BOOK ONE – “A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION?”
(Tuesday, January 2, 2035)
In the sparsely furnished West Node studio he's inhabited since his ex-wife, Reason, kicked him out of the lozenge passed down to him by his father, Norlin hangs his overcoat in the closet, removes his shoes, and dons medicinal slippers, imported from New Zipang. He drinks Integral 55, eats a green, hydroponic vegetable and microwave Krajjit with the plasmavision off and "Viva Las Vegas" on KJAD-2: "all the King, all the time!" Sometime after 2100 hours he senses discomfort - pads to the Evac-Unit to eliminate, flushes and waits for clearance from Lifestyle Central. As it arrives, his personal autocom buzzes. He answers "Norlin", lip curling once he hears his ex-wife on the line...
"I'm sorry to bother you... really sorry. It's just that Esther's sick, and I needed her to sit for Jody on Wednesday night. So I thought, you know... you did say you wanted to be more of a presence in Jody's life..."
"Got another date?" he surmises. "Kebbin' shoe salesman?"
"That's...that's my business. People move on, some of us. And I need an answer tonight! It's not as if I can just call a Service, and pay their rates..."
Always turning things around on him, Norlin remembers. So good at it... stepping on his heart as if it were a bug. "Hey, I got responsibilities, my father's Home... I told you, when we get our Jatesday bonus, I'll see what I can do to help you out..."
"Well, not if you're gonna spend it on some foolish keb for the boy that... that you saw on PV, and then rushed down to the Chinese market for..."
"Hey, all the kids at Basilisk want phibes - it gives them status." What, in the name of Jates, would Reason know about boys?
"Jody doesn't need status and doesn't need things..." she says, whining now, as Norlin realizes, rubbing one eye with a closed fist, then another. He needs a father!"
"Well, he had one. Made a kebbin' bowl of fex of that, didn't you?"
"Me! I... just forget it, I swore to myself I wasn't going to let you draw me back into this fex again," Reason answered, indignantly. "Alright, I lost my kebbin' purse... are you satisfied? Happy? Just tell me, Wednesday night, can you make it or not?"
"And deny you another date with your... what's this one, this time? Maglev conductor? Another zook from the Ministry of Loneliness, another librarian? Sure... sure, I can make it, I'll cover. Be happy to... just say it..."
"Say... oh... thanks, honey. How is your father doin', by the way?"
Nice of her to ask, Norlin thinks. "Wrote him up, took away his peevee three days, callin' this other zupe, Jestus, a cotton-pickin' liar at the cardtable... ethnicist slur, someone decided. Did give him quiet time to flex his memory, sign Freedom of Information forms on his Bureau termination last week, just before New Year's expiration deadline, so I'm waitin' on compliance."
"If he was wrongly terminated, he gets his health coverage back. Including continuing care and major medical, maybe not all of it, but a lot of it. EastAmerica's all for sending its old and sick down here, the care is cheaper. Maybe I even get something back. With that and the bonus, I maybe can do something for Jody, so try to just play ball with me while..."
"I'll try," Norlin's ex sniffles. "Thank you, again!"
Norlin disconnects the autocom, grimacing, letting the rhythms of his lozenge establish a grounding vissure until he senses this blood pressure, brainwaves and other potential indicators of stress falling below the perimeters of lifestyle criminality. He looks out the bay window to a vista of a peaceful desert of mountains, cactus and a few roaming cattle. An eagle soars across a corner of the window... or, he thinks idly, a vulture? The thought's irrational, but disturbs him, so he clicks a clicker... "Licensed and Approved by Household Research Institute"... killing the windowscreen. Outside, the desert flickers away and reality reacquires its dominion - a forest of cookie-cutter identical utilitarian highrise lozenges, overlooking the West Node - that chaotic, metastasized cloverleaf where innumerable curved and elliptical highways intersect at Jatesland's western edge. The lights from their windows... and dimmer, interior lights of windowscreens, one-way, opaque... flicker like rotten, phosphorescent mushrooms. In front of the bay window is a faux-golden thermal telescope which Norlin trains on one apartment window after another. Most are cloaked by various HRI-approved landscapes (visible inside, but opaque outside) but thermal imaging renders clothed bodies screened by deserts, Turkish palaces and beaches in stickfigure hues of green and blue, nude ones pulsing in red and orange. Elvis standard succeeds Elvis standard on the Jade... "If I Can Dream", "Teddy Bear", some cover of music originally recorded by that other fellow, the blind one, Eric's told him. Vegas Elvis.
