Tatter: Chapter 25

Previous chapter

The men and women of Aestival moved as a pack, eight in number, through the labyrinthian alleyways of the city as rain pelted all from the roiling red-gray welkin. Their muscles taunt; eyes sharp; hearts pounding; weapons primed.

Upon entering the HEZ, they paused to recover and take in their surroundings, checking the meticulously detailed map displayed on their wrist-bound receivers, then surveying the sidewalkless expanse of high-stacked thoroughfares and magnetic rail lines. A screaming mineral lattice to encase the sky.

“Are you sure we can trust Vangr’s information?” Gerard inquired suddenly, pausing as they approached the Northwing Detention Facility, shoes kicking dust that lay heavy upon the ground, composed of years of accumulated rail-shavings and cargo-spills.

“All of the information he’s provided us so far has been sound. Why would he start lying now? It gains him nothing.” Carduus replied as she peeked around the corner of a large industrial warehouse, out of which moved numerous cargo drones, bearing resined crates on insectal arms.

“For profit. Credits. Status. Same as most anyone else.”

“Vangr isn’t interested in credits or status.”

“He isn’t interested in our cause either.”

“Not the time. Nor the place. You losing your nerve?”

“No.”

“Then shut your mouth.”

Gerard resentfully resigned himself to silence as the party waited for the automated cargo-carriers to pass down the street, whereupon they crept from their hiding place and swarmed across the dusty, ground-level thoroughfare, ragged cloaks flapping in the wind. Everywhere the scent of steel and chalk and drying cement.

As they reached the detention facility block they spied a cluster of aerial surveillers flitting through the misted heights. Carduus dropped to her stomach, throwing her pale gray hood up and spreading her cloak about her body.

“Get down.”

The rest of the pack quickly emulated the woman’s motions, positioning themselves flat and still upon the cool and faint-dusted concrete. There they lay until all trace of the surveillers had passed, then they rose and jogged steadily to the back entrance of the wardenless prison. At the portal into the complex’s shiftyard, Carduus halted and turned to her inferiors, feeling the harsh concrete wall before her with one hand.

“This is a grab job. In and out. No deviation. The target is our only priority.” Carduus turned to Aune, who nervously scanned the sky for the silvery sheen of more surveillance drones, “Anyone gets in our way gets taken out; anyone who falls behind gets left behind.”

All nodded save Aune.

Carduus struck the wall lightly and withdrew her weapon.

“Form up. Lets catch ourselves a monster.”

Next chapter

The Dauntless Rook (§.14)

Continued from §.13.

Serlo Wealdmaer exited the cabaret to behold an angwissous man in a corvine coat, running full-tilt across the cobblestones of the main thorough. The sprinter shouted for aid as he sped, arms flailing like a beached and barmy cephalopod. Something about the manic figure seemed familiar to Serlo. He narrowed his gaze and gave a cry, realizing that the man wore the same coat Cerelia had bought for Oeric Adair.

As the eloper made to pass, Serlo lunged forward and caught the runner about the arm.

“What anoy, man?”

“Let me go!”

“A moment. Thy coat is familiar to my eyes. How did thee come by it?”

“He’ll kill us both!”

“Who, man? Speak.”

The disheveled tramp fearfully pointed down the street. Serlo followed the gesture but saw only empty tiled road and a few street-sweepers in the distance.

“He was right behind me! He was. I swear it!”

“Calm thyself, there is no one. Safe thou art. Now, tell me, how came thee by this feathery glaze?”

“Selt it wert, by a man, but a few minutes past.”

“That bastard,” Serlo exclaimed to himself, face flushing cherry-red.

“Bastard, sir?”

“Nothing, nothing. How much did thee give for it?”

“It?”

“The coat.”

“3 twyer, sir.”

“I shalt give thee six.”

“Aye, sir, aye!”

Eyes wide with amazement, the tramp swiftly slipped out of the curious garb and passed it to Serlo who handed off six, small, shimmering coins Shortly, the tramp departed as a chill wind blew in, carrying, in its wake, a palling fog which swallowed up the entire street, wholly obscuring the form of a thin man with a crooked smile who watched from the top of the nearest rooftop.

*

continued in chapter 15 (forthcoming)

 

The Dauntless Rook (§.13)

Continued from §.12.

Volfsige could not believe his eyes, for standing before him, in the litter-strewn alley that let out to the smokestacked north, was, against all reason, Oeric Adair, who only minutes prior, had stood in the market square, surrounded by gambesoned mercenaries. Adair had exchanged the stately clothes and short-brimmed cap for the broad-brimmed hat and peculiar crow-feathered coat that Volfsige well-remembered from the mishap at Rasten Yard.

“How on earth could he possibly have transposed himself with such haste? How is it possible for him to appear ahead of me when I had scarcely left him? Some secret passage or… no, there’s no point asking. When I have the man at his last, then to query all.”

Without further thought, Volfsige shifted down the ally, hand upon his dagger, instinctually padding towards his quarry as the man in the crow-feathered coat increased his pace, turning left towards a series of crumbling, labyrinthian tenements, vanishing therein.

The assassin steeled his nerves, slipped through a pack of itinerant bards and work-worn canvassers and entered the rain-pecked stair that let up to the chipped and crumbling housing complex. Moments after he’d started up the staircase he heard a curious creaking. The sound of old metal shearing. Then a light thump, as if a rucksack had fallen from the second story window.

Volfsige, brows raised and muscle’s taunt, dashed to the bottom of the stairs, rounded the corner to the left and discovered Adair running north along the sidewalk with tremendous speed. Volfsige cursed and bolted after the man. He was surprised by Adair’s stamina and agility, which bespoke a seasoned wayfarer or sportsman more than the pampered noble he knew the man to be.

“Forgetful I am. For the comitem evaded my knife when I was primed and he unaware; yet his singularity astonishes me still…”

The crow-coated man flashed his pursuer a wide, crooked smile and increased his pace, making for an alleyway some fifty feet before him, unaware in his turning of a old fruit merchant briskly pushing a cart of Torian melons directly towards him. The quarry gave a startled cry, half of fright, half of amusement, and oer’leapt the cart, abducting one of the berries as he passed. The fruit vendor stood a moment in wide-eyed perplexity, then turned, fast as his stiff and sun-battered body was able and shouted in protestation of the theft, shaking his wrinkled and calloused hands into the air, as if weaving a galdr to vex the gods.

Volfsige upturned the hefty cart and shoved the vendor aside, much to the horror of nearby crowd of market-goers heading towards the great bazaar. Volfsige wasn’t concerned by the throng. He was not known to the city and consequently had no public record of crime. Even if, by aventure, he was arrested, he could be charged for not but disorderly conduct, unbecoming of a guest of Ersentwyer. The worst that could befall him was the confiscation of his hospitality papers. The thought was as a feather upon his mind in comparison to the incursion of his employer’s displeasure.

Volfsige pressed into the alley in which his prey had vanished, only to find the corridor thick with vagabonds, who roused jangling foreign instruments and spun before a makeshift encampment of wagons and cloth as their less frenzied kindred haggled over scraps of cloth and metal. The mangy assortment hailed the assassin with smiles and strummed their instruments and stomped their feet as a medicant appraised a crow-feathered coat, proffered to him by a pale passerby. The medicant nodded approvingly and passed the pallid transient a trampish and high-collared cloak. The smiling seller removed his plumed cap, donned the garment, drew up the hood, slipped from the architectural artery and melted into the passing crowd.

*


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Venice In The Moment

By Dan Klefstad

Imagine painting a portrait of a uniquely beautiful person. Your model is nude, hiding nothing, displaying supple skin and curls of hair that absorb the light. As you sketch and fill in, the sun and shadows keep moving – revealing new details. Now you add tiny lines you didn’t notice around the eyes and mouth. As the sun begins descending, you become aware that the hair is two shades darker and seems to be uncurling. Now the flesh appears a little looser, and you realize: What you tried to capture at the start of this encounter no longer exists, and what existed five minutes ago also is gone. Your subject is still pleasing to look at, still distinctive, but when did this person begin… showing their age? Anxiety sets in as you imagine finishing your painting, not as a portrait, but a still life of ashes.

