Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Silence: Armatures

It was tough at first in Ibayzaar. We were the detritus at the nadir of a ruthlessly competitive commercial food chain, trophic nobodies. For most of our lives we’d been living in a cushy electromagnetic pulse/atomic shelter for Coogol VIPs. One of many secret gardens that sheltered moguls of the internet-nations whose wealth made Bill Gates look like a starving post-print journalist. We had hydroponics, clean water, a self-repairing 10 MW geothermal plant, everything a post-apocalypse puppeteering enclave needs. After leaving the vault, we took up the default mode of survival in the wasteland; scavenging. Relying on the kindness of long dead strangers. But in this burgeoning little patch of New Sumeria called Ibayzaar, we were just another couple soot-faced orphans of the failed experiment known as Modernity 1.0, just gravel on the once-paved road to “progress”.

In order to open up shop in Ibayzaar, you had to register as a seller, which involved a border-line extortionate fee in ‘Ebucks’. For primer real estate near the front entrance you could pay a few extra arms and legs. The only asset we had in our bank account was a patina of fear and loathing sparked by our unwarranted arrest under suspicion of being robo-terrorists. The unfortunate media event spread dark clouds of negative press like an old-world American political smear campaign. We were broke, and squarely within that dank, interstitial crevice of trashcan meals, cardboard housing, and unsavory sub-floorboard work, that limbo between “unhirable” and “frowned upon by society”. Fucking society and its facial expressions. Some days I can see why the affluent ancients had a tendency to come down with Rousseau complexes, feel the need to run from their $10 lattes and quarterly meetings into the proverbial log cabin deep in the wilderness and paint avante garde pictures of bees.

I sold our police special pistol the second night, after sleeping in a wooden crate that smelled badly of non-GMO humus and dog piss, then upgraded to the imperial suite at the Chateau du Hole-In-The-Wall. The Chateau consisted literally of a swiss-cheese apartment complex of holes in the gigantic thirty foot security wall of a former gated community filled with the remains of McMansions erected during the second housing bubble that blew up in 2015. We would’ve stayed in the houses instead, but the developers had used the cheapest, flimsiest parody of wood to save on construction costs, and so the homes had decayed, even before the world went belly-up, into 10,000 square foot piles of rotten particleboard, now pushing weed and daisies. Microcosms of their time, of the Delusion Economy.

Entry level jobs were rare in Ibayzaar, and generally paid in scraps of mystery meat or free living space in a broken refrigerator, or iffy sexual favors. The first gig I scored was shoveling oxephant shit for Farjadeen Bollywood (his last name, yes, really), the owner of the bovine-elephant towed U-Haul caravan we met our first day at Ibayzaar, who asked about my NeuroArm. (The cyborg’s outstandingness is simultaneously his greatest boon and bane: metal limbs are awesome conversation-starter networking tools, like a shoulder-mounted business card, but also tend to attract the laser scopes of bigotous anti-robot siliconists.) Arresting, the amount of waste an oxephant can produce. I think I could see sea levels rising every time the lumbering behemoth passed a thunderous methane-rich ball of flatulence. For my hard and unsanitary work I was rewarded in boxes of military sporks as my first paycheck. I was too put off to ask Farjadeen where he found the hybrid utensils or why he bothered to take so many, although he muttered something about a spork saving his life once. He was often muttering, often in half-Punjabi, about how his parents had fled the United Aggregation of Eurasia when the Silicon Curtain fell, rifting the once global internet into multiple separate network-countries, each charging their own citizens “premium internet fees”.

His parents landed, just months before the EMPS went off, in the megacity region of New California to find custodial work deleting negative comments from ratings sites, and to build better net-lives for their children. Farjadeen believed that we in the post-Disconnect world have entered Naraka, something like a Hindu version of purgatory, a barren and difficult life of suffering and no internet, where we are being punished by Yama, Lord of Justice, for squandering our potential as humans. “One day I will achieve mukti, liberation, and will be reborn redeemed in India, as an Indiatube movie star.”

Still, my job beat the pseudo-legal slavery most Ibayzaar noobs ended up in; peddling a stationary bike hooked up to a turbine generator ten hours a day as one cog of hundreds in the human power plants keeping Ibayzaar lit. There were some functioning photovoltaic panels around, sure, but that wasn’t enough to meet peak demand of an operation the size of Ibayzaar, so of course they ended up in-sourcing their own literal “sweat shops” which smelled notoriously of human grease and unwashed armpits. Couldn’t afford the seller fee to open your own shop? ‘The “Rags To Riches” loan program is what you need! No credit necessary! Just sign here, here, and here, and bike your legs off for a couple months and Ibayzaar will provide you with a $2000 Ebucks loan, enough for you to pay the exhorbitant entrance fee, open up your own shop and start your new better life living The Ibayzaar Dream!’ The poster ads depicting smiling business owners were everywhere, whole platoons of agents were dedicated to reeling in prospective loan/slave labor candidates. Of course, almost none of the wasteland immigrants read the fine print. The loan was only enough for one of the back-alley lots no one but rats and prostitutes visit, the interest calculation was an adjustable rate that jumped up usuriously after the first couple weeks, and the market was already incredibly saturated with struggling newcomers. Most applicants for the program ended up in a revolving door situation, back in the sweat shops within weeks of getting out, having to pay back unpaid debt with more cycling, finding themselves ever deeper underwater with little hope of escape. Like rats in cages racing on hamster wheels, chasing the perpetually out-of reach cheese, dangled by the Ibayzaar moguls, to power their machines and machinations. All that hungry yearning pent up in the hopeless post-Disconnect world, futilely misdirected to pursuit of happiness, hope, change, apple pie, and other recycled mythology of a long deceased nation, existing only in derivative red-white-and-blue Rags To Riches marketing pamphlets and half-remembered Disney movies excavated from abandoned iPhones.

It was by no means a perfect system; pyramid ponzi schemes, monopolies, wage arbitrage, “creative accounting” and the like were as common as frog flu. Smith’s invisible hand of the market tended to feel more like a crushing iron fist puppeteered by unseen economic Wizards of Oz most of the time, but still, it was better than the jungle-grade Darwinian hell hole just beyond Ibayzaar’s gates. Dystopia is relative, like that, and the blue bloods and management no doubt framed that mantra in gold, told it to themselves to rationalize their exploitation and get to sleep at night in their 40th floor Presidential suites.


