Speaking Static – 1995

April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

[5.21.95 – ASCII Dump]

She’s a baby-shaped lightbulb; it hurts to look at her.

“Say hi to Auntie A-Bell.” When Frisbee floated Ai into my arms for the first time, on the day I came back, I almost dropped her because my muscles were twitching and shaking. Her soft hands burned into my wrists, her half-open eyes shot right through me, and I had to turn down my glasses before I went crazy.

“Jessica stopped by yesterday, I couldn’t stop crying.” She was marked from head to toe, in a way more subtle than Amber could ever come up with. “She said that I’d made the right decision with John. I was so happy.”

She’s a week-old satellite dish, an electromagnetic vacuum.

“Isn’t she the most beautiful thing in the world?” I raised her to my face and kissed her forehead. It tingled. “Isn’t she perfect?”

She is. She’s the one Jo told me about. The future.

Problem is, I’m not so sure if we can make it to that future.

[11.19.94 – ASCII Dump]

“Can you hear me?”

Those are the words that greeted me to e-life.

“What?”

That was my first question as e-punk, as living antenna.

Amber is sleeping now, and I hate myself for wanting her, even for a moment. I hate how good she tasted, I hate how her hands felt when they touched me, I hate her on the floor exploring in Sasha’s place. I even hate the freshly etched body marks, the clear circuits that let me speak static, they make me feel like a VCR or something, dead except for the occasional electrons. I hate them because they’re permanent, and I hate them because she made them.

“You heard me. Now look.”

Last night, I put on my glasses and the world turned inside out. I heard her speaking in my head, I saw through her eyes, I moved my hands and I felt the invisible flowing through. Everything was marked, catalogued, dissected, and when I saw me through her I was one big neon sign, blinking on and off as the info-aura crackled through my skin.”You see that little bulge by your forehead? That’s where the main conduit starts. It runs over your head and straight down your spine.”

I remember when she made it, her gun transferring the template in a way 10 times more painful than a normal tattoo. The little chain around my right ankle from 1987 was bad enough, but yesterday I was completely under her control, every little prick making me beg her to stop. When she got to my neck and pulled out the clippers, I was too out of it to complain.

“Prepare to switch back.”

So now I’m a bald circuit board, and I can see around corners and through walls. I can listen to all of the music ever recorded, and I can make the night into day. I’m like a fucking superhero or something, and already I’m bored.

“Everything looks cool for now. Tomorrow I’ll give you a complete reading, just in case. If you have trouble sleeping then wake me up. O.K.?”

I didn’t have trouble sleeping because I didn’t even try. I just wanted to be held, to wipe away the connections that are going to follow me from now on. I didn’t want it to be Amber, but she’s all I had then, all I have right now.

“Can you hear me?”

I was naked, because of the etching, and I didn’t even bother to put my clothes back on. My jeans sat crumpled up by her 10-speed, and my shirt was still lying on the couch, covered in sweat.

“Are you alright?”

I just wanted Sasha back, I just wanted to cover her, for her to hide me. I was only doing this for her, to continue what she started.

“Annabelle?”

I let her hold me, kiss me, fuck away the pain. I hoped that when I woke up this morning, it would be Sasha there next to me instead. I dreamed that I wasn’t a stupid machine-girl, that I could just walk away from it all.

“Come here.”

I’m writing this on a keyboard I drew with my finger on the carpet. Intruder is playing in my earplugs, plucked out of the infinite data sky. Voices are everywhere, and I don’t want to hear any of them. Amber’s still asleep, and I know I have to be here when she wakes. There’s no turning back now.

“It’s going to be alright.”

God, I pray that she drew an off switch on me somewhere. Pretty soon I’m going to need it.

[11.20.94 – ASCII Dump]

She apologized. It took her a day of fussing with my nodes and redrawing broken lines, but finally when she was making dinner – spaghetti with a perfectly chunky red sauce, better than Sasha could ever stir up – she silently called to me “I’m sorry.”

Now I was somewhere in Japan right then, using some of Sasha’s scripts to score some cash I desperately needed, but I quickly came back to the here/now and cleared my lenses. I hadn’t really talked to her since last night, and I was still mad enough that all I could shoot back was “Well?”

“I’m sorry about what happened before. I was wrong.” She turned off the burner and walked over to me. As she sat down on the floor I looked away.

“That’s not good enough.” Stood up and walked over to the door, fully determined to just run down stairs, hop on Sasha’s bike, and never turn back. I knew that she could wave the door shut, but I also knew that she wouldn’t. She couldn’t, not to me.

“Even if you leave, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll always be there for you.”

“Like you were there for Sasha? You let her die!” I looked down at her clear hi-tops, and started to cry. I missed her toes, her everything.

