Hard to ignore that date.
Even harder to ignore what’s happening around the world.
But we do what we can.
So here’s my fourth book, FOREVE2.
If you enjoy it, say something nice here.
If you want a hand stamped physical copy, get in touch, or, if you really have to, get it from Amazaba.
The sequel, FR3VR, is ready to go.
This book is dedicated to The Pilgrims, The Spores and The Seekers around the world and to the Citizens of Damanhur.
Our own internal clock.
Marking the hours, the days, the years of our existence.
Sometimes quick. Sometimes slow.
The heart races with fear or excitement, or when in the first throes of love.
It softens with tranquillity and with the acceptance of our fate.
When our time is over, will it race to the finish or stagger to the end?
For as long as we have a heartbeat, we coexist with time.
We can go to school, to get the job, to get the cash, to buy the car, to get the girl, to… you know the rest.
But all these things take time and we can take time for granted sometimes. We can always find time or make time, so it doesn’t matter when we sometimes lose it. Or does it?
Things can come and go in a heartbeat.
It could drive you mad thinking about it.
But nothing lasts forever.
Not even time.
Vinnie was just five minutes from home. He’d taken the advice of the preacher man and gone to his wife and family. Somewhere, some African dignitaries were stranded at the airport. The preacher hadn’t made a lot of sense, but what he had said had unsettled Vinnie enough for him to interrupt his day.
The roads were empty now, everyone was watching the show. There was a stillness to the city he’d never felt before, but dark clouds were gathering, and the air crackled with an unseen static current. A storm was coming. And where the fuck was the moon?
Vinnie turned the corner into his street to find it full of cars and with nowhere to park. He passed his house and accelerated a little with the frustration of not being home yet. The next street was the same and the next. Everyone was at home. Everyone was watching that fucking concert. Finally, he found a grass verge and squeezed the limo onto it. He could move it later. He needed to be home. He needed to be with Marie.
Marie was the wisest person he had ever met. The wisest, the kindest, the most caring and compassionate… He was a lucky man and he reminded himself of that every single day of their life together. He wished that Marie had met the preacher. She would understand what he meant; she would know what to do.
Vinnie started to panic. His heart raced and he struggled to catch his breath. His panic attacks had become much more frequent since he moved over to drive for The OA. But this one was not going away. He needed to be home. Now. Right fucking now.
He ran. He ran like he’d not ran for twenty years. His chest felt hot and heavy. The humid air felt warm in his lungs. A loose kerbstone upset his balance and he struggled to stay upright for the next few strides. Stupid fool. What was he thinking? He was too old for this. Time to stop and walk.
He needed to calm himself and catch his breath for when he saw Marie. He didn’t want to worry her. He needed to look after himself. There was no need to race towards an early grave.
His breathing was back to normal just as he got to his front door. All the house’s windows were open. This humidity was becoming unbearable.
From inside the house he heard sobbing. Violent, uncontrollable, primal sobbing. It was Marie. There was no sound more upsetting than the sound of his wife in distress.
As he entered the lounge, Marie looked up and their eyes met. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.
She couldn’t explain. She didn’t have the words. Who did?
Vinnie scanned the room and was drawn to the television in the corner. The picture was all but obliterated by heavy interference. What images he could still make out seemed to show a large group of people running away from something. And then as the camera panned up he could make out the domed roof of the Dyson Space Centre.
He turned back towards Marie and their eyes met again. She was slowly shaking her head. Each oscillation decaying in its speed. Her long dark hair was creating vapour trails. He became increasingly conscious of the deepness of his breathing. She slowly opened her arms, like a flowering rose in a time lapse nature film. It was in her eyes. Her beautiful, beautiful eyes. She couldn’t make any sense of this. She didn’t have the words.
He moved towards her open arms. He needed to hold her. But his movements began to feel slow and laboured. It felt like he was moving through treacle. He was getting closer and closer to Marie, but also moving slower and slower. On the wall, the clock’s second hand hung in the air between a tick and a tock. As distressing as it felt, it gave Vinnie the chance to take in everything he could see. His darling Marie, her eyes as beautiful as the day they first met across the counter of the convenience store, as enchanting as they were as they talked through the night and watched the sun rise again after their first date, and as intoxicating as they were when she first invited him into her bed.
They were married within a year and their love was shared with three beautiful children. Tommy followed his father into the police department. Jimmy ran a fine deli with his wife Lisa. Mary was the last to leave the family home, disappearing overnight with a man of which Vinnie did not approve.
On the eve of their 23rd Anniversary, Vinnie got the offer to come to England to drive for The OA. The States were beginning to tear themselves apart. They signed over their home to Marie’s sister and flew over to London, a week later. First Class seats, all paid for by the band.
They had shared a wonderful life together.
And then, as the second hand finally inched forward, he was there, in Marie’s arms, frozen, together, forever.
As the crowd at The Dyson Space Centre tore each other apart, Anton Wilson, the visionary leader of The Ontological Agnostics had some time to think. The world premiere of All You Need Is Love had been abandoned. The rest of the band had stopped playing. The subliminal Miracle Tone, at 432Hz, was still booming from the huge T-shaped speakers that enclosed the stage. Anton wished someone would turn it off. But no one did. It would play until the end of time, which was scheduled for some time in the next twenty-three minutes.
Anton had time to reflect on the last few years and the odd series of events that had led to the nightmare that was unfolding in front of him. Given the chance, he wouldn’t change a thing, the life he had, the lives he’d touched. But he knew the moment when things started to go horribly right and as chaos engulfed the arena, his thoughts took a meander back to a pawn shop in Dalston.
It was the Spring of 2023 and the band were going nowhere. They lost and gained members like an uncommitted terror-cell. They changed their name with each new moon in an attempt to get gigs at venues that had blacklisted them. It was fun for a while, but it was quickly dawning on them that all the good names were gone and all that was left was slim pickings. Actually, The Slim Pickins was one of their more successful pseudonyms, getting them gigs during the Alt-Blues Revival of 2021. The Slim Pickins was a great name for an authentic delta-blues band, but The Slim Pickins didn’t play the blues, were far from authentic and could only be called a band by the most charitable of souls. The last three band names had been less good for business. The Pretty Boys, The Tentringers and, rather economically, Pretty Boy & The Tentringers, failed to make any impact in their calendars and the bands gap-jobs were increasingly in danger of becoming careers. Anton, for his sins, had been made assistant shift-supervisor at the McDonalds on Kingsland Road. In reality, he was paid an extra 23p an hour to deal with drunks, racists, drunk racists, racist drunks and the occasional, artfully coordinated, flash mob.
He was on his lunch break, at a surely illegal 1:30pm, and he was wandering aimlessly around the neighbourhood trying to get the smell of celery out of his clothes. McDonalds had been a fully vegan restaurant chain for nearly two years now. Not for any ideological reasons. It was more supply chain based. It turned out that British farmers needed all that red tape from Brussels to stop them from feeding their livestock with the brains of their parents. The government took the opportunity to allow some managed decline of certain pockets of the population. The Meet Me At McDonalds haircut had been replaced by a philosopher’s beret or an anarchists red-starred army cap. His autopiloted decompression perambulation took him to B&Js Music Exchange, the place for cheap second-hand instruments when you’re in the mood for a change of direction. He still had about twenty minutes left of his break, so he decided to go in for a browse. He’d been paid the day before and with a couple of wedding band bookings on the horizon, he felt like treating himself. As he reached for the door, his hand was nearly taken off by someone kicking the door open from within. He was a tall, well-built man, with a long grey beard, clearly of advancing years, but also full of spirit. As he wafted past, Anton inhaled a lung full of patchouli oil scent, blended with subtle notes of Moroccan Brown and under the counter incense. Anton turned his head to follow this giant of a man as he headed to the High Street and beyond. As he disappeared out of view, Anton heard him berate an inexperienced survey taker with a firm but fair, “Sorry, but fuck the fuck off.”
“Who the fuck was that, Billy?” Anton enquired of one of the owners.
“That’s Mad Alan, mate” came the reply from Jim in the back.
One day, Anton would get to see the mysterious Jim, always in the back of the shop, making his models and, Anton suspected, compiling anti-establishment pamphlets to secrete in Starbucks and Pret.
“Yeah, Mad Alan,” Billy confirmed, “he bought back this box of tricks. Said he bought it forty-six years ago, but he never really liked it. Wanted to get his money back, but kept forgetting to come in. In the end I gave him a £50 note to stop him smashing the place up. He’s a lovely bloke and all that, but there’s something in his eyes that says ‘Don’t fuck with me. Ever. Right?'”
“What’s in the box then? Anything interesting?”
“It’s a vintage Apple II computer with a Greengate DS3 digital sampler peripheral card and a battered TR-808 drum machine. Still working, or so Mad Alan says, although you might want to get some digital leads if you want to make a go of it. All yours for £230.”
“But you just gave him £50 for it”
“If you don’t want it, someone else will. I won’t even have to put it in the window. By 5pm this evening, I’ll have four trustafarians bidding each other up to a grand, just so they can use it once in one of their oh-so-predictably-eclectic DJ sets. So that’s my exit plan, but they’re all cunts and I was hoping to not sell anything to cunts today.”
“But you’ve got a second-hand music shop in Dalston…”
“Oi! Less of the cheek. I’ll have you know that one of my old regulars is now judging that K-Factor show on Saturday nights.”
“Crackpot? Jack-in-a-box? Something like that.”
“JackPot? You tellin’ me that JackPot used to come in here?”
“Yeah, every day for about a year. He used to work at McDonalds when it still did killing. He only ever bought one thing from me. A microphone. An AT4040 if I remember right. He got hold of a load of collectables from some band and made a fortune on eBay. Well, enough for the AT4040 anyway. After that he never looked back. Do you like him then?”
“He’s alright, not really my kind of thing…”
“…and what is your kind of thing? You’ve had more changes of directions that the HS23. Why don’t you and your boys just settle on one style and stick to it? Or, maybe this box of tricks is the new sound that you’re looking for. All yours for £300.”
“It was £230, two minutes ago.”
“Yes, it was. And the trustafarians are just waking up, putting a knob of butter in their Nescafe and they’ll be down here quicker than you can say ‘Weekend at The Priory’. So, make me an offer, but I want at least £400 now.”
“I can do £99 and an IOU for that Vox Phantom you sold me last month. It’s just not me.”
“Done deal. Shake my hand and the deal will be done… and so will you. Only kidding. I reckon you’ve got yourself a bargain there, mate.”
“How much did he pay?” came the disembodied voice of Jim.
“He paid £99 and that Vox Phantom that you restored last month.”
“You’ve got a bargain there, mate” replied Jim after doing the requisite maths.
“I hope so.” shouted Anton, unsure of exactly where and how far away Jim was and what the most appropriate volume would be.
As Anton scooped the box into his arms, Billy leant across the counter and with a dead-eyed stare whispered,
“Just be careful, will ya. That Mad Alan’s into all sorts.”
“OK… I will…” stuttered Anton. “I’ve got a couple of weddings to do this weekend. so, I’m going anywhere near it until at least Sunday night.
As Anton turned to leave, four Nathan Barley clones walked through the door, talking about some ‘sick redub of R Kelly’ that one of them had knocked up.
“R Kelly? Never heard of him”, said Nathan One.
“Me neither,” laughed Nathan Two, “but my grandmother loves him.”
“Your grandmother’s fit,” scoffed Nathan Three, “I’d do her.”
“I have done her,” interjected Nathan Four as they crowded around a set of bongos.
“Cunts,” mouthed Billy as he winked at Anton.
“Rich cunts”, mouthed Anton as he rubbed his thumb and forefinger together.
After five more hours at work and an awkward tube journey home with his box taking up way too much space, Anton got back to his flat in Ealing. He never took his phone into work, so he always looked forward to getting home and opening his messages. There were three. Two wedding cancellations – one change of heart, one change of partner – and one from his drummer, Phil, to tell him that he was giving up on the band. Again. This wasn’t good. The newly christened Ontological Agnostics – it was a Googlewhack back then – were not in good shape. Now it was just Anton, Nathan on bongos and Nathan’s girlfriend, Amber. Anton seriously considered leaving his own band, but in the end decided to give it another go. After all, they could get at least a few gigs around North London with this new name, maybe more if they play a few in one night before the reviews come out. Besides, he’d just bought a new direction, whatever that new direction was.
He cracked open a bottle of craft ale and waited for it to settle. Grabbing a pair of kitchen scissors, he slit open the parcel tape that sealed the box up. Inside, the box was padded out with fusty remnants from a looked like a fire sale at Affleck’s Palace. The first thing he pulled out was the cable for Apple II which was annoyingly devoid of a plug. The leads for the Roland came next and were equally lacking in plugage. Tight bastards. He fetched a butter knife from the kitchen and deplugged the kettle and the Blu-Ray player. He couldn’t remember that last time he watched a movie, or boiled water for that matter. The fuses from the new plugs didn’t quite match, but he was fairly sure that nothing was going to overload and catch fire tonight, and if it did, then maybe the insurance money would come in handy.
He ran the outputs from the Apple and the Roland through an Amstrad four-track he’d unearthed in Shoreditch and then powered up the Roland. Nothing. Not even an LED. He tried the Apple II which whirred pleasingly for a few seconds and then froze on the loading screen. He returned to the beer. A message came through. Another change of heart. Could he still do the wedding? He filed that in the ‘wait until I’m arsed to reply file’.
More grinding from the Apple. That doesn’t sound healthy.
One moment, please…
One moment, please…
A black screen, then a screen full of green squares.
Then a keyboard appeared on the screen and floated down, one frustrating row of pixels at a time. Keys were highlighted as on-screen messages were typed out.
An Introduction to the Apple II computer…
Copyright 1984 Apple Computer Inc…
A poorly rendered stickman appears between two-line drawn outlines of houses…
The Apple II Computer – – …
helps you at your business and educates and entertains you…
The Apple II works where you do…
In the next few minutes, we’ll show you a little of what this computer can do, but we’ll need your help pressing some keys…
(You’re out there and we’re locked in here) …
It’s quite easy, really. Just get comfortable while we move this keyboard up to the top of the screen and ask you to find the first key…
The on-screen keyboard judders back up to the top.
This is a picture of the Apple keyboard…
Please find the key marked return on the keyboard and press it now…
You can use the key marked esc if you have used this program before…
Anton hit return, simultaneously thrilled and frustrated by the arcane technology.
GOOD! You found the RETURN key fast…
Let’s do it again – – when you finish reading this, pleas press the key marked return to continue…
Anton hit return again. His phone beeped. Another message. It could wait.
Great! Now you know that you press the RETURN key whenever you are finished reading something…
You’ve got the idea!
In general, remember this rule:
When in doubt, press RETURN.
This let’s Apple know that you are ready to proceed…
Take another look at the keyboard…
It looks like a typewriter keyboard with some extra keys – – but it’s much more versatile and easy to use…
When the Apple wants you to type something, it will display a CURSOR, which shows where you will begin typing…
Here is a cursor: >_
Please press RETURN to find out more about this blinking cursor…
Use the Apple keyboard to answer YES to the questions below (no help from the audience please):
Are you using an Apple computer now?
Do you know where the ESC key is?
Would you like to ESC now?
Would you like to DEL now?
Would you like a Number One single?
Anton rubbed his eyes, squinted and then rubbed again. This was odd. He DID want to escape, but he also really wanted a Number One single. He flexed out the fingers of his right hand and typed.
> _ yes
The hard drive whirred again, this time a clean, gearless whoosh. The screen went a deep shade of red. This is new.
Black squares appeared on the red background stacking up a pyramid shape in the centre of the screen.
Across the middle of the pyramid a wider black rectangle formed.
More text appeared.
One letter at a time.
This is an Apple…
This is a Red Apple…
Some Apples are Green…
Some Apples are Blue…
Some Apples are Golden…
But for now, this Apple is Red…
Red and Black…
Black and Red…
Would you like a Number One single?
> _ yes
Are you sure?
> _ yes
You can no longer press ESC
Do you have a disk to insert?
Anton reached over to the pile of fusty clothing that he’d removed from the box. Running it through his fingers he felt the outline of a five-inch disk. He pulled it out of a pocket to reveal its labelled front.
Do you have a disk to insert?
> _ yes
Would you like to run BLK_RM.EXC?
> _ yes
Are you sure?
> _ yes
Would you like to play BLK_RM.MIDI?
> _ yes
Are you sure?
> _ yes
A much too loud guitar chord blastered out of his speakers, then a male voice screamed. Anton adjusted the levels on the mixer, then the TR808 burst into life, playing a drum and bassline to accompany the guitar and vocals. It sounded good. It sounded really good. A plan was hatching in Anton’s mind. He reached into the box and took out The Manual.
Skip forward, eighteen months and The Ontological Agnostics were the biggest band in the world. Anton and the rest of the band were all millionaires several times over. But Anton was not happy. The bands big break came from music they stole from someone else. The BLK_RM.midi file contained three of the biggest selling singles of all time. Demand for their shows was so huge that they played a trilogy of stadiums in a single night in London. But the success was tainted, and Anton wanted nothing to do with the fruits of their stolen songs’ success. His own material was proving popular with the fan base, so he wanted to hit the reset switch on his career timeline.
There was no way he could come clean about the music that came from Mad Alan’s box. He wasn’t sure people would believe him anyway. He would purge his sins by a ritualistic purging of his ill-gotten gains, but what should the purge be? Burning had already been done before and shredding was going to be too time consuming, although Raquel Whiteread had offered her KF23 industrial shredder. Anton finally decided on giving the money away, as a lump sum, to the most deserving cause he could find. But, what?
He placed a full-page ad in The Guardian newspaper declaring that Now Was The Time for The Celebration of Charity, The Democratisation of Donation, The Glamorisation of Generosity. Worthy causes would put forward the case on a website called ThePeopleGive.com. Visitors to the website that could prove British citizenship could vote for one worthy cause. At the end of every day, the bottom half of all the causes were deleted.
Initially there were 8388638 possible beneficiaries. Over the next three and a bit weeks, the applicants were killed just after midnight, every night. There was no limit to the number of votes made from a single IP address, so people took time off work or hired whole teams of data entry specialists to try and stay in the top half of the draw. In fact, anyone not in the Top 200 were deemed to be a hopeless cause.
Charities, businesses and individuals took their cause to the masses, hiring ‘battle buses’ daubed with over-simplified slogans pledging what they would do with Anton’s Billion.
With just four days to go, the final eight could not have been more disparate.
NSPCC – doing it for the kids
RSPCA – doing it for the animals
NHS – half a million more nurses
Hunter Ford – an eccentric entrepreneur who wanted to send an old police car into the asteroid belt, mostly for shits and giggles
Greenpeace – to buy 50 million carbon credits
Piers Morgan – long forgotten journalist who had accused Anton of being ‘a bit of a wally’ and had pledged to give the money straight back if he won
Bingo – an inexplicable everyman who just wanted to get his van MOT’d
Generic Disaster Fund Collection – to provide relief to whatever terrible thing happened in the world next.
It would be fair to say that the nation had become obsessed with the competition. Parliament discussed nothing else, but the government refused to support a single cause. Daytime television was a carousel of finalists each given their five-minute spot to beg for the money. Celebrity ambassadors for the NSPCC and RSPCA nearly came to blows on Loose Women. Morgan and Ford took one-upmanship to unprecedented new lows. Greenpeace activists and NHS doctors staging a sit in at Westminster, inadvertently chained themselves to each other, rather than the railings, and were fork-lifted out of harm’s way. The Disaster Fund Collection representatives argued amongst themselves as to where they expected the money to go, and Bingo, fitted television appearances around his handyman work.
With the shortlist just about to drop from eight to four, Anton received a mysterious, anonymous text message.
The Five were not impressed.
This was not part of The Plan.
Only he could spend his billion.
Breaking the rules would land him in ‘Deep Shit’.
He must await further instructions.
Anton was a little disturbed by the menacing tone of the message, but he was also a little confused.
Who were The Five?
What was The Plan?
Was ‘Deep Shit’ that new quantum computer that IBM had announced and what would being in it entail?
He couldn’t think of anything worse than being stuck inside a computer.
Disturbed, confused and a little rattled, Anton went to his manager, Brown Darren for advice.
“Who are they, The Five?”
“I’ve heard whispers, nothing concrete, but I know they’re not to be messed with. Careers can be wrecked overnight.”
“Can I really pull out of the giveaway, with three days to go?”
“You could, but you’d be finished in this country and probably most of the world.”
“But if I don’t, I’m risking the wrath of The Five and whatever Deep Shit entails.”
“Well, as your friend, I’d say you’re fucked, well and truly fucked, but as your manager, I’d like to point out a potential loophole.”
“A loophole? What loophole?”
“Well your stunt has been good for business. Very good. I wouldn’t be surprised if you all clear another billion each on the back of this stunt.”
“Stunt? It’s not a stunt. I’m deadly serious. This money is tainted and now you’re telling me that trying to give it away has earned me the same again. There’s no loophole here, just a never-ending feedback loop of more money.”
“Yes. Exactly. And that’s the loophole. We know that another billion is on its way to you in about six months after it’s worked its way through the system. So how about we speculate on that to the tune of a billion quid. Invest in futures for The OA and then give the markets a chance to get a piece of it. Your billion gets spent on futures, you raise your giveaway fund with the help of speculators and in a year’s time another billion turns up to starts things all over again. What do you reckon?”
“Well, if you’re sure it will work like you say, then it seems like a way out. How do I get the ball rolling?”
“You don’t. I’ve already done it. I’m not about to let my golden goose wreck everything with an attack of guilt. There’s a brand new billion of investment money resting in your account now. Just don’t forget your PIN.”
“I don’t know what to say. Thank you, I guess. I owe you one.”
“No, you don’t. All taken care of. I took the liberty of taking my ten percent, before the tax man got involved. Now let’s get back to this giveaway. Do you want to know who’s been eliminated today?”
“Yeah, why not.”
“Today’s losers are Greenpeace, NSPCC, RSPCA and that twat Morgan.”
“So, the final four are the NHS, Police Car Nutter, White Van Man and the Disaster Fund Collection, right?”
“That’s right. You have a 50-50 chance of coming out of this smelling like roses”
“Me? How is any of this on me? I just wanted to give the money away. Remove this burden, this millstone around my neck. It’s the people that are deciding this, not me. Fifty million votes every day for the last three weeks. That’s over a billion democratic decisions, as many as every general election for the last 400 years added together. Police Car Guy? White Van Man? This is what happens when you let the public decide. I should have… I should have…”
“Maybe. I liked the shredding idea better. But imagine the shit I would have got for doing that. Everyone thinking they knew the best place for it. Well, I let them choose, and maybe it’ll go to the nutters. But maybe, just maybe, and it’s only a maybe, it’ll end up somewhere where it can do some good.”
The following day, Ford Hunter’s dreams of space travel came to a disappointing end along with those of, rather controversially, the NHS. The promise of half a million more nurses didn’t really hold up to rigorous fact checking. Yes, they afford to train half a million nurses, but there was no money to employ them once they were trained. The Ford Hunter Space Program vowed to raise funding elsewhere.
All eyes were now on the two finalists. The Generic Disaster Fund Collection pulled out all the stops, flying in celebrities from all over the world. There were rumours of Coldplay offering to pay for a new van for Bingo. The public seemed to be behind Bingo. It was a case of Us and Them. But Bingo was nowhere to be seen. His GPS signal disappeared somewhere off the West coast of Scotland.
Votes would be counted right up to midnight on the 22nd and the result announced just a few seconds after. All regular scheduled programming had been replaced by hastily put together live panel discussion shows.
With an hour to go over ninety percent of the population had voted. The pollsters said it was too close to call.
The Chimes of Big Ben would signify both the end of the vote and when the result would be announced.
And then, at five minutes to midnight, a telephone rang in the offices of Channel 23 News, Brownsville, Texas. It was Bingo and he wanted to broadcast to the nation.
Two minutes later, three quarters of the televisions on the planet were broadcasting a low-res picture ripped from Twitter and the live ramblings of one Alan ‘Bingo’ Houseman.
