009. Dressed To The Nines In The Interzone

El Hombre Invisible shivers at the edge of the room as an outline. Static rolling in an ocean to a sculpted lip, like a glitch art whisper. People here don’t resolve themselves into one form. A swimming pool of genderfluid, with all the non-binary super-positional folk shuttling between possibilities.

AIM looked magnificent in his suit – it was requirement according to rumour. Haymon was kitted out to look like he really meant business. Hinge was freshly groomed. As they walked into the room they felt like they may have been misled.

‘Ah, look at the kitteh.’

‘Fuck you, pal. Put that mitt near me and you’ll lose a damned finger.’

‘Dude, can you dial it down? I’m here to try and find someone and you’re going to get us kicked out with all this Thundercat shit you’re pulling.’

‘Ho.’

‘Did you call me a …?’

‘Look, you don’t even need me past this point. I got you in – you wouldn’t even have seen

this Time Isolate if I weren’t here. Look, there she is.’

‘Why the hell is she sat on the floor like that?’

‘Low hanging fruit, Dragon. Those Mugwump’s are hung.’

‘I threw up in my mouth a little.’

‘Wait until you hit the tripwire and receive that fucked up telegram.’

‘Hinge, you are a foul mouthed kitten.’

‘Peace out, dude. I’ll be here to fold you out throughout the tesseract, when you need me.’

Olano, for a second stood before him, and then she wasn’t. A guy in bowler hat in front of a Moloko Bar.

‘You fagged? To begin, matey, let’s govoreet. I need to viddy your yarbles. Time for some ultraviolence, young chelloveck.’

AIM smiled. This was the level of banter that this narrative shell was capable of? Basically it wanted to fight – he supposed it was the only defence that an addict might be able to mount. He had liked Clockwork Orange but this facsimile wasn’t going to be as full of depth as the book any any means. In fact it was going to be a one punch fight if he was any judge of tough men.

‘Choodessny, let’s drat, my droog.’

The guy game at him with a crowbar, and he kicked him in the nuts, and for a second AIM thought that he had to fight by the rules of this place in order to beat it. Can I burn this guy to a crisp was the thought that flew across his mind as he opened his mouth and the furnace erupted forth. He was surprised as the blackened corpse span from the force of the blast of the fire pouring forth from him. Wow, a kinetic responsive adaptive environment … what a shame it was slaved to such boring purposes as this.

In spite of my rage. Room 101 accreted around him, as did the cage around his head and the rat too. It wanted to gnaw on him. And the bad reparsing of a character from 1984 wanted to torture him, or kind of didn’t, and was hardly capable of mustering up the energy to do anything else. He fried this bad facsimile too.

How had this Olano got the reputation she had? What was this? A bad joke? Or was it that she had once been something and this addiction to Mugwump jism had driven her down a spiral she could not climb back up from.

And there she was in all her ragged glory. Or the screensaver version of herself – it took a second longer for the Interzone interface to kick in. She looked terrible.

‘Who are you?’

‘Wow, someone that doesn’t know, who I am.’

‘I am generally preoccupied.’

‘Yes,I had heard.’

‘Well, it’s not like it’s hard to find out. You have a problem with it?’

‘I really don’t care. I have my own problems. I’m looking for Nimue, but I can’t find her by myself. But I was told that you were the person with the best idea of where she is.’

‘She’s buried. Obfuscated by knot-work. She is a bass note disappeared into a Capital Letter. Tied up and undone.’

‘Where?’

‘When?’

‘In the black and white. Blanc et Noir – The L’undone Boys. Travel through The Black Star Gate. Draw the map with a cut up; write the script with a cut up. Towers Open Fire, and the world disintegrates with The Yellow River Car Park falling into its own footprint; with The Pinnacle falling into its own footprint. You are a cracked actor at this stage of the game, trying to piece the mirror back together. There’s a camera watching; there’s a looking glass; The Kingdom In Reverse. Alice. A louse; Jeffgar Proop at the interstice will beckon you in, and Nimue will reveal something to you which you have forgotten. Something that leads you to the torn map. Something that might help you extinguish the fire, and turn AIM into hitting the target.’

