Sunday, 30 May 2010

Part Five: The Silver Machine

picking through some of the offal, occasionally holding up a shred of red flesh and examining it more carefully. I caught his eyes and gestured for him to come over, not wishing to stand too close to the bloody pile that was absorbing his interest. He smiled at me and obliged.

“Hello, Dylan. Didn’t expect to see you here. Look at this.” He waved a strip of gore in front of my face. “See?” He pointed out some detail that I chose not to focus on. “Some strange Metzger’s tinkering with the wannabes, I reckon. You don’t see that too often.”

“Oh, really, fascinating. Look, I’d like to talk about the Janus for a minute.”

Richard looked around surreptitiously then put the little piece of flesh into his belt bag. “Sure, go ahead.”

“Well, what do you know about it?”

“I was at De Benoit on an internship while it was being finished off. It’s an amazing idea, the potential is just incredible. I got to look at a few papers from their research staff, technical stuff. It never really spelled out the potential, but this could be the beginning of real virtual reality, you know?”

I felt he was about to go off on some tangent and held up my hands to stop him. Virtual reality was a dead end, had been for sixty years, the province of crusties and nerds. I didn’t want to talk about that. “When was that?”

“A year and half ago, or so. There were a few problems as I recall, some of the early subjects didn’t take to it too well. A bit of fine tuning required, and all that.”

“A year and a half?”

“Yeah, I think there are a few active in Europe, at the moment.” He looked over across the crowd and pointed. “I know that guy’s got one.” I turned and saw the Belgian CEO emerge from the lounge door, still naked, having a good belly laugh.

“You’re kidding.”

“No, and I’ll tell you something else for free: the guy who invented the thing is dead. And he didn’t die of old age.”

Richard looked at his beer bottle and emptied it into his mouth. “ ’Scuse me.” He wandered off in the direction of the bar. I watched the CEO carefully for a few minutes but there was nothing in his behaviour to suggest anything weird. However, if the CEO had had one for over a year, why did they want to test it on me? Were they, indeed, testing it at all, or was there something more sinister going on?

I suddenly felt tired and popped a few uppers as I headed for the bar in an effort to block out my questions with liquor.

Donald Toval. I’d met Donald at a creative sex workshop that Zac had sent me on a year and a half back. He’d only recently graduated and paid for the course himself hoping to be picked up by some big corp.

Now, I approached my work with due diligence, my life was my art and all that, but there is a fine line between craftsmanship and ego wank and Donald crossed it. At the workshop he was a total pain, couldn’t just get down to business but kept claiming he had to “be in the mood” and “feel something for his partner”. He refused to use any erectos and wouldn’t go passive, so every time we had an exercise we all had to stop while Donald got a hard on. After one particularly unsuccessful attempt to show wood, he’d stormed out and we didn’t see him for the rest of the week.

Donald was one of those people who couldn’t make it in advocating and ended up in some sort of acting. At that time, he was appearing in a revival of last year’s Comedy Inc hit “What, the No Trousers Club?” as Neville, the nerdy public servant. He also appeared in the virtual drama series Wonderful Happenings, which was, basically, a copy of Beautiful Life, Uni Med Gang, Sex Street Place and those shows. The Australians did it first, had been doing it for years, but Wonderful Happenings was locally adored by patriotic intellectuals, trendies and wannabies alike. Publicly, I supported it because the guests spots were handy, but privately I wasn’t so sure. I could never figure out whether it was more rebellious to like it, against the protests of pointy-headed moralists like the Christians for Hitler, or hate it as one in the eye for pop-culture bores, like Donald. Since Donald was nearby, I decided to hate it.

“Acting is the most painful and creative experience a person can have. You have to completely remove yourself from yourself, OK? You have to become someone else. I mean, a play like “What, the No Trousers Club” is incredibly demanding on an actor.”

I snorted loudly and derisively.

Donald looked over at me. “You have something to add, Dylan?” he said, sneering down his finely proportioned nose at me. The others turned and looked at me, some whispering to each other. A ripple of excitement went thought the crowd as they saw Donald and me flick on our cams.

I had done a bit acting in the past, this career demanded it, but I’d given it up as a dead loss years ago. “Acting is bullshit,” I said to Donald. “It’s all meat stuff, man. You say someone else’s words in the way someone else tells you. Where’s the creative element?”

