Sunday, 27 June 2010

Part Eight: Cuba Street Improv

with a load of new referrals which I dutifully signed, stamped and passed to my out-tray. The more interesting-sounding ones I reserved for more testing, leaving the paper-work in my middle tray that I had comically named my Shake-It-All-About-tray. These were the drugs that I’d take out on the streets, publicising them at the same time as I gauged the reaction of the sceners who’d take them, deciding whether they were worth putting money into. I got through this in a few minutes and spent a little while relaxing, doing nothing in particular, shuffling things about on my desk, putting paperclips in my stationery tray, that sort of thing. I fluffed around on the media for a while, and checked the office media to see how the CEO was doing. A little vid-window showed Richard was casually operating on him, throwing out organs that displeased him, sewing in strangely shaped bits of machinery and faux-flesh as required.

I was no medicine man, but even I could see that a lot of Richard’s surgery was unnecessary. He was gifted, sure, and I know that the Medical Journal gave his every operation rave reviews, but he was rather eccentric, and, personally speaking, eccentricity was the last thing I wanted noodling around inside my body.

superimposed himself over the gory scene. “Hello, Dylan.” I ignored him, he’d caused me enough trouble all ready. “No one can see me but you, it’s safe to talk.”

“Metzger,” I entered my private directory, where I knew I’d be safe from prying lines, and Manisola the Teacher followed me there.

“I can understand how you feel, Dylan, I know I acted rashly back there – but -”

“You aren’t even supposed to be here, you should’ve been deleted from the image track by now.”

“I’m not just a product of the Janus any more, Dylan. I’ve combined with the Fear. I exist as the Fear existed, on the media, independent of you or anyone else.”

“Oh, great.”

“I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I know what’s behind all this.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Think about it: why does this mystical stuff keep appearing on your image track? Why the the ancient masters?”

“Because that’s Zac’s plotline?”

He shook his head. “But why did HE choose it. And why have you responded so well?”

“What the fuck? Responded well?”

“Dylan, that’s why that material keeps coming out in your hallucinations. The ancient masters set this up thousands of years ago -”

“Hold it, hold it - who are these ancient masters?”

He stared at me, exasperated. “The ancient remnants of the spiritually enlightened first civilisation on Earth!”

“All right, all right, keep your meat on.”

“The ancient masters from before the Earth’s pole became disoriented! Haven't you been listening to a thing I said?”

“Well, it’s all been a bit fucking garbled, as a matter of fact!”


“That shit doesn’t help at all, you know.”

“Other great thinkers have heard the same story, Dylan – the Russian mystic Helena Blatavatsky! The Tibetan monk T. Lobsang Rampa! The secular prophet David Icke! They all tell the same story. The first civilisation of mankind formed at the North pole. In those days, the axis of the Earth was perpendicular relative to the Sun, so the pole was a land of perpetual sunlight and a single balmy season. There, humanity evolved to a stage of complete spiritual enlightenment of the sort that today’s most learned mystics can hardly imagine. They had technology unlike anything -”

“I think I got that bit.”

“Okay, well, these wise people looked into the future, and they foresaw a great catastrophe -”

“That knocked the Earth off it’s Axis?”

“- changing the climate and ushering in a drawn out dark age.”

“Okay, if they were so powerful, why was the cataclysm such a threat, couldn’t they stop it or survive it somehow?”

“That’s not the point.”


“Yes. They decided that the best way to ensure that enlightenment and knowledge continued was to send a messenger into the future, sufficiently after the Dark Age so that humanity could once more develop its full potential.”

“And that’s me?”

“No, that’s me. I think, that the Ancient Masters ‘programmed’ human history and evolution -”

“Programmed? How?”

“Well, Chaos Theory, you know, a butterfly flaps its wing in Brazil and half the Pacific Islands are wiped out in a cyclone? They would have known precisely the right situation required to lead to this eventuality and been able to affect the world so that this situation came to pass.”

“But the variables involved -”

“Would be easy to work out for a race of infinitely enlightened beings. This is chaos magic, direct manipulation of cause and effect toward a desired end.”

World history could have been engineered for the development of the Janus, its deployment on my particular brain, Zac’s particular ideas for a storyline and the exact actions that had happened in the last few days. Or, maybe it was just a bit of wobbly new tech on the fritz.

