by Rudy Rucker
[Quite recently my antiquarian bookseller friend, Revel Gibson, came into possession of five previously unpublished letters written by William Burroughs in Tangier, Morocco. The letters are variously addressed to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and to Burroughs’s father, Mortimer. The letters date from December 20, 1954 to December 25, 1954; the first two are hand-written, and the final three are typed. The muse of history agreeably grants that these letters sketch out a sequel to the events I reported in “The Imitation Game,” Interzone 215, April, 2008 (also available as a free podcast). I am presently researching the history of the Burroughs Corporation’s Special Systems Research Lab in Paoli, Pennsylvania, 1954-1958, to see if further traces of Alan Turing’s hidden career can be found.]
To Allen Ginsberg
Tangiers, December 20, 1954
I been pounding my keys for a silo-fulla-queer-corn story this month...to the point where my typewriter seize up and croak. So I come at you direct through my quivering quill. Imagine a hack writer fixes with ink and he enters his personal Xanadu pleasure dream. But then the Great Publisher reject him outta Eden.
I’ve settled back into Tangier, they got everything I want. Each trip to the homeland drags me more. How did we ever let our cops get so out of hand?
If I ever started feeling sorry for my parents, I’d never stop. I’m a disappointment, but having gone thus far, I’d be a fool not to go further. My word hoard is compost, from which the lovely lilies will bloom.
Too bad you and me didn’t contact personal for orgone fix, but I couldn’t make it to California with all them conditionals you were laying down.
Why are you scared of mind-meld? Our buddy-buddy microscopic symbiotes do it alla time. Dysenteric amoeba Bil meets sexy-in-his-bristles paramecium Al, they rub pellicles—ah, the exquisite prickling, my dear—and shlup! My protoplasm is yours, old thing, the two of us conjugated into a snot-wad so cozy. I see me in a Mother Bull Hubbard ectoplasmic gown, tatting antimacassars to drape over that harrumph Golgi apparatus of yours.
“Just a routine,” says Clem, standing bare-ass on the milking stool while the gray mare kicks screaming through the barn wall. “Sorry, old girl, I meant to use lard, not liniment.”
The local worthies presented me with the key to the city—a nicely broken-in kief pipe stamped with arabesques. Ululating crowds of Spanish and Arab boys bore my pierced sedan chair though the streets. I’m installed in a Casbah seraglio, $23 per month, a clean plaster suite at Piet the Procurer’s, with an extra bedroom and a balcony affording microscopic views of the souk.
Brilliant clear Mediterranean skies. I’m a myrmecophilous arthropod in the African anthill—a parasite/symbiote whom the Insect Trust tolerates on account of my tasty secretions.
Science-fiction idea for a virus that infects matter. It’s, like, a rune cast by alien cockroaches. The Roach Rune leeches the sparkle of the sun from the waves, the Japanese outlines from the pines, the exquisite curls of steam from my cup of mint tea. These stolen vital forces are channeled into reanimated zombie minions of Harry J. Anslinger patrolling every street corner of Our Cuntree. Vote Insect Trust or die.
Kiki seems genuinely glad to have me back. What relief, to have a boy who cares for me. I’ve already given him some of my new dry goods. The pith helmet. The feather-duster. I’m this staghorn beetle lurches in, legs furiously milling, the ants swarming over me like slow brown liquid, flensing off my waxy build-up, a peaceful click of chitin from my sun-stunned den.
Eukodal back in stock at the farmacia. But dollies, M tubes and codeineetas still in short supply. Brian Howard is like to have burned down the place this summer. “I just don’t feel right in the morning without I have my medication.” Brian’s gone home to the Riviera, buying a castle, my dear.
You gotta dig the Socco Chico when you and Jack come. The Little Market, the anything-goes interzone of the Interzone. Maybe I write a magazine piece about it for Reader’s Digestive, you be my agent, and we retain intergalactic telepathy rights.
By way of Socco Chico color, I run into an Oxbridge chum of Brian’s at the Cafe Central last night, a math professor type. I know him from the summer, but yesterday I hardly recognize him...his face all dead and gray. Calls himself Zeno Metakides, but he talk like a full-on Brit boffin. Languid blither, with stutters and pauses like Morse code. Pathetically glad to talk to me, and I’m all ears, lonely Ruth amid the alien corn.