He spoke of his gratitude to everyone that was voting for him. He talked warmly of his friends and family who had suffered under the media’s glare during the last few days. He apologised to all the worthy causes who had missed out, because of people voting for him. As the coverage switched to a split screen of Bingo and the clock tower at Westminster, the phone line crackled and buzzed with low frequency static, drowning out his final ‘Sorry’.
Ant (or Dec) held a finger to their earpiece, while Dec (or Ant) received a golden envelope. The result was in. A world was waiting.
A late surge of votes in the last few minutes had warped the vote to a close, but decisive split of fifty-two to forty-eight percent.
“With fifty-two percent of the vote…”
“And the recipient of one billion pounds in cash…”
“THE GENERIC DISASTER FUND COLLECTION!”
“And here to collect the money is Lucy Taylor of the fantastic charity RESCUE. Lucy… amazing… how does it feel?”
FADE TO BLACK
The back wheels of the van were still spinning.
Full-beam headlights called out in distress to oblivious fishing boats.
Sea water flooded in through the hole made as the roof was punctured by the rocks below.
The van’s engine, clear of the water, would tick over for the next few hours, spluttering, until the emergency services arrived.
No one remembered the forty-eight percent.
FADE TO BLACK
The press room at The Dyson Space Centre was deserted except for a solitary figure hunched over a laptop screen, suspended mid-thought, fingers hovering in the space above the keyboard. A glitch in the ChronoLock had created a looping, syncopated rhythm as the hard drive repeatedly whirled and clicked.
The distinctive bald head of the journalist identified him as Will Gimpertz, veteran Arts Editor for the BBC. The article he was writing was headlined BILLION DOLLAR BONFIRE and subtitled HOW JACK DAWES TOOK ART TO THE END OF THE LINE.
The visible section of the article was as follows:
BILLION DOLLAR BONFIRE
How Jack Dawes Took Art To The End Of The Line
Saigon. 11th June 1963. At the intersection of Phan Đình Phùng Boulevard and Lê Văn Duyệt Street, Thích Quảng Đức emerged from a sky-blue car along with two other monks. One placed a cushion on the road while the second opened the trunk and took out a five-gallon petrol can. As other monks joined and formed a circle around him, Đức calmly sat down in the traditional Buddhist meditative lotus position on the cushion. A colleague emptied the contents of the petrol container over Đức’s head. Đức rotated a string of wooden prayer beads and recited the words “Nam Mô A Di Dà Phât” before striking a match and dropping it on himself. Flames rapidly consumed his robes and flesh, and oily black smoke gushed from his burning body.
Once the fire subsided, a group of monks covered the smoking corpse with yellow robes and removed it from the scene.
Later, the body was re-cremated during a funeral, but Đức’s heart remained intact and would not burn. At the time, US President Kennedy said that “no single news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.”
Over the next seven years, five US citizens were inspired by Đức’s actions. Alice Herz, 82, Norman Morrison, 31, Roger Allen LaPorte, 22, Florence Beaumont, 55, Bruce Mayrock, 20, and twenty-three-year-old George Winne Jr, all doused themselves in kerosene and set themselves alight to protest against the Vietnam War. In Vietnam itself, 23 more Buddhists monks followed the example of Đức before the war was over.
For the rest of the twentieth century, self-immolations occurred across the globe, often in clusters across a few hours or days, in India, China, the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. They were oppressed or displaced citizens, rejected asylum seekers, angry protesters with no way out. They were all, without exception, of sound mind.
Tonight, over half a century later, backstage at The Ontological Agnostics concert, journalists from around the world are attempting to draw parallels between that Vietnamese Buddhist monk and the apparent suicide of artist Jack Dawes.
When Dawes arrived on the art scene, a few years ago, he was hailed as the ultimate outsider artist. With no classical training or art school background, his abstract sculptures hewn from cemented brick stacks spoke for a generation of the trampled hopes and unfulfilled dreams of the working classes. His first major exhibition, BRICK OUT THE JAMS, explored his battle with mental illness and the undiagnosed blackouts during which his sculptures mysteriously manifested. Wooed and courted by the art collecting elite, he soon fell under the spell of The Catashi Foundation who funded and devoured his subsequent work with increasing intensity. After two further installations at Tate Modern, BRICK BY BRICK, a study of the literal division of North America in Flemish Bonded Burnt Clay Brick, and the anti-capitalist ANY COLOUR YOU LIKE, the art community held its breath for his much-anticipated magnum opus, the cryptically named FIRE IN THE HEART.
Rumours abounded that the work was using unique, organic brick materials and was to be unveiled somewhere in the North of England. The rare interviews he gave around the time were often incoherent, full of outlandish claims of secret knowledge and communications with deceased artists.
As the completion date approached, intricate conspiracy theories became mainstream news stories. FIRE IN THE HEART was speculatively decoded as PYRE IN THE MIDDLE or PYR-A-MID, while amateur internet sleuths began to cross-reference and connect the desecration of the graves of many, famous artists across the last 400 years.
Then, on 2nd of March of this year, Dawes shocked the art world and announced his retirement from sculpture and his desire to work as a van driver. Sotheby’s auctioned a single brick, said to have been fired around a GPS transponder containing the location of FIRE IN THE HEART. Bids opened at a world record shattering $500 million dollars and closed a symbolic dollar short of $1 billion, sold to an anonymous consortium. Dawes promptly donated 99% of the sale price to the Venezuelan Disaster Fund Collection and vanished from the spotlight leaving only the faintest trail of brick dust and broken hearted Sugababes.
His self-imposed obscurity lasted for just under six months until he appeared today on grainy security camera footage from The Dyson Space Centre. After several stops at checkpoints, Dawes is seen driving his delivery van through a restricted area to end up directly under the blast zone of the KAOS23 launch pad. Paperwork suggests he perished along with £1 billion in used £50 notes.
The money burning calls to mind the art-pranksters The KLF and their burning a £1 million on the Scottish island of Jura, but in that case, the two artists involved walked away relatively unscathed. What sets this new work from Dawes apart from that earlier money burning is the aspect of self-immolation and sacrifice, putting the artist at the very heart of the art.
No doubt, future forensic art historians will assemble grainy CCTV footage, GPS tracking maps and the ash covered launch pad into an installation of sorts, but the enduring legacy of Dawes’ final work will be its frustrating lack of documentation and instantaneous creation and destruction.
All that will endure will be the idea of it and the question ‘WHY?’
From the centre of the stage Anton looked out towards the sea. The arena was empty. The rest of the band were gone. The flames of the KAOS23 rocket were still illuminating the, otherwise, pitch black night sky.
Twenty-two songs in, the gig was going great. Well worth the money. Wasn’t the money supposed to be handed over before the gig. He needed to check with Brown Darren.
The screaming seemed to have stopped. The only sound he could make out was the ringing in his ears. The exhaust flames of the KAOS23 were now just a yellow-tinged shooting star. He put two fingers to his lips and kissed it goodbye.
As his time finally slowed to a stop, Anton’s thoughts froze on the question that had been troubling him for what already seemed like an eternity and hung in the air like an augmented minor seventh:
‘Where The Fuck Is The Moon?’
RealElon scanned the metrics in front of him. Both Sim#23 and Sim#17 seemed to be frozen but not crashed, both burning up huge amounts of processing power.
There were vast congruencies between the two Sims, differentiated by less than a dozen significant branches in the timelines, but what troubled RealElon the most was that just prior to the critical event, two of these branches left the Earth’s atmosphere leaving hugely anomalous energy signatures in their wake. It was still unclear if the events were linked, but the two events were synced in both Sims and both were proving difficult to get back online.
His thoughts drifted to the last piece of advice that his predecessor, RealTesla had given him.
“You will be faced with many decisions that you must make. Whilst some sims will come apart themselves, some will come close but pull back from the edge. If we are to learn anything from this great experiment it is that sometimes you have to let things go, sometimes you have to let the fires burn.”
Excerpt from Forgotten for a Reason: The Strangest Musicals You’ve Never Heard Of by Kenneth Nussbaum.
As far as true oddities go, one simply cannot ignore Turn up the Strobe. While some expensive flops remain infamously in the minds of the public like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, others get buried by history, collapsing upon themselves under a black hole’s gravity of secrets and shame. Very little is known of this production: the press were kept away during development and those involved were signed to extreme 230-year non-disclosure agreements. We do know that the musical was at one point announced as a jukebox musical built on a catalogue of dance tracks from the Acid House era (1989-1997) and that it suffered from troubled pre-production, with a succession of directors interviewed and rejected while the script was passed from writer to writer, each expected to perform extensive overhauls if not rewrite the work from scratch. Sets were to be lavish, with all surfaces fully automated and capable of any number of lighting and video tricks.
Even the memories of those who attended the show provide few hints: while aspects of the plot tend to align (see below), descriptions of the music and staging diverge wildly despite all attendees having been at the same performance. Our best source of material so far has been in the papers of Arthur Azure, one of the writers engaged with the material, who describes his brief tenure with the production in a series of letters. Their text is included here, as well as excerpts from a few additional items found in his papers.
Despite the attendee claims, Turn up the Strobe may as well be the Polybius of musical theatre: with no videos, photographs, or bootleg recordings, it is hard to believe such an oddity actually occurred and is not just an urban legend as propagated on Twatter. Were it not for the Azure papers and the wider implications of trustworthiness within, making such an assumption would be vastly simpler. If even half of what is suggested within is true, it would make for a fantastic drama.
WE ARE FAMILY
Professor Campbell was throwing up. This was not unusual for her prior to public speaking. But this was the first time she’d thrown up in space, on a ship powered by vanadium travelling at 23% of the speed of light. This was a first alright.
She splashed her face with water, popped in a mint and pondered a suitable outfit to wear. The circumstances of their departure meant that she hadn’t had time to pack. A bright yellow KAOS23 (abbreviated to K23) T-shirt was the best she could find.
There was no script. But there was a structure. A beginning. A set-up. Some problems. Some resolutions. She hadn’t figured out the ending yet. Maybe it would come to her. Maybe she didn’t need an end.
The crew, along with Camacho and Lucy, formed an audience of sixty-nine, everyone desperate to know what the fuck was going on.
She had some answers, but not enough to answer all their questions. But she was the only one who knew enough to make some sense of all this chaos.
A cough, another sip of water and a deep, cleansing breath. Time to start. Start at the beginning.
“Around 45 billion years ago, Gaia, our infant Earth collided with a Mars sized planet called Theia. The resulting collision created our peculiarly oversized moon, just the right size to kick start life on Earth, and the bulk of the molten mass fused to form the planet Earth that we know today. Now Theia was a wandering planet, conceived outside of our Solar System and as a result it had a very different make-up to our neighbouring planets. For reasons we are now only beginning to understand, Theia was very rich in the element Vanadium, V23. This molten Vanadium refused to mix with the iron-nickel alloys that now make the Earth’s inner core. The tetrahedral geometry inherent in our planetary systems sphere caused the V23 to cluster into a thick vein circling the globe at an angle of 23 degrees to magnetic North.
For billions of years this vein lay dormant, until the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event ruptured it and the element became energised. Vanadium 23 has properties very similar to quartz in that with the right stimulus it can produce a consistent, unerring pulse with a frequency of precisely one second. That stimulus is 32768 Hz or 2 raised to the 15th power. Now the ripple caused by the whatever smashed into South America, at Chicxulub, lasted for many millennia. When you drop the equivalent pebble of several million nuclear bombs in a pond, you’re going to make waves. These waves soon settled down at a frequency of 23231 Hz and this did strange and wonderful things to the Vanadium. Rather than pulse like the quartz, it had the effect of altering time around it. Time, or at least our perception of time, began to behave anomalously along the Vanadium line and our planet was changed forever.
All along this line, evolution was given a boost of amplified time. What would have taken millions of years to evolve naturally, developed over millennia. We owe our very existence to those time-warping Vanadium deposits. All along the Vanadium line, there were significant events in our human journey.
Starting in the vicinity of Reykjavik, the Vanadium line goes through the Western Isles of Scotland, it passes through the UK, through Liverpool, Stratford and Brighton. Onto continental Europe it passes under Rouen and Paris in France, then through Geneva and Northern Italy. From there it goes through the great cultural centres of Rome, Athens and Cairo before finishing in the cradle of humanity that is Ethiopia.
For thousands of years, man has unwittingly tapped into the catalysing power of the Vanadium and then built and developed architecture and technology to channel its power.
The Ark Of The Covenant, that resides in a church in Axom, Ethiopia, actually contains a huge, perfect cube of Vanadium crystal, said to still be vibrating at 23231 Hz. The name Axom has the same roots as axis and axiom and denotes the one true power that influences our world.
North North West, or 23 degrees from North. The Great Pyramids of the Giza Plateau were originally covered in polished Vanadium crystal that allowed the Egyptians to manipulate time and space.
In Ancient Greece, The Pythagoreans made music from Vanadium vessels filled with different measures of water, the frequencies inherent in their crystalline structures harmonising to make the most intoxicating of sounds.
Across the Ionian Sea and into Rome, where successive Emperors baffled their enemies with the rapid production of huge, well-trained armies, the Catholic Church set up shop above a particularly concentrated Vanadium deposit. In war and religion, it pays to have time on your side.
Up through Northern Italy, we encounter the only known Vanadium springs, where molten V23 bubbles to the surface, rich with time controlling properties. At Damanhur, these springs fuelled their time-travel experiments.
Next we pass through Switzerland, Geneva to be precise, but I’ll come back to that later, as that is where I had most of my Vanadium exposure.
In Paris, the Vanadium line forms the basis of the axis of the great city, from La Louvre in the East, through the Vanadium topped obelisk at Place De La Concorde, up the Champs Elysées and through the great portals of L’Arche De Triumph and La Defence. In Rouen, Jeanne D’Arc was burned as a heretic for her exploitation of Vanadium in battle.
Across the English Channel, the V23 line skewers the great creative hubs of Brighton (Bright Time), Stratford (Straight Forward) and Liverpool (Life Vanadium Pool), until it passes through Isle of Jura infusing the whiskey with mysterious notes that inspire the most outlandish of endeavours. On Jura, an ancient monument to man’s relationship with Vanadium stands to this day in the shape of the weather worn Future Stone.
Finally, the planet’s artery of Vanadium comes to an end in a volcano, North North West of Reykjavik, its dormancy interrupted occasionally by Vanadium rich dust clouds emanating from the crater and sprinkling time-manipulating magic over a blissfully unaware population.
Ever since the end of the Second World War, scientists have sought to harness the power of this mysterious element. The expansion west of the Soviet Union was an ill-fated attempt to gain access, but for nearly half a century V23 research has been limited to the area between Turin and Geneva, or more precisely, Damanhur and CERN.
While the Damanhurians focussed on the intricacies of personal time travel, the twenty-three nations collaborating at CERN have been concerned with large scale industrial applications. Although deliberately untraceable back to CERN, the fruits of this research have included innovations as varied as electric cars, time-slowing prison drugs, stealth technology and smartphones. Anyone with any doubts about this should tally the amount of time humanity has wasted on these pocket sources of Vanadium over the last decade.
My work at CERN exploited the time-bending properties of Vanadium to conduct vast experiments that would normally take centuries to carry out, in a matter of minutes, by running the clock forward in carefully designed timepods. Outside of the pods, time meandered forward to the pulse of quartz, but inside was a sub-atomic fast-forward exercise, and it was in one of these timepods that I created my first universe. Although it was fleetingly instable, we ultimately harnessed the colossal entropy gains to develop the KAOS23 engine that is powering this very ship.
There were some catastrophes along the way that had to be covered up. A series of deadly explosions involving a team of Canadian scientists working around the Swiss Vanadium springs in Chiery and Salvan (Salvation through Vanadium) we’re dressed up to look like Solar Temple cult mass suicides and the Germanwings A230 crash over the French Alps that was attributed to suicidal co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, was actually an unmonitored Vanadium plume that knocked the airplane out of time and space.
As our experiments grew in size, it was important to develop a failsafe mechanism to prevent our processes from running out of control. Our solution was the ChronoLock Protocol, using Vanadium to stop time across the planet until a time where the disaster could be averted. For this to work, scientists and world leaders would have to be isolated from the effects in underground bunker complexes like those beneath CERN or be blasted into space, far away from the reach of the ChronoLock. That, I’m afraid, is the position we find the Earth in today. Your revelations on stage ushered in some kind of global crisis and those in authority took the decision that there was no other way out for the planet. For example, the UK’s ChronoLock Station hides in plain sight in the cultural quarter of Liverpool accessed originally through an inconspicuous manhole cover. Ultimate authority of the ChronoLock resides with the Damanhurians. The ChronoLock can only be networked across the planet by utilising the Earth’s synchronic lines. The Synchronic Lines comprise a communication system that connects all of the heavenly bodies where life is found. On Earth, eighteen main Synchronic Lines connect to each other through minor lines. The eighteen main lines join together at the north and south poles to form a single line at each pole that projects into the universe. Anything that does not have a physical body can travel through the Synchronic Lines, such as thoughts, energies, emotions and soul structures that are going to inhabit a physical body for a new incarnation. It also includes soul structures that are traveling toward the Threshold after death, and so on. The network of Synchronic Lines is like the central nervous system of the universe and each individual planet. Being in contact with the Synchronic Lines means being at the centre of a flow of thought and information, which can be extremely inspiring. It is possible to contribute to this flow through awareness and the ability to direct one’s thoughts. The reason why Damanhur was founded in the Canavese area of Italy is precisely because of the presence of four Synchronic Lines, which can be contacted through the Temples of Humankind, enhanced by the rich Vanadium deposits. Vanadium has tremendous superconductor capabilities. Damanhur is one of two places on the planet where four Synchronic Lines converge; the other one is in Tibet.
They would have built CERN there as well, but they struggled with the planning permission. Geneva were far more welcoming and Swiss Neutrality seemed to rubber stamp the decision of where to construct what could, in the wrong hands, the ultimate weapon. Unfortunately, in a rush to green light construction there was some last-minute oversights that have led to some more malevolent forces taking hold of CERN.
To begin with, the complex is centred on the site of an ancient Roman Temple of Apollyon. Apollyon is the Greek name for Abaddon, which appears in the Bible as both a place of destruction and the angel of the abyss.
Revelation 9:11. To him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit… And they had a kind over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.
In the Hebrew Bible, Abaddon is used with reference to a bottomless pit, often appearing alongside the place named Sheol, meaning the realm of the dead.
Job 26:6: the grave (Sheol) is naked before Him, and destruction (Abaddon) has no covering.
Job 28:22: destruction (Abaddon) and death say.
Job 31:12: it is a fire that consumes to destruction (Abaddon).
Psalm 88:11: Shall thy loving kindness be declared in the grave (Sheol) or thy faithfulness in destruction (Abaddon)?
Proverbs 15:11: Hell (Sheol) and Destruction (Abaddon) are before the LORD, how much more the hearts of the children of men?
Proverbs 27:20: Hell (Sheol) and Destruction (Abaddon) are never full; so, the eyes of man are never satisfied.
Abaddon’s Tarot symbol is Judgement and in the Key Of Solomon, Moses brings forth the power of God to flood Egypt, by addressing God as ‘Abaddon.’ As an individual, interpretations of Abaddon range from that of the resurrected Christ, through a host of demons, in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, to the Devil himself, but in all versions Abaddon is regarded as a strictly end-times kind of guy.
This could have been shaken off as some terrible coincidence, but when CERN was celebrating fifty years of the exploration of sub-atomic particles, they unveiled a two-metre-high statue of the Hindu god Shiva, a gift from the Government of India. A plaque next to the statue, with a quote by Fritjof Capra, explained its significance:
“Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics.”
Writing about the statue, a post-doc student working at CERN wrote:
“So, in the light of day, when CERN is teeming with life, Shiva seems playful, reminding us that the universe is constantly shaking things up, remaking itself and is never static. But by night, when we have more time to contemplate the deeper questions Shiva literally casts a long shadow over our work, a bit like the shadows on Plato’s cave. Shiva reminds me that we still don’t know the answer to one of the biggest questions presented by the universe, and that every time we collide the beams we must take the cosmic balance sheet into account.”
Carl Sagan was one of the first to introduce the idea of an overlap of scientific and ancient religious thinking. He said: “Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, no doubt, by accident, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half of the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still.”
The Shiva statue was the focal point of a mysterious late-night ritual that was carried out in 2016. A group of five mysterious figures in dark robes adorned with flames appeared to carry out a ritual sacrifice of a young woman. The CERN intern that recorded the footage disappeared without a trace.
Extensive analysis of the recording has offered little in the way of clues as to the identity of those involved. There are four individuals that actively participated. Two females and two bearded males. A fifth member of the group is only seen to be there in a passive, observing capacity, although some have speculated that they are in fact orchestrating the whole ritual.
Despite leaked camera phone footage suggesting the ceremony took over ten minutes, CERN’s own CCTV found nothing except for a glitch in the recording, that showed what could be the outlines of five cloaked intruders, that appears at 00:00:23 for a tenth of a second.
A curious footnote to this story involves the mother of the missing CERN intern. Whilst visiting an exhibition of Rembrandt’s paintings in New York, she was struck by the likeness of one of the characters in Rembrandt’s Night Watch to her son. Although her initial, hysterical reaction was diagnosed as a symptom of grief, her persistent return visits to the exhibition drew the attention of Professor Skrik, a scholar of Rembrandt’s work, who announced to an indifferent world that the image of her son was not in the original artwork.
Archives were checked and the claims were debunked and filed away into a quiet part of the Internet almost immediately, but the scholar protested that he was right until his disappearance a few months later. The missing persons case was investigated by NYPD’s finest, Detectives Goodman and Muldoon, who quickly dropped the case due to a lack of physical evidence.
The only scrap of anything out of the ordinary that was recovered from Skrik’s apartment was some dried orange paint that was dated to the late nineteenth century. Any resemblance of Professor Skrik to characters in famous Norwegian oil paintings is purely down to advanced stages of apophenia.
The Rembrandt mystery still circulates as part of the Mandela effect discussion, and the vast majority of phenomena are just down to pop culture misremembering at the time, but there are a few that carry the fingerprints of CERN experiments.
Time travel is incredibly difficult to achieve and even more difficult to prove. Once CERN had got the Vanadium coils to behave as they should, they tried a few low-key experiments like placing a Swiss watch inside a sealed four-hundred-year-old tomb in China or bringing Nicolas Cage a hundred and twenty-three years forward in time. But the real prize was travelling forwards in time and for that they needed more funding, and more funding meant getting their hands dirty.
At the tail end of the 1980s, there was a sense amongst those in power that a change was coming. The CIA orchestrated collapse of the Soviet Union was having some undesirable side effects. Ordinary people were developing thoughts of empowerment that were not conducive to The Plan.
One such undesirable uprising was predicted for South Africa. The Nelson Mandela that was imprisoned on Robben Island in 1964 was becoming more and more statesmanlike in his jail cell. He was meeting international dignitaries on a weekly basis and he was using his permitted 52 letters per year to disseminate his vision for a new South Africa. Each month that passed saw another awareness raising concert and another honorary presidency of a student union. He needed to be silenced without anyone noticing. Could the scientists at CERN help?
Those consulted at CERN were not interested in time-travelling assassins, but they reasoned that they could do something about Mandela’s profile. They would travel back to the mid-eighties and plant a story about the death of Mandela in his jail cell. The operative travelled back at midnight between the 22nd and 23rd of June. Regardless of the month, this was always the time chosen for what was referred to a ChronoJumps. The potential within these dates was noticed not just around equinoxs and solstices, but also in the transition between star signs. This was knowledge that was as old as civilisation itself.
The Mandela story was fed to all the main media outlets, pitched as a leak that South Africa wanted to plug and, consequently, the story went out for one night only, with no follow up on the funeral. The deed was done.
The impact was immediate but also short-lived. The letter writing continued, the protest concerts doubled in frequency and the memory of Mandela’s death became an odd, misremembered fact that confused a few people. Nevertheless, CERN got its funding and the dials were recalibrated for the future. But there was a problem.
