You have to imagine The Divine Comedy in full swing, soaring up behind Neil Hannon’s basso voice as he sings:
.....With a wave of his red
.....White and blue hand
.....Cross a glittering Las Vegas scene
.....A true showman knows how to disappear
.....In the silk, and amphetamines...
In the silk and amphetamines. Yeah, I know. Mark Eitzel wrote it. I like Hannon’s cover better. So sue me.
I’ve been awake for, let’s see. Thirty-seven hours.
“Nixon in the motha fuckin house!”
Gee, thanks, Turk. Not like I love the spotlight or anything. Which is shining on me, now, with a stutterpulse timed to the skittery beat of the old school illbient groaning out of every speaker, DJ Spooky or some such shit, some little girl’s voice giggling “It is the business of the future to be dangerous,” and baby ain’t that true. And the gang’s all here, there’s Solitaire and Tucker and Cliff, the Big Red Doc, and there’s Pokey Jones the Berber, his Eraserhead pompadour bobbing to some private drum over the crowd on the John Travolta Memorial Dance Floor, his black and blue djellabah whirling round and round. He hasn’t looked up to see me yet, but pretty much everyone else has, and thank God and the motherboard I came dressed to kill: an old silk slip that’s cut off maybe an inch below my ass and a string of pearls a couple inches longer than that and white over-the-knee stockings with a bit of lace trim above the red ribbon garters and sensible black shoes like my ever-so-great grandmother might have worn at the turn of the last century, and my hair’s in a flapper’s bob with razor-sharp, laser-sharp bangs and my eyes are dark with sooty lashes and my mouth is cherry red and my body’s as tight and taut and tuned as a seventeen-year-old pop star’s, or an eighteen-year-old porn star’s, and is there a difference these days? Was there ever? So I turn and I twirl under the flashing lights and I throw them a smile and flash them a little of what I’m not wearing underneath. Subtle? Fuck that. I came here to get laid. But not by the tattooed ex-basketball player with the grey dreads down to the middle of his back (and no way that’s really him, and why on earth would you want to do him now instead of him then?) and not by the one, no, ye Gods two Hiero Protagonist wannabes shuffling up in their black ninja pyjamas, and not by the gal in the off-the-rack Klingon suit with, fuck, the s and marcae registradae still floating in the air above and behind her shoulders, how on earth did she even get in here, anyway? Nope. Anyone who knows me at all ought to know that Nixon Rising is having none of that. So I turn and I make my way to the bar.
It’s not that kind of bar, of course.
Tenderloin throws me a wink and a leer as I sidle up and he conjures a couple of sample displays flickering in the air, porn loops repeating themselves in stuttering bursts, come on in and have a good time: a ballet dancer pliéing in a simple black sports bra and nothing else; a classroom filled with schoolgirls in kilts and ties, passing time in various delightful ways; two girls in a hottub in the dark somewhere, waving. I shake my head. “No dolls tonight,” I tell him.
“All done?” he says. “Done in?”
“All done,” I tell him, “a thirty hour push and now the motherfucker’s in beta. Disney’s never gonna know what hit them.”
His eyebrows go up. “Disney? I thought you were doing something with the Dark Angel stuff.”
“That was last week, hon. You know that. Paid off in spades. So I got to do a labor of love: Wally Wood’s unforgettably Disney orgy, live and in three dee.” I spread my hands and give myself a congratulatory grin, which I damn well deserve. “The Tinkerbelle alone is gonna be worth the price of admission.”
“Which is free.”
“Well. If you can find it.” I turn to survey the bar, and most everyone has gone back to whatever they were doing, dancing or flirting or talking or pretending to fuck or even coding, at least, I think that’s what Dandy Don is doing there in the corner with his neon Mac which always looks like it’s on fire. (“It’s cause I’m so hot,” he’ll tell you, over and over again, because he never remembers whom he’s told a joke to and whom he hasn’t.) The ex-basketball player is showing a high school cheerleader (some things never go out of style) just how big his hands are, and you know, maybe it is him. Balls indeed to come in here as who you are and nothing more, but he’s always been known for his balls. “So I’m done,” I say, “and now I want to be done, dammit. But no dolls. I’ve had enough of that. Give me a real live girl. Give me real lips to kiss and tits to hold and a real live cunt to suck. I want it all, Tender. I want everything I’ve ever seen in the movies.”