I wanted to help shoe Cyclops into a job at the U-Haul shop so he didn’t have to pedal bike-generators for Soylent Green Energy Co. (renewable electricity made with people!) or hunt mutant rats all day, but Farjadeen was more frightened by Cyclops’ augmented eyes than my Terminator arm at first. Something about the way it covered Cyclops’ third eye apparently evoked Hindu-hued demonic mojo for the boss man. However, when he discovered that Cyclops could instantly inventory a spilled box of sporks (638), several crates of pork n beans (1,183), and several barrels of evaporated sea salt, in pounds, nearly to the atomic weight, Farjadeen had a change of heart. “You have the vision of Brahma, you see the divine essence of all things!” And hired Cyclops as a stockboy-slash-accountant. A case in point that economics trumps belief systems every time.

Thrift was a non-word, the wrong side of a duality, like “communism” in the old YouEssAy. The Scarlet “T”. As saving money was frowned upon in the nascent Ibayzaar culture, spending was viewed as a golden virtue, the gateway through which one could ascend to the ancients’ capitalist nirvana of “Having Tons Of Stuff”, and the duty of every Ibayzaar user in order to build The Better Future. “There’s no problem you can’t consume your way out of,” was a popular slogan. The purpose of discouraging frugality was threefold: it upped profits, swelled the ranks of debt-slaves, and pre-empted new immigrants from reaching the critical financial velocity necessary to implement a business plan, mount any real competition against existing, well established central nodes of commerce. Selling yourself into labor camps where you built crap in order to borrow money to buy the stuff that you built, but couldn’t afford. It was pure unadultered genius. The ghosts of the old world Financial-Cloud Lord tycoons smiled with pride from their WiFi-ether, I’m sure. As Ibayzaar outgrew its shell of the Futureland theme park, expanding beyond the kitschy neo-Gernsbeckian walls, cheap debt-slave-made plastic crap and vice-pit watering holes of sex and drugs came to dominate a substantial portion of the market, the latter largely a result of the swelling ranks of poverty . Apparently, the end of the world had not shaken the laws of physics nor Sturgeons Law: 90% of everything was still crap.

Still, I did my best to save up, pinning our own particular Ibayzaarian Dream to the inside of my forehead, focusing on it each paycheck, taking my caches of sporks and hunks of gecko jerky to the bank. It helped that Farjadeen approved strongly of my zealous squirreling of savings. “You do well to grow your rupee karma, Jericho (Jaayreeko)”. Yes, the money karma is strong with me. My dumping of payment into a sock always elicited a smile and sometimes another story of humble origins of pre-Disconnect poverty hardships, told with a nostalgic lilt; an underclass pidgin camaraderie that reached across civilizational epochs. What little disposable income I did use generally involved “junkets” indulged down in Derelict Town.

Derelict Town was the lively, dangerous, and grungy compost heap of the New World 2.0 or “The Reborn World” as some denizens called it. A “city within a city”, Derelict Town physically consisted of the slowly disintegrating remains of a half-beached Coogol supercomputer barge. The upturned bow, bearded thickly with rust and bleached barnacles, had long since cracked and hung down with a broken majesty, like the lowered head of a 20th century military general. Settlements had sprung up within the behemoth’s corpse like lichens upon a fallen sequoia. Derelict Town’s relationship with Ibayzaar was often strained and the settlement modulated in upper management’s view between property-devaluing eyesore and necessary interzone. A relief well for the growing resentful underclass, so as to prevent it from spilling over into the front yard. Most of the time they simply turned a blind eye, as dealing with Derelict Town would require the Ibayzaar heads to accept that their system as it was was chewing up and spitting out the majority of its users into the garbage heap of history, leaving them nowhere to go but underground. And that reality was unpalatable and inconvenient. Especially given the Ibayzaar leaders’ high-fallutin and self-congratulatory self-image as saviors, revolutionaries of the wasteland.

The first and eponymous squat in Derelict Town was “The Derelict”, a bar and strip club that wanted, however schizophrenically, to be an art center. Particularly, the crowd-appointed spiritual leader / poet laureate / Social Worker in Chief, Burroughs Klein, wanted The Derelict to be an art center. And Burroughs tended towards schizophrenic, as is often nature’s genetic fee for endowing one with unusual innate creativity. Propensity for making connections traded for coherency.

For me The Derelict was a detox from shoveling toxic oxephant feces all day, via intoxication, a sort of sensory and mental exfoliant. I loved Gulliver, I did. That mammoth elephant-cow thing was the nicest twenty ton marvel of pre-collapse genetic engineering I’d ever met, after the dangerous courting phase that resembled playing matador with a very angry, horned eighteen-wheeler. But really, some days I literally just couldn’t take any more of his bullshit.

I was introduced to The Derelict through Farjadeen’s daughter, Kalki. She helped her dad out around the shop during the day and made an unbelievable curry, considering the less-than super market quality of the goods. (Veggies were from the Tree Dwellers and the genesis of the meat was rumored to be stem-cell cultures of organisms that once might have been chicken, grown in vats by a group of former scientists who managed to get a fast food “Country Fried Chicken” plant up and running.) I preferred the madras curry myself, always up for a good mouth-nuke, plus the spice overpowered any of that clone-y, vatty taste.

“Don’t let the machine weigh you down,” Kalki said, fiddling with a skirt “grown” from bacteria in-vitro, topped by a hemp halter-top that was saying something in some dialect of Derelict “shipster” fashion that was a foreign language to me. Her dusky Indian complexion framed by wild mid-back tresses looked ‘good’, that’s as far as I got.

“It’s just not really my scene.” Was this a date? I tried to remember a web fossil I’d read, some bit-rotted 10-tips gossip site article on the “Dating Scene”, something about “embracing your inner weird” and not going for the four star restaurant on the first date. The closest thing to high school prom I’d experienced in the Vault was EMP strike emergency drills, giving CPR to the Yawpper CEO’s daughter. Stumblingly roleplaying foggily recollected narratives of Old World romantic comedies. Was the kiss before or after the date? Will this jeopardize my job? Damnit, I can’t do this.

“You go on, I’ll just be a third wheel,” I said, dumping my feces smeared firefighter turnout coat on a metal rack.

