who do you want to be?
where do you want to be?
Then there was the sex! They managed to meet every afternoon during the last weeks of August. They would rush to bed and make love. When all was said and done she would reach up to the bedstead for a bottle of baby oil. Slowly annointing him, she whistled softly at his pleasure. She had obviously made a speciality at this. Under a film of oil her tan glistened. On her brown breasts the nipples were big silver coins, then their slippery cones darted everywhere - even the back of his knees, the soles of his feet didn't escape their touch - until he couldn't differentiate between tongue and nipple. She glided knowingly over him, they slid together, undulating like an ocean swell, rolling and curving towards shore.
They went out a lot too, mainly to this freakcore club Frieda was affiliated with. It was called the Church of Chaos.
There was a special ceremony one night in Greenwich, ostensibly to celebrate the 11th anniversary of Diana's death. Thousands of lightworkers had gathered at energy points around the country to help resolve that most perplexing of New Age questions: was Diana a saint or manufactured icon? Through meditation, prayer, ecstatic dance or trance, lightworkers were hoping to manifest some kind of answer.
The site was chosen because it was the source of Greenwich Mean Time, Zero degrees west. There were about 50 people there, ranging from freaks to Dockland yups. Croon had recently ditched his Jim Carrey simulcra, having decided he'd approached the 10 per cent limit (appropriation was great so long as it was done in small doses). Tonight he was dressed as Inspector Gadget. He was fitted with a few features, mostly MI5 salvages: cuff-links which sprayed capsicum gas when you twisted them, springs in his shoes (to help him getting up to Frieda's flat), fold-out boxing gloves (only for emergencies). And, of course, he had pockets full of magnifying glasses.
<<You look ridiculous>> Frieda said (she'd dressed as an Egyptian deity). The avatar hushed for peace, and everyone sat down on cushions on the floor.
<<They said we were worthless>> the avatar said, "they said we had nothing. No culture, no identity, nothing original to contribute to the world. They called us the nothing generation. So we became the nothing generation. We embraced nothing. We became nothing.>>
On the wall, in an ornate fixture of darkening bronze, a gas jet burned, laminar and gently singing - adjusted to what scientests of the 19th century called a "sensitive flame". Above that was a computer monitor flashing randomly generated images, one for every second. The avatar paused for breath, continued: <<Generation X had nothing to contribute either, so it turned to appropriation. Consequently, Generation 00 grew up in a world where appropriation was the dominant cultural order. It had to do something new. But everything had been done, and now everything had been redone. There was nothing left. So, paradoxically, nothing became the only something.>>
<<Nothing became everything. It's the Law of Polarity, now accepted by science: nothing can exist without its opposite. Generation 00 believed in the law, but soon recognised its inherent limitations. We thought: What freedom can exist in a world where everything is a reaction? Is freedom itself an honourable ideal if it can only exist as the partner of persecution? Generation 00 pondered this dilemma. Then suddenly, like a student attaining enlightenment, it realised the paradox of polarity: nothing can exist without its opposite.>>
<<Nothing can exist without its opposite," the gathering said. The avatar closed her eyes, and everyone started meditating.
Like any lout in Aquarian England, Croon knew how to meditate... well, he knew how to calm his mind at least... to be honest, he couldn't sit still for a second. He closed his eyes, tried to keep a hundred disparate thoughts at bay, silenced the new Photek tune which had been playing in his skull all day, then lost it all when he remembered those rumours about his beloved Chelsea Football Club. He sighed, fidgeted with his hands, was about to twist his cuff-links when he remembered that would probably clear the room. He took off his hat instead and started kneading the rim.
Nothing can exist without its opposite.
Unable to switch off his brain, Croon began pondering this principle, which was kind of like the motto of the 00s. He believed in the theory, of course, because it seemed self-evident: day always followed night, for example, while there'd be riots if there wasn't a girl for every guy. However, he couldn't understand the so-called "paradox" it contained. Nothing can exist without its opposite... where was the paradox in that? He repeated the phrase in his mind, word by word, just to make sure: Nothing... can... exist... without... its... opposite. Nothing... can... exist... without... its... opposite.
But, Croon thought, nothing can exist without its opposite. The statement said so! Everything can't exist without its opposite, but "nothing" can! Realising he'd found a loophole in their mantra, Croon broke into uproarious laughter. So, that's their paradox! he thought.
<<Ahhh," the avatar said, noticing the outburst, "I believe we have an omen.>>
Then the sensitive flame shot up like kundalini, to torch a full metre above the jet. The monitor, out of the trillions of possible images, generated a vaguely human outline and froze it. Members of the gathering awed softly, amazed by its similarity to Diana. To Croon it just looked like an ink-blot wearing an electric blue tiara.
Then the avatar began to speak, and her accent was classic House of Spencer: "Once transcended into the Realm of Infinite Quiet, you found that all the signs had turned against you... Lights I had studied so well as one of you, position and movement, now gathered there at the opposite end, all in dance... irrelevant dance. None of your traditional progress, no something new... alien... you too became conscious of the space, as your mortality had never allowed you. Discovered it so... so joyful, that the arrow must veer into it. The space had been there all along, year after year, but you had seen only the secular... I mean, the personal space. Yet... dear friends, the space, the space everywhere...>>
Here the avatar broke off, was silent awhile... one groan... a quiet, desperate moment. "Selena," someone said, "Selena. Are you all right?>>
"Yes, yes my dear," her cheeks mottled with tears, "I'm listening.>> Then she resumed: "It's control. All these things arise from one difficulty: control. For the first time it was inside, do you see. The control is put inside. No more need to suffer passively under 'outside forces' - to veer into any space. As if...
"A market needed no longer to be run by the Invisible Hand, but now could create itself - its own logic, momentum, style, from inside. Putting the control inside was ratifying what de facto had happened - that you had dispensed with God. But you had taken on a greater, and more harmful, illusion. The illusion of control. That A could do B. But that was false. Completely. No one can do. Things only happen, A and B are unreal, are names for parts that ought to be inseperable...>>
"Pardon me to cut in like this>> Croon said, "but can we cut to the chase, yeah. Were you a Messiah, or was it all just a Murdoch stunt?>>
Selena hissed, then resumed: "The other quality is the time. So much time, so everywhere. I mean, so everytime. Your words can't describe the time...>>
2 The Queen of Sheen THIS IS bizarre,EJulian said poking a gloved finger into one of the holes. They were all about two centimetres across and almost perfectly round. How could they have formed? I couldn't have done it cleaner with a power drill.E What are you talking about, power drill?EDean Coombes, slumped back in the driver's seat, said sharply. He was too busy staring up at the blue Antarctic sky to worry about holes in a tiny geological probe. It was just a storm.E Julian orbited the probe, a telephone box on a little tripod (or so it looked to perceptual systems weathered by 12 weeks of black rock outcrops and ice). Some of its panels had been torn off and lay dragging tangles of wire in the wind but Julian was more interested in the holes. There were so many of them, pock-marked over every wall. Maybe a storm came up, that could explain the panels. But what about the holes? All perfectly round. The probe's turned into a sieve!E What else happened, the Chinese came and slugged it full of lead?E Dean laughed at the sky. C'mon, we've assessed the damage. I'm sick of you slowing me up.E He started revving the sled's engine. But the holes,EJulian said, and this is the second probe fucked over this month.E We'll get a crew from Tuggera to repair it and that'll be it. I don't know why they don't just whack a mine up straight. Come on, let's go!E Julian looked back anxiously at the cheese-grater probe. Oh... okay. This is so bizarre.E You're fucking bizarre mate.E IT WAS Friday, the social highlight of the week, when a man aching from physical labour in the bitter polar wind could take off his parka, put on a video of the footy and get stuck into a case of piss flown all the way from Australia. By 8pm things were getting pretty rowdy in the common room. Julian didn't like Friday nights that much but they were after all the only outlet he had; sick of lying around in the sleeping quarters he walked into the common room just to say hello. He crept in wearing a shiny new purple vinyl shirt, hid next to the flickering TV. He opened a can of Victorian Bitter, sipped nervously. What do you call an Abo in a Mercedes?ENathan Maguire, head of the Limited Mining in the Cape Poinsett Environment Impact Study (EIS) and now Tuggera, was saying over his sixth bottle of Tooheys Red. He didn't wait for an answer. A thief.E Chuckles from his mate, the old fellow was in fine form tonight. What do you an Abo in a Volvo? A bloody safe thief!E Boisterous laughter around the common room, hearty backslaps rattling the wooden chairs and People posters clinging to the walls. Another spill or two on to the lino floor. Which was surprising because they were bad jokes, and racist to boot... Julian should have said something. Too wrapped up in himself to realise timidity was the most aggressive way to attract attention in this kind of environment, he contented himself to listen. A newsflash interrupted the football broadcast concerning trouble in the South China Sea. Bloody slopes,EMaguire said, and he'd worked in Malaysia for five years. They'll be fleeing to Darwin in boats next, seeking asylum.E Dean said, We should just drop a bunch of bombs on the pricks now and save a lot of trouble down the line.E Its a complex dispute,EJulian said, unable to contain himself any longer. We should let them sort it out themselves, rather than kow-tow to America again.E I don't kow-tow to anyone,EMaguire said. But it would be good if you could kow-tow to me, now and then.E Pretty shirt,Eone of the engineers said. Yeah,EDean Coombes sneered, maybe we all should start wearing them on duty, in case we're caught in a blizzard. They're that reflective.E I wouldn't be caught dead in it,EMaguire said. The footy came back on and, not wanting to provoke another argument, Julian went off to read a book or something. That boy's getting too big for his boots,EMaguire said. THIS ISNT fair, Julian thought the next morning on an ice-sled 12 kilometres north of Tuggera, only three months here and I'm already sick of the place. It seemed such a good idea at the time: destined to unemployment as an atmospheric scientest in Australia, desperate to do something positive about ozone depletion, he applied to spend a year at Tuggera Station, Cape Poinsett, Wilkes Land, the Australian Antarctic Territory, thinking it would be the experience of his life. But after just one month of studying ozone levels a change of government in Australia also changed Tuggera's priorities from atmospheric research to the more lucrative job of assessing the mining suitability of the entire territory. The station was inundated by mining representatives, oilmen and engineers: Julian suddenly felt outcast as a scientest in a scientific outpost. It was the best morning Julian had ever seen on the continent, nearly minus eight. A mixture of curiosity and defiance drove him to the damaged geological probe he had visited the day before. How the fuck could Maguire officially report it had been damaged in a storm? He took a few unauthorised photos of the holes and slid on to the coast, to a shallow bay almost free of ice. He sat on the edge of a rock shelf between squabbling petrels and looked over an enamal sea to the rusty speck of a grounded Nigerian freighter whose oily legacy still rimmed the shore. He sat and looked at the freighter and wondered about the holes in the probes and looked north and thought, God, I want to go home. Something bright flared at the edge of his view and a second later a loud boom rumbled through the rocks and blew away the petrels. A geyser of flame burst from the headland beside him and doubled over in the cold air. Christ, Julian swaying on his feet, the old fuel dump. He reached for his radio, hesitated as another blast shook the bay, pulled out a pair of binoculars. Training them on the dump he thought he could see a brown figure flitting through the flames. And he thought: The Chinese must have come all the way from Suharto Station to blow up the dump. He crouched behind the shed, saw the figure emerge from the flames dragging something dark... another figure. The upright one saw Julian's sled, slumped its comrade over its shoulder and scurried down the headland. "Wait!" Julian yelled, feeling oddly heroic. The headland was too steep for the sled so he blundered up on foot, trying to keep a safe distance from the fire. The figures dissolved into smoke. Another gesyer of flame shot up and doubled over Julian. Cowering from the heat he lost his footing on a slab of ice and slipped down the headland. "...LEX TRIPNO ohwek heeni dag-ginz!" Julian turned over on his side and realised he wasn't lying in his bunk in Tuggera. Then he felt a stab of pain in his forehead. "Reg feenicks bee jivo crickwick." He looked up dizzily to see some kind of painting on the roof, penquin-men and seal-women frolicking in ice-green waves, all muraled around a strange blue woman. He followed the roof to a rocky wall and saw two women - no, one was a man wrapped in brown fur - approach him with long, whale-bone spears. "Bee reg!" one of them said curtly, but to Julian it seemed melodious, like the sweetest singing. "Bee crickwick," the woman said softly, dropping her spear. Her saucer-green eyes sparkled in the diffuse light of oil-fat lamps. Flicking back her ringlet mane, she pointed earnestly at the mural roof. "Carafilpa!" she whispered and the word whooshed through Julian's mind reminding him of a place and a state of being so beautiful, so astoundingly complete, it could only have been a dream. "...FUCK HAVE you been?" Another painful crack in his forehead. Julian tried to open his eyes and saw through the glare a suspended image of the woman? man? from the mural morph slowly into Maguire's scowl. "What... wh' am I?" he mumbled. "Should have left him out there," someone brawny said. "D... Dean?" Julian's mouth was so dry he could barely get the word out. "Wha'... happened? Where's... cave?" "Huh?" Maguire said loudly, and his voice was so macho Julian actually recoiled (talk about his weirding way). "I don't know what you're talking about. We found you unconscious this morning near the fuel dump. Can't believe you survived the night out there." "The night..." remembering achingingly now the slide to the coast, the petrels and the Nigerian freighter and the explosion and then... the cave. "No. I was rescued. It was beautiful." "It wasn't that fucking beautiful for us, mate," Dean said. "Do you realise the trouble you put us all through? We had six men looking for you all night." "I must have hit my head," Julian said (and it was still spinning). "Someone blew up the fuel dump. I saw some people, running away... after the explosion. Just like eskimos. They rescued me, took me to their lair. It's utopia." "The boy's really lost it now," Dean said and another bloke grinned. Maguire said, "We think the explosion was sparked by a faulty valve. You'll have to give an eye-witness to the relevant authorities. But that doesn't excuse you for running off without telling no cunt where you were going. This is a dangerous place, son, that's why we have precautions..." "I'm sorry, sir." "I won't stand for it. I'm terminating your duties for two weeks. Give you a bit of time to think about what you're really doing here, and what you want from this whole assignment." "But what the natives? A new tribe, living right here?" Maguire just laughed. "Mate, I think we should take another look at that lump on your head." JULIAN SPENT the rest of the day in the sickbay, nursing his headache and wondering what the fuck was going on. On waking his memories of the cave had seemed so real, almost painfully nostalgic, but with every passing minute in Tuggera he grew ever more unsure: it was just too weird. And what about the figures he had seen running from the fire? How could he have imagined that, when he was still awake at the time? And he thought: There's no way he could have spent all night in the Antartic open, even in October, without getting at least a hint of frostbite. Julian's dyed green hair was a nod to the biological obsession of the times, a pronouncement of his environmental consciousness, and it would have won him instant respect at any urban conglomeration on the planet. To the EIS people it just made him look like a freak. And then there was his musical tastes: Julian appreciated any style on its merits but he particularly liked the amphibian scene, particularly the Australian Aboriginal stuff. Most of the younger blokes at Tuggera just liked hard rock. So conflicts were bound to occur. Such as later that afternoon. Taking advantage of an empty common room, Julian slipped a copy of the edited highlights of the Atlantean Grid Activation Ceremony into the video recorder and was chilling with a makeshift pyramid. Halfway through it, a ray of Violet Transmuting Flame anchoring the earth at Uluru and Lhasa, the door opened and before Julian could scurry out from the pyramid there was Dean in the doorway. "You'll have to turn that shit off," he said. "I want to watch this video of the golf." Julian was about to oblige him, but he was so worked up about being suspended by Maguire he said, "I'm watching this. You'll... you'll have to wait your turn." Dean walked across the room quietly, lifted the pyramid and flung it against the wall. "Come on, you little prick," he said. "Let's have it out." Then Dean remembered Julian was suffering from concussion and could therefore be excused piking out of a punch-up. They decided on a mutated form of Australian conflict resolution: a motorised sled race. It was a ridiculous caricature of the drain drag race in Grease: Dean and Julian neck-and-neck and throttling over the fields of sheen, ice and smoke thrown into white rooster-tails, all they lacked was a nubile teenage girl draping a scarf down her body on the starting line. Dean hurled abuse and occasionally nudged Julian's sled. "Hey," he yelled, as Julian rounded a rocky reef, "are you a poofter?>>
"Are you Neathandal?" Julian asked, and braced himself as Dean rammed him sideways again.
