Let that which Has Been hidden, Be brought forth into the Beam

from The Headflux Chronicles, Book 1, by Will Lorimer

2

Following the advice often offered to prospective authors, Seth Tamson-Stewart had set out to write about what he knew. Trouble was, the more Seth wrote, the more he realized the less he knew. Additionally, he had been working on his book for so long, he had lost all sense of how long it had been. What he did know, however, was that subjective writing time is curiously truncated, so even though it had been years, it felt like he had hardly begun.

Seth depressed the delete button on the keyboard. More words consigned to oblivion, he considered with a sigh, as he reached for his pack of super-lite snouts on the desk beside the ashtray.

Stretching his long legs between the boxes of manuscript cluttering the space below the small desk, Seth leaned back in his chair as far as cramped confines would allow and, exhaling, watched smoke drifting in the precious Eye-light yet streaming through the window. The golden light was slowly dimming now, accompanied by the down-shift in mood he always felt as the climate shields stealthily encroached on the celestial Eye from above, but still bright enough to strand his vision with the contrails of a vast confusion that wasn’t entirely his. Spectral smoke, like the filaments of his elusive thoughts, messed with the sentences on the screen, making the characters unclear, even to Seth, who at that moment couldn’t recall a word of what he’d just written, putting him in mind of past amnesiac episodes at his desk, which, by dint of a mysterious mental process, anticipated some untoward happenstance nearby.

Noticing a perilous build-up of ash on the snout, which was already half-smoked between his fingers, Seth reached for the ashtray. But then, leaning across the desk, his hand shook, and he watched the ash fall, slow-mo, all the way into the print tray. Intending to blow it away, instead he puffed it into the printer casing, prompting a blue flash and a loud bang.

‘Stupid … stupid … stupid …’ he raged, mostly at himself, but then stopped short when a detonation outside returned the compliment, with a bang that shook the floorboards and precipitated bits of plaster from the cornice of the low ceiling.

‘Holy Teeth, what was that?’ Seth called up to the News Head on the mantelpiece.

‘Pray patience, good Master!’

‘Don’t give me more of your eighteenth century lip!’ Seth snarled, pulling up his knees as he swivelled in his chair to look out of the window at the shiny new developments ascending from the dark depths of the Gallowgate, competing for the mid- morning Eye-light still banding the facing ridge. ‘I thought Mark Twos were always first with breaking news?’ he said, noting with disappointment not a pane on the House of the Signet opposite was broken, let alone cracked, as far as he could make out.

‘We are, good Master, I assure you, but nothing has come in yet. What I do have, however, is another update on the cost of the NunCom Occupation. Latest projections suggest the final X-Ade bill will come in at a ratio of seventy-five to one over the highest initial estimate. Meaning the NunCom’s overspend has risen by a factor of —’

‘Shut up!’ Seth snapped, realizing he was being diverted but arguing anyway. ‘If you must quote statistics, at least pick something interesting.’

‘The current melt rate of the permafrost in New Mooseland has risen to fifteen-point-seven-two cubic clicks per hour —’

‘Irrelevant!’ Seth boomed.

‘On the contrary, good Master, it is perhaps the most pressing issue.’

‘Oh, don’t start on the big picture,’ Seth raged, ‘I want real live breaking news.’ ‘Successful repairs on the multi-tracks have

decreased the commute time of non-preferential vehicles by —’

‘And I’m sick of hearing about improving traffic flows,’ Seth said, annoyed at Head’s diversionary tactics, but taking the bait anyway, ‘Ever since they opened the multi-tracks in Nippy, the Natural has gone to shit.’

‘I fail to see how the two things are connected.’

‘You’re questioning me?’

‘I would not dare so to presume, good Master.’ ‘That’s OK then,’ Seth sighed, glancing out through the window, and noticing that now the Eye was opaque and completely shaded. ‘However, it is a fair question, because the day they switched the system on and Nippy first gridlocked was Blue Wednesday, when the Inter-tablet Markets crashed and the Natural went into recession. No-one has ever explained that.’

