London Calling at the Top of the Dial

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Michael K Laidlaw About 12 000 words

#406 3524 31st NW

Calgary, Canada T2L 2A5

Email: 4451moana@gmail.com


London Calling at the Top of the Dial


by


Michael Kamakana

The bombing begins in five minutes.

-Ronald Reagan

- 07

Endgame

It has happened before: nothing will stop it now...

Evacuation continues but it is all theatre...

Discordant concert of sirens, air-raid alarms, hover engines and helicopter whispers- concert shatters into noise density increasing redundancy decays meaninglessness... sounds heard having no meaning, only violent being...

An evac voice drones overhead, computer voice...

Dull rumble of rocket impacts, screaming of descent, faint hiss of launch...

Along dikes of Embassy streams of refugees, former employees, informants, friendlies, intermingle and surge against blue-armored corps. High tide against river current. Corps abandon dike and cross the moat, there joining riotclad HGs manning walls. Garden circle is swirling with last-second evacuees jammed into whatever groundbound turbochoppers still wait, children and lovers and staff all rippling away in centipede circles from downwash of their takeoffs. Crying and screaming and begging. Orders thrown into crowded smoky air, from unknown source to unknown receiver. Chanting of a football club song comes from a wedge of subverses pressing through crowds beyond the moat. Crude weapons, stones and bricks, bullet-blasts, pitched grenades lobbed against HG and corps, all blossom as if flashbulbs against security shield. We are on emergency power. We have five minutes left. Who do we leave behind?

‘Sir!’ an ensign calls, snapping to attention in the doorway, reflection a faint thin ghost on trembling window. ‘Sir CenVec Int has cleared all cargo and primed for melt all inplace tech floors five and six are you finished in here sir?’

I nod and the boy leaves. Somewhere on fringes of New City our greater sec shield rises in an invisible dome, a dome now flexing and decaying buffeted by Emp and senkal attack. Test rockets erupt as if fireworks. AVS has won; it is only a matter of minutes before sec shield decays and our city is theirs. Already subverses work inside, sabotage emergency power, attack Embassies, rise against Quarter Houses and dip blades in HG blood...

No surrender. No survival.

‘Sir?’ a boy from Int says as he scrambles in with his charges and wiring that will melt everything. ‘Sir your huey's off t-minus one twenty two seconds sir...’

I nod but do not move.

Firefall.

Embassy

I am Operative Probe. I work for Embassy. At least I think I do, that is limit I can go inside. 'Embassy' is an umbrella under which all major EcoBlocs on this Home Guard side of this war huddle: EuroEss and CoNAm. 'Embassy' can best be described as a safehouse for freelance research clearance. Why have fourteen different information gathering sections, one for each corp, one for each Skyside hab group, when one can do it for all? But that is theory. Reality is that none of us work with each other except hoping to find some new gap in our ally's armour because tomorrow or the next war he may be our enemy. So most of Op Probes have a series of graded affiliations to different corps and talented ones just move around, going higher and higher as bidding does...

And some remain solo and impartial and virtually invisible, understanding more of the system this way, allied to no one side, looking out for Number One...

I am this kind of Operative.

Week One

Drowning Islands. Dis-United Kingdom. Dream City... Nightmare City...

Names for these places, where history reaches from its pyre and takes yet another generation to death, a place we wish to forget, a place past, a place we would believe only an impotent ghost...

I have come Dirtside for this delicate operation: for it has been construct-modeled, peer-accepted, propaganda-promoted, that a series of facemeets can yet resolve this deepening mire, this ‘police action’, this war no one wants but no one can resolve...

Nglish is spoken here, naturally, but not a language I know or understand; a thick old old accent, archaic idioms, slang-infested with words from many many other live tongues. The driver speaks fluent eurospeak and willingly translates: he is obsequiously friendly, wishing to demonstrate that not all his countrymen have fallen so far in dignity, that there is here still politeness, honour, respect due authority, Dirtside or Skyside...

It is spring- a term used here in tense irony- an endless rainy season gradually relenting, gradually becoming weather rather than a state of being...

It is the first week in residence and all is new and sharp in a way sense-simulation never captures: viral stench of burning garbage, vomit liquids rising pungent from open sewers, flooded circular intersections, plastic-pink flesh and unmedicated lesions, captured Subverses work groups in prison neons, held together in fear of each other, beggars displaying absence of hands or limbs or ears or eyes, plaintive, demanding, crashing ignored, against limo windows- all random powerful signatures of the Real- all edited out for sensim tourists...

‘Can see how the Opposition can recruit in the city; all this misery, this pain and poverty...’ I offer.

‘Their own fault, waste no sympathy,’ the driver curses as projectiles of mud and stone bounce off our windshield. ‘Oppy can promise the moon ‘cause they never have to deal with that lot. Retros all. Peaceniks. Bubbleheads. Absolute. Kill them all, first thing in power...’

I nod approvingly to his scripted reply, wonder if he is on a logosprach or maybe believes what he says. We drift on, pass a garden with gigantic sunflower mutations, vicious genegeneered dogscrocodiles, gamecats hunting water rats- one pads by, teeth on living neck, taking the twitching rodent home to its kittens, to play. There is a protest ahead. Traffic circle dense with scrum of Subverses, chant rising through, and we are caught with transport vehicles and other lesser Orbit bureaucrats in our helicars, horns bleating music, voices mutant with words I’ve never heard, accents beyond any attempt at deciphering- doubtless not the city eager crats want to portray- not this first week: but I have surprised everyone, insisted on a tour, incog as possible, wanted to see the drowning Real, wanted to see habitants not modeled and scripted and unreal as PR can shade them. I have not surprised Oppy- or is this a regular problem, these clogged byways? The driver insists this a rare occurrence. Natives, grey as grey sprinkling sky, trudge unhappily beside, force ways over linked tubular arms of protesters- these marked by glistening camocloaks, burning red circles on their chests, centered by hands clenching sheafs of frankengrain: Oppy farmer co-ops...

I see a pair of packers, treads and arms removed, leaning against demolished pillars of an old old bank building. I ask my driver of protest. Corps have decided to appropriate the block for a centre-town firebase. Community claims need for infill, for gardens, for fields... interworlders down this street, wealthy ambassador facades, hired protestors, righteous they are above tofu and krillcake...

Screams, a thickening pink fog rising, and driver morphs to pilot now: his visor snaps down and voice fades cold professional, ventures a laugh, an unpleasant dismissive obscenity. Body of the limo begins to vibrate, to moan, to pulse, whines extending rotors- fugitive sense of weight then weightlessness- as we rise vertical and float above rooftops. Protestors now not even ants beneath our feet. Pink fog infiltrates coiled streets like an amoeba. There is a whistling sound of gunfire. Rocket flares. Another. Building shatters to dust, pilot swears, the world leaps in black then white, and Embassy places a calming hand over queasy heart...

I have risen into cottony clouds and the terrible city has fallen away...

Ministry of Love

‘Operation muthakunt what?’

‘Firefall. Sir.’

Tac debriefing following an unsuccessful sortie up Lake Country. Plastic-painted concrete room, two extruded mushroom chairs, one that wraps restraints over selfbody. Interrogators are connected to an SD Starcorps Int database on goldbraided threads through meltsoft portable decks, HV projections flicking through cuspsearch. I watch as Point works threads with musical precision in his fingers. I think of events ordered on one of these threads, tunes played, glass and metal beads, crystalline stable, finally forming a comforting rosary chain, a symphony of strings. I am a returning Special Observer for Comp CenVec Int ACE... an 'Eye'. Interrogators are SD superiors so I am never obligated to explain anything. Interrogator 'Eye' watches me without compassion; as if I am only shape on a wall, Rorschach stain, multidimensional shadow. He nods to Point: ready. Point speaks in a soft monotone, bored, jaded, disillusioned, even as he composes inventive sobriquets and unpleasant characterizations. Interrogation is routine: an absurd comedy, all players improvising, from one actorself to two audience...

‘Where you fukkin hear that muthakunt name, Seven? Us or them?’

