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

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 5

“I don’t think so.” I say that, but I’m not thinking at all. Thoughts race through my head like magnetic cars glued to the sideways of The Sphere as I’m hurling a shirtless weirdo at three people who will not appreciate me doing this. I realise I should have put more thought into who I should throw at them, or who I should throw them at. Caesar? He’s unstable, untrustworthy, and quick to anger. His pompadour just poofed into a terrible mohawk of road rage and a steaming sewer grate

Man, they’ve got a pretty cute butt in that pants. Not much else going on, though. How about the girl? She has got a shotgun. A very funny shotgun. God, this all could have been avoided if he just hadn’t brought up the plant. It’s why the drop happened in the first place! Okay. Focus. Maybe the big guy? He seems respectable and calm enough. I should definitely get on his good side, which I’ll do by not throwing the person he unequivocally hates at him. Let’s hope that’s not what’s going to happen here–

“HAHA, EAT IT!” Excited and accomplished yells break me out of my digital reverie. As if I’m playing BOWLZONE PINMASTER at the old ‘Death of the Gamer’ arcade hall, I managed to knock over one of three unorthodox bowling pins. My loud, incorrigible projectile spun themselves around in mid-air and, with a crotch-thrust dead ahead, landed in the face of the tallest one. The one I did not want to hit. He slams onto the floor, cracks audibly forming in the carpeted concrete, eating the groin of his hated enemy through reinforced leather pants. In the span of seconds, my visor flicks from ’>:(’ to ‘O__O’ to ‘O///O’. I am SO featuring this in my next slagfic.

“All right, that’s it. You’re dead you son and offspring of glitches.” So screams the autotuned voice of a cute musclegirl. My fantasies are rudely interrupted and I begin to panng that this might end very badly for any of us. My visor springs to a red ‘X’ and all goes black. Last thing I remember is hearing an error sound.

I was in a gameshow once – the first-ever gameshow with cyborgs. Of course, the host was human, and most of the audience was. It was supposed to be a simple quiz, but it was a neon circus. They didn’t tell us for each wrong answer they’d sever the connection between brain and a piece of hardware. I was nervous. Biting on the hand that still had nails. The halfbot before me got it wrong, they cut her lungs from her system. She was gasping for air, hanging over the brightly-lit booth next to me. The audience roared with laughter and excitement. The host turned to me and smiled, a terrible smile on the other end of the humanity spectrum. Demonic, not robotic. “Why are cyborgs inferior to humans?” I tried to laugh it off, asked if it was a trick question. I heard something snap. I started panicking. I came to, not in the studio. There was blood on my hands, both hands. I remember hearing an error sound.

I come to, still in my apartment. “You did good, doll.” I feel a warm hand on my shoulder. It feels nice. They’re still not wearing a shirt, though. I’m holding the crumpled remains of a gaudy, bronze arm in my left hand, and a robotic dog in my right. It makes a happy bark. The arm makes a creeking noise as the wrist gives out. “What happened…?” They look at me, suspicion in their hazel eyes. “You want me to tell you because it happened so fast, or because you’re veeery quick to enter a bloodrage and can’t remember what happens during?” “I’m, uh… very forgetful?” I know this face. Eyebrows raised, mouth opened slightly. The equivalent of saying ‘c’mon, really?’ At least, that’s what McCrank’s Guide to Understanding Facial Expressions of the Unmodified says. “Yes…?” I give out a diffident chirp.

“Well, lessee. First you tossed me all powerlike at Skyscraper and I made him eat some of this.” They make a vulgar gesture at a vulgar area. “Then you jet-punched that Caesar bloke so hard his arm popped off and he crashed into Casino – the musclegirl – and they flew out, into the hallway. Her shotgun went a-flying so I snatched it, still faceseated, arched over backwards to shoot the guy in the microphone. That.” They look kind of flustered saying this. “That’s slang for ‘robot penis’. At least, I think that’s what Trish Rigs calls it in ‘My Robotic Lover (Let Me Use Your Microphone)’.”

“Anyway, he then headbutted me in the regular penis and I went somersaulting backwards. Then you, welllll…” They pause, point at the cyborg-shaped hole in the floor. “Busted a guy through cheap carpet and cheaper concrete.” They pause again, giving a light applause.

