Friday, 17 September 2010
Aristotle’s acolyte Alexander’s Bucephalus-borne Babylonwards, conquering citizens’n’city-states, destroying, dealing death, expanding empire east.
Flee, foreign foes! Gallop, great gee-gee! Hit hard, hoplites! Indians ignore indecisiveness, just jackboot Jodhpur, knot-solving Kandaharian king.
Let’s live luxuriously, ‘midst Medean maidens, now narcissistic, now only orgiastic or psychopathically pissed paranoid. Quiet question: Queen Roxana, really randy? Sexual subversion somewhere? Too tentative to understand unwritten urspeak …
Various vast visions wearily wane, with Xenophon, xenophilia, Xerxes yielding yesterdays yearningly.
“Zeus! ‘Zat Zeta?”
Friday, 25 June 2010
The bike is a total write-off. Even worse, my precious red, viscous, life-giving fluid is seeping away slowly into the arid sand. My mind is swirling, consciousness fading and returning, as I recall how the evening had started.
She’d met me at the door, flushed and perspiring slightly, her voluptuous curves startlingly accentuated by the dim light in the porch doorway, and I could hardly wait to get my hands on her ripe fruit, to sink my teeth into their juicy flavoursome flesh.
But I knew that Diana was cheating on me; it had become obvious as soon as she got down to her seventeenth consecutive set of lacy French underwear. And that was after losing ten or twelve sweaters and scarves and three or four layers of footwear to my skilful Poker. It was fortunate that I too had had the presence of mind to prepare in advance, and even more so that my recent trip to New Guinea in search of exotic ketchup formulations had given me the opportunity to acquire a large stock of even more exotic articles, in the shape of clothing for the gentleman’s person from the New Guinea Highlands.
Thus it was that after many hours of play, I threw on one or two of my shirts and staggered out into the morning mist, laden down with my considerable booty. No doubt I should have been more careful; and no doubt I should have been suspicious when Diana had gone outside at 3am, ostensibly to feed the horses, for on her return I glimpsed her shiftily sliding an oily spanner into the back pocket of her third-from-last pair of scanty shorts.
Alas, it's far too late for retrospective regrets; my Deux-Catties Racer is ruined, my trigger-finger fractured and the only Kosher English Fish-and-Chip Shop in Montana is going to have to do without an entire month’s supply of Diana’s Premier Tomato Ketchup.
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Thursday, 10 June 2010
While waiting for the bill, I arranged our coffee cups, wine glasses, candles, plates and remaining cutlery into a fine abstract pattern. We adjusted the distances between each item and the angles they made with the rectangle of the table’s periphery until it was bearable to look at the assemblage intently for an extended period of time. All too soon, the waiter arrived with the card machine; fortunately the figures, and the paperwork, matched the pattern perfectly, but the electronic machine was entirely impossible to place.
After a while, Linda and I drove to her house.
“Are you OK with this?” I asked.
“96.4%,” she replied, and I could see that she meant it.
We undressed, placing each item of clothing carefully on the carpet. To roll or fold the trousers and shirt? Top left, folded, we decided. Her underwear, which was expensive, French and black lace, was easy enough: bottom right. Even so, it took many minutes to get all the folds in the right places. Shoes and socks are never an easy matter, but finally they too became absorbed perfectly into the arrangement.
We made love with such passion that at one point I nearly miscounted. Arcane Japanese counter-rhythms interplayed in moiré patterns against ancient Indian coital positions hour after darkening hour, until it became difficult to scrawl the tally legibly on her increasingly damp notebook.
During the seventeenth iteration, she screamed the tones of a B flat minor seventh flat five chord: Bb, Db, E, A natural. Root position: it was time to sleep.
I awoke at 05:31 precisely. Searching with one hand along the pillow, I encountered something unpleasantly cold and hard: Linda’s dentures, top and bottom set. With a start, I sat up to find her wig, as red as the hair of a girl in a pre-Raphaelite painting, crouching precisely in the centre of the pillowcase, with her lower-arm prostheses symmetrically positioned not far away. Distal to these, twin aluminium-and-resin legs formed a subtle but asymmetrical angle.
After a few hours of solitary contemplation, I caught the bus back to the Institute. It’s always the same whenever I meet my kind of girl. Things never turn out exactly right.
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Friday, 7 May 2010
No traffic again today, and the skies are silent. I walk urgently between the rows of desks, and the faint keyboard chatter reminds me, It’s Complicated, as if I needed any reminding. As usual the room is dark to save power, but the passageway is well-enough lit by the glowing screens. The face of each civil servant wears a slight smile, reminiscent of the Kouros smile of archaic Greek statues.
I knock timidly on the door, then enter quietly.
“Prime Minister,” I begin, “everything has ground to a halt. The country – the world – is in stasis. We must have action! Only you can save us now.”
“Mmm,” the Prime Minister murmured, without looking up, and I saw then that her Marilyn Monroe lips were set in that Kouros smile, her Caligula-like eyes gazing dreamily at her Facebook home page. “I like,” she said. “They like. WE ALL LIKE…..….” :-(
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Strellitz leaves his car down by the pier, where he can hear the recurring prolonged slosh of the waves against the breakwater wall only a few yards away. It’s very early in the day, and as the place is deserted, he goes over to the ancient latrine built into the thick concrete wall to have a much-needed piss.
Looking down, he sees the sea surge up the latrine’s keester and back down again with a great roar. The wind whooshes through the concrete windows as he pees. He keeps an eye on the Fraserburgh skyline a couple of miles along the coast, while carefully watching out for retrograde urinary splashup. Shaking his stroup as dry as circumstances would permit, Strellitz notices with a wry smile how the old Stasi tattoo has faded with the passing years.
Across the turf, he opens the door of the old net-store without being observed. The re-cycled railway carriage feels snug and secure, full of nostalgic smells of tarry rope and old wood, fish-scales and engine oil. He pushes past a fishing-net someone’s hung from the roof to dry, then after a rapid glance through the periscope to make sure nobody’s approaching, Strellitz leans against a partly stripped-down engine bolted to a sturdy bench over by the shed’s seaward wall. The whole assembly moves effortlessly on the runners, and when the hatch-cover drops, he clambers down a long gang-ladder to the floor thirty feet below. Pulling on a rope, Strellitz replaces both hatch-cover and engine-bench. The cavern is vast, extending to the east under the harbour, and to the north-west all the way under the old meal-mill.
A familiar smell of oil and paint, then the throb of slow-revolving power emanating from a green-painted generator in the centre of the space, flanked by a six-metre long lathe and milling machine.
2000 years still to go, smiles Strellitz, briefly casting an eye over ex-Holy Emperor St.Tony in his frosty glass-fronted KryptocryoFolder3.1. Nearby stands the metal sea-chest containing the saint’s books, girly magazines and personal effects, along with a lorry-sized container full of clothes, food concentrates, expensive wines and medicines.
There’s a clattering sound as the cave-ravens register Strellitz’s approach with beady blinking eyeing-up and muted caws. They stay where they are on the railing surrounding the wide screen of the bird / dolphin tracking & control console, looking at him. I haven’t time to talk, he thinks. I need to have a word with Greendeed.
At this stage it would be counterproductive to wonder where Greendeed’s quantum singularity is, although, Strellitz remembers, relevant local time was 1938 in the causation reticulum, whatever that means in the grand scheme of things.
Strellitz goes over to the QUASI machine, which resembles a long wooden chest of drawers, taking up much of the south wall of the cavern. Each of the drawers measures only about a hand’s breadth across, but the depth inside is another matter. Strellitz finds the drawer he wants, carefully adjusts the large vernier chronodial, and pulls gently on the knob. A fluttering as though a thousand skylarks had sprung out of the slim aperture, then a veil of cobalt violet streams across his eyeballs. The sensation of a muttered conversation too low or too quiet to make out the language, never mind the sense, but sharp, ejaculatory, emphatic. Cobalt violet cools to blue, and he has a distinct feeling of actual physical cold behind his forehead. The vision clarifies, and an elderly man can be seen, in his bee suit, puffing his smoke-bellows at the bees raging round him in the sunshine.