They were halfway to the finish line; the route looped around an Australian flag before backtracking to Tuggera. The first one home won video rights over the other for the rest of the year. "You," Dean waving an obscene finger, "everyone thinks you're a joke. Go back home, you don't belong here." Julian stared steadfastly into the blistering wind, trying to ignore him. As he was staring this patch of ice in front of the sled cracked open and before he had time to brake or evade, the nose of his vehicle slipped into a yawning crevice. The last thing he heard was Dean's urgent cry of, "Fucking twit!" and the whoosh of a long fall down.
17 The Elementz of Noize MAN, THIS place is arduous," the Dark Stranger told the huge crowd at the Terrordrome about an hour later. He was freshly changed into black jeans and a T-shirt and had swapped his Darth Vader mask for something far more contemporary: a cheap plastic effigy of Michael Jacksons official missing person photo. The crowd replied with boos and jeers of "Straight!", sharing the DJ's euphoria: the Terrordrome was the dopest venue in California, and the Dark Stranger still couldn't believe he was playing there. "Voodoo nation prepare to get your education!" he cried and the polka beat of the opening song, DecaDance, erupted from the speakers. Ace NiceGuy, hands a blur over his Atari Cassiopeia, began bouncing synthetic bass melodies and piano chords off the polka, then hijacked the polka chain itself and sharpened the harmonics, stretched out the wave lengths so it started to sound sinister, metallic, a cocaine nightmare. Over the top of it all he then played the sample of a preacher turned politician blaming youth promiscuity and the break-up of the family unit for increased crime levels. The crowd surged against the stage, stomping and fist-raising in robotic defiance. The beat froze briefly before the Dark Stranger, with hair-trigger rancour, began his supersonic assault on conservatism: You're so definitely def with your up-market socialite mish-mash trash imagine the whiplash of rubbing wit' some brother from short of the cash stash... By the time Max Volume, Dark's lyrical foil, sang the Motown-style chorus the crowd was going berserk. Dark handed Ace a tape and said, "Some wrong samples you can work in at the end." Max V paused for the second sample of the preacher - "Young people today have to realise that their unhappiness is caused not by society or the government but simply by their rejection of God" - which the crowd repelled with cheers and golf applause. A spotlight swung on to the Stranger. "This is our war," he cried, arms outstretched. "This is our... DecaDance!" The song continued to peak. The polka was now almost completely unrecognisable, transformed into a seething mess of electronic beats. Suddenly the bass components of the polka changed again, into something pulpy and thumping... the thud of wood on flesh. Then the polka chain broke down totally and the manic shout went up: "Oo... oo are oo?" "Yo Strange, where did you come up with those samples?" Ace asked backstage. "Beat The System to death, huh? It brought the fucking house down." "Oh, it was just something I whipped up," the Stranger said. "Hombres, did you feel the power we had out there? That crowd would have done anything we commanded. Like yo bro's, let's riot, let's bop, let's skin a motherfucking cop!" There was a knock at the door and two yuppies walked in. "Chill dudes," the first one said, and offered the Stranger his hand. "Kim Sun. This is my brother Moon. We caught your act. It was, how do I say it? - really fucked." The Stranger thought, Are these guys for real? "I must try harder to keep up with fashions," he said, "because I didn't know bone-white suits were back in style now." Kim laughed, giving Moon a look which said, And he's charming, too. How marketable! "I'm sorry, I should have explained," he said giving Matt a card with the words Sun Records printed in gold type. "We're not normal fans, although we are. I suppose you've heard of us." "Yeah," the Dark Stranger said. "They say the sun always seems to shine on your musical endeavours." Kim laughed again. "Let's hope so. Anyway, we've definitely heard of you, and we like what we here. What you played out there was incredible, cutting-edge, 21st century music. Never before heard in America. The public will gag for it." Are you, like, offering us some sort of deal?EMax asked. I know we're a small company," Moon said, "but as Meen here said, we're on the way up. We have already developed a reputable name in the hip-hop scene. We'd like to add you to our stable. You know, post hip-hop.E Max started hollering like an excited kid. Ace, more restrained, just said, Straight, man. Maximum straightness.E The Stranger didn't react at all. And man, those samples,EKim said, breathtaking.E The door crashed open again and the middle-aged manager of the club, adorned in gold watch, bracelet and ring, came in with a Web radio. "Have you heard the news?" he said. The Darkside killer struck again. Beat some poor guy to death just three blocks from here.E Are you ready to take a walk on the Darkside, Sun?Ethe Dark Stranger said and laughed. 18 Cross-Fade WHEN CROON became initiated he thought he would instantly attain a range of powers such as ESP, telekinesis and a direct up-link to the Mind of God... in short, he thought his life would miraculously and irreversibly change. He was honestly the last geezer in Britain who expected to achieve Zero Consciousness, what with the way he lived his life, but when the initiation came he expected it to be massive. He was soon to realise the great paradox of initiation: nothing changes. Or rather, nothing can change. According to Generation 00 thought, one became an initiate when one realised the paradox of polarity. But realisation was only understanding, a liberation of cognition... it was only the beginning of the path. The real challenge was to apply that awareness to life. That said, it was an ominous fact was that once you embarked on the "road to oblivion", it was almost impossible to turn back. So, nothing can exist without its opposite. But what did that mean to Croon, in practical terms? One possibility: the only way out of the "endless cycle" of life, death and rebirth was to embrace nothing, to extinquish oneself... but the Buddhists had been saying that for years (not to mention Kurt Cobain). Besides, Croon didn't believe in Nirvana. Another possibility: the only freedom from the cycle of happiness and sadness, the volubility of emotion, was to embrace no-feeling. But did he really want to feel nothing. What was the good thing about nothing anyway? There's more to this, he thought. Lying in bed the night of the Diana annivesary, a million thoughts rushing through his head, Croon pondered the concept of the Zero. And, predictably, he came up with fuck-all. THAT SAID, Croon certainly had something relationship wise. By early September Frieda had virtually moved into his flat. He had always considered himself James Bond when it came to wooing the babes, a black Sean Connory, but this time he exceeded himself. Since neither of them had a real job, they spent much of their time making love. When they were bored with that Frieda would pull on one of Croon's T-shirts and totter downstairs to fetch glasses of wine. Once, returning to bed, she stretched to remove the shirt and Croon saw for an instant the light catch the shine of his moisture on the inside of her thigh. The image of this peaceful interval remained fixed photographically in his mind when they were apart: their quiet bodies settled obliquely across the bed as they murmured and sipped wine and laughed softly. He ran a finger along her vulnerable hip. A cool breeze played with the net curtains. The cat rearranged itself in the laundry basket. Before long she would take his glass from him, reach for the baby oil and slyly, languorously, begin Stage Two. Cool rain. Drops as distinct as purity fell on his thirsty skin. Sighing, Croon reclined as she dripped oil on his penis, spread oil on her nipples with a studious familiarity and then caressed herself with him. The silken delicacy of his touch approached no touch at all. Though her lubricity made it redundant, Freida passed him the oil to caress her thighs. Squeezing hard, he forced out one small drop of oil. He let it fall in her navel. "SO," SHE said once, after a particularly greasy session, "did you work it out? Did you crack the case?" "...Cheer up the Swooner, the Tuner, the man they call the Crooner..." "What?" He didn't like the vaguely accusative tone to her voice. "Diana," she said. "Was she really a guru, or was she just a screwed up blonde?" "I dunno," him now scratching around for a vacant cigarette, "I couldn't tell. She just kept waffling on about time and space." She climbed on to his waist, tongued out his cigarette. "Well, maybe she was speaking in parables. You're the fucking detective, you work it out." "...Introducing the most arcane High Priest of Luna..." "Hey, I'm on vacation," Croon said, annoyed he had to relight his cigarette. "I'm not like those cops, on duty 24 hours a day." Good, Frieda thought. So she said: "Well, I bet you've solved more puzzling cases. What's your favourite one, in terms of entertaining anecdotes?" "Entertaining anecdotes? Well, I did this case once in Africa, infiltrating the illegal trade of gorilla testicles. But I'm not one for anecdotes, I'm an action kind of guy..." "Pray tell, pray tell!" Freida said, hitting him with cushions. "All right, the job was for the CIA, they were concerned about the dwindling gorilla population of central Africa. Or so they said. My theory was they were looking for ammunition to use against China if Taiwan ever blew up, and China was the main consumer of gorilla nuts. They think they it makes you more virile if you eat them, or something. "So I invented for myself the alias of Ricardo Bloom, a Spanish documentary maker, and flew down to Kinshasa..." Dreamy cross-fade to the open drains and hibiscus blooms of the Congo Democratic Republic, Croon and his crew riding four-wheel drives into the highlands, a truck-load of Tutsi troops bringing up the rear. "When the road ran out we had to walk," Croon said, "and the jungle was positively sweltering." Close-up on Croon pulling leaches from his neck... and dressed like a resplendid Pet Detective. "Two days into the mission we came upon a known gorilla nest... only to find it empty." Gorilla hair strung compelling from crumbled undergrowth, along with patches of blood and bullet cartridges.
"Poachers>> one of the guides said.