“That ‘get out of having a Life’ card doesn’t work with two people, Jericho. Oh come on you square, seize the day for a change, enjoy the little things.” Delivered with a friendly irony, the default undertone in the new world. But after a chance moment of self reflection, I discovered that she was kinda right. “Enjoy the little things” had been my mantra out in the wastes. And now, having become so focused on a new sense of a Better Future, on any future at all, the ‘joie de’ in life seemed to have shifted from The Now to that mythical anglo-saxon perpetual “Later” that permeated the WASP nest of the Elysium Enclave. Some imagined ethereal reward delivered on a golden platter by angels in return for hard work and colorless existence. Waiting for Rapture. Had I forgotten to stop and smell the roses of finally living in something like a society? There was also of course the not illegitimate excuse that my branding as a robo-terrorist after my very public detaining and imprisonment had not yet faded from the public imagination, and thus I had developed a certain fear of publicity.
“It’s ok to be you, there. We’re all rejects together. An assemblage of misfits, an anti-social network.” The re-purposed paleogism sold me.

In my case, choosing an outfit was about finding the least shitty and least shitty smelling set of hashed synth-cotton and pleather in the same muted grey hue. The lesser of two olfactory evils. Not caring what others think really goes a long way, until you interact with Others and realize that you actually do kind of care. Not caring is a luxury of hermits and sociopaths. Kalki jumped in as my fashion guru like in those age old reality TV “Female Eye for the Bomb Sheltered Guy” shows. She hemmed, hawed, had me spin around, put stuff on, take stuff off.

“So, you ever been to a concert, or is that a stupid question?” Kalki asked, fixing the collar of a polo shirt splashed with the logo of some prehistoric Web 4.0 startup, did that nose wiggling thing she did when something wasn’t working.

“No. I mean, no, it’s not a stupid question. I virtualled lots of concerts back in the Vault. We had the best of Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, Justin Beiber, Sex Pistols, we even had holographic reconstructions of Woodstock based on cultural reverse-engineering by the best ethnomusicologists-“

Kalki tinkled laughter, “That’s not what I meant. Watching a pre-recorded rock concert on your fifty inch nanowave screen in the comfort of your living room is not the same as being at the actual event in person,” she explained.

“What’s the difference? You get near-flawless reproduction of the sensory lifestream with Virtu-sperience. Audio, visual, even olfactory sims of alcohol and marijuana, moshpit contact replication. The Ancients stopped going to meat-concerts it was so good.”

“Well ‘The Ancients’ were hollow shells, spiritless homunculi, who totally blew it and who were fucked up on more levels than a skytower elevator directory. It’s just different, the anticipation, the adrenaline, the people, the energy between the band and the audience. Just being ‘There’ fully in the moment realizing that anything can happen and that this moment will never happen again. Maybe that fact makes it more precious, more intense, more real, or something. It’s hard to explain, you’ll have to just experience it for yourself.” She flashed a smile, patted me on the cheek, and I caught a glimpse of dried tempera under her fingernails from painting. She went to rummage around in a MegaMart shopping cart full of beat up outerwear.

“Is your dad ok with you going there? I mean, I just don’t want to get flamed out for my implied condoning of this by tagging along,” I tried to look as unsheepish as possible. Her shoulders stiffened momentarily and she continued sifting.

“First of all, I think I’ve just found the perfect fit for you. Second of all, my dad can try to firewall me all he wants, but I’m not his little child “Bollywood Star” anymore. He is not my CEO and I am not his personal android-doll to be molded however he desires. So, hey, don’t worry about it, ok? I’ll deal with it. Consider the disclaimer signed, terms and conditions agreed to.”

She turned, presenting an old Coogol corporate fleece jacket, riddled with bullet holes and blood stains, Klein blue knitting gone the color of rotten steel girders. “Now this, this is totally you.”


Farjadeen was not ecstatic about his daughter hanging down in Derelict Town, but he was also relieved that she was no longer “love-hating” her ex-boyfriend, Chupa, a mako-dog fighter and hustler and rumored to be the dethroned descendant of an old world Mexican drug lord. “You ever make-a-kissy with that boy again, I will have Gulliver stomp his shit hole face into the ground,” were Farj’s exact words.

Friday night, the ship’s bow of Derelict Town lit up like a half-eaten birthday cake, as if a 90’s cruise liner, after dinner party in full-swing, had sailed into the Bermuda Triangle, its bow surpassing the event horizon of the Triangle’s warp gate, to be severed off and dropped through a wormhole upon the black asphalt-sand shores of post-Disconnect Bayeria. The marine tang of sea salt and rust blew in waves from the still-warm ocean. They used to be colder, the oceans.

Boarding the supercomputer barge up a creaking old metallic ramp, the raw uncensored poverty and hardship, hidden by Ibayzaar’s whitewashed postcard entrance, was fully exposed. Thin, withered souls in the neon orange jumpsuit uniform of Ibayzaar human power plants shambled about, knees quaking arthritic from months, years of peddling the bike turbines in debt-slavery. Drug eaten shells of former humans twitched insectile, slumped against trashcan fires clutching morbid black forearm veins, telltale signs of the final cycle on a downward spiral. Hooded spaz dealers striding with a reptilian paranoia. Massive, anatomically incorrect muscles of biohacked meatheads sprouting like thewy tumors, the unstable lab rats of maladroitly recovered old world biotech. Gunshots resounded through the reinforced aluminum hulls every minute, punctuating a new statistic.

Yet, amongst the pain and despair, there were rays, saplings of hope, of the possibility of change, the downtrodden rebuilding themselves anew from the wreckage. Here, an art gallery selling metallic sculptures made from salvaged Derelict flotsam. There a one-legged street performer juggling for a raggedy gang of dirt-caked children. And there, radiating in the distance was The Derelict Art Center; the Ark, the Nexus of solace, art, culture, of real hope for the disillusioned. Not the imagined mythical American Dream Future, but of a livable spiritually fulfilling now, and a direction to move in, a lower-case “future”. At least that is what it aspired to be, most days.

“Come on Jay, my band is on in five!” Kalki towed me by the wrist through the thickening clouds of people like a favorite toy. I brushed up against throngs of humanity in dirty burlap and a material Kalki explained was extruded hyper-thin plastic made from melted-down digi-phones. Kalki and I joked that the artist-thug chic was in this season. A look that suggested individuals who conducted flash-muggings as a form of performance art, or fenced drug money within caked layers of paint on cubist-revivalist portraits. Or she joked, and I conjured polite chuckles pretending to get it.

“Estraven, thought you was still turning tricks down Server Side?” Someone said, aimed in my direction, but my brain crashed attempting to crunch the meaning of the sentence.

