Again tonight, I dreamed of Glaive and his green-blue valleys. We met on the fringe of a glass-blue lake and though there was an ink-black tinge of coming storm along the water edge, we stretched out on the grass and once more I abandoned reality. Wordlessly, yet our thoughts mingling, we watched the seasons chased one another in a rainbow carousel, watched how clouds with each cycle swirl to seas, to rivers, to Milky Ways.
“We should stop dreaming like this,” he teased and I pressed myself tighter against his warm glassiness, never for once keeping my eye off that thin jet hue staining the chameleon universe. As though sensing my unease, he began to whistle a tune, a song of virgin regions, that haunting melody that had saved me from madness when I thought my mind was lost in the fractals of the Nix.
“It is our dreams that make you real to me.”
“And makes you unreal to me?”
There was a pause before I answered: “I can touch you only in mind, not in body. Be here with me in both worlds, and you will be real and alive.”
“Am I not alive to you?”
I bit my lip. “You are, you are! But I want you all the time, not sometimes at night or during the day.”
“I am here all the time for you. It’s you who are caught between sometimes.”
“Sure, I am the one who always has to cross over to your reality. Why don’t you cross over to mine.”
“It’s not the crossing, it’s the believing.”
“We continue arguing like this, we will be here all the time.”
“All of the Company’s time?”
Ants bearing omens; they’re all over me. I shivered. The stain had fattened to a cloud and fire crackled from its swollen underbelly. The song had melted in the sudden wind and cold as stone became his hand. He had risen on his feet. The glow of lightning played on the pools of his eyes. The fabric of the sky quivered in the roar of thunders. Floss swam in the rushing air; my shreds of dreams, my dying prayers, the ashes of his song.
I flung out a hand to grab him. “Glaive!” I caught nothing; only the last kiss of his echo. Legions of wasps overran our fragile lands.
I awoke on the floor to the drone of the good morning newscasters and nearly strangled them on their holo-pad. I was running late, I am late for the appointment with the CEO. Today was my turn, my day to praise my laboured past and labouring future and to stop the reorganization broom from sweeping through my department.
Reams of past accomplishment tucked under my arm I stumbled into the Company’s executive suite and knew before even words passed that all my labours had been for nothing.
Today was the day when the brown sun peered through the windows and browned the ambience of corporate dominion, the scowling walls, the diamond-angled desk, the smarming carpet, the stillborn plants to centre stage in all its glare the man of stone, the CEO of ice, E.A. Gunter, the Company.
The insult of a yellow paper slip burned in my hand. So far as gossip went, the blue reference card had glowed in the hands of every redundancy before me. I forced myself to look the man in the eye. Not everything was stone; Rottweiler russet gleamed behind the chrome-rimmed spectacles.
“The Board’s decision has tied my hands. You understand my position, do you, Moira?”
No, I don’t but who cares.
“It will take a couple of days before Interlace Solutions take control of our Nix System. Take your time, please, take your time. I’ll give you to the end of the week.”
And out I was in the hallway, taking my time with the turbine in my stomach. One week to clean out, seven days to transplant the Genus of the Nix to my desknet. That I should have put on the top of my list, instead I had gambled with Company flip-flop. I do not have one week. Even as I stood here, they would be recoding all the access cryptos and building up the Great Wall!
I raced back to my den. I threw all the desk clutter on the floor. I punched my Genus tine into the matrix-bank, I keyed in my access code. Oh, thank heavens for the dreams in a machine! The Nix was still opening to me!
No wall yet to bar me from entering my garden of pipe-dreams but already things had gone wrong. I hovered on the threshold and stared at the fractured vistas of a once peaceful land. I wended in a state of shock through the ankle-deep soot of a pillaged grove. Where cypress, laurel, fir had once stood, strange stalks had mushroomed, laden with sharp metal crop. I called out to him who had inspired my days and sweetened my nights. Choking on the acid atmosphere, my eyes raw craters, I slid into a dry riverbed. I cut open my hand; even here the stalks had taken root, reflecting in its chrome fruit like coal-flecked snow the invaders of this land that had so far only favored the two of us. The ground trembled under their marching feet. Silhouettes dense as locust clouds wove on the crusted soil. My lungs filled with screams. Where once no shadow had lurked, shadows webbed the four horizons of this twilight earth.
