A Cyber Punk – Pt. 7

I step out of the cab, my side still hurting from the rondo that took place not even hours age. The sensation of being full on pizza mixed in with pain makes for an uncomfortable, undefinable kind of nausea – disgust at personal life choices? A bad attempt at recuperation ending in regret? Weltschmerz? What language even is that. That same familiarity, of a word you know how to use but feels clustered in its origins and how it made its way onto your tongue is a taste you cannot remember, I’m feeling that right here.

Community college.

I’m familiar with education. Like, I’ve attended classes, approximately. Sorta. It was on Third Life, in one of my earliest roleplaying groups. It was… very contextual. I was a teacher, who taught. I taught students. Things. Many things. Long things. We emulated what we thought was the real thing by equipping school outfits on our avatars and never took them off. One dude in the group was a slime puddle? That was a weird lesson, but I liked it. We did research to make it as authentic as our subscription fees and VR-helmets could allow. We also found out school uniforms aren’t really a thing outside of smut. It felt sexy, to contribute to false stereotypes.

Never been to college, though. Or high school. Didn’t have the money, didn’t have a parent to pay for me either. It’s not something I’m sad about, or actually know how to feel sad about? Grief is something you learn and I never got the IM. From what I know, college or any educational institution you’re rich and lucky enough to get into, it’s pretty good. It teaches you things, how to think clearly about things you care about. It also gives you more things to care about, in new, microscopic ways. You begin to love the world in ways and manners so close to its inner workings, so familiar with the cables underneath your desk, you are put in an office chair and forced to look at how endangered it really is. It becomes something you want to, but continuously fail to protect. I care about surviving and getting my frick on, but that’s not very academic I don’t think.

“So, love, what are we here for again?”

I glimpse at Exeter. His face, although obscured by that visor (or his visor IS his face?), still manages to convey cold, distant professionalism. If I were him — if I were a ‘he’! — the setbacks of tonight would’ve left me sufficiently distraught to go for the universal ‘hiding in a dumpster’ solution. But this guy, he’s driven. “Orlando.” His voice splashes against me like the puddles of rainwater filling the broken sidewalk, pretending everything’s alright. “This plant is extremely important.” He’s been holding it close ever since we got on the cab – I haven’t seen enough plants in my life to really know how it’s doing. It’s alive? I guess? It’s green with bright green leaves. “We’re here to drop it off. To… make something work.” He looks over his shoulder and at me when he says that, pausing not with skepticism but with hesitation. He can’t let me in on his plans, or maybe he doesn’t want to? To protect me? My face flushes at the thought.

We enter the courtyard, dilapidated and over-strewn with silicons and plastic wrappers. “So uh, what was Caesar supposed to deliver, anyway? Some kind of data?” Data barks approvingly. “Yes. Data–” bark “…containing instructions on how tp sustain plantlife. Flora, as you might imagine, hardly has any chance of survival in these parts. Seeing as the datadrop went awry and I antagonised not only my contract but two extra people courteous to your doing, I’m in a bit of a rush. Not to worry, though–” I can see his visor flicking to a confident :-J. “– it’s all still in motion.” “This isn’t actually a community college, is it?” I not so much ask as I flat out realise, my voice inflexed with a similar epiphany that I might be in over my handsome head. Exeter chuckles. “No. Not at all.” “Yeahhh, I could kind of tell, doll.” I admire the sudden air of mystery that’s beset him in the same way fear can feel sexy. He performs an intricate knock on the tall, shoddy rotwood doors, and I perform a rubbing notion across my torso. I didn’t even notice how cold it’s gotten. I could really use a shirt. Datadamn, my nipples are cold.

A door opens to the side: someone picked it up and moved it out of the way in its entirety. A large man wearing a bandanna of the Angolan flag pokes his head out of where a door used to be. Sure, it may be ancient history, one that’s never been taught – I found out Africa exists and is a huge continent by accident while browsing BBS for ‘cool flags’ – but if a nation has a machete in its national flag, you remember that funk. “Aye, Exeter. What brings you here? Next meeting’s not till next week.” He speaks clearly, with a pleasant and warm, but commanding cadence. Exeter leans in to whisper something and I’m met with single, sometimes double glances. The man shuts his eyes in a quick thought and nods.

“Come in. You too, naked man.”


“Ah. Naked person.”

“Thank you.” Once inside, the man, who I assume to be named Hanna going by the ‘Hi, my name is Hanna’ nametag pinned to his pink leather jacket, fits the door back into place. Tucked into his tailored, moth-bitten slacks is a one-size-fits-all, soot black silicon bag.