They headed further into the highlands. After three days of blistered feet and leech bites, Croon was getting pessimistic. There wasn't a gorilla to be seen. To make matters worse, they'd run out of booze, the Tutsi's were squabbling, and the crew were talking about giving up. Then, on the seventh day out from the capital, in a copse of mutilated trees, first contact was made. It was a young male, dead, castrated. Croon stood over the emasculated carcass, thoroughly sympathetic with its plight. The ape's tag denoted it as one of the last nine living in the park. "All right, this is bullshit," Croon said. "I'm sick of this snooping around; I want a fair fight. Let's track these bastards, and then let's nail them." Trouble was, the trail led more or less directly towards the President's summer palace at Goma. The guides got a little nervous, the Tutsi soldiers more aggressive. Their countrymen were currently engaged in an independence fray with the government, and the prospects of all-out war were growing. "I don't give a damn about the president, I can go where I like," Croon said. "I'm a god-damn documentary maker." THE PRESIDENTIAL palace was set in an enormous clearing meticulously hacked from the steaming rainforest. It was was an incredibly ambitious replica of a provincial French chateau complete with fountains, avenues lined with lime trees, peacocks fanning their tails on reticulated fields. Somewhat bemused, the party approached the high fence perimeter, rang a buzzer, asked permission to go inside. Croon knew the president was in because the Congolese flag was flying from about a dozen flag-poles. Half an hour later the response came back: Bloom and two of his assistants were granted an audience with the president. They left the Tutsis lolling somambulantly at the gate, smoking cheap cigarettes and telling cheaper genocidal jokes. Croon and his assistants were bundled into a high-performance golf buggy and, well, buggied to the chateau. The interior was even more ambitious than the grounds. They crossed vast lobbies of marble and weathered limestone, ogled at the chandeliers, reflected on the various European masters hanging in the anterooms. The age of the great African silverback was coming to a close, however, and this included dictator excess: on close inspection those European masters were prints, for example, and most of the chandeliers were plastic. Bloom was invited to dine with the president later that day. His secular majesty was apparently a keen fan of nature documentaries (well, who wasn't?) A week bumming around the undergrowth had taken its toll on the agent's godliness, however, so he was pampered to an afternoon in the baths. Several members of the presidential harem were dispatched to scrub his back, pluck his nostril hair and offer him tray after tray of musk essence (he settled on a wildebeest/jaguar combination). The bells were rung, and it was time for dinner. Croon was led to the dining hall, the doors were flung open, and he beheld a long teak table covered by a splayed hippopotomus. The president was at the far end, hippopotomus-faced himself, tucking into a generous slab of meat. "My friend, sit please, and eat!" the president said, waving him to a seat. Croon sat down and, wincing at the smell, sliced a large purple steak with a large carving knife. "Good meat, eh?" the president said. "Good, juicy steak. It's our finest work-horse, this. Five years of selective breeding went into creating this monster. It yields 40 per cent more meat than our earlier models, yes it's true. And that meat is 50 per cent more succulent, and it tastes about 60 per cent better. We're working on a pygmy pedigree now for the western market." "It tastes good," Croon said, despite himself. When all the food was inbued the president said, "I'd like you to meet our chef. All the way from China..." A young man walked in holding a gleaming silver tray. He smiled at Croon, lifted the lid and offered him a stew of steaming scrota. "NO WAY," Frieda said, making barf gestures. "Roast hippo, steamed nuts! I don't believe it." "I swear, every word is true. It turned out the president was the big player in the testicle trade, not the Chinese. I phoned the CIA and they said, 'Information duly noted, your account will be credited'. You see, the Congo is America's most secure ally in central Africa, and the CIA didn't want to give them any negative PR. So nothing was done, and gorillas are still losing their balls." "It stinks," Frieda said. "Anyway, did you eat the scrota?" "Sure. One billion Chinamen can't be wrong." 19 Metropolis FOR NOW Croon didn't need ape testicles to keep him virile, Frieda was enough. She had given him such an boost that for a while he forgot how jaded he had become and started living again. He got out his boots and rejoined his local football comp. He bought a fresh load of new jewellery. He even started mixing again, at a little club called Metropolis. Country music was getting big in Britain, and drum'n'bass was littered with Marlboro samples. One night high on love and hyperspeedTM Croon put together a track sampling xy's [x y], and he played it that weekend at the Metro. "I'm sure a lot of you here today are familiar with the DJ we're about to play," his MC said. "Cheer up the Swooner, the Tuner, the man they call the Crooner! Introducing the most arcane High Priest of Luna!" Croon applied diamond to vinyl, and opened his set with sparse breaks and the digitised chorus of xy. This evoked knowing smiles from the audience, the song having been used in a margarine ad in the early 00s: Oh baby I need you Though I'm spending my whole life dah dah dah dah dah dah At the end of this chorus a brutal b-line kicked in, chased by a tangle of brown and yellow snares. A loud cheer went up on the floor, hands were raised, shouts of "Hey! hey! hey!" and Croon knew he was on to what they called "the way". The bass grew deeper and more demonic, the snares more tangled, like fishing line caught in seaweed. Croon smiled, gum munching automatically between his teeth. This was how the game was played. This was how the west was won! Soon a low stirring could be heard in the background, and ever so slowly an eery synthe riff dating back to the summer of 94 crept into his work. Drum and bass abruptly paused, and into the aching silence Croon dropped in a totally unexpected sample: xy's The Sheriff of the County: I am the sheriff of the county And I... The eery synthe came back in, like a low reed: And I want you more than need you And I need you for all time... It was the highlight of the tune, and Croon had cause to feel triumphant. Drums and bass were ready to surge back for a wicked climax. Then the amps went dead. Only for a few seconds, but they were the most critical few seconds of his set. When the sound returned, the cavalry had passed. GETTING DUMPED by Claire, the abortion of the Congo job, the sound failure at the Metro gig - there were other examples of Croon's personal Custard Hill. If his whole life could be compressed into a pattern, it would go like this: Conceive goal, pursue goal, shoot for goal... fall into hole. Maybe he was paranoid, but something always seemed to fuck him up at the last possible moment. Something or someone. Maybe it was a Capricorn thing, the basic challenge of his sign. Croon didn't believe in astrology. He just knew that life was inherently stressful and the consequences were a lofty blood pressure, ulcer warnings from his GP, even occasional bouts of violence. That September, however, Frieda was the one feeling frustrated. And it wasn't just from her lack of progress in finding her beloved Babel. To be fair, Croon was as open as a Kinshasa drain when it came to divulging his past... too open, in fact, although she had no other choice at the moment but trust him. To be fair, she hadn't yet asked him about his most recent trip to Berlin (she didn't know well enough to do that!) It was just that she couldn't imagine him being an Establishment hitman. As irrational as it sounded, he just didn't seem the type. Little things gave him away. One day they were walking through Hyde Park when they came upon a group of street freaks performing what looked like a passion play for a group of foreign tourists. Their Jesus, however, was a feral butterfly with huge wings made from newspaper pages, torn bed sheets and Monopoly money, and the Roman soldiers were a Victorian banker, policeman and a well-known local politician. They decided to stop and watch. There she is,Ethe politician said, the butterfly queen! Beautiful as the very heart of youth, but varmint all the same. Have you got anything to say for yourself, Papilionoidean bitch, before we terminate your life-cycle?E (The European Union had recently suspended unemployment benefits.) The butterfly struggled her bindings, said nobly, Just this: I was a caterpillar once. Crawling the cracks between walls of church, state, school and factory, all the paranoid monoliths. Cut off from the tribe by feral nostalgia I tunneled after lost worlds, imaginary cocoons. And I was ugly! Thats my metaphor. If I were to kiss you here they'd call it an act of terrorism - so let's take our pistols to bed and wake up the city at midnight like drunken bandits celebrating with a fusillade, the message of the taste of chaos.E Dont you go talking about kissing,Ethe policeman said. I could have you for sexual harrassment.E But he groped the butterflys bare breasts, saying with a drunken leer: God, shes nice but, this one. Im going to enjoy plucking her wings!E Go on then, pluck me,Ethe nymphalid said. Didnt you understand me: I want to be stripped. To shed all the illusory rights and hesitations of history demands the economy of some legendary Stone Age - shamans not priests, bards not lords, hunters not police, gatherers of paleolithic laziness, gentle as blood, going naked for a sign or painted as birds, poised on the wave of explicit presence, the clockless nowever.E Ah, the nowever,Ethe banker said, more as an aside to his buddies. Itd be the end of us all, if they discovered the nowever. The Druids knew, thats why we had to kill them. Your basic labour assets wouldnt be worth shit if people understood the nowever.E Nothing would be worth shit if people understood the nowever,Ethe butterfly said. I am solvent only in what I love and desire to the point of terror - everything else is just shrouded furniture, quotidian anaesthesia, shit-for-brains, sub-reptilian ennui of totalitarian regimes, banal censorship, useless pain.E This seemed to upset the policeman, who drew a plastic sword from his holster and plunged it into the butterflys side. She doubled over as much as the cross allowed her, her antennas fluttering crazily. She cocked her head back, screaming: Father-Mother God, why hast thou forsaken me?E Assuming it was the end, the crowd clapped, more out of conditioning than a genuine appreciation of the text. The butterfly bowed up on her bamboo cross, opened her wings - to reveal two pistol barrels protruding from her outstretched hands. The Roman soldiers drew guns too and turned them on the crowd. All right, cool it,Ethe policeman said, this is a fucking robbery!E True to form, the banker removed his top hat and passed it around the startled audience. He said, Avatars of chaos act as spies, saboteurs, criminals of amour fou, neither selfless nor selfish, accessible as children, mannered as barbarians, chafed with obsessions, unemployed, sensually deranged, wolfangels, mirrors for contemplation, eyes like flowers, pirates of all signs and meanings. Come, people, dont be frugal! I want to see jewellery as well as cash.E He approached Croon, who was actually smirking at the back of the crowd. Im loaded,ECroon said, but I was going to lose it all on drugs and gambling anyway. Take from me what you want, I like your style.E Frieda thought, They can take your money. Ill have your heart! A CATERPILLAR turning into a butterfly, the successive melding and permutation of gamete to zygote to our primitive and original embryonic form... that was Franz Hoebbard's concept of the fifth dimension. Everyone's idea was different. For Cassius Croon, his impression of the fifth dimension was inexorably tied to space... his words couldn't describe the space... He was on the Tube one night when he had his first glimpse. He was playing that old Tube game of avoiding the gaze of his fellow travellers, and had settled his eyes on a Burger King ad on the opposite side of the carriage. He was thinking of the Nothing, and remembered a Channel Four documentary he'd seen the night before: scientists had confirmed there was a black hole in the centre of the galaxy, a point of extreme emptiness. One scientist had suggested that it was the gravity of this black hole which held the galaxy together. And he thought: Is there a black hole in the heart of me? Thinking this, the Burger King ad suddenly expanded, as if he was looking at it through his Inspector Gadget magnifying glass. It eventually filled at least two thirds of his visual field. This spooked Croon, especially as he was a McDonald's convert, so he looked instead at a London Underground map further down the carriage. This time, the map got smaller, as if it was receding from him. And there was so much space between them. Croon wondered whether he was having a flashback. He'd taken enough drugs in his time, however, to know this effect wasn't chemical. The space, he thought, awe-struck. I've never noticed the space. He was now genuinely freaked, so he looked at his fellow passengers for a bit of a reality anchor. Unfortunately, this only made things worse. His visual field broke into three two dimensional panels, all seemingly pressed up against his eyeballs. He made the mistake of looking a woman in the eyes, and instantly her being was divided into three different perspectives, like a Picasso painting. The sense of intimacy was terrifying. Suddenly he got the horrible feeling that the whole carriage was collapsing into him. He groaned, covered his mouth, closed his eyes... but his mind was more claustrophobic than any carriage. The walls are closing in... need air... "I'm losing my mind," he said. Just then the train pulled into a station, probably Waterloo. Croon bolted out the door, praying that a bit of fresh air might chill him out. Even as he walked up the stairs he worried that if he wasn't careful his body would collapse, and he would be dissolved into the vast empty world which now surrounded him. Thankfully, whether it was from the air or a CIA mantra he was repeating in his mind, he did mellow when he hit the outside. After a few deep breaths he was back to a reasonable level of coherence. Hey, he thought, I am an initiate. Maybe this is one of those higher states. After that he spent the rest of the night wandering London, just checking things out. He found his way to the banks of the Thames, under a near full moon, and sat down to gaze down on the water. This was a rather perilous thing to do with the water looking like it was about two inches from the bridge of his nose, and he got concerned that he might fall in. He looked up at the moon instead. Then 280,000 kilometres of space were compressed into a centimetre of lunar awe. 20 When We Were Gods IT WAS billed as the fight of the millennium: Mike "the original" Tyson vs a reconstituted George Forman. Both men were disgruntled, grizzly has-beens; both men knew that "boxing doesn't have an old-timer's home". But both men had been pumped with enough growth hormones, silicon implants and "explosive" knuckles to knock out an eastern European Olympics team. And if their bodies weren't pumped enough, there were also their egos to consider. For the booty included more than a $500 million purse and the same revenue in media endorsements. Up for grabs was the inaugural world SuperWeight title, that and a place in history. There were plenty of younger, stronger fighters up for the challenge, but Rupert Murdoch was in charge and he wanted a retro vibe. He could think of a no more mythic struggle for his five billion strong TV audience than Tyson and Forman slugging it out in the gruesome ring. And he wanted to do it offshore to promote his reach into global markets. So, where to hold it? Thailand was over-rated, Zaire had been done; Rupert opted for the snows of East Antarctica. New Maria segment: when I am inspired! Should end on an upbeat note, a bit of a climax before the more sombre and serious segment. RUPERT MURDOCH'S melee with American pro-boxing was one of the bruisier sagas of corporate sporting history. It began around 2002 when Fox Television tried to acquire a broadcast monopoly of all major US bouts. Wary of what Murdoch had done to baseball (the term "sports rationalisation" still chilled many purists) the [federation] responded with