“You don’t understand! It was her choice.”

“Choice? What kind of choice is that?” I swung around to find her crumpled on the floor, shaking slightly.

“It wasn’t my choice…” she whispered. “It wasn’t my fault.”

So I walked over to her despite my rage, and rubbed the back of her neck, like I used to do Pixie when she got all stressed out.

“She always liked it when you did that.” She looked up at me, with the most saddest gaze I had ever seen. “Always liked it…”

I gave her a tight hug, kissing her ears as I whispered to her that it would be O.K., that I wasn’t going anywhere. She just breathed silently into my neck, and I realized that I was all she had left of Sasha, that I represented their partnership, their bond.

“I’m not sorry for last night,” I finally spoke aloud, drawing her face up so I could look into it. “It was beautiful.”

“Sasha was right all along,” she smiled. “You are worth dying for.”

We held each other, overlapping our fields in the middle of the floor, and cuddled against each other all night. She knew all of my stories, all of my hopes, dreams and fears, and I listened attentively as she whispered hers to me. I don’t remember falling asleep, but when I finally woke up she was curled up against my chest, hands still intertwined in mine.

That night, I thought that I was the one asking to be held. But it was her all along.

And now I’m not so sure I want to let go.

[11.23.94 – ASCII Dump]

Well, I think I’ve finally got a handle on my OS. Amber set up my bodyware and taught me how to appmark, but when it comes to the superstructure everyone’s got to design their own. Fuck, I’m even starting to talk like her – not even Sasha was as hardcore. “Think of yourself as one big web browser,” she responded when I got confused, “except you can point at pretty much any digital destination.” From what I gathered finally, all the e-punks are their own “home pages” or some shit, and we’re all connected to any number of networks and servers. I really have no idea what this means, except that after I paint my invisible connections and lap on the fingernail markup I can go anywhere I want and then some.

Anyway, I mastered the glasses almost immediately, which is good for my sake because Amber says most people get sick after a few hours. Even though she warned me against it, I’m still going to air-type out all of my thoughts, even the more secret ones, because when it comes down to it I don’t know shit, and reading this isn’t going to help anyone but me.

So I was trying to figure out my OS, right? And I remembered what Sasha told me that night, right after we got married. When we walked out back of the warehouse-thing, and the Ice Cream Truck was playing old Eskimo Guy tunes, she stopped kissing me long enough to say “I think this is it.”

“What do you mean?” I thought she was talking about what just happened inside, about the bouquet and Slide Rule School.

“I told you about New York, right?” She was talking about Friz and John, so I nodded.

“Well…” She looked up into the night, and sighed. “I fucked up big time, and now some e is after me. Word has it that he’s in town, and to be honest I’m scared.”

“I’m sure you can handle it. You always do.” But my sweet talk wasn’t working one bit, because she still had that distant look.

“I don’t have much time left. Whatever happens, you have to promise me that you’ll go on.”

“What are you saying? I would never leave you!” I was really confused, especially since this was right after we took our vows.

“But I might have to leave you.” She held my hands, and hers were warm as always. “In the closet there’s a big cardboard box on the top shelf. If and when I go, take the stuff that’s in it, along with the notes in our safety deposit box, and don’t come back until your ready.”

“I don’t understand. Where are you going?” As I said this, I looked at her hand within mine. It was starting to shake a little.”I don’t know…” Dust Lag was starting up. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

So she dragged me back in, and Susanna and crew put on one hell of a show. Suspender continued their general plan of attack, and everything was perfect, until.

I still can’t think about it. I didn’t, haven’t and won’t, because I know it’ll destroy me. When we rushed her to the emergency room in the Ice Cream Truck, I knew that it was too late, and I knew that someone had to pay. So I stayed over at Jo’s that night, woke up the next morning, took the box and never looked back.

Amber would kill me if she knew I was writing this, but right now I just have to get it out somehow. So anyway, in the box was a pair of glasses, along with some marking pens and various circuit clothes. The safety deposit stuff were specific instructions as to how to temporarily mark up myself so that other e’s could identify, and there were lots of pictures but it still took me three hours. I didn’t even bother to pack a bag, and left our apartment exactly the same as it was the night before, before the show. I couldn’t stand to touch anything she had, not so soon.

Although the configuration in the notes wasn’t enough to run the glasses, I wore them anyway as I rode the subway. I felt extremely foolish with all of these dots and lines over my face and hands, but they weren’t visible in normal light so I soon even forgot I had them on.