“The other two probably heard and-or saw that and got the jack out of here, because I ain’t seeing them anymore. Then for some reason you picked up my dog, dialed Falstaff’s Pizza Place on him, and ordered two tuna pizzas, takeout. And back to earth you are! By the way, we have to be there in like 20 minutes.”

“Pizza…?” I look up, three blue question marks on my visor. “Yeah. Yeah, okay, let’s do that.” Trying to process all that and figuring out what to do next isn’t going to do me any good right now. Besides, I’m starving. I look at my food-date and extend an organic hand. “I’m Exeter.” They throw on a genuine smile. Yeck. Haven’t brushed their teeth in a while. “Call me Orlando.”

The vagaries of a slow life

I wake up when it’s dark, but not because it emulates death. Same room, same black. The curtains are drawn though they don’t have to be; the lights outside are long gone, abandoned. Lanterns broke, plants burned with hate and acid, fireflies killed with teeth. The sun is still out somewhere. He’s forgotten about me and I don’t really mind. Residues of heat meant for greater things, like a stoic prison guard giving food to someone they’ve never seen before. I won’t freeze to death, at least.

The penumbral outline of my heavy legs plummet and crash through the floor. Past the worms in the dirt that think of me as filth, past the bones and fossils of things the earth cared to preserve, into the overgrown halls of Persephone. She plucks at my legs as a lyre; her hands are spindly and beautiful, her sighs are honey, its strings an elegy of the chthonic that causes death. As is what she is ought to do; I will never know what is desired of me. Yet, I know that an audience and an indulgence is not what I seek.

I rise up, my pillars retreating from Hades’s reach; heavensward, stopping halfway. There’s not a lot to revere in my purgatorial pit-stop. Simple furniture, simple appliances, simple ghosts. An abandoned haunted house of a studio apartment angry spirits would consider a place to return home to. The ambience of creaking floorboards made of emptied coffins and the pondering smacks of my lips, the clatter of a cheap laptop keyboard are the only sounds. No scribbling or scraping of the pens, pencils, and papers disordering my coffee table and paintless walls. Shipments of tools I don’t know how to use anymore.

“You’re not doing anything with your life,” hisses the shrill, deceiving voice of purpose directly into my ear. A concerned adult form that doesn’t know the first thing about importance, slithering around a body and mind capable of independence. I am in an underworld. “Drink of Lethe and forget what you do, know only what needs to be done.” Charon rests his head on his hand and watches, amused, from Styx. His mouth hums hymns and coins thrum within a small satchel of my earnings. His boat waits on the riverbank, for me to step away from the serpent that cannot respect me. The ferryman asks me about my day and I tell him it’s been fine. We talk about the weather.

The sun rises, not in recognition of me or of my surviving another day. The mythologies of daybreak spare no heroism for those struggling to get by. But the grand, incandescent celestialities are not anyone’s measure of worth: we are not planets, we are mice. My whiskers vibrate when I meet someone alike, my gray fur is warm and my squeaks are delighted. Pride is found within quotidian struggle and the continuous success thereof. I have enough drachmas to pay for food and to pay Charon never to abandon me. I am myself and I get by. I am content. There is a vibration in my pocket.

I check my phone and smile at the text.

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 4

Read the last part here!

“The shotgun.” “Oh.” He looks over at the gun and reads the message painted on its side. It takes him a second, then he lets out an ugly chortle. Through his vocal modulation, what’s supposed to be a laugh sounds more like a wasp nest inside of an industrial grinder. The debt collector I remember as Casino raises an eyebrow, her cyan eyes flamelike with intensity. “What’s so funny?” Her voice crackles with electronic rage, but she keeps her distance. Probably remembering my sweet pants. I stretch my leathered leg as a taunt, also because I’ve got some serious cramping going on. Before she can do anything, a hand grabs her shoulder. Each finger a cinderblock, each nail a saw. The owner steps aside her: it’s the skyscraper from before. He extends his index finger – the tip of which a hypnotising swirl.

“That your man?” he asks. I break free from the hypnosis, blushing heavily. “We just met!” Cyborg’s visor flicks to ‘:|’ and looks at me with computerised disdain. Skyscraper grunts a gutteral ugh. “Not you, gratis.” That means ‘freeloader’ in the racketeering business, someone who evades corporate tax by moving around a lot.

