World on a String part 4

4.1 The party

The party was going full blast in the rest of Ziggy’s 3500 square foot loft.

He wouldn’t know most of the guests. Aside from the hundred or so ‘Flowers’ that Ziggy had told to come, there were another two hundred party goers that they had brought on Ziggy’s “tell whoever you want” orders.

The music ranged from recordings of Beethoven on original instruments to a.i. FlashBach to Box Dance to Crash Wave and Big Zero. A lot of guests were wired on Architec Cerebellum or ‘Lobe’ as it was commonly referred to.

Hooper and Alban were dancing in the living room area with fifty or sixty others. The windows were fogged but the ventilation kept the air clear of smoke. In the studio area, however, where the air conditioning was off, many guests were seated, on monitors, furniture, and unidentifiable seat-like-things, smoking cigarettes and Looped cannibus. Occasionally, one of Ziggy’s masterpieces would materialize through the clouds.

Keele was not interested in anything or anyone except Vanessa, who was perfectly happy to return his stare and feed him scotch and chocolates.
At around eleven o’clock she looked over Keele’s shoulder and broke into a big grin. Keele turned and saw two women entering the loft. “It’s Qi,” Vanessa explained and pulled him toward the newly arrived couple.
Qi warmly embraced Vanessa who began excited introductions with phrases like “my two most favorite people” and “you don’t know how happy…” Ruby broke away and moved through the room looking for Ziggy. After a while she gave up asking for him and wandered through the serpentine loft. She was offered every drug from Loop to Neurotox. She was propositioned by all three sexes and could see the artwork having it’s effect in the studio. She knew he wouldn’t be in there. She started opening doors. After a couple of scenes which embarrassed Ruby more than the guests she’d walked in on (“they probably never even saw me,” she figured), she opened a door into darkness. Ruby stood still as her eyes adjusted. Ziggy, hearing the sudden increase in noise, awoke from his jetlagged, paranoid disillusionment. He turned on his stomach and rose on his elbows. Their eyes locked.
“Happy Birthday, Christopher.”

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4.2 – Pig’s Nose, Sheep Dip

Ruby awoke to the muffled sound of Plunderphonics. The party was still going on. She could hear Stravinsky backing up a Dolly Parton song with James Brown drums and wails. This was all interspersed and shot through with what sounded like high speed arias (One of Puccini’s Il Tritico, she thought). She stretched and curled under the covers. She inhaled the warm odours of a night’s lovemaking and reached for Ziggy. He wasn’t there.

She luxuriated a while longer and then reached for the lamp at her bedside. Once the light was on she gaped disbelievingly about the room. She got out of bed and wrapped a blanket around herself. It took her almost half an hour to find the door amidst the forest of spires, cones and big toothy smiles. She finally found the doorknob. It had been transformed into a smooth, delicate, extended hand.

Emerging from the bedroom into a sky-lit sitting room, Ruby encountered Qi and the young couple she had seen greet her so warmly. Qi introduced Vanessa and Keele. Ruby looked distrustingly at Keele who had a classic tall dark and dangerous look. Qi responded to her suspicious glances with, “Frederik is a hit man for the U.N., hon.”

“Oh?” said Ruby and scanned nonchalantly for Ziggy.
Vanessa stood and gently pulled Ruby to a big old upholstered chair. “Zig’s getting breakfast, Ruby. Sit down. He’s bringing a pot of coffee.” Ruby sat and curled her feet up under her. She turned her head defiantly back toward Keele. He smiled self-consciously and said, “I’m quite taken with Ziggy’s work. My employers would like a word with him but I’m not sure they are ready for his unique and very fragile temperament.”
Ruby cocked her head and asked, “Nicely put but what makes you think he’s fragile?”

