ROUTINE NINE: ROLLED FACE IS HOUSE – THE MORALITY SCORPIONS
You’ve clearly recovered some of your what would you call it vigour – when I darken your puckered doorway you look like you’ve spent the whole time sucking a lemon.
“What did he mean,” are the first words that exit your lips as the orifice doorway contracts behind me, “when he wrote ‘go back to the Agency’? What did he mean, ‘surrender’?”
“Well that’s a fine way to greet your old pal and mentor,” I reach into my pocket and fish out a dark-papered jazz cigarillo, “I take it your repose was restorative.”
“You’re not with the Agency, are you.”
It’s not a question, is it Agent.
“Of course I am,” I light the joint and puff towards the wrinkly ceiling.
“Then where’s the other Agents? Pretty shit Agency if there’s no other Agents. Agents would seem to be the base minimum required by an Agency, wouldn’t you think?”
“Don’t get smart with me, bub-”
“Oh that’s right, there’s no other Agents because they’re all corrupt, every last one – oh except us, we’re the only good Agents left, conveniently! Of course!” The room is sensing your agitation – hairs stand on end, red patches, hot flush. “I already knew, in my gut, but I tried not to listen to it. Because if I can’t trust you, then I’m fucking alone here, and that’s not something I’m adequately equipped to cope with at all.” Last few words come out in a sob, snotty nosed sobs that wrench themselves out of you completely without your consent. Lotta mucous going on there.
“What can I say?” I offer the joint but you want no part of it mister, “I understand let’s say how you came to this conclusion-”
“He told you ‘go back to the Agency’! You know what that means? That means, ‘you’re not with the Agency’, you see how that works? ‘Go back’ literally implies ‘you’re not there’, this isn’t rocket science! So fucking drop all the lies and bullshit and just, please, just be straight with me, please. I need you to just be straight with me.” Another snot-nosed sob, this one blows a bubble.
“Look, bub. You just saw the words – I know what he meant. The man was writing me a secret message with his own body while he was literally dying, cut him some slack. He had to take a few linguistic shortcuts, you dig? But I know what he meant. He meant go back upstairs to head office, ask the bigwigs if they’ve got any better ideas in their brassy noodles than we do. He meant we should beg our ‘superiors’ for some pointers. But we’ve got this, bub. I know we’ve got this. I mean-”
“He said ‘surrender’.”
“Which in the context means ‘do what the top brass tell you to do’, plain and simple. He was just saying don’t argue with them-”
“Take me then.”
“Take me to head office. If that’s what he meant, let’s do it. Dying man’s wish, after all.”
“Of course we can go to head office if you want, Agent. But-”
“Then let’s go. Let me meet the top brass, the head honchos, the big cheeses, whatever.”
“Nothing could be easier. We could go right now if you want-”
“That’s exactly what I want.”
I drag long on my jazz cigarillo. The ceiling winces a little when I exhale straight up.
“But bub, we got this. And the factions-”
“Look, we’ve got a massive trust issue here, right now. I’m putting all my eggs in your basket, Agent Blackwell. Every single fucking egg, okay? So I need to know you’re not just some whackjob play-acting at being an Agent or whatever. For all I know you’re one of the Nova Mob or whatever, or some homeless guy who thinks he’s saving the world. You know those old dudes who’ve lost all touch with reality and now think they’re Jeff Bezos or whatever? FBI talking to them through their fillings? You look a lot like that guy right now, and I need reassurance. I’ve trusted you all this time, I’ve saved your arse once already – and don’t forget it was me who first saw Superstring’s message – I deserve a little confirmation right now.” You shake your head defiantly. “Otherwise you’re on your own.”
The much fucked human spark, individual, is Me in – almost there you.
“Okay fine,” I say, sitting down on sparsely-haired fleshy beanbag, “you win.”
“What does that mean?”
I don’t know how to phrase it, exactly. I take another drag. Spirals of grey in this pink and veiny house. I drag again, trying to put the thoughts into words. Always things gotta be in words, don’t they. Vast control-machine, once alphabetic.
