Lohengrin & Tanhauser
by A. S. Salinas
It was night, with Europa filling almost a quarter of Day City’s sky beyond the dome, so the neighbor moon had to be at periapsis. The Neoclassical twin towers of the Prinz König Basilica stood like sharp silhouettes against the descending Iad Hollanda freighter, coming down amid a flurry of bells and klaxons. White sunlight glinted off its battered hull, bathing the Old Quarter like a full moon, and filtering into our office through the half-drawn blinds. I switched the personal soundtrack inside my head to something appropriate to color my mood indigo.
“You kids have it easy these days,” Carlos said. The old man was in rare form that night. “It’s all Shamballa this or Xanadu that. Last time I checked they were the same crap. Back on my day we had to break the law to get our drugs.”
I tried not to smile. “Just how do you keep yourself so hip, gramps?”
Only the poor lived near the surface of the Jovian moon anymore, of course. The bandwidth was never that great, to be perfectly honest, what with the solar winds being whipped up into a hurricane of high-energy protons by Jupiter’s awesome magnetic field, and Ganymede’s own weird magnetosphere, but rents were cheap. Only Rebis Ross Aristos could afford to burrow deep underground these days.
“All those drugs I did, I figure.” By now, I’d grown used to his heavily accented QWERTY; a paused, careful enunciation of every word you only heard nowadays from mad old bastards like Carlos.
“That’s why I keep close to you, old timer. Hoping some of that wisdom will rub off on me some day.”
“Is that why you’re always so close?”
“You’re telling me you have a problem with that?”
“Honestly, I haven’t a clue why I put up with any of this.”
“This is some sort of foreplay, isn’t it?” I said grinning.
“Is it working?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
And, of course, that’s when Hunka Junk knocked on our door.
“Hey, Guv’nor,” he beamed at Carlos. “Mind if I step in? I have a bit of a situation, I’m afraid.”
Hunka Junk was a ‘79 model robot who, like most meks on Day City in the past five years of the Rebis Ross recession, had lost his job and turned to “other” activities. In Hunka Junk’s case it was petty theft and the occasional muscle job.
“Junk, get the hell out of our office,” Carlos barked. “We just had the cleaners.”
Hunka Junk was leaving a thin slime of oil behind him. As usual, whatever credits he’d managed to scrounge had not gone into his upkeep.
“Give us a break, Guv’nor. This might actually interest you two.” Hanging over the open collar of his loud, fire-engine red shirt were the loose ends of a battered bow tie which had seen better days, holographic polka-dots swimming across its surface like the semi-sentient Rorschach tattoos of a Butoh dancer. Long Rastafarian dreadlocks of fiber-optic cable hung back from his triangular face over his narrow shoulders. Right around his ventriloquist dummy’s mouth a scruffy goatee had been spray-painted crudely. If robots slept, I’d believe he’d done so in that old jacket of his for days.
He was trying to hide it, but I couldn’t help but notice he dragged his left foot as he walked into our office, as if he was damaged. One of the chairs scuttled out of his way.
“Ricky,” Hunka Junk said, looking at me. “Help me out over here.”
Carlos sighed. “Fine. Come in. Let me guess, you’re in deep shit again.”
We’d done some biz with Hunka Junk in the past. More than once, really. He was always getting in with the wrong kind of crowd, which was awfully useful for us on occasion. Last I’d heard these days he was hooked up with the Krome Magnons, a crew of rogue droids from the methane mills.
“You put yours inside some dolly’s slot and didn’t realize she was Sororitas,” I suggested.
“You two are hilarious as always.” He snapped his fingers and the nearest chair sauntered over to him. He sat with a soft exhalation hissing out of his unoiled joints, almost as if an old man was sitting down. Carlos waved the desk out of his way and sat on his plush chair, which tiptoed helpfully a few inched forward to receive him. Silently, the desk marched back in front of Carlos situating itself neatly between him and the robot. I remained standing by the shuttered window.
All the semi-sentient furniture had been an affectation of Carlos, of course. He thought they classed up the joint and he’d managed to convince me to spend more than half of our account on Doktor Caligari’s shop. It was silly, it went beyond saying. Like we were supposed to be a couple of Iad Hollanda plutocrats. There weren’t too many carousels on the Old Quarter, certainly not our building, so it was mostly low-grav for us. No reason to spend any karma on furniture to sit down. Carlos thought they gave our office the right ambience, though.
