Updated: Nov 9, 2021
Michael K Laidlaw About 9 000 words
#406 3524 31st NW
Calgary, Canada T2L 2A5
In NuevoBerlin Sunyata House lies in a quarter that simulates the nomans' land of 1960, the depth of that desperately forgotten, that endlessly remembered Cold War. As all City Nuevo is simulation this is only more so, and this Transient House is an ancient munitions factory, four Bauhaus blocks, brick smoky dark from hydrocarbon pollution, etched soft by seasons of acid rain. Opaque gray polyurethane behind silvery-fogged shattered triangles of glass, window grids running along the upper floors, all closed.
Inside, a great hall of disused old old machinery- layers of lubricant; oil, grease, layers of friction; dust, ash- obscure surfaces of metal and ceramic and concrete. Manipulator robot spiders hang from overhead grid, grow from emplacements along assembly route, welding lasers cutters clamps, all removed. A mechanical shop: no circuitry generation tanks, no memory mold baths, though there remain outlined shapes on concrete floor of the operating theatre. Square shapes, clean and bright. Something taken. Something of value.
In NuevoBerlin Sunyata House is on the eastern edge of where an old border is simulated: low buttresses of graffiti scrawled walls facing away, lower level transport tracks linking across the nomans' land of tank traps of sculptural beauty, of fine lacework of barbed wire, sinister lines of once-electric fences, of watchtowers like airport control towers. Ruins of an industrial park here, never recuperated, even as the golden ziggurats of the other cities rise beyond Kemperplatz the white suspension towers out beyond New Spandau glitter through gray winter afternoon....
Vague shadows of movement, an ancient 'East German' patrol dowsing the area for underground resistance, crackle of radio voices, gleam of particle guns, helmets only visible as they stop, polychroma camo so complete...
A flag snaps in the wind. White square, black circle. Patrol sighting sweeps over it, lasers pierce the centre of the circle, joining other target practice points; constellations in clear ocean sky...
In NuevoBerlin a man emerges from the ruins after the patrol passes, climbing across a settling topography of brick and glass and weeds. A falseleather greatcoat folds heavily around him, shiny with raindrops now, removing his concrete-ruin camocloak, collar raised around narrow brown face. Blue eyes flecked in silver and gold brightness. A narrow-aperture torch in one hand, scanning the roadway before him, flickering stage-spotlight circles across flag and flagpole, down again.
Smile. Limping walk.
Loading dock doors, a codebox recessed in a niche beside, scattering a sewer rat back into shadows with flash of torch. He presses remembered numbers. Leans against a corrugated wall. No one comes. Numbers again-
'Go somewhere else, beggar, or you are picked up by squads, sent to hospital for clean, sent to workcamp, understand?' grating voice, coughing, beginning in accented Deutsche and ending in accented Anglo.
'Sentinel,' he replies, gazing around for the voice; 'Sentinel sent me,'
'No good. No evil/ My original face, now!' he says, flashes torch on face.
Door chimes. Wall swings outward.
'You came across outside...what illness friend, that cannot subway take? Cl- Claus- Claustro- Claustrophobia?'
The blackmarket tech asks, coughs, eyes scanning a security panel before he allows the man through the airlock. The tech is a short man ghost-pale pink and balding. A web of veins is broken around his inset left eye, a very old Phillips scanner that has probably never integrated well with his flesh. Head jerks sideways, as if pulled along by the chrome-rimmed socket by an invisible input thread, as he leads the man across factory floor. This eye wanders constantly, aside, ahead, above, below...
'Sentinel never said was subway way.'
'Toxic. Ruins. Outside,' at this the man holds up his biotags from his necklace, glowing a reassuring green,' yes yes, very fine, but major danger nothing to do with so simply read environmental matters... Scavengers you read. Underground. Bodysnatchers, you read?'
'Sentinel never say,' eyes flicker.
'And yet she tells you the Word? Tells you the way here? She is- she is friend of yours- personal friend?'
'No. Credit friend...,' footfalls echo dying across endless hall, gray haze of shadows and light intersecting in still dusty air. It might once have been a cleanroom, but this seems an unlikely place for even the most ancient telecommunications manufactory. They walk down where once only supervisors and repairmen did, between silent bulks of machinery, and he thinks of how many subway orphans could live in this great space, how it might become a greenhouse, an urban farm reclaimed...
'Ah. Credit, yes. This procedure, very expensive, friend. No questions asked but many must have reasons never to enquire, you understand?' stopping now on a cleared space of floor, shiny metal ribbed with chevron pattern 'this tells me you want a complete clear,' now tapping the CL deck on his belt the tech smiles beautiful teeth, then fingers the thread that leads from deck to socket on his neck with surgical-gloved hands,' but this does not tell me what to re-enter...'
'Just do it. I am told your clinic alone has this tech. Experimental procedure, yes? Military procedure, yes? I have the credit. I accept the risks,' he offers his card. The tech runs it over a reader fixed to his wrist, smiles, nods, ‘I am told no appointment is required. I am told to arrive, to insist, to trust...'
'Yes, this is the way. Come my friend, I will be your guide. You will deal only with I, never face the other techs. Security necessary. Cordon Sanitaire.' Now, handing the card back, eyes closed momentarily, voice a whisper: 'Lethe!' and the floor begins to descend, darkness around, shy halfsmile flickering over tech's face: 'An appropriate name for my slave, do you not agree?'
And now it is dark.