This is what it’s like looking everywhere in Venice, Italy. Sure, craftsmen constantly repair and replace the Byzantine facades and triumphal monuments. The bell tower of St. Mark’s Basilica still looks like it did in 1514, even though it collapsed in 1902. The stone walls and walkways lack any sign of occupation by Napoleon’s and Hitler’s armies. But increasing floods from climate change scoff at all this restoration. As I write this, I’m looking at a day-old photo of people wading through knee-deep water near the Vallaresso Vaporetto stop. It looks bad, but other cities recover from floods, right? Well, yes, if they’re not sitting on saltwater. The moment the brine started seeping into her brick and timber bones, the Queen of the Adriatic was doomed.

That is, unless you count all the other times doom came, and stayed — all the way back to the Roman refugee who, fleeing barbarians, drove that first timber into the muddy lagoon a thousand years ago. Venezia has been dying longer than perhaps any other city.

This must be why artists and those who chase beauty obsess over her canals, bridges, and cathedrals. The main attractions, such as the Bridge of Sighs and Doges Palace, reveal some if you’re not hurried along by the crowd. But those who sit, and listen, might hear the walls whisper what I thought I heard two years ago:

Go ahead, gawk as I slowly sink, and my population shrinks. I’m aware the cost of preserving my 14th Century glory keeps going up. And, yes, the day will come when I won’t be worth saving anymore. Until then, watch, record each moment, and understand that beauty breaks the flow of time, compelling you to look now, and now, and now again – bearing witness to that fleeting space between what was and is.

If you hear this, and your heart breaks, you’ll be more than just a traveler. You’ll suffer the eternal disquiet of a conoscitore. Hopefully, I’ll be in a nearby café, ordering grappa for you and me to mourn in silence.


 

(Dan Klefstad is the author of the short story, “The Dead of Venice,” and the forthcoming novel Fiona’s Guardians. He writes in DeKalb, Illinois, and Williams Bay, Wisconsin).

 

 

Kybernan (I)

The city of Trepan hung over the Tyvaultian Sea like a great metal beast, clasping the water with it’s legs of anchors and oil derricks and docking columns and construction cranes and prodding the sky with its innumerable concrete quills. Yet this great metal beast had fallen to a slumber, for its hundred-thousand spires of twelve-dozen different minerals all stabbed the sky without exhaust and the cranes lay immobile and no vehicles dipped in and out of the thermals thereabove and no lights could, in any of the million-million windows, be seen and birds whirled everywhere upon and over all of it, nesting up with driftwood from the far isles and cawing endlessly as if in triumph over the machinations of Man. Such was the site which greeted the eyes of the man with the battered overcoat who hummed along over the liquid continent on a hand-crafted boltbike, purple-tinted spectacles girding his eyes from the sun’s ceaseless blight and the wind’s tearing fingers.

The wayfarer forded the waters with a monotonous humming and made landfall at twilight and dismounted and surveyed his surroundings.

A city of opportunity, a city of vice, a city of steel, a city of dice.

On The Prospects of Inverse Arcology

The object is eternal, only the subject dies.

Introduction

Who is this brain-dead worm, this mad cadaver, this “modern” American architect? Not nearly modern enough, his works swim amidst a phantasmal tide and lags behind decades, or, if he or she wishes to showcase their cultural acumen, centuries! How little has changed since the times of Sant’Elia and how right he was! All around America one spies these ugly conglomerations of brick and fake wood, roman columns affixed to cement facades, as if in afterthought. Ugly, insipid and wasteful; it is the latter which leads so oft to the former eventualities. Those materials which have been hitherto plied to fashion those many layers of superfluous paneling, column-fitting and ostentatious, gaudy nonsense on our buildings could have been aggregated to create whole new living spaces and the pathways to them! Fear not, we shall dispatch of these cretins in goodly time.

However, it is never enough to merely criticize; a solely negatory enterprise invariably consumes itself at the last. Instead we will pair our rebarbative salvos with a proposal, not just for a new style or aesthetic of American architecture, but an all-encompassing vector for societal construction. Be not uncertain, this task is of no small import, but rather, one of the greatest possible magnitude. The total world population is projected to increase markedly by 2050, whilst the concentrations of individuals living in urban areas are projected to continue intensifying. As of 2010, over 50 percent of the world population lived in urban areas. According to United Nations, China’s population is projected to reach 900 million by 2030, India, approximately 700 million and the USA, just under 300 million1. One then spies numerous problems arises, ranging from resource scarcity from over-consumption to hyper-compression and traffic congestion. To effectively meet this challenge new societal models will be required. One of the most interesting of these new ideas was laid out by the Italian architect, Paolo Soleri, in his 1969 book, Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. Soleri lays out the foundations of Arcology2 as both a new type of societal structure and a new way of thinking about man’s relationship to the world. He wrote:

“Such a structure [an Arcology] would take the place of the natural landscape inasmuch as it would constitute the new topography to be dealt with. This man-made topography would differ from the natural topography in the following ways: It would not be a one-surface configuration but a multilevel one. It would be conceived in such a way as to be the carrier of all the elements that make the physical life of the city possible—places and inlets for people, freight, water, power, climate, telephone; places and outlets for people, freight, waste, mail, products, and so forth. It would be a large-dimensioned sheltering device, fractioning three-dimensional space in large and small subspaces, making its own weather and its own cityscape. It would be the major vessel for massive flow of people and things within and toward the outside of the city. It would be the organizing pattern and anchorage for private and public institutions of the city. It would be the focal structure for the complex and ever-changing life of the city. It would be the unmistakable expression of man the maker and the creator. It would be diverse and singular in all of its realizations. Arcology would be surrounded by an uncluttered, open landscape (Soleri, 1969, p. 13).”

To construct his soaring vision, Soleri borrows from the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega-Point hypothesis3. Due this influence, Soleri conceives of arcologies as places, not just of new-found frugality, protection and efficacy, but also of spiritual improvement. Soleri further sketches out the details of his new habitational paradigm by way of CDM (Complexity, Miniaturization, Duration), three guidelines which all arcologies must obey to be commensurate with the rhythms of human life. Soleri takes the issue of energy consumption seriously and posits that arcologies, to be properly constituted, must be energy-cities, that is system-structures which, in their entirety, work to produce, capture, store and utilize energy. Additionally, Soleri tackles the issue of density, the synthesis of CDM, that is, miniaturization within a complex system over a period of time; as Jeff Stein noted, “No Eco-thinking can ignore density. Crowding, the maker of life.”4

Some concrete examples of arcologies which Soleri sketched (though these were, obviously, never built) included, Novanoah II (1969), a massive construct which could comfortably occupy 2,400,000 inhabitants upon the open oceans, and, Stonebow (1977), a gargantuan arch designed to be situated over canyon topographies, as well as, Arcbeam Variation (1977), a giant multi-layered bridge-like structure designed to be situated between two cliffs or mountains. Whilst a cursory viewing of his conceptual sketches and reading of his theories might lead one to believe he is some sort of jelly-minded Utopian, he is nothing of the sort. During a 2008 interview between Soleri and The Guardian reporter, Steve Rose, the journalist inquires as to the feasibility of creating a “utopia” without money to which the architect responded, Utopia is a pretty stupid notion.”5

It strikes me as rather odd that Mr. Rose would make such a inquiry given that he conducted his interview in the Arcosanti, a arcological city designed as a alternative to the traditional American urban sprawl by none other than Soleri himself! Now, it bears noting, that the Arcosanti even now, as of this writing in 2018, is not yet completed, but the fact that it exists at all, attests to the immediate practicability of, at least some, his designs.