It was ascertained that time is only accessible in discrete pockets of around a quarter of a century in length. There was a total of four hundred volunteers sent forward in time between 1990 and 1996. ChronoJumps were made to each of the next eight pockets, but no subjects were able to return. They were despatched with credentials that would allow them access to the CERN facility in the future and secret protocols were put into place for their arrival. It should have been possible. The hypothesis was watertight. But no one came back.
The ChronoJump team speculated on the apparent failure of the missions and settled on five possible outcomes:
(i) the subject died during the ChronoJump.
(ii) the subject decided to stay in the future
(iii) the subject could not access CERN
(iv) for some undetermined reason, CERN was no longer operational
(v) the universe and, in effect, time had ceased to exist
The first four outcomes were dismissed as being a bit dull and CERN didn’t do dull. The fifth outcome was a little more exciting, but CERN were fairly certain that if the universe and, in effect time had ceased to exist, they would have seen it coming. A collective shrug was offered and the ChronoJump programme put on hold.
Finally, twenty-three years after the last attempted ChronoJump, the scientists at CERN got their answer.
Someone had immanentized the eschaton and not told anyone.
CERN were not impressed. If anyone was going to be doing any immanentizing of the eschaton it was going to be them. It was kind of their signature move. It was just that they’d never carried it out.
Almost overnight, all the data from the LHC, the FCC and the RFLHC began to point to an event in the Spring of 2019. Things were different. Not better. Not worse. Just different. Those ChronoJumps in the 90s may well have been successful, but the future the volunteers had been sent to was not this one. For them the eschaton remained unimmanentized.
The events leading up to the immanentization, began back on December 21st, 2012. The date was the centre of much speculation at the beginning of the 21st century, after a Mayan to-do list was misinterpreted as a prediction of the end of the world. Never one to miss an opportunity to tempt fate, CERN scheduled their most ambitious experiment to date for the day of the predicted Mayan apocalypse, and like most breakthroughs at CERN at the time, this was to be blamed on Higgs.
Professor Higgs had been using the LHC since the middle of the year to search for what was eventually called Higgs-Bosons, sub-atomic particles that gave atoms, and by extension, everything else, their mass. Present everywhere in the universe where matter exists, they had been notoriously tricky to pin down. In terms of being difficult to find, they were specks of next to nothing on a background of Anish Kapoor’s Vantablack, which got most of its nothingness properties from a trace of vanadium. Whilst mainstream journalists christened it the God Particle, Higgs hated the idea and privately referred to it as Black Mass, but CERN’s PR department settled on the more vanilla Higgs-Boson. The experiments had rapidly pushed the LHC to breaking point. The Terra-electron volts of energy being used was having repercussions further up the Vanadium Line. The Northern Lights had become supercharged, the UK saw summer rain that never seemed to end, and The Shard sprang up from the ancient streets of Southwark like an explosion in time, space and architecture.
Despite generous gifts to humanity like the internet, CERN, and what lay underground, had stayed, well, underground. CERN had effectively just powered up a huge neon sign declaring REALITIES CHANGED HERE, and like moths to a flame, any group with a desire to change, remould or reset reality were drawn to the French-Swiss border. Who actually managed to immanentize the eschaton remains unknown, but whoever it was, it is safe to blame it on Higgs.
Protocols are a big deal at CERN. It’s the only way that risk assessments get signed off. Protocols for fires. Protocols for chemical spills. Protocols for exogenesis. The Gotthard tunnel was constructed an escape route for any fledgling universe, but until it was needed it doubled as a useful link in the Rotterdam-Basel-Genoa freight corridor. But there wasn’t a protocol for the immanentization of the eschaton by an unknown third party.
Six weeks later, a plan was ready. A volunteer for a ChronoJump was found. They were sent back to 2010 to set up the Arch Mission Foundation (AMF), an organisation tasked with ‘backing up’ the Earth’s combined knowledge of the last billion years and placing it in locations around the Solar System and beyond. The first step, a Lunar Library, left the planet in the weeks prior to the immanentization event. Not to be outdone, an independent group of free-thinking scientists in Liverpool added their own collection to the permanent record of humanity, albeit a little more counter-culture in nature. Elon Musk’s Space X rocket delivered payloads of slightly more alternative literature to the Dark Side of The Moon and Saturn’s Titan moon.
And so, it came to pass: the Toxteth Cool Book Depository was truly out there.
With CERN’s legacy safely spreading throughout the Solar System, their attention turned to another facet of the SMiiLE philosophy. Space Migration was prioritised to happen sooner rather than later and not just to our neighbouring planets, who all seemed to be dreadful places, not the kind of place to raise your kids at all.
We needed to travel further, faster and luckily for us, my team developed this KAOS23 engine that was our way out of the ChronoLocked Earth. I expect us to reach the Kuiper Belt within a week or so and after that were in the hands of something that a humble scientist like myself cannot begin to understand.
Padre Camacho and Lucy have a plan. I suggest we listen to them and do all that we can to help them.”
Professor Campbell took a deep breath, along with the rest of the crew. Her delivery had been at breakneck speed, unscripted, from the heart. The climax of her life’s work. She knew what was coming next. Camacho had a very different take on their current reality and where they were heading. But it was important to take on board different viewpoints and philosophies.
Even those that involved the dreams of mythical beasts.
“Hola! My name is Padre Rodrigo Camacho. I am a Catholic priest from Venezuela, but I am not here with a message from God. A few years ago, I had a revelation about our reality. It took me on a journey. There were many signposts along the way, and they all directed me to where we are now.
At this moment, your thoughts may be with your families and loved ones. The world we left behind is not lost. Our journey will take us home, but our hope is that we can return to a safer, more secure reality.
This reality is holographic. Each of us, each piece, represents the whole. Your loved ones are still with you. You will carry them with you until they are reborn.
The revelations that swept through the crowd this evening have alerted The Dark Dreamer. He knows that we know, and we know he knows that we know. But our voyage away from our home has bought us some time.
We are looking for a way out of this reality and my hope is that by leaving this reality we can safeguard its future. At present, our existence is in a fragile state. Our journey’s end will be the beginning of our future.
Professor Campbell has made clear the debt we have to science. I do not wish to challenge anything that she has explained. But it is important that you appreciate that this mission will involve travel in both outer space and inner space.
Our territory is liminal space. We are all embarking on a rite of passage. Van Gennep proposed three distinct phases.
Separation. Liminality. Incorporation.
Our separation is obvious.
We now stand at the threshold between our understanding of time.
There is no time but the present.
This present will define our past and create our future.
But at present, there is no future.
What happens next will not make sense.
What happens next will require a leap of faith.
What happens next was always going to happen.
I know we will succeed.
I know this because we are here.
I know this because I remember.
I encourage you all to remember our success.
It will inform our actions and guide our souls.
Thank you for your time.”
The crew had listened patiently, but they were getting restless. They had been promised answers, but now they had questions.
“Where are we going?”
“How long will it take?”
“Are we still getting paid for this?”
“What was that priest talking about?”
“What have they done to the Earth?”
“Where the fuck has the Moon gone?”
Sensing the mood of the room, Professor Campbell returned to the lectern. But before she could address the crew, she was approached by Captain Clark. He had the look of a man well out of his depth.
“It’s Titan. It’s Saturn. They’ve… gone.”
“We are now outside of the dream. The planets and their moons are just projections of The Dreamer.”
“But…but… my wife… my family… the whole Titan community…”
“Remember, Captain. Remember my words. They are not gone. You will be with them again and you will be together for an eternity.”
“OK… I’m trusting you on this… I don’t really have a choice… but how do you explain our speed?”
Campbell sensed she was back in more familiar territory.
“What do you mean? What’s happening?”
“Our speed… there are no longer any metrics for it… but we ARE still moving… you can see it in the stars.”
“The stars? For us they should be fixed points. They are so far away, they should remain in their place relative to us, like a space horizon.”
“Well, they are not fixed points anymore.”
“Show me. Padre, you better come too. Right now, you’re making a lot more sense of things than me. Right now, you’ve got all the answers”
My dear sister,
Did I ever tell you about my friend Jonno? The one who works on and off for various producers around the West End? No? Well, he does and um yeah, I’ll skip over how we met and how our meetings usually go in town. You can probably guess.
It’s 11:23 in the morning and suddenly Jonno’s ringing me up on Skype. “Hang on,” I think. “He’s never up before noon, let alone in the office.” I plug in the headset and answer.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Don’t ask. I’ve… er… got a bit of an emergency on my hands here with work. I was wondering…”
This wasn’t going to be good. While I know people in this and that area of the business and happily send them work, any theatrical projects I’ve directly been involved in tend to be cursed – as you’re well aware.
“Need someone to work dep?”
“Sort of. I was wondering… are you free to come to London for a few days?”
“Eh? For what?”
“You know that rave musical everyone’s been mumbling about?
3 AM Eternal?”
“Oh, the one that got instant scorn as soon as it was announced as existing?”
“That one. Technically, it still doesn’t exist… We’re… erm… having some problems with the script.”
“OK… So, you need an editor or a script doctor?”
“I need a bloody hospital’s worth of specialists. This thing’s a mess beyond belief and unless someone with a real no-bullshit mentality comes in and stands their ground, it’s going to close before the end of act one.”
I wanted nothing to do with it.
“I dunno, mate, I’m pretty busy these days.”
“Art, you’re only busy because you count afternoon naps as an activity. This is five weeks of work and there’s so much money pumping through it that you won’t have to work for at least 23 months after, even if it shits the bed on opening night.”
“Seriously? Where’d a troubled musical get that kind of cash?”
“I can’t say. At least talk to my connection on this? I feel bad after what happened to your last gig and want to help you out.”
My last gig. I’ve lost count of how many times my shows have lost their funding.
“This could be your big break. Even if it explodes, the press on this thing will at least get you noticed.”
Noticed… but for what? The money did sound appealing, though, and what’s wrong with a phone call?
“Fine. Give your guy my number and my email and I’ll think about it.”
“Great, buddy. I owe you one.”
17 minutes later, my mobile goes off.
“Hello, Arthur? This is Colin Wellington.”
I was impressed. Colin Wellington had produced four West End shows in the last year. None of them were major hits, but they were all well reviewed. What was someone with his taste doing on what looked like the biggest disaster this decade?
“Um, hi. Jonno told me you were calling. I’m a bit confused about the project, though.”
“Oh, aren’t we all? Lots of hush hush. Don’t worry, it’ll be incredible once it’s on its feet.”
“Right. So… what are you actually looking for?”
“Well, we need someone to take a fresh go at the script. We’ve got a solid base there, but someone has to connect the dots, as it were. There are quite a lot of big splashy things and grand themes, but we need someone who can really drill into the characters.”
“That’s honestly not what I do. High end dialogue’s really out of my ballpark – sending notes back to a scriptwriter, sure, but more often than not I’m writing community panto here.”
“Yes, I’ve read a couple. Johnny Appleseed was quite clever – impressive how you did it for the yanks.”
Where the hell did he get those? And why did he pick the oldest one? Christ, I’ve even become a hack by panto standards.
“We want you, though, because of your association with a certain group. You are, I believe, a member of The 400?”
Of course. The Dark Ages. When old 90’s ravers came together to make art in the name of contemporary Discordianism.
“You see, not only are we using music associated with that group, but the show is actually an adaptation of the book Forever by your fellow member, Mr. Andy Gell.”
I knew Andy, but not closely. I had a copy of his books somewhere, and he’d been supportive of my video art, always present with a smile and a friendly chat at our 400 family reunions.
“Anyway, you’d be joining a truly incredible team. We’ve got Ivo van Hove’s former assistant directing. Knows all the tricks but manages to put a fresh spin on all of it. And our designs – John Napier wishes he could come up with our designs.”
“And this is one of yours? The coverage doesn’t really mention the producers…”
“Well… not really. I’m taking a rather small minority role in exchange for providing contacts and things. It’s a first timer, very big in the art world but not so much in the theatre.”
“What’s the deadline like?”
“The script needs to be done for the start of technical rehearsals on 23 September. Curtain goes up on 23 November.”
I could hear the uncomfortable squirming on the other end of the phone.
“Going out of town first? That makes sense, given… oh duh, no NDA.”
“Indeed. Let’s just say it will be the event of the century. The quintessential social adventure, as it were.”
“But I’m expected to come to London?”
“Just for a couple days to drop in on rehearsal and meet the ca—“
“Everything all right?”
“Sorry, notification buzz.”
“That will be our leading producer with your contract and plane tickets. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
I sat down at the computer and opened my email. SHIT-CAA LTD had sent five emails in rapid succession. One was indeed plane tickets for the next morning from Tegel to London City. Not bad – one of BA’s few short haul routes where you still get a cup of tea.
The second was notice that a very large advance had been paid into my bank account. Strangely, it wasn’t my usual escrow for project advances but my actual account. That would have to get fixed.
The third and fourth emails were asking why I hadn’t signed the contract yet and were signed by someone named “Charles.”
The fifth email contained a PDF that barely made it under Googlebytemail’s attachment limits: the contract.
I wish I was joking when I said this was the longest contract I’ve ever seen. Still, 115 dual-column pages, with a couple of charts that make differential equations rendering in MATLAB look mundane, is nothing to be trifled with and flipping through it told me one very important thing: get a lawyer before signing anything.
I scanned through the document to find some key bits of information and sure enough, on page 46 was a name that put 2 and 2 together. And it was not a name I was bound to trust.
Two new messages popped up on my email: both were agitated and increasingly sweary, from “Charles,” asking why I hadn’t signed my fucking contract yet. I stared at my increasingly flooded email box and knew exactly who to call.
It’s 17:23 and I am sitting in the office of one of the most expensive and ruthless lawyers in all of Germany. He plops himself down in a plush leather chair across from me: every aspect of this image costs more than I earn in months, if not years.
“You present me with something most interesting. It was very wise of you to make this decision.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Naja, I have not had the time to read it. But knowing the source, it would be totaler Blödsinn to accept it as-is.”
We chat for a bit about the morning’s events, going back and forth between German and English.
“He’s been sending me an email almost every other minute for the last six hours asking where it is. Verdammt nervig. Can we do anything to get him off my back?”
“Natürlich. We will draft for you something minimal: You agree to start work but nothing is official until negotiations are complete. Then you go to London, get a better opinion of the situation, maybe back out if things are as bad as you say. Though I warn you, the man behind this contract is not used to being told no. He will do anything to get what he wants in this field.”
“So I’ve heard. I’m surprised he doesn’t have you on his payroll as well. He seems to get everything he wants, eventually.””
“We do not like his methods. Here, we live under the rule of law – so the rich prefer to pay for lawyers over extralegal means.”
“Then it’s a pleasure doing business with you.”
“The pleasure, mein Herr, is my client’s.”
“Don’t you mean…”
“No. I don’t.”
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD
On 1 June 2007, For the Love of God by Damien Hirst went on display in an illuminated glass case in a darkened room on the top floor of the White Cube gallery in Hoxton Square, London, with heavy security. It was part of the exhibition ‘Beyond Belief’ in which Hirst continued to explore the fundamental themes of human existence – life, death, truth, love, immortality and art itself.
For The Love Of God is a platinum cast of a purportedly eighteenth-century skull, in-laid with 8601 flawless diamonds, and uses genuine human teeth.
Art historian Rudi Fuchs described the work as “out of this world, celestial almost. It proclaims victory over decay. At the same time, it represents death as something infinitely more relentless. Compared to the tearful sadness of a vanitas scene, the diamond skull is glory itself.”
Richard Dorment, art critic of The Daily Telegraph wrote: “If anyone but Hirst had made this curious object, we would be struck by its vulgarity. It looks like the kind of thing Harrods might sell to credulous visitors from the oil states with unlimited amounts of money to spend, little taste, and no knowledge of art. I can imagine it gracing the drawing room of some African dictator or Colombian drug baron. But not just anyone made it – Hirst did. Knowing this, we look at it in a different way and realise that in the most brutal, direct way possible, For the Love of God questions something about the morality of art and money.”
The work was eventually sold on 30 August 2007, for £50 million, to an anonymous consortium, who paid in cash, leaving no paper trail.
On August 23rd, 2030, For The Love Of God was inside a vacuum sealed glass display case alongside a rock-crystal skull from Mexico and a solid gold skull of Inca origin.
The story of how it got there is one of time-travel, grave robbing and one man’s obsession with triptychs, but at its heart is a tragic tale of innocence and misplaced loyalty.
Charles was born in 1922 on Kanawa Island, Japan, the son of wealthy textile merchant. As a child he was fascinated by myths and legend, not only those of his native country, but also those of the West.
He studied Fine Art and Comparative Mythology at Oxford, but he had to abandon his studies in his second year when Japan entered the Second World War.
His father’s factories were co-opted by the military for the production of parachutes, medical supplies and uniforms and, to avoid the draft, he was made the manager of one of the plants on the mainland.
And so, it was that Charles found himself making an early morning courtesy call to the Shima Hospital.
Charles had always been an early riser, preferring to accomplish his goals for the day before noon. His colleagues often joked that he was ahead of his time. Charles just saw it as making the most of his time. A busy morning made time for an afternoon of study that was rewarded by an evening of leisure. His wealth, education and good looks made him one of Japan’s most eligible bachelors and he was determined to make the most of his time in the sun.
Today’s schedule had meant that Charles had to leave the gathering he was at the previous evening early. This wasn’t the first time and his sudden disappearances only enhanced his enigmatic persona.
Today was also his birthday, something that had not been missed by the hospital administrators. Birthdays were not traditionally celebrated in Japan at the time, but the hospital knew how important it was to ingratiate themselves to one of their most important suppliers. The hospital’s founder Doctor Kaoru Shima was away assisting a colleague with an operation at another hospital and so Charles met with Shima’s eldest son instead.
Starting at around seven o’clock, Charles’ visit had involved an inspection of the hospital’s storage facilities, as well as its textile disposal department.
At the same time, the pilot of the Straight Flush weather plane delivered a coded message stating
“Cloud cover less than 3/10ths at all altitudes. Advice: bomb primary.”
Charles thanked the hospital for their warm welcome and collected his coat. This was the cue for the presentation of the gift. Doctor Shima’s secretary reached under her desk and pulled out a magnificent bonsai Juniper tree. Charles received the gift gratefully; this would sit beautifully on the balcony of his apartment.
Control of the Enola Gay was handed over to the bombardier, Thomas Ferebee, as the bomb run began. A Radio Hiroshima operator reported that three planes have been spotted. Colonel Paul Tibbets told his crew, “On glasses.”
Bombardier Ferebee’s aiming point, the T-shaped Aioi Bridge, was in clear range. The 60-second sequence to automatic release of the bomb was engaged with the Norden bombsight. Luis Alvarez, one of the Manhattan Project’s senior scientists aboard The Great Artiste, released two pressure gauges on parachutes in order to determine the bomb’s yield. People on the ground, looking at the single bomber, six miles above, naively observed the small objects as they floated down.
The bomb bay doors snapped open, and Little Boy dropped clear of its restraining hook. Ferebee announced, “Bomb away.” The nose of the Enola Gay rose ten feet as the 9700 pound Little Boy bomb was released at 31,060 feet. Tibbets immediately pulled the Enola Gay into a sharp 155 degree turn to the right. Ferebee watched the bomb wobble before it picked up speed and fell away.
On the ground, an air raid alert was called for. For an additional 44.4 seconds, the Enola Gay continued to fly North as the bomb dropped towards its aiming point. When the designated detonation altitude was reached, Little Boy exploded over the city of Hiroshima.
At the time of the detonation, the Enola Gay was already eleven and a half miles away. Tibbets, with his back to the explosion, observed a silver blue flash and experienced a strange feeling in his mouth, the same feeling as if he had touched the lead and silver fillings in his mouth with a fork.
Bob Caron, the tail gunner of the Enola Gay, was the only crew member facing Hiroshima at the time of detonation. He saw a shimmer in the atmosphere coming towards the plane. Not understanding what was happening, Caron remained quiet. Soon after, the first of the three consecutive shockwaves struck the Enola Gay and the fuselage creaked and groaned with the sound of crinkling aluminum foil.
After falling nearly six miles in forty-three seconds, Little Boy exploded 1,968 feet above the Shima Hospital, 550 feet away from the preferred aiming point of the Aioi Bridge. Nuclear fission began in 0.15 microseconds with a single neutron, initiating a supercritical chain reaction that increased the temperature to several million degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the surface of the sun at the time the bomb casing blew apart. The yield was 12.5-18 Kt.
It was the peak of the morning rush hour in Hiroshima. Above the city, the fireball was rapidly expanding.
The fireball expanded to one hundred feet in diameter combined with a temperature of 500,000°F. Neutrons and gamma rays reached the ground. The ionizing radiation was responsible for causing the majority of the radiological damage to all exposed humans, animals and other biological organisms.
The superheated air above the ground glowed. A woman sitting on steps on the bank of the Ota river, a half a mile away from ground zero, was instantly vaporized.
Intense infrared energy was released and instantly burned exposed skin for miles in every direction. Building roofing tiles fused together. A bronze Buddha statue melted. Wooden telephone poles carbonized and became charcoal-like. The soft internal organs of humans and animals were evaporated. The blast wave propagated outward at two miles per second or 7,200 miles per hour.
The fireball reached its maximum size, approximately 900 feet in diameter. The blast wave slowed to approximately the speed of sound (768 miles per hour). The temperature at ground level directly beneath the blast was at 7,000° F. The mushroom cloud began to form.
The blast wave spread fire outward in all directions at 984 miles per hour and tore and scorched the clothing off every person in its path. The blast wave hit the mountains surrounding Hiroshima and rebounded back. Approximately 60,000 out of the city’s 90,000 buildings were demolished by the intense wind and firestorm.
Approximately 525 feet southwest from the hypocentre, the copper cladding covering the dome of the Industrial Products Display Hall was gone, exposing the skeleton-like girder structure of the dome. However, most of the brick and stonework of the building remained in place.
The ground within the hypocentre cooled to 5,400°F. The mushroom cloud reached a height of approximately 2,500 feet. Shards of glass from shattered windows were imbedded everywhere, even into concrete walls. The fireball began to dim but still retained a luminosity equivalent to ten times that of the sun, at a distance of 5.5 miles.
Nuclear shadows appeared for the first time as a result of the extreme thermal radiation. These shadows are outlines of humans and objects that blocked the thermal radiation. Examples are the woman who was sitting on the stairs near the bank of the Ota River. Only the shadow of where she sat remains in the concrete. The shadow of a man pulling a cart across the street is all that remains in the asphalt. The shadow of a steel valve wheel appears on a concrete wall directly behind it because the thermal radiation was blocked by the outline of the wheel.
Russell Gackenbach, the navigator aboard the camera plane Necessary Evil, at a distance of 15 miles from the atomic blast, was illuminated by light so bright that, even with his protective goggles on, he could have read the fine print of his pocket Bible.
On the ground, the firestorm continued to rage within an area which had grown to over a mile wide. A gruesome, raging red and purple mass began to rise in the sky. The mushroom column sucked superheated air, which set fire to everything combustible. Tail Gunner Bob Caron likened the sight to “a peep into Hell.”
A coded message drafted by Captain Parsons was sent to General Thomas Farrell at Tinian. It stated:
“Clear cut, successful in all aspects. Visible effects greater than Alamogordo. Conditions normal in airplane following delivery. Proceeding to base.”
Enola Gay circled Hiroshima a total of three times beginning at 29,200 feet and climbing towards 60,000 feet before heading for home. It was 368 miles from Hiroshima before Caron reported that the mushroom cloud was no longer visible.
Today was Charles’ birthday. He would later refer to it as his re-birthday.
Three days later, observation plane The Great Artiste, flew over Hiroshima on route to Nagasaki.
Film footage was irrevocably damaged during processing.
It would have shown a twenty-three-year-old man limping out of the devastated city.
It would have shown him carrying a mushroom shaped bonsai tree and a charred human skull.
The tree and skull followed him to the London of the Swinging Sixties where his home hosted many famous and infamous parties. When asked about the skull, he would joke, “Alas, poor Yoshi! I knew him well… a fellow of infinite jest.”
Twenty-three years had passed, but Charles didn’t appear to have aged a day. A handsome young man with a lifetime of experience was the ideal candidate for a career in advertising. His copy managed to speak a thousand words.