It didn’t take more than 40 minutes of riding down south for Amber to sit across from me. At first I didn’t really notice her, because her whole air was anonymous and plain – like most of the people on the train – but soon she started to not only stare at me, but cry as the stations came and went. She kept rubbing her eyes and drying the backs of her hands against her white dress, which hung at her feet as if it was in mourning, too. I didn’t know what was going on but I felt I had to do something, and so I walked over and sat down beside her. “What’s wrong?” I touched her shoulder as gently as I could.

“Sasha can’t be dead! You’re lying!” Everyone looked around to us for a second, and then went back to staring out of windows or at their laps.

I tried to remain calm, but I was understandably freaked. “Yes,” I brushed a wrinkle off of her thigh, and the material felt really strange. “She’s dead.”

She face grew redder, like she was trying to hold back an explosion of tears, but she touched her right wrist and suddenly grew calmer.

“I’ll be all right.” She touched my cheek gently. “It’s just that you’re wearing her marks.” And then I noticed the glasses on her lap, and knew that she was my contact.”I was told to find you if anything happened to her.”

“Wait a minute…. you’re A-Bell, right?” I nodded as she wiped away the tears. “I didn’t recognize you in real life.” She touched my face one again, put on her glasses, and bounded out of the seat-bench, her dress twirling around her feet. “Come on, this is our stop.”

I was simply amazed at the transformation, but didn’t question it as she rushed past the commuters, holding my hand so I could keep up. She touched the fare gate and it slid open, and she motioned me through with a flourish. Walked past the newspaper machines, and I followed a few steps behind until she stopped at the bike racks.

“I’m Amber, her partner.” She unlocked not just one bike, but two. “This was hers, she kept it here in case of emergencies.” She frowned. “I guess it’s yours now.”

“Partner? There’s so much I don’t know about her…” I stood there like a stupid fuck, as she straddled her seat.

“It’s O.K. She told me all about you, and I promised to take care of you when things got bad.” She kept staring at my face. “Let’s go. We have to get those marks off of you, before someone else notices.”

So I did my best to follow behind her on Sasha’s bike, which wasn’t adjusted for someone as tall as me. We shot through midtown, and it took all of my effort to keep up with her, with all of the shortcuts through parks and alleys. Finally we reached an ancient looking apartment building, and she told me to lock my bike to the stop sign. For some reason she carried hers all the way up three flights of stairs to her place.

“Stay here for a second. I have to turn off the security.” She waived her hand over the door knob and it clicked and swung open. Wheeled in the bike and shut the door behind her, and I was left in the most dingiest hallway possible, complete with stray newspapers and hand-crushed beer cans. The single bare lightbulb which illuminated the whole floor was flickering, as if from constant brown outs, and the carpet had several stains that I was glad I couldn’t see clearly.

“O.K. It’s safe for you now,” and she waived open the door for me. I entered cautiously, not knowing to expect, and was confronted by the neatest, shiniest, lick-it-off-the-floor apartment I had ever imagined. It was like Patricia’s room before she was too Isaac-crazy, only instead of cute stuffed animals all lined up on the bed there were wicked looking machines, lovingly shelved and wired together, that were humming in unison.

“Should I take off my shoes?” There were about 10 pair lying by the door, some of which I recognized as Sasha’s – including the transparent hi-tops from way back when. Everything was immaculate, even the laces were tucked away out of sight.

“Please.” She was over in the kitchen, drinking some bottled water. Surprisingly, she had already changed out of her off-white dress, and was wearing some sort of one-piece bodysuit. “Can I get you anything?”

“No thank you.” After I finished tearing down my boots, I got up and looked around the place. It was fucking weird. Sure, there was a comfy couch, a table and some stern wooden chairs, but everywhere you looked there were glowing power strips and boxes blinking and chirping away. It was like I just walked into a machine, and the really strange thing was that Amber kept looking at stuff and it would spring into life, yelling out dial tones or displaying long lists of characters and files. I just wanted to run away from it all, to go back to Frisbee and Jo and mourn in relative peace, and I think that she could tell because she walked barefoot back into the living room and pointed me to the couch.

“I have a confession to make.” Sat down next to me and sighed. “I had a feeling that things had begun, ever since she crashed, but I didn’t expect to react that way when you came…”

“What? I don’t understand.”

“Sasha was my partner. We never left each other’s side, even when we were half way around the world from each other.” Took a swig of her water. “We were like sisters, and when her signal started to fade….”

She took off her glasses, and hung them off her collar..

“You have to understand. I thought that she was invincible, that nothing could keep us apart. She had logged herself off before, but I couldn’t have been sure that this was it until…Wait a minute.” Ran into the other room and came back with a clear sponge, and started to wipe off my face. “This was Sasha’s last message to me, and it brought you here.” Pressed harder as she moved around my forehead. “Now it needs to be erased.”