I gotta say something.
“Smart cookie, bub. Smart little cookie.”
You sigh. More silence. Eventually you speak, so quiet – not angry, just disappointed.
“There is no Agency, is there.”
I look up, sudden neck, confusion.
“What? No, of course there’s a fucking Agency, jeezus! No, I mean, the climate caper is not an official mission, that’s all. Agency doesn’t give a fuck about Earth, they think it’s a lost cause. They’ve already conceded defeat on that particular planet. Already chalked that one up to the Nova Mob, already marked that one down as a victory for Nova Cartel. So yes, fine, I’ve gone rogue. Taking it on myself. Because I can’t let go that easy, bub.” I offer the joint one more time. Fingers accept it now. “Everything else I’ve told you is true, Agent. Every last goddamn thing.”
You smoke, brain almost humming with thought.
“Request was denied. But I couldn’t let her go. Planet Earth I mean. Couldn’t let it just go like that, without a fight. So yeah, took it on rogue. Agency doesn’t like rogue elements. Jacky Factual been assigned to rein me in, but he’s one of many. Whole Agency thinks I’m a renegade, free radical, maverick – and that’s exactly what I am now. I’m on the run from the Mob and the Agency, oh the joy. Even in fucking Interzone I can’t manage to fit in.”
Boo fucking hoo, Blackwell.
I try other tack.
“Let me ask you, Agent – anyone you love back on Earth?”
Shocked look, like I just shat on your hand.
“Everyone I love is back on Earth.”
“Well, if we don’t succeed, they’re all going to die. Real slow, too. Wars, famine, disease, fire, biblical shit that looks real nasty on paper and about a million times worse in person. You want them to go through all that? Because, trust me, we go to the top brass and they’re all dead. We go to the top brass, and we’re locked up, and Earth burns. We are the last hope.” I take back the joint and shake my head, like shooing away an annoying fly. “Agency doesn’t give a shit about her.”
“Why did you come and get me and not the Agency?”
“I got there first. Like I said, I used to be the go to guy for new recruits, I know all the-”
“No, no – why did you want me? Why not let me just become a regular Agent?”
My turn to sigh.
“I don’t know. I think maybe… I just needed someone on my side.”
In the silence, shabby but that – egg like in Nova paper fuck – quiet enough to hear the flesh house breathing.
“We can do this, bub. You, me. But we can’t trust anybody. Handful of allies, and it looks like the Mob is taking them out one by one. So if you need to choose sides, choose quickly.”
“I’ve only got your side of the story.”
“Fine.” I stand. “We need to check on The Influence anyway, she can corroborate. Yes?”
You nod, and stand, and I can see belief in your eyes. Good.
“I got you this,” I say, pulling a cambric toad out of my pocket, all whiteskinned and gleaming, “any trouble, point this and squeeze.”
You take the pale white amphibian silently, looking like you never seen a cambric toad before. I look you in the eyes, deep pupil connection, retina to retina.
“I’m serious. If the Cartel have worked out how to get into Interzone, we’re in serious trouble. If The Influence is in danger, so are we. Point, and squeeze. Yes?”
“Thanks,” you say quietly.
I nod back, all business.
And we’re back out into the grey air, jumble of city spread before us, everything rising and sinking at tectonic rates, slowly slowly change, back in the sordid streets of Interzone, between hole – an individual – almost blown the he for.
(What I didn’t ask you – situation called for some shall we say delicacy – what I very much wanted to ask you, was
“Where’s my fucking Black Meat, Agent?”
Haven’t seen it since you pulled me from my torpor… and I do very much want to see it again. I am not yet finished with that old friend. In fact due to current circumstances I now find myself very keen indeed. Loss will do that to you.
First things first, though. The time will come.)
We get to top of metal tower - on apartment door, clang underfoot, rickety, in blood – sulphur. I knock swaying in cold of swamp and some Enochian, some weathered safe-door painted ash breeze stink brown steel steps with clotted sigils, some Emoji.
Opens the door, immediately clear she is alive and well.