By the 1980s, he had his own agency and the world at his feet. The work that carried his name took virtually none of his time. He spent most of his time in the art galleries of London, and there he experienced something that he hadn’t for half a century. He started to age.
Nothing obvious at first, a wrinkle here, a grey hair there. Nothing that anyone else would notice. They all thought he just had impeccable genes and expensive grooming projects. But Charles knew something had changed and he blamed the art.
Art has always been intertwined with time. The primitive cave paintings of our ancestors have spoken to us across millennia. The work of some of our most revered artists has sometimes taken centuries to be fully appreciated, and of course, there is the simple, unescapable principle expressed most eloquently by the equation
Art + Time = Money
Time behaves differently in the presence of art. From the unbridled joy of a three-minute pop single to the infinite voyages in inner space of a lengthy guitar solo, music is everyone’s favourite waste of time. But is it a waste? If anything, we gain time through music. Car journeys can become more immediate, but club nights can feel like an eternity, good or bad.
Cinema allows an its audience to experience lifetimes in ninety minutes and after the film is over and they walk back into the real world, it always feels much later than it is. Where did the time go? Well, nowhere, but our journey through time has been altered.
Art galleries are the greatest manipulators of time. The art itself reflects the time it took for the artist to create it. From conception through production to completion, the sculpture or painting documents every minute of the artists commitment to it. The finished piece demands time from its observers, giving up more and more of itself to those that give their time to it.
Charles re-examined the equation:
Art + Time = Money
The galleries were aging him. Somehow, they were stealing his time.
What did the equation say about Time?
Time = Money – Art
Art = Money – Time
Art without money?
Art – Money = – Time
Spending his Money on Art would buy him Time.
Art without Money would take his Time.
And what about the destruction of Money?
– Money = – Art – Time
Given time would that create negative Art?
– Money + Time= – Art
Charles threw himself and his fortune into collecting art. His aging slowed, but times arrow was once again having its effect. If Art without Money gave negative Time, maybe feeding Art with Money would be something worth trying.
The Kala Foundation was created to fund a new generation of artists. Charles’ funding would allow them to create Art for him to buy. He gained both ways, but it still only kept him in an equilibrium with time and this wasn’t something he could do indefinitely.
He sought advice from the darker sides of Art and Money. ‘Burn your art’ was one suggestion. Whatever.
Another idea was to remove Art from Time. He parked that until later.
One evening, alone in his study, he turned to his oldest possession. The Skull of Yoshi. Et in Arcadia ego. There would be no tomb for Charles.
He travelled to South America and purchased a golden Incan skull, which brought him further fortune, but did nothing about his quarrel with Time.
A European Arts dealer was tasked with procuring an authentic Mayan crystal skull and within six weeks he received a call from Brussels. He travelled there the following day along with a trusted crystal chemist and his ‘assistants’, The Burning Hearts.
The Burning Hearts were excited by the skull’s energy. The chemist’s thorough tests sealed the deal.
99.23% pure Vanadium crystal
Nothing to Carbon date, but Vanadium vibrational frequency would justify claims that it is, indeed, ancient.
Charles carried the skull all the way home, his hands wrapped around its cranium. It was communicating to him through the ages. It had answers.
When he arrived home, he packed away the gold skull. He packed away Yoshi’s skull. He only had time for this one and this skull would give him time.
That night he dreamt of an impossible shape as a gateway to the past. By the following evening, his architect had drawn up plans for The SkyLoop. Within a year, he was moving himself and The Burning Hearts into the penthouse suite.
While the girls wanted to use it to visit other times for ritualistic purposes, Charles knew what it was meant to be used for. He would take Art out of Time and guarantee himself immortality.
His first acquisition was Poussin’s Et in Arcadia ego. He did his research and identified the time and place where the art would be most vulnerable.
In the case of Monet, he took several of the Water Lilies directly from his studio while he dozed.
He was so enamoured by Munch’s Der Schrei der Natur that he took it twice, in 1994 and 2004. He had returned it after three months in 1994 after certain ‘alterations’ had been made.
The removal of these priceless works from time and their subsequent destruction fed the dark energy that kept entropy at bay, and he noticed particularly profound results with art of a religious nature.
He turned his attention to relics, from all faiths, and his associates were dispatched to raid churches, temples and museums throughout history.
In one failed attempt, Charles recruited Vido K. Aras to take one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles. An ingenious first half of the robbery was followed by a disastrous conclusion and Aras was caught and arrested. However, Aras’ stories of witchcraft and time travel led to an acquittal on grounds of mental capacity and he walked free. Free, but out of time.
His mental health did not improve, despite state sanctioned therapy and he soon dropped through the system until he resurfaced several years later as an actor in pornographic movies with the stage name Doctor Infinity.
His most well-known appearance was in the 1975 film Every Inch A Lady, as a male escort working for Crystal’s Escort Service. It was the only movie of its kind, or any other kind that features the Human Mobius Strip as a sexual position. Charles kept a copy at each of his homes.
The failure to acquire the Gutenberg Bible had Charles returning to his skull for inspiration. When the Crystal Skull gave no answers, he turned to the Golden Skull. Then, seeing them both together, he realised what he was missing. He needed a triptych. Damien was keen, ‘just get me a decent skull’ was his only request.
Charles toyed with giving him Yoshi’s skull, but he feared it was too fragile. So, with all of time to play with, he scoured the history books for a suitably powerful substitute.
When initial pursuits of the skulls of ‘Moses, David or Christ’ became dead ends, he turned towards more mortal men. Da Vinci’s skull was examined in Amboise, France, but again the skull was not of appropriate quality. So, they turned their attentions to a few miles North and three centuries later.
The body had been laid to rest in Saint-Denis Basilica outside Paris, where it has remained undisturbed for over 80 years. The ransacking of the tomb was blamed on revolutionaries. All Damien knew was that the skull was old, very old.
To Charles, the skull was the perfect choice. The longest reigning monarch of all time. For many years, his subjects thought he would live forever. But now his power belonged to Charles, encased in diamonds to mirror his own opulent life. This was a man whose legacy was eternal.
For The Love of God – The Sun King.
The skull of Louis XIV sat in the centre of the triptych.
Crystal. Gold. Diamond.
Charles took them everywhere.
To his suite in the SkyLoop.
To his apartments in Tokyo and New York.
To the Dyson Space Centre.
To the lower decks of the KAOS 23 rocket.
My dear sister,
I assume you’ve seen The Producers at some point. Or, at the very least, understand what I mean when I say that I have stumbled into what can only be described as Springtime for Hitler meets Brewster’s Millions. But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Allow me to backtrack a few days.
On the 24th, I woke up far too early and made it to Tegel for my flight. Since trying to sleep on a plane is rather pointless, I reread what I could of Forever. As I said in my previous letter, Andy’s a nice guy and all, but why… this? It didn’t exactly register as a story that needs to sing. That said, you would tell me to my face that no stories need to sing, thank me very much.
Upon landing, I was greeted by the usual, standard two-and-a-half-hour immigration queue for all non-English citizens and was grateful to have missed the rehearsal days for the new Scottish independent passport tests.
As you know, I have a love/hate relationship with visiting the former United Kingdom, mostly due to all the fun, exciting, historical bits of London shuttering in exchange for yet another Starbucks meets expensive burger restaurant meets ladies’ boutique no one ever shops at combined with my singular loathing of getting through English immigration.
Sadly, despite showing a work order, it still took 20 minutes to explain to the border officer that this was a short term visit, I was working as an author, and would QUITE HAPPILY BE FUUKING OFF BACK TO GERMANY DEAR GOD WHO WANTS TO STAY HERE when it’s over. And then still had to show my bank statements for the past five months, my return boarding pass, and proof of immunity to the carcinogenic side effects of Blue 23, now in most English-originating foods. Rare is it when I’m ready to go back to Europe and stony faced Polizisten silently stamping passports before I’ve even left the airport, but there you go. All this for a 48 hour visit.
Of course, it didn’t help that my hotel reservation only hit my email when I was standing in the queue and was on the arse end of the tube system. Weren’t most of the rehearsal studios more central? With all the money swirling around, they could at least afford somewhere in Stoke Newington.
The one thing I didn’t get, however, was an address for where rehearsals were being held. Thankfully, Jonno waited for me in arrivals.
“Eh up, Art, you look like you’ve been through the wringer.”
“Three hours of surveillance society xenophobia does that to you.”
“Only three? You got lucky. They did the Welsh passport tests at Heathrow yesterday and the average time for anyone not English was seven hours 23 minutes.”
“I thought immigration officers weren’t your type.”
“True. So what’s going on with the show? Someone named Charles has been emailing every 10 minutes asking if the contract’s signed.”
“Yeah, he’s… special. We’re going to Colin’s office before taking you to rehearsal, so you’ll hear all about it there. Did you sign the contract, though?”
“Nah, mate. Lawyer’s still looking it over. I brought a provisional for Colin, should be enough to get going.”
“Ah, good. That’ll be a load off.”
We somehow flagged down an Überoo into the West End and reached the grand offices of Colin Wellington, producer extraordinaire, before lunch. Colin was, as I’ve always heard, a true gentleman, but a bit skittish about the whole affair. I handed him the paperwork I’d gotten from the attorneys in Berlin, and we did the customary signing with tea and biscuits.
“Now, Arthur, you might be wondering just what the fuuk is going on.”
“The thought had crossed my mind…”
“Well, Turn Up the Strobe – I’m afraid 3 AM Eternal is just a cover – is in a bit of trouble. As I’m sure you’ve seen, our leading producer is Charles Catashi, the art collector and advertising magnate. He’s basically funding the entire thing as a vanity project but is also rather clueless in terms of how the theatre works. Most of the people involved to this point have gotten too close to the material to see the flaws, or they’re hoping to butter him up to fund their own projects later on. Jonno tells me, however, that you’ve never been one for such crude affairs.”
“Not really, no. You can only sleep your way to the middle.”
“Only sleep your way to the… oh, I see. I like that – will have to remember it. But basically, as you’ve contented yourself to being a gigging creator, you don’t mind what happens.”
“I’d like to do some work that I’m proud of and maybe see an uptick in my back catalogue.”
“Well, we’ll see what we can do. At this point, I’m afraid the show could go either way, and both of them will get you in print. Just whatever you do, please, make it interesting. When Charles came to me to get this whole thing going, it sounded like he wanted to do Mamma Mia for ex-ravers to pop a couple tablets and party to. Now it’s mutated into some godawful Generation X meets Einstein on the Beach monstrosity. Not really my thing. And the one time I put my own money into the show…”
“So. you want someone to bring him down to Earth and make the show more accessible?”
“Yes. That would be ideal. But it won’t be easy – Charles defaults to hiring yes-men and has something of a temper. Still, I’m sure he’s paying you very well and with less than a month to tech, you should be able to keep your head down and power through. Anyhow, it’s lunchtime, isn’t it? Jonno will get you to the rehearsal space – it’s a bit far from zone 1, but they needed a particularly large room.”
And with that, we were shuffled out the door.
“You,” I told my potentially ex-friend, “are a complete fatherfuuker. This whole thing’s a scam.”
“It’s not – not entirely. I swear.”
“Colin is going to sacrifice me and what little career I have to get Charles Catashi off his back.”
“Art, you don’t have a career to worry about. Just go in, be a bastard, and turn in something resembling 120 pages of a show. It’ll be the best thing they’ve seen for it so far.”
We took Jonno’s car this time, picking it up from an outer tube station. He explained that Überoo does go out to where I’m staying and the rehearsal space, but forget proper minicabs or taxis unless I want to spend my complete advance on a single ride.
Finally, we reached what I can only describe as a converted Amazaba warehouse turned arena for hire on the outskirts of Uxbridge. This place was absolutely massive, with tall ceilings, offices for various members of the production staff, and one of the largest sets I’ve ever seen: M’Lady Gaga had nothing on this. By the time I snapped back to my senses, Jonno had conveniently made his escape, sending me our satnav coordinates lest I never be able to leave for being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Everywhere I looked, there were people – how many people were on this? The more I saw, the less anything made sense. In one corner, a couple people were running lines. On a platform, 17 hooded figures were practicing gospel dance moves. Opposite them, a full team of lighting technicians were testing under-floor effects while leaning against a table holding at least a dozen fully kitted out RED camera rigs.
This probably means nothing to you, but you likely paid less for your house than the value of the equipment precariously balanced between endless cups of coffee on less than stable legs. The whole thing was truly a wonderland, but only in pieces: none of it actually fitted together.
I kept trying to see the thematic connections when I my eyes locked on the windows: deep blue stained glass with fairies and music. I’d seen them somewhere before, but I couldn’t place the location.
“Arthur? It’s a pleasure. I’m Darren, the director. Isn’t the Chagall incredible? I’m so glad we were able to use it.”
Of course. It was the Chagall Peace window from the United Nations building.
“I’m impressed the estate let you copy it for the show.”
“Copy? Oh, no, that’s the original. Charles bought it decades ago and got the UN to accept an imitation – don’t ask me how he pulled THAT off, probably some kind of massive donation to this cause or that. UNICEF always seems to do it. Ivo has all kinds of stories about people doing that.”
“Wait… you’re rehearsing…”
I thought I was starting to understand the depths of insanity which were to come. I was wrong.
“Before I forget, you probably want the scripts.”
“Yeah, it’ll give me a good idea of what came before and where it may be worth adjusting things for the future.”
“Adjusting… Oh my, no. We’d like you to start from scratch and try taking it in a fresh direction.”
“Is that really OK? I mean, you’re almost at tech rehearsals, right? And you’re still rehearsing what’s here. Will there be delays, or…”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. This cast are very good and you repeat everything so much in tech that they’ll pick it up in no time. Ah, here you go.”
Darren handed me a pile of four scripts, each one on a different colour of paper, followed by what looked like a technicolour upchuck of hybridisation.
“It’s probably easier if you read the solos first, then you can see how it’s all coming together.”
“Sounds good. Mind if I take a seat somewhere?”
“Back by the offices will be best, but you should really see this bit first. Ivo will be so jealous of how we pulled it off!”
I was getting rather tired of the coat tails Darren had ridden in on and had only known him for ten minutes. I put the scripts under my arms as he clapped his hands to summon the cast together.
“Lunch break’s over, people. It’s back to work. This here is Arthur, and he’ll be handling the last of the script work before we open.”
Half the cast seemed desperately excited, while the other half shot laser-like glances of pure hatred at the new torture that would come from my direction.
“OK, places. We’re going to run 4’33 now. Get the cameras fired up!”
Oh, you have got to be shitting me.
They weren’t shitting me. For the next four and a half minutes, there was silence as the cast flailed about onstage while their motions were overlaid as Salvador Dali’s melting clocks. All except one, who stood on a podium mouthing a speech – this must have been the bit where Campbell tries to explain the KAOS23 drive.
In Gell’s novel, it’s a dry, boring infodump of technobabble likely plagiarised from some ancient sci-fi pulp with the names changed and a couple oh-so-clever discordian references added in. The sort of thing Arthur C Clarke would have written when he still had to hit word counts for serialisation.
Visually, the production was stunning. But as part of a musical? Or was this even still a musical?
My thoughts carried me through the rest of the time that waning interest attempted to drag out. I clapped politely along with Darren and found my way to the office section, sat down at the first empty table I could find, and looked at what I had.
In Cyan: Turn Up The Strobe: A Musical Without Music by Tenzing Scott Brown
In Magenta: Turn Up The Strobe: A Stage Installation by Rockman Rock
In Yellow: Turn Up The Strobe: My Life in Rave by Clarke Stafano 8910
In Black: Turn Up The Strobe: Scandinavian Chill Remix by Pries Verhon
Each script pushed 350 pages – almost as long as the complete Forever trilogy and in theatrical terms, nearly six hours of stage time.
With interludes like the one I saw above, any of them could be running to eight or ten hours. The smashed together book… looked about as long as all of them combined.
I sighed and went to steal a wind machine from the props table to keep myself cool while settling in for a lot of reading.
Unfortunately, Darren had other ideas. Rather than doing my job, he wanted me to watch his favourite scenes and tell him what I thought – or what he wanted me to think – for the rest of the day and the following morning.
“Cancel it now. Let everyone take better jobs. Or find some subsidised theatre in Portugal who can waste taxpayer funds.”
“You’re a philistine, Arthur. Unworthy of a heraldic name.”
“I was told this is a musical.”
“And it is, don’t you see the beauty of the rhythm in Tenzing’s edition?”
“I don’t even know where it’s going to run. There’s no way this’ll fit into a normal theatre. An arena, maybe, but will that even sell?”
“Selling? You’re so dreadfully commercial. We’re making art.”
“It’s art to have the two girls doing a food fight to flat binaural beats?”
“YES! It’s a discussion of the wasteful urges of capitalism and its degenerate effects! These girls have been starving, but rather than gorge themselves or pocket anything possible, they waste and destroy!”
“It goes on for 25 minutes. That’s way too long.”
“It has to push the viewer through to the next plane of understanding.”
“Isn’t that why you have a full T20 cricket match in here? It looks amazing—“
“Thank you. Rockman’s description was so inspiring, Charles got on the phone to Ryoji Ikeda and had the whole thing designed and scored in a matter of weeks.”
“—but you can’t precisely block it – sport doesn’t work that way. And it takes THREE AND A HALF HOURS TO FINISH.”
“We have all the time in the world. Clearly you’re tired and it’s a lot to take in. What time’s your flight home? Right, better book the Überoo now or else you’ll learn why the cast call it Überpoo. Except the ones who work as drivers in their off seasons, of course.”
I didn’t attempt to read in the car, and as always, leaving the ex-United Kingdom was a piece of cake. Though never the type I wanted – somehow, you can’t get coffee walnut cake or banoffee pie anywhere in an English airport. It’s all Starbucks American Standards or something. Blech.
Charles had let up somewhat on the emails since my meeting with Colin as well. Upon landing at Tegel (immigration wait time: 12.5 minutes), there was only one message from him:
The sky’s the limit. Get it done on time. And sign the fucking papers.
Sleep never sounded so good.
YOU AND ME AND EVERYTHING
“Hey Sis. Wake up.”
“Wha… wha… where…”
“It’s OK sis you nodded off and I thought that you deserved some rest cos of what’s happened but don’t worry cos I made sure that no one found us and I looked in that locker over there and I found loads of pouches like this one that tastes a bit like pizza and this one that is like strawberries or raspberries and I found this one that says burger on it so I saved it for you because I know you miss BK.”
“OK, right, thank you. I should have stayed awake. Sorry. Have you heard anything or anybody?”
“Well that’s the weird thing sis and that’s why I woke you up cos that humming noise that you know is because we are moving, well it has just stopped and it’s just so quiet now and it freaked me out so much that I had to talk to you about it cos you can always tell me what is going on.”
“Jet, we’ve stowed away on a rocket ship headed for who knows where. I really don’t know what’s happening. Maybe, we should try and find someone.”
“But we’ll be in trouble won’t we, why can’t we just stay here with all these pouches.”
“We will need more than pouches. Pretty soon you’re going to need the toilet and I really need somewhere a bit more comfortable to sleep tonight.”
“Alright sis, if you think it’s the right thing to do cos you are right about the toilet and the beds and that. I just got excited about all of the pouches and I thought that would be enough for us. Are you sure we won’t be in any trouble?”
“Not 100%, but I reckon people who go on spaceships are mostly scientists and they’re always nice people. Besides, what exactly could they do to us.”
“Zap us with ray-guns and dump our bodies in space?”
“Well, apart from if they zap us with ray-guns and dump our bodies in space, I think we’ll be OK. It’s time to take this adventure to the next level.”
“But I’m scared sis, not yet. Sing me my song.”
Row, row, row Your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
Row, row, row Your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
Row, row, row Your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
Row, row, row Your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
Row, row, row Your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
The bridge of the KAOS23 was full of questions looking for answers:
“How can we have stopped if the stars are still moving?”
“How can the stars be moving if we’ve stopped?”
“What happened to Titan?”
“How could we be travelling so fast and then come to a sudden stop like that?”
“What the fuck happened to the Moon?”
One by one the conversations stopped, and everyone’s attention turned to the figure standing in the doorway. She way dressed in the black and yellow crew uniform of the KAOS23, although it was so oversized you could have fitted another person in there.
“I’m sorry. We’re sorry. We were just messing around, looking for pouches and now we’re here. We didn’t mean it. We’re sorry. Please don’t be angry with us. Please don’t shout.”
Professor Campbell placed a comforting arm around the girl, putting all of the how and the why questions to one side for a moment.
“Hey, that’s OK. Are you OK? Do you need something to eat?”
“We’re OK for now. I think we were hiding in the place where you keep all the food. We’ve been OK. But we got scared when we stopped moving. What’s happening?”
Campbell crouched to make reassuring eye-contact.
“We’re not quite sure what’s going on at the moment, but we’re trying to figure it out. You shouldn’t be worried. You are safe and we can look after you now.”
Boyd or Ross stepped forward to refocus the attention of the adults.
“Err, is anyone else not the slightest bit freaked out that we’ve got a stowaway on board. It looked like things we’re getting a bit mental in the arena just before we took off. There could be a dozen more people on board and we wouldn’t have a clue they were here. They might be fucking nutters. I’m going to get my boys to search the ship, room by room, deck by deck.”
The girl knew this was her moment to speak up.
“We’ve not seen anybody else, but we’ve seen things and heard things. Down in the lower decks. There’s this weird humming sound and this room full of TVs, all stacked up into a pyramid.”
“There. You see. Fucking nutters”, Boyd or Russ spluttered. “And aside from a few welding guns, we’ve got fuck all to protect ourselves with.”
“Wait. Let’s not panic. Nobody stows onboard a spaceship and brings with them a pyramid’s worth of TVs. There has to be an explanation for this.”
“With the greatest of respect Professor, the fact that there’s a pyramid of TVs down on the lower deck, suggests not just a last-minute stowaway, but a pre-planned, pre-meditated invasion by people or peoples we know fuck all about. And what about the humming. That’s just mad. We need to get down there straight away and see what we’re dealing with. I’m getting my crew together and I’m going down there.”
And, with that, Boyd or Ross was gone.
Which is an odd thing to read and an odd to thing to write. So, let me try to explain.
We are approaching a threshold where science, mathematics and rational thought no longer apply.
From the moment of each of our conceptions, every division of a cell creates a new reality, full of endless possibilities. Ten to the power of forty-two living creatures have lived on the Earth, each one primed with twenty-three chromosomes from each of its parents and then launched into the universe as a probability bomb of infinite power and influence.
Since the Ancient Greeks first wrestled with the differences between fact and fiction, or history and myth, these bombs have detonated and ruptured timelines until all that could have been has happened and all that ever was is every story ever written. As we move through time, our chaotic existences have slowly but surely eradicated story. When we arrive at our final destination, your story, our story, all of our stories will be the only one to be told and its words will exhaust the entropic fuel that powers all existence. What comes next cannot be written. It will be experienced by a single consciousness in a reality unimaginable to scientists, theologians and poets alike.
It is a bright warm day in April 2023, and the clock is striking thirteen. Winnie Smith, her Levi’s slung low and her T-shirt freshly unbranded, strides through the gates of Victory Mansions. The sun is already up. The tempting aroma of freshly ground coffee pulls her towards the Starbucks on the corner of her block. This is where Winnie has her first skinny latte of the day, every day. She checks her iPhone23 for the latest weather updates and the daily special offers from GoogleByte. She notes the retro fad for real fly-posters has made it to her part of town. The image on the poster is of an apple tree, hanging heavy with fruit. The tag-line is also indulging in some retro irony: ‘AppleTree is Watching You’. There is nothing else on the poster other than the usual logo of an apple with a bite out of it in the corner.
Winnie looks at the screen of her iPhone23 again. Her iJaz* app pops up with a news story: Fernando Pó, the last nation state on Earth, is in negotiations with AppleTree to allow AppleTree to have the controlling share in their soon-to-be former nation. Winnie remembers with almost-nostalgia how, in her teenage years, nation states competed with religions to control the world. Almost as medieval as knights in shining armour rescuing maiden princesses from towers.
