“The trouble with plastic culture is that it's prone to melting.”
What cannot be undone must be left alone. If one begins any undertaking with a variable, one must expect the end result to vary. There is no blue sky. The sky is orange. Those controlling the present call themselves the Cultivores. They are the fifth dynasty to attempt to conquer the earth. Their lands are known as Cultivation, and the Corporation governs these lands. From the infrastructure known as Capital Investment they pay homage to their forebears. They idolatrise the Cultures and they buy and sell time. They have no enemies, no ‘theologicals’, and no bad math. Theirs is the time of great achievement, a time when all must serve for the benefit of all. They have built the first great wonder of the new world, and that wonder is called the Wall of the Sun. Unlike their ancestors they will not attempt irreducible sums; instead they will wait, wait for the much heralded blue to re-emerge. This is the story of the present and how it will eventually re-engineer the past. They are the New People and their blueprints are wired for sound.
Corporation Rule #468: Excess Noise Pollution Is Punishable By Sonic Radiation Treatment.
It is said, in the insulated towers of the Corporation, that the ‘Theologicals’ will someday attempt to rise again. And that an emissary from another, as yet unknown civilization, will carry with her the sacraments and testaments of old lore and will be known as ‘The Duch’. And that she will attempt to distribute the spores of antiquated legacies among the peoples of Cultivation in the hope that they will repent and follow her to a fraudulent salvation. Only one man can prevent Cultivation from being infected with these tainted tenets, and that man will bear no title or address but instead a number (known as the irreducible sum). He will travel to the very edge of Cultivation, to the Gates of Philanthropy and the Great Wall of Sound, to pass this ‘Duch’ unharmed through the portal back to her own kind. This is the fable, and its outcome can be manipulated by time, or by math, or by incompetence. Remember, those with blue eyes never tell lies.
A Note On The Math: Please remember that the Math is not Time. Time is an altogether different quotient and it has no master other than Captain Sensible, leader of the Venturists.
0 – Choice
“CHOOSE!” the Brigade guard shouted at him as he stood at the intersection of the blue and yellow industrial zones known as the perfect square. He nodded politely at the guard then started along the wall. Of course in theory there was always a choice, apart from when there wasn't.
Corporation Rule #4: Freedom Of Choice Is Encouraged So Long As The Choice Made Is In Line With Corporation Guidelines.
Naturally he chose left, toward the blue zone where he worked. A fact that was obvious to the Brigade guard because he was wearing a blue star. He'd often wondered what would happen if one day he chose to go right, what would the guard do? He'd never seen anyone make an unwise choice. He walked the wall every day. The Corporation called it the First Great Wonder of the New World, and during its construction each New Person had been ordered to donate something to its erection. The Corporation named it The Wall of the Sun. Everything the New People had delivered had been built into it. It was a towering monument to their achievements—or so it was said. Occasionally, he would search for the blackened brick he'd contributed, the one he'd found near the area known as the Mission. It was a futile search, another irreducible sum; there were just too many bricks and his was indistinguishable among them, as he himself was but another number in the Corporation's adding machine, waiting to be tabulated. When the Corporation had unveiled the wall they had told those gathered that if they could go into space they would still be able to see it. “So what?” the person standing next to him had said in dismay. “If I could go into space, the last thing I'd want to be reminded of is Capital Investment, especially when I can see the real deal!”
Comments like this were becoming more regular, he'd noticed, and people were less inclined to report such to the Brigade.
The wall stood for hope and inspiration. Its entire length was blue apart from the huge yellow sun; in fact, it had taken all of the blue left in the world to paint it. Blue had become to the New People what gold had been to the Old ones. The wall could only fall when the real sun re-appeared. There were corporation slogans written on it, advice for the good of the people, advice meant, he supposed, to encourage loyalty and deter curiosity. Passing the wall again on his way to the D&D, as the first streaks of Orange appeared above, he read:
Get Busy! Get Happy!
You Are Either On The Clock, Or Off It!
Embrace Alternative Technology!
Keep On Rocking In The Free World!
Spermologically Speaking—Unauthorised Breeding Is Below Contempt!
Toolman Strikes Again!
Sociopathic Behaviour Will Not Be Tolerated!
Opinions Are The Sole Domain Of The Opinionated!
Remember—Curiosity Leads To Insobriety!