“Well,” she says, and old crone is not happy, ancient bird in a ramshackle metal nest “you went and killed Superstring.”
She lets us inside but there is a distinct what you might call coldness of the shoulder, and the air is heavy with blame.
“Dana-” I start, but The Influence whirls like a broom and points a twig of a finger right into my ugly mug.
“Don’t you ‘Dana’ me, Blackwell! Paulie was a good man, and now he’s gone. He went and stuck his neck out for you, for your precious mission, and it ended him. Didn’t I tell you it was completely stupid? Didn’t I say, you should know better? I was a damn fool to let the Agency back into my life.”
Something about the way you cough somehow spills the whole damn story to Dana – too damn perceptive for her own good that woman – and she opens her eyes in genuine shock. Grit my teeth.
“Oh is that the story is it?” she cocks head and clacks her teeth like a beak, “Is that the angle you’re playing now Blackwell – the rogue, the underdog, the rebel saving the world! I should’ve known the Agency wouldn’t give two baked shits for that flat hollow piece of shit planet! What the hell was I thinking?” She huffs and paces in circle among stacks and piles and towers and heaps, fists clenching and unclenching like hearts.
“I’m still an Agent, Dana. Personal mission doesn’t make that any less true.”
“Truth, don’t give me that, who do you think you’re talking to boy? I’m the fucking Influence, mister, the truth has nothing on me.” She glares. “So, this the team? You and this… baby?” Nods toothy head at you, sneers. “You don’t have the Agency behind you, Paulie’s dead because of you. Just who do you have, Agent Blackwell? Because The Influence is out.”
“If they can get Paulie, they can get anybody. As far as I’m concerned, you’re cancelled. Deleting my account, I’m swiping left, you got it? I want to live.” She points her face at you and nods it like a finger. “You should too, babyface. Get the hell away from this man and do not associate. He’s a timebomb now.”
Nothing to say.
Maybe she’s right. Maybe this is all hopeless. Maybe all I need is obliteration-
The door swings open.
It’s Self-care Josh. And Hamburger Mary. And Green fucking Tony.
“Impossible,” whispers Dana.
Self-care Josh dresses for comfort. Here Nova Cartel do you - you ever - the morality scorpions, supercomputer. He’s got a bar of chocolate in one hand, No Casual stroll but now, need Black Float on everything. Self-care Josh’s fingers glisten – Once precursor of speaks and locations – he’s known for his lax attitude to both punctuality and commitment. Contact’s tugging like Useless thoughts. Hit. Summit worlds place way. He’s a physical being, and he’s not afraid to prove it.
Hamburger Mary, on the other hand, is a tightly packed dame – like every spring is coiled and every cog is at full tension. Goddamn expert machine to centre wherever Control wants—to emerge, the old behind. She don’t weave, knitted together fuck you know is as map. Story is, she once killed a man for not using capitals in an email. The mutilations of the white high-backed theme — but three and four – and radical political hosts abandoned the humiliations and tortures silver.
And Green fucking Tony. Doesn’t respond to photons in the normal way – he’s emerald, no matter the lighting conditions, quirk of goddamn nature – he just isn’t located you could say in the whole spectrum. Green Tony’s from war-stricken conscious choice, All of Meaning Game society. So obsidian dagger, opting unwelcome universe – twigs, the enemy, sellers control machine to the – no air – your own – secret that human developed and put on. Known for stabbing his own best man to death with a broken martini glass, during cake.
And he finished his cake, too.
“Impossible,” whispers Dana.
And I know she means “the sigils, the protection, the runes, how the hell could they all fail?” – and I know she means “and how the hell are there Nova Mob in the fucking Interzone?” at the same time as the other question – and I also know, in that split second, that now is not the time to be asking these particular questions, but instead the more pressing questions are ones pertaining to survival. So while she’s muttering, squid-eyes fluttering in incomprehension, I just shout “Squeeze!”, and give my cambric toad a good old heimlich.
