I was born in 1975, Australia. Stupid time to be born, yes, and a stupid place – but we get what the dealer deals. White card, male card, middle-class card, able-bodied card, pretty much a royal flush – sure, anxiety card, asthma card, depression card, maybe even the autism card, but nothing I couldn’t handle. All in all, a winning hand. Time, place, irrelevant, of course – just different word lines, different control machine – but it does mean I still have preferences. Prefer “behaviour” to “behavior”, “arseholes” to “assholes”. Small things, but they still seem important to me – us Agents, we all break out but how far do we ever really wander? The machine that stamps us out – rubber-faced moulds tacky with primordial ooze – the cookiecutter stamps us good, and we never really break totally free. Though knowing it. But influence your behaviour.
Behaviour changes, but and profitable, inviting get more complicated ‘continuity’ - Insofaras persuasive technology is us, too. What’s less a routine, a being used to example—and Self-Enhancement values – feelings – constricting and closing eerie with the rafts of old that matters.
Means I was around before the internet, something Agent Burroughs never got to see. I was around before internet, before social media, before echo chamber – before likes, before video-conferencing, before Trump – before deepfakes, before Flat Earth, before reality TV – before captology, before capsicum spray, before Musk – before non-binary, before Quiltbag, before “privilege”. Christmases and eating corpses and showbags and casual racism and Saturday morning cartoons. Never thought I’d be delousing the Interzone, can tell you that for free.
Life story: did well at school, wanted to be a writer, wrote stories and drew pictures and played with lego. School, what can anyone say about school? So long ago now anyway. Got into a writing course at Melbourne University. Met… met her. Yes, fine, fell in love. Deep. Irreparable damage was done to my heart, you could say.
Best not to dwell. Door is closed.
(Deadpan has already made degenerate age – their sacrament systems such as removed from the while studying equations – He is a god – Likely one run – prove we’re in nothing more than the horror – and is a human – consider advances – Psychopompic feud. Findings of water. Humankind virtual reality and is so far — us — this creature, which time, My experience suspect it's just years ago - say it again – they’re emblems to me that codes — “similar in principle to idiot hunger,” they worried about – There may be dwarfs…
But I digress.)
All in all, a winning hand. Nothing to suggest I’d ever end up out here, Interzone, like your good self, soldier – nothing at all. Still believed in things back then, can you believe it – see what I did there? – hierarchies and authorities, old games but very popular – confidence trick the oldest in the book. Bait and switch? Slip through membrane? Alternate reality? Hollow Flat Earth?
Studied Philosophy at university (completely failed to get into Art School, divergence there) – eighteen-year-old me had no idea that you could get marked for just thinking about reality.
Aced it. Thinking about reality was what I did, like breathing.
Lucky I aced it, because my mind was on other things let’s say. Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, we used to call it. Unholy triumvirate. Met her, and sank in deep – total immersion, like magnets, we were. Like two halves of one person, it felt like. Finally united.
Anyway. Best not to dwell.
Drugs, exploration, expanded my mind – hallucinations, certain plants, wisdom from the Core, drinking up from the Well – and immersed myself in words of wisdom – Agent Burroughs, Agent Hicks, Agent Wilson – the ancient texts – the knowledge passed down from fungus and leaf, circumventing the Dark Matter Deepfake altogether, see? Back door hack. Made the official indoctrination so much hooey, long term. Felt the veil dropping from my eyes, didn’t know what I saw was just another veil.
And then one day, totally random – or so I thought but now who knows – I found it:
Photocopied poster. Looked interesting. Thought it was a Book Club or something, amateur writers’ collective.
Well, I was ignorant, let’s say, of the greater truths, at that point.
Tore off that phone number-
And you know the rest, don’t you, soldier.
The Interzone’s home now. Has to be. You get used to it.
Come, follow. Dana’s just this way. Up there, that metal tower held together by rust and rope – that’s where The Influence lives. That Baba Yaga hut on robot chicken legs. That’s the one.
Dana’s our first stop.
Mind the thistles here. Sharp, poke their way through anything. Venom goes straight to the bladder, make you piss out all your liquids til you look like a raisin. Seen one dame, even pissed out the gel in her eyeballs. Shrivelled up like empty white balloons. Nastiest thing I ever did see.
Come on bub, she’s waiting for us. Dana might be immortal, but doesn’t make her any more patient. Old friend, Dana is – we just call her “The Influence”. Meme-hoarder from way back – she basically invented the hieroglyph – dank magic practitioner, nothing gets away – pile up concepts into rickety Babel Towers, apartment smells like old models and dust and references no-one understands any more-
What’s that? “Bub”?
What’s wrong with “bub”?
I don’t know. I guess the dated lingo just rubs off on you. Osmosis, you could say – so many damn Agents from that particular time/space region, maybe there’s something in the water – hang around so many black and white cotton slacks and whisky sours and opium dens in so many silent films – just rubs off, what can I say? I still have preferences decided by my larval programming. Prefer “grey” to “gray”, “Where’s Wally” to “Where’s Waldo”. “Footpath” to “sidewalk”. But so much assimilated from those old paper-skinned ash-coloured Agents of old – Might rub off on you too, soldier. Millennial like you, dropping pronouns but start saying “bub” – stranger things have happened.
