The Sun At Midnight.
Music, This Chapter: The Midnight – Sunset.
Attendants came around bearing fluted glasses and champagne. ‘*’ took one.
“This is not going to make me drunk up here, is it? This is some magical stuff and I won’t get drunk at all!” But the man she was with just smiled and took a glass for himself and toasted ‘*.’
“When you get back,” he leaned over to her and spoke close up to her so she could hear him clearly, every word that he said. “You will remember me and everything that happens here tonight, and you will see me down there again too. Very soon. But first tonight, I will show you something that will generate even more and greater wealth and successes than you have ever had up till now. Although to be frank, you have been getting some secret ‘help’ that you were never able to see before.
“But you will see it all now after tonight. You will be able to see everything. And you will be able to steer clear of all potential problems too, because you will also be able to see those. I will show you what the signs to look out for are.”
“Listen.” ‘*’ said to him, as he held her around her waist, swinging her around the glassy floor skilfully. “What is it about you that makes you such a special man? That she said, that ‘Countess’ person over there, that you are... ...supposed to be. Why... are you... a man -, that is really so different from every other man I have ever known?”
She was sure it must have been some kind of dream she was having.
“Shall we have sex?” Nyctimene said to Elizabeth McNeil, presently.
“What?! I can’t do that!” Liz shot back.
“Huh.” The other woman scoffed. “You don’t know that. Not unless you’ve tried.”
“So is that what it’s really all about up here? Is that what you people do? Xan warned me about this.”
“You know a Xan? My god that’s amazing...”
Lyreos took ‘*’ away from the dance floor and guided her towards a semi-circular booth seating arrangement, on a wide plinth slightly elevated off the ground.
“I hope you don’t mind taking a break for a moment. I need more wine. And, I need to give you your pass-code log-in for whenever you come back up here again.”
He helped her to become seated deeply into a large, curved, and bulked-up, firmly-padded velvet banquette. “This place is a very highly-secured place, in a very highly secretive and well-guarded location. No one can come in here without the right individual personal pass-codes. Your pass-code will obtain only to you specifically. And no one can pass themselves off as ‘you,’ either.”
An attendant brought over fresh tulip glasses. And vintage 2050 Veuve Clicquot.
“I know that champagne!” ‘*’ exclaimed. “I saw it just this evening... It is still – like, the same night - right?”
“It’s never night or day here, my girl. Have you not noticed how certain things just seem to have a natural glow and those things throw their light everywhere around here where we all congregate together – compared to everywhere else, around...?” He waved a hand to show - ‘around.’
She looked all around more deliberately. She looked up at the high vaulted ceiling. “You mean like up there in the ceiling?”
“Like up there, in the ceiling.”
He poured wine and signalled over to the nearby attendant, who came over to his side. He said something and the attendant went away to get something he had asked for.
“You know,” she murmured. “I really haven’t got such a great memory. I don’t memorise lines – I kind of just go with the flow of things, with what seems to come naturally for the dialogue in whatever particular scenes we are shooting. ...If you’re thinking that because I’m an actress I should be able to memorise codes. I don’t think I can guarantee it. What if I forget these codes you are giving me here?”
He just smiled back at her. And then said: “Have some wine.”
She sipped at it. “What is this?! This is good, right? This is something good, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Lyreos replied. “It is a wine of great finesse. Hasn’t been made yet – by your time-position, back from where you just came.”
He held up his tulip glass against some light. “Some girls taste like Pepsi, you know. And some, like the mousse on this Veuve.”
But ‘*’ knew all those moves. “Ah ah ah. And you think, that you are - going to find out... ...with me? You think, just like that.” She snapped her fingers. “Anyway, I was meaning to ask before. What is this pole-thing that you are called?”
“War leader. War lord, maybe you can say it, also...”
The attendant returned just at that moment, saving the man from having to answer with anything revealing just right then at least, or truly meaningful, regarding her actual first scalpel incision in the form of her scoffing question about what he thought he planned to do with her.
A fifteen-centimetre by twenty-centimetre four-panelled ‘board’ of some kind was placed down onto the table of the booth where they were sitting.
Each of the panels – or frames – contained a raised and very realistic depiction of ’*’s′ face.
Lyreos pushed the item slightly towards ‘*.’ “Now watch carefully, Lewis.” And he looked at her face to see if she found his human culture remark at all funny...
