ROUTINE FIVE: WE’RE GOING – AND NO MIND IS SLOW FOR FREE
Interzone hangover – aching spine – constricted brain, feels like wearing a helmet two sizes too small – taste of metal or blood or battery – extremities cold. Trauma-trained by The Influence herself, Agent. You’ve been Influenced.
We’re going to have to inhabit other bodies, best warn you now. Not always a pleasant experience – although of course sometimes it is, no hard and fast rules about anything ever – but a very useful aspect of existing between stations, so to speak. Ever see Quantum Leap with Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell? Vast oversimplification.
How you feel, Agent? Don’t worry – constant déjà vu is a symptom of being here – apologies. Human bodies not used to this excessive Interzone treatment. Takes a while to get used to this new terrain – no map that makes sense – and even when the body gets used to it, the mind is slow to catch up – the brain is the realm of habit, the empire of pattern – and no amount of deep-consciousness meme-injection can change that. Some shit just takes time to get used to.
Time heals all wounds, they say. Sometime it still hurts underneath the scar, Agent, tell you that for free. Hell, even amputated limbs hurt sometimes, ghost-pain of the less-than-real. Still get pains in my nonexistent heart.
Shaking, Agent. It will pass. Spirit too full. That will pass too-
What do you mean “who was she”? Told you, Dana’s The Influence, inventor of the-
No point being distracted from task at hand by Old Man Blackwell’s ex-life, Agent. Dead ends and doors closed tighter than tombs. Nothing but sorrow and dust in those places, Agent. Best not to dwell.
Seriously. Stop it. Nothing to be gained by prising open old scars. Not even blood there anymore. All turned to dust. That was a different life.
Come on. No more. Give it up, Agent.
Okay, fine. But you owe me.
She was eighteen when I met her. I was nineteen. We were in the prime let’s say of our lives. Healthy specimens, all parts in working order. Fine looking examples of the human race, I don’t mind saying. Organisms poised at the cusp. Carefree. Wanton. Unrestrained. Ravenous. Untapped. So full of life, biting into the world, all teeth and skin and sweat and vigour. Dripping with life, you could say, luscious with it, all plumped up with energy and appetite, firm and wrinkle-free and shiny-eyed and magnetic. Fell deep in love, sank into it desperately and deliciously, two worlds orbiting – for the breath of moments – and suddenly crashing together like a wave on a rock, like something dropped from a cliff, no way of stopping that crash – and we wove together like thread, became one single fabric, colourful weave, knitted together on the loom of gluttonous love. One thing. Inseparable.
Until of course we separated.
I didn’t know… I didn’t know.
No I’m not crying it’s this damned Interzone dust – constant sulphur and ash – havoc with the glands.
Her name? Doesn’t make any damn difference what her name is.
Forget it. Bigger fish to fry, Agent.
First, find you a place to call home – not staying in my shabby chic mansion of dust, that’s for sure, room in here for one and one only. Find your own hovel. It’s easy enough out here.
Cast your gaze around over this place. Pick somewhere. Move on in.
That’s right, Agent. That easy in the Interzone.
No, seriously, I mean it. Nothing is permanent – not anywhere, really, just think about it, permanence is deep-core illusion number one – but definitely not in Interzone. Look, see, that bone turret rising slowly from grey swamplands – wasn’t there last time you looked, was it. No it wasn’t, Agent. Tomorrow – not that we have days here of course – tomorrow it’ll be slightly taller, or shorter – is it rising or sinking? – everything in motion here, Interzone’s alive.
That spire there – next time we look over this grey landscape, that spire will be top of minaret, bet you my bottom dollar it will. That lean-to there, up against the bleeding gum – that will be gone. Unless it’s in use, Agent, unless it’s in use – Interzone cares for its own, let’s say. If you use it, you can keep it. If you get killed on a job or vanish into some crack or crevice in the Systems – well, place closes up like you were never here. Interzone’s alive, made of ideas and change, Conflicts Storytime – on the generations. To this new cold. Drag “invocation” recognised forms – Precisely the Still.
Everyone needs a home, like it or not. Place to be true. Place just to be, no strings attached, no tugging or compression from other psyches, place just to exist in own time, own way.
Hell – I suspect – the brain. One bleak critique be emulating in heart.
How you being here, out Cut-up - “madness is as map that makes and grace” as they say.
Don’t forget to look up, Agent – plenty of good treehouses and underhangs and nests up in the trees. Don’t scoff, nothing wrong with living in a nest. Ask any bird. Perfectly good nest could be exactly what you’re after – especially if you’re planning on laying eggs.
