5.3 - The Data Crash of 2001 A.D. (old calendar) wasn't, as thought for almost three months, due to sunspot activity. An encrypted virus had spread to all computer bases over a two year period. Designed to pass through firewalls into all media including extremely durable tape-back-up systems. It would simply scramble all stored data. No one was the wiser because the password affixed itself to the files, to the applications, in the ROM, and in the RAM of computers and com links. It even jumped about on static bits and electrons in the processors after they were shut down. The password would decode the scrambled files whenever they were called up by the user. After 12 years the virus would wipe all passwords, and the back up tapes would lock up; useless gibberish. Brilliant hack. The originator of the virus could show up and sell the password, housed in a dummy recovery system, to all infected parties.
Unfortunately, its inventor died in a train accident in Czechoslovakia in the first few minutes after the virus kicked in. He hadn't known that it would pass so quickly into the train systems control banks. He didn't take into account the fact that the Czech trains were always late. This train, along with four Boeing 787s and almost all information on the world's computer hard drives - lost. It was estimated that a multi-computer-run-code-cracker would take 200 years to sift through the possibilities until the 94 bit password could be found.
The reason behind the peaceful reconstruction of the world, the renaming of the calendar, a new hope for the future, was the coincidental introduction of food constructs from the Weinberg Foundation. A group of researchers decided to apply theoretical string theory to the production of single cell foodstuffs. Results came in two forms; a liquid which, when heated, would harden. Depending on the amount and speed of heating and shaking, the food stuff could acquire almost any shape and consistency existing in 'known' foods; the second production of these highly nutritious constructs took the form of pasta-like strands.
Coupled with free electrical power, the promise of low-cost high protein, vitamin enriched foods kept the public peaceful. Single cell food stuff was literally pumped into everyone's homes (using the huge monetary surpluses whose true owners could never be traced). The "Third Tap" was paradoxically referred to by politicians and school teachers as the "flood which kept the dam of civilization from breaking".
Mr. Gordon O and Sergeant Lawrence Hardwickii sat in a conference room at Planck Research and bitterly reviewed their circumstances. They had teamed up after the board of directors had ceased to be involved in the search for Ziggy Acetate. Ever since Ziggy had branded those weird symbols on their foreheads, they had become less active in the company (and they were major stockholders themselves) and more involved in watching talk shows on tv. When questioned, their response was a sympathetic smile and an "I'm sure you know what to do." Other phrases that were used frequently amongst themselves included, "Ars longa, vita brevis" and "Credo quia absurdum est" and "Magna est veritas et praevalebit. Mirabilia, Mundo, Natura, Nova Vita". Gordon O found these words of a new life, full of miracles and absurd truths, extremely irritating. He hadn't worked all those years for the New United Kingdom Enterprise, (the New U) only to have these senile idiots destroy any chance at the reunification of Great Britain and the resurrection of the Empire.
Larry Hardwickii, on the other hand, couldn't care less. He was only interested in killing Ruby Yablonsky and getting his money. And that Chappel freak who helped track her to England - Hardwickii briefly fantasized about blowing him away too. He touched the scratches on his face. "So what's the next step?", he asked O.
"The two of them have disappeared. We're keeping an eye on the Canadian and we've got Vanessa Cardui in custody. Frankly, I don't care if he never comes back as long as there are no more art works materializing in public places."
"Not good enough," announced the policeman. "He's wanted in AmExicana for tampering with communication systems. And Yablonsky, she's wanted in connection with kidnapping and murder. If you don't help me find them I'll do it myself. Besides, Scotland Yard has offered me their help. They're expecting a report from me."
Gordon O didn't like Hardwickii. But he didn't want to let him loose in London and had decided to keep an eye on him. "Alright", he said. "You can use the Planck R&D department as long as you don't step on anybody's toes. And keep me informed."
Hardwickii smiled. "I'll start on the hooker" he said. It made Gordon O uneasy.
They sat, each buried in his own thoughts, until Pinter entered the room. "Here's the printout of Hooper's latest communications, Mr. O. We can't figure out what it means." He placed a three inch stack of computer paper in front of O. O began reading:
"And the stellas were shinings. And the earthnight strewed aromatose. His pibrook creppt mong the donkness. A reek was waft on the luftstream. He was ours, all fragrance. And we were his for a lifetime."
He dropped the papers back on the table, leaned over and covered his face with a hand, massaging his eyes
"What is it?" Hardwickii asked. "Sounds like some kind of religious crap."
"It's a threat of some kind, we figured", Pinter inserted enthusiastically. "It's in code, outling a plan of action."
O whined, "It's not a code," he said, "it's James Joyce and I'll bet Hooper and his boyfriend were long gone before you got the first page printed."
"Maybe we should pick up this guy Joyce" Pinter pointed out. O rolled his eyes.
5.5 - Ghosts
When Hooper and Alban returned from Flavour Maid with some Earthspice and Aromaventure additives (veggie with nutrients), the terminal screen was flashing. He had customized his screensaver to pulse loudly. He had programmed a macro to wait in the background, introduce the Joyce and flash the screen. It insulated the incoming message and siphoned 100 meg packets into flash ram.