She didn’t get the reference.
“Are these fair depictions of what you look like?”
“Good grief. They are so realistic. That’s me all right.”
“Okay, now watch -.” He place a finger onto one of the raised images. “Make-up on... Now, make-up off.” He slid his finger away. “Now... happy. Now... sad. Now... Socrates in sickness; now Socrates in health.”
She didn’t really get the references but it was pretty clear enough what was going on: each time he swiped, the 3-D image on the surface was removed and a different one expressing a different time, a different age, a different frame of mind, and different moods -, was being shown.
A second panel depicted the same person but with their deliberate false ‘fronts,’ outward shows of personality being presented to the world. And Lyreos kept swiping the images, until finally, they showed a plain, ivory almost plaster-cast face, but with what looked like ‘alive’ eyes, and then finally, with completely closed eyes just like the thing was a ‘death mask.’ Except it wasn’t really a death mask at all, but a revelation of what the true inner person – what their real authentic inward personality was. Even at that final ‘mask image,’ there were subtle clues available to show the real inner person; and that was, the person. The actual inner core person, naked of affectations.
“So, but now,” he said. “which one; which one is the real you?”
‘*’ was taken aback slightly, because the whole thing was having her think over the same question herself.
“If you present with any one of the faces – you will still be let in, don’t worry.” He laughed. “But when there are high festivals – it is advised that you show up with your core persona, yes? Don’t worry, don’t worry, we’ll let you know when there are such things happening and what they are all about.
“Still though, I am sure you are finding this helpful, maybe, to just organise your own thoughts about who you are! Did you recognise that you were all of these personas?”
She shook her head. “Well I mean I am an actress...” But that wasn’t it. Saying that was like her whistling to herself in the dark – against the psychological darkness of her own self, at least the mystery of it, at any rate if not actual darkness in the negative sense. What she was looking at, what she had been seeing, went far beyond anything simplistic. Even though of course professional acting at her level was not particularly simplistic as such either. But this was much more complex: ’I am a good person/I am a sincere person/I am a caring person/I am someone who cares about the environment/I am someone who cares about the weak/I am a hard worker/I am someone who expects to be treated fairly/I am someone who thinks they deserve to be treated fairly/I am someone that is fair/I am...′
But deep deep down she was not exactly any of those things at all.
Her mind continued enumerating propositions. ’I am a socialist/I am a capitalist/I am a free-thinker/I obey social order and rules/I am community-minded/I am socially-minded/I am ego-centric/I am self-involved/I will preserve my self/I will preserve my ego/I am not ego-centric/I would willingly give up my whole entire self for the benefit of others/I...′
Lyreos tapped her wrist to get her back from the circular thinking she was looping in, if not exactly her reverie as such.
“Now there is one other thing that goes along with all of this.” Lyreos said to her when he had her attention again. “It is called the colour channel. Some people here also say ‘the propagation of light.’ It will appear as a symbol near your eyes... ...about – here.” He pointed out the place. “That shows who you are under the direct tutelage of. Don’t worry about what that means right now. You’ll discover all about it soon enough.”
“You said you will give me a pass-code.”
“This is it. All you have to do is think this out – out there,” he motioned expansively, as if it meant just anywhere, everywhere. “And you will receive back an image in front of your eyes with this four panel plate being shown to you, plus the light propagations that pertain specifically to you. If those symbols are not those ones of yours that you recognise, then it is a false transmission being sent by some harmful sender. But you will not ever get one of those. Well, it is very, not likely – not any more anyway; not in these times. There was a problem once. We took care of it.”
He let ‘*’ look at the box-panelled affair freely herself, first showing her how to restore the ‘masks’ or ‘layers.’
“...So after a while you will become really used to your own symbols and if anything untoward ever does occur, you will easily know because you are used to seeing your own things all the time. Don’t worry, you’ll be closely assisted every step of the way from now on and for as long as it takes until you are fully familiar with your own personal codes. I mean you’re not really likely to forget that, now are you? Even then we have a fail-safe process. There is nothing to worry about at all, in any way. You are safe. You are safe, now.”
Liz McNeil touched the other woman she was with on the elbow to accentuate the question she wanted to ask her: “Why is it amazing that I should know a Xan?”