“You two ever hear of Boris Bronsky?” Hunka Junk said, looking meekly at the both of us.
Carlos’ smile froze. I rolled my eyes and snapped for the nearest chair.
The three of us huddled in a cabin inside the Ziggy Starbucks by Kerensky Platz. The bandwidth here at the Ziggy sucked worse than at our office. Every thought took forever to download, buffering for whole seconds some time. Maybe that’s why Carlos was in such a sour mood and not buying anything Hunka Junk said. “How did this Guy Monday get mixed up with an arms dealer like Bronsky?
“Monday had a steady job at the pharms,” Hunka Junk said. “That’s how he managed to smuggle all those biochem goodies into Ganymede. That night he hired us to move some crates out of Customs, no questions asked. So far, so good. It was a big job. The entire Krome Magnon crew was there that night.” Hunka Junk looked right and left, his neck creaking every time.
I was listening to every word, but my eyes were fixed outside. Even after two years, the Old Quarter’s architecture fascinated me, so much different from what I knew. Golden onion domes dwarfed most of the Old Quarter’s turrets and gables, most of her chimneys and steeples, almost touching the grown hyperdiamond dome blanketing the surface area of the city. Ganymede City, like most Jovian moons was like an Earth iceberg, most of its volume submerged, but some of it had managed to expand back to the surface, particularly the industrial methane mills now jockeying for position among the colony’s original structures. A lot of the original Aristo manors had been taken over and converted into factories. Most people, particularly the inhabitants of the Old Quarter found this mongrel architecture hideous, but I found it mesmerizing.
“Now, Monday wasn’t used to dealing in the big leagues,” Hunka Junk continued. “He mostly dealt in cheap smartware viruses and meme-klones, that sort of thing. Strictly small time.”
“Because you Krome Magnons are big time, right?” Carlos said.
“Hey, we’ve been part of some big time heists. Some of them you might even have heard about.”
“Okay, cool your engines,” I said. “This was big time karma for him.”
“He can barely afford a slot from the Bene Tesseract whorehouse on a good night. Trust me, this was the big leagues for him.”
“Anyway, Monday was bragging to our skipper about how he was working with Bronsky. He let it ‘slip’ he was smuggling a crèche of cryogenically frozen Kaiju pupae for him. In exchange, Bronsky transferred ten million karma points to Monday’s account on some orbital Bundesbank. The other half to be deposited after delivery. Little creep wouldn’t shut up about it. Except that the little buggers got impounded at the spaceport, didn’t they? So Monday just took off. With Bronsky’s karma and us Krome Magnons left behind to deal with the fallout.”
“Kaiju?” Carlos interrupted. “You mean giant monsters?”
I instinctively tried browsing the term, but like I said, the buffering took forever. Being in a poor neighborhood was like being an idiot.
“The technical term is Daikaiju,” Hunka Junk said, “but yeah, we’re talking about humongous Weapons of Mass Destruction on two legs. Sometimes four.”
“And what did Bronsky want with military-grade biotech on Ganymede City?”
“Nobody asked, old man. He was probably the middle man himself. Relax, even if they’re accidentally revived from stasis, the Kaiju were gengineered with a 60-minute lifespan, and are biodegradable. Besides, nothing but males.”
“That’s him,” I said. The man was coming out of the Christ-R-Us carousel across the street on Kanalstrasse. He was built like a tank. Slung over his back was a pogo-stick.
“That Tommy Melanoma?” Carlos asked.
“The one and only,” I said.
Tommy Melanoma, better known as Major Tom, was Bronsky’s main enforcer. According to Hunka Junk, he’d already blasted most of his Krome Magnon buddies to bits. This, despite the fact they’d all been willing to help Bronsky locate that creep Monday. Poor Hunka Junk had been on the lam for two days.
Outside, Major Tom climbed on his pogo-stick and started hopping down Kerensky Platz, joining several others.
“I see,” Carlos said, peeling off the skin layer over the karma counter on the palm of his hand. “Never a dull moment up at the hydroponic pharms, huh?”
“You’re one cranky, geriatric bastard, aren’t you?” Hunka said.
“And proud of it. All right, I’ll tail the Big Bad Man. You stay with Ricky here, and do as he says.”
