in the cold morning air. Only the sculptures of heroes past seemed to pay him any attention as his monotonic tune played in loops. A silent audience. Perhaps the best kind.
Jack Landan’s body wasn’t doing much better. They’d released him in the early hours of the morning after a few more beatings and assured him they hadn’t even scratched the surface yet. He was going to bring them Maleba’s head whether he liked it or not.
The muscles in his jaw contracted uncontrollably as he reached into his trouser pocket hoping to find something. They’d ripped his trousers to shreds and with it the money he had hidden in them. All he had now was the pittance he had put together since being released. Ecstatically he made contact with a few cold metal objects. He pulled out a few coppers and began to count them, slowly. Very slowly.
The severe headache which had started to settle in only added to the sense of pity he was feeling for his sorry self. All he needed, all that lay between him and freedom were 127 Kredits. How repugnant, he thought, that it should all eventually boil down to that miserable figure. 127 Kredits. How many times had he been in possession of the same amount and blown it all on some cheap high?
As he reached down to the lady, who’s shoes had been stolen, by a cross dresser in a yellow mini skirt and displaying visible signs of fever, he was met by the screeching sound of nails on a blackboard. His vocal chords struggled to fight the slow paralysing effect he was undergoing. As if damned by some higher power, to bear witness to all that was happening, unable to do anything about it. And just as she had appeared, so did she begin to rot away. She turned all shades of blue, before black, before then starting to scale like an eroding cliff, until there was nothing left of her existence but the ashes that soon vanished in the wind.
The cold tears collected under Jack Landan’s eyes as he was forced by his frozen chains to witness yet more outrageous acts of folly. Surely, he thought to himself, someone must remember how it was back in the days when the world was round and there was wealth and hope for all. Before they’d turned the world into a seven sided cube in order to control the spread of warmth and make life easier for the accountants. It was easier that way, they’d said and explained in all manner of incomprehensible yet very convincing ways. No more countries, no nations. Just seven sides equal sides. That was never true of course. They said the sun was relatively abundant up there, just like the wealth. That’s why so many fled there. Desperate to find a place in one of the many Notobian mines, in the hope of partaking, in however small a share, of the fortune which had blessed that warmth forsaken place. No one told them though that wealth was for the few, and that for all the sunlight in the Universe it was no use that far up North, where the cold winter reigned apart from a few warm days a year. The harsh cold would welcome them and pester them. And when their dreams had eventually been crushed they’d be cast to the streets of the underworld inevitably forced to scratch out an existence from the breadcrumbs and undigested peanuts left lying around in unsavoury lumps of shit.
A young looking kid, no older than fifteen. Bare footed and rather green in complexion made his way, stumbling across the fountain square before him. The life had all but been sucked out of him, but for a little fire which still burned within him. The fire of life, the hardest of all fires to put out. Were it not for the awful smell which his untreated body gave out, he would have gone unnoticed by the blessed ones which avoided him like some inconvenient puddle of mud. He dragged his right foot behind him, miserably letting out grunts of pain, starvation and despair. One hand held to his aching belly and the other to passers by. He called out at anyone who was willing to listen, but nothing. For lack of a better word, he was alone. The sombre happening unfolded before Jack Landan at a menacingly slow rate, as if someone had hit the slow-motion button. The knife came out of nowhere as the kid pulled down, begging for mercy at the arm of middle-aged man with a finely trimmed ginger beard and a slim-tight dark black suit and that silver skull and bones insignia on his collar, an agent of the state.
The cold blade made contact with the kid’s stomach, piercing his skin and abdominals with ease. There was however, very little reaction on the part of the victim who only proceeded to stand still, not quite grasping what was happening to the fabric of his precious little reality. Again the agent jacked at his victim’s stomach, inflicting a number of deep wounds. They exchanged glances, for a brief breath before the vicious attacker pulled the kid up close to him and whispered something into his ear. The child went tumbling over and backwards, lying there staring at his cold aggressor with the dread of someone that has met his maker. Jack Landan watched incredulous as the poor kid’s skin changed colour, from a sickening pale green, to purple then black before his skin started to peal. He withered from within, with flabbergasting speed, as the agent stood there watching, judging, probably enjoying. The look of despair on the kid’s face turned to one of sadness and defeat.