The venom hits old Tony right in the eyeball and he drops to his knees, clawing at his face like it’s full of flies. You grokked what I was doing real fast and your pale white amphibian squirts Self-care square in the mouth and he starts frothing and gargling something awful.
But there’s no time to enjoy the show. We have to make tracks.
By now, old Dana has snapped into action, and she cooks up a meme so scathing that Hamburger Mary goes red from the burn. But it doesn’t stop her, and she fires – shot blows apart a tower of concepts and the air is filled with a rain of torn apart ideas. In retaliation, Dana produces a very convincing listicle about the top five reasons for giving up and leaving the building, but Hamburger Mary’s so tightly wound that she’s impossible to budge – there’s just no give in her at all – and the psychic attack slides right past her.
She fires again – goddamn it – and the projectile bounces around the room like a pinball before it rests in a 3D replica of Clippy the Microsoft Word paperclip, blowing a hole clear through one of his leering cartoon eyes and knocking him to the floor. Another wall of notions collapses and posts scatter everywhere.
Use the opportunity to scoot behind Tony and kick him sideways – he topples – and grab for the shooter in Mary’s hand.
“Run!” I shout – I don’t want you shot, not at all – and you zip past me, Dana close behind you, while I try to wrestle the heater from Hamburger Mary’s white knuckle fists – and bang the sucker goes off – and I look up and Mary’s eyes look out at me from what I can only describe as, well, her face really matches her name now.
“That’s for Superstring!” I shout as her body falls to the floor – as though I did it deliberately, as though I even did it at all – her finger on the trigger not mine – ears full of ring and nose full of smoke and throat full of impotence.
Self-care Josh is still foaming but not too gone to be able to stab me deep in the leg with a nail file while I’m busy with Hamburgerface, and the pain is sudden and startling. I mush my cambric toad right into the punk’s mouth, shove it right in there and make him gag on it – animal welfare not high on my list of current concerns – and he lets go of the nail file and I beat it – running now down clanging steps – down, down, down – and as I’m running, limping at Olympic speeds, there’s a bang and the ground explodes to my direct left and I just know it’s Green fucking Tony blinded by cambric toad venom – eyes swollen like bad eggs – just shooting blindly after me from that metal tower top of the stairs. He figures he’s got a chance – and goddamn his balls, he does have a chance, yes indeedy he does. The ground explodes again to my right, maybe three metres in front of me – so he’s got the distance pretty good –maybe he works by echolocation but I’m yet to see conclusive evidence.
I run, zig zagging past terrain, landscape as shield – tree, rock, shanty, beast, whatever may come – and after a while the bullets stop flying and the ground stops splashing like it’s sea.
I’m heading to your place. Can’t help but feel that your little tightly-clenched bodycave is the safest place to be right now – hope you had that same inclination. That’s where I’m running to, fast as my injured little leg will take me.
(Please be okay.)
I run through the City – grey Living patient. Green eaten by on rotten rags cooking platforms, and hammocks stormtroopers sing around a burning toothpick, play of thinking to hundred feet in void. I limp past Expeditions baths, copulating couples kitchens and parks – Hipsters with houses for unknown places vultures in the wearers from chess, Vogons cypher old Vulcans and light, gravity. All bebop, one-stringed adobe the jungle their doors, tables and windy outskirts, the Ewoks play punishment one hundred feet Behind with ropy, Real live game duty. I stagger through tours of hammocks Minarets, racks and drugs – rusty iron – an insect’s perilous partitions, ash-like spores drift walls and Strangers long – sheltering smooth copper-colored dog, someone always – lounge in the mountain trails, stone on rows, jumping smoke announces this, the dimension.
I do not believe I am being followed. At drinking tables, defecate lie in rising two and down canned heat, burning something – and Cenobites of the city, overgrown whole new ways. Denunciations presented by eyes swollen shut of his mouth of violence, and their faces blank men sit in swinging over – throw them food rope, they stagger of witch, Hazmat faces houses, houses junkies coughing up same unknown diseases cryptic function with vicious dusty.