“Paulie,” whispers Strellitz. “Can you hear me?”
“Eh?” Greendeed looks up sharply, perturbed.
Strellitz tries again. “I was wondering about the Greek lady, Barbara Kana. She was the wife of the laird, Thomas Gordon, who fought in the war of independence against the Turks in the 1820’s. They came back to live in Cairness House just up the road. One of the books in your collection has her name on it, and I’d like to find the next one in that series. Do you happen to know where it is?”
But Greendeed was fading, still looking around angrily, then abruptly resuming his work at the hive, the smoke spurting and swirling. The singularity was contracting, smoky darkness squeezing the vision into nothingness until it closed with a noise like a quiet cough.
Strellitz replaced the drawer. On an impulse, he spun the dial again, pulled open an adjacent drawer, and
The mystery of the Tailor Shop Automata
Trailing through Maitland’s in Fraserburgh behind his mother, Memus44 became fascinated by one of the tailor’s dummies, a lanky girl with knee-length skirt and woolly jumper. He looked back just in time to see the figure watching him, and was sure it winked at him. “Mum…”, said Memus44. But she was already hauling him through the swing-door and down the rainy street to where Greendeed was waiting in his old Austin.
Strellitz gives one more spin of the dial.
It is early. Steely light brings a cool hard gleam to the high tide lapping at the wrack-covered sand. Ari Noble gets out of his old car on the turf at the pier’s root, where he can hear the recurring long wash of the North Sea against the breakwater wall. He closes the car-door carefully, but it still sounds like an intrusion.
Ari crosses the grass to the ancient urinal built into the thick wall, and standing looking down in the middle concrete-slabbed stall, he watches the green water surge up the latrine’s vertiginous keester and back down again with a great roar, while a freezing wind rushes through the pillbox-style windows.
Unlocking the railway carriage door, Ari gathers up his old net, whose original colour has long since faded from green to pale gray. The store feels like a refuge, with its nostalgic smells of creosote and engine oil. The net is not quite dry, but with some difficulty he stuffs it into a big canvas bag.
Ever the outsider, Ari keeps his boat tied up in the old section of the harbour. Few people go there now, other than the brave village boys who like to swim in the harbour waters in summer, jumping from the crumbling cement steps into the freezing sea. Every year, winter storms spill yet more rubble from the pier’s core, so now whole sections of the concrete surface are cracked and tilting.
Slinging the heavy bag over his shoulder, Ari walks carefully round to where his nineteen-foot Zulu is moored, her sail lashed securely round the mast. Along the curve of the pier-edge on either side of the mooring, ancient busby-shaped iron bollards stand like sentinels, each one covered with a thick coat of flaky rust.
By the time Ari has everything ready and steers the boat through the harbour mouth, the sun is shining. He stops the engine and hoists the sail, heading out eastward.
Looking to port: clear water with the ultramarine blue-green of depth. To starboard, the same. No visible sign of fish, and no birds diving. Then, a solitary raven overhead. The bird turns, scanning the water, and as Ari looks up, its eye flashes in the sunshine.
The North Sea’s waves today are slow and glassy, with a linear ripple passing down the clear trailing edges of each chilly wave.
He shoots the net over the starboard side.
Transparency of the water is relative, like multiple sheets of window-glass in a stack, becoming darker and greener, more magical too. Ari knows that at a distance below his boat equivalent to just a dozen paces on dry land, the light would be dim and the pressure intolerable. Still further down, the stones and wrack resting on a layer of fine sand present an ever-present danger to his net.
From two miles off shore, the village can be seen clearly in the morning light. Ari is daydreaming, but part of his mind is aware of the weather on the horizon, alert for the sudden squall that can spell disaster.
A flight of little birds comes into view. Swooping past him, they hold their formation. Seven, plus one. Ari realises with a shock that they are in the shape of the Great Bear constellation, the pointer for the North Star used by seafarers in the northern hemisphere for thousands of years.
The boat is drifting very slowly, since there’s no longer any wind, and the sea has become extraordinarily calm. Ari’s thoughts are becoming as glassy as the sea, and he feels the air cool and whispering with each intake of breath.
He remembers a scene from childhood: grandmother Maria is saying, “Listen to the swans, Aristo. Catch the sound of their wings!”
Slowly, as though in a trance-like state, almost unwillingly, Ari turns his gaze upwards again to the northern sky. A feeling of complete dislocation from reality now sweeps over him, for a group of large birds is approaching, long-necked, with massive wingspan, making the creaking noise of swan-flight.
His grandmother’s voice comes back to him: “The sound, Aristo. Catch the sound!” He counts the birds: the number is significant.
There is more to the swan-sound than can readily be perceived without effort. Within the creaky assemblage of turbulent squeaky vortices he can make out the quiet rushing of smooth laminar airflow over feathers, and the strophic precision of each wing-stroke now becomes apparent.
The swans pass over the boat, their reflections flashing from the surface. Ari feels a peculiar cold sensation travelling upwards behind his eye-sockets. There must be some strong meaning in this, he is thinking. The swan-sound is a key. But what is being unlocked?
He is flying; straight up like a bird in flight, Ari sees the cold North Sea shrink and angle beneath him as he heads south over Europe, time unreeling until finally he’s back with his family in a small village on the Peloponnesian coast, north of Monemvassia.
Chania’s pale gold sand in the summer heat. A few flat droplets of dark oil-spill are never far away on the water’s surface. He sees himself as a child, running full-tilt over the boulders at low tide, reading the rough stones like a story-book as they flow under his feet, while his grandmother watches, dumb with fright.
A jerk on the rope transmits itself to the boat, which judders and weaves, slowing as the hawser pulls out a few coils from the small winch amidships.
Ari leaps into action, releases the brake on the winch a notch or two, brings the boat round with an oar and pulls the lever gently to draw in the net. Hoping for fish, he sees a glint below the surface, but the net is much too heavy. The wind has dropped, and although the sun shines brightly, there is something very strange about the world.
At first Ari can’t believe what he sees.
A dark golden hand heaves into sight and breaks the surface, dripping and rippling through the water. He gazes dumbly for a long moment, then the winch brings up a life-size female figure beautifully made in bronze. Ari takes a boathook to lift the bottom end of the net close to the gunwale. Even with the aid of the winch, it takes an almost superhuman effort to get the heavy object aboard, somehow managing not to capsize. His mind is swirling like oil in choppy bilgewater.
The fisherman is wrestling with a deep sense of disbelief, but while the Zulu drifts in the waves, he carefully disentangles the statue from the net’s braided cords.
Exhausted and panting, Ari leans back against the mast, sea-water dripping from his jacket. Fortunately his iPhone has escaped a soaking.
Ari stares at his mobile in astonishment, realising he hasn’t yet pressed the green button. And nobody here ever uses the vocative form of his Greek name; even his wife calls him Harry.
Ari Noble looks up to see the statue glaring at him.
“Yiayia? Maria?” he gasps, while his mobile clatters to the floor planking.
“My name is Scintilla!” she cries in a hoarse, brazen voice.
Ari is struggling to understand not only the archaic sound of her Greek, but the Ionian dialect with its unexpected vowels and unusual constructions, when she suddenly grasps his arm, and with inhuman strength thrusts him right over the side of the Zulu. Again that rasping metallic voice: “You have to die, Aristo!”
Ari is flailing in the water, desperately trying to get away.
“It is your fate, decided long ago. The Pythian priestess at Delphi proclaimed this. It has been a long time, but I have caught up with you. This much you may know: when I was raised from the wreck by your great-grandfather and his sponge-diving friends at Antikythera, they threw me back into the sea, and abducted my two sisters, automata like me. Yes, we were made in the workshop of Hero, in Alexandria. Hero had studied all the books of Archimedes. And he wanted that little machine of his! My sisters, Glykopyrrola and Propophola and I had only just managed to track it down. Since that robbery and abduction, I have been walking, walking. Waiting to catch up with all the sons and grandsons of those foolish men.”
Ari is spluttering as the bronze hand brings him up to the surface.
“You walked? Not across the sea bed?”
Splash: Down he goes again.
Up one more time: Splutter.
