Sunday, 16 May 2010

Part Three: A Little Bit Like A Lobotomy

to find something else first, so I got the mainframe to whiz me up a CV and faxed it out over the media to a dozen or so key people I knew in the industry back then. Key people, know what I mean? The same answer came back all round: “Thanks for thinking of us, great CV, but we don’t have an opening right now for someone with your background. This is only our opinion,” they said, “and we encourage you to keep trying with other agents,” but this unique opinion seemed to be held be everyone. They were probably all using the same HR screening software.

I checked with the bank. I had a bit over million, which could probably keep me going for another month or two, if I cut back a bit, but not enough cash to buy into anything, like Katy did, certainly not enough to retire.

by a visit from Kevin, the publishing manager. He was a little red-faced man, just past the peak of adulthood, with a strange, high-pitched voice. If you couldn’t see him, he sounded like a deep-voiced woman. I remember the first time I met him I laughed out loud when he spoke, but he just smiled, shrugged it off - I guess he was used to it. He lived with his Mum and Dad in Stokes Valley. Just looking at him made me shiver: a possible future laid out in front of me.

“Hello Dylan. I saw the ABC,” He sort of grimaced.

“Yes, well, temporary thing, just a blip. You know.”

He put his arm around my shoulder in a fatherly way, an action that required him to stretch up on his toes. “You know Dylan, I was a bit like you once. Before De Benoit I worked for the Lawn Bowls Association, doing what you do now.”

“Really? Lawn Bowls?” Kevin was a nice enough guy, well-meaning and occasionally funny – a sex symbol for people with low expectations.

“Things on the bowls circuit can get pretty hot, if you’re as good as I was.”

He nudged me in the ribs with his little fist. “I’ll think you’ll find life starts slowing down, now. You’re not a kid any more, why bother pretending? Go home, get a good night’s sleep, in the morning it’ll all make sense.”

“I haven’t slept for three years. I used to try and grab a few hours in the weekends but - you know.”

“Well, why don’t you start again? Say, a night a week. It’d be a good way to start winding down.”

“Okay, I’ll think about that Kevin, thanks.”

He clasped my hand in his own fleshy little member. “You know Dylan, I think that together we could really do something in this place. You and me. We're not the different, eh?” He winked, his wizened little face crinkling around the wrinkly sphincter of his eye, and left me in my office.

I snorted up some speed to clear my head and phoned Zac. He was in a meeting so I left a message with his phone-agent: Yes yes yes.

a couple of minutes later. “Been talking with Zac’s phone agent Dylan. Got a message for you.”

I waited a few moments. “Yes?”

“Rather dull breed, phone agents.”

“Just give me the message.”

“But they know all sorts of interesting things, all those messages, all those calls logged and recorded.”

“Look, is there a message or not? Cos if not-”

“Dylan, Dylan, Dylan. Yes, lots of messages about you, but only one for you, at the moment.”

The stupid machine was playing it's mind games again. I’d once spent over an hour trying to weedle archly hinted-at information from it about Myron, the De Benoit Sydney advocate, only to discover that the treasured gossip was that the great Myron had ordered a pounamu scale jacket from Tai Nui Territory and a flunky had been shot in Greymouth picking it up. “Computer, I’m not interested in your crap, just give me the message.”

“Oh, oh not interested? Well then, meet Zac in the ninth floor infirmary in ten minutes. Easy, then, if you’re not interested, no trouble at all.”

“Right, thank you, Computer.” I could tell there was more, there was that slight white noise buzz that signalled the mainframe was still listening. but I picked up a magazine and flicked through it, making it clear that the conversation had ended. After a minute or two there was a tiny click: the mainframe had lost interest in me or found someone else to persecute.

was deserted, but through the frosted glass partitions I could see the spidery figure of Richard, the firm’s doctor and surgeon. I always wondered what it was he did in there when he wasn’t seeing patients. I could see his long arms and legs flicking around, like some sort of insect dance. Perhaps it was Tai Chi? I knew he had something of a reputation as an artist: his recorded operations were popular viewing for the med crowd. Came from a family known for it, his father having been something big in the early Dunedin art-doctoring scene before the revolution, a lecturer in abstract surgery at the medical school, I believe. De Benoit always hired good technical people

I knocked, opened and went in.