We are not so much welcomed inside as we are forced into the interior a horror mansion. Like the one in DEATH CUM CYBER ZOMBIES 7: HOUSE OF HORNY HACKERS. Three people-shapes meet us. Strapped in ill-fitting, violently bright, green skinsuits, kowtowing in a perfect line a few feet ahead. Their necks are contorted inhumanly – or even inrobotically -, their oviform faces pointed straight at us and clearly visible. Or clearly non-visible. No mouth, no eyes, no nose. But they’re staring at us, facelessly. “uhh, Ex…?” No response. Data modulates a sad whimper. He’s never been a growler. I’ve never been a fan of body horror. Especially when it’s real. From the corner of my eye I can barely glimpse Exeter’s visor displaying a small ‘-_-‘. It seems serene, in a regretful way. “Exeter. I really don’t like th–” My words become a muffle and a taste of synthetic filth fills my mouth as a cold, silicon bag is yanked over me. I can still see the glowing figures through the fibres.

My nipples are still really cold.


It seems you are having feelings and are at a loss.

To be more precise, you are at a crossroads. A signpost with a couple of askew planks each pointing in a particular direction, nailed to a wooden pole that’s a long time past sturdy. None of the arrows fulfill their designated roles of leading you a destination – pointing unwholesomely into a fivefold of ways where only fog invites you in. Unpredictability, or something? It’s hard to see; no more visible than your room at 3 AM, curtains drawn since the morning before, an unnatural, brightly-lit screen interrogating you. Like the desk lamp of a hardboiled detective except he’s not the trenchcoated private eye from the movies/that one weird internet story but actually the friend you really need to respond to. It’s your turn to talk.

You are reminded of that video game you once played, you forget the name – or maybe you’re thinking about all of them? ‘If I head down one path for too long, I have to come back and check out the other paths’. Maybe you’ll find a treasure chest, conceptualised by a gesture so concrete you’ll have a hard time reading it wrongly. Luckily, game design has little to do with personal relationships – although you have caught yourself wishing on a soft breath for a tier system of some kind. Just, a little counter hovering over their head or heart to give you an indication of where you are, of what you are. Am I a 2? A 5? You don’t presume any number higher than that. The chimes of an insecurity echo throughout the hollows in your head and in your bones, there exists the possibility you may be imposing. Overestimating how intimate you are (why did you think it was a good idea to touch them?). Misjudging the topics open for conversation (no one cares about your headcanons). Blunder at having fun (you killed the convo with your politics again). Failing to be there for them (you set it to Appear offline when they logged in). Failed to heal them (the chat equivalent of a shoulder pat). Those feelings have you at a loss.

The paths go on for a while. You’ve checked out three paths already and backed down each. Apparently video games have more influence on you than you’d assumed. Final Fantasy 9 revolutionised traditional turn-based battle systems by adding the ‘Active Time Battle’ mechanic. So whomever you were engaged with stopped waiting for you to perform an action – suddenly, they had other things to do. This was true for you as well. The silence of expecting a reply turned into a more common silence. In your mind, you replayed every conversation. Every motion you performed – maybe you hadn’t practiced enough -, the cadence your words trembled with – too monotonous? -, the “haha” where you could have put a sentence. Did you fail again? Traipsing down distances of misty paths leading nowhere reminds you of the lengths that speech has to cover. Of emotional brambles that have to be traversed and destroyed. A gas clouds your mind, of where you should lead this conversation, if you should follow through with it. A continental map of all the what-ifs and but-thens avails nothing without a ‘YOU ARE HERE’ mark. You turn back.

The fifth path is just as difficult to navigate, treacherous even, as the ones before. But there’s a glimmer in the distance, a promise of reward for better than before. It’s your last option, but that just means you HAVE to be rewarded, right? The fog of war clears and still no outline of a treasure chest, yet you know this is the right track. The end of the line is still obscured by come-what-mays but you are no longer a stranger to the lands between mouth and ear, no longer a tempest of two breaths curving around each other, despairing to seek a centre. Incessance did not achieve this, neither did inaction. It simply took time. The unmarked signpost did a horrible job, but you’re glad the fog invited you in. There is someone standing opposite you. You wait anxiously, excitedly, for a reply. It’s their turn to talk.

“Whaat? No way, that’s my favourite game, too!”

Your fog dissipates – turning into the steamy aromas of a hot drink. You could be in your room or a coffee shop in a city you’re familiar with or never have been before; it suddenly feels very comfortable.


A copper string is pulled. Elsewhere, she wakes up.