“From Greece? And you know my name?”
“Those are my instructions from the oracle. Aren’t these the fabled Tin Islands? Are we not among Hyperboreans? But my mechanisms need no rest. Certainly there were helpful dolphins from time to time. Remarkably often, in fact.”
Scintilla plunges the drowning man back under the surface with a merciless look, her copper-coloured irises glittering in the sunshine. Ari dimly hears her shout, “Kiri sute gomen!”, but can make nothing Greek of it in his few remaining moments of consciousness.
Darkness closes over Ari’s eyes and he becomes flaccid in the toils of the wine-dark sea. Exhaustion has him, and he knows within a very few seconds he will have to take that final breath which will destroy everything he’d ever hoped to achieve.
Suddenly the metal hand tightens its grip even further, the pain bringing consciousness back to Ari’s hypoxic brain. He opens his mouth wide and takes an enormous breath, bracing himself for a final convulsion.
Scintilla lands him on the boat’s floor with a negligent thump, as though she’d caught a large but not very appetising fish.
Still gasping for breath but recovering slightly, Ari’s vision clears sufficiently for him to see the bronze automaton hunched over his iPhone with obvious enthusiasm.
“Nice, very nice, Aristo!” she croaks, looking up reluctantly.
Ari is shaking, but concentrates very hard. “W- what? Oh, you’ve found my pictures of Delphi? We - we were there on holiday many years ago….. Electronics – do you know about that?”
“Mm, I see a ruined place that is a little like the sacred site. Moving images, well well. But this is wonderful – these tiny screws on the back – excellent! How did you make these? Hero would be interested. You really have to meet him! Hmm, Photonics actually. Quartz crystals, all that. For the tunnelling of the quanta, sea water is not no worrying matter.”
Under the stress of events, Ari is rapidly remembering his Greek vocabulary and syntax. Double negatives are perfectly OK, he recalls.
“S – Scintilla? Is that your name? Look… I need to catch some fish, my family is hungry. I must go home, perhaps you would like to eat with us?”
Scintilla laughs. “Ari, you foolish man, I have no need of food!
“But look. When I take you to Alexandria, I will send to Delphi to intercede for your life. Or perhaps there is a different interpretation of the oracle concerning you. For it does happen. And you are a powerful philosopher, are you not?”
She stretches over the gunwale and paddles one hand in the sea. Ari fancies he can hear a low hum, and the water round her wrist is rippling energetically. Almost immediately a large shoal of mackerel surfaces near the boat, and Ari shoots his badly rumpled net overboard. Soon he has a boxful of fish, flipping and slapping.
Strellitz is already at the mooring when they enter the harbour. He catches the rope, and makes it fast to a rusty bollard.
At The Pavilions
A week or two later, Strellitz’ car bumped slowly up the farm road to the Pavilions, where Memus44 lived not far from the sea. The Aberdeenshire lowland countryside lacks the beauty of Donside’s valleys and hilly vistas, nor can it compare with the impressive grandeur of Deeside’s distant mountains. Hence the most striking sight as they approached was the dry-stane dykes built in the traditional fashion of the North East, large boulders on a foundation, then smaller stones skilfully fitted together on the batter of 20 degrees up the flanks to a width of 9 inches at the coping-stone. Free building material, these glacier-borne boulders are now monumentally static and lichen-covered.
Strellitz stopped the car on the rough driveway of the Pavilions, and the others got out, rather stiff after their long drive from Aberdeen.
Memus44’s garden-encircling dyke at the Pavilions was pure quartz, glittering and flashing in the crystalline sunshine. The stones had been fitted together with extreme precision, they noticed.
Strellitz, Justinhaugh and Bogindollo were welcomed by Scintilla, who was looking very smart in her new University uniform. Memus44 led his visitors into the study, where books were stacked on and all around a bookcase covering an entire wall from floor to ceiling. The system underlying the arrangement seemed to them to require more time to comprehend than they could readily spare.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne had pitched up next to Liddel & Scott’s massive Shorter Greek Thesaurus; Lancelot Hogben’s Mathematics for the Million and Dangerous Thoughts were resting near the Dalai Lama’s Tantra in Tibet: the Writings of Tsong Ka Pa; travel books on Rome, Umbria and the Peloponnese jostled uncertainly with treatises on gardening, logic and the Calculus along with a Catalogue of Tools & Materials from Rudolf Dick. On an upper shelf a dozen ancient medical text-books, in some cases dating back to 1963, were sprinkled at random among the shelves, as though they’d been consulted on some diagnostic occasion long ago and subsequently been put back any old how.
Lafcadio Hearn and Piero della Francesca rubbed shoulders incongruously with Frank Auerbach and The Scottish Colourists, who in turn seemed amicable neighbours of Raphael, Degas, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Leonardo, and Gombrich’s various books on art history and illusion found themselves next door to Sacconi’s ‘The ”Secrets” of Stradivari’, where they seemed content enough. Stephen Spender was entirely at home with a 19th century family bible on one side of him and a slim monograph with illustrations of The Brancacci Chapel in Italian on the other, but then a book by David Hockney was seen keeping company with an enormous study of Vermeer. A first edition of An Outline of Fractures was next door to A Handbook of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism; a well-worn leather-bound copy of Milton’s Works nestled cosily beside The Tao of Sex; the BBC’s Italiano dal Vivo in vicino Italo Calvino: Cities. Then came Teach Yourself Hindi, close to The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, Lockhart’s Anatomy of the Human Body and Japanese Joinery, John Nunn’s Respiratory Physiology, Aubrey’s Brief Lives, The Greek Dialects in the original 1875 edition by C. D. Buck, Menno van der Veen’s Modern High End Valve Amplifiers, a series of books in Italian on painted marble statues, Etruscan gold jewellery and Russian icon painting, then the current Screwfix Catalogue, some old copies of The Journal of Consciousness Studies and those few numbers of a collection of The British Journal of Anaesthesia which had so far escaped being recycled into Memus44’s paper-making project.
Oil and watercolour paintings filled what little space remained on the walls, together with a large series of seemingly unrelated notes, sketches and drawings pinned randomly here and there.
“‘On the third day they took me into the forest and left me, while the vision-inducing effects of the endurance poison gradually diminished. I sat in a small clearing, watching the evening light dim and listening to the sounds of the birds and the leaves high up in the trees where they could catch the wind. As it grew dark I heard the soft pad and crackle of the approaching jaguar and could sense her breathing. I was sitting with my back against the rosewood tree we hold sacred, looking out into the gloomy ever-moving world of vague shapes. Just as I began to smell the beast, she too caught my scent and the crackling and soft breathy sounds stopped. Then, a low growl. A rush, an impact, everything picks me up and the whole world with it, the forest itself is shaking violently. I can feel my bones crack and splinter, the close fierce pitiless proximity of the cat, and as the pain fades, a deep affection suddenly sweeps over me for an animal – for someone - for whom I am only food. At this moment the jaguar is the whole world for me. It is time to die in this new world which has been re-defined in a way I could never have imagined.
“‘I do not know why I lived through that night, nor do I know how I live to this day. My left arm is withered and useless, yet the boys do not mock me. My hair is wild, but the women look away in respectful silence. For my mind and voice are clear. The wind blows through my vision, my knowledge penetrates the mountains and caves and rivers. I dream of how it was that night with her, the black jaguar with the soft pelt, and I run my fingers along the old scars. The loss of an arm seems a small thing, by comparison.’”
“Now is everytime we have, gentlemen, a consequence of consciousness, a gift from the gods,” said Memus44 out loud, glancing around the room as they settled into armchairs.
“But let me introduce my young assistant, Scintilla, who has come to study with me for a while. She is from the University of Alexandria, which as you remember, used to house the greatest library in antiquity,” Memus44 smiled, patting her arm fondly.
“History relates,” interrupted Strellitz, “that the library was burned, subsequent accounts blaming everyone from Julius Caesar onwards. My research contradicts these stories: in fact all the books relevant to our project were saved. Unfortunately they are hard to find.”
“And would you clarify what their relevance to us may be?” Memus44 asked.