“Hi man!” said Richard, “How’s it going?”

“Oh, you know,” I shrugged, “I’ve just been speaking to Zac. He was going to meet me here.”

“Oh yeah, hold on.” Richard tapped at his terminal with a long finger and Zac’s face appeared on his monitor. “Hi man, he’s here.”

“Great, hello Dylan, I’ll do this from here OK? I don’t think I need to see this. You get started, Richard, and I’ll talk as you work.”

“Everything okay? All right, we’ll start then. Just relax. It’s a simple work, we can do it under a local.” He sat me down in the huge reclining chair and wound the back down until I was lying nearly flat on my back. “Nothing complicated, it’s a bit like a lobotomy.”

“You have a real way with the bedside manner, Richard.”

He laughed. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt anything. All I have to do is drill a small hole in your skull through your eye socket. You’ll hardly notice. Then I’m going to push the chip through your ocular cavity and into your brain.”

“It’s designed to switch on when it contacts brain tissue,” said Zac. “It’ll settle into place automatically.”

Richard sorted through a tray of tools: light glinted from the shining probes, drills and knives. “Have you done this before?” I asked.

“Not on a live subject. I saw it done at a conference in Brazil.”


“Just relax, Dylan, okay? I want to talk about a new Marketing Plan we’ve been working on for you.”

Richard swung into view above me, brandishing a hypodermic and grinning a smile thin as a whippet. “Just a few little pricks.”

“The old ones are the good ones, aren’t they?”

Richard looked down from where he was about to push the needle into my eye. “What was that?”

“Nothing, forget it.”

“Just relax.” He smiled a thoughtful smile, then loomed closer. needle went into my right eye socket, just below the eyebrow. Cold liquid drained into my head. Two more injections followed, one into the side of the socket near the nose, and another inside the eye itself. I gripped the arm of the chair tightly.

“I’ve been thinking of where we can take your image to broaden your appeal, without alienating your core audience.”

“My core audience.”

“Well, there aren't many of them, but let's not alienate them, right? We want to attract people who are turned off by andy asceticism, but we’ve got to respond to the new mood, don’t you think? Dylan?”

I forced the words out. My voice shook a little. “I guess.” Half my field of vision blurred and slowly faded away. Richard swept back into view with a little torch and prodded around my eye. Everything seemed flat and, combined with mild sedation, it was like being really close to the screen of an old fashioned monitor.

“OK. Just relax, Dylan. Our theory boys,” Zac continued, “have been looking into the possibilities and I think we’ve come up with something quite exciting. Where does the rebel go when the revolution’s over? What does the libertine do when he becomes jaded?”

Richard was holding a small drill. He squeezed the trigger experimentally and it gave off a high pitched whistling hum. “Just relax,” he said, “This may be a bit uncomfortable.”

“Will you both FUCKING stop telling me to relax?”

disappeared into my obscured field of vision.

There was no pain, as such. There was a vibration, like when someone walks over your grave but more so - my teeth rattled and I could feel the little hairs in my ears tickling against each other, sending cold shivers through my whole body. If Zac was talking, I couldn’t hear him, my ears were full of a dull high-pitched buzz, which I took to be the tone of my skull ringing like a struck bell.

Richard withdrew the drill and I felt warm fluid trickling down my cheek. “Right then,” he said, dabbing at my face with a tissue.

that fits your particular talents,” Zac continued, “so we’ve been going over your psyche profile. The Voigt-Growman Personality Matrix test we gave you last year revealed a factor of 9.1 on the third Growman index, ‘need for awe and wonder’. Presently, you strive to achieve this through drugs and a sort physical, bliss from fighting. Did you read the thesis that intern wrote? She said that you’re constantly trying to silence your intellectuality to experience the bliss and release of pure experience.”

“Of course.”

“The problem is that this is becoming increasingly repetitive. There’s a sense of desperate sameness creeping in to your sessions which is turning people off. Dylan has a fight, Dylan gets out of it, Dylan fucks someone, Dylan gets new clothes, Dylan has a fight, Dylan fucks someone, Dylan -”

“I get the idea.”

