World on a String part 2

2.3 – Fire Bomb

“Hello Estrogen?” a woman’s voice, not British. “It’s me Ruby, I…”

“Ruby, so nice of you to call. How’s the new TV pickup? Keeping you entertained I hope?” Mustn’t let her mention Ziggy, Hooper thought frantically. ” I’ve been so busy with my grant applications I haven’t had time to get you online but that’s all going to change now, isn’t it old girl?”

Ruby knew, from the TV reference (that’s always how Hooper referred to her implants, as TV dishes), that he remembered her and that he couldn’t talk freely. She figured that if she wanted to reach him, it would have to be through an encoded, or better yet, insulated line to his deck. The phones were tapped. She couldn’t understand how the authorities had gotten on to her so quickly. How had they tracked down her old friends? What residues of information could they have turned up from B.C.? She had heard about electro magnetic ‘blankets’ but never so effective in a domestic reference. Unless all this had nothing to do with her. Maybe the cops were at Christopher’s place for a different reason.

“Yes, well if you need anything just call dear. You know I care about our boys overseas. Gotta go, my favorite soap is coming on. The local golden boy just stole the town’s only fire truck. Bye.”

Alban put down the head set with a sarcastic grimace. Father Estrogen could see how contrived the young man’s attempt to look ‘in control’ was. He considered an erection as he turned on the television. In place of the soap operas that would occasionally murmur behind his percussive word processing, there was a special report on Backlash – Predictable Catastrophes and Accomplishments through History. The two men became completely absorbed until Gordon O and his team showed up with two chunks of wall hosting a couple of Ziggys.

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2.4 Charlie’s Smile
“Okay, so what’s up?” Ruby looked at Qi who was cutting mushrooms into a pot of boiling water.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Qi answered, turning down the heat.

“You keep looking at the bottom of your front door. Like someone’s going to stand there and block the hall light and you’ll be ready for ’em.”
Qi wiped her hands and put a cover on the soup, “I know you said that it’s a good time to visit old friends, Ruby, but it can’t be a coincidence that Ziggy’s on the run and needs help. Your help.”

“What’s he done?”

“He’s started projecting on everything. Offices, galleries, the sides of buildings, anywhere there’s an open space.”
Ruby’s eyes widened, “Shit. I thought they were after me.” She put her elbow on the table and bit thoughtfully into a finger. “So everybody wants a piece of Ziggy now, right?” Qi nodded. “From the art lovers to the greedy promoters.”

“Not just that,” Qi added, “there’s some talk of time travel or something to do with national security and defence. I read it on one of my father’s private data links. I have a password.”
“Sneaky,” said Ruby. Then, after a pause and with a touch of nostalgia in her voice, “You just gotta love that nerd.”

“Yes, Ziggy’s never done anything half-assed,” Qi said.

“Right,” Ruby smiled, “he’s always managed to make a complete and total asshole of himself.”

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2.5 – “Rapide, avec sa voix d’insecte….”
Gordon O spoke briefly and condescendingly to Alban about how the students were doing their part in the fight against the plague of hypocrisy.
He then requested that Alban leave him and his men alone with Hooper. Alban left the room nervously and O walked casually around Hooper’s flat picking up interesting looking items and turning them over in his hands as he talked. “You say that you don’t know where Ziggy could possibly be, yet it is known that he spent a lot of time living off your well-endowed research projects that never seemed to research anything. Mr. Hooper, they always say that the future lies in the hands of the young, but I don’t think so. Too much overlap. And too many foolish young people. And too many people like you, approaching middle age, neither young nor old.”

An uncomfortable silence ensued as O studied an African artifact.
“Maybe Ziggy has another name we don’t know about eh, Estrogen?”
Hooper continued to stare back at Mr. O. “Isn’t your name O’something or other?” O’s assistants looked uneasily at each other. “How did an Irish guy like you make it to the top of such a loyalist gang of info leeches? And call me Father Brown.”

O put the small statue down roughly. “England doesn’t exist anymore except in data banks and magazine subscriptions. You’re not very smart.”
“Now there’s something I am interested in. In Canada there’s always some guy coming up with intelligence theories. The Japanese are smarter than the Caucasians and they’re smarter than the Blacks. Well, it all depends on your vantage point, doesn’t it? For a race that may have some resonating roots in an agrarian or earth-based culture, it would be difficult to form an intelligence based on the non-renewable use of raw materials and the evolution of a work force from slavery to subsidized poverty.”
O picked up the statue again and threw it across the room.
“Now you’ve done it,” Hooper said good naturedly. “That little man is a nasty spirit when agitated.”

O turned quickly and grabbed Hooper by the throat, pulling him out of his chair up to eye level,”I want you to look at something for me.” He motioned to his men and they brought the heavy object, wrapped in canvas, over to Hooper’s desk. As they unwrapped the bulky form, Hooper’s smile became more nervous and less sure.

“You didn’t bring me one of Ziggy’s works, did you? Look, uh, I’m too preoccupied with other things, more important things,..uh like money and… sex, to think about art these days.”