Thus far we have established three points of import: Firstly, we have established what arcologies are, secondly, we have established that arcologies are required for the future development of technologically advanced peoples due to urban concentration, and, thirdly, we have established arcologies are, at least in some of their variations, immediately viable. However, the uniqueness of particular nations, countries and empires bears factoring into this tripartie equation; one cannot merely say, ecologies should be built, or, ecologies need to be built, and simply leave it at that. We must tackle the specific kinds of ecologies which should be built and, additionally, address, precisely why and how they should be built. Soleri’s Arcosanti, for instance, was created specifically for Americans as a reaction to the cloistering penchants of modern urban architecture. Hence, Soleri, like all good architects, took both the question of topography and identity into consideration; the topography of the land, the identity of the people who will prospectively occupy the structure and, finally, the identity of the prospective architecture itself to ensure that it is commensurate with those who will there taken up residence.

For our purposes we shall narrow our focus upon prospective Arcological methods for the United States.

On The Prospect of Inverse Arcologies

Arcologies, as formulated by Soleri, are generally conceived of as towering megastructures; but let us consider a different formulation, a inverse arcology, one which goes downward instead of up. To build down means to traverse one of two domains: The earth and the waters.

Chthonic Arcology

Modern architecture already entails a good deal of chthonic burrowing, such as: subways, basements, bunkers, mausoleums, mine-shafts and vaults. To go further and build a habitable domicile is not just practicable, but already a reality. For instance, in Festus, Missouri, a 15,000-square foot home was built inside of a sandstone cavern, dubbed, the Cave House. The structure blends seamlessly into the cave walls for both aesthetic appeal and pragmatic effect as geothermal design wholly eliminates the need for additional heating and cooling modules such as air conditioning units or electric or gas heaters. The case of Cave House, though not a arcology, is promising given that there is nothing which prohibits those same techniques and materials being utilized towards subterranean city development other than a willingness to take the plunge. Once such a process becomes mainlined then the additional mind-power required to begin fleshing out possible arcological models for underground self-sufficiency (such as thermal capture, deep gardens and watershed exploitation).

Then there is the fantastical underground city known as the Shanghai Tunnels or Portland Underground, in Portland, Oregon, used in the 1850s to the 1940s for the imprisonment and transportation of captured laborers – slaves – to be utilized by unscrupulous seamen in their travels to the Orient (a practiced colloquially referred to as Shanghaiing). Women who were captured were, according to legend, typically sold as prostitutes for the enjoyment of libidinous seamen. Though the dense and winding passageways beneath Portland’s Chinatown (also known as ‘Old Town’ or ‘Central Downtown Portland’) were utilized for rather unsavoury ends, the infrastructure was (or rather, still is) highly sophisticated and even housed various subterranean living quarters, primarily prison cells used to hold the various men and women who were dragged down into the labyrinth. Again, the Portland Underground is not a arcology but given that it shows the answer to the question, “Are modern underground cities feasible?” is an obvious, “Yes,” the question then becomes, “Where then to build and how?” Let us turn our attention to abandoned mines as a prospective domain of conquest.

There are approximately 500,000 unoperational mines in the United States of America, according to Abandoned Mines.gov, a website managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Some place this number higher, given the difficult of mapping hazardous topography and the fact that some mines are so old that documentation concerning them is all but impossible to find. Governmental statistics from 2014 show 46,000 abandoned mines on public property. Given the fact that so much funding and man-power is already being directed towards modulated these empty husks of former productivity, it stands as imminently reasonable to propose that we go all in on these myriad projects and transmogrify them wholly. Instead of dark and echoing pits, into which, the hapless wayfarer might be plunged, arcological mapping might produce a luminous and bustling cultural hub, or transportation terminus. The Department of the Interior has projected that the Environmental Protection Agency’s empty mine clean-up plan would require approximately 72 billion dollars (2.4 billion dollars from tax payers), and that is only for hard rock mines, meaning, those mines which separate minerals from metals, and does not cover any other mine variants. One might fashion a new and more efficacious plan which lowers the total cost for equipment, manpower, transportation and tailing clean-up and put those saved funds into renovating vibrant living spaces within what would be, even after EPA interference, hollowed out caverns. This plan would be especially useful for those mines which are slated for re-opening as some portion of the arcological space would be able to function for them as a home-away-from-home during their labors and, in time, may even birth whole new cities which would continuously expand themselves as their inhabitants drilled further and further into the earth, chasing the precious metals and minerals therein.

Abyssal Arcology

Let us dispense with any silly notions about the impossibility of underwater cities and let us also cast off our fears of the inherent dangers there implied. Japan’s Shimizu Corporation announced, in 2014, plans for a underwater city designed to accommodate 5000 people. The project, entitled, Ocean Spiral, was given the green light in 2015 and consisted of blueprints which proposed a series of massive interlinked orbs, 1600 feet in diameter, with exceedingly long screw-like extensions which would burrow into the seabed where they would connect with various modules that would be utilized as outposts for resource collection, such as mining. The spiral surrounding the floating spheres of project Ocean Spiral would serve a additional function other than connecting to the seafloor, namely, energy collection. Given the scarcity of power options so deep underneath the ocean, the theorists behind the project realized that the structure would require a built in power-source, thus, the spiral would capture thermal energy from the ocean generated from the difference between the cooler lower seawater and the warmer shallows and then use that captured energy to power steam-turbines within the spiral, a process referred to as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Shimizu Corp also believes it is feasible to utilize microorganisms that live upon the seabed to harvest energy by using them to convert carbon dioxide into methane. The question of sustenance is easily answered given the bounty of the sea, though to ensure a goodly supply, fish and crustacean farms and underwater gardens would be built into and around the structures and water would be desalinated via a reverse osmosis membrane from the ocean. Each sphere within the spiral would be able to move up and down at-will and operate like spacious slow-moving submarines with the uppermost sphere acting as the principal residential area.

In a interview with The Guardian in 2014, Shimizu Corp’s spokesman, Hideo Imamura stated, “This is a real goal, not a pipe dream. The Astro Boy cartoon character had a mobile phone long before they were actually invented – in the same way, the technology and knowhow we need for this project will become available.”6

Thus, we see that not only are inverse arcologies possible, they are already being designed (Ocean Spiral, for instance, is speculated to be built and prepped for human habitation sometime around 2030).

1United Nations, World Prospects, 2007 revision.

2Arcology is a portmanteau of “architecture” and “ecology.” See, Soleri, Paolo (1973), The Bridge Between Matter & Spirit is Matter Becoming Spirit.

3The Omega-Point is the belief that all things in existence are destined to move towards the creation of a superintelligence born out of the evolutionary process. Chardin’s theory is similar to the heat death hypothesis proffered by many physicists and cosmologists, differing in that he believed that the process would operate beyond the strictures of entropy. The idea might best be summarized via Kurzweil, “Evolution moves inexorably toward our conception of God, albeit never reaching this ideal.”

4Jeff Stein, The City 2.0, TEDxMission, Nov. 9th, 2012.

5Steve Rose, The Man Who Saw The Future, (The Guardian, 2008).

6Katharine J. Tobal, Japan Releases Plans For Futuristic Underwater Cities By 2030, Nov. 25, 2014.

The Iron Garden: Part.12

Campaign

Angela Vikander stood anxiously upon the balcony of her expansive highrise, overlooking the main thoroughfares of the city. She wanted a cigarette badly but had decided to quit, a move to improve her image; it had been Erlen’s idea. Vikander cursed her campaign manager under her breath. Damn him. Why the hell do I need to quit smoking? No potential voters is going to know or much care what the fuck I do in private. No one cares what people do in the privacy of their own homes. Look at those genderqueer freaks… no one bats an eye any more about them and their bizarro protests, their period fetishes… any sane person would gag seeing those loons. Yet you see the news hen-pecking them, Erlen? Fuck no. No one gives a shit.

These were inappropriate thoughts, she well knew, thoughts which, if given voice, would sink her campaign almost as quickly as the CAF albatross which had been thrown about her neck. Everything was coming apart at the seams. She inhaled deeply and leaned against the cool steel of the balcony as a voice echoed from behind.

“You look a little stressed. Did I come in at a bad time?”

She turned to address Erlen Straik. He was a short, thin man, with immaculately styled hair, designer glasses and a swooning way of moving that Vikander had always found infuriatingly effete and affected.