As if having attended some kind of show, the agent then reached into his pocket, picked out a large bundle of notes and flung them at the remains of the poor child. And he too, just as he had come, left. Back on his way to wherever he was due.
When he eventually came unstuck Jack Landan took the money. He noticed the stiff dark grey suits following him from a safe distance, behind them in the mist were also some of Maleba’s gang. He didn’t have the luxury of contemplating the lunacy of his situation. He had to think fast and straight. Something he hadn’t been allowed to do for a while. Where he was going they would not be able to follow according to Rudcock Nutter’s hasty explanations.
He took a left from the city hall square, by the old university building, now a deranged circus of multi-limbed slaves, that were sold to the highest of perverted bidders. He continued along the same street, by the building that had once hosted the national gallery, then past a second-hand shop who’s ageless products he had never really taken the time to inspect.
The dark suits still in close pursuit, he pushed at the old glass door to the shop. A bell rang a few inches above his head. An instant time machine into a world he had seen before and some part of him still remembered. The smell of dust, like the old instant coffee his great Grandfather always insisted on making. The whistling sound of a kettle on a stove. The squeaking sound of a door from a time bygone.
“Good afternoon. You looking for anything in particular?” he heard a gentle voice calling from beyond some bookshelves and more clutter than he had seen in a long time. Still unable to come to terms with the treasure he had walked into he struggled to answer and so made slowly towards the source of the voice.
All manner of wonderful objects. A lightbulb, a record player. Books and paintings, pens and pencils and rubbers. Paper and flower pots. Binoculars and phones. Spectacles and batteries and it. Packed under a cluster of old newspapers paper and dust. Snoozing silently, as if awaiting for his arrival.
“1972 Olympia travel typewriter. One of the number keys has a bit of glitch on it but the rest works just fine,” spoke an old figure of a man with curly white hair and round glasses hanging for their life on the edge of his little red nose.
“I think I’ve still got some ink roles round here somewhere.”
As the voice disappeared under the desk before him, Jack Landan stood there in full admiration of the little gem of a shop, wondering how many times he had walked past the place, never having noticed it for what it was.
“Ahh, here it is,” spoke the elderly man, appearing from within a mild cloud of dust.
“She’s got your name all over it. It’d be awful rude of you not to take her.”
“Here, I’ll throw in the ink roles for free and a toast. A glass of wine. To new friendships and new adventures. What do you say?”
“How much you asking for it?” he managed to mumble.
“Oh well, I hadn’t really thought about a price. What would you be willing to offer?”
“Tell me good man, you wouldn’t happen to have one of those old style back exits would you now?” Jack Landan asked forcing the conversation to more pressing matters.
“Sure do,” he answered with a smile all of his own. “How about a glass of wine before you leave though? I would hate to see you go without a proper toast. Your Grandfather wouldn’t have had it any other way you know.”
“You knew my grandfather?” Jack Landan asked incredulously as the shopkeeper reached for a bottle.
“2021 Malbec should do? Over 80 years old. What do you think? Gazillion sure liked a good Malbec.”
“How you get to know my grandfather,” he inquired again.
“Your Grandfather Gazillion had many friends. However, the question you should be asking now is how do I know you’re being followed by two Potzato agents and a couple of Maleba’s scumbags?” he said as he reached for a bottle opener and began to screw it carefully into the old cork.
“Your grandfather and I go back a long time. He took care of me as a youngster. First trip over from Pazanna. Your old man was captain. Took me under his wings. Showed me the ropes. And when the authorities saw it fit to have us off with our heads he got me out of there like a bat out of hell. Saved my skin.”
“You from Pazanna?”
“Got the third eye to prove it and all. I just can’t remember where I’ve put it,” the old man said bursting into a cough clustered laugh that forced him to seek the refuge and support of a stool.
“Not long before it all went cone shaped. He asked me to keep an eye on you. On you all. And I have.”
“What do you mean all of us?”
“I mean all of you. All three of you.”
“You mean, my sisters…They’re still…”
“Yes,” he said with a proud grin. They’re doing just fine. And they love you. But we never get to choose the destinies that are laid before us. That, you should have figured out by now. Now drink up. You’ve got a boat to catch.”
