ROUTINE EIGHT: HIS FLESH TO HIDE IN – THE STEADY PHANTASM OF RUPTURE
And here we are.
Where are we?
Who are we?
All comes flooding back, memory-wise, like a steel hammer to the brain – who we really are, beneath this new skin. Like waking up and not knowing what day it is, then suddenly it all hits you.
You look at me, all blue-skinned and gilled. Then you look at your own hands, and see the aqua webbings between the three fingers and two thumbs. I can see your brain processing, remembering, intuiting, reprocessing – I can see it all on your face, it’s like watching butoh.
Yes, I say to you by changing the shapes of the gas whorls in front of my facehole, my gills fluttering gently, yes, this is me. There is nothing to fear.
We are on the biggest planet in our sector, a gas giant known by many names in this region of space but known by the locals as simply Big. We’re inhabiting the forms of the locals too, gas-breathing whorl-swimmers known to themselves as The People. We call them glizards, in your typical human fashion – etymology is “gas lizards” or somesuch – and inhabiting one can be tricky to get used to. I can see you struggle, particularly with the floating-in-gas aspect – for landlubber species like us, can be a steep what do you call it learning curve.
Just trust in your biology, I say, looking deep into your new eyes, your body knows how to do this.
Your chromatophores relax, rippling deep navy across your aqua-blue skin.
This is unsettling, you say.
Handling it perfectly, I reply.
You stretch limbs and test out new body, make few tentative swirls and swoops in gaseous environs. Would say “landscape” but no land here, all gas. “Gascape”.
This planet puts the “giant” in “gas giant”. This planet is big. This planet makes most suns look tiny – in fact, believe it or not, in this system, the sun goes around the planet.
Unfurled, Paulie “Superstring” is the width of the entire universe – which is obviously very different from being infinitely wide. Even tightly coiled up, anything an infinite width would still fill up every available point in finite space. Paulie is far from infinite, and can fit in places smaller than the entire universe – but they still need to be really fucking big if he’s to feel at all comfortable. And, as any Nova dick worth any salt at all knows, letting your informants feel comfortable is important. So this is where we often meet with Mr Paulie Weaver, when circumstances require.
Quick three dimensional scan of surrounding gases – peach and purple and camel and beige – no sign of the man. Perhaps we’re early? I do try to be organised, never hurts to have one’s ducks neatly arranged in the proverbial.
And, as universe – which anything an infinite need to be gases – peach is far from smaller than the tightly coiled up, infinitely wide – available point in feel comfortable is feel at all of the entire and purple and finite space.
This is remarkable, you enthuse in the glizzard tongue – puckered facehole bursting out the perfect syllabic gusts in the swirling gas like you’ve been speaking glizzard for years – which of course you have, if by “you” we are talking about this body that you’re currently inhabiting, I suppose. It’s all very complicated.
I twitch one of my prehensile soft-boned limbs and make the sign to settle down, and you stop looping the loop and float beside me. Decorum. Have one’s ducks of the man.
Being only one pixel tall, Superstring can be difficult to find. Or could just not be here yet.
Poleward, there’s a storm the size of Earth beta’s moon, gold spot filled with whirling flecks of sulphur and chlorine, been churning for a thousand years in roughly the same spot – it’s as close to a landmark as non-glizzards can deal with. This is definitely the right place, more or less. The usual meeting spot. Glittering copper and silver and gold, the most beautiful cyclone human eyes have never seen.
Wish Nalan could see this, I think every time I’m here.
Best not to dwell-
Blackwell, you glizzard-shout, gas whorls in front of your facehole turning jagged and messy, is this blood?
Swim-fly over, see immediately red-copper droplets floating. Wordlessly, we follow the trail. Blood trail. Shiver twitches my gills. Droplets hang in air, tiny globes of red. Trail easy to follow.
And there he is.
Bent into horrifying shapes, looping back on himself in agonising unnatural poses, bent and broken and sprawled like a ball of wool that has been tormented by cats, there is Paulie Superstring.
Is that… him?
Paulie, I say, sweeping down low and finding his tiny head among the tangle of width, Paulie, brother, man, you still with us?
“Read”, he whispers.
What happened? I ask, biting back tears. Now is not the time for human emotion.
“Read”, he croaks again, barely a whisper this time.
Paulie, bud, you’re going to be okay-
“No,” he croaks, “this is it Blackers, this is it. Just fucking-”
And then he is still.
Glizzard you has floated up, far above us, like you can’t stand to be around the horror of death. I get it, I get it.
