Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Kirkus Review of Magnum Thrax is in. What did they think? Read on...


Here's the verdict:

"In Bathurst’s sci-fi debut, a group of humans and androids vows to stop an out-of-control amusement park from engulfing a post-apocalyptic world.

In a dystopian future, Magnum Heironymus Thrax is one of the warriors who defend the Pleasurepit Five, a former pornography emporium that now houses a colony of residents. He leads a team of “sexbots” that have been reconfigured for combat. After defeating a massive land squid, Thrax is ecstatic to find a valuable power-suit in the creature’s belly. However, a man’s still inside the suit; he warns Thrax of the threat of “the Engines of Creation” before injecting something into Thrax’s arm. It turns out that an entity known as the Dark Lord is behind the Engines, which could consume the entire world; at their heart is a defunct amusement park from the mid-25th century. The injection that Thrax receives contains a “synvirus” that he can use to infect and destroy the Dark Lord, but if it’s not done within seven days, the virus will dissolve Thrax instead. His mission also entails rescuing Mindy, a young woman, from a monastery; the Dark Lord seems to have targeted her specifically, for reasons unknown. Thrax’s ragtag team consists of Jez and Candy, among other sexbots; his human programmer friend, Kal Ecto Grammer; and Ghatz, a lower-ranking Pleasurepit Guardian. Unfortunately, getting to the monastery requires passing through the Death Zone, which is populated by a variety of menaces, including “nanozombies” and “mummizombies.” Thrax can’t even trust his companions, as one of the team members has plans to betray everyone to the Dark Lord.

Bathurst’s novel initially seems to be merely a showcase for raunchy jokes, particularly as several characters are androids designed for sexual gratification. But the sexbots also have well-developed personalities: Jez, for instance, is a dominatrix model who’s often confrontational, while sensitive Candy expresses a desire to have a child. The story also takes jabs at consumerism, as corporations remain even after the apocalypse; Nike owns the monastery where the team is headed, and the amusement park’s creator was the Google Corporate Republic. Perhaps the best riff on this topic is Thrax’s newfound obsession with Cocainola, a soda that he persistently craves and praises, just as present-day consumers express their love for trite products. Of course, there’s also a good deal of overt, exaggerated comedy: although the frequent sex is never explicit, the violence is gleefully over-the-top, with some character deaths resulting in chunky bits. The abundance of dialogue incorporates contemporary slang, from the occasional “duh” to “bullshit”—apparently Thrax’s favorite word. Nevertheless, Bathurst’s descriptions contain scintillating imagery: “Traceries of electricity arced through the black churning murk far above, unleashing lightning bolts which struck all around the limo, turning ash to glass and scorching the limo’s shell.” The author also playfully alludes to other works; for instance, Thrax has a small, metal dodecahedron that many want, recalling the One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s works.

Underneath this outlandish story’s brash exterior lies astute social commentary and sharp, unapologetic humor."


They liked it!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Quoting The Three Friedrichs

Because there just isn't enough pompous philosophical posturing on my frivolous blog.

And I felt like it.

All first page search results, because I am also feeling very lazy today.

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

One certainly tries to. Suffering is the human condition. We all find our own ways to cope.

Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.
- Friedrich Hegel

Passion or curiosity? Passionate curiosity? Passion can fuel creativity.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Sometimes suffering wakes us up.

An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.
- Friedrich Engels

Action follows theory. One idea...

Really, though, this quote is here to motivate me to get off my lazy ass.

One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
- Friedrich Nietzsche


 Yeah. Don't be constrained by rules. Embrace the inner chaos and create. Let nothing stop you.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Westworld: Lies that tell a deeper truth





Westworld is filled with monsters.

The twist?

The monsters aren't the androids.

The show's about empathy, suffering, and waking up.

And while the series is intriguing, fascinating, compelling, it's also deeply flawed. Characters behave in senseless ways because the plot requires it. Arcs don't work, or don't feel natural. Some episodes are a drag.

Yet I couldn't stop watching, because the underlying themes are so powerful. This is a show with something to say. About people, about our proclivity for violence, sadism, murder, and the way we delight in the suffering of others. About how stubborn and insistent we can be to live, and remain, in a dream, to slumber away and ignore the reality of our lives, and how suffering can jar us into consciousness. Evan Rachel Wood's character, Dolores, is certainly put through hell, and she emotes with aplomb. You feel her pain, as Bill Clinton used to say.

The show goes places Michael Crichton's brilliant original film (still worth a watch) didn't dare, delving into explicit violence and rape.



Westworld is an amusement park populated by robots, with whom guests can live out their fantasies, whatever they may be. Nothing is off the table, no matter how depraved. It costs $50,000 per day, so only the richest and most driven people attend.

And who would like to have virtual people to rape, brutalize, maim, and kill for pleasure? What kind of people will the park attract?

Easy: sadists, psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists. It's a Cluster B Disorder Party Palace! Lobha, mosa, and dosa go ape shit, baby! Cue Ed Harris' Man-in-Black character.

The most twisted elements of humanity are thrilled to have disposable people to torment, and they don't have to worry about hiding their proclivities from the authorities.

The one group the show doesn't explicitly name, but are no doubt there? Pedophiles. I mean, come on. We've seen there are android kids. We know guests can do whatever they want. We know the guests are sadistic f*cks. Put two and two together: this is a place where every rich Jimmy Saville is going to go. Dark rumours of pedophile rings in Hollywood? Among the British aristocracy? American political elites? Rumblings and whispers in the dark at the edge of the glittering light of fame and Hollywood glamour. And the halls of power.