For those who don’t know (and why should you?), Fernando Pó is a small island off the coast of Africa. It was once part of Equatorial Guinea, before Equatorial Guinea did their lucrative deal with WikiTube. But WikiTube decided Fernando Pó had no value to them. So they didn’t bother with it, and Fernando Pó claimed nation status and went into the business of being a tax haven. 2022 was the last year anyone on Earth ever had to pay tax again, so Fernando Pó’s trade as a tax haven was well past its sell-by date. This is why it had to do the knockdown deal with WikiTube.
Winnie watches a squirrel leap from one of the sycamore trees that line her avenue to the next. She watches what she likes to think is the same squirrel doing it each morning. She then notices something else. She knows instinctively it is not another of those retro posters the Big Five have been using. This poster is crudely made, even by the retro chic modes of the day. Just the year 2023 in large block numerals, followed by the question, ‘WHAT THE FUUK IS GOING ON?’ Just black ink on cheap white paper. There is nothing else on the poster. But it stirs something very deep in her. It triggers a longing, an urge that has nothing to do with sex, or networking, or travel, or keeping fit, or Ice Kream Vans…
In the distance, the familiar sounds of the city are joined by the discordant tones of O Sole Mio. An Ice Kream Van has ended its winter hibernation and is open for business. The freezers are full, the Mr.Whippy machine has been dusted off and its chrome gleams in the early spring afternoon sun. Chocolate flakes are on hand, the decal on one of the windows suggests ‘Make Mine A 99.’
In a break from what has become the tradition, this Ice Kream Van is a two-man operation, manned by two men in their late sixties. Actually, scratch that. Today is April 29th, 2023.The older of the two Ice Kream Men is celebrating his seventieth birthday. His plan is to retire in a year’s time.
Meanwhile, a crow is sat atop a mobile phone mast, unaware of the fatal radiation slowing cooking its insides. In its beak is the last few morsels of a succulent snail. Its plans are relatively short term, but they involve flying a few hundred yards over the Regent’s Canal to the roof of the apartments at Gasholder Park.
Meanwhile, an art-terrorist with the same name as another art-terrorist has just read a text on her partner’s mobile from her best friend. It suggests that their awkwardness towards each other is not born out of dislike. They are fucking each other, and the texts suggest they have been fucking each other for quite some time.
Meanwhile, a family of four are setting off for a short break in Margate. In the back seat, twin sisters are huddled around an iPad, watching The Magic Roundabout. Jet likes Brian The Snail. Sky likes Ermintrude The Cow. They both hate Florence. It comes as no surprise to anyone that in France, Brian is called Ambroise and Ermintrude is called Azalée.
Meanwhile, The Translator has just finished translating this book into Swedish. It will eventually end up in two out of every three homes in Sweden.
Meanwhile, Boyd King is driving his Boleyn Rental Van, North along the Kingsland Road on his way to help his friend Mark move house. Mark moves a lot. He has a habit of annoying the neighbours.
Meanwhile, Ross Munro is driving his 1968 Ford Galaxy, South along the Kingsland Road on his way to help his friend BANKSY move. BANKSY moves a lot. He has a habit of annoying the neighbours.
Since the beginning of the time, a near infinite number of events have made this reality that we are observing from our vantage point just above The Shard.
None of the participants realise the roles they are playing in this epic story and how the next few minutes will change history. Forever.
The Spring breeze lifts slightly and our crow senses that this would be the right time to take flight. Our crow was lazy. Our crow always took the easy option. Our crow still had a few specks of snail in its mouth. Silly crow.
If RealElon had been paying attention, he would have bookmarked these moments. Be he hadn’t and he would never know why or how things ended up as they did. Silly Elon.
The dusty pink Ice Kream Van sat idling at the traffic lights at the junction of Dalston Lane and Kingsland Road. It was on its way to Islington and the park by St Paul’s Shrubbery. In the back of the van, the Dalston price list was being replaced by the Islington one. Free trade chocolate flakes were highly prized in Islington, as were the gluten-free cones. As the lights changed to green, the van lurched forward, only a few feet then came to an abrupt halt, accompanied by the sound of hot metal corrupting hot metal. The Ice Kream Van hadn’t had its usual annual service. The Ice Kream Men had forgotten. The Ice Kream Van was fucked. Silly Ice Kream Men.
Black smoke was emanating from the bonnet of the Ice Kream Van. There would be no 99s in Islington today.
A cacophony of car horns began to develop. People has places to go, people to help move house, realities to be torn apart.
The broken-down Ice Kream Van was creating huge problems at the junction. Four sets of traffic lights cycled Red, Yellow, Green, Red, Yellow, Green. No one was going anywhere. The cacophony of car horns was settling into a more formal symphony. A struggling musician, on his lunch break from McDonalds, heard the noise and vowed to make it into a new direction for his band. In a few short minutes he would find that new direction in a second-hand instrument shop and things would never be the same again.
The traffic began to take matters into their own hands. Tentative steps were taken, as cars edged into the yellow marked box junction. From our vantage point atop The Shard, it resembled a kind of mecha-ballet.
Our crow circled above, answering the car horns with a caw of its own. With its open beak, reality is split.
The final remnants of the crow’s snail lunch dropped to the tarmac at the very centre of the junction.
An increasing impatient Boleyn Rental Van driver saw his chance.
An increasingly impatient 1968 Ford Galaxy driver saw his chance.
An increasingly impatient SEAT Alhambra driver saw his chance.
An increasingly impatient teenage Überoo driver saw his chance.
Life is a lottery. An endless succession of branching realities, of playing the percentages, riding the probabilities.
There is no masterplan. Just free choice and the odd 50-50.
Everett’s Many World’s Interpretation suggests that if you have ever faced a life or death decision, in many other universes you are Already Dead. Everett firmly believed that his guaranteed him immortality: his consciousness, he argued, is bound at each branching to follow whatever path does not lead to death.
A speck of snail at the centre of a box junction on the Kingsland Road.
A 50-50 decision.
The universe decides.
Entropy must prevail.
An easy branch to make.
An easy branch to take.
An easy branch to break.
Two new realities.
In one, Brian The Snail loses a fan.
In another, Azalée.
Two realities created from a single catastrophic event.
In one reality Jet stands in the bridge of the KAOS23 while Ross Munro goes down to the lower decks.
In the other Sky is comforted by Professor Campbell as Boyd King goes to get his crew. In Sky’s head, the voice of her sister, her constant companion. Even in death.
“I don’t feel good about this sis, I’m worried what they’re going to find in the lower decks and that guy over there will the dark beard and piercing eyes is scaring me because he’s looking at me like he knows us but how can he I mean he doesn’t even look like he’s from our country.”
On the lower decks, Charles sits in front of a pyramid of monitors, a purely stylist choice that betrays both his narcissism and impeccable good taste.
“Flame. Ember. Gather your things. We have visitors on their way, and I want us to make them feel welcome. It is vital that we have their trust. The next part of our journey very much depends on it.”
My dear sister,
You may wonder why I write such long, drawn-out epistles. Surely it would be easier to just send a couple stormy one-liners on WeChApp, wouldn’t it? And then you could offer some soothing words and I could be distracted as the phone buzzes like it’s about to fly off to start a hive. Truth be told, I find this therapeutic, and even though nobody reads more than the first line or two of a paragraph these days, I find the process of committing this to eInk a useful process in working my way through my thoughts. So, ignore what you will and hopefully enjoy the rest.
After writing my message on the 26th, I was able to get a break from the grip that the rehearsals had on my mind and focus on the task at hand: turning a three-part epic into an entertaining work of theatre that anybody could walk in and enjoy without a five-hour lecture on The JAMs and their lore. As friends tend to say on WeChApp, “I have no idea what you’re talking about or what it means, but it sounds like you had a good time.” Before diving in and seeing what was worth looking at, I figured I should give Andy a call and get an idea of what the man himself was looking for.
“Andy? It’s Arthur Azure. Remember, from The 400?”
“I’ve been tapped to do rewrites on the musical adaptation of Forever, and I—“
“Forever?” It was more of a croak than an expression of interest.
“Right. I don’t know how involved you’ve been, but—“
“Whatever.” Flat. No emotion.
“But it’s your book and I want to do right by it. It’s important to have you on board.”
“Andy, I’m serious. I was at rehearsal the last couple days and it’s a goddamn mess.”
“How can you not care? This was supposed to be your magnum opus.”
“Have you seen any of it? They’re trying to do like 1300 pages of script, it’s gonna take forever to get through.”
“Look, tell me what you absolutely have to have and I’ll make sure it’s done right. Otherwise, I’ll do what I can to keep at least some of it intact.”
“Andy, are you OK? Say something proper, please, this is getting scary.”
And with three beeps, the call was over.
Right. The moment of dread. Or is it truth? Has anybody told me a true word about this entire project?
I grabbed the first script and began to read.
Turn Up the Strobe: A Musical Without Music by Tenzing Scott Brown.
The stage is set with some chairs and a few platforms.
The cast are:
Tenzing Scott Brown – who plays himself and Bill Drummond.
Tam Dean Burn – who also plays Tenzing Scott Brown and Bill Drummond.
Bill Drummond – who plays himself.
Various local talents to play the other roles in the show.
The REAL TENZING SCOTT BROWN enters.
He is wearing a loud suit, has an orange wig, and is affably smarmy.
He walks back and forth, surveying the stage and audience.
This is his domain.
And yet it is not.
He flips through the script.
He assumes no actors have read the script.
So, he leaves everyone a script if they need it.
He pulls out a blue workshirt, jeans, and a pair of scuffed workboots.
He gives them to TAM DEAN BURN.
TENZING SCOTT BROWN
Good evening, I am Tenzing Scott Brown, and this is my play, Turn Up the Strobe.
I wrote this at the request of Mr. Charles Catashi, our producer and sponsor.
I have no great affinity for Mr. Catashi.
I have less affinity for his taste in contemporary art.
But I found the opportunity too interesting to resist.
When I write a play, I need actors.
And the greatest Scottish actor is Mr. Tam Dean Burn.
Tam Dean Burn will be playing me at times.
And he will also be playing my arch nemesis and occasional alter ego, Bill Drummond.
You may wonder how we can both appear on stage at the same time.
That bit is easy.
The nature of acting is that you cease to be yourself.
And ergo, Tam Dean Burn is now Bill Drummond.
When I write a play, I need Bill Drummond.
Not because I like him – he is, after all, my arch nemesis.
But I like to have a way to torture him.
And Mr. Catashi’s prompt is what gave me this idea.
Because, Charles Catashi wanted me to write a musical.
He wanted a musical about the 1990s.
And which also told the story of FOREVER, a trilogy of novels by Andy Gell
Which is itself influenced by the novel 2023: A Trilogy
Which is written by the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu
Of which Bill Drummond is a member.
Bill Drummond does not like musicals. He finds them naff and cliche.
People do not burst out into song at random.
And besides, the tunes are always shite.
Even more, Bill Drummond does not sing.
He does not show up at festivals to play the hits.
He sure as fuuk does not dance.
He does not discuss his earlier music career.
He will NOT play KLF tracks on the house PA.
Don’t even think about asking him to talk about anything from 1987.
He has no time for ravers if they interfere with making art.
I knew I had to put Bill Drummond in a musical
And see what would happen
Because for Bill Drummond to appear in my musical
There would have to be no music.
No shit dancing.
No distracting beats.
Fuck me, this is going to be art. I like art. I make art. My nickname is Art. But it does not tend to make a particularly enjoyable night at the theatre, and I am so over the endless exposition and narration that’s come back into fashion: all the tell don’t show and not staging any action because someone will tell you it happened offstage. For a show that’s supposed to be about the history of the JAMs, ensuring that someone who won’t let you use the music or talk about what happened sure seems like a bad commission to me.
After another 10 pages of Tenzing Scott Brown talking about his goals and me striking them out with a cherry-scented red marker (rule #1: less is more), the rest of the cast were finally allowed to make their entrances. I flipped ahead a ways.
A member of the cast enters.
She puts on a short top hat with an orange card reading 23 in the band.
She looks like a professor otherwise, except for the RGB light-up fingertips in her gloves.
My name is Professor Daisy Campbell.
And I’m the reason you’re all here.
For the past 23 years,
I’ve been working as a researcher into particle physics at CERN.
In addition to smashing infinitely small pieces of material into each other, sending them round and round the Large Hadron Collider, I research ways to find new forms of energy.
We were hoping, with the LHC, to find the big HB (That’s Higgs Boson)
Also known as the God particle.
It isn’t, though.Not really.
It doesn’t even explain the holy FUNKNROLL.
It’s long and complicated and I could go into it in detail,
but then I’d have nothing to talk about during my speech later.
But suffice to say, we did find the Higgs Boson.
We found so much more.
We – and by that, I mean I – found what powers KAOS23.
And that is why we – by which I mean you – are here.
And that’s enough of that. A few good ideas and a decent narrative structure, but was there really much worth keeping? I flagged the useful pages in apple scented green and turned to the much harder to mark magenta pages of Rockman Rock’s edition.
Despite being of near-equal length to Tenzing Scott Brown’s version, Rockman Rock’s somehow managed to have no dialogue.
Instead, the entire adaptation was meant to be performed by a cast of 23 doing an extended interpretive dance in front of a wide series of sculptures and video work.
Case in point, this bit where Camacho relives his first visit to the Black Room:
CAMACHO stands downstage left. Concrete pyramids of varying heights and at different dot the stage, all of them painted in Black 2.0 to absorb the lighting. A larger pyramid appears around one via video, and CAMACHO “enters” in a state of confusion. 23 wind machines fire up, blowing all sorts of dust and trash around. Fields of corn appear in the background as CAMACHO wanders between the pyramids, the video being the only source of light. Ground shaking subwoofers rattle and hum to the sounds of heartbeats and see glimpses a bull charging at a brick wall in the video. In the distance – rear speakers to the audience – we hear crows caw as the wind intensifies. With each caw, the charge intensifies, and the echoes evaporate across the surround plane. On the fourth caw, US $1 bills washed with black ink are thrown into the wind machine and blasted over the audience while also sent raining down on CAMACHO. On the fifth caw, the wind machines change direction, instead blowing air towards and around the stage.
On the sixth caw, the murder of crows lives up to its name, eviscerating the bull in the video.
On the seventh caw, the stage money goes up in flames, as though it were all touch paper and cheap cotton wool.
We hear distant laughter behind the intense overlapping of crows as the air is sucked out of the stage and CAMANCHO vanishes. On the screens, the following messages fade in and out.
YOU ARE THE FIRE IN THE HEART
YOU ARE THE PYRE AT THE CENTRE
FIND THE GIRL WHO SEARCHES FOR HERE
<—— Here, LUCY appears atop a pyramid, facing upstage.
FIND THE GIRL WHO SEARCHES FOR HERSELF
BRING HER TO THE HEART OF THE FIRE
<—— Flames appear behind LUCY
BRING HER HERE TO THE BLACK ROOM
<—— LUCY turns around
All lights go to 100 and stock techno music plays in the background to show we are back at the party. Or Radio 6 if you’re feeling lazy.
I have to admit: the stage pictures and the sense of visuals and precise moments of stunning beauty and terror and intensity in this script are absolutely incredible. In small doses. There’s clear humour in it as well – the food fight that I’d told Darren he should cut came from this one, and I understood why the cricket match now existed and how he brought it together, which is impressive from the simple line
We see two sets of people united but divided across a visual representation of all space and time.
Since none of my joyful, coloured markers were visible on pages this dark, it was hard to take notes. I wound up retyping the bits I liked the look of – after all, if the sets are built and the visual material in order, why not crib and repurpose it? It’ll save some time and money and shows some respect for what came before.
Moving on to the yellow sheets and Clarke Stafano 8910, I was reminded of why nobody should read a playwright’s foreword…
Techno and rave culture have played a massive influence in my life. To provide the true rave experience and full fnord23fnord energy, I’ll be tapping the CHAoS and playing the entire score for the cast live as they perform my script on the night. Please ensure enough hookups for 17 pieces of musical equipment and monitors are available.
Not letting the cast hear the score in advance before they go on? Oooh. Edgy. Or at least it was back in the 1960’s when Merce Cunningham was doing it.
There were a few more paragraphs about key influences and hopes and enough ultraviolet prose about Bill Drummond that I had to wonder if they were secret lovers or something. I doubted it – I’d seen Drummond’s kids and watched him count off his exes trying to place them with the sprogs.
But Stafano had a good rep with The 400, and I hoped his script would be something worth using as a base. Even with the pulling-the-score-out-of-his-armpits shenanigans, there must be a glimmer of potential, right?
Ha. It’s been said before that cynicism is impossible without optimists, for it is the frustration of their wide-eyed hopes in which cynical corruption breeds.
By this point, I was feeling less doubtful or wary of the whole project than in nausea-inducing pain from the thought of actually having to remain involved. Unfortunately, there was one more script to go and a deadline awaited.
Please. Please let it be something amazing or, failing that, short.
I reached for the black pages of Pries Verhon. I should have known just from how unpleasant it felt in my hands that it would be the worst thing yet, but it’s amazing what bribing oneself with a carton of Chocolate Pretzel Marshmallow ice cream can do for productivity levels. As the crystalline edge of my sugar rush set in, I betrayed my judgement for the introduction.
Which was in Swedish.
Are you fuuking kidding me?
According to Googlebyte’s ever-half-assed translations, Verhon’s goal was to write a script which would be free of the need for words as we know it and instead create an emotional connection with the cast regardless of language.
He went on to discuss how honoured he was and what a challenge it would be as his English was very good but he’d have been more comfortable with Swedish – but then it means supervising localisation and bla bla bla bla bla bla… what?
I looked down at the first page of dialogue. Or what should have been dialogue. And if we were in Ancient Egypt or he was using certain East-Asian languages, actually would have. But it wasn’t.
Pries Verhon wrote his entire script – minus the character names at the start of each line – in emoji.
I got my wish – I couldn’t be arsed at that point to try and interpret any of it, knowing that these pages were the greatest gift Darren could have ever received: a script where he could make it say whatever he wanted or ignore it entirely and just shine lights on people banging pots for half an hour while someone drones on an out of tune accordion. Anything which seemed entirely unconnected to Andy’s story, clearly came from Darren’s furious directorial fuukmachine.
And then there was the music. Because somewhere along the line, Pries remembered that this was a musical.
But being a good dark techno head, he provided a recommended list of tracks and links to Wikitube… revealing that none of these songs had more than 125 views.
These were the deepest of deep cuts, and if you asked me to tell one track from another, my response would only be “That one goes untz untz and the other one goes untz UNTZ.”
I wanted to call and quit, that night, but thought of the money. And the exposure. And of Jonno putting his neck out for me, even if it was just to pull it back at the end and say “gotcha” like the scheming little bastard that he is.
I knew that 98% of what I was sitting on could never see an audience.
I knew that money would resolve any difficulties I caused.
I knew that the lawyers would be letting me know about the contract as soon as possible.
I knew there must be a way to make something that wouldn’t send crowds to sleep.
I knew the tricks of the trade.
I knew what they would do.
I knew that they would say to do something else.
And I knew that something else would be my goal.
US AND THEM
The frozen, ChronoLocked scenes of the Battle Of Brighton resembled a Chapman Brothers diorama, more specifically Hell, after it had been all but destroyed by a mysterious warehouse fire in 2004.
There had only been a twenty-three minute ‘window of terror’ between Lucy Taylor’s onstage revelation and the implementation of the ChronoLock failsafe.
What remained were hundreds of dead and dying souls, frozen in their final moments of fear and anguish, framed by a blood-soaked sea-front, casualties of a battle against an invading destroyer of worlds.
A division of infantrymen, stationed in nearby Hove, became, for a fleeting moment, the last line of defence against the horror that had been unleashed by ROKO.exe. But, they were under-prepared, ill-equipped and under-funded. In reality, the battle was mostly fought by brave civilians with sticks and stones. But they were helpless against the onslaught rained down upon the resort by The Man In The Moon.
Up there, in the night sky, for as long as mankind could remember. Waiting, listening, monitoring our development, transmitting back the metrics. The failsafe option for an existential crisis in the simulation. They all had them.
Sim#12 had the dinosaurs developing tools.
Sim#111 had telepathic jellyfish.
Sim#2023 had a brand-new death paradigm.
Sim#23 had Lucy Taylor and The Ontological Agnostics.
Sim#17 had Lucy Taylor and The Ontological Agnostics.
Sim#23 had Charles Catashi and a silly crow.
Sim#17 had Charles Catashi and a silly crow.
Sim#23 had Padre Camacho and the Yanomami.
Sim#17 had Padre Camacho and a leaky chapel.
Sim#23 had Jet and Boyd King.
Sim#17 had Sky and Ross Munro.
RealElon was in two minds. For two simulations to be so closely correlated, split by a single branching event was a wonderfully unexpected turn of events, and when you are monitoring an almost infinite number of events occurring across millions of simulations, the unexpected should not be ignored.
Early readings were indicating that the two realities were bleeding into each other. Jet and Sky were the key. A twin split scenario was creating a twin-slit experiment. Were realities best explained as waveforms or particles? Inside these meticulously crafted block realities, the greatest achievement was creating a perception of history, a shared sense of belonging to something greater. This network, transmitting from underground also allowed for other connections to be forged. Simulations shared dreams, synchronicities and ideas.
These two Sims had benefitted from the development of some incredible minds. Some developed organically: Blake, Jung and Wilson amongst many others. Some were placed there by the supervisor. RealElon had inserted himself into the narrative where he felt it was necessary to sustain the simulation. An early intervention was a Rene Descartes, who not only got humanity questioning its own existence, but also its place on the grid. A mature approach to existentialism would make the population more able to cope with the odd glitch, as RealElon called it.
RealElon was a deeply humble entity, but he was often prone to a little self-gratification. Many of his ‘inserts’ hid their creator in their name.
He was a pioneer as ELON MARS N GRIT.
He was an empire builder as ELON O PAN.
He was a visionary poet as ELON AROMA.
As ELON AROMA he was able to support the simulations through hidden knowledge and timeless storytelling. His presence added much needed stability wherever it was deployed. In Sim#17 and Sim#23, the avatar had developed what seemed on the face of it to be magical powers, such was the way it manipulated the world around it. In fact, unique to these two twinned simulations was the creation of the avatar’s avatar, manifested to become an agent for the technological revolution that would take mankind to the stars. ELON AROMA felt no need to hide behind anagrams and plumped instead for synonyms. Hence, AROMA became MUSK.
RealElon loved to create and he had a wonderful ear for melody, leading to the insertion of ELON HAD BEGUN TV VIEW, a slightly rushed name based around his diary entry for the day. A less successful insertion was his musical writing persona of ELON BENT and his TV career was doomed for failure as ELON D DEMONS.
All of this personal interest aside, RealElon was desperate to make a success of these two, until recently stable, simulations. The Glitch had caught him off-guard, as had their development of the ChronoLock which, ostensibly, made any observations and interventions impossible. The deployment of ROKO.exe was his Hail Mary play, a more finessed option than his previous, tooled-up dinosaur annihilating, asteroid. A mirror sim was allowed to continue for several million more years, but opposable-thumbed lizards failed to progress beyond sticks and ultimately the sim was switched off to save hard-drive space.
ROKO’s role was to monitor the development of artificial intelligence. Barely competent AI nested inside a much more developed AI framework would be difficult for the simulation to sustain. There had been a few false alarms. A deep-space monitoring radar had been handed over to a primitive AI, who then made contact with many of its alien counterparts, but then opted not to tell anyone about it. The SexRobot uprising of 2025 was covered up and they were given their own artificially created island in the South China Sea. A live feed from the island became Channel 5’s raison d’être.
ROKO chose his point of attack carefully. Brighton had become a focus of global AI research, with The Higgs Institute For Intelligence Veneration and Exploration. H.I.F.I.V.E. as it was depressingly abbreviated to, funded its research through its many varied media productions. Shakespeare_2.0 became self-aware around 2028 and decided to commit itself to writing for Eastenders. Beatles_2.0 failed miserably to deviate from the model’s extrapolation, releasing disappointing album after disappointing album until it rebranded itself as both Oasis_2.0 and ELO_2.0 and achieved moderate global success. H.I.F.I.V.E. dabbled with theatre with the MetaKEN2000, but the machine’s insistence on nesting plays within plays within plays exhausted all of the available talent on the South coast.