A white room. Seamless walls, glowing plastic. Hospital bed. White sheets. White chair, white curtains over white false window, white wardrobe, white door. Above, a screen embedded across the ceiling, long and narrow as the sky seen from the grave. Clouds move across screen, faint reflection of a body floating inside it, a face familiar and unknown... But then he remembers and the sky becomes a mirror, and then he knows it is not complete, or perhaps unsuccessful.
''Morning, friend ,' appearing inside door, though it seems not to have opened, the tech sealed in hospital whites, voice hollow and strange, faceplate revealing only one wandering eye, one blinking eye, reflecting all else,' you are now in recovery. The procedure is not closed, yet. Not quite irreversible. It was agreed you needed time to be certain, time to think,'
'Not agreed by I,' trying to sit up, to detach from the tubes radiating from his body, realizing how strangely cold he feels, his metabolism slowed to phantom death, his brain activity flattened to ease the extraction of written memory, and suddenly he knows this as an icehouse, a slaughterhouse, 'let me out of here, let me-'
'There is no Out, friend. Please do not struggle. This place you are in now, it does not exist, just as we do not. This place is within the crystalline lattices of our storage memory, within the body of our resident Artificial Sentience Construct, no, not Lethe, who is only our slave intelligence,' now leaning over him, faceplate reflecting much closer his own blue eyes, gold and silver bright, ghosting over those of the tech image, 'This ASC is the clinic core. This ASC extracts all memory. This ASC speaks to you now through the image of this tech, do you understand, River Mano ?'
He turns away. So cold here. He wonders at this icy cold settling in the folds of his cerebellum, infiltrating it as if his skull is removed, and knows he should feel nothing there... no nerves, no pain. He feels the threads of glasfibre entering all his sockets, integrating with his nerves until there seems no edge of body, no difference. Flickering empty bodysense. Roaring blood. Scent of graveyard flowers. Taste of bitter water.
'Of course we know your name, River. We know everything about you. We drink your lifeblood memory. We are very curious River: what do you hope to accomplish? How can you imagine you continue to exist if we take all these memories from you, if we leave only a skeleton personality to haunt your body? This seems to an ASC, who exists only in memory form, who can only experience in realms of discrete information- no matter how complex and inexact and like to conscious perception- this seems a semblance of life: this seems elaborate suicide. And yet you do not discard your physical form? Why, River ? Why do you pay us to kill you?'
'Just, do it, machine-'
'Do you know why Sentinel walks you across the wasteland? We think she is a great admirer of your talent, O but of course she recognizes you, River, you flatter your cosmetic camouflage... it is in your eyes. We think she hopes the squad that patrols Nomans Land will restrain you. We think she hopes the Underground, for a Corporate ransom, will take you in perhaps? We think she hopes in many ways you will not be able to complete erasure.'
'No Questions. No Answers/ Our original mind, Now!' It is agreed, then?'
'Yes. We close your procedure now. We store all your memories in this deck, a read-only memory, and in your wanderings this deck will always be of great importance. You will not comprehend why, but eventually should you resolve to reincarnate this remembered life, at least the hardstore is there... we close this now. We do not intend to sell your memories back to your employers, or on the Black, though you leave this possibility open. We are an honest machine. We will think over these memories you leave behind. We are a curious machine'- and now he glimpses it seems chains of molecular lattices of memory, of an ASC frame subjective kilometres of crystal in all directions through the layered icy reflections of faceplate and ghosted eyes, through all the white walls and white furniture of this noplace,' this is agreed, River. Go and come back, River. Go and come back...'
Quiet whisper, alien artificial voice rising out of the tech's voice, sad and wise, barely heard:
'Welcome, human, welcome to Sunyata House...'
And now it is dark.
Later, in waking, alone, a man finds he is walking. He is walking down an immense factory hall, searching for something, a nameless compulsion very close to the surface. He remembers being here before, but not why, or where here is. Somewhere in NuevoBerlin... He has a name, a cloudy history he understands to be known through layers of neuron abuse affected by chemical and tech over many seasons, he carries all his life in a backpack: clothes and cards and a battered old AVS 4007 matrix deck with a skull and crossbones decal that speaks of some military affiliation, some buried battle trauma...
He comes to a tunnel, descends. Walking some distance, hum of a city around him now, of the underground arteries of service and fluid and transport. Warmer, down here, and he pulls back his falseleather greatcoat, padding his pockets in search of something lost. Nothing important.
He comes to an airlock, presses remembered numbers. And there is a dark man down this hall, watching perhaps. Ancient. Tall and slim, a noble African of some tribe, an immigrant or a transient. Guest Worker. He appears momentarily in the circles of overhead cone lamps, moving away slowly at the step of his patient sweeping. Eddies of dust rise around his legs. Sound whispers down the hall, then stops. He looks up, perhaps blind the man realizes, and smiles at some secret happiness. Then he begins again.
Airlock opens. Airlock closes. Ahead, smell of cooking fires of subway camps, smoky tunnels, hiss of passing trains, chatter of clans, crying of infants, music reverberating through this lattice of human existence. And behind him now, nestled in graffiti and warning symbols on closed gray door: white square, black circle.
In Sao Salvador Bahia Sunyata House is three warehouse buildings, concrete and corrugated metal webbed with summer vine, rusty patches, orange gleaming in sunrise light. Holosigns of Our Lady fade in competing daylight over cobbled brick plaza, ideograms and characters and alphabetic symbols in a neon glow fades now on smoky tubes...
Inside, a puzzle house, a labyrinth perhaps like that paid for in the sense-simulation of the Carnival Midway lined in funhouse mirrors, here of scrap and cloth and borrowed biotech vines. Signs and graffiti of a dozen languages give conflicting directions through the layered halls to sleeping rooms, to public spaces, to dining communal, or perhaps lead elsewhere yet without purpose. Live and crowded and already emptying before the rest of the city begins; it is the transients here, no storage facilities, it is refugee and traveler and wanderer who spend an evening's peace under the iron grid work and plastic skylights of the warehouses before moving on...
