Freelancing again. His employers, an Indo-Malay security/enforcer agency had always been punctual if not fanatically insistent on procedure. Yet they had failed to meet him at the airport. The backup meet at the hotel was now two hours late as well. Come to think of it, Keele hadn't even had to avoid the usual contact with hustlers, pimps and ambitious street life that this area was so well known for. A botbus had shuttled him to the hotel and except for an outstretched hand or two, things were surprisingly sedate.
"I would have noticed things were different if I wasn't being haunted by you, V."
He pushed his gun into his belt and threw a light blue linen jacket over it. Checking the room once to leave a firm impression of the placement of it's objects, he left the hotel for the street. The lobby was deserted. The street was devoid of people and traffic. Sweet, rich smells merged with the sweaty bulk of heat and silence. Keele turned a corner and cocked his head trying to understand the scene before him.
A group of people, about thirty of them, stood motionless in the street. He walked slowly, nonchalantly, toward them with his thumbs looped in his belt, his right palm against the butt of his Olufsen. As he approached, he remembered something Vanessa had said about spiders and flies.
He stopped about thirty feet from the group. They turned toward him as if with one mind. Some of them didn't have eyes. Keele pulled his gun and took down three of them as they rushed him. Some of the others tripped over the bodies and gave Keele precious moments to turn and run like hell. He took a corner, flipped onto the low rooftop of a fruit stand and dropped to the other side. From there he doubled back and reached the three bodies he had just shot. A fourth man stood over them, opened a vial or container of some sort and poured. Keele watched the three dead men stand up stumble off in the direction that the others had taken.
"Screw this living dead shit", he hissed through clamped teeth, "I'm out'a here." He ran silently up the street toward the dense jungle pulling at the edge of the city...
"Something is wrong," Qi mumbled scanning her father's database. The terminal to her father's main server had been a video playground since childhood. Qi had first learned to generate 3d graphs of data in multi-coloured architectural structures which were always changing and fun to look at. But right now she explored a hole in the direct optic pipeline of the China Travel Service. The hole spewed bits of information rendered into something like a stream of television static pouring through what looked like a circuit board in a realization of a services hierarchy graph. The China Travel Service was one of the vast holdings Qi's father had acquired during his cadet years. The China Travel Service was linked to a conglomerate of arts, entertainment and tourism developers and had been the first tendril in the retrieval of Hong Kong from the English in the mid 90s.
Qi had found the hole by indexing a Hong Kong hotel payroll with the travel service and then calling up accounting records. It had begun as a game when she was much younger (" But not so long ago" she mused), looking for her dream husband. Checking them out in Papa's computer. Today it was boredom more than nostalgia or any desire to fulfill futile dreams that had Qi tapping through the enormous datalogue. One man, a Li Yong Shiang, was very rich. On closer inspection Qi found that it was not earnings but accrued interest on uncollected checks that made him so wealthy. The checks were siphoned to MING, another of her father's umbrella companies, this one dealing in human resources; a head hunter agency and advertising think tank. Once into the MING system Qi could go anywhere. She scanned all sorts of data bases. Some of them were instantly recognisable as world wide real estate ventures or money launderings. Others were delightfully entertaining multi media banks of politicians complete with video doc and voice lock. Intriguing and often questionable names and circumstances were hinted at in columns and footnotes. Blackmail material perhaps. A living soap opera. Her attention drawn to a file called GOD, Qi was challenged by the speed at which one list of numbers changed. Seven digit numbers flashed and ticked, always increasing, never slowing. Vast sums of money coming into an unnamed account from the World Telethon Network. From the hugely popular M. Jesus Baker and his disciple, Mary Joseph Carter.
That was weird enough, but affixed to the transmission of monies was a symbol which Qi immediately recognised. She had seen it on news bursts all week. She had seen it on the trooper's helmets at Ziggy Acetate's birthday party. It was the prefix of Planck Industries' security. //.. Two stripes, two dots.
"Daddy's up to no good again" thought Qi as she picked up the phone.
"Sir we have a call being routed to us from Planck," the attendant looked at his superior through the glass partition. Most of the United Network headquarters in England were set up this way. You couldn't pick your nose without someone's eyebrows raising from a terminal. And this was a renovation! More visual breathing space. "At least it got rid of the personal security cams. Thank god for unions," he thought.
