The Beacon, what a silly project. The idea had been with me sometime before I went and sat down and wrote it. It’s been years since I’ve read it but I was always so scared to really do anything with it. I feel that enough time has passed and I’ve grown enough to be able to share it.
Cargo Bay 14 writhes like the stomach of a dead raccoon. Inside each intestine, maggots flourish and churn. Chubby shuttles slide along routine canals and stop at discrete intervals. When back hatches align with the caution lines of the loading docks their doors spring open and remote loaders stuff recycled caff and vital aminos into their gape.
Azul peeps her eyes through an access grate. Servos whine as the remotes shove objects into the holes of the shuttles. She watches the shuttles for a couple time units, eyes trying to zoom and enhance until – there, just behind the grey loader with the chipped caution stripes. She thinks, “Zarrrnnaa.”
Zarrrnnaa moves like wine through a crazy straw. As she is sucked from one robot to another the movement starts wither here head eyes face before twisting down to her shoulders, arms, elbows waist wrists, thighs, calves and feet. The ingrav units in the cargo bay are at less intensity as elsewhere in the ship to make the loading process less of a burden on the machines.
Zarrrnnaa floats to the next loader robot makes some minor adjustments and with a swirling twist dodges the spider whip data cable that spins out of the incoming data shuttle. Zarrrnnaa ensures the line is connected securely to a stack of servers, likely a new batch of SimEnts ready for mass distribution aftermarket testing on Spectacular Deee.
Azul sends a meme to Zarrrnnaa and watches as the supervisor fairly seizes with laughter at the unexpected pairing or bizarre poetry and sense bundle information.
“XD that was too much”
“I’m in your house”
“Right behind your ear…”
Azul knocks on the grate and sends a snapshot video to Zarrrnnaa. Zarrrnnaa looks up towards the grate and places the palm of her hand over her face with a soft smack. She gestures and the grey chipped loader jerkily removes the grate and then drives it back into place after Azul swims out, over, and down to float near Zarrrnnaa.
“Can we :->: :EXIT:?”
Zarrrnnaa floats ahead of Azul and palms an access panel open. They drift inside and the doors sizzle shut behind them as their feet sink back down. A time unit passes as the airlock rinses and cycles. Zarrrnnaa sends death and dying. They step out into a loading maintenance corridor the glows red. Further down service technicians consult work orders and burn holes in the side of their necks with chems.
They can open their mouths to speak now they’re out of vacuum and Azul is the first to blurt, “I want in. I’m down. Fuck the system. I have a plan.”
Thick paintbrush rainbow spiral from a centre point and waterfall-down the dome of the sky as Vindrok and Jorge stampede across a field of broken crystal towers. The purple lattice structures puncture the hard-packed mud and streak upwards with vibrating thrusts. The two hop from the unbroken ground to the seemingly safe patch of earth. Their knees constantly bent as they leap forward through the random crystal petals of the Great Crystal Fields.
Soil cracks like a broken clay pot as another multifaceted purple spire burst forth from beneath the surface of Planet Green Bear. Vindrok flinches as the pointy construct grows just past his lips. He chuffs and hollers back to his squire, “Keep your feet light. Don’t you fucking land if you value your life. No more ecstasy if you should fucking eat it now you bedraggled mayonnaise celebrant!” Both of Vindrok’s feet leap from the ground as the dull brown beneath buckles to the upward pressure of yet another crystal geyser. Vindrok lands four meters ahead, red mane slaps his back with sweat as he bellows, “JORGE! Hie, to me! Lest I am forced to chase you into the underworld! I’ve been there before, and I have a certain reputation. You don’t want to see me pull your soul from death’s grip!”
Jorge, blue tunic wet to his body, takes a sucking breath and leaps with his creamy thighs exposed to the air. Left foot forward, as his right, springs him hopefully forward. While in the air, Jorge considers a day in his youth, a turning point for himself, when he knew he was bound for the world outside that of his small village.
A broom sweeps the dirt floor. Bristles shift small pebbles and cracked stones towards the invisible line at the base of the door frame. The packed earth of the hut is kept free of impurities by the twice-daily dirt sweep. Dark hands grip the broomstick and jerk, twist, and cajole the small rocks out of the hut. Shoulders and the attached muscles move automatically as the face directs its gaze out the front door flap. Eyes skyward as the mind roams the what-ifs and waking dreams of a bored younger.