“Why don’t I follow Major Tom?” I would never say it out loud, of course, and certainly not in front of Hunka Junk, but it made me nervous whenever Carlitos tried to do anything dangerous.
“Yeah, right. Like I’m gonna let you out of my sight with that gorilla. He looks like your type, anyway.”
“Oh, so now I’m the slot. Don’t you know I only have eyes for cranky, geriatric bastards?”
“Stop kissing up, kid. I’m gonna start thinking those hemorrhoids are acting up again. Besides, I’m a better pogo-stick jumper and you know it.”
The liquid door yawned open, and Carlos stepped out of the Ziggy. He pressed his palm against the pogo-stick stand and grabbed the first one available, a few karmic points deduced off his dharma bill, and started chasing Major Tom. The door rippled shut and Carlos was gone.
“Hey, Hunka,” I said. “You got any meth?”
“Baphometh? Nah. I don’t deal with that shit no more. I got some math, though.”
I hated those idiot savant drugs, but I could tell I wasn’t going to get anything better in a hurry, so I slipped him whatever remaining karma I had left on my hand and accepted the little tabs. I was about to get ten times smarter, enough to know how disappointed Carlitos would be with me.
“So how are we going to find Monday?” Hunka Junk said. I glanced at Escher House in the distance, its incongruous angles at odds with the onion domes. Leave it to the Iad Hollanda to make their embassy an eyesore.
“You’re the one who says he still here. I would’ve thought he’d legged it on the earliest shuttle off Ganymede.”
“You figure Bronsky is an idiot? He had the spaceport covered even before the crates arrived on Day City. His men know what Guy Monday looks like. Forget it. The moment Monday knew the Kaiju got pinched by customs, he bolted. But he’s still here, holed up somewhere.”
“He had to change threads,” I said.
“That’s what Bronsky figured as well. Last we know, Monday visited some makeover artiste up on Pushkin Prospekt, the Harke & Bure Bodymart. He had his whole genome remapped and left with a brand new face and body. For all we know he’s a she now. Different hair color, different skin color, the works. By the time Bronsky’s boys got there, the artiste was dead, and his DNA alteration records destroyed. Not enough time, though. Not enough to get a different skeleton and musculature.”
“So we can assume he/she still has more or less the same build and height?”
I wasn’t sure. Harke & Bure didn’t just rewrite DNA. I’d heard they have over six million genomic sequences in their memory banks. Even the simplest phenotype recombination on redundant base pairs applied to the correct chromosomal regions would affect enough chains. I said nothing, though.
So we grabbed a spinning cab and headed to Harry Rama’s club. Figured it was as good a place as any to start asking awkward questions. Inside the vehicle we had to endure full-grav, but right outside its concave windows I could see night-shift salarymen leaping along the crowded Kanalstrasse traffic taking advantage of the one-seventh gee on their way to their jobs. Our cable-car glided straight under one of the arches of the elevated Autobahn, where small capsules zoomed to and from the surface.
Little India starts right under the shadow of the Autobahn, nestled just beside the Wilder Concorde. An appropriately lewd neon sign overlooking the corner of Andrássystrasse and Kaspergasse is the first thing one sees of Harry Rama’s little empire. The guy at the entrance looked funny at Hunka Junk, but they knew me, so we were allowed inside. I spotted Harry at his usual table, checking the day’s takings. The bandwidth here was much better, and I could almost literally feel my IQ going up a couple of dozen points. Affluent establishments were great.
Harry never raised his eyes off his data-slates, but I knew he knew I was there. I ordered myself a drink. I didn’t recognize anyone else that night, but they were all inconnu. The Quintessence of Dust that make up the underbelly of every large gathering of humanity. As such, everyone carried on more than one conversation at the same time. One with their mouths, and another one with hand gestures, like a deaf-mute colony. I knew that sign language better than my own QWERTY.
Nobody messed with Harry Rama down here. We were safe. Ever since the Upanishad crew had whacked his older brother Harry Krishna, Rama had systematically taken over the family’s territories. Sitting to his right was a quiet scarecrow of a man with old-fashioned glasses. The lenses were so thick his eyes seemed to bulge out of his peaceful face. The Hacker was a master of getting information out of any encrypted system. Mostly, by hacking the programmers to little pieces with an axe. On Harry’s left sat the Slasher. The Slasher was a mountain of muscle. He had a crazy evil look perpetually tattooed on his face. His mouth would occasionally break into a rictus of a grin for no apparent reason, with saliva dripping down his corners. His massive hands were always crushing empty air in front of them. They said he could slash his way past any security firewall in any computer even without the codes. They said he’d already slashed the virtual vaults of more than one orbital Bundesbank. He had a Wittgenstein mind, capable of breaking any private language into its most basic components.