a fierce upper-cut: it banned Foxtel cameras from all headline fights. Stunned, Murdoch announced he was forming his own boxing cicuit, the so-called SuperLeague, and pressured Congress? into giving him its support. By this stage what had began a minor altecation had turned into a full-on corporate brawl. One night in April 2007, Murdoch went for the k.o. hit: he signed up virtually every notable boxer in America, in some cases with eight figure deals. It was a devastating blow, and one which ultimately cripped the [federation]. To quote a reeling Don King at the time, Murdoch had "glassed the bastard". In the process, however, he had so completely alienated American audiences that his SuperLeague was no longer viable there. He didn't really care, because he was more interested in developing foreign markets. That's why he preferred staging his major bouts offshore. Within months the true nature of Naturally, SuperBoxing was a "rationalised" form of the original, with significant departures. Rules and etiquette were relaxed, techniques streamlined, the whole spectacle given a gladiator feel. There were token attempts to introduce elements of kung fu and Thai kick-boxing, mainly to woo Asian audiences. Did Murdoch consider the cultural ramifications of these measures? Probably not, although his long-term strategists definitely did. They knew, at least in some intuitive way, that the Asianisation of American boxing would give it more than global reach. Just as the governments which risked pogromic wrath to import immigrants into their countries wanetd more than a coffee-coloured people. Their's was the dream of all secret societies since time began, an elemental shift deeper than any market force. The miracle of alchemy. SPEAKING OF alchemy, blah - Maria's segment. [Insert beginning of this segment here, because I wiped it] ctrodes linked to Croon's central nervous system gave the false muscles flex; "explosive" fibres supplied the punch. Croon's skin was dyed, his glorious Afro lopped and the Maori tattoo morphed into Tyson's trademark black panther. The bullet holes in his stomach were left as is, however, because they were true to character. When Croon had been sutured into place the surgeons and technicians stepped back and appraised their work. The chief surgeon opened a flick knife and opened Croon's right cheek. "There, it's done," she said. A woman with blue hair and in a Prada suit turned to the camera and said, "Minus 32 degrees outside, but inside the Don King international airport the atmosphere is anything but frigid. Super bad boy Mike Tyson touched down in his trademark black jet about ten minutes ago; he's expected to clear customs any minute..." All of a sudden the shout went up, "It's him!" and a herd of journalists stampeded into a doorstop. Tyson strolled out into a hail of camera flash, held up two bird fingers as a V-for-victory salute, said, "I've said it before but today's it's appropriate: absolute darkness in the house!" "Mr Tyson," the blue-haired reporter said, "the African-American Freedom and Dignity Alliance has just come out in support of Matt Egan. They describe him as the true Negro warrior rising up against the corrupt silverback..." Tyson shoved the journalist to the floor and snapped her microphone like a bone. "Laydees and gentlemen, I got a new name for that shonk honky Matt Egan," he said. "Puss E. Get it, pussy?" WATCHING a replay of the commotion on hotel TV, Croon turned to his minders with a decidedly pale expression. "I'm not facing that!" "Get it, pussy?" one of the minders sneered. MEEN E had his own interviews to do: a two-hour armchair spiel with The New York Times about the celebrity turned outlaw turned celebrity outlaw; a Das Spiegel piece probing his views on ecstasy and the prison rehabilitation system; an Entertainment Tonight hook-up in which he was coerced into ad libbing a rap about yoking the Tyson joker. Then there was the training regime. E spent four hours in the gym every day for six weeks, popped steroids every other meal, led the cameras on the occasional sub-zero jog. He was promised a year off his sentence for every pound of muscle gained. For every pound of fat he failed to clear, the penalty was six strokes of the ratan. Of course, Croon didn't care for these incentives; he knew it was a short-term assignment, another recon mission into the heart of the enemy camp. His main concern was the force behind Tyson's gloves. So he went to the gym every day for six weeks, ingested the 'roids rather than puking them, developed his tae kwon do. And gradually, triumphantly, he became more brutal. Rupert Murdoch's foray into corporate detention is one of the more deplorable episodes of law enforcement history. The term "prison rationalisation" still chills many humanitarians... RUPERT Murdoch called it a boxing tournament, but it was actually a variety of entertainments rolled into one. Practically everyone with a global degree of influence, media savvy or sex appeal was there. The other peasants could watch it on digital TV. Meen E noticed Brad Pitt and Drew Barrymore in the crowd as he was escorted to the ring; Henry Kissenger and Boris Yeltsin were exchanging currency. When he finally got to the ring Croon surveyed a stadium glittering with camera flash, while beyond steamed wall windows fireworks were flowering in the sunless day. Presently the lights dimmed and guests caught sight of an aurora australis. The hushed awe which ensued enabled the MC, an extremely jittery Mohammad Ali, to say, Ladies and gentlemen, free people of the world, the day of reckoning has come. Now brother will destroy brother! In the red corner, recently freed from prison after mudering three men, the Super BadBoy, the Darkinator, Satan Incarnate... Mike Tyson!E Boos from the celebrity crowd (mainly because two of those three murdered men were celebrities). Tyson shoved his fist into the air, twirled around, showed off his black panther tattoo. In the white corner, once the most feared man on the backstreets of America, his mind now sculpted by months of drug therapy into a Model Citizen... or so they say. Making his debut on the international Super League circuit, the Invincible, the Lyrical, the Pathological... Meen E!E Tyson spat his mouthguard on to the canvas and said, More like Queen B. Get it? get it?E The bells were rung, the referee backed off, and Tyson rushed forward swinging around like a Tasmanian Devil. Croon copped three blows to the head before the bells had stopped ringing (or maybe they were ringing in his head). He retreated to the ropes, threw back a few punches, concentrated mainly on maintaining his defences. It wasnt part of his contract to win, merely to survive at least five rounds. In fact, a dramatic knock-out was preferred because of its media appeal, especially if it led to brain damage. Croon didnt want to lose any grey matter, and after several minutes of relentless pounding he began to grow concerned. Fuck this, he thought, Im getting hurt here. Fight me, pussy,ETyson said, fucking pussy.E Swelling with an uncontrollable rage, Meen E shoved Tyson back, climbed on to the ropes and did a wrestling [jump]. The move was technically illegal and caught Tyson by surprise, with the two of them collapsing to the canvas. The referee rushed in to seperate them but Meen pushed him away, straddled the rapists chest and pummeled him from above. More rage swelled through him, with a savagery which was worrying. Croon felt his entire body surging with hatred, his muscles actually expanding with it. He was doing an Incredible Hulk! His fists burst through his gloves, then Croon looked down and saw little razor blades burst from the synthetic skin. No! he screamed. And try as he might to stop his razored fists, try as he did to stand up and flee this dastardly scene, Meen E whacked Tyson in the gut and then in the side of the head. Blood spurt all over him, and Tyson hollered in pain. Dimly aware of the confusion around him, his body like it was acting under remote control, Meen E punched Tyson all over and said, Feel this, pussy?E LATER THAT afternoon Croon went out to have a kick and Frieda withdrew confused into a little fold-out pyramid. She breathed in, breathed out, repeated in that order about 35 times and slowly began to chill out. When she was relaxed enough, she dissolved her individuality in the great I AM and connected with the groupmind of her kind. "Frieda, sweet servent," Coco was saying across an Atlantic of astral space, "what message have you come to bring? You seem perplexed." "I am perplexed," Frieda said. The entire school were with her, and they were sitting in an astral counterpart of Coco's studio. Of course, not all of them were conscious of the meeting, but they were there all the same. The solemnity of this gesture suddenly reminded Frieda of the magnitude of her mission, and she felt stupid, bothering everybody with her emotional shortfalls. Meanwhile, Babel was missing, and they still didn't have any clue where she was being held! "I've failed," she blurted, starting to cry. "I let you down." "Honey," Coco said, "you haven't let down anyone. We had to follow every lead. Through your work, we have moved that bit closer to the truth." "But Cas doesn't know where she is!" she said, starting a fresh onset of tears (emotional sensitivity is always vastly enhanced on the astral plane.) "He was just a pawn, I can sense it." "Then he's a pawn, but even a pawn can kill a queen," Coco said. "You don't understand. He's on our side. I can feel it." Now it was Coco's turn to look perplexed. "What are you talking about, girl?" Frieda highlighted Croon's recent remarks about art terrorism, the Zero realisation and his (albeit brief) foray into the fifth dimension. "Well, that's something, I must confess," Coco said. "But human consciousness is lifting, and people are becoming enlightened every day. It means nothing, except that he's perceptive. After all, he is 'the fucking detective'!" "I just feel that... well, you know, that he could be The One." Coco turned away, obviously affected. Frieda thought: She suspects it too! "Those issues," Coco said coldly, "are beyond your powers to discern. Anywa, you're biased - you've fallen in love with him!" No I haven't, Frieda thought, but it was hopeless: her emotions gave it away! So she said, with great strain: "Don't you want me to keep an eye on him, just to make sure?" Coco waved her hand, and the room started to dissolve. "Certianly not. Return to LA at once. If he is The One, he'll come after you. Nature abhors a vacuum." Frieda felt her awareness being dragged back into the world of form. She opened her eyes to find her cheeks mottled with tears. And suddenly she remembered her thoughts that day in McDonalds, and it gave her a bittersweet sense of calm: I suppose they dont call him Cassius Croon for nothing. No wonder Babel fell for him! With that, she broke down into a fit of uncontrollable sobbing. 21 Gamallah and I MAGDA MARIA met Gamallah Ali Gamallah at an Oakland cafe about a month before Halloween. She seduced him with a compliment on his hair. From then, it was a logical progression to poetry and harem sex. "Hey, nice look," she said, as they were waiting in the cake queue. "It's kinda reptilian, but not as ghoulish as those punks down on Haight-Ashbury. I like it." Gamallah thought, I'd like you too, if you gave me half a chance. GAMALLAH HAD a business card which described him as a fakir, a wandering mystic. He invited Magda to a lecture he was giving at Berkeley University. "I'd come to the talk," she said, "but I'm too much of an 00s woman. You're not going to imprison me in a black veil or cut my fucking clit out!" "Islam," he said in a voice which recalled heyday Omar Sharif (and it's messianic qualities were just as devastating), "Islam isn't fundamentalism, Islam isn't empty ritual. I preach a new kind of Islam, an 00s Islam, a mystifying, self-glorifying third millennium brand of Islam." That was cool, because exploring Gamallah's role in this new religious movement was the whole point of Magda's mission. Arising from the high-rise ghettos and nightclubs of the Middle East, a fiery collision of disillusioned youth and satellite TV, New Islam sought a radical redefinition of the Muslim life. Many followers had turned to ancient subversive cults like the Sufi; some even delved into pre-Mohammedan beliefs. Naturally, such versatility did not gel well with the established leaders of arguably the most conservative religion in the world. That most Muslim nations were now fundamentalist only made things worse. The authorities saw the cults as proof of a social breakdown and cracked down on them; the cults saw the crackdowns as proof of a repressive regime and tried even harder to rebel. A spiral of contortion and control, so the media described it. Anyone's guess where it would all end up. But the phenomenon wasn't confined to the Middle East. In the early 00s Muslim students introduced the cult to the west and it became the latest religious fad. People were jaded with the insipid Buddhism of New Age spirituality and wanted something harder. With its politically incorrect connotations and militant undertones, Islam was the perfect choice. "Okay," Magda said, "I'll come." "OKAY," SHE said squatting over his dainty tongue four hours later, "I'll come." She arched backwards into the rose incense and lute-plucked haze, in inverse Muslim prayer, awaiting Holy Rapture. But for some reason he wriggled out from under her and started reciting a Rilkes poem: I am the lute. To make my body rise out of your words, its strips' fine curvature, speak of me as you would of some mature upcurving fig. And overemphasise the dark you see in me. That darkness there was Tullia's own. Not in her shyest nook was there so much, and her illumined hair was like a lighted hall. At times she took a little sound from outside of me into her face and sang. Then I'd bestir and stretch myself against her frailty, till all I had within me was her. THEIR RELATIONSHIP was like that, a heady mix of sex and spirituality. Gamallah had appropriated the old idea that sexual excess was one path to mystic truth. The universe was basically the story of masculine and feminine energies coming together in an orgy of creation, so Gamallah said. And to think Magda was worried about losing her clit! His lectures were hardly conventional either. About 20 people attended his first Berkeley talk, the usual crowd of starry-eyed tie-dyed student chicks, effeminate men and disillusioned housewives. But there was none of your usual white hands or luminous trumpets here! Instead Gamallah put on some godawful Arabian opera and asked everyone to spin around on the spot, in the Sufi whirling dervish style. The dance was meant to put you into a trance in which "all ego boundaries dissolved into the empty majesty of the Nothing". However, to avoid falling in a queasy heap you had to keep your eyes permanently focused on your outstretched right hand. As his students revolved like spinning tops Gamallah said, "My friends, I bid you welcome to the mystery of Sufi. This is a personal, non-official path to union with God, so feel honoured. Many Arabs have been denied access to this technology. Even this particular dance, the whirling dervish, has been banned in certain Islamic countries. They'd rather good Muslims were in the mosque, I suppose. But in all their reactionary fervour the mullahs and ayatollahs have missed the hidden point of this dance: it is a metaphor for life. Life is spinning, it is endless cycles. The spinning rapture of the whirling dervish will teach you this." "I often feel life's a big hurdy-gurdy," a slightly giddy businessman said. "Like stuck in traffic on the way to work, feeling like I'm just going round and round and round." "Look closely at your lives," Gamallah said. "See the cycles in your histories. Life is meant to be a spiral, not a circle. If there are events you repeat, repeat, the old story you are reliving again, again, you might have an imbalance in your spin. It is what some of you New Age converts might call karma." "How's my karma?" a student chick asked, and Gamallah stopped to appraise her spin. This made Magda feel oddly curious so she glanced over at them to see what was happening. Instantly, she was knocked sideways by a massive wave of dizziness, and crashed to the floor. Suddenly it was the room which spinning round and round and round, not her. She threw up. "All right," Gamallah said. "That's enough. Now we read some passages from the Koran." THE PROGRAM'S theme music, sexy sax morphed into drowsy fusestep, erupted from speakers set around the studio. Giant TV screens flashed the numbers 3... 2... 