I stood still as she cleaned me up, and remembered how Sasha used to soap up my face and shave me with her fingers, kissing the smoothness revealed. The fact that Amber reminded me of this was annoying.

“I’m sorry about all this.” Placed the sponge on the floor and put her hand on my thigh. “But things are starting already, and she sacrificed herself for the cause.”

“What cause? I’m so confused.” And at this point I really was.

“I guess you’re ready.” She pointed at a machine, tapped her fingers against her palm a few times, and Sasha appeared in the middle of the room, sitting with her legs crossed. “It’s for you only,” and she picked up the sponge and walked off into her bedroom, leaving me alone with the ghost.

“I’m sorry it had to come to this.” The e-Sasha flickered slightly as she stood up.

“What’s going on, Pixie?” I couldn’t hold back the tears. “Where are you?”

“I’m dead.” Stared right at me as she walked over. “I’m so sorry, I failed you.” She sat down next to me, and when I tried to hug her I fell right through to the cushion.

“Please. Tell me the truth, for once.”

“I love you so much, so please listen. I only have 10 more minutes before the connection is cut off, and this will be my last chance in a while to contact you.” She turned around and lay down next to me on the couch, her mouth to my ear. I swore not to repeat what she told me, and to be honest no one would believe me anyway. I don’t even know if I believe it.

When her 10 minutes were up, she brushed her hand of light against my face, made me promise to listen to Amber, and whispered “I love you” as she faded away. I rushed over to she spot she left from and just hugged the floor, hoping that she would shine on me again. But she didn’t, and the only thing that came was a hand on my shoulder.

“Are you ready?” Amber was holding what looked like a tattoo gun, along with a number of containers filled with translucent colored liquids.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” I took off my shirt, spread myself on the carpet belly down, and let her straddle my back.

“This is going to take all day.” She sponged off my shoulders. “If you need a break just say so. O.K.?”

In front of me was the door to Sasha’s room, which I could tell because it was filled with Circle X stuff. As the first line scratched into my back, burning like I don’t know what, I kept my eyes on her room, and imagined that she would walk out any second to support me. She didn’t, but I understood.

“O.K.”

I understand now.

“I’m O.K.”

[11.24.94 – ASCII dump]

I failed. Today was my first test, and I totally fucked everything up.

Amber and I were riding around downtown, e-chatting away about this and that, when suddenly there was Jenny, walking in front of us. I said that I couldn’t put up with seeing her, not so soon, so we ducked down 54th and stopped by the nearest bus stop bench. I felt like I was going to throw up.

“What’s wrong?” She rubbed against my hand, but I pushed her away.

“Jenny and I didn’t part on such a good note.” This was the understatement of the year, because we got into a horrible fight when she knocked down Frisbee at the show. I just wanted blood for what happened to Sasha, and when Frisbee hit the floor and started to puke I just tackled Jenny, bending her arms the wrong way as I put my weight on her body and legs. I asked her to apologize, and she just spit at me and started to scream, until finally Phone tore me away and she ran over to Frisbee. She’s a total bitch sometimes, but deep down I know that she loves Laura with all of her heart and soul. Still, I don’t want to be near her, not for a long time.

“Well, if you’re not ready to see her yet, then I understand.” A bus pulled up, and an old man inside couldn’t stop staring at us, and kept doing so until he was driven away. I guess it was my shaved head or something, but it wasn’t like we were waving the freak flag or anything.

“I just want to get out of here. Everything reminds me of before.” In the distance, at the next stop, I saw Jenny catch the bus. “I just need a clean break.”

“O.K. This is my permanent zone, but sometimes me and Sasha used to switch with a few women back east. I got one of them out of some serious shit recently, so she owes me one.” She took my hand, and this time I accepted it. “She owes us one.”

“When can we go?”

“As soon as you’re trained.”

“But I’m ready.” I said this in her head, just to prove the point.

“Listen to me. This isn’t fun and games. The same e that got to Sasha is going to be after you.”

“I don’t care.”

“Don’t be stupid. Right now we’re at an advantage, because Sasha and I coded this whole area years ago. But as soon as we hit the road…” I could tell I touched a nerve. “No. You’re not ready, and that means that we’re not ready.”

“Fuck this! I’m not going to stay locked up here.” And so I got up, jumped on my bike, and headed for the highway.

“Please don’t do this now.” I could hear her message clearly, even though we were blocks away. But I didn’t respond, and just concentrated on pumping faster, riding harder away from this mess. I didn’t need Amber, I didn’t need the collective, and I just wanted to rip off all of my skin and stop the static once and for all.