“No. What is it?”

“You need to see this.”

He moved to the table in the middle of her make-shift conference room and laid out a news article. The headline read: CAF Attacks Art Gallery. What Part Did Vikander Play?

Angela sighed, “That from The Trumpet. They’ve been pro-Layne since he announced his campaign.”

As Straik pulled his phone out of his pocket and swiped the screen, illuminating his face with dim, blue light.

“That isn’t all, it gets worse.”

He showed her a online article from his news-feed, the title read: Prominent Democrat Backer, Damien Holt Declares End of Support For Vikander Campaign.

“That bastard… He didn’t even call me!”

“It’s pretty bad. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but… what were you thinking? Arguing with Layne in the middle of a public gala?”

“He made a snide remark. When he saw me he smirked like the smug fuck he is and said, ‘Surprised to see you here, figured the Epstein Institute would be more your speed.’”

“I don’t get it. The what-now?”

“The Epstein Institute. Geez, you’re supposed to be my campaign manager how do you not know this?”

“I’ve been busying doing damage control all morning. So sooorry.”

“Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“That bitchy little lisp thing.”

Straik shook his head and then looked to the would-be mayor once again.

“So why’d this make you angry again?”

“The Epstein Institute is some weird art center, all contemporary abstract stuff, you know, paintings of white squares and statues of police men beating immigrants, all either on-the-nose or political propaganda or some kind of “deep” art that is beyond everyone but the artists who make them.”

“So he was saying you were a pretentious snob?”

“God you’re slow… yes, Erlen, he was implying I was a pretentious snob. So I made some quip back at him, I can’t even remember what I said, it was all a blur – the doctor put me on these shitty pain meds, been messing with my short term memory –  anyways, we were there arguing one moment and then those CAF freaks broke in and-”

“Those CAF ‘freaks’ are some of your biggest supporters.”

“Unfortunately.”

“Their vote is as good as any. Besides, we can turn this to our advantage. We already know how this is going to play out.”

“Do we? I was never much of a student of history but the one thing that I learned from reading it is that assumptions concerning the future almost never pan out accurately.”

“Almost. Pretty big almost.”

“Ever heard of Nostradamus?”

“Who?”

“Nevermind. So what’s rattling about that devious brain of yours?”

“Well, like I was saying, we know how this is going to play out because we know Layne and his base. Nativist populism almost always manifests itself in the exact same way. They’ll say that CAF are terrorists, that they’re threatening the public’s safety – especially after the recent cold-cocks which Layne’s taken – and they’ll try to directly tie you to CAF so that you take responsibility. So we can then say that if you are to be blamed for the unurged actions of your supporters, then Layne must be blamed for the actions and words of the actual Neo-Nazis and fascists which support Layne. We just have to be sure that we pound the table the loudest.”

Vikander nodded in silent affirmation before responding.

“Put out a memo.”

“You should also probably drop this thing with Partridge.”

“The fuck I will.”

“You can’t beat him in the press.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“Why are you so dead-set on getting to him anyways? Because he supports Layne? I mean, ok, but I just don’t get it.”

“Lynder Partridge is one of the most influential people in this city, he’s the one who put Layne up on the pedestal he now precariously occupies. If Partridge goes down in flames, so does Layne.”

“I don’t know that that is necessarily true. I mean, Layne has kinda become his own thing. His supporters – I mean his die-hard supporters – at this point would follow him for him not because of his big backers or even for the change they think he can bring.”

“Yes, all those slavering “patriots” consider him their dear, little leader… But he’s not really in control. He’s just a puppet.”

Erlen gave a sudden wry chuckle.

“Aren’t we all?”

The Iron Garden: Part.11

The knock came late at night, sharp and sudden as the deluge that followed it. Skies loosed their astral tears upon the tumble-down motel as Afua stirred and wrapped her aged bones in a tattered shawl.

“Who is it?” Kojo rasped from the bed adjacent her own.

“I don’t know.”

“Well go and see, woman.”

She nodded dutifully and rose from her bed in the left corner of the motor inn and rubbed the sand from her eyes as thunder roared in the distance with Apophitic fury. Pulling back the curtain no forms revealed themselves to her. Nothing and no one stood beyond in the frigid downpour that coated the gray gravel drive beyond the abode’s confines in a sheen grayer still. She looked through the view-hole of the door and beheld a tall man standing in the rain, he wore a dark navy ball cap low over his face and a albescent jacket of white with red geometric patterning upon the shoulders and elbows. Afua straightened and raised her voice, taking care to abate the fear that rose within her soul.

“Who is it?”

The door caught her in the face from the man’s kick with such ferocity that it took the frail old woman off her feet, the whole of the world spinning to a singular blur; nothing but motion, sound and endless fright. Kojo leapt up from his bed and lunged for the lamp which stood upon the nightstand adjacent the bed. With a grunt of exertion he swung the artifact at the intruder’s head but connected only with the powerful right hand of the intruder who ripped it from Kojo’s own and dashed it back against the wielder. Kojo staggered which gave the trespasser all the time he need to swing a haymaker into the dark man’s gut. Kojo dropped to his knees, recovered and with a howl of rage charged the entrant. The tackle drove the intruder up against the wall, from some hidden belt-sheath the intruder produced a black-glistening combat knife and drove it into Kojo’s shoulder, retracted it and then kicked the African in the gut where the punch had previously landed. Kojo fell to one side, gasping for air and bleeding out upon the carpet, groaning in pain.

“What do you want!” Kojo sputtered, straining against the searing sensation in his clavicle.

The man with the combat knife did not answer. His ghastly xanthous eyes shining through the dark, his body ferine in the flashing emergence of the tempest. Lynx-like in its limber austerity.

“We have n-nothing! We’re poor. There is nothing to take here. We have nothing!”

At last the man responded.

“You have your lives.”

Kojo, eyes wide and breath erratic, sprang for the door as the xanthous eyed man made to piece his spine with the deadly blade. Before he could reach his quarry the old woman latched on to his leg, crying hysterically. The blade whisked through the air, slicing nothing but shadows.

“He’s all I have! He’s all I have!”

The woman distracted the xanthous-eyed man just long enough for Kojo to make his escape and vanish into the gravel drive, now fogged by skyfall. Spiraling black arms and expanded brown eyes and the sound of rain and footfalls of the harried and then Kojo was gone.

The man turned and watched Kojo flee; Afua could see a strange sigil upon the back of jacket as he crooked. A red and mathematically perfect chrysanthemum. Then the man with the chrysanthemum jacket returned his attention to the old woman and removed a small drawing from his back pocket. It was the artwork of a child, drawn in crayon, it depicting a scene of three adults and a little brown boy. One of the figures born a considerable resemblance to Afua herself. The drawing was signed: Adam. Afua began to cry again, shaking her head, eyes shuttered, grasping the man’s leg in vain entreaty.

“He was a cursed child!” She looked up pleasingly into remorseless yellow eyes, “We h-had no c-choice… no choice…”

“There’s always a choice.”

Then he plunged the knife through the top of her skull.

*

Kojo pulled over at the curb of the highway which let back into the city, cursing under his breath and attempting to calm the frenzied buzzing of his mind. He looked to his bleeding shoulder and rummaged in the glove box, pulling out the bottle of rubbing alcohol he’d kept there for Adam who had sometimes cut himself playing around town in the rubble of The Tombs or the ramshackle odds-and-ends of the Old Wharf. A momentary grief seized him and the whole of his consciousness began to shatter as a building rent by the roaring earth. Tears filled his eyes as poured the liquid upon the wound, half from the searing pain, half from memories and dreams remembered. He closed his eyes and leaned heavily against the leather upholstery of the car-seat and thought of Afua and Adam and their times together and of his homeland, the harsh and overbearing light of the suns upon the Safari and the chattering of his fellows where they had gathered around a late-night campfire and told stories up unto the moon and of the warnings of the wise oracles and of the witch doctor from Uganda who he had once conferred with and of the Evil Forest where he had buried three children at the behest of the concoction men of his village in Bongo. He had resisted – at first – but the elders had convinced him that administration of the poison was all that could dissuade the evil spirits. He knew they were right. Knew way back then that what he had done, no matter how trying, was necessary to secure the welfare of his family lest they starve in the coming of hard times. He was less sure now of the validity of the elder’s wisdom. At length he collected his wits and dug his cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a number, the call was answered in a matter of moments.