‘Combat situation. Sir. Lake Country. Unsuccessful, no recall, unrecorded, no CLs recovered-’

‘Know fukkin no blade muthakunt CLs Uboy and we both fukkin know Why. What the muthakunt hell Uboy fukkin mean: ‘No Recall’?’

‘Exactly this. Sir. No mid-term memory. Standard Int ACE procedure when internal dynamics is threatened in a combat situation: lattice and lock for future recovery, but... something has happened. I have no understanding of how this is to be completed. Perhaps Int ACE knows. Sir.’

‘Maybe Uboy and you muthakunt spikedick aristoshits went fukkin burn Oppy ass. Maybe went fukkin pleasure cruise, see squeeky kunts up Lake Country. Little BM fukkin muthakuntsniffing Uboy? Little fukkin Substance-Shit-Shuttling?’

‘No, sir. I believe the target and run is on record. Sir.’

‘Fukkit muthakunt, heard this rap and roll. Fukkin forget it now. Just fukkin tell what Uboy ACE muthakunt down shitsorry squad? Assigning absolute AS? Recall it now, muthakunt.’

Fire Zone Cobalt

I am 'techspec': Specialist in On Program weaponry and perceptech evaluation from AGRL- Armaments Generale Recerche Lapointe- working my term Dirtside as sysop anacranym in Central Allocations. I am ambitious, tired of earning bits in this stream, so volunteer for fieldwork with SD commandos...

I am replaying my interview on CL:

-...commendable son, honorable, absolute, make a base tour, sure you have co-opt all way... absolute son, admit, is a feeling you Technical family... too distanced from reality-sanctioned experience battle, overdesign weaponry no one below repman class A4 can touch... worst, you entire oversensitive perceptech, have to gear cold, reset, absolute, to make combat sense: is just damn noisy out there, need better screening so we dont alert every fukkin falling leaf... absolute, makes the men paranoid, understand...-

I open my eyes and here I am, forecabin a PTH skimming Lakes Sea, route a firebase where some unmodified AVS Xtech been salvaged from a downed shuttle. Minor skirmish with Oppy and AVS mermen for the refinery cost seventy-five quality Skyside commandos, one-thirty HG MIA. Forty total KIA. No prisoners but wirehousekind, and we are not to even know. A big coup for a young comer in AGRL, if it comes off clear as sources at DZ-Int lay off. We should arrive in forty minutes.

‘Crazy Horse, where are we now?’ I ask.

‘Approaching Fire Zone Cobalt,’ the pilot says.

I pickup scan and sense aura of Free Traffic Zone and the Fire Zone beside.

‘Seem to be heading into Cobalt,’ I muse.

‘Ask the Commander,’ he nods.

I walk down a narrow corridor towards the Prep room, bumping past running ensign, smell kiss of pharmas rising through ventilators overhead. I hear the voice of a commando recounting his Hook ride down PZ Europort. A sour taste rinses my mouth. It disturbs me to see valuable, intricate, essential technology of sense-perception and simulation used for such immoral purposes as 'riding' the sense-envelope of hired minds- ‘Hooks’. No less than a slavery of mind and body, this. And of course AVS is behind it. This immoral use, this evil use... this is why we must destroy AVS, why we must make sure the Opposition never takes over the islands and it becomes a beachhead for taking the Continent...

The Commander is playing go with his LT. I thought the game would be dominos. Prep room is overgrown with massed, split, shells of battle armor, slung tubular encrustations of pulseguns and projectileguns, helmets marked with private graffiti and challenge. A cricket match in New New Delhi, an American Rules Football game in San Angeles, flicker HV clouds above other members of Squad Alpha Wolf...

I clear my throat and address an invisible frame between us:

‘Sir, it seems we're entering fire channel between Cobalt and FTZ-’

‘Shortcut, son,’ responds the Commander.

‘Sir?’

‘We gonna hearts'n minds these spikedick seafarmers here, boy. Teach'em be fukkin friendly with Uncle Oppy...’

‘But should we not be on CCS? We are entering a Ready yes?’

‘Loosen yo’ass Uboy- just don't shit here- thread too tight on the head?’ the LT glances up, shakes his head, snorts. ‘Techspec kunts: just too fukkin fly...’

The Commander does not censure this unprofessional dis, instead looks closely at the gameboard, chuckles, but does not place anything. I sense he is on an overlay- perhaps only subconsciously interred- of Strong Silent Sir. As much confidence as this may instill in his men, I am a thinking creature and require rational explanation. But it is clear another case of delicate psychtech technology misused- perhaps needed- to give this commando and his squad a sense of unity and purpose and strength. Why it has to be based on irrational dis of regs and unveiled dis of superiors is a question I will source later- these will never be self-conscious enough to read the question...

I switch back to the interview:

-... absolute, so I send you out some of my best: Squad Alpha Wolf, Platoon A, Company C, Tritex Birmingham. Orbit commandos, absolute, they ferry you, a coupla doctors up to MAPH 4077, so no face HG. Once there, absolute, set agenda, connect up DZ-Int, use my tag HG read you shit, undertake, son? O yes, and when you ride with the boys just no dispute the commander... a little wildsky, absolute, and what, but survives four terms and only down seventeen men- near record performance... don’t let the fact he a Dirtsider fool you: clean genes total...-

I open my eyes and the DZ captain's office disappears. That was what, five, six days ago? It seems a century. Never been outside the City before. Never sensed living on Earth was such a rainy, cold, tiring life. You know you never be able to get micrograv when you first come down but the Real is something else... and eventual you can swim in New City. I sense why AVS adapts commandos and people for underwater life: maybe too much pressure, yes, but at least you weightless.

- 06

Endgame

Here on the seventh floor it is all so much background noise. It is strangely as if a trance mantra, the entire sense-envelope of our native world chanting along to set a receptive state. But the war ends now and there is nothing to receive. No program. No identity. Do I still work for Embassy? When I jump the Well home is it under an original name or do I return under this identity: Ambassador Chandrasekhar of Trimurti Corp... friendly of EuroEss... native of Indi... first son Skyside hab Shiva 12...

Or is this my original name? It rolls on the tongue comfortably.

And from what I know of myself, I am a good man to be.

Honest. Direct. Powered.

A wall of light erupts along horizon, silhouetting bulky pyramids of flats, towers of coffins, clustered spires of New City financial district, glass towers and mirrored canals around half-shattered dome of St Paul's. Fireworks of decaying sec shield have given way to an aurora of final dissolution. Flash sparkle in my eyes even as I dampen and cut magnification down to normal. In a grainy afterimage I see negative images of crowded silver Thames, native barges, HG hovers, refugee boats, simulated venetian gondolas sliding between- as if searching out turistas- everyone leaves seaward if they can, dikes and docks swarming with last-second escapes... furniture of their lives abandoned on bridges, in warehouses, down docks...

A Firefly gunship hovers near eyelevel, ten metres level my window. Pilot swivels a narrow triangular window towards me and I switch to IR and sense only a black shadow of its absence, blocking confused heat painting a final night sky beyond. I switch back. A black shape, whisperblades overhead, tilts as if bowing, then the sec shield has fallen and distant wall of light gone... a hand of night reaches down and pulls it into the sky. Gone.

‘Sir?’ the Int blinks away, batting air in front of his eyes with one raised hand. ‘T-minus sixty seven sir advise ascend to the roof now sir...’

Firefall.

Embassy

Is Embassy working for its clients? This question comes to me as I accept varied operations, some of which seem to contradict what little clear memory of another operation I perform: manufacture evidence Sir A... as an AVS sympathizer and engineer faceloss, blur connections of Sir A...'s political/economic affiliations, divert attempts to remove from New City Governance by phasing inconsistencies about Ambassador C... and so on and on.