“Annabelle! Don’t cross under the freeway! That’s not my zone…” I couldn’t put up with it any more, so I just turned her channel off, called forth some Masking Tape, and put up enough blocks that I wouldn’t be bothered again. By then I was crossing over into the NE side, which besides being somewhat industrial didn’t seem like the bad side of town or anything. I was planning on taking Main over to the waterfront, and try to crash with one of my many friends from the tour. It seemed easy enough.

“Are you lost, little girl?” I swerved into a car, bump-scraped off the fender and slid onto the sidewalk, flew off my bike and slammed against a metal fence back-shoulders first; it was like God had reached down and thapped me off of the road. Everything was scraped knees and car alarms, but I was focused enough to see that the rim on my front tire was totally fucked up. As I took it off and tried to bend it back, the voice came again only this time it was louder, above and beyond the screaming blue thing which I dented. “We don’t want your kind here. Get out.”

My back was burning, and when I tried to focus on the signal I realized that my glasses were off. I looked down on the cracked sidewalk, past the yellow-white headlight shards on top of black, dead-gum circles, and they were sitting by a patch of weeds. When I put them on nothing happened.

“Don’t make me come there. You wouldn’t like it.” Then I dropped against the fence and my whole body tensed up. I tried to fight it off, but it was like whomever he was had his hands on my joystick and was playing me hard. And the fucking car was yelling for the police in Chinese, but I couldn’t shut it out, I couldn’t block the pain.

“Stop it!” Doubled over, I started to tingle, and I didn’t want to find out what was going to happen next.

“So she can talk. I wonder if she can scream…” I was moving back over to the bike, it was like he was reaching inside me, trying to take over, and all I could do was think of Sasha. What would she do?

“Shit!” Suddenly he let go, and as I opened my eyes again Amber was standing over me, blanketing me with her field as my hands grasped the greasy chain.

“I’m not going to say anything.” She helped me to my feet, and rubbed my stubbly head. The car was reading us our rights when she pointed it silent. “Just remember this.”

Like I could forget. It turned out that the rim, forks and right petal were completely trashed, so she had to wheelie the bike as we walked back a couple of miles to our side of the highway. Overhead there were ugly rain clouds, and I just wanted to wish them away with my glasses, to pretend that the sky was blue despite the coming rain. But my lenses were fucked up big time, and so the gray just laughed down at me, bragging about the wetness it hid and how I had to watch it fall. Amber’s bike clicked next to me as I pushed it, and the warped wheel swung between me and my salvation. When we finally got back, it took the rest of the day for her to configure a new pair of glasses for me. They were her only spare.

As she patched up my back, cleaned the scratches, and touched up the connections lost in the crash – constantly trying to kiss away my tears – she told me that there were far many more e-punks than just those in the collective, and most of them were out for trouble. It seems I was flying the e flag that day, and it didn’t take long for someone to pounce.

The rain came an hour ago, and even though I could block it out of my senses, Amber convinced me to snuggle up with her next to the window and watch it try to scratch its way in. “Did you ever save something for that rainy day that everyone always talked about, only to forget where you put it?” I nodded, as she reached in her satchel and pulled out a picture.

“Who is that?” Two small girls stood in front of a fire hydrant that was shooting water high into the air. Even though it was in black and white you could still imagine the brown of the telephone pole, or the red of their hair.

“Me and my sister Rhonda. I was 6 and she was 4, and it was the hottest summer that I can remember.” She grabbed my hand and placed it against the window. “We wanted to feel the cold, to force all of our rainy day treasures to scream out of the sky. So I found a wrench and learned how to use it.”

I was so sore, so angry, but I soon lost myself in the frozen column of water.

“Our father ran outside soon enough, but couldn’t bear to tear us away from bliss. So he fetched his camera, captured our dreams as they slid against our sweaty faces, and gave us a minute or two before he convinced me to shut it off.”

“How did he manage to do that?” I never really noticed until then how beautiful the wet streaks were, trailing down into darkness.

“Reminded us that we were dancing as our rainy day things went down the drain.” Put the picture to the window, and we watched it for a while, as the sky tapped out the secret code which conjures future storms.

For once, I listened

[11.29.94 – ASCII Dump]

Fuck, it’s so obvious!

Yesterday, just before we finished my first surveying tour, Amber finally explained what the big fuss is about with Circle X. Now, everyone knows that they’re fascist and that the Chairman is a born again abortion-doctor killer, but I always gave them some slack because Roger (you know, “Circle X” from Intruder and shit) funneled his dirty inheritance money into 2nd Going records, effectively giving Jo and Caroline their careers.