“Well, we want to turn your natural inclinations in a new direction.”

“Wow,” I said, “Yeah.”

Richard dangled the chip in front of me; one of the whiskers tickled the end of my nose. “Here it comes,” he said. “Janus.” I felt an uncomfortable pressure against my right eye and the eyeball popped out of the socket a little as the Janus pushed past it and up into my skull.

Richard removed the probe and I felt my eyeball pop back into place. The device squirmed on my brain for a couple of seconds, like fingers flexing in a new glove, sending shivers down my spine and out through my body. Then it was still.

“Say goodbye to Dylan the perpetual rebel,” said Zac, attempting to inject a little drama into the moment, “Say hello to Dylan the mystic!”

I said.

Richard and Zac spoke together, the same words at the same time with the same intonation. “Er... yes.” It was a classic moment, the kind that never quite comes off when staged. I wished I was switched on.

“Ha!” Richard’s body twitched as he laughed, “Okay, by the time the local wears off, it should be fully installed. Just lie here for a while then go back to your office. Here you are, here’s something new.” He handed me a big, square toothpaste tube with three dials on it graduated one to ten. “Red one’s for head pain, blue’s for nausea, yellow for fun. If you feel any discomfort just dial accordingly and...” He twiddled the knobs then pushed the button at the end of the tube. A measured dose of grey paste oozed out onto his finger. He licked it off, raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Yummy! If there’s any seepage, just give me a call. From the eye I mean. You're own otherwise. Hah!”

“Right.” I tried a few combinations on the tube immediately.

“Thanks, Richard, nice work,” said Zac.

“No problems. I’ll get some lunch, then, leave you to it. Get you anything, Dylan?” I shook my head cautiously and Richard left.

“Okay Dylan, let’s just go over what we’ve got in mind.”

in a way that suggested he was pacing around his office. I tried to picture his facial expressions.

“The Janus is perfectly suited to a more adventurous style of programming than anything we’ve attempted yet. We intend to use the potential of this new medium to the maximum.”

“How does it work? Do I have to think about it? I mean, who’s in control of it all?”

“The chip’s got its own memory that can store months’ of input. We’ve created a directory on the media for it to work from, and we'll fill it with ideas for the Janus to fit over your own perceptions. We call it the Image Track. The imaginary resource is filtered through your own cognitive system, so we have no control over what you actually see, we can only stimulate the timing and character of events, not their actual content.”

“I control that?”

“In a sense. The Janus finds images from your own memory and subconscious that fit the required parameters. Hopefully, it’ll mesh with your real life seamlessly.”

“What about the people around me? If they can’t see what I’m seeing, won’t that blow the whole illusion?”

“Oh, well, yes, we’ll have to be careful with that.”

“How will I know if something’s real or not?”

“You won’t.” There was a pause, Zac obviously felt that was sufficient.

“I see. So, in fact, I have no conscious control over what it does at all? And I won’t know when it’s working?”

“That’s right. We’ve got a story all worked out.”

“So, you - the Ministry - will be putting stuff in my head and I won’t be able to direct that at all?”

“Yeah. Listen to this: disenchanted with life, you begin a quest for the meaning of existence.”

“I’m not disenchanted with life.”

“That’s okay, doesn’t matter. What we need now is a cathartic moment, something to push you into this new direction.”

“It’ll have to be something convincing. My fans won’t accept an obvious maguffin.”

“Quite so. While we test the device, we should both be thinking about that. The new elements to your programming, Dylan will range from completely and obviously hallucinatory to indistinguishable from reality. We’ll begin introducing a fictional dimension to your experiences as soon as possible.”

“How soon is that?”

“Really soon. Then we might send you on the road for a bit. Spiritual quest. Should keep us going for a few days, don’t want to spin it out so long that people get bored, but it'll have to be enough to re-orient your story-line. We’ll see what happens. It could be the wrong direction entirely, we could send you searching for ‘The Answer’ all over the place. Overseas, perhaps. We might have you join a group or you could found your own commune or something, be a spiritual teacher type.”

It didn’t sound so bad and neither did it preclude those things I had really come to value: sex, drugs, parties and fame. Sitting up, I took a few more shots from the tube.