“I’ve spent some time looking at his work. It’s sensitive stuff to say the least. But more touching because of an apparent lack of control over his evocations of the subconscious into the artwork. The pieces contain a naivete, a brutally honest naivete perhaps.”
“You’re very perceptive.” Ruby was beginning to feel more comfortable.
“Frederik is our friend, Ruby” Qi said calmly. Qi always spoke with a kind of ‘letting go.’ It frightened Ruby. She smiled nervously. The other woman, Vanessa, seemed much more straight ahead to Ruby. She turned her head to her and smiled.
“Keele is just a little boy, Ruby. You grab his arms and I’ll tickle him.” Vanessa turned and cuddled up against Keele.
On the other side of the room, about fifty feet away, a figure appeared. Ziggy strolled, back lit, through the kitchen door, holding a silver tray piled with croissants, scones, jars of jam, cups and a big pitcher of coffee. Even with all that sunlight coming through the door behind him the seated group could tell he wore a wide, radiant smile.

Another figure appeared in the kitchen doorway and a group of party-ers emerged from a door halfway down the room. The broken light made Ziggy turn his head. Standing behind him was a Special Forces policeman fully clad in knee boots, flak jacket, and helmet. He held a gun. Ziggy dropped the tray in shock. Keele had risen to his feet and was moving before the tray hit the ground. He grabbed Vanessa and threw her toward an open door. Ruby dove behind her chair. Qi sat frozen, a look of pure contempt moving like a black rose up through her neck and into her eyes. The soldier fired at the emerging guests, knocking two of them senseless to the floor. The others pushed their way back into the room they had just come from. A general panic spread throughout the apartment and people began appearing from all sides to see what was going on or to try and reach the door. Ziggy stood helpless in the center of the room.

Ruby was too far away to use her microwave implant. Too much diffusion. She would end up killing innocents. And she didn’t like the idea of killing riot police. “A lot of these guys just happen to be here,” she reasoned as two more SF uniforms lumbered into the room. She figured she had better do something before the place was filled with them and Ziggy was trapped.
Keele spun around back through the door and crouched, surveying the scene. The report from the gun had been as he had expected. The guards were carrying stun guns, usually used to disperse vandals or corner suspects. The two kids who took the first shot were paralyzed, drool escaping from their mouths, eyes wide in helpless terror. Keele’s eyes met Ruby’s and he pointed at Ziggy and then at a door on their left. As he rolled over to the couch he fired his weapon, a Porsche 464, in a nonlethal, high arc. Ruby jumped across the room and pushed Ziggy toward the exit Keele had indicated. They opened the door to the top of an enclosed set of stairs used as a fire escape. She gave him another push and said “Run, Sweetheart!” as she noticed the SF men piling on to a landing above her. She screamed, “Run Ziggy!” again as three guns fired, hurtling her to the landing below.

Ziggy was two flights ahead when he heard Ruby scream. He looked back to see her smash into the wall above. Blinded by tears and panic, he ran out the fire door and across the street, smashing into a garbage can and almost dislocating a shoulder on a lamp post. “They killed her. No, NO!!” He kept running as feelings of guilt and helplessness cut through him like razors. He kept running, everything in a blur, a kaleidoscope of adrenalin and fear.

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4.3 Reflex

Paralyzed guests had been taken to detention centers for revival and interrogation. Ruby was revived on the spot with stimulants and a neural massage collar and brought into the dining area where Keele, Qi and a few others were seated, surrounded by six SFers. A man emerged from the kitchen eating a piece of cake. He wore civilian clothes. One arm had an overcoat draped across it. He waved the SF police away with his cake and walked up to Keele.

“My name is Delegado. I am the high commission liaison between Planck and the Ministry of Health. Mr. Acetate’s artwork although seditious and inflammatory, is not his fault, really.” Keele turned his head toward Ruby. She was still disoriented. But Qi made eye contact and gave him the skeptical look which affirmed his own impression of Delagado – the man wasn’t talking to anyone. He was just spewing his well prepared speech in well pronounced English to whoever was in earshot. “But our studies reveal that those who look at these works are prone to a cathartic neurosis.” He looked at the piece of cake in his hand, glanced around as though wanting a surface to put it on, took a bite instead and continued with his mouth full, “For those of you who care, fifs means fat people become unsure of femfelbes.” He swallowed, licked the icing fom his lips, and continued, “They question themselves, thus, by extension, their loyalties, their goals, their sense of community, all become destabilized. The task of defending the ‘converted’ shall we say, lies with those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to, or simply don’t wish to, involve ourselves in these masterpieces of psychic manipulation.” He went single mindedly back to devouring his cake. Qi thought he looked as content as a child in front of the TV on a Saturday morning.