By the time I started on my second drink, Harry made his way to our table.
“Ricardo Tanhauser,” he said with a smile. “Long time no see.”
“I need some information, Harry,” I said. “Think you can help?”
“No! You’re here for a favor?” the Slasher said behind him. “Will wonders never cease? Now you even bring customers who don’t order anything.”
Hunka Junk glanced at me. “I think I’m gonna go soil myself now, if you don’t mind.”
I put a hand over his shoulder. “My friend here got himself into a bit of a jam. We’re looking for a guy named Guy. Guy Monday.”
“Who’s really looking?” Harry asked.
The Slasher started to laugh, the jowls under his jaw shaking.
“Be nice to Ricardo,” Harry told the Slasher. “After all, he’s one of us now, aren’t you? Probably the only new-gen Aristo you and I are ever gonna meet who likes to slum around up here with the rest of us inconnu garbage, and not just visit for the slots. His family was one of the first who started burrowing. Made it a bit of a class issue for all Rebis Ross. Young Ricardo here had a future, didn’t you know? Oh, yes. Going places. All the right family connections. But then he decided to be a private dick. Live in with that old fart.”
“Gee, and I’d heard you were the clever one,” the Slasher said. “That was your thing, wasn’t it? Being smart. Until you weren’t.”
“Luckily for me I’ve made so many friends here in the Old Quarter.”
They all laughed at that.
“I’ve heard of this Bronsky,” Harry said, clapping me on the back. “Isn’t he the one who keeps all of his family in stasis until he dies?”
“Well, the man is busy,” the Slasher said. “He can’t be worrying half his time about his children wanting to inherit early, if you get my drift. Still says a lot for him that he keeps them around to inherit once he croaks. Sense of familial duty and all that. Why don’t you find a real job, Tanhauser?” he finished, but I could tell the search engine in his cerebellum was already accessing every available database on Ganymede. If he had to, he’d Wittgenstein a couple not so available.
In the meantime I told Harry about poor Hunka Junk’s plight, if only to elicit some laughs.
“Odd,” he muttered. “Bronsky is big time, but not that big. Why would he need military wetware?”
“Nobody’s that big,” I suggested. “Why would any inconnu want to destroy Day City?”
“So Bronsky is the devil, but in the Book of Job sense; Satan as God’s employee.”
The Slasher sat down, the blank expression on his face replaced by one of exhaustion. He grinned. “Ninotchka.”
Major Tom reached the very edge of the Lakhmu crevice, where the city’s oldest structures crenellated the walls, and got off his pogo-stick. He slung the stick over his shoulder and started climbing down the carved steps of the immense granite wall. Carlos dropped his own stick by the nearest stand and followed suit, under the paradoxical structure of Escher House. A long stone bridge spanned the Original Chasm, its balustrades adorned by the marble statues of dead astronauts, all weighted down by fur coats or elaborate Hussar jackets. More than one rode a galloping horse, presumably into the stars. The shadow cast by the bridge coincided with Major Tom’s descent. Across the large crevice more buildings could be seen on the other side, but other than the bridge, nothing impeded the open view of the vast diamond dome. Carlos stopped and stared at the twinkling lights on the other side.
Swimming so close to the translucent surface, almost as if they were crawling on it, the glowing figures of giant Cretaceous coelacanths glided by gracefully. Also dancing against the dark backdrop of space were several anglerfish, their bioluminescent spines protruding above their tiny eyes, their voracious mouths bristling with serrated teeth. Once, when he’d been a kid, Carlos had actually seen one of the legendary Carcharocles Megalodons, all 40 meters in length, they had first spliced for deep-space habitation back when Day City had been founded. Ricky refused to believe him, of course, but he knew what he’d seen. Most people thought those first monsters had either drifted away, and eventually fallen into Jupiter’s gravitational well, or simply died. The greatest of all white sharks, after being extinct for over three million years, had had one last quick gasp before vanishing from the face of the universe again. That was ludicrous, of course. Carlos liked to believe they were still out there, somewhere. Silently swimming between the moons. The Coelacanth themselves had been extinct for sixty five million years before we brought them back. No way they were going away that easily.