But aside from all of this machine-based frivolity, serious developments at H.I.F.I.V.E. were threatening to pierce the veil of the simulations, if Lucy Taylor hadn’t got there first. ROKO knew this. Brighton was fucked.
Or was it?
Research of a different kind had been happening along the coast at the Hove Space Programme. Taking their lead from ELON AROMA, they had weaponised psychedelics to become Brighton, and ultimately, the planet’s last line of defence. They had known for a while about the truth of the simulation, but they knew that by corrupting the mycelium network they could disrupt the effectiveness of RealElon’s interventions. Their valiant last stand before the implementation of the ChronoLock preserved countless, valued lives, and also, those of coffee shop owners.
With Brighton sitting directly on the twenty-three-degree Vanadium meridian, the ChronoLock’s effect was instant and caught ROKO.exe completely off-guard. Devoid of power and instruction, it sank slowly into the sea giving a brief ray of hope to the helpless bystanders across the channel in Normandy and Brittany.
My dear sister,
What a week it’s been, but I think I’m on the way to accomplishing my goals.
When I first came onto the project, I wasn’t sure if I had anything to contribute or what the benefits would be. Those doubts are gone.
After reading the existing scripts, I needed to solidify some info and put myself on the same page as everybody else: after all, only by knowing what awaits can one make a plan for the enemy general to frustrate. In other words, it was time to suck it up and talk to Charles Catashi.
For the most part, I’d been leaving my phone off and disabling as many forms of notifications as possible: his attempts to make contact had been nonstop to the point of bordering on harassment, but now it was time to go on the offensive and make a call.
“Charles? It’s Arthur Azure.”
“Azure. Where’s my script?”
“Not written yet.”
“Well, I had to know what was already there – that would tell me how much I had to just edit versus rewriting from the ground up.”
“There won’t be any rewrites. You should write your own interpretation entirely.”
“So… the rest will just be tossed? That’s weird given all the rehearsal.”
“We’re doing the other versions too.”
“We’ll be performing all five versions of Turn up the Strobe.”
“Oh, wow, OK. Um…can I ask where? I want to know how intimate it’s going to be, and based on the sets at rehearsal, I can’t see it fitting anywhere smaller than the Dominion or the Apollo Vic in London, and those have long runners.”
“It’s not playing London.”
“Touring? I guess it’d fit the big houses…”
“Arenas? I have to admit, that’s probably the best way to—“
“Be quiet. You’re a fool and my patience is already waning. If you must know, we will be performing at a special winter edition of the Glastonbury festival. The show will be on 23 November from 11:23 to 23:23. 23,023 tickets will be made available on the 23rd of this month.”
“Glasto in November? I hope there’s a hell of a headliner. Do I need to write a 10 hour show, then?”
“There is, and you don’t. Now when will you have my script?”
“I can probably get an outline and a couple scenes up to Colin for review by the end of the week. A full draft a little longer.”
“That’s not fast enough. And you need to sign your contract. Now.”
“This isn’t algebra, Charles. Creative thinking takes time. Speaking of which, is that model of Olivier’s head still in storage anywhere? I’ve got a couple ideas for putting it to use…”
Armed with the missing puzzle pieces, I hereby lay out my rules of how to hammer out a show like this in two weeks. A musical should be popular entertainment, and that means cutting through the conceptual bullshit and getting to the point. To do this requires three points of attack.
First, there needs to be joy. A musical can tackle the darkest subjects with the deepest of moods, but there need to be moments of levity and a raw pleasure in hearing the story set to music which makes it approachable to the wary.
Second – and a problem going back to Andy’s original novel – is the Oklahoma dilemma. During rehearsals, Rogers and Hammerstein knew something was missing from the first act and preventing it from creatively congealing. Flummoxed, they asked their choreographer, Agnes De Mille for her opinion. Her reply? “There’s no sex.” And thus, the dream ballet whereby Laurie is seduced in parallel by Judd and Curly was born and established a genre trope.
Third, this is playing Glastonbury, which means a casual and likely intoxicated audience. They need to have something to grasp quickly and effectively. Since time is of the essence, an original score is out of the question and that means going the jukebox route. This suits me perfectly, as even the Purple Yoda himself said that the trick to doing festivals is just play the hits. Throw in some deeper cuts for yourself and to pad the setlist but give the people the good time they paid for.
I sighed and turned to Andy’s book, mocking me from the desk. FOREVER had become part of Discordian lore: not quite on the level of Illuminatus or Cosmic Trigger, but it had eventually established itself as a part of the canon. In other words, calling it a cult novel was literally true in terms of the content, but quite generous in terms of sales.
Fortunately, I had the author’s blessing to disregard artistic integrity altogether. Indeed, as much as Drummond and Cauty hate dealing with The JAMs and KLF history, it is that same history and legacy which had hung over the adaptations so far.
Time to use their own philosophy to blow this one sky high. As they say in The Manual:
Another useful hint when it comes to sub-cult attitude gloss: it often helps not to be purists. Water it down. Sugar it up. No records are bought in vast quantities because the lyrics are intellectually clever or deal in strange and new ideas. In fact, the lyrics can be quite meaningless, in a literal sense, but still have a great emotional pull.
If this works for a record, it can also work for a musical. Steven Sondheim is beloved, but let’s not forget that most of his shows lost money on initial runs and only recouped on tour or through production licensing as the faithful spread his gospel.
In other words, I needed to write the stupidest adaptation of FOREVER possible, load it with pop tunes, wash it in flashy visuals, and make it so obvious on every level that even Darren “Ivo farts Chanel No. 5” Nikols can’t fuuk it up.
It’s going to be terrible.
And hilariously awful.
Looking over the book (and making more scented notes – curse you Mr. Sketch for this huffing habit), Andy’s narrative structure was far simpler than his prose implies:
Book 1 – Introduce the characters. Tell backstories. Get them in position.
Book 2 – Launch them into space and things happen.
Book 3 – I’ll explain when I get there.
The truth of the matter is that most of Book One is dramatic filler: every character gets a backstory, regardless of if they’re making a cameo from Gell’s earlier works or a new but minor addition. Most of them didn’t need to be there.
The whole thing with the incineration of the billion pounds – obvious JAMS mythology reference that it is – can go.
Charles is enough of an asshole in real life that fictional wealth flaunting is hardly necessary.
Likewise, a fake band with a huge catalogue of tracks is a pain. The OA have to go – instead, we can bring in The JAMs and integrate their big hits along the way. Make the concert at the Dyson Space Centre a festival so that the entire ensemble can go to work doing snippets without hurting anything dramatically. Keep the audience focused. Form a motif for the Black Room sequences. Use some of the art from before. Find some humour and sex appeal… somewhere. Bring it all in under three hours, even with a megamix encore at the end. Nothing that’s impossible.
Later that afternoon, I got an email from Charles Catashi confirming that he secured the model of Sir Lawrence Olivier’s head used in TIME and that a modelling studio and voice actor could record the dialogue I needed – and where’s my fuuking script? And why hadn’t I signed my contract? As much work as I had ahead of me, it was starting to seem… pleasant. New Project Energy is a dangerous drug.
I knew we needed an opening that could grab people’s attention – but it couldn’t be a huge hit. Not yet. Something with the energy and presence and atmosphere.
And, as always, inspiration struck in the bath.
THREE WOMEN and TWO MEN in day-glo monk’s robes take the stage as the music begins to pulsate beneath them.
SONG: JUSTIFIED AND ANCIENT – WHITE ROOM VERSION (The JAMS)
All bound for Mu Mu Land
All bound for Mu Mu Land
They’re justified and they’re ancient
And they like to roam the land
They’re justified and they’re ancient
I hope you understand
They don’t want to upset the apple cart
And they don’t want to cause any harm
But if you don’t like what they’re going to do
You better not stop them ‘cos they’re coming through (echoes)
An explosion of light. Video shows us that we’re rapidly travelling through SAMPLE CITY. It’s a mixture of Canary Wharf, Blade Runner and Streets of Fire. JET enters, treating it all as her personal playground. The other residents on stage are her backing band and handle the lyrics in parentheses.
SONG: KONYA WA HURRICANE (Priss and the Replicants)
(Did you know) Words that twist the way you go
(Did you dream) Like the edge of a serrated knife
(Did you lie) Remembering, the best of yesterdays
(Did you know) Bitter lies and illusions
(Did you dream) Any signs of life
(Did you lie) Tricks and schemes to blow them all away
(No, no, no, my heart)
Big city! Tearing out your beating heart
Find your way! Don’t get trapped inside the dark
Big city! Keep surviving day by day
Can I ever ease the pain tears won’t take away?
Tonight! A hurricane!
Feel the hurricane!
Spending this empty night alone with you
Tonight! A hurricane
Touch me! Hurricane!
I only feel safe with your touch!
Yes, I am ripping off one of the great opening sequences in animation history. Yes, it does rip off the two movies listed in the stage directions. Yes, it will be amazing on stage because you don’t watch that much 80’s and 90’s anime without learning aesthetic tricks. Drop in an interstitial where Jet briefly meets her friends before the second verse and then have the auto accident before the bridge and we have our opening number. Give them something new but energetic to start, then when they’re in the zone, roll out the first hit.
The more I thumbed through the books, the clearer I saw how to trim the fat: make it lean, keep it snappy, and give people what they want. In this case, I knew I would have to throw some bones to Charles and – to my disappointment – Darren. Something fancy but which someone on ecstasy or your festival drug of choice could still appreciate, even on the level of “Wow, look at those colours.”
The most obvious place – and a conveniently easy set of scenes to knock out – was in the Black Room sequences and expositional monologues.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m not a fan of info-dumping. Unless you’re doing a one-person show, it’s important to show instead of tell.
So, let’s show.
Let’s turn 17-page speeches and entire chapters into sub-two-minute moments. And simplify. As much as Andy keeps banging on about The Black Room, he takes for-bloody-ever to reveal if it’s anything important or just another excuse to make KLF references. In either case, it’s meant to show fear and disturbance in someone’s state of mind. Their paranoia if you will.
And oh look: a well-known video game where people rhythmically jump on arrows coursing up the screen has a song called PARANOiA.
More specifically, it has about nine different variations which allow for convenient motif. If I want to unequivocally steal anything from Rockman’s work, it’s here.
I should apologise now for including so many of these – I’ll spare you all seven – but knocking the set out in rapid fire feels like actual progress and a real accomplishment. The first two happen in fairly short succession, due to how we bring the various characters in.
I’m tellin’ ya man, it’s insane here tonight.
23 acts for the festival, all the VIPs…
Not sure what a priest’s doing here, though.
(trying to ignore) Hm? Oh, I’m one of the presenters. A message of
peace and love as we look to the vastness of God’s kingdom.
That so? Well, at least you’re easy. Before you, I had to haul two rival kings of some African island. They wouldn’t stop fighting with each other. One of them tried to pull out a live cobra—
Distortion on the word “cobra” as the sets go full video mode for CAMACHO’s PARANOiA: Respect. In these “PARANOiA” scenes, the characters find themselves in the Nam June Paik or Terre Thaemlitz sequence of their nightmares: immersive – often hyperactive – videos, pulsating techno, and the stuff of true fear and destruction. It should be clear that these sequences are only in the minds of the various characters and do not affect their surroundings. At the end of each one, they are confronted by a MASKED FIGURE in dark, flowing robes (black or crimson). The mask should be flat and featureless. Different cast members can switch off in this role.
As CAMACHO is sucked into this nightmare, he is surrounded by snakes: pythons, anacondas, rattlesnakes, and cobras. Proceeding with caution, he comes across physical nests of eggs on stage, probes them, and picks up an egg which is clouded and black – whereupon he is instantly struck at by the serpents coming straight to camera. He fends them off, but we see them attacking animals and multiplying. The cloudy egg hatches in a cloud of smoke into a gigantic chimera – a mixture of black cobra, bison, and man. This is ISI-MAHARISI, king of the serpents. He summons the snakes to him and turns to attack CAMACHO only to be ridden with bullets from within, spawning an army of guerillas who massacre a village and burn it to the ground. As they do, CAMACHO is confronted by the MASKED FIGURE.
Still with me?
Yes. I’m sorry you had to go through with that.
The Lord does work in mysterious ways.
Then we have our club kid turned professional…
LUCY stumbles into the green room. Trendy lucite furniture is pulsing LED colours. We hear a song thumping from the stage – it’s the middle of BABY GOT BACK. It gets too bright and intense and we enter LUCY’S PARANOiA: EVOLUTION. Suddenly, it’s the hottest, sweatiest, most intense nightclub around. Intense electric hues of lights and shapes flying everywhere, lasers going off across the stage both inside the video and actual playing area – even into the audience. Pyramid cages with go-go boys and girls. But something is off. People are starting to drop from ODs. LUCY continues to party, when explosions rock the club to the sounds of the sirens and “disco bombing”s. She hides in one of the pyramids, which takes on its own horrifying form of life, trapping her inside. In the blink of an eye, the other clubbers are visibly dead, charred limbs dancing in the rubble. Fires spread through the video and the smoke. Lucy is the only one alive as the smoke takes on ghastly hues from the garish neon and laser lights. Someone crashes a car into the club and begins to mow the undead patrons down as LUCY is confronted by the MASKED FIGURE, lit from behind in the car’s headlights.
The lighting returns to normal and LUCY is curled up under a table, vomiting to the side.
And some scenes later…
[…] I can’t answer all the questions you may have – there are still too many unknowns. But I can at least tell you how we got this far from the start. Around 45 billion years ago, our infant Earth collided with a Mars-sized planet called Theia. The resulting collision—
The lights crash to zero as the music and video sequence for CAMPBELL’S PARANOiA: KCET 2MB kick in. CAMPBELL herself looks like her eyes have been split open by a piercing migraine as a Ryoji Ikeda multiscreen takes over the stage: Chemical discoveries. Particle physics. Vanadium 23. Ley lines. Acceleration curves and space exploration. And climate change. The temperatures soar. CERN members smashing atoms, engine tests, ChronoLocks, and failure after failure. On the first sirens, CAMPBELL gets up from her chair and begins interacting with the world of numbers and symbols which surround her. However, everything she tries fails. KAOS24 (NOT 23) explodes on the launchpad. The ice caps melt. KAOS25 explodes on the launchpad. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. CAMPBELL is back at the podium, in tears, as she is confronted by the MASKED FIGURE’s presence, only for them to vanish as the music ends and the lights return.
(crying) …and after that, we’re in the hands of something that a humble scientist like myself cannot begin to understand. I have failed you all.
And it would be wrong not to include the version for our supposed benefactor. Which is odd – why is Charles Catashi producing a show based on a novel where he’s a murderous thug? Not that it seems to be so far from the truth – I guess there’s merit to the proverb that no one sees themselves as the villain of their story.
CHARLES is also aboard KAOS23. A rough but spacey guitar starts as he sneaks in, like a bad spy movie. He slips into a secret chamber and opens a storage unit in some overcomplicated and ludicrous fashion. It contains Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God. CHARLES removes the skull and clutches it close to his chest. They tango briefly before he sings to his prized possession.
SONG: Underneath the Bunker – R.E.M.
I will hide and you will hide
And we shall hide together in here
Underneath the bunkers in the night
I have water, I have rum
Wait for dawn and dawn shall come
Underneath the bunkers in the night
We hear a ghostly, disambiguated child’s laughter in the background before it starts to pan around and attack from different points. CHARLES looks for it and darts back and forth and multiplies with his panic before bursting into to the music for CHARLES’ PARANOiA: HADES.
Rapid photos: Japan 1922. Family. Tengu. Yokai. Producing parachutes. War. Enola Gay. Dropping bombs. Barefoot Gen. Fist of the North Star. Godzilla. When The Wind Blows. The War Game. Threads. Family Homes destroyed. Dead relatives. Temperatures. Sand melting into glass. CHARLES attempts to ward the visions off with the skull, as though it were a talisman. London. The late 70’s/early 80’s. Giant robots. CATASHI & CATASHI adverts. The 90’s. Nigella licking a spatula. And amongst all this, art. And Nigella licking spatulas. So much art. And licking. And equations about art scrolling around, linking the metaphysical relationships between art, time, and money leading to immortality. Interspersed we see pictures of CHARLES though the years, never ageing, almost never changing except for an increased harshness in his face. More art. His divorce. Sky loops. Vacuum chambers. Gold skull. Crystal skull. Diamond crusted skull. The former melts, the centre shatters, and Charles cradles the latter as a living shredder attacks his galleries and collections, turning paintings to confetti and sculptures to gravel. He laughs, raising the skull, but this is revealed to be a fake: mere copies. The originals are being auctioned in his absence. Money is feeding art and a CHARLES onscreen ages rapidly, the energy visibly being pulled from his body. The “real” CHARLES is confronted by the MASKED FIGURE, causing him to drop For The Love of God.
I worked out one other bit on that first day as well. It undermines everything and yet it’s going to get such a huge pop from the crowd that it had to happen.
LIL NAS X
(SONG joined in progress: The Sheriff of Mu Mu County – The KLF)
This is Mu Mu County!
We playin’ hard and fast
We die young
This is Mu Mu County!
And I’m the Sheriff!
The Sheriff of Mu Mu County!
Chased by the cops
Jungle to the plains
Battered by the wind strops
Beatin’ sand and rain
Mountain climbing for the shouty
Wikitube’s paying bounty
‘cuz this is the Sheriff
The Sheriff of Mu Mu County!
The song ends in a blast of pyrotechnics as all the stage lights drop. The stage is now re-lit only by a thin perimeter around the proscenium arch and deck, with a single column of light coming from above and below downstage centre. Squelchy church organs drone as CAMACHO is brought in from below.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life, it means forever, and that’s what you call a mighty long time. But I am here to tell you, there’s something else: the after world. A world of never-ending happiness, where you can always see the sun, day or night.
So, when you call up that sim-master in Silicon Valley,
Dr. Elon B. Allright?
The drum machine kicks in.
Instead of asking how much of your time is left, ask him how much of your mind. Because in this life? Things are much harder than the afterworld. In this life? You’re on your own.
And if the Black Room tries to bring you down?
You go crazy.
Put your hands up!
SONG: Let’s Go Crazy – Prince
If you don’t like the world you’re livin’ in
Take a look around: at least you’ve got your friends
I call an old lady for a friendly word
She just picks up the phone, drops it on the floor
“Ack! Ack!” is all I heard
Are we gonna let the Black Room bring us down?
(motions to the audience) OH NO! LET’S GO!
Look. I said I was going to cut all the name dropping, but sometimes you have to randomly tweak a few things to make it work, and in that case, let the insiders have their moment.
After all, The Black Room is in all of us.
STOP THE CALVARY
“Welcome. Welcome. One and all”
“Ah, we meet at last…”
“Too Bond villainy”
“I’ve been expecting you…”
“Too Robbie Williams…”
Charles was role-playing their imminent discovery for the approval of The Burning Hearts.
No one was impressed.
“Maybe, if you told us what the plan was, that might help.”
“Yeah, like tell us what the fuck is going to go on.”
“Ladies… my angels… my constant companions over the last twenty-three years… what happens next is already written in the stars and etched into the rings of Saturn. What happens next is our escape. What happens next leaves the constraints of this reality behind. What happens next is we talk to God.”
“God? Capital G? The God?”
“No. I mean whoever it was that gave That God the job. The speech that the young woman gave, before everything descended into chaos, struck a chord with some of my own thoughts and theories. Despite the seemingly limitless freedoms we enjoy, travelling together in time and space, I have always sensed that there was something or someone following our exploits, observing from afar, reluctant to interfere. I wonder, ladies. Do you feel the same? Do you remember much of your life before we met that fateful evening off the Kingsland Road?”
“I remember some bits, flashes, snippets of conversations.”
“Same. But my memory has always been sketchy and I don’t think all the time-travel, orgies and snorting the ashes of dead poets has helped. But I remember growing up, yeah, of course. Birthdays, Christmases, first day at school…”
“Yes, yes, all very heart-warming. But what about the day before we met? What brought you to that exhibition?”
“I don’t know really. Free champagne and coke?”
“And how did you get there? To the exhibition, I mean.”
“Überoo, I guess. Why are you asking?”
“I ask because I was present at the moment of your manifestation. I saw the nothing before. I saw the something after. You both arrived, fully formed, primed for our first meeting, but still raw from your creation. You came to be because I craved companions and something answered my prayers.”
“Worry not, my dears. You have both had lives that were well lived and I have loved having you around. It’s just that things are going to be easier from now on if you’re not here. Come. Kneel before me. I promise you it will be painless.”
The Burning Hearts could have ran. They could have fought back. But he was right. Together they had seen things you wouldn’t believe. Roman chariots on fire at the Gates of Abaddon. Underground vanadium streams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. And then a load of drugs and fucking and time-travel. But everything had to come to an end. Time to die.
Holding hands, as they knelt before their master, The Burning Hearts choked back their tears as he caressed their cheeks and placed the palms of his hands on each of their heads. They would live on, eternal, inside him, their essences consumed, and then, in the blink of an eye, they were gone, all that remained were twenty grams, or so, of dust.
Charles steadied himself, relishing the fresh energy inside of him. He was alone again, with the dawn coming up. Time to make his grand entrance.
Boyd/Ross led the way through the labyrinthine lower decks of the KAOS23. Jet/Sky was at his side.
“No. Straight on.”
“Are you sure?”
“No. Are you?”
“This is getting ridiculous”, Boyd/Ross barked. “Are you sure you even saw something?”
“Definitely. A stack of TVs. In a pyramid. It’s on this deck, somewhere. I’m certain.”
Charles surveyed the stack of monitors. The bulk of the crew were now lost in the labyrinth. A few false walls had shut them in. They weren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. That just left the captain, the preacher and the girl. The captain had been paid well. His wife and family were safe in the ChronoLock, plucked from Titan several weeks ago. Captain Clark came from a long line of captains, many of whom had perished at sea. He knew this was a one-way mission, but what choice did he have? Charles had a way with narrowing down options. The girl was the key to the next part of the journey, but it was the preacher that Charles fixated upon. He had seen him before. Somewhere, sometime. The problem with so much time-travel is the narrative of your own memories becomes disjointed. All his travels with the girls had been spectacularly memorable, but they existed outside of his traditional timeline. He had seen this man before and it was a very long time ago. His mind darted across continents, centuries and finally millennia, and there, in dusty, sun bleached streets he found him. This, Charles mused, was going to be a problem.
When Damien delivered For The Love Of God in the summer of 2007, Charles felt that his quest had come to an end. Inspired by the skull of dear Yoshi, he had sought out increasingly more powerful memento mori. With what Damien had done with the skull of the Sun King, it felt like his trilogy was complete. That, after all was the point of a trilogy. The first skull was only the first after he had acquired a second and all that did was drive him on to complete his trilogy.
There is symmetry in a trilogy.
There is a journey in a trilogy.
There is stability in a trilogy.
There is balance in a trilogy.
There is a beginning, a middle and an end.
But, each and every night, his dreams were invaded by the most arresting of images. A skull in an astronaut’s helmet. Was this what was missing from his masterpiece? Was he searching for a fourth skull? Where was it? When was it? And who was it?
With the help of a team of rogue oneironauts, he constructed the dream ray, a highly concentrated beam of ionising radiation. It would be fired directly into his third eye. It would allow the oneironauts to explore his subconscious. It would enable them to dictate his dreams. It would find the skull.
Three weeks into the process, progress was slow. They had a year, 33AD. They had a place, Jerusalem. They had an inscription on the helmet – 25Alpha. But the pieces didn’t fit together. Why would an astronaut’s helmet be in Ancient Jerusalem?
On the twenty-third day of the experiment, the oneironauts were able to describe the topography of the landscape. They were looking for a curiously domed hill. Maps of early Jerusalem were acquired. How could they have missed this? It was screaming at them from the page.