She doesn’t feel like a container, despite the liquids sloshing against her metal frame. Hydraulic fluids, trace amounts of rustwater, and white oil – the purest of all – flow through manyfold capillaries and inject her skins with an inscrutable glow. As an addendum irrelevant to perhaps you and to her as well: she is not a robot or an ironworks, although there is a glimmer of appeal in that metaphor. There is, at the very least not within the woolen blankets covering her copperthread bones, no difference to be communicated between the untamable organic and the calculated machinery of her gestalt. A different mode of being, for all intents and purposes. Then, can be wondered, what intents and purposes does a non-robot live for?

She flinches back; the string was sharper than estimated. Behind her, the stack of wool vibrates. She’s still a novice, and her fingers know. What was it doing in her loom, anyway? The woodwork had seen a lot of modifications in the past few years, but none of them required metal, or allowed it to work metal. Who would buy a copper tunic, anyway? she thinks, suckling blood from the orange-hued cut. She notes how it tastes a bit different than the blood she usually drinks. Thin wool and rolls of velveteen have done quite a number on her hands in these few weeks, and the only bandages available to her, she has to weave out of shed cotton. A vicious cycle! Clothcraft was not her premier idea of work, but manual labour is the only industry that would have her (have anyone). Not even her tongue, the wisest of organs, could tell the blood tastes more like a certain metal than before, and why would she (assuming she has no unusual ingestive habits)?

The job continues.

Her moiraiic digits guide the material through a shifting labyrinth of heddles and beams. The blood has not stopped. She bleeds. It bleeds along, the loom, that is, white oil pooling underneath its frame. Damaged she continues working, expressing a sweet oblivion for the longest sword cutting against her glowing hands. If only the master weaver hadn’t stepped out to buy more distaffs, they might point out there are no yarns worked by the frame (or they would fire her on the spot). But no, her body gestures with the grace and invitation only a weaver embodies, and the copper keeps on coming – it was never removed the way it was implied. Although at this point, not even the master, holding a coin purse with her mispelled name on it – Clotho – could move her. She wouldn’t recognise the difference between copper and thread. Then, can be wondered, what is she weaving?

She wakes up, tracing her existence along a single thread, from an ancient technology to the skinned hands of a novice weaver.


This place has always been like a haven for me, which is a strange thing to say about a pizza place. It’s quiet but not abandoned, and pastel pink and blue are my favourite colours. When you walk by from the outside, it looks like you’re in a movie theatre, looking at a bright screen displaying a feelbetter-than film. A good meal and peace of mind seems to only happen in the movies nowadays. And the owner’s great, too! Falstaff is the only other person on the block who pays extra for the REALLY OLD THEATRICALS AND SUPER DEAD AUTHORS channel. I know because the first thing I did when I signed my lease was tap into his TV reception. (He also has this channel called REALLY OLD THEATRICALS AND SUPER DEAD AUTHORS (SEXY) but I don’t really want to look at that.) After I’d moved in, Falstaff visited me in person and gave me a free pizza. I think he said something among the lines of, “Welcome to the neighbourhood! I pray you soon feel at home, most comparative, rascalliest, sweet young prince.”

And I did! Him being a cyborg certainly had something to do with it. His metal face was surprisingly warm and gentle despite having two vertical yellow bars for eyes and one oval for a mouth. It’s, like, not a race thing, but humans make me uncomfortable. Anyway, I ate at his place whenever my schedule allowed it, and he always made sure I was doing okay. He told me once, “I am little better than one of the wicked, for my pizzas are loved by all! The freshest ingredients, enjoyed by crook or cop! I do not care, as long as it supplies me with the monies, so I can keep buying the freshest ingredients!” and he kissed his own fingers and rollerskated back into the kitchen.

“Mm, you’re a cyborg, right? Shouldn’t you have like, ordered a pizza with, I don’t know, gears and thermal paste?” The slice I was about to eat slides out of my hand. It falls face-up on my lap, covering about the same distance as my jaw unhinging in pure disbelief. I don’t even think my emo-visor is displaying anything, or maybe it’s incapable of transcribing the stupefaction I’m feeling right now into any known ASCII. “Oh my god. You have no idea what a cyborg even is.” The shirtless diletante opposite me, clearly unversed in the ways of basic respect or empathy, is looking not quite as confused but an honest approximation of how confused as I am feeling. “You’re like robots, yeah?” I gently scoop up the fallen slice and almost drop it again at his continued, casual blunt assault. I can feel the sloshing of hydraulic fluids in my arm so vividly and clearly, it feels like I Was born with my hardware. Like I Was born to punch Orlando really hard in the face. I take a deep breath.