It was only when the muzzle of Johnny Anhedoniac’s gun was pressed against his face that Carlos stopped looking for antediluvian white sharks.
“Johnny,” he said. “Long time no see.”
Major Tom walked behind Carlos right then, hands inside his pockets. “You know the old geezer?”
“You could say that. My boys and I have an old axe to grind against Carlitos here.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Carlos said. “That was last orbit! That girl is probably making some Iad Hollanda plutocrat suicidal even as we speak. You should be thanking me. Can’t you just forget and forgive?”
Anhedoniac shoved the gun against Carlos’ cheek. “Take a wild guess.”
“Put the gun down, Johnny,” Major Tom said. He peeled off his right glove. A karma counter glowed darkly on his palm. Carlos’ face sank. Supposedly they didn’t exist. Indeed, most respectful citizens lived their lives blissfully unaware of them. Every inconnu knew about the Varna, though. If that dark gem touched Carlos’ palm, all of his karma points would be erased. Forever. He’d be reduced to the lowest economic group, not just penniless but all the way to Untouchable status, shunned by any and all financial institutions. Legally dead, he might as well jump off these steps right now.
“I work for Hunka Junk,” he said calmly, trying to hide the hysteria off his voice. “We were hoping for some sort of peaceful negotiation.”
“A peaceful negotiation.”
“Of course. Something to compensate you and your people for all your troubles.”
Major Tom grinned broadly.
“You fool. Monday did us a favor. The moment we realized why they wanted the Kaiju, we tried pulling the plug ourselves. Your friend and his crew are just unfortunate collateral. We don’t really want people knowing what we were mixed up with.”
“They? Who’s they?”
“Day’s City’s Founding Fathers, of course.”
Marienbad Avenue was where most of the disenfranchised slots hung at night cycle. Most of them flaunted their belly buttons obscenely, announcing, or pretending, their natural birth. Most clients preferred decanted slots, of course. It was a harmless act of defiance. Carlos once told me that slots used to show their tits back in the day, as silly as it sounded.
I knew most of them by sight and some of them waved at me, making fun of Hunka Junk behind his back. I spotted Little Ninotchka standing against a wall, right on the edge of the Szent István Platz, fiddling with her karma counter, like every other inconnu does from birth. The building housed the Gently Into That Good Night establishment. A large semi-sentient sign danced on its main window:
Euthanasia & Mercy Killings For All. Dignified Release Forms!
“You’re only gonna manage to drop yourself into Shudra credit ratings,” I said.She beamed when she saw me and put her arms around me. “Ricky!” As always, her face looked as if she’d applied her makeup during a snowstorm blizzard. Uneven raccoon spots haloed her eyes, with tears of mascara streaking down her cheeks. Her purple lipstick was running down one end of her small mouth, like a trickle of blood after a beating.
“You want E?” she said breathlessly. “I know somebody dealing E.”
“Real E, or fake E?”
“Last time I had any actual Euphoria I was still all flesh. No man, I mean Euphemism.”
Euphemism was basically cut Euphoria, palimpsest Euphoria, usually with aspirins. The buzz lasted only minutes, rather than hours, it wasn’t as good, and basically one felt like crap for the rest of the day. It was ten times cheaper than real E, though, so it was the drug of choice for most indentured golem prostitutes like Little Nina.
“Pass,” I said, and stroked the metallic implants lining her neck. Little Nina was mestizo, not quite machine but not quite human anymore. After so many transplants the line had blurred. Constant upgrades were an addiction to some. Playing hooky to men and meks alike was the only way for her to survive now. What can I say? Some machines find human orifices more appealing, and if that’s how they got their jollies, who am I to judge? Karma is karma. Her left leg and both arms were completely mechanical, except for the right forearm, crisscrossed by silver and aluminum threads, but still muscle and flesh. Her left eye and nipples, too. Part of the inside walling in her vagina. I had to admit she was a piece of work. If only I was interested in what she was selling.
“We could always call Mandala Bob and get some Rapture,” Nina said.
Rapture was pure Euphoria, injected into your veins, and it was aptly named.