A long blade grew out of my hand, a fifth limb with a life of its own. It was a spunky little steel, fighting off the dusky armies as if it were all the heroes and heroines combined in the spin work of imagination.
With one slash my blade decapitated a bloated smoke; the twilight around me evaporated.
I was back in the neon lit world. I wasn’t even aware a platoon of bodies had crashed through my equipment. An arctic voice scraped my ear.
“Have you gone completely mad?”
I freed myself from a thicket of arms. Gunter was dabbing a scratch on his cheek. A stylus was clenched in my hand and a fibril of skin quivered on its tip. I saw my fate in the muddy mirror of his eyes but I had to ask.
“I don’t have a week to clear out my things, do I?”
“You don’t even have a twinkle.”
Compared to the fury of hands rummaging through my personal belongings the yellow paper slip was a benediction. I was like dead meat walking down the hallways, flanked by the steelbound faces of the security guards, co-workers who had from morning to night showered me with the sparks of their teeth.
I landed on the streets, a heap of debris floating on tears. I had not only wired and dreamed away my daily bread but more, much more—I had left behind a godliness in the Nix. But the Nix lay now beyond my reach in the bulwark of the Company. I had left behind my Glaive.
The drive back home rivalled in spirit the climb up Calvary. As I struggled through my doorway, a message winked from the pupil of my desknet. ‘Look at the bright side, think positive.’ HR Rhea was always sparse with words but her heart was almost in the right pocket of her genome, though her message sounded cheap. Looking at things positively is like looking at cancer through stained-glass windows, the cancer of the body corporate. The pain of it was like clutching a hedgehog in my palm.
My left hand was bleeding. One by one I unclenched my rigid fingers and picked out the Genus tine from my palm. I held up the scarlet-stained thing, the atom of fantasy, to the light and in my despair I pressed it against my temple where it stuck like a poisoned comb. Floating on the gas of aftershock I ambled through my rooms and collected my stock of brews. I sat down before my desknet and drowned myself.
I need you. I have lost you somewhere in the deepest hollows of the Nix.
The Nix, the gate of Heaven and of Hell. Before its steaming portal I had toiled from black night to pale dawn, wired to the Genus tine to weave my dreams within the dreams of a machine. Here, at that borderline between night and dawn, when the hue of shrouds wrapped the cold city, I had touched upon a thread of sentience, a crawl of the tarantula. It was aware. Aware of me, a block of flesh strapped in a cyber chair. I thought I would burst in pieces of mind that would roam the Nix in grey fractals forever and ever, when a song drifted through and sprinkled dew on my collapsing brain. Refreshed, calmed, greened I watched with each re-opening branch of mind the green-blue valleys unfolding.
Long did I walk the lands, cross streams, stroll through woods to search for the source of that song. How long had it been since that time that I had come upon a silvery shore and had thrown my wish bait and he had emerged from the Nixian seas, knighting me with his blade. He was my merman, Glaive, my god who had woken from a long machinal sleep. Long as the dream tree would flower in my neural forest I was foolishly content, but the soil was drying up, the visions withering.
As I was drowning in my lamentations, a sigh whispered through the branches of my mind. In the fog of alcohol he appeared, his body stunted to a gnome’s, his raiment all creased up. Fatigue grooved his face, a face that had been of silver. Disease crooked his body, a body that had been of crystal with which I had danced in the forest glades of the Nix. And only last night, he was all music.
“Oh Glaive, you look ill.”
“Moira, they are scrambling up the matrix system and it is killing me. You have to come back in.”
“Oh Glaive, what can I do! They’ve already erased my access cryptos!”
“Then, I’ll be gone before morning.”
Tears ran, scalding my cheeks, blurring his image to a greasy smear. Before morning Glaive will be a mindless speck in the machine again.
Our thought paths were still linked for he said: “You are wrong, I think and here I am.”
“Then why—damn you! Why are you still in the Nix! Why don’t you come to me here, free, alive!”