It is known that Embassy is an extensive interlocking intelligence. I receive callup in a dream featuring an aztec golden pyramid as its central image: a highpriest in a vacuum suit, hair a mix of feathers, snakes and socket threads, greets me at the pinnacle and bids me lie down in sacrificial curve of a reclining stone god. He wields a laserscalpel, slices my left chest, pulls out pulsing heart and grinds it into the hungry maw of another god beside. Then he peels my skin off. Then a ghostlike shape, my new identity, climbs inside skin and plastiseals cuts, lastly swallowing a new heart. When I wake up I know who I am, what the Program is, but am never closer to knowing who has told me to do this...

Parts of Embassy are ASC- Artificial Sentience Complex.

Parts of Embassy are other units like myself: Operative Probes. Puppet driven hands, hollow secret eyes, walking manifestations, of Embassy.

Week Two

Today, Monday, the first day of my second week, the limo takes another new route- basic Security behaviour- and not only is the way we go, but the destination also new. We pass by ‘the Heath’- a quarter my driver elaborates many times, defensively, anticipating judgements of simulated, nanogrown versions of a proud architectural and historical tradition. We pass New New Westminster, built of pink, unpolluted stone, seeming viscera of a great worm. We pass three lines of genenhanced palms beside, drift across a grey plaza, see walls built over rising dikes, remain separate from this Real real world inside- even now as we pause for a convoy of neon-orange clad prisoner workforce...

Above, greyout, blue shimmering, rise HV portraits of Torey Stewards.

Above, bright and untarnished, white stars in black circles- Orbit flags- are more common than old old ‘Union Jacks’. Beside grow hybrids from Orbit labs, toxin-resistant palms, mag bushes, banana trees and thick, sharp bluegrass- genetic blacktoys from geneers who labour on pari bacteria to clean up the Thames Sea...

Guardsmen in red and black patrol for display; nothing they alone could protect from, actors really, wriggling in haze and heat. I ask about the Orbit flags: do I count wrong or is there today one less...?

‘Not to worry, sir,’ driver says heartily. ‘Important for the people to know Skyside- Orbit as it is known here- is protecting them. Important for the soldiers to know they’re wanted...’

So no one counts the flags- each representing one Orbit concern- and if one is missing...? Some Skyside just never have cojones for the ground war this impresses. Some believe if we just pinbomb the islands and seas enough Oppy will collapse, yes, AVS and Oppy resist so far, but will come to the table eventually...

‘Support for the Opposition seems to be growing with the season,’ I muse as we pass long long line of guardsmen. ‘Is there a growing tide of support?’

‘Yrish,’ the driver spits out in distaste, as if a different species, a brown taste on his tongue: ‘Yrish. Skoxs. Whaelx. North’ners knowing no better.’

We descend into Middle London: old old but high enough not to be flattened for infill yet, old old mansions sectored flats, recent bulky towers of coffins, wire stacks like of old old Hong Kong, of new PZ, of hutches in factory farms- a kind of poverty I can never imagine. Are these humans who will live in these? Does it matter when you can tab blackmarket AC, stab on a spike, sense open, empty, endless landscapes of centuries past, Before Flood? Blackmarket AC degrades headware fast fast, sensim tech never pure, you go insane, you die in these Dirtside escapes; but you are young, immortal, invincible, and who is planning to live forever anyway?

‘Is it safe?’ I ask.

The driver assures me of body security, of following and preceding HG vans, of constant connection to Embassy, of surrounding, willing corpsmen set to lay down lives in protection, for the possibility of genes being reborn in a higher state: samsara is lived here, not abstract; sunyata is transcending ground state, holographic reality high-resolution promises on HV. Infomercialed, propacated, indoctrinated; it is understood all momentary humans are simply vessels to sustain, lead to mutation survival, all our promising genes...

‘Is it safe?’ I ask.

Ministry of Love

‘No recall. Sir.’

‘These’re rage-serious fukkin questions spikedick. You fukkin think careful 'fore you call that your muthakunt answer...’

Eye nods his head slightly and squints to concentrate on something he feeds on his thread. For a moment I hope it is an ID and they will reappear me, understand all an error. Eye says nothing. Point waits.

‘I understand the situation. I am attempting to answer as clearly as possible. Sir.’

‘Clear as eating Oppy's muthakunt absolute sphincter...’

I wait, say nothing.

‘‘Kay, fukkt Number Seven. Continue ‘round this little commentary. Just fukkin forget you ever even fukkin heard words 'Operation Firefall'. Search-’n-fukkin-Destroy y’understand Uboy? Simple, get fukkin down to the muthakunt concept how Uboy fukkin looking to enjoy a loss of muthakunt memory. You res fukkt got Experience at it-’

‘I am not so Apted. Sir. My programming is specifically designed to be inquistive. To probe-’

‘This an absolute fukkin goto Uboy read it-’

‘-and record. I cannot willfully forget. I can only not recall due to technical malfunction. If this is tampered with I will lose my effectiveness as an Observer. ACE will be displeased. Sir.’

‘You already absolute fukkin been mindfukkt Uboy you just fukkin said you got no muthakunt MT memory-’

‘Combat situation. Yes, understood. I do not understand how it is I continue to function. Sir.’

‘Eye, what the muthakunt?’ Point says, sighing.

Eye looks up and nods.

Fire Zone Cobalt

We drift into shoals edging the Fire Zone, curving in a way a straight line is bent, as if we can claim is all accident, we never really plan to- mean to- want to- slide into Oppy territory. Fishfarms. This is why all our Skyside tech can never win this Police Action: we try to fight from on high, we want never never any KIA, yes, but seamen guerillas from AVS training everywhere underneath, hiding in noisy water, infiltrating all our tenuous Zones. See Eye’s scan: territories a three-D chequerboard. As if we see actual borders. As if our movement does not disrupt them, warping careful mapping grids as a black hole warps spacetime...

I scan overhead cloudwall of open sources: HV of a thousand thousand channels, blurs as censors drift, erase images we are not to see. Like anyone else in civilized worlds we have come to see it is not words alone, phrases and even syntax, codes of memory, that must be controlled in eurospeak or forbidden older languages: we have learned it is Subverse images overlaid by irony, appropriated for other meanings. All senses we must control from corrupting forces of AVS. From senses flow thought. Thought is what this Police Action is all about...

I switch to the interview:

-... absolute ,you internalize dynamic sir, into marrow, undertake, understand: AVS and Oppy... this? Ruthless. Honour. Dignity. Conventions. Police Action...? All shit, boy. Shit. Absolute. Oppy? This is win or die. No fallback. Could be why all tab homemade enablers, why all- all- not just Sensitives, go DA in engagements... old old shit weaponry, no mas never, but latest modumode sensim tech AVS, all ASCbombs and wirerockets and monofil tracers and fragmons and varisense eyes and toxic-specifics- all- no profile radar to an enemy willing fry native neurons for edge...-

I am a techspec from AGRL, eager learning clicks in this stream, but now, even as I ask the pilot on a secured thread, now, I tremble in this moment. What I say never really matters:

Crazy Horse, you have approval to leave the FTZ..?

We’re not leaving the FTZ, sir, I don’t know what you mean, sir...

So we lie to ourselves too: for any Inquiry or Investigation, our open voices, thread voices, mapping will have only innocent mistakes. Our side of this Police Action is high high Pynchonite in paranoia...

Close up close up, Crazy Horse relays sharethread: looks like we fukktup sir, skirmish with Oppy on the board-

He does not have to add that: I can, everybody can, feel PTH alarum go, see flaring biosense points of enemy ping around us, close a pincer move so we can never never go back. I flash return to the interview a day past, a week past, a century past...

-... absolute, maybe can explicate this, boy, how AVS and Oppy get into our borneyes and make us see what isn’t there, even lockedown, even high high sec in firefight status... know your enemy, absolute, know yourself... any wonder rate flowthrough? Many many ways to die here, absolute, as many as men to die...-

- 05

Endgame

I have time to look at my life. Thirty seconds. Rooftop and turbochopper is only ten seconds away, up the stairs.

My life.