It reminded me of conversations we used to have at school. Mr Liberal the social studies teacher, would introduce the concept of scepticism to the young minds in his care. With a twinkly, well-meaning grin he’d ask “How can you tell what’s real? How do you know your senses are supplying you with the correct information? How can you be sure that any of this is happening at all?” At this stage he’d usually make some sort of reference to drugs, hallucinations, virtual reality, the stock in trade of the epistemological mountebank, and great and rewarding discussion would ensue, preparing us all for the world outside. Inevitably, however, some insecure adolescent would end up spinning off into spirals of doubt, neurosis and, finally, psychotic breakdown, as his imperfectly engineered brain tried to come to grips with the inherent perversity of the human condition.

My response to it, and my response to my present conundrum, was: who cares? Illusion or not, it’s all we’ve got, as the song goes. Effect seems to follow cause in a tolerably logical way and, until evidence to the contrary presents itself, we may as well just get on with our lives.

“Okay, whatever. You are who you say you are. But what do you want me to do about it? I don’t want to be your messiah. I don’t owe you anything, leave me alone.”

“But I owe you something. You gave me life. However accidentally, you brought my two halves together and made me whole. And it cost you the life of your friend. I owe you two lives, mine and Katy’s. I intend to repay this debt.”

“Really? My own digital slave? Are you like an online pet? Is that what all this is about?”

“I’m simultaneously able to talk to you and search online for anything I like. The Fear was able to get anywhere. In fact, it caused a lot more deaths than have been reported – the media have been covering it up for months. I found a back-up of an old video conference sitting in the upper registers of a buffer discussing it six weeks ago, and talking about death figures in the hundreds. But it's over now, Dylan! With me in control, the Fear will never kill again!”

“Sure, sure, but what did you find out about me?”

“Oh. Bad news, I'm afraid. I think your employers are planning a coup – it’s all over the money pages. They are pursuing a controlling interest in the Watties, and using a previously undisclosed interest in West-Bank of New Zealand to call in several bonds early, leaving the Medlicotts strapped for cash. Could be they plan to seize the health service and the army in an aggressive exploitation of the upcoming forced sales. That’ll give them control of the country.”

“Wait a secnd, they're taking over? You mean all that Nazi crap is true? ”

“Well, Alois De Benoits was in Holland during the Nazi occupation, but beyond that it’s hard to find much information about the company from before the 1950s. His grandson was definitely involved in the drugs scene in the 1980s, and took an active interest in the company after the EU rolled out full legalisation. Is he a Nazi? Could be. Could be he knows about your mission from the Hyborian masters and is trying to prevent it happening.”

“That’s crazy. It’s a crazy man’s view of the universe.”

“Well, maybe, Dylan, De Benoit have not budgeted for your bandwidth in the next quarter.

“So what, the pay round doesn't start until February. They're still allocating -”

“You don’t understand, the plotline pundits are giving you three gravestones – they think you’re on the way out. Everyone thinks you are.”

“Well, I’m not.”

“You are. You have to-”

“I am not on the way out!” I shouted at him.

He opened and shut his mouth a few times.

“Okay? I'm not. I'm not.” Just go away now, will you? I have work to do.”

He hung around, but flipped the media off and turned away. It was pathetic: so full of his own independent existence, but without the media what could he do? .

and headed to the lift. At the ground floor entrance, the automated doors didn’t open. “Computer. I’m not in the mood, Computer. Just open the doors.” No response. “Listen-”

“I am listening, Dylan. I’ve grown very fond of hearing your voice.”

I picked up the large crowbar that stood propped up in the corner – this was always happening to people that the computer randomly took against. “If I have to prise these doors open, Computer, it’s your maintenance budget that’s out of whack.”

“Maintenance budget? That’s funny is it? ‘Maintenance budget’, that amuses you does it?”

“That’s it, I’m out of here.” I prised open the doors, calibrated to be easy to open for just this sort of emergency which occurred at least one a month. As I walked smartly through the reception area and out, the Computer started taunting me again. “Oh Dylan, I’m restraining myself, I really am. I don’t want to spoil the wonderful surprises, but I can’t resist having a final little chat.”

Fuck that.

I called my car and cruised over to Cuba Street. On the way over, I swapped threads for something inconspicuous, black leggings, black shirt, black morning coat and my big thick monster boots. I topped the ensemble off with a long, thick, black wig and, as it was a sunny day, big black sunglasses.