“Yes?”

“It’s me. Someone is after me.”

“I fail to grasp how that concern us.”

“Karol owes me. He owes me after everything I’ve done for him. I need help.”

“Whoever doesn’t?”

The line clicked off to silence. Kojo looked to his phone in disbelief and then gave a howl of despair and slammed the steering wheel with his rough and battered hands and then fell silent as the downpour redoubled beyond the stuttering, little machine.

At length he stilled the raging flux of inner mind and pulled off the curb, vanishing into the pall of the rain-cloaked waste. Back to the city.

The Iron Garden: Part.10

*

Kojo sipped whiskey out of a mason jar and then stubbed out his cigarette in a small, tin peach can as the fan whirred about his head, fanning the air and a mechanical waspish whirring out into the cloister of the old, decaying motel. The inn straddled the intersection of The Tombs and the docks, near to Vandemburgh’s principal thoroughfare and the great bridge which let out of the city altogether. Afua was crying again. Head in her hands. Such behavior came and went in sudden spasms, like the ebb and flow of the lunar-tide. She sat now, bleary-eyed and muscle-tense, a bag of bones and sorrow, in the far left corner of the sparsely decorated living room. Kojo lit up another cigarette, ignoring the woman’s plight. He’d quite enough of it. Was tired of it.

“Adam… my little Adam.”

“Adam is gone. Your tears won’t reach him.”

“How can you be so cruel?”

“He was a cursed child.”

The woman shook her head. Though she agreed, she was loathe to admit it.

*

The television flicked as the news anchor read from the teleprompter, “Good evening, I’m Ted Braston with News Tonight. First, our special report, and I must warn you this report contains graphic images which you may find disturbing. A mysterious fire has engulfed the Johnson Tenements of Lowtown, sometimes known half mockingly as The Tombs, in the eastern district of the city of Vandemburgh. Two bodies were recovered from the smoldering remnants. One has been identified as Edward Joseph Brine, a member of the Counsel of Human Rights. The second, Catherine Reilly, a student of the Vandemburgh Institute of the Arts. What was most bizarre was that both individuals were confirmed to have died before the fire. Reports from the scene state that Ms. Reilly died of burns from a propane operated steel-cutting device of high industrial grade. Brine’s cause of death was also due to this same device which was found at the scene. Both were found chained and bound, we will spare you the… truly horrifying details. The Vandemburgh police department have stated that the fire was caused by leaking gas from the stove which was turned on by a person or persons unknown. Upon the wall was carved the words: Fire finds the filth. Only one bystander, Liet Harkness, a independent journalist working out of Midtown, was there immediately after the explosion and saw a man walking away from the tenement, they exchanged words and then the man walked away. It is believed that this man was the one who caused the fire. A police sketch is currently being compiled and we will keep you updated as the story develops-”

The phone rang like a gunshot, drawing the man with the chrysanthemum jacket’s attention away from the TV screen. He reached over to pick up the phone on the table adjacent the bed upon which the watcher sat. Placing device to ear. A mechanically distorted voice issued forth.

“Reckless behavior. They’ll have your face, sooner or later. You know what this means. Go subtlety in future endeavors.”

Then a hissing; the line went dead.

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket nodded in affirmation of the order and then gingerly hung up the phone. After a moment of contemplation he shifted upon the bed, sitting bolt-straight, legs firmly braced to the floor and returned his attention back to the television screen where the news still played. The anchor had moved on to the next story.

“Well, there was a bit of a dust-up today at a art gallery of all places. For the past ten years, the Partridge art gallery has held an annual gala featuring the work of a hand-selected group of talented, up-and-coming artists from all around the city. The most recent gala debuted the work of three students from the Vandemburgh Institute of the Arts but it wasn’t them or their work which caused the uproar. As many watchers will known, its election season and the two principal candidates for mayor are Angela Vikander, a democrat known for her environmentalism and pro-migration, open borders advocacy and Aiken Layne, a member of the republican party who some would call a paleoconservative, others a reactionary and others still, a out-and-out fascist. Both are controversial figures in their own right and both have personal scores to settle, as they’ve a long history of public disagreement. When both appeared at Lynder Partridge’s gallery a argument quickly erupted between the two prospective politicians. Some members of a grassroots political movement called, Citizens Against Fascism, otherwise known as CAF, then entered the building and a brawl quickly broke out. Reports from the scene stated that they had targeted the gala because they believed it housed what they called, ‘Fascist art.’ Our reporter from the event, Andrea Azikiwe, has more on the story.”

The screen split and a middle aged and dark skinned woman with dreadlocks and massive gold earrings appeared upon the screen adjacent the prim reporter. “Thanks for that Ted. I’m here at the Partridge Museum of the Arts with Brandon Chase, the son of steel magnate, Edmund Chase and one of the artists whose work was being exhibited during the brawl. So, Mr. Chase, can you explain what exactly happened here?” A tall, muscular blond man with a winning smile and bright, twinkling eyes and the clothes of a trust-funder sauntered into screen, the whole of his form forcibly amiable and open.

“Yeah. Well, I was just standing in before my exhibit, talking with some of the fine folks here at the gala, speaking about my work, my inspirations, art history, business and so on and so forth when Mr. Layne walked in, that is, Aiken Layne-”

“Your father, Edmund Chase, is friends with him as I understand.”

“Uh, sort of, honestly I’m not really sure. My father doesn’t really share a whole lot of his work with me, they’re familiar though, yeah. Did some business together and, because of that, I went over to say hello, before I could even reach him Angela Vikander came over and started arguing with Mr. Layne. Very nasty. And then, out of nowhere, a bunch of people, well I should just call them what they were, thugs, busted into the gala, all in black, red bandannas around their mouths, like half-masks. Some of them wore sunglasses too, I imagine to protect their identity. And they just started shouting and stomping around. I kinda thought they were drunk at first. Aiken called for security – they had apparently waited until the doorman went to use the restroom before entering – and so security came up and someone threw a punch. Honestly happened so fast I don’t know who struck first, the protesters or the guards, but a bit of a fight broke out and it kinda spilled over into the gallery patrons who you can see are still behind me over here and there. Absolutely crazy stuff. I mean, I understand that everyone is a little heated right now over this political race and some of the crime that has occurred and, ya know, other stuff, all that stuff, but everyone just needs to take a deep breath and calm down.”

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket looked on, unblinking, unmoved by the words and images upon the screen. He heard the words, processed them and began to wonder of the lives of the art patrons and the artists and the politicians and the protesters and the security guards who had repelled them. The grand wheel of their lives and the delicate weave that bound them all together seemed superbly laid out before him, in the endless sprawl of his mind’s eye. Floating. High above the city, far beyond his body where it sat upon the bed, so small and weak and susceptible to the vicissitudes of time. He imagined the soothing caress of the wind, the buffeting moisture of the wastrel clouds and the thunderclaps in the distance, clattering away like the war drums of some olden god, nameless and terrible. Down below the endless sky, the city prominent, glistening with muted radiance and seeping up out of the ground like some aberrant and mechanical mycelium. Rooftops vanished and the lives of nine million squirming souls were laid bare before him, as a ant-hill cleaved in twain. There they were, naked and clothed, lazing and productive, scheming and bequeathing, hurting and helping, lying and fucking. Killing. Killing. Killing. Nine million swelled to ten and from ten to twelve, twelve to twenty and on and on the city swelled until the limbs wild twisted up against glass panes and fences, forced by other bodies, eventually spilling out unto the street and ghettoizing. Money war, religious war, class war, ethnic war, race war, war for fun and for living space within what they were told what was already their own living space. More rarely, a war against lies. Even deeper than the surface strata was a hundred billion, billion different tunnels leading to a billion, billion worlds, all ever-shifting, turning, inverting, vanishing and re-emerging. Phonelines and wirelines and wireless trajectories of ascent and spread and interwebs within cybernetic systems that were as much a part of the hyper organism as the flesh and blood which had built them. The man thought that some foreign interstellar intelligence, if ever they had or would chance upon humankind, like as not, would view cities as a biologist might regard a coral reef, seeing only the surface structure and failing to grasp, upon first glance, those intricate and tiny begins which wormed within, sustaining it.