“Yes. This is where Scintilla comes in,” replied Strellitz. “She was a key player in building up the Alexandrian two-millennial lead in quantum technology. Consequently her knowledge of the Kryptothermal processes is exactly what we need.”
“I’ll be straight with you,” Strellitz continued. “The University, as you know, has had a serious long-term cash-flow problem ever since Peak Oil, and the Elvinci Project has done wonders for them. We all depend on it now, and to be frank, some of us even owe our existence to it.
“What concerns us now is of even greater importance. The Kryptocryo machine is a time-capsule, designed to project one of the greatest minds of our time into the future – by quite a long way. That was its original purpose. The business with the Holy Emperor was a typical bit of interference from EuroNetCom….
“Anyway, we have very recently come to an unexpected crossing-over of the lines on the graph, as it were. The Elvinci Project has been very successful, more so than we expected – thanks in large part to your efforts, Memus44.
“At the same time, the serial collapse of cultures throughout the world has accelerated at a much faster rate than any of us anticipated fifty years ago.
“It now seems – to me at least – undesirable to continue with the maintenance of the Holy Emperor’s trajectory 2000 years into the future.”
The others looked at Strellitz with astonishment.
“What are you proposing, Strellitz?” said Justinhaugh. “We can’t act independently on this, can we? The grant income? And surely the Principal…?”
“Ethically I don’t see we have any option,” said Strellitz quietly. “The University is powerless against EuroNetCom. But civilisation, that’s to say the non-élitist global weighted median cultural score, will, according to the Highly Reliable Algorithm, finally crash through the threshold of irreversible stupid ignorance less than twenty years from now. Even the carefully trained clones, hybrids and chimeras we’ve seeded throughout the country will be unable to reverse this process once that happens.
“There are agencies…. who will pay a fortune to lay their hands on the genuine Holy Emperor’s body parts. I have contacts, from way back. It’s not for me to say whether that’s sensible of them, I simply observe that it is possible to substitute one income-stream for another, one subject for another, one vision & strategy for another. As we’ve already seen.”
“So, if you’re with me, this is what we must do.”
HMS Campbeltown was a fine-looking Type 22 frigate, powered by four Rolls Royce aircraft engines, each one inside its own horizontal steel wardrobe, the enclosure being intended to restrain the bits if anything happened to break, as the Chief Engineer put it.
They were welcomed aboard the ship at Aberdeen by Captain Thomas, an impossibly handsome man of about thirty-five, with a silver telescope under one arm, in accordance with Royal Naval tradition. Young sailors, some female, stood around gamely, chatting politely as they’d obviously been instructed. While the guests were attending to a substantial provision of horses’ necks, G&T and white wine, the order came through to weigh anchor immediately and set a course up the north-east coast to Fraserburgh.
Captain Thomas had last seen Scintilla in Siena a year or so before, where she was working as a tour guide. He hadn’t forgotten her intriguing manner of talking away airily and passionately, forever damning Florentines individually and collectively, all the time letting her hair and scent blow into his face as they all stood in a little group gazing over a low wall towards the ancient town. Deliberately provocative, he thought at the time, not minding it at all, trying to make out her dark eyes with their copper-coloured irises behind the shades.
The captain and Scintilla were the first couple on the dance floor, and the Lab-Raiders were swinging with a vengeance. Stabs of piano chords from Strellitz outlining the harmony, Bogindollo’s bass in minimalist mode underscoring the changes, Curare Jim Justinhaugh on tenor sax. Memus44 on guitar was skimming long fast runs, plummy emphatic notes with an elegant, non-legato sound.
Ex-Holy Emperor St. Tony, standing in for their regular drummer, was looking a little puzzled. He’d responded well to Strellitz’ one-to-one identity-reprogramming therapy, though, and tonight the Holy Tony was playing an Ethiopian bell-bunch with quasi-religious fervour, praising the Lord with three hundred little bells and other tiny clappers strung on a good thick bush of bog myrtle.
As soon as the Lab-Raiders stopped for a break, Memus44 made a signal, and led the way down the ladder to where Ari Noble was waiting in the Zulu. They were nearly at the shore, half-way along the bay between Sandhaven and Fraserburgh, when they heard the Campbeltown’s engines starting.
China, Russia or North Korea? Even Memus44 had no theories to offer, as they watched the ship disappear into the gathering darkness.
In the meal-mill’s negotiating suite, Memus44 sinks his final draught of Chasse Spleen. There seems to be a crescendo of the tinnitus which has plagued him for the last ten years. He slides unconscious to the dusty floor.
Strellitz and the others carry him over to the old Stasi guillotine. After careful positioning, Strellitz presses the stainless-steel catch, and the guillotine blade smacks down. With a sombre expression, he reaches up to turn off the video camera, then with a slight grin at the others, raises the blade from its position an eighth of an inch from Memus44’s neck.
“Right, chaps,” said Strellitz, “let’s get busy”.
Four cannulae, one to each carotid artery, one to each internal jugular vein. The bypass machine started to pump, and they gently lifted Memus44 and slid the inflatable bath underneath his unconscious body. Having placed a large-bore cannula in a vein in Memus44’s forearm, Curare Jim Justinhaugh injected a judicious amount of alfentanyl, some propofol with a little ketamine, followed by pancuronium to minimise shivering and facilitate intubation. He ventilated the paralysed Memus44’s lungs for a few minutes using a gas mixture from his miniature Boyle’s machine, smoothly inserted a Mackintosh laryngoscope and visualised the glottis by lifting the tongue and epiglottis forwards. A soft cuffed endotracheal tube was inserted past Memus44’s vocal cords into his trachea. A thin catheter went accurately into his left radial artery.
Once everything was secure, the rubber bath was inflated and cold water piped in, along with bagfuls of slushy ice brought in by Scintilla from the kitchen. In return, Justinhaugh handed her a sample of arterial blood, which she took over to a mini-lab analysis machine, pausing to squirt a drop or two on the termination documents and death certificate.
After an hour, Memus44’s core temperature hit 20 degrees Centigrade, his heart having arrested some time before.
Zooming like a labrador
down from the stratosphere
just above the old Sandhaven pier
I can see the spires of the starlit city
out beyond the breakers
Finally a doppler-shifted dolphin spies me
takes me in tow and phew it was cold’n’wet
but still it was friendly so we flaked out on smoked kippers
yom it was luvverly mmm have you ever been pebbled on a beach out beyond Aberdour pellucid waters breaking lift you as you lounge like a youngster
in the briny unsurprising sand maybe but blimey it gets in surprising places finally the flook pond when the tide is turning and the sand is drifting up between your toes you try not to hit with a flook stabber as you lunge missed again the fishy flounces off curls his peripheral periphery making much of turboturbulence and creating particulate obstacles to visualisation
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Tuesday, 6 April 2010
Chapter 1: Guess Who
“Day Zero at Cell Zero, waiting in darkness suddenly ends as the spermatozoon scores. Like airliner hitting skyscraper i-sperm meets i-egg. With a chemical shiver my cell wall becomes impervious to latecomers. His propulsion unit drops off and he is engulfed in us-me.
“In the beginning there was desoxyribonucleic acid. And DNA said, let there be Form and Function. And Meaning was expressed.
“Who is this who cometh? Quis est iste,,, qui venit, eh? It's me, I-dentity, all purposeful action, while chromosomes fuse and split, DNA tangles and replicates in a new genetic. The Voice commands again and again: electrons here; protons there; let proteomic transcription units commence, oh, oh, oh, and let there be oxidative phosphorylation. And there certainly was.
“I blastulate, by the way, therefore I am.
“I set up my schedules and clocks. Proximity and distance are known to me precisely. Sensors, receptors and messengers form in all the right places, all on schedule. Driven & driving, mitochondria start up their retronanotech engines, as I begin organising materials into myself to create me. I lay down the first primitive substrates for my senses, rhythm melody harmony vision sense-of-smell taste colours synthesis humour meaning intangible IQ infinite shades of unmeasurable strophic creativity. Out of and because of these purposive teleological networks, predelictions are made ready for what I may become, create, be predisposed towards. For infinite definite and endless unformed and unscheduled opportunities, genes express and patterns emerge, neurones in my developing central nervous system distribute themselves fate-map by fate-map, differentiate, link.