“Your funeral. But don’t let me stop you. I’m game if you let me watch.”
“Not much point in doing drugs by myself, is there?”
“You’d be surprised, kid.”
I worried about Little Nina. Needlessly, of course. She could probably take better care of herself than I ever could. I still wished she’d listen to me and join one of the Bene Tesseract whorehouses. Unionized slots had better life-expectancy. Mestizos had a hard time getting accepted.
She kept glancing at Hunka Junk. “So why are you here, then? And what’s with the mek?”
“I thought a mestizo would at least spare me the bigotry,” Hunka Junk said.
“I need a favor,” I said.
“You? Nah, not possible.”
“Guy Monday,” I said. Her mongrel grin slowly evaporated.
“What about him?”
“According to the Slasher, he’s one of your top clients. And I couldn’t help notice my Krome Magnon friend is making you nervous.”
“The freaking Slasher? Charming. Don’t tell me you’re back with that crew. What’s Carlitos say about that?”
“The man can get results. I don’t even know how he found out this much.”
“Didn’t you hear? I’m not freelancing no more. I’m with the Night’s Black Agents Escort Service now. Lots more benefits, including protection, but a bit less privacy, apparently.”
I’d noticed the big eidolon watching us, growing more sullen as it became obvious we weren’t potential customers and just wasting her time. I ignored him, and told her the whole sordid tale.
“You got it backward,” it’s what she said.
The vehicles rocketing up and down the nearby Autobahn provided a constant background hum, like cicadas in the distance. A funicular car went up the Steps.
“What do you mean?”
“Guy didn’t welsh on the deal with Bronsky. Well, not exactly. It’s not that the package got caught and he bolted. He’s the one blew the whistle, then he took off.”
“With Bronsky’s karma.”
“Sure, why not.”
Why not indeed. It was hard to argue with inconnu logic. Still…
“Why? Why risk it all?”
“I haven’t a clue, but I know exactly who wanted to have dinosaurs roaming around Day City.”
We rode down to the Greek Quarter on a crowded tramcar. Blaring horns announced the arrival of the midnight deep-space freighter. The condensation trapped under the diamond finally broke, and turned into a sudden light rain, just to match my mood. The freaking weather control seldom seemed to work anymore up here in the Old Quarter. You can bet there were no rains deeper underground. Conveniently, the tramcar’s terminus was the Synagogue looming over the Cesny Gate, so there was no reason for anyone to be suspicious of our presence. Massive onion domes towered over us, the dizzying heights of their structures only possible because of the low gravity. The huge façade of the synagogue was rendered hazy by the drizzle. The rain emptied the streets.
“You sure about this?” Hunka Junk said, eyeing the synagogue.
I’d thought about leaving Hunka Junk back with Nina, but it was probably best to keep him where I could see him. I stopped when I noticed the large limo parked right outside. Major Tom got off, followed by that prick Johnny Anhedoniac. They dragged Carlos out of the car. Then came out Bronsky himself. They all went inside the synagogue.
I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so we followed them. The place appeared deserted. I accessed Carlos’ feed to listen to what was going on. Bronsky was no fool. He was obviously jamming Carlos’ subconscious blog and any other conscious signals, but Carlos and I shared an unconscious rapport. An expensive app, but worth every penny.
“So what is this place?” Carlos’ voice came out loud and clear inside my head. Music could be heard from deeper inside.
“That would be Doctor Pasternak,” Bronsky said. Carlos looked straight at him, but the bandwidth was weak and the image kept freezing. “This place was once used as a concert hall before they had to shut its doors and the Yids took over. The good doctor still likes to make the best out of the magnificent acoustics under the cupola. Dvorak, Debussy, you name it.”
Bizarrely, right then Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in A-Minor was blasting.
“You hear that?” Bronsky said. “The good doctor’s in a fit of inspiration!”
“Welcome!” A man in a white frock coat yelled over the noise, sitting before a gigantic organ at the end of the corridor, his hands sweeping over the keyboard. “I was wondering when you’d be showing up. And you brought guests, I see!”
Bronsky leveled a gun at the man, who grinned and kept playing.
“Time to terminate our relationship, doctor.”
All of a sudden the image feed on my head went crazy, and it wasn’t the poor bandwidth. The floor and the ceiling rolled, and there was screaming and legs flailing. The image finally stopped shaking, and the doctor was back. He was still sitting, but his back twisted 180° and he faced me/Carlos with an insane grin.