“Are you sure?” Tenderloin is saying. “I’ve got this great David Duchovny...”
“Fuck you,” I tell him. “I wrote the fucking Duchovny you have, you bastard.”
“Nixon?” says this girl’s voice, nice. “Nixon Rising?”
“My nom de guerre, my nom de plume,” I tell her, warily. Otaku can be a pain, sometimes. “Don’t wear it out.”
She’s cute, in a frumpy kind of way, an interesting choice here in the Glitterdammerung, where everyone goes for overkill, my humble self included. Black hornrims like a thoughtful folkie and brown hair just soft and wavy enough to want to be touched and the sort of face I guess some folks might call heart-shaped. She’s interestingly dressed for the frumpy look, though: a T-shirt covered in lines of shifting, changing code. And nothing else. That I can see. “Nice shirt,” I say. Nice legs, too. And lovely little feet, with a ring on a toe or three.
“It’s dex,” she says, or something that sounds like that.
“Code for playing DVDs.”
“Christ below,” I say. Old school indeed. “Who the hell would want to hack DVDs these days?”
“Precisely,” she says, as if I’ve hit a nail on the head. Whatever. “I’ve got something to tell you. Is there somewhere more private we can go?”
“Well,” I say, “yes, but why should I—”
And that’s when I see her. Not the frump, cute though she might be. Her. Or me. Sort of.
She’s standing at the edge of the crowd by the brightly lit squares of the Travolta floor, and she’s staring right at me, and there’s a smile on her face, my face, the face I’m wearing right now, like she knows she’s got my attention, like she knows I’m going to get up and walk over to her, like I’ve got no choice. Which is true, true indeed.
“Nixon?” the frump is saying.
“In a minute,” I tell her, getting to my feet.
“It’s really important,” she’s saying, but fuck. It’s not this important.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m vaguely aware that the Spooky’s crashed and burned and swiveled with the magic of Turk’s turntables into one of my favorite songs, gee, thanks, Turk. “Act Two, Scene One,” it’s called, for reasons I can’t figure out. It’s one of those songs that begins with a slow, slow burn, the kind that reaches out to a dancefloor filled with sweating bodies and stills them, waiting, feeling the music swell and grow and there’s hints inside it of the monster beats to come, but not yet, not yet. The tension grows and tightens and pulls you taut, unbearably, as the voice, that voice whispers:
Along the shore the cloud waves break
Twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
And someone somewhere moans as the beats slowly, so slowly, ratchet up a teeny-tiny notch.
And I’m standing before her. Looking in a mirror. Looking at my twin.
The slip is a yellower white, older, perhaps. The pearls aren’t quite so long. The eyes, the eyes are different, but then, the eyes are always different.
“If you want my attention,” I tell her, “you’ve got it.”
“Good,” she says, and her voice is different, too. Lower. A little huskier. As if she smokes. More than I do, anyway.
“Did you hack my desc? Not that it’s that hard.”
“Maybe,” she says. “Maybe not.” She reaches up with one hand and in a curiously ritualistic gesture touches my forehead. My skin burns there. Not that it really burns. Not that I’m feeling it there. Not that she’s rigged something in her fingers to do that. My skin burns because I want her to touch me, and not just there, either. My skin burns because my nerves practically leap out of me to meet her finger, soft, light, delicate. My finger. Her hand.
The song is swirling faster, now.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die though, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
“Well?” I start to say, but she reaches out a hand, and I reach out a hand, and one of us pulls the other closer, and we are touching, pressed together, a perfect fit, knees beside knees, breasts to breasts, arm around waist, thigh already nudging between thighs, our pearls clicking together maybe a touch too loudly, but that can be fixed, later. She sways, to the music, as it starts to swallow its own tail. The beats are coming. They’re coming. The whole crowd is starting to sway to it, feeling it, crying out, the chiming bells and the swelling chords chasing each other around the abyss, the drums louder now, a skittering cymbal crash promising what’s to come, as the voice is losing itself in grief, in ecstasy, repeating over and over and over again, “In Carcosa, lost Carcosa, dim Carcosa...”