Voices. Voices singing sad morning waking, voices folded into soft child crying, into earnest promise, forgotten gifts... In the language here, the Anglo and African-infested slang of Bahia Portuguese there is the taste of home on the tongue. Memories of home. In the songs and in the tales.
In Sao Salvador Bahia Sunyata House is on the piles out of the Old Docks, near the cryogenic cemetery of Sao Carlos di Xupehara, where now bodies frozen await resurrection of a technological judgement day.
Beveled mirror windows reflect tropical sunrise, yellow, gold, magenta over sunken docks, drowned Old City skyscrapers crushed and flattened to fill, displaced corporate cores, collectives and co-ops now who live higher on the rain steaming hills. And here, the city below continues to settle as the waters rise, where once the city was two levels there is now only one, the great auto elevator descends only into ocean. The warehouse is empty, this district now entirely used by transients, no storage here. The New Docks are southward, floating far out in a cluster of ancient drilling rigs now refitted as warehouses and docks and Port City, and the robot superships cluster around like silver liners of cruise ship memories...
Outside, above the door, above the wall of salutary names of passing occupants, famous and infamous, paint peeled and rusted through the symbol of Sunyata House: white square, black circle. Rust tears across the center like smoke of distant cane fire.
In Sao Salvador Bahia Sunyata House he is a man who never sleeps. He is a wanderer, crossing from Europort in gringo north through Atlantic storms your grandfather could never imagine- but yes, safe in the holds of the robot super ship- not a stowaway but a working passenger- what work but the only available of course- watching over the intelligences of circuitry that guide the superchip- even so in those storms there is the sense of all His children torn from the womb and cast bloody into the eye of Judgement.... He will tell these stories. Travelers' tales. He will tell them many times because it so often will seem to fade, memory, and he will wonder whether this had happened to him, or perhaps many years ago to another man....
'-but I came to my senses in Rotterdam yes, the city of stilts where Europort dwarfs our New Docks as the sun outshines the moon, and lined for work to my home after a night down the Pleasure Zone with three sailors from Arabia, from Iran or Iraq or some desert place,' he says, concluding a moral instruction to Joao Seguso Fetisov the coffee boy, son of White Russian refugee and Venezuelan corporate man somewhere disappeared, who brings round morning cups steaming from his mother's samovar on the first level '... and those women from the glasshouses, those ridden ones carrying ghosts in their eyes...Jesus Mary Father forgive me yes I also knew them...'
'Vampaires, Professor River ,' Joao offers,' Padre Jorge Sebastio says they are such that drain clean lifeblood of our youth, these women of glasshouses, infect our dreams with sin, but are they so evil?'
'Phantoms, ghosts more likely. Ridden by men of gold and power, and these men are the Corrupt. These women- and some men yes also child- these ridden ones are tools as innocent as players in sensim operas you love so much child, players who must follow the holonovela script no matter how it may be, because it is what they must do to survive...'
'Maria says they are whores, no more.'
'Well yes, and many kinds of whores there are in Rotterdam, but it is not so many who are reduced to selling their own nervous system,' now handing back the small cup, a glittering of coins such as travel the worldround circuit of buried economy emblems of lost nations, smiling sad,' it is of course the war in the Drowning Islands and all soldiers forever on leave will find a Port City and willing port whores... but this disgust with the place was not what draws a native son home. No, worse lives I have led. No, only that it was time. Know when to come home child, listen to your heartbeat. It was time. It was too long away from the song of my mother's tongue...'
But already deaf the boy drifts away, coins off the platter and into his ragged jacket, down tilted labyrinth walls. A poor boy, unsocketed, who must watch only holo dreams of sensim broadcast on public projectors, a night pleasure that fades in daylight.
'Professor, a guest for you,' the tall brown one, the 'Afro' he would say as is 'African-American', says as he enters the hab. A soft smile. A friend transient, the one said from ruins of Chicago- the Big Footprint- but rumored a Skyside deserter. Or he is perhaps a mercenary assassin here learning the dance of capoeira for the docks have witnessed in him a killer of great strength with the heart of a dove: 'She says she can fix the problem with your deck...'
A white wall. A wall so smooth and soft as the Holy Child's skin might be imagined. An endless wall, fading shadowless to all directions, and perhaps wrapping around in a moebius space. Floating in front, perhaps above, in the noplace sensations of a sense-simulated reality. No gravity. No breath. No sound. White.
'Word,' appearing suddenly to his left, standing on a white-tiled floor not there the moment before, shadowless, the guest. 'In the beginning was the Word-'
'I brought you here to fix the deck, not for digressions of metaphysics or faith-'
'Metaphysics is faith. Physics is faith. No logical system is completely self-sufficient saith Saint Gödel-'
'Please, lovely lady, the batteries you run down...',a wall behind the man, and now high up on the whiteness a shape of window appears, a sliver of brilliant clear arctic sky, blue black in depleted ozone. 'You say you can fix this deck?'
'Nothing wrong with it.'
'A different purpose, is all. Have you not been here before...' ,a room in NuevoBerlin, a hospital the man was released of, no records remain, no reason why, and in layers of alcohol and chemicals and electrical stimulants thought always a dream, but here it is in his deck: he has been here before...', have you not felt something here? This deck is a hardstore. Everything here. Everything locked in. But there is a key. I do not find this key. And if it is your deck you must have this key-'
'Word. Phrase. Security. Password. Encryption,' flickering image of the repairwoman, golden hair and elaborate face paint, transient denim and cotton briefly overlaid with a ghost of hospital whites, a fading of everything into image of molecules suspended in generation tank, the formation of an ASC lattice. 'Key.'