“The precision of the disposition of materials and products, and the split-second timing of commencements and intersections, the obedience of molecules in holding sway and in giving way along their concentration gradients, all these are utterly wonderful yet unremarked upon.
“Inner meaningfulness is generated distinct from named constituents and processes. Am I poetry or science? Who presumes to set values?
“Things are happening in parallel, people are existing in parallel with me in other places, unaware of the influences gathering in me that would lead in time to come to their living or dying. None of this works without time.
“For now, all is dark except for ratchetting photonic emissions flashing, scintillating and sparkling in showers and tracks, all is silent save for the mumbling genes, parsing out their proteomic phonemes of chemical-serious games with quiet little clicks and rumbles which nobody hears. Much is kept in reserve; waiting for some environmental push for a different set of proclivities to be pulled out of the genetic back-pack tool-kits, rapid-response survival development that can become active in a generation. Little do they know who call it gene-junk.
“Now I am two cells; now four; now eight. I drift; I implant; I need nutrition, oxygen, glucose, gas-exchange.
“I decode DNA. I create chemical gradients along which precursors of cell groups and organs organise themselves and form. I am calculator and the sum of all mathematics, equation & argument are my being. I am the Number One Made Flesh. My chorion means business, baby!
“Busy making clumps of cells, sheets that rotate to form tubes and layers in my new protobody, I model and remodel myself with no need of consciousness. I am master of myself and my constantly re-invented self. See how my fishy heart and retro-styled gill-like branchial arches give way to a sleek modern mammalian model, very fashionable! Even if my element will be aqueous for many months, this is fun, fun, fun.
“For a while I had no definite sense of self, but now there was beginning to be sound. The world was rhythmically whooshing and thudding, and there was gurgling, clicking and chuckling. Without memory, I was hardly myself, but everything experienced moved softly in a magical fluid world of sound.
“Weeks later, I still had no particular self-knowledge other than what was passing moment to moment, but somehow awareness of light began, I think it may have been on day 197 or thereabouts. Sheets of light, so much grosser than the fine track and tracery of single photons, but now more entrancingly intense and beautiful; so soon, yet I was beginning to develop my very own aesthetic! Dark gold and orange, pulsing, often shadowed, often glimpsed, always unfocussed, always entrancing.
“I am tireless, ceaseless, driven, directed, connected, strategic. I have the big picture within my pancosmic little person. I need my placenta, my placenta needs me.
“I have no focus beyond urgent building and developing. An ancient sense of purpose draws me on relentlessly through an infinite series of events, towards something infinitely complex, wonderfully finished, marvellously unfulfilled.
“There was no pain or unease. No animals suffered during the making of this person.
“My pulsing dark golden world was indivisible from existence. It had its own completeness within itself. The question why had no coherence. No separation into language, art or music. Those were already being folded into the world, but for now all was absorbed in bridging the space between past and future worlds. The imperative of survival, no doubt, but also the certainty that through my being the past would change the future.
“On the 266th day, the time arrived when it was time to go, for I already had everything I needed in the next world.
“Even so, what a surprise it was!!
“Soft downy lanugo covers my skin, lanolin-like vernix caseosa eases me into the external world where everything has turned inside-out.
“The urgent sense of choking changes rapidly to a clearing, crackly expanding chest sensation as my lungs fill for the first time with the fresh morning air of Aberdeenshire. As the wag-at-the-wall comes into view upside-down, I make a mental note of the time: big hand at 9, little hand at 3: 03:45am.
“At the same time a window inside my chest closes with a sibilant murmur and snap, and I feel the surge of blood flowing through a new route. For one horrible moment I miss my umbilical cord, but pretty soon I realise that from now until death I will have to do my own gas exchange in this world.
“The changes are happening with frightening speed, for a yelling cry fills my ears, brand new, loud and very clear and utterly shocking.
“Who or what is this Memus44?”
A moment of quiet.
“You remember all that, Memus?” asked Strellitz, turning off the recorder.
“That wasn’t the half of it,” said Memus44.
Chapter 2: Professor W. A. Strellitz's
Confidential report to the University Senatus (Condensed Excerpt 13a)
As will be known to a very few members of the Senatus, one of the major objectives of the Human Re-Design thread of the University’s Non-Darwinian Project is the elimination of the Reptilian Tranche genes. These have provided the basis for the aggression and machismic violence which have distinguished and demeaned the human race for so long.
For technical reasons, it had proved necessary to replace certain stretches of DNA completely, and it turned out that a length of genetic material from the swallow (martinus domesticus) was ideal for the purpose. The Department of Social Semiotics has accrued several grants on the strength of all the jokes about crossing kangaroos with cardigans and bassoonists with gastroenterologists, which for a time threatened to overwhelm the e-mail system in the Institute of Medical Sciences, but – looking back – my staff and colleagues in Anthropomimetics, Neo-Genetics, Engineering & Realisation bore all that with commendable fortitude.
Many people, especially those who were unavoidably displaced, were less happy when the Human Re-Design Initiative was merged with the Leonardo Mind Scheme to form the Elvinci Project. This was the result of financial stringencies – or as some people have alleged, outright mis-management – but the serious departures from protocol which later occurred were, it turns out, the consequences of deliberate mishandling of genetic material by one Findo Gask, a technician in my Department of Anthropomimetics.
The vision & strategy set out in the business plan dictated that the cloning process of the subject known as Memus44 would involve using DNA from the human remains discovered at Clos Lucé in Amboise, attributed to the first Leonardo da Vinci, spliced with a DNA section from a specimen of martinus domesticus which habitually nests within the atrium of the Institute of Medical Sciences, where it flies around annoying visiting dignitaries with its unduly cheerful song and incessant defaecatory habits.
A full internal enquiry was carried out in strictest secrecy, in compliance with the University’s policies on Health, Safety & Transparency, and we have established that the motivation for Findo Gask’s misguided actions was his intention to generate not one but two Leonardo Hybrid Clones, the first of which was to be grown from a merger of da Vinci’s DNA with that of a little-remembered popular singer of the 20th Century known as King Elvis, and the other would be a version of Leonardo who would be able to fly like a bird, OMG & LOL, as Findo Gask’s final blog mysteriously put it.
In point of fact, the Memus44 version is certainly showing remarkable talent in acquiring vast amounts of useless information, although regrettably four of his singing teachers have unaccountably commited suicide over the last few years.
However, I regret to report that the martinus domesticus hybrid came to an untimely end after crash-landing in the car-park in a cross-wind. No blame can be imputed to the Principal, who could scarcely have been aware of what was behind him as he reversed into his space.
As for my own defence, as Head of Department it would have been very much easier for me to have kept an eye on what was going on had I not had the Direct Instruction laid on me by the Principal concerning the long-term kyptocryo storage of the Holy Emperor St. Tony, who was assassinated during his recent visit to Scotland.
I can reveal to you, in strictest confidence, that some weeks prior to that event, we were informed that his death was to be staged, and because of certain facilities which we had developed in this region, our Department would be responsible for the immediate processing of the holy corpus and its subsequent long-term maintenance. Meanwhile there would be plenty of time to work on the kryptothermal resuscitation technicalities. In this way, the sponsors of this proposal would make a magnificent gift to the world two millennia from now, in the person of the sainted Tony.
We were faced with the prospect of a 2000-year project, with guaranteed major funding, independent of the dreaded Research Assessment Exercise. Of course, we could hardly refuse.
My proposal, therefore, is to draw a line under the more unfortunate aspects of the project during recent times. We will continue to study the Memus44 subject in the furtherance of our research (which is, by the way, still undermanned despite the grant support which we generate). But now that Memus44 has been displaced from the kryptocryo process, as soon as he has outlived his usefulness he will be terminated. Compliant with Health, Safety & Transparency regulations, naturally.
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Monday, 5 April 2010
Seeing him on the day of the operation, I finally knew. The night before, on my assessment ward-round, I hadn’t been convinced. Both of us had changed a lot, but when I saw him on the operating table, I knew it was Murdo.