She collapsed into hysterical laughter, rolling on the floor. They were in Interzone.

‘You are always in Interzone, because it is in you. The snake swallows its own tale.’

Haymon sat there, his sword drawn in front of him. Hinge sat there, an engine purring.

Olano swallowed the snake. The snake swallowed Olano. Ouroboros.

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008. Figure Ate

The cat seemed to smile at him. Did cats smile?

Erwin smiled at him. He shoved a picture across the table at him – Olano with Mugwump cock right down her throat. It was obscene – he wasn’t sure what to say.

‘It’s not good walking into this.’

‘How did you know?’

‘Who asks for a Janus Cat unless they’re aiming to placate a Whispergate Sentinel and stitch through into Interzone? And in there there’s a limited number of people that would be of interest to you.’

‘You’d make a good detective, Erwin.’

‘I have.’

‘Huh?’

‘Made a good detective. A cat – it likes the game. Dispassionate, a little cruel, with good instincts.’

‘Called?’

‘Spay.’

‘You didn’t? You called it Spay?’

‘I did. And then I fired it into the future.’

‘Oh, to do what, exactly?’

‘It has a mission to find out what is happening out there, and then come back and change things by any means necessary,’

‘Some days, Erwin I wonder at the insanity that is my world. I wish that I could just work a 9 to 5 job and just enjoy going to the beach on the weekend. I’d like to spend my time bingewatching shows. It might be nice to Netflix And Chill sometimes.’

‘Yeah, but you’d get bored shitless.’

‘Well, you must have a similar thing going on. Mad experiments aren’t a high that are easy to replace.’

‘So, you just want the one cat, right?’

‘I only need one right?’

‘Sure, you know cats were always great for physics though. The reason for that is that they are rooted in uncertainty. Don’t trust the fucker.’

‘Is this thing bipedal, or is it an all fours kind of deal?’

‘Uncertainty – I’m just hooking you up; I have no control how he chooses to manifest.’

‘This is going to be interesting. I am going to be walking into Interzone, looking for someone addicted to Mugwump jizz, with a Dragon Slayer and a Janus Cat. I had to brush up on my Nadsat and my Newspeak.’

‘Rather you than me, AIM.’

‘Yeah, sometimes, that acronym bugs me as much as my name. I should change it all and disappear.’

‘I hate to say it, but for you I don’t think that’s going to happen. I have known you for a while and you just stumble around bumping into this shit. You’re a shit magnet; you’re the fan the shit hits. Dude, you might even be the shit singularity.’

‘Wow, thanks, Erwin, you really are trying to make me feel better, aren’t you?’

‘Not what you come to me for, is it. So, that’s not what you get.’

‘Sure.’

‘Anyway – here’s Hinge.’

‘Hinge?’

‘Yeah,’ said Hinge ‘Got a fucking problem with that?’

‘Catitude, I always dig it.’

‘Wow, a prejudiced human for us to hang out with and skeleton key into a place. Erwin, you sure know how to pick assignments for us. The pay better be doubletime for dealing with this shit-head.’

AIM laughed, Hinge scowled, and Erwin shrugged. Erwin figured the way this multiverse was diced and sliced people and cats getting on with each other or not was always a gamble.

‘Take some of this,’ said Erwin, and handed him a pouch full of catnip.

‘I saw that, Erwin.’

Erwin shrugged at Hinge; he’d be thankful for the intervention later. And they were, after a short stop to pick up their Dragon Slayer, off on their way.

The cat seemed to smile at him. Did cats even smile?

007. The Sickbed Of Cúchulainn

Ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil’s in the chair. Yes, we’ll kneel and say a prayer. That’s what he was thinking as he stepped into the pub named for the Pogue’s song The Sickbed Of Cúchulainn. How often did he spend in drinking establishments these days?

He took a swig of house whiskey, and he asked for the owner of the establishment.

‘Why’s a Dragon frequenting a place like this?’

‘I get asked this a lot. Maybe I should get the answer printed on t-shirt.’