But did you ever actually look at one of the stores? Can’t say that I really did until we filed that area by the park downtown, the one right next to the Super Circle X. It was about as long as the Blue Bridge, as wide as the distance between your hand in front of your face and a sign a couple of blocks down the street that you can’t read clearly, two stories high, no windows whatsoever, and all in off-white with bright red trim. The parking lot was packed, and I was 30x focusing on this tired-looking cute girl running around cars in her bright red uniform, picking up stray trash that blew in from downtown, along with the occasional shopping cart who’s autoreturn was on the fritz. I wanted to steal her away from it all, but if I tried she probably would have ignored me and jumped for the cigarette butts at my feet.

“O.K. Modulate higher EM. Use the script I gave you.” Amber was trying to let experience be my teacher, which still gets on my nerves but I’m sure that it’ll be best in the end.

“Fine, but I’m not sure what this is supposed….Shit!” The SCX was hot. At least thirty distinct channels where flying through the walls and roof to all over the place – each one a different color – including a huge pink cord connected to the NU building across town.

“Follow my lead. We’re going in.” She sat down on the grass, and I joined her. I plopped down on my back and tried to find a comfortable spot, and she sat at my head, cross-legged, and messed with her watch and the anchor points on her ankles and my face. Did a quick battery check and made sure a e-buddy was watching out in the h/n, and then I fingered open a channel and let her puppet my V-prox. Right now it’s a green stuffed turtle toy because she still hasn’t finished my full-body scan, but at this point it’s just my speed – if I had hands I’d probably fuck up again.. She was wearing her locksmith look, all shiny metal with wires and plugs and scary looking things, and she sucked me into her field as she jumped into the data stream.

“Thanks to e’s in National United and throughout the Circle X chain, we’ve pretty much mapped out how things work.” Right now we were frogging towards the product database, which Amber saw as a huge rainbow byte-hurricane, and we flew down towards the eye but she stopped right before the calm. “See that over there?”

“Isn’t that a NU thread?” It was a pink, throbbing line connected to the POS, which was a bundle of sparks dancing with each key-in.”Yeah. Usually they’re mutually exclusive, like with your typical ATM swipe. But this,” she broke in with a simple gesture, “this is trouble.”

Now, over the past couple of days I pretty much have passed through all of the main systems, and the initial awe soon became routine. But it was so obvious as soon as we entered the protected area – the invisible eye I didn’t see at first – that there was no difference between NU and Circle X, that the accounts were inextricably tied to each purchase. As we watched the various price-calls from swiped products, each white sale making the storm twirl faster before it turned pink and spun towards NU, it was clear that there was a lower database of customers, down somewhere in the info-sea below us, that was shared by the bank. Buy a camera? Whether you pay with your NU account or not, it goes on your permanent record that’s used for more than mere marketing. If you’re stupid enough to use NU cards for purchases, then Circle X will know about it and tailor their campaign and inventories accordingly.

“Remember that promotion they had a while back? Those free ID card things?”

“Yeah, I had one….Shit!” Right there was the purple data soup that campaign generated, and it didn’t take much swimming and twitching to find my name.

“Well, they’re talking bracelets soon. So you walk in the store, grab your products, walk through a bulk scanner, and your info is taken off your wrist. Bag your stuff and leave.”

“Would it be hard to erase your name from their files?”

“Not especially. Nothing short of a pseudogen would be much challenge, and Sasha left you that script.”

“Then erase my name. I don’t want to be a part of this.”

“Annabelle, listen to me. It’s just a name. As long as you don’t carry their mark, as long as you stay on the outside, everything will be cool.”

“Then is Sasha in here?” All around us, the transactions and record reconciliations rushed by unabated, it was like sticking your face right in from of the shower head with your eyes wide open.

“Dear, this was Sasha’s home. She loved it here.”

“What? But didn’t she know?”

“You have to understand. This is one of the most complete data sets out there. Sasha was the first one to break into it, and she never left since.”

“I don’t understand.” I drew my legs and head inside me. “It’s all so sick!”

“That’s the whole point.” She reached out with a sieve-hand, grabbed a transaction from the spray, and wiped it on my hard brown back. “Feel it! This is some serious shit, and it’s only going to get worse. If someone like Sasha doesn’t monitor what’s going on, then when they make their move we’ll be caught sleeping.” She gave the log-off gesture, the storm turned to static, and I was ripped out of my shell. I opened my eyes to find Amber smiling down at me, rubbing away the stray threads from my cheeks.

“So that’s why she was so Circle X fixated…”

“Yeah. Everyone in the collective has their focus, and Sasha’s was pretty specific. When we get back, take a good look at some of her memorabilia. It’s interesting to say the least.”

I nodded, and as we continued or scans – dissecting our environment into 1s and 0s, preparing it for other e’s – I couldn’t help but be distracted, watching where the tendrils from the SCX flew up into the cloudy sky. Did the trash girl have any idea what floated over her head, as she scanned the ground for offending flakes of reality?