“This is. Not something we chose.” “I’d have loved a robot arm, honestly.” I take a really deep breath. “Listen closely, morlock. They don’t tell you this in Bigotry 101, but notice how this is not a clean place? No sunlight, no real garbage disposal services, not to mention the industrial waste and occasional radiation hazards. Children are born with problems. Becoming a cyborg makes sure they get to live. Apparently, live into a life where nobody wants them.” I wipe the tragic remnants of a pizza slice from my hand with a napkin. For once, they don’t have a witty comeback and I sure as data hope they aren’t trying to come up with one.

“Just. Call a cab. We’re going someplace.” They do so, regret in their hazel eyes, shimmering like the aftermath of a boot mercilessly stomping on a puddle.

I wave Falstaff goodbye. Orlando and I step out into the rain and into a cab. I hurry out of the cab to pay Falstaff for our pizzas and get back in. We sit in silence until the car stops at our destination.

Community college.



This is a story about a bird.

His name is Jonatan, pronounced ‘yo-nah-tàn’, not ‘djohn-nuh-fun’, for that is the Dutch pronounciation of the name, and we are, currently, on a gravelly, rural road somewhere in Drenthe, one of the more pastoral, emptier provinces of The Netherlands. ‘His’, of course, refers to not the bird but the name of a man the bird has been following around for a while now, a time during which the bird has become familiar with certain words, including the man’s name, and also with human intonation, which is concludedly nowhere as melodic and singsongy as that of birds.

The bird will remain unnamed, as it does not understand the language which it is referred by, and will not respond to being called ‘bird’, for humans are wont to call an animal by the name of their entire species, which foregoes the idea of the individual and assumes it is a human-only thing, to feel as a self. This bird feels as whole and as individual as an alive thing can possibly feel. Paradoxically, the bird will remain undescribed; we see this story, this imagined and animated still-life, through the eyes of the bird, but not the bird itself, who is a friendly sort, but also a bit slow when it comes to the world, and cannot understand what a mirror is or that the simulacrum inside of such an object, in its reflective surface or that of a little pond is, in fact, itself.

Conversely, the man will be described, but with the terms of erudition of a bird, as it is after all a bird that describes, in the same vein how the bird can identify and understand what berries are and know the distinctions between ‘nutritious’ and ‘poisonous’ berries, but has little idea of the taxonomical groupings let alone the organismal kingdom one might belong to. The man has brown fluff on his head – the bird knows it is his head because he has two eyes situated in that area, two useful things the bird has, too, and although this conclusion is presumptuous at best, we shall allow it.

The man, who seems to be dripping something, also wears a plumage or fur of red – a costume? The bird has witnessed him tearing sections of it into calculated pieces and makeshift it into something else to wrap around his body, and because the bird does not take off its feathers while it bathes, it knows the costume does not belong to him, as it is not a part of him, yet birds do not have the same understanding of property as humans do, so the question of ownership is ambiguous. Those are the important things about the man, thinks the bird. It can see all sorts of minutiae and paraphernalia and miscellany, such as the man’s continuous dripping, that I could devote the bird’s cognition, my efforting, and your precious time to, but these are incomprehensible, and not to mention superfluous distractions.

What caused this bird, who normally belongs to and remains a closeknit part of a flock of its kin, as most birds are, except for the crow or the rook among others, who elect to spend their life alone or, quite romantically, in pairs, to follow a man whose actions, intentions, language (for the most part), and form it cannot possibly understand? Even were they to communicate, and, in the confines of a narrative, any two living things might be invented for the specific purpose of an interspecial chat, it would be a very one-sided conversation, for the man’s sociability extends only so far as to repeat the word “Jonatan” over, and over. Perhaps it is precisely this repetition which caused the bird to take interest in the man, because why, in the unpredictable tumult and tempest of universes, and the plural was picked over the singular with a distinct meaning, would anything choose to repeat itself?

But then, why did the bird’s friends, his lovers, his family, not take similar interest, why is it the sole actor in all of this? That is a hypothetical easily answered, and before I do, I beg for you to forgive my arrogance, but I only wished to have this bird and this bird alone to star in something special. The man, as previously stated, this story is not about. He serves no purpose outside of this literal bird’s eye-view.