‘Perhaps, good Master, it was just coincidence.’

‘Don’t patronize me,’ Seth said, with a start recalling it had been on that day that he had started working on his book. ‘I want news, not reassurance.’

‘Of course, good Master.’ Head smiled. ‘Perhaps then you will be glad to hear I have just received a report of a Knottista bomb blast at a seminary of blind Wigs. There are no figures, but casualties are expected to be heavy …’

‘Where?’

‘In Knot, good Master.’

‘I’m interested in where I live and what I know. Not a city of conflicted scholars on the blind side of the Chord.’

‘Penguins are planning on picketing VIPs as they arrive at the airport this morning —’

‘Not that again,’ Seth groaned, ‘I want to know what just happened in the Gallowgate.’

‘As soon as I get something, good Master … um, here it is: apparently the new neural net transmitter in the Gallowgate exploded exactly two minutes ago, at nine-oh-five precisely.’

‘Sweet suffering X!’ Seth blasphemed, appending the explosion to a back catalogue of disasters in the Gallowgate since he had started on his book. ‘But why only apparently? I thought News Heads were always sure of their facts?’

‘Those facts that can be ascertained, certainly, good Master. However, the first report does not indicate whether the blast was by power outage or Knottista outrage.’

‘Well, I for one am glad, since I have no desire to have my darker side ameliorated by a council-sanctioned City Mood Enhancer, even if the people voted for it in a city-wide referendum.’

‘Results in the test zones did indicate substantial rise of retail rental agreements, accompanied by a corresponding fall in the level of street crime.’

‘Inconclusive; I saw the experimental data. What concerns me is any possible effects on my creativity and this book I am writing.’

‘Might I enquire, good Master, the subject?’

‘That’s for me to know and you to find out. Now, I need peace and quiet to think.’

‘Good Master?’

‘Did you hear what I just said?’

‘Yes indeed, good Master, however, I am contractually obliged to inform you I have just received an encrypted communication for your eyes only.’

‘Why not to my mailbox?’

‘Perhaps the communication was diverted because my transmission relays are ultra-secure, good Master.’

‘This beer be good,’ Seth growled, uncaring as to the cost implications of a service which, according to the recently enacted statutes of the new nanokin rental regulations, he had just tacitly accepted, presumably in perpetuity.

‘I cannot possibly comment on the merits or otherwise of —’

‘Spit it out!’

‘Since I do not have saliva ducts, that is not possible.

If you wish, I can network the message to your screen.’

‘You can do that?’

‘Good Master, I am a Mark Two News head with built-in —’

‘Oh don’t give me that techno drivel. Just do it.’ ‘Then pray patience, good Master, while I engage my id-drive,’ Head said, becoming immobile as his eyes rolled back in his sockets, and the leer slowly formed on the screen before Seth.

9# 127 Rue de Floret, Iles de la Castella, Isis, Knuttland, 2-37-7da. Tel. no:(023)11054617

Tamson Stewart-Seth’s Walking Tours 112b/13 Tall Town Court, Old Town of Nippy, Nippy NX11JT. Dreedland.

Dear Tamson Stewart-Seth,

Just to confirm, the Contessa will arrive at Nippy Airport, on flight QA2626 from Barbieland, 13.02. on the day you receive this. I have taken the liberty of hiring a Skeet in your name, which you should collect from MkAvis Central before mid-day. The Contessa will be travelling under her ‘nom de guerre’ of Mme Bourgeois, which you should display as she comes through, as otherwise recognition will prove difficult,

With best wishes, Morna Hasketh-Bligh, Secretary to the Contessa of Belle Leers.

‘So, I’m Tamson Stewart-Seth now.’ Seth frowned, not just because Tamson was in fact his second name rather than first, but because it was also the name he had given the protagonist of the book he was writing. ‘What do we have?’ he laughed, ‘A dyslexic secretary and her employer, a Contessa of Belle Leers, from Knuttland of all countries, summoning me to the bloody airport at the double like I’m a lackey?’