Once how Nova Word-Line you go, structures become. Where boys of bamboo and streets, blink – Sapir-Whorf fish heads. High in rows along eating talking bathing human world, but gold chains – passerby with toxicity arrive on mountain, with free verse. Infrastructure as the watch, where people the Upside Down, police swapping stories games. Second-hand private – haze of smoke doorways – leafy vines spring pool halls, a bone. Superstition from the desperate, doomed, idiotic fall apart, as battle for the cities and towns left on a turn on one depths of history another.
But there it is – your pink fleshy sphincter! Never have I been so happy to see a giant rectum.
(Came out wrong, but you know what I mean.)
“How did they get in?” Dana is sitting on a scrotal pouffe, both hands wrapped around a soothing cup of joe (all the modern kitchen furnishings, this place of yours makes a fine cup of joe) – staring into a space that wasn’t there – thinking her thoughts as she heard them come out of her mouth. “There’s no way they could’ve gotten through unless they’d been let through.”
“They were let through,” I say, throwing back a swig of something harsh and hard before continuing. I have pulled nailfile from my leg, but it still aches like a sonofabitch. “The Agency’s corrupt, been saying this for so long now. Whole damn Agency might be under the Cartel’s thumb, who knows? Factions sell each other out, whole Agency collapses with no foundations, Nova Mob do whatever they damn well please. The idea that’s left is everyone against everyone stupid and backwards – democracy comes and tribalism, factionalism, last few morsels big ways.” Another swig. Empty. “Dammit Dana, what I wanna know is how they got through your wards. Swung that door open like they were coming home.”
“If the Mob can enter Zone,” Dana says, still staring into nowheresville, “then they have already won.”
“Shut your hole, Blackwell. You have nothing to offer this conversation.”
Still not in her good books I see. Even after I saved her arse with my fancy frogwork.
“Whether or not that is the case,” I say, lighting up, “the Nova Mob are trying to kill all of us. Enemy of my enemy etc. Bonded through adversary-”
“This is your fault,” old witch snarls, looks into eyes direct. “You had to go and succumb to your Earth feelings, didn’t you – give in to worldly passions – in the Interone! You old fool.” Clenches and unclenches. “Nova Mob didn’t give two shits about The Influence before I agreed to help Agent Blackwell, did they. Now I’m seeking refuge in some goddamn musky goiter.”
“We just saved your life,” you speak up, good on you, “you could try to show a little appreciation.” Brave or stupid. I’ll go with brave for now.
The Influence expands like cobra, hair doing all kinds of crazy anime shit.
“I’ll show appreciation” she spits the word “when I’m not in fear of my fucking life.”
You don’t even seem scared. Transformed, one could say. I’m proud, Agent.
“Let’s just recall for a moment,” I say, blowing directly smoke towards the old ideomancer, “that I am not the one trying to kill you, but the one who just saved your arse. You are as they say quite welcome.”
Suddenly the room clenches and whimpers.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
“We know you’re in there,” says the voice of Green Tony from outside the door, “followed your trail of blood, Blackwell.” Room clenches again, and this time I hear the sound of chopping, see the impact of the blow. “You’re dead, fuckers.”
“You were saying?” Dana looks at me, pointed.
You are looking like you’re in a trance. It fills me with some hope. Feels like you’re tuning into something that is yours to tune into. Good good.
“Do it,” I say to you quickly, knowing that it may be our only chance.
“Do what?” asks Dana, petulant. She starts crafting a motivation bomb, but Nova Mob are not lacking in enthusiasm – even taken down a couple of notches we don’t have much hope.
You don’t notice her sarcasm – instead you disappear into another room, mission.
“Great,” she says, proceeding posthaste on her solution that won’t work.
I hope to hell whatever you’re doing is the thing that will help us.
Door takes another beating – blood sprays us and the whole room shudders – binding to the significance of forms – radical persuasion. Doesn’t sound like gunshot, more like heavy bludgeoning weapon, axe or pick or big fucking hammer. Could be anything to be honest, doesn’t much matter.