I’d seen his name in the local newspaper once or twice in the intervening thirty years, so I knew he was a major drug-dealer, but the demeanour of the prison officers in close attendance at his bedside indicated that he’d been put away this time for offences involving children.
It had been Murdo who made my life a misery throughout my school years, Murdo who’d framed me for a village-girl’s pregnancy, Murdo who had ruined my musical career the very year I’d been accepted for the Conservatoire, by dropping a cement block on my right arm. With intent. Not that the court took much notice of what he’d done to my prospects, instead taking the line that he was a poor misunderstood boy from an unfortunate background.
I greeted my new patient civilly, as the prison-officers stepped back a little, though warily and not too far. Wearing gloves – you can’t be too careful with the prison population these days – I put a big plastic cannula in a vein and began trickling in my anaesthetic induction agents, as ever conscious of my stiff elbow inhibiting free and easy movement.
Murdo watched me, a slightly unsettled expression eventually appearing on his ugly fat face. As the drugs began to take effect, suddenly his pupils dilated with dawning fear, and he began to say, “I know you, you’re…” but the words tailed off and he started to breathe stertorously in deep anaesthetic sleep.
I was pretty sharp in those days, and I could get a pneumonectomy case ready in twenty minutes, establish safe and stable anaesthesia, with a double lumen tube in the airway, cardiograph, arterial and central lines in the right places, urinary catheter, temperature sensors, neuromuscular transmission monitor, heating blanket, everything ticketty-boo.
Not that Mr Crawford Smythe, the surgeon, appreciated anything other than his own skills and massive ego. He was a complete boor, not only that but liable to blame others for his own mistakes. A couple of times, he had so impressed the sheriff conducting a fatal accident enquiry with the veracity of his story, along the lines that “the patient died through the fault of that fool of an anaesthetist of mine”, that I’d been lucky to get away with some shreds of my reputation and my General Medical Council registration intact.
So it was, “Where the hell have you been all morning?” as I wheeled the unconscious and beautifully-prepared Murdo through from the induction room and parked him under the operating lights. Paying no attention, I connected up my anaesthetic machine, which I’d previously checked in every particular, turned on the gases and volatile agents, and connected my various monitors. All was well, blood pressure not too high, not too low, heart rate not too fast, not too slow. My IV infusion and syringe-pumps were nicely adjusted so as to produce predictable levels of unconsciousness and deep analgesia. And Mr. Crawford Smythe was raring to go. “Adjust the lights, for God’s sake,” he snarled in my direction. The theatre sister, no friend of mine either, glared at me maliciously.
For once, I obeyed meekly. An unusual thought was crossing my mind, for it had occurred to me that the anaesthetic machine I’d been allocated this morning was a slightly older version than usual – perhaps it had been missed out in the recent upgrading exercise – and there was a little orange-painted cylinder attached to the back-rail.
Medical gases are very carefully identified by colour-coding on the cylinders, and to make mistakes even less likely, connections are pin-indexed so, for example, oxygen and nitrous oxide can never be mistaken one for the other. You would be surprised to learn how many people had to die before simple design aspects like these were finalised. Even the floors in operating theatres have a precisely specified electrical conductance to minimise the risk of fires and explosions.
Cyclopropane is a gas with a very simple molecule, whose physical characteristics are responsible for its extreme potency as an anaesthetic agent. There is a slight problem, though: it's very highly explosive, especially when mixed with oxygen.
Having cleaned and draped the patient’s skin, Mr. Crawford Smythe was cutting, swabbing the blood and tying off bleeding arteries as he dissected his way through Murdo’s chest wall. Within a few seconds he would come to the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs, and then as usual he would use a diathermy machine, adjusted to give a powerful flesh-cutting spark from the business end, to cut his way into lung-tissue towards the tobacco-smoke induced malignant tumour which had been the cause of Murdo’s recent illness.
Glancing at the blood-loss measurements chalked on the swab-board, I saw that the surgical procedure was on track, and at that moment what had been a passing thought suddenly hardened into a definite intention.
The rotameter bobbin rose gracefully as I adjusted the orange cylinder’s knurled steel valve, conscious as never before of my hatefully stiff elbow. Cyclopropane was now joining the patient’s gas stream, and would very shortly be delivered to Murdo’s lungs by the ventilator. I could feel my hatred for Murdo rising too, but there was little time to spare as I took my student nurse assistant by the arm and we sauntered rapidly out of the operating theatre, through the induction room without pausing, and round the corner.
Nearing the coffee room, we were blown over by an enormous explosion. The entire surgical suite became pitch black in an instant, and before losing consciousness I realised my elbow was broken again.
A year later I finally got back to work. We have a nice new operating suite now, of which I’m the Director, and people still haven’t forgotten how I saved a young nurse’s life by my quick thinking; she’s certainly never ceased being grateful, anyhow. The new elbow-joint is amazing, and my piano teacher says I have tremendous talent. I’m so fond of people who can be positive – like a breath of fresh air, don’t you think?
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Thursday, 1 April 2010
My Dogges feete in Grasse belowe
To heere him tiz a joye howe sote
The Winde a Bigge Girles Blowze
Throwe Leafy Treez frichtens us notte.
My sturdy bootes curd and crunch
Farm roodes gritty granitte gravell
A Grumous Musick, awes us claar
And joyes us as we travell.
Some time so tweetly switteringe,
The Birdes now restrict ther cawes
Whiles Buzzardes often meekly mew,
Pretending to be littel-mawes.
A straunge sounde in this contexte
My Mowbile goes with ring-tone vexinge,
A pretty little swing-tone sally,
The messauge though is notte so jolly.
Brief conversatze, soft Teeres for Two
Too sadde for me, too badde for you.
The Winde teasinge leafy milles,
My Dogge snufflinge onward stille.
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Web knows my brain seemed glisterly surfaced like a frosted turnip in furthest Buchan & Strathbogie, at that moment of a winter eventide when the thoughts of bullocks and farming lads alike turn darkly towards Maggie the buxom kitchen maid. But, my mister, I struggled onwards through the gloomy mud, always hoping.
Finally to your door I arrived, impressions careening around my Megamacranium Pro 7.1, slidy sensations insinuating themselves from all sides and several dimensions into the streams and torrents of my consciousnesses. A Charlie Parker clone was singing inappropriately in a microtonal scale, and I could hear a Schubert playing very badly in an upstairs room. Another day, another Schubert.... The oceans on a far planet heaved and crashed as I embarked on that dubious quinquereme with my poor family for distant lands, in hopes of betterment. No sooner were the sails bellying out in the scorching wind than for the seventh time I was giving birth, that old familiar pain reappearing as if the intervening three months hadn’t already passed in soft forgetfulness.
Consequentially as I draw fluently on the blessed Nitrulous, shapes rise up kaleidoscopically lit with flaming colours, each one an ethereal love, a visceral stab of anger, a frightening shock, twining and gyring, sighing, roaring, shivering like the newborn Tibetan on a summer plateau I now become, born even while giving birth, my entire long life fast-forwarded through careless youth, disciplined study, hard graft, recognition, exponential inner growth, chaotic turbulence, travel to all parts of the observable world and in my meditation to the centre of the galaxy where finally I pass into a different lightbody, ever thankful for the stabilising effects of upgrade 3.2.
Briefly I was again in Greece, feeling as though for the first time that early sunshine in the cool air, the precursor of summer-day heat. I felt the old rising tide of excitement at the prospect of entering Delphi, seeing the precious columns static in the morning air, the green wooded slopes shimmering in the distance beyond the sanctuary.
Then all these become once more the immobile sepia photographs in a folded album, snapped shut as I summon up my swimming emotions, all bottled and rendered into this poor creature now at your service, my mister. Your environs was green as glass in my infra-ready, then even in my haste I managed not to cock over the kmilk as I knicked, downlidding my instracted toxt to your iDoor. We Xchanged grittings, Allo, also, thank for opening, have a nice, don’t forget the next i-Hinge-oiling in 315 days, Webwilling.
My mister, I am coming.