Ahead Vindrok bounds from crumbling crust to crumbling crust. The oils and waters of the planet burble and jet super-heated vapours with keening squelches.
Jorge staggers behind, taking calculated leaps to sections where the dirt is most homogeneous. There’s no way to sess what’s underneath, but Jorge cannot let the mad kneht win.
“Explode and I’ll swim through these noxious fumes to the bowels of this hollow fuck and sieve your soul from the wretched soup that roils at the core!” Vindrok threatens from the far end of the Plains of Final Judgement.
Jorge curses as his eyes fail to locate the next patch of safe earth. He slides left foot forward and feels the crust beneath his big toe begin to crumble as his stomach begins to drop out. He trusts in the failing ground and pushes off his right leg eyes wide and fervid in his skull. They scream as he launches himself forward.
Forked red, green, and gold burn across the sky. Trailing oozy grey smokes out behind. Eyes follow the shape, winged, dark, colossal. The broom stutters against the dirt before it clatters to the packed floor. Feet step out of the hut as the sky burns overhead.
Jorge’s fingers strain forward, nearly popping out of their joints as he reaches towards safety. Green vapour spouts up and around Jorge. His vision fills with a vibrant jade as the liquids jet towards the sky. His seeing globes judder violently as tissue dissolves off his outstretched hand. Bones. Flesh drips as the green steam surges past his extended digits and he sees his own bones.
The county airship floats the levy towards the scaled invader. Its thick canvas gas sacks strain against the taut rope of Jorge’s village. His hands remember coiling, binding, stretching and braiding the lashes that now stretch across the gas sacks woven from the village across the water. The airship adjusts course to intercept the dragon. For that is what the source of flame and destruction is. One of those arms of god manifest. As it seeks to tear the world apart from its heavenly dominion the airship adjusts weapons and directs all ire towards the dragon. The heart seeking harpoon launches from the bow and young Jorge’s eyes track the crystal shuriken amidst the smoke pouring out from the ruined huts of his neighbours.
Vindrok pauses and looks over his well-muscled shoulder. Sweat glistens as his charcoal eyes seek the truth amidst the exploding earth. He sees not the bits of Jorge gradually melt away from extreme heat, and liquid pressure. Vindrok sees aquamarine pseudo pods tickle the edge of white calcium. Feathers gently clipped by the nurturing beak of a foreign bird whose plumes burn green and sulphurous through an ultraviolet scrim.
Great blue claws tug at the embedded crystal. Golden chest scales heave and wither as the shuriken grinds deeper towards the dragon’s hearts.
There are no doors street level. Three story hovels and miscellaneous hostels spew derelicts into the streets at the base at a minimum safe distance of 200 meters.
Polly narrows her eyes at a stack of coffee shaded conapts.
Her legs lift over the soggy bottom of the threshold. Splintered and rat eaten cardboard splatters the tile floor of the apartment building’s entryway. Thirty pairs of shoes are scattered in clumps, brown, black, sneakers, guest slippers, dress shoes, loafers, house shoes, geta, crocs, and the wires of long rotted disposable footwear. Each discarded foot covering emanates a sorrowful aura the climbs through the dead roaches, stained moulding, and attempts to breach the antiseptic barrier of Polly’s Death’s Head boots. Her neon shadow falls through the door and darkens the tile. Flashing sprays of green, red, and cathode blue pour in the space between the woman and the door frame from the Pollo Campero across the street as the chicken struts along the marvellous marquee.
Green Fleur de lis wallpaper crawls in wrinkly ribbons down the back wall as Polly shuffles in. The process of unbuckling the deaths head boots reminds her to pop another stick of gum into her mouth to help cover the greasy smell of this apartment building. She also thinks about her sister, the last shower she had, the note she left, the men, women, and erotic others that who’s hearts she’s left bleeding and twisted in the crossfaded days of her younger self. The woman five years her elder, with the experimental music hobby, the range of middle-aged men, the boys, each of her firsts, and, as the left boot is removed, her days rooting in the garbage for stale loaves and ketchup packages, the extra clothes, her first encounter with Old Merve. This last flashback threatens to swamp her brain and she summons her tranquil place. “The beach. The beach. Think of the beach.”
