from The Headflux Chronicles, Book 1, by Will Lorimer
In dictionaries of the ancient Dreedic tongue, the name ‘Tam’ derives from ‘Tome’ — in other words, a weighty book. However, the arcane meaning of the term is altogether more obscure.
It is generally accepted that the ‘Tamsons’ or ‘Children of Tam’ (Tam being the third son of Norah, the second wife of the Patriarch, Hambra), were a black people who survived the Flood after Foundation and led by the giant Tam disappeared from view after wandering off into the mists of antiquity with an unspecified ‘treasure’. However, this is a historical confusion: black, in this sense, does not refer to skin colour, but describes an ancient Ma’atian tribe, experts in magic, since the original meaning of Ma’at is ‘black earth’, referring to the fertile soil of the El River Delta, which is black in colour and extraordinarily fertile, despite the surrounding desert, and is the key to understanding why Ancient Ma’atian civilization rooted in the Chord.
The word black, when combined with magic, as in black magician, actually means someone whose magical knowledge or practice derives from Ma’at, just the same as the Master Numpty’s claim for the ancient Dreedic Rite of Feenumptry.¹⁷
Scrambling back down the unstable slopes of the Red Castle, Tamson had the uncomfortable sense he was being followed. However, only when he reached the hired Skeet, parked at the boom of the monument to a bygone industrial age, did he look back up the way he had come. But there was no sign of pursuit save for his skid marks in red grit, zig-zagging down from the vent which still belched noxious plumes below the summit.
Satisfied, Tamson got back in the Skeet and drove off; but still the nagging feeling persisted, though nothing was evident in the rear-view mirror. Then, at the end of the rued track, about to rejoin the multi-tracks, he was distracted from the feeling which had mutated into an irritating itch in his back, right where he couldn’t reach it, by the welcome sight of police out-riders on Tricoseles, a type of Blur only used by the Special Services division, leading a convoy of stretch Skeets, overtaking the traffic tailing back all the way to Nippy. Engaging the speed-upper that
could have disqualified him from driving for a year, his burst of acceleration unrecorded by on-board spyware, Tamson nipped in at the back of the convoy and travelled the last five klicks to the airport in fine style, enjoying the ride and the breeze through the open window at his side.
Pulling up at the back of the line of stretches parked in a sectioned-off area in the airport, at the side of a large glass structure known as the Green Brick, which housed the VIP hospitality suites, Tamson waved to a tall, spare figure he recognized. They were dressed in the grey livery of a bygone age, with a matching cap pushed back at a cocky angle, and stood, smoking, under a plastic shelter designated for the purpose.
‘Tammy old boy!’ the chauffeur of the late Marquis exclaimed, in his mock-poshney accent, brushing back a long lock of lank grey hair which fell across his wrinkled brow as he stooped to peer in the window. ‘I remembah you when you vere fresh out of nappies,’ he said, carefully stubbing out his snout on the heel of a patent leather shoe, then straightening up with a wince, rubbing the small of his back with one hand as he flicked the bu away with the other.
‘Vluddy hell,’ he said, as Tamson got out of the Skeet, ‘You’re even taller than I remembah.’
‘I was a boy then,’ Tamson said, stretching his arms, wishing the secretary had hired a bigger model Skeet.
‘Vings must be vad iv you’ah scoutink out-ah heah too.’
‘Walking tours of the airport, I don’t think so,’ Tamson chuckled, clasping the proffered hand. ‘Chas, it’s been a long time.’
‘Ten yeahs, not cowntink v’ last time you wanted somevink owt ov’ me.’
‘Yea, the speed-upper.’ Tamson smiled. ‘You always were a genius with gizmos, Chas, forever tinkering while you waited for the Marquis. That was a good turn you did me.’
‘Any time, Tammy old boy. We’re family, and there’s not many of us levt since they shut down the House of Pleasure.’ Chas grunted awkwardly.
‘Actually,’ Tamson said, soo voce, drawing close, ‘I even used it today.’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘Tagging you, as it happened.’
‘I might hav’ guessed that was yoah at the back of the convoy.’ Chas grinned. ‘Always a chancer, eh, Tammy old boy?’ He winked, rogueishly.
‘I’d love to chat. But you know me, late as usual.’ Tamson shrugged. ‘Old money, so with the way the exchange rate of the Merk is going I can’t afford to miss her. Where’s the Tumpty Terminal?’ he asked, noticing fifty or so protesters in ill-fitting penguin suits, outnumbered three to one by riot police, who were penning them behind electrified security barriers in the forecourt of the main terminal building directly ahead.
‘Are you surah it’s not escort work?’ Chas said, slyly, stepping about and pointing to a steady stream of people bypassing the picket line of penguins and heading into a wide entrance. ‘Take the second speed wall on the left after the information display. Get off at T-fifteen. It’s marked.’
‘Thanks, we’ll catch up next time, I promise,’ Tamson said, already striding towards the entrance.
‘Go lightly and watch yuah back,’ Chas called after him, using his catchphrase from the old days when he used to pay Tamson 10 Dreed Merks for washing the Marquis’s custom Cheat, parked in the lane at the back of the House of Pleasure.