Donald shook his head, impatiently. “Well, I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Dylan. A shallow mind like yours could never comprehend the subtleties of the Craft. The lines don’t matter -”

“Tell that to the writers.” I appealed to the crowd who laughed with me.

“It’s the character, meathead, submerging your own personality into that of someone else. It takes a special sort of person to be an actor, to dissolve their ego in their own imagination.” The herd of wannabes around him nodded: score one to Toval.

“Someone with no personality of their own, you mean?” Laughter: Dylan equalises.

“Well, it helps to have half a brain!”

“You must qualify brilliantly, then.” More laughter: he was handing it to me on a plate!

Then, he flicked his cam off. “I don’t know why I bother with you, Dylan. You’re all washed up.”

There are rules, you have rivals, but switching off! “Hey, what? Hold on a second, you cunt.”

“How witty! Move over Oscar Wilde. That’s the sort of riposte that’s made you the man you are today - Zac’s trained seal.” The crowd laughed slightly. “What else can you do, balance a ball on your nose?”

“Why don’t I cut off your balls and find out?”

“Oh, look, just go away little man. We’ve all seen your ratings.” More titters this time. “I can get better numbers down at the Old Soak Laundrette.” I suddenly felt very hot.

Donald's agent, old Franky J, sidled up behind him and whispered something in his ear. “No fucking way,” said Donald. Franky whispered again. “Franky-” Franky didn’t stop whispering: he gestured with his left hand, a flat slicing gesture, then curled his fingers and thumb together, money.

I looked around behind me and saw Zac and Sebertendorff standing together. Sebertendorff was still naked, white and shiny with sweat. When he saw me watching, Zac nudged the Belgian with his elbow and they both toasted me with their Martini glasses.

“Okay, Metzgersucker,” said Donald. I turned and he was standing lightly on the fronts of his feet, knees bent ready for action. “I’ll record the dialogue later. Lets get this over with, curtain time’s in an hour and a half.”

Time, then, to teach this little shit a lesson. “All right,” I said. “All right.” I pulled my razor from the ruffles in my shirt. “All right.”

I’ll give him that. My first swing went a bit wide and caught him a nick in the ear that bled profusely but didn’t seem to slow him down. The crowd cheered and Donald reached in his pocket, pulling out a large, ugly knuckle duster. We circled a couple of times. The crowd called encouragement: “Come on Donald!”, “Do ‘im Dylan!”, “Smash him in!”, “Cut him up!”, “Kill him!”

of energy grabbed me, adrenalins squirting into my stomach like a burst vein, more secretions than I knew I had glands pumping into my bloodstream. I felt my balls pull up into my body, I felt every muscle tingle and twitch. Then, silence, like I was suddenly submerged underwater. Everything was moving in slow motion, everything but me. There was something else to this fight, a transcendence, a significance that I could sense but not quite grasp.

“Easy Dylan. I’m with you.” A totally nude and hairless, blue skinned man stood just behind Donald. It was the shadowy figure from my encounter with the sniffers. He was tall, probably seven feet and his eyes glowed calmly red at me.

Donald attacked, a long slow swing that started behind his head and carried on through a wide arc towards my jaw. I stepped aside, effortlessly.

“Grab his arm and flip him over.” As Donald’s arm travelled slowly past my head I grabbed it and bent it backwards at the elbow, using my own arm as a pivot. He arched back, and I used his weight and momentum to gradually send him spinning head over heels.

The blue man was gone. Sound returned, sweat coated my body, like a sugar coating shining on a pill. Donald lay on the ground screaming. I laughed and the crowd laughed with me. I kicked him in the stomach and then bent down and cracked his head, face first, several times on the cement floor of the patio. The crowd went quiet, mood teetering on an edge: has he gone too far?

“So much for his classical profile.” Laughter, not a lot, but enough to turn the encounter in my favour.

Satisfied, I switched off my cam and down-loaded the feed. Zac came over and clapped me on the back. “Looks like Donald’s understudy will be getting his big break tonight.”