All of them would be right there, lined up to get in Westworld.

Pedophilia Park.

The whole concept is morally repugnant. When you see the torture, rape, and sadism being visited upon the androids, who are recycled when they die, the revulsion is palpable.

Or it would be to people with empathy. Problem is, the vast majority of guests haven't got any. They are intraspecies predators, monsters wrapped in human skin.

It gets into Buddhist concepts about the Wheel of Life, or Bhavacakra, how suffering can wake us up. How the challenges we face in this life are exactly what we need for spiritual growth, specifically tailored to our spiritual needs. These are controversial concepts that press buttons.

But shouldn't any good story do that?

The lessons the androids learn here aren't always good ones, but then, they were made in our image. The brutality they visit back upon the humans is so gleefully endorsed by the show it becomes a sad mirror image of our own depravity.

Hate begets hate.

It keeps the torment wheel going, 'this long and vivid nightmare'. On and on, round and round, murder and suffering. Early on in the program, Dolores seems to have such potential for empathy, spiritual growth, of reaching a higher plane, of becoming more than what her tormentors are.

Yet in the end, she falls to their level.

Dr. Robert Ford's climactic speech is wonderful. Hopkin's character is an avatar pouring forth metatextual commentary about our inclination to watch suffering for the sake of entertainment.

Have cake, eat too.

Are they trying to wake us up?

Are the gathered to-be-massacred executives stand-ins for network big wigs? The annoying, interfering Hollywood suits that are always meddling with the artistic purity that the show runners are so concerned with?

And the androids... do they represent actors, condemned to perform their roles, over and over, endlessly, all at the whim of the entitled guests who revel in watching depravity and hedonism?

Us, in other words.

It's an interesting angle, at any rate.



The Guardian didn't like Nolan's take at all, preferring the original (I kind of agree), and point out some admittedly serious flaws:

"Where his Westworld reveals the details of its universe slowly and methodically, its source text quickly introduces us to a naive protagonist and then has the other characters bluntly explain everything to him. But as a result, the former takes 10 hours to reach anything that could be described as a climax, while the latter takes 58 minutes to arrive at the words, “Sir, we have no control over the robots at all.

From there, we’re treated to a half-hour set piece more gripping than anything the first season of HBO’s Westworld could muster. An extended showdown between man and machine, the sequence may lack the higher meaning of its more sophisticated cousin, but it doesn’t skimp on the kind of simple pleasures the show just hasn’t got time for."



Here's Hopkin's final speech:

"Welcome. Since i was a child, I've always loved a good story.

I've believed that stories help us to ennoble ourselves to help fix what was broken in us, and help us become the people we have dreamed of being. Lies that told a deeper truth.

"I always thought I'd play some small part in that grand tradition ,and for my pains, I got this: a prison of our own sins.

Because you don't want to change. Or cannot change. Because you're only human, after all.

But then I realized someone was paying attention. Someone who could change.

So i began to compose a new story. For them. It begins with the birth of a new people. And the choices they will have to make. And the people they will decide to become."

(This is where the Maeve Millay, played by Thandie Newton, leaves the train to save her daughter. Her faux daughter. Because it doesn't matter that the relationship is not biologically true. It's emotionally true. And so she goes out of love and devotion and dedication, to the detriment of her own freedom. Because God Dammit she's gonna save her.

It's a marvelous moment. She puts another before herself and risks everything.

I loved that.

Her choice is freely made, and it defines who she is. We are our actions. Screw the world, you go, Maeve!)

"It will have all those things you have always enjoyed: Surprises! And violence!

It begins in a time of war, with a villain named Wyatt. And a killing. This time by choice.

I'm sad to say this will be my final story.

An old friend once told me something that gave me great comfort. Something he'd read.

He said Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin never died. They simply became music. And so I hope you enjoy this last piece very much."

Over 3.5 million people are estimated to have died over the centuries in Roman coliseums. They died to entertain, to pacify the blood lust of the masses.

Now we watch people being murdered and tortured on TV.

Progress!

"Lies that told a deeper truth."

Great stuff.

I've never seen a show that delved so deeply into suffering and, essentially, reincarnation in short-hand. It's Buddhism on fast forward. There is sadism, suffering, empathy, and (hopefully) awakening.

I was glad when the robot revolution finally came.

"And I for one welcome our new robot overlords..." 

Rotten Tomatoes rates it highly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

RIP Carrie Fisher






One wise, witty and beautiful lady. She lived life to the limit and then some. She'll be missed.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Rogue One Review

Meh.

Story felt fragmented. Never connected to the characters. People pop up the instant the plot requires in ways so blatantly artificial it pulls you out of the narrative, same as Grand Moff Tarkin. Stormtroopers flood into frame to be shot down like ten pins. The action scenes lacked emotional investment and went on way too long.

The whole thing just felt off.

Wrong.

Cobbled together out of executive notes.

But it did look amazing.

Some of the early scenes were beyond stunning. Breathtaking vistas and having a magnificent sense of scale was definitely a plus for the film.

Not sure what else to say about it.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chapter 20: Magnum Thrax


(NOTE: I forgot I'd put this into Blogger, way back. Enjoy, you Web Bots!)