The music explodes, the crowd roars, the dancing begins, and she kisses me, or I kiss her, and I am lost, and so is she, my God.
Sometime later, she murmurs a lipsticked whisper in my ear, “I want to go away with you.”
And my lipsticked lips whisper into hers, “I think I can arrange that.”
Tenderloin grins from the bar. The ex-basketball player leers and whips out a visual pickup, filming us, twins walking away, a mirror holding hands with itself. The frump is waving, trying to get my attention, but I’m terribly sorry, my dear. She—this person—God, I don’t even know her name yet, which is cool, just great in fact—she got here first, and most spectacularly.
I make my secret sign and my desktop appears in the air before me. I pull her close to me, and touch, and go.
(Miles away, somewhere deep in the drill core of the old abandoned oil rig that hosts The Glit, and more terabytes of other stuff than it’s worth your life to figure out, a processor looks over my request, checks my codes and doublechecks, and okays it and sets stuff up and a bank of memory comes to life and fills itself with my personal environment set and sits there, waiting. I pay them enough for the service, so I’d damn well better get preferential treatment. [I’m not stupid enough to leave that shit lying around any computers hereabouts, let me tell you.] Signals flash from broadcasters to satellites and back down again, and in I go, and wherever she is, in she goes, too. And there we are.)
It’s an empty room, nice hardwood floors, big ceiling, open windows looking out on a nice spring day, curtains tossing gently in the breeze. Lozenges of light float in the air, spaced regularly, rotating gently, freezeframes of places to go.
We’re maybe five feet apart, and that’s too far. Stand still, though. Be cool. Let her make the first move. I’ve got a sardonic grin on my lips. Its mate is curling hers. She reaches out, runs a hand through one freezeframe. “Looks like detention is a lot of fun,” she’s saying.
Oh, fuck. I’ve left quite a bit littering the floor here, including that damn schoolgirl orgy that Tenderloin tried to push on me in the Glit. (Hey. Every now and then you just want to unwind in the most cliché-ridden way possible. Okay?) I roll my eyes and fiddle a little with my desktop, sweeping that and a couple of others into a private directory tree. Lozenges flow and shift and reorder themselves. “Maybe something a little more classy,” I say.
“Oh,” she says. “How about a nice intellectual property lawyer we can discipline, hmm?”
I look at her. I’m ninety per cent positive that’s a joke, but. Something in her eyes...
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Sheila,” she says.
Sheila. Okay. Can’t win them all. “Well, Sheila,” I say. “How about this.”
I reach out and touch a lozenge, and it gives a little under my hand, a lovely tactile sensation that, believe me, probably wasn’t worth the amount of time I spent coding it. The room fades away, and, well, we’re elsewhere. Again.
It’s a riverbank.
I’m not going to tell you where it is, really. I used to live there, a long time ago, and, well. You’d probably guess it was from somewhere in the Southeast US of A, and you’d be right, as far as that goes, but even though it’s a big river it probably isn’t the one you’re thinking of. It’s summery hot and the sky is high and hazy white at the edges and the river’s low and slatey grey and sullen, down from the springtime highs that cut the riverbanks so deep and steeply. We’re at the foot of a gully, a small creek that flows into the river, choked picturesquely with trees and undergrowth the names of which I’ve never bothered to learn. The only one that’s important is the apple tree, blown over long ago and hanging horizontally over the gully. Its roots are still deep within the earth, though, and it’s still in bloom, still alive, leaves a lovely light green, filling the air with delicate white blossoms, all around us. It’s an image from my own personal Tarot, okay, the cards that flicker through my memory, like the bird that flies over our heads, eternally circling above us, never beating its wings. It’s an eagle, maybe, or a hawk or Christ maybe a vulture, I have no idea what kind of bird hangs out in the sky like that in that part of the world, and I didn’t even bother being that accurate, just grabbed it from the background of a travelogue I hacked into once. The movement felt right. And though I haven’t been back there in years, it is somehow important to me, vital to me, that this place exist, unchanged. The apple tree, in constant bloom. The bird, circling.
The two of us, standing there. Stop and smell—the summery air, the greenery simmering in the heat and lightly cut with the delicate sweet smell of the apple, and just enough of dank Old Man River to give us a sense of place. Listen to the breeze, the water flowing by. Silence.