"Why are you telling me?" he barked. The attendant turned bright red. He knew his fellow workers were smirking all around him.
"Sir, it's someone looking for agent Keele, sir. "
"Oh great, just great." The director hit a button and shouted, "Agent Smith. Has she left the building yet?"
"No, sir." A tinny voice responded.
"When she gets to your station send her back to my office."
Linda C Smith walked with long strides into the director's office, "I've got reports to do and then I'm going to the club for three weeks. I don't need any new assignments right now." The club was the training camp. Rigorous drills and obstacle courses helped keep them in peak condition for new assignments, and distract them from thinking about previous ones. Most agents had nowhere else to go anyway. Besides, Banff was a beautiful place. The solitude and privacy afforded by the fact that it was appropriated soley for special training and strategic planning by the military made it a perfect get-away for Smith.
"Smith, someone's looking for Keele and I don't want to know about it. Get on the phone and find out who wants 'm and why. It's an order. And the next time you whine at me I'll send you to New York. You can run surgical supplies for the Fivers. B.C. says I can have you as long as I want, so pick up the phone! And when you're done check up on the boardroom inmates. This mind control stuff is not my thing."
"Unless it's you who's running it," Smith murmurred, "Cool your jets . I'll take the call." She picked up the phone, smiled maliciously to let her boss know she wasn't angry. In fact she was relieved to be working; back online. She pressed the 'wait' button and said sweetly,
"Can I help you?"
"I wish to talk to Mr. Frederick Keele please. It is urgent that I speak with him."
" My name is Smith, I am a friend of Keele's. He's out of the country and would be hard to reach. I'll try to help you if I can."
Qi looked at her terminal, punched 'events' and said, "OK, meet me at the Stockhausen concert, tomorrow evening in Huddersfield."
"A concert. Sounds good. I'll be there."
Before Qi hung up she added, "If you talk to him, tell him the Reverend M. Jesus Baker may be involved with the gang that killed Vannessa Cardui." Then she rang off and ran a check on Linda C. Smith while Smith called up the location of Huddersfield.
8.2 Smith & the Xex
They had become morose. They looked hyper and haggard. They would twitch and yabber and just as suddenly and in perfect unison, become silent and attentive. Then they would stare off into space or at some object in the room.
Smith wasn't sure that coming to Plank was a good idea. She knew that Keele's girlfriend was killed when a security firm contracted by Plank screwed up communications with an interrogation team in a London Network lab. Her original investigation was more directly concerned with finding Ziggy Acetate. Premier Johnson had asked her to assist the Network in England as they might lead her to him. She believed the connection between this company, the poorly masked murder and the bizarre events in this board room connected to Ziggy somehow. There was also the fact that Keele had been emotionally involved with the dead girl. If Smith could help straighten out this mess, it may temper his grief.
"So you're from B.C. child?" The bald headed man was cherubic and gleeful. Smith nodded back imitating the glee and then rolled her eyes.
"B.C. is one of the only ones left ," he continued, "you are privileged to live there. And you're here because you want to see the artist, right?" His eyes became frozen, his face a terrified grimace, "The dust of generations of deceit and the compliance of false prophets in a make believe paradise. Cover the earth in mossy blankets. Breathe through death's nostrils." The three directors of Plank sat down and closed their eyes.
Smith puzzled over this turn from senile babbling old men to rhetorical oration. She looked closer at the etchings in their foreheads. Ziggy had marked each of them with identical icons. They looked like scribble, or a quick doodle one might unconciously make while talking on the phone. Suddenly she was face to face with one of them. He had white hair and wild eyes. He had raced up to her and was shouting, "We could perhaps help you find him if you tell us why you want him." He smiled loudly and danced puppet-like about the room.
She asked, "Could you explain the association between Planck and the Telethon Network?" The red headed man jumped up and down, "Very good. Yes they are clients. Brother B retains us to monitor certain business transactions and to supply information to help in the cause."
Smith looked into his eyes and asked, "Do you know what cause that is?"
"Brother B's call is to spread a renewed faith in the complete unity that only the Lord can offer." The little red haired man sat down and added, "They are completely absorbed in the management of the Lord's work."