“That’s nice.” oozed Mr. O, “Good to see you’re a religious man.” Then, softly, and with increasing menace, “Look at this thing and tell me what it is doing. You know things about Acetate. This work is obviously sexual. We want your expertise. You have a Phd in cross cultural sexual symbolism. And there could be some financial ‘honorarium’ if you help out.”

“Alright, alright,” Hooper purposefully stood and held up his hand to stop the men from opening Ziggy’s artwork. “Leave it with me. I’ll get in touch when I’ve had a chance to formulate some theories. I’ll contact some of my myth and metaphor people.”

“Good. Let’s go gentlemen. Father Brown is much more intelligent than we imagined.” Mr. O led the way and his drones followed. Alban came out of the bedroom and smiled shyly. Hooper rolled his eyes and an expression of deep concern transformed his face as his gaze rested on the covered chunk of matter. “Recent ‘Ziggies’,” he said and noticed Alban going toward them, “No no Alban, not yet. Play some piano for me, please.” Alban turned to the piano. Hooper turned on the TV, turned the sound off, and sat as though he was in a hospital waiting room.

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2.6 Vanessa Cardui 

Tattoos of circuits and molecular configurations of plague variations created the illusion that her flesh was the translucent housing of a new species. Not your everyday, direct, commercial approach to the trade. The banal expression on her face indicated the same boredom and pharmaceuticals that most low priced prostitutes numbed their days with – neuroplasms. She had also had surgery done to point her ears and push the hollows of her cheeks deeper. Her john wore the red and gold company colors of Planck on a collar pin. He sat in a straight backed chair with a ferret-like leer on his face. She was his creation.

“Vanessa, I want a little favour from you tonight.”
“None of your requests are ever little, Pointsy. What is it?”
“I want you to come with me to the Pisces club and meet an associate of mine. He’s too secretive; a loner.”
“And you’re going to make a little gift of me?”
“None of your gifts are little,” he said, reaching for her.

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2.7 HulaHoop 

Hooper kept a line open in the background of his grant application. The first letter on screen becomes outlined and flashes when communications come in. He punched the code to insulate the incoming data with text dumps from ‘Finnigans Wake’ and turned to Alban who had been standing over him, not really watching, just kneading his thumbs affectionately in Hooper’s back. “Be a sweetheart and make some tea, Alban.” Hooper was not yet sure he could trust Alban to place his new found love above his old university instilled loyalties. Alban smiled and petted Hooper’s head as he turned to the kitchen. Hooper flipped screens.

– “Mother Goose to Father Brown”

– “Cut the Shit,” Hooper typed

– “E, I’m having a party at the Penthouse”

– “Christopher?”

– “Yes, It’s my birthday on Friday.”

– “I’ve got company from your headhunters. A watchdog, but I think he’s a lamb.”

– “Bring’m. Over and out your high techness I am but your humble circuit.”

– “Wait”

– “What?”

– “Ruby’s in town”

– “Bring her.”

– “No, I’m covered too tight. Don’t know where she is. You find her.”

– “Okay.”

Alban returned with a tray of tea as Hooper flipped back to his grant application, “Leave it, Hoop, and come sit with me.”

Hooper rose, turned to Alban and said, “I think it’s time we came to an understanding. When Planck knows about our relationship, you’re gonna end up on a research table yourself and your college pals are gonna strap you down.” Alban looked hurt and frightened.

“But,” continued Hooper, “if I take you into my confidence and tell you my secrets and share my fears with you, then we will be equals and subsequently we will be able to trust each other. Am I correct?”

Alban rose and embraced Hooper gently, “You are much more important to me than my fellows at school, Bob. You don’t have to tell me anything.”
Hooper smiled. “But I want to. We’ve been invited to a birthday party and I want you to feel at home. Enough of this dormitory existence.”

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2.8 Thermoplastic Compound

Ziggy sat back from his console and gazed off into the past. ‘Ruby’s in town.’ He had to find her. “Ride some RAM.” He leaned into his console, “A crash is as good as a miss,” he thought.

He was funneling through white noise and splashing through blasts of hype when a thought occured to him. Trace her back to Detroit/Windsor. Ziggy projected some coordinate hyperbole and scanned for directions. Lights began flashing. He breezed, unnoticed, through the police nets.

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2.9 The Day Before – Ziggy had mastered the art of governing his movements through the netscape in university. Before his art techniques enabled more than ‘beta wave etchings’ (patterned, minimal), he was mischievously scouting the school’s BBSs and reading everyone’s private mail. At the request of researchers and with the offers of high scholarships, he transferred from Vancouver to Stanford where Dr. Kerby looked after him while looking for clues to Ziggy’s ‘gift’ and Ziggy would sit (totally bored) at a terminal, surveying the data bases. It wasn’t until he noticed some of the senior tech’s online procedures that he became aware of how differently he interfaced with computers.