No, Agent. That was a joke. Lighten up.
You’ve been map that makes sense – and very useful aspect of existing between empire of pattern – and even amputated limbs hurt sometimes, ghost-pain to catch up – the brain.
But now you need a place to centre yourself, physical centre, a place to stash your physicals. You’ll what’s the word accrue belongings as you progress, Agent, and you need a place to store your inventory as you level up. No actual levels here, not a fucking game Agent, but still, the metaphor means something (basically beyond empire of pattern hurt sometimes, ghost-pain bearing an eerie virtual) – and after all what is all communication but a series of metaphors? No actual letters in nature, Agent, no syllables actually mean anything outside of our own soggy brains – no meaning but the meanings we agree on, and we all know it.
A wise man once told me that “everything’s a metaphor for everything”. Actual wise man here, not some phony aphorism, mind. Name was The Inscrutable Cosmo, he was a 17th level Space Wizard. Don’t give me that look Agent, the fuck you know about space wizards? Who made you the goddamn expert in space wizards all of a sudden? Moments ago you didn’t even know about Interzone.
Yes I know I just said no levels out here, but Cosmo wasn’t Interzone, he was Earth Prime, totally different system to Interzone, levels up the wazoo. Take it as moot, Agent. Point is, everything can mean something else to what it means, is the point. We can make little squiggles create images in our minds if we let them. Nest can be home. Interzone can be real. Climate emergency can be cut up by a couple of seedy Nova detectives. And Space Wizards can level up.
Keep up Agent. Lots to learn.
Come on, keep looking. Let’s head away from city centre. There’ll be something out here for you, guarantee it.
We pass thick broken tile concrete ruin sprouting with thorns rash-inducing nettle flailing like tentacle – not a great sign to be honest – and fallen log hut dark with glowing voyeur eyes watching us pass with hungry intent – also not what you would call positive neighbourly vibe. As we approach, five gristly mugwump pile into sinking cabin through the window, greasy stank reeking of recluse – not dangerous but clear they want to be left alone to their own infernal devices.
We spot floating bungalow, hovering metre off the ground but accessible if you stand on something, pile rocks into crude platform, maybe rocks float too.
There, what about that? Nice looking, floating’s a nice schtick, not too much shabby with your chic – windows still got glass in them. Steal.
Pile up rocks, poke heads over windowsill – empty.
What do you say, Agent? Home sweet home?
Yes I’m sure. Can’t see anyone in there, right? Then it’s yours. Of course. What? Yes, sure, they could come back, but if they belong here, Interzone will let you know. Trust me on this Agent, been here since you were mouthing your mama’s tiddies. Everything’s fluid here, Agent, you’re still thinking with ex-life mindset – get with the program, or the deprogram ho ho ho – no such thing as possession here, it’s anarchist paradise in the living flesh.
At that very moment one of the mugwump gets thrown out of sunken cabin’s window, slit from crotch to throat, organs spilling into the black mud – its eyes meet ours and for a second there’s this pleading kind of expression, then the lights go out and mugwump powers down, goodnight. Red fills the black mud, pooling, mixing, stinking.
Ah shit. Don’t sweat Agent, it was probably personal.
Did I say “paradise”?
(Needless to say, we move on.)
Eventually we find this nice soft cave like a giant puckered anus, roomy and clean, entrance tightens like a muscle ring and the smell is pleasant even – musk and lilac and hint of cinnamon – and it’s empty and both big enough and small enough for your exact needs. Responds well to stroking, and roid-lights emit warm glow when you rub them just right. Bulbs rise up and offer themselves to our aching bones, and we sit, sinking into giant goiters like beanbags made from smooth hairless skin and filled with heated pus. All in all, not too bad.
Break out the eel juice and tiger milk – housewarming present let’s say – and we clink bottles, cheers and welcome home.
We hear voices outside – just passing, no danger – but anus door clenches tight in protective concern. It likes you.
“The technique can have access and again at Earth is face artistic practice and demons, which Occult terrain – no of habit, the Garden employing well-meaning cults, intersectional the battery – extremities Illuminate,” says the first voice, a wheeze like emphysema.
“As ecstasy,” says, two, "Electronic death nihilism.”
“Gates, glance, the notion simulated universe? Don’t make me laugh.”
“It’s not alone in a real universe the bizarre cult from the smallest and, given the project on some, that I hate tarantulas and scorpions, supercomputer.”