‘I don’t think anyone would read it – you set off too many alarms just walking into a place. But like I say, why come here? I heard you were looking for Olano, and she drinks at Interzone.’

‘I maybe wanted a hired sword to come with me, Cúchulainn.’

‘A hired sword to walk you into Interzone? Seems a little excessive.’

‘For me? I could walk into an old folk’s home and someone would pick a fight. All I get is animosity.’

‘Know why?’

‘No, tell me.’

‘Because of the tide of fuckwits you’ve been sending our way.’

‘Huh?’

‘Christ. I heard someone woke you up, but how can you not know about all these Lesser Dragons walking around?’

‘Heard someone woke me up? How do you people keep hearing this shit about me?’

‘You’re a story – we have seers, bards, oracles, what have you. They all talk – there is a lot of whine on the grapevine, my friend.’

‘I’ll do it.’

‘You are?’

‘Haymon, and this is my sword, The Dragon’s Tongue. You may have heard of it; once it was a tongue cast in gold, but one of the finest sword makers took it and forged this blade. Have a seat.’

He sat down.

‘I have heard of you. You’re a big man.’

‘I am. It’s a big task,  isn’t it?’

‘Maybe so.’

‘They call you The First Dragon, right?’

‘Yes, but The Reluctant Dragon might be better. I am trying to decipher clues and find out who is trying to push me to do something and become something I don’t want to be.’

‘You mean about from The Cunning Folk? I thought they were trying to make you their champion.’

‘Oh, well you know, if I get into the fight then they are going to have me batting for their team, but only if I get into the fight.’

‘You’re looking for a loop hole?’

‘Sure, I’m a Dragon, right?’

‘Right.’

‘So that makes me a villain. Heroes become heroes by doing something, and villains become heroes by not doing something – I’m trying not to do something.’

‘Admirable.’

‘Maybe. Who likes to be told what to do?’

‘Don’t we need something else? To travel into Interzone, I mean?’

‘A Janus Cat, I believe.’

‘And where do we get one of those from?’

‘I’ll give my friend Erwin a call from The Superpositional Cat’s Home.’

‘OK, and we’re going to meet when?’

‘The Delayed Decision Experimental Art Gallery in front of The Persistence Of Memory Hokusai Wave Remix, with a Cinnamon Dolce Latte.’

‘Sounds like a plan.’

‘Because it is.’

006. Hexagram 6 – Conflict

A storm gathering – water moves away from sky. There is a Dragon moving through the mansions of heaven, wings spread wide, a tail like an arrow, claws like swords, skin like armour, jaws like a lion, eyes lit with a fierce intelligence. A long way were these magnificent creatures from the dumb fire breathing monsters that sealed maps, and which drunken knights filled tales with in taverns where they were too cheap to pay for a round, and exchanged instead by telling tall tales.

AIM remembered after his time descending down through layers of atmosphere, laying waste to villages, controlling entire kingdoms, subjugating people who he believed to be enslaved more by the failure of their imaginations than by anything he had done.

When he met his first group of people on a quest, he had laughed at them, and he had burned them to a crisp. The whole idea that they could pose a threat to him was laughable. But back in those days no one understood what he was – back then the surface was much more apparent and easy to deal with than any subtext that may have been there. No one could read him.

He discovered, back in that body, a traditonal Dragon exterior, that once you discover your own limits, it is as if you announce them to the world. Someone out there always hears the clarion call of your own doubt, and then they use it to come in and that blade is driven deep into you. A word sword driven deep been his ribs; a blade between the lines of his own story; and he remembered what he was … something born of Metaphor Tech; a symbol for the drift towards the end; entropy recast as a slow burning fire. He ceased to be in many ways just a Dragon; because wasn’t Ardenti In Mundo something else? Something more.

It was  Thursday. He was thirsty. Thor’s day – and everyone was sat around drinking in a trendy bar for water deities – Dear Trop. He’d been here before – he liked the place. It was a gamble though. Some days he might turn up and be welcomed, and some days he might turn up and they tried to put a bullet in his head.