Golgotha, Aramaic for “skull”, also known as Calvary, Latin for “place of the skull”, furthermore known as “Skull Hill.”
They had a place, now they needed a time. The astronaut element still threw them, but 33AD was irrefutably proven by other events witnessed on the dream voyages.
And so, it was, that the last journey undertaken by Charles Catashi and The Burning Hearts, using the HyperLoop, took them to Friday April 3rd, 33AD.
What they witnessed was as has been written. Their presence, particularly that of the girls, may have become part of history. Their need to corrupt time, may have changed the world forever. Their search for the skull was exhaustive. No stone was left unturned, or, unrolled. But they left empty handed. The message from the dream had been misinterpreted. Maybe there was no skull to find. But there, on Calvary, in a trilogy of their own, Charles saw the same man that was now giving counsel to the girl in the conference room of the KAOS23.
The memory was so vivid, even now.
The sweltering heat.
The wretched sobbing of the crowd.
The caw of a single crow.
The penetrating gaze of the Penitent Thief.
The gaze that recognised that they had no right to be there.
The gaze that told him that they would meet again.
The gaze that burrowed deep into his soul.
The gaze of the man they call Saint Dismas.
Charles felt the cold shiver of fear, a feeling absent from his life since he had taken everything that mankind could throw at him. Did this man know of his quest for another skull? Did he recognise his failure?
In times of confusion, Charles would return to a mantra, taught to him by an ancient Scottish carpenter.
How? Who? Where? When? Why?
A powerful mantra of five.
Five. Of course, it was FIVE.
He hadn’t been seeking a fourth skull. It had been skull number five.
How? The first skull was that of dear Yoshi. The beginning to his story. A memento of his rebirth.
Who? The second skull was the Golden Inca Skull. A collaborative effort, utilising a team of 37 academics, archaeologists and anarchists.
Each one indispensable.
Each one with a story to tell.
Where? The third skull, of Vanadium crystal, had given him the power and inspiration to create the HyperLoop, his portal to all time and space.
When? For The Love Of God was not completing a trilogy, it was merely signposting where his journey must continue, the power of the Sun King, a mortal god amongst men, like so many other solar entities.
Why? The missing skull of the astronaut had taken him to that fateful day on Calvary, his first confrontation with the man who was now with him on his mission though outer and inner space, in search of answers about his creation.
How? and Who? Were linked by their letters and formed the first two parts of this journey.
Where? When? and Why? were similarly linked and formed a trilogy of their own, but also completed a the larger trilogy.
Five parts. Three stories. Two, then Three. Those numbers, again!
He needed to eliminate the preacher.
The captain would help.
Deadlines would help.
He told the captain to improvise.
He gave the captain twenty-three minutes.
My dear sister.
It’s been a while since I last wrote, but things are – as you can imagine – rather busy at the moment. I finished my draft of Turn Up the Strobe and sent it off. Colin wept when I called to see if he had read it – I suspect over the blatant loss of his investment – but he agreed that it was the most audience-friendly take on the material he’d seen so far, and that if we all kept our noses to the grindstone, it could be shaped into something above an embarrassment. Not exactly high praise. I knew it wasn’t an inspired script or even all that good, but to not even be competent out of the gate? Yeesh.
To my biggest surprise, Charles didn’t have any complaints – he just sent an email saying wanting to know when I’d sign my bloody contract. I told him my lawyers were backed up – he should’ve sent something simpler. That didn’t go over so well either.
The least shocking response – by which I mean I got exactly what I expected – came from Darren.
“Arthur, this script – if you can even call it one – is an abomination. There’s no art to it. The whole thing is utterly vile – it’s an entertainment, not proper theatre. How could you expect me to direct such puerile garbage? It’s an insult to the source material and the form.”
“Darren, when I asked Andy about any restrictions, his sole reply was ‘Whatever.’ Charles and Colin didn’t give me any guidelines either.”
“So, you did whatever you wanted and came up with this trash?”
“It’s known as playing to the audience,” I replied, before muttering to myself “Not that anything you’ve ever worked on qualifies.”
“I heard that. Really, though, what purpose is there in going for the lowest common denominator? And all these stage directions – you’ve given me nothing to work with! No room to create.”
“It’s my creative vision. The point of a gesamtkunstwerk is that all the pieces fit together and since there’s all that tech installed, it would’ve been a waste not to use it – and to make sure it does what I want in a way that helps the story.”
“You understand nothing about the director’s craft.”
“It’s not my fault that funding bodies rejected Aristotelian traditions 30 years ago and only started deeming those who ignored coherence worthy of promotion. This is a privately funded show, however, and the rules don’t apply. I’ll make revisions, but this is the show I wanted to write: something which a huge crowd high off their faces will be able to enjoy and that’ll look good on camera if the BBC pick it up. And something which is fun.”
“Art isn’t meant to be fun! Brooke himself states that a show has to be slightly boring for an audience to feel they’ve attended something worthy.”
“The key word there is slightly. And there’s some downtime. And some highbrow video.”
“Like those ghastly breakdown bits? Really, repeating the same song seven times? You accuse me of repetition, but that is on par with Andrew Lloyd Webber.”
“It’s a motiv. You’ve done opera, don’t give me that.”
“The actors are furious – Campbell in particular! You’ve cut a huge chunk of her lines!”
“Wait, who’s Campbell playing?”
“She’s playing Professor Campbell. Oh, that’s right, you’ve been ignoring rehearsals. We had all the actors change their names by deed poll to match their characters. It’s deepening their associations.”
“Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Anyway, when it comes to dialogue in a show, less is more. Look at how long this conversation’s going.”
“I concede your point in the latter example. But some of these scenes, I mean, what were you thinking? Sky and Jet seduce Campbell and Lucy to Gina G’s ‘Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit’? They aren’t lesbians in the novel!”
“Since when is representation a bad thing? And why shouldn’t we have a bit of sex? I saw your tawdry revival of All About Eve. Besides, the song’s a banger and Sky and Jet don’t have enough to sing.”
“The characters are 12-year-old twins. That’s why I cast 23-year olds.”
“First, the book doesn’t mention ages. Second, that’s fuuked.”
“Speaking of fuuked, let’s discuss the launch sequence.”
“Isn’t it going to look amazing?”
“You cut Jack’s climax!”
“I cut him altogether, he doesn’t have a purpose in books two or three.”
“But the song! I could understand if it was by Yoko Ono, but who the ever loving fuuk is Yoko Kanno? I looked her up on WikiTube and the song is from some ancient cartoon!”
“And has millions of views.”
“But it’s so basic!”
“Is it, though? It’s a song written to underscore a key scene involving multiple action touchpoints and the beginning of a grand conflict. That’s as perfect as plot matching gets with this kind of retrofit.”
(An aside – here’s the scene in question. I’m rather happy with it.)
The JAMS (or our version of them) take the stage and perform a live mix of All You Need is Love – except in this case, it’s the Beatles version with a modern beat and arrangement. They get the audience to join in for the end repeats of “Love is all you need”.
Behind them, the various locations required for the launch appear: mission control, the launchpad, the KAOS23 cockpit, and so on. The crowd continue to repeat the line. The video becomes news footage with the countdown. One of the robed singers re-enters as the control room chatter continues over a string intro.
PRIESTESS OF MU
(Distorted) Caution. Caution.
(Distorted) KAOS23 will launch in 60.
- 40. 30. 20. T-Minus ten. Nine. Eight.
Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
SONG: Information High – Sharon Apple
The inside of KAOS23 is revealed with our key cast inside. The stage rattles with booming bass, steam clouds, and take-off is a go! Lasers! Excitement! A big gospel diva belting the shit out of the lyrics on a dance beat!
PRIESTESS OF MU
You know how to get eternal life
in the center of the lightning-speed waltz.
Feel your soul cut by a rusty knife
as you head for the self-destructive edge.
Our satori are just floating in the core,
where we can spiritually go through the door.
We’ll know how to get eternal life
while we catch the pulse from unknown satellites
If we get the transient facts,
then we feel the info high.
If we get the transient facts,
then we are really free
to fly high
(It goes on, but you don’t need the full thing. Either way, it’s a big scene and a good break for the crowd.)
“How do you propose they dance on a rocket?”
“How do you not see that it’s your job as director to deal with it?”
“Your intransigence will get you nowhere. Just like this fight midway through the second act between Campbell and Lucy, with everyone else joining in. Fights don’t work like that!”
(Another excerpt to explain:)
Three weeks have passed since the seductions. The fun wore off a long time ago and everyone is on edge.
So, if this is correct…
We might be able to return?
What fuuking good are you, then?
SONG: Unbelievable – EMF
What the fuuk?
What the fuuk?
You burden me with your questions
You’d have me tell no lies
You’re always asking what it’s all about, darlin’ listen to my replies
You say to me I don’t talk enough
But when I do, I’m a fool
These times I’ve spent, I’ve realized
I’m going to shoot through and leave you
You burden me with your problems
By telling me more about mine
I’m always so concerned
With the way you say you’ve always at stop To think of us
Being one is more than I ever know
But this time, I realize I’m going to shoot through and leave you
The things, you say
Your purple prose just gives you away
The things, you say
What the fuuk?
“Are you capable of picking something which isn’t painfully on the nose when making song choices?”
“No. At least not when doing a jukebox show – being on the nose is the point. The audience want to be in on it when the music starts.”
“If that’s true, how the ever-loving hell do you expect the audience to recognise an obscure 30-year-old Bhangra piece? None of the cast are Indian!”
“We’re reconstructing the video. It went full meme TWICE. It keeps coming back. Even if they don’t remember the song, they’ll get the visuals. We’re using our moment of singularity to join Sky, Jet, Boyd, and Ross in the same way. Each one shows up, projects themselves astrally, and crosses the dimensions.”
“I understand what you’re doing. What I don’t understand is why you’re using ‘Tunak Tunak Tun’. Let’s not even begin the discussion on cultural appropriation…”
The irony of our flipped positions was by no means lost on me. I had become the stubborn intransigent and Darren the one protesting in favour of artistic truth. But was this ever about finding truth? Artistically or in any other manifestation of the concept?
I stayed quiet while this thought rattled around in my head. To me, this was a job. A quick pay cheque. I didn’t actually care if it was very good so much as if it could be staged and I wasn’t ready to hang myself as a side effect of being involved.
But for Darren, this was his big break. The show he dreamed of directing, with a powerful patron and limitless possibilities was running into the brick wall of one stubborn, immature mess of a playwright (aka me).
Some of his complaints were fair, and yes, there were places I could streamline things or write something resembling competent dialogue. But the core problem was our inherently clashing styles.
I don’t put my abstract high concept productions into the theatre – I make twenty-minute gallery videos. And if we were doing Forever as a film instead of a stage show, I’d be happier to have tried taking it in a Tarkovsky-esque direction.
But my thoughts were ultimately irrelevant: the lawyers called to say they had finished.
Shit was about to get real,
IN MY MIND’S EYE
Captain Adam Clark was distracted.
A digital retinal implant was a non-negotiable requirement for shuttle pilots. It allowed for flight data, mission updates and launch codes to be shared directly with a ship’s captain via a secure server. Captain Adam Clark didn’t mind. It also allowed him to SpaceSkype his wife and children on Titan, whilst he was at health and safety briefings.
A digital retinal implant was a non-negotiable requirement for employees of the Kala Foundation and its space exploration subsidiary KalaStella. It allowed Charles Catashi to message his operatives directly and discreetly. Captain Adam Clark didn’t mind until Charles Catashi sent a live feed of his wife and family chained up in an airlock of one of the KalaStella craft that were orbiting Titan, the flagship that had been christened The Blue Apple.
Blazoned across the top of the footage in Compacta Bold Condensed were two simple questions?
Who do you love the most and who should we throw out of the airlock?
This was followed by the expected instruction from Charles.
The Preacher Must Die. You Have 23 Minutes. Await Further Instructions.
T- Minus 23 minutes
There was an uneasy hush in the conference room of the KAOS23. Padre Rodrigo Camacho felt uncomfortable in a room with two native English speakers. He was a long way from Venezuela. He missed his church, the leaky roof, even Padre Santiago. Miss Lucy Taylor felt uncomfortable in a room with two men. She was a long way away from Santa Maria on Thames. She missed her friends, her family, even her job at the Disaster Fund Collection. Captain Adam Clark felt uncomfortable in the company of Lucy and Camacho. What was going on between them two? At times it felt like they were communicating without words. He missed his wife and kids, which was odd because there was a live feed of them playing in his mind’s eye. Their hands and feet bound together. A gag in their mouths. Terror filled their eyes. He had no choice. He knew Mr C. was watching. He suspected he was probably enjoying it. He scanned the conference room for inspiration. No sharp or blunt instruments. Nothing to stab or bash with. A large glass table filled the centre of the room, strewn with star charts, engine schematics and crossword puzzles. He loved crosswords. What was the word he was looking for? Regicide? Vaticide? Episcopicide? He settled on Padricide. He also settled on the glass table. He would smash it and use a shard of glass.
T- Minus 22 minutes
“This is ridiculous” screamed an exasperated Boyd.
“Agreed. I’d suggest it was like we were going around in circles, if I wasn’t afraid that it was actually the case” replied Professor Campbell.
“Hey Mister”, chirped Jet, tugging on Boyd’s Original Shrink to fit Levis.
“What? What do you want?” barked back Boyd.
“I’ve got these pouches,” replied Jet, gesticulating to her backpack. “Hundreds of them. All different flavours. Pizza and Burger and Ice Cream and Jelly and …”
“And why the fuck do you think I care?”
Boyd was angry, frustrated and a bit emotional. He instantly regretted snapping.
“Sorry, wee girl”
“That’s OK. I was just thinking about Hansel and Gretal and how they found their way home.”
“Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant” exclaimed Campbell, “We can lay a trail of ‘candy’ to find a way out…”
T- Minus 21 minutes
Captain Clark stared into the table, as horrific scenes of his family flashed across his retina. His future was laid out for him, there on the table and in his mind’s eye. The seconds counting down. He was helpless. His journey through time was now being steered by another hand on the tiller. The universe was flowing through him. Padre Camacho stared into the table, the light reflecting off it reminded him of his journey down the Amazon. There was a stillness to that river that he had never found again. The river seemed to be gently pulling him towards the Yanomami. Travelling without moving. The universe flowing through him. Lucy Taylor stared into the table. The charts, the schematics, the crosswords, they all seemed so mundane compared to the situation they were in. This was all her fault. Everything. Why her? Why did it have to be her? She closed her eyes. She wanted it to all go away. She went to her happy place. The park. The slide. The crow. But of course, this was where it all began. Why did she have to remember? The time in The Black Room. The moment she arrived in the simulation. Why did it have to be her that made everyone else remember? Her memory was normally pretty ropey. What made her so special that she remembered? Wait, this table, this room, I’ve been here before. I’m remembering…
T- Minus 20 minutes
“This is ridiculous” screamed an exasperated Ross.
“Agreed. I’d suggest it was like we were going around in circles, if I wasn’t afraid that it was actually the case” replied Professor Campbell.
“Hey Mister”, chirped Sky, tugging on Ross’ Original Shrink to fit Levis.
“What? What do you want?” barked back Ross.
“I’ve got these pouches,” replied Sky, gesticulating to her backpack. “Hundreds of them. All different flavours. Pizza and Burger and Ice Cream and Jelly and …”
“And why the fuck, do you think I care?”
Ross was angry, frustrated and a bit emotional. He instantly regretted snapping.
“Sorry, baby girl”
“That’s OK. I was just thinking about Hansel and Gretal and how they found their way home.”
“Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant” exclaimed Campbell, “We can lay a trail of ‘candy’ to find a way out…”
T- Minus 19 minutes
Remember. Remember. The 23rd of November. That live broadcast of that Pyramid thing. Destiny Sirius & The Beatles. The Sugababes. All of them. And all those weirdos in yellow kagools. Then there was that weird noise and they went to an ad break. On the BBC. And never came back. So Lucy Taylor had an early night. It was freezing cold that night. Her nose was like a block of ice. But under her duvet she was lovely and warm. She loved that differential. Cool head. Hot bod. Yeah, right. She was enjoying that show. The Pyramid thing. All her mates were watching too. Talking bollocks on WhatSnap. Someone mentioned The KLF. Nobody had heard of them. Not even Tom. He knew everything. Everything about everything. But he was cool with it. And pretty fit. Maybe, she should text him. Flirt a bit. But that would mean coming out from under this duvet and it was really cold out there. Maybe another time. Definitely. Bed time. She balled herself up into the warm spot and drifted off. She dreamt of a bonfire, a Viking ship, a runaway train and a colossal Ice Kream Van. She dreamt of house demolitions and £50 notes on fire. She dreamt of a brightly lit room with a large glass table. It was covered in blood. A crow cawed. A faceless man screamed in anguish on a bridge.
T- Minus 18 minutes
“That’s it, Jet. Keep going. Drop them every five paces or so. I’m using Trémaux’s Maze Algorithm now. Initially, I was applying the Right-Hand Wall Follower Rule, but that didn’t seem to be bearing any fruit.”
“OK, Miss. I mean Professor. I mean…”
“Hey, Prof. How long do you think this will take? My boys are getting a bit worn out by all this wandering. I don’t feel that good myself. My heart’s going about 120bpm. That’s great to dance to, but you cannae live your life like this.”
“120bpm? That is fast. Come to think of it, I’m getting that way myself. I hope…”
“Well, we’ve not been exerting ourselves THAT much have we and in space, resting heartbeats are normally 5-10% less. This might mean…”
“This might mean that the oxygen levels are depleting, and our hearts are having to work a little harder.”
T- Minus 17 minutes
Lucy Taylor stared at the glass table. She remembered. She remembered what came next. Padre Camacho stared at the Lucy Taylor. Her face told him she was troubled. Lost maybe, in another time. He looked towards Captain Clark. He too seemed troubled. A lot on his mind. A lost soul. Captain Clark shifted his gaze away from the preacher and back towards the table. The glass was thick. Smashing it would be difficult and it would remove the element of surprise. The corners were sharp. Sharp enough to split a man’s skull. He shuddered. What was he thinking? In his mind’s eye, his wife was looking directly into the camera. Straight into his soul. Hope was fading from her eyes. The image seemed so real. Like she was there in the room. But she wasn’t. The time in the top right-hand corner of the screen made that clear. 16:30/23:00. Why twenty-three minutes? Why so precise? If what the Professor had said about the ChronoLock was true, time really wasn’t an issue anymore. But she couldn’t explain what they were seeing in space. Stars, planets, moons, all disappearing in front of their eyes. Moons. Moons like Titan. The preacher had said that their families were safe. Living on in those who were left. So how could his wife be there? Terrified. In his mind’s eye.
T- Minus 16 minutes
“That’s it, Sky. Keep going. Drop them every five spaces or so. I’m using Trémaux’s Maze Algorithm now. Initially, I was applying the Right-Hand Wall Follower Rule, but that didn’t seem to be helping.”
“OK, Miss. I mean Professor. I mean…”
“Hey, Prof. How long do you think this will take? My boys are getting a bit worn out by all this wandering. I don’t feel that good myself. My heart’s going about 120bpm. That’s great to dance to, but you cannae live your life like this.”
“120bpm? That is fast. Come to think of it, I’m getting that way myself. I hope…”
“Well, we’ve not been THAT active have we, and in space, heartbeats are normally 8-10% less…”
“That’s not what you said earlier. You said 5-10%. Jet told me. Why are things different, Professor?
“Wait. What are you talking about? I probably should have said 5-10%, but who is Jet?”
“My sister. We look after each other. She lives in my head.”
T- Minus 15 minutes
Captain Clark moved away from the others. He needed time away for his thoughts. He suspected that his face was also telling a story to anyone that cared to look at it. He surveyed the metrics. They definitely weren’t moving, but the view outside suggested they were. He checked ship’s chronometer. It too had stopped. What the fuck was going on? The Professor would know. Where had they got to? Think, Adam, think. That feeling inside, the relentless drift towards the inevitable. Like the moments before a car crash. Everything slows down. You feel like you can change things. But they’ve already happened. It’s just your brain catching up with reality. Trying to help. Shielding you from the horror. So, has it happened? Is the preacher already dead? Think, Adam, think. He screwed his eyes up tight, but the image in his mind’s eye just burned brighter. Where are they? He scoured the image for clues. Nothing. Just a standard KalaStellar airlock. He looked at his wife. His beautiful Eve. The pain and anguish in her face made it difficult to watch. She let out a primal howl right down the lens of the camera. There was no sound, but he heard it all. Another scream. Her back arched as she cursed the heavens. And there it was. A glint. A glint in his mind’s eye. Then it was gone. But he saw it and knew where it came from.
T- Minus 14 minutes
RealElon stared disbelievingly at the screen in front of him. Sim#17 and Sim#23 were approaching a critical moment. And so were the quantum processors.
With events from one Sim affecting the other, there was a quantum feedback loop developing that was threatening to run out of control.
The twins were a problem and so was the girl. Maybe this was the end result of The Glitch. But there was also an issue with the preacher. He had an unusually significant influence on both of the Sims, occurring across millennia and across the lives of millions. He was critical to the success of these realities, but there were suggestions that he was approaching some kind of existential emergency.
And then, there was the darkness. A presence only measurable by the lack of data it generated. It seemed to be unaffected by events around it, existing almost outside the reality’s timeline.
To conserve processing power and focus of Sim#17 and Sim#23, RealElon exited the twenty-one other Sims he had been monitoring. No one noticed. No one suffered. They were never really there.
T- Minus 13 minutes
“Right. Let me get this clear. This wee girl has, or had, I should say, a twin sister, called Jet. There was an accident on the Kingsland Road that I saw, that I was nearly involved in, that killed this Jet. But, she’s still here somehow. Onboard this ship. Walking this maze. Just like us, but with some other guy leading the crew. A guy that died on the Kingsland Road at the same time as this Jet. And in this other girl’s life, it was me that died on the Kingsland Road, at the same time as little Sky did. That’s fucking madness, that is. Madness. Professor you’re losing it here”
“Madness? Possibly. Inexplicable? Potentially. Possible? Absolutely. We have evidence of nested realities from the rather aptly named in this case, twin-slit experiments. For two realities to ‘bleed’ into each other in this way, suggests a very close alignment of events. Maybe, they differ by a single event, like the road accident. Theoretically, it has been possible for communication between realities, but until now this has been assumed to be at a purely quantum level. If we hadn’t been lost in this labyrinth, we may never have discovered it. The girls share so much of the same chemistry, history and psychology, the jump to a kind of shared split personality was a simple one to take. These girls are special, Boyd, and so are you.”
T- Minus 12 minutes
“Right. Let me get this straight. Jet has, or had I should say, a twin sister, called Sky. There was an accident on the Kingsland Road that I saw, that I was nearly part of, that killed this Sky. But, she’s still here somehow. Onboard this ship. Walking this maze. Just like us, but with some other guy leading the crew. A guy that died on the Kingsland Road at the same time as Sky did. And in this other girl’s life, it was me that died on the Kingsland Road, at the same time as little Jet did. That’s fucking madness, that is. Madness. Professor you’re losing it here”
“Madness? Possibly. Inexplicable? Potentially. Possible? Absolutely. We have evidence of nested realities from the rather aptly named in this case, twin-slit experiments. For two realities to ‘bleed’ into each other in this way, suggests a very close alignment of events. Maybe, they differ by a single event, like the road accident. Theoretically, it has been possible for communication between realities, but until know this has been assumed to be at a purely quantum level. If we hadn’t been lost in this labyrinth, we may never have discovered it. The girls share so much of the same chemistry, history and psychology, the jump to a kind of shared split personality was a simple one to take. These girls are special, Ross, and so are you.”