She takes a deep breath, and her sardonic grin is gone. “Oh,” she murmurs. “Oh. It’s lovely.”
“Indeed,” I tell her.
Smell her. The spicy orange perfume, like mine, citrus and sandalwood and something else that isn’t quite right for here and now, but so what. Her desc is as sharp as mine, of course, which means that her hair now smells as if it’s been warmed by the sun, which it sort of kind of has been. The faintest whiff of makeup, the powders and oils and colors, as I step closer and she steps closer and we kiss again, not the knock-your-socks off dancefloor wow we just shared, but something smaller, more intimate, even, because less epic; hinting at what’s to come.
“Why me?” I ask when we’ve finished and we stand there, entwined.
“I like your work,” she says, her fingers toying with the hem of my slip.
“I can see that. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose.”
She laughs, a little, at that, and looks down, away. “Who wouldn’t want to try to fuck themselves, hmm?”
I cock an eyebrow at that. “I’d rather fuck you,” I say.
She shakes her head, still looking away. “No,” she says. “You wouldn’t.”
“Then this,” I say, “will have to do.”
Sometimes, you just have to fuck the preliminaries, and so I do. I’m trusting her desc, again, is as good as mine (it is mine, she hacked mine, there’s no other way she could be this close) and I drop to my knees in the cold clay before her, suddenly, and kiss her thighs and her belly as my fingers find her cunt and if the feedback loops are all feeding back she’s as turned on as I am. Her hands grab my head as I lick her open and dive in, and she groans somewhere above me, and it doesn’t take long, at all, and as her body (my body, dammit) is shuddering she nearly loses her balance, and what the hell, I pull her down with me to the soft, cool clay, and let her feel how wet I’ve made it, cool to the skin, perfect for a hot day like this, and who cares about the stains to stockings and slips when the silk can be reset with a blink of the mind’s eye?
“God,” she’s saying, “God, oh God, this is good, this is very, very good.”
“It’s my job, hon,” I tell her.
“I know,” she’s murmuring, “I know. I know.”
“You like it?” I ask her.
“It’s so subtle,” she says stretching like a cat in my arms, feeling the body I’ve coded, the desc I’ve put together. How did she hack it? What am I dealing with, here? Nixon, you moron, you’ve dragged someone in who can hack your files and pulled her into this private and personal space, and how the hell smart is that, and who the fuck cares, in the end, when her hand slips between my legs like that and her finger slips along my slippery slit like that, and oh, my. “So warm,” she’s saying. “And so wet. I can feel it, and I can,” and her other hand, slipping between her own legs (my legs, still), “I can’t tell the difference,” she says, “you’re as turned on as I am.”
“More,” I tell her. “You owe me one. You do.” Blossoms drift over us like snow.
“Oh,” she says. “I owe you more than one.”
Her tongue slides between my lips at the same time her finger does, and I arch my back and give myself up to her as another finger slides in, and out, and in, and she licks my lips, and smiles down at me, and says, “I almost hate to do this.”
“What?” I say.
“Almost,” she says.
The pain is intense.
I black out.
I come to in my apartment, screens snowy and blued and greened out around me, still shuddering. Hot flashes. Oh, God. My heart racing and something, something is triggering a fullbore relapse and at first I figure that’s got to be it, but no.
One screen is still live.
Sorry. Hope this reaches you in time.
Mother of fucking God.
Jesus H. Christ humping his mother on a goddamn flaming pogo stick.
I’m trying to force my body to move, sit it up, swing my hands up to the keyboard, trying to feel the goggles and subvox and feedback trodes and check connections and there’s too much to be fucking done, I have to get back in, back where my fucking body can’t betray me, back where I can fly as fast as my mind can think, back where I stand a fucking chance. My backbrain is whirring, trying to figure out who could be after me, who could have compromised the The Glit and gotten Tenderloin and Turk to sell me out. Who gives that much of a fuck?