Their raised glasses touched slightly and they kept eye contact as they sipped softly at the beautifully rich, red wine. Looking back towards the shop window Jack Landan could see the oncoming scene of trouble approaching from outside.
“You’ll need her where you’re going” the old man said nodding at the dusty typewriter. “I think I’ve got some paper round here somewhere. Oh and one of those old shoulder strap bags to go with it.”
“But…my grandfather, I still don’t understand how you could possibly …”
“He knew a lot of people,” the shopkeeper replied smiling.
“Here, you better be on your way my boy,” he said as he showed him into the back of the shop and down a trap door behind a kitchen sink.
“Oh and, you’ll enjoy it.”
“Enjoy what?” he asked as he was handed the Olympia down the hatch.
“The past. I think you’ll fit right in there. Oh and I nearly forgot…” he said handing him an envelope.
“Don’t worry about it now. You’ll figure it out. Now get the hell out’a here before it’s too late.”
The shopkeeper winked at him, threw him a torch light and slid the hatch down over his head. Only the time to light the damn thing and put in a few steps before hearing the deafening roar of a double shot fired in the shop above him.
A green jacket moved across the space before him and landed on the brown carpet in the far corner of the room. Reaching over for it, he wondered whether it tasted of grass. The last thing he could remember was running through the rabbit hole with his newly purchased typewriter. It was still there with him, lying in the corner across the room. The envelope too, was still in the inside pocket of his coat.
He recognised his surrounds, having been there not too long before, only this time he could not vouch for how he had gotten, or rather, been forced there.
Maleba’s shaky hand rummaged around in one of his pockets until he pulled out a wrapped up role of 1000 Kredit bills. They gathered round him in a crazed like, quasi holy manner. No one seemed to notice the six legged rodent galloping across the living room. No one would have noticed an elephant herding in the background. Funnily enough, an elephant stormed into the room. It was only Jack Landan who appeared the least bit concerned, pulling his legs up to his chest onto the sofa and dropping the glass of velvet drink as the pachydermous lunged across the room sending the chandelier into a tumultuous spin. The dust rose from the uneven floor as all around him the world shook as the beast turned to face him.
“Calm the fuck down over there,” some angry voice called out. The elephant took an interminably long look at him. They exchanged a brief moment of understanding. A mutual recognition of each other’s presence and their unique place in the Universe. Then, as easily as it had come into the room, it left. Nothing he couldn’t keep under control.
The big man himself, Kayan Maleba unwrapped the Kredit bills and chucked them into the blender. One of his accomplices was still trying to figure the switch to the thing. It was all a bit too old-style for them. A third skinny individual with leprosy-like lumps all over his face, rummaged around in the room next door before turning up with a bottle of something which looked disturbingly like rat poison. It was obviously used for other purposes round that way. Rats still existed and bred. In spite all the damage caused by humanity rats were doing just fine. It was some survival instinct they had.
They handled the stuff with the paranoid focus of drug addicts handling explosives. Hands shaking. Holding the bottle above the blender and pouring the mesh carefully into the plastic container.
“Get fucking going, already,” Maleba cursed. The tick in his jaw had moved up to his neck and eye which had started to flicker back and forth uncontrollably. The sound of the damn thing spinning and the colour and wave-like movement of the Kredit bills being torn and swished around in the rat poison were starting to drive him round the bend. The noise from the antiquated kitchen appliance continued to grow higher and higher in their skulls. For a second Jack Landan thought he could feel the sound waves hitting the inside of his skull as they moved on through him.
“Perfect,” Maleba declared, after dipping a finger into the mesh and taking a long suck at his finger.
A chap with a lump-infested face rough-handled the shaker jar and emptied its content into a silver bowl lying on the low, black table in the middle of the room. The nonchalance with which he treated the concoction was admirable now that they had overcome the initial mixing procedure. They would soon be injecting it into their worn-out veins. And perhaps just maybe, they might make it out the other side in one piece. All that was left, was for one of them to add one more all important ingredient to the meshy mix. The powdery orange coloured substance. A distant relative of its purest form which the resistance proudly recognised as its greatest money making product. Not only did its control and distribution grant them the means to pursue their seemingly aimless war, but it simultaneously allowed them to do so whilst holding some of the most powerful figures in politics to ransom. The senator’s nasty habit being only the latest example of how they had turned the power of the OrAngE stuff to their advantage. Blackmail will forever be a crook’s best tool, some murdered senator had once said.