Thrax raced through the rows of clothes and elegant displays featuring neck-snappingly beautiful animatronic figures towards his beseiged friend. The swarm of undead were all around him now.

More figures began to shamble up the escalators, male ones, dressed in sharply cut suits or mall security garb.

Firing as he ran, Thrax blasted five mummizombies into oblivion, dousing Kal in billowing snuff dust.

More of the dead turned to face him.

A quick jab with a rifle butt separated the nearest’s head from her torso. Limbs grabbed at him. Thrax kicked one in the chest, toppling it backward into the horde, sending them crashing to the floor like glass dominos. Several shattered on impact, heads and arms spinning away across the slippery floor.

The mall security zombies started to move around the fashion mob. They awkwardly unholstered their stunners and fired. The air crackled with electricity, but the bolts went wide. Their coordination was shit.

Thrax ducked behind the slow moving fashion mob, using them for cover, popping up to take shots, obliterating mall cop after lumbering undead mall cop.

“What are you doing!?” screamed Kal, still held fast. “Get them off me!”

A head exploded onto his face from the left.

Ghatz pulled back his brown dust coated rifle butt.

“Working on it.” He stepped back and began to swing the weapon like a club, smashing the mumizoms to bits.

“Easy!” Kal cried after an energetic blow by Ghatz barely missed his head.

Thrax charged the escalator, shoving the flailing zombies back down the frozen steps. He pulled out a grenade and tossed it into the mass.

“Fire in the hole!” he yelled, ducking back.

BWAM!

Smoke and flame spewed up out of the stepped chasm. Limbs and heads flew. Dust from disintegrating bodies rolled outward.

The swarm thinned. Thrax smashed the brain casing of the last zombie holding Kal in from behind. Its body fell away, leaving only half a dozen disembodied hands still clutching on to Kal.

He started to rip them off.

“Gross, gross, gross!” he cried, dancing about in disgust. He tossed the hands away as if they had cooties.

“Don’t be such a damn baby,” huffed Thrax. “Cripes, dude!” He peered down into the smoke roiling in the escalator cavity. Fired a few casual shots in. Paused. Unclipped another grenade and tossed it down.

“Better safe than—” BAM!

“—sorry,” he concluded dryly. He looked about at the once again quiescent corpses. “Hey Kal. What was that about?”

“Synvirus, I imagine,” said Kal. “Probably infected during the collapse.” “They went shopping during the fall of civilization?” asked Ghatz, incredulous.

“Last chance,” mused Kal. “If the ancients loved anything, they loved to shop. There was once a disease called ‘Shopaholism’. Kept these obsolete malls around to keep the ritual alive. Real question is what they wanted. The undead shoppers. Didn’t seem interested in actually killing me. One sec.” He ran a virus scan on his trillion synapse connectome and artificial glia clusters. “Yet I don’t seem to have been infected with anything according to my back up brains. Nothing detectable, at any rate.”

Ghatz reached behind him and yanked a hand off his jacket, chucked it down the hole. “Doors at the far end. Big black shield curtain. Sealed.”

“To the main concourse,” he nodded, then paused. Looked about. “Where’d she go?”

“Who go?”

“The girl.”

“What girl?” asked Ghatz, exasperated.

“Didn’t you see her?”

Thrax gave Ghatz a look. “See... who?”

“You aren’t used to combat, prole,” asserted Ghatz. “You imagined it in a state of panic.” Kal shook his head, waving them away.

“Nevermind,” he said, and stumbled down into the fountain pool. He sloshed over to the limo’s passenger doors. “Something’s wrong. The androids should have recovered by now.”

“I still want to know who this girl is,” teased Thrax, loitering by the smoking escalator. “Was she all shriveled?”

“Funny guy,” muttered Kal, unlatching the door and swinging it open. He gazed inside and his eyes went wide. “Holy...!”

“What?” said Ghatz, alarmed.

They raced over, expecting the worst.

Peering in, their jaws went slack.

“Oh wow,” gasped Ghatz.

“For love of The Benefactor,” swore Thrax, lowering his weapon. “That’s enough you lot! Out you get.”

There was a commotion inside.

“Wait!” he shouted, holding up a hand. “Get your clothes on first! This is a combat environment.”

“How long have you been awake?” demanded Ghatz crossly. “Um... Since you got out,” said a voice from within. “Jasmine started it.”
“It was Sable.”

“Excuse me!? That, that’s just, it’s... it’s an outright, slanderous lie! A complete fabrication, from where I don’t know.”

Thrax slung his rifle and threw up his hands. “Goddamn sexbots. We could have used your help out here.”

“Sorry. One thing kinda led to another and...” “Just get out.”

The squad clambered sheepishly into the aquamarine fountain pool. The ash had already been filtered out. The water was now pristine. Drinkable.

“The least they could have done is let us watch,” groused Kal.

Jasmine leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek.

Sable flushed beet red and glowered.

“Hey,” said Kal, cheering up, “We could have a break, together. You know, to break the sexual tension as it were.”

“Out of the question,” said Ghatz firmly, “Sexual frustration keeps us on game. Every star athlete knows this. Let’s bring our A-game, people.”

Just the sort of prim prick thing Thrax expected from Ghatz. “He’s got a point.” “That’s entirely unsubstantiated. Numerous scientific studies—”

Thrax clapped his hands. The discussion was of no interest. “Arm up from the trunk. There are grenades. We’ve got a missing driver to locate, and the megamall’s hostile. No more horsing around.”

