Listen! We, the Spear-Danes, in days of old
Were kings of tribes and well won praise.
We know how the lords won honour,
And how Shield took land from his many enemies,
Destroyed their homes and upset their benches,
Making their lords bow low. Though he began
Without friends, he was repaid by Fate
And lived under the sky, wealthy,
With people coming before him from near and far,
Hearing of him from cross the whaleroad*
And giving him gifts. That was a good king!
Listen! We, the Spear-Danes, in days of old
Please take my hand, ascend the stage,
(The lights are warm, the platform bright)
You’ll help to shape our show tonight:
Allow your sight to wander cross the page.
A word will fix firm in your mind –
Just lock it there and hold it tight,
Against your limbs don’t try to fight
But let them seize as sockets start to grind.
Put yourself in my control and
Make a PRISON of your soul;
Sit still, I’ll fill your face with ants.
The Hive will take you in its fold
And nurture you, and make you old,
The Queen will hatch her children in your brain.
Ginny Douglas sat crosslegged on the floor in front of an open console, its thin wires splayed like it was a vending machine undergoing a hysterectomy. The harsh glare of bright white striplight gave the old office the feel of an operating theatre, but Ginny felt more janitor than doctor. Her nanoframe glasses were pushed up high on her head and she drummed a pen incessantly on the tiled carpet floor.
Chase Profit had turned over one of the upturned desks and was leaning against it gingerly. Despite wiping it down with a microfibre dustpad that had already disintegrated in the air, he was loath to risk the incursion of even a mite of dust into the fabric of his Armani suit. His gun he’d been more careless with – the simple automatic pistol was his for company policy, but Ginny figured there was more of a buildup of dust in its barrel than there was on the table. Chase had never been known to shoot it. She figured the recoil would be a sufficient shock to his wrist to make him think twice about wanking for almost a week. God knows, the shock could even crease his suit.
Without looking round from the tiny screen shining up onto his face, Chase spoke. ;Why do you do that with your stylus, Douglas?’
;It’s called a pen, dickhead. Writes on any surface.’
;That old Microsoft tab?’ but his interest had burned up quicker than the dustpad.
Ginny readjusted her shirt and shifted on her butt. Typical IT guy look, she thought. Shirt from a long-cancelled sci-fi. She wondered if Dack had watched any Firefly and turned to see him looking at her.
The bottom half of Dack’s face had been replaced with an asphyxiator – a solid unit capable of filtering fresh air even of radioactive particles or otherwise providing its own oxygen. He’d had it for as long as Ginny had known him, but in that time neither she nor Chase had asked how he ate: the asphyxiator had replaced both his jaws. Not that Dack would have said much in response. He did have a tacky belt buckle that could display a scrolling message in bloodred LEDs. It was currently set to a simple ellipsis.
Dack held his rifle tightly, the way a forceful lover might, though his finger wasn’t actually against the trigger.
His eyes glowed septic yellow, picked out against the rich black of his face under the harsh tube light. Ginny looked back to the console.
Of course, her shotgun lay within close reach, but she always felt that the pen was much more empowering even if the proverb was a little dated.
She pushed the pen into the mass of hair behind her head and reached her fingers into the mess of cables. She moved her fingers like she was tickling a keyboard and caught at a mess of wires, twisted her hand into a lobster grip and pulled hard, then gave the whole unit a hard kick.
Dack’s satire: C O S T H A T W O R K S .
Almost in direct answer, there was a quiet whirring from the console and a dull moan of the old CRT firing up.
;Magic fingers, asshole.’
Chase actually turned around, though his voice suggested his innerearphones were up too loud. ;Does that thing do Wi-Fi?’
S I G N A L C L O U D ! ? ?
;I’m not going to fucking broadcast, Tinfoil.’ He gestured with his tab. ;Episode’s nearly over.’
;I’ll see what I can do. Looks like the hardwear’s here.’
Ginny stood up and looked over the console, trailing the back of her fingers through the dust.
Dack’s eyes smiled at Chase and the letters scrolled fast. A S S ; )
;Used to be touchscreen here. Stone age shit, though, and the grid lasers are down. I’ll get with your Wi-Fi, Chase, you two get with the securifying.’
Chase and Dack cast about for some loose rubble to cover the console. Invisible nodes make for secure connections, after all. There was less of the normal corp flair with hiding it, but then this was the kind of run where it paid not to leave obvious tags. Dack rooted through the trashed once-office with his hands – rifle slung carefully over his back. Chase rooted with his eyes, the perception bolsters flashing baby blue as he put on matching polythene gloves.
P O S H W A N K ?
;Fuck you, Dack.’
As the boys were looking, there came a sound of success from Ginny. Chase and Dack stopped what they were doing and looked round. Ginny’s smile was broad; her glasses were back on her face but her small eyes shone brightly too. Her right hand pointed directly upwards, and the men craned their heads in unison.