“Thats it pal. Spray it on it nice and thick. Get it up yaaa,” someone yelled.
The wave of madness soon began to take shape as they all appeared to go visibly doolally. Screaming and screeching like orangoutangs at a strip show. They still hadn’t touched the stuff. Looking down at the small silver container Jack Landan spotted a couple of numbers from the residues of the Kredit bills which were now destined to be injected into his bloodstream. The potion was served. The big man got first servings of the mesh. No other would have dared touch the stuff before he had. The ugliest of the lot eventually got a nod from the man himself and walked over to the table to where Jack sat, sinking into the stained sofa behind him. He felt his left sleeve being pulled up past his elbow and a rubber band being wrapped tight around his arm.
“This’ll ruffle your tight ass feathers.” Boy was he in deep. He knew Maleba knew the feds knew. Chances were they’d all known all along. There was no two ways of phrasing the simple fact that he was pretty much fucked.
“I’m from Pazanna,” Jack Landan managed to declare ever so slightly, seconds before the mist took over, “we piss worse stuff for breakfast.” It was a confused expression that descended upon his face but it conveyed his confidence just enough for them all to relax.
“It’s interesting you should mention it,” Maleba talked with a calm, confident voice as he relaxed back into his chair. “A man can learn a lot about himself during his fall from grace. Take me for example. For years, decades, I was forced to slave in the quasi perfect world they’ve depicted for us in Notobia. Then one day, just like that, they took it from me and threw me to the beasts. Come to think of it, I guess I should thank them,” he said giggling to himself.
Jack Landan tried to follow Maleba’s words as best he could, he knew it would be a struggle the moment they’d inject him with the stuff.
“Gazillion Zorga,” Maleba cried out as he rose to his feet. “The name’s quite a legend in some circles of the underworld, did you know Landan?”
Jack Landan kept his eyes fixed on Maleba’s.
“Course you did. Turns out your old grandpa took my old man under his wings and showed him the stars, made him a man. Never met the man myself but sure sounds like one hell of a partnership. Shame though, I thought you’d show more concern for the cause, being it in your blood and all. Goes to show, you never can know who to trust.”
The blunt needle pierced his skin like a knife through a door. Hard work. He held the purple velvet up to his mouth with his other hand and hoped he’d live to see the sun again. He toasted to himself and threw the glass smashing across the room. The wind blew in from the window. The new kitten was making itself at home. It stared at him, curiously. He felt the injection reach into his inner core as the pest-infested looking skunk pressed the mesh into his veins. His heart skipped a couple of beats and did a double backside summer salt then went into a steady gallop before taking off for what would be an 8 hour odyssey of madness of which he could not be accountable for. His jaws arched open and back, nearly dislocating themselves from the rest of his face as his tongue reached out a whole foot in front of his face. He felt like he would have to reign it back in with his hands.
The giggles moved around the room like some contagious disease. And so it began. He was in deep. Seriously deep. Sat only feet away from the most wanted terrorist in the known worlds. He could reach over and strangle him. Embrace him and push them both out of window. 63 floors would surely take care of them both. It would solve a few problems.
He shook his head uncontrollably between his knees, not sure of the effect he was trying to induce or achieve. Kayan Maleba, enemy of the States number One, was smiling at him. Many would read that as a discouraging sign. All Jack Landan could do was smile back given the circumstances. Then he heard the words that sent the shivers running down his jagged spine.
“Bring in the girls.”
He remembered them differently. As the OrAngE mist descended upon him. He squinted his eyes and bit down on his tongue with incredible force whilst his two long, lost sisters, aged and withered by the struggle of life and time, stood there before him, frozen by the invisible force of fear. Their eyes bulging painfully from within their beaten up faces. He felt the sudden urge to lash at Maleba and rip the tongue straight of his mouth and feed it to his arse, but the force of a thousand tons pushed down hard onto his shoulders and he felt himself sink back into the sofa.