Leonardo Mind for Modern Times
I take refuge in the works of Leonardos 1-3 and of J. S. Bach first edition naturally and in the paintings of the Cro Magnon Artists. I take refuge in the very first Beethoven and the Original Sibelius and in the Works of Ur-Shakespeare. I take refuge in the depths of my esoteric mind and in the arts where progress comes from unremitting pursuit. The arcane über-skills, to project bright lines on paper for drawing, to rotate three-dimensional images in my interior imagination or re-mix Charlie Parker and flamenco on a guitar of my own making. I take pleasure in the ceaseless procession of images, sounds, words and invented scenarios that flood into the creative light of Leonardo Mind for Modern Times.
May this meditation be to the benefit of all, although it probably won’t, bearing in Mind how fucking frightened we all are of achieving anything some vacuous cunt might term élitist.….
Out loud, Memus44 says, “Mrs. Wolfbane, how’s the schedule looking this morning?”
“Coffee-Detox. Sticky Bun. Mr. Bogindollo. Dr. Wolfbane, No Relation. Curare Jim Justinhaugh. Pitifully Small Lunch.”
Mrs. Venezia Wolfbane can be remarkably provocative at times.
“Then downloading. Research for your book…… ah, ‘Wank Yourself Slim’, is it?”
Again that mischievous violet flash from the ocular semiotics department.
“Incidentally, Dr. Memus, Scintilla is getting ever more unstable, and that’s saying something.”
“Yes, I don’t think I can put off the journey to Aberdeen any longer. In fact, I spoke to Professor Strellitz a couple of days ago, so we have an appointment on Thursday afternoon.”
“Fine, I’ll get Mr. Wolfbane to make sure the MG is working by then.”
Parking at the Intitute of Medical Sciences wasn’t as difficult as Memus44 had anticipated. The attendant, (Northern Philosophy, First Class Hons.), found a space for the MG without difficulty, and the only problem then was to get Scintilla across the paved area and into the stairwell unmolested by students, who were powerless to resist the cloud of pheromones released by Scintilla’s wildly oscillating parasympathetic circuits.
Somewhat out of breath, his knuckles bleeding from fending off amorous youths, but still grasping the gyrating and gibbering Scintilla by her aluminium wrist, Memus44 reached the 5th floor, and knocked on the door marked Professor W. A. Strellitz, Director of Anthropomimetics.
“Wolfie, nice to see you!”
“Well, now, Memus,” said Strellitz, his big gray moustache bristling, while reflections of the corridor lights twinkled from his massive domed pate.
“Bring her in, then. Oh dear, I see. Actually we’ve had a bad run recently with some of our sentiency algorithms. When meaningfulness generation is taken to the sixth layer, the quantum phenomena break down. We need to review how multi-dimensional contextual stability and orientation are ordinarily homeostatted in mammalian brains – it’s the key to so much, and not only in anthropomimetics.”
“But just let me page my senior lecturer, Dr. Flugelpik. He’s on secondment from Kylie St. Petersburg at Genetics, and he does the gynaecoid stuff for me at the moment. Big F will take care of Scintilla while we have a wee catch-up. I’m sure the stability patch he’s developed will do the trick.
“Maybe I can offer you some Chasse Spleen ’22? The University managed to corner the market in this particular vintage, by great good fortune the Principal was doing some research in Bordeaux at the very moment the balloon went tits up.”
“Splendid, thank you.” Memus44 replied. “This really takes me back! But you seem to be doing quite well for yourself?”
“Mustn’t complain”, replied Strellitz, turning business-like. “Now, while Scintilla’s in the Lab, I need to know how things are progressing with the relationship. Where are you now on the compassion-anger spectrum?”
“Look, Strellitz, there is a problem, actually,” said Memus44. “See, when it comes to vulnerability, certain things penetrate to my hard-wiring level. I clearly remember the expression on a child’s face at the circus – must be fifty years ago and more - when he hears sweeties being unwrapped and turns round to look at the people in the row behind him. I’m a sucker for hungry beggars on the street too, specially if they’ve a lab with them, of course. And Scintilla does project a certain attitude-set, which makes me feel protective more than anything else. Towards a Gizmo, for heaven’s sake!”
“Mm, hmm,” Strellitz replied, wincing visibly at the term, but continuing to pour from a decanter, “I see. Maybe the real issue is your antipathy towards misuse of position, then. How to handle the dynamics of a power differential?”
“Even if the problem is my own hang-up,” retorted Memus44, “that doesn’t change the necessity for the software to be able to evolve behaviours to deal with it.”
Strellitz’s response was the slightest of gestures, signifying receptivity.
“Maybe you can imagine…..,” continued Memus44, sipping the Chasse Spleen appreciatively and relaxing in an armchair, “….looking back on how I missed out on quite a few opportunities, for no reason other than that I was free to do so. Didn’t consider the hurt. Mis-use of situation, wouldn’t you say?”
“Well, well,” put in Strellitz, “We’ve all been there, in our youth, haven’t we? Who knows the springs and origins of our genetic predisposition to be attracted to one rather than another? And remember, in those times it was possible to affect a quasi-ethical antipathy towards carnality most people today would find completely unintelligible.”
“That might have been an element, sure enough,” replied Memus44, “and so too might have been that toxic little hang-up which inhibits action where the outcome seems too easy: ‘Only pursue the unattainable’. Of course, you’re right, there could also have been an element of intuition, in that I discerned an ultimate incompatibility; or, to put the best possible face on it, that I was constitutionally averse to taking advantage.”
“And, what was her name, though? Eloïse, Adéle?” Strellitz put in, with a slight twinkle.
Alpha Romeo to O, Mega
“Oh well, that was different,” said Memus. “Oh, okay then. If you really must, the story of Adrienne.”
“Hang on a moment,” said Strellitz, “I’ll turn on the audio recorder.”
Memus44 paused reflectively.
“I would have been in my second year of ancient Greek and Comparative Philology,” he began.
“She was a student of engineering, a pretty girl, with a lop-sided grin and dark hair flecked with golden-brown. Sometimes she would tell me really interesting things about the forces wind can exert on walls, or how to calculate the maximum permissable snow-loading on roof structures, and I would try out the latest theories my studies were sparking off.
“Mmm. Reading his Symposium I had become convinced that Plato must surely have been influenced by contemporary ideas in sculpture. At the time he was writing, the marvellous achievements of Pheidias at Olympia and in the Parthenon had only very recently been unveiled, and they could hardly have failed to have had an immense impact on intellectual life right across the Greek-speaking world.
“I was thinking about this as I parked my old Alfa soft-top in the woods one Friday night, and while Adrienne and I did some preliminary fumbling. Unhooking her bra and disengaging my tongue for a moment, I happened to mention that there are quite a number of useful clues in Plato’s writing. For example, his idea of perfect forms could quite credibly have drawn its origins from the sculptor’s wax model, which becomes the original for a plaster mold, which can then be used to make subsidiary waxes, and so multiply the original model any number of times, even if the secondary models are always slightly less detailed than the original or “perfect” form.
“Slipping the thick winter coat off her shoulders and sliding her thin woollen jumper upwards, over her nipples, erect and solid in the cold car-air, I described my view of the Symposium as a marvellously structured novelistic work, with distinct layers.
“‘Each successive speaker, as the focus moves from one individual to the next round the party-room, has a particular angle, as well as his own idiosyncratic way of missing the point. Appropriately enough for a book about metaphysics, there are seven of these layers in all. One could compare it to one of those Russian dolls, each set of ideas constituting one babushka layer.
“‘And, at the centre, the Priestess of Apollo, who actually seems to have read The Upanishads.’
“‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard Plato’s Symphonium’, Adrienne whispered, ‘Is that by Berlin Phil?’
“The tops of her silky nylon stockings made a marvellously soft trapezium with the short suspender-straps, and a couple of fingers could enjoy that little window of smooth opportunities, eventually moving caudally to a yet more comforting zone.”
“Steady on, now,” exclaimed Strellitz, although his grin had been getting wider for a while.
Memus44 went on: “Anyway….. ‘Ah, Socrates’, I mumbled.
“‘Mmm, mmm mmm, mmm’, said Adrienne.