“Why talk to me about this”, said Keele. “I’m with the Net. I told these drones I’ve been working undercover.”

“You have seen the artwork,” Delegado smiled benignly and shook his head slightly, “You are compromised. Your own company can deal with you best. We are not concerned with any of you except in the protection of your own best interests. The guards will accompany you, Mr. Keele, to Planck for de-briefing . Ms. Yablonsky will come with me for psychiatric tests just to make sure the projections haven’t altered her synaptic health.” The guards moved in on Keele as Ruby, shooting lightning glances charged with fear asked, “How did you know my name?”

Just then, Vanessa walked naked out of the room she’d been hiding in. In the two seconds of awkward adjustment to such a distraction, Keele stood and thrust his arms up knocking the two guards out. At such close quarters, guns were useless. He turned and grabbed Delegado by the throat. Ruby took one of the stun guns from a guard and handed it to Keele. Then she and Qi stood to his side as Vanessa walked up behind him, gave him a kiss behind the ear and reached over for the minister’s coat, still draped across his arm.
“Okay. Everyone be nice and we’ll get out of your hair as soon as possible,” Keele said with a friendly but deadly quality to his voice. “Qi, collect those stun guns. Vanessa, you get the handcuffs. Sorry Doc, no lobotomies today. ”
Ruby moved forward and took another gun. “I’m going to find Ziggy,” she said and backed to the door.

“Okay,” answered Keele, “We’ll tidy up here and then take off ourselves.”
“Be careful, Ruby.” Qi looked flatly at her and Ruby answered as she backed out of the room, “Keep smiling, Qi” and then she was gone.
Delegado shouted angrily at no one in particular, “If Christopher Chappel does not turn himself over to Planck, he will be killed. You can help him hide if you want, but I warn you – if Planck can’t have him no one can.” He suddenly composed himself and continued softly, distractedly, “And at this point they are willing to accept their losses and forget about him.” He took a handkerchief from his pocket and began wiping cake off his shoe.

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4.4 – She stood in terror as the corner of a building crumbled…

Ziggy was standing at the steps to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, crystallizing buildings. He stood in front of a stone lion, his eyes occasionally rolling back as powdered concrete filled the air thick as a Yorkshire fog. The sound, a screaming wind with millions of voices reverberating above, had drawn Ruby from the apartment above Soho. “Snare drums and choirs,” she had thought from back there, outside Ziggy’s compromised home.

The ‘snare drum’ sound had been the molecules of concrete in the National Gallery entrance, reconfiguring themselves into a marble-like substance. The shape of a giant face cracked and shifted into existence. The eyes gaped and the tongue stuck out in mocking defiance of its creator. Canada House continued to crumble on Ziggy’s left and on his right, one of the lion statues slowly rocked back on its hind legs and grew. Taller and taller, thinner and thinner, until it was a pencil-width column stretching up and out of view.

Ruby had tears in her eyes, “He can’t control it. It’s too much for him.” She gazed about in disbelief and saw him about 30 yards away. She screamed his name above the roar of collapsing building fronts and descending clouds of powdered concrete, “Christopher!”
He turned and saw her, the look of shock on his face revealing the horrible new knowledge of his destructive powers. He collapsed onto his hands and knees. Ruby ran across the square and squatted down to pick him up. “I thought you were dead,” he said meekly. She lifted him to his feet. He embraced her and whispered feverishly, “Kerby, we’ve got to find Dr. Kerby”.

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4.5 Winter in Washington

“What is Planck? A corporate shell with a helitic power structure. They never get bigger. They never get smaller. At the turn of the century, a group of blue-bloods combined their decaying fortunes into a unified, powerful generator of prestige. A sovereignty apparatus. Planck is powerful enough to keep the illusion of England alive. Why are they there? Just for show? A cultural ad agency. And someday they will come to us or to the Euro conglomerate and beg for membership. The only positive effect on English society by Planck was the post Crash co-ordination of distribution of food constructs and energy supplies to their enormous urban populace. Empire maintenance. It is time for England to recognize its place in the global community. England is not an emissary of civilization. And Planck is not capable, as evidenced by their mismanagement of this ‘Art event” or whatever it was, to run the bureaucracy. England is a needy nouveau third world country strangling itself on its own incestuous pride and fear. Thank you. ”