Speed walls, the only way everyone but officials and VIP’s had to get about the airport, were anything but speedy. Invariably, forward motion came in shunts, as people and their luggage were haltingly carried forwards between concealed sensor arrays which counted the change in their pockets, riffled through the cards in wallets, and checked respiration, pulse, perspiration, and other body indicators from one-way glass screens. The consumer side of these screens promoted the latest rental consumables that no- one but old money aristos and the geriontric class could afford to own, in ever-changing nanokin dioramas: dageurrodramas, as they were known, because they had the same needle point sharpness of an early photographic process from two centuries before. However, these images were in 3D and targeted the predilections of individual punters racked like sheep behind their remote-locking release bars, in what Tamson considered would have been beer called the ‘snitch’ rather than the ‘speed wall’.
Surveillance was his bane of the times. However the government fear factory ran it in the media, terrorism was nothing new. Carnage came in different forms, but in the end was always much the same. Planes crashed, vehicles collided, ships went down at sea. What made his times different was that technology had given the corporate ‘powers that be’ the means to pry into the minutia of citizen’s lives, and there could be no justification for that, not when the watchdogs and their records were exempt from public scrutiny.
Liberty was not dilutable. You either had it or you didn’t. At that moment, Tamson didn’t, unable as he was to escape the leering looks of four saleskins on the tracking screen before him, as they demonstrated the latest face-morphing rental products which, in the past few years, had largely replaced cosmetic surgery, as in blurred shifts they flipped personality and faces while the background changed scenery.
Is that that the way I see myself or just how I am perceived by the Eye that never lies? he wondered, knowing that the dagerreodrama was tailored to fit his personal data and whatever subliminal cues had been picked up by concealed cameras behind one-wayglass. The concave depths of curvilinear surfaces suggested a diagnosis of a multiphrenic personality, with a penchant for desert locations, tunnels, prison camps, and ancient walled cities populated by Blind scholars and their followers.
Like those orthodox Knotters up the line, Tamson considered, observing the family group for visual relief. Two girls and a mother, hiding their faces from unbelievers behind the flowing green robes of the father, who was stroking his knotted red beard in a suggestive manner that implied a none-too-subtle cultural insult, glaring back at Tamson from the safety of his security bubble — which was no security at all when the speed wall suddenly stopped, the overhead lights flashed, a section of wall peeled back, and the unfortunate Knotter family was dragged away by security men into the background scenery: in this case, scaffolding framing another speed wall which curved away into the distance, one-way glass revealing passengers trapped on the inside, staring, goggle-eyed, at the dagerrodramas playing out before them.
It was a metaphor for the Whole Natural, Tamson concluded, perceiving the security guards as minions of a shadowy director, and the unfortunate Knotter family as poor players whose time on the public stage was now severely curtailed, probably because their body readouts did not match the stats on record. Too bad, he thought, forgeing them as the speed wall shunted once more, and then again. Renewed motion gave him hope that he still might make it to the terminal in time for the mysterious Contessa.
At the T15 exit, a flashing line on the display board indicated flight QA2626 from Barbieland had landed twenty minutes before. Which of course meant that the Contessa could be among the passing tourists, all of them skimpily dressed and well-grilled, as the Eye-worshipping Barbians invariably were, except for a bent old bag-wonan at the back of the group, passing through the arrivals gate, her face concealed by the downturned brim of a floppy hat, hauling a squeaking trolley on which was placed an old leather suitcase bound by string …
Tamson could not have been more surprised when, coming close, she looked up and said, in a husky, low tone, that strangely seemed familiar somehow, ‘Tamson Stewart-Seth, I presume?’
Then, so perfectly timed it was obvious that there was nothing accidental about it, Chas appeared, as though from nowhere, picked up the Contessa’s luggage, and ushered them both towards an inconspicuous door, just to the side, that led out through a corridor and some empty office rooms to the back of the terminal.
‘Aways at youah service, Ma’am,’ Chas said, at last delivering them to Tamson’s hired Skeet, still parked at the back of the line of stretches round the side of the green brick building. ‘Till the next time, ma’am.’ He bowed, clicking his heels, straightening up with an arthritic creak, and re-taking his leave with a parting wink at Tamson before he could direct a question.
He had so many – that was the trouble, Tamson reflected, wistfully regarding his friend’s retreating back. Chas, walking into the distance, exchanging nods with other chauffeurs chaing by their stretches as they waited for the VIPs to emerge from the green brick building, while across the way, police bundled penguins into the open doors of windowless blue Hogs, clearing the way for the diplomats arriving for the conference of Natural Leaders at the new Congress building.
The Road to Nippy (#1)
Back in the Skeet, Tamson was faced by a wonan¹⁸ of poise and elegance in an understated charcoal grey silk skirt and matching classic top, that complimented her sleek, bobcut auburn hair.
Responding to his quizzical stare, she nodded towards her old hat and coat neatly folded on the back seat. ‘A subterfuge,’ she shrugged.