Franky J pushed passed me and marched up to face Zac, nose-to-nose. He hissed something I couldn’t catch and Zac sneered, angling his head sideways to simultaneously break Franky’s gaze and gesture inside the house. “We’ll settle this in the business room. Bring your client.” As he said client, he made a grimacing, sneering grin that threw off more contempt than a month of meaty reviews. I didn’t want to be around for this bargaining session.

“Look, Zac,” I gave him the disc for my last few hours. “Here’s this, can you send it in, get it logged? I might cruise off and find somewhere to calm down a bit. All this action is getting a bit much, you know?”

“Sure,” said Zac. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow. And thanks for coming. You certainly know how to put on a show!”

“Ha ha.” As I walked down the patio steps and called my car I looked back and saw Sebertondorff watching me leave. He raised his glass and gave me a conspiratorial wink. I waved back, got in my car and drove away.

The fight at the party had freaked me out. I was shaking, and sweating. I couldn’t catch my breath and had to keep taking deep gulps of air. I took a handful of drugs but that didn’t seem to help any. I pulled out the hip flask of bourbon I kept in my glove compartment and drank the whole thing in about four mouthfuls. The bourbon sent a cold shiver up my spine and warm loose tendrils snaking around my body. Fifteen minutes later I was still feeling it.

The car let me off on the street and flew off to park. I crossed the street and climbed the steps to the house, but as I got closer I could hear thumping, arythmic bass – andy music. As I turned the last corner of the steps, I heard the party chatter of the small throng of people that was spilling out of the front door and down the wooden steps at the front of the house. When I got in close I saw that most of them were andies: Bobby and Chrissy were having a party.

I decided to head in and check it out. I was in no mood for socialising but I did want to ride to those places only a Silver Machine could go. Taking a deep breath I squeezed past the kids sitting on the steps and went into the house. Several andies recognised me, wanted to engage in drunken flattery, but I kept the greetings to a minimum.

“Hi there, Dylan.” It was Peter 6 (I knew so many people called Peter I had to number them: Peter Jam was 1, Peter C was 2, and so on). I hadn’t seen Pete 6 for a while; he’d gotten all andified.

I nodded. “How are you?”

“Not bad. Hey, you know, I was just thinking, I thought I was the oldest person here, but you’re a month or two older than me, aren’t you?

“Three weeks, Pete.”

“There you go, you’re the oldest one here.”

“Thanks man,” I patted his shoulder as I went past. “I really needed to hear that. I’m going to get a drink.”

Bobby squeezed through the crowded passageway, calling out to me.

I went over and Bobby hugged me tightly. That’s the trouble with young people today, I thought to myself, they get a whiff of ecstasy or tattva doggy and suddenly they’re in love with the whole world.

Bobby looked at me dreamily. “We watched you on the media take out that meaty actor! Real, mate, really real, utterly unisex.”

I found his enthusiasm kind of touching. I guess I was in a melancholy mood.

Something else popped into Bobby’s addled mind. “Hey! Metzger! We didn’t expect to see you back so soon! Did you hear about the party?”

“No I ‑”

“Oh, that’s a relief! We just wanted to have a few friends over, you know. Fitting that you should turn up, really!” Bobby laughed.

“Yeah, right, look, I was wondering if I might be able to try out that Silver Machine you’ve got?”

“Oh, sure, sustainable request.” Bobby turned and lead me down the hall. “Lomax just got off of it though, so it’ll take a few minutes for the seat to cool down, follow me.”
of about half a dozen people in the bedroom room, obviously waiting to ride the machine. Bobby waved a hand for silence and gestured toward me, dramatically: “This is Dylan everybody, I’m sure you’ve all heard of him. As the proprietor of the Silver Machine, I hereby promote Dylan to the front of the line. Any complaints?”

Everybody clapped and cheered, and this buoyed my spirits a little: obviously I was still popular with the young people. I tested the seat and it was nearly cool.

“Dylan, what’s the new drug you’re testing for the Ministry?” I felt a knot form in my stomach. This whole business was beginning to stress me out. Still, I thought, that’s my job.

“I can’t really say anything at the moment, you know that. The Ministry have told me to keep a tight lid on this one. They’re hoping for a real money spinner!”

“Couldn’t you just give us a little clue? Is it like Fantasy? Hypno Toad? Black Mike? Feral Orchid? Plum Lotus?”