The Soviet representative of the United Network sat down to the raucous protestations of the British contingent. There was also much laughter from the Greenland Consortium (Greenland, Ireland, Iceland and Newfoundland). The recent incident in Trafalgar Square had created a worldwide demand for an investigation into the new threat of matter transformation and mind control by art terrorists. Rumors of revolution by crazed scientists were rampant. Ziggy Acetate had disappeared in the wake of a panic which reminded old-timers and historians of the cold war days in the mid 20th century. He was last seen with a Veronica Brown (aka Ruby Yablonsky), leaving the Hilton. Distrust and fear permeated all government bodies.

The chairman recognized the representative from Canada, a Chief Broken Wing, “When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was combined with the United Nations and the Dow Jones Consortium to form the United Network, we witnessed a new era of peace among the major world powers. We had the late 20th century reforms in the Soviet Bloc and the calm reconstruction after the Data Crash to thank for that. We must pull together as intelligent, responsible citizens, deflect panic and get to the bottom of the issue. In the face of these recent events in England and the compromise of communications systems in North America, I suggest that an investigative team be created with the Net in command. The disappearance of this agent Frederik Keele is due to Planck’s mismanagement and misuse of our resources, not because our international enforcement service failed to assist Planck.”

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4.6 Spring in Montreal

The U.Net wasn’t the only body having a meeting about Ziggy and the changing climate of global relations. There were at least two others. A meeting of the Canadian Flowers of Evil was taking place in Quebec, the only province that had not yet given up land to the AmeXiCanas. They wanted to find and protect Ziggy from the marketing machinery, the gallery reps, the Philistines of Art.

Also, a meeting of the Hong Kong branch of the China Travel Service was in progress. They were making a deal with the China National Arts and Crafts Import and Export Corporation to supply one Ziggy Acetate to the next Shenzhen-Zhuhai International Arts Festival of China.

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4.7 Summer in Hiding

At first Ruby couldn’t tell they were there. Abstract figures attached to the ground of one’s immediate awareness. Part of the geometry of the space. Luke the Zipper was suddenly standing in front of her reciting:

“The basis of an effective travel and entertainment program can be derived from the ultimate corporate card, the plastic mimetic dietetic system of embracing your own worth. Now how much will that be?”

Another figure emerged from the darkness, leaned in toward Ruby who had Ziggy’s sleeping head on her lap and said, “Zip it Luecippus. Tes bos es traumed. Gravecradles.” It was a young girl. Couldn’t be more than 10. The two continued staring, cocking their heads from side to side and occasionally smiling. Ruby would return their smiles but she was ready to activate her micro waves at the first sign of a threat. They weren’t obviously waiting for anything. Just watching. Hanging out.

They were in an unused section of the London Underground. Ziggy had told Ruby that it was their only chance of losing the authorities. Now they were lost themselves. She could hear a voice approaching. It was a man singing softly as he waved his hands in the air. The girl pushed Luke the Zipper out of the way and said “Iste skip, Zip.” He came up to where the other two had been standing. Ruby figured he was conducting an imaginary choir. He wore an American style cowboy hat and a close cut beard. He smiled infectiously as he sang, “Kommt wieder aus der finstern Gruft…” Suddenly he stopped conducting, hands frozen in a graceful pose, turned his smile on Ruby and said, “Howdy. (smile) I’m Skip. (pause, smile, pause, raised eyebrows) What can I do for ya?”

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4.8 Fall in

Ziggy and Ruby were taken to a passage that led through some WWII bomb shelters and down into a buried, 18th century part of London. It was a complete street of storefronts, lamp posts and cobblestones. The inhabitants, a flamboyant mix of fugitives, street people and American expats who leaned stylistically toward the image of America in the 1950’s, had named the place ‘Thunder’ for the muffled sounds of the trains overhead.

Ruby and Ziggy were welcomed to stay in Thunder. Zipper and Fiz, the two who had found them, never left Ziggy’s side. They had held each of Ziggy’s hands and gone off to show him the town.