‘Tell me,’ Tamson said, as he inserted the keycard into the ignition slot, ‘what made your secretary pick my walking tour company when there are so many to choose from in Nippy?’
‘Our business is purely of a personal nature. I bring you news of an inheritance.’ She sighed, moss green eyes gathering moisture at the corners, suggesting a secret store of sadness.
‘An inheritance!’ Tamson exclaimed.
‘Patrimony is a more apt description, though you may find that hard to believe.’
‘Indeed, since my father’s still very much alive.’ Tamson frowned, suspecting it was all a weird joke.
‘Look, can you please drive? I won’t feel I’ve arrived until we are out of here.’
Tipping an imaginary cap, Tamson winked. ‘Today I’m yours to command, Contessa!’
‘Ms is the title I go by these days. You can call me Honour.’
‘Honour?’ Tamson repeated, turning to regard her pale, now familiar face, which was illuminated from below by a stray beam of the Eye momentarily escaping the clutch of the climate shields and reflecting off the passenger door wing mirror at her side, ‘Miss Perfect, can it really be you?’
‘Yes.’ She nodded, meeting his astonished stare with an amused twinkle. ‘But I would much prefer if you called me Honour. It’s so much simpler, don’t you think?’
‘As you like, Honour,’ he grinned. ‘Tell me, was Chas’s sudden appearance prearranged?’
‘Tamson, please, no more questions. I’d like to get going. And besides, this is my first time back in years.’
Respecting her wishes, and avoiding the potholes ruing the tracks, Tamson drove through thick traffic tailing back from the exit. But then, leaving the airport, the curious sight of a pair of scarlet knickers stretched across a triangular road sign warning drivers to ‘yield’ at the next junction, put him in mind of the long summer afternoons of his early adolescence when there were no clients in view at the House of Pleasure and the girls were sprawled in their undies before the vid-screen in their recreation room below, boles to hand. Smoke, pheromones, and cheap perfume: a heady mix had circulated in the air between strangers familiar as bunions on opposing big toes, cursing their lot and generally bitching. All waiting for the moment when the bellhop ushered the first gentlenan of the day into the salon above.
As often as not, when the Upper House of Congress was sitting, this first customer was the big old Marquis, whose ancient line of aristocratic forebears numbered some notable giants of Dreed history among them. He would arrive still in his ceremonial garb of the Lord High Protector, his long red velvet robes edged with ermine, the gold chains and seal of his office glittering across his bulging waistcoat as he entered by the back door from the lane behind, where Chas the chauffeur always parked the Marquis’ customized Cheat.
The old gent had been genial as the day was long, always a joke on his lips, a coin in his hand and a pat on Tamson’s boom as he was dispatched below to find Honour in a dingy warren of subdivided basement rooms. The rooms were where she and the other girls lived, one floor above the vaulted rooms where Mother Sin stored her knock-off goods, shoplifted to order by waifs and strays drawn to the House of Pleasure by the ever-open back door.
More often than not, Tamson would find Honour curled up on the small yellow sofa in her room, looking up from behind the covers of one of the classic old books she liked to read, her green eyes piercing the warm gloom of the muslin curtains in the window bay, lit by the late afternoon Eye as it dipped behind the spears of iron railings outside, lining the pavement above the basement window. In such moments, it was as if sparks flew out of her, lighting embers that still burned in the memory ...
‘Please, can we go by Blabberton Dykes,’ she said, abruptly, gesturing to the left. ‘It looks quieter, and besides, I prefer that way.’ Breathing easier, she turned away to take in the view of the Firth and the fortified N-class carrier everyone was talking about: the mobile seat of Bigger Government, defender of the privileges of Biggians across the Three Tablets, moored in the mouth of the estuary beyond the shining mud flats which these days extended far out into the broad river.
Then there was the New Capitol’s famous Omphalus, which so reminded her of one prodigious member in particular, silhoueed against a horizon of brilliant blue that was all the more vivid for the funereal grey of the climate shields above.
17—While Feenumptry has been called many things, no one who knows anything about the Brotherhood can dispute that it is the longest running, most successful pyramidal moneymaking scheme ever, bar none. From its formation in Nippy in the late sixteenth century, by the mid-ninteenth century it had spread across the Natural, with temples in all countries and numpties in al most every organization, corporation, government — the rule is, the more powerful, the more numpties, proportionately. Each ritual ‘step’ up, or ‘degrees’, as the rites of passage are also called, requires money — and there are thirty-nine steps up the so-called Omphalus of Initiation, for those with the drive and resources to reach the Crystal Cap of the apex and join the Fux. Indeed, it is as the cynic might expect: the higher the step, the greater the cost. Under the eighteenth century constitution, when the Order was reformed, revenue is apportioned between the initiate’s sponsor, the Temple, the Grand Council, and the Supreme High Council — as symbolized by the radiant Eye framed within the triangle formed by the Crystal Cap of the Omphalus, which also features on Bigger dollar bills …
18—An adult female nano.
This is a satirical SF novel in the tradition of Swift, with footnotes that give an alternative history of the world.
Will Lorimer is a multi-media artist and the author of a number of books.
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