What the bird had not quite grasped is that Jonatan is not the name of the man, but in fact someone else’s name, and we cannot fault it for its ignorance, for that is what it is, a bird!, unfamiliar with human anatomy and emotional states, but we must still give a tiny applause as it knew it was a name at all. As for the dripping, well done on spotting that, that is a compliment to the bird as well as to you who wondered about it: it is the slow emptying of the man’s ichors, blood we might call it, like an opened sluicegate unleashing the torrential drive of water to be somewhere else all the time, caused by a deep stab wound. Being in Drenthe, do you remember?, there is hardly any phone reception – but the bird does not know what this means, but we do, and it means that the man cannot call for help, and all he can do, all he is doing, which led the bird to him, maybe he thinks it is an angel, he must be quite delusional by now, is repeat the name of his lover, which is, as you guessed, Jonatan.

But this is not about the man. All along, this has been a story about a bird.

The writer’s wont

The writer carves a way out of the chrysalis, writing acts of violence into the membrance until a big enough plotspace forms for her to fit through. Her tool, the knifequill – plucked from the plumage of a purgatorial bird – is any writer’s most trusted possession and the sole proof of their artistry-existence. Without one, an author cannot escape the silk, coffee shop-shaped pupa where all writing is mythologised to happen. She brushes slime and crushed material from her jackcoat with a beautiful, adjectival motion. Modified with many pockets and loops to hold her small cannikins and vials, the writer is both jailed and jailor. Her prisoners, homonculi of ink and thought, cannot escape through the confines of their caffeine containment. Suspended in coffee ground from human beans, they reluctantly absorb the liquid until it sloshes inside them, nauseates them.

The cork above is popped off when it is extraction time. All containers have imprisoned a child of a specific paradigm, and therefore only one may be open at a time. A homonculus kisses the writer’s knifequill, so she may imbrue the soft, fleshy writing slabs in front of her with its ichors. Multiple excretions can mix no problem, but adding the spit of the young white male homonculus to any other will poison the forming narrative into a boring, existential urban journey. The created simulacra stay stored inside this organic hub, revisitable at any time to be altered or destroyed. Murders take place here, daily.

Even outside of the pupa, momentarily freed of responsibility and having to jam her creative utensils into the mouth of Mammon, the writer cannot enjoy a moment of respite. She must continue to sculpt facsimiles of non-existent universes only she can create. She holds a pure white bee between her thumb and index finger and stabs herself in the throat with its rapier-like stinger. The venoms, the psychedelics do their work – she is in pain, enticed again to create more. She scoops up black wax from crystal hives and gorges on it. This is called ‘inspiration’, the sole source of nourishment for writers. Without it, they will dry up and die a sarcophagus of themselves.

But enough about the creative process. Why does a writer write? For fame? Individual pursuit of the creative? A book deal? Nothing so lofty as that. She simply means to pay off her debts. The dynamics between the reader-writer are a currency, one that pays itself. And the invisible children. Every writer is visited by them in their dreams, after consuming exactly seven narratives (surplus ones; the ones eaten for sustenance do not count). Tying a lint red string around her fingers, the writer is then eternally indebted to the writelings. Only through steady readership, which the writer in turn binds to her with alchemical strokes of magic quill, may she pay off her masters. Writing is obviously neither calling nor hobby, it is an inescapable destiny. Guard your children from excessive literary consumption, for no parent wishes the fate of authorship upon an offspring. Pity the names chiselled into the covers of a book, also known as an ‘anguish tome’. Oh, how they must have slaved every waking moment into slabbering words, dripping frustration and mania on hundreds of scared paper sheets.

If this seems surreal and fantastical, that is because it is. The writer exists not on the same plane as we laypeople. All artists have to suffer for their work, so this and they can be fetishised by readers. It pays the bills/children. It is not fiction: an artist is not human! Could a human being, one with feelings and a life outside of their art, create art? NO! There is no life outside of their art, you dunderpate! You must deify the artist to the point of irrecognisability. Grant them not a droplet of humanity in your minds, or whatever.

And cursed be he who mocks the writer by falsely writing about her, sipping a cup of coffee and not wearing pants as she listens to a well-known song, tapping away on a laptop. As if the writer is capable of enjoying her morning like a person.

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 6

The elevator bell dings, we step inside, we’re spit out into the lobby. It’s not completely deserted, which is surprising when you go over the brutal disco that went down just now. Caesar, Skyscraper, and Casino are nowhere to be found. The only one here, behind the pexiglas, hole-riddled and boarded-up again booth is the landlord, Roel, reading an uninteresting magazine. He’s six screens tall and incredibly Dutch. We haven’t talked much, just the standard “so I pronounce it as Rool?” and “godverdomme man wher the fock is mijn rent?” His eyes drag up from his read and ours meet, then his drop to my bruised, notably shirtless body. He cocks a scarred eyebrow, his smog-covered lungs cough up a cloud of words that hardly manages to squeeze through the intercom. “Godverdomme man wher the fock’s je clothes?” I spin up to his tube-station.