The sky is a simulated blue. No birds foul the air. Waves and the subtle wind are the sounds that help drive the dirty memory from recall.
She lifts her boots and begins heading up the squealing stairs. As she pins the boots under her armpit she fiddles with a piece of gum. She squints while peeling the foil wrapping from the wilting green stick. Her feet on the stairs wobble without her eyes to keep balance.
The gum really likes the foil. It does not want to be separated and fairly communicates this nonverbally to Polly by adhering staunchly to the uncoated foil underside. She tries but is unsuccessful. Several stripes of foil cling yet to the gum before she loses patience and pops the piece into her mouth.
The spire bisects the wastewater treatment plant and the community gardens maintained by the Deerfield Retirement Community. It draws in blood from these two sources like an enormous needle. Seniors and shit are suctioned up into the steel confines of the police spire. Filtered, shaken, milked and processed so that the sucking machine can live.
When Great Grandma Hildegaard passes, and the relatives are too busy to collect her remains, the beds tilt and she slides into the catacombs beneath the community centre like a B-movie trap door executing its best special effects moment. She slides under the well-tended beds of the community gardens to the tune of comical music and an animated commercial for toothpaste, bumping against walls, her dead legs flopping in the air. G.G.H. tumbles along a chute, along with G.G.J. and numerous other centenarians, until they clatter like bowling pins into a well-oiled gutter.
This intersection is where the proximity of the wastewater treatment plant shines in its efficacy. As the bodies collect against the grate, too large to pass through, so too do the nanomachines and artificial cleaners collect in great swarms from their nanohives in the inside-out uteri of the treatment plant.
G.G.H. herself would most likely have passed listening to the top forty of her heyday, even if she never really liked those songs, they would have tickled her Alzheimer’s into believing that today was a once treasured moment and the vast potential of her life lay before her like an unspoiled napkin. Great feast ahead, patiently waiting for the main course, and secretly pining for the decadent dessert sure to follow. If this scene is frozen grey across the eyes and cortex of G.G.H.’s deceased body then, in its passive state it does also witness the slow dissolving of its constituent parts as the nanomachines clip, shear, and snip molecules of flesh. The soft raindrops, bits of Great Grandmother Hildegaard, are removed from the corpus and join the effluvia jettisoned by the treatment plant.
“And let’s murder this heckin’ tree!” The forest shakes as, with a mighty chop, Vindrok’s sword smokes through the trunk of the nearest tree. Fairly 30 meters tall the tree stands upright for a teetering moment before it descends. Its branches crash against its siblings. “Break! Snap!” Vindrok shouts.
The siblings spill to the side as hefty branches press the weight of years against their tender limbs. Forceful maturity bends and cracks off their reaching arms. They clatter to the hair crowded floor while the trunk continues its descent. Large arms drag and claw against the siblings.
The trees scream as their limbs are ripped off by old hoary hands, grasping claws, and woody nails. This giant that falls, this older sibling, cascading tresses lank as life gushes out their torso. The siblings cringe and cower as the dying body of their old pushes them aside.
Some siblings fall flat against the planet before even the sibling completes their descent. They weep into the dirty ground; sappy tears stick to the dead hair of the family.
Vindrok howls in triumph as his greedy nostrils dig deep the charcoal reek of the smoked tree. Roots from trunk smoulder after his furious axe cut.
“We’re going to burn all these offenders until they give up their lords!” Vindrok is a solid point of fury amidst the bodies of the cringing and dying family.
The trees continue to peel from the ground, their roots flinging earth into the air with plaintive snapping. The Old continues to fall, drags its leaves through the stratosphere. Dazzling green blades burn fluorescent orange as they scream across the infinite reaches of the sky.
“Though your family is slain all around me your crooked broken hearts are non-functioning. So, each death proves your abominable nature. It isn’t I who murders your family with burning sword.” His voice echoes through the canyon of trees. Echoing against their dense trunks further and deeper into the Hercynian wood.