At length he broke from his reverie and stalked to the middle of the apartment floor and bent his body out in a straight-line, allowing himself to topple, face-fist, towards the floor, halting his fall with powerful arms before he struck the carpet. Two hundred push-ups later he showered in silence and contemplated the stillness of infinite space.

The Iron Garden: Part.9

Hunter

The tenement was tumble down and filthy, located in the decaying heart of the slums which its denizens had unceremoniously dubbed, The Tombs, and was covered over with discarded papers and the remnants of the rain. The man who stood before the door was thankful for the rain; it washed away the filth and smell. The filth of stale soda and beer and tampons and shriveled up used condoms and the smell of piss, defecation and dead animals now was but faint background, no distraction to the task at hand. He paused at the door as an old drunk stumbled across the trash strewn ambit some fifty paces off, groaning and coughing like a man beplagued. Some kids appeared about the corner of the alley and accosted the doddery rednose, laughing and prodding. They wore chic and spoke with affected slang. None had known hardship. When they noticed the light glinting off the chrysanthemum jacket they paused. The man held their gaze until they turned and left out of the passage, shaken by a placeless fear. Red nosed swiveled to behold what manner of beast had secured his salvation and raised a half empty bottle of vodka in thanks. Footsteps clattered in the din, one set departing the alley, another entering in from the door to the crumbling tenement. When the door opened, the man with the chrysanthemum jacket, looked up into the thin, squinting eyes of a huge man of indeterminable ethnic extraction, some forty years of age.

“Yeah?”

No response. Fist to gut and the big man went dropping to his knees as a knee met his skull. When the big man awoke he was in a damp room that he recognized as his basement. Ropes secured arms and feet to a steel chair bolted to the floor. Beside him was the dismembered torso of a young twenty something. Her blood spread out across the floor; now hard and dry and stucco’d like coral in the foam of the sea. Behind the foam, eyes of topaz glinting in dark.

“The fuck is this?”

The xanthous-eyed man did not reply but rather titled his head upwards all the better to study his subject, fixing the slightly ruffled sleeves and cuffs of his immaculate, white jacket, smoothing them out. Heavy breathing came and went from the chair, small eyes twitching back and forth, side to side, seeking escape in nervous tandem with the arms that strained their bonds. All movements in vain.

There was no escape.

At length the prisoner spoke once more. His desperation increasing with every passing moment.

“Who the fuck are you? What do you want? Did Karol send you? Fuck. Fuck. He did, didn’t he? Its fine. All cool. Tell him its cool. Ok? Tell him. I’ve got the money,” a nervous chuckle, “Eddy Brine has always got the money. Its in the safe. Ok? Ok? You just untie me and I can get it and we can bring it to him together.”

The xanthous-eyed man gazed silently to the bloody, dismembered corpse which hung in suspension from the rafters of the low, musty ceiling, flesh seared from face, breasts melted into stomach and a retching odor filing up out from that horror. The man’s movement was neither a question nor a indictment, but merely a shuffling of consciousness, the renewal of immediacy, the return of the real. Brine squirmed. When the xanthous-eyed man picked up the propane burner Brine gasped. When the flame began vaporizing his hands he screamed. None to hear. None but two.

When the man with the chrysanthemum jacket had extracted all required information and carved his message he turned to the dead woman. She was wearing a bracelet. The small silver ring dangled limply against the small mass of her upper arm out. Xanthous eyes studied it through the gloam and left off out the basement as a stream of vain blubbering echoed from the pit.

“Where are you going? Hey. Hey! Heeeeeey! You can’t fucking leave me like this, you can’t fucking leave me like this! Help! Somebody heeeelllllppp mmmmeeeeee!”

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket moved up to the kitchen. The sink was filled with blood. His eyes widened with boundless intensity and his hand moved to the stove dials. Turned them on, all of them. Gas flooded the room.

*

Liet Harkness spit up his coffee outside the laundromat as the blast rocked the street. A great ball of flame gushed up into the phantasmal horizon and beyond it, resonating a furious howl. Fire glistened above stocky tenements and birds scattered from catastrophe, squawking as if in warning.

“What the-”

He jogged down the shattered sidewalk, to the south, to the heart of The Tombs, past the old industrial factory, now defunct, past the cast-off shop, past the curio where a strange old man watched him from the window and then took a hard left to behold a great c-section housing block consumed in flames. Blackened detritus lined the streets and twisted, exoskeletal re-bar dull-shimmered in the midday light. A figure stood before the building. A man. Of indeterminable age, quite tall and well built and wearing a jacket of white, xanthous eyes half-hidden by a plain navy ball cap, low-pulled over the face.

Harkness took a sip from his paper coffee cup, took a deep breath and walked forth along the thin alley way which let out to the blasted tenement. When the man with the ball cap heard Harkness approached he paused.

“What happened?”

The stranger regarded Harkness keenly a moment before responding and when he did the voice was like mist.

“A star wandered too close to a black hole.”

“The hell does that mean?”

The man with the dark ball cap ignored him and passed by and vanished out the alleyway. When the fog had cleared from Harkness pounding brain he ditched his cup in a nearby trashcan before the alley and ran after the mysterious stranger. Upon emerging out into the street before the tenement only the old man from the curio shop could be seen, starring with vacant eyes.

“Fire hazard. I warned um.”

The Brass Rat

The old curio-shop was half buried in the tumbledown tenement, it were as if some arcane force held the cement at bay, differentiated by its diminutive size. The man walked in the door and was greeted by a strange old man, the pawnbroker, who stood at the counter. Pawnbroker nodded, wordless and stoic as statuary. The man looked about the shelves filled with books and baubles, baseballs and baseball cards and trading cards and broken radios, the detritus of dead decades. After some minutes rummaging he chanced upon a glistening statue behind a pile of junk, a brass rat, of relative size. He asked the broker how much it would cost. The broker replied, “$10 for the rat. $1000 for the story behind it.”

“I’ll just take the rat. You can keep the story.”

Pawnbroker nodded and took the money as the rummager left the shop and headed out upon the sidewalk. After a pace he heard a scuttling. He glanced over his shoulder. Nothing. Continuing on he heard the sound once more. Again he turned. A filthy, fat rat scurried up behind him from a sewer drain, squishy, amniotic eyes gazing with bottomless hunger, its movements liminal in the sprawl. The man shooed the furry beast away with a hiss, annoyed and disgusted and left off. A few moments later he heard the scuttling once more and, turning for a third time, beheld ten rats. Fear seized him like an ephemeral vice. Shortly, ten become twenty and twenty became fifty and fifty become a hundred and hundred became hundreds. A chittering mass of claw and teeth and feral desire, the sight thereof pounding his heart’s pistons into manic machinery, ceaselessly sounding behind blood and bone.

The shopper began running now, the little statue tucked under his left arm. He turned sharply and vaulted a fence which let out to the shipping yard adjacent the sea. The rats followed still, their savage increase unabated by time. All their squishy black eyes fixed upon the statue. Realizing this, the man bounded to the edge of the nearest pier and, with a grunt of exertion, hefted the totem in a wide arc, sending it up to meet the sun and down into the briny depths below with a resounding splash. The rats followed without hesitation and spun out into the abyss. Drowning in the vastness of that capricious waste of salt and scale and swirling wetness. The man looked on in shock, the wind then sweeping up as if in mourning of the grotesque affair.

The man returned to the curio-shop and slammed his wallet down upon the counter, his eyes intense, fearful and filled with yearning. Pawnbroker met his gaze.

“I take it you’ll be wanting to hear that story now?”