By the time we returned home, after 5 hard days on the streets, I downloaded my temps, removed the stale appmarks, and plopped down on Sasha’s bed, staring at her Circle stuff. At first it didn’t seem any different, but as soon as I remodulated my glasses then all hell broke loose. The uniforms were made with rudimentary circuit cloth, and markers were everywhere – on the promo signs, the free bumper stickers, and especially the I.D. cards. Everywhere that Circle X wasn’t, its mark was, to the point that the whole room was glowing an evil red.

“Dear, are you hungry?” Amber didn’t hesitate to strip down to her bodysuit.

“Yeah, I guess.” I picked up one of Sasha’s official red Circle shirts, the same one she wore when we first met. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure. Anything.” She sat on the foot of the bed, and started to massage my feet. Her marks met mine and it tingled a little.

“Did you love her? Do you love this?”

“I loved her as a sister.” Moved up to my ankles, as I dropped the shirt to the floor. “I don’t know if I love this, but it has to be done.” By now she was massaging my leg nodes, and I couldn’t help but be in her power.

“Who and what do you love then?” I wanted only one answer, and I was pretty sure that I was going to get it.

“I love the fight,” she spoke silently in my head as she unbuttoned my suit and kissed my stomach, “but not as much as I love you.”

It took me a couple of days to figure it out, but Amber had been there all along, ever since the first night. When Sasha kissed me she was watching, she felt it, and their partnership was close enough that there was no way that she couldn’t love me. When I kissed her, there on Sasha’s bed, it was Amber that I wanted, not Sasha, not anyone else. And as she touched my spine, caressing my data-aura until I just wanted to explode, I found myself trying to lick the marks off of her face, trying to get at the real, the essential.

When I married Sasha I married Amber as well, and this is part of what Sasha tried to tell me. She knew that it would be useless to mourn her passing, to pine after something that couldn’t be, when there was someone just waiting for me.

Well, she doesn’t have to wait any more. We’re partners now, body and soul, and nothing is going to change that.

[12.2.94 – ASCII dump]

Amber says that I should have outgrown the e-board by now but I like the feel of my fingers tapping concrete or wood, calling forth wonderful little ASCII bits. She likes to use her voice along with 1/1 character recognition – she draws little shapes that represent letters and numbers and words. Well, to each their own, which brings me to my topic:

Sasha lied to me.

Now, this isn’t some simple lie that makes matters better or worse; no, this was a world-wide false shadow that I don’t know if I can forgive her for. You see, Amber and I were practicing field modulation when I received some e-mail from Frisbee. I contacted John a few days ago, and I made up a far-away domain-trail so that they would believe my story about touring the country, trying to clear my mind. Anyway, she mailed me back and said that she had something to give me, and that it was from Sasha. So I snatched the attached file, got comfortable on the couch, and totally started to freak out.

It was a confession. I’m not about to include the text here, and actually I shredded it right after I reached the final line. The basic gist was that the very first night that we met, right after Jo told me the basics about the collective and Frisbee, I went back inside and found a letter from Pixie. She said that she had to go, and that blew me away so much that I cried the whole night. Well, I find out from Frisbee that actually she was there all along, staking out some proto-e that was causing trouble. So why I was crying for like and hour, and riding home on the bus alone to face my parents, Sasha was there, and she could have contacted me, we could have spent more time together.

Of course, we had 8 years together after that night, but what pisses me off is that she just didn’t tell me. She never told me, not about her etchings or Circle X or her partner, or anything except for what seemed convenient, what seemed safe. Fuck it, I gave her everything and I got nothing but a bullshit story in return. Maybe it wasn’t my business. Fine. But now it is my business, and every single step she ever took is my responsibility. Every word she didn’t say to me when we lay side by side, every little secret that came between us up until her death, everything – it makes me sick. I don’t even know which Sasha I loved any more, the one that I cried for at the Treehouse, or the one that I cried for as she lay dead.

It doesn’t even matter in the end, because I have Amber now. I guess that’s what her ghost was really trying to whisper to me – not simply to listen to Amber, but to listen to myself.

When I told her about the confession, she didn’t seem all that surprised.

“You have to understand” She always said that when discussing Sasha. “She really did love you. It’s just that she never could leave Circle X, she saw it as her responsibility.”

“But why couldn’t I have been a part of that?”

“And be dead on the floor, too?” She kissed me on the hand, which was today’s favored spot. “You have a very special purpose, and I think deep down you know this.”

“That’s what everyone says.” I meant this to be serious, but it came out as a half giggle because she was tickling my field.

“It’s not time for this yet.” The tickling stopped, and she spoke out loud for the first time in a while. “Time and space are bendable when you’re on. You know this by now.” I did, so I just nodded as I traced my finger up and down her leg. “So that finger there can be touching me when I first logged on, or when I’m 89. The only thing that really matters is the moment, and the connections that emanate from it.”