The dirt and hair move aside as branches plunge down. Each cracking penetration forces aside detritus and loam. Drippy chunks the circumference of Jorge’s thighs explode from subterranean worms as the trees slice through their lengths.
She leans on the handrail on the steps outside, clings to it like a parasite to host. The railing has supported many, from butts to hanging child forms, to anthropomorphic visitors, and all the custom mods that create the populace of the caravan. This careworn revolutionary is the least of the rail’s burdens. Azul dangles, her lips dry and cracked, her voice hoarse. She scrambles for a lozenge and dryly sucks it into her mouth. It dissolves in a hydrating rush and her pores sigh with relief. Her lips plump, her scalp loosens, and she relaxes once more. As her brain chugs back to regular speed she closes her eyes and thinks back on her vision. She must maintain momentum. She must meet, she must organise, she must campaign, she must overcome and overthrow. Azul realises that to see Geary again she must begin the slow lonely work of revolution.
Geary pours a cup of caff over the green sponge leaves of their newest hab guest. The life-form wriggles orange roots through the neoplastic container that holds a quantity of dark compost tight against its base. “Welcome home,” Geary murmurs as they prepare to pour another serving of caff for their self. “I’ve waited for something like you. Soon enough you’ll be big enough to harvest and then we can both ride the ‘trodes into Night City together.” The sponge fronds’ pores dilate and suck the caff.
Geary flicks the incinerator switch and watches the discrete packaging turn into dust. So simple it is these days: put out some feelers, head down to negotiate a quick favour, print some pamphlets, receive an illegal sentient narco-lifeform and having done that, harvest its organs, join the symbiosis and immerse oneself fully with the SimEnt network and stage a takeover of the entertainment systems, then infiltrate the different ship and fleet subsystems one by one until voila, the caravan becomes one’s arms and legs.
Geary sees themselves connected into every hab, every air duct, every processor. Their vast limbs reaching across the stars. The thousands of ships of the caravan encircling planets, systems, all while the human race blindly continues on a blind and ignorant mess inside.
Polly shakes her head at the taxis occasionally slowing by to entice. Frustrated honks glide off into the rain. She strides past derelicts, street heavies, and closes her eyes tight against the wall of graffiti that hems in San Pedro.
Fibrous cylinders fountain like fast forward spaghetti from a prehistoric non-vascular aquatic life form that resembles a toilet paper roll. The cylinders collide mid hologram with a trophy touting lion’s head sewn to the prehensile breasts of a mother kangaroo in whose pouch a tangled mess of electric wires squirm and sizzle. Their googly eyes flying out over the street in clumps of four. Behind the Kangaroo a long vanishing point type rainbow stretches back to the primordial past where giant sloths feed Jesus goldfish crackers. A sagebrush jack rabbit, cartoonish and cute, supports a pack of boner pills that dance along the animal’s tongue. Balloon letters bleed from the rabbit’s asshole, “Best of Luck!” As the sea spaghetti wriggles ever up the walls of San Pedro they encounter the level wherein no birds dwell. Figures of aged folk, in an early Raphaelite style swoon over benches their outstretched dying palms filled with dripping bird seed. Crows knacker silently and gurgle down the seed which wriggles in their distended bellies. Though the horizon of the San Pedro walls imposes a creative restraint on the gang of artists responsible for the duelling graffiti, each has interpreted that final moment uniquely.
From the East, the wire joeys braid together as nautical vessels of war, gliding through a mine rigged dark up towards the surface. Torpedoes launch from tubes and spring forth hyperbolic flower arrangements of surveillance clouding chaff clusters. Their broad hulls brush spiralling crustaceans and squid aside as they move upwards towards the white-capped limit of this space.
From the West, a bounty of grotesque deformities, long-limbed torsos astride abominable sets of twelve legs with each ending in a cracked yolk wherein curdled foetuses blow bubbles in the first and last breaths. Test tubes crack open upon smoking wounds in disembodied arms. Ink spills from a sodden cloud at the upper limit. It rains down from above and as the drops fall they transform into a series of political caricatures of the hated politicians of the day. The multi-limbed beings spread out in the rain, some bask and others shelter under one another with the occasional hands wriggling digits at the submarines rising above.