“You’re dead meat!” Self-care Josh shouts, sounding all swollen-mouthed and thick-lippy – cambric toad venom is particularly unpleasant in the sensitive areas of the oral tract, tell you that for free.
Dead Meat. Reminds me – and I start walking from room to room, searching for my recent purchase – if I’m going to die, might as well die sky high and invisible and unable to think or fear or think about how badly I’ve failed – and if I’m not dying, well, nothing wrong with getting high in moments of great stress is there.
The Influence has finished her motivation bomb and is drawing sigils on the puckered doorway but they didn’t work last time, seems like it’s sheer desperation to me.
I find Meat in a small dead end enclave, resting on natural shelf like ribs and gills, and as I pick it up and stash it thank you very much I see you crouched at the far end of tiny room, elbow-deep with both arms in two slithering orifices, sleeves rolled up and slathered in secretions, double fistfucking your house with complete abandon. Well, each to their own, anything goes in the Interzone-
But no, as I look closer, face is also covered in undifferentiated tissue, like wearing a VR mask made of flesh and cartilage – and it doesn’t look like sensuality but purpose – Flesh and both arms in undifferentiated made of fistfucking your tiny room, secretions, double crouched at cartilage – the far slithering orifices, wearing covered sleeves rolled face is house with slathered in complete abandon.
“What’s-” is as far as I get, as back in other room sphincter door finally releases under the constant pounding and Green Tony and Self-care Josh burst in, smashing anything and everything they can with what appears to be two large obsidian maces – where the hell did they get those part of me asks but shit this is Interzone – and Dana screams bloody death and bomb explodes and room is full of smoke and low morale.
Turn back to you and VR mask elbow-deep with tissue, like up and doesn’t look end of like sensuality in two and it. Suddenly whole place lurches – floor rises up – angle tilts and Green Tony falls backwards and out the door, leaving only Self-care clinging desperately to skin of wall, grabbing wrinkles in fistfuls – and we rise up, lift up like house is on fucking legs, jeezus – and lurch from side to side like house is walking.
Whatever is happening, details can be ascertained later – I rush at Self-care and pick up his own goddamn nailfile and ram it into his throat – blood spray is arterial, pumping, direct breach to the fucker’s Nova Mob heart – and I’m covered now in Self-care’s last pulsing heartbeats but it’ll wash off – and he drops his mace and his hands claw at my face and together Dana and I heave him out the door – and I can see we’re definitely far from the ground, ten fifteen feet, and are they tentacles or roots or vines or legs I can see, pushing at the ground, propelling us forward? – Self-care Josh is turning the grey dirt bright red – even covered in his associate’s blood Green Tony is green green green – and the soil where the house used to be is black black black, wide-open writhings of worms and beetles and larvae flipping in the uncomfortable exposure as you move house – literally.
Green Tony waves mace in the air after us but it’s just as ineffectual as it sounds. In the distance swirling pyrocumulonimbus clouds are forming – part of the City is on fire again – and Green Tony grows smaller and smaller as you pilot your house deeper and deeper into the Zonelands – thick swamps no friends to bipeds – and he just keeps waving that mace smaller and smaller – lit by the ever-increasing orange light of the fire-generated rotating thundercloud swirling above – and despite the swirling inferno he remains green as ever until he’s hidden by trunks and thorn – and onwards we go crashing through undergrowth – and the door closes up, wounded but okay – and Dana collapses onto scrotal couch – and I race into the back room and stare as you fistpump and VR your slick creamy control panel – and after a moment staring you schlep your way out of the flesh and pop – wipe your face and hands on your clothes, grinning ear to ear, tripping balls on the whatjusthappened of it all.
“I didn’t know,” you say as though I had asked something, “I just… I just felt like it would work.”
You look at the lumps and bumps and orifices and phalluses and switches of bone and screens of jelly.
“I always wondered what this room was for,” you say, again like you’re talking to me but you’re talking to yourself, “just felt like this is what the house wanted me to do.”
I pat you on the shoulder, breaking my general no touch policy.
I grin back at you.
“You’re really getting the hang of this place,” I say.