“Wasn’t easy getting hold of these two. But when we heard you’d had the honour of meeting the mad scientist, what’s his name, Rudcock, well then we put all our efforts into this little endeavour of ours. And you’d be impressed what one can achieve when one’s really burning for it.”
He heard words floating in the mist but his brain struggled to extract any useful meaning from them. They were just sounds. Like the sounds the two estranged women made from behind the tape that sealed their lips before a fist of fury silenced them both.
“Here’s the thing,” Maleba explained with tyrannical condescendence, “it’s no secret you had somewhat of a chat with the crazy scientist before he took off and left.”
Still he struggled to comprehend anything that was being said to him as he gazed through the looking glass that surrounded him.
“Don’t worry boyo, you’ll soon talk. That stuff in your veins does miracles. It’s kind of put good old torture out of business.”
Jack Landan felt the chilling pain as a knife entered the top of his thigh. And still he sat there, the chills down his arms, incredulous as the blood slowly dripped from his navy blue trousers. Then a slap across the back of his head. It looked like they were close to getting his attention.
“So, in your own time, what did you and the nutcrack talk about before he got up and left?”
“Tai, thai, ta-time. Time machine,” Jack Landan managed to complete under the powering will of the drug that had now taken over his every thought process.
“Excellent. Time machine. We like that. What else?”
“Time machine. It’s, it’s. The, it’s…on the. It’s,” his head buckled back and forth before another slap stabilised him again.
“The time machine, where is it? Where did that crazy son of a bitch hide the thing?”
“Gim, gimf, gimfe… Across the bay. Gimfrey’s. Acro, acro, acrosss the, the, the ba, the bay. The time machine, he put it, he’s ahh, in the wall. In the wall. He’s still in the wall.”
Talk of the wall was lost on the rest of them all.
“As easy as that,” Maleba spoke with satisfaction as he motioned to one of his men to hand him something. Then it happened like a flash. The blaze and the racketing sound of two shots being fired mercilessly into the side of each of the girls’s heads. The blood splattering onto one of the men as their bodies yielded to the force of gravity for the very last time. There he sat. Only his eyebrows reacting to the violent and sudden end his sisters had met without even being able to exchange a proper glance.
“Think of this as my insurance policy,” Maleba explained. “After all we’re dealing in time here, are we not?”
Something deep within Jack Landan thanked whatever powers to be that he was heavily sedated and truly unable to feel the sheer pain among the induced numbness. And yet, out of the void came a lonely tear. Like a spark from a dormant fire.
“I wouldn’t worry about them my young friend. All you have to do now is get me that time machine. You do that and not only will I not rip the skin from off your head but I’ll make sure get those two lovely sisters of yours back. Then you can all go back to living happy families again, what ya think?”
He handed the ticket inspector the money and boarded the ship, making his way to the main deck, where he waited for it to set sail. He was numb in the gut. Still coming to terms with the brutal reality destiny had painted him. Some ten minutes later the horns blew and they were on their way to the open sea. They left the mist of the foggy harbour behind and steered off towards the unknown sector. Where few ventured and where so many had come from. The unofficial recruitment field of many a million Lactobian mine workers. To where the crazy professor had hidden his life’s work.
Forty disheartening minutes separated the miseries of more than thirty million people from the hopes and aspirations of a better existence. That’s all it took, and before he knew it they were setting foot onto the sandy beaches of the lower southern territories. The OrAngE had started to wear off and he felt the misery take over as he caught a glimpse of the masses trying to go in the opposite direction. Packed like old rubber tyres before the gates which gave into the departure area. Enforcement officers poking at the poor people with electric rods sending the weaker ones into uncontrollable frenzies of muscular spams.
The fact that Maleba had decided to make the trip across the bay proved how important an issue this was. Like the most evil of demons, Kayan Maleba had the nonchalant ability to walk the streets in clear daylight without anyone recognising him. Enemy number One of the state was indeed faceless. A ghost. An invisible cancer. An uncomfortable freedom fighter. More a symbol than a man. To Jack Landan however he was more man than anything else. And men could bleed alright.
It disgusted him to think he’d admired the guy for a short while. The cold blooded murder of his sisters had done little to prolong that feeling. It had been replaced by a deep desire to annihilate the vicious individual and all he stood for. No one, who had such little appreciation for the gift of life, he reasoned, should have the privilege of being referred to as a freedom fighter. Murderer, that was all he could think. That one word thumped away in the rattled cage of his mind. Pounding away at his forehead.