“Shut the twuck up Bander you Shmitthead,” Kalki return-fired. Shmitthead, I think I got that one. The CEO of Ibayzaar, one Bill Shmitt, who had generally fucked over many a Derelictan, ergo Shmitthead = insult. I felt like an Asperger’s nerd struggling to decipher human interaction, trying to claw back social-brain tissue hijacked by number theory and Star Wars minutiae.

“Come here, ho.” The dark, horse-mane mohawked bouncer wrapped Kalki up in a hug. Huge arms like the Derelict’s hawser cables caused her torso to completely disappear for a moment behind a shipster tattoo-collage of urban fantasy surrealism, de-signified Asian characters and the logos of dead corporations. I stood there.

“Bander, this is my good friend Jericho, works for my dad.” Kalki made a mock-graceful “voila” motion, like one of those Old World discoball-gowned gameshow girls presenting a new prize.

“Hey boyfriend. First time in Derelict Town?” Bander asked, waving in a posse of cosplayers dressed as the characters of this late-2010s space-pirate 3D TV series I vaguely recognized; papier mache tri-point hats, bioresin cast blasters.

My first hit was, “How can you tell it’s my first time?” But that would be embarrassing and weirding.

“Yeah, it’s great. How do you know Kalki?” Bzzzzzt, too clingy insecure sounding. Thank you for playing.

The bouncer laughed like a subwoofer. “That’s the wrong question brother, how does anyone not know Estraven? She’s the salt of the sea of D-Town, she’s the Buzz. She’s like the sister I never had. Also the stripper I never had.” Bander laughed again and Kalki punched him in the arm, making a sound like slapping a ten pound steak with a ruler. I made a mental note to ask Kalki about this “Estraven” alias later. I think a passerby tried to sell me spaz or a hot night of meat-sex in the red light district but I couldn’t decipher the verbal steganography and waved them away.

“So what’s the feed on Johnny boy? Heard he’s been rolling serious bankster downtown.”

Bander crossed his arms, shook his head, a clutch of septum piercings chiming together like jingle bells. “That fool thought he could get ahead with that evil evil evil Rags to Riches loan program. Told me he ‘had it all worked out’, connections with the scav teams, Tree Dwellers for raw material, designs for t-shirt lines and that shit. Needless to say, his pipe dream scheme got totally BPed, his products were undercut by the Ibayzaar Big Box Boys with their slave labor. Ultimately, his ‘business’ went underwater, they wound up hijacking his designs, and he ended up in the poetically unjust place of sewing his own damn clothes for a dollar a day to pay back his usurious debts. On top of that, he owes money to some pretty mean trolls on this particular block from whom he borrowed startup capital.

“But enough about him. How is the old Farj doing anyway? Status update says he’s looking to expand.” Bander asked.

“He’s always looking to, bit by the money bug. But you know my dad, selective seeing and Indian astrology all the way down. Not dumb or desperate enough to fall for the Rags to Riches scam yet, thankfully. But hey! I’m gonna miss my girls’ big night!” Kalki tapped an imaginary smart phone screen, the residual universal sign language for ‘I’m late’.”You keep it in cash, Bander. Stay odd, you big faggot. ”

The Derelict, located within a Coogol supercomputer storeroom, was like a wastelander attempt at a late-20th century art-house/nightclub/stripclub irreverently built on the “temple” of an ancient technologically advanced alien civilization – and the Old World in many ways was an alien civilization. The dormant obelisks of processing cores were spraypainted in neon hues of urban neo-tribal post-apoc expressionism. Like hieroglyphic creation (and destruction) stories painted on the dust-obscured catacombs of a slumbering pyramidal mothership, patiently awaiting return of the godfather race. Or thinking, “Good riddance.” Derelictians were certainly less anticipating the return of Hale Bopp messiahs, more dancing on the grave of selfish idiotic parents who’d wrecked the homeworld. And was there ever dancing. It was packed like in-vitro sardine flesh; a wet, hot, undulating serpent of humanity lost to the moment, to the encompassing boom and flow of edgy djing.

“Sup ‘Straven, check it out. Tomorrow night, Happy Hour at eleven. Nice arm candy B-T-W.” An elfin girl in a bikini emblazoned across the breasts with two pictures of random faces labeled “human” handed Kalki a flyer and a digital pendant of some sort. Apparently the supercomputer’s crystalline memory modules were being removed, strung on necklaces of copper wire, given as party favors.

“What’s with the swimsuit ‘human’ pics?” I puzzled.

“Enviro-striptease. Trending big time before the collapse. When unemployment hit 50%, the greenies had to suss out a way to win the bread and win hearts for their eco-causes. So they came down from hugging trees, started hugging poles, slapped pictures of newly endangered species where they knew they would get eyeball-time -- their naughty bits. And it worked, for the most part, at least till the bot factories started pumping out new android strippers who put them out of a job again. We hairless monkies are the latest species on the endangered list.” Kalki backstoried, punctuating the punchline with a coy smile.

Kalki towed me over to the dance floor, a raised chrome platform consisting of toppled server towers, circled by a stonehenge of blown-plastic sculpture. Polycarbonate statues, grotesque but poignant. Blackstripe suit-and-tied busts of Ibayzaar leaders donned with the heads of snakes, rats, leeches. An anemic Atlas in chains struggling to support a fractured, crumbling globe. Sentinels keeping silent watch over the roaring ceremonies.

Buried in a flux of flesh and sound, I gave up to the beat, moved my limbs in awkward patterns that might pass to the casual observer as dancing. Kalki didn’t seem to notice my holistic lack of skill either, and caught up with me on a zephyr of movement interpretive and vaguely vedic. Awkward limbs; I just realized I had not received a single disparaging remark, fearful glance, spiteful sneer, or death threat cast at me because of my machine arm since I’d come to Derelict Town. No one even seemed to notice. Maybe Kalki was right, maybe this was that freeside, that Temporary Autonomous Zone bohemia, that anti-social network wherein I did not need to airbrush my frightening, deviant or undesirable blemishes, a place where I could truly be myself. “Be yourself”, I think that was high ranking advice on the list in that old Dating-Tips article.

As we danced, I felt some dense primal knot of Darwinian jungle-tension between my shoulder blades begin to melt. Kalki and I traded giddy smiles. So this was “having fun”. I replayed old world dance scene lines in my head, trying to think of something appropriate to say that meant, “I like you,” but hip-ly. I think I ended up saying, “Here’s looking at you, kid”. It made Kalki laugh out loud, and she patted me on the cheek again, whispering something to the ecostripper elf-chick who laughed too. I’m pretty sure I did something right, maybe.