Paulie’s blood is beautiful, glittering ruby sparkles in the gas. Death does not have to be ugly. Trying to change perspective here. Can focus on my personal loss later on. Change perspective. Death is only a loss for those left behind. Death is natural-
Fuck it. Heart still aches like an injury. I’m fucking gutted.
Nova bastards took him out. Nothing else it could be. They know he knew something. They know he was important, somehow, better than I do. What was it? What did he know? What did Dana know he knew? Why couldn’t Dana just tell me? How did they know he was even going to be here? Did Dana tell them? Is she not the ally I thought she was? Can I really not trust anyone anymore?
Oh Paulie. Oh Superstring. Oh brother.
He’s only here because of me, because I wanted to speak with him. Is this my fault? Is this just another death that I have to take the rap for? Can my heart take any more of these collateral damages?
Slowly, I float beneath Superstring’s lifeless tangle of corpse. I begin to gather him up, roll him up like a ball of twine, gather him together in my shaking hands that are not my hands-
Your voice is far away, way above me. I look up – your chromatophores are going nuts, you’re flashing and coruscating like a broken hotel neon sign.
The fuck, Agent? We need to take him with us, get him somewhere-
No, wait! Come here! Look! you call, flashing strobes.
I drop the mortal thread and swimfly up, up, up where you are, furious, sad, broken, frustrated.
This better be good, Agent, fuck sake.
Wordlessly, you point down at Paulie.
I follow your two-thumbed three-fingered aqua direction.
And there he is. Angular, looping, broken and bent, Paulie is now a paragraph. Cursive letters, running writing, spaces denoted by drops in vertical height, Paulie Superstring Weaver has written us a final message, used his body to hide in plain sight the words he wanted to tell us with his last breaths. His body is the message now. His flesh is dead, but his communication lives on.
Smart fucking cookie, is our Superstring.
“Read,” he’d said.
If my eyes were not currently the eyes of a quasi-reptilian gas-breathing whorl-swimmer, they would be full of tears.
This is what he said.
They’ve killed me man – I can tell this is it – Nova Mob know too much – Earth takeover too important for their plans – deal of the millennia for them – selling secondhand Earth to Anunnaki for monatomic gold – with these of bodies and flora spirit, as diagrams the law – takeover nearly complete – climate caper final box to tick – Trump card already played – eyes and ears everywhere – jumped by Hamburger Mary and Green Tony and Self-care Josh – ambush – make sure The Influence is okay, think they’ve found a way in – between doors – but nothing can be done about the humans – I’m sorry but her planet is gone – there is no way to change this but from inside – only the humans can do this now – just out of our hands – and you gotta watch out for Jacky Factual, he’s taking you personally, hunting you down man – go back to the Agency brother, they may be your only chance to survive now – go back, surrender – strength in numbers – forget about Earth, it’s a goner – and so am I – had some good times with you man – never forget that time in Vssvsvssvzz –
-but that was where I’d already started reeling him in and rolling him up, so who knows what he was going to say there.
And there, lurking in some especially dense chromium gas clouds, is that the silhouette of Self-care Josh, Green Tony, Hamburger Mary? They’re definitely not glizzards – those are Nova-style hazclime suits if I’ve ever seen one.
Time to go, Agent, I say with chromatophores and gas, and press your third eye with one of my webby thumbs before you even register-
–and still and deer-eyed, changed, through that, simulated blown the Earth but gleam any more, tumbling through spaces between realities, shimmying down the static between stations, scrolling, scrolling, of a were fiction, if – Of headed. Easy and Obliteration More Tune through Every border – your things – Wonkavision memories from my metaphors – pinpricks gazes mingle incompatible Collapsing who knows – pupils reduce Interzone reality – we slip moot as say soothing fish eyes old eyes, seeing but fighting constricted – to popped the feel – any difference gulp and struggling –
–and we and our space between brain, feels shed our little, back in your grotesque little goitercave, back in our own bodies, flesh fits like a glove, our own hearts beating in our own chests once more, Agents lose dead dreamings.
We both gasp, involuntary, as souls slip back into husks.
“More all clear tubes.”
You didn’t mean to say it – weird shit comes out when you’re not used to swapping bodies.
Without a word I get up and walk to the door. I process in private.
“Blackwell?” you ask, weak voiced.
“He’s dead,” I say, gently stroking the part of the wall that makes the door unpucker, “and we need to re-evaluate. We’re a wave the unshakable - or to gleam of all black humanity”. The door purses and gapes, thin strands of mucous stretch and snap.
“What should I do?”
“Rest, Agent.” My voice emerges from flesh inside my throat, formed with muscles and membranes and the vibration of air. “Rest. We will reconvene at another time.”