Or rather Ambassador Chandrasekhar's. He has decided to leave most private materiel behind, argued that the huey should be as light as possible to lift a few more deserving souls- he never needs all these reminders, he can get clones later. Or maybe, I think, I am not this man. It is another face given me by Embassy. I look at an HV portrait. I look at banners and flags. I look at bar and kitchen. I look at conference sensim hookup. I look at rosewood desk and integrated sensim deck and lampets the CenVec boy has so carefully placed on it. I look at a family portrait. Do I have this pleasant Co waiting for me on Shiva... or these two sons studying at L'ecole Moet... or this daughter who loves micrograv games such as 'butterfly'? A family I haven't seen in four years Dirtside. I have talked to them on sensim of course, or at least have this as memory. I have memories of life with them. Clear. Real. Surely this is a kind of detail only reserved for the most extensive and important programs of an Embassy operative? But what have I done? I cannot think of any particular act of significance. Except what comes now, and it seems somehow to be beyond my determination. If I say No what is gained? Someone will say Yes. It is preordained. There is no time limit.

But why must it be my voice, now, at this end?

Firefall.

Embassy

As Embassy is made of many smaller units so am I. I have opticoption Trimurti/Imagelatt eyes. Every few weeks, every new assignment, I update eyes. I can change their colours. I can record direct to Clportable and in-process edit for any hardcopy desired. I can search and playback. I can connect to latest /Sun sensim deck and project it out or into another's head. And I have library of CLs that take place of my memory, my crowded skull. I store senses every night, getting rid of extra images, editing. This does not refer to whatever identity I assume: often someone who is completely unaware of my body’s capabilities- sometimes completely unaware even of knowing myself an Operative. It does not matter. To me it is being in a dream: I am hauling in a net of fish on a beach and discover a squid entangled in it, I kill it and gouge out its eyes and eat them raw. Delicious.

I am eyes of Embassy.

Week Ten

I am at a rooftop cafe, surrounded by flowering, perfuming hydrons of plants striving to overcome stench of lowtide, of summertime in the City. It is the drying season. Sealevel drops but not as much as expected, as iceberg, icecap-melting seas rise in eyes of lifetime: a constant, endless, incoming tide. New City smells even worse in tropical heat, layers rotting grimed, street sewers overcome by animal feces as farmers come in from countryside to market: chicken, pigs, sheep and cows and multigeneered composites designed only five years past, animals housed better than children. From here, six floors above, an old old aesthetic, an invisible hand, constructs image of timeless, apparent anarchy, of marketplace...

It is midafternoon, after siesta; ‘tea-time’.

A still, distant grey fog- an ‘air borne toxic event’- shrouds ferries and barges and empty fishing wharves extended from the hull of an old factory across New Westmister Bay. It is almost sensimclear, almost overreal, here on the rooftop. Fishermen will return at dusk, after selling below what is cleared by Supers, selling what is not- but either appears clean or is cutup beyond notice- to blackmarkets. Your household servants, cooks and keepers must shop at night, for seafood fouls quickly in this heat and there is only iceberg ice, melting airborne toxics over catch: there is never certainty of making your own ice, in mains always flashed, in plumbing that promises only water of some sort...

The driver declines an invitation to local cuisine, sneering blatantly at chipped and faded totems of Heritage here: enameled, cast-iron tables and chairs, translucent umbrellas and porcelain tea services, oily marmalade and chalky biscuits, reserved mannerisms of the lady I share this tea-time with...

The driver has offered less complex solutions to problems of companionship: once he drives me down to ‘PZ’- ‘Pleasure Zone’- where all imitations of Port City answers are only script cost. Import talent from Big Footprint, even from the Continent. And there is always puppetlove, always that...

There is something else, something more, I enjoy from this lady.

She is a pleasant, natural wit; sharpness muted by newness of my acquaintance. She is very much my image of an English Lady- indeed, she confides, she has used a pre-sensim profile of a near-Queen by Marriage, a woman who was assasinated, a last before the New Ascendancy and royalty became true rulers again- here she stops. She blushes. She does not know me well enough yet, to know whether her scanning XXX? threads- political and potentially incriminating- is forgivable...

I ask if she believes Ascendancy was an error.

She takes this opportunity to mention her hair is actually red, dyed-blonde as her freckles were effaced, because people assume too often she is Yrish, and it is difficult to snac a good posting against this prejudice...

The driver coughs, turns away.

She leans toward me and whispers fiercely that she is not, has not a drop of, Yrish blood. I assure her I believe this. I ask her of her blood type, she blushes and smiles as if this enquiry needs be romantic, and prefers to lament steep costs of necessities of her life. Charges for an armoured cab, for building security and her own hundred metres-square apartment, difficulty of finding reliable servants who will not steal, or robots with a good quick repair shop, excesses of passcheck travelling, of searches and confiscations. She remembers dreamily other places- clearly almost all experienced sensim- and derides Torey hypocracy on alterant use, as if there were not a difference between recreation and abuse, as if they didn’t all tab a little AC to calm nerves after a long day on the deck, the bloody- here she stops again.

Who would stay here if they could ride dreamwaves anywhere else- just tab it, slide AC on DA on the snake- who would? she whispers, harshly, dismissively.

I ask her how she finds this Military Protectorate?

She claims studious ignorance of politics.

About the Opposition?

She admits she often wonders why Orbit doen’t just flash them- AVS’s behind it all, everybody knows- just a little nuclear touch, it’s not Kashmir here, if they persist... well, no one could blame them if another Big Footprint came down. Not her people, I must understand. And after all those virus attacks, ASCs and people, logosbombing, toxics, mutants and alterant poisoning- well, actually, she would argue Orbit has been very restrained...

Absolute.

She brushes the back of my right hand with a sensim thread.

Ministry of Love

Interrogation has been going on for centuries. Subjective pain. I'm wired up to an invisible torture machine, sense my skin slowly being peeled back, fading into screaming unconsciousness. Because of pharmas it does not seem a short time for my mind: I sense details prolonged. I random on and on. I say nothing. Eventually I am out of sensimdeck and sit, apparently untouched, in a plastic-painted concrete room somewhere in the honeycomb pyramid of the 'Ministry of Love'- nickname commandos and Observers call torturecells of SD Starcorps Int. Never thought any of us would end up here.

‘Maybe you... shouldn't be... torturing me?’

‘Then just fukkin answer the fukkin question Uboy -’

‘Can't. Is no answer. No recall. Sir.’

Point sighs and looks over at Eye.

‘What do we fukkin know ‘bout this muthakunt spikedick, Eye?’

‘ACE has him registered. But they never recognize. This not the one they have. And they sez that he was on RnR when the mission went down. They want a look at him too. He a Replacement but they never tell whether it was before the mission or after-’

‘Which might fukkin explain why you the only muthakunt survivor right, Uboy? You fukkin absolute AVS? You muthakunt Oppy?’

‘Not as far as I know. Sir.’

Point smiles and tilts back. Closes his eyes. I am amazed I can hear and order their conversations, though pains ratchet not yet where I would tell them anything if I could...

‘So what the absolute muthakunt hell we do wid’fukkin kunt, Eye, suggestions? Wipe?

‘No sir.’

‘Overlay?’

‘Won't take.’

‘So how the fukkin raging muthakunts of baby-fukkin angel absolute we gonna fukkin get it out of this kunt’s fukkin system, what we Need-To-fukkin-Know, Eye?'

‘We can only do a temp lock sir. Lock it in. Deniability. Erasure. ACE will have trouble proving we even have him. Take our time. CL stack suspension. Take him apart neuron by neuron...’

‘So what’s his fukkin code? He got a muthakunt code?’

‘Working on it. ACE has the original, no guarantee it’s the same. And ACE is linked to Embassy so we have to clear it-’

‘Embassy know ‘bout Firefall?’

‘Not at his level, sir...’

Point frowns as he lines it up.

‘'Kay Eye, fukkt right. Absolute. Slam the fukkin clear. Tell ACE their young kunt been down PZ, caught an extremely fukkin exciting new psychoshit JJ virus fukkin his head. Just fukkin keep the kunts occupied eating fukkin paper D-EP, kay? Send him to the fukkin lab at New New Bed, have him trance-suspend on fukkin CL, get Maria on it, fukkin passbyte to DYV, reset a fukkin separate code for the muthakunt lock, read it?’