“They must regard you pretty highly up in the command circles. We are not the killers, Lina and me,” she said, ungrammatically and with much tutoyer. “They are. The Xans are – all of them. They can kill one or they can kill thousands, it doesn’t matter to them.”
“Oh no!” Liz responded. “They are very sweet. The one I know, well, he breaks down and cries, I’ve seen him.”
“Oh yeah.” The girl almost sneered. “It’s a ‘he,’ is it? You think? As far as you know?”
“Yes it is. He calls himself ‘Zan,’ not ‘Shan.’”
“Oh yeah.” She was clearly unconvinced. “When it suits any of them, you know, they can be – um – parsimonious with the explicit detailed specific truth. Anyway you wouldn’t even sense it properly. Oh you are a sleeper lesbian, in my book.” And she laughed. “You claim to be hetero and then the lights go out – or they go on, as the case may be here – and next thing, turns out...”
“Oh don’t be stupid.” Liz scolded. “Don’t go on about this.”
“I think I could turn you out.”
And then what Liz McNeil said next, what came out of her mouth - shocked even her – even right as she heard herself saying the very words themselves:
“But I like men.”
“Oh you do... Well we’ll find out. And I think I will still turn you out anyway.” The other continued, completely undaunted. “I’ll compete with a dumb man for a woman any day.”
‘*’ burst into Liz’s bedroom next mid-morning, and just jumped onto the bed, the blanket she had gone to sleep with she was holding in her hands around her body, and trying with her hands to both hold onto that blanket as well as grab at Liz’s coverlet and shake it and shake it.
“Well?! Well?! What are we going to do now?! And don’t tell me it was just a dream! I have this tattoo on my arm now. It’s part of my log-in code. And so do you too – have one. Give me your arm. See? See this? Here. What is this?”
Liz rubbed her eyes, sitting up slowly.
“It’s not really a tattoo, is it. Yes. I know. Just calm down. It’s no big deal...”
“What? What?!” She grabbed pillows from Liz and started pummelling her with them. “No big deal? Are you out of your mind?!”
Liz started smiling ever so lightly, at which point ‘*’ cracked up laughing and simultaneously hyper-ventilating.
Finally, ‘*’ calmed down enough to say: “Funny thing is – I don’t feel tired at all! ...And we also slept, afterwards, up there, if you remember.”
‘*’ hugged a pillow. “Woman, you got up to some mischief though, didn’t you?” She clicked her tongue and shook her head at Liz.
But Liz had little difficulty casting her own mind back, and she put the back of her left hand to her own forehead and flopped back down into the remaining pillows, closing her eyes tight and screwing her face up.
“Who was it with, do you remember?” She asked weakly.
“That man ‘Ion,’ that one they called his name ‘Ion.’ And that young girl. The hot one. Argh, you!
‘You’re one of our kind.’ He he he.”
“Xan... Xan!” Liz called out, past ‘*’ into empty space. “Will you please come here and just, well just, appear.
There was the characteristic tinkling, crackling, and then sinusoidal kind of ‘bing, bing, bing’ sound – and then Xan was there. All dressed up in his typical skin-tight, dark almost black blue-indigo parkour or traceur style of affair.
“What the fuck!” ‘*’ said with a start. “What the fuck is that?”
“That, is - Xan. Or the Xan, whatever.”
“Who is she! What is she!”
“He’s a ‘he.’”
“You know nothing, do you, Elizabeth? That’s a female. Look at her neck and her shoulders.”
“Xan...” Liz pleaded. “Xan – after you have explained to this young whipper-snapper here, that you are a boy, are we able to have some tea please?” Liz turned her eyes to ‘*.’ “Are you a morning tea person, or a morning coffee person... ...in the mornings?”
“I am a water and juice person.”
“Oh yes! And that will be juice with just a little bit of... ...champagne then, would it? Just a little bit of champagne mixed in there.” She made the gesture of twisting her finger around in an imaginary glass. ...Her voice finding a touch of its own sarcasm to throw back at last.
Xan broke into the general interchange. “I shall return with extra strong coffee for all.” And then it quickly broke away before Liz was able to press it to confirm its gender to them.
“Oh damn.” ‘*’ suddenly said. And her face dropped.
The woman was biting her lip.
“What? You were trying to stay off coffee but you really love it? What?”