1, then the urgent refrain: Applause! At this cue the studio audience went ape, clapping and whistling, and even the odd Burmese language sign was thrust into the air. A door opened at the back of the set and into this programmed acclaim, dressed in a gleaming spider silk suit, stepped the most popular man on American TV, the redoubtable, the incontrovertible... Chucky Poong! He guillotined the applause with his hands, sniffled, turned to camera two. "In America, many divorce" he said. "No good! Chucky Poong say no good! Husbands must love their wife." BY THEIR fourth week together Magda was virtually living in Gamallah's place. She'd always considered herself a New Age Madonna when it came to sleeping to the top, a sexual guerrilla ambushing male frailties to advance the interests of her kind. This time, however, she'd excelled. And to think she had only been with the Splice Girls for three months! Gamallah was the prey, and she was the hunter! But in their fifth week Gamallah announced he would transform his house into a temporary khanagah, a mystic monastery. He got about 30 people to move in for a three week long retreat. While it was a big villa with pool, sauna and Mediterranean gardens there were not enough rooms for everyone, so half the group (guess which half) were assigned to Gamallah's bedroom. The room ended up looking like the harem from Istanbul's Topkapi Palace, with a little bit of Emperor Ming's chambers from Flash Gordon thrown in for good measure. Magda was annoyed. She was used to having Gamallah to herself and didn't want to share him with a bunch of girl guides. "Just remember, I'm his girl, yeah," she said on night one. "If you want to express your devotion to the master, do it through your fucking whirling." Night three, however. she was woken by a strange rustling and opened her eyes to see one the student chicks performing a belly-dance for some guy who was smoking a hash pipe on the other side of the room. She was going to fling a cushion at them and tell them to keep the noise down when she realised who was smoking the pipe... Gamallah! He clapped twice, the chick dropped her flimsy dress and plopped into his lap. Bastard, she thought. And you call yourself a holy man! BEDROOM POLITICS aside, Magda's adjustment to retreat conditions progressed fairly smoothly. She liked his lectures the most. Gamallah spoke about the early days of Islam, how the authorities fucked up the pure word of Mohammed and turned a religion of emancipation into an engine of social control. He based this theory on his study of the ijma, a doctrine introduced in the 8th century AD to standardise Islamic legal theory. By this time individual and regional differences had arisen in the interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith, a collection of Mohammed's sayings. While standardising interpretation the ijma also prohibited new interpretations of these holy books. Consequently, Gamallah said, Islam had become stuck in the Middle Ages. When the lectures were over Gamallah would get out his lute or a book or Persian poetry or his stereo and there would be singing, dancing, whirling, after a while the odd ethereal state of mind. Gamallah emptied his crew of untruth, and then he plugged them full of truth. They smoked hash, drank wine deep into the night, ran naked under the stars. Then select members of the order would retreat to Gamallah's harem - Magda's bedroom - and devotional activities would fever up a notch. All up he slept with eight women and three men, some more regularly than others. Magda complained about it once but Gamallah said her jealousy was caused by an ego-driven attachment to the world. Only by letting go of her urge to possess, by submitting to the whims of the universe, could she hope to find eternal peace. She complained about it again a few days later and his response was decidedly more angry. "That's what Islam means, submission," he said. "Your old ideas, your Judeo-Christian ideas, they don't mean a damn in here." "I love you, I want to be with you," she said. "Magda, listen to me, monogamy doesn't mean a thing in here. What did you think this room was about. It's a fucking harem! You know how the Muslim man is entitled to a harem." "I know," I said, "I know it's stupid. But I can't help feeling this way..." He sighed, put his arm around her. "Not many people know the real meaning of the harem. They just think it's for the Muslim man to get all the woman he wants. The real reason is more profound: it's a metaphor for life. Life is the story of an active masculine force, the elemental day, infusing the passive feminine potential, the archetypal night. I am the dawn, and you are the cold mists of night. I am the seed, and you are the soil. But you can't have a garden without soil and seed. So if you think you are the seed go off and sow your own patch of khanagah. But you followed me here, that says something. You are my disciples. That, I'm afraid, is the truth." Magda's heart was pounding so much it was ready to come out of her chest, she was flushed with anger, but she had to concede he was making sense. She suddenly felt very embarrassed. What was this, love? It's juts a complication of the sex, she thought. An emotional complication. She had to focus on the mission. She had to find the one they called The One. GAMALLAH OFTEN said the noblest Sufi aim was extinquishment of the self in the "rapture of the divine". This was a concept they called fana - annihilation. It could be achieved by a variety of means, for example by living in poverty and denying material possessions, or by spinning around on the spot all day. Gamallah said each Sufi order had their own path to fana, which they called their dervish. Whirling dervishes transcended the world by spinning; howling dervishes did it by chanting. For his dervish, Gamallah said, he had decided on an especially unusual technique. "We will kill ourselves," he said. "Yes, that's it: we'll kill ourselves! We will all commit ritual suicide for the glory of God, and we'll do it on Halloween." MAGDA FELT like she had been kicked in the stomach. She thought it was a joke, but the mad look in Gamallah's eyes suggested otherwise. It was like her whole world collapsed. If this announcement stressed Magda, who was only there as a spy, imagine how it reacted on the true believers. Half of them just walked out. Gamallah was waiting at the gate to berate them. "Where do you think you're going?" "It's over, Musty," one of the student chicks said. "I'm not necking myself for you." He replied with a quote from the Koran, surah 99: "On the day when the earth is convulsed in an earthquake and the earth casts forth her burdens and men say: 'What has befallen her?' - on that day will the earth publish her storied past, the tale of all that was, as her Lord inspires her to tell. On that day shall mankind come forth in manifold diversity, to be shown their deeds. He who has wrought even an atom's weight of good shall see it and he who has done an atom's weight of evil shall see it." "I don't care," the student chick said. "I'll take my chances when the Last Day comes." "Lucia," he said, sinking to his knees: "You have to stay. I can't leave without you, you know I can't." There were tears in his eyes. This gave Magda with such a strange feeling of, well, presence that she actually had a peak experience. Energy spiralled up her spine, rent an almost painful hole in her crown chakra. It must have affected the student chick too, because she dropped her bags and hugged Gamallah passionately. "Okay," she said. "I'll come." Not everyone in the khanagah was so compliant. By late November 16 members had made for the hills. Everytime someone left Gamallah repeated his Last Day passage and the need to submit. Even though she had no intention of killing herself Magda spent the month in a blissed-out cosmic state, more aware of everything - the bees in the garden, the smell of the surf, the tender bedroom embraces - than she'd ever been before. Her only problem was that Gamallah would soon be leaving and she still had strong feelings for him. I must be strong, she thought, I've got a mission to fulfil. Through meditation, prayer and devotional dance, she subdued her emotional body. Finally All Hallows Eve came, the night of Halloween. Kids were knocking at the door for trick or treat. For the 14 devotees inside, Gamallah had prepared a treat of brandy mixed with arsenic. They all sat cross-legged on mats around the room, some chanting to ward off fear, one girl clutching a teddy bear. These were the only manifestations of attachment. Gamallah spoke a few sacred words, some of the devotees joked nervously about "whether they'd left the iron on". A disillusioned housewife said she was ready to embrace Allah but she didn't sound convincing. Then everyone toasted their glasses and slowly, one by one, downed their shots. Magda held the glass to her lips, pretending to drink. She struggled to maintain a semblance of rationality in the midst of this holocaust. Shit, I'm going to need heavy therapy after this! she thought. Finally her feelings got too much for her, and she smashed her glass on the floor: a small, pathetic gesture. "You can go through with this!" she said. "You're all a bunch of fucking idiots!" Someone called her a selfish bitch. Another woman gave her such a callous look Magda thought she was going to assault her. "You were willing to become the Master's bride," she snarled, "you were willing to plunder the benefits of his bed. But now you won't sacrifice yourself for him!" Magda was ready to punch her in the face when Gamallah stood up and said, "Shut up, all of you. Nobody's going to sacrifice themselves. That drink wasn't poison, it was only dog piss." Most of the class gagged, as if urine was far more distasteful than arsenic. "Magda's right, you're all idiots," Gamallah said. "Did you really think I'd want to kill myself, when everything I do is for the pursuit of worldly pleasure? You Americans, I can't believe you're so gullible. Khomeni was right. You call yourselves warriors but you're sheep, all of you. Every single one of you." "All except me," Magda said. "I didn't drink the poison. I didn't fall for your little trick." "You fell for me, though," Gamallah said. "Get out, all of you. I hate the sight of you." 29 Hell in Paradise "I HAVE a signal," Thomas Starx said as he lumbered his non-regulation frame over the sleek navigation console of the Enterprise. "Faint, but inviting." "What distance?" Captain James Kirk replied, roused from his bucket-seat occupation of gazing literally into space. Though inquiring, his voice was tainted with a thick accent of disinterest. Starx examined his equipment and said, "Approximately 6.2 billion kilometres, Captain. The signal seems to have originated from the second planet of this system. Possibly a ground beacon." "This is not a habitated system," Kirk said. "It's probably not even surveyed yet. Plot a course to the second planet, then; it might only be an ancient, strayed craft, but we have to examine every lead." Engines in the stomach of the Enterprise indicated a shift in direction. After a babble of digital information from the console, Starx reported: "Analysis of the signal is complete. While it is not the standard distress signal, it is curious nonetheless. It is composed of two blips, silence, six blips, silence, one blip, silence, eight blibs, silence. The figure 2618, in other words. The current year, under the old Gregorian calendar." "The old calendar is best!" Kirk snapped. "And the old calendar is the one we will continue to use on this mission. I'll have no more references to the Federation Reckoning, is that clear? There is nothing wrong with the ways of humanity." "Yes sir; sorry sir," Starx said, and his his embarassment behind guiding the Enterprise towards the brightening orb growing in the viewscreen sky. "Do you think it's the Mnemosyne?" Spock asked at length. "It's possible," Kirk said. "But I can't understand how it wandered this far off course." SOME THREE hours later the Enterprise swung into a temporary orbit around the obscure planet, which currently bore the ignoble name of TKU 3139B, Federation Reckoning. The world was Earth-sized, moonless and shrouded with thick white masses of cloud punctuated here and there by stretches of ocean and land. "Have you pinpointed the ground beacon yet?" Kirk said. But even as he'd said these words the Enterprise was knocked sideways by a tremendous blast, and he was thrown to the floor. "What the..." Starz scrambling back into his seat, his temple gleaming. "Captain," he said, "our orbit is decaying." "Activate auxiliary engines!" Kirk said. Then there was a second blast, and half of the control room collapsed. Clutching on to a railing, Kirk said, "Prepare life-rafts!" and the remaining half of the control room disintegrated into a a fiery mess. KIRK WOKE from an empty sleep to a dizzy head and an almost sickening sensation of confusion. His first thought was that he was aboard the Enterprise, waking to a normal day of interstellar flight. Only when he turned on his side and felt the pain in his legs did he remember: a projectile of metal and glass plunging into the atmosphere of an unknown planet, clouds outside thicker than steam. He opened his eyes and attempted to rise. A wave of giddiness collapsed him to the floor, and with stinging eyes he beheld a wide, barren room virtually glowing with antiseptic light. Kirk vainly searched his memories for such a room, but there were none to be found. Where was he? His first response was horrifying: it was the afterlife. Surely nothing could survive that fiery dive into the clouds. But was Heaven this lonely? A door chimed out of nowhere and slid gently open. Kirk retreated under his bunk, hand moving instinctively to a patch of white jumpsuit where his gun should have been. He squinted at the doorway, saw a figure there: female, young and as white as he was. And she was beautiful. She stepped forward, and the door sealed the space behind her. "My name is Lisa," she said, advancing a little further. "You have no reason to be afraid. Your crew is perfectly safe, in the best of hands..." "My crew? Where are they?" "You were the last to awaken," she said, taking another step. "Your crew recovered earlier today, and are relaxing in the lounge downstairs. I can take you there." "Where are my clothes?" Kirk said as he staggered to his feet. "Wouldn't you rather like to know where you are?" she counter-questioned. Before Kirk could respond she said expansively: "Welcome to Eden!" "Eden!" Kirk gasped, his worst fears confirming. "This is Heaven?" Lisa laughed, automatically. "Hardly, although there are similarities. No, I welcome you to Eden, second planet of the TKU 3139 system, and to the outpost manned by my husband Michael and myself." "Private outpost... Eden..." Kirk stumbled, obfuscation overcoming any fear of the stranger. "I remember climbing into an escape craft as my vessel crashed into the atmosphere, but our vectors were wrong, it was all too quick. I can't understand how I could have survived that kind of descent." "But you did, and so did your companions. We were alerted to your distress signal and caught your escape pod in a gravity net. The deacceleration shock must have rendered you unconscious. But you have recovered now. Come." She turned methodically and marched out the room. Kirk, curious but not completely sure, followed her down two flights of stairs, into a bright plastic chamber. As they passed a grotesque sculpture of twisted black metal Kirk saw his huddled crew ascend from a long white couch. "Kirk, you're alive!" x said, gliding across the room to embrace him in a warm hug. "Now we're all together," Lisa said, "let's proceed to the dining room." The dining room was panelled with wooden walls (not imitation, Kirk deduced), several sparkling chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and a long table set for a meal. At the head of the table was a tall, lanky man with black hair and eyes of similar hue. A queer humanoid robot stood by his side; like his master, he was as motionless as rock. "My guests, sit please, and welcome to Eden," the man began crisply, and it became obvious to the five visitors it was Michael who had thus spoken. They collapsed to their chairs following his example, but all lacked the courage to utter a single word. Finally Kirk, clearing his throat hesitantly, said, "As Captain of the Enterprise I extend my gratitude for the hospitality you have offered, but forgive me my ignorance..." "Your ignorance is understandable," Michael replied bluntly. "And forgive me the mysteriosuness of your reception. We had to, let us say quarantine you for a short period, to determine if you were friend or foe." "And as part of this quarantine," Kirk said, "you had to confiscate our weapons?" "You have no use for your weapons in here, I