It was then, as he stood on deck, looking over the acidy flat surface of the bay that a quiet feeling of calmness and wholeness descended upon him and he was free. When he felt into his shirt pocket and felt the envelope the old shopkeeper had handed him. Free from the menacing feeling of fear that had accompanied him over the years. Now that he had nothing left to lose the big picture seemed to come into focus and he could only smile. The road that had until then seemed all so twisted and filled with unknown hazards seized to be. Instead, he felt before him just the light of existence. And later, when he would try to put those feelings on paper he too would look back and wonder what the hell it was that he was talking about.
He would show Maleba to the machine. It wouldn’t cost him anything. He could have so much for free. A peek. That is all he would get though. If he’d learned one thing from his conversation with the unusual scientist‚ it was that his sisters were as good as dead. It didn’t work like that. He wouldn’t have been able to explain it any better himself, but the professor had been clear enough. Time travel was a one way game. Kayan Maleba still couldn’t accept the fact. That’s why he was so eager to see his latest plan into action.
His point in time and space had somehow been decided for him. He’d experienced enough odd episodes to know better than to question that latest one. As he ripped open the envelope he noticed the antique odour emanating from a dull yellow coloured piece of paper, which upon further inspection turned out to be a ticket.
There it was. The decision had been made for him. He would travel back to the year 2001, to Munchen, Germany, Europe. Somehow he would make his way across town and up to the Munchen arena and at 8pm local time he’d be there. Rocking and raving. For the concert of the millennium. He would witness a moment in time like few others. And perhaps someday he would write about it. Man, maybe he’d even meet a beautiful girl and marry her. They’d argue and fight. But their love would grow strong. And at times he would wish he could be with other women, but every time he would fall for her even more and they’d make love and then argue some more. And they’d eventually have kids and he’d write and people would pay to read the stuff he wrote. And it would be good. They’d build a house. And one day, when he too would have grandchildren, he would tell them about his own Grandfather and the stories he’d been told. And they’d probably think he was lying about the part with the time machine. But it wouldn’t matter because the best part of his story would be how on the on warm summer’s night, he’d been to see ACDC play live. And he’d gotten drunk on litres of beer. And he’d heard the great song. The one his Grandfather Gazillion Zorga had sung to him. And the life had boiled in his veins as they played their electric guitars, and he’d cried. And he had met the love of his life that day. Their grandmother. What a story. It was his story. His name was Jack Landan. He’d lived in a house with no windows. He’d travelled back in time and lived to write about it.
The place stank like he had imagined it should. Like the places his Grandfather had told him about. The fights and black eyes and knife stabbings. It looked like a few places he’d written about in some of his short stories. The ones no one had ever read. The creaking floorboards where shoes would stick to the floor. A big tattooed barman with a black leather jacket and a pump shotgun tucked away behind the bar. There was sound of rock’n’roll playing illegally in the background. He noticed Kayan Maleba looking a little tense. Jack Landan felt right at home.
“Let’s get the thing and get the hell out of here.”
He didn’t have a clue. He didn’t know how big or small the thing was. It plagued Maleba to be at the mercy of such a useless being as Jack Landan.
“You do realise you’re not exactly going to be able to walk out of this place with it, do you…” Jack explained as he looked about the place.
“The hell you talking about?” Maleba said as he held a dark shotgun up to Jack Landan’s ribs.
“Just don’t you be getting too fancy with me boyo. Now lets get this over and done with.”
They walked cautiously across the creaking floor boards. The locals pausing whatever they were doing to take a good look at their next victims. One of Maleba’s dumwitts ordered four whiskeys. They stood with their backs to the bar looking out over a sea of deranged individuals. It was no social club, to put it lovingly. The smell of herb and bad doing was all over. The blood stains in the corner where more than one had met their end over a simple misunderstanding were testimony to that.
They hit back the cheap polluted whiskey. He slammed his glass back on the bar and wiped his mouth with the side of his sleeve. Then he made for the piano across the room.
“What the hell you think you’re doing boyo?” Maleba enquired irritated.
“You want this?”