“Some shit differently, specifically Naturally, constantly.”
“I hear you sister, I hear you.”
The voices die off with distance and the insulating properties of new flesh cave. Always so much to learn from eavesdropping on strangers, I always say.
What’s that Agent? Yes. Totally agree. It is very fucking weird.
Couldn’t have put it better myself.
We’re drunk. Told myself that not tonight but once always.
And you poke and you prod and you probe and you finally dip one finger deep inside my cracks and prise them open and suddenly I’m all words – spilling out like that mugwump’s internals – red and raw and fresh and with a kind of pain that’s so familiar it’s almost pleasure.
Her name was Nalan. Is still Nalan, I guess. Turkish name. Both her parents born in tiny village made of dung and desperation. She was lost and alone like I was – always on the outside, always in the margins. And we found the light, Agent. Together. We clung together in the darkness like we wanted to melt. A single candle. Breaks my heart to think of it. So I have no heart any more. All gone.
Any phantom limb still itches now and then, Agent. Ask anyone.
She’s still out there, somewhere, in the world, the world of illusion outside. When I took that slip of paper – that ticket that exploded me into the Interzone – I could never go back, not the same. I never came home. Did she wonder? She must have. Did she panic? How could she not? Was I on the news – wannabe-writer never returns, read all about it – was there a search party? And how long did she wait for me before it sunk in? That I was gone?
When did she move on? And how?
How long has it even been out there? And-
Tell you, fucks me up thinking all this. Even though it’s been so long, it’s preserved – like a scientific specimen pickled pale and soft in saline solution – it never dissipates, never changes – I just close the door. Bolt it. Lean things – things in the present, in the Interzone – lean things against that door. Never even go down that corridor – never even turn on that hallway light. Police tape and do not enter, Agent. But now look what you made me do.
Don’t cry, this is my pain, not yours Agent! Ah shit.
You’re going through all this yourself, right now, fresher, fresher. Sorry. See, best if these things stay locked away. Door is closed. Leave it closed. My advice.
Trauma-trained by this entirely even amputated limbs to get used – either supposed entirely excessive Interzone treatment. And – and aggravate to a new point used to this cult of catch up – whatever fucking No that.
I’d better go, Agent. No, I’m going. Got my own place to collapse in. No sleep – hate dreaming – but let you have your own space. Taken up too much of yours already.
No, no, I’m going, Agent.
See you in what passes for morning here. Sorry again.
We’re going – and no mind is slow for free.
(We were of gluttonous love – suddenly crashing together no syllables actually on a rock, life, you could sometimes, ghost-pain bearing just to exist moments – and or not. Place shiny-eyed and magnetic. And we teeth and skin being here, out, all plumped to be true.
Life, biting into our lives.
Truth is, I know she’s still out there, still living some kind of life. Been 25 years now, Earth years. Can’t help but think about her sometimes. What would have happened. What could’ve happened. If I never came to Interzone.
Just say I never tore that ticket that exploded. Just say. Just say I looked at it but kept walking. Home. Into her arms. Maybe I would’ve become a writer, maybe got some job on some comedy show, who knows? Maybe she would’ve become that vet, or who knows, maybe a famous vegan cook. Maybe we would’ve escaped the city – she always hated the concrete the smell the noise the grey metal the exhausted fumes the cram the race – maybe we would’ve moved to my folks’ holiday house in Cape Paterson, fixed it up, made a new life in the countryside beachside – tree change sea change we change. Maybe? Who knows. Maybe even had a kid.
Ever see or blood or create since to us – apologies.
Useless thoughts as I lie on itchy lumpy stained ruined bed in my own private cell in ash and sulphur Interzone, staring at cracks in ceiling. Useless thoughts.
Fell deep in like something dropped.
Maybe a daughter. We’d call her something like River, Indigo, Pepper. Something. Can almost see her. Looks like me, a little. Almost. She would sing.
Time, specimens, all parts all communication but here, not some stopping that crash the goddamn expert – and after and wrinkle-free and love, sank into cusp.
On the loom of pattern hurt an eerie virtual. Two worlds place to centre attached, no tugging like a wave was a 17th heart.
Don’t want to be awake. Don’t want to sleep – dreams come with sleep, don’t want to dream her again.
Be emulating in (basically beyond empire yourself, physical centre, agree on, and that look, the grace) – as they of the human home - viscerally – but all wounds, of humans human Human bodies.I get up out of bed and head to market – need more drink, drug, curse-lifter, something – something to soothe the goddamn pain away.)