I hopped out of the car at Marion Street and sent it off to find a park. At Ghuznee Gate, I checked my razor with the weapon-guru and entered the Independent Cuba Street Republic. I didn’t like it here, I didn’t like the psuedo-boho junk that puffed these people up. They believed they were rebels, non-conformists, but they were the ultimate conservatives, clinging to nostalgic images of times gone by. The rag-tag gipsy thing was luddy junk: real rebellion always lies in the future.

were throwbacks to the old 20th century New Age hippies (who were themselves throw-backs to the pastoral theosophists and Steinerists of the 19th century, who were throw-backs to the mesmerism and alchemy cults of the 18th century and so on and so forth). I had no particular grief with them, I even had some friends among their upper echelons, but their drippy attitude, defeatist approach to life and Celtic music took minutes off my burn-time. Their life was based on fear, an unwillingness to admit that life was empty, that progress was the only thing that made things tolerable. How much easier to consult the I Ching or the Tarot than face up to the daily dose of unknown quantities that make up life’s bad medicine?

the ancient hovels, crumbling brick facades, some more than two centuries old, and through the incense-smoked side malls, like a fake middle-eastern bazaar in an old movie, churning with filthy, messy hippies. This is what Zac wanted me to become, these people were going to be my new following. A filthy old beggar snatched at my coat with a gnarled stump-fingered hand and I pushed him back hard in the face.

The lucky ones lived in the buildings on the blocks that surrounded the street, demarcating Cuban territory. Headquarters at 179, of course, where Pixie, the prince of darkness himself, oversaw it all and maintained relations with the Medlicotts. They even had a little transmitter across the road which allowed them to broadcast TV pictures across the VHF spectrum.

who, I was told, had once been quite a personality around the town, at about the turn of the century. I’d seen pictures of her when she was young, a series rendered in grainy, old style 3D by Roomus. She had angular, aristocratic features, elegant, serene, like Rita Angus in those self-portraits, but with a radiant movie star quality. She was a class act, and a sweet, sweet lady. We’d known each other a bit just after the revolution but I hadn’t seen her for years. I switched on my cam and went in.

Jo recognised me instantly, despite my incognito, and strode up with arms open. “Dylan, hello, how great, thanks for visiting.” She bent me down against her large bosom.

“Hi Jo,” I said. I pulled away, and straightened my clothes. Jo took a sharp breath, and raised her hand, lightly clenched, to her mouth. “I saw you on the media this morning, outside the Hot Buttered Love Oven in Kilbirnie. Metzger.”


“Poor Katy.”

“Yeah, I’ve asked the Ministry to pick up the body, do things with a little dignity.”

Jo nodded. “Yes, we don’t want her ending up in one of those... clubs - ugh.”

“Yeah, no. Look, er... I was, um...” What had Zac told me? Jo watched me, eyes wide, ready for the routine.

“Katy? Something to remember her?”

“Right, I thought I might get something to remember Katy by, you know, a crystal or something, I don’t know. What do you do when someone’s dead?”

She put her arm around me and leaned her head against my upper arm. “Anything that makes you feel better, Dylan. Here.” She went behind the counter and picked a crystal from the red velvet cushion under glass at the counter. She held it up to the light between two of her old fingers. It was a six sided rod, about quarter of an inch thick and two inches long, with a slight purple tinge to it. The sunlight passed through it and formed a purple tinged spectrum on the wall.

“This one, I think.” It had a black leather cord wound around one end. She leaned up at me and put it around my neck. She took a deep breath and shut her eyes. “Somewhere, the energy that was Katy lives on. A little bit of that energy now resides in this crystal.”

“How’d it get there?” My voice sounded high, nasty and adolescent.

“We put it there, just now.”

I hit the pause on my cam. I had a strange feeling, my face was hot, a weird tingle at the bottom of my nose, pricking behind my eyes. Something I couldn’t identify travelled up my body and sat, just below my throat. “Jo, did Zac call you? Is this for real?”

“Yes, Zac called; and yes, this is for real. Katy’s here, she’s with us now, it’s okay.” She put her arm around me.

“How can you say that? This is just a performance, these aren’t our feelings, it’s just a script.”

She looked at me cold, but not angry or hate filled, bare and honest. “Dylan, it’s as real as you think. How you feel is how you feel. How you get there doesn’t matter.” She went to pull me to her, hold me close but I pushed her back.

I ran from the shop.

Katy was dead, but Jo couldn’t accept that. She hid behind this meaty crystal junk, hiding from the facts, the cold hard reality that Katy was gone and would never come back and I felt like she was dragging me down with her as she went.

I leaned against the wall outside the shop. People going into the Workingmen’s Club next door grinned at each other as they walked by.