‘Yessir.’

‘And fukkit, find out how he got on that muthakunt squad without fukkin preclear or recog from ACE. I want to talk to that muthakunt unit comm, Eye.’

Fire Zone Cobalt

I know Action is here when visors come down, shells of armour seal, laughter and bantering familiarity ends in cold, professional combattalk and no one pays worry even a nanosec about this techspec from AGRL...

Sky is an impossible green, flared white, killing black, as upper surface decks peel back and sky falls in a sudden, roiling ocean and someone propels me into a safehold, a safeboat...

Inner eyes come alive- AC eating the world DA sensimfeed- and I sense pilot Crazy Horse and Commander and LT trying to fight out of where we have arrived- this not a few Oppy fishfarmers, this not what expected, what profiled...

I hear the screaming before I know it’s my own. Red. Blood. Fire. Death. Crystalline networks twist and mutate inside my ASC connect and I see motes of consciousness isolate and flare out, one two three four five six... I scan two gunships taking offdeck crash into each other then a fireball erupts into falling sky, raining sky... a third gunship trades railgun rockets with an Oppy Uship rising out water only a hundred metres away... my open outer eyes see this firefight world in impossible, real madness... strange and familiar as darkest dreams, as another dimension swallows ours... as we see what is never there, as we fear what never exists... Eye and Pilot dissolve in washes of acid waves... below, near, an immense fall out desert sky, nowhere I ever been... above, near, a hammer of darkness follows-

O it’s never falling scaring, falling is easy, says comedian parachutist: it’s the landing that hurts-

Audience laughs over sharethread, some club down PZ, place I had gone to burn out memories of that psychtech Maria, gone with Tommi and Briggs-

Is it safe? In an armoured limocopt I ask driver/pilot: is it safe?

-... know your enemy is to know yourself; is there any wonder toprate flowthrough...?-

And in the pain I know I am alive; in quietness and calm, far away in timespace.

And the rain, swelling again a rattling percussion when a medic opens an outside door, rising to meaningless noise, drowning lost lost signal... darkness inside and out MAPH 4077, flickering moonlight glistens on threads, cables, leads from nitrogen-frosted JJ sensim deck recording dreams past...

In shadowed figures, by temp hospital windows, I see Crazy Horse and the LT hovering solicitous and angry, forcing smiles to my waking:

‘How many? How many died...?’ I say.

Crazy Horse frowns, looks away. Many rebukes, many options, come to the LT before he replies in a deadman’s voice:

You live.’

I blink a nod.

‘How many people knew you were with us this mission, this time; how many knew, who were they, what was your Program?’ asks the third man, a stranger, a StarCorps DZ Int who knows inconsistencies of my story to enable arrest, even to disappear me.

I look a question. LT nods:

‘Yes, they came for you. Who are you?’


- 04

Endgame

'Sir experiencing some clearance difficulty slight delay but wouldn't want our side shooting us down not recognizing the call sir,’ the copilot says on thread.

'Understood, fine,’ I reply.

I sit between two Embassy Special Marines, facing secretaries and assistants, all people of my immediate staff. But I do not recognize them. I am tired. Faces are faces. I see a few nervous smiles. A few words of encouragement shared. A few comments on battle approaching, as if a childish audience watching a sensim concert or a fireworks display and reveling in spectacle. It would be a significant coup if Oppy managed to capture us. But only AVS could do that and they have pulled back, leaving glory to their clients.

AVS has won.

I look down at the moat to see if crowds have breached walls. I see garden circle emptying the last HG and commandos, wall abandoned. Any moment our shield will go down and Subverses and even Friendlies will crash into our grounds to vandalize and glory in our flight. Our Friendlies have no reason to love us now. We are leaving them all behind.

'Close up,’ the copilot calls back. There is a halfhearted cheer, broader smiles from staff, anxiety and sadness commingled on soldier faces- they know we could still be blown out of the sky if Oppy gets lucky- sounds of engine overhead. Body of the huey hums...

'Clearing landing clearing now,' the copilot calls.

Firefall.

Embassy

I carry a constant link, through my deck, to Embassy, a portable unit casting into our crowded sky in digital code. Always seem to have snake-in to Direct Access, but tech manages to dampen presence to background radiation; epicycles on edges of sight and hearing. I know movements of my people through our city; of convoys, transports, hassan’s outgoing, wounded incoming, any other traffic in overlapping lattices- numbers numbers numbers. I drift over a city of numbers. I direct attention, share briefly, with meanings and theories and experiments: latest research on Opposition weaponry, on krill and other seaborn foods, fuels and ammunition, medical supplies and other pharmaceuticals- all this flowing rivers of information into black informationsea chaos when I glance away.

There is a high high special security file I access only in my Original Face state: when I know myself operative, a puzzle-piece of a grater structure, a keystone invisible, interpreter interpreted to many many Skyside concerns; when I am most selves-aware.

When I am Embassy.

Week Seventeenth

This morning I come out of the foyer of my Residence, an old old city mansion, now an exclusive hotel, heavily encrusted in barnacles of pre-modern decoration- pillars that support nothing, window doors forever open, balustrade for an inaccessible roof- and find a native Nglish, Conrad, kneeling in a mass of vine and root and crumbled brick and soil. He is expertly, quietly, dissecting thick cords of a mutaplant, stripping leaves and new sprouts with a gleaming machete wielded in his gauntlet right hand. A vine encroaches upon one calf until he slaps it menacingly with the flat of the blade, and it retreats with almost-visible haste.

I watch in silence. Heavy clouds above are colours of bruised flesh, but the rainy season has not yet started, so they only darken this day, Sunday, the end of my seventeenth week Dirtside.

Conrad extracts a carcass, holds it up triumphantly; another sewer rat, thirty centimetres long, now eviscerated into a shapeless blob of fur and rotting intestines. He shakes his head and drops it into a barrow; a fugitive, quizzical frown disappearing into respectful blankness as he sees me.

‘’Mornin sir. Rats again. Bloody big bastards up the dockside na doubt.’

‘I see, yes. Brought the vine down, I understand.’

‘Manner o’ speakin, yes; was old old, time be itself et were we a jungle here. Too full for its own good- the weight sir,’ he nods. Conrad slaps the aged vine, speckled brown and red, then, by way of explanation, prods a stomach sac to slosh wetly.

‘Well, yes. No doubt you are missing Nell to pruning? There is still being no reply from CSI?’

‘Aye, bloody fukkers- pardon the language sir- they’re not believin me word, sayin ‘we’ll grow you a cat or two, eh?’ and I’m cross-damned fukketd,’ he looks at the refuse: ‘’Get yer rice out yer ears! Dock rats like this mate be scarfing on any halfwit cat! Need a bloody Nell, just pop one in the oven, eh?’ ‘But the responsibilities!’ the paperheads say, the bloody lazy kunts- pardon sir but some o yer Skyside kit born with naught but compost between their ears...!’

I smile at his phrase: ‘No offense, Conrad. You are not a diplomat, you may say what others may not; be grateful for this small freedom. So the... fukkers of CSI are giving you a long walk on a short pier? But friend, what is this?’

Conrad shrugs, prods the indicated body by machete, but offers no guess. It could be a pig, or a cat, or a descendant of wildlands- some Industrial Era mutant...

‘Best you had been to call this in, yes?’ I suggest. ‘It is being time, now, that such... animals, found in the City- we should know how?’

‘Na sir, Na point. I’ll burn the body. Na need CSI kunts scram me garden, tramplin’ the tomatoes.’

There is here an awkward silence. Even Conrad’s oft impenetrable accent cannot disguise his bitterness to Skyside, even in his rather vague, personal way, as a universal ‘Medicine Man’- he knows enough DNA to know he does not know, and distrusts those who claim any more. Now is not a moment to renew my offer of a paratechden to repair aged teeth, to grow a new set; not the time to gift painkillers and antibiots for personal use, for Blackmarket profit...