“Machine code is a liquid medium and you are a fish,” Kerby would say.
“Now to get down to work. Might as well get the labour intensive stuff done first.”

It would take him a long time to get to Ruby Yablonsky. The most difficult part would be getting through the ten or twenty feet of static and mould into her television. He would have to commute from the telephone line into the AC current leading to the TV. He would have to be very careful moving through the ground loops in her answering machine or ethernet mod. It would take forever. That early optic fibre is slow. And dirty, too. He had a gopher scan five years of flight rosters and hadn’t found Ruby’s name. He flipped through three other com protocols adjusting servers and firewalls on the way as he clamped himself to a metro flow. He scanned the police files and there it was, no, there they were, at least half a dozen files where Ruby Yablonsky was mentioned. Ziggy released after a moment, glad (this time) that they had optimized their drives. He drifted over to the CHICAGO/WinDet prime time news net. “PRIMETYMANEWSNET PRIMATI PRIMITA NEWS NET Rackateer rinse a caper news net.”

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3.1 Denis James Hawley

At first he went straight to the Ruby references. There were reports of a kidnapped child, found dead after the ransom was paid. On hand at the inquest, among others, was one Ruby Yablonsky, a private detective referred to more often as a bounty hunter. The reports said that Ruby was retained as a consultant only, and was restrained by both the police and the family lawyers from actively investigating the case. Ruby was not a figure inspiring great public trust.

The next reference to Ruby was in connection with the discovery of five men whose pineal glands resembled sundried tomatoes. A few E-cards found at the scene linked these deaths to the Hawley ransom money. Ruby was nowhere to be found for questioning. Unconfirmed rumors tied her to the kidnapping.

“No way that could be true,” Ziggy thought quickly and scanned the next article, a press release from the Detroit/Windsor police dept:
“Ruby Yablonsky, last seen, on October 25 at the inquest into the death of Denis James Hawley. Ms. Yablonsky is currently being sought for questioning in the related deaths of five men found in the basement of a condemned building on November 6th. Any information as to the whereabouts of Ms. Yablonsky should be directed to the police through your local emergency number.”

Ziggy read the name of the investigating officer, “Sergeant Lawrence Hardwickii. “Hmm,” thought Ziggy, “if I find out just when those guys died, I may be able to pinpoint Ruby’s arrival in London.”
Although Ziggy knew he was comfortably reclining in a semi-trance state back in his fortress penthouse on the top of the old Regent Palace, he had an oddly physical feeling that his peripheral vision was clouding. He tried to shake it off but couldn’t. “It’s not me,” he reasoned, “it’s outside. Something’s either closing the data access in the parallels or illuminating the immediate…shit, tracers!”

Instinctively, Ziggy made himself as small as possible, the dot on the last ‘i’ in Hardwickii becoming a huge, eclipsed sun. Ziggy shrank, redefining shrinkage as backward movement. He raced through the North American data net to the low temp semi-conductor interface just off the coast of Long Island, New York. “Uh oh. Direct line,” he thought, “they can catch me here.” He felt a pang of guilt but reasoned that a couple of hours of interrupted intercontinental communications was better than tipping off someone to Ruby’s location before he got to her.

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3.2 Chevron

“Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this.” A wave of awe visually ran up and down the line of men sitting in front of security and data net monitors as the Orient Point bunker for North Atlantic Cable went dead. Triple takes, confused jumps in and out of seats, and lots of hooting and hand wringing made a slapstick episode out of an international emergency.

The man in charge, a Mr. Harris, saw the blank looks on his men’s faces. Twenty years in the underground weeding out pirates and illegal deals and now at last, something to break the dull rhythm of the last four years of watching men watching monitors watching a world spin blindly through tomorrow. “Okay, override satellite stations 105 through 137 of commercial bullshit broadcasts and notify the Eurobanks and the United Networks Bulletin Services to check auto reroute functions.” He looked at the dead monitors and thought, “It could be a short circuit or some optic rot of some kind,” and then called out, “Did anybody see anything?”

“Sir, I got a flag that tracers were closing in on something leaving the Net through Montauk branch. Whatever it was had just gotten into the cable when the line went dead.”

Another young security man turned and gestured to Harris, “Chief, the Detroit/Windsor police are on the line. They want to know what happened to their tracer.”

“Tell them to leave a name and number and we’ll call when a service team assesses the damage. It may be a diversion to set up some kind of fraud. Or some pirates got away with something usable out of Detroit/Windsor. Or it could be a goddamn short circuit! Tell them an anchor dipped up a cable. Keep them off my back.”

It didn’t take the service team long to find the break in the line. It was not a short circuit. Harris couldn’t figure how the saboteurs knew the precise moment to cut the data flow to keep the intercept from locking on its target. He also couldn’t figure how the cable was cut. Two inches of it were crystallised, as though subjected to enormous electromagnetic shock and sheer, physical pressure. Once that is accomplished there is no conductivity and a moment later, snap, the cable separates and floats around like a cauterized tentacle.

On to World on a String Part 3


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