Remember! Those With Blue Eyes Don't Tell lies!
It was the last one that always caught his eye—his brown eye. Everyone had them, a result, they said, of the atrocity and its aftermath, some genetic malfunction on account of the sky having been orange by day since ‘forever-after’—brown eyes dealt with the orange better—the New People had evolved to suit their climate. Corporation people had blue eyes, though many of the people he worked with said that Corps were using Blue Rays, lenses that altered their eye colour to make them appear superior. There was much more of it now—discontent—nothing made any real sense. What, for instance, was alternative technology? He paused to read a Bulletin stuck on the wall near the D&D: it was from the CIB—Climatology Investigation Bureau—and it said that the real sun wouldn't appear for some considerable time due to prevailing currents. Further along he read another missive from the Brigade. It told him and everyone else that sighting a Straynger, or as they were more commonly known, a “Duch”, and not reporting it, could lead to eradication. Strayngers carried the “Theologicals”—the deadly spore. No one he knew had ever seen one, and most thought it was just another scare tactic.
He worked all day in pursuit of diligence and then walked the wall again as darkness fell, their night, a crimson-streaked black without hope, devoid of constellations or galaxies, a dirty black lid on a dirty black life. In his communication hole was a note from the Corporation advising him that he could re-test for a Bluetooth in one year's time. He studied the note as if it were the key to escaping the insanity, the slogans and the rules of the Corporation. Rules were everywhere and there was a rule for everything—just how people kept abreast of them he'd never fathomed. But a lot didn't; more and more were just punching out, disappearing from the greater scheme of things and heading out—somewhere, anywhere. A lot headed for Urban Jungle, that much he knew because many of his fellow New People talked about it incessantly. It was gold, they told him, a glittering oasis of non-conformity; there were no rules and there were Dandy Eunuchs and Plastic Reginas, all just waiting to serve anyone. Of course those kinds of starry-eyed tourists never mentioned the bounty hunters, the re-configured renegades and Machine Girls that the Corporation used to hunt down anyone stupid enough to make a bad choice. Still, it didn't seem to matter; each day that he turned up for work someone had vanished—either out on the run, already dead, or on their way to Denial and wishing they were already dead. He climbed into his cot and lay there listening to the sounds of locos thundering past; industry never slept. Next orange, he looked at the Bluetooth re-examination notice again; he'd already failed the thirteen “If” questions twice, even with extra study. If he failed a third time, he'd never get a position above that which he held now – a manual. He had no Bluetooth, no title and no address, just a number. Number 111023 was his name, and it was indelible and tattooed on his forearm just in case he ever forgot it. He belonged to the Corporation. There was nothing new under the Wall of the Sun.
Corporation Record/ Person ID 111023
Status: D&D Employee.
Current Whereabouts: Capital Investment.
Patriot Colour: White.
Corporation Comment: Model Citizen.
How Earned: N/A.
War was in the air as he walked the wall. The Blue Sky Hunters had been at it again overnight, daubing the wall with angry red slogans about the new dawn. Personally he was all for new dawns because the old ones were killing him slowly with their mourning song. Placed in its correct historical context anyone could plainly see that it had been the fallacies and effigies of the Old People that had led them to fight. Even he understood that war was its own finality, an emotive equation that could never be solved. War created patriotic and vitriolic energies and fostered pride and prejudice—just like he saw on the wall before it was blued out again.
Corporation Patriot Act: Colour Codes.
Blue = Corporation Employees – No Threat.
White = Model Citizen – Zero Threat.
Yellow = Probationary Citizen – Possible Threat.
Orange = Subversive Activities Suspected – Definite Threat.
Red = Known Activist – Major Threat.
Brown = Terrorist – Eradication Ordered.
If it had been, as it was taught, the Old People's treaty with industry that had led ultimately to the storms and the fire, why was the Corporation re-creating it? Did they want another fire, their very own barbecue? Evidence of the wrath of nature against bad business was abundant, the ash rain still fell and the infrastructure remained blackened and bent. Day after day the soot and the ash ingrained itself into everyone's pores and psyches until they all looked and sounded the same—desperate. But mostly, people accepted how it was because acceptance was nine-tenths of the law, and if the law prevented war, then the math demanded that they were at least two decimal points ahead of their forebears already. Besides, he had no interest in war other than in a historical context, and if one wanted to hear the old sermons and theories, then one could always go to the Sackcloth Whore’s Ministry Of Untold Truths. She was what the Corporation called an “Example of free to air speech—a terrestrial enterprise”. There were Corporation sponsored activities that he enjoyed too—dendrochronology for example—there were plenty of blackened skeletons around to study. And there was no excuse for being ill informed, even if one didn’t have a title or address; certainly a number was better than nothing at all. A number, a friend had told him once outside of Constitution Hall, was actually an asset because it offered anonymity. He’d not thought of it like that before.