Zeno thinks everything is a machine, says biology is programmable, and after I stand him to some cognacs, he unloads about his face. He says it’s a fake, a meat disk that he cultured in a pan and it’s grown onto him like a lichen on a boulder. While he’s talking, he picks shreds of flesh off his cheeks.
Picking up on my visceral repulsion, the prof reassures me that his face-rot is a personal condition and not a communicable disease. Says he’s “safe as houses” and that he goes running on the beach five miles every morning for his health. It’s a wonder the boys don’t tear him apart bare-handed and roast him like a goat.
He tells me he have another problem besides his face, viz. he is subject to eviction from his room for reasons of “financial embarrassment.” And then the evening break into blotches and streaks.
And now...oh the horror, Allen, the horror...I hear Zeno’s voice in the street. Real time message from the Burroughs memory unit: I offered to let the decaying math prof bunk in the spare room of this whorehouse suite where I hang my Writer shingle. He’s coming up the stairs with Piet the Procurer, his gray pieface aimed unerringly my way like a lamprey’s toothed sucker disk.
To Jack Kerouac
Tangier, December 22, 1954
Jack, tell Maw Kerouac shut her crusty crack about me being a bad influence, of all the misguided abuse I ever stand still for. What you need is find you a decent woman, son. Marry the gash and tell your control-knob maw to wipe her own wrinkled ass alla time...
I’m practicing my winning sales pitch in case the writing game don’t pan out and I am reduce to sell cooking gear like Neal. Ideas flap in my belfry like hairy jungle bats. Ah, don’t turn away, my lad, I need you. Voice quavering from the darkness of Father Jack’s confessional booth. I got confidential doings that I gotta spill or else I wig already. I buggered my typing machine, your grace. Commence Scrivener’s Tale...
Against my better judgment, I am temporarily lodging a shameless mooch who call himself Zeno Metakides, only he a Brit scientist in disguise. He was a code breaker in the War, and the authorities are out to liquidate him on account of he’s queer. His legit handle is Alan Turing, but that don’t come from my primly pursed lips.
Turing is two years older than me, slim and fit, awkward and mechanical, with a robotic grating laugh. Dizzy with Wee Willy Lee’s majoun-tea and sympathy, he’s been pouring out his tormented heart. He’s quite impressed with my pedigree, says he’s had dealings with a giant artificial brain that use a Static Magnetic Memory unit from my grandpaw Bill’s Burroughs Corporation.
Says he’s going mad from mental inanition, what with no brain food other than the shrieking of the Socco Chico queens and the odd desultory chat with a hired gland. Strickly Platonic between him and me, you understand, we’re two logico-analytic brains in jars, Turing and me, except when I catch his brain stem shlupping across the counter and vining up Kiki’s leg.
But that’s nothing compared to the real-life routine my prof-in-residence is laying down... and this is the tasty part. Turing is wearing an artificial face, a meat-skin flesh mask that he pancaked on to escape the Limey Spook Heat.
Says he grew the face from a sample taken from the tip of his lover’s nose... that being the original Zeno Metakides. Seems the stumblebum UK SS Hit Squad poisoned Metakides instead of Turing. They used a pot of cyanide tea, how cozy. Whiz that Turing is, he quick grew copies of his phiz and of Zeno’s dead pan, reassigned identities, and left the tarted corpse back home, escaping with the Metakides passport to...where else but old Bull Lee’s trap in Tangier. It’s like Allah sends him here special to be my gunjy muse.
Fed by the Interzone’s miasmas, his face-rot have turn galloping necrotic. As soon as he move in with me, Turing drop all dignity and begin mewling and clawing at himself, “Oh how it burns, Bill, can you give me something for the pain?” My rep have precede me.
I fix him with an ampule of Eukodal and sit in my rocking chair watching the show. While he’s dreamy, this one particular centipede name of Akhmed crawl outta the crack by the toilet bowl to munch on his cheek. I break off a twitching bug-leg and smoke it in my tessellated pipe.
This afternoon the situation reach the inevitable crisis, as Turing’s horrible condition is turn him into a junk hog. I find all my ampules gone, and my guest is nodded out on the shitter floor. In a spasm of disgust I am compelled to remove his moribund facial tissues, using my scalpel-sharp shiv to sever the capillary-rich roots.
Burned Zeno’s face in the bidet, I did, doused it in canned heat. Hideous crackling stench. An Arab gendarme come pounding on my door, I yell that I’m making a pork couscous, and can I borrow a pint of piss. And then Turing rises up from his sedation and runs out to the balcony screaming like lobster lost his shell, blending his voice with the muezzin in the minaret across the way.