“Yeah, but what does this have to do with me?”

“The net has holes. Holes that lead to ancient wall sockets, holes that lead to the future. Some of us have been through them, to the other side, so we know.”

“Know what? Come on, you can tell me….” I was laying it on thick, trying literally to push her buttons. She smiled and stood up.

“We know what you told us. Satisfied?”

Terribly frustrated, I got off the couch, kissed her wrist, and went into Sasha’s room. As I tried on her Circle X uniform, which strangely fit me perfectly, I modeled before the mirror and started to laugh.

How come I always fall for the most annoying people in the world?

I half expected the mirror to answer, but all that came back was me.

Me followed by Amber, slowly walking into the room

[5.23.95 – ASCII Dump]

She knows.

I was telling Frisbee about the last 6 months, and all the shit we got into, and she just held Ai in her arms and smiled.

“I think you’re ready now. Follow me.” So we walked through the hallway – filled with Jenny snaps of signs and fences – past the bathroom that was bursting with sounds of John’s shower-singing, and went into the bedroom, which wasn’t decorated at all except for a tattered Suspender shirt tacked to the wall. She gave me Ai for a second, while she reached in her closet and pulled out a medium sized box from underneath some blankets. It was duck-taped shut, and the only marking on it was one of those perpendicular signs, just like the one from that night at the Treehouse.

“Sasha left this with me in 1987, soon after you two met. She said that I’d know the right time to give it to you, and this is it.”

Then she walked off to put Ai down in the nursery, leaving me to contemplate it. I tried to scan it but everything bounced right back, so the only thing I could do was take out my knife and cut it open. Inside, wrapped within some yellowed newspapers, was a Circle X passcard and a palm-sized silver metal sphere. I placed the card in my satchel because its use was obvious enough, and stared at the shiny globe for a good minute. Every time I tried to fix on it with my glasses it would jump around the spectrum, like it existed more than just in the h/n. It was as big as a quarter jawbreaker, and yet it scared me immensely. When I finally got the nerve to pick the ball up, suddenly I was thrown into somewhere that was white on white, and when I tried to adjust my glasses nothing happened. I floated for a while like a plane through a never-ending cloud, not knowing what to expect next, until Sasha appeared – dressed just like the night she died – along with someone I didn’t recognize at first, who was cloaked in a white, hazy glow.

“I knew you would make it,” she smiled, as she turned to the other woman.

“Why can’t you just leave me alone!” I tried to scan for a way out, to no avail. Then the woman spoke, and I knew.

“Auntie A-Bell, please listen to us.” She was the woman from my dreams. She was Ai.

I tried to reach out to her, to them, but I couldn’t.

“You have to focus.” She was like a melting marble statue, all smooth and defined and hard, yet slowly transforming into something else. “It’s very important that you don’t leave me or my mother again. Promise us.”

I wanted to say something, anything but what my lips were about to say, but the white seemed to seep into my mouth, filling my lungs with the truth. “I promise,” and Ai smiled like the sun.

“Is there anything else you want to say?” Sasha tugged at Ai’s wrist.

“Can I?” She nodded, and so Ai kissed her cheek and moved over to me. It was hard to be near her, she was so bright.

“You taught me well,” she whispered, as I marveled at her power, “but there’s a few things I have to teach you. Just to be on the safe side.” So she took me by the hand, reached through the white and grabbed onto something, and pulled the two of us beyond.

I’m not sure what exactly happened after that, but after what seemed like months I found myself floating back in the white, Sasha at my side. My mind was a total blank.

“You have to forgive Ai. She’s rather forward.” She rubbed her hands through my hair.

I wanted to yell at her, to run at her and away from her at the same time, to swallow her whole and never let her go again. I wanted to be free from it all, but all I could say as we held each other was “I love you so much.”

“I know.” She started to fade. “But love Amber as you would love me.” I could only see her outline, her aura. “She’s better for you than I am.”

“Don’t leave me again!” I watched her disappear, but not before her final words brushed against my face.

“I haven’t left you yet.”Then I was alone, and the white dissolved back into the bedroom.

I turned off my tears and lounged on their bed for a while, mindlessly reading the old classified ads and wire stories that covered the blankets, until Frisbee walked back in brushing her hair. “I think Ai wants to see you.”

I didn’t even question the logic of this, and simply walked into the nursery, and stood over her as she slept. “What did you just tell me, dear?” I whispered as I kissed her cheek, her soft handlets. “Why can’t I remember?”

Breathing silently, twitching as she piloted her dream, her shine was answer enough.

Click to continue RGA

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