I laughed, trying to dismiss the conversation. “I can’t say too much, but it’s not like any of those. It’s something totally new.”

“Like Frenzy?” An icy trickle of giggles ran through them and I struggled for a witty reply.

with this cocksucker, the blue stranger appeared in front of the crowd of leering andies.

He shook his head sadly. “You have to let go of guilt, Dylan. As long as you cling to it, the black centipede squirms in your back, holding you down.”

I wanted to tell him that I felt no guilt about Frenzy, I knew exactly whose fault it had been, but the words wouldn’t come. His red eyes burned into me and I suddenly felt very light headed.

“It’s ready!” Bobby clapped me on the back and I hopped on to the Machine, warmth from the seat penetrating the seat of my trousers.

I waved, said “See you on the other side, everybody”, and grabbed the handles.

Hissssss. Hissssssisssss.

The crawling static world of the Silver Machine. I had a couple of blisters on my palms from holding the handles too tight. I could still hear the rush of descent in my head and when I stood up the walls spun crazily.

I heard a voice: “Whoa! Reset, Dylan! That must have been some ride!” It was Bobby.

“Yeah, it was-” I couldn’t describe it. I waved my hand. “Whoa!”

“You never done it before?” Bobby looked at me in astonishment.

“First time.”

“Wow, I am truly honoured. I followed your career for years, you did so much to feed my head, you know? And now I get to introduce you to something.”

I patted his shoulder, leaning heavily on him. The room, a hundred blurred faces, spun around me. “It’s a wonderful moment, man. Fuck, I’m hungry!” I said. I staggered out of his grasp and tottered off to the kitchen.

Young andies slumped, unconscious on the floor and over the bench, others milling around emptying bottles left on the benches, the Del Caf, the sweet sherry, the Creme de Menthe and Gimlet-flavoured wine substitute. Someone was throwing up into the sink. The elements on the stove were on: a few people were spotting hash. Chrissy looked up from the knives and pantomimed for me to come forward and try some. I shook my head. I was hot and woozy from the Silver Machine - the hot smoky head-rush of hash would probably knock me unconscious. I decided instead to head downtown and grab something to eat - there was obviously no possibility of whipping anything up here, even if there was food in the cupboards.

on the way out, icy cold, fresh out of the freezer. My mouth was dry so I took a long mouthful from it as if it was mineral water. As I approached the front door, squeezing through the pressing mass of people, I felt it hit my stomach like an ice cold atomic blast. My guts twisted and my feet went sort of numb. I pushed through the crowd as quickly as I could and, as soon as I was outside, leaned over the edge of the wooden porch and threw up into the bushes below, thin treacly bile-flavoured liquid that seared everything it touched on its way out of my body.

That’s what you get for taking home-made drugs.

even on the porch. Some of them looked at me with that patronising, contemptuous smile that self-righteously sober, trendy, young students get, you know the sort, doesn’t need to get high to have a good time. I breathed bile on them and reflected back: they’re just jealous. I staggered down the steps to the footpath and pushed the stud in my temple to call the car. Sitting down on the kerb, I spat, getting rid of the last traces of spew from under my tongue and between my teeth. In the gutter, large blue feet regarded me without expression.

hands and feet, when we think of people. I remember a very good friend of mine, who I’d known for many years, and never realised that he had a club foot. When I thought of him, I thought of a face, shoulders and a body, even, but at the fringes, he just seemed to fade away into grey. I studied these blue feet, determined to build an accurate picture of their owner.

“I lost you for a while. I was trying to break through but I couldn’t find the way out.”

“Silver Machine,” I said to the feet, “Totally blanks out the mind. Leaves just enough to experience total absolution.”

“I’ve come a long way, Dylan, there is a lot to -”

My car whizzed into the road in front of me straight through the blue feet, which dissolved away into tiny blue bubbles.

The meaty appendage that carried my mind around demanded food. “Enough,” it was saying, “Feed me now.”

Next: Manisola.

Meanwhile, Hawkwind's classic track Silver Machine as played by the James Last Orchestra.

The image at the start of this post is by flickr user newsbie_pix and is used under the terms of the creative commons license. It's a particularly cool one, too, I reckon.


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