'And for this I must meet your demands? The American Lincoln Kelly tells me it is a question you ask of I, 'nearer and farther, the blue sky out the window calling to memory wonder of the world beneath such a sky, and where this room is in that world, questions the man desires to ask, 'but first I must say the reputation as oracle, the title 'Professor'...all this overstates whatever connection with the spirit world, the ancestral gods of Christianity or Africa I sometimes may have, and overbore the Candomble is not strong in I now-'
'It is no matter. It is a personal question, friend River Mano ,' a reorientation of perspective and now the wall rises away, the man feeling a sensation of falling, and yet the window never alters, never fades, as this whiteness descends with him, 'River Mano my love. My first and forever love-'
'Who is this man?'
'You are this man. You are,' and she lies beside him now, now cradles him and the man thinks of the famed pieta of Sao Xango in all its holographic glory glowing over the night empty upper Amazon jungle, over abandoned terraces of gold mine, over pagan invisible Indians gazing at this image in awe,' the one always I loved. Whenever the sensim was on, it was always with you, River. I always played Her, your lover, since first the stirrings of sex rose in myself. You were my original lover. You were my fantasy lover. How could you think to hide? How could you believe to disappear? Anyone who loves you as I could see through this flesh disguise: it is in your eyes, River, yes...'
In the sense-simulation store of the matrix deck her touch is calming fire. Leaning closer he sees reflected eyes within her own, flecks of gold and silver on deep lagoon blue, and behind, glittering towers of an ASC lattice remembered.
'O love, no, you could never have known I. You were too far away. You were always the other side of the sensim life that so much I wanted to live in Her eyes, the one you loved. River you had so many who loved you, but you never knew I.'
'Not I. This man, another man...'
'No. You. River Mano . Return of the Native Son, so famous always here in Salvador you must have known. All the girls of Sao Maya, we kept holos of you folded in our Math Programs and under the white linen pillowcases at night to burn... even we used to key open the forbidden threads, the XXX?channels. Do you not know I? I am the one you kiss for the first time. I am the one you make love to for the first time... You were always so loved,' As her voice continues and randoms on, changing into an urgent breathing underneath professional reserve. The images of her life tumble like rain through his mind, shattering glass into shards and grains that rub nerves raw. Private images. Compounded images. Images of an internationally popular sensim-novellas, one of the ones later sold in CLs, syndicated.... And then her kisses probing and flickering gently as a bird, mingled with tears,' and this alone is enough, to be with you, River...kiss me?'
He kisses her, forgetting this is only a simulation. There is something in the coffee. A psychoactive enabler that dulls resistance to the complex coiled feed that will be remade into flares of sensation throughout his cerebellum. AC. Altered Consciousness.
He presses up against her in the image of a lean brown man and she is Her...aya, yes he recognizes the star of The Slave Elena, a historical sensonovela often seen in reruns, the order of episodes jumbled but still effective. Somewhere knowing bodies entwine in the motions of sex, mirroring the dreams of the deck, sweet burning touch... And a quiet voice, not hers but nearly the same, drunken with sorrow and joy, barely heard:
'Welcome, love, welcome to Sunyata House...'
And now it is dark.
Later, asking the American only compounds the labyrinth of questions surrounding this woman, her question, her given answer. She is gone when he rises out of the ACtrance a night and a day later. She drifts now like the dawn holos in a haze of memory, as he searches for her Key. She said it was his Key. She tells him he is a man named River Mano and the name shudders like the cold the waiting dead must feel in cryogenic tombs; nitrogen ice coursing his veins. She tells him it is Love, the reason she gives him this name. She is gone when he wakes. He cannot remember her name.
Around the warehouses so few recall the transient tech. One remembers her dislike of raw squid. One says she wore a platinum bracelet wired to her sockets, counting her heartbeat perhaps. One says she was Jordanian, another says Greek, a third says Argentinean. One says she was wealthy, too wealthy to stay down here except on choice, that he saw under her face the imprints of a Salvador Syndic daimyo...
'What was the question?' the American says, web worked yellow teeth smile and perfume of crazyweed on his breath. In his romantically converted mind the American often characterizes the Professor as one of those fallen saints, the kind institutionally emplaced under Liberation Theocracy as a humble example of the tenuous grace of God, that his coming to the warehouse was divine guidance under the veil of desire for mother's tongue, 'And what did you answer?'
'She mistook I for another. No question. No answer.'
In Sao Salvador Bahia Sunyata House sunset light across the warehouse faces, here towards the hills rimmed with pastel bright suspension towers, here crossed and crowded in the press of hydrogen powered transports- Brazilian Volvos and Fords, only a percentage wired for city driving- and all anguished impatience of the drivers cursing slowdown traffic; here in darkened shadows neon flaring bright again, holos forming in haze. Above, rust across white square, black circle, like a splash of dried blood.
In Anchorage Alaska Sunyata House is an airport hanger converted to boarding house once, for the flow of UnPeople to the North Slope and Beaufort drilling rigs, to staking squatter claims when America was still a country and believed its authority to partition ancient lands. Drifts of snow smooth over all sharp edges, makeshift windows burning bright orange in the months-long night, snow falling in heavy large flakes and frost starring glass....