‘Back way, sir. Sorry sir but boys be tearin down old wayside frame, puttin up new scaffold- too late, lazy kunts- too late for this vine.’

I nod a polite bow, always received warily, wondering if I mock him. Conrad bows deeply, mechanically, in return, eyes never rising from refuse and carcass.

‘G’day, sir.’


New New Bedlam

I am a visiting doctor, graduated New Pomona College summa cum laude, internship at Sainte Anne de Bellevue Hospital, director of Psychtech Research Division of a small co-opt 'Nuovo Uomo Edena' trajectory with SD to develop alternatives to steadystate maintenance pharmas for soldiers suffering AVS-induced battle trauma...

I am visiting OCMH, New New Bedlam, and given an intro tour by Maria Flor Sant’Angela, Director of the 'graveyard wards': those soldiers unlikely to ever recover to a semblance of working humanity. Maria is a youngfaced woman who speaks with a determinedly distracted air, convinced I cannot begin to fully appreciate the extensive damage, not alone on patients but doctors and nurses also, here in the Crypt. She slaps handprint-locks as we enter wards but it is a meaningless ritual: all maps are down and everything runs on an uneven imported power grid since sabotage flashed hospital generators...

Dark hallways, dark wards, shadows cover up molds and crumbling walls no one will repair... stench of body fluids and disinfectant rising as if swamp mist.

‘Here, an interesting phenom,’ she says.

We are in a ward remarkable for cleanliness and emptiness. Four beds only, patients lying relaxed tranced, typical soft smiles and slow blinking eyes, mouths whispering strings of acronyms and invective- never to each other or visiting doctors- to impermeable atmosphere. Above them is a hazy brightness of the room, sourced by images of dragons and gunships, rockets and tongues of flame, tumbling dogfights in the projection cloud of an HV. Detail is remarkably complete and imaginative, patterns of interaction smooth and varied. We watch silent for a few seconds before she decides to clarify the interesting aspect.

‘Turn off your eyes,’ she says.

I do so and understand what she means. Everything in the room disapppears except projections of patients...

‘We call them Lillies. As in lillies of the field. They seem to do it unconsciously, but the images tend to gather in families, and all of them start to project variations of the same theme. But as far as we can tell they do not relate to each other. Or to anyone else. How they get inside your borneyes and build the form there... we have no idea. Some new AVS Xtech.’

‘AVS?’

‘Yes. Other wars we would call these POWs. But the lab boys want to keep them here to study. Already autopsied a few. Tortured to death others. But they're just stupid soldiers and only seem to talk in mystic metaphors about it- they have no idea how it works- and it never transfers to our test subjects. Tech is soft and very complex: it must be grown within somehow- triggered- or it simply becomes a cancerous mass of wildcells proliferating and killing, undifferentiated... So CenVec Int keeps them all wired calm and records on CL their images. Trying to find maybe a grammar, something...’

‘You tried our program on them?’

‘Yes. Test subjects died. Just shut off. Same thing with steadystate.’

- 03

Endgame

New City burns below. Our city. We made it what it is, what falls to the Opposition now: a fortress city, a prison city, a nightmare city. A situation we have collaborated in amplifying, questions we will never know answers to... What if we had never come? Could HG and Oppy have negotiated a truce? A new beginning?

But it is not in the Program.

Dikes are broken in the lower city and in high tide refugee boats jostle and collide as if autumn leaves above drowning docksides. From second storeys boatpeople clamber onto, overload and overturn, fragile trawlers and transport shells. A Port Authority hover turns circles on itself trapped in a whirlpool of boats. I want to hear voices calling out for calm. I want to hear pleas for patience. But whisperblades of the huey and pyrotechnics of lampets dissolving Embassy behind and below conspire to mute all other sounds.

'That went early,’ someone says in hungry terror. 'That was too fukkin close...'

I sense, we all sense, the craft lurch into turboprop motion. Whining toprange of engine vibrates through our fillings, along buried fibres of our headware. Threads I monitor blur and snow but magseals hold and rebound. Now I read a targetting beam from RMS Thatcher, an old old Iron Lady Class carrier circling in International Waters off the coast of Portugal bounced down from satellite. Offshore Tactical Headquarters. Threads read through my eyes that we have survived. A voice answers Yes.

Yes, Operation is proceeding on schedule A.

Yes, holding pattern is complete.

At your discretion...

Firefall.

Embassy

I carry an elaborate, constantly mutating, constantly updated, file of dramatis personae; of all the players of the Heath Game. Names and numbers. Of politics as it is played Dirtside. Motivations and affiliations; Personal power and Place power; Words and Promises and Deeds; Lies, damn lies, and statistics. I subscribe and sustain many research groups, many slave-ints, to penetrate veils of security momentary Friends wreath themselves in. To hide myself in a mist as impenetrable against their responding probes.

I may not understand certain inconsistencies of politics, but my people- myselves- are imaginative and offer pharmaceutical alterants to overcome these difficulties, these deficits of perception.

From certain perspectives everything makes sense.

Week Twenty-six

It never stops raining.

I had thought it to become something intermittent, a tendency to pour when without gear, cape or umbrella, a subject for rueful, self-effacing Skyside humour- how the rain comes sometimes in daytime, how it never follows a schedule, here... The rain falls when it will, Dirtside, and even the first time, glancing at my internal clock, I want to laugh at my surprise...

It never stops raining.

The first, the second, the third time it does; it lasts an afternoon, draws away in bronze, murky, sunsets like an old old Turner paintings. Then one day, yesterday, Monday, I am on a survivors’ ward, here for sensim to record infomercial propaganda, to award medals- proof that locals are on our side, Skyside- and the blankeyed recipient accepts his cluster of military honours patiently, quietly; but another commando in the ward, a few beds away, wakes screaming when a thunderstorm breaks.

‘Oh great God, merciful God, there is but one God, there is... Oh God, please no, please no...! Oh great God, merciful God, there is but one God, there is...’

Rain roars as if a waterfall against windows, echoes, thunders, and orderlies rush by to tighten restraining straps, to dope his furious prayers. Cen Vec Int will edit this unscheduled outburst, or at least rescript his screaming to follow approved logosprach...

‘What is he being speaking about?’ I ask the accompanying Psychtech.

‘The rain, sir,’ she murmurs.

‘The rain?’

‘Winter, sir. The rainy season. The rains will not cease for four months solid, now, sir. He is a survivor of a firefight in the rain, up North... an Oppy ambush in-’ her eyes glaze as she reads an internal thread- ’Fire Zone Cobalt. Or he is a son of the desert. Or it is the rain alone.’

I had thought she exaggerating; the client weak.

I ride in a limo now a car, now a boat, now a copter; watch endless thunderstorms drown those misfortunate to be outside, filing along plank-bridges between blocks, shrouded by umbrellas diamonsheen glittering in rain, waiting for canal busses in jewelglass stops, wading through flooded sewerage puddles...

A riderless horse, eyes staring, drifts, stumbles, swims through waterlevel almost to its back, here by broken canal dikes.

It never stops raining.


Pleasure Zone

‘You lucky got we connections down New New Bed, friend Seven,’ a voice says.

‘Wha?’

‘Come on thas it, the doc sez you can move, is just the nerves... read, they sez: shot of apomorphine a day keeps the pain away...’

‘Apomor- apomorphine?’

‘Uhuhn, primitive, but it works- ey kunt, dont you fukkin recognize?’

World twists on its axis as I sit up. Wall becomes ceiling and floor becomes wall. A hospital somewhere- who knows where- windows are bricked in. Expensive tech stacked in gleaming aluminum, webbed by power cables, shrouded by HV cloud. It is not a recovery room of Observer Squad, or as far as I can tell, anywhere near ACE HQ...

‘What’s down- d’you kidnap me?’

‘Nah,’ Tommi replies: ‘sez bribe, breakdown... they know you’re missing but since they never claimed to find anyone, that you’d all turfed-out, well how to apply for an SnD now? And for second question No, is not ACE and for third No, you’re not Observer...’

‘Uhuhn, coming back... block worked, don’t think they even suspected... so you read CLs of the interrogation?’