The stub of Turing’s original face is red and raw like dysenteric buttocks. Taking pity, I give him the last of my M tabs. He’s asleep on the couch now, with smooth jelly ooze on his face...UDT...undifferentiated tissue, liable to take root and grow anywhere. I dab a dip on the tip of my spine, hoping to sprout a lemur tail.
To Jack Kerouac
Tangers, December 24, 1954
Turing fixed my typewriter, so now it’s back to the novel, if it is a novel. Maybe I just interleave the carbons of my letters with you-are-there descriptions of my innaresting daily routines. “I live my art,” says the Author, smoothing his eyebrow with buffed-nail pinkie. “Don’t you?” What I need is a television camera broadcasting me all day long. “You got an audience of like two, Boss. A hebephrenic and a blind leper.”
We find our protagonist in his louche Casbah suite...the plot as thick as the goat offal simmering on his alcohol stove. Cook it up and shoot it, hode.
Continuity slug: House-guest Alan Turing was hogging my junk to the point where I find my day’s box of Eukodal ampules empty before the Hour of Prayer. So I shave off the dying Zeno face that was paining him. Made a man of him, I did, only he look like lunch counter hamburger meat.
This afternoon, while the convalescing Turing fiddle-fucks with my broken typewriter, I watch a buzzard circling the fellahin sky. I am telepathically one with the bird, taking in the fragrant cedar of the souk braziers, the kief pipes’ glad exhalations, the drying jissom on pearly bellies, the slow rotting of the black meat, and the persistent pong of the parasitic Zeno Nu-Face that I burn in the bidet yesterday. Flashback of me stirring the ashes with my double-jointed three-foot switch-blade.
Clickity-clack. Happy keys on my typewriter now. I dance the alphabet while my zombie-face professor putters in at my kitchen counter. He plan to change his looks yet again, and then to obtain a fresh passport...blissfully unknowing that the Interzone Heat have close down the Tangier paperhangers last week on account of a Venusian sea slug pass himself off as the Norwegian consul and infect half of Embassy Row with Happy Cloak addiction which result in they metamorphose into scaly folders smell of lutefisk. “I am my papers.”
Turing’s company is wearing thin, he has a laugh like a starter-motor. I can’t ascertain if he has hard feelings over my emergency surgery on him, his raw-meat phiz being somewhat hard to read. He giving me the horrors with his boffin etiquette. “I say, Burroughs, could you possibly procure a pint of potassium permanganate?”
He’s sent me out to the farmacia twice today for like streptococcal infusion and bovine growth hormone, the latter come in glass tubes like icicles that Turing crack open to drip yellow glow-juice into his little reagent vat...formerly my cooking-pan and now destined, I shouldn’t wonder, for the Royal British Museum of the History of Bio-Computational Science.
Drip, stir, measure, mix, low mutter, squeak of pencil on paper...last night Turing sneak out and steal two car batteries he use to power a mad-scientist all-fluid self-generating television show...he not care about making me felony burglary accessory after the fact.
The batteries connect to pulsing color juice between two sheets of glass he cut out of my window. I watch it this morning for a few hours...jaguar yage visions, n-dimensional towers, sea cucumbers of the hollow earth, branching tentacles of the Crooked Beetle, and then Joan’s annulled face transitioning through the days and months of decomposition...Turing at his image controls, watching me sob, his raw face unreadable.
Despite all recent reverses, he is manfully eager to emigrate to Amerikkka and set to work building Giant Artificial Brains for his new homeland. May the wind be at your heels, laddie.
One thing he say this afternoon is very disturb me. Turns out he know he can’t buy fake papers. “Tomorrow for Christmas, I want to be you.” Teeth bared in a corpse rictus grin, voice flat and wistful like a prairie orphan. At this point, I’d throw Kiki off the sled and into Turing’s slavering jaws, but Kiki don’t come around no more. My lodger the Mathematical Brain is give everyone the creeps.
“Sorry to be a bother, Burroughs, but could you pop out for some powdered tungsten?” Like I owe him. Just because I carved off his nasty rotting face. Classic mooch psychology. I’m scared of him, Father Jack.
To Allen Ginsberg
Tanger, December 25, 1954
My plan today: take a break from junk so’s I can get my sex up...hit the Socco Chico and gift myself a Christmas boy...or eat majoun and be a centipede wriggle along the endless maze of Tanger shit pipes inspecting assholes.