“For an insult, it’s not that cutting. Could’ve gone with, I don’t know, leech, or sapper, or society blighter. Someone on Third Life called me a ‘pantaloser’ once. That really hurt my feelings. These pants mean a lot to me, you know. You gotta get personal with these insults, I’m just saying.”

From behind Casino strides in a third member and joins motley duo, now a motlier crew. His leather jacket is covered in grime, and banana peels and empty tin cans are sticking to his chrome: two bulky arms with cogs and clockwork designs. His silver hair is gelled into a frictionless pompadour, like a lumpia of grease and grunge. God, I’m starving. His expression is unamused, his head tilted back to glare at Cyborg and I from the bottom of his sockets. He parts his dry lips.
“That’s him, yeah.” “Hey. ‘Them’, not ‘him’,” I object. The trio close their eyes in sudden shame and retroactive respect. Skyscraper repeats himself, “this the scumbag you were looking for?” “That’s them, yeah.” I nod in approval.

Pompadour forces his eyes wide open. “Yeah. That’s the one who stole my drop.” He’s struggling to keep a cool composure. Steam is blowing from his arm vents. A single hair flicks out of the formation of his perfect pompadour. “Jumped from a few floors lower than me so…” A vein on his forehead bulges, “he could be grabbed instead of me.” His bloodshot eyes jut at Cyborg. His visor switches to an alarmed red ‘!’.

“Wait… Don’t tell me. YOU’RE Caesar?” “Yeah, that’s me. Mind tellin’ me ’bout that poser you hooked up with?” I can feel both their burning stares plus an uncomfortable heat from a very, very angry visor. I look away and whistle an inconspicuous tune. Namely, Trish Rigs’s least-known song, ‘Silence after an Unsuccessful Surgery’, released on a 100-copy EP before her first major hit. “That song is rumoured to be autobiographical but she hasn’t confirmed or denied this yet so–” Four voices command me to “Shut up!” and I oblige.

Skyscraper steps forward and makes a cracking motion with his flawless metal neck, mimicking what that would sound like with his mouth — very unconvincingly I might add. He addresses the boy I’ve admittedly rudely imposed on and probably manipulated to a degree. “Here’s the situation, halfbot. You did your job wrong, snatched the wrong dropper. They ain’t even got the right data. Just a dog, called Data.” Cyborg shrugs, Data barks. “In fact,” he continues, “we were already chasing ’em. They’s a freeloader.” He looks at me with electrifying, condescending eyes, “A society blighter.” He lets out a chuckle, Casino follows suit with an equally forced one. “Now Caesar here,” he pats his leather jacket to wipe off some of the grime, “we met him on our way down. Told us about this shirtless freak that stole his drop. So, you see, our interests… they were… uh…” “Similar?” “Yeah, ‘similar’. Shut the jack up.” I do so! “So it was only natural we teamed up. That way, we can all have some fun with ’em, the three of us.” He cracks his knuckles, again doing the mouth thing. Ugh.

Cyborg looks lost in thought. I can tell ’cause his visor’s displaying a big blue ‘?’. “So, what undertaking would you have me do?” Caesar traipses forward and puts a disgusting, steampunkish arm on his shoulder, in clear violation of personal space laws. “You’re a smart kid. This is probably your first drop and this glitch took advantage of that. So, here’s how’s it gonna work. I give you the data, you give us the leech. And… I’ll be taking that with me, to cover for the inconveniences, mm?” He points at the terranium in the back of the room. If he was seriously considering Pompadour’s offer, he sure as cyber isn’t anymore now. Gripping Caesar’s hand and pulling it away with his real(?) arm, his visor turns a blood red, displaying a furious ‘>:(‘. His actual mouth clenches, too. Pompadour struggles to break free, pulling at Cyborg’s arm, gnawing at it with fake teeth, but fails so hard. Never get retroware installed. It’s weak and I mean, at no point was steampunk cool.

He clutches my arm with his robot hand. Huh? “I don’t think so,” a chilling femme voice fills the room. All falls quiet, all feels quiet, and the world rushes past me as I’m hurled at the debt collectors, pants-first.

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 3

Read part 2 here!


