Paying the Ferryman

It’s been a hectic old weekend. It feels like I’ve more or less been constantly on the move. First a series of train journeys before arriving in Essex, then a particularly long car journey to the midlands and a brief tangle with some slightly dodgy service station eggs. Then six hours or so of restless pacing around a living room, simply because sitting in one place for too long irks me in a seriously irrational manner. You’d think my knees would hate me for this, but they moan about everything and anything so it hardly makes a difference really. Another car journey followed, during which I manfully tried not to vomit, whether due to an encroaching case of motion sickness or the revenge of the aforementioned dodgy eggs I’m not sure. Then began an odyssey of rail replacement bus services and closed tubes lines before I finally, against all odds, found myself back home in Berkshire. And naturally at that point Banks’ Use of Weapons sank its claws into my arm like a particularly angry cat and demanded that I finish it. (Which I did, it is the third best book I’ve ever read, only narrowly loosing out on second place to The Lies of Locke Lamora) Needless to say not a lot of new writing has been done.

I’ve started some work of Grenade in the Rain but that’s not something that really warrants sharing till some time at the end of September. I could ramble of about some petty grievances and complaints, but it’s getting late, I want my tea and my knees are playing up again so I can’t really find the energy to plumb the dank and mysterious depths of my well of hate, anger and hypocritical indignity. The things I’m working on at the moment remain woefully unfinished. So once again I find myself shamelessly looting my back catalogue of wretched word-a-scopes. 

I have, over the last few months, made oblique hints and sly mentions of a cyber punk project called Obolus. The first part (of what I sincerely hope is many) is ingeniously entitled Alpha. It’s been finished for quite some time, but as of yet I’ve only shared it in its entirety with the resolute and sympathetic sounding board that is Sir Marc of the Noble Order of the Jolt. He seemed to quite like it, he certainly didn’t hate it, and to my ears that sounds dangerously like approval. I shan’t bore you with brief overviews as that can be found rather handily on the blog’s projects page. So without further ado I give you Obolus:

You only need alcohol till the beat takes hold. Paig could feel the beat in his veins, and it pumped. Oh how it pumped. A haze of drugs and alcohol flaked away into the bright colours of rhythm and the pulsing sound of the jive. Sweat, smoke and the tears of a hundred broken hearts hung thick in the air and made the walls bleed. The beat was loud. The beat was strong. It was the here and the now. The beat was inside your veins and under your skin. It pulsed and flowed until it took you over from the inside, until you were the beat and the beat was you. Deals might come and go, business may ebb and flow, but the beat? The beat was forever…

At least till the morning. Paig knew the morning was a very long way from the here and the now. So the beat played on. Rows upon rows of jivesters stood huddled on the crude stance floor, gently swaying and bouncing to the beat. They never swayed too much or bounced too briskly, lest they prematurely tear out one of the many spinal jacks that hooked them to the beat. An unexpected synth severing was a dreadful experience, like a hangover, a concussion and a stroke all rolled into one. It wouldn’t kill you, but in the fifteen or so minutes the come down lasted you’d certainly wish it had.

Paig was jacked into his usual stall, B52. It wasn’t the best stall in the joint by conventional standards; the plugs were loose, sometimes the synth beat wavered and it normally left a coppery taste in his mouth. But Paig liked his stall. Firstly, its number invoked a historic, cold war mystique, and every time he said the number he felt aloof and invincible. Secondly, the beat from this stall wasn’t clean or crisp. It was raw and it was dirty. You didn’t find a beat like that often these days; it was all about steady gigahertz and flow cycles. Everything nice and neat and ordered. Predictable. Pasteurised. Boring. This was an old beat; all ragged and wild, it got you going without taking your edge off. The synth pulses throbbed through Paig’s spine, heading out to his limbs and the base of his skull and filling him with the crawling tingle of the beat, making his nerves and muscles feel like they were made of lightning and molten gold. Rocking slowly from side to side Paig polished off his tiny silver thimble of coarse whisky and chased it down with a fistful of Blue Ringer’s Patented Nerve Boosters. Paig blessed the day he discovered that whack-job pharmamancer and his bespoke chems, you just couldn’t imagine shit as good as his. Dropping the thimble Paig fished out a scratched and dinted smoke stick and thumbed its activator to ‘Hot’. He started sucking in deep gulps of the rarefied nicotine vapour to ease the shakes the beat gave him in his right hand. Paig hated nerve damage, one little incident with a badly insulated wire and you’re paying for it for the rest of your life. As the ghosts of yesterdays misfortunes try to rob you of your little joys.

In the stall across form Paig a young ganger, all piercings and sensory jacks was seizing, a big damp patch spreading across the groin of his white cotton jump shorts.

Fucking amateurs! Thought Paig. Kids these days don’t know shit.

The ganger was clearly new to the beat, he was clearly gunning his nerves past their synth threshold.

Just because the dial goes up to eleven doesn’t mean you should crank it all the way there. I hope the stupid bastard fries his cortical stack.

Paig wasn’t a bad man. Not by modern standards at least. All the same he couldn’t help laughing at brainless gangers trying to show the size of their stones by jiving themselves into oblivion. Every time it made him laugh. Every time they thought themselves man enough to take a big eleven straight up the spine without ever having gone past three before. There was another thing Paig liked about B52, ever since he’d taken a micro spanner to the interface matrix the dial went all the way to thirteen.

That poor bastard isn’t going to be able to walk for weeks.