Absolute, but only quick scan... Zedman got lookhold issue... Somebody Embassy-side concerned ‘bout ferretwork... also why we’re hiding out here- over Persistence of Perception, know the place? Pleasure Zone...-Ey, fukk ‘bout that shit, how d’you feel? ... muthakunts sure worked you well.’

I nod. World bounces. Sense as if my head will snap off any move. A pulse of pain shoots up my spine and ricochets in squiggles of colourless lines inside my eyes. Tommi, my double and backup man on this assignment, hands me a cup of thick, cheap, medicated coffee. A flashback: jungle, flares, poor stupid SD soldiers blown clear out of the flesh by that new AVS Xtech. Perceptual Invasion tech. See things never there. Believe things never to believe. Even if you survive it can fukk you over forever. Unless the job is to be Observer- an Eye- and all you do is sense. CL stacks wiredout: no independent, scientific, objective collaboration...

Absolute,’ Tommi says, ‘but I checked the section on Firefall... you made a convincing play, never known nothing, but they made a few mistakes in their questions- too specific: questions can invert answers if you’re never careful. But we seem to have them covered: kunts don’t know a fukkin thing ‘bout Firefall.’

‘How do we know?’

‘Point made a slip. Let out a date. Think it’s time-limited.’

I nod, understanding, and wonder what SD will valuate after that date is past- if this war lasts that long. I close my eyes and drink the coffee.

New New Bedlam

In the next ward the only light comes from a lightube twisted and stretched in a single patient's hands. He sits crosslegged, head tilted as if listening, eyes taken out. Light flares brighter as tube is shortened and bent. A coil of threads run from a collar of sockets around his neck to an ice and metal-encased pillar by bed, a layered, fractal tree as in a Max Ernst jungle: an early JJ supercomputer. Cocoons of insulation, layers and layers, still smoking, slick with condensation on outermost housing; humid air freezing to ice, tiny spiderbots chipping flakes down into a draining pan over white-hot heating plates...

Maria walks over to a know, frowns shortly, and gestures at wet, black-ice side of the machine. A whining refrigeration unit labors on. Frozen nitrogen.

'Ancient tech...?' I say.

'Yes,’ she replies, 'it's all his. Needs the space for his mind. Skull is too small. Program's unravelled and unshaped, blew the fukk out his periphs and ate up the inters... got to watch out for spiking on AC on the topo, also got to keep him out the mains: isolated. But he's off steadystate this way. He's out of coma.'

'What is it, a Do overdose?'

'No. This kunt's past all that. He's an Embassy operative. Something called a 'multi'. Never need any that enabler/potentializer chemical shit cause they built him as if one solid mass of multipurpose cellular structure: a cancer of a machine runs through his body...'

'His leg broken?'

'No. Multis're made that way; limbs lengthen and shorten, thinner or bigger. See the way his face changes? Muscle and bone configuration changes on order- usually stage to stage, symmetrically- though since he burnt it's been ongoing and assympt. Mottling of skin is expression of his uncertainty of tint: should he be pink or brown or terra or ebony?'

'This the patient you wish to try our new pharma on?' I ask.

Maria nods:

'Can't be any fukkin worse than way he is now. CenVec Int keeps him this way cause corps line he's got some First Quality Big Secret lockup in his messed up amygdalae and don't want us to muddy by doing anything radical, an attempted closure or cure...'

Having found a common distaste for mis-named brethren of the 'Intelligence Community' we move to more social conversation. I agree to work on this 'multi'. Later. Maria’s real interest, what she hopes to do 'after the war...' is personality reconstruction research on Heaven 17. Skyside native. Talks about overlays and implants that SD commandos get before they go out to the field: it has been construct-modeled, peer-accepted, propoganda-promoted, that this is what makes guerillas and AVS mermen so strong, so we must do the same. What is not known is how AVS's got some kind of Xtech that gets right into perceptual realms, twists around deeply impressed logostuctures and motivations, so much head can't hold all and collapses. This is what 'Lillies' do and why they interest. This multi is an extreme case; what happens when integrations of various personalities no longer support themselves, when erasure, reset, restart, trawls up more and more constructs; overlays and implants and overlays and implants...

If she can understand this particular tech rehabbing all usual battle-scarred SD commandos will be simple...

'You are arguing then that it is perhaps our coherent logos-'

'No: the logostructure we impress on our minds', she says. 'In the first few weeks Dirtside, when the boys’re most vulnerable to conceptual burrowing. Used to work over in Field Prep. Send us headware-heavy greens and we'll build in necessary overlay of cynical obedience, of hardened veteran experience, of emotional tempering. All before they have to face and fight their first Oppy. Saves experiences of disillusion. Saves first week on patrol when greens be terrified fukkups just waiting to happen. And in between sorties they'll get a little RnR memwipe so they can just get out and enjoy PZ, gamble dance drink pharmas fukk ride a Hook... whatever. Another Field Prep boost and be fighting fukking mean; ready to kill. Unfortunately this can't go on forever. Head gets too small.'

'And AVS has their Xtech...'.

She nods:

'That was only later. Our boyos were coming apart before. Alarming attrition due to collapse of logostructure. Almost as bad as projected KIA rate without tech, but at least boys aren't dead, only vegetables waiting for personalities recovered or rebuilt...'

'Your job.'

She grimaces bitterly: 'Our job.'

- 02

Endgame

The air is crowded. Raven-black silhouettes surround in a protective phalanx of Firefly gunships. Signal they send out is International Diplomatic Corps, code a string of unaltered zeroes: there can be no mistake that we are above, outside, any conflict resolution.

Honeycombed ruins of the City seen by thread: I watch the end through eyes of huey's sensepercept nodes. Eye- the one who unifies and integrates his bodysense with our helicopter- is displaced by multiple layers of my neurreality: to him I am simply a bureaucrat exercising privileges of surveillance...

'Sir...?'

I look around faces, arranged in a window of surveillance thread. A delayed joviality breaks free. A joke here and there about leaving the 'Drowning Islands', the 'Disunited Kingdom'. But it is all superficial, forced; too early and too easy. No one will feel safe until on the carrier deck. Or perhaps never feel safe again.

'You are unwell sir? Motion sickness tablets-'

I snap my eyes onto the DZ-Int. Understanding, he closes his hand over pills. There is a tension in his voice that makes me read that he is Failsafe. Backup. And in that capacity anticipates glory of my failure, his success...

'At your discretion...' he says. Meaning: we are in the Safe Zone.

I feel dryness in my throat, a desert rasp, and subvocalized command pulsing through my wiring. 'Now', I say. 'Start Now.'

And minus zero seven and minus zero six and minus zero five...

Firefall.

Embassy

There are drifting black smears of emptiness, of information chaos, in my theoretically unlimited access to Embassy. I know these are tears in reality to a level I should not come to; should not search, should not descend, should not ascend. Beyond. Beyond what I will ever understand. I feel great pain of their purposes. I do not avoid, as I should. I do not ignore, as I should. I go in.

Night overcomes and falls in a roar of white surf...

Week Thirty-one

It never stops raining.

New City. City Overreal. The ancient city is overgrown with alterations of centuries past, with newer grafts against rising seas as the Flood comes inland. As if molds overgrowing, furry and bizarre, strata of history. There are also people here- populace deemed safe to our explorations and exploitations- whose human heritage is distorted by environmental changes; who log toxin-proof bubbles, as if terran spacesuits, when they go down to Docklands as MedicineMen; who glitter with skyside-manufactured tech to stay in constant contact with Worldnet; who want to process this obscure guilt that swamps their relative safety by Good Acts: Peaceniks and Bubbleheads...

New City...

It is never a truly New city here, is always skeletal remains of the past. There has not been a census recently but modeling suggests about thirty million bodies, packed in high-rise cages, chicken coops, coffins every everywhere... never matters when you’ve got sensim feeds. A density like that of lower levels of a skyside habitat, but here you fight for life with all the other creatures, others human and otherwise, and there is only lottery-probabilities escaping...