I pulled at Hunka Junk and hurried inside the long corridor. The cavernous room at the end was just like I’d seen it inside my head. The organ against the wall, the man in white playing. Carlos and Bronsky’s group were laying on the floor, flapping around like fish out of water.
The doctor’s legs were still playing absently with the organs pedals, but he was facing his “guests”. They’d surgically removed his spinal chord, apparently. Casually, he took off his white frock. He was wearing a bizarre suit underneath. It was like he was and he wasn’t there at the same time. It made my eyes water if I looked at him for more than a couple of seconds. Like staring at ultraviolet light for too long. There seemed to be a ghostly afterimage of him, as if my eyes were crossed.
“I call it a quantum jerkin,” he beamed with pride.
“It’s slightly smarter than a simple semi-sentient tattoo,” Pasternak said. “One billion times over. Same basic principle, though. The chemical suit’s filled with programmable ink whose basic quantum instructions are to try to apply some order to the atomic chaos.”
“You work for me, you little freak. Don’t you forget that. Nothing has changed.”
“Oh, I’m afraid everything has changed. And I never really worked for you. If anything, it was the other way around. My real masters can buy your whole little operation without a second thought and it would barely register in their ledgers. You can picture my masters as the Prime Mover in your universe.”
The Prime Mover? My mind, or rather my search engine, raced before I could even think about it. He probably meant it the same way St. Thomas Aquinas did.
“The Rebis Ross,” Carlos said,.
“Finally! Someone with a brain.”
“The Rebis Ross wanted the Kaiju?” Bronsky said. “But why?”
He laughed. “Operation Shoah.” Another fit of laughter shook him hysterically.
The bandwidth was actually pretty good in here, for whatever reason, and my brain immediately deciphered its meaning. Holocaust. What the fuck?
Still laughing, Pasternak shot Bronsky in the face. Major Tom shrieked as he tried getting back to his feet, only to fall flat on his face.
“Not so easy to move in a 4D environment, is it?” said Pasternak. “It’s like the quantum origami walls on the Escher House. Not only are your eyes feeding you contradictory data, but all your other senses as well. Is that you trying to get up, or are you here falling down already? Or are you all just arriving, listening to Bach at the end of the hallway? You can’t think, you can’t make decisions by yourself anymore. Effectively, your brain is suffering from a severe case of abulia.”
Carlos tried to say something.
“That slight numbness you’re feeling on the side of your body is just a simple case of paresthesia, an accidental side-effect. Your friend Monday was good enough to give us a first-hand demonstration.” He waved absently at one of the pipes behind the organ. Something, someone, was stuffed inside one of them, like a broken doll.
“I-I don’t understand,” Anhedoniac managed to say.
“Of course you don’t. Even if you weren’t experiencing 3D withdrawals, you wouldn’t be able to grasp it fully.”
“The Escher House…” Carlos babbled.
Pasternak stopped. “Yes. It’s a pity you have to die. You seem like someone with a head.” He smiled, almost shyly. “All right. Why not? I was going to fit the daikaiju with quantum jerkins. Unleash them on the Escher House. Give the Iad Hollanda a casus belli.”
War. I’d heard the same kind of alarmist claptrap from Carlitos, and older gents like him, often enough. For the past couple of years and the next two or three years some of that anti-Iad Hollanda rhetoric would quiet down. The orbital configuration with Saturn meant we wouldn’t have to worry about that for a little while, while the ringed planet and the big bad Iad Hollanda were on the other side of the sun. In five more years, though, when we were right next to them, the locals would be shrieking for war all over again.
“They think they don’t need us anymore,” Pasternak said. “That’s why they seceded from the Rebis Ross umbrella. Time to show the Iad Hollanda the facts of life!”
“Madness…” Carlos said. “They’ll destroy us!”
Pasternak ignored him. “The worst part is all of this could’ve been avoided. If Monday hadn’t had a sudden attack of conscience. If only you people had taken in the karma, you’d all be swimming in naked girls right now.”
“Not my cup of herbal, I’m afraid,” Carlos said.