All the message said was 'thunder %% delineated 1K'. "OKAY!!" he shouted and turned Alban right around and back out the door.
Hooper, (leaning 'site-specific'), had gotten to know his apartment building as a macro-architecture that led to many, many exits. Almost 'mold-able'. He need only wait for the signal. An exit would present itself.
They crossed the block on the 23rd floor and took a freight to the 16th. There was a lot of commercial activity on the 16th. Malltown. Hooper led Alban to the escalators and they rode down three more flights, looking at some major merch. They got off on the twelfth floor. Hooper called it the thirteenth because he knew of the large ventilation artery below it that housed a street market.
Almost all the vents below Malltown were wired but it was easy to hide in the crowds. Still, they didn't enter them until they had traversed two buildings.
Once in the vents northeast of Malltown, it was simply a matter of catching a service
'vator to the trains. Hooper knew the camera placements at Marylebone. One stop
to Baker Street and total confusion.
Three lone informers had picked them up in Malltown but lost them in the vents. A
Planck spotter picked them up when they arrived at the subway but, he too, lost them
before they transferred to the central line. They rode to Woodruff and jogged to
the Newbury Complex. Newbury was a small, expensive development of thirty thousand people.
"I have a friend here", Hooper said. "He knows where 'thunder' is or can find
someone who does."
5.6 - Third Eye
The friend was a photographer named Stan. He'd come over from Toronto when southern Ontario joined the United AmExicana Co-ops. Hooper, being an Ottawan, always teased Stan about it. Stan welcomed Hooper. Hooper said wryly,"My, but you sound American, Stan." Stan smirked and introduced himself to Alban.
"Sure I know where Thunder is." He had intended to visit eventually, but for the
last six months he'd been concentrating on the fungus jungles, four thousand feet
up, on a group of rooftops in Manchester. Stan had filmed communities of people
living in a symbiotic, interactive relationship with fungus life. His prime reason for the
'shoot' was to create an exposé of neo-mythologies and their metaphoric correlatives.
"I first heard about it in a South Banks BBS." He called up a stored file called 'Habitats'. Hooper and Alban read it over his shoulder as he continued, "I cross-referenced seismic readings from archival stats with new ones enroute to the archives from Geotap. I also followed isolated reports by maintenace crews, of low level siesmic vibrations felt in certain tunnels. Then I did some platinum development work outdoors on Bond and watched the streets. It was an amazing discovery! Undergrounders! They surface at three or four spots in that area alone. So when do you want to go?"
"I take it you want to come along," Hooper said.
The three men stayed in Newbury for five days. Hooper and Alban needed new clothes. They shopped on Stan's terminal for almost two hours.
Stan spent the morning in his studio slowly and meticulously packing his photo gear. He used an old, brass Canon slr camera vintage mid 1970s and a 35 mm wide angle lens. The camera was also modified to send a hi-bit digital image to a mini-dvd. There was a small tin case of filters and a leather sack for high speed films. He packed a dual-splash compu-flash and a long range telephoto. He put his cleaning kit and a gyropod in the side pouches.
After lunch, as they waited for the new clothes to arrive, Hooper tapped through river-run to check his mail. Alban emerged from the bathroom in a large terry robe and thick socks. He sat on the bed and watched Stan pack his clothes for the trip. Stan glanced at Alban and said, "The temperature down there at this time of year swings from freezing to steam bath as you turn corners. There are pockets of exhaust and others of fresh winter air. We'll need some clean air masks too."
"I saw them. We can pick them up along the way." said Alban. He dried his hair with the robe's hood and continued to speak. "Rob hasn't let me study any of Ziggy's work. He seems afraid of it."
Stan shrugged and carefully folded a Meshpore sweater into a two inch square. "Robertson Hooper's pretty smart. He's seen a lot of 'Ziggys'. An artist without discipline manipulates his viewers with no knowledge of doing so.
Manipulation of any kind is just the thing a true work of art has absolutely nothing to do with. Art shouldn't sell ideas and loyalties. Just present reality. We want to learn how to read."
"So how can I learn if I'm not allowed to see?"
"Good point. Ask Robbie."
"He usually says there's not proper time and I'd be doing Ziggy and myself a favor if I would wait. Then I could sit down and let the world open up to me."
"Look, my wife and I maintain separate apartments and careers. We even try not to live in the same thousand mile radius because it's too easy to get together. When we are together we rarely do anything but enjoy each other's company. That's the last thing a writer like her and an obsessed picture taker like myself wants. Our solitude is too important. Loneliness is a precious commodity these days." Stan finished packing. For all that gear and clothing he had one medium sized shoulder bag and a small metal suitcase. "You'll just have to do what lovers do when they care about each other. Fight. But it sounds to me like Father Brown's being a little over protective. Everyone's mother."
"Yeah", said Alban.