Finally, when his antique analog clock (the one with twelve zodiacal sigils over a face that ages through the day, turning back to infantile at midnight) shows 2325, Norlin spins his device until it's aimed at his ex-wife's window on the fourteenth floor in what was, before Max Bend, his own... and significantly swankier... lozenge. Reason's window's unscreened - Jody's omniscope, untenanted, stares blindly back... increasing the thermal magnification to its untmost, he discerns two warm forms in restless repose behind a wall, bodily implants fluorescing in communication. The Corporal lifts his eye from the telescope, lifts the clicker and restores his windowscreen... this time to a tropical shoreline, with palms and breakers, leaping dolphins and brightly-coloured fish. He clicks the plasmavision on to its sole General Channel, KJAD-PV, where a buffed, coiffed, anchorpair (Mr. Simple and Honey Markell) wrap up the Nite News with jaunty winks and gestures.
"...and, in other news, Extreme LC Paul Morse has kept his date with Feliciana's guillotine, parrot-fever fear has fearful people abandoning parrots in parks as dead, frozen parrots plummet to pavements, stirrealist and neo-Cubist youth gangs in deadly combat on the Hamorite Strip. More news with morning news personality Pamela Herring tomorrow morning... stay tuned for the Paul Parchette Show after these important messages."
"He's a monkey!"
"What a monkey! With Grover McGinniss, Jimmy Fable... remember Jim, Honey, from Max Wheat reruns on the Classic Channel Four... and Elvis-deconstrutionist Guy Thunk, here on KJAD where what's happening's what happens now! Followed by Mister Night. Here's Scotty Satellite, standing in for Walter with your final weather..."
"Westerly winds, mostly blowing from the west..."
The PV newspeople bubble away on a tide of popups... beneath which swims an automated farm with clean, smiling technicians packaging jellifluous brown squares, as a Narrator proclaims...
"Krajjit! Better than cabbage. And, safer than rabbit. Another nutritious, genetically engineered taste treat from the caring folks at HRI."
"Don't forget... another all-new classic episode of 'Yesterday's Tomorrows' at twenty-one hundred hours, tomorrow. Will the Constructivist Princess escape the Onlimart? And what of Laughin' Sal's dark designs on Samurai Sam?"
Norlin blinks... the Grover McGinnis Orchestra striking up the theme to Paul Parchette's Show as he's dozing in his HRI-licensed armchair... distracted, suddenly, by leaping, splashing cetaceans across his bay window and what he thinks might be someone at the door. He rises and makes a sleepy, unsteady path, squints through the Easy Eye viewer... nothing. There might be something shimmering on the ceiling, but, when he looks up, it's gone - a dream, perhaps. Frowning, he hastens to the pleader to access the Vitreopaedia on Jezekiah Jemaliel Jates having proscribed dreams as mere re-creations of existent reality (as opposed to creating new realities, so he remembers Homer having told him) but, waiting for the obligatory, self-serving vita to fade away before he can ask his question, gives the mission up as a bad joke and, instead, clicks the marine windowscreen back to the desert landscape before returning to his armchair as Parchette, under Pain Without Volume and Coiteur pop-ups, lets fly with another one-liner...
"...Tuesday Welded to man Friday on a Saturday night… but what do I know? I'm just a monkey!"
And, by the time JatesMaster Dane Varrick, hisownself (and a halfdozen of his chittering, cricketmutes) manifests to plug Glenloch Fen, another new prefab housing development rising in the swamps south of Barataria, adjacent to fabled Stimwood Academy, Norlin's snoring in the armchair. – monitors and sensors in the node clicking frumiously, impotently at this violation of the Sound Sleep Codicils, the self and public health. The monkey fades into Mister Night, then an overnight fusion of quiet celebrities... the whole is the Slow... bodily indicators measured, transmitted and approved; dreams, however, still chaotic... ungoverned, untranslated by any of H.R.I.'s six voluntary and eleven compulsory implants whirring away on the subdural microchip under the skin on the back of the Corporal's neck, broadcasting licit and illicit impulses back to Compliance, deep - deep into the night...
But not yet...