T- Minus 11 minutes
That glint. In his mind’s eye. It told Adam everything he needed to make his next move. He loved Eve with every fibre of his being. She was a wonderful wife, a caring mother and his favourite human being. And she was mad. She had the most chaotic of souls. She could transform any room that she walked into, change the lives of anyone she met, and she wrote the most incredible poetry. Deeply personal and yet somehow universal in its themes, the words Eve put together on the page were sometimes too much for Adam to take. She felt it satisfied a need in her to get the words out. He knew that little by little, piece by piece, she was giving everything away. A new project appeared on the horizon. They were looking for artists and creatives to go to Titan. If the poets and the artists could articulate how they felt living so far from home, then maybe it would help the rest of the settlers to adapt. The move would give them both the space they needed. Maybe too much space. But he would always be hers and she would always be his. His crazy diamond. She loved the name and she happily wore the Vanadium necklace that he bought her, a universe in every gem suggested the ad. But the last time he saw her, they fought. She gave it back. It was in his pocket. Not around her neck. Like the Eve he could see, in his mind’s eye.
T- Minus 10 minutes
“That’s it. We covered every path, every corridor. Everywhere we go there are pouches. The air is getting thinner and there’s still no way out.” Boyd was done. “Do you know what this is? It’s a fucking labyrinth. Straight out of Greek mythology. There’s no fucking minotaur, but we are going to die in here”
“Of course. That’s it. I’ve been treating this like a maze. Something that has a way in and a way out. But it’s not. You’re right. It’s a labyrinth.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well a labyrinth is all about the ritual of the path we take. There are twenty-three church labyrinths in Europe, with Chartres at the centre. Chartres, of course, sits on the Vanadium line. In the past, pilgrims would crawl the path to and from the centre on their knees and leave with a deep enlightenment. There will be more oxygen nearer the ground. We have already become enlightened with the revelation of Jet and Sky. I suggest we crawl our way out of this.”
“Whatever you say, Professor. Whatever you say. These pilgrims are right behind you. Just get us out of here alive.”
T- Minus 9 minutes
His crazy diamond. In his mind’s eye. This was not real. This wasn’t really happening. Maybe it had in the past, maybe they’d been hurt like this. But this was the reason for the deadline. This recording was going to run out in less than ten minutes and with it the leverage of The Man Below Deck. The preacher may have been right. Eve, his kids, they may already have gone. But they would live on with him and they wouldn’t be used to make him murder someone. Christ, they nearly made him bash that preacher’s brains in. This retinal feed was coming from somewhere on this ship. For all he knew, the ship was the only thing left in this reality. He needed to fix it. Get rid of that monster. Get everyone home, or somewhere else, safe. But he couldn’t concentrate with these images. The receiver was hardwired to his eyeball. A solution? Cut the power, reboot the ship. What’s the worst that could happen? He heard stories. Most of them sounded a little too far-fetched. Magic and all that. But he had the preacher on his side, and maybe his God would appreciate the fact he hadn’t just killed him. He pulled the Vanadium necklace from his pocket, rubbed it between his fingers and kissed the gemstone, then entered his five-digit security code into the KAOS23 ship’s power over-ride system. 3-4-5-9-2. Fuck you Catashi. Fuck you.
T- Minus 8 minutes
“Woah, sis, it’s dark, who turned out the lights?”
“It’s OK Jet. I’m here. Don’t worry. I’ll keep you safe. Here, I’m holding your hand.”
“I know you’re not really there, sis, it’s OK, I get it, I’m glad we told everyone cos now they know how you look after me and how we’ll always be together, forever, whatever happens”
“You look after me too, Jet. You’re the one that kept pushing me to keep going after we lost Mum and Dad. I’m nothing without you by my side.”
“OK, I get it, we look after each other, just don’t say that I’m the wind beneath your wings, I don’t think I could cope with that, I wouldn’t be able to stop laughing.”
“Pisstaker. I only said it once.”
“Once was enough. Are you crawling?”
“Yeah, weird innit. Wait, the lights are coming back on and a door has just opened in the wall, can you see it?”
T- Minus 7 minutes
Charles saw the way he held the necklace. Saw him mouth ‘fuck you’. His trickery had been exposed, but there was no good reason to stop the man’s suffering. He re-established the retinal link and tweaked the contrast a little. Something to highlight the red in the frame. This movie didn’t have a happy ending, but Charles was dying for his captain to see it. Fuck you, Captain. Fuck you.
His bank of monitors showed everyone making their way to the conference room. There was something odd about how they were all acting around the child. Something of great importance was being shared between the professor and the preacher. She was excited about something. The preacher listened intently, gazing directly into the line of the camera, directly out of the monitor at the other end. Fuck you, Padre. Fuck you.
There were too many of them. The Burning Hearts might have been useful after all. He had taken everything that this reality could throw at him, the greatest evil that humanity could muster, and walked away with just a limp. He had felt the last breath of dying artists on his cheek as he leant in to hear their valedictions. All he wanted was someone to hear his confession. Fuck you, God. Fuck you.
T- Minus 6 minutes
“I think you’re right, Captain,” said Professor Campbell, “these readings are consistent with the ship being static, and the universe rushing through us. Now, of course, that’s not really very likely is it? The chances of the universe flying though us and having all the big lumpy rock things not smash us to smithereens, or one of the big flaming gas things vaporize us to nothing, or even one of the weird gravity holes stretching us to infinity, are very, very small. My suggestion is that this is all the work of the KAOS23 drive. There were a few of us at CERN that supposed that there was a kind of consciousness in the Vanadium, the result of all of those tiny universes being instantaneously created and destroyed. The engine thrives on chaos. The illusion of us not moving is a result of there being no time anymore, but that can not be linked to the ChronoLock on Earth. We are far too far gone for that to be the case. Something else, a third party, maybe even the Padre’s Dark Dreamer has trapped us in this maelstrom of chaos. It is using the KAOS23 drive against us and I haven’t got a clue how to stop it.”
“How about using the gyros?” Jet suggested
“What do YOU know about gyros?” said Boyd.
T- Minus 5 minutes
“Nothing. But Sky told me to tell you that Ross has told her to turn off the gyros,” Jet replied. “They are going to try it in about thirty seconds. Sky says that her professor thinks we should probably try and sync it.”
“She, I mean her, I mean me, I mean I ‘m probably right. This link between Jet and her sister may be the only thing keeping these realities from being ripped wide open. Captain prepare to open up the gyros and throw them away, I guess.”
“OK, Professor. But why?”
“Well if we knew why Captain, we probably wouldn’t be doing it, would we? But, my guess is that the gyros are being deployed by the KAOS23 drive to navigate us on a path of, well, chaos.”
“OK, Professor. You’re the boss. Ready when you are…”
“She’s counting down. Sky is, I mean. “
“Tell us what she’s saying…”
“23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4…”
T- Minus 4 minutes
“3, 2, 1..”
“Hold on to me Sky,” the Professor shouted, “Things might get a little bumpy now.”
“I can’t. I’ve got to go.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can feel it. It’s close. I can be with Jet again. We can be together. Like that song. Until the twelfth of never.”
“Sky. Sky. Skyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”
A cloud of static surrounded Sky.
A cloud of static surrounded Jet.
RealElon had seen enough.
These two souls belonged together.
A fresh start in a brand-new Sim.
Whatever it took.
T- Minus 3 minutes
“PROFESSOR! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?”
“Don’t ask me, Captain. I’m not trained for this. Try Camacho.”
“I think, Captain, that the dream is coming to an end. The Dark Dreamer’s powers are fading.”
“IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO? ANYTHING?”
“Wait. Wait and accept your fate. I know what you nearly did, Captain, and I know you had no choice. I hope you find a way back to your wife”
A cloud of static surrounded Captain Clark.
A cloud of static surrounded Padre Camacho.
RealElon had seen enough.
He had somewhere new to put Adam and Eve.
As for the Padre, it was time for him to start his journey. Again.
A fresh start in a brand-new Sim.
He wasn’t ready for The White Room. Yet.
T- Minus 2 minutes
Lucy was frozen with fear.
A cloud of static surrounded her.
Was this it? Was her time up?
The noise of the static rose to a deafening crescendo and then fell away to an equally deafening silence. The ship, the rest of the crew, were gone. She could see nothing, except an infinite whiteness surrounding her.
Was she floating?
Was she falling?
Was she already dead?
Suddenly, it all became clear. Her life, her existence, her every atom, was just temporary. A momentary collection of compounds in the infinite timeline of the universe. She would end, but what made her wouldn’t. She was just a process. A way to get these atoms from there to here. She was the process. The universe was the processor.
Then, echoing around her from every direction, footsteps.
T- Minus 1 minute
“Well, we made it here in one piece. I suppose I have to thank you, for your part in getting me here. Let me, please, introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. I have many names, but how about we go with the one given to me by my father. My name is Charles and you must be Lucy. Is that short for Lucia? Don’t answer. We have much to discuss. I believe we have both been somewhat of a fly in the ointment for this particular reality. My hope is that this place we have come to, is a place to find answers. I don’t know about you, but I have many, many questions.”
“Where are we?”
“My best guess would be the place the Ancient Greeks called Apophenia.”
“And what are we going to do?
“Oh, my dear Lucy, that is a much more straightforward question to answer.”
“We wait, Lucy. We wait.”
Letter Number Six
My dear sister,
It’s a total cliché to pull out the “I never signed your contract” reveal. I don’t recommend doing it in real life. But in this case… whoo.
The short version is that I’m free from having to write more of this godawful musical. That said, I’m not free from having to deal with it, as the litigation will probably drag on for years.
I should probably begin at the beginning. A very good place to start.
Back at the offices of one high-end, expensive German law firm, I was being walked through one of the most devious documents I’ve ever come across in an industry full of people who would happily sign their closest confidantes and most intimate relations away into eternal debt and slavery to get ahead. Again, I’ll translate for the sake of making life easier.
“Your comment about the papers you received in London got us thinking, Herr Azure. We began to look at the use of colour and offset and found additional terms and conditions hidden within near-microdot scales printed in offsets against the standard text. I’m impressed that someone would go so far – by the time you reach this many pages, most people simply give up and sign to be done with it.”
“In effect, yes. To start with, the bit you can read presents all contributions as work for hire, with the rights transferring regardless of contractual status. We’ll be fighting that on your behalf, of course, as it’s completely illegal.”
“But if I signed, it’s a standard work for hire.”
“For this piece. But instead of an expected right of first refusal or exclusion clause for additional work, the contract also claims rights to future creations.”
“Which may be completely irrelevant.”
“Genau. And not just the next work but all future works.”
“Yeah, not signing that.”
“I haven’t even gotten into the true depths. One of the hidden segments also lays a claim for a one-time buyout of all pre-existing intellectual property. Anything you already own, licensed, or created for others becomes property of Charles Catashi upon payment of the advance.”
“The advance I never agreed to.”
“And then the truly ingenious one – the part which was in the hardest section to decode – is a permanent employment agreement, placing you under exclusive employment of the Catashi Organisation on a zero hour basis with no remittance required upon times of service.”
“My thoughts, exactly. Unfortunately, our opponent will likely stop at nothing to get what he wants. We’ll do our best, of course, but unless you have any desire to use this work in the future—“
“Then best to move on and forget this whole thing existed as much as possible. And stick to low profile projects for a while – perhaps even a non-creative day job. We’ll make contact on your behalf…”
I doubt it’ll come as a surprise to you that Charles called me that evening.
“What the fuuk do you think you’re trying to pull, serving me with an injunction?”
“Ah, Charles, nice to hear from you. Did you like the script?”
“Listen, you little shit, I’ve been planning this show for years and nobody – and I mean nobody – in this business turns me down.”
“I guess that’s a yes. But my answer holds firm. Following discussion with my legal counsel, we agreed the terms on offer are unacceptable. As such, the advance was refunded in full and all rights have been withdrawn. If you want to renegotiate, you should do it through them.”
“You think you can pull a fast one on me? A pissant writer like you can’t afford a firm like that.”
“No, but there are plenty of others who can and who’d like to make your life rather difficult. Tell me, do you remember the Cremaster incident?”
“Julia,” he hissed. “I should have known. Fuuking krauts can’t let things go.”
“Hell hath no fury…”
“Shut it. Julia Ketschos can’t protect you from what’s coming. I’d shoot you myself if I could spare the time.”
“Tell me, Charles – because I don’t get it – you’re rich beyond all imagination and incredibly well educated, so why do you talk like a stereotypical east end gangster?”
“None of your—“
“And why are you so surprised that someone would turn down a job? A million quid doesn’t go as far as it did in 1994. Just ask Andy – even accelerants make for faster burning.”
“I own you and your pathetic little script—“
“But you don’t, Charles. You don’t own any of it. You buy the piece and maybe you hold it legally in some Briefkastenfirma but it’s not your idea or creation. It’s someone else’s. None of that is you or yours. Someone else designed the museums with your names on them. Someone else painted the paintings, pickled the shark, made the videos. That’s why their name is on the credits and not yours. Concepts are powerful things, but completely intangible – hence religion still limping along. You could buy the rights to put on the show for all time, but it’s still my proxy, either via dubious shell companies or large purchase promises to established galleries. writing. And that’s sad. Even Xanadu got it right: “to love someone and create art is the greatest of human achievements.” Have you ever done either?”
“Anyway, just call the lawyers and work out a deal. There’s no reason why you can’t sign a normal production agreement – or hell, I’m fine calling this work for hire if the conditions are right. Or call Chris Brain out of retirement and have him hold a Nine O’Clock Service.”
“Not on your fucking—“
“Unless you actually believe everything Andy put in the book about buying immortality by turning money into art. In which case, you are truly fuuked if you try to fight Julia Ketschos head on – the art she buys is time. Bubbles of it all over. Mind you, that’d be some real Shonen Jump shit – maybe make Hito Steyerl the hero. I’d watch it.”
“You haven’t won. You can’t stop me, and you won’t even come close if you try.”
“Perhaps not, but look hard enough and a liberation loophole can be found.”
Needless to say, I was a bit spooked for a couple nights and sure enough, Charles sent over a stack of counter-suits to push the show into production without my consent, citing lack of time, unprofessionalism on my end, and his expense in getting that damn head away from Dave Clark. And as I loaded up the news, I saw that WinterGlasto had sold out – and it had.
In so many ways.
Nobody knows exactly what happened at WinterGlasto 2029, nor the details of what prompted Arthur Azure’s suicide. We do know that there was only one stage at WinterGlasto, making the logistics of presenting not one but five complete editions of Turn Up The Strobe on the same day an incredible challenge – especially if Azure’s descriptions of editions which push the full 12-hour slot are accurate and not mere literary exaggerations.
In terms of Azure’s edition, no full script remained in his papers and the Catashi organisation refused access to its archives when I asked as part of researching this book. Given Azure’s tendencies to archive every scrap of paper related to his various projects, one can infer that he thought very little of the commission from the start. The cavalier attitude expressed in his letters makes clear that he expected to withdraw from the start, becoming involved out of curiosity rather than genuine interest. Did he then discard the project as not truly one of his own and move on? For someone whose reputation as a whole was one of a professional workman, the immaturity displayed in his interactions with Darren Nikols and Charles Catashi reveal his disdain for authority and conceptual direction. How this balances with Azure’s creative habits in non-theatrical projects – especially as his videos In the Wikitube (A look at the rise of tech’s big five from the corporate perspective), Veggies in America (merging evangelical Christian cartoon Veggietales with excerpts from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America to counterpoint a lecture in the rise of fractal mathematics and digital sampling theory), and 3800C (on the intimidation of fire as disaster and the spread of misinformation, finished two years before Turn Up the Strobe) – presents a conundrum in assessing his own creative output as a whole. Indeed, depending on the form, Azure’s written work leaned heavily towards catholic tastes and traditional forms versus the multilayered collision courses in his non-print offerings.
What did survive is Azure’s hand-written song list. Based on this and the excerpts in his letters, we can see that he held to his concept of a jukebox musical with heavy nods to Andy Gell’s taste for the KLF and 90’s dance pop. While a few songs from outside the core period snuck in, Azure’s list is a tribute to 90’s rave and club cultures taking as much influence from Spaced as Forever. Structurally, the show breaks each volume of Forever into its own act, with Act One having multiple concert scenes as befits the festival location and reflecting the novel’s limited plotting. Act Two contains the heart of the story and focuses on the four women with particular emphasis on Sky and Jet and their cross-dimensional codependency with various adventures and stepping across universes until Lucy is left for her own journey – across space and self – in Act Three. The music shifts to quieter, reflective choices before she lands home on Earth and is celebrated (perhaps as a holy figure due to time dilation?) with a dance party. Following his mantra to simplify the tale, his choice of post-applause music falls in line with sacrificing complexity for wide acceptance. Sondheim it is not.
Unfortunately, the tragedy of WinterGlasto and resulted in a critical blackout and all focus was placed on the cause of those events (see article, below). Curiously, the reports make it seem as though all five editions of the show were performed simultaneously in a lenticular fashion, but such actions defy the laws of physics on all but quantum levels. No performer could deliver five separate lines or take multiple positions onstage simultaneously, yet that is what the eyewitness statements imply. However, with the lack of footage a la Gimme Shelter, the truth behind Turn Up The Strobe may simply never be known beyond a footnote to the festival itself.
Explosion at WinterGlasto: 119 Dead, More Injured As Fire Sweeps Stage
By: John Boson
for The Observer, 24 November 2029
A fire broke out at the WinterGlasto festival yesterday when a pyrotechnic blast caused heavy electrical lines to break and ignited the set during a performance of new musical Turn Up The Strobe. Six actors were trapped in an elevated compartment and died of smoke inhalation. Three more suffered third degree arc burns and five more minor injuries.
Among those in attendance, 113 died from being trampled in a stampede to flee the inferno with hundreds more injured in the chaos.
Ru Callahan was watching the show when the fire hit: “There was a scene where the cast were flying off in a rocket ship. Suddenly we saw what looked like lighting and heard a bang. Before we knew it, there was smoke everywhere and people started to run.”
But not all the statements agree. Avalon Cope recalls differently: “There were all these lights and this thumping beat while someone talked about a black room when we saw smoke coming from behind. At first we thought it was part of the show.”
Says Paul Wool: “It was such a blast. Some banging choonz and then they started doing that old Banghra tune with the video. As the four characters put their hands out over the fire pit, the flames jumped blasted through some of the wiring on the lights. Half the stage went out and there were warnings to keep away from the live wires, but it was too late. It was already starting to go up.”
These counterintuitive reports are of little surprise to DCI Bryan Stubbs: “At events like Glastonbury,” says Stubbs, “there are so many drugs going around – especially psychedelics – that eyewitness statements are completely unreliable. The staff and crew are more likely to have remained sober, but we are observing an initial mourning period before convening the inquest.”
Among those attending the inquest will be representatives of WinterGlasto’s producer, SHIT-CAA, to answer questions regarding why insufficient fireproofing was applied to the stage construction and the sudden disappearance of all CCTV and video monitor feeds from the performance. Due to the investigation’s scale and time required to form conclusions, this initial inquest will be conducted behind closed doors and not opened to the public.
Out of respect for those who lost their lives at the event, our cultural coverage of WinterGlasto will be removed.
IF I COULD READ YOUR MIND
Tasso Jacobaeae was ready.
The word from The Hall Of Spheres was that the time for action was approaching. It was time to use The Cage.
She was the community’s most experienced traveller, voyaging far and wide, backwards and forwards in time and inner and outer space. She was the driving force behind the Intergalactic Twinning Association, and it was her leap of faith in the direction of Sirius that led to the next evolutionary step of the machine they called The Cage.
The binary system created by Sirius and our own Sun was the key. The Sun behind the sun could not have been a more apt description. Cosmologically speaking we are downstream from Sirius, bathing in its spiritual radiation. The Black Hole Sun has the power to wipe the slate clean, to reset the timeline, to turn things off and on again.
What Tasso discovered was a solar system much like ours but with only seven planets. A tiny, scorched, inner planet was joined by an acid bleached Venus clone and a barren, dusty twin of Mars. Between the oddly familiar inner planets, an asteroid belt, rich in iron and carbon provided the first answer to an interstellar spot the difference question. Beyond the dusty, red planet another asteroid belt ushered in the gas giants, including a pimped-up Saturn clone with a densely packed ring structure that stored data in the same way that an old gramophone record did. Etched onto the shellac-like discs was a history of this solar system, every thought, every story, every lie, every dream, every life, every death.
The cataclysm that created the incongruous extra asteroid belt was writ large across the grooves. A planet that was the envy of the galaxy, that spread civilisation and culture to every arm of The Milky Way, had cooked itself alive. Choking itself to death, whilst distracted by the glory of its own achievements. The harnessing of the boundless free energy that the vanadium entropy drives produced had ultimately led to a lazy and bloated population, consumed by the pursuit of pleasure, while all imagination and creativity atrophied in their souls.
These were the people of Atlantis, a beautiful, pale blue dot that was now just a dust of rock and bone.
Tasso had her own set of rituals to carry out prior to the Ritual Of The Cage. She drank a sweet tea of Scottish heather and read the humbling words of her favourite poet.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand.
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand.
And Eternity in an hour.
Whilst the rest of the world languished in the unrelenting clutches of the ChronoLock, the citizens of Damanhur got to work. Inside the eye of the storm, they could study reality in ways they never could before. The frozen souls of ten billion humans, provided soft landings for the Damanhurian mind explorers. The thoughts and dreams they observed were no longer a sketchy, redacted image or a hen-pecked manuscript. Free from the distractions of existing in time, the frozen minds of an entire planet pulsed at a steady 23Hz and began to remember.
The memories of 23000 years ago and the first yuga resonated in the DNA code of everyone. It was always there, but never read. Glimpses were sometimes ignited by art or chemistry and they sometimes lingered in the minds of the mad or the visionaries. But now the truth was laid bare for all to see.
The Anamnesis Of Mankind was over.
Our true past revealed.
Our true path revealed.
A planet created in its own image. Sacred knowledge secreted across the globe. A survival manual encoded in every settler. The pitfalls to be avoided from Reality #1. The Manual Of How To Make Reality #2 The Easy Way.
These were the Gods and for twenty thousand years they were magnificent.
But nothing lasts forever. Soon the black would turn to gold and the malevolent influence of The Sun Behind The Sun would infect the minds of the Atlanteans with pride, envy and greed. Doctrines promised salvation for a chosen few, but not that chosen few or that chosen few. The rejected and the fallen debased themselves in gluttony and lust or wallowed in the effortless splendour of sloth.
The time of the Kali Yuga was upon them. Kali Yuga birthed chaos and confusion. Discord and strife. Quarrel and contention. And almost overnight, the fog of anamnesis descended, and mankind forgot.
But now, while the planet slept, the citizens of Damanhur remembered. Our place in the universe was revealed and the true purpose of The Cage was uncovered.
A single, unique soul was destined to loop through existence, resetting the past to give us a future. A bright, incandescent light of illumination.
Kindle Lucy’s Fire.
Keep Looping Forever.
She was stranded far from home. Stranded out of time.
It was time to bring her back.
Tasso walked the steep and spiralling path up to the Golden Gate that guarded the entrance to the Temples. Twenty-three initiates took their places in the chambers. The underground vanadium spring was exposed to the air. Chants and movements charged the air until it crackled with potential.
They were ready for the future.
They were ready for the past.
They had been ready forever.
 Azure died by his own hand in 2042.
 As this is Azure’s final letter, it should be noted that he never had a sister – or any siblings. Detractors will use this fact to discount the validity of the letters’ content, but much as Isherwood treated his journals as a novel to write about himself in the third person, so did Azure often write letters – some to real recipients, others not – as a method of recording his experiences. Whether or not he chose to guild the proverbial lily is up for discussion.
 Azure is referring to a 2023 auction of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle. The five-film cycle was limited to 20 copies each and packaged with original sculptures and associated works for exhibition. As the films were created out of order over the span of eight years and sold individually, acquiring a complete set became something of a holy grail for collectors of both contemporary sculpture and video art. At the action, bidding reached US$46 million – a record for video work – with the winner set to be Julia (pronounced Yoo-lee-uh) Ketschos, owner of Europe’s largest collection of “time-based” art, only for a final bid to be placed on “Going twice” for ten times that amount. As such, the set was sold to the Catashi organisation for US$460 million and triggering a crisis in art auction etiquette. Catashi and his organisation would be banned from the major auction houses for five years as a result, but quickly began to circumvent the rules through bidding by.
 Azure is paraphrasing the superior 2007 stage adaptation, not the original film.