The Iron Garden: Part.8

Museum

The Partridge Museum was a massive building, a construct more akin to some kind of techno-futurist military compound than the staid and neoclassical constructs of the other buildings surrounding. Clair Andretti stood before the plain, unadorned facade of the massive, brutalist monolith and inhaled deeply. Excited, emboldened and hopelessly nervous. She hated being nervous. Then she passed within the huge, electronically released double glass paneled sliding doors and moved down the wide, onyx tiled foyer, her reflection following like a inter-dimensional shade.

Past the foyer was a gargantuan gallery, of stark white concrete, the floor, like the lobby, all of black stone. The sound of gritty electronica rattled over the massive bio-flow, a modulated moog-wave synth leading the aural assault in undulating filtered crescendos.

Andretti was surprised, she had expected Debussy or Rachmanioff, not EDM. She paused in the middle of the wide, semi-circular gallery and surveyed the jostling crowds. There was Jonas Beach and Brandon Chase, chatting with Hiroko Akane, a second year journalism student from the nearby University. The threesome stood in the center of the vast vestibule, Brandon dashing and randy as ever, Akane, giggling stupidly at his bawdy, purposefully bad jokes and Beach looking to all the world as if someone had placed a squid upon his head despite manifold protestations. In the far right corner, observing a series of speculative architectural drawings was Cole Hathers with a young, curvy woman who Andretti had never seen before. Something about the woman’s ceaselessly dour and drained expression and lifeless, unexcited movements caught Clair’s eye. The fragile little creature drifted past the portraits lining the alabaster walls with the listless moroseness of a funeral mourner, as if every work of art were a soul departed. A lonely sort of passion in which there was some peculiar beauty. Andretti normally detested any woman with a better figure than her own but some nagging fragment of inborn, instinctual sympathy prevented the formation of any such scorn, yet it did make her self-conscious. She looked down at the dress mingling with the body below, ankle-high leather boots, black jeans, tight, black T over which was a thin gray hoodie; wonders on matters of decorum filled the ambit of the thin and frigid creature’s cerebral ambit. At length she determined that it didn’t really matter; all that mattered was that Lynder noticed her and that the crowd noticed her work. An artist was nothing without her public.

Suddenly a figure appeared at the top of the upper landing, peering down at the insignificant host collected in idle study below. Lynder Partridge was of middling height with tar-pitched hair, cut short on the sides and wide at the top, dressed in a black overcoat, tipped at the collar with white fur. His face was pale and sharp, lips, blood-red and his eyes catching the light with the pale glinting of topaz. His posture was slack, yet ferine, as if at any moment he might pounce with sudden and terrible excitation. All about the man, a retinue of wealthy social climbers stood, taking in the crowd below a moment and then raising champagne glasses to lips and moving out their line against the balcony, waiting for their boniface to speak. Suddenly, the music ceased and Lynder raised his smooth, sonorous voice, which echoed throughout the entirety of the hall with regal splendor.

“Greetings and salutations, ladies and gentlemen, I am so pleased to see you gathered here before me for this momentous occasion. Now, to some, the unveiling of a series of drawings and paintings means little enough. They’re just pictures after all. Same as any other. But we understand the truth of it, that these are no ordinary pictures, because such pictures were not crafted by ordinary hands. Nor were they conceived of by ordinary minds. They were conceived and forged by visionaries and dreamers, by those bold enough to ask the question: Of what use is the art which does not ceaselessly seek to force life to imitate it? And to respond: None. To no one! So, without further adieu, it is my great joy and pleasure to introduce you to our three newest additions to the gallery, Jonas Beach, Brandon Chase and Clair Andretti!”

He gestured one by one to the three young artists as he spoke their names and upon finishing, the crowd erupted into applause. After the applause had died away, Partridge continued, raising a glass of sparkling moscato and smiling cheerily.

“To our new friends health and the flourishing of all!”

Those below who had glass in hand raised their goblets and toasted likewise with a practiced ritualism, as if this were some lauded tradition. Clair was surprised at how reverent the response was, how sacral and mirthful the unfolding of the scene was. After Partridge had finished his toast he moved to the leftmost stair and, along with his cortege, descended to the gala floor as the museum goers moved about from alcove to alcove, gazing with wonderment at the elaborate sketches and illustrations, of charcoal and graphite and paintings of multifarious palettes and sculptures of brass and marble, alabaster and quartz. As the crowd dispersed out across the great U shaped ambit of the gallery Lynder coolly traversed the clacking marbled floor with a broad smile, crystal goblet held up beside his breast like a royal scepter.

He paused a respectable distance before the young woman, inclining his head, low, but not too low, as if greeting some lesser nobility.

“I’m so pleased you could make it, Ms. Andretti.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for all the world,” she cursed herself for such a bubbly and ill controlled response. The excitement was palpable all throughout the school-girlishness of the culled response. The legs close together, arms clasped together before nubile, lolling breasts, mouth slightly parted in a innocent and attemptedly beguiling smile, teeth white enough yet slightly yellowed by a penchant for coffee and sweets, eyes twinkling with longing and admiration. All of it ostentatiously performative. Clair cursed herself doubly at the visuality of the scene which anteceded the mental formations. I look like I’m trying to show off my bust. Like I’m trying to fuck the teacher. What disturbed her further was the uncertainty concerning whether or not that was necessarily false. Lynder was unaffected and wholly unconcerned with the impression he’d made upon the young artist as well as the impression which she attempted to make upon him. His bright eyes and sharp features impassive, unsettlingly opaque. The industrialist raised his free hand and gestured to one of his footmen who stood dutifully behind his master with a tray of silver upon which several glasses of champagne, half filled, rested.

“Would you care for a drink? Celebration without libation is such a sorry thing.”

Clair nodded thoughtlessly accepted one of the small, dainty glasses from the footman. She would have preferred some whiskey or Cognac in a fine little snifter but felt it rude to refuse. At any rate, she was thirsty.

“Walk with us, Ms. Andretti, I shall introduce you to my friends as we do so and you can tell us of your current and future projects as we admire the fruits of endeavors past.”

She wordlessly obeyed, fascinated, not just by the tumbling and spinning surroundings but also by Lynder’s catlike and slinking gait, an easy cavorting, a languidity rare amongst the tense and squeaming populace. Introductions were made; first Clair was acquainted with Jill Habermass, a nebbishy and elderly curator for the Institute of Urban Design, next Danny Price, a fiery, youthful mestizo and the owner of Price Construction, the second largest construction company in the city, then Domnal Eins, a middle-aged man of indiscernible ethnic extraction who did something with marketing analytics and crypto-currencies that eluded Andretti’s ken and, lastly, Mariana Ester, the chief officer of the Vandemburgh Consortium of History and Heritage. They all asked a plethora of questions about Clair’s life, half-disinterested but obliged, the rest genuine; they asked of her upbringing and whether or not she was seeing someone and what got her into art and what she wants out of life and what she thought of the heated political campaigns of the ongoing mayoral race. Clair answered all of the questions in vaguest and most passing and from-the-hip of fashions, trying to give as little away about what she actually believed on any given topic as possible; largely succeeding.

“Deplorably perfunctory!”

Lynder erupted suddenly, waving a hand in the air as if dispelling some arcane conjuration. All present fell silent as he spun upon them, expression showing mild disappointment and motioned to Clair’s panel alcove which occupied the leftmost portion of the great U of the gala. “It is of her work itself that you have come, for that is what is on display, not the woman herself. Tell me, Mr. Eins, what do you make of that one,” Partridge gestured to an enormous, hyperrealistic drawing of a futuristic cityscape with multiple layers, each of which was suspended above the other and each serving a distinctive function; the bottom layer for agriculture and food production and waste disposal, the second layer for transportation and distribution, the third for housing and socialization and the fourth for governmental administration and aerial defense.

“I’m not sure I understand it.”

Lynder’s face phased back into utter opaqueness.

“Then it wasn’t for your understanding. I find it most wondrous. Past patterns for future eventualities. The present is nothing without its visionaries.”

