Here’s the opening of a fiction in progress, “The Instilling”< which I’ll be reading at a closed event in Dublin over the Halloween weekend. I’ve advertised it as “A post-singularity goth fiction celebrating the autumnal decay of the sun, perverse and feisty heroines and the dread religion of The Rose.”
Three days after Inil’s departure for the Cowled City, two narco-cultists brought L the eviscerated carcass of a transpig. It flowered red out of the oiled black canvass they laid on the floor of her study. L noticed that part of the body seemed deflated. There were puncture wounds on its flesh, as if the animal had been sipped though straws leaving a bag of anatomically vague parts.
L signed cheques and contracts while MamaCo67Inger was indisposed. But Inger enjoyed killing things and they had the tenants to consider. Inger hunted the pig destroyer at night under auroral skies with a fragger some iteration of her had ripped from a Syndic APV back in the day. She littered the garden with the fragments of broken statuary and blew a few rabbits to hell out in the meadow. L, who preferred a milder violence, assumed it had been rational enough to try its luck on a neighboring estate. She wished it well.
As Inil’s absence extended, L began to own her solitude again and thought of rediscovering herself. She broke a month’s fast at the elyrikon in Estambral’s immense library. It sat under a translucent dome; the false twilight running like pus from its keyboard and spidery frame. The mummified corpse of Riim, the honored enemy of MamaCo’s 4 to 5 was stationed beside it in chain armor, his signature power saw gripped in his withered claws. When she was alone, L liked to kiss the pinched lips of their ancestral enemy and feel his blackened stumps against her tongue.
She fanned the flame with some deep breathing exercises; then launched percussive attacks, plangent decays, wild tempo changes. Her instrumental skill had not deserted her. But there was nothing recalling her Clusternight days in Palmo; the strange peaks when her keening seemed call from some future night. The things that had spoken in the ancient city did not come. She felt that her performance was mannered, even to stuffed corpses.
Her cries had flustered Jurt. The underToy loped towards her, cultured-tendons pistoning as his knuckle-dusters scraped the ceramic tiles. The Chop Houses rotated the unders frequently as their specialised body chemistry made them liable to self-harm; but Jurt had proved robust.
Her under rose on two thick, humanoid legs, sniffed the tangy air and said the obvious: “There’s nobody, here. Châtelaine”
Jurt’s zippered-head was small in relation to his long, agile body. It seemed to swivel at its tip a drone camera panning for body heat.
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Châtelaine” The under, insisted. Being toothless, it spoke with a fluting lisp.
“You haven’t disturbed me, at all, Jurt”
“Respectfully, Châtelaine. I think you are mistaken”
L sighed and lifted Jurt’s chain from its concealing place in her gown and struck him on three times on his bare back. The bruises that formed there were speckled and iridescent. Jurt sighed with pleasure and L found it hard not to enter into the spirit of the game.
“Thank you, Châtelaine.”
L reciprocated by smiling exaggeratedly, as the Chop House always advised its clients. Jurt returned to his station by an intestinal stairwell. Though Inil styled himself the Castellan of Estambral, it had been the Toy’s idea to address her with the female honorific. L was a blow-in and everyone – except Jurt, it seemed – knew it.
MamaCo67Inger’s personal maid – a girl with palsied hands would bring her a cold supper to the library soon. L did not want to see her nervous expression or be reminded of the resentments it harboured. She preferred company of the “made” domestics. Unlike the human retainers, they were designed to relish their indenture.
She whistled Jurt back, informing her that he was to accompany her on a walk. Had he a tail, it would have been wagging by now. But he almost passed for human when he kneeled to receive the chain on his diamond collar.
L was drained after the abortive performance, and conflicted by Inil’s absence. Navigating the Autumn Maze posed a problem with a solution. Jurt tugged like a demon at his chain, eager to please, forever uncertain just how. After negotiating several junctions, they were nearing the central court, where a sundial lay in the permanent shadow of cypresses. There was no chance of being lost. The maze was like an old friend to L. Majoring in its incongruities was part of her formal induction to the Inger’s cohort.
The false twilight was at its peak. Sky greyed as the cloud of degenerate matter engines passed over the damaged sun. The grey was cut with actinic white flashes as geysers of exotic particles rose from the oesophagus.
During one of his visits to Estambral’s library, Insenescent Press had told them that the oesophagus still suckled from the solar core and held intercourse with foreign actualities high above coronal storms. When L had asked him why the Dead hadn’t turned their machine off before leaving the universe, he had opened his mouth to display a priceless jade-green tongue ridged with tiny lamprey mouths. It wasn’t just a smile. It was a reminder of what he was, and of their dim enmity. “The post-mortals I knew were paranoid and risk-averse to the point of madness” He told her” “Everything is a potential trap. Wealth, sex, power. Even paradise requires an exit strategy”