“Rool, baby, when you see a tall, beat-up halfbot stroll down here, stop him for a second, won’t you? He’s trying to kill me, y’see.” A big sigh wafts into my face and I hack, wheeze, think of my last words. “Oké, wen I see tet man, I take matters in mijn own handen. But godverdomme man, effryone is trying to kill je.” I throw a proud smile back at Exeter, one that says, “see? I’m tough.” I also tell him that, just in case. His visor flicks to a faded green “-_-” and he trudges towards the exit carrying the plant from his apartment. I follow with a hop, followed by a dog carrying a ruined steampunk arm in his mouth.

The streets are colourful, but not in a technicolour kind of way. It’s still daytime, but sunlight doesn’t reach here. Sodium streetlights barf orange, blue, and purple from above while the city passes a perpetual, smoky gas. There’s nothing beautiful about it. A couple of bat-wielding boys wrecked a lumpia cart and shoved it into the nearest sewer entrance. The old man that runs it is crying for help, trying to pull his only livelihood out, but he doesn’t stand a chance against the swellers pulling it in deeper. Swellers, by the way, is short for ‘sewer dwellers’. That’s people who live in the sewers. It’s free housing, you shouldn’t judge them, you classist. Every hip and trendy passerby knows swellers love lumpias, though, so no one bothers. Neither do we, so we keep on walking. But even more miserable than that urban scene is this glitching awkward silence. That, and I’m still not wearing a shirt. Holy slag, I’m cold.

“Sooo, uh, you ever visit a poetry forum? I remember this poem that was all ‘oo, the neon blood pumps into my heart. I feel the beat of the city and it is my own.’ What’s up with that? Like, how pretentious and ignorant do they have to be? The view they have of the city’s amazing ’cause they can pay for it – meanwhile we get our doors kicked down for going out to buy brown cabbage past the curfew!” A low-toned vocoded murmur assaults my organic eardrums worse than any nerdcore concert: “You don’t like my poems?” I turn my neck like a rusty screw. A damp visor displaying a bright yellow ’;_;’. “I. Well. I mean, there’s a certain positivity in your work that can only exist within a privileged socioeconomic– Wait. You’re a cyborg. Aw, jammit. I’m so sorry, I–” I can see him chewing on the inside of his cheeks. “I’m not human, I’m piss poor, but I’m happy. Is that so bad?” The softly flickering sign of Falstaff’s Pizza Place is my salvatory light, a neon bible, ascending me out of this social hell.

I feel your circuitry pulsing
(what a thrill)

Like a shock I’m convulsing
                               (like I’m killed)

What I’m feeling is amazing
                               (programmed for love)

My electric heart, it’s racing
                              (baby don’t stop)

Twobit speakers are playing Trish Rigs’s latest single, ‘Robot Love feat. Shinobu the Samurida’ and I’m singing along with tears in my eyes. “Ya, two pizzas?” asks the waitress bouncing on epileptic rollerskates, doing halfhearted twirls not even half her heart is in. Exeter is pouting opposite of me on a turquoise bench, trying his hardest not to pay attention to me or the waitress. Deciding she’s had enough of waiting, she pops her TONGUE ATTACK FLAVOR BOMB APPROXIMATION OF MINT-FLAVOR (not real mint) which creates a small tremor at our table. “JESUS HACKING CHRIST,” is what we both yell before digging into the pizzas practically thrown at us. “That’ll be 70 hyperdollars, sugar.” I once again exclaim, “JESUS HACKING CHRIST!” before slamming the table. Exeter looks frightened. “SEVENTY HYPE FOR TWO PIZZAS? WHAT A BARGAIN, A CYBERSTEAL!” I pay her with a wink. Literally. She aims her retinal scanner and I lose some chump change. We continue eating, one in silence, one in song.

“Listen,” begins a condescending femme voice, “we shouldn’t be here. Together.” “Why not, babe? Our meeting was so intense, it’s only natural to go on a first date.” His jaw slams shut on a slice of ‘za and violently severs it, the metaphor winceworthy. “Don’t kid yourself. This is not a date.” He takes a deep, autotuned breath. “ANYHOW. We were never supposed to meet. But we did. Now I’m back to square one and I’m richer not one, but three people who want me in a cooler.” I throw on puppy eyes and a pouty lip; he quickly checks his human emotions guide, sighs. His visor turns into a frustrated -_-“.