assure you. If you would allow us to explain, you would understand the dilemma we now face. But first to the meal - I'm sure your hunger is immense." Indeed it was, Kirk thought as the mute robot served up a plate of a delicious but unrecognisable meal. For the next five minutes everybody ate, nobody spoke. At last Michael, finishing the repast, leaned back in his chair and signalled the robot to collect his plate. "A most gratifying meal," Spock said, swallowing his last morsel. "A recipe I have never come across..." "Indeed you have not!" Lisa said suddenly. "It is a recipe known only to the two who dwell on this planet. It is mostly composed of a heavily mutated aquatic hana plant grafted from a specimen we obtained off the coast of this continent, about three thousand kilometres south of here." "The hana plant," Michael said, "can be best described as an extremely large seaweed with an extremely long lifespan: the parent of this specimen is estimated to be at least 200,000 years old, with a size of about 80,000 square kilometres." Kirk felt his stomach churn. "Do you mean that thing we ate was a plant? It tasted like chicken." "You should feel privleged to have eaten one of the true wonders of this world," Lisa said. "Anyway, enough talk about food!" Michael said. "As I said before, I bid you welcome to the planet Eden, second world of the TKU 3139 system. I doubt you have heard about this world before. It is off the beaten track, you might say, an obscure planet lit by a dying sun, but harbouring a remarkable jewel." "I remember receiving a mass of life signals as we were dragged into the atmosphere," Starx said. "From what I could deduce, it seemed like a tropical paradise, a planet-wide Amazon of life, but for such an exundant world to escape exploration..." "And the scourge of colonisation that would follow," Michael said. "The occasional probe ventures into this system, but they never stay long. It is best for the welfare of this planet." "Why are you here then, if you disdain colonisation?" Spock asked. "What point is there for an Adam and Eve in Eden, if there is going to be no Cain and Abel?" "We operate as the guardians of Eden," Lisa replied. "We arrived here five years ago, fleeing the decadance of Lemurian Earth, and erected this outpost to complete a study of local lifestreams before they collapsed with the parent star's demise. Quite an obdurate task for two and their robotic staff to undertake, but dedication and enthusiasm - they have been our great allies. While our work is far from complete, we have built up a worthwhile database. The fruits of our research are at your disposal. We'll arrange a tour of the labs, later." "I'd be very honoured," Spock said. Something about Lisa's use of the word "operate" unnerved Kirk, so he said: "Later - listen, there's not going to be much of a later. I'm afraid we're on a very important mission. We'll have to locate the Enterprise immediately, and begin repairs." "Salvage will be impossible, I'm afraid," Lisa said. "As far as we know, your craft plummeted into the forest approximately 8000 kilometres to the north-west. Given its velocity, I assume it was vapourised on impact." Kirk felt his heart go cold. "I see," he said. "Well, we'll have to contact the outpost on Randslav IV, and organise a rescue." "You know I can't allow you to do that." Michael's words were curt, a simple command. An uncomfortable silence spread around the room. Starx fidgeted uneasily in his seat. "Our existence here is a secret," Lisa said. "We refuse to venture anything which would jeopardise that secret." "Why then, pray, did you sacrifice the energy to save us?" Kirk asked. "Was it because a craft lost in your system would attract too much undo attention?" "We acted according to our principles." Michael said stoutly. "And in doing so, we did not expect ungratefulness for our effort. It is a cruel world outside, though we call it paradise; perhaps you might like to pass the rest of your stay outdoors." Kirk turned red with anger, then released (or supressed) it, chanting a Buddhist mantra in his mind. "I apologise. It's been a rather bewildering day." "I understand," Michael agreed, in a gentler tone. "It should be us apologising; I'm sorry for the inconvenience of this situation. But, as I was going to say, there is an alternative to a distress signal. We have in our posession a small but spaceworthy cruiser, capable of limited warp. We could take you to the next system and leave you there, so long as you claim to maintain our secret and our disguise. That way, you obtain your freedom, and we preserve ours." "The matter bears some consideration," Kirk said sullenly. "THERE IS something decidedly wrong here," Kirk told his crew about an hour later. They were sitting in their sleeping quarters, a modified lounge decorated with art works and multimedia installations. The hosts of Eden had vanished about 20 minutes earlier, "tending to a few odds and ends before the commencement of the tour". The Captain was hugely unimpressed; their behaviour was far from proper. "And their eyes," he said, "did you notice their eyes? They looked as if they'd just popped a vial of sasoyd pills! How dare they forbid us from contacting Randslav IV." "I can understand their predicament," [woman] said. "We're the ones who intruded on their private garden, their paradise. Who are we to start making demands?" "In any case," Spock said, "what demands can we make, when this facility is our only sanctuary on a probably deadly alien planet?" "If we are on an alien planet," Kirk mused softy. Six pairs of eyes turned towards him in startled expectation. "What do you mean?" Spock asked, exasperated. "Well, nobody remembers anything beyond our jetison from the Enterprise," Kirk said. "By that time we were still at a considerable height - high enough to be plucked by a sub-orbital craft. It sounds improbable, but far more likely than the claim we were captured in a gravity net and siphoned down to the surface." "A single outpost," Spock said, "alone on a medium-sized planet, in exactly the right position to open a gravity net. Yes, it is highly unlikely." "Almost impossible," Kirk said. "And has anyone yet glimpsed the world beyond these walls?" Kirk had scarcely said these words when a sudden darkness enveloped the room. The luminous ceiling was gone, and so rapidly that their eyes received a painful impression. They remained mute, not stirring, and not knowing what surprise awaited them, whether agreeable or disagreeable. A sliding noise was heard: one would have said the walls were peeling away "It is the end of the end!" x said. Suddenly light broke at each side of the lounge, through two oblong windows. Kirk flinched momentarily, overcome with fear. But curiousity being the stronger force, he looked out the openings thus created - and was overcome by wonder. The world beyond the window was indeed alien, there was no doubt about that. A forest of tubular trees seethed for at least 100 kilometres before slowly merging into an angry orange sky. Kirk struggled to understand as he looked why they called it Eden. It was a planet which had long gone beyond the limits of attraction; it might well have been an abundant paradise in its youth, but it had since overheated into a sauna of steam and severity. After draining the landscape of knowledge, and finding beauty only in its severity, Kirk said, "So, this is the garden under our hosts' dominion. A strange forest: the trees remind me of tentacles, swaying like anemoe in the tide. A most peculiar form of life." Even as he spoke it seemed like every limb in the jungle was rent by some unseen force; out of the tears gushed vast clouds of yellow gunk, swelling the land in a rising pastel fog. The windows slowly lost their transparancy. "Great gods!" x muttered. "What in the name of man was that?" "The daily emission of rartoin spores," Lisa said. "Well, it happens every 25 hours, so it's as close to a day as you get here. A Terran day, that is." Kirk smiled bleakly. "I hope," Lisa continued, "you're sufficiently rested to commence the tour. Depending on the weather conditions, we may be able to take you on a flight to Mount Esvalva, a volcano about 5000 kilometres south of here. And after that, possibly a forest walk." "Our stay here must be short," Kirk interjected. "I appreciate the effort, but we are on a very important mission. I wish to leave tomorrow, whatever the arrangements." "Tomorrow is about 150 days away," Lisa said. "Terran Reckoning, that is." 22 Green-Out "UP!" GLACIAL prospects shot through with fluorescent light: the catatonia of white-out. Julian struggled to maintain his focus on an aurora australis shimmering against the dawning sky, wished on it like some polar rainbow, but the figure in the doorway was too insistent. "Up," he said. Millard again, looming again; he smelt of steak and stale beer. "Don't mind him," he said, "a bit slow on the old up-take." Julian saw who he was talking to; suddenly he had an incentive to fully wake up. "Flora," she said extending her hand. "She's transfered here," Millard said. THE NORMALLY monolithic New Age spirituality movement has been splintered by a debate on the hazards of so-called sacred technology. Some respected New Age theorists believe the proliferation of DIY self-help manuals are endangering public spiritual health. Brent Neelson from the US-based Wholistic Health Alliance said recently, "Self-administering once sacred rituals and substances is like treating yourself for cancer or a serious motor accident. Or its like giving yourself chemotherapy when there's nothing substantially wrong with you. Either way, the side effects can be disastrous." More left-wing spiritual theorists claim the self-help movement may lead to the downfall of the entire religion. They say people are creating unnecessary stress through their ignorant use of powerful technology. In particular, they argue the fixation with mystical states of consciousness are over-stimulating the third eye and crown chakras, creating a dangerous top-heaviness in the astral body... - The Irish Times, October 12 2008. "IT MUST definitely get to you," Flora told Julian in the mid-morning mess. "What do they call it: A Factor?" "Not quite: A Factor's more of a winter thing; there's no real term for the general gloom of living here. I suppose there is a term: nulled out," Julian said. "It doesn't get used that much these days." "Nulled out," smiling at him with an intensity of presence which nearly floored him, "I kinda like the sound of that." THE PROLIFERATION of mobile phone networks across developed countries might be reawakening long-dormant clairvoyant abilities, New Age guru Josh Varanasi said last week. The controversial Hindu-American writer has released a study linking mobile phone waves with an upsurge in reported ESP cases. Varanasi reckons phone radiation, especially that generated by mobile phone towers, is triggering sensor cells in the human brain associated with the mythical third eye. "Wouldn't it be ironic if telecommunication companies ushered in their own demise by reawakening our native telepathy?" Varanasi said. - Vietnam News, October 12 2008. "THEY MADE me watch White-Out before I came here." "Mudochian bullshit," Julian said. "I know, I know," she said. "It wasn't even a proper word before that show came out," Julian said. "It gets used now; I use it mainly in an ironic sense, like the cultural white-out of the Australian government. The other guys here, though, they've pretty much adopted it." "Like liquid paper," Flora said. IT SOUNDS pedantic arguing about the use of words, but ownership, culture and control - these were the things which concerned Julian the most. Even here on Hoth. Especially here on Hoth. Because here, between the glaciers, even though he hated it so much, Julian had the feeling he was pioneering something new... an extraordinary, most final Great Southern Land. A Great Southern Land, come to think of it, which might be already pioneered. He saw them mainly in his dreams. The night after Flora arrived, for example, he dreamt he was surveying the interior when he stumbled upon a verdant oasis tended by women with uncommonly long necks and men wearing penis sheaves. A few nights later he had a dream which started in the mural cave. He was sitting in a circle of about 20 people of indeterminate hue; he figured they were waiting for someone. The first thing he noticed about his peers was their unusually androgynous look: the men were an almost feminine lot with their long limbs and Nubian eyes; the women were just as feminine but maintained somewhat of a boyish look, like they'd just trimmed their hair for Eton. It's a parliament, he thought, a parliament of elves. Someone passed him a strange-smelling goblet; he refused. Someone else down the line, two people - he couldn't tell their gender - two people were having sex. The boy-man next to him tried to pass him the goblet again; again he refused. This seemed to upset everyone. "I don't drink," Julian said, "I'm not a redneck." Something started crying behind him so he turned around to see this penquin getting slit open with a sharpened stone, its still-beating heart squirting globes of blood into a rich goblet. "Jesus Christ," Julian said. "Yes, it's Him," the boy-man said. FLORA WENT to Antarctica to finally apply years of research in polar habitats and remote human living in hostile climate conditions. Both were skills urgently required at Tuggera, but probably more beneficial were her feminine charms (although they'd never put that on her job description!) Morale had been falling at the bloke-heavy outpost; a fresh breeze was desperately needed to clear the locker-roomed air. Preferably, Millard reasoned, the breeze should be scented with jasmine, heart-leaf, and eucalyptus. Although she would be based outdoors for most of her assignment, working on accommodation nodules for the various survey teams, Flora was assigned to Julian for the first two weeks "to get a general feel for the place". This infuriated the other young men of the station, many of whom had not been laid for at up to a year. Julian only scored the job because he was recovering from his ice sled accident and had plenty of spare time. "This whole mining deal," he told her one day on some scraggy igneous crag, "it pisses me off so much. This continent could have been the world's largest national park." She turned away, borderline gasfaced, and Julian suspected he'd said something wrong. "Don't feel so bad, I'm just as guilty. Sometimes I feel I've sold my soul to the devil." A few days later he took her on a tour of his favourite installation: the conservatory. She plucked a peach from a tree rooted in authentic Antarctic soil, bit through the fuzz, juice dribbling down her cheek. "Imagine if," Julian said, "imagine if there are permanent settlements here one day, cities, playing fields." Their eyes locked, juice meanwhile dripping from her chin. Julian was struck by an overwhelming desire to kiss her. He wiped her chin with a diffident finger instead. She started laughing. "Playing fields?" Julian remembered it as their honeymoon phase. His life was stalled with them, like an endless tennis game never rallied beyond the call of "fault". The inevitable umpire's call came in the second week. "She's fucking lush, isn't she? That Flora," Coombes said one night in the showers. "She's all right," Julian conceded. "She's a bit of an all right, more like it. I'm asking her on a date." Julian felt McInroe-intensity anger. If he was McInroe and it was a tennis game he would have thrown his racket across the court. As he was a wimp in a communal shower he grimaced and said, "Like where are you going to take her? The local drive-in?" "I'll just take her to bed," Coombes said. 23 Mock Croc AHHH, CROCODILE skin: it seemed everyone was wearing it in the air-con malls and smoky pubs of Greater Darwin. It should have been, because crocodile skin was the fourth most important force driving the economy there. Sewn into nimble shoes and handbags for the lucrative Asian market, flaunting its Jim Morrison charms on the catwalks and at all the suburban rodeos... crocodile leather was the fashion statement of 00s, and Darwin processed about 40 per cent of the global trade. "Northern Australia rides on the cock of a freshwater croc," that's what the locals said, and the outskirts of Darwin were pregnant with reptile farms. Everyone was wearing crocodile hide... well, everyone except Franz Hoebbard. He was dead against animal exploitation, despite what he did at work. He did keep bees though, thousands of them. He was relaxing with them one afternoon in his garden when the Order of the Gilded Saints came around to talk. Hoebbard noticed an inflation in the hum of his bees, looked over to see an