Paig laughed and he didn’t care who heard him. That poor ganger was frying on eleven and here was he, needing to crank the dial to twelve just to be able to tell that the jive existed never mind feel the beat. For that he needed a thirteen and enough narcotics to kill a small elephant.

A tiny red light started to blink in the corner of Paig’s eye.

            Why now? Why tonight?

He gunned the neural interface to receive and a message started to unfurl across his cornea in bright white text. 

      MESSAGE BEGINS

     EMERGENCY STOP

     NEST SPIKED STOP

     FILTH ON SCENE STOP

     SCATTERING TO FAILSAFE LOCATIONS STOP

     THE BOARD IS BLACK STOP

    MESSAGE ENDS

Paig closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, smoke stick still held between his fingers. A deep sigh escaped his lips and Paig dialled the booth towards zero. The beat began to ebb away into nothing, withdrawing its warm ethereal hands from Paig’s nerves. Soon the beat was gone and all that was left was the thumping bass of the club’s speakers in the pit of his stomach and the tang of copper and blood in his mouth. There was no buzz anymore. No delight, nor escape to insulate him from the squalor all about him. You could taste the spoiled air, rich with the musk of rotten humanity. It all made Paig feel sick, it made him feel angry; a rich, boiling anger that appeared from nowhere and demanded something to vent itself upon. Ripping the spinal jacks out of their plugs Paig strode forward and grabbed the seizing ganger by the front of his vest, holding him firm. In one quick movement Paig head butted him square on the nose. The ganger’s nose broke with a wet snap and blood began to flow freely. No one in the adjacent stalls seemed to even notice. Paig wrenched the ganger out of the stall, torn spinal jacks sparking and flailing wildly. Letting the ganger fall Paig kicked him hard in the stomach and didn’t stop kicking until the flailing stopped. Without so much as a second thought Paig left the ganger on the stance floor to bleed and strode towards the exit.

            Since he’d been inside it had started to rain. Big fat black drops pounded onto the roadstrip and pooled like rivers of tar in the guttering. Everything seemed malevolent in this weather. Paig had headache, a bright lancing pain behind his eye. In weather like this mixing with the comedown fugue Paig felt like the world was made of something flimsy, ethereal and angry. Like tissue paper and bees. The bees were inside his skull and they were out of their minds on bad nectar and sodomising each other with their stingers. Each day it got a little harder to focus and it got a little harder to care.

Paig left the unnamed and unmarked club door behind him and headed down the street to try and hail a rickshaw. The door was just a hole in the wall. You’d never even know the club was there unless someone told you. That was one of the reason’s Paig liked it. It was out of the way. He didn’t need to worry as much in out of the way places. The out of the way places stayed that way because the people there were smart enough to mind their own damn business.

            It took nearly twenty minutes of walking through the driving rain before Paig managed to flag down a rickshaw. There wasn’t anywhere on his body that was dry. The black rain had soaked through his suit and plastered it to his skin. The puddles and rivers of rain pooled and formed everywhere, it was hardly worth even trying to avoid them. Paig was in no mood to deal with a chirpy rickshaw, not in this weather, not at this hour. He hauled himself into the dry embrace of the rickshaw’s canopy and slumped in the seat. Two lidless blue eyes gazed at him from the driver’s seat. They whirred and clicked as they focused on Paig, bathing the passenger compartment in an eerie blue light.

            “Hello sir. Where would you like me to take you?” asked the dulcet and subservient tones of the cab’s robo-brain.

            “Whitechapel.” Paig sighed

            “It is a good thing I happened by, it would be a long walk for you in weather like this” said the robo-brain, in a sickeningly obsequious voice.

            “Wet is wet” Shrugged Paig.

The robo-brain gazed vacantly at Paig with its featureless blue lenses. They whirred and clicked again.

            “That will be approximately twenty five sterling sir. Please swipe your currency chit across the pad.”

            Without paying it a second thought Paig reached into his inside pocket and swiped the chit across the pad by the door. – § Boyce Keldan § – Debit – 25 sterling –  scrolled across the display below the brain’s eyes.

            “Thank you Mister Keladan, I am unit 438…”

            “Oh just shut up and drive will you?” interrupted Paig.

            “I am sorry sir, I see the weather has made you despondent.”

The blue eyes swivelled round to face the road ahead and swelled in brightness, bathing the road in the same eerie blue light that had filled the passenger compartment.

            “Perhaps some soothing music will alleviate your discomfiture sir.” Said the brain. “I personally favour the eco-music of the previous decade. I am sure you will enjoy it.”

            Pinching the bridge of his nose Paig sighed, water streaming out of his hair and off his clothes. He looked as run down as he felt. Seven months work and careful planning all up the swanny. When he found out which overzealous nonce from the Night Guard decided to spring this he was going to have words. The sort of words which are had with needle-nosed pliers and especially blunt knives. The sound of whale song and sitars washed through the rickshaw. Despite all the anger welling up inside him Paig could feel it dull a little. The rickshaw hurtled down empty streets and deserted roadstrips, the rain painting everything black, turning Londonn into a dark and monochrome world of grey. No black or white, just like life here. Starring out into the murk of the night Paig put away his smoke stick and thought of better times.

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About The Rogue Verbumancer

A chemistry graduate consumed by the demons of apathy and disinterest. Likes tea and cheese. Sleeps less than he should. View all posts by The Rogue Verbumancer

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