“I want to help you, doll,” I assure him through pizza-filled mouth. “You’re disgusting. And, what? You don’t even know what it is I’m doing.” “Noooot a clue, but right now it’s my best bet at survival, escape, and so on.” “I’m being hunted by a hubristic datadropper and two angry debt collectors.” “Technically just Caesar. Casino, and Skyscraper just want me. Caesar, too, I guess.” “Oh, true. We should go our seperate ways, then.” I clasp his muscular metal arm and stop him from taking another bite. “Nononono babe, please don’t. I’ll help you. I’m not bad in a fight, and I can cook. Noodles and soup. Oil? I have oil. Do you drink oil?” “What? No, of course not. I’d die. And calm yourself, Orlando. I was kidding. Japing. Doing the comedy jive. You can tag along. You have a lot to make up for, anyway.” I shove a tearstained slice into my sad, quivering mouth, gratefully. “You won’t regret this.”

“I will, though.” [:S] “Please put on a shirt.”


“We’re having a great time.” They might be; they are sinking into a whirlpool. The party’s going great.

“I believe you,” says a tall girl. She’s wearing a loose top with the sleeves torn off. The sinkers nod and are purple. They can’t grab the lifeline thrown at them: they’re holding a drink and are dancing with one arm in the air. Everyone else is surrounding the pool, posing like a mannequin. Someone is shining a purple spotlight on the two in the middle. A sad boy is swirling his whiskey-coke and decides that the sloshing liquid and ice cubes look exactly like the two dancers. Like a binary star sucked into a black hole.

He’s a quiet sort, probably a poet. He wears gloves and has wet hair. The tall girl slowly pulls in the lifeline. The whirlpool isn’t part of the party but everyone pretends it is, except for her and the boy. They’ve both seen things like this happen before; it doesn’t really faze them. The tall girl heads back into the house before she is seen and hides in the bathroom, and begins washing her face. The sad boy is already there, doing the same. “Hey, long time no see.”

“So, what do you think of the party?”

“I’m not having a great time. I want to leave.”

“Yeah. We should go.”

The tall girl twirls out of her bedroom and he follows suit, into the ballroom. It’s tiled with marble and filled with mannequins, adorned with ribbons and corsets and wigs and pocket watches. From the ceiling hangs a chandelier, snowing flakes of purple light on two dancers rotating in place underneath. The tall girl hikes up the skirt of her ridiculous dress and runs past them. She is detected, and chased. Everyone wants her to stay. Craving hands grab her arms.

The two dancers turn, but not in dance. “You must stay, the future is uncertain.” Her sleeves, goldleaf currents running up and down the seams, are torn off and she escapes a little farther. She bumps into a sad, smiling boy, a quiet sort. Probably a poet. He extends his hands, covered by white linen gloves, ending in the frilly entrance of the sleeve of his blouse. “Hey, long time no see.”

“Thanks for showing up. Everyone wants to keep me here. I want to leave.”

“Must be nice. We should go.”

It’s night when it happens. Screams under a starry, stormy sky. The arms of the universe approach and beckon him into a hug, but slap him at the last second. The boy feels like he is spun – atomically, existentially. He spins and rolls out of bed. Waves crashing against the boat shake him awake like a concerned parent (he doesn’t know what that would be like). Saltwater wails on an open sea. On deck, he sees what he’s wanted to forget. Through the clouds, the moon beams purple on two people, brothers, spinning not in dance or in a glass, but in a whirlpool.

He throws a rope at them. His first brother is already gone, somehow fallen asleep. The other is holding him up and failing. His free hand clasps the rope. The boy pulls as hard as he can, his ungloved hands scorching despite heavy rainfall. He cannot have them. Her pleas send water over him, his hair wet with panic and tears. Time passes, sound stops. ‘Silence from a knife that softly severs, mistaken for an unsung prayer,’ is all he can think. He’s always had a knack for poetry. A tall girl puts a hand on his shoulder and slowly pulls in the rope.

“I wanted to save them, but my arms got tired.”

“They can’t be saved. Your hands look bad.”

“This will stick with me forever.”

“Let’s stick together forever, then.”

“Yeah. We should go.”

Below the ice of Antarctica

Everything below the ice of Antarctica is perfectly normal.

Glacial effigies burst from the ground, and the circle they ringed around crumbled into a deep nothing. Each of the eight totems bore a distinct shape, heretofore unseen, not even in thought or nightmare. Some were stout, others slendering, one went against the very concept of size and form. But all were deep in kowtow, a desperate prostration to the snow they had risen from. They appeared homesick. Their arms were of a familiar wood covered in icy muscles, stretched out across the blind crater, overlapping, entwining. And one for one, they tumbled into that pit. It was serene, graceful, terrifying.