Inside-no longer a boarding house- it retains the cubicles, the privacy cells, the enameled iron bed frames and foam mattresses. Sound and heat insulation in great blankets coat inner walls, soft and strange as the caves inside a human body, linked by intestinal halls, wired by glasfibre nerves, veins of electricity to pulsing hearts in each room. Of the men who lived here once nothing remains but forgotten faded hardcopy magazines, torn blankets, instruments and broken tech, games to hold off fever of the endless night missing too many parts, incomplete card decks, picture puzzles combined together in boxes, pictures never unscrambled, and many pieces missing....
In Anchorage Alaska Sunyata House is by the 'Temporary Airport Annex', but no planes shatter calm sky above since the earthquakes of ‘26 and ‘63 and the Flooding years combined to scatter the Anchorage people to safer climes and wealthier lands. A city of machinery now, and only the techs who tend the repair units in person cling to the isolation of arctic life, all else long fled. The oil depleted, the ocean empty, the forest harvesting marginal against the vast stands of Siberian timber...
Outside, under mercury blue lights, the pathway to the hangers smoothes over in ceaseless falling snow, marked only by orange-flame bright posts and the ropes strung between. A man cannot hear his own footsteps, the silence so complete, as he plows through thigh-deep snow towards the airlock door. Above the handle, a white square, black circle, a pressure plate accepts the reading from the man's glove pattern...
'... no, not likely more to cross Bering anytime this winter, friend. Intending to work down the coast then cross over to the Home Islands? Hokkaido?' the old-timer shakes his head: 'As good route as any, if short on hard N¥. But as you can see the weather got us shot close for a few days here. Have to wait it out. But there's work, if wanted. Can you do anything with your socket friend?'
'Prefer not to. If there's anything else,' the man says, pushing away his emptied soup bowl and gazing about the dining hall, failing to catch the lowered eyes of any of the eight others,' not that I rule it out...nothing religious. Just preference.'
'That deck, play any music?' scratching wiry beard, nodding at the pack steaming over the mud step beneath parkas suspended like neon-bright wings dripping snow, 'always call for a little music out here. Or maybe some sensim projection?'
'Don't carry any CLs, but if you have some you can try,' not mentioning the system is designed as some kind of hardstore opening at a Key he does not know, not wanting to seem selfish over his tech. This being the Way of the Transience,' I guess the satellite pickups densed out in the storm-'
'Aint no storm outside friend, not now, when the blizzard do hit you know it, you don't walk through it,' this from the upturned face of a younger transient, glowing imprint symbols of a subway clan, blue scarf displaying colours of affiliation. Another deserter from the Global Village, the man thinks, as so many he comes across wandering. The UnNumbered Unhomed...
'Storm of 63...Falling sky. Mountains fell from the sky. Fire-' whispered urgency, face held down, black skin, white beard, white hair, 'Stones. Earthquake They said. I knew better. Moon broke, that night. Moon you see now just a holo. Found a piece of the moon my back lot. Judgement day..'
'Mind the Prophet. He predicts the end of the world regularly...feeling round here is his own world ended long long ago,' the first man says, blinks, furtive gesture of finger circling ear, 'harmless old wanderer but you have to watch his mood...'
'Not crazy. You think I am. O yes, I know what you say behind my back. I know yes...' the Prophet says.
'Can play old DVDs, have this option, your deck?' a ninsei youth calls out, looking up from his own holo of two miniature sumo wrestlers repeating a recorded encounter.
'Depends on format. You got a projector, a monitor, something... the holo’s off on this thing, had it fixed last in Quito...in Ecuador...you know how travelling is...'
Outside the storm comes.
Waking in his dreams to the room of his dreams, again. Sun never rises in winter so far north and what is it? Wake up. Get up. But he cannot: Cabin Fever. White madness. He had not thought the room would follow him so far, when it is so easily forgotten on waking. But here he is, awake dreaming...
White room. White walls around, etched faintly like concrete molds, walls like a ventilator tower of a subway camp he nighted in somewhere under Philadelphia, sound of rain far above. White bed, not the one he sleeps in but more like the gelbed remembered from a Monterrey transient house, with metal hospital bars from a TO detox on one side, with cotton sheets wet with sweat from a nameless mining town in an endless forest... A white window flickers into view, which he knows looks out over the swollen dark Mediterranean at night, seen from a belltower on Santorini. A white hammock from Bahia fades into edge of perception, a white ghostly cat sleeping beneath. Images foggy and diffuse, like incompletely illuminated holograms...
'Child, morning,' and over inside a fading door, the Prophet stands.
'What are you... where are we?'
'In the deck. Threads just sliding into sleeping sockets, and click you awake dreaming. Here boy: In the Head...' in the hands of the Prophet briefly a broom, over him twisted shadows of swaying cone light in some dark tunnel, smiles: 'Can you answer me?'
'What question, Old Prophet?'
The Prophet laughs, walks toward the bed but the tiles beneath his feet: airport terminal? subway platform? pull him backwards, walls flexing into a long long tunnel away.
'You a murderer boy. Can you forgive yourself?'
'Is that the question?'
'No. But maybe the answer.'
'Enough, Old Prophet. No riddles. Who are you and how are you in my deck?'
'But I not, boy. I not in your deck. Is all just a dream, so relax and dream it,' but now he looms over the bedside, large and shadow dark, suddenly so near, and hand pressing the man down caressing and voice soft like mother becomes a cold grip of father's hand around his throat,' or is it, child? Is a dream life or life a dream?', tighter now, cutting off any answer, then loosened...
'Who?' the man coughs.
