(Sunday {Venuday}, January 7, 2035, and After)






Norlin hurries down the derelict elevator of 450 8th, Southeast, walks the streets until dusk and then beyond, wet and shivering in a Jatesland seemingly washed blank.  Nullified color, antiprimary character, distinctive curvature.  On the tenebrous Hamorite Strip at 2330 hours, he slithers across a frieze of walls towards the Prancing Pony... creeping among the shadows of the dancers and servers within, still waiting for their evening faces to settle.  A cueball skitters across the table, tips another towards its pocket, and Smyrna looks up at her ghostly admirer, fingering Lisa Marie's panties, photographs, knife and the skimmer in his pocket.

"Henry Hat told me you were going to arrest the great, aesthetic criminal mastermind," she waves the crooked, taped cue at him.  "It's true!  Is he with you?"

"No.  He's gone..." Norlin shakes his head.  "Hat, I mean... gone.  Permanently."

          "Story of my life," the dancer sighs and quickly rubs at the oozing bruise that's sprung up on her left hand thinking that - if it is real, does it mean that her background... her aspirations and her daughter that, she has always assumed, were implanted by the master... are real, too?

"Believe me - it's no great loss.  Nothing real there, ever, know what I mean?"

"So you say.  And you?"

          "I have to be going, too, after..." and the Corporal pauses - toting up his reasons why and why not.  Reason.  Jody...

          "Followin' your Daddy's footsteps?" Smyrna asks, taking aim at the white ball, sending it careening into the red, driving it into a corner pocket.  And why not?... Norlin concedes (and as Triple-J might have pronounced)... given her tutor from the ineffable Beyond.

          "After another," he replies.  "The real criminal... yet undetected..."

          Smyrna nods towards the bar and one of the girls brings a cold bottle of Integral, courtesy of Molly Tandem.  Norlin slumps into a chair, taking out his old fashioned photographs of Gene and Noira's elementals from Mad House - eight in all.  Like those which Henry Hat confiscated from the pawnshop, they are bound with silver - faery spirits frozen in time and space while their animating spirit has moved on, to other bodies, other errands.

          "There is no crime," the Corporal scowls, "no justice.  Only a sort of… zombie… holding a log of Elvis Presley's fex captive within a purse of corrupt light.  His last, great, white turd - which the powers that be want to analyze and declare evidence of all sorts of lifestyle crime.  They've erased everything else from the Vitreopaedia… all art, all music, all substance… and when this task is finished, nothing will be left…"

"There's always death," suggests the dancer, trying to be helpful.

"Not even that.  No death but the living death, or death-in-life, however you may slice it.  And work.  And sleep.  And jas."  Norlin takes a gulp of Integral; it's vile as ever, vile as Jatesland.  "All I got from the imposture that was Henry Hat was a destination.  Memphis."

"Well, that's something…"

"Memphis… mem'pissmemfex, what the kebbin' difference.  Why?" he asks.  "Why?"

"But the criminal's in custody…"

"Buried in the bowels of the Trouble Factory as we speak."  He lifts the vile bottle again, and Smyrna scrapes a shoe against the floor… glancing downwards to see whether a telltale trail of Protein X slime betrays.  But there's nothing - this creature of a madman's reveries has been cast up on new land as one of those strange fishes at the dawn of evolution, condemned to life, substance and its search for meaning.  And her past... and her daughter, a smokewisp... what is that daughter's name?  Even the sores under her sleeve are scabbing over with scar tissue that will become her Becoming.  Smyrna raises the cue again, scratches.  Then she turns, bends over, and kisses Norlin on the forehead…

"I hope you find what you're looking for.  Whatever it is…"

"I need a favor..." Norlin replies, holding out his hand - the Mad House knife flat and dull against his palm.  "Places to go, things to do..." and he turns his back to her, lowering his head...

Smyrna takes the knife and, after glancing over her shoulder to preclude the possibility of peepin' eyes, makes a triangular cut at the base of the back of Norlin's neck.  She digs the blade down deeply, then flips it up - the tiny Departmental microtransmitter surfacing, nestled in a placenta of bloody gristle.

"I'll throw it off the platform from the South Node Mag..." Smyrna volunteers.

Norlin nods, wincing, takes a roll of duct tape from the shelf and rips off a couple of inches' worth to bind and conceal the wound, hiking up the collar of his shirt.  On the Prancing Pony's peevee, Paul Parchette's eyes bulge wide under gnarly, simian brows, he flaps his arms, thrusting out his great, prodigious jaw, turning his palms outward in a gesture of helpless appeal… "…but what do I know, I'm only a monkey!"

          The Corporal tosses his Integral aside; the bottle rolls across the floor.  "Gotta bus to catch," he nods…

          "Jatespeed," Smyrna wishes him, raising a hand to scratch her own back before realizing that the itch is utterly, completely gone.