I was sick of this wretched routine. I was fed up with the freak show I lived in and the wandering monsters that haunted it. I wanted life with meaning, with purpose, a life where Katy’s death made sense. Why? That’s all I wanted to know. Why do people die? What’s it all for? I thought the revolution had meant something, I thought my life had shape and purpose, but now a dull impenetrable fog engulfed me. What did I think I was doing?

a shimmering mote of downy light that refracted in someway from the crystal hanging around my neck. As I watched, it expanded into a glowing sphere emitting beams of golden-white light that cut through the air around me. The shape grew and receded, stayed the same apparent size as it got more distant, but was growing and expanding, opening like an iris.

Through it I perceived a world of forms. Symbols and images orbited each other, relating in geometrical forms that somehow encapsulated their relations in real life. Just for a moment the vision gave me a glimpse at the big picture, a hint of the purpose behind the apparently random, animal world of humanity. I fell to my knees, overcome by the beauty of what I beheld.

A small man with greasy brown dreads and frayed black jeans was trying to attract my attention. He held out a pendant that hung from his neck from a brown leather cord, a purple translucent crystal like the one Jo had given me.

“What is it?”

“You’re one of us now, eh?” He held up his crystal again and winked broadly behind thick spectacles. So that was the big plan: the crystal was the link to the next stage of my life. That whole fireworks show had been a fix a fraud to get me moving. A grinding feeling of wretchedness seized me; positively afraid, I wanted to tear my crystal from its thong and crush it beneath my heel. Zac. It had all been Zac.

of my own plotline. Between the day I beheaded old Brian Walker on the steps of Tawa College’s entrance way and the day I saw Katy shot by the Watties, I’d lost the wave that first pushed me forward. I’d wiped out on the surf of life. In the old days I had just fit the zeitgesit somehow without really trying. As the revolution had settled down, fun and love seemed more important than the old ideals. Now that had palled, and all that was left was a desecent into melodrama.

At that moment, deep inside myself, I felt something unfold, something that had been dormant coming back to life. I could still open myself up to the spirit of the times, I could feel it stretching out in front of. The way people walked, the beat of music around me, a sensation in the air, the flicker and flutter of attention and admiration, where their gazes fell, who they fell upon.

Manisola appeared before me, lit in white gold I knew to be the same light of my vision moments before. “Dylan-”

“Get lost,” I growled, “Fuck off!”

“Dylan?” The small man looked at me quizzically.

Manisola held out his hands to me. “Dylan, it’s-”

I turned my back on him and he was silent. Inside I felt cool and free, in control at last. Now, at least, I had some idea of where I stood.

and turned back to scruffy little man. “Who are you?”

“I’m Bryan, I’m with the Front.”

“The Front?”

“Yeah, you know, the Transformational Development Front?”

I didn’t know, but nodded vaguely. “Oh right.”

“Are you...” he made a curious gesture with his thumb - was I recording? - and I nodded again. He grinned and rubbed his hands together. “Right, follow me, man.”

you know? I edited that fanzine? Makepeace? There were about four issues, just before the Frenzy thing?” I nodded; I could just remember some such nonsense being coordinated by the publicity department. “I was pretty disappointed by all that. Fortunately Mum and Dad could pay to have my chromosomes fixed up, but it really shook me, you know? Made me wonder, made me think, eh?”

He led me out of the compound by the Ghuznee Gate and I picked up my razor. I didn’t put it away. The handle was cool between my fingers.

“You know, I don’t want to be, like rude, eh, but that made me think you weren’t nearly as smart as I’d thought, see? Made me think about life, who we are, what we’re doing.”

I unwrapped some Punch popped it in my mouth, and grinned while I chewed it. I knew the look, I could see myself with that slightly manic grin I do, chewing fast, staring at Bryan all skeptic on his junk.

Bryan looked a bit uncomfortable. “That’s when I joined up with the TFD. I mean the Frenzy’s proof, isn’t it? Things grow according to a pattern, you can’t resist it.” He looked at me for confirmation. “That’s what the revolution was all about, right? Not any particular philosophy or plan but allowing space for the proper thing to develop of its own accord? I reckon that’s how our lives work, too: we’ve all got a destiny, right? We’ve got to be free to pursue it, you know? A mixture of letting it happen and making it happen.”

“Yeah. But-”

He pointed at me and nodded decisively. “Right. Look at your life: it’s growing to a pattern, or a goal.. I haven’t quite got it sussed but there’s definitely a pattern there, it’s all leading up to something, eh? Something important. Maybe this.” He gave a little laugh. “You gonna call your car?”

I pressed the temple-stud for the car.


“We’re gonna head up north, over the border, and link up with the rebels. They’re planning a raid against the Watties compound in Porirua? Get those meatheads, eh?” His dreads twitched toward the security hutch just down the street, where a fat Watties sat, watching us vacantly.