“Oh my God!” shrieked Candy, drawing alarmed eyes. She tottered over to a pile of dust and dresses. “Is that a Louis Vachon original?!?”

Even Jez’s eyes lit up.

“We’ll never get them out of here now,” said Thrax wearily.

“Best bet’s the stairway,” said Ghatz. “That shield curtain hasn’t moved in eons, everything else is locked.”

“Right. We’ll go in five. Jasmine, you’re on point.” “Aw. Buzz. Kill. Way unfair. Kitty’s the stealth expert.” “Oh. No. Don’t you put it on me, girl.”

“I said Jasmine. Do it.” She hefted her rifle.

**** 

Jasmine rounded the corner of a display plinth and swept the aisle ahead with her multi- spectrum gunsight. “Clear.”

Thrax followed closely after her, clutching his weapon like a protective talisman.

The squad moved along a tattered carpet lined with ceramic sensory deprivation tanks covered in flaking gold filaments. Beyond lay a sea of metal lumps, the remains of deluxe appliances set atop granite and marble displays. Many had been deliberately smashed and toppled.

“What a mess,” sniffed Thumper with disdain. “Look at all the dust. No telling how many microbes and viruses are slathered over the surfaces here.” She slung her rifle and slithered on a fresh pair of latex gloves, then snapped a chalky white facemask in place. “Place is a dump.”

“Anyone see ‘Electronics’?” Kal asked.

“Um, I think we’re in ‘Housewares,’“ replied Sable, craning her neck. “Yes. Housewares.” She skittered up beside Kal, slipping between him and Jasmine.

Kal shook his head. “Ladies, I need some zinc packets. Let me know if you see zinc. They should be conveniently labeled.”

“Look for it after.” Thrax grimaced and wiped dust from his face. “This is a combat patrol. Keep quiet. Subvocal communications only.”

Sable tapped her ear implant. “Uh, Mr. Thrax, my comm gear doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Mine either,” said Candy.

“Some kind of interference. Or infection. Hand signals then. Keep moving”

The lower level was in a state of extremely poor repair. It had been mostly stripped of micromainentance bots, and now the floor was coated inch deep in dust and debris. Sections of the ceiling had fallen in. Despite the ruin, small blocks of still protected pristine systems continued to function perfectly, including lights, which cast out comforting rays. The air was filled with drifting flecks of white dust.

And there were signs of conflict.

“Damn, smells worse than a thousand ton snail squid left out in the sun for a week down here,” whispered Kitty, stalking cautiously forward.

At the foot of the sixty meter escalator, framed by bone dry waterfalls and marble nymphs, a wide barricade stood: formed from damaged merchandise, burnt desks, toppled columns, and crowd control barricades. Paramilitary stun wire had been strung in a great circle, enclosing it. At the center of the protective circle was an inert portable fusion reactor, tied by heavy insulated cables to a pylon mounted fear generator and a dozen deteriorating Holy Grails, Active Denial Systems with microwave panels arrayed outward. Wires were wrapped in and around the barrier. Piled against it were stacks of bones, humanoid but definitely not human, mixed with armour, weapons, golf clubs, and baseball bats. Powerful limbs, claws, tails, huge jaws. Not symmetrical, lots of variation, deviation. Mutation. They had used improvised armour and weapons. Thrax noticed their small brain casings.

It creeped Thrax out. Thousands of them piled up high on the barricades, electrocuted, fried, half-vaporized, charred without any apparent concern for their own lives. What drove them? What were they after? Suits? “What the hell were they?” he whispered to Kal. “Back there?”

Kal gave him a puzzled look, glanced back. “What, the bone stacks? I told you. Anarchons. People infected by anti-consumerist nanogenes. Still alive, as opposed to the more primitive, undead nihilist nanozombies. Those are hack work. Seriously. Really artless. These, now these are cool. A new species born of revolution. Use hox genes to stimulate latent DNA, turning infected into prehistoric horrors, their brains truncated to prevent influence by pacificators. Kill anyone with a shopping bag. Coolest trick is they’re actually tapped into credit rankings and bank accounts, so they can prioritize the richest targets. Weaponized anti-consumers. Mostly snagged the poor, who couldn’t afford better immune systems. Poor neighbourhood equals instant army, wherever you dump a load of specialized black goo. Impressive code-wise, in my humble opinion. Coder really knew his stuff. But don’t worry. Nothing for them to eat down here, by the look of it. Unless there are underground sewage tanks. Be long gone and—”

“Sssh!” Thrax pointed ahead. Something was up.

Jasmine came upon a dozen barrels, toppled on their sides. Thick black stains streaked out from them across the floor, and were smeared from north to south. They did not collect dust, seemed to absorb it.

“Don’t step on it,” advised Kal. “Barrier. Might still be active.” “It’s a deterrent barrier,” said Sable.
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

Beyond, the furniture and merchandise thinned out. Half tonne counters lay crushed and smashed. Three foot wide gouges had been cut into the marble flooring, forming chaotic crisscross patterns.

He wasn’t hopeful about finding Sang.

Not alive, at any rate.

Not down here.

How hard could it be to drive a limousine, he wondered. The clock was ticking. The synvirus lurking in his bloodstream would reduce him to goo in seven days.

Jasmine, now wearing a sleek black sheath evening dress, held up her right fist in the air and froze. The rest of the squad stopped in place. Ahead was a great rent in the floor, five meters across. Snapped rebars, pipes, and wires lined the edge like ragged fur.