Christ. Tenderloin was asking about the Dark Angel gig. Which he knew I’d finished. Mother fuck. Every now and then one of the Big Boys decides to take out a hacker like me. They think it makes an example and maybe things would be worse from their point of view if they didn’t but all I can see that it does is make us paranoid and more determined than ever. But maybe he was trying to hint that Fox was after me? Maybe? But it’s only a week old, for God’s sake. Their lawyers can’t even sneeze that fast, much less organize a hit like this.
Fuck. Maybe it’s that ancient Duchovny fuck fantasy. Oh, that would be funny.
I can move, barely, my arms clumsy, my head still spinning, and my brain, so much faster than this hunk of meat, even as it tries to figure out how bad it is and what I’ve got to do can’t help but flickering back to another image from my personal Tarot, let’s call it The Traitor: nerves along my arms and legs and back, winking dimly, the fatty myelin sclerotic with burns and scars and angry black and red rashes spreading like cancer down the sparking, misfiring chain. Me, eating myself.
Stop it, Nixon. (I haven’t thought of myself by any other name in years.) Snap the fuck out of it. I’m sitting there, naked (hey, I was trying to get laid, okay?), and I have to pull myself together, get some of this unnecessary shit unhooked. I pull the feedback trodes off my cock and my groin and I nearly fall over when I reach down for a pair of shorts and my feet tremble, more heat shooting through my nerves and flashing painfully in my joints, as I try to pull them on. Fuck clothing, Nixon. Try to get the system back up and see where you are, you’re blind here without a hookup—
The system’s coming back online. By itself. My big cinematic display, my workscreens, my chat and email screen, the goggles, even, filling with my face. The face that caught my eye, that turned me on so much I stole it from a group photo found on a corporate website a couple of years ago when I first wrote this ultimate fuck-me desc and started wearing it to the Glit. Which I’m starting to figure out is her face, really.
Fuck. This isn’t suits and lawyers. This is personal.
“You don’t know me,” she’s saying, and the voice is lovely through the earbeads and the speakers and the clear crystal woofers and it’s perfectly modulated and it’s there, right there in the room with me, the voice I stole and shifted slightly to make it a better fit for me. “You have no idea who I am, or what I do, and you took me anyway, and you had fun with me. My face. My body. Putting it on to fuck around with. I’ve hacked your system, I’ve crashed your files, I’ve got your number and I’ve got a couple of goons with very big guns coming to finish the job. You think you’re such a bigshot? Nobody even gives a fuck about you and your friends and your little snotty games. You had to piss me off personally to get me to notice you, and I reached out and killed you without even breaking a sweat. Ta-ta.”
And the screens go dead.
In my line of work it pays to have a peripatetic lifestyle. With my condition, that’s difficult, at best.
I manage to get myself out of the chair and pull on some shorts and a T-shirt and sit there, on the floor, shivering. I have a rather unique perspective on the old Cartesian duality, my traitorous nerves wracked with multiple scleroses, unable to keep up with my flying brain, but it’s never been this bad before. My mind is flying so quickly through all the possible outcomes that even I can’t keep up, and all my body can do is shiver and run a hand through my hair over and over until I notice it’s coming out in my fingers and I stop.
I’m going to die.
So it’s a miracle I don’t piss myself when the door thuds open, and there she stands. Not Sheila. If that really is her name. Not her as-yet unseen goons.
The frump. From the Glit. In a black pleather jumpsuit and nightvision goggles and her hair pulled back in a tight, no-nonsense braid and one of those Belgian bullpups with the helical magazine in her hands, the kind that spits spent shells like a hailstorm when it’s going full-bore.
She blinks at me, and pulls her goggles off. “Nixon?”
“What?” I manage to say.
“Nixon Rising?” she says.
“What the fuck?” I say.
“Sorry,” she’s saying. “You don’t look like I was expecting.”
I guess fortyish, plump and balding isn’t quite up to my online glamor.
“You were expecting a girl, maybe?” Thank God I still had the nerve for the bitter, acerbic comeback.
“You want to live?” she snaps back. A sensible question under the circumstances.
So down the stairs we go and out of the fleatrap apartment complex that’s itself worth maybe as much as the equipment and code I’m leaving behind, never to see again, and I’m stumbling after her, and I nearly trip and fall down the stairs. This relapse is bad, and is going to get worse, and I’m starting to wonder if maybe she’s got a collapsible wheelchair somewhere in her paramilitary getup. There’s a van outside, as nondescript as an old blank white van can be, in the parking lot of this squalid little complex under the pink and orange sodium vapor lights, and she has to help me into it. “Are you okay?” she’s saying. “Did they tag you with something? Some kind of feedback ice?”