"You know what the inscription on the hypochondriac's tomb said,"smiled Stan."
"No, what," said Alban. "Told'ya so," he replied.
5.7 - The Vancouver Chapter of the Flowers of Evil began its meetings quietly; tea time at the old boys club. More like a garage band rehearsal. There were no minutes read, no agendas set. Members convened in a renovated Mason's Hall and sat around reading magazines. Waiting? If asked, the usual response was "Uh, mmm, perhaps. Yes. For what?" After an hour, instruments would appear and charts would be handed about. Some members were very choosy as to who would do their number. Others were of the "more the merrier" variety.
Tonight things had gotten off to much the same start although there were a coincidentally high number of members reading Rolling Stone (this usually meant that someone in the group was published in Harpers).
At about 8:30 the secretary, Edward Philips, came to the hall with a glazed, sheepish look on his face and a beautiful woman on his arm. Edward was a tall, self-effacing young man with an awkward, nervous quality that made one think he was always being hailed from three directions at once. The members, all of whom were young males, occasionally lowered and raised their newspapers and magazines to take a nonchalant look at this thin blonde in a black mini skirt. She looked about, pulled her head sideways and narrowed her eyes in humoured skepticism, "They keep doing that, I'm going to get a cold from the draft." When the next head emerged from behind a magazine (coincidentally named SPY), she raised her hand, formed her fingers into a gun and formed the word "Pow" with her lips.
"Ed, you're late." The voice came from behind, purposefully, abrupt, to startle, to gain an advantage. Edward turned indignantly. His escort turned slowly with calm and poise. The young man moved back slightly, suddenly on the defensive. He was tall, like Edward, and very handsome. It took a moment before he inflated to his original bravura. Edward was sputtering something about being late because of club business. "Aren't you going to introduce me, Ed?" Then, turning to face the woman, "I'm Richard Sims. What can I do for you?"
"Linda Smith," she said shaking his hand, "You can sit down with me and tell me all about yourself." She walked to a section where a couch and two armchairs were grouped together and sat down. Sims turned to Edward Philips and said, "Linda Smith? No way. This is very interesting." He walked over and sat in one of the arm chairs.
Soon there was a group of five men gathered around her. They feverishly
shoehorned their ideas into the conversation:
"The Flowers of Evil is not a club it's a rock band."
"It's more than a band it's a concept."
"I thought we could read poems:
You tilt your head and smile-as if
across the country side
a breeze had rippled through the grass
out of a brilliant sky.."
"Pig," said Linda Smith. "Okay, enough broken dreams. Who wants to go home with me?" Shocked silence. "Who can tell me where Ziggy Acetate is?"
"England", said Sims. "As soon as I heard your accent I figured Acetate would become the subject of discussion. Who knows where he is? Probably still in England somewhere."
Linda Smith looked at Sims and said incredulously, "England?"
"Yes, where else? He's all over the news tonight. Millions of dollars worth of property was destroyed in Trafalgar Square. The damage to Historical Landmarks is monumental but, uh hey.....!"
Linda Smith, or whatever her name was, stood up without acknowledging anyone in the Flowers and left. The Flowers exchanged abashed looks, cleared their throats and were getting ready to resume reading or begin the musical part of the evening when she came back in, took Eddie Philips by the hand and led him out.
5.8 - Holiday
"Te Kongs rr tain te Heat." There was a drain on the power which had the Bass amps humming through the walls. Fiz ran to tell Skip that the power drain was due to a siphon by the Kongs, landlords of the underground.
"O.K." said Skip and turned to Ziggy and Ruby, "They just wanted a fast charge. And they usually know when it's not going to hurt us. It's like a protection racket."
"Bankruptions," Fiz said and sat down next to Ziggy. Ziggy looked much better. He had told Ruby of his misadventures in D/W, describing his meeting and return to the U.K. with Sergeant Hardwickii. That was when she sent the 'message' to Hooper. Ziggy acted as if nothing had happened back 'on top'. His attitude of indifference had at first shocked Ruby. Now she was simply annoyed by it. He was like a child. He could be tender and sensitive one moment and restless and distracted the next. Any attempt by Ruby to discuss his 'gift' or the events of the last week made Ziggy petulant and withdrawn. He'd usually end up leaving on one of his explorations with Fiz and the Zipper. When asked what they were up to, Fiz and Zipper would exchange conspiratorial glances and Fiz would say something like "who shake what?" And Zipper would respond "Hu hu hu."
But Ruby got a needed rest in Thunder. She had frequent talks with Skip who, although a little manic, was very warm and funny. Today he had gone off to the village center to rehearse his choir. He had pointed out (to a bemused Ruby) that Christmas was only days away. "I'll never get my shopping done. Not that anybody deserves presents this year", she had said. She sulked about the apartment, the back rooms of a liquor store that still had some beautiful, if empty, wine casks in it. They were used as tables. Big wine-stained curved wood barrels. The purpose of some other objects in this town could only be guessed at.
On to World on a String Part 6
Back to the present.