In the end, one simply couldn’t spend what meager time one had raging against the machine, or as the case might be, against the machine’s owner-operators. Anger was unacceptable because it was a non-profit yielding activity and could fiscally damage the state of affairs. He liked what he often overheard among the New People right after class and before curfew, because the chitter-chatterers seemed to have much knowledge. Knowledge that was never posted in The Bulletin or divulged in class—ideas such as there were other colonies that had survived the fires and were storing up equity for a war to gain supreme control; or that the Corporation was investing in Machine Girl technology and weren’t, as they claimed, strenuously culling what their propagation department called “unnatural entities”. As for the “Straynger Daynger”, everyone had seen the identi-kits and knew the tale of the Duch; the Bureau of Strayngers was perpetually pumping out the propaganda. He was always on the lookout, not because he was a vigilant citizen, but because the idea fascinated him. The idea of Strayngers and of Urban Jungle, the mythical ruins of the Old People’s super-city built upon the plateau and run by the mysterious Recluse. This fabled city with its twin towers and vine-encrusted infrastructure intoxicated him. Some said that the Recluse had an airplane too, a big one, and that one day when he found fuel and someone to fly it, the Recluse would fly it into Capital Investment as testament to his ultimate power of deconstruction. It was frightening but simultaneously exciting, an equation of dilemmas, but all he knew for sure was that if one believed in something, anything that one could see or had seen with one’s own eyes, then that made one rational and one’s equations logical. All he really had to do was not so much continue believing, but start seeing, because as the Sackcloth Whore preached, there were none so blind as those who couldn’t or wouldn’t see, and he didn’t want to be blind…nor demonstrate blind faith. When he felt weak, or if his resolve was waning, he could read about the past, about the first survivors, the ones called the Nomads who had been a part of the plutocracy of the Old order, those who'd survived deep underground. Others had survived underground too, renegades and the strong, those who foresaw the disaster coming and got busy digging—which was where the slogan “Get busy digging or get busy dying!” had come from. And it was they who'd unearthed the inquisition and the exposition as they’d sifted along with the Cultures. Some said they'd unearthed the sacraments and testaments too, only the Corporation, who by then had seized control via their plutonic allegiances, had had them destroyed under their charter, a charter which plainly said that the Theologicals had proven themselves to be redundant principles—out-dated technology.
Corporation Record/ Person ID 196624
Current Whereabouts: Capital Investment.
Patriot Colour: Yellow.
Corporation Comment: Breath Test Regularly.
Title/Address: The Driver.
How Earned: Services To Transport Bureau.
“I never drove no one where they didn't want to go. Most just wanna go round the bend, it's a bitch of a way to make a living but someone's gotta do it honey.”
He'd always wanted to meet her, the Driver, because she was a celebrity, and now, after having endured another tedious day packaging samples of spores the inspectors had gathered for dispatch to the Contagious Disease Collection Centre, he wandered down to the Mission. It was early and few other New People loitered waiting for the Corporation to post The Bulletin.
A Note On The Bulletin:
The Corporate media (herewith known as the Bulletin) serves as the Corporation’s system of communicating messages and symbols to the general populace (the New People). It is a State-sanctioned operation created to amuse, entertain, and inform. To inculcate the citizenry with the values, beliefs, and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of society (Capital Investment).