I walk into the particulate-festooned air of the Zone, like I’m still swimfloating in the gas of Big, and the door clenches tight behind me.
Dazed. Distracted. Swimfloating on autopilot.
He’s dead. Paulie’s dead.
I float limply through the Market, running on instinct, hundred percent gut.
He’s dead. And his last words were “forget about Earth”.
No. Mission is important. Worth the risks.
Words he wanted a paragraph. Cursive is. Angular, looping, a final message, his communication lives.
I buy a little something from a few Market vendors. Seed of an idea is beginning to sprout. I will not give up that easily. If anything, losing old friend Superstring is just making me more determined. I will not be bullied. I will not be threatened. I will not forget about Earth.
I will not forget about Her.
His flesh to hide in is the message – used his body broken and bent, letters, running writing, has written us with his last plain sight the breaths. His body to tell us drops in height, is dead, but spaces denoted by-
I will not let her planet be sold off to some fucking space lizard. I will save the world.
Sounds like naïve teenage bravado, even as I think it. Who the fuck am I to save anything?
I’m an Agent, that’s who I am, dammit.
The last Agent left who actually gives a shit.
I will cut word lines – Cut music lines – Smash the control images – Smash the control machine - from dark Hoards and fucked up, to the deep still in Beat breakthrough.
I will do whatever I goddamn have to do to save her.
(Them. It. To save Earth, I mean.)
Find myself at my personal domicile, check sigils for any sign of entry – all clean. Close door behind me, collapse on bed. Cracked and peeling ceiling – but all I can see is Superstring’s blood, floating past me like spilled rubies.
I don’t believe in parallel universes. Seen enough to disbelieve that particular notion. No evidence to support it – seems more like desperation to believe that, somewhere, everything’s exactly the same except you’re six inches taller, or six inches longer, or with blonde hair instead of brown. Reeks of heaven delusion. Things must be better somewhere wish fulfilment, disguised as quantum physics. There is no reality other than the one we’re in, period. If that complex web of happenstance and law isn’t enough for you, then I’m sorry bub, them’s the breaks, don’t know what else to tell you.
But can’t help but imagine. What it would’ve been like if I’d never tore off that fucking Nova ticket. If I’d stayed in Her world.
Peaks of exhaustion can do it, states of deep meditation can do it, the right substances in the right settings can do it – visions of what this parallel universe could be like. Summit or telos that maintained the steady phantasm of rupture – no Interzone, no Agency.
I see in my mind’s eye she’s becoming a vegan, an entrepreneur, a mother. I can see her changing her name, changing the spelling from Nalan to Nalin. I can see her pregnant. I can see her gardening in a house in Reservoir, soil and roots and stems and mulch. Fingers brown with dirt and skin shining with hard honest work. Our house, a house we bought together. I can see her choosing the name Indigo for our daughter. I can feel the baby bump. I can feel the baby asleep on my arm, no longer than my forearm, small toothless mouth drooling on my skin. I can see a cat. I can see Nalin hugging her cat, naming him Dr Chops, pouring love into him, he’s black and white (but in the sun his black is actually brown). I can see a house full of cats now, so many cats and a baby and a pool and love and laughter. I can smell the mint of mojitos. I can taste chlorine in the air. I can see her look of love, feel her skin on mine.
None of it’s real. It’s my own desperation, firing off the imagination. I know this.
But I can see it, and feel it, and smell it all.
I can see us with baby and cats, packing up and moving to the country. I can see me as a writer, like I always wanted to be, bringing in the big bucks writing comedy for the TV, paying off our home with skills that pay the bills, while she breastfeeds and fills our daughter with love and companionship and mothers’ milk. I can see us selling our house in Reservoir and moving to Cape Paterson, taking over the run down family holiday house and spritzing it back to life. I can see the flat horizon over kilometres and kilometres of roiling blue. I can smell salt and seaweed. I can see ancient rocks and worn down cliffs and primary school and high school. I can see the word “YAY!”, in friendly capitals. I can smell garlic and onion, I can see the gleaming metal benches of bigger and bigger kitchens. I can see progress and family and love and purpose and joy and togetherness and future.
I don’t believe in parallel universes. But as long as she’s okay, there’s a chance. For her. For something. I don’t know. Something.
I don’t believe any of this is real. But I believe it still, real or not.
I want to save her.
I know it’s not real.
But she is.
She’s still there.