Asian man with his hand in a hive like an underworld Winnie the Pooh. Hey,EHoebbard yelled, sick of mafia intrusions. This is private property. You'll get hurt.E He loves honey,Eanother man said, and Hoebbard spun around to see two henchmen standing right behind him. They were both dressed in canary-yellow suits; one wore a crocodile teeth dog collar. Don't get up on our account, Mr Hoebbard,Ethe older gangster said. They sat down at the table beside him. Please, chill...E You don't scare me,Ethe engineer said, although a certain amount of fear showed in his voice. I want you to know I'm with a very important company. They're all the protection I need.E The lead guy smiled, a face full of gold teeth. A very important company, huh?E He said something to his comrade in Cantonese, and they laughed uproariously. Then a wave of realisation swept through Hoebbard, and he remembered who he was talking to... Wait,Ehe said, Jacky Tung! Dynasty Ltd. Fibre optics, offshore mining, Indian sweatshops. You're one of the most powerful tycoons in the world.E Tung shrugged, with typical Chinese modesty. Hey, I do what I can. And hey, I'm sorry about that little jab to your belly. Bruisy punch-ups isn't typically saintly behaviour. Let's blame it on the stars.E Hoebbard shifted uncomfortably in his chair. While he was pissed off about the trashing of his house and equally fearful of a bodily trashing, he couldn't help but feel awed by Tung's presence. The world's sixth richest man, in his garden? Let me guess,E he said, you want to offer me a job?E "Check out the brain on Brad!" Tung said, and he made a hand-slapping motion modelled on African-American ghetto humour. "But the jobs not for me, surprisingly. In this instance I am acting only as an advocate. A talent scout, you could say." "More like a boy scout," Hoebbard said. "I don't care who you are. But if you wanted to impress me, you shouldn't have wrecked my house. Besides, I have no interest in developing China's first superman." "Nor do I," said the glitter-mouthed Tung, "nor do I. I have no interest in humanity, period. Our days are numbered, and our life-cycle is drawing to a close. I am more interested in the next phase of life on earth, the post-human world. I want you to join us in our glorious experiment." Piss off,EHoebbard said. And he stood up as if to leave. Tung's associate grabbed him by the wrist and, squeezing a pressure point, sagged him into the chair. "Do you like pain?" he said. "Would you like to feel some more?" The third Chinaman was still clowning around near the bee-hives, up to God-knows-what. Hoebbard whistled softly and like a liquid dog the bees lunged into attack. They swarmed around the gangster, stinging furiously. He swung his hands at the air and screamed. "What are you doing?" Tung said. "You'll kill him!" "I speak to them," Hoebbard said. "Now clear off before I set them on you!" Tung looked like he was about to say something, thought better of it, and smashed his fist into the Australian's face instead. CROON KNEW he would use those fold-out boxing gloves for something: as soon as the door opened he hit the punch button and one came out flying out of his jacket like a god-damn jack-in-the-box. It must have had a reasonable amount of punch, too, because it knocked Mr Catheter a few feet down the hall and split the capillaries in his nose. Croon folded the fist back into his waist, advanced down the hall. But the old devil had some jack-in-the-box strategies of his own. Before Croon reached him he somersaulted to his feet, landing in a defensive kung fu posture. It was a monkey posture. Croon whistled, impressed. Hell, old man,Ehe said, didn't know you had it in you.E I would have whipped your behind before,Ehe said, but for the fact Im a gentleman.E Well, Croon thought, Im a rogue. He leapt into attack screaming furiously, clawing the air like a cat. Mr Catheter grabbed an umbrella hanging on the wall and opened it just in time, like a giant shield. Look bastard, I want some answers,ECroon said. My girl just left me; what the fuck's going on?E As he said these words an image sprung into his mind: a river snaking through the dawn-dewed fields, the flickering lights of the airport... He banished the image, concentrated on the job at hand. My dear sir,EMr Catheter said, if you feel rejected, maybe you should see a psychologist.E He lowered the umbrella enough to offer Croon a cheesy grin; Croon also saw the remnants of two black eyes. Then he pushed a button and sharp spikes punched out from the vertices of the umbrella. Spinning quickly, he started tunnelling down the hall. Youre involved in this, I know it,ECroon said as he retreated to the front foor. I dont know if you put her up to it directly, but you know something.E Only as much as you do. Like you, we surmise she was a friend of Babel. A colleague of some kind.E Mr Catheter had Croon pressed against the door. Just as he was about to bore into his guts Croon triggered the springs in his shoes and grasping a light fixture in the roof, swung clear over his head. You know as much as me?" he said when he landed. "What, have you bugged my fucking house?E Sorry about that - standard procedure," Mr Catheter said. "Some members of the board still think youre in league with Babels abductors. When Frieda appeared on the scene, these suspicions intensified. You see, she was once arrested for bombing a vivisection clinic in her native California." Mr Catheter smiled. "Hear me: shes not even English! She sure fooled you.E This comment was designed to push Croon into an emotional and hasty attack. The nigger didnt fall for it. He paused instead to take in Catheters revelations, to consider the implications. An outline of intent was already forming in his mind. Confused by the response, Mr Catheter launched into attack himself, again using his umbrella as a weapon. Croon undonned his grey Inspector Gadget jacket and used it like a matadors cape to dodge the spinning umbrella. And he thought: Frieda, an anti-vivisection bomber? I always knew she had a bit of a spunk! The fight could have gone on for hours, and Croon didnt expect to get much more information from his rival. He decided on a new tactic: mock surrender. He masterminded a fall on Mr Catheters hallway rug. The aforementioned stood over him, folded his umbrella, then pushed another button - a 30 centimetre long bladed protruded from the tip, stopping against Croon's neck. Give,ECroon said. Of course,EMr Catheter said, the one million Euro offer still holds.E I cant take any cases, Im too depressed. Dont you understand me: my girl just left me.E Seems to be a pattern with you,EMr Catheter said. Croon pinched his nose with one hand. With the other, he twisted his Mi5 reject cufflinks. "This seems like a pattern with you," he said. WHEN HE came to Hoebbard was lying with his face against the window of a car... no, it was a sub-orbital passenger jet. He looked out blearily and saw, through the fog, a dreamy pastel world: a river snaking through dawn-dewed fields, the flickering lights of the airport and, in the distance, a skyline so precise it could only have been Monolithic Guangzhou. Only the tops of the tallest buildings could be seen from this groggy vantage-point, then the big Lear jet swung into an approach pattern and a sheet of city opened up beneath him. Over-passes were already clogged with traffic. Token patches of parks and gardens - bold squares and triangles against the subequatorial sprawl - got larger and bolder as the plane was guided down to land. The "fasten seatbelt" sign came on. The it hit Hoebbard, broke him out of his reverie: he was in Asia and if this was a Tuesday, he had an important meeting to attend. "What's going on?" he said, struggling in his seat-belt. "What are you doing to me?" Sssh!Ea black man said beside him... it was jacky Tung. He pressed a loaded syringe against his arm. The jet skidded on to the tarmac of the Joseph [African] international airport. "Welcome to China," the golden grin said. An hour later Felix was seated in a small office in the airport used by the Department of Immigration. Superconductor air-conditioning fissures were having a tough time converting the hectic morning heat. An Indian woman sat on the other side of a table studying various official-looking forms. After an Asian length of time she looked up at Hoebbard and said, "Welcome to the People's Republic of China and the Olympic city of New Canton. Your working visa has been processed." "Working visa?" Hoebbard said, the syringe still suspiciously close to his neck. "Look, I don't want no fuck-arsed visa. I want to go home." Tung twisted his cuff-links and stared, dismayed, at the roof. Valid for,Ethe bureaucrat said, three months, effective from today. I remind you: change your address from that specified on this document, and this Department must be notified within five working days. Failure to do so will incur an incremental fine.E Fine... what the fuck are you talking about?E If it wasn't for that needle Hoebbard would have flung her table across the room. I want to speak to my embassy.E It closed,Ethe Indian woman said, smiling bleakly. This is kidnapping. You could start an incident doing shit like this." Tung couldn't suppress his rage any longer. Mr Hoebbard, I don't give a damn about your "incidents". This is the South China, we are building a new civilisation. And this great civilisation is under threat. To safeguard the interests of our people we are willing to jeopardise any confrontation... no risk is too small.E This is fuck,EHoebbard said. The bureaucrat handed him his visa. "Have a pleasent stay," she said. But that was Thr0w-Back, the landslide was his essence. What mattered to this 200lb bulk was not who performed the perfect somersault or even who impressed the ladies; this was all about making the biggest splash. He had this paradoxic mix of Aquarian sensitivity and brute animal force. His first encounter with Cassius Croon in a New York hotel lobby was another case in point. It was 2002, and Croon was in the Big Apple to infiltrate a rogue Hamas cell. Thr0w-Back was there to buy cocaine. Croon was reading The New York Times or something when he heard the ape-man ask a waiter for a chilli-flavoured milkshake. Son of fuck? Croon thought. Spicy milk! He was even more perturbed when, after one sip of the requested beverage, Thr0w-Back launched the glass at a marble sculpture in the middle of the foyer. (King Kong was Thr0w-Back's totem.) "Hey, man, what's your problem?" the waiter said. "If you can't handle the heat, don't go burning me." "Man," Thr0w fuming, "I could guzzle it if it was flaming but that shake was fucking shite. And it wasn't milk, it was soy. You thought you could go covering the taste with that freeze-dried powder you call chilli here." "Excuse me to intrude," Croon always the diplomat, "but can I offer you an alternative? Dope-flavoured beer. I got some in my luggage if you want to tipple some." (Deep fjord was Thr0w-Back's legacy.) He was coming to the grim conclusion that Americans couldn't play (and these were god-damned actors!) when Thr0w-Back came up and made a complete goose of himself (Hindenburg was his archetype). Spotting Croon alone at his table and being taken by his flex he ambled over, pulled up a chair and said completely out of context, "Do you work out?" Yes! Croon thought. Here was an obvious fuck-up, a clear victory. Freed from the game he changed texts, hoping Thr0w-Back was fast enough to follow, "Cletus, Cletus, I know in the past I may have done you wrong, right? But I promise I will never, ever do you wrong again." "Why, you don't say," Thr0w-Back said, "Cas Croon!" "At your service," the aforementioned said. Thr0w-Back slapped his back like a pizza-maker pressing dough, literally squeezed the breath out of him, rambled something about four years... you said you were going to write... how the fuck's your ass... "I'm taking care of it," Croon said, desperate for release. You see, while Croon's appearance changed every four weeks, Thr0w-Back had dedicated his adult life to a single design: a Neathandal Man replica complete with stooped forehead and hairy back. "So, you heard it was Boogie Nights?" the ape-man said. "But who the fuck invited you? You should have told me you'd be in town." "It was all rather sudden - like your conception," Croon said. "Dude, we've got to talk. We've got a chance to make mega, mega bucks..." "Dude," Throw-Back said, "we are mega, mega bucks. Let's play first, huh? I got a few people you'd love to meet." LONG AFTER sunset Croon and the ape-man were jammed in an outdoor spa smoking cigars and talking about the good old days, their missions to Algeria and Angola, various chemical experiences and endless nights in casinos and opium dens. Croon was still wearing his hat; there was some girl dressed in nought but a snorkel beside him. "Great party, man," he said. "I see you haven't lost your style. Nor your capacity to afford that style, might I add." "Man, I'm doing what I can. The coke trade hasn't been the same for years, ever since Murdoch shunted half of Hollywood down to Mexico. I'm afraid martial arts and the porn industry's become my primary market." "Well that's what I'm here to talk to you about: new business opportunities. And martial arts." The girl with the snorkel came to the surface, and Croon introduced himself. "Scubagirl," she said, then plunged back underwater. "As I was saying, we have a chance for mega earnings. How does $6 million dollars grab you? All for about three days work." "What have we got to do, kidnap the Pope?" "How'd you guess? No, we just got to pick up some kid who's a karate champion out at Encino, and then take him to perform at this birthday party in London." "Who wants him, a martial arts paedophile freak? You know I won't work for paedophiles." "Nah, he's no paedophile. He just digs street fighting." CROON AND Thr0w-Back had it all worked out: they were going up to K2's club on Friday night to catch one of his shows, and then they were going to sign him up for a UK tour. That gave Croon two days to kill. He wanted to do some more research on the kid and also on the two men who'd hired him, because he still couldn't work out why they wanetd him so badly. After six hours on the Net rummaging all of his faithful search engines, however, he was even more uncertain. Sure, Dirk had a homepage and sure, it was full of his philosophies and links to rewind sites. Sure, there were also recordings of some of his juvenile recordings and sure they were jamming. But it wasn't enough to explain why two Texan ex-pat billionaires were willing to fork out eight million Euros just to see him play. Like if the kid was that remunerative, why didn't he have a record deal? The Web search was getting nowhere, so Thr0w-Back suggested something to take their minds off things: a trip to their favourite theme park, a legend on the adventurer's circuit: LA's Magic Mountain. THE MAIN attraction in the McDonald's pavilion was a VR network called Greed Works. It was a corporate strategy game in which players had to advance their interests without violating the set parameters of their character. Because he was the king of the simulcra, Croon expected to whip Thr0w-Back's ass. "Hey, I've got more subtlety than you give credit for," Thr0w-Back genuinely offended. Croon looked at his friend's ape-like profile, the tufts of hair piling out of his death metal singlet, and couldn't help but cackle. "All right, let's make it interesting then," he said. "$5000," Thr0w-Back said, and started clambering into his extra large smartsuit. Croon followed suit, they pulled on video helmets, a "disbelief suspender" punched through his skin and the pair were transported into the electronic world of McSpace. After a short narcotic shock Croon recovered his wits and noticed the following proclamation scrolling down his inner view: THAT NIGHT Thr0w-Back went out to score and Croon relaxed with a bar fridge and the ape-man's three-metre wide digital TV. It was hooked up to cable, satellite and the Net, and all up had about 5000 channels. If that wasn't enough to keep him entertained, there was also access to a 100,000 title movie library. I really do, Croon thought, miss southern California! He was ready to sit through the classic clone episode of Melrose Place when a sudden whim overcame him, and he called up a search engine. He typed in Kurt Cobain Nirvana suicide time travel Quantum Leap event horizon Duff, crossed his fingers and hit the enter key. Seconds later the best match came up: Doctor Who and the Gates of Nirvana. Interesting, but it wasn't what Croon was after. He called up the complete Quantum Leap anthology and scanned through them 20 at a time in little windows on the TV, but none of them compared with what he'd seen in Berlin. Well, he