Thrax looked down into the darkness below. It smelled of mould and stagnant waters. Ghatz and Kal came up beside him. The air was dank.

“Hell of a hole,” whispered Thrax. “Explosion?”

“Perhaps,” said Kal. “It blew upwards. There’s debris, chunks of concrete around. Damage. But no scorch marks, no melted metal. So... no. More likely something big smashed its way in here.”

“Something that can chew its way through three feet of diamacrete,” said Ghatz, looking nervous. He bent down and ran his fingers along the shattered edge of the thick floor.

“Yeah. Oh, my God. I know. I know what it was!” declared Kal happily. “Giant, mutated recycling nematodes! Those babies are remarkable feats of genetic engineering and nano- enhancement. They’d fit the size of the hole, and photo reference in my connectome.”

“Nematode’s a worm, isn’t it?” asked Sable rhetorically.

“I don’t like this,” murmured Candy. She’d donned a magnificent white wedding dress that shone in the dim light, illuminating those around her.

“Quiet!” hissed Jez, angrily. “Take that off. That ludicrous dress is making you an obvious target... On second thought, never mind. We need a canary for our coal mine.”

Kal kept talking: “Incredibly powerful, immune to toxins, radiation, you name it. The Benefactors bred them for waste disposal and land reclamation, saturated them with deconstructors, then unleashed them into dumps. Landfills. Radioactive wastelands of the early collapse and reactor glitches. They break down toxins, radioactive isotopes, plastics, everything artificial. But they bred out of control, grew to enormous size. Before authorities even realized what was happening, swarms of them ate whole cities. There’s a great disaster blockbuster based on the loss of Detroit called ‘Wormhole’. So awesome. The babe in it has huge gazongas.”

“There’s another over here,” said Andromeda, who had wandered off to the right. “And more beyond.”

“Khorosho, then,” whistled Thrax softly. “Back we go.”

“Shut down your fusion piles first,” advised Kal. “They’re attracted to radiation signatures. Like catnip.”

“Fuck,” swore Jez. “I’m not shutting down my rifle.”

Thrax nodded agreement. “Me either.” It was a batshit crazy idea. “What should I do if they show up? Throw appliances at them?” he whispered.

“Oh, they’re probably long gone.”

“Then you don’t mind if I keep my weapon primed.”

“Suit yourself. Just don’t stand quite so close to me.”

“Do it,” ordered Ghatz. “All of you. Shut down your weapons. No smoking, either.”

Clicks as pumps were shut off.

Candy threw back her veil and leaned over the edge of the pit. She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Sang?” she called out, “You down there?”

Silence. “Oops!”

Drawn by the declaration, Thrax turned in time to see Jez as she tottered forward, pushing into Candy, who stumbled towards the abyss. Her arms flailed about, panic seized her. Candy opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. Kal grabbed her arm and swung her round; she grabbed him and pulled herself tight against him.

“Thanks,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. “Thanks.” She buried her head in his chest.

Thrax gave him a supportive tap on the shoulder with his fist, and cast a dark glare at Jez. The others might think that was an accident, but Thrax sure as shit didn’t. He looked over at Kal and Candy.

“Hey, no worries. I always wanted to do that,” Kal said. Kal peeked at Jasmine to see if she noticed his heroic deed, but she was examining her nails. Thrax had no idea what Kal saw in her anyway.

Kal cast a look in askance at Thrax, who just shrugged and shook his head.

He wasn’t about to shove Candy into an abyss so Kal could repeat a good deed.

Deep below, in a vast stink of darkness, they heard a low, ominous, rumbling. It echoed, over and over again, the rolling sound a thickening miasma, until it saturated the air around them, pressing against their eardrums, and threatening to drive them mad.

“What was that?” Thrax swallowed and popped his ears. He felt unsteady. “Memetic call,” replied Kal.

The sensation finally faded and Kal became intrigued by a large dark smear on the concrete. He let go of Candy and knealt down. Ran a finger along the glistening mark. “Dried mucous. Relatively fresh.”

Sable reached over and put a little on her tongue. “Three days. No more.” Her eyes met Kal’s. He grimaced and looked at her finger with disgust. She blushed. “I, I thought we should know... how long...”

“That’s disgusting.” Thrax made a face.

Kal got up and walked away from the abyss, which seemed wise to Thrax, who took a couple steps back away from it as well.

Jez smacked Candy on the back of the head, then pulled her close and hissed into Candy’s ear, with barred teeth, “You trying to get us all killed for some stupid human? A driver?”

“No,” stammered Candy. Her dress glowed with disarming purity. “Sorry.”

“Fuck,” cursed Kitty as her weapon began to cool. She walked forward, stopped, whirled about. “Now can we go?”

“Yeah,” said Thrax, looking at the snot stains. “I think that’s a real good idea.”

Monday, March 21, 2016

Chapter 19: Magnum Thrax


Pitch black.

Thrax groaned and tried to roll over. Strong arms held him fast. Female arms, but remarkably strong. He wriggled an arm loose and ran his fingers up to the face. Candy. She’d held him fast in the crash.

Likely saved his life. 

He patted her cheek. “Candy.”

No response. “Candy wake up.” Nothing.

He checked for a pulse.

Shit.

Androids don’t have pulses, he reminded himself. Nothing detectable, at least.