I swallowed the tab of math. Sweat started pouring out of my forehead, as my brain began overheating. For the next minute I was smarter than anyone in there, even that lunatic doctor. My mind deciphered the nonsense noise all my senses were feeding it. I could see what was going on. I switched my Palm on and waited for online access. The layer between the epidermis line on the Palm of my hand and dermis turned phosphorescent, with a screen of mechanoreceptors saturating the epithelium, which my Eyepod could decipher. Moving a hundred times faster than normal, I started typing commands with my other hand. I had most of the necessary data inside of thirty seconds. Time to get that spineless bastard. I raced from behind the column and shot at Pasternak. The needle flew straight and true, a 2D trajectory slicing across the 4D universe, and hit him in the chest. Hunka Junk bolted and ran for the nearest exit.
Pasternak shambled forward, even though he was still lying right there on the floor with his face caved in. He was also playing the organ. A second Pasternak, still wearing the white robe, produced a hypodermic and boxed me in, cornering me against the organ.
I was still typing frantically into the Palm of my hand. I cursed. I could use a bit more RAM over here. They were inching closer, their hands advancing a millimeter every minute. It was still not enough. I needed more time. Or more juice.
Without any options, I shut down some basic body functions, switching power to my humming brain. I almost had it. Pasternak grabbed me by the throat. I couldn’t move my legs. He squeezed with both hands. I had stopped breathing properly a split second before he got me, anyways. Pasternak injected the needle on a crystal vial and drew some dreadful black liquid. Pasternak finished the last bar of the fugue. Every joule in my dying body was on my hummingbird fingers and burning brain. I figured the codes, my fevered head at last visualizing the fourth dimension, god the rush, the rush, and pressed enter…
The way Carlos tells it, next thing he knew all the Pasternaks vanished, unable to process the 2D universe I had enclosed them in. There was only dead Pasternak on the floor.
According to Carlos, Major Tom shot Pasternak in the face again, just to make sure. Let the Rebis Ross know the inconnu are garbage, but the inconnu don’t want a war.
Way he tells it, and this is the most unbelievable part of the tale, Anhedoniac put his arms around Carlos when it was all over.
“So, we’re cool?” I said.
“We’re cool,” Carlos said. With Major Tom, who’d just inherited a nice little operation, and with Johnny Anhedoniac, who’d just got a promotion. More than likely with that weasel Hunka Junk, who hadn’t had the nerve to show his face ever since.
I didn’t try to figure it out. Either I’d fried my brain that night, or I was back to normal, and just feeling a hundred times slower and dumber by comparison. Either way, I try not to think too much these days. Gives me a headache.
“What do you say we call it a night?” I said. The office had been quiet for a while.
“My place or yours?”
“As long as you can please each and every one of my chakras, or fuck me until I’m unconscious, I don’t really care.”
“Life is in the details. In the slaps it keeps giving you to the face, and how you react to those,” he said, as he kissed my face slowly.
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“You okay, hon?” Carlos asked.
“Just dandy. “
About the Author
This is the earliest known photograph of Armando Saldaña Salinas, the infamous bon vivant, playwright and novelist who shocked Victorian society with his lurid autobiographical accounts (having in his youth been involved in a number of scandals and dubious adventures throughout most of the continent). As he appears without his notorious whiskers, the picture is believed to have been taken on Piccadilly the night after he lost that famous wager with Lord Raglan which ended with him shipping for the Crimea, and where he participated in the disastrous “Charge of the Light Brigade”, later immortalized by his good friend Tennyson, and for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. As you can tell from his expression, he is not amused.
It was while teaching at Magdalen College in Oxford, shortly afterwards, that he encouraged a young Oscar Wilde to wear his hair long. It was also at Oxford where he famously composed his To Celia sonnets. After his expulsion from Oxford he traveled abroad, looking to make his fortune. The Twentieth Century saw him soldiering with Sun Yat-Sen, as well as Pancho Villa, while also getting drunk with Picasso and Modigliani at Monet’s house on Giverny, before eventually doing a spot of bootlegging Canadian whisky and English gin into New York during the 1920s, where he finally struck gold. The well-known photograph of him at the Savoy on Lennox Avenue the night Benny Goodman went uptown to duel Chick Webb in 1937 was taken at the height of his fame, and remains part of Harlem lore to this day.
Following the advice of William Burroughs, Salinas eventually settled down in Mexico City, where he still lives. He idles his time away reading everything, and writes about it on his blog.
Post a comment on this story!
Back To Flurb Home Page...