thought, maybe I saw was a special edition made for German TV. So he hooked up with a German search engine and repeated the process... still no luck. This was fucking wierd. It was getting late, and he didn't want to spend his whole night screwing around with search engines. He downloaded that Dr Who episode, cracked open another beer and relaxed into his armchair. The program opened with the old chromatone theme tune of the Tom Baker period. How odd, Croon thought - he was a Bakerphile but he'd never seen this installment. Even more surprising was the first shot of the TARDIS control room: Jane garbed in a spider silk gown and fluro muslim veil, K9 bursting hip-hop from speakers in his sides. Spider silk and hip-hop! Croon thought. They put Baker out of commission in the 70s. Then the Doctor appeared from behind the console, a mass of scarf and thick brown curls. "Well," he said, "we ought to be arriving on Gamelon soon. We stand to make a tidy fortune, the way my luck's been going." "Are you sure you're appropriately dressed?" Jane said. "I thought you said this was a funky-assed casino planet?" The Doctor draped a fat gold chain around his neck and stuck a cigar in his mouth. "Now I'm ready," he said. But even as he said these words the TARDIS was knocked sideways by a massive jolt, and the Doctor was thrown to the floor. "What happened?" Jane screamed, to which the Doctor replied, "For God's sake, stay down!" He punched a series of buttons on the console, hurriedly scanned a read-out. "My god," he said at length. "Doctor, what's going on?" "An unprecedented rift in the time-space continuum. It could only mean..." "Doctor, mean what?" "Shhh! We're materialising." The TARDIS wheezed slowly into the world of form. The Doctor turned on the scanner, and the three beheld the outside view: it looked like the inside of a house. There was a window in the distance, framing grey sky and sea. "Is it Gamelon?" asked Jane, who couldn't see because the veil had slipped over her eyes. "Hardly," the Doctor studying a few more read-outs. "According to these coordinates, this is the Earth. We must have been knocked off course. I'm going outside to investigate." "Don't leave me behind!" Jane found the Doctor in the outside room studying a framed poster on the wall. It was adorned with the large letters Nirvana but the Time Lord was more interested in the frame. "Hmmm," he said, tapping the glass. "Late 20th century, 1990s I'd say." He then walked to the window and took in its broad panorama, the boats in the sound, the style of surrounding architecture. "North America, Pacific sea-board," he said. "I'd say Portland... no, Seattle." There was a rustling sound from the next room, and K9's ears pricked up. "Armed humanoid approaching," he said. A door crashed open, and out came a scruffy-looking fellow with straw-tinted hair. Kurt Cobain, doped the eyeballs on heroin, advanced with a pistol levelled on the alien intruders. And he said, "What the fuck's going on here?" The Doctor didn't freak out or put up his hands or anything so reflex. Instead he said with perfect aplomb, "Ah, glad to see I haven't missed the fireworks." He casually walked over Cobain, pulled a brown paper bag from his pocket. "Jelly babies?" Cobain threw the bag on the floor, shoved his barrel into the Doctor's head. "I ought to blow your brains out right now!" he said. 28 Encino Man TO SAY Croon was shocked by this development was an understatement. He hit the save button on the remote, planning to dump the rest of the episode on to Thr0w-Back's hard-drive. As soon as he started recording, however, the connection dropped out, and the screen reverted to the clone pash scene from Melrose Place. He'd been withheld! Sitting in riled silence on Thr0w-Back's lounge, Cobain's threat still reverberating in his ears, Croon thought: All right, you guys want to play ball. I play stronger than any man! 30 Flirt: Part IV "I FEEL disgusting," Fatma said. "I just don't know what to do." "I thought you'd cut your contact with him?" Ishmael said. Fatma sighed, turning over in bed to reveal the nape of her neck, the devastating smooth of her back. "He writes, he tells me things. Stupid little things. He sends me presents." "Do you love him?" Ishmael was being cruel here. "Maybe, maybe I love him." But she pointed her finger at Ishmael smoking on the windowsill of her apartment, said, "I swear to God I love you more!" It was little consolation to our Palestinian: while he was a New Age man he was nonetheless an Arab, and he felt uncomfortable letting women take the lead in anything. Even this recent habit of sleeping in her apartment unsettled him. But as he hated the idea of oppression even more he said with as much concord as possible: "What time's your flight leaving?" "Seven," she said. "Is he going to pick you up at the airport?" "Yes." "What are you going to tell him?" "What do you want me to tell him?" "Huh?" "It all depends on you," she said. "I want you to tell me if there's a future, a future between you and me. Yes or no, is there a future?" "I can't see the future," Ishmael said. "You don't have to see the future if it's there. Yes or no!" Fatma was an Arab too, and she felt just as uncomfortable as Ishmael about the concept of the "equal relationship". The little voice inside of her was doubtless saying: Please, please tell me to stay. And doubtless Ishmael could hear that little voice. But things never being so simple in love and war, he needed more time to consider. He needed time to decide. "What time's your flight to LA?" "Seven," she said. "All right, I'll drive you to the airport. I'll be back at 5.30pm." "Where are you going?" "I'm going to see the future," he said. DECEMBER 2011 in Cairo, and everyone was talking about the Mosque of Al-Aqsa. The siege was into its fifth month, with no diplomatic settlement in sight. Even moderate Egyptians were now conceding that war was the only viable solution. Middle-aged men were being called up for duty, while gas-masks and plastic sheeting were joining all the usual disaster items in the shops on Midan Tahrir. Like everyone else, Ishmael had been thinking a lot about the war: namely, what role he was going to play if and when it broke out. Yassar Arafat had called on all Palestinians, men and women, to return to PLO-controlled territories for one final hurrah against Zionist persecution. That sounded reasonable, but Ishmael didn't want to end his days as a foot solider fighting house-to-house skirmishes in the suburbs of Ramallah. There was more to war than that! If this was going to be the last war in human history he wanted the mother of all posts: you know, like assassinating the president of Israel or something. Hijacking a cargo plane and crashing into the heart of Tel Aviv. He wanted to go out in style. Needless to say, falling in love with Fatma Fahni was the worst possible thing he could have done at such a time. They had been together now for three months, and she was just about to leave to the US for a two month business trip. But in two months time, Cairo could be Africa's first Hiroshima. Ishmael couldn't leave the Middle East at so critical a time, no matter how much he yearned to be with her. He could ask her to stay, but dirty religious wars had little space for pampered millionaires. Not unless they paid for the weapons, of course.
In his desperation, he went around to see his old buddies MK and Mustafa Hasan. He phoned them first to organise a meeting at the old Wimpies burger joint. Mohammad was the one who answered the phone.
"They're busy now," Mohammad said, "they've got a lot of work to do. They haven't got the time to get mixed up with the likes of you!>>
"What's that supposed to mean?" a teenage boy in a basketball cap was banging on the side of the phonebox, waving a phonecard earnestly in the air. "You know what I mean? I find it disgusting." (And this was from the guy Ishmael sprung having gay sex in the toilets at Misr el-Qadimah!) "Why don't you just go back to that woman.>>
"She's a patriot," Ishmael opening the booth's door to swing a kick at the rambunctious teenager. "Imshee x x !" "She's a leech!" Mohammad said. "Your problems are trivial," Mustafa said. It was about 46 minutes later at that renovated Wimpies joint, Ishmael having convinced the Fatimids to give him one last chance. "Why don't you just go back to that condominium?" "Mustafa, you're the one who introduced me to decadence," Ishmael said.
"Our decadence is subversive!" Mustafa hissed. Ishmael noticed he was wearing a gun... and this time around it didn't look like a cap gun.
"You have to understand I didn't go there for the easy life, to spend Gaddafi's money," Ishmael said. He had never seen The Blues Brother, so he didn't hear the irony of his words: "I was on a mission from God.>>
Mustafa had seen The Blues Brothers, so he burst out laughing. "Bullshit," he said. "You just wanted a sugar mommy.>>
Ishmael leaned back in his seat, exasperated. Imagine his confusion! Torn one way by love and the other by his dedication to the cause, he desperately sought a Middle Path. What he found was the Zero.
"Don't think," MK said, "we don't recognise the tactical benefits of your predicament. We appreciate them very much. You may be in the jaws of the dragon, but at least the skin is softer there.>>
"The Devil seduces with his lies," Mustafa said, "but every lie has a kernel of truth. Discern the truth, and you shall have a role in our Holy War!>>
"What... what do you mean?" Ishmael said.
Mustafa removed the pistol from his holster and held his arms aloft in a hugging gesture. Ishmael instinctively entered the embrace. "Go, go to America," Mustafa said softly. His arms folding around Ishmael's back, the cold press of steel on his cheek...
When Ishmael came to it was the terrorism ward of the Cairo American Hospital. A busload of Canadian tourists were in the next room, groaning through the aftermath of a Giza mortar attack. Ishmael opened his eyes to see the blurry figures of nurses around him, a doctor dribbling liquid out of a syringe.
"Are you allergic to Novocaine?" the doctor said.
"Huh?" Ishmael said, then winced at the pain.
"Your entire upper lip is in three pieces," the doctor said.
"Oh God," Ishmael squirming on his stretcher.
"I'm going to have to inject the entire injection directly into the wound," the doctor said. "Keep still!>>
As the doctor advanced on him a pretty Nubian nurse said, "You have to think about something to take your mind off the pain. Think about something pleasant, to take your mind off things." About a second later she said: "What are you thinking about?>>
"Jews>> Ishmael said.
This caught the doctor by surprise, and he paused with his needle hanging in the air. "Good, good," said the nurse, equally perplexed. "What in particular about Jews?"
Visions filled Ishmael's mind, swelling with the pain: Al-Aqsa... the Temple... a burning in the sky. "Crowds, I see crowds," he said. "They're cheering him." His inner view suddenly rose from ground level, morphed into an archtectural blue-print of Jerusalem, hatcheted in the deconstructionalist style. The pain was terrific. Through throbbing lips he said, "A New Earth. Al-Quds. The bride...>>
"He's delirious," the doctor said.
Looking down at the blueprint beneath him, Ishmael located the golden dome of Al-Aqsa. There seemed to be a huge crowd around it, a thicket of pencilled heads. Suddenly they all looked up. Ishmael thought for a moment they were looking at him, and even raised his hand to offer them a feeble wave. But they weren't looking at him.
TO COMPREHEND Thr0w-Back and the whole Rewind phenomenon you must consider the nihilism of 00s thought. On every conceivable level society was groaning towards collapse. Global warming had gone from speculation to fact but despite the hype, world governments couldn't implement a solution. The human population was rising at an almost hyperbolic rate, and the environment was struggling to cope. Whether they believed in it or not, most people had read Revelations and knew the Mayan calendar expired in the year 2012. Reprints of the centuries of Nostradamus were selling heavily across the developed world. It was, in the words of the tabloids, the biblical "End Days". The decay was reflected on every concievable level of society. In Europe it had led to the dominance of sampling, the belief that the only innovation could come from the reconstitution of the past. In the Middle East, futureshock was taken to its logical extreme through institutionalised fundamentalism. Asia was awash with apocalyptic cults who thought that since the world was about to end, they could indulge in a bit of mass murder and destruction in the meantime. And in mainstream North America you had the pinhead nostalgia of the revivals movement. This was on the surface, of course - there was always an underground. Rewind was the big underground movement in California. Like classic movements it arose spontaneously when a number of thinkers independently arrived at the same conclusion: humanity was fucked. Thr0w-Back came to this conclusion about 2001, just before his first major foray into crime. He was watching TV with a few of his buddies and this program came on about Homo Erectus, a chilled-out cousin species of man which inhabited southern Africa two million years ago. The program followed a Homo Erectus pioneer who left the security of his tribe to venture into the wilderness, kind of like a wandering mystic. He got lost, ended up in the desert and was eventually clubbed to death by a band of Homo Sapiens. Before he died, however, he stumbled on an outcrop of mushrooms and hungrily devoured them. About an hour later and it was like The Flintstones on DMT, the brother having visions of the miracle of fire, how to use tools and the virtues of vegetarianism. Before he could actualise any of those realisations, however, he was clubbed to death by that band of marauding Homo Sapiens. What impressed Thr0w-Back was not the tragedy of the story, which had obviously been given the Hollywood treatment, but rather the way it affected his buddies. When the dude left his tribe, for instance, they dissed him with calls of "Loser!" and "Where the fuck's your woman?" When he walked into the desert, they threw corn-chips and nuts at his ass. When he was clubbed to death, they actually applauded. Thr0w-Back's buddies were not normally so callous, and he got the uncomfortable feeling they had either been possessed or were channeling... like some primeval human groupmind. Or maybe they were just reflecting the inbuilt aggression of their species. The aggression which had extinquished the spiritual race of Homo Erectus, and was now threatening to extinquish every other life-form on earth. That day Thr0w-Back realised Homo Sapiens had finally met his match: himself. Lying in bed listening to the police helicopters and road rage gunfights on the nearby freeway, he wondered what kind of world it would be if Homo Erectus had survived that Holocaust on the African savannah one million years ago, and Homo Sapiens was the one in the museums. Other stoned Croon ideas: 1. Ishmael becomes confused by his growing sense of love and a divinity which he can't reconcile with his more traditional Islamic belief. In a sense, Ishmael is the leader of a new religion, but I have to depict the journey in emotional terms. In other words, I have to develop a decent story out of Ishmael's conversion to his new religion, I can't just rely on one heroin induced vision, which is what I have done so far. Naturally, this could take some time. But if Croon is serialised over what could well be a longer time-frame than first intended, what's the rush. Let's allow this novel to expand gradually: this is the Divine Plan!! Other note: Mention theory of Rennaissance in Book III centred on Ishmael, when I get up to Book III! (It could be a while!) Ishmael as a guru (through italic book reference, Dune-style) relates the story of a person he was healing being a Roman guard in a past life (that's why he constantly went to Israel). Nature attacking this house because people who live here attack it! Technology of the future will use perceptual motion, utilising natural phenomena.
JUMP TO: SECTION CASSIUS CROON (c)opyright Crunch Millennia 1996-2003.
Interactive photographic map of the entire world!
Korean Sights -- The Sights of Korea
The World of Flowers
The Temples of Asia
FaceOff -- The Faces of Asia
Great Cities of the World
Vikings Horns -- The Warriors of Iceland
BlurStream -- Human Movement
Singapore -- January 2003
A Photo Diary of Every Day of My Life
Photo Diary -- October 24 2003
The 70s Never Died, It Just Smells That Way
Start a Holy War
CHAPTER 1, FINGER LICKIN' GOOD -- Secret Agent Cassius Croon is assigned to infiltrate a secret London drugrunning scam.
The Life of Pi