;Wi-Fi boy here looks like he might be useful. That’s a keyed-in security drone. Static, looks like.’
;So we leave this place and this thing covers our backs?’
Ginny nodded. ;It’ll flush out any attempts at a future recapture – if anyone fails to input the codes before meddling with the software (or hardware), drone’ll sprinkle this place with gunfire.’
W E K N O W T H E C O D E S ?
Ginny shook her head. ;Don’t need to now – hardwiring’s done.’
Their smiles were shortlived as they heard an echo coming down the corridor. The office was on the fifth floor of an old tower, seeming no reason to go in. But from the sounds coming up the corridor, the newcomers didn’t have clear objective. Between crashes of wanton destruction – snapping of tables and the hiss of compromised fire-extinguishers – random bursts of singing. Punks. Probably just on a crash-crawl, but they’d not pass up the chance to capture a node.
No time to hide it and themselves, Ginny was the first to start forming makeshift barricades with the semi-trashed furniture. Even Chase began turning tables on their sides, but he was already wearing the gloves. Dack was something else entirely – he’d obviously began pumping extra oxygen in when he first heard the noises and was setting up tables like a man possessed. They’d barely time to assemble a semblance of cover before the two punks rolled into the room.
The first was huge – bigger even than Dack, rows of metal vents down the centre of his head like a low-resolution mohican. His gigantic right arm was chromium plated and dwarfed even his massive belly – though there seemed no retracting plates with recessed firearms like some of the more expensive models. The other guy was tiny like a girl and with more hair than not. It was a wonder that his greasy hair didn’t go up in flames from the spark at the end of his flamethrower.
The big punk let out a massive roar, swung his arm back and smashed the doorframe; gouts of strontium-red flame flared from the vents in his skull.
In what started as a move for his gun, which wasn’t there, Chase ended up flat on his arse, sprawled behind a table.
Ginny hefted her shotgun, but Dack had already shot out the light. In the fading glow of the punk’s flameshow, Ginny could see the punk’s shoulders snap back in turn before his head was hit with a sick squelch. Dack’s final bullet landed straight in the canister of the mop’s flamethrower and the ball of blue fire blew him back and left him screaming and thrashing on the floor.
As his voice died down to bloody whimpers, Chase croaked. ;Is it over?’
I T ‘ S A W O N D E R T H E Y L E T Y O U L E A D T H I S T E A M The red lights stood out bright in the blackness, reflections smeared over Dack’s mask.
But then the floor was bathed in a soft pink light and everyone turned to look at Chase’s tablet. On the screen was a shit .gif of two Duracell bunnies fucking. The wall behind them gave out the same pink glow, and they turned around to see the same image on the console’s dusty screen.
For almost a halfsecond, the weary chains of the sentry drone whirred before the chaingun rained down bullets on them all.
I don’t want to walk between them and when I do it’s like someone has walked across my grave. I don’t like that metaphor, but it makes me shiver nonetheless.
The boy is young – maybe five or six – and he’s running rings around his mother. Not so much that she trips him up, but he’s swinging on trees, climbing on benches and drifting further from her. She keeps an eye on him of course but she seems more focused on making headway towards the distant behemoth supermarket.
In my mind it’s that I don’t want to block her sight of the child, but once I spotted them I couldn’t stop seeing them and really it’s that.
If you watch a group of people walking through a crowd you can usually tell who’s together. If you watch particularly closely you can tell who’s romantically together even if they’re distant.
If you watch closer…
I see the threads now. Subtle. Blue, usually. Willowing threads streaming from the back of the skull and linking between people. The little I know of knots sees that they aren’t bound together but rather the same thread. In a crowd they cross through each other but they don’t tangle, they don’t catch on trees or people or cats. But still I hate to walk through them.
Since spotting them though, I’ve began to catch sight of my own, cast in the smeared reflection of dull shop windows. It streams back, flickering in the wind like a loosewrapped scarf, its end tattered and sundered and unbound.
Considering my profession, I actually have a notable impact on the progression of the English language, and this slightly implicates that.
I have a fondness for old, quaint words. After all, my blog is known for its archaism. While I use them with enough frequency in audible and written communication, it is often my desire to see the propagation of the same words. It amused my students that I’d say peculiar, and they’d soon use it ironically, but now I’ve also heard them say it sincerely.
At the moment, especially in written forms, I’m a mite prone towards mite. Not as in red spider ~, but rather meaning a very little amount. (That said, much like my “a bit” to mean “yes”, I most frequently use it to indicate an ironic understatement.)
I’d also like to bring back the “hurts” usage of smarts. I shall endeavor to more overtly include this in my speech. I think this attitude to language had led to my being called “funnest English teacher”. Clearly not the most effective.
What word or obsolete meaning do you hope to revive?