The lighting began to phase shift aquarium like, pulsing glows emitted by gene-modded Biolum ™ algae, ensconced in clear plastic Aqua Arctica bottles. “Those bottles once contained water collected from these massive continents of ice called glaciers, a favorite drink of the ancients.” Kalki informed me with wide, sooty eyes. Glaciers are gone too. Woulda been nice to have them around to cool the oceans off.

The music shimmered out on an ebbing tide of synthetic cymbals as the DJ high-fived his way across the crowd and off the stage to thick howling applause. The godfather of Derelict Town and house MC, Burroughs Klein, strode up to the stage, snatching up a microphone. A cadre of onyx dreadlocks flowed over either shoulder, reflecting random flashes of the subaquatic blue bioluminescence like glimpses of a sea serpent in moonlight. His posture and cadence was deliberate, denoted a veteran honing of a certain commanding urban stage presence, the physiological finesse of the spoken-word. The crowd hushed to a reverent silence as he began to speak.

“Friendsters, Remans, postcountrymen, sons and daughters of the new end, the New Derelict, how high do we fly tonight? We gather here, today, within the silicon belly of a fallen Behemoth to celebrate, to Face2Face, to friend one another, to see third eye to third eye. We celebrate our survival, against stacked odds, individually and as a species. For what is humanity but a fragile twig hanging by a thread from the primate branch on a Tree of Life blown by the gale-force winds of change? And we celebrate, above all, in the face of silent oppression, unmitigated suffering, broken promises: the survival of our spirit. Something the ancients failed to maintain, their ghosts now lost to their machines.” Burroughs began to pace the stage, lighting evolving ethereal, throwing shadows like fire against cave walls, congas rumbling awake, fingered bass playing out the heartbeat of a way-back-when dreamtime.

“Once, late 20th century corporations waged marketing branding campaigns, clashed with lawyer knights and finance wizards. In the 21st century, internet corporation-network-nations recruited whole armies of starving journalists and writers jobless from mass ebook pirating, turned them into tech-evangelists, some in the form of bloggers, self-purported "geek gurus", demagogic sci-fi writers. The tech evangelists were paid to profess the glories of “open source”, “user empowerment”, “crowd wisdom”, “open web”, “decentralization” even as the central nodes themselves, Coogol, Friendbook, paradoxically became the most powerful and remained the most closed. Big Brother spy services holding their lucrative closed-source data mining algorithms and collected private information tighter than the RIAA to copyrights. Cloud Lords scooping up the content and personal data of the starving digital peons, scraping pennies off decaying robot-overtaken remnants of the economy as they spiraled downard in a game as self-destructive as subprime financial derivatives. Not so different from our own overlords today, my fellow Derelictians.”

“Before the Disconnect, Cyber Navies outnumbering in tonnage and vessels all warships deployed in all World Wars were launched to serve as data centers for search engines, social graphing, advertising. The supercomputers themselves were the size of oil tankers, cooled by deep-sea water and powered by wave-spun turbines. The supercomputer barges so densely populated either seaboard that they surpassed the Great Wall of China as most visible feature from space, became pejoratively known as, “The Great PayWalls of Coogol”. The United Aggregation of Eurasia soon followed suit, and all the worlds’ continents became ensconced in mega-server tankers the density of Cold War naval blockades. Unspeakably massive fleets fighting invisible wars of network lock-in and arms-races of privacy-invasion, fighting not for land or freedom or religion or oil or capitalism or communism but for online eyeballs to advertise at, to become the most central nexus of search, of social networking, of computer-dominated finance, the uber-aggregator through which all must pass, vying for the mapless territory of cyberspace that was nothing yet everything. They lined the geological fault lines, and being the fault lines of the digital, they were first to fall under waves of electromagnetic pulse. And as the digital had come to govern the real, when the cyberquakes shook the Ancient’s ‘internet’ to pieces, so the real world followed suit. The Ancients, so convinced by their own ideologies, failed to see their own false armatures, failed to see themselves, and ultimately failed themselves. And failed us.”

The dreamtime gave way to the present, percussion and bass rushing forth, joined by xylophone and keyboard, misty haze snapping back into bright, stark white daylight. Burroughs animated fully, fist to the sky, no longer recalling but declaring with full force, to self to audience to Ibayzaar to all, as if sending a flare of truth out into the dark universe.

“I have seen the best minds of a generation disintegrated by a user-friendly madness, eating their own hands in search of the Wired, starving in naked hysteria. I have seen the worst minds flee the 404ed world to the gated shadows of New Mexico night, riding birds of steel. I have seen the brightest torch carriers of a species tarbabied into hearts of darkness within the soul erasing mires of rejungled concrete. Orphans of the orphaned, the lone among lone wanderers tracing songlines across the ash gardens of the new Dreamtime, searching for reasons to keep searching even as their feet bleed and tears turn to dust. And I have seen those greatest dreams ground up, granularized, diced like collateral debt obligation nuggets, McChickened into the dark smothering heat of slave ship basements, cogs powering power machines, to be eaten alive. Well I say to you, friends: let the naked lunches be served.

“And who better to serve it up than this our next group of cultural and sonic WMDs, the powerhouse seductresses of Derelict Town as sharply dressed as they are tongued. As your ship’s captain, speaking, we ask, nay, declare that you unfasten your seatbelts and prepare for the mass boat-rocking turbulence that will shake even the distant corporate towers of the Ibayzaar Czars. I give you The Horsewomen of The Apocalypse.”

“Here they come!” Kalki squealed in an alarmingly out-of-character teeny girl voice, hopping up and down. As Burroughs ducked out of the spot light, the DJ’s ovation was overshadowed by the thunderous wave of screaming incited by the introduction of the next act.

The lead singer of The Horsewomen of The Apocalypse pounced the stage, a look channeling Marina Kovanovich, mainstream zombie movie starlet and cover girl for the apocalypse. Literally, the actress had been a Vogue model and spokeswoman before The Disconnect. Black bandage dress beneath a scarlet slip, volumetric auburn curls flaunting a physics-defying supermodel bounce, smashing black Prada kneehighs that had become ubiquitous since home clothing-printers. She was an apotheosis and parody of the insipid, shortsighted, shrinkwrapped future-fetishism of the past. A severely ponytailed Asian brunette in a business suit and black wireframe haute nerd glasses and covered in golden glitter snatched up a guitar, checked tuning. The bassist was a tall black woman rocking what appeared to be a pearl white Ibayzaar official dinner jacket, but on closer inspection consisted of a hemp shirt with the bleached bones of small mammals glued on. As the guitarist and bassist quarterbacked some last-minute chord-change audibles, the drummer spiraled down one of the stripper poles. Covered in only a diamond swimsuit bikini – valueless as Prada since diamond fabrication went cottage-industry -- and fishnets laced with dollar signs, topped with a Maxylyn Morrow wig, the infamous speed-dialed schoolgirl escort model for the President of the United Territories of Coogol.