“Then let me get the fuck on with it,” Jack Landan answered. Maleba backed off. It was in the piano. Part of it anyway. He placed his typewriter on the floor next to his foot. Then he opened the lid to the piano keys and coughed as the dust rose off the untouched instrument. Maleba and his men watched from a distance. He closed his eyes for an instant and tried to remember exactly what the professor had said.
He pressed down with his feet on two of the pedals. That was the ignition for the code to begin. Then he triple tapped the last key to the left, skipped three and two more. The machine was in lock. Next was the date. The ten keys from the right acted as numbers one through nine and a zero on the end. Slowly and precisely he tapped in, zero seven, zero seven, two, zero, zero, one. He repeated the process a second time to lock the date in and confirm. All he had to do was play the final melody to kick start it all.
The C blues scales. It was a C followed by an E flat, then an F, a G flat and a G. And as he hit the B flat he felt the indescribable juiciness the gods had given the blues scale. The unique power that sound had to drag the emotions out of the hardest of hardened rocks. He rejoiced in the feeling for a brief instance. Then, before holding down the final C key to complete the scale and rocket off through space and time, he looked over his shoulder to Kayan Maleba and winked at him. That was it baby. He struck the last key and it was lights out.
Ain’t no love in this part of the city. They used to sing that back then, when there was probably still a little left, he thought to himself. Sure ain’t like that nowadays. Ain’t no word for love, there ain’t much of a city left to talk about either. Ain’t no love in the heart of the city. Ain’t no love to show me the way. Guess that went a long time ago. Back in the days when the world was a sphere and the sun shone across all known sectors. Look at it now!
There was a kid across the street with a rusty old trumpet. “He seen anything?”
“Nothing sir. Ain’t said a word ever since we got here.”
Too many bits of flesh lying around the place for them to be playing puzzle time, he thought. His shift would be over in less than an hour, then he’d head down to the titty-bar for a Piñacolada and some cheap hugs. That’s all he could afford. His wife hadn’t long kicked him out of the house and his ex girlfriend wasn’t going to have anything to do with him anymore. Calmly he lit a cigarette, holding his hand up to the wind as he pulled with his thumb at the old zippo. He adjusted his collar so that it stood up high and proud, the skull and bones insignia shining in the dim light, then stepped into what remained of the bar.
“Gimfrey’s Rocking Jar. Neighbourhood hangout for the riff-raffs, pimps and the no-gooders. Went up like a fireball. The explosion collapsed in on itself and this is all that’s left. That’s all that seems to have gone untouched sir,” his young partner pointed out as they looked down onto the untouched black piano.
“Not a scratch on it. Damn thing still plays like the day it was made by the sound of it,” he said as he tapped a key.
“Any signs of Maleba?”
“Forensics are pulling some pieces together. We think we’ve got a positive ID.”
“No sign of him sir.”
The agent pulled in a deep puff from his cigarette as if it were the last one he’d have for a while.”
“The crazy professor wasn’t bluffing after all.”
“Sir?” the young gun asked perplexed.
“Landan and Nutter. We had them locked up together. Figured a chit-chat might lead us somewhere. Nutter said something about a time machine in a piano. We figured he was bullshitting Landan.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Beats me. But that’s that.”
“Should I put out a warrant for Landan sir?”
“No point young blood. Landan’s gone.”
“Gone. Wrap it up cadet. I’m checking out.”
Chasing Oranges is a quasi comical depiction of a self inflicted, rational madness which is doomed, according to some, to inevitable take over this beautiful place we call earth. It’s the story of a few desperate and at times inspirational characters trying to carve an existence. It’s the young writer, Jack Landan, trying to make sense of this thing called life, it’s the tale of a few intergalactic pirates and their escapades. It’s the untold story of the unexpected, faceless leader of the resistance. A vicious cancer that fights for the people. The forgotten masses, that live beneath it all, the sewers and riches. It’s the chase for the OrAngE. A drug so potent that all but a few wise, clear minded individuals seek for its sexual mind release. With it of course, come the nerve-racketing side effects of any respectable drug of choice. Dragged into it all, Jack Landan is forced to adapt or die as his flat starts to shrink around him and his flirt with the resistance could end up costing him more than he bargained for.