As he stepped through the door Tiddy Mun emerged from the toilet and came running up to him and wrapped his arms around him.

‘You shouldn’t be here.’

‘Why’s that? The lines are being drawn, AIM; lines are being …

‘… written, don’t you mean?’

Saga stood up and moved towards him, a mug of brown ale in her hand, and she said: ‘Yes, written. But there’s someone trying to edit and redact things in order to push you where they want you to go. We’re all in danger, because none of us are as important to this person, or these people as you are.’

Ocean also came towards him, a stern look on his face, waving an image of Hexagram 6 at him. ‘This is not the time for Dragons. I know they talk of it. I know they talk of you. But you are not welcome here. We know of you – we know that you are a frozen story waiting to be told, but do not come here looking to use us as fuel – we will not brook it. Fire in a place where water flows – we will extinguish you. We are the stream of time, is this why are here? Here to unpause the Hokusai Wave that hangs above your landscape?’

‘I’m here to find a broken mirror.’

‘The broken mirror that reveals the torn map?’

‘How come everyone around me knows my story and I am stumbling around in ignorance?’

‘Because you chose that – a long time ago you chose that. You turned your cheek and you turned a deaf ear to it all. You are looking for Nimue, but good look finding her.’

‘Why?’

‘She’s an addict operating of an existential interstice; the moment before the pause of the wave. Her dealer drinks at Interzone, but getting her to speak English is going to be difficult. Getting past the narrative shell that boots up in her space is going to be hard.’

‘Why?’

‘How’s your Nadsat?’

‘Horrorshow.’

‘And Newspeak?’

‘Doubleplusgood. What’s she addicted to?’

‘She sucks Mugwump cock.’

‘Huh? OK, what’s her name?’

‘Olano.’

‘Thank you, Ocean.’

‘Good luck.’

They smiled at each other, and for a smile shared between Dragons, there was little warmth.

005. 451

He saw the man in the bar – he was not hard to spot, all those affectations crying out for attention; the man was like a walking SOS flare. AIM sat in the corner and he observed the man for the longest time. AIM had brought the book in his messenger bag – the same copy he’d bought all those years ago.

That book, like he told Ignem, had caused him so much trouble. He recalled all The Dragons he had spoken to; The Wyrms; The Hydra. This latest run in with The Cunning Folk. He didn’t subscribe to the notion of burning books, normally – that was evil, wasn’t it? But this was different – he had an investment in seeing this trash taken off the shelf.

How did you do that though? With a book like this? All those conspiracy books that were out there that linked people to different things, and made unsubstantiated claims? They were allowed to exist because the people writing them were dismissed as being nuts. Except by the problematic few who ate it up with a spoon.

The law wouldn’t go after the writers – at least he didn’t think they would. The law would only go after the people who acted upon the data; who did violent or disturbing things based upon what the books led them to believe. How could you prove a causal link between a book and an act. You could infer that it was the cause, right? Seek to ban it because of the thing it had caused. But the problem was, who in the mundane world was going to believe assertions that there were people that were actually Dragons? So here he was, sat in the same bar as the author of The Dragon’s Tongue.

He got up and he walked over and he plonked himself in the chair next to the guy. People who weren’t as lonely and as eager for attention might have responded by telling him to leave. This guy didn’t.

‘I have seen you watching me. Who are you? A fan? Something else? I don’t swing that way, though I’m flattered.’

‘You really don’t recognise me?’

‘No, why would I?’

‘Because you wrote this about me,’ he said, as he placed the book on the table.

‘You’re him. The First Dragon.’

‘I am, and I’m here to ask you to withdraw this book from circulation.’

‘Why?’

‘Because someone is going to get hurt because of it.’

‘So, you’re confirming that what I wrote is true?’

‘No, I’m not saying that.’

‘Then why would you care if t’s out there?’

‘Because people keeping coming to me and expecting something of me because of this book.’

‘Yes.’

‘What do you mean, yes?’

‘That what it is designed to do.’

‘Designed to do?’