Ruby sat, content to rest and have some time to think. Skip, the mayor and choir master, was well aware of their plight from intercepted police broadcasts and articles on the Arts and Entertainment section of the news boards. When Ruby found that he had a terminal, she requested access to reach Hooper or Qi. She was told to wait until things calmed down (subtle nods in Ziggy’s direction). “We can probably reach this Hooper fellow for you, darlin’ and get you the key, but we don’t want Thunder exposed. Be patient for just a little while.”
“How have you managed to remain undetected down here this long?” Ruby asked and added, “by the way, Qi is a person.”
“Oh, sorry,” replied the Skipper (as he was referred to by his friends). “We import all our power from a souped-up fusion box in the western sector. Supposedly it only supplies a small amount of power to back-up systems through the subway lines. We keep a constant drain on it to make it look like it’s a low-power box. In fact, it could supply the whole city of London with power for ten or fifteen years.”
“How do you keep a steady drain on it?”
“We have a vacuum sealed, sound-tight room with 200 modified Ampeg SVT mark 9 Bass amps pumping 2000 to 20,000 watts apiece at each other.”

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4.9 The Apostles watched television….

There were six of them. They had given up their holos and were known to congregate in the Planck research library to watch The World Telethon Network. In its 3rd year of 24 hr. revival services, it was believed that the success of the program was due to the still frequent personal visits by the divine couple, M. Jesus Baker and his friend, Mary Joseph Carter. These visits kept their a.i. samples fresh.

The Reverend Baker (or his holoclone) came right up to the camera. You could see the little blood vessels in the whites of his eyes. You could see the pores of his skin and the way certain teeth were worn down. He looked into the camera with barely restrained excitement, almost wild enthusiasm. The look of one with resolute convictions and powerful intentions. Suddenly, his eyes softened, he tilted his head slightly and spoke: “MJ and I are but the bifocals of an old guard. The guard of your most precious possession. Your soul. We want your souls laundered. We want those souls purged of the poison of wealth, greed and temptation. We want what the Lord’s representatives here on Earth have always wanted for you and your souls since the first words were delivered unto them… ”

Terminal Access numbers were displayed across the bottom of the screen. The words ‘Donate’ and ‘Give’ flashed underneath them. The six apostles exchanged looks and shook their heads and sighed. A man with a Planck Security uniform entered the library. He walked up to one of the apostles, a Mr. Reginald Pointsman, and said, “Sir, we’ve picked up one Vanessa Cardui in connection with the Acetate case. Our records show that she is registered to you as an escort.” Pointsman looked sheepishly at his colleagues and gave a little shrug. They smiled benignly back at him.

The security guard continued, “Mr. O wishes you to know that you will not be required to attend her interrogation but that as of now you must be suspended from Planck Board duties.”
“Of course”, Reginald Pointsman said. “Tell Vanessa I’m sorry for any inconvenience I may have caused her.” The guard gave a lopsided smile, scratched his head and left.

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5.1 DIG

Qi had been making her bread deliveries the morning that Vanessa had been picked up. Now she sat in her apartment with Keele. She had not seen this side of him before. He was like a coiled snake. He stared off into space. Only when Qi literally said Vanessa’s name would he turn to her and temporarily listen before slipping back into his own thoughts.

“I told her to wait until I got back if she wanted to pick up some stuff. She knew that they would watch her place.” Keele took a gulp of coffee.

Qi didn’t say anything. Keele had already heard it all. Vanessa had mentioned Pointsy and the fact that she could get out of anything if Planck picked her up. She even thought it could be fun and she might find out if Ziggy and that old friend of Qi’ s were alright. She bragged about how easy it was because Pointsman talked out loud all the time.

“The other day he was chanting ‘two stripes two spots two stripes two spots’ over and over. I finally got him to tell me that that was Planck’s call prefix. He said ‘all’s well if Planck’s watching your data’.” The way she puckered her nose and spoke in an irritating nasal imitation of Pointsman had made Qi laugh.

Qi left the apartment to make her deliveries only when Vanessa had promised she wouldn’t go without taking Keele. When Keele awoke there was a note next to him on the bed: “Going to pick up some clothes and stuff. Be right back. Love V. XXXXXX”. Keele kept taking the note from his pocket and staring through it.

On to World on a String Part 5


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