Each persona was a meticulously sculpted epithet, a stanza woven with sentences of restored pre-Disconnect apparel. Together, completing a poem written in a language as old and as deep as cities, revealing truth dislodged and accessible only in the critical moment of their collapse. From the ground zero of World 1.0 shone forth these fragments juxtaposed, flourishes of fossilized fashion. Like the intricate trajectories of subatomic particles blooming in the instant of supercollider destruction, Rosetta Stone glyphics revealing the deepest secrets hidden beneath the operating system of the world that in the everyday remains as invisible as air or gasoline or an electronic financial transaction.

The audience was foaming, Kalki was locked deep in some internal fan bliss-state, eyeing the lead singer in particular with a singular fervency.

“Good evening my fellow end-users of Ibayzaar! Comrades of Derelict Town! I’m your host and inappropriate service provider, iVangelica, and these are my lovely associates, Exuberance on guitar, Improvidence on bass, and Syn on drums. Together we are, as of this moment, The Four Horsewomen of The Apocalypse. On behalf of all of us I’d like to thank you for choosing to meat-stream us to your ears. In lieu of the lack of working cameras and internet, we’ll be handing out cardboard smartphone replicas with which you may film us incessantly, ruining the concert experience and missing the moment while attempting to preserve it. Sharpies and posterboard Friendbook “walls” and Yakker “Feeds” will be provided at the rear of the club on which we encourage you to physically comment and tweet about us to your friends every few seconds in one hundred forty character sittings, further alienating you from the event and providing us with free marketing. We sincerely hope that you have a pleasant evening, thank you.”

iVangelica threw her head back, sending plumes of red hair like the bloody headshot of a network CEO assassination.

Silence stole its fifteen milliseconds of fame.

A nuclear flash of a scream stunned us, disarmed and unprepared for the boom of a twenty kiloton bass kick followed by the blast wave of a power chord that nearly blew the rusting walls out of The Derelict. And possibly the eardrums of collateral fools in the kill zone of the speakers. I was instantly sucked into the slipstream, along with Kalki and the rest of the crowd, howling choruses of fangasm fighting the sonic firepower of a refurbished Marshall quadstack. The initial minute-long detonation and repercussions dissipated gradually into the snowing ash of a finger plucked lament.

“Let’s hit the Big Time / Load up on funds and bring your friends,” the languishing siren’s voice was melting ice cream. The crowd swayed in quiet reverence.

“Everyone loses / When it pays to lose and to pretend,” syncopated downtempo percussion rode in on a brief tide of echoed guitar embellishment, fading like daydream.

“Oh God, we’re surrounded / By thieves and their undead,” the singer explored the stage. Scaled, then perched atop a titanium server tower doubling as a monitor speaker cabinet, sapphire eyes set ablaze as they offered a fearful lover’s gaze to the celestial embrace of the spotlight.

“Aim for the head now / This is the last chance we’ll get,” The delicate drizzle thickened to strummed chords, Impatience feeding off Exuberance, swelling bass lines sweeping the crowd up into dance, snare drums hits like the thunder snaps heralding an oncoming storm.

“Mama said that I was so exceptional / But the bigger you are the harder you fall”

iVangelica leapt from her pedestal, no small feat in high heels, her three fellow horsewomen of the post-apocalypse joining her in the air. We shivered in terror and ecstasy waiting for the whirlwind, the end, for the wrath of gods.

“No there’s no more Armageddons / Cause it’s the end of the line / No there’s no more Armageddons / And it’s payback time” The flood gates opened, a wall of ear blistering post punk sound and fury. Mosh pits, riots broke out on the dance floor, people howling, laughing, crying all at the same time. The guitarist bassist and drummer played as though possessed, heads and limbs flailing in a controlled spasm. The singer belted the words as though they were her last. She became a medium, an effigy, channeling and embodying pure, unbridled outrage, the blood sweat and bile of a million disposable souls pouring out of every fiber of her being.

The Horsewomen of The Apocalypse played another six songs, each time it seemed impossible to rock harder than the previous number, but then they would do it, break another sound barrier. They played one cover, a song called “A Town With No Cheer” by some pre-Disconnect vaudeville reenactivist guy named Tom Waits.

(Continued in next post)

When it was over, I collapsed onto a barstool, dizzily scooping ricebowls full of kava to my mouth from a community donation bowl.

“Wow, I never imagined in my wildest Virtu-Sperience™ concert sims it could be like that. I know this is my first real concert but I have to say that was completely off the hook, huh Kalki? Kalki?” As iVangelica weed-whacked her way out of a kudzu patch of crazed fans, Kalki flying-glomped the singer, then kissed her, hard, on the lips. Then kissed her, hard, on the lips. Wait, what?

My brain sprained itself tripping over the cognitive dissonance. Maybe it was just a cultural thing, some girls do that right? But no, the super model model and my cute if bacteria-wearing date were definitely into each other at tongue-depth. Scarlet and ocean-blue lipstick mixed violet as they caressed and dipped each other like some wanton tempoless tango. I was just waiting for the hundred violin orchestra or uplifting 80’s ballad rock to cue. They were strutting over to the bar now, and I tried to stop my mouth from rapidly opening and closing like a stunned aquarium fish.

“Hey Jericho, this is my girlfriend iVangelica, or just Iva.” Thanks, thanks for letting me in on the loop on that little bit of non-obvious gossip.

“Hey Iva, great show. You guys are great.” I made rocker horns with my free hand as I downed another bowl of kava. I wiped a tan rivulet from my chin. Feelings of misplaced, irrational animosity. Damn her elegant Slavic bone structure and freshly kissed lips. Maybe if I had a vagina…

“Thank you. So Kalki tells me this is your first ever live show. What an honor it is to pop your concert virginity. I hope we didn’t disappoint,” Aha, ha, ha. Not the music, anyway.