‘Yes, designed.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘There are chains binding you to your fate. I am a link in that chain.’

‘Explain.’

‘Skein has been weaving a world around you to keep you where you are. But when the time is right, that will being to unravel.’

‘Why?’

‘You have been living in a caesuara, and the breath needs to be let out. The next part of the story needs to be told. Look, how do you think I would ever find out the data I put in that book, if someone didn’t sit me down and tell it to me.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You do. And anyway, it isn’t a book – it’s part of you. I am part of you. I am something hidden in the map; I am The Dragon’s Tongue. I was speaking to the world for you and I was inviting them in – all those Lesser Dragons that came to speak to you were sent by me. It was a packet sniffer – one with a virus inside that triggered what was in these people. There are parts of you spread around, separated out; hidden. Why? Because they needed to lock you up until you were needed. Now you’ve found me, I am going to disappear.’

‘It seems a little early in my story for the big reveal.’

‘It isn’t.’

‘It isn’t?’

‘Isn’t the big reveal. This is a goad. This changes the direction of the narrative a little maybe; at least from your viewpoint, but it’s a story I and the person who changed me knew all along. And isn’t that how it works? Tell all the stories in the world that you want, but there are always going to be some that don’t get the full picture, but perhaps they have their own picture that is full for them. We’re bit part actors in other’s lives, but not usually our own, right?’

‘I suppose not. Though, as you have said – I am incomplete.’

‘But you’re putting the jigsaw together, aren’t you? When you leave this room I will cease to exist. I had a purpose, and I’ve fulfilled it. Find all the parts of the broken mirror, and you may understand. By starting the journey you may find the map.’

He shook the man’s hand. He was not sure why. He left the room. And a few steps onward he started to forget why he had come there; he forgot about the author who had never been; he forgot about the book that had never been written. He licked his lips, and he could taste more than he had tasted in a while; the scents and smells of this world seemed suddenly aflame with significance, with life. The Dragon’s Tongue awoke in his mouth, and something in The First Dragon awoke.

004. Start A Fire

Magic, programming, control. He understood the technology that built this world, and he understood the technology that built him. He could read it in action, since the machinery moving behind the scenery was the machinery moving in him, he often believed that he just had to attune himself to its peculiar rhythms, and what was hidden would become explicit.

You are a story. You are a being. You are beginning and you are an ending, and you are an indeterminate middle. You know, to a degree what the end means, and you most often know what the beginning was. But the middle is traversing the observable universe, and it appears to be ever expanding, until the tendency towards entropy brings you to heat death.

He had done many things from his early days to dull these senses, to obfuscate the awareness that he was cursed with.  He wanted to break the machinery within him and bring the end about sooner – he felt no sadness at this, just frustration that it was hard to achieve. His inner workings were slaved to the narrative framework, which had larger beats than he could see from his perspective, but they concluded with the words The First Dragon. And he didn’t want to be that – being a Dragon; being that mythical form, packed down into this frail human form.

And then there were guys like this individual – who thought he knew more; who thought he understood the game better. Why? Because a flame had been lit in him that he always knew was there, and he had seen the light. This child had seen all of the bright dragons burning in the cold endless acreage of space, and he knew that there was some greater purpose. And maybe there was – but it didn’t involve this tiny flicker or heat that would likely be snuffed out before the tale inside it cracked open the human ribcage, and allowed the lizard to crawl forth.

‘I know about you.’

‘You do?’

‘Yes, I read The Dragons’s Tongue.’

‘Ah, awful fucking book. I hate it, and that damned author, Percy Durant.’

‘But it lead me to The Yellow River Carpark; it’s genuine. I always thought I was a Carp, and the clues led me to the Dragon Gate.’

‘This is supposed to mean something to me … what was your name again?’

‘Si Firkin.’

‘OK, Simon – it is short for Simon, right? Don’t assume that you know too much,  because I’ve read that book, and it doesn’t tell you everything. Knowing how to do something, and how to become something really tells you nothing of what that transformation means; what the ramifications of the change are. You may know the what, but you have little concept of the why.’