'No. That be not the question nor the answer, child. You got the Prophet on a bad day. A bad mood. Maybe he'll- maybe I'll kill you. Would you like that? ' he laughs sadly, turning an inset gleaming eye away, a wandering eye up down focussing and blurred by cataracts: 'the moon fell from the sky in ‘63 and the one in place is only a holo, but you, you been to the moon, to Luna Eo in the Sea of Fertility, haven't you? So where is that place. Where is it... River Mano ?'
'You mistake I-'
'No. You mistake you. You don't know who you are. I know I. I’m your better half, child. I’m just that program you tried have wiped back in NuevoBerlin- remember? I’m that program that has to follow the script no matter what it is. She loved you once, but they all did, you were such a Star River, she wanted to ride the Lover in your eyes, remember? I just that program.'
'I don't know you. I don't know this man River . Get out.'
He sees only the battered old Salvador deck, AVS 4007, metallic stickers of his transience across the sides, painted neon green and pink over basic black, foggy input screen reflecting layers of faces- a woman in Bahia, a tech in NuevoBerlin, a Prophet in Anchorage- and somehow magnified inside the molecular lattices of the deck architecture, bright glittering on twisted strands shattered here...
'Did you think that ASC could imprison me in this deck forever child? Did you think They could keep us apart?-'
'No. That's not the answer either.'
The Prophet grasps the threads and yanks them out of the man's socket and holds the deck in his hand. Concrete floor. Shatter. Shards of light. Falling. Endless night.
'No...!' the man hears his own scream, then, briefly, almost chuckling with malice, a voice almost the Prophet's whispers:
'Welcome boy, welcome to Sunyata House.'
And now it is dark.
Later, in midday darkness clocked only by the cuckoo in the dining hall, the man wonders where dream ends and woken life begins. Such distinctions useless now. The deck casing cracked, screen broken, the solid block of hardstore possibly irrevocably jolted out of structure- but there is not sufficient tech here to investigate, and all the access systems were destroyed in the rampage of the Prophet. It will be a long winter waiting here, not knowing, and the old strange man, a kind of World's End Mascot here: he has gone.
'Gone? Where'd he go? When?'
'Hope that you could tell I. I think he broke my deck and-'
'Fuck your deck. Replaceable aint it youboy? Old Prophet walk out here sometime last night he's nothing but frozen meat to thaw in summer... Couldn't stop him youboy? What'd you do set him off?'
'Nothing. I- I was asleep.'
'Relax Red, surely the brother didn't do nothing, you know the Prophet. Probably sweating it off somewhere round the hangars- don’t you worry bout the deck bro, we see if we can do anything.'
'I’m going out to look. Keep posted.' the wiry bearded white man says, shaking his head. Calmness descends like winter blanket here in the dining hall. Important to keep an even emotional balance during the long night. The man turns fragments in his hands like rosary beads, puzzle pieces, hands trembling at unknown fear. The Japanese youth enters and takes in the wreckage with a shocked gasp:
'Very serious. Never can fix this. This problem: break once, break all. Each unit part of whole. Gestalt-deck. How to fix?'
'What do you mean, can never fix?'
'Never, not for all N¥ in the City of Angels. This 4007 made for hardstore. Not typical AVS tech, not modular, not replaceable. What was In? Whatever was, lost now, all gone.'
'I did not know the old man was socketed, I should have looked.'
'Prophet? He never wired. Said was against Religion...You look not well, brother. Something lost? Something valuable?'
The man stumbles to his feet, into boots and jacket staring empty-eyed, tears forming from some deep reserve, no reason he can name. He shakes his head, smiling, coughs, voice hoarse as he weaves toward the airlock:
Outside in swirling snow, nitrogen ice coursing veins as if slowing down to cryogenic freeze, the summer jacket is so thin. Snowflakes each unique. Snowflakes falling large and soft like autumn leaves then sharp and small driven down like ocean storms. Outside the range of pathway lights arctic night. Glowing door lights rim unseen horizon like headlights of oncoming traffic surrounding, but the fog of memory too thick to penetrate. A symbol etched in shadow and snowdrift, filling in already, sands through hourglass neck, lit only in passing by his hand torch but gone on return sweep, perhaps never there: white square, black circle.
In Kweilin Sunyata House is converted Technical School, three stories concrete slab and blue tile roof dating back to the Mao years, a young building by local standings looking older and weaker and more out of place than centuries rebuilt structures...
Inside, laboratory halls, classrooms and workshops stripped of separate identity: reformed as transient dormitories tended by a tech sect of Buddhists. Many spaces are taken, in fact, by novitiates of the monastery. It is also temporary residence for techs working in the Aerospace Corps and so the dorms are more crowded than usual and more uniform in character. Silence and politeness reigns. The language is Cantonese, not the mangled international of Anglo, Espagn, Porto, Deutsche and Fransay so usual on the world wanderer's circuit... But it is the Chinese, following the lead of Indian metalinguists, who have perfected language softs to a degree that allows all to communicate and so even the foreigners can speak and be heard...
Inside, the many faces of gods, of a man on a cross, of a six-pointed star, of a crescent moon and sword, of threefaced multiarmed beings in wheels of fire, of ancestor shrines... but in the greatest hall, near the main compound entrance, is the reclining Buddha heavy-lidded with patience and quiet smile.
In Kweilin Sunyata House is near the White Dragon King Shipyards south gate, huddled in the lowest eaves of the sprawling pagoda-pyramids of the co-op condos of Ten Thousand Year City, also known as Star City....