“Now this makes me think, Zac, about my studies. A few of the courses I did for my Dip Trip covered the spiritual trip. The hashisheens, Leary, Wilson, McKenna, that sort of thing.”

“Right, I did a Dip Trip, too. I’ll pass some of that material to the story-liners.”

I hopped out of the chair and paced around. “Yeah, yeah I think I’m going to like this.” I thought over my recent plot-lines and remembered what I’d told Katy. “Hey? Let’s get Katy in on the act, Katy Bate? I’ve been doing a lot of work with her recently. And this Jaffa feud’s working up quite well, eh?”

“Yes, all right, I’ve been looking over your abstracts, I was aware of those developments. I’ll get in touch with Watties, arrange a -”

“I’ll need a new wardrobe, of course, something more spiritual.”

Zac’s voice rang out decisively. “Dylan: get out of here. Go home. Order a whole new wardrobe. Remember: we’re trying to stress the awakening of the spirit.”

“Er...right.” I marched out of Richard’s office, through the maze of frosted glass and into the waiting lift. “Ground floor.”


“Computer.” The lift began to descend, rather slowly, I thought.

“Making a come-back are we?” The mainframe had affected a dour malevolent persona, a sarcastic male with a strong Australian accent. It did this from time to time: whether they were just mood swings, or the computer’s personality really had splintered, the technicians could never tell us for sure. “Well, good luck. If it doesn’t work out, I hear Granny Heelhoffer is looking for another slave. You’d look great in harness, Dylan.”

I had discovered long ago that it was best to remain silent when the mainframe was in this sort of mood. It was probably my coffee remark earlier that day.

I marched quickly through reception. I stepped in front of the automatic doors but nothing happened.

“I’ve been doing some research, seen the reports about you in the E-mail. It makes very interesting reading.”

Other people in the building tried being nice to it but I saw no reason to be polite to the useless thing. “Just open the meaty door.”

“All right then. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

In retrospect, maybe I should have listened but for Metzger’s sake! The machine was winding me up.

at the top of Brooklyn Hill, an old wooden villa, early twentieth century. It had six rooms, and seven of us lived there, Mike and Claire (big on the extreme sports subs, they were hardly ever home, always out jumping into volcanoes or out of low orbit shuttles) sharing the big room at the front, John (a mechanical engineer for some concert promoter) had the strange veranda room next to them and Rod (purveyor of fossil fuels and chemical driving enhancement to the stars) had the bach in the garden. I hardly ever saw any them, of course, I only came home every few days, often dropping by just to take a shower and pick up some clothes, I hadn’t even got around to unpacking all my boxes since I moved in three years before. An unfamiliar couple were in the lounge, lying around on the floor and listening to my vintage CDs. “Hello,” I said, “Who the hell are you?”

“Dylan! Hi! We’re your new flatmates. I’m Chrissy and this is Bobby.” They were perfect andies, skinny, short hair, square grey-black clothing. Sitting on the carpet, identically dressed, they almost looked like twins but Bobby’s hair was dark and Chrissy’s red. Chrissy was leafing through CD leaflets, but Bobby sat back with a multi-visor set over the top of his face. Beside him was a light pen – he'd been working on something.

Andies! This was supposed to be the ultimate trend - “encompassing all trends, but imitating none, the plasticine of fashion finally mixed completely into a dull grey blob.”

without lifting his set.

Chrissy said: “It’s real to be flatting with you, Dylan, really real. All our friends are soooo jealous. What a great start.” Chrissy flopped down into a chair and let out a huge breath, as if in disbelief.

“I just seen you on the media, take out that noob. Nice going.”

They were talking about Jaffa. Already that felt like another age. “Nothing to it. Dickhead walked into it.”

“What about this new drug, then?”


“The Ministry media file says you’re testing some real new thing, what’s it all about?”

“Oh, er... can’t say,” So much for not wanting another Frenzy. Well, I wasn’t going to be so stupe. “Hush, hush and all that. Say, what do you guys do?”

“I just started at Defence, Thug Cadet Scheme. We wiped Vlad Earhart last night.” Chrissy punched at the air enthusiastically. “Pow pow pow - free bandwidth.”