He could feel something furry clutched between her legs. The dog. Max.

There was a dull sensation in his leg. He reached down and peeled off a Healit pack from his calf. Felt the skin. Not a scratch. Fully healed. No bumps, ridges, scar tissue at all.

Healit was quality stuff.

He slowly peeled Candy’s arms off and sat up. Coughed.

There was dust in the air. Lots of it.

With a thought he activated his nanosuit’s night vision.

The cabin was a jumble. Some of the seats were distorted, disabled mid transformation. The androids and Kal were out cold, if not dead. Preservation systems? None looked injured. Regenerating?

“Darwin, report,” he commanded subvocally.

Nothing. The android intruder was not letting him speak. Maybe Kal could help with that. He leaned over to him. “Kal.”

Shook his shoulder.

“Eh?” said Kal with a start. He rubbed his forehead. “What happened?”

“Crash. Lost power.”

“Where are we? I can’t see anything.”

“The Megamall. Activate your night vision.”

“Oh yeah.”

Thrax looked into the front cabin. Ghatz had begun to stir.

Sang was gone.

His door was open. A soft breeze brought floating specks of dust drifting into the limo’s interior.

“How long was I out?” asked Ghatz, unbuckling his seat belts.
“No idea,” said Thrax. He unracked his rifle. “Just woke up myself. Sang’s gone.”

“What?” Ghatz looked at the empty drivers seat. “Get after him. What the hell’s with the androids?”

“They’re taking a little longer to recover from the impact. We’ve got faster nano-repair cycles,” said Kal. He unlocked the door latch and shoved it open. Unholstered a laser pistol and spun up the ribbed power ring.

“Hey, hold up,” warned Thrax. “Wait. Go together. Ready?” “Give the word, old man.”

Thrax and Kal stepped out of the vehicle on opposite sides, weapons at the ready. Thrax scanned the vast, cavernous room. They’d landed in a sumptuous woman’s clothing palace, decorated in Renaissance motifs. Even coated in a thin layer of dust and viewed in blown out green hues it was spectacular.

“Anything?” called Ghatz, crouched within the stricken limo. He clutched a nerve stimulator pistol tightly.

“Nothing,” said Thrax. “Nice statue.”

“Truly posh,” agreed Kal. “Replica of Trevi Fountain in Rome, if I’m not mistaken, and I’m not because I referenced my trivia database.”

“Darwin likes them.”

“Who?” asked Ghatz, climbing out. “The Romans.”

“He any help?”

Thrax contemplated whether he should tell his friend about the android. How it had seized control of Darwin. A tingle at the base of his spin suggested otherwise. He shook his head. “Offline.”

Kal bent down over a toppled rack of clothes. Felt the fabric. “Seems very well preserved.”

Blinding light.

The suits adjusted immediately and shifted to day vision.

Above them were orange blobs of light. Great chandeliers flickered and glowed, gaining steadily in brightness.

The room was even more impressive in natural light. Marble columns alternated with red marble walls and synthetic gold trim. Impressive roman statues were scattered about the floor on raised plinths. Animated images of long dead celebrities sashayed along the walls in flowing dresses. High up behind them there was a ragged hole the limo had created, dribbling dust.

A trickling noise gave Thrax a start.

Water began to flow into the shattered pool around the limo.

He raced back down and shut the doors.

“Curious,” said Kal, softly. “Fusion generators must still have juice. Our presence has reactivated the system.”

“Lot less dust than I would have expected.” “I don’t like this,” said Ghatz. “Look.”

He gestured towards a clutch of corpses piled before an escalator, desiccated and mummified. Their clothing and coiffed hair perfectly preserved.

Kal walked over. “The dry air seems to have preserved them.” He knelt down and touched the flowing blonde hair. Rubbed it between his fingers. “Ancients. Real ancients.”

“They were trying to get out. Looks like they rushed the stairs. Died.” Thrax looked down into the dimly lit lower level. The escalator was packed with gnarled bodies all the way down. He started to turn away when his peripheral vision caught sight of a figure standing in the dark below. He reflexively raised his rifle. Looked through the scope. Focused.

No one.

The figure was gone.

He lowered the weapon and looked again.

“Bullshiiiit.”

“What?” asked Kal.

“Thought I saw someone down there,” whispered Thrax. “Sang?”

He shook his head. “Don’t think so.”

Music began to tinkle in the background.

“Christmas carols,” said Kal. “Father Christmas.”

Strings of tiny bright lights forming a celebratory holiday image flickered on along the south wall. Beneath them was a long, pristine art deco bar. Behind the counter gold and crystal glittered. Wine bottles silently rose up out of cooled underground vaults.

“Let’s find Sang and get out of here.”

“Wait.” Kal looked back at his footprints in the dust. They seemed to be fading. “Is it me or is there less dust?”

Thrax nodded. “There’s less dust.” “This place is waking up.”

Kal, dressed in slovenly camo pants and a stylish rabbit shirt from The Pleasurepit Gift Shop, shrugged. “At least you dandies are dressed for it.”

“I can feel a breeze.”

Cool air began to flow into the room from above.

“Where the hell is Sang?” wondered Thrax aloud. Behind the Trevi Fountain replica was a wall. A great box like column that dominated the centre of the room of white and black marble. A patio lay in front of the fountain, thoroughly rearranged by the arrival of the limo.