The Bulletin had become an institution, not that anyone really knew what an institution was, but when the Corporation came around and nailed up the Bulletin it was mostly for the benefit of the New People. The Chic Creatures got the Word somehow—talking cosmetics, they called it, or going sociological. They were the sexless, tattooed creatures that lived up in Maybelline and Loreal Canyon and Chanel—the wealthy environs, and they had their own laws and coda. Stuff like dying was the most embarrassing thing that could happen, and that life was nothing but a series of images that changed as they repeated themselves. They had their own language too, which they called Warholese, and it was hard to decipher because it was mostly about fantasy love. The Chic Creatures believed that fantasy love superseded all other love—whatever that was. He’d often wanted to see the skins, the tattooed hides of the Chic Creatures who’d died in beautiful ecstasy and had then been skinned, and the skins made into art. It was good business apparently, a prudent investment if you were a collector. But all of that was a long way from the Mission. The Mission was where it was at; the Mission was the place where the Thrillagers and Jigaboos hung out, where those looking for a fix of anything usually congregated to hear the Word. The Mission had been built in honour of the Three Harbingers of doom known as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, who had delivered the Word by paper messages and lead slugs amongst the Old People of the Western Union. The Mission was the towering inferno of the New People, the place of ocular culture and black whiteness—the hub of degeneration and malfunction; the pulp fiction, as some called it. The Mission was the only place they could legally congregate and indulge in revelry.
Corporation Zoning Decree #2334: It has hereby been decreed that revelry in the area known as the Mission has become a threat to the State of Affairs. As such, citizens are herewith advised that demolition of this area has been authorised.
He was standing there now on Time Squared watching two New People arguing about something when the Corporation van with the Corporation's slogan “All Work And No Play—Time Waits For No Man!” written on its side arrived. For once he was one of the early readers and was thus able to study the Word before the crowd grew large and unruly, as it normally did before the Brigade turned up with the Quell Control. The Word was pretty much the same as last time: tin was in short supply; the Murrays were going to open new exploration sites, perhaps up on the plateau or out at sea toward St Angelynas; the Toolman was still at it… The Word claimed that the Toolman had struck a further eleven times since the last Bulletin post and that all of his victims were New People and that the Brigade had no clues. “Typical!” a New Person who stood next to him said, his breath reeking of cactus flower wine. “You'd think they could find him: after all, he works for them, bloody poisoned pen pushers!” Well, there was a turn up… Word of the subterranean kind, the subterranean homesick blues, as New People called it. The Bulletin finished as usual with a warning about familiarity breeding contempt and the use of names still being considered harmful to the personal wellbeing of all New People. He didn't have a name, but people did have titles, or as the Chic Creatures called them, addresses. Without a title you were nothing.
Corporation Rule #11: A Title Or Address Can Only Be Bestowed By The Corporation.
He turned his collar up and began walking back to where he'd just come from when he saw her darting across the road between carriages. There was something odd about her, not odd like you'd think if you saw a Plastic Regina (not that he had), but something unworldly, something differential. He looked around to see if anyone else was watching her, but with it being Bulletin night no one else had taken any notice—at least not that he could see. She was heading toward Last Exit, the borough separating the New People from the Chic Creatures, and if she was going there, then it was too dangerous for him to follow: it was the Toolman's favourite haunt (after the Sewers) according to the Bulletin. Besides that, the Insomniacals hung out there in the all-night district watching that Old World movie about people fighting each other in secret locations because it made them feel alive. He thought she was a Duch. He didn't know why. He hadn't seen one before, only a picture, a composite drawing of what one might look like if such a thing existed or began to exist. They had posters up on loco stations, but insofar as he knew no one had ever reported a Duch sighting. But if she was a Duch, and no one else had noticed…but when he looked again, she was gone. The thought of reporting it never crossed his mind. The thought that she'd probably head for Last Exit did, however. Then he saw the Driver cruising toward him, her ‘For Hire’ sign lit up, and without thinking he flagged her down. He had no idea why he'd done that either, but it was too late now because if you flagged the Driver and didn't take the ride, then you could vanish as easily as that (the Driver had serious friends with serious objections to wastefulness). The Driver drank the tasty beverage known as ‘The Slow’ to excess (he had never tried it but wouldn't be opposed to trying it if the opportunity presented itself because he subscribed to opportunism), while she ferried those