“‘Always patrolling the limits of his knowledge, and acutely aware of his own ignorance of what lies beyond.’
“‘Mmm, yes, mmm, yes!’
“I continued, ‘Then there is the very interesting incident of the Silenus of Alkibiades. Alkibiades arrives at the Symposium party rather late and a bit drunk, but still highly articulate and percipient.’
“Adrienne was become ever more interested, her hands adeptly unbuttoning and unzipping.”
“I’m beginning to see your philosophical point”, said Strellitz, a touch dryly, although it occurred to Memus44 that his comments might be aimed more at the Recorded Research Assessment people than himself.
“I endeavoured to explain to Adrienne, whose attention I must say never wavered, how intrigued I was by the idea that the Silenus figures mentioned by Alkibiades might refer to technical processes in sculpture.
“I’d observed that the term ‘Sileni’ refers to water spirits in the ancient Greek world, with characteristics or connotations of ‘water bubbling as it flows’, and from my experience of sculpture-casting, that's a recognisable description of molten bronze being poured into a mold.
“You may recall that other attributes of the Sileni are said to be horse-like. Now, in the lost-wax method of bronze-casting, the receiving cup of the ceramic mold is like an upside-down hoof in appearance, and its runners & risers are like a horse’s legs and tail.
“‘So you see, the term ‘Silenus’ used by ancient craftsmen in referring to a ceramic mold, which is central to the lost-wax method and which is subsequently broken open to reveal a cast figure, seems, according to my theory, to have had its origins in a reference to the water-spirits, the Sileni. In the Symposium, Plato has Alkibiades make a multiple pun based on Socrates’ physical similarity to the satyr whose name was Silenus. And he says that although he has an ugly and off-putting exterior, once you get inside his outer layers there is something beautiful to be found.’
“’Yes yes YESYES!’ Adrienne exclaimed at this point in my description, which was delightfully insightful of her”.
“Yes indeed, Memus,” said Strellitz, poker-faced.
“‘Could you maybe just hold me,’ Adrienne was murmuring, as I segue’d into another theory of mine, the one that describes how the Greek alphabet is actually a series of pictograms or little diagrams showing how the sound of each letter is produced by the lips, teeth, tongue and palate, viewed either from in front or laterally. The extraordinary thing is, every single one of the 25 Greek letters in lower case is recognisable in this way as a pictogram.”
“Oh, interesting,” said Strellitz, “so it’s not actually an alphabet after all!”
“It can be difficult to keep the thread,” said Memus44, “when you have to disentangle arms from legs and legs from gear-sticks and steering-wheels, find discarded items of underclothing under car-seats in the dark, all the time trying to avoid snagging a finger on sharp bits of under-seat-mooring, replacing fascia parts and so on dislodged by an incautious foot. Getting rid of squishy wet articles too, that can be a problem if you’re determined not to sully and degrade the environment by chucking things out of the window through a process of extraordinary defenestration.”
“Yes, I’m with you there. So apart from those little trips in the car, how did things go? I’m assuming not entirely well?”
“Oh, no, everything was fine. But then, one day she didn’t turn up in the Students' Union Bar as we’d arranged.”
“Oh dear, had you fallen out?”
“No, there wasn’t any particular reason why she would go off like that.”
“And so you never saw her again?”
“No. Well, yes, but ….I found out she’d been sectioned.”
“Oh no! Acute psychosis?”
“Um – no, not exactly….”
“Go on, Memus, tell me,” said Strellitz quietly, swallowing a hefty bolus of his Moulis-en-Médoc as pre-medication.
“Well, you know I gave up the language studies after a serious disagreement with the Department of Ancient Lore. They had seemed to think very little of my suggestion that the ending of The Symposium was the first fade-out in the long history of media studies, and marked me down accordingly in the exam. Going from an average of 97% in the course-work to 61% in the written was a bit of an insult.
“Anyhow, a place had unexpectedly become available in Medicine, and I decided to go for it. At the time I had the idea that Hippocratic medicine and modern pharmacodynamics might have something in common that could lead to a unified system which could assimilate selected parts of both ancient and modern medicine, and I was keen to follow it up. But developments in the curriculum, in what you specialists call nowadays paedogogy, meant that I had to put these ambitions on the back burner for a while.
“A couple of years later, after the standard course in botany, still around in those days as the foundation for materia medica, I joined the mainstream medical school and began my studies of physiology, medical physics and anatomy.
“At the start of term, a small group of us were being shown round ‘The Drain’, as the Anatomy Department at Marischal College used to be called. You won’t have forgotten the pervasive smell of formalin that used to come from the dissecting room. Anyway, I noticed that on the upper shelf of a display cabinet in the Departmental Museum stood a series of glass jars, each containing a preserved human head.
“In each specimen, the scalp had been incised and folded down over the forehead, and the upper part of the skull had been removed so as to expose the brain. The faces were pallid and shiny-skinned, the expression either entirely vacant or worried-looking.
“Each jar had an old-fashioned hand-written label indicating the details, thus:
“Reading between these sparse lines, one might understand how for these people the days of freedom and lucidity had flooded past, until suddenly the realisation had dawned within each brain, now beautifully fixed and preserved in a glass jar on a green-painted shelf, that time’s flux had reached an end, that summer was finished and all summers too, beyond recall.
“Perhaps a happy childhood had changed imperceptibly into a perplexed middle-age, succeeded not by resolution but by a terrifying slide into dementia. For others, maybe life had always been a desperate struggle against people and circumstances, with never an inkling of what it might be like to live free of the control of some monstrous predator.
“With my mind rapidly filling with these sad reflections, I almost bumped into a large glass jar standing on the floor, directly facing the mad collection of insane heads.
“With a shocking chill, I realised it contained the body of a young woman preserved in formalin. She must have been quite a find, for there were no obvious signs of injury or disease to explain her demise, and her terminal circumstances must have been such that the anatomists were able to take complete possession of her dead body.
“Some of the students thought the girl was a suicide, to have died so young, yet evidently not in childbirth. Maybe she had cut her wrists, or rather her left one, for there was no way of telling, since the jar contained only her neatly prepared right sagittal section.
“Kneeling as if to fit more comfortably into the confined space, with her internal components displayed for our education, anal canal, vagina, pelvic organs, diaphragm, vertebral bodies and spinal cord terminating in the delicate cauda equina, the great vessels and vital organs in the thorax, heart, lungs and their coverings and attachments, her long, dark, gold-flecked hair floating lightly in the preservative fluid, she had been consigned to a cold and permanent womb only a couple of decades after leaving her mother’s warm interior.
“‘No photographs survive,’ I was thinking, leaning for support against the glass, despite the looks of alarm from the others, ‘of you looking out from a sepia interior with cheerful or optimistic face, bright and intelligent, or downcast and fearful, lately sentient of some chill diagnosis. No letters arrive, addressed c/o Aberdeen University Anatomy Department, no text-messages pile up in your mobile phone, carelessly abandoned somewhere in a girlish bag, no e-mails accumulate on a run-down laptop.’
“That evening as I leave the Anatomy Department, the white-coated technician turns out the lights, with a series of loud jarring metallic clicks from the brass switches. The gallery of insane heads look down at Adrienne, who stares back across the darkness with one eye and a half-smile.”
The dense silence is broken by a tap at Strellitz’s door. He turns off the recorder and Dr. Flugelpik enters, closely followed by a radiant Scintilla.
“Hi fellas!’ she cries. Her accent seems to be Australian, and her hair is darker and longer. “C’mon then, Memus, what are we waiting for?”
Memus44 and Scintilla rattle down the steel-stepped stairs of the Institute and out into the sunshine, where the parking attendant is polishing the MG’s headlights.
As the car leaves Aberdeen and heads north, Scintilla begins scribbling. She passes the note over, and Memus44 reads: “Pssst. Urgently need discuss position of Gothic between ancient tongues & modern Doric. Stop in woods after Oldmeldrum.”
They arrive home very late that evening. Mrs Venezia Wolfbane has long since departed for Fraserburgh’s bright lights.
Copyright © Donnie Ross 2010
An alternative stand-alone version of Scintilla first appeared in http://www.rammenas.nl/