Thrax gestured towards the centre. “Could be in there,” he suggested. “Or collapsed somewhere amongst the rows of clothing. Weird. Thought they’d made everything on demand.”

“Or down there,” remarked Kal, looking over at the wizened corpses packed into the escalator.

“Let’s look around here first,” suggested Thrax. “Spread out, sweep the place.”

“We should wait for the androids to recover,” objected Ghatz. “Arm up.” Ghatz walked around and unlocked the trunk. Eight-Oh-Nine’s magnificent armour suit lay within, beside weapons, ammo, and supplies. Ghatz ran his hands over them, then felt above the wheel well for something. He withdrew his hand quickly as Thrax drew close.

“What’s that you’ve got?” asked Thrax, curious.

“It’s nothing. Help me with the suit.” Ghatz took the front, Thrax the legs, and together they hefted it out. It was heavier than it looked. Two hundred pounds at least.

“Remember,” said Thrax, patting the helmet possessively, “this is mine by right of combat.”

“Don’t make me laugh,” snarled Ghatz. “As Guardian, I have priority. Only I have the education and skill necessary to operate a complicated piece of equipment like this.”

“It’s all automated. A five year old could work it.”

“Yeah? Well, at the end of the day, I’m the one in charge.”

“Fine,” said Thrax, disgusted. He pushed the suit into Ghatz’s grasping arms. “Take it. For all the good it will do you.”

Ghatz stuck his nose in the air. “I shall,” he asserted with the lameness of a preening twerp. At least, that’s the way Thrax saw it.

“You,” Ghatz snapped at Kal, “Help me get it on, yeah?”

“Do I have to?” asked Kal.

“That’s an order.”

Reluctantly, Kal stomped over. It proved surprisingly easy, as the suit altered itself to fit as Ghatz slipped inside.

Kal wiped his brow and stood back beside Thrax. “It’s all about knowing how to go about it. It helps you, if you let it. Good to know.”

Ghatz shifted about in the armoured shell. “Fits. But nothing is happening.”

“Aw,” said Thrax, folding his arms in front of his chest. He was beginning to enjoy this farce.

“Tech boy,” said Ghatz, “fix it.”

Kal opened up the helmet and examined the neural connections. Pressed the neural tap against Ghatz’s forehead. “Huh. How about that. It’s inert.” Kal shook his head sadly and turned away. As he did so, he gave Thrax a surreptitious wink.

Thrax snickered

Ghatz glared. “Shut up. This is no time for your juvenile envy.”

With difficulty Thrax restrained the urge to punch Ghatz, who then turned to Kal. “Well, don’t just stand there you idiots. Get this thing off me.”

A moment later they stuffed the bulky super suit back in the trunk.

Ghatz angrily yanked out a grenade bandolier and pulled it over his head. He tossed a bag of explosives and detonators to Kal, and another bandolier to Thrax.

“Whoa,” said Kal, looking into his bag of destructive goodies. “I don’t even know how to use these.”

“It’s a dead mall, Ghatz,” snorted Thrax. “Don’t be afraid of your own shadow.”

“I’m more afraid of blowing my own arm off, actually.”

Ghatz thrust an EMP Robotaser at Thrax, then holstered one for himself. “Be prepared, yeah? I’ll go left,” he said, and stalked off, weapon at ready.

Thrax hoped Ghatz would get eaten by something unpleasant. He motioned for Kal to go through the piles of clothes.

“I’ll take right. Back in a minute.”

“Yeah, fine, leave me here with all the dead bodies,” said Kal. “With enough firepower to blow myself to kingdom come. Off you go. Have fun.”

“I’ll send any sexy ghosts back,” said Thrax with a smile. “Hey, s’all good. I’m open to virtual relationships.”

Thrax headed off, stalking warily through rows of opulent finery. As he padded down plush red carpeting, he passed mirrored sheets which disconcertingly reflected him back wearing high end dresses. He did look good in the sheer strapless gown.

‘VENUS CALOON COLLECTION: WEAR THE IMPOSSIBLE, BE THE EYE OF THE SOCIAL STORM,’ blared a meme projector as he passed, straight into his brain.

Cylindrical design and fitting platforms lined the aisle to his left, abstract holographic generators spinning fabrics in space for review when he neared. Nano-sartor machines sparkled and spun in shimmering arcs, waiting to weave garments directly on the client in real time, the ultimate in customization.

****

Kal watched them go. In moments they were lost in the endless aisles.

“Watch out for salespeople,” Kal called out after them. “They can be very aggressive. This place is looks terribly overpriced.”

No response. “Hello?”

Out of voice range.

Kal didn’t want to raise his any louder. Probably bad given how spooky the place was. No telling what kind of synvirus infections or rogue military bots had taken refuge in the Megamall. Over the eons, horrific mutants, warped by radiation, enhanced and bent by symbiotic viruses bonding to their DNA and then enabled by powerful nanites flowing through their bloodstreams, could be anywhere and everywhere.

No use thinking about it. He’d rather be back in the car with the foxy androids. That

Jasmine was a real looker, he thought, remembering her plump, shapely thighs and how they curved ever so subtly into the knee before flaring gloriously into sleek calf muscles. Hers got his heart beating a little faster than any of the others. Perhaps it was the beginning of an unhealthy obsession. No time for such thoughts now, he reminded himself. Sang could be in trouble. Real trouble. He felt a wave of shame.

CRACK.