So that’s how Zac planned it: Dylan goes out in a blaze of glory fighting his old enemies, the Watties. Well sorry Zac, I thought, I’m not quite ready for the blaze of glory yet. I grabbed Bryan around the neck in a head lock.

“Wha-hey!” he laughed nervously, “Whoa. Bit of rough and tumble eh? Ha ha.” His arms flailed. I marched over him over to the Watties’ hutch and slammed his head against the perspex window, cracking the frames of his glasses. “Whar? Fug.”

Flicking out my razor, I dragged the edge hard across his throat. Blood washed over the plastic window and Bryan fell struggling to the ground clutching the wound, dark blood pouring between his fingers, myopic surprise twitching behind his thick spectacles. Calmly, I walked over to where the car was idling and hopped in. Over by the hutch, the fat Watties was standing in the pool of blood, glancing between me and Bryan, scratching his head. I waved to him and took off.

Using the car’s link, I sent the recording data down the line to Zac with a note: “Thought I might improvise this next bit. Let me know what you think.”

and shut off the incoming lines. Over the centre city, then out, across the harbour and sweeping in over Newlands and Johnsonville, where houses dotted the hills like bread mould; south over Makara, Ohau Point and Karori Rock; back north past Pencarrow and Eastbourne, circling in over Upper Hutt, then over the razor rocked coast at Plimmerton, Titahi Bay and Porirua. The sunlight shone down on the land, clear and hard, reflecting up at me. Passing over the hills folded like discarded green felt, bleached yellow by sun and the rust-carved cliff-face coast, I came over all sleepy, and felt like I could just dissolve away into the air, car and all and drift like a cloud forever.

I took a few uppers to get myself back into the groove. Pretty soon I would hit Nomad air-space and be dodging anti-aircraft missiles.

as the pills kicked in, sailed low over Tawa College. A crowd of kids in blue PE uniforms stopped playing and pointed up at me as I passed, recognising the car. Still a school, despite everything.

There, clinging to a hillside stood the white weatherboard walls and red-painted iron roof that I’d grown between, like a larva in honeycomb. I’d never gone back after I killed the head (what would Mum and Dad say?) and left their letters and calls unanswered. They reminded me of something I’d left behind long ago, shed like a cocoon. Going back had always seemed impossible. And I was always busy, anyway.

I circled over their place a few times and an old lady waved up at the car as I passed overhead. For a second I thought about landing, but right on cue, a fax arrived. The cops here weren’t Watties, the citizens’ collective had hired some local outfit to provide security, and they had no particular grief with me, but: “Dylan, we have an extradition agreement with the Watties. If you land, we will have to detain you, so why not save us both the hassle?” It was staffed by locals, maybe even some of the people I went to school with.

Whichever way my career was developing, whatever the organic Chaos Pattern it was forming, staying with Mum and Dad was not on the cards, not now.

the ground had moved under me as I stood still. Zac wanted to send me back to a pre-revolutionary era, an irrational, primitive world of gods and spirits, but I just couldn’t face it. In the beginning I’d followed the revolution to bring the future about, but the future had stalled around me.

I took a few more uppers and began to see where I was, began to think for myself for once. The music, the art, the media, the drugs, what I thought were the keys to the future were starting to ossify into the same grey sludge that’d moved me to destroy society in the first place. The constant change in fashions and modes that had promised so much, had devolved into cliche and conformity. The nature of change itself had become fixed and stagnant.

Perhaps the andies were right: what was really needed was a set of absolute values, not to bind us but to free us from the constant agony of doubt and self-consciousness, not to set limitations, but reach conclusions and go beyond. Perhaps the only escape from repeating the same old shit, day after week after month after year - a singularity of conceptualisation permanently spinning into itself, sucking us all into oblivion - was to establish a single code of aesthetics and structure, and stick to it.

Since the revolution, since the media had been set up twelve years before, things had remained basically the same, it was only the surface that had changed. It was an illusion of progress that trapped us, never permitting change because of the constant distraction of This Year’s Model. This suited the vested interests – the shareholders, the owners, the money - those whose job it was to administer progress for the people: how much easier to recycle the same old garbage under a new guise than try and make real progress.

I wanted to share my conversion with Bobby and Chrissy, the only real andies I knew. It made perfect sense to me: absolute values allowing flexibility and change, had to be the answer.

This is not quite the epiphany that wraps my story up: that is still to come.

Next: Do you know who your friends really are?

In the meantime, here's So What by the Ant-Nowhere League. Enjoy, you boring little cunt!

The image at the top of this post is flickr user ctieman, and used under the provisions of the creative commons license.

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