A city built for the future over the layers of ancient civilization, through which flow the best and brightest earthbound to populate the asteroid worlds being formed by their distant robotic workers. Star City is the last earth stop at this greatest of all spaceports, down the Yangtze to the ocean where the floating launch islands wait clustered with shuttles to launch like the mounded steep mountains of the south, visible only in gray-blue haze beyond the stepped green-growing condo structures, beyond the skeletal cages of the work yards and the red and gold blocks of the Syndic cores...
'It is as I tell you, friend River: impossible....'
The Ethiopian says, shaking his head unhappily, 'if you have no favors to call in, no relatives, what use this coin? What use this credit? Even N¥ does not facilitate all interface...'
The man lies on his back watching a coiled mating dance of holographic green dragons rising over the bed of this companion. The Ethiopian is a deep coal black, an unfriendly colour for the race-conscious Chinese, but tall and thin such that his tone is often mistaken for the alterations of skyside living. He is accorded epithets of 'Jungle Barbarian' or honored with 'Skyside Son', depending on circumstance and station. He is best treated by the great tradition of the Bureaucrats and the man knows it is not his fault. The man exhales a cloud of smoke into shimmering green and golden dragon scales.
'Jakarta tells me it is impossible. Seoul tells me impossible. Edo tells me impossible. Should I listen now to Kweilin?'
'Ah, but this is the place. This is Star City. If any of them could uncast your deck, put it back together again... ,' shrugging, smiling, watching a breath of fire like napalm rain erupt from a red dragon,'...unless you can find your way home.'
'Where they cast it in the first place. You say it is not AVS. They say it is. Radical tech. Xtech. Military hardware. Perhaps you are a Skyside commando...?'
The Ethiopian has perceived the SD corps decal on the deck. It is useless to dissuade him of this conception: he recognizes in the cast of features, the heavy cold eyes of the man, the face of one who has weathered a firefight, survived some trauma another might sign Haunted History. But The Ethiopian is not a Neoromantic and he knows the man to be a Brazilian, hence in some fashion an ally- if the war in the Drowning Islands yet continues...
'Not I, brother Ndbele, not I.'
'Or perhaps an AVS commando? But your sense of tech... it is misbegotten my brother if you say it is not Salvador made. I myself see the imprints of the syndic, poor though these eyes be...'
The dragons let out flares of orange brilliance, a noisy and colourful display that draws grumbles from some other dorm beds. The student techs are absorbed in their own decks but the others, meditating, are often distracted. Electricity is not the preferred avenue of meditation here.
'Number One Hundred Fourteen...' into a serpent uncoiling microphone she murmurs, the polite woman who guards this last gate, this last and final door to some enlightenment about his deck, his memories:
'Number One Hundred Fourteen...' she inclines her sculpted hair, black and perfect as plastic.
'Here' he says, rising from a meditation lotus: following her gesture toward an opening gate. Each step is a failed attempt toward a perfection of dreams, to a place that never leaves, never fades, never answers the puzzle of itself....
White room. White walls around, etched faintly like concrete molds, walls like a ventilator tower of a subway camp he drifted through, somewhere under San Angeles, sound of Chinese New Year's firecrackers far above... White bed, not the one he sleeps in but more like the gelbed remembered from a Monterrey transient house, with metal hospital bars from a DO detox on one side, with cotton sheets sodden wet with sweat from a nameless mining town in an endless forest... A white window flickers into view, over Anchorage at days-long night, seen from a Temporary Airport Annex... A white hammock from Bahia fades into edge of perception, a white ghostly cat sleeping beneath. Images foggy and diffuse, like incompletely illuminated fragments of holograms...
'Tell me your dreams,' this from an ancient Chinese woman so still he had mistaken her for a sculpture.
'You- you have them all. How do they come to be here?' he feels an unseasonable cold come over him.
'What are these dreams? What is a dream?' she continues. She turns to look at him, to offer a strong visage of an original mother. She smiles, she withholds a laugh, she shakes her head and lectures him:
'You are as human as any other: a third of your life lives in these dreams. Unknown realms. What would you learn from these dreams? What is a dream? Is it simply a momentary storage of memory, before usefulness is known? Is it a memory cleanser, to obliterate useless trivia? Or into metaphysics- is it a message from another one or several versions of a life you could have lived? Is it a message from a future, in a language that only your dreams know the code of, here in this world, or in one of these infinite other worlds...?'
He does not answer. She does not expect one, waits as the questions enter his consciousness, fray structures he has always held the World accountable to, the smiling multimeaning gestures of the logic acrobats.
‘Who may be injured, may be shredded, may be dissolved by this secret? Who needs to know this answer first and foremost?’
‘I-I do not know. I....’
‘Yes. ‘I’ comes first. There is no Other if there is no Self. A human may try for uncounted years to reach an awareness of all Others as Self, true ego-less perception. This is not the way you have taken: you are not ready, you have not lived the years and years practice, assumed a sudden enlightenment. This kind of integration with the Great Spirit- or however you conceive it- this kind only leads to a madness. To leave the ego, the self, behind but come then to... nothing. To erase. To murder. An unenlightened human mind cannot be so unanchored. Even in this flow of life, even as rightly one does not grasp fluid moments, even this... there must be wilderness stations, places to rest, to know one must leave... these are your dreams...’
He looks at her with great intensity, absorbing all she says, but feels he has perhaps heard this before, heard this but it was always directed to another, to a damaged mind; a mad mind. As any transience does, he has explored visions of reality, the kind of unanchored freedom wandering the world the Way offers. There are schools of expanding consciousness, circles of hell he passes through en route: tribalism, nationalism, capitalism, communism, theocratism, consumerism, globalism...