‘Why do I need to know that to be what I am? People live their whole lives knowing what they are, without knowing why they are. Isn’t that one of the big questions that marks human existence? But I am something. I am something I wanted to be. The why for me is that I wanted this, so I took it.’

‘You don’t want this.’

‘You don’t want this. My name is Ignem now – that is my real name, and the snake coiled in my gut.’

‘Why did you seek me out?’

‘Percy name you, and he said that you were the first, and that any Dragon that wanted to understand themselves needed to meet you as a rite of initiation.’

‘And there you go. That idiot has sent a lot of you scurrying after me, like I have some insight into what this whole thing means, and what it should mean for you. I don’t. I have been working resolutely, since the day I became aware of what they intend for me to do, to forget everything. And you know what? That works. Because they wove something into me that is designed to make me forget important details about myself already. I know that there are things coming – there are things in me that I don’t know about; things which are going to break this world apart, and people like you – things like you, they’re going to be the first things that burn to a crisp.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘I don’t care what you think. I have seen this world burned – those kind of things I have no trouble thinking about. Glimpses of fires set in the past, and glimpses of fires burning in the future. They allow me to see this in case it sparks that final flame that consumes everything – that’s my purpose, so, of course, I can free-fall through the restraints that lead towards that, but any degree of self possession I try to grasp for myself is denied, because that doesn’t serve the narrative framework’

‘Boo hoo for you. I get this now – I saw some of the other lesser Dragons in the Burn Outs Bar, and I thought they were pathetic, and it was like they’d fallen back over the gate and become the thing they were trying to escape. You – you’re like them, but you didn’t have to struggle to become what you are – you were made like this. So you’re more pathetic. Percy wanted us to see that – wanted us to see how not to waste the gift. He’s helping set fires in this world, and it’s needed. We need to burn the institutions down’

‘Ah ha, and so, we have it – you’re an idealist, trying to wield a weapon of mass destruction, and expecting a good outcome. That’s the thing with fire – it burns; it can’t be contained; and it demands fuel.’

‘I think we’re done. The flame may still be lit, but you’re as burnt out as anyone else I’ve met. That’s all you have to teach me. Thank you.’

He could have stopped him. He could have let him go. But what good would that have done? None. He had an idea what might do some good though. It was probably a bad idea, but it was something to do. He needed to do something.

003. Fusewire

He stood at the treeline. He was thinking about a trench that he had once crossed which had been dug around a town. He recalled a a chalk circle he had stepped into. He could still taste that thin stream of gasoline which he had pushed a flame along until a town had bloomed in fire.

He had set and walked away from many fires, but that fire which burned in him? That was not something he could really walk away from. He had lied to himself and told himself that he was just fertile ground for the doom that certain people wanted to inflict upon the world, but he knew that he was built for one reason only, and denying that wasn’t going to do anyone any good. Did he have a choice? Yes, he surely did, but that did not mean for him, even if he ran away, that he would not stutterstep into the future waiting for him.

Some days he would sit there and he would feel the fire rumbling inside him, and he would allow just a little to flicker into the world, and he would sense that it was a message he was sending – that somewhere else, someone might be seeing the flare he was sending up. Did being a monster mean that you weren’t allowed to be saved? That hardly seemed fair, did it?

He’d been told before that he was narrative-locked at certain points, that the finer details might change, but the big picture was going to stay pretty much the same. So he would work on those finer points and he would get as much out of them as possible, much as he had in the past.

He had played like a wandering Prometheus with tribes that were spun from the threads trailing from the unwoven and tattered fabric of Eden. Great civilizations carved themselves into the maps where the blank space outnumbered the filled. He had wreathed his days in opium smoke as emperors had risen and fallen. He had wasted days in shooting galleries as politicians had schemed and plotted. Throughout much of the time he had tried to pull the covers back over himself and go back to sleep – to pretend the waking world was the dream he was trying to make it.

Burning, forever burning – the fate of Aim; of AIM, of Ardenti In Mundo. He knew he was the bomb, his life the fusewire, the only question was, how long might he burn before it was all over?