“Who the hell are you?” I ask.
“Later,” she says. There’s a guy behind the wheel of the van, moony-eyed, a ratty beard over most of his face. I just have time to register the ancient Earth First! bumper sticker pasted to the dashboard before my eyes drop shut under an inexorable weight.
“Viva la revolucion,” I mutter. And I’m out for a while, again.
Thirty-seven hours of coding and nearly getting laid and then getting screwed will do that to you, you know.
My head is in her lap when I come to, and I’m just starting to figure out how bad this is. I start to shiver.
“Shh,” she’s saying, above me. “Shh. What’s wrong. What’s wrong.”
“Fuck,” I say, “you. Okay? What’s wrong. Fuck.”
“You’re Nixon, right?” the guy is yelling from up front. The van is rumbling somewhere into the night and the engine is loud and I yell back, “Fuck, yes, I’m fucking Nixon!” and then start coughing.
“What’s wrong?” she’s asking me, again. “Are you sick?”
“I heard she’s got cancer. I mean, he’s got cancer,” the guy yells from the front, trying to be helpful.
“It’s not cancer,” I tell her. “It’s MS. And I think I’m swinging into a relapse. And I have no idea how bad it’s going to get. And even when it’s good, it’s bad. And I’ve just lost the stuff that makes this pathetic existence bearable, okay?” And even though I didn’t raise my voice, the force with which I spit it out is enough to set me coughing again.
“It’s just a computer,” she’s saying.
“Fuck that,” I snarl. I try to sit up and she lets me, reluctantly. “Fuck that. It was a fine-tuned VR hookup tailored to me, okay? And it’s more than that. Much more. If this Sheila hacked my desc and compromised the Glit, she’s got all my files, too. Everything. All of it that I’ve spent the past fifteen years building and designing and coding, all gone.”
“There’s a lot in the net,” she’s saying, trying to be helpful.
“Not the personal stuff,” I say.
“Shh,” she’s saying. “Shh.” She reaches up to touch me and I jerk away and my nerves flare and fire through the tiny, tiny scars and my muscles spasm and I fall to the floor of the van and lie there, feeling the wheels hum against the pavement, so far below. She tries to pull me up and then sits down beside me when I don’t let her. She’s pulled off a lot of the gear, her gloves, her goggles, the gun’s gone somewhere, and thank God it never went off. The skin of her fingers is cool on my skin, and I don’t care if it feels more real than the VR feedback, I don’t. What’s real? I like my mind better. God. I’m trapped. I’m stuck, forever, in this traitorous body. If she found me, she found my credit, my money, the Glit’s closed to me forever now, too. All my contacts, gone. All my work, and all my potential work. I could slave away at a menial job, sure. Something suitable to my physical capabilities. Maybe apply for one of those state healthcare pensions for disability and if I’m still alive when they process the paperwork I can maybe save up and afford a minimal VR rig by the time the next century rolls around.
Fuck. I think I’m crying. She’s stroking me, rubbing my shoulders, trying to get me to relax. “It’s not that bad,” she’s saying. “It isn’t.”
“Shows what the fuck you know,” I snap. “I’m trapped. I’m fucked. I’m screwed. I’m left inside this lump of meat that’s eating itself from the inside-out and I can’t run away from it, ever.” That’s what I try to say, anyway. I’m choking on the words, my throat hoarse, rubbed raw as I sob.
“Shh,” she’s saying. “It’s not that bad. It isn’t.” And she kisses my forehead, and she kisses my cheek. Her mouth isn’t as perfect as it was in the Glit. I can feel the little kernels of skin where her lips are chapped rubbing against my skin, and even as all of this is happening I try to file that sensation away, remember it for the next time I code a desc, and then I remember I can’t, not ever again, and it all whirls away once more.
She’s kissing my lips. Her lips are still dry, but she pulls away, and she licks them, and she kisses my lips again.