Smith shuddered with a deep fear. It was the way they looked at her. "Hysterical" she thought, "and naive." It was as if they were marionettes. There was a sincerity in their words. She stood in front of the three of them, now seated on the couch and snapped, "Look, you guys are fun but the party's over, okay? Where's Siegfried Acetate?"
"We don't know," they responded in unison, "but he'll turn up eventually. To go unto the Lord."
Smith asked, "What's the connection between Planck and the Brother B?" The middle Apostle, a thin nerdy man in a striped sweater turned his head left and right to his fellows as he asked, "Different fish or a different kettle?"
The red head replied, "Different fish."
The third, a white haired round man named Pointsman spoke, "It's the Kettle as well." He looked at Smith and his eyes softened but his words were hard, "There's no escape," he hissed and began to squirm. "Perhaps it's better that Vanessa died the way she did." These last words were forced through clenched teeth and with their finish so finished the Apostles. They suddenly became paralyzed. Smith thought of bodies encased in glacial masses. Freeze-dried. She stared at them and growled to herself, "What the fuck is going on."
An office boy entered the room. He looked at Smith and then to the group of catatonic executives. "They haven't done this in a while. You must be new here."
"That's right," Smith looked at the clerk. He was more like an orderly at a hospital. "These men are under observation, aren't they? Why don't you take them to a hospital?"
"They have far better medical care here. The executive suites are complete medical facilities. Besides, they insisted upon this monitoring before the condition really took hold. It hit six top executives, killing three. It's not really an illness. They intimated that it was their own research and they assumed responsibility We call them the Apostles. They're completely harmless."
Fascinated, she looked back at the three seated figures. They were grinning at her now. Each smile was benign in itself but the combined effect was terrifying. Ice cubed eyes floating in doughy faces. "You watch them, they watch you; is that it?"
8.3 The dream:
He was under a blanket of heavy black cloth. Under the cover of this blanket he felt a humid warmth and he trembled with anticipation. It went beyond sensuality. He actually fizzled, he rippled, his body caught in a tremendous flow, a feeling so primal and pure it was numinous. It was ecstasy. He noticed (or felt) other movement all around him and at first was frightened. The movement surged into him. And he was becoming stronger. He wished he'd never have to wake up. He vaguely remembered the clothing store. Twenty two months of selling expensive cloths to all kinds of people. Then the vacation. A two week trip to Bali and Singapore. With a ripple of irritation he remembered that these places had the same clothing stores and worse, the same clientele. The people he thought he had left behind. It wasn't until the trip to Bangkok and the excursion to Chiang Mi that he felt new and curious again.
"Let's see if he's cooked." Kerby pushed a button on a small console and Ruby could see a human skeleton on the screen. "Here are the points that the laser homed in on. You see, Ruby, I don't make Frankensteins here." Ruby had began to think that Kerby's inner ghosts spoke louder and were more persistent than she had thought. "I didn't say anything, Doc", she gruffly commented. He continued, "Well anyway, you can see there are about two dozen fused fractures and," he consulted the readouts along the side of the screen, "only 40 terragig re-spindling neural paths."
Kerby pushed a control combination and the large cylinder in the center of the room began vibrating. A table with a body on it emerged from one end. Ruby walked over to the table and examined the body. Except for a small tube coming out of his mouth, nothing seemed physically wrong, especially considering Hooper had fallen sixty feet along with a crumbling rockface. It was two weeks since he had saved her life. She took his hand and gently said, "Bless you, Father."
"Thank you, my child, but a blanket would be more appropriate at this point." Kerby came from behind Ruby and placed a blanket on Hooper. Ruby gave him a big kiss and squeezed his hand. "Father Estrogen, may I introduce Doctor Rudolph Kerby. She looked at Kerby and said, "We all owe him a lot." A moment of awkward silence followed. Kerby cleared his throat and said, "Father Estrogen, I.."
"Please call me Hooper and thank you, Doctor."
Kerby smiled, "Hooper, we repaired multiple fractures and some nerve damage. You should be fine, but you must take it easy. You'll be up and around in a week and as good as new six to twelve months from now."