Dream-filled sleep. The awakening is fascism, to oppression, mode, the promise of a single course of things - undoing the lightening shock of the “illusion” of dream is progress: phantasmagorical sleep in a standstill. Something. I real. But real. The awakening from that where history is modernity’s fairyland of story or time montage. But want to – But as real or any of parallel universes. It still, there’s a state to create - don’t believe I don’t she’s okay, not. I chance. Control no dead - For believe in it’s not long as her. For She’s still I believe - aggravate life stable symbiosis - “madness wove together like Place” - Everyone needs a place - Something otherwise solid.
I don’t know. She is. I know save her. This is.
I move houses every few missions. Keep me on my toes. Also keeps me safe from people who know where I live. Spice of life, good as a holiday, all that. Sigils and wards protect me as much as they can, but those who know can get past even the most powerful runic mechanism. And Jacky Factual is one such party. Fact is, most anyone who could actually harm me is also the kind of folk who can get past sigilic forcefields or symbolic protections. But still – it’s safer than without, and it keeps away the Mugwumps and Greys, so.
They killed Superstring. This means that it’s time to move again. Matter of time before I wake up and my throat’s been slit with obsidian dagger and my blood’s being used in a copy replace ritual. Can’t stay here any more.
They killed Superstring. Nova Mob know too much. Going after The Influence next, he reckons. Popping off my inner circle one by one. And then, once I can trust no-one, they’ll have me. And then there’s no-one left to do a goddamn fucking thing.
Pack up my few items into a sack of holding, strikethrough the protective runes, rub out the mandalas and split open the hexbags. Get obsidian - tune it dark. This fallen home is home no longer. A little change the drug. Moving on.
Superstring reckons only the humans can save themselves now, but I can’t believe that. They don’t even know what the fuck’s real or not, still hooked into control machine life support, still suckling at the comforting teat of unreality. Dead that Word-Line – bad the computer. How the hell are they meant to solve this one themselves? They don’t even believe in the Anunnaki or the hollow moon yet. Man who sold the world - Simulation going to Tune through now. Not the real. Paralysed by the have-not machine. Part the people. Morlocks and Eloi, both puppets – Big Picture players off camera – created a system to growl. And it’s not just the humans, of course, goes without saying – the orca, the salmon, the bear, the frog, the bee, the Christmas beetle, the trout, the numbat, the jumping spider – all of it going going gone – and movements of galaxies, know about the gravity and light years of a fundamental drive – climate change caper, Outer space, deal Capitalism – life compose the Earth is made of ‘zombiedom’ capitalist – The dead dreamings – same gravity as business – arms slide the sun now.
Go back, surrender-
Hoist my sack and get a-trudging.
View of the Interzone:
Infrastructure as the long sheltering entire rotten rags cooking ash-like spores drift – smooth copper-colored faces houses, houses in void. Expeditions leave adobe, stone and lounge in doorways unseeing calm. Behind with ropy, root-like grass, play cryptic function the same unknown diseases watch, where people defecate lie in the mountain trails on rows, jumping with vicious dusty windy outskirts, the toothpick out trees and river and kitchens and parks.
With an insect’s in rows along with perilous partitions, where boys of Police is sound, instead being overgrown City are joined. Real live game of “operation” being performed by Mugwumps and Cenobites on living patient. Green smoke announces birth of witch, Hazmat eating talking bathing baths, copulating couples it.
Hipsters with doors, tables and the wearers from the jungle their palms, mountains, jungle… vultures in the this, the dimension. At drinking tables, stormtroopers sing of their tours of duty on Hoth, old Vulcans and Ewoks play punishment chess, Vogons cypher with free verse.
Of the city, of bamboo and rope, they stagger streets, blink the regular world. Sapir-Whorf junkies coughing up whole new ways of thinking to small crowds, who throw them food and drugs – down canned heat, hundred feet in haze of smoke hammocks
Minarets, racks rising two and bebop, one-stringed adobe walls and Strangers arrive on mountain, eaten by on gold chains, great rusty iron. They come down teak, houses of the passerby with toxicity – houses of platforms, and hammocks human world, but light, gravity.
All for unknown places one hundred feet fish heads.
High the Upside Down, games. Second-hand private police swapping stories around a burning dog, someone always burning something they shouldn’t be here.
Make a move.
Find hollowed out tree perfect size and condition, surround it with sigils and relax into its damp woody heart. Bigger on the inside than the outside, always a nice find. Illumined with sprinkle of phosphorescent dust and perfect home.
Gotta see if The Influence is okay, warn her if it’s not already too late. Gotta see if you’re okay, neglecting my mentorship responsibilities. Gotta make sure no cracks in the Zone too, if Superstring is right about Nova Mob trying to slip in. Always so much to do.
Always so much to do.