“You wiped out Vlad? He came back? God, asking for it, really.”

“And we gave it to him, hah.” Chrissy leapt across the room, grabbed me in a friendly half nelson and flipped me over on my back. “Quick and the dead, Dylan.”

“Ha ha, yes’” I said struggling with her. “What about you, Bobby?”

“This and that.”

Chrissy released me and went over to Bobby. I pushed my self up, feeling a bit dizzy. “Come on, you can tell Dylan. If we can’t trust Dylan, who can we trust? Come on, we’re all flatties together now.”

Bobby sniffed. “Sell drugs.”

“Really? Obviously you’re not with the Ministry.”

“No,” said Chrissy, “Bob’s freelance. Been trying to get an official sanction but-”

“Don’t need official sanction. That’s dead.” Bobby lifted the set and looked at me with hard black eyes.

“Oh right,” I said, “Right on. You got a Silver Machine?”

Bobby slipped the set back down and nodded. “Made it myself. Easy, really. Try it some time, if you like.”

“Hey!” Chrissy sat up with a grin. “Hey! Shall we have sex? Dylan, you could record us, we could be on the media.”

“What sexes are you?”

“Oh Dylan, what a polar question!”


“Bi-polar, two sexes?” She shook her head in disbelief and, for the first time I can recall, I felt old. “I’m a girl, Bobby’s a true andy, made the change two years ago.”

“Two years?”

“Got it in Amsterdam, big underground gene-scene, you know? First in New Zealand,” said Bobby.

“Ah, well I’ll take a raincheck on the sex for tonight, I’m going to have a bath and go to Flicker, I think.”

“Eeew, Flicker?” They grimaced at each other.

“What’s wrong with Flicker?”

“It’s so polar!”

“Oh, well, call me a fuddy-duddy...” I shrugged and backed out of the room.

and lowered myself into it carefully, first one foot, then the other, relishing the hot cleansing sting on my skin. Finally I lay back and put on the visor set hanging by the bath. A priority message from Zac flashed back at me.

“Hi Dylan, this is a recorded message. I’ve planted an item on the media to get a buzz going. Can’t hurt to build up expectations, eh?”

Meaty idiot. Of all the drugs I’d “tested” this was the first truly experimental one, the first where there was a real possibility that it might not make it to the market, and he was going off like a schoolboy getting his first blow job. The last thing I needed was another high profile failure like Frenzy on my record.

At the main index I brushed past the highlights and headed straight for the fashion gallery. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than shopping for clothes. Zac had told me to go for it, so I pulled up an avatar and began trying this week’s latest. I had to bear in mind my new mission so I tried for a more spiritual look. I was a paid up priest-level member at the Vatican but all the official gear was a bit dour, too much black. The purples and reds were more appealing, but I didn't have the expies for a an upgrade to cardinal or monsignor. Instead, I checked up on Papadopolous and Belokoff, the orthodox designers but had the same problem. I never got beyond entry level with these religious fashions – didn't have the sticking power – and the basic gear was all a bit, well, basic. It had to be spot-on, right from the start. The wrong costume in scene one could send the whole thing spinning out of control.

I had never thought about religious clothing before but I found that I enjoyed deciphering the sacred signs and portents behind costume. The wide lapels of the hasidic overcoat, the double vent in the Anglican tweed sports coat, the florescent purple fur that trims the Vatican Wear cardinal’s robe all took on deeper significance. Once I turned my attention to it, the theological intent seemed to leap out at me. I could see the passion of the martyr encompassed in the humble white dog collar. The asceticism of the sufi spun from the precise winding of a turban. Baggy saffron trousers bellowed the name of Krishna to the highest heavens. There was also a new trend for hats that recited poetry (Capo Capo started it two days ago in Monaco with a Homburg reciting Ashbless’ “Twelve Hours of the Night”).



“If you’re ready, step forward.”

Next: What the fuck was that, eh, readers?

In the meantime, here's  Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart feat Sinead O'Conner singing their poptacular 90s hit, Visions of You!

The image at the top of this post was taken by flickr user Br3nda and is used under the provisions of the creative commons licence.

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