‘Yes. ‘I’ comes first. Comes last. Did you imagine your life in a steady progression from point to point? Of course not. You must return, you must come from nothing and return to nothing: ‘No questions, No answers / My Original Face, now!’ You seek something outside of all the characters you have played. Characters who must follow the script no matter what it says. She loved you, she loved you, she loved you... why was that not enough...? This awareness you seek, you try to understand that which is beyond samsara, beyond your cycles of being... you believe you are something other than sum of your actions, believe there is a script encoded with your life, a character who is the ultimate self... you are lost in emptiness, searching, wanting, believing in something like a soul....’
‘How- how do you know this all?’
Whiteness surround darkens, gray and steel-blue, and into blackness gleaming with metal shapes and shadows. He is inside a place he remembers. Opaque gray polyurethane behind silvery-fogged shattered triangles of glass, window grids running along the upper floors, all closed.
‘You want a kind of knowledge that is not knowable,’ her voice echoes: ‘like any language there must be two speakers. To speak is an act of society. To transcend, to express the unknowable, there must be time: a past irrecoverable, a present indefinite, a future unknowable. A beginning, an end...’
‘What- how, how can I recover those memories?’
‘You cannot. There is nothing there, nothing to recover. You are your future until you die, then you are only your past,’ her voice comes softly to him.
He drifts into illusion, into visions and numbers and senses of memory. He falls into a dream in this place, inside, a great hall of disused old old machinery- layers of lubricant; oil, grease, layers of friction; dust, ash- obscure surfaces of metal and ceramic and concrete. Manipulator robot spiders hang from overhead grid, grow from emplacements along assembly route, welding lasers cutters clamps all removed. A mechanical shop: no circuitry generation tanks, no memory mold baths, though there remain outlined shapes on concrete floor of the operating theatre. Square shapes, clean and bright. Something taken. Something of value.
‘You have taken these memories away yourself. You think to become free. Empty. You wish to transcend all you have done; but forget you are everything you have done. You want a kind of knowledge that is not knowable.’
He feels tears coming to his rapidly blinking eyes. Eyes that record everything he sees outside; that have forever failed to return its gaze inside. He has no words, no pleas or promises. He comes to the end. He returns to the beginning.
Her voice wavers between a woman, a man, a machine:
‘Welcome. Welcome to Sunyata House....’
In Kweilin Sunyata House is converted Technical School, three stories concrete slab and gray tile roof dating back to the Mao years, a young building by local standings looking older and weaker and more out of place than centuries rebuilt structures.
He returns in the rain.
'Aya, brother, someone calls...' the Ethiopian says, nodding at his deck, closing his eyes and leaning back. Before he disappears to the shared reality of the Worldnet Aura, fully integrated into that illusory environment, he asks his final question:
'What did they say it contained?'
'Nothing...' the man whispers.
'Nothing.' the man whispers louder.
In Terminal Bay Sunyata House is darkness. A place he has never been before. A place he has lived in forever. All refuse of City Nuevo, inorganic or carbon-based, is brought here, downwind and kilometres away from Flood Zone, away from the two-hundred million plus of Nuevo’s consuming populace. Above: a webwork of red girders, spanning upslope through a cathedral of giant columns, pillars growing from emplacements numbered in white paint in no order sequential or logical. Below: scattered barrelfires of the UnNumbered- here mostly Swedish refugees unhomed by expansion of wars in the Drowning Islands- burning unrecycled refuse, the kind crushers and biothermers cannot reclaim. No one approaches turista...
It is lowtide, algae lagoons and archaeological sites hidden in pier and ruin shadows. Gulls circle a party exploring reef experiments, walking upwind of a stalking pack of garbage dogs. Turista: skysiders black, tall and almost-alien thin. Turista nod at each discovery, each symbol that confirms their prejudices to what is called dirtside life...
City Nuevo is a heat mirage rising into summer blue sky, blurred by distance into cloud mountains.
In Terminal Bay Sunyata House is darkness.
UnNumbered, unhomed ride the L from City Nuevo, in search of medical care the corp city never offers those not indentured, those who cannot pay. There are perhaps idealist doctors and nurses here, they do not stay long. Poverty of medical supplies and equipment is not an ideological choice. AVS supports one or the other or many of the clinics and so doctors inspired by religion or atheist humanism pass through, they also do not stay long. Refugee camps around City Nuevo have their own clinics, run at extortion rates, elaborate fronts of recruiting centres for skyside corps. The war in the Drowning Islands continues so many of the refugees are from there. There will never be a war here in City Nuevo. Memories of Chicago and the fall of Big Footprint are too clear and too current...
Clinic tents folded-in, beds and operating theatres moved away, now only flat empty memories on planes of garbage strata. Square shapes, clean and bright. Something taken. Something of value.
In Terminal Bay Sunyata House is darkness.
A man comes to the doctors, the transient clinic, and offers a battered AVS 4007 deck and then himself for any work they might have. It is a familiar karmic balancing: many many HG survivors, defectors of SD starcorps bring themselves to suffering, to work off memories of committed horrors, to sacrifice their lives against lives led Before.
He names himself a murderer; he claims to wait for his dreams to direct him, to release him.
No one asks further questions.
And here the man is, down this hall, watching perhaps. He appears momentarily in the circles of overhead cone lamps, moving away slowly at the step of his patient sweeping. Eddies of dust rise around his legs. Sound whispers down the hall, then stops. He looks up and smiles at some secret happiness. Then he begins again.
And now it is dark.
(yes I wrote this with radically incomplete understanding of 'sunyata' or 'emptiness': complete obliteration of self: writing suicide was a way to keep from committing suicide, I believe...)