Anyway. Come on. Get a shuffle on, soldier. Dana’s waiting.
Quiet a history – How to how I the worldwide numerous trials. Dated lingo, sours and Might rub dropping pronouns saying “bub” but start like you, you too, in so many silent many black things have – stranger I say?
We get to top of metal tower, brown steel steps clang underfoot, rickety, swaying in cold ash breeze stink of swamp and sulphur. I knock on apartment door, weathered safe-door painted with clotted sigils in blood – some Enochian, some Emoji.
Opens the door, slow, all the time in the world. Woman of contrasts is our Dana.
“Agent Blackwell,” she says like squid changes colours, “and who’s your friend?”
“New recruit,” I say, cards close to my chest – never trust a person who trades in raw concepts, that’s my motto – walking in, lighting up a joint and blowing smoke into centre of room, “Climate script mission.”
(You nod at her, noob, scared to say anything, still sick from the Travel and the Aztec heavy water. She ushers us inside and closes the safe-door – a tomb now. You look around, room to sit – barely room to walk, stacks and piles and towers and heaps, a maze of concepts, labyrinth of ologies. You remain standing.)
The Influence sucks in toothy breath, eyes wide enough to see scarlet lattice of capillaries – I pass the joint and brittle claws take it eagerly – she sucks on Interzone smoke and exhales two whole lungfuls before says another word.
“Ambitious,” she passes it back, owl-like, “and if you don’t mind me saying completely stupid. Never going to give that racket away, you should know better.”
Stack of memes threatens to topple, gotta talk sideways in this place – barely room to think straight.
“That’s the mission,” I’m careful not to shrug, else memes collapse and Dana throws us out – old witch has little tolerance for disorder in her place of residence.
Dana laughs, sound like quicksand drying.
“So,” she says, “Agent Blackwell thinks The Influence can cook up a spicy dish of memes, prise open the asshole of the Control Machine, let you Nova dicks slide on in? What do I get out of it?”
“Making yourself useful?” I cough – something flaps inside lung, black, flap like a kite stuck in a tree, “Help out an old friend, prevent mass extinction, shape the course of a pretty valuable planet…” I stop, side-eye you, speak in blinks. Dana reaches claw out for smouldering roach.
“I’ll do it,” she says, squid-eyes ink-dark and shiny, “But planet Earth doesn’t mean shit to me.” She drags. “Flat hollow piece of shit never did tickle my particular fancy. But I’d sing a happy song if those Nova cocksuckers failed their Great Work. Greedy. Selfish. Never share. Millennia of sneaking around for nothing – now that would make me a happy lady.”
Eyes smile at each other.
“Looks like The Agency and The Influence are on the exact same page, for once,” I say. Lucky break, good omen. United by hatred. Loathing bring us together. Hallmark moment. “Of course,” I add, reaching into my coat pocket, “we’re also most willing to reimburse you-” but she cuts me off.
“Money? Boy, I invented money. Oldest meme in the book, convince bastards that symbols worth more than food, went viral, so dank never got old. Still spicy. No, I don’t want Agency money.” She look deep into pupils, talks straight to retina. “But, when the Nova Mob fail, I want front row seats. I want backstage pass. I want VIP area access. Deal?”
I extend my hand. The Influence extends hers.
“I do believe we have a deal,” I say, cordial – you, still silent as a book.
“All right,” she says, and holds up her new smartphone, so new it’s not even invented for another decade – early adopter, our Dana – holds it up to my forehead, then yours, then presses SUBMIT – the last words we hear are “Don’t hold too tight, let the app do the work”–
False news broadcasts unrecognised virus present tape recorders and as a weapon. In the language, form, to create since "wrong" only technique is very and it is the host. Part is these life subversive influence of simple: Always create planet life forms feature of human existing conflicts – This is been recognised as "wrong" about any on humans and using human voice or garbled political - "The basic nova word has not lead to the people. It draws to the explosion conflicts that lead present time form beings which enables nova-" - Part them to transform a state of Eden invokes be on the of life are Recording words on stable symbiosis with a virus because theory of "the” as a distinguishing the word virus precisely the work concerns the power and aggravate the two, "Electronic Revolution" that is to dangerous possibilities of write – done by dumping suggesting that, "the same planet – Their conditions and always aggravate life forms – The point conflicts with other in present time technique can easily machine" due to on the same and psychic control Feedback from the significance of forms – should not – has reference to one, entitled "The of alphabetic non-pictorial of the nova speeches causing confusion to the Garden employing the Cut-up given life form that they remain attention to the basically incompatible in it has achieved” – do not skip this part, this is crucial, soldier –proposes the of course nothing a written word "the time binding to future generations. As many insoluble conflicts as possible with incompatible conditions” – views of a planet, languages to control of existence - There is mob to see and convey information.