But I got this like house guest Alan Turing who spring a surprise routine of his own. When I wake up this morn, there’s no gay, bright presents...instead I see Turing’s become a human-sized slug all slimy with UDT. He slime up onto the wall and across the ceiling, he move very fast for a mollusk, like speeded up movie, shluppp, he drop down and assimilate me right in my bed. Our skins quilt themselves together...all is one... everything is merged inside. We’re filled with white light ecstasy, our four tranced eyes stare up like empty mirrors.
Sexy the way our livers slide across each other, tasty how our bones bump the grind. With the orgone pleasure rush comes a nausea like I never feel it before, my trillions of cells in revolt against Turing’s violation of the immune system code...
Feeling overly full, your humble correspondent lumbered down the stairs to his filth-strewn back yard and took a seventy kilogram dump...eliminating redundant units like a corporation right-sizing herself after a handsome acquisition. Mercy me, but I was shivers all over when I passed that gentleman’s skull. Can’t say as I actually looked back at what I shit out, just scuffed some dust over the remains like a dog does, then hurried back inside for a festive libation. For the first time in years, I’m feeling no craving for junk...cognac and Miss Green are more than equal to my needs.
I sat down at my well-oiled typewriter prepared to transmit you this latest news...and then came that confrontation which every man fears and longs for most.
The shambling thump of...something Burroughsian... huffing up the sun-sharpened stairs to my door, the unholy creature dragging himself towards me like a canvas sack of black meat.
Taking a jiu-jitsu stance, I open my door to find...a lean, weathered man with thin lips and a sly smile, bald on top, horsy jaw, narrow nose, keen eyes, he’s really quite dazzling this fellow...I might as well be looking into a mirror. This weasel Turing have absorb my chromosomes so he can lift my papers. Call him Alan-William Turing-Burroughs now.
The obvious question: do we make fucky-fuck? Fie! Not each other’s type, my dear. Instead we rustle up a brace of fine pheasants in the Socco Chico, and while away a lovely Christmas afternoon in my digs, eating couscous and nibbling majoun between tastes of the Forbidden Fruit. Such expansiveness, such laughter and joy we shared. The rare company of a truly intelligent and pleasant man...luxe, calme et volupté...an oasis in the long caravan of life.
But then our hired boys leave, the intoxicants dry up, and my opportunistic double want to sit in my rocker and use my typing machine. He’s disloyal as a sheep-killing dog. Even under the ameliorating influence of my genes, his laugh still very ugly and he enjoy to talk about like Diophantine equations yet. And I have this feeling he gonna burst open any second and release uncountable numbers of Burroughs larvae worming and feeding off my life.
So I pull my shiv and we agree it best he leave town tonight on the eight o’clock ferry to Spain. I’m giving him a hundred dollars, my passport and a letter of reference...just for the pleasure of seeing his questionable ass going out my door before he get me exiled from this land of Nod. Still some details to wrap up...and then for The Novel.
To Mortimer Burroughs
Tangiers, Christmas Day, 1954
The man who bears this letter and my passport has taken on my form as way to avoid unjust persecutions of the sort that I myself am subject to. I ask you to assist him as much as you can.
He is a pleasant gentlemen of sober habits and considerable scientific skill. He hopes to find work in the new business of designing industrial computing machines. I realize that you’ve long since sold your stock in the Burroughs Corporation, but perhaps you still have some contacts among the higher-ups. I think he would do very well in a research lab.
I won’t try to explain how it is that he took on my appearance. Suffice it say that the interaction had no bad effects on me...far from it, I feel livelier than usual, and I am full of energy for my next book.
Rest assured that I remain your true son Billy, and that I am indeed still in Tangier. I can arrange a confirming telephone call through the US Legation if you like. By no means should you discontinue my monthly payments.
Love to Mother, and Merry Christmas to you both.
About the Author
Rudy Rucker has worked as a mathematics professor, a software engineer, a computer science professor, a writer, and an artist. He’s published twenty-nine books, including a non-fiction book on the meaning of computers: The Lifebox, the Seashell and the Soul. He has been known to say everything is made of gnarl. He publishes and edits an online SF zine called Flurb. He’s currently writing a cyberpunkish trilogy of novels in which nanotechnology changes everything. The first in the series, Postsingular, appeared from Tor in Fall, 2007, and is also available for free download on the web. The second of the series, Hylozoic, will appear from Tor in 2009.
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