“Oh, no, it totally blew my mind, on a whole ‘nother level. I was thinking about ‘here’, but you guys were like way out there, past the ceiling.” I illustrated their level with vigorous hand motions, accidentally half-karate chopping a creepy green mohawked guy, bumbled apologies.

“Jericho cleans up after Gulliver for my dad. He’s such a monk usually. But I totally knew he had a wild side bunkered down beneath that straightlaced corporate front, I’m so glad I had him tag along with me,” Kalki patted me on the back. ‘Tag along?’ What was I, a pet cockerspaniel?

“Yeah, woohoo!”

“You see what I mean!? Well, Iva and I are going to go unzip in the ambient room. You’re welcome to come if you-“

“No, no, you two go, I’m just getting started, got all those years of straightlaced corporate front to make up for.” And I don’t want to be a third wheel. I barely managed to bite my tongue before saying. I smiled and nodded my head along to the next band, “The Disintermediators” or some other pretentious shit.

The girls bounced off in the direction of a smoky, glass bead shrouded doorway, leaning against each other, swallowed by a school of pink haired cosplaying schoolgirls. Lesbian, of course.

Now that I wasn’t distracted by having to pretend to be cheerful, my heart was free to sink, fall out of a hole in my sole, roll like spilled change, get stepped on by a random high heeled dancer, before picking it up, dusting it off and squishing it back into my chest. I wasn’t sure if I was feeling more stupid, pathetic, or hopeless, at that point. It had been a rough first date.

But had it even been a date? Kalki had never actually mentioned the word, I had interpreted it. Had it all been in my head? Had I been subconsciously spinning the events of the night into some preconceived, conditioned narrative, an armature of cinematic plot points, the end trajectory of which was supposed to be… what, a cutely awkward goodnight kiss and the promise of a second date? Coming to mind was some half-remembered koan spouted by a ranting academic about cultural brainwashing by the media. Duped, like shirt-sewing Johnny Boy, like all those poor saps who fell for the Ibayzaar scam, like the ancients who fooled themselves into believing a fake American Dream, blew it all to hell in a cloud of smoke and mirrors and subprime derivatives. What made it sadder was it wasn’t even media of the present but the artifacts of a long-dead world that were screwing with me.

I needed a real stiff drink, industrial strength, a neuron killer to wipe the episode away from the RAM before it went to ROM. I hailed the bartender.

“Global Meltdown On The Beach, on the rocks, please.” The ‘keep filled a glass half full of vaguely vodka-esque synthehol, pureed some canned peaches, a GMO spliced Applorange™, and a gob of gelatinous matter that resembled cranberry, shook it up with two cubes of ice.

“Make that two Global Meltdowns,” a voice like two AM, marinated in Rohypnol, female. I turned. Brilliant platinum hair I immediately recognized as the Four Horsewomen’s drummer. She entangled her legs around the barstool, she’d taken off the Youessay dollar sign fishnets but was still in matching platinum platform heels and the diamond bikini. From this distance I could tell they were real 24 karat diamonds by the kaleidoscopic, almost painful amounts of light her sparse coverings threw off. I became conscious of the fact that I was staring at her parts and looked away, took a sip of Global Meltdown. The synthehol had that ozony, whitewashed lab flavor and the cranberry-analog definitely wasn’t grown in ocean water, but it took the edge off the night.

The drummer pulled the wig off, set it down on the lacquered heat sink that served as a bar counter. In that context, the wig looked like some new canine gene splice created explicitly for dog fashion shows. She shook her hair out, messy waterfalls of jet black, and an inch or so longer than the faux coiffure. A third of her Global Meltdown was gone after her first long swig. She let her platforms dangle off, to clunk on the ridged metal, stretched her toes.

“Pass me that coaster? Hi.” It sounded like she’d noticed a friend in the middle of asking me for the coaster till I saw her focus lingering on me, anticipating. I slid over the foam disc, then said ‘hi’.

“Hey, you guys did really great tonight. I feel bad for these dudes following you, ‘The Disintegritaters’ or whatever.” The band was ‘VJing’, throwing up random mashed-up, bit-crushed images from old world movies and teevee, a chaotic lazer light show filled with arrhythmic bleeps, bloops, and sandblasting white noise that was supposed to be some kind of postmodern art. Not enough signal, too much indecipherable chaos, wankery.

She put on an amused smile. “Thanks. If we can con at least half the audience into believing we’re real musicians, we call that a successful night.” I laughed a translucent pink bubble into my cocktail. She uncurled her legs from the stool’s metal limbs, wrapped them around the other way.

“I saw you strut in with Estraven, you know her?” She asked.

‘Do I know her’? I came in with her, of course I know her. Was this sarcasm? Some hidden subtextual joke? Another flare of Derelict shipster lingo sailing over my head? She was looking at me again with those big, raven-shadowed eyes, either she had impeccable deadpan delivery or was serious.

“Uh, yeah. We’re co-workers. Well, I work for her dad, ‘Farjadeen’s Wasteland Emporium’.” I tried to deliver the message through the blizzard of sound that was the noise band inserting a microphone into a blender set to frappe, then dodging the incoming missiles of synthesizer divebombs like psychotic THX movie intros.

“Did you say you traffic uranium?” She yelled back.

“What? No, no. I work with Kalki at her dad’s shop. The one with the oxephant.”

“Oh, mhm. The armored truck towed by the mutant cow.” She finished up the rest of her drink, called down another Global Meltdown. The Disintermediators shuffled off stage to a roar that was half applause and half pained moans, paroxysms of joy that they’d finally stopped the ear drum holocaust.

“So what’s your source?” She asked.


“Where are you from, originally.” She stirred her new drink with an inch long silver fingernail, licked it.

A slightly unusual question, given that most people under the age of thirty who didn’t wind up dead generally didn’t have a “hometown” in the sense the ancients used it. Most people were rootless wanderers since the day they were born. Not out of some personal love of travel and freespirited globetrotting, but out of the simple necessity of having to find food, and trying not to get killed. Hunter-gatherers. Well, many were more like opportunist-scavengers, bottom feeding sharks in a violent sea, but no one likes a nitpicker.

In my particular case, though, I did have a home. However, I was wary about who I shared that information with, as there were some people who held quite serious resentments against the superpower network-nations, who blamed them for the world falling apart, and especially those who’d burbled up from their VIP’s cozy legendary Vaults. I wasn’t getting the violent fanatic vibe here, though. And maybe I unconsciously wanted to make an impression on this woman.

“I’m actually from a subterranean compound.”