individuals in transit to and from innumerable undisclosed destinations. She was above the law because she was a valuable resource, and she claimed to have not left her vehicle since she'd first acquired it. “Where to, Honey Shakes?” the Driver asked, opening the passenger's-travel-at-their-own- risk door. “Is it really you?” he heard himself say in reverence. “In the flesh, Sugar. Get in and fasten up. Time's money, you know…” He'd never heard about time being money… “Last Exit.” he heard himself say. “You fighting up there tonight?” the Driver asked. “Just fancy a look I guess, that's all.” he replied, aware as he was of reportable offences. “You know looking is dangerous… Looking can get you liquidated,” the Driver added. “I'd still like to go,” he said, and almost before he'd finished his request the Driver had hit the gas and the old car had rocketed off into the night—going vertical they called it. “Well, you chose!” the Driver laughed, her breath reeking of cactus flower. Then she said, “Remember, if you don't get what you want, you just might find, you get what you need!” Now outside the Long Bar, he peered back into the car but the Driver was already in motion and he couldn't remember if he'd paid her; if he hadn't, that could be serious debt, a real overdraft. Ogilvy the art collector owned the bar. Ogilvy had it made and then some. He'd created a line of fragrances too—ones the Chic Creatures bought—Ruminant number whatever. Fragrance was a big industry. Aromas were pumped out through vents, and when the Corporation wanted you to know what fear or joy or love felt like, they let some out. It was called Fragrance Familiarization. Then he saw her again, the Duch, and he decided then and there that he had to…chase curiosity. He tailed her at an indiscreet distance hoping to study her more closely when she paused, which she did frequently, and people who stopped to postulate were either Lost Ones or ‘out of towners’—Strayngers, as they said over on St Angelynas. A New Person would know that stopping was a contravention that could displace one from his place in the food pyramid. Out of one eye he saw two Insomniacals crossing the street toward where she stood, and without considering the risk he went straight up to her and touched her arm. She turned, somewhat startled, and he asked her if she was indisposed. “Indisposed?” She replied unsurely, her accent not one he immediately recognised. “Are you a ‘lost one’?” he asked watching the two Insomniacals as they watched him with nearly as much interest as they afforded her. “I'm looking for the one called the Drifter. Do you know him, where he is?” “No,” he said, “but I'm certain he wouldn't be here in Last Exit. You need a carriage if you want to avoid…” “Hey!” she scolded him as he'd gripped her arm tighter having seen the Insomniacals moving closer.
Sometime Later . . .
He woke up in an alley, and everything hurt. He was naked, bloody and cold. He sat up gingerly; if the Brigade found him here like this, he could well end up in Denial. It was only as some of his faculties returned that he saw something in the alley, something decaying in its own blood and guts—something that might once have been a New Person... Panic locked his throat and stifled his gag reflex as a gas car arrived beside him. The door opened, and without looking he climbed inside. The Driver smiled at him. “Look at you, all black and blue and pink and standing at attention. How divine! Obviously, you're one of those who don't give a damn about rule sixty-four!”
Corporation Rule #64: Public Nakedness Is Punishable By Public Flaying.
He could only listen as the Driver hit the gas. He slumped backward and everything went vertical. When he came round the Driver's head was in his lap and she was going hard at his stick. When she'd finished with his sap, she wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and the door creaked open and he knew this time that he'd paid his fare. He was back in the Mission and all was quiet, silent night, holy night. He needed to go see the Sackcloth Whore for advice; he knew that she was always open for righteous business and theological matters…even though no one knew what theological matters were. Rounding a corner he came face-to-face with another New Person. They stared at one another: “You got some balls wandering round naked. Don't you know there's Brigade about?” He moved on quickly. Being caught in this situation by the Brigade would not be a prudent investment and might well lead to indecent exposure. Then again, seeing the Sackcloth Whore might not be wise either; the Sackcloth Whore was the frontier's only unlicensed theosophist and ran the numbers via the starfish navigation system. Maybe he should just cut his losses, lick his wounds and go home…thirty-eight tons of New Millennium was heavy metal indeed, just as the Insomniacals said.
Corporation Record/ Person ID 181418
Current Whereabouts: Abbey National.
Patriot Colour: Yellow.
Convictions: Solicitation/Causing A Public Disturbance.
Corporation Comment: Suffers From Delusions of Grandeur.
Title/Address: The Sackcloth Whore.
How Earned: Collection Of Unwanted Hessian.
“You know that the truth never lies boy, un that the math is sound, that what you see with your own two eyes is the real deal. No man can love a machine un no machine can love, them are the basic principles of existence boy—un anyone fool enough to ignore that particular equation does so at his own venture capital risk.”
-The Sackcloth Whore