Bibliotek: Chapter Two.One

Posted on 25/07/2011 by

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Chapter Two

“I seem to have misplaced a bound, you see.”

The two of them squeezed through the hole, newly torn in the ‘crete of the vault wall, its steel joists raw as bare bond, and jagged as if a screen artifact of hi-res fire. Then they fell into the blank alleyway behind. Emlen, his gun by his hip, and tools wrapped tightly in binding leather, walked away silently. Graham was chilled, the drugs having leeched away from his veins into cold piss inside. Emlen was swift, and left Graham to doggedly follow after. The stranger had obviously planned this obscure exit, and took them confidently around corners, in amongst twisted intersections, and by a tangle of streets—queer as was London, not clipped to any CAD grid. The alleyways and avenues pointed accusingly at them as they tried to escape. They went by streets faced by roller-shuttered shops like blank drug labs, lit saffron by fog-lamps, now worthless in the modern city’s heat-sunk, tekno tropics. Dripping, plopping, acoustic in a long, wetland season. Together the men glowed an aggressive, chill orange, and Graham chanced a look back.

“No! No. Don’t worry about the hunters, they’re less a concern than you would’ve been led to believe.” He snorted, adding to himself: “Ill-trained brutes.” Everything about Emlen was quiet, was restrained; all, except his attire, manner, and his outlandish claims to scholarship. Graham followed him, and his shoes, having cracked in the earlier fire, snapped sharply. Then came a loud fizzing noise behind, and Graham knew that the old bricks of the collection must have fired—that the ‘crete insulation inside the tenement had melted—and the moisture, once caught inside the clay bricks, had sublimated like sherbet in vinegar and chanced its escape. He thought of swirling pop rocks with ginger. The soda fizzing round the sugar grit. Shit. He didn’t want to be near the wreck of it, or the mutant bodies of the ninjas—the ‘hunters’ as Emlen had called them—the monsters he imagined must have been trapped behind them. He tried not to think about the ‘modified’ hunters, or their twisted, formaldehyde-soaked bodies raw by fire. Crushed by twisting steel girders in the heat. Every breath he took had a burnt edge—even after he’d managed to choke away his own charred nostril hair.

“You blew up our collection!”

Emlen looked back at him brusquely, “I did not. I only took advantage of your own defences—they were rather meagre, I might add. It was already burning when I got there.” He finished it with a great, pedagogical pout. Emlen then continued through the uncertain geometries of London, striding ahead, while Graham only ran ragged and tried to keep up with him.

It was a respite from running when they mainlined downward into the Tube; to a station extruding up into the street, beneath the now burnt umber sky. Graham tried to look back at the street one last time. Then descended, to be deafened by the coarse wind of the wild underground that blew from up the escalator, itself flooded with twists of refuse from below. Then they heard nothing. No pursuit. Further down, past the hovercraft fans—still now, but which in summer, would push the waste and human stink away into a then incendiary city—it was only the push, and the pull of the trains that rushed the air.

They walked through the platform, triangulated and flashed by cams, checking their faces against mobile ownership; were their nodes carried by the proper, registered contractees? In this world, you could never simply pass your mobile round to a friend, it had to hold reference to your face. Nice. That security meant you’d never be charged for minutes off of someone else’s face; though it wasn’t legal to rec and index identities. Just legal for the Tube to fill their civic duty, and to look after property—not to track anyone. Your identity was your own. Cause after all, only information was free.

The glasses Emlen wore offered little defence versus the cams, they were just too gross a modification of his face—the systems were apt at matching the probabilities of change to his avatar. Looking after Emlen, Graham didn’t know what to think of him. Should he remind him of one of the wild old radicals: a man who might’ve argued an intrinsic value to privacy? That seemed natural, dressed as he was like a cyber-Davy Crockett. But he didn’t act like that at all. Graham watched as Emlen held his hand aloft, his mobile shuddering and flashing in his hand, hailing them a train.

“Ok, so what, you’ve lost a bound? You’re actually telling me you’re—what? Some kind of ‘librarian?’” Emlen wrinkled his nose at that, then took them off to the Central line. Twenty feet straight down—as the crow fell. The escalator showed evidence of a tired, ‘noueau-constructionism’. He hurried down the teethy steps of the right lane.

“Oh yes. What a bugger. I track select bounds around the world, you see. By reference, by credit-tracking, GPS, even RF-chip if I must. I find the cultural capital inherent in bound-trafficking fascinating—originally I came at it from a zoological background, of course. Tagging birds, developing migration maps. It’s all of a same.” He waved his hand grandly. But Graham only felt himself zone away from Emlen, remembering art lectures from collage, after they’d given up on defining the style of Tottenham Court Station, instead coining it nou-con: the station decor set as if in constant refurbishment. Chicken-wire sketches of tunnel, and biweekly layering of torn, outmoded advertisements. Always hopeful that when it was done, it would meet an, as yet ill-defined expression. Now whatever Emlen was saying was just like those random words. He followed, as Emlen had them stepping straight aboard a train.

“I had an isolated bound to track. Wholly divorced from its electronic source text. I’m quite proud of that accomplishment, actually. It’s very hard to publish from a vacuum after all, or to tamper with the metadata.” Inside the train he didn’t sit, but stepped up the car and poked through damp rubbish. He found a paperback bound, and he flickered through it, as if nauseatingly able to read it on the curve of its spine.

Graham wrinkled his nose while he watched Emlen, stepping as far from him as he could in the car. “Ok.” He said, after much too long. But it wasn’t.

Switching stations, Emlen continued, as if he’d had that bewildered response before—and knew how to combat it. “I used to be a zoologist.” He started. “An ornithologist—like Bond’s RL namesake—I studied flock organisation all across the world. We were stationed in the Caribbean when a police rep came out to see us.

“‘We’ve reason to hold you for questioning regarding smuggling and suspected homicide.’ That’s what they told me, before I’d even heard that my friend, Dr Dovaston, had been reported missing over the last week. It was understood I’d recently been in contact with her. The statement came from the policeman in a lovely, anachronistic clip—the kind no one from England actually still has—but I was shocked by it regardless. Of course I’d been in contact, we were colleagues after all, even when we passionately disagreed on differing methodologies.” Emlen pulled his hand from the rail by the escalator, and rubbed his hand across his pants. Graham gripped it tighter, holding off on the same sense of disgust, and clung to the false tackiness of its high-friction rubber.

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By Paul McLaughlan

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Posted in: Btek, Hyperwork, Paul