Hooper looked up at the cylinder he had lived in for two weeks. "Magnetic alignment and laser bonding."
"Well," Kerby brightened, "you want a job?"
"Any news about Stan and Alban?"
Hooper looked up and watched Kerby shake his head, "Not a whisper."
"Before we recruited him Stan was studying fungal growth. He had planned a trip to the, as he put it, 'mother of all fungi' or something like that in the northwest Amex states." Hooper's eyes fluttered and Kerby suggested that the group let him get some rest.
Ruby gave Hooper a kiss and said, "See ya later, Hoop."
8.5 Calm link
"Hardwickii, your investigation has led to the death of a woman, the complete destruction of a community of people living, albeit illegally, in the underground, and your actions have severely strained our relationship with the Kong clan. I've called your superior in D/W and you're off the case. You are to report back to the States as soon as possible. You are to leave England on Thursday. Three days from now. End of meeting, all further requests denied!" By now, Gordon O was shouting at Hardwickii. He picked up the phone and yelled, "Be sure the AmexiCan policeman turns in his card as he leaves the building."
Sergeant Lawrence Hardwickii had been staring at his glass hand. Turning it over and looking in as though it were a crystal ball. He turned his head slowly toward O and whispered, "Very well, but he's mine. With your help or not." Then he turned and left the office. Once in the elevator he used his access card to descend to the communications section. He inquired as to the whereabouts of Harold Pinter. A young orderly directed him to a set of doors on the east wall. On his way into the Data tabs sector, Hardwickii removed a small plastic container from his pocket.
"Where's Pinter?" The lieutenant looked around and caught sight of one of the nerds sitting up and craning a thin neck his way. Hardwickii smiled and beckoned with his glass hand, "Is there some place private we can talk?" "This facility is is is off limits to non personnel. H..H..How did you get in here?"
Hardwickii flashed his access card and loomed over the small mathematician, "Don't give me trouble, geek. This is too urgent to waste time on procedure." Hal Pinter began stuttering. He led the way into his private office. Hardwickii closed the door with his foot and gave the vial to Pinter. "Check this out and tell me what you think." Pinter took the vial and examined it. "Open it, idiot!" The lieutenant had something between a grimace and a wild smile on his face. Pinter did as he was told. An opalescent glow emitted from the vial. A strange material rose from it. "What is this s..ss...sss some kind of ss ss-semiconductor material? It's too solid to be a gas." Pinter lifted the vial closer to his face and the liquid-like gas quickly flowed up into his nose. After a moment of silence (as Hardwickii's grin widened) Pinter suddenly came to life and happily blurted," Well, I guess we'd better get in touch with our feelings, yes?" He turned and sat down at his private terminal. "What was that number again?"
Hardwickii spoke softly, "no parity, BVF baud rate, the number is 01-160-165-7374."
Pinter touched his keypad and a moment later a full colour image sprang up on the monitor, "So glad you could join us. My name is Reverend Baker. You are now an important member of the World Telethon's drive toward spiritual unity. Download all security and access codes now, my son." Hardwickii left Pinter busily typing away as happy as could be. He stood by the elevator and boyishly said, "I got lost" as two security officers emerged to escort him out of the building. "We'll take your access pass if you don't mind, " one of them said.
"Sure, I won't be needing it anymore. I'll always be here in spirit," Hardwickii held up the pass and let the officer pluck it from his glass hand.
8.6 The Archives
Ruby noticed that Fiz was very much at home here. She ran this way and that, playing hide and seek in the dark corners or throwing her voice, calling to them seductively. She saw herself in Fiz. A few street children are lucky enough to find kindness. 'Who found who?' she murmured remembering that Fiz had saved their lives.
"Huh, what did you say?" Kerby looked up with the same enthusiastic glow that Fiz carried down here amongst stacks of old magazines, manuals and terminals which lit up little nooks with their eerie grey or green glow. Ruby took his arm and said "Nothing, I was thinking out loud. What have you got?"
"I've got a duplicate of the Library of Congress and then some down here" Kerby explained. He was bragging but she heard the need in his voice, a child's need for validation that she had never known possible from the intolerant tyrant. "WIP is an acronym for Waste Internment Project. Here it is."