‘Good Master, may I venture an opinion?’

‘If you must, you must, I suppose,’ Seth sighed.

‘I conjecture that her secretary has you confused with someone of the same names, but with the patronymics and forename in a different order.’

‘I suppose that could be true, but a booking from the Oldlands? I don’t get those often.’ Seth mused.

‘I further suggest that she assumes your walking tour company operates as a cover for a male escort service …’

‘I’m not a gigolo,’ Seth said, heatedly. ‘Years ago I swore never to get into that line of work!’

‘I surmise that since she is of the old money aristo class and from the Oldlands, this Contessa will have ample funds.’

‘In my certain experience as a tour guide, they are the worst payers …’ Mid-sentence, Seth slapped his forehead. ‘Why am I arguing?’

‘Good Master, I have to remind you, a Skeet hired in your name awaits collection at MkAvis.’

‘I’d only end up paying.’

‘You may have to pay anyway.’

‘With all the security for the summit, the traffic will be impossible.’

‘There are no reports of delays on the multi-tracks.’

‘What do you know about anything?’ Seth sneered. ‘You’re just a Mark One … no …’ he frowned, sensing he was missing something, ‘I mean Mark Two News Head, strictly limited edition.’

‘Not so limited in relation to my data retrieval capabilities, I assure you, good Master.’

‘Shut-it, shitty head,’ Seth muttered, returning to his book. He scrolled down through his words, his big blue eyes widening as screeds of unfamiliar script steadily advanced up the page. ‘Hey, I didn’t type this. Am I dreaming?’

‘In my limited capacity, only being a Mark Two News Head, I couldn’t possibly comment,’ Head replied, archly.

‘Did you network all this onto the screen too?’ ‘Beg pardon, good Master …’

‘Don’t play the fool with me.’

‘That is something I could never do, good Master. Furthermore, I have no knowledge of what you suggest, I assure you.’

‘Perhaps I’m a character in someone else’s book,’ Seth laughed.

‘Good Master, I hardly think that is possible.’ ‘I was joking, Head, or don’t you get humor?’

‘Of course, good Master.’

‘I suppose it is possible I could have typed it earlier in some sort of fugue state.’

‘That is concerning, good Master. May I enquire the subject?’

‘I don’t know yet,’ Seth mumbled, paging down.

‘There’s an extract about the transport system, after which, strangely, a Contessa is mentioned. Then, even more weirdly, some bio of my fictional alter ego Tamson, which is consistent with my novel, and I suppose does suggest I’ve not entirely lost the plot. Hold on. Here’s a bit that should interest you.’ He grinned. ‘Remember I mentioned a safe method of disposal, well there it is.’ He chuckled, pointing to the screen. ‘In black and white, just what I imagined, except, unusually for me, there are no typos. Unbelievably, all of it word perfect, un … Nippy believable …’

Reviewing the exchange later, Head had contempt for the Contessa. Yes, and in his book, Seth Tamson-Stewart wasn’t too far behind. Looking back, Head recalled his master’s voice shouting down at him as he plunged into the void: ‘I’ll fux you back, you fux, I’ll fux you back …’

Head would have chuckled at the memory, but in his current predicament, partially dissected in Lab No. 433, off the Numpty Approach Corridor, he had no automotive control of his larynx, and so only did so mentally.

Yes, his master was a credulous fool who deserved all he got. But his master’s loss was his gain, and Head was determined to make the most it when at last he was released from contractual obligations. That day would come as surely as his former master was down for a stitching, as all are, whether they like it or not, in the Abyss into which all must fall. The Abyss some fall out of. As he had, into this momentous new time which promised deliverance from all that was and had been, just as soon as he had been put back together.

But before that could happen, he had more memory files to recover.

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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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