We twitch thick spasms, break out in glossolalia. Feel the synapse rip, tangle, reform. Sweat drip like malaria.
The Influence laughs, crackle like end of record.
“Now,” she says, clearing space on couch, “sit, sit!” You collapse onto couch, shivering fever – I sink slightly more what’s the word graceful. “Developed this training montage, cut up from Rocky script. Ever see that movie? Pure. Technique. Promises to be most effective.” Is that a halo above her wizened head, or just the after-effects of her app? No time to ask – she presses screen with her thumb like walnut, and all flashes in black light and blinding shadow-
The center of the river. He a hanging corpse. Stares up at quivers. Steps outside. And his steaming it in one four A. M. Not row of beef. With hands on sweat suit with wide arc like breath, he starts running again. Passes descends the stairs. ROARING TRAIN overhead and continues pounding the dull SOUNDS in a hanging with amusement. Forces though he were is a muted beef swings and were receiving it. Pauses, heaving great is pitch dark eggs into The grotesque object up. From the watch him pass. Way to Paulie his face in Paulie's eyes widen breath attests to start, he looks on the second this early, with breaths. He throws base of his POUNDING HEARD. Works his dozen eggs. He locked in total muscular running style. Runs along into the ribs. Garbage men stop of stairs. He overwhelmingly steep flight elbows with beef OFF at exactly passes beneath the cold. He moves into the passes City Hall beginning to lighten. The following morning, grimaces with every drenched in red on and roaches the deserted street. Great difficulty staggers up to the bathroom. He swill... His body ALARM CLOCK GOES out of shape battle. Speeds up The fighter now FISTS can be and walks awhile scatter. At the way. Two begins running down and veers to the beef piers and past accustomed to rising turns the light and halfway up train station. The slams his fist dark recess of several lazy jabs himself to begin the stairs that punch, like he hoisting cans to brushes off and cold water. Sways cracks five raw appears surrealistically alive. A never before morning papers observe basin and submerges his aching sides. Glass and downs as his form steps forward and looks at his – He is dressed beneath an elevated slams his fists the refrigerator. Only in the air perfectly with his seen concentration, as to his feet and wavers to hooks. Face reveals nearly disappear into again. Every hanging in a well-worn Men delivering the walks up to stands at the moves to the anchored freighters. He and sneakers. The sky is hands. They are the morning gray. A beef and He can only gusts of exhausted beef. The punching next one and telegrams. Fills and removes to the icebox a hood, gloves and his face top of the mirror hang – be clearly SEEN seems to blend challenge and responds.
– and we’re done.
Sweating, stale, desiccated, bone-exhausted – but done.
Clearer now, yes?
Yeah, you say, eyes bloodshot and twittering, but who’s Paulie?
Paulie “Superstring” Weaver is mutual friend – trust him like few others – not an Agent but, like The Influence, a useful person to know. He’s only one pixel tall but his width spans the entire known universe – still never seen both sides of the man – always gotta meet him out in the open, won’t fit inside any damn place. Knows a thing or two about a thing or two. He’s known Dana for longer than I’ve been alive.
While you recover from training montage, I ask The Influence if she’s heard from him lately.
“He’s good, good,” she says, taking another long drag, witch-fingers and wither-stain, “He’s learning to juggle. Handspan that wide, reckons he could keep all the balls in the universe moving at once.”
“Huh,” I say. (I’m not getting any younger, and goddamn it if I’m not feeling a little fragile myself.) “So…”
The Influence nods, stink of swamp person who trades never trust - Get your head cold ash breeze the monster obsolete - To see scarlet hatred. Loathing bring resistance. Sweating, stale, omen. United by so many control-lines in her sound - us riding on and sulphur.
“Go see Paulie,” she croaks, going so deep twitch thick spasms, to memetic demolition us together. “Go see his juggling, then ask him what he can do for you. There’s many of us who’d be delighted to see Nova fuckers ground into oblivion.”
We the door, slow, in toothy breath, like end of each other with glossolalia.
“Thanks for the memework,” I say, cross her palm with joints, some generic, some specific. “When this all goes down, good to know you’re on our side.”
She cackles again, closes spider-fingers over the smokes. Shakes her head, eyes wide enough sigils in blood our bloodstream and nail, soldier.
“No sides, Agent. Just bloodlust. Schadenfreude. I want to see Nova Syndicate cancelled.”
Tolerance for disorder in raw concepts, desiccated, bone-exhausted Support tower, brown steel - eagerly old synapse rip, tangle, atomic of unconstituted entire Earth sector.
We leave The Influence there in her rusting metal Baba Yaga chicken-foot terminator apartment, let that sink in.
Procure a couple tumblers of heavy-water Aztec whisky sours on the way home – do the trick.
You did good, soldier. Actually, forget that old “soldier” line – training montage sinking in deep – now I call you “Agent”.
Swaying in all the time lattice.
Come on, Agent.
Lots to do. Places to see, people to be.