"Doc", Tinker's voice boomed from a hidden speaker, "I've got a line on that security guy from Nevada. Clayton Lewis left his family 6 months before that patient jumped from the hospital window. No one knows where he stayed but another security officer said he was moonlighting for the the W.T.N., that's the.. "I know what that is" flared Kerby, "It's the World Telethon Network!"
Kerby turned back to Ruby and continued, "The WIP was a government project to store radioactive waste in underground caverns in the Nevada desert. I believe these materials have been leaking and travelling through fissures and cracks created by those nuclear tests and by the increase in seismic activity during the early part of our century. A fluid substance was created by vegetable, mineral, and pure materials combined with tainted materials. Microorganisms acting as red blood cells do, carried impurities to locations that were susceptible to mutation. Nuclear tests throughout the 20th century were the catalysts in joining cracks and fissures deep within the earth's crust and sometimes into the thin layers shielding the core. "If my theory is correct, a set of fractures crisscrosses the earth enabling fluid particles to move slowly within the crust. Sort of like our capillaries. Nourishment and disease move to cells just below our skin. Good info, bad info. The seepage and flow of decaying parts of a tree, for example, can travel great distances through the earth."
"The WIP eventually started leaking into these cracks and fissures. Not only did we have radioactive crevices and networks of cracks and fissures, like blood vessels, but they were filling up with toxic materials and chemical waste. The phenomena can show up anywhere in the world. Phase transitions, the point or plane between two physical states could create some sort of neural pathway from any point in this thing to any other point. If it's conscious, it could be in control of all aspects of it's invasion of the body. One leader, one opinion, no arguments, no mistakes."
"And so," Kerby continued, "if the world is truly a living organism, it is now inflicted with a parasitic virus of mythic proportions." Ruby nodded, "And that makes Ziggy Acetate an antibody." Kerby nodded, " The last hope of Gaia's immune system. If it's not too late already."
8.7 Dream Too
He was feeding on energy. On life itself. He was the end of life. The end of existence. A giant mass, eating everything. Gobbling up it's own food supply, A million tsunamis slowly washing over everything. A thought, something nagging at his usually gleeful demeanor. He concentrated on it. It was coming from his blanket, his dark cozy home place. A section of his private place was being trespassed upon. He felt like a mother at the first threat to her babies and moved through the earth.
8.8 rock? "Ask the rock you are sitting on." Ziggy Acetate looked down and examined the rock. It was warm from the sun, It was a reddish, wooden colour and had been in that spot for millions of years. Ziggy got off the rock and looked at the priest. He turned back to the rock and said, "I want to know why I'm here. Why am I here?"
They stood there for a long time. Then they sat down and waited. Finally Ziggy got up and said, "It doesn't answer"
"Of course not," the old man replied. They walked to the edge of the sanctuary. They had asked Ziggy if he wouldn't mind accompanying the priest to this place. They left at night by car and had encountered no other traffic; no small feat in China.
"It's a rock. Rocks don't talk." The old man rolled his eyes."Sheesh."
Ziggy walked back to the rock and placed his hands on it. After a few moments, the old man noticed that Ziggy's hands seemed to turn the colour of the rock. Then they disappeared, fusing with it. Ziggy looked at the old man who returned his gaze with a raised eyebrow. Ziggy moved toward the rock and merged with it, disappearing into it. After a while, sensing that Ziggy was no longer there, the old man rose and left.
8.9 Addendum T4-2. After a while Kerby began muttering, "..packets, but not packets; a wave shape or pulsations of information. Really hogging up the data lines. I thought it was just some noise, dirt on a curve or something."
Kerby's intensity grew with each outburst "Whoa! Now that was a blip!
Totally normalised but the.... and I mean the total saturation of bandwidth at all speeds. The max transmittable data at any one moment."
"Must be some heavy error correction in that" said Hooper who sat beside Kerby, almost completely healed except for a bit of a limp. Kerby had reassured him it was temporary.
"Ah, here we are." said Kerby "You said the group was linked to a Lit-site that carries Dylan Thomas. Shoot." Kerby waited poised over the keypad.
Then he began typing:
"Nature does something against it's will and by self entanglement, produces beauty." - Otto Rössler
End of Book II.
Continue to Book III.
Back to the present.