A tower collapsed yesterday, downing something thousand, and when the Investigation is complete- or just drowns in a chaotic sea of info, of corruptions, evasions, memory loss- New City will fine the Properties. At least a night’s total rent, no less...

‘You OK, baby?’ she says, rising in the real gelbed behind me. I have a luxurious thirty-square two flat here in Notting Hill, solely for unofficial rendezvous, and she appreciates this; she will live here, once the paperheads are done dancing.

‘Watching the city,’ I say.

‘Watching the rain?’ she laughs.

A curtain of sudden force, a wall of water, trembles the glass and my face distorts to a plastic blankness. She plays with her hair, raising it and tossing it foreword, back, then pours some spectra into one palm and works it into fine, still-freckled skin. Her face and breasts and body as a whole are artificially young; it is not that she cannot afford effacing freckles, teching her skin camouflage; there must be a part of her that does not want to...

‘You said you would take me to Man City, to your ‘hoods past, baby,’ I say.

‘Is all the same. City, rain; rain, city,’ she sighs.

Was it water-weight that brought down that tower? I watch pyramids of flats beyond the forest of like high-rises: gray surrealist frottage, Max Ernst jungle trees against translucence, rising over flickering cab lights, darting limocopts rising out of miasma of groundbound traffic, of jostling bus boats and hovers down in Lower City, in the East End...

‘I wanna go to Hanalei Bay, baby,’ she says.

‘AC’s in the jewelbox. New from skyside, baby; high high purity...’

‘You coming...?’

‘Later. Go ahead.’

I hear her scrabbling pins, putting some in her sockets while she lifts others to sell on Black Black, as if. I hear her moan as sensim hits her. She is running down a perfect sandy beach in a vibrant South Pacific sunset, cruise ship lights glitter out in the bay, distant swaying 1920’s music drifts to her on gentle, warm breeze... all illusion, all imagination, all drowned in the Flood and lost in time...

I watch the rain.


Pleasure Zone

'So they'll have me down for an AVS penetration agent?'

'That’s the plan', Tommi nods: 'explains Embassy involvement better. Zedman sez relax, enjoy rest, but stay low and clean. No fukkin ‘round with hooks either, doc sez block shadow’s gonna be there for a while and it's a possible to know with right tech or in CL suspension. I'm to set up your vacation and you'll contact only me, when homecoming orders come down. No direct debrief, Zed sez too complex to clear. Okay?'

Absolute,' I down another Corona: 'so when do I get my medals?'

Tommi snorts: 'for what, combat or interrogation?'

I lean back in my chair turn eyes up onto stage. Persistence of Perception. PZ here in Europort is Neutral Ground, so in the crowd I can see six different uniforms, mostly allies on Home Guard side, only a few mercs from Oppy. Chances for espionage abound in this swamp: could call PZ home of freelance data searchers, of Embassy, if you have the nerves. I wonder how many can see beneath this face I wear, how many are on look for an AVS penagent. Not enough eyes are fixed on the stage, a livesex show- zombiesex- wired patrons sensim- but maybe onthread never have to watch, just be: inhabit sexpuppets doing cruel dance...

I sigh.

I switch threads, watch the music:

Pain Revolution, ‘Voidhead Blues’. Washington Bullets, ‘Crack Snap’. Electric Sheep, 'Heaven Sent'. Arjuna Zero, ‘Buy Her a New Pair of Eyes’ . Les Chiens Fou de la Lune, ‘Monde de la Jetee’. Blood Blossoms, ‘Beck and Call’. Willow Society, ‘Ryu Alloy’. Neurolators, ‘Telemundo’. Neohumans, ‘Retrovirus Rock’. Zoo Zoo, ‘Mon wid d’ Ice Spike’. Kondition Kritical, ‘Soft Rain’. Karcinogenic, ‘City of Yes’. Port Authority, ‘Chung Kuo’...

‘D’you ever wonder?' I say.

'Wonder what?' Tommi replies, twisting sensim thread in his fingers impatiently. Look at him intently. Understanding, he blinks his eyes: No. Yes. Never. Always.

New New Bedlam

Maria sobs into my shoulder, that night, after work, after sex. She sleeps in a pyramid ten-square two; from the emptiness, the mode, the compacted furniture, it is clear she never lives here often. Takeout boxes, scent of ginger, piled at the foot of the bed, obscure the lower edge of HV, of subtitles. A sensonovela about kidnapping of an Italian pol, way old old, back BF, in the nineteen seventies: built in forgotten styles of that era, it surpasses and submerges clear genre divisions- depends on whose character ghost you ride each time- here romance, there thriller, this comedy, that horror... as if real life. ‘Fifty-Five Days’ you can ride, over and over, and never, no never, come out...

‘Is not your fault,’ she whispers again.

‘Yes, it is. In some way it is. Read psychmap wrong, read percentages wrong, read something wrong-’ I murmur.

‘No. No, is my patient, my fault...’

I sigh.

‘He’s out of coma now,’ she says gently. ‘Maybe it is best for him; maybe Cen Vec Int would have tortured him to death, anyway. Maybe... maybe. Never know.’

I sigh. She shifts across me, asks in a voice wet from sobbing:

‘What is it, I wonder, about Fire Zone Cobalt, anyway?’

‘Fire Zone Cobalt...?’

‘He was not first: Cen Vect Int has delivered others from Fire Zone Cobalt,’ she shrugs, voice now petulant, soft and distant.

‘Others...?’

‘Too many others. Others never even made New New Bed. Others only fragmentary consciousness in ASC. Others POW Oppy. Others AVS mermen. Others only rumours to outland hospitals, to MAPHs, to the Ministry of Love...’

‘And...?’

‘All out of coma, now,’ she pauses. ‘But this one... recovery so close, so possible...’

I am a visiting doctor, graduated New Pomona College summa cum laude, internship at Sainte Anne de Bellevue Hospital, director of Psychtech Research Division of a small co-opt 'Nuovo Uomo Edena' trajector with SD to develop alternatives to steadystate maintenance pharmas for soldiers suffering AVS-induced battletrauma... Numbers are wrong, overdosing, and my offered pharma only stops any brain activity, causes braindeath rather than reset, restart... Numbers are wrong, numbers are wrong, I think as I watch brainscan images, flickering constellations of activity, blinking faster, blinking out: if miscalculation, error, why do I feel Death flow through myself- myselves? - And professional pride as an executioner, rather than professional guilt as failed healer...?

And what does that final word mean, that last gasp of his neurolife?

Firefall.


- 01

Endgame

I close my thread on count zero two, drawing back from body of the huey. I close my eyes on count of zero one, inner pupil contracting to blindness while outer eyes remain staring open and innocent...

Firefall.

Week Forty-nine

I know many families now- my psychdoc has prescribed family time as a way to relieve stresses of my work. My family remains skyside and even in sensim is too far away. They cannot imagine Dirtside.

00

Endgame

Zero zero-

Before the count penetrates I sense flash. A ground blast. One and then another and then a third- if you knew enough to count their order- if you had speed to sense them. Chain Reaction. But it happens too fast for anyone who is unprepared to understand, to guess at...

It has been over a hundred years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and those were simple fission bombs, not fusion. No one knows what it is to be, though we have waited so long for the sun to kiss our world again. Somewhere I hear pilot and copilot swear, switching from manual and boosting at fourteen G to seventeen thousand metres. Somewhere closer I hear blinded nodes of the Eye scream...

Before others even react the shockwave comes. I want to hear the last terror that fuses the self and the world- the unvoiced screams of dying city- but the roar of vacumn-created and then thunder of firestorms rushing to Ground Zero swallows all sense of identities and realities...

No people. No city. All illusion.

All gone in a flash of light, kiss of the sun blotting out complex real of thirty million human bodies, more, their world, their lives, in a false dawn to dark Northern nights, convection currents swirl over ruins, picking up entire pyramids of flats, crumbling as if paper, dropping them in a meteor rain...

Firefall.

- March 08

(at the time I wrote this I did not know fusion reactors just shut down don't explode...)


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