Hanging outside a window, some 40 stories high, I see the city for the first time in weeks. Not, like, literally, although I did have the blinds drawn. No, I’m looking at a city, naked and exposed. A neon sprawl, covered in an oppressive haze (read that on a tourist BBS one time). Skyscrapers of corporations stand out like machine parts: each a cog in something we don’t understand. Sunlight hits their sickeningly spotless chrome exteriors, even in the dead of night. Corporations control the weather, after all.

Any sunlight dies before it gets to bounce off to the rest of town, let some light in that isn’t from a neon sign. The corps have unlimited renewable energy that way; monopoly on solar panels. They need to power The Shell, after all. Rest of the town, though? Not so much! Electro’s rationed for cityplayers and it is expensive. Ten days of earnest pay is worth an hour of computer a day, one laundry tour, and maybe a light or two (or two Trish Rigs virtual displays) for a week. Nooo thank you, I’ll take my sweet chances with running from debt collectors.

My urban soliloquy is rudely interrupted by the rooftop gestalt plummeting down. They pass me, too fast for me to really catch any details other than the shocked realisation on their face. I hear a scream, followed by a small ker-ploff into a garbage dumpster, concluded by a series of words I’d rather not process. I feel a heavy tug on my leg. My face slams against the window as I’m pulled into the apartment with Data. “Jesusch Hacking Chrfist, thanksh for catchig me but show soum restrainpt, woldya?” I’m clutching my nose in pain, blood running like an Android W.K. album cover. “You signed up for this job, datadropper. Get used to it.” A lightly-modulated femme voice tells me off and I’m sort of into it.

I slowly get up. “D’you hab like a servette or somthing? I bink my noes is brokem.” Before I get a good look, they suddenly storm off into the bathroom. “Uh, you okay?” “You stay there,” a mechanical snarl commands me and I obey. “You’re BLEEDING. I can’t stand that, that red stuff.” I take a look around the apartment – no tissue around, save for the bits from my nose. Black sofa, black table, black paint. A ceiling fan missing half a blade whirs softly. The only remarkable, colourful thing in here is a terrarium under ugly, fluorescent lighting. The fan and lights hum softly together; a sad, generator-powered post-ambient seems like a fitting soundtrack for this place. I wipe my nose on the black curtains, blow a bit. Hurts like hell.

“Okay, I’m coming out. You better not be phlebotomising all over my apartment anymore.” “What?” “Bleeding.” “Oh. No, I’m not.” I make sure I stand in front of the bloodstain.

My saviour reemerges from the bathroom. The only applicable word I can think of is “surprising”. Plain tanktop and pants, dyed a faded purple and green. Their shoulder-length black hair, as they’re tying it into a knot, is almost invisible against the paintjob of the walls. But what strikes me and my fancy are their hardware: a chrome throat-plate, similar to the debt collector’s, used for voice modulation; a disproportionately-sized robotic arm where most folk would have dangling an organic limb; and a triangular glass visor covering most of their head, both sides ending in a sharp angle just above the mouth. It’s got one of those fancy, built-in emotion displayers, a great invention for the disabled and socially awkward. Right now it’s showing an unimpressed ’:-|’ face.

“You mentioned ‘datadroppers’ earlier, mixter–” “Mister,” he cuts me off and I dare not speak again. “It’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” They turn to me and gesture at my dog. “This the data?” I nod diffidently, “this is Data, yes.” Data modulates a bark. “Sooo, my name’s–” “I know who you are. You’re Caesar, expert datadropper. 32 independent jumps, 13 corporate. An impressive record.” The visor flicks to a ’:-)’. I’m pretty confident that I’m not, but that emotion displayer is making it real hard to disagree.

“I, yeah. Sure.” I nervously scratch the back of my neck, pulling at the spot my dataport once was. He crouches down and lets Data sniff his alloyed hand. “I think it’s genius, using a pup as a datastorage. I’m still going to need to check his hard drive, though, if that’s OK with you.” I slowly nod and tell Data it’s okay, my face clammy with sweat. What do I have on there again? Educational/inspiration kung-fu videos, some Third Life ’emergency’ contacts, blurry .bmp files of Trish Rigs from her live concert at the Technope Drome last Tuesday… Aw jammit, this is bad.

As the cyborg moves to plug in his USB jack – he has to flip it around twice – the door busts open. A familiar cocking sound fills the apartment. I look up, hesitantly, realise this just got a lot worse, and whisper. “Ask me about cock…”

“…excuse me?”