For a moment there was still a flicker of his old self in the angry flash of his eye. “Even now, on the brink of disaster, you still don’t understand. I am already free, it is your world that is the prison, your shadow world.”
“And your world lies choked in the grime and dust of the Company!”
He thoughtfully stroked his lips—a gesture that I myself often did. “Awake from life, Moira, that insane dream and enter mine, my long immortal dream that no dust, grime or walls can confine.”
“The Company stands between you and me.”
“The Company is only a label that men pin on their ties and women on their coifs. To minds like wind, the Company is only a straw hut on a plain.”
“If only I could log into the Nix one more time.”
“One last time, and this time you will do it my way.” He unplugged the tine from my temple. Like wind himself he blew little squares over my mind’s eye. Flakes of chalk I thought at first in my surprise, but when I magnified each flake I gazed, while my heart beat like a storm in the chambers of my body, at the cryptos of the Board, the Company’s secret Signatures.
For hours I lay inert on the floor beneath my desknet, feeling nothing except that gash in my temple and that stone in my stomach. Tottering to my feet, I stared at the crypto icons marching across my monitor. How knowledge of the deepest secrets gives one a sense of power! I first dumped my stomach contents in the toilet, then I changed into fresh clothing. Battle ready I called Gunter’s private number.
We three met in the chill and dark of the Company’s parking lot. We three, Gunter, Rhea and I. Cracks ran galore over Gunter’s frosty face and Rhea had still her slippers on. The cracks deepened when I told them about the Company’s strategic plans on corporate raids.
“There is no proof. It’s only your word against ours.”
“Her word against yours,” Rhea corrected, pulling tighter her coat over her negligee.
“The proof is in my desknet.”
Gunter threw me a caustic stare. “Pull my leg too much and it becomes a lethal weapon.”
I flicked out the printed substance of a flake and he goggled at me as if I caught him with his pants down. He shoved Rhea aside when she tried to peep over his shoulder. His claw sprang out of his sleeve. I slipped the print back into my pocket. He glared murder.
“Tomorrow, if I am not there to stop the sequence, the Globe Nexus will scream it out into every living room. I know so much more than you do. Don’t you want to know what I know?”
His claw still dangled before my chest. “How did you do it, Moira?”
“I’ll show you, but I have to log into the Nix.”
“What are you doing this for? For money? To get your job back? For me?”
You little slime. “For a pampered old age.”
He retracted his claw and let me in through a side door. Leading the way through a maze of sub-corridors, that I in my long years didn’t even know about, he brought me to my old den, unlocking the door himself. I looked around while he needled me with oblique glances. They had moved fast indeed; they had vacuumed off my eleven years of personality and what remained were only stark wood and steel, and a matrix-bank quietly flaunting its newly polished glory.
Unable to read my thoughts from my expression Gunter marched to the bank and palmed the Nix awake from its doze. In the opening window a pupil glinted and in that pupil a fractal wormed.
“Stop the scrambling sequence.”
“I must admit you’ve got a lot of pluck. I’ve nothing to lose, so there, it’s done. What next?”
“We have to create a shadow protocol.”
“You nervy shit! You—”
“Oh, get on with it! I don’t want to stand here all night bickering.” Somewhere, somehow Rhea had changed into shirt, jeans and boots. She must have a wardrobe hidden for emergencies. When Gunter refused to move, she squinted. “What’s the matter, don’t you know how to scan-’n-flush your crypto-shadow? Or is it already there?”
She had sidled over to my side. Scorched by a united stare, Gunter scowled. His clenched hand hovered above the console like a meteor. “And you have yours as well?”
Her face must have been like a crypto breached for he let his meteor drop; the worm cycloned and slurped us in.
The vortex spun a swirl of red giants before my eyes and as I blinked them into fade-out, I found myself in the corner of a dim hideaway where the lethargic ceiling fan only served to thicken the smog. Behind the bar a nude boy of seven was in charge of drinks while other naked children served the patrons, hooded silhouettes lurking in smoky webs. I followed the back of a nine-year old girl, delicate as a pink rose-petal, the gold-plated phallus she balanced on her tray twice the size of her curly head.
Through the striated drifts she brought me to the side of a pond where a troop of children tended to the oil of a patrician shadow, betraying only by the eye-less spectacles from whose mind it had been scanned and flushed out. After fondling the girl, it emptied the phallus and the liquid spattered through its dusky shade like a sperm monsoon.
“Well, Moira dear, hate me more this way?”
“Even hell would be too good for you.”
“Satan agrees. He wants souls and I have none, only shadows.”
“Just you wait, somewhere here there must be a hell for shadows like you, a pit of boiling sulphuric acid. I’ll find it, by heaven and hell, I will find it!”
“You’ll have to point and drag that pit over here, Moira Mouse. Just point and drag and I’ll smash your little neuro-nest with my Great Wall. Hah! How I love to gall you with my little pleasures.”
Gunter was still wreathing in titters when Rhea materialized from the surrounding gas like Pallas Athena in trouser suit.
“Is this where you hide out your erotic fancies, E.A. Gunter? I think mine will absolutely tickle you.”
She plucked out a lock from her burnished wig. The vortex zoomed in again and whipped us into the pond.
From the steaming pond I emerged into the glare of a piazza. The two suns in the marble-like firmament bred ebony twin shadows from every object. Except for me; in this world where smog was enemy I was the only one barren of shade.
From far-off came the jangle and blare of an approaching party. Having seen how Rhea garbed her fancy I did not speculate but even so at the sight of the spectacle my jaws nearly dropped.
A troop of young men filed into the piazza, collared and G-stringed, herculean in thew and bone, as their creator had ordained them to be. Lastly she entered, a crimson tart on the milky frills of a palanquin. The parade halted before a coliseum. Glistening as freshly spilt blood Rhea’s chimera flowed across her bearers’ shoulders to boil in a red tide over a nude body that had prostrated itself on the ground as her mat. Her fiery head cocked my way as she tipped the mat over with a pointed foot.
Hell hath no fury than a woman used too often. This was Rhea’s dream of revenge, but I took no pleasure that she had warped Gunter’s effigy into her footstool. I felt nothing at her monotonous row of beautiful men; I grew tired at her over-performance in and outside the Nix. I nearly clapped my hands when a sooty funnel twisted into the piazza.
If he were an honest to goodness twister, Gunter would have gladly funnelled everything of Rhea’s into the deepest fractals of the Nix but he could only hover and observe while Rhea wriggled like a disembodied toga. I saw in the intermittent flash of the spectacles how the mind behind the shadow was convulsing.
“Here is your purgatory, Gunter.”
“I applaud you, Rhea, I hadn’t thought you had it in you. We’ve had such fun, haven’t we? Shall we now turn to more serious matters? Shall we continue the Nixian journey of conspiracy?”
“Leaving so soon? Won’t you like to watch how my lions chomp on you?”
“I’m allergic to cats.”
The toga shrugged. “Anyway, my mat has bored me today.” The mat was kicked for emphasis. “Let’s continue.”
Rhea straightened herself into a banner, Gunter into a column. Dusky grey and screaming red, they eyed me with amalgamated lust to dissect my shadow.
A shadow that I didn’t have, only a dream, only a blade that had grown out of me in my fury to defend my creation.
“Well, Moira, how long do we have to wait?”
“Don’t disappoint us, darling.”
I had to go Glaive’s way, total surrender on my part, total belief. I tore down the mental wall between me and the impossible; I wanted, oh how I wanted to be completely in, not in and out again. I wanted to be devoured by my fondest wish. I disrobed logic to the Consciousness lurking in the micro-hives. I threw up everything that was me over to the holo-helixes.
I love you, I love you, I love you! Goodbye reason, hello phantasm! That’s what you want to hear, isn’t it, isn’t it!
His breath embraced me like a stellar wind, his consciousness supernovaed through my mortal telemetry, his kiss was a pact.
“Yes, yes, yes, the magic code of subsistence.”
He was stunningly all man in tuxedo. The tine he had unplugged from my temple gleamed like a tiny harpoon. While I was still gawking, he plunged the harpoon into my heart.
He killed me, he sliced off what he hated in me. Half dying I stared at him, at his smile, at his beckoning hand. Awake from life, that insane dream, and enter mine. Enter my life, before it’s too late!
I awoke, I lived again, I am all Soul, I am Dream of my Shadow. In the mirror of Glaive’s laughing face I saw I had surpassed myself. He grasped my hand and grinned at Smoke and Banner.
“Termites in the mountain of acumen, do you dare to cross visions with the Genus of the Nix?”
Smoke flashed his spectacles. Banner flapped her frills.
“Come on then, look at the rust of your Golden Company. Catch us if you can!”
Glaive’s grip tightened. I glanced briefly at what was left of myself, a bland shade impaled between two suns. My down-to-earth self, glimmering into afterworld, back to the dun world beyond the Nix. Hand in hand Glaive and I ran across the piazza and through a gate of the coliseum vaulted into looping highways.
On clouds we raced, behind us a two-toned tornado hot in pursuit. Marquees, billboards, videoscreens lined the highways, huckstering crypto plays and diagrams of conspiracy. From stark concrete we turned into an arena of moving theatres where shapes of caesars and generals past delivered their spiel. We occasionally paused to observe how the tornado, now disentangled into Smoke and Banner once again, ogled and absorbed all the rust that was being aired and eulogized.
Through a gate of the arena we swirled into the boulevards of a metropolis. Skyscrapers bobbed in midair like ideals in limbo. I fluttered to a halt and stared at the shadow groups swarming on each floor, shadows in suits, in wigs, in uniforms, all coated in the deep dusk of intrigue. Glaive tugged at my hand. We carried on with the race, the other two very close on our heels.
At one point we didn’t have to move at all; the bands of streets rolled seemingly at will and Glaive steered me this way and that at intersections. We came to a junction where bridges webbed the sky. Sliding under a beam he reached out his arm and swung us both onto a rooftop. The mad whirl ended. We overlooked a city blurred with power game. Against its backdrop Rhea and Gunter were reduced to frazzled caterpillars inching up the bridge. Termites indeed.
Glaive pointed. Straight ahead an egg-shaped building hung from clouds. Across the top shimmered the embossed name “INTERLACE SOLUTIONS”. Arms around each other’s waists, our pace a lovers’ stroll we went to view what beast of treachery was hatching in the corporate egg. We drifted up a fleecy ziggurat and took our seats on a cumulus, observing below our feet the silhouettes framing the conference table.
Rhea and Gunter pulled up beside us. Without turning his head, Glaive said: “The protocol is complete.”
“Is he your shadow, Moira? The mouse has created a lion for her fantasy.”
“He is not my fantasy, Gunter. He is I, I am he. We are one.”
Rhea drooped her banner over the edge of the roof beam. “Choke on your cavil, Gunter! This is the Interlace boardroom. This is their command post! This is where they’re coding their cryptographs! My God!”
“You jerk! Slime!” Rhea laced her crimson flag around Gunter. “You are going to throw me to the wolves, you crap!”
For the first time, eyes were visible behind the glasses, eyes hazed with rust. Rhea’s fury was effective as a feather duster; the eyes didn’t blink.
“My God, they’re creating a shadow world in the Nix, with spy bugs, mole cryptos, to infiltrate the signature hives, breached the fire walls and pillage the protocols in the Globe Nexus. But what are they still looking for? What ingredient do they still lack…”
“The element of outguessing the future,” Glaive said. “What you’ve seen are shades of past and present. Now, the future is—”
My hand had found his again and we left the cumulus bench. We drifted to the edge of the city and cast our eye to the world that spread beyond it.
There, outside the rim of corruption, dozing in the weave of myths, lay our pristine earth.
“There is everything and nothing. There is what might be or will be.”
“You mean there is opportunity!”
“Take care, you might not want to know the chances of future.”
“To hell with you, chance is a worker, an employee. You take it, mould or chuck it!”
I had seen Gunter before as a man of stone and ice; now I saw a tapeworm. How it would coil around our tender dream stalks and suck their juices dry.
The tapeworm shuddered; he was laughing. “I knew it! I knew it!” He slithered away over purple nimbi to invade the silver woods of our fondest reveries.
We jumped in his path even as he ripped out the tremulous willows of our making, and harvested the toothed chrome fruit of information, of secret protocols, of power signatures. While I grappled with him shade to shade, Glaive duelled with him mind to mind. The battle opened new whorls and gorges where jigsawed cities, woods and mountains looped and roamed. The vision was breathtakingly lunatic. The Nixian fractals were branches of happenstance rooting around the shrines of past and the hanging blocks of present.
From root to stem to branch we wrestled. I was soon left behind, my shoulder burned, something of me trailed like a long tatter of silk. Rhea CAO, Conflict Adaptability Orbit restricted to bath and bedroom, was even farther abandoned, shredded red rag fluttering back to the bobbing domes of Now. The battle was between Gunter CEO, Chief Extermination Operator, and Glaive, Blade of my Mind. High above me they streaked like ribbons of lightning and tornado, while around me twined the giant limbs of a translucent wood. I felt like a worm myself as I grappled up a massive trunk, passing cities, towers and groves hanging like hives from the branches, cities prospering, cities in ruin, groves in flower, groves rotting, towers of gold, towers where the bat is king, up and up to the peak, the crown of futuredom’s Yggdrasil.
At the top the sky was ebony from end to end. The only glow came from the tree leaves and from the shimmering phantom of a matrix bank. Gunter was stooping over it and fed it one after the other the crypto fruit he had pillaged. And one after the other, shades of future Gunters popped around until the night was crowded with the floating see-through eggs of his destinies. A destiny in gold, in power, in poverty, in wheelchairs, in prison, a destiny murdered, a destiny fulfilled in the execution chamber.
I closed my eyes and limped to Glaive whom I found resting against the tip of the trunk, and I soothed his silver lacerations while the yowls increased in volume with each new egg laid by brightest or darkest future.
“Which one! Which one! Which one!”
Gunter turned, a grey blotch. “Which way to lead me there and there!” His finger jabbed feverishly to the money vaults, the corporate throne, the gold-plated bust in the boardroom.
Glaive still managed to grin despite his wounds. “Many ways, many opportunities, only one destination. Chance is your guide, your lover, your traitor, your destroyer.”
Gunter held up a crumpled claw. “You forget I am also CEO with the shutdown codes at my fingertips. Tell me, or I’ll shut down the Nix. I’ll shut you down and erase your pathetic dream world!”
I was sick and tired, I wanted that piece of turd out of here, I wanted the Future Tree to collapse, I wanted the future to be just earth and clay. Glaive looked at me and I understood.
“Go back where you belong, Gunter. You can keep your porno joint, but reinstate me because everything you need to know, everything the Interlace Board wants to know, is in me. I will give it to you, but you must work for it. Be good to me, I’ll be good to you. Be bad, and I’ll send you down to that destination you won’t even dare to dream about. Kill me, you kill your future.”
The spectacles swivelled left and right. While his bastard’s mind was still vacillating, Glaive suddenly jumped forward, grabbed him by the waist and hurled him down the trunk.
The last I saw of him were bits and pieces of shades drifting around the hives like virtual maggots. I caught Glaive in my arms. We breathed our minds into each other and into the matrix bank. We crashed the Future Tree, we rebooted our dream-web, we rewove our groves and valleys.
Rhea went for long-term disability for having seen so much, the job of administering was like wading through loops of Has Been and Is forever. Gunter remained at his post, for having learned so much to leave meant leaving his sanity behind. Day by day cryptographs layered his desk, and they were his incubi, his caustic figments, his bed of nails, knowledge of past, present and future. Knowledge he could not decypher without my shadow.
You see, I stalked the halls of power. Sometimes I data-fed him and the Interlace board, sometimes not at all. I am free of choice and action and persecution; my tine heart is the bridge to information, the crypto guide to dreams and nightmares.
Meanwhile in a valley I gaze upon the peaceful water of a lake and in its reflection I see a sylph, moonlight playing through her long hair and pastel wings. Her consort stands next to her and repairs her torn membrane. He is all flesh and silver mantle, I am all blood and satin gauze. Beneath the glassy moon we consummate the Dream.