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.
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.’”
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