It was later discovered by a group of scientists that a waddle of nomadic penguins were responsible for building these cold idols, after they came across a youngling chiseling a happy face into a piece of wood. This did raise some questions: how had they survived so far inland, where did they get the materials from, and to where does that hole lead?

Why, the underdwellers helped them, of course! This, however, came as quite the surprise, the frozen continent turning out to be hollow. Even more puzzling was the discovery that its insides are hospitable to life as we know it, but inhabited by life we do not. Here is where we give a slight, appreciative nod to the scientists for their hard work and also kiss our farewells. But their research papers are a far cry from the truth of which not even the echoes are heard; they are merely a desired reality. They aim to explain their findings, but empiricism prerequisites an inexplicable: something inconsistent and abnormal, something magical and unscientific.

As we descend – figuratively, of course; this is all a description – we see the azure sinew pulsating meekly and glowing softly, all the way through the pitfall. Antarctica is alive, didn’t you know that? Through the transparent skin you can see the remnantal chunks of primordial totems, a bit more familiar in shape. You’ve dreamt of these at one point, I assure you. At the bottom of the hole, lumps of the ones you’re familiarly unfamiliar with are stacked in a perfect pyramid.

Look around; notice the elderly iceberg surrounded by fantastic creatures. He’s humming a pleasant, warm tune as only grandpas can do. The heat of his melodies attracts floatfish, and once opa has gathered enough, he may be lifted back into the ceiling by the flock of his newfound friends. It’s not a terribly uncommon occurence. Ancient ice like him has trouble remaining a member of the arctic mass – arthritis, you see. The fish get a nutritious nibble for their troubles, and they glide their own paths to the next berg.

You must be thinking: what a beautiful symbiosis this is! No? How am I able to see beneath a pack of ice and earth? That’s what the limn flowers are for! The most precious plants in the royal gardens. Their seeds are pure light and lighter than air. Think of them as streetlights, except for the ice floes. Luminence as well as heat are scarce and therefore valuable. Troublesome parasites have the audacity to siphon them without providing anything in return!

One notorious predator, the only of its kind, mimicks a fire’s scent, luring creatures into its lair with a promise of the warmth they desperately seek. Siphonophoric colonies of leech ice, shaped like veiny hands, latch onto a careless animal, sucking its warmflesh dry until its frozen body shatters into icicle spores. Each spore is a zooid to form a new colony. Near the palace you will find an old device that looks metallic, but is made from soft materials. It reluctantly saps nearby warmth to prolong its frustrating existence; it does not know of an alternative.

Right, I mentioned the palace, didn’t I? Below the ice is technically a monarchy, I suppose. The ruler and sole member of the royal family is the ageless princess. She sits upon a pedestal of snows. She sings gentle songs for dying blizzards, who make the long trek to her palace when it’s time to pass. The seat of her power hides a second hole, one that leads even farther below the ice – but I never told you this. The sage, the first overdweller to come here, brought with her: trees. Plain, simple trees. Trees as you know them, as you need them, as you take them for granted. Their roots reach into the nothingness neath the castle, acting as ladders for that which should never be seen. The royal guard, bless their souls, die to their blazing furies to keep these monsters to their volcanic confines. What about the sage? She spends her time in the glass library, rereading records and compendia in the futile hope she may finally remember how to die.

But not all is tragic and morose! Warmth does not come naturally, but from happiness. Selflessness and care are traits all denizenss share. For instance, there are these adorable formless creatures that hop blindly through the spaciousness. When they meet another of their kind, they hop into each other to form a happier version of themselves. Sometimes, a hoplet becomes so big it can no longer move on its own. Then it simply kicks back with a smile to provide everyone, everything with the heat, shelter, food of its body. And ever since the roof opened up, more of your kind have moved in here. They wander the crackling wastes with a smile on their face. Alone, transformed, more ancient, but happier than they’ve ever been.

I promise you, everything below the ice is perfectly normal. It just might not be for you.

Hey, Joost Zwagerman

Don’t look back at us down here
our arbitrary reactions are expected:
hopeless, sad, angry, quick to blame
You gave us the audacity to admit
that death makes us feel a way

Your book sales are breaking roofs
Nothing sells like suicide
The ads, our tragic mythologies
to make you seem better than you were
that killing your own was undeserved

I hope you’re happy.
No, I really do.
That high outside your corpse
hope you are alright, more okay
than you were inside,
writing one long obitual essay