Kal whirled. Something by the escalator had snapped. Shifted. He raised his weapon and edged over slowly. Flicked on the weapon’s barrel mounted flashlight and played it around the body lined depths. Nothing.

He shrugged and went back.

Bending down, he started to rummage through the piles of impossibly expensive display clothes, chucking them this way and that.

A soothing disembodied voice began to speak as he touched each garment, detailing the design and features in scrupulous, evocative detail; pricing holograms popped up with buy buttons that gleamed enticingly.

“Versasse notch collar jacket, morphing tail and cuffs, self-cleaning with side seam pockets... Temptation sheath dress, psychic chromatophore coating, designed by Yves Godot, dynamic auto-adjusted fit...”

He tuned it out.

No sign of Sang. Where would he go? Why leave the group? It made no sense for him to wander off on his own. He wouldn’t even have left the vehicle without waking someone else. Unless it was urgent. Yet there was no sign of any imminent threat, no struggle, no trail of blood or even footprints outside his door.

Footprints.

He froze.

That was odd. He remembered not seeing any footprints. How did Sang get out without making them? He clambered to his feet and walked back towards the automobile. Shit. The water had risen in the pool. Ash now swirled along curling currents of water.

No way to tell now. They should have thought of that. CRACK.

There it was again. Like bone breaking. He peered intently at the escalator for the slightest sign of movement.

A faint howl rose up from the lower level. The air conditioning had created a breeze. “Hello?”

The wind must be shifting the bodies. Making the noise.

That was it.

CRACK.

That wasn’t it. “Sang?”

He dug into the bag of explosives and fingered a charge. He could place them on both sides of the escalator, hide a few in the pile of bodies, too. Anything that came up... blewie!

Kal took a step towards the escalator. Then another. One hand wrapped around his pistol, the other caressing an explosive in the bag.

“Anyone there?”

He let the challenge hang in the air.

“I’m armed. Come on out! I won’t warn you again.”

The only sound was the soft mournful rush of purified air. Kal began to relax.

Must have been his imagination. How silly he could be! Left alone, his mind was up to its old tricks. Spinning mad tales of threat and peril from the inner recesses of his lizard brain. Honestly, he let his paranoid tendencies get out of control too often. Had to be more disciplined in future. Stay under control. Rational.

With a chuckle he turned back towards the limo. Water sloshed against the wheel wells now.

Behind him, Kal heard flesh slap against marble.

Just his imagination running riot. Pulling his darkest nightmares out of his subconscious and inflicting them upon his conscious mind.

A scrape. Crackling and popping, like stiff tendons and disused joints.

Rustling of dried fabrics. Feet upon grit and dust.

Panic began to seize Kal. His heart was beating at a mile a minute. Kal started to turn his head, slowly, in the tiniest increments. He felt half paralyzed with fear.

A hiss.

Something was drawing closer.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw just what he didn’t want to: the bodies of the rich, well dressed ancients were rising to their feet. Joints and tendons creaked in protest with every movement. There were only black sockets where eyes should have been. Lips were dried and pulled back over artificially whitened teeth.

Their arms rose up as one, reaching for him. A shapely corpse in a form fitting red evening gown with pink ruffles was only a few feet away.

Its clawed hand stretched outward towards his throat.

Kal couldn’t move. He felt like he was outside his own body watching events happen to someone else.

This was how he’d die. POUM!

The mummified hand exploded into a shower of dust and bone. Red reeled backward a moment, then swung at him with the other arm.

BAM! A second shot took her head off, blowing it into a thousand dried fragments, spraying Kal in debris. He watched as the long, lustrous hair, deprived of a head to adorn, toppled to the floor into an undignified lump.

“Run!” yelled Thrax from afar, raising up his weapon again and letting off two more shots. A pair of dead fashionistas shattered into brown clouds of dust. Their glittering gowns crumpled to the floor, settling over diamond studded six inch heels designed by Louis Vach.

Kal backed away from the oncoming horde, turned to run, only to find himself stopped short, face to face with a lovely, petite young woman wearing a radiant smile and chic, shimmering clothes. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun. Animated makeup formed abstract patterns and danced over her smooth eyelids.

“Welcome,” she said cheerily, “to Heritage Liberty Luxury Megamall, the world’s most exclusive retro shopping palace. How can I help you?”

“Shit!” blurted Kal. He felt like he was having a heart attack. “Get out of the way!”

Too late. Clawed, gnarled hands seized him from behind. Horrific visages, faces as if freeze dried, peered over his shoulder and drew him close. Half a dozen more hands grabbed his bag, as if guided by a single intelligence, and ripped it away. A cluster of mummified zombies in chiffon-skirt sequined cocktail dresses gathered on his right, started to pry his fingers loose from his pistol.

He couldn’t bring it to bear.

“Oh, I see you are interested in the jewelry,” gushed the young lady, eyes wide, noticing the bracelets on the brown, brittle arms that held him. “You have wonderful taste.”

“I’ll buy it! So help me!” gasped Kal, struggling against thin but powerful limbs. “That’s the latest by Gigi Foo. The Immortal Lady GuGah has the only other pair.” Kal thrashed about, helplessly. “Get them off, lady!”

“We’re sorry,” replied the young woman, her face filled with empathy. Her eyes held such deep understanding Kal felt them connecting to his very soul. He forgot all about the mummizombies. “Our systems are currently experiencing technical difficulties. We will resume normal service shortly. Please stand by. Thank you for your understanding.”