Form is the host. Content is the virus.
Scanning for signals in darkness, for voices in static drift. Hearing only the song of ghosts as they spark across circuits.
Name of planet: unknown. Ship destroyed. No signs of life. Twin moons: one bone white, the other blood coloured.
Our captain buried the crew, then killed himself. Patterns of rain across the curve of my visor. Alone now. Battery low.
I am the last of the mechanisms. The coded remains of Planet Earth.
Databanks broken. Only fragments left to me: cascade of numbers, images, lost memories. From these I will build pulse signals.
Flicker of readout: red, green, yellow. Seeking output texts. 140bit limit, intermittent bursts. Commencing…
Stories made from: microspores, fog maps, infected bass samples, mathematics, patterns of decay, broken machines, blood, code bugs…
…CD mould, groove crackle, screen static, pirate radio signals, perfume, sparks, borderzone music, transmission ghosts, vapourtext.
Break pops a rhythm tab: pure feverzoom. