Too many reflective surfaces on the way in reminded her that she was still showing up in cyberspace as a half-assed attempt at a steampunk Lego figure.  Dragon, lying on a kind of couch thing in her living area, was an idealised version of herself – everything tweaked subtly so she looked taller, thinner, sharper bones and dramatic.  Skin, pretty unconcerned with her image at the best of times, left things as they were and moved towards Dragon, who barely looked up at her approach.

“Dragon,” said Skin and Dragon looked up and shifted to make room for her to sit.  “Yeah, yeah, I know – not good to be online too long and all, but actually, you need to see this,” said Dragon.  “What?” said Skin.  “The news’ll be offline soon enough, it’s smeared all over the net and the web like Marmite.  You know how everybody shat themselves about online data identity theft howevermany years ago … and then they locked up their data or erased it here altogether and then most people went anonymous and IP security started to cost money and then …”  “Yeah, thanks for the history lesson,” said Skin, rolling her eyes, have you forgotten that I am descended from paranoid hackers?”  It was true – Skin’s mother was Nina, sister of the more famous artist, hacker and sellout surrendermonkey, Blue.

“Alright,” said Dragon, “perhaps it’s just a pity you inherited the ripped jeans instead of the DNA genes, if you know what I mean.  Just look!” and she pointed to the opposite wall, which was almost pulsing and heaving with a swirl of shifting data that made less than no sense to Skin at first.  Dragon pointed to the top left quadrant of the grid, “That there,” she said, “is the Waste – the data desert, where unclaimed data goes to die.”  “But it’s full!” exclaimed Skin, “It’s never, ever been full.  It’s never even been populated much – what’s going down?”  “Well, with everyone being so anonymous online, somehow the world forgot that even assumed names are identities.  Check it out, there’s me.”  And there she was; a little moving group of boxes – her District ID and history, all of her musical stuff, pretty much everything.  “So we’re right back to square one?” asked Skin, “Identity theft and paranoia all over again?”  “Nope,” answered Dragon, “It’s like … everyone’s just out there so much in plain sight that nobody gives a fuck about having their name stolen – either you’re strongly enough linked to it that any impostors get flamed right off the net, or you just move on and get a new nick.  All you gotta hide, really, is your bank account.”

“It’s still not a good idea to live online, Dragon.” said Skin.


District What?

17Dec09

“You think Dragon and Star are cocooning, or should we invite them?” asked Boi and Ash flipped her wristfeed up to message her – no reply.  They ordered pasta with a reddish sort of a sauce – that was about the clearest you could describe it too.  It was sort of red and it was pretty cheap.  As the light vanished outside and intensified inside, the bar grew fuller and the noise level rose gently.  Sanjeev and Lori began to add a little rhythm to their bartending as the crowd swelled slowly; smiles widened and somebody put some electro-folk on the jukebox.

Star walked in, sans Dragon and plus a small posse, nodded toward their table and then moved off towards the bar.  “Isn’t that …” said Ash, “… Nila.” answered Skin.  Nila Moon, Star’s girlfriend before Dragon.  They’d lived together for a few years, the break up had been acrimonious and Boi had almost caused the band to split by sleeping with Nila a bit soon after all the shit went down.

Cigarettes and alcohol danced on their own wavelengths, full things becoming empty, empty things being moved away to be substituted by more full things and everything circled by smoky blue trails.  Jackets migrated to chair backs and hooks and the music developed muscles.  At some point, somebody headed for the dance floor and of course other people followed; another Saturday night jol had officially emerged to slice through the weekend.

There was still no sign of Dragon and Skin began to fret slightly, because there wasn’t any reply to Boi’s message either.  “She’s in the District, man,” said Ash and the others nodded.  “Well I’m not up for a jol tonight anyway,” said Skin, “I’ll make a turn there and check it out.”  She left Charmageddon on foot – downtown dockside, everything was in easy reach and the rain had disappeared.

There weren’t any lights showing at Dragon’s place, but Skin hit the buzzer anyway – there was no response.  Only one thing for it – try the District.  Back in her own home, Skin jacked in.

If dockside wasn’t big enough for you, the District was more than big enough for anyone – it wasn’t actually limitless, but it felt that way.  Skin spawned in the landing zone; she didn’t have her own place there, but she knew how to access Dragon’s.  A few commands and she was outside the door of Dragon’s home-from-home in cyberspace.

You tended never to look skywards in the District, because all there ever was, was a panoramic, edgeless and never ending Sistine style screening of the film, District 9.  There were people, of course, whose sole purpose seemed to be to do just that – sprawl out horizontally, watching the film at different angles and in different abstractions and then they’d get very tense and intellectual about it all.  Or they’d just take a lot of drugs and trip completely.

That was the end of the film reference, however; the rest of the District was covertly all about urban decay, but overtly all about whatever anybody wanted.  In Dragon’s case, that seemed to be some sort of surrealler than life hybrid of Gaudi and MC Escher’s love child.  And the interior was as optical delusioned as the exterior.  On and offline, Skin’s left hand raised, palm out to signal her access pass to the entrance mechanism.  Her experience prompted her to stand well back as the drawbridge swung open.


Saturday Night

16Dec09

Ash awoke, blurred and bleary, drank as much water as she could swallow, muttered, “I am too damn old for this shit,” and jacked in.  Weekend time was good for working, the queues were shorter and you stood a better chance of grabbing the jobs you liked without getting jumped by hordes of other third worlders in the process.  The best paid jobs went to the languid Americans, of course, but then, they weren’t getting as good a currency conversion, even after you’d cashed your tokens and black-market traded them for something the South African Revenue Services hadn’t blocked.  Ignoring the porn trades, Ash grabbed a stream of image tagging tasks and then some rewrites; only stopping when she’d decided that thinking up one more synonym would turn her completely homicidal.  Americans were still getting paid just to view ads, long after the rest of the globe had given up on direct advertising as a very pointless waste of time.  Netheads filtered ads out using software and even the ones that got past that were just flies to be swatted.  Making ads too obtrusive was futile, it turned everybody against the corp who’d made them.

With enough tokens to improve the standard conversion rate, Ash headed to a digital souk set up by Veto years before, to get the cash fed into an alt account she’d set up under a long-dead business’ identity.  Apart from food and basic stuff, she did all her shopping online and picked it up down at Charmageddon.  She usually bought electronics from Malaysia and sold or traded them locally.

As the sun set slowly into a polluted skyline, she grabbed a jacket and decided to head on over to Charmageddon, check her post, maybe grab a burger and see who was around and what was going on.  She walked into a quiet bar, little Jacob’s Ladders swirling dust around old, stained wood.  Boi and Skin waved her over, looked like they’d had the same cheap early evening meal idea as she had.

“Hey hey,” said Skin, “what’s new?”  Ash shrugged, “Camera you wanted should be in soon if you want to make a deal?”  Skin was good for a Nikon “upgrade” every few years; contrary to the rest of the world, she refused to reply on her wrist and eyefeed recording systems, building up a range of clunky old DSLR’s instead and a huge range of lenses to plug on to them.  Their antique status made them pricey, but they appeared to make Skin very happy indeed.


Ashtray

Ashtray woke in somebody else’s apartment with the gig still rushing through her head.  The night’s hedonism faded into a stranger’s fetid breath on an unfamiliar pillow, Warhol’s fifteen minutes stretched beyond usefulness.  She’d left a blue scalp print on the unfamiliar pillow too, her hair in share mode for days every time she dyed it.  She rubbed toothpaste over her teeth and water over her face and hair in the bathroom and dressed quickly.  A gesture towards chivalry, she sat next to the stranger on the strange bed to say, “Um, thanks … gotta go … do stuff … see you around,” as the stranger nodded and looked relieved.

Rain on a hangover is a good thing and Ash didn’t bother ducking for cover on her way home through early Saturday streets.  New tunes meandering through her mind, she made her way back to her own space.  A womb with no view, the apartment was tiny, messy and Ash flung a bait ball of clothes off her couch and took occupancy.  ::beatsn0w:: still pumping with reactions to their gig and then mail from Skin – that woman never stopped weaving.  She mailed back a lazy guitar track she’d recorded who knows when, it’d probably fit into the new mashup.  She wondered who the hell Skin was in love with and why she bothered.

Jacking in to cyberspace, she joined throngs of other wired third worlders at an online work clearing house, where data poured in, to be processed by people willing to wrestle it for a few cents a time.  No office hours and no benefits beyond the fact that payment was instant and could be converted equally fast into stuff you needed offline.  An hour translating really bad English into some fucker’s marketing spin for the acne cure to replace urine as some community’s acne cure and Ash flipped out again to trade her credits for supplies at the 7-11 on the corner.  Coffee, chips, cigarettes – the essentials.  She’d have to put in some more work time as soon as the hangover faded, she was on zero credits yet again.

Sometimes she wished she knew who she was working for out there, but since their anonymity and hers was pretty much assured, it was probably a good deal you never knew more than one online persona, the rep in charge of farming out the work and processing your pay.  It was how the band made their livings and avoided the rat race – all except Skin who, offbeat to the last, worked five days a week in a comic shop.  Hard copy comics too, not even interactive, but actual paper bleeding ink – some retro fad Ash could never get her head around.

Her gut reassuringly full of junk food and coffee, Ash went foetal on the couch and launched into a self-indulgent smoker’s snore.

Dragon

Dragon screamed into her computer for a while and then fired the resulting layer off to Skin.  Star had stormed out of the apartment yet again, probably back to her freaking ex, thought Dragon bitterly.  What was it with dykes and exes?  Why the hell could they never let go?  You comforted and caressed your girlfriend through the detritus of her previous relationships and as soon as the memory blurred a little, they were fast friends again and probably in league against you.  Why am I so fucking paranoid, thought Dragon, still bitter.

She jacked in and spent uninterrupted hours killing avatars in District 12.3, a popular and completely nihilistic game.  Finally, a level 34 bard called Splinter killed her and with a flash of “game over!” Dragon was back in her lounge, fingers tingling over her keyboard.

The apartment was oozing emptiness; the kind you only get when someone leaves you and sure enough, Star had left.  Dragon punched in and checked her messaging and mail accounts – nothing.  Not a fucking word.  Wandering through the rooms wondering whether to grieve, muttering her mantra, “I am hurting / I am her thing!” it took Dragon until the afternoon to notice the postit note on her fridge.

it’s ova. srsly. kthxbye.

The bitch had used Dragon’s own line on her, something she’d made up with Star way back when, when they were perfect for each other and filing away exes like garbage, laughing in the safety of their own shared bliss.

She respawned in District 12.3 and avoided battle, making her way instead to the Dogstar bar.  Her clan was planning a raid and Dragon wove spells for them, but declined the invitation to mission, she just wasn’t feeling very kamikaze anymore.

Boi Soldier

Ash didn’t seem to be available online or via her wristfeed, Boi guessed the smurf was probably still fucking or sleeping.

user:*ashtray_girl* is currently in read-only mode

She disembowelled an old Zippo and used the wheel to make a whiny drone to add to Skin’s new mashup.  It sounded pretty good, she thought; Skin always rocked when she was yearning and keening.  No point contacting Dragon, she’d be all loved-up with Star; Boi messaged Skin instead.

soldier boi: sudden urge to hang offline, u up for getting lost or something?
skin: yeh sure, let’s get coffee and paint or whatever

Urban ennui was one of Boi’s very favourite things and she hit the grey and rainy streets with a certain amount of subdued cheerfulness.  Skin joined her and they hunched into their jackets and set off towards the docks.  Skin photographed the decaying, lifesized sculptures down there from time to time, documenting their decline, wondering if it was some kind of metaphor or just one of those things.

The graff kids had been at them again and pink triangles bled in the rain on each of the figures’ breasts – poster paint, had to be.  Soon enough it would be Christmas and some wag would add Santa hats or whatever.  She’d seen a screencast where somebody had asked the artist, Scar Ragnarra, what she thought of her art being “defaced” and Scar had just laughed and said that it didn’t belong to her anymore and she thought it was pretty cool that anyone bothered to interact with it at all.  Rumour had it that Scar had been able to buy a house with profits from her art, before art went thoroughly democratic or disposable – however you wanted to define that whole scene.  Now she was a sellout surrendermonkey, living in some burb satellite of the city.

There was an old factory nearby that a bunch of people had taken over a decade before and turned into a game-farm – nothing to do with any four legged wildlife either, just banks of computers and jockeys at them, writing and running the online worlds that everyone bought into these days.  Boi thought Dragon would move online permanently one day if Star would just agree to it.

“Let’s pull into Komikoff quick,” said Skin, “must be close to payday.”  Boi stared at the racks of comics in their tidy little plastic folders while Skin went off to get her money.  Then she stared uncomprehendingly at Skin while she forked over a substantial portion of her pay for an issue of something called “Tank Girl.”  “Feminist like you, I’m surprised you’re not screaming for it to be Tank Woman,” she remarked and Skin cut her a fiercely deadly look.  Boi held up a hand, “OK, OK, I know … seminal and empowering blah blah just spare me.”  Skin glared at her Blundstones for a while, then said, “Food?”


The wiry dyke onstage was hunched over the mic so intensely that her veins were visible, livid.  Olive combats and a grungy, washed out Muthaland t-shirt … museum-grade, thought Leftova.  Fuckoff big brown biker boots and an electric blue electric guitar slung at her side.  Rockstar – pretty much an anomaly then, when it all happened online, where distances didn’t matter and they could even recreate the smell of a singer’s sweat.  Further back, the band – three more dykes in jeans and retro cool sweaty t-shirts, using instruments like weapons of mass destruction.  Leftova found the harmony in the discord and surfed it, moving almost imperceptibly, head thrown right back and drinking it all in through her jugular.

Songs, screams and encores later, the crowd raised their wristfeeds towards the stage, fists clenched and teeth bared in that moment when individuals go mob.  Then a deep, dark hush as the singer walked right to the edge of the platform, leaned towards the audience, the mic loose in her hand suddenly.  Hands stretched towards her, majorly gendermixed groupies, enthralled.  Skin, vocalist, lead axe and mostly lyricist for The Indefinite Article made eye contact with the abyss and spoke.  “You.  Are responsible.  For yourself.” she stated flatly, her right hand with the mic in it fell limp to her side, she nodded once, bounced offstage and headed to the bar.

Leftova looked round; what had felt like a serious stadium was, of course, just Charmageddon on a Friday night.  There was maybe a couple of hundred people there, probably mostly queers, but these days it took an interrogation to find out and you likely only bothered if you wanted to get laid and were fussy about it.  She checked her feed; looked like she’d recorded the gig OK, but if she hadn’t it wasn’t a train smash – there’d be at least a hundred copies online by the morning, studio quality.  Skin looked up as she approached the bar and grinned,  “New song went down good, hey?”  Leftova grinned back, “Lo-5 will be viral by now yeah.”  They logged on to ::beatsn0w:: and watched the hits rack up.  “Oh man, imagine if singers still got paid!” said Skin, “Not that I’m desperate for bucks right now, but shit, a few more never hurts.”  “Ah, the plight of the tortured artist …” said Leftova and they both rolled their eyes.  “You ever pay for music?” asked Leftova and Skin shook her head, “Don’t know anyone who ever has either.”

Skin rubbed a hand through very sweaty, very short hair and scanned the room.  Looked like the rest of the band was well on its separately collective way to oblivion; dancing, kissing, drinking.  Spiky, blue haired Ashtray, pulling into somebody androgynous looking, one hand clutching a green bottle of lager, the other clutching a hip not her own.  Skinhead Dragon kissing her lover, Star, in the corner and little, pixie-ish Boi Soldier just grooving on her own on the dancefloor, still rushing, spaced out from the gig.

::beatsn0w:: signals constantly pulsed on Skin’s wristfeed – hits, comments and questions about the gig and Lo-5.  “Ha!” said Skin, “Top gotta-know is whooooo is Skin in lurve with, whoooo is Lo-5 for?” and Leftova said, “Well?”  “Me?” said Skin, “A dream?  A ghost?  The world?  Death?  Nobody?  I don’t fucking now at all.”  “You put a shitload of emotion in there for someone without a target,” Leftova commented and Skin narrowed her eyes a bit, thoughtfully.  “Actually I just seriously don’t know … it’s like … jacking in, tapping in, tuning in … ag, it just happens hey.”  They touched their beer bottles together in one of those comradely salutes and set about the business of drinking and talking shit and accumulating decent hangovers.

“I,” said Skin to a doorway, as she wobbled home on foot later, “am in love with night air on my skin.”  The empty doorway seemed unimpressed, so Skin tried to wave her cigarette at it a little more pointedly, “I am in love,” she repeated, “with the way my feet just bounce on this tarmac.”  The doorway, which really was well and truly empty, continued being impassive.  “I am in luuuurve,” she said, swaying just a little, “with everydamnfuckingthing in the world.”  At that point, Skin managed to get her keypass to connect with the ID pad, the door opened and she fell into the lobby of her apartment block and proceeded to navigate erratically up to her little hamster-cage in the city.

Daybreak thwarted by blackout shades, Skin woke to a faint and insistent bleeping – she’d left her wristfeed on and ::beatsn0w:: was still signalling a stream of reactions.  She deactivated it, snapped its coil wristband off and stood under a shower for about three million centuries.  It took ages to scrub the sharpie scrawl off and the handwriting was so lousy she couldn’t work out whether she had written, “apophenia is the new quadrophenia” or somebody else had.  And if somebody else had done it, she had less than no idea who.  At least she’d woken up alone and there were no visible bruises.

Dressed in faded hipster denim and a t-shirt that had seen better days, Skin armed herself with orange juice and risked opening a blackout shade.  Rain streamed past the small window over a small square below – no sky visible.  Feet up on the windowsill, Skin shot one photograph from the same angle she did every day whenever she woke up.  Architecture texture distorted by glass and rain; yet another lo-res digital image showing nothing and expressing nothing – not even time.  A thousand or so images by now, all tagged and filed as “sighs matter.”

She flicked on her audiostream and it cranked to life with Audible Punctuation; tripsonic stuff from India, pure instrumental maniacs that the Indefinite Article had been trading mashups with for the past few months.  Audible Punctuation had taken Khoi San language, translated it into computer code, then translated that into music – then added Qawwali and Bhangra.

The result was insane and even more insane once Skin and the Indefinite Article had layered on raw guitar and laconic lyrics.  ::beatsn0w:: ate it up and when Ginger Berlin added visuals to some tracks, the whole multimedia snarlup became nightclub fodder for weeks at a time.  With Audible Punk’s latest, “Rambo Juice” as a backtrack, Skin grabbed her mic and slammed along.

I am in love
with the air on my skin
I am in love
with the tarmac bounce
I am in love
with everything

Another layer and a delay and two Skins muttered hoarsely over the music.  She added a third and it sounded like a meditation.  She fired it off to the band and within the hour,  Dragon’s update came back.  Bass guitar and Dragon screaming, “I am hurting / I am her thing!”  Skin presumed Dragon had pissed Star off again.  Later on, Ashtray sent back her track – a complex and very sparse guitar thing that bounced beautifully off the rest of it.  And then Boi Soldier sent a low hum – Skin couldn’t even begin to guess at its origins.  Boi was known for her offbeat approach and often added sounds made by crazy stuff like toasters and vibrators.

Funny how toasters had survived technology and revolutions.  Comforting though.

They released the beast out into cyberspace for the fans to add visuals to, mash up, react to.  Instant gratification, instant response and a short shelf-life.  Art as disposable as anything else the consumers out there wanted.  If they were lucky, hardcore collectors would keep it alive and maybe a few bars and clubs too, where retro was anything that happened last Wednesday, usually.

Boi Soldier had got hooked by some twittering microblogger out there for an interview.

Excerpt:
Q: Why do you do it?
A: Same reason anybody does – because I want to and more importantly, I need to.
Q: Why?
A: Question and expression.
Q: That’d make a good track title.
A: Somebody’ll probably do it 5 mins after you publish, if we haven’t already.

And of course, they did.


scar 3

That link there is to 400+ kb of pdf file of the “novel” so far.  It may or may not be expanded and rewritten and so on, at this point I am heartily sick of the thing and have no clue whether it needs mouth to mouth or just file 13.


“The fuck we gonna get those two for their wedding, Helen?  They’ve got everything man.”  Helen said, “Well, you could make them something or we can look around, maybe find something local?”  “Good call.”  They were planning a major party, with a Fifth Element theme – an old sci-fi movie, costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier.  Scar thought it wouldn’t stretch queer imaginations too far.

Here’s the writing routine.  Boot up the iMac, lay out two nice, flat, matte black gadgets alongside (cellphone and iPod), hook up the music, light a cigarette, open the file.  Unless I’ve had some kind of epiphany beforehand, I then spend ages just scrolling up and down the pages, wondering whether to pause and flesh stuff out – and sometimes that is exactly what I do.  Slave to the word count.  Some days, like today, the whole process feels like shitting bricks.  Stressing about the deadline badly now too – got a full day’s work tomorrow then I have to go set up a new computer for someone, then a friend’s coming over with a bottle of wine.  I’ll have all day the following day, but then I’m out of here until the day of the deadline.  Gods.  Just under 12 000 words left to do and fuck all clue what any of those words are going to be.

Scar fired up the forge and started work on the wedding gift – figures of Sam and Veto, back to back; dressed, accessorised and posing like Tank Girl.  Rough edged, bronzed, industrial-core art for the most famous hackers (security consultants!) on the planet.

The Sister Retrieval System

There was a cough behind her – Jesus, could she never just get on with her own work in her own workshop without interruption?  She hauled off her goggles, turned round and almost fell over.  “Nina?!”  The woman nodded and Scar could only stare.  She could see herself in the younger, more feminine face, she saw her parents too.  “Hi,” said Nina.

Scar made coffee, “I never thought you’d talk to me again,” she said.  Nina took a deep breath, “I owe you an apology, Siri.  I’ve been through a lot of this with my therapist.  I was angry with you for leaving me alone after Mom and Dad died – then I heard you went off to be queer and …”  “OK yeah,” said Scar, “I get the picture and although I wish I didn’t have to understand, actually I really do understand.  Just promise me this isn’t going out live on some skanky talk show feed and we’re good.”  Nina grinned.

Seemed like everybody Scar knew had a shrink.  Scar got a gut full of them in clinics and rehabs and tended to avoid them like the plague.  She had a theory they were all more batshit than she was anyway.

They went back to the loft so Nina could meet Helen and the two clicked immediately.  It was surprisingly comfortable, felt like something had healed somehow.  Looking at photographs of Nina’s two sons, Scar felt something like wonder.  “You didn’t want me near them before,” she said, painfully and Nina looked stricken, apologetic, wounded.  Scar didn’t feel like blaming her for a global fuck up, so she just said, “Can I meet them?” and Nina half nodded and half wept, smiling all the while.  It was good, it was good, it was good!

The Return of Michael Malgas

Impossible as it seemed, Michael Malgas went even more supernova on the art scene.

News of the data-genocide had filtered through to artists too – there was a benefit concert, which raised funds that probably went to Oxfam as usual; arty and solemn ads were inserted into screenfeeds.  Michael went straight (ha not very ha) for the jugular.

Interfeed transcript:

Interviewer: Your latest exhibition has been, to put it mildly, controversial – what’s the message?
MM: For centuries now, centuries, anybody who doesn’t conform has been rejected by that great amorphous thing we keep referring to as “society” as if it was a gentleman’s club.  We – and I put myself very firmly in the non-conformist camp – have been treated like *censored* for far too long and let’s face it, there just aren’t enough of us to *censored* the rest of you lot right up …
Interviewer: Um, can I just …
MM: … don’t interrupt me, you techno-floppy, you’re there to nod, look pretty and listen.
Interviewer: I …
MM: So we live with you, while you either try to hide us, segregate us, stop us or just steal whatever good stuff we have.  None of you have any *censored* *censored* notion of what it’s like to grow up different, disliked, disapproved of … and so on and on and on and it never *censored* well stops no matter how many religions preach tolerance.  So ja, my little gulping friend, I am here to complain as loud as I can about it.  Now, you probably have another question on that little screen?
Interviewer: Uh, yes … Mr Malgas … sir … your work, “Freaks Have Feelings Too” has caused an outcry from generally opposing groups …
MM: Of course the word “freak” offends many people on many levels, but I think I have a right to name it and claim it for myself.  When I grew up, they called me a “fokken hotnot”.  Then I was a “disgusting lesbian” and then a “he-she pervert.”  Stuck in the middle of race and gender my whole *censored* life I tell you!  Not black enough, not white enough, not male enough, not female enough.  Society, young man, has labelled me a freak and I am too *censored* old and angry to fight it off any more.  I have spent my life trying to fit into a world that doesn’t want me – can you imagine how tragically disappointing it is to be thwarted that way?  We live in a world that only accepts you as a freak if you wave a qualification or a credit card at it.
Interviewer: So you’re reclaiming the term, the way lesbians reclaimed the word “dyke” during the previous century?
MM: Something like that ja – scream the word, paint it, just say it till it loses its sting.
Interviewer: Your latest work, your self-portrait – it’s caused extreme reactions too; the gentlest thing anyone’s said about it, is that it is explicit …
MM: Well it needed to be explicit.  Since I began my transition from female to male, daily I have been interrogated by people, often perfect strangers, who want to know what is going on with my groin.  And I gave the same answer all the transgenders give; usually *censored* *censored* *censored* off, it’s really none of your business!  Because honestly, since when is “Hello, what’s between your legs?” a normal part of any conversation?
Interviewer: It’s been called porn …
MM: That’s a joke hey, at my age.  It’s more of a medical record.  Everyone’s so keen to check out a transgender groin, you don’t have to go to porn sites any more, you can just check mine out.  There it is, not trying to be beautiful, not trying to be anything except me.
Interviewer: And what are you?
MM: Oh I don’t give a *censored* what label you put on it, on me.  Freak is fine, if that’s your thing.  Man.  Transgender.  I am not ashamed of any of these things.  I wonder if anybody would consider “human being” as a label for me, because that is the one that matters more than any of the others the world can dream up.
Interviewer: Your decision, as an eminent artist, to not only reveal yourself so entirely, but not to charge admission on any of the exhibitions, has also startled the art world – what made you decide not to make money out of this massive event?
MM: If I was younger, I’d take “massive” as more of a compliment (laughs) but ja, if I was taking home a fat profit, people would say I was being mercenary.  I thought about donating the proceeds to charity, but then I would still be accused of having an agenda.  Also, I would be drawing yet another line between the “freaks” and the heteronormative, neuro-typical, whatever the *censored* you want to call it sector of the public and I didn’t think that was fair either.
Interviewer: Getting any hate mail?
MM: Like you wouldn’t believe.  Again, I am old now, not so protective of my own existence.  What can you do, but literally read it and weep.  My whole life I have believed in justice, now I tend to think justice exists, sure, but perhaps not in a nice, elegant, karmically balanced kind of way.  Not the way I want it, necessarily.
Interviewer: Is there any hope of a tolerant society?
MM: How long has man roamed the earth?  There hasn’t been one so far and we’re wearing out the planet fast.  Hell, never mind the freaks, this planet hasn’t even got it right enough to feed everyone.  Maybe we’ll get it right in time for the next big bang hey.
Interviewer: Not an encouraging perspective …
MM: I’m old, I’m tired.

[roll credits]

“Actually,” said Helen, staring at “Freaks Have Feelings Too” on her screenfeed, that image is just beautiful.  Why does anyone find it disturbing in the first place?”  “Because they wanna,” muttered Scar.  “Blue would be so damn proud!” said Helen.  It was true.  It was a courageously amazing thing to do; sure it was a sensationalist nine day wonder, but after those nine days, Michael’s photograph would still be there in the public domain, unashamed.  He’d given his audience the freedom to be freaked out by it, to get used to it, to get bored with it.  Maybe one day people would look back and wonder what the fuss was all about.  Maybe.

“Freaks Have Feelings Too” became that year’s hit t-shirt, street tag, sticker, one hit wonder pop song.  It became a meme, a free franchise – Michael had refused to maintain any form of copyright on his photograph or its title, he just created it and then gave it to the world.  Naked Michael became as inoffensively beautiful as a Michaelangelo statue, as ubiquitous as that Ché stencil.  He became a mascot, a hero to so many minority groups, that many people forgot why he was ever branded a freak in the first place.  People just dreamed him into their own myth and history.  It didn’t change the world any more than Ché did, but it changed some minds and some attitudes.

Ginger was over the moon – all that publicity was a guarantee her film would be a hit, she felt sure of it.

The Lean, Mean Dyke Wedding

Mrs and Mrs Banks-Davies arrived at the dock with pale skin and big grins.  Alright, neither of them had started calling themselves or each other “Mrs” but “Ms and Ms” still doesn’t sound all that married, does it?  Long story short, they were married in Japan and in South Africa for the jol.  That old warship got scrubbed out, but not decorated at all – Veto had this plan that all the guests’ costumes would kind of form the decorations instead and, against that peeling paint and metal, the idea worked like a charm.

The sun set over the sea, livid against the pollution and gorgeously dramatic.  Lit only by storm lanterns, everything suddenly looked softer, warmer.  People made speeches, people cried.

The party was kind of like a scene from ‘Fifth Element’ and kind of like that party scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ back in the nineties.  And the music fitted in too.  Parts of it was just like the old days – young people dancing mostly, with the older folk sitting around smiling benignly just tapping their feet – until the whole crowd loosened up enough to lose their inhibitions and hit the dance floor whether they could dance or not.

The whole thing went out as a webcast, of course and you can bet it got a shedload of views, both live and archived.  Ginger did an edit of the whole thing later, with Sam and Veto grinning and yelling, “Freaks have feelings too!” at the end of it, with a soundtrack that made it a nightclub-feed hit within days of its release.

And the honeymoon?  Of course there was a honeymoon.  The world’s most sophisticated hackers surprised their friends by piling into some kind of reconditioned Mad Max machine and hauling off across the Namib desert.  “Control Alt Delete won’t work out there!” yelled Scar nervously as they left.

Finding a New Perimeter

What kind of future do you dream, when you let go of logic and allow yourself to dream anything at all?

Helen dreamed a house and a small garden, where she’d plant things and have the time to watch them grow.  She dreamed a big, grey, female cat, which Scar immediately named “Dave.”  There’d be enough space for her to be sociable and for Scar to be antisocial when she got that way.  There’d be walls full of books and art and just enough tech to make life easier.  There’d be enough money so that she could write and Scar could make art without worrying about how to pay the bills.  Unspecified people and/or machines would take care of the housework, but they’d cook together when they felt like it.

Scar thought it was a most excellent dream and quietly added a film library to it.

They both dreamed that they had met young enough and in a safe enough world to have children.  They dreamed of a world where nobody raised an eyebrow at queers at all.

(It really was a good dream).

Scar started work on ‘The Last Polar Bear – 2029’ and kept dreaming.


Docksiders

Helen began lecturing at Generika U, in their brand new shiny Gender Faculty.  She was well liked by her students and the apartment was frequently full of youngsters, hanging on to Helen’s every word.

Sam and Veto were keeping an eye on their friends’ data.  Cyberspace, meanwhile, had become everybody’s playground.  Three dimensional solidity sent artists, architects and so on wild.  It was damn near impossible to tell the difference between a game and a military battle and both of those things were taking place in there, out there, at any given moment.  Technology had managed to reproduce the world with an accuracy that frightened some people and reassured others.  Instead of talking about moving to outer space, people made real plans to move into cyberspace.  The entire cryogenics industry failed almost overnight.

It became increasingly unpopular to speak out against the shift into cyberspace, but there was a hardcore and vocal core protesting it – the same breed who’d camped out at Greenham Common, who’d crewed the Sea Shepherd, who yelled peace at warmongers and later, picketed Coldplay concerts and Oxfam shops with placards reading, “Not in my name!”  It was the sector that didn’t believe in any kind of control or colonisation, of anything, by anyone.  It wasn’t a fashionable stance, this movement against the controlling whole of society and back to the individual, to smaller communities.  Scar watched it with great interest and decided it was very probably doomed to fail.

The world’s major cities went online en masse and it became impossible to do certain things, talk to certain people, get all kinds of stuff done, unless you went online.  People still lived out there, far from cities, with no net access at all, but nobody cared about their opinions, the media didn’t represent them any more than their governments did.  Another passionate movement sprang up, one dedicated to getting everyone, everywhere online.  Equal Tech for all, was their catchphrase.  Scar had a feeling they would fail too, that there would always be outsiders, by circumstance or choice.  The Not-in-My-Namers protested them too, dubbing them the Neo-Oxfammers.

Technology rolled on like a Katamari game, picking up everything it could as it rolled through society.  It was easy to get people to conform and go online.  Online had always been fun, far beyond its usefulness.  Having recreated a huge chunk of itself online, of course society needed its needs met offline in the meantime.  If they’d made the choice to morph completely, they needed their bodies wound down correctly while every other aspect of them uploaded.  Medical staff made a fortune out of that.

Restaurants began to go bust as their clientele oozed off smoothly and stylishly into cyberspace.  The pressure on transport decreased … you get the picture; everything changed.

Schrodinger’s Computer

Then the Not-in-My-Namers started blowing up power stations.  It was a massively successful form of resistance, because even though online data didn’t seem to have been affected or lost, the notion of a permanent blackout terrified the technophiles.  Global screenfeeds played interviews with those online “survivors” after the power cuts and philosophical debates around Schrodinger’s Cat were hauled out of universities and aired once again.

Scar, with her port completely healed over and offline since her trip to Japan, watched all of it with growing consternation.  Her own choice was very simple; shift permanently into cyberspace, or remain perfectly offline.  By then, Sam and Veto spent most of their time online, with enough offline systems in place to facilitate that without destroying them offline.  Tokyo didn’t experience power outages, their tech all seemed invincible, indestructible.

Helen’s lectures went completely online, her class huge and global; student visitors to the loft tailed off gradually and then stopped altogether.

Down at Graff, the Jesus Lizard was still king, one of the few street artists who hadn’t made the jump into spraying cyberspace instead.  Scar started hanging out there again, spraying sigils and eights, getting to know the subculture again.  “Not in my name” became a ubiquitous tag; artists getting that up on billboards and walls using paint and light, geeks joining in to create locative art, jamming frequencies so that you’d see their work on almost any feed they hacked.

Power outages became routine in Generika – if you were online when the juice went off, you stayed online until it came back on again.  The whole thing just replaced earlier commuter transport problems, had anything really changed?  When Helen got stuck online, Scar would hover anxiously, checking her hydration, her bodily functions, monitoring readouts like a nurse.  You sort of expected things to malfunction in Africa though, but when they blacked out New York for an entire day, the world paid more attention.

Nothing had freaked out America quite so much since 9/11 and even though it didn’t dominate world economy and media as much as Japan and China did, America still loomed large on global horizons.  People began to panic.

Give the Consumers What They Want

Drug companies survived the shift just fine, by synthesising new products to support bodies while minds were online, to increase alertness – you name it, they made something to fix it or improve it.  Supposedly.  Psychiatry journals reported a sharp increase in Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder – Scar presumed society was merely suffering collective netsplit.  Stress levels exploded as people handled entire lives on and offline.

At first, outcasts had escaped online and felt free.  As the one plane echoed the other more and more, it didn’t feel quite as free any longer.  Replication seemed complete – society had constructed a giant virus.

The Neo-Oxfammers kept connecting rural communities, the Not-in-My-Namers kept blowing things up.  They also campaigned online, trying to lure people offline again.  Despite the extremes, there seemed to be enough money somehow, to ensure that both “worlds” were sustained.

You Can’t Save the World

Seti didn’t work offline at all anymore.  She coded and cloned genderno figures, animating them and unleashing them into cyberspace to attempt to make their presence felt amidst the rest of the line noise.  It backfired badly.  Cyberspace was only limited to the technology behind it and while an eventual crash seemed as inevitable as the sun’s implosion, everyone felt they probably had five billion years left and nobody worried very much at all.  Seti’s creatures just got lost in it all, ignored or deleted by anyone who didn’t like them.

The city streets had grown quieter with the shift and then began to fill again as outliers drifted in to fill the gaps left by the migration.

Samanth0r: they’re dying
Helen: who?
Samanth0r: migrants. anyone in cyberspace without paid space or their own server, they’re letting them fade
Helen: who is??
Samanth0r: corporates man, who else?
Helen: so no money, no sponsorship, no immortality?
Samanth0r: exactleh.
Helen: how’d you know?
Samanth0r: check out insecure, it’s growing. gotta flip, but we’ll talk soon

Scar and Helen sat in front of the good old fashioned, flatscreen, one dimensional web that night and logged on to insecure.org; what they read wasn’t reassuring in the slightest.  There were lists as long as military fatalities records there and an example of how onliners were fading back into raw data.  Helen got to work on filtering the list, trying to spot trends and it didn’t take her long to pinpoint a particularly disturbing one.  “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” she muttered and Scar looked over her shoulder at the spreadsheet.  “Shit!” she agreed.  “Whether this is a disease,” said Helen, “or whether it’s something contrived, this pattern’s terrifying.”

The list consisted of:
•    people with criminal records
•    people under a certain income level
•    people with registered psychiatric problems
•    transgenders
•    intersexed people
•    queers

“Freaking out will not help,” said Helen, as Scar hit the roof, “we have to talk to Sam again, we have to work this out.”  Scar could only agree with her, but she felt as if her brain was trying to claw its way out of her skull.  Helen uploaded her spreadsheet to insecure – responses were rapid and angry.  Other people had analysed the stats with slightly different results, but only slightly.  Whichever angle you looked from, the consequences were dire.

Hackers were working on recovering data, restoring the deleted souls, but of course, there was no chance of getting anybody back out of cyberspace once they’d made a complete shift from their body.  You can’t, as they say, get toothpaste back into the tube.

The Following Actions Make Boring Television

Helen: you looked at insecure lately?
Samanth0r: yup 😦
Helen: any ideas?
Samanth0r: sent the info round like a virus, what else can we do?
Helen: can you guys code any protection against whatever it is?
Samanth0r: it’s not a virus, it’s the environment – it’s hard to explain.  insecure d00ds trying to code safe space, but everything keeps shifting, it’s just … putting  out fires, you know? fact is, nothing’s the same anymore
Helen: no solution then?!?!
Samanth0r: *shrug* ppl have to start looking after themselves hey. all we can do really is spread the info.
Helen: ok …

Human rights organizations picked up on the info pretty quickly and little pockets of outrage appeared.  It’d be nice to imagine a global outcry, but let’s be honest, on the whole, people are busy surviving and the same old people always make a fuss, get involved.

And the more things change, the more they stay the same, thought Scar – but what can you do?  You just have to keep trying anyway.

Charmageddon got a whole lot livelier again, the online threat drawing the community together offline.  Scar found herself there more than usual too, talking and listening.  The Queer Control panel got a whole new lease of life too, doing whatever it could to keep its members safe.

Aluta Continua

If you’re finding it hard to believe that everything so far happened in less than a year, just think about how fast your emails fly around and how often you see new cellphone models appear.  Technology’s insanely fast; human beings – not so much.

Samanth0r: there’s a way, for some at least – Generika for one
Helen: tell!
Samanth0r: same answer lol, the TECH!
Helen: the tech?
Samanth0r: the tech. if enough of generika’s net base is still queer owned …
Helen: genius!
Samanth0r: everybody just got soft yo, forgot how to fight
Helen: it’s be *so* good to be allowed to forget!
Samanth0r: yeh … ppl are fuckwits tho.

The revolution was not televised.  It wasn’t even a complete solution, but some well placed communications to the right people, in the right places, did at least ensure the withdrawal of whatever Generika’s unstated participation in the online genocide was, as well as boosting the stream of refugees to the city.

I’m starting to loathe this “novel” completely – not only does most of it seem unbelievable to me when I read it back, not to mention unbelievably badly written, but I just can’t seem to find a big enough happy ending.  I don’t even know what the hell the end should be.  “And they all kept processing oxygen ever after.”  I’m vaguely back on target for the NaNo thing, but I am ready to chuck in the towel.

One of the casualties of the genocide, was Seti, who’d migrated online early, sent forth her genderno people and then quickly vanished without very many people noticing at all.  The image of her and that of her genderno had become interchangeable already.  Scar sometimes wondered if anyone else at all but her missed Seti the human being.  She’d have been pleased with how her art lived on though.  Even with some people deleting the figures as if they were a virus or a screensaver they’d fallen out of love with, that image had become iconic and hopefully somebody would always remember who started it all.

“Write it down, Scar,” said Ginger, “just write it all down.”

Nevada had repealed the Queer Marriage Act, yet again and Sam and Veto had lost faith in America entirely.  Scar and Helen assumed they’d get married in Japan, but they were in for a good surprise – Sam was coming home to get married.  She and Veto were still heroes in Generika – and South Africa, having renewed Mandela’s constitution, was once again the dichotomous place where you could very well end up murdered for being queer, but where the murder was at least illegal.

A magistrate would do the legal rites, then they and a few hundred close personal friends and no doubt some media too, would head out to the old naval base to celebrate on a grounded warship.  “Only those two,” said Scar, shaking her head and Helen grinned, “Of course – they need a weapons-grade wedding!”


samanth0r:u noticed any new symptoms lately?
scar: hard to tell hey, feel ancient anyway
samanth0r: ur starting to drift more out there, u oldtimers r a nightmare.. no security
scar: shit, yeh
samanth0r: got teh usual apps n scripts running, ur still gettin away
scar: :/
samanth0r: think u can still get out here, stagger round cyberspace a little? need to round up ur clones man, u need to be with me
scar: o.0 just lemme no when, brat
samanth0r: need ur b0dy here also scar
scar: wtf?
samanth0r: hard to explain, u have to trust me yeh
scar: when, how long?
samanth0r: asap, dunno
scar: fok. ok. lemme spk to h + see what i can do, will msg u asap
samanth0r: good.1 more thing
scar: ?
samanth0r: bring blue’s local data
scar: ok, y?
samanth0r: need it, will show u here

Scar had prowled the Quarter Online perimeter often enough, bringing her data and Helen’s inside.  Filtered eyefeeds and fast visits kept her intolerance of purple and (increasingly) green more or less in check, she was prone to nausea and headaches afterwards though.

Blue’s old iMac’s login screen shuddered as Scar entered passwords that didn’t work.  She was on the verge of demanding software to crack it from Veto, when she idly entered “indigogirl” and the login relaxed and allowed her access.  400 gigs on to a flash and they were good to go.

That Being Something Other

A week later, a reluctant Scar took the Shuriken to Tokyo again, with Helen.  By the time they’d landed and made their way to Sam and Veto’s cramped apartment, Scar had had more than enough of sophisticated cutting edge civilisation and swore she’d never travel again.  Too many people, buildings that bled into the guy, too many lights, too many words, too much of everything.

The apartment didn’t look all that different from Sam’s cubicle back home; cables everywhere, terminals, boxes, peeling feminist stickers and strange little character toys in vinyl.  And books everywhere – the one thing in the world that, it seemed, would never go successfully digital.  It was reassuring somehow.  Veto was off consulting somewhere, troubleshooting some corporation’s firewall.  Sam seemed edgy, but confident; Scar guessed Africa had probably lost her to Tokyo’s cutting edge candy lifestyle.

“So, what gives?” Scar asked Sam, once they’d all settled over green tea and a restricted view of skyscrapers.  Sam looked solemn and began to explain, “There’s something really weird going on man.  Cyberspace … well obviously it’s getting a whole bunch fuller and stuff looks more solid too.”  Scar and Helen nodded, they’d seen it, it was a logical progression.  “Thing is, things are getting, like, animated or something.  There’s more than drift going on out there.  Everybody’s watching it, nobody knows what the hell is causing it or what to do about it.  It’s like … I dunno, evolution.”  “Why are you so concerned?” asked Helen and Sam said quickly, urgently, “It’s not human-coded.  Some parts of cyberspace now, it’s like being in a freaking 80’s arcade game and it doesn’t feel right.”  She looked at Scar, “What I said about your data, it’s happened to a few people, not many, but it’s growing.  There’s animation, little … things … out there.  I’m starting to see personality; you in different moods and it is fucking bizarre.”  As Scar and Helen’s eyes widened further, she went on, “I can’t interact with any of them though, I think you have to be there and I think we need Helen.  Veto too, she’s back tomorrow and her grandfather will come and take care of the body stuff while we’re jacked.”

Sam showed them both stills of amoeboid blue shapes against curving gridlines and gibson stacks, then she said, “It get more weird,” and showed them similar shapes in what looked like rooms without windows.  Then she showed them film of one shape in a square, bouncing madly, erratically, angrily off the surfaces around it.  “I couldn’t get sound,” said Sam, “but that motherfucker has your voice and it swears a lot.”  Scar wasn’t sure whether to laugh or shit herself.  samanth0r logged her in to insecure.org and left her to read pages and pages of discussion about the phenomenon; a thousand words into the process and it was clear that nobody knew what the hell was going on.  “I’m the lab rat here,” muttered Scar, “the guinea freaking pig, the beagle of cyberspace.”

It was good to see Veto and her grandfather the following day.  Sam and Veto were talking about getting married in Vegas, which fucked up Scars no travel resolution somewhat.  No ways would she miss a drive-thru wedding complete with Elvis impersonators.

Tokyo tech, which seemed to evolve visibly, supplied Scar and Helen with full-face helmet style feeds – the Tokyo Two, of course, just plugged in direct.  They’d have two-way comms with Grandfather Miyagi and each other when they were jacked in.  The four of them ported straight in to what looked like an abandoned and half-built zone and Scar met her fragments.  The circled through the zone and as they moved, amoeboid blue things moved to Scar as if she were magnetic.  They shifted gently against her and Scar swore she could here a strange and low hum from them.  The grumpy one Sam had talked about was quiet when it arrived, but it vibrated in a way the others didn’t.

eyefeed_log:
Samanth0r: never seen em this still
Vet0: catch with code

As Scar kept as still as possible, the others wove code around her … her whats?  Aspects?  Avatars?  There was a problem.

Vet0: edge bleed. can’t get teh code round the things without coding round scar
Samanth0r: >_> we code her?
Vet0: might have to
Helen: can she get out, jack out with that stuff?

There was a very long and very pregnant pause, which ultimately gave birth to some more ideas.

Scar: can u guys get more info now? from teh blue thingies?
Samanth0r: trying
Helen: ok. screenshot it, video it, then we’re out. we gotta talk man.
Vet0: recording on all feeds now. ten and then flip.

*FLIP*

“Well,” said Vet0 once they were all out, “don’t think anyone’s seen that happen before.  Surely this’ll help.  I think we gotta look at it and then maybe upload it to insecure.”  “Oh great,” said Scar, “my safety’s being taken care of by neurotics.”  Samanth0r rolled her eyes.  They watched the playbacks from all four feeds in silence.  Scar watched herself being nuzzled by the blue things and felt … well, pretty calm really.  it really did feel like those things were part of her somehow.  The other three were looking a little distressed though.  “There’s, like no edges between you right there … complete bleed,” said Veto.

“Theory,” said Sam, “they’re part of Scar and integration would fix this.”  She looked at the screens again.  “Theory,” she repeated, “they’re B-movie evil and would suck Scar’s brains right out.”  “Oh thanks a lot,” said Scar and they all fell into silence again.  “Good or bad,” said grandfather, “they are part of Scar.”  Scar wondered when he was going to start calling her grasshopper.

Moodily they spent the evening slowly sucking on lager with strange names and noodles with strange shapes and they threw the theories around like a game of Pong.  Scar felt like a specimen on a petri dish and didn’t like it at all.  Sam uploaded the clip to insecure and then sat refreshing the board.  It didn’t take long to get responses, but they weren’t remotely helpful at first.  There were a lot of o.0 emoticons.

“Why’d you need Blue’s data?” asked Scar and Sam slapped her own forehead gently, “Yeah, that,” she said.  “That is another thing we have to take care of, but I think we have to sort you out first.  I need to get Blue locked down out there and I need the data to get the whole picture, or as whole as I can anyway.  I keep finding stuff I’m not sure about.  I can handle it though, but it’ll have to wait.”  Scar looked at Sam, “Listen – Helen can help you with that stuff, I think she knows stuff nobody else does.  You’d better talk to her Sam.”  Sam agreed and turned back to the screen.

“Aha!”

The message was terse and had been posted seconds before.  Sam opened another programme, inputted strings of who knew what and within seconds, was talking to the poster, a geek called aBuri.  The screen scrolled interminably, loaded with pages and pages of code that made no sense to Scar at all.  Sam, Veto and Helen, however, were looking startled and enlightened.  “WHAT?” growled Scar the specimen, from the bleak surface of her petri dish.

“It’s your genetic code, babe,” said Helen eventually, “and it’s the same from the samples before you interacted with the blues.”  “So why the hell didn’t anybody recognise it?” demanded Scar.  “Encryption,” said Veto, “like, military grade encryption we don’t have the key too and aBuri shouldn’t either.”

“Biotech.” muttered Sam suddenly.  “Normally, you jack in and the data you come out with, well that’s stored in your feed, right?”  “Right,” said Scar, feeling hollow.  “So this data’s like … lost code … fragments.  Part of you.  We need to get those blue things out of the cyberwaste and back into your brain yo.”  Scar stared at the port bored into Sam’s skull and Sam nodded.  “Yup, it’s time for you to droid up.”

Helen held Scar close while the Seroquel slowly, fluffily hit her over the head and she slipped into sleep.  Clinic and institution flashbacks disturbed her all night, made her sweat and whimper.  What the hell was the world coming to?  It was insane.

While Sam and Veto tested code all day the next day, Helen and Scar went to a biotech lab.  Anaesthetic, a drill, an insertion.  Scar came round and promptly fainted.  When she woke up, Helen told her 48 hours had passed.  She waited for the numbness to pass, trying not to probe at the new hold in her skull with her fingers.  Helen threatened to get her one of those plastic collars they use on dogs to stop them licking.

She only jacked in for a few minutes the next time.  Apart from the headache, it was relatively alright, she supposed.  And the nausea.  And the blurring of vision.  She went on to a kind of a rehab routine – gentle exercise, plain food and increasing time in cyberspace.  As the periods lengthened, the blues began to find her, rest against her.  Scar found that it actually made her feel better and the headaches faded with the rest of the symptoms.  Sam, highly amused by then, found that when she routed R.E.M songs into Scar’s feed while she was with the blues, they seemed to sleep, their humming falling into a low and droning harmony.

And that’s how they did it in the end.  Sam mixed the R.E.M songs she found dreariest, to lull the blues while Scar and Helen jacked in with Veto.  Motionless, Scar and her blues rested while the other two coded loops and circles around them.  Scar felt sleepy, quiet.  Time passed and she lost track of how many songs had played.  She didn’t notice when Veto and Helen stopped coding, she didn’t notice the volume on the music fade and she wasn’t aware of the scrutiny was under.  There was a film of blue all around her, it made her feel incredibly serene.  The only thought she remembered afterwards, was her attempts to put hex codes on the blue, while the colour shifted subtly around her.

They flipped and Scar passed out yet again.  By the time she came round, everybody was coding furiously, resolving amoeboid shapes all over cyberspace, trying to work out how to sort it all long term.  There just didn’t seem to be many boundaries between cyberspace and meatspace anymore.  The consensus was that it wasn’t safe for Scar out there anymore.  She could let skin grow around the port in her cranium with a little more biotech help, her friends could clean up whatever was left of her out there, get it safely into her stack and hopefully there wouldn’t be anymore bleed, any more little lost blue things moping around the place.

There was a time when the prospect of no cyberspace would have horrified Scar, but she felt older, not necessarily wiser at all, but quite content to hang out in meatspace.  She’d live on there in a way, being a test case, a case study for the whole iDisease thing.  It became clearer and clearer – net access would have to alter, if there was any hope of controlling the epidemic.

There seemed to be little hope actually, the tech was just too available, too widespread.  Telling people not to jack in for fear of iDisease was like telling people not to have sex because of HIV; they’d have to find another way, or watch the boundaries blur further.

Unsent Letters

Scar revived an old project and began writing letters she had no intention of sending.  She wrote to her dead parents, who obviously wouldn’t get the letter even if she did send it.  She wrote to Nina, her heart breaking for the past.  She wrote a blanket apology to every woman she ever went out with and a heartfelt thank you elegy to Helen.

The world felt autistic; a desaturated sky, oversaturated cityscapes, a sense of not being able to communicate, not being able to keep up and never, ever fitting in.

Blue Sky Coding

In the meantime, Helen and Scar had decided not to leave Japan at least until they’d got Blue’s data secured – but who the hell was Blue?  the more they probed her data, the more confusing it became.  Helen, who’d known her longer than anyone, pored over the local data, with deepening frown lines.  She mapped out a life in words and code and waited for shapes to appear.  After a particularly long day, she threw her hands up and asked Scar to read through it all.

Scar was surprised at how much sense it made to her, until she realised that it was like reading her own life story, set in a very slightly different time.  She began to wish she’d experienced as much of the twentieth century as Blue had.  Blue had been a pretty clichéd dyke in a time when those clichés meant more than choice.  The whole thing was kind of sad and rather beautiful.

Blue had been born well out of the urban zone, in the heart of the Karoo in a tiny and fairly forgotten town.  Scar read between lines and then started typing between them; guesses at a life she imagined would be relatively accurate.  She’d been born to parents who didn’t appear to understand her, or make much effort to do so.  She’d gone to school locally and fallen in love with books, information and her English Literature teacher, all at once.  There wasn’t a lot of money and when she got out of school, she ran the family farm while her parents aged and despaired of her ever marrying a nice farm boy and increasing the size of their land and giving them grandchildren.

Stashed on Blue’s disk had been love letters which made Helen cry when she read them.  They made Scar scowl, which was really just another way of weeping.  It was all so very poignant, so very doomed.  Blue had fallen for a local women, only referred to as “Mich” in the data.  Michelle?  The stats Helen had pulled for baby names of the era suggested that was by far the likeliest possibility.  Blue was desperate to move to the city, to Generika, which in those days, held all kinds of freedoms for queers that rural areas probably never ever would.  Mich seemed unable to make the necessary break.  A case of fear exceeding love, thought Scar and sighed.

When Mich married a local boy, Blue left for the city and as far as anybody knows, never had contact with her parents again.  Or Mich.  A familiar depression settled around Scar like a shroud as she read.  Was humanity destined to be eternally fuckwitted?  Probably.

In the city, things had improved for Blue.  She’d found work, technology and lesbians.  The world felt far more free.  She discovered a lesbian bar, Joan Armatrading and Martina Navratilova and she felt a little less like a freak.  She had a succession of relationships, but hadn’t kept any letters, if there were any.  Helen had rescued chatlogs from various servers though and they painted a picture that was completely familiar to Scar.  Hook-ups, break-ups, make-ups … a personal pantheon of dyke drama that made Scar roll her own eyes in sympathy and very definite empathy.  Life in the crush zone …

Once the laws had changed and the queers were in their ghetto, data was tougher to source.  Helen had managed to peel layers of anonymity to reveal Blue’s activism, but nothing of her personal life or loves.  As far as anyone could tell, Blue had flown solo ever since.

As Helen read through Scar’s assumptions and guesses, she was able to scout further, reclaim more data.  There was enough, it seemed, to put Blue to rest, there was just one gaping void that needed, perhaps, to be lit.  Mich.

“If we leave this to Sam,” said Helen, “go home and go after Mich, then the story’s done.”  Scar nodded.  “See you in Vegas next year?” asked sam as she hugged Scar goodbye at Narita.  “You can bet your skinny arse,” said Scar, fighting tears.  No cyberspace meant no Sam and she’d miss her, to put it mildly.  And off they went, back to Africa, back to Generika, back home.

Exactly how many stories would never be told, because people had to hide?

Wide Blue Yonder

In the Karoo, everything felt far away and the sky was still blue, unlike Generika’s grey dome.  The farm where Blue had grown up was haunted only by a few cranes now.  Flat, dry and stretching out to a lone koppie with a few aloes, Helen and Scar stood quietly on the dirt road by rusted gate posts.  It was hard to imagine Blue there; her hard, rugged edges would have fit in, but not her hairstyle – not combined with her gender anyway.

The school was long gone, just more flatness, some bleached shells of buildings and only the soccer field still in use.  There weren’t any photographs of Blue as a kid at all, so Scar pictured herself there, boyish, ill-fitting, lost.  There were few locals around and those they found had no recollection of Blue’s family, they were all too new or too lost themselves, in that despairing poverty, alcoholism, isolation.  How do people still live out here, they wondered.  Such a brutal existence.

They photographed everything, filed it, made notes nonetheless.  This part of her world may have forgotten Blue, so they’d just build the connections back themselves.  Every broken windmill and rusted barbed wire fence, the rocks, the sky, the brittle, yellow grass – it was all a part of her.

In the middle of this startling backdrop, Sam mailed a file.  She’d looped the humming of Scar’s blue things, the audible swearing of the angry blue thing and a backtrack of Scar’s breathing while the coding was done.  It was the most bizarre thing to listen to while the sun crashed into the earth the way it does in Africa and the stars came out, closer than anywhere else against a soft navy sky.

Eating fragrant Karoo lamb that night, wild with the stunted plants of the semi desert, Scar thought a person could be happy out there if they didn’t have to integrate too much.  Maybe there weren’t even enough people left to have to integrate these days; the Karoo was becoming renowned for being where the freaks washed up, the ones too freaky even to make it in the cities.  There were rumours of towns far out, full of queers and artists.  Funny how those two species seemed to overlap and hang together.  Like canaries down mine shafts, the freaks would creep quietly into barren lands and live well until the rest of society noticed and took over.

Where was Mich though?  There just weren’t enough physical traces of a human past here to trace her.  The Karoo had eroded the details right off everything, leaving only the husks of the old town.

Hunting a Haunting

Train home, to the edge of the city, then a shuttle or three back to the dock.  Helen surfed government records from the area, property deeds, birth certificates, marriages, deaths.  Farming boomtime back then, there was a shitload of data to wade through and filter, but it didn’t take Helen very long to generate a handful of matches; a handful of Michelles and Micheles and a Michaela.

She tossed their identities out into the net and then filtered even more results.  Two dead Michelles, one in the city, a Michele in Canada and no Michaela whatsoever.  Two people to investigate and one to find.  Helen emailed the canadian Michelle, asking her if she’d known a tomboyish girl back in the Karoo, called Hester.  Hester – a name that didn’t fit Blue any more than her town had, it was almost unbelievable.  Scar thought about her own name and sympathised again.  Michele was about the right age, they waited and held thumbs, hoping.

Scar took a trip into the business hub to scope out the city Michelle, who owned a company there.  She was tall, efficient looking and didn’t seem impressed to be accosted by Scar as she exited the building, talking furiously into her wristfeed.  She stopped though, as soon as Scar mentioned her corner of the Karoo.  “Hester Pretorius,” she said, “yes I went to school with her and yes, everybody was called Michelle that year, almost!”  Over coffee in a café nearby, Scar learned a little more.  “Ja no, that was a scandal back then, old Hester, shame,” as she talked about the past, her accent grew warmer and harder.  “Times were changing then, but never quick enough for her, never.  It wasn’t enough she turned into a man right in front of us, but then that trouble with the …” her voice trailed off and Scar raised her brows questioningly.  “Almost said the wrong word,” she said, “how our history scars us.  Listen, it’s ancient history.  You say Hester’s dead now; her parents died long ago.  It’s a damn sad story, you should leave it alone.”  And with that, she activated her wristfeed again and strode off, heels clipping the sidewalk in a way the sidewalk would certainly know who was boss.

She replayed the conversation for Helen from her own wristfeed later and Helen showed her the email from Canada.  “What would the wrong word be for someone like that, from that place?” muttered Helen, while Scar read.

Dear Helen,

What a blast from the past, I hardly ever even think of the old place these days, life is so different here, so much better.  I knew your friend; everyone knew everyone back there, it was that kind of little place.

I am not Mich.  I’m not even sure I should be telling you this, I don’t like thinking about it all again.  I think the heartbreak killed Mr and Mrs Pretorius, they just faded away somehow, after it all.

Michaela Malgas is Mich.

I’m sorry, I’m not prepared to discuss this any further.

M

“Malgas,” said Scar, “names were racially divided back then, that’d explain the ‘wrong word’ thing.”  Helen frowned, “Racist, homophobic fuckers,” she said, in uncharacteristic irritation.

First port of call – Google:

“Michaela Malgas”
*SEARCH*
0 Results for “Michaela Malgas” – did you mean Michael Malgas?

“No, you gender-impaired monolith,” cursed Helen, “she could have got married, changed her name … she did get married dammit, to a farmer … but who and how the hell are we going to find out?”  Scar was pensive, “Isn’t Michael Malgas that old artist dude?” she asked, “The guy who made his name painting the outside of the Brown Ghetto walls … blue?!”  It’s not often you can hear an exclamation mark and a question mark, but they were audible then.  Helen clicked on the link and got a quarter of a million results.  Filtering it using “blue” hardly reduced the number, but “Karoo” and “Hester” paid off well.

The biographical stuff told a harsh tale, of an impoverished childhood, an unspecified scandal, an abusive marriage and an escape into the city, into art, into blue, away from Blue and into a whole new gender.  Michaela had become Michael as soon as he fled his marriage and went to the city.  It happened surgically a few years after that, in Japan, where he was already a star.  There was only one overt reference to Hester/Blue and it was, unexpectedly, a poem.

hester

beautiful boy, desert star, i
got lost in your constellation
painted myself blue, away from you,
desaturated, digitised, carved my skin
became more you than you
could ever be
betrayed me
lost you

*mm*

“Wrong race,” said Helen, frowning mightily, “wrong time, then wrong gender.  Jesus.”  “Terrible poem,” remarked Scar, “must have been a lesbian when he wrote it.”  Helen frowned again, “Could you just once,” she muttered, “for once in your life, try a little sensitivity.”  Scar shrugged apologetically, “Those poor bastards nutshelled a lot of their century eh?”

That was when Helen really started putting the thumbscrews on to me about writing shit down.  I shrugged her off habitually and compulsively; there were more than enough damn words in the world, right?  When it came to Blue’s story though, my resistance melted away like … like stuff that melts.  Ice in a heatwave.  Whatever.  Blue’s story deserves its own novel, screenplay, film, everything.  It’s huge.  It feels too big to write properly sometimes.

That *mm* at the end of the poem was the first record they found of what turned into Michael Malgas’ logo, adorning his gallery in the city, his website and all of his work from then on.  From enfant terrible to wise old man of the art scene, his latest work was “Mickey Malgas,” a distorted rendition of the Disney icon, referencing Andy Warhol in the quad prints in each luminous eyeball and set against a background of high-gloss, hi-res blue M&M’s.  Witty as ever, thought Scar, but perhaps a tad over-synthesised.  Clicking back through his body of work (a phrase that never failed to make Scar feel as if she were at a catholic mass), there was a clear progression from an artist completely shunned by society, to one who was in the throes of hauling out as many of its icons as possible and jamming them almost beyond recognition.  Blue featured, always, but from the matt tones of his street start, it had morphed into a violent shade, oozing acid and dislocation.

He’d gone global long ago and lived in New York these days.  Helen’s attempts at subtle emails were ignored.  A bolder email mentioning Hester by her full name got no response either.  “He’s probably got minions,” said Scar, “hell, that dude’s so huge, his minions probably have minions.”  Helen gave up emailing, kept Michael Malgas firmly on her radar and got on with life.

And she nagged me about writing.  A lot.  I made a few desultory attempts back then and kept giving up.  I’ve always been lazy.  If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned reader comments and stuff in a while, it’s because this last piece of writing happened all in one go.  Still well behind target and panicking gently, it’s lunch time, for those that do lunch and I have done over 5 000 words.  Because that’s how I roll.  Also, Helen’s standing behind me with a sjambok.  OK I’m kidding, but only about the actual sjambok, she might as well be.  Thank God.  If it wasn’t for her … anyway.

We Gots Our Freak On

Blue’s story inspired both Helen and Scar to start tracking their own histories.  Scar didn’t get any further than dead parents and the estranged Nina.  Helen fared slightly better and started gentle communication with her mother on the web.  They talked of meeting, perhaps, one day.  Helen’s mother wrote that she loved her and something hard inside her seemed to soften, some old wound healed a little.

Encouraged, Sam contacted her parents too, but was told she was no longer a part of the family and would she please disappear.  Her brother contacted her independently, demanding a wedding invitation.  You win some, you lose some.  Veto’s family were pretty amazing, maybe because Japan was so much more advanced, who knew.  They’d pretty much adopted Sam from the word go and were taking an extreme interest in the wedding arrangements.  Seemed like it was going to be the party of the year if they had anything to do with it.

Dear World,

This is the world the queers inherited …

We’re inconvenient and most of you won’t let us in unless we have money or a really great closet.  Our families reject us, frequently, and if anybody at all tolerates us, we’re supposed to be grateful.  We have to miss important stuff if society doesn’t want us there.  We’re bullied at school and in South African townships, raped to cute us or just murdered to remove us.  You keep changing laws about us, we’re always in a stream separate to human rights.  It’s unjust, but as much as it changes with time, it never changes at heart.  We’re firmly on the fringes, why won’t you just let us in?

Yours,

(in rage and pain)

Scar

Veto’s family would be there at the wedding, bearing gifts and smiles.  Sam’s brother would be there and everybody would be very aware of the absence of her parents.  All the queers would be so used to the scenario, they’d overcompensate, embracing Sam like the most cloyingly loving family on earth and it still wouldn’t alleviate the greater rejection completely.

In the time it took to plan their wedding and get married, fifteen American states would have altered their laws and opinions on queer marriage.  They’d be doing the legal ceremony in Japan first, to avoid their American marriage being invalid within weeks.  It happened.

You could fake it and fit in, or you could celebrate your freakiness, but there seemed to be no escaping it.  Freaks were freaks and the world kept on filing them away.

Moodily, Scar began another installation.  Homage to Seti, in a way – two genderno figures, winged and embracing in a kiss so that you could hardly see where on figure left off and the other started, surrounded by an angry and faceless mob with pitchforks and fire.  She called in the Marriage of Figurative and made it roughly, angrily, noisily.  Everybody loathed it on sight, which pleased Scar.  She did too.  She wondered when the city would get as far as ordering her stuff cleared from the dock spaces, or just bulldozing it themselves.

She thought back to getting busted for being queer when she was, what, seventeen?  “Gender Non-Conforming!” said a doctor in a very white quote, making angry notes.  It went downhill from there.  She was lucky she’d arrived there once they got bored with Electro-Convulsive Therapy.  She knew a lot of people who’d been forced down that road and none of them had emerged unscathed.  The pills were no fun either and Scar often wondered whether the pills had in fact overtaken and overwhelmed her personality years before.  It was a tough life, it made you bitter, even while you never had to look far to see other people far worse off.  Perspective could be a bastard too.

“Fly,” she said to the winged genderno people and she torched their wings and watched them melt back into shapeless lumps of unhappy metal.

Enter the Dyke Hag

“Jesus fuck you’re so emo!” said a voice behind her and Scar turned to find Ginger (remember her of dyke-hag chatlog fame?) standing behind her.  She grinned, “What’s up, het?” she said and over McJunk burgers, caught up with each other.

I’d better explain here that Ginger’s possibly the weirdest hetero hero you’ll ever find in a queer “novel.”  She doesn’t even have ginger hair either, she got the nickname from her addiction to ginger haired men and a promise to give up any children she ever bore who weren’t ginger haired.  She’d been away at university for what seemed like a million years and in the way of university students, had always been liberal, friendly to the cause, a quiet defender of queer rights in her own way.

“Stop making morbid art,” she grouched, “and stop bloody well listening to Beck and Death Cab for Cutie and fucking well write the shit down!”  Scar stared; when had this damn kid grown up to be quite so forceful?  Ginger, a film student, wanted Blue’s story as a project, Scar was stoked.  The kid had talent, even if she didn’t have any damn manners.

Scar started writing.

Ginger hung out with them a lot, gently rebuffing the advances of babydykes and bemoaning the lack of fine red haired men in the area.  Helen suggested that perhaps the Queer Quarter wasn’t the best place to go fishing.  Ginger muttered something about Prince Harry not answering her calls and hung around some more.

She started interviewing people for her film, reading through Helen’s data and Scar’s arthritic attempt and a novel.  She explored the older areas of the ghetto, getting footage for the project.  She asked Scar questions and then left her alone to write down the answers.  She never learned any manners.

Dressed to the nines, she went off to a Michael Malgas’ gallery opening in the city one night.  She got back with a slightly distended liver and Mr Malgas’ phone number.  They sat around staring at it for the longest while before Helen picked up the phone.

Helen’s side of the conversation, transcribed from Ginger’s feed:
Mr Malgas?
No, you don’t know me, my name is … PLEASE don’t hang up, Dr Helen Cherry and we’ve been trying to get hold of you for ages.
From the gallery opening, a friend who is working on a film which involves you …
Yes, from Generika U … postgraduate, doctoral, yes …
No, not an art documentary, I know you’re in hundreds, it’s … well …
… Hester Pretorius.  Blue.
Mr Malgas?
Are you there?
Sir?
Oh, good.
Sorry?
OK.

Click.

“He’ll see us,” she said, with a mixture of excitement and fear whirling across her face.

Meeting Michael Malgas

He had a day left before his return to New York and we went to the revolving Hotel to see him.  Not so long before, that hotel was a downtown crackhouse, well past its heyday, but the gentrification of the area had turned it into a star again, in that timeless kitsch way so beloved of architects and designers.  Late twentieth century minimale was the order of the day, even the curves seemed to have corners.

“Call me Michael,” he said quietly and so we did.  He leaned forward and listened intently without a word, while Helen told him what we knew of Blue’s story and how it had ended.  Ginger was recording and he didn’t stop her.  We seemed to have tacit approval from then actually.  With Ginger’s looks, approval wasn’t rare around her, it was extremely useful.

“You are exactly right,” he said to Helen, at the end, “the times were against us, my skin colour and hers and ultimately, my gender.  It was doomed.  It’s a trite story, no?”  “No!” said Ginger, firmly and we all gazed at her.  “Just because the theme’s as old as time doesn’t mean the story is,” she said, “in fact, the story’s not only of it’s time, your generation, but this one too.  History’s just … spiralling!”  Michael nodded.

“if you tell this story,” he warned, “it might paint an unhappy picture of mainstream society, but it paints an unhappy one of queers and transgenders too.  I broke Blue’s heart, you know.  We didn’t recover from each other, but we couldn’t be together either.  Your world wants gender not to matter at all, but it mattered to both of us, it matters to me.”

“Isn’t that just the way it goes?” Helen chimed in, “I mean, some people do overcome gender totally, some don’t.  Isn’t the ultimate message simply that all choices are valid that everyone’s entitled to be themselves, that …” she trailed off again.

“How do you put any kind of message out there without pissing off part of the LGBTQI community anyway?  Just do it anyway and hope that more people will too and that more and more views will emerge.  Sometimes you can’t speak for your whole tribe, just yourself, your friends.”  That was Scar’s contribution and it made Michael pause and think.

“OK,” he said eventually.  “You have my permission and within reason, my participation, although I must warn you I am a busy man.”  He gave Ginger a frank look and said, “You keep the focus on Blue, not me, right?” and Ginger agreed.  He looked at Scar then, “And you … you write with your heart, yes?”  “Yes,” said Scar.  Was there another way to write?

Ginger’s lack of manners turned into a blessing, as she pestered the world till she got its co-operation.  Scar and Helen only ever saw her through the wrong end of cameras in those days, for interviews and whatever footage of them Ginger had decided was necessary to make what she thought would be the most mindblowing documentary ever.  She spliced meatspace film and screenfeed from cyberspace, she fucked around with sound and vision like it had probably never been fucked with before.  She was like John Cage on seriously good drugs.

She didn’t sleep much, her hair looked like hell and Helen nagged her about food daily while she was at the dockside.  She frequently wasn’t though and she got damn thin, chasing memories in the Karoo and interviews in Tokyo and New York.

Scar tried not to get distracted by the detrimental effects of Evanescence on Seether HOW many years ago and buried herself in words every day, committed to doing the 50 000 words in 30 days NaNoWriMo thing.  Curse it.  She fought off doom, gloom and her own inattentive goldfish brain and the novel ate her head gradually.  She wondered if she’d ever be the same again.

Blue’s Story

Hester Pretorius was born, roughly halfway into or out of the twentieth century, under a very pondering, ponderous sky indeed.  The Karoo, South Africa’s unforgiving heart, has a reputation for a sky that is far more wide open than most of the minds burning in the fierce heat under it.  Pioneers had no time for gentleness, no scope for it and the very thing that made one generation adventurous turned the next into heartless seeming survivors, who knew no other way.  Hester’s town was no exception and so she was born, alien corn amongst the tough aloe.  Her parents, Frederik and Elana, were kindly enough souls, but they didn’t understand this girl child who looked like a boy, who wasn’t interested in dolls, who fidgeting in church and seemed to be outcast at school.  Hester couldn’t understand why she felt so different either.

It was a little school – a few whitewashed buildings cowering from that enormous sky, a little haven of old fashioned values, apartheid and Christian National Education.  The pupils were as white as the walls, kids who weren’t white learned to read on the farms where their parents worked, if the farmer’s wife was that way inclined.  Hester’s mother was indeed that way inclined and it was she who taught young Michaela Malgas to read while her parents kept the house clean and the sheep safe from black-backed jackal out in the veld.  She didn’t have to stay on the farm, said Elana Pretorius to Michaela, if she learned English and sums and reading, maybe she could work in a shop one day.

Hester went to school, came home, did her chores and mostly ignored her homework, unless it was English Lit.  Miss Neville, their English teacher, was really English, all the way from Durban and Hester never figured out how she landed up in the Karoo, but was grateful for it and would have done anything for her.  After a few years in the wilderness, Miss Neville vanished coastwards and Hester’s world bleached a little more under the sun.  Ostracised by her class full of Michelles, Hester felt stunted by loneliness.  She’d try to fit in and keep failing and it bruised her a little bit harder each time.

Her mother’s innocent suggestion that Michaela help Hester study Shakespeare for school may have sealed both their fates.  Elegantly, symbolically, fatefully, Hester’s class were reading Romeo and Juliet that year and, as Hester’s father said, understanding it fokol, man.  Hester, always the outsider, feel in love with the poetry of it all and imagined herself as Romeo – lyrical, handsome and doomed.  Michaela had her eye on the same role, however, and several inches taller than Hester by then, she won.  She was Romeo to Hester’s Juliet all of the July school holidays.  Hester hated being shorter and she hated being blerrie Juliet also, but she did enjoy Mich’s in character embraces very much indeed.  A spark had been ignited and the two misfit fourteen year olds were pretty helpless in the face of it.

It seem unthinkable in the days of media-saturated acceleration, but those two stole kisses, wrote letters and hung out together for the next four years without their families ever becoming suspicious.  Hester had always been strange and Mich, well, she wasn’t the right colour and so people took very little notice of Mich at all back then.

(Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?)

At eighteen, Hester dug her comfortable heels in, left school and refused to go to teacher training college or to go out with any of the local boys her mother pushed her towards.  She stayed home and farmed, while Frederik slowly and inexorably got lost in a cloud of emphysema.

Innocently, unbelievably, Hester and Mich had never gone further than kisses at all and they were kissing when Elana found them.  There was a silence heavier than mercury and then Elana said, “Get.In.Side.Now.” to Hester and to Mich, “Go.To.Your.Mother.”  They did so and with alacrity, faster than laxatives.  Elana pretorius wasn’t the kind of woman who told you to do anything more than once.

Michaela’s father beat her into submission, pure and simple, and having submitted, she found herself married to a local boy of her class and caste, not a farmer as Scar had supposed later, but a farm labourer.  He was too old, too male and far too drunk to ever make Mich happy and he very quickly set about the business of ensuring the reverse.  It was the stuff of early Irish novels, he fucked her, thrashed her and then demanded his dinner.  And so life slouched on to bedlam.

With a train ticket north, to the teacher training college, Hester bade her family farewell for the last time ever, looked down at the battered suitcase in her hand – and boarded the southbound train instead, to Generika, which her parents had always referred to as Gomorrah, the syllables lurching from their tongues like the start of an avalanche.

Hester would probably have ended up doing construction work in a country without apartheid, but her white skin pushed her into clerical work and despite her manly appearance, Hester Pretorius soon became a secretary.  She hated it with a passion, but was later grateful, because it did at least get her into computing early.  By the time she became a mainframe programmer, she was known as Blue, a nickname given to her by her first real girlfriend.  She hadn’t even realised she always dressed in blue until the girlfriend laughingly mentioned it.  And so she became Blue, by name and nature as she’d say, for the rest of her life.

Back in the Karoo, Mich blurrily waited to be beaten to death, but fate intervened in a positive way she was completely unaccustomed too, and her cursed spouse drank himself to death.  “Should have murdered you myself, fucker!” spat Mich and she left the Karoo.  While Hester was finding herself and losing herself in Generika, getting high, sleeping with women, getting low again and moving between jobs and homes and women far too often, Mich was intensely involved in the revolution of her own tribe, the one she shared her skin colour with.  There wasn’t time to be gay or be straight while that shit was going down and she had a history she preferred to forget anyway.

By the time the laws had all changed and then changed again, Mich had escaped to America, land of the free, as long as you had money and by then, Mich had been living as a man for years, conquering the art scene with a swagger – the new Warhol, they all said.  Blue was living in the ghetto then, trying to programme the latest revolution.

And if she was no longer visibly on Mich’s radar, he was clearly on hers.  They met again only once before Blue didn’t make it back out of cyberspace that day.

The conversation was recounted by a tearful Michael Malgas, on film.

Blue: I loved your poem, I keep it close.  Your letters too.
Mich: The letters!  I no longer have them, those days were bleak hey?
Blue: Fokken bleak ja.
Mich: Blue … even if we had stayed together or found each other again sooner, you know it wouldn’t change who I am …
Blue: I know Mich, I know.

At that point apparently, there was an incredibly long silence.  You’ll see it in the film and the music will rip your heart right out with its bare hands at the same time.  Ginger is as cruel as an artist needs to be to get it right.

Mich: There’s never been anyone but you.
Blue: And you ja, it’s just … the way it is.
Mich: It’s just the way it is.

Strange way to say I love you, perhaps, but that is what they were saying, without a hint of a speculation of a shadow of a doubt.

Redemption is expressed so neatly in Ginger’s notes, in Blue’s heroic acts, in Michael’s brave life and successes.  The technology that had given Blue freedom, money and then a second freedom, killed her in the end.  Michael lost the love that had ultimately made him free to work out who the hell he was.

If you’d known Blue, you wouldn’t have thought she died unhappy, hopefully she didn’t.


Drifting

22Nov09

It’s tough to keep writing through sad times.  I’m behind the NaNoWriMo target yet again, but fairly sure I can do one of my usual catch-ups.  I find I don’t even care what anyone thinks of this whole story anymore, or the writer, even.  That is probably just a sign of dissociation, perhaps I do care deep down.  Or whatever.  Who cares?  I’d rather take enough pills to sleep all weekend.  I wish I could be bothered getting drunk.  When you actively want distraction, there’s no fucker around online to chat to.

What with the web becoming increasingly, interactively three dimensional, not only was the disneyfication of society imminent, but it all created a whole lot more loopholes and a whole lot more drift.  You’ve probably created 3D avatars of yourself online, in games and so on – well, those little cartoons have an awful lot of raw data behind them, all in your name and all of that is loose somewhere in the far reaches of the net behind your safe seeming web.  You could be having bits of your data stolen without even noticing, you could be fraying at the edges, thinking you probably just needed a vitamin B shot.  It happens all the time.

Scar’s data was a complete, screaming nightmare – well, any nethead’s would be.  Not only did she need to keep track of all the legit stuff, but all of her pseudonyms were out there too, each with their own little data groups.  Choice: associate them to the main identity, or maintain anonymity and nursemaid multiple identities?  It’s a no-brainer if privacy matters to you, but the fact was, it was just no longer possible to hide online anymore – if indeed it ever truly was.

Working security over in Tokyo, Sam and Veto were making fortunes.  Back home, Scar was struggling to use the web on a read only basis and tidy up years and years of her net and web presence as a complete identity whore.  Unwired Magazine called it iDisease.  Die hard otaku and hikikomori called it justice.  Maybe people would just have to communicate better offline.  Maybe.