Clair was struck by the intensity of his tone, despite his ostensible lack of expression. He looked to the elaborate drawing as if it were some sacred image, a totemic idol of direst consequence. The young woman’s technical skill had been impressive from an early age and her choice of subject had long been lauded, but no one, not even her most admiring professors, had ever spoken of her work with such sacral appreciation. It caused her heart to flutter and a smile of self-satisfaction to ever so briefly flicker across her smooth, colorless face.

“Clair, Mr. Partridge, other, uh, people-to-whom-I-haven’t-yet-been-introduced, hello,” Brandon Chase sided up behind the gathering, Jonas and Hiroko Akane trailing, nervously, uncertain of whether or not they should speak.

“Ahhh, Mr. Beach, Ms. Akane and the dashing Mr. Chase,” Lynder enjoined warmly, “So good of you to finally join us. From the looks of the crowds surrounding your respective works, I’d say that your public has properly found you. Most wonderful!”

“Yes, yes, well, I’m all for an admiring public but goodness these people are chatting my ears off.”

“The graphic artist is not nearly so lauded as the film star but both, upon finding sufficient celebrity, will quickly come to be the subject of desire for all their envious admirers; it must be realized that the reason for such admiration is not to be found in the actual works, or at least solely within the works of the artists themselves, but rather in the fact that they have achieved such social laddering-up by the creation of such works. Art ever seems easy to those who’ve never had a hand in its creation and thus the public at-large erroneously tend to believe that such a life is one to be envied and so they become envious themselves, failing to realize that were such a life their own they’d despise it with every fiber of their being.”

Eins gave a little chuckle, “That may well be the case but there aren’t a whole lot of artists who make the kind of cash I do on a regular basis, good art requires willful ignorance of the market, otherwise you’ll always be beholden to your audience’s whims, which means that to be a good artist, or at least one with integrity, you’ve gotta take hits to the wallet like a kevlar vest takes bullets, that is, with grit-teeth and frequently.”

Clair felt a welling distaste for the currency trader, she knew his type, trust-fund kid, smart, but not too-smart, educated but not well read and aware of it, always attempting to insert himself into a conversation if there was the possibility of pumping the ego and convincing all the rest of the conversant his intellect leveled up to his bank account.

Lynder didn’t directly respond, instead removing a small, gilded pack of 100s from his inner jacket pocket of his overcoat, lighting up the fag with languor and returning his attention to the artwork of the long, white stand-up panel, expectant of future innervation.

Jill Habermass was the first to pick up where Eins had left off and the two quickly fell into a good natured argument about the relationship of the artist to the market and various metrics of success. It was all rather staid and boring to Clair, who sided up to Lynder where he stood still admiring her work, seemingly unconcerned with the argument spreading out behind him.

“Um, Mr. Partridge.”

“Yes, Ms. Andretti?”

“I just wanted to thank you, personally, for all that you’ve done for me. It really means a good deal to me. So thank you.”

He turned to her and smiled ever so slightly, but his eyes didn’t laugh.

“Unnecessary. Go and met your public. Mingle. Network. Have some fun.”

Without another word Lynder returned briefly to her work and then departed to greet a group of well dressed philosophers from the nearby art school.

Clair turned to behold the crowd behind her which had grown doubly in size since she had moved to stand at the leftmost corner of her selfsame project. Half of the crowd glanced on in wonderment at the intricate series of buildings, her ideal sky-cities and mechanical sprawls, whilst another half had fallen into debate concerning the content of the drawings themselves. Even in art school Clair had very rarely ever seen such boundless vigor for creation nor such interest in its manifold applications. The scene filled her with wonder and mirth even as she moved away from it, wary that her presence and the questioning thereof and of the extrapolation of her creation would someone diminish the exhibit. The feeling pulled the woman back from all crowds and all the artifice of the museum the better to observe the objects and their relations. It was only then she realized the worth of her own work. Drawing, illustration, painting, all had been a venture undergone for the pleasure it generated, for the thing-in-and-of-itself, there, a quandary, for the essence of a thing could never be gotten at. Could not be unearthed by digging. There was no shovel for it. What she sought could not be found by looking. It arrived of its own accord. As if by some alien intelligence.

Lost to time a clacking of soles ruptured her reverie. She turned to behold a familiar face. Aiken’s face. A thick bluish bruise marred his otherwise handsome, blocky face. His eyes were foggy, faraway; a hidden sadness leaking through with jellied light.

“What the hell happened to your face?”

“CAF fanatics. They blind-sided me on my way to the campaign office.”

“Did you file a report?”

“Nah. I probably should. Too busy. Seems like your work is getting the attention it deserves,” he gestured to the crowd still huddled in gentile argumentation around Clair’s exhibit, “I’m glad. Clearly you are as well.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You look happy.”

“Is that so unusual?”

“You want me to answer that honestly?”

She smiled wryly and punched him lightly in the arm. Gaze to gaze, face to face. She wanted badly to kiss him but knew better than to do so in public. Together they walked back to the seething crowds whereupon they crossed paths with Cole Hathers and a dire-eyed young woman with long, dark hair and pure, Italian features.

Cole stopped short, shocked to see his foe standing so comfortably beside someone so well known as Layne.

“You’re Aiken Layne.”

“That’s me. You a friend of Ms. Andretti’s?”

Hathers shot Clair a embarrassed look and ran his tongue quickly across his lower lip as he always did when he was nervous. Clair was pleased.

“I know her from school. From the college. I’m Cole Hathers. Graphic Designer. Uh, this is-”

The young woman cut him off and moved forward with a forced facade of amiability and conviviality.

“Anna Campana. Nice to meet you two.”

One by one in turn, Layne and Andretti took the woman’s hand and shook it warmly. The four shared stagnate conversation, walking in a tandem with the curvature of the great U shape of the gala, from left to right, surveying Clair’s exhibit, then Jonas’, then Chase’s. Upon passing Clair’s work Hathers clenched his fists, lip twitching, upon passing Jonas’ he shrugged, upon passing Chase’s he nodded approvingly as Eins turned greeted a short, garishly dressed blonde.

“Well, well, I didn’t expect to see you here, Ms. Vikander.”

*

Jonas Beach stood before his exhibit. It was a tall white assemblage of three matte panels upon each of which hung his varied works. From somewhere nearby he heard a young woman cackle, “What the heck is this stuff? I thought this place only put out the ‘finest’ up-and-coming artists. Fantasy art… I mean, really? That’s so a decade ago.” Beach could feel his blood pressure rising, his brow furrowing; a serpent of endless rage uncoiling from his reptile brain. The woman was young, pretty and exceedingly banal. She was thin and wore a fake tan. Spray on tan. Cheezy smile. Over-sized and superfluous scarf wound about the neck like a great desiccated python. Eyes blitzed out from marijuana consumption, donned in pop-fashion chic with a fake alligator bag slung about her bare, left shoulder. Cell phone blue-glowing in her free right hand. She was perfectly normal by the standards of the city.

Jonas Beach wanted to bash her face in.

*

Lynder Partridge swilled the last of his champagne with relish from the heights of the second-floor landing overlooking the gala floor. His eyes swept over the teeming multitudes below, stopping upon the unfurling forms of Angela Vikander and Aiken Layne. They were arguing. A throng gathered, some laughing, others enjoining, still others dourly observing in silence. Clair was aghast. Chase looked amused. Jonas was nowhere to be found.

“Well… that was quick,” The footman intoned with mild surprise, “I knew they didn’t like each other but I didn’t expect things escalate like this…”

Lynder handed off the empty glass to his loyal attendant without removing his eyes from the scene of chaos playing out beneath him. Almost instantly a guard walked up to Lynder as the footman departed.

“Mr. Partridge, you’ll want to see this.”

The guard handed off a small digital tablet displaying the security cameras which thronged the outer facade of the museum. Upon the camera-output screens were numerous black-clad CAF members assembling; the motley assortment carried flags and picket signs, a couple had rough-hewn sticks as makeshift weapons. There was no sound but they were clearly chanting in something approaching unison.

Lynder turned to the guard without expression.

“Call security.”