“I am in so much trouble with my partner.” She made her mouth fall open, in what looked to Liz like a contrived action. And then she stuck the side of her right index finger into her mouth and bit down onto it. “I promised her I would tell her before if I ever intended to sleep with a guy. And, and, well we also swore we would never lie -.”
Liz responded with: “What – never lie? Like – never ever? Not ever to anyone? How about to your mum? You’re allowed to lie to your mum though, right? ...I always did.”
‘*’ cocked her head to one side and pouted. “No, you know what I mean.” She made a ‘between me and her’ gesture with her forefinger. “Between - us.
“And, I lost my phone down your couch somewhere and totally forgot about it. It will be stacked up with not replied messages by now. Damn. What am I gonna do?”
“Well you just go: ‘delete all messages.’”
“N-o-o-o-o. You know what I mean!”
Bing, bing, bing. Xan returned holding a large tray with everything for breakfast on it. Placing the tray down on a bedside table, and next producing the misplaced phone, Xan spoke to ‘*.’
“I have retrieved your phone. Apparently there has been some kind of server disruption in North America. Lasted all through the night. It’s only just about to be resolved. Perhaps in the next twenty minutes.”
‘*’ frowned at Xan and her mouth dropped open again, this time it seemed to be more of a natural reaction.
“And -,” Xan continued. “Your personal security man will be extremely concerned for you, unless he finds your whereabouts very soon. Shall I bring him here for you?”
“Oh yes!” She turned to Liz. “Can we do that?”
“Please do that, Xan. Yes.” Liz was still slightly pre-occupied with her own escapades of the night before; coming to terms with what it all might have amounted to.
Xan became quite unseen again and then the front door of the apartment unlocked and opened ‘all by itself’ slowly, and then a heavy metal base with a very large metallic piece of artwork like an ornate plate covered in Persian designs - that had been on a side-board near the front door - fell to the ground making a loud reverberating metallic noise like a dinner gong.
The hot-looking, tall bodyguard ran to the doorway, and knocked on the open door.
He entered cautiously.
“Excuse me.” He said as soon as he had caught sight of the two women on the bed.
“Come in.” Liz said.
“Yes. Yes! Come in.” ‘*’ echoed.
The man spoke with a strong South African accent. “I was about to raise the alarm, ma’am. I was concerned where you had gotten to.”
“Who’s having coffee then?” Liz hopped out of bed and raised her eyebrows at the other two people.
“My official food-taster will have some coffee first, for me. You will -, right? Please?” ‘*’ posed the rhetorically completely jocular question to her bodyguard, nodding at him to get him to mirror. “And if he doesn’t drop dead then I will have some next. Or if he doesn’t start... ...seeing things!”
‘*’ drew right up close to Liz’s face and made a sign with her fingers pulling upwards over her ears. “It’s prosthetics, right? Special effects.”
“Mmn. Nah. All real. He’s still here by the way, we just don’t see him.”
“She’s... ...a girl.” ‘*’ insisted.
Liz poured the bodyguard a cup, and ‘*’ reached out and grabbed another empty cup for herself and held it out forward for Elizabeth to pour coffee in there as well. “What am I saying? Drop dead? So what! Best thing ever! Please. Coffee please -, I mean. ...Not dropping dead.” She squinted at her own self.
“Now listen. Don’t you start with anything at all to do with dropping dead or anything ‘death’ talking -, or even just anything like that - at all.” Liz said earnestly, shaking her head at ‘*.’
Listening to herself speak, Liz felt how ironic her own words were now.
The bodyguard was looking at the two of them, and realising that some ‘water had gone under the bridge’ apparently, overnight, with them, so to speak.
“It’s a very long story,” Liz vaguely explained to ‘*.’ “But you remember how that you were maybe, anxious to be alone before? What were you – paranoid about something bad happening? What was it that you were worried about?”
“Oh. Oh yes. But I don’t feel like that now.” As she spoke ‘*’ was sort of lightly bouncing up and down on her knees on the bed, and yet still managing to keep the contents of her cup from splashing and spilling everywhere. She was for all the world like a child on Christmas morning.
“Listen,” Liz found herself repeating that word to ‘*’ quite regularly, she thought. “Either drink the coffee all up, or put the cup down or something but you are going to spill it everywhere if don’t stop that... ...what you are doing.”
“Oh. Yeah. Okay.”
Slurp, one. Slurp, two. And then she turned around and put the cup down.