“No shit? And I’m from Alpha Centauri, funny we never crossed paths-“

“I know, it sounds like a joke, right?” I spun in the stool, pulled the collar of my jacket down, touched the nape of my neck and switched on my Coogol VM (Valuable Meat) HRFID Tag. Subdermal, blood-powered holographic, virtually unfakable, the implant projected the deceptively innocent playschool Coogol logo through my dermis into the air.

“You needed one of these to get into a Coogol bunker, and no one but top executives, non-expendables, and their immediate family members were ‘stamped’. And the non-expendable list dwindled constantly as machines did more and more of the jobs people used to. At least, back when there was a world to have such a job in.”

She leaned over, clearly fascinated. Startled me with the grazing of an acrylic index fingernail at the nape. A waft of synthehol and lavender fluttered by.

“So why would you leave? I heard the network-nation vaults were idyllic paradises. Pure H20, hydroponic caviar, penultimate Coogol library-cache of every video book and lolcat ever made, Jacuzzis, eighty one virgins, seventy two angels blowing golden trumpets.”

“Well, I didn’t want to, I had to leave.” I deferred with a stoic glance and a mouthful of poison. “What about you?”

“I’m from around these parts. Bayeria Waster, represent,” she made an awkward mockery of some archaic ‘gang’ hand symbol. “A little settlement a ways north. Was no plush underground heaven, but it was better than trying to fend off the bumps in the night on your own. More of a halfway house really, I don’t miss it.” She swirled her glass creating a hurricane of carmine ice, sipping the eye with a clear straw.

“I know, how cliché, right? Country girl comes to the big city seeking reality-tube stardom and fortune, winds up in 9-5 debt slavery, drowning her disenchanted dreams in pools of booze and the sweat of strangers. So what’s your calling, exactly? Here in the ‘Bazaar,” she asked.

“Let’s just say I’m the lead engineer of waste management.” I drank to that, ordered up another one myself. I mean, I shovel shit.

“Wow, sounds challenging.”

“Yeah, well, it’s better than peddling like a machine, being a human battery down in the power plants,.”

A dark look folded a complex topology of ridges and valleys, casting shadows across her made-up China dollish face, it evaporated smooth again a moment later.

“How about you, what keeps your boat afloat. Oh and uh, sorry, didn’t catch your name? I’m Jericho.” I asked.

“It’s Syn. Yes, it is a stage name, but it’s a persona that’s become more real to me than any of the other empty people that I’ve been. And seen. If you can understand that.”

“Sure, it makes sense,” I nodded making good and convincing eye contact, unsure if it did make sense.

“And to play along with your game of cryptic euphemisms in a desperate gambit to dodge questions, let’s just define me as an ‘entertainer’.” She stabbed at the floating bodies of ice in the red liquid with a toothpick umbrella. I went quiet, an awkward ringing silence filled the space like tear gas. It was broken by the first bass thump of a trip-hop/dance track. Clearly I’d ‘griefed’ her, but couldn’t figure out how.

“Hey, you want to play a real game? It’s a fun one, I promise.” Syn shifted to face me, putting on a too-big smile. “It’s called ‘Fifty Two Line Pick Up’. It works like this: you use a pick-up line on me to try to get me to have sex with you. You get fifty two chances, and if you win, we have sex. Ready?”

“Syn, I’m, I mean, I didn’t-“

“Just shut up, Jericho, and play. Pickup line. Hit on me, now.” Syn sucked the last puddle of liquid out of her glass and gave me this blank stare, crossing her arms across her jeweled swimsuit-clad chest. I didn’t see any lifeline out of it. My head was starting to swim, although that could’ve been the alcohol.

“I’ve been scavenging all my life, but you’re the first diamond in the rough,” I cringed, the words tasted like motor oil and tanning spray coming out of my mouth.

“Fuck off, asshole.” She snorted. “That’s one, fifty one left to go.” Her hands remained firmly under armpits, countenance closed.

I felt like an idiot, dowsering my brain for come-ons, it was like dragging my psyche through radioactive mud. “Look what you’ve done! You’ve metled the ice caps of my heart, and now I’m gushing.”

“In your dreams, creep.” It stung, the way she spat it with a practiced smirk, even if it was a game that I didn’t understand. I decided I was done entertaining her and let the weirdness bloom again, searched my glass for answers. I’d had enough emotional flogging for one night. A minute passed, she eventually turned back to face the bar.

“Why are you wearing that stupid corporate shirt anyway. It’s full of holes.” Syn muttered, softer, cooler. I wasn’t sure whether it was the fact that it was a Coogol employee shirt or the fact that it was full of bullet holes which was the problem. The shirt Kalki picked out for me, “It’s so you” I could hear her chiming. Why the hell was I wearing this old rag anyway?

“It’s a long story.”

“I’ve got time,” she said. I glanced down at the Coogol corporate fleece jacket, torn and frayed with bullet holes drooling deltas of brown blood stain.

“This is what I was wearing the night… The night Elysium Vault was breached, when it was destroyed, when we had to evacuate. This was all I had time to take, my clothes.” Each tear, each yawning hole was a hyperlink opening up a story – the shootout with the raider netfreaks, a narrow run-in with a lionraptor – a tale of survival, of our journey since.

“I hadn’t even realized I’d kept it, till now. I guess maybe I just wanted to have something to hold on to, a token of home. Maybe it helped me to imagine that the Vault wasn’t completely destroyed, that it was just… sunken. Like that sunken city, Atlantis. That it wasn’t really dead, just submerged, and that someday it might resurface again. It’s silly, I know.”

“I’m sorry. And no, it’s not silly.” Syn slid sparkling crescent toenails beneath the sparkling straps of four inch heels, stood. She approached the threshold of my personal bubble, but hesitated, instead lay a hand on mine, a brief but firm squeeze. “I’ve got to get back to my dayjob. I’ll see you around, Jericho. We should do this again.”

A few minutes later, Syn was called up to the stage, to perform a strip-tease, wig back on, diamond tresses shimmering like a mirage. Telling lies in flesh and curvature, becoming the clay lonely men laid upon the armatures of their fantasies, animating them with each undulation of a hip, each flex of a calf.

I think, for perhaps just a moment, I understood why Kalki had chosen this shirt, what she meant by “being more real”. Why the ancients’ sawdust mansions lay as ash and why the sparkling Ibayzaar corporate towers were as tall and as empty. Why I would find myself returning to The Derelict, night after night. Then I smothered the thought in another Global Meltdown.


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