Maybe she is just a crazed otaku who wants to bag the one, the only Nixon in the flesh. What a disappointment for her.
“It’s okay,” she’s saying.
“Sascha?” the guy up front says.
“Shut up, Roary,” she snaps.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Just be quiet,” she says, not as gently as perhaps she intends.
“Why me?” I ask.
“Because,” she says. “We knew you were in trouble. And you can help us. With our work.”
I don’t even ask what that is. Her hand is stroking my leg.
“What,” I’m saying.
“Flesh,” she says, “isn’t all that bad.”
“You don’t understand,” I’m saying. “The MS—it fucks me up—normal sexual response, it just doesn’t—” What am I blithering? I’m in the back of a van with what might be a couple of crazed paramilitary environmentalist off-the-grid whackos and she’s coming on to me and I’m lecturing her about MS and maybe it was the coitus so rudely interruptus, but damned if I’m not responding, my traitorous body betraying me once again, my shorts tenting.
“See?” she says. “Nixon’s risen.”
“If you think you’re the first to ever make that joke,” I say. God. I haven’t felt quite like this in, well. A long time. A flash of pain shoots through my joints, nerves flaring through thinning myelin fat, creaking with the effort, but it enhances things, somehow, and doesn’t take away.
Her hand is in my shorts, now, and her fingers are on me.
“I had a fantasy,” she’s saying, “about doing Nixon Rising.”
“Fantasies are very different than real life,” I say. Christ. Is this really happening? So it would seem.
“Can you,” she says, and she kisses me again, “unzip me?”
My fingers are numb, but they manage.
“Oh, fuck, Sascha,” Roary’s saying. “Not again.”
This is crazy and it’s insane and it makes no sense and it’s utterly, utterly necessary, and somehow she knows it as much as I do. Her body is soft and pale in the dim van, softer than I’d expect for a crazed paramilitary environmentalist whacko. Somehow I’d thought they’d be doing more calisthenics or something, up in the redwoods. Of course, she was wearing that T-shirt in the Glit; my memory’s remembering that it’s “DeCSS,” not “dex,” and it was one of the first skirmishes we the people lost against them the corporations. And she has access to the Glit in the first place. Things are more complex than they appear, but that’s for the rational brain to sort out later. Right now there’s a very simple problem of leverage and geometry to solve, but first, she hisses and says, “I’m not ready, not yet.”
“Are you ready at all?” I ask her. Am I?
“Can you,” she asks, and I can, and she’s kneeling over me, I’m lying on my back in a van roaring down a highway who knows where and I’m tentatively nibbling at her, my lips oddly numb, my tongue clumsy but wet, and she opens above me and sighs and her hand finds mine and squeezes it, tightly, and I’m remembering the taste of the desc I wrote, the desc Sheila hacked, the salt and the tang of it, and the sweet, and Sascha smells of pleather and metal and oil and she’s pissed recently and I can taste that, even and there’s a bit of toilet paper stuck there that I just managed to work out with my numb, clumsy lips and I’m obscurely proud. And she’s murmuring above me, “Oh, oh yes, attagirl, attagirl.”
She doesn’t come, but that isn’t the point. Sometime later she lifts herself from me, and before I can raise my hand to wipe my mouth she kisses it, and kisses it some more, licking herself up. She doesn’t wear lipstick. She probably never has.
“Are you guys done back there?” yells Roary, his voice oddly distant.
I’m somehow by some miracle still hard. No feedback circuits to feed back, no nerve simulations to make up for my faulty wiring, and I’m so used to feeling a cunt down there, or the eidolon of a cunt, the symbol, the imago, that it’s something of a shock when she pulls my shorts aside to reveal a yang instead of a yin. And it’s more of a shock to slide inside her, to feel her around me, surrounding me, warm and wet and there, so very there. Nerves flare and fire and I don’t care, it’s hot, it hurts and I don’t care, I can’t do much of anything but that doesn’t matter as she rides me, gently, and her kisses cool my burning, fevered skin. And I don’t care. There’s a red-hot barb stuck through the head of my cock and it’s pulling and pulling and when it finally comes free I think I shout and maybe I even pass out a little and I don’t fucking care.
She’s still naked, later, lying in the back of the van with me, and there’s a ratty blanket that smells of old sweat over us. It’s gotten colder.
“I don’t know,” she says. “Being in the field like this, running an op; it always turns me on.” And she chuckles.
I think she’s as embarrassed about it as I am.
Yes, it’s a revolution. No, I’m not going to tell you where I am. Nixon Rising is still alive; the rumors of my death and destruction have been greatly exaggerated. I’ve just gone underground.
I try to tell them I won’t help them. I try to tell them about how stupid fighting back like this is. You can’t beat city hall, incorporated; you can just sniff around the foundations and make off with crumbs of cheese, here and there. I try to tell them how short their life expectancies are. And they laugh and ask me stuff and I show them how it’s done anyway.
I don’t go live online much anymore. Their VR rigs are crude and can’t compensate for me and it hurts too much. And anyway, what’s the point? The Glit’s cut off to me. My whole world is gone. All of them, Solitaire and Cliff and Tucker and Pokey Goddamn Jones and even Turk and Tenderloin, whom I can’t bring myself to hate. They kept themselves alive, I’m sure, and I know, somehow, it was worth it. The sum is greater than any one of its parts.
Sascha will hold me, from time to time. She’s good when it gets bad. We fuck, too, from time to time; rather, for the most part, she fucks me. And it may be more real and there may be more, much more than I ever managed to code in any smutty desc I ever wrote, so much more, but it’s so much less, too.
It’s getting worse. There’s medicine, I know. I was taking some of it. But we’re limited, out here in the woods.
So I lie back and sometimes her hands are enough to build something and sometimes they aren’t, but when they are she will ride me. And she murmurs “Attagirl,” when I come.
It isn’t much, but somehow, it’s enough.
Part of the title comes from “Johnny Mathis’s Feet,” but it’s The Divine Comedy’s cover, as indicated, not the American Music Club original. “Pandemonium” is by DJ Spooky, though it’s a nonexistent remix, and “Act Two, Scene One” comes from the King in Yellow stories of Robert W. Chambers, because that song should be a trance-pop techno hit in raves around the world. Dark Angel is Cameron’s proposed TV series for Fox, and I hope this doesn’t jinx the King of the World. Wally Wood’s Disney orgy does indeed exist, and I hope he wouldn’t mind taking the prank a step further. And you all should know who Duchovny is. Apologies indeed to Grant Morrison, Richard Case, et al; if you read one Doom Patrol comic this year, make it “Soul of a New Machine,” #34. And to make up for it all, I’m going to ask you to see Last Night, with one of the most beautiful screen kisses ever. It’ll break your heart. It’s got Don McKellar in it (he wrote and directed it, in fact), and it’s much better than the one where he plays Pokey Jones, the Barber. Though you should see that one, too.
See, I got involved in this long and pointless discussion about of all things semicolons and clarity of prose (pro and con, respectively, in case you were wondering) over on alt.sex.stories.d, and one thing led to another and there it was, in my mail box: a challenge. Father Ignatius, Friend of Ruthie and Fan of Clarity, had dropped a gauntlet at my feet: he wanted to Write Club me.
Write Club is pretty simple: you get two writers and a referee. Each writer picks a list of three words and sends ‘em to the ref, who also comes up with three words. When you’re ready to go, the ref sends you the total combined list of nine words (plus any snarky rules or restrictions she comes up with off the cuff), and you’ve got three hours to write your story, using all nine words. Start to finish. Go!
So I tripped over an idea that made sense and said I’d do it. My three words were clay, Cartesian, and sclerotic; Father Ignatius’s were basketball, classroom, and lawyer; and we got Denny Wheeler to ref, and he came up with peripatetic, cancer, and eagle.
On the whole, I had fun, and was pretty happy with the way things turned out. Ignatius and I both wrote good, solid stories given the restrictions (His is called “Pro Boner”; go give it a look.) And it generated a nice bit of buzz. And it’s probably a good thing to have a short piece or two under my belt. But I don’t think I’ll be Write Clubbing any time soon. Too nerve-wracking. Too much like mainlining coffee. (Or maybe methamphetamines.)
Profuse thanks, of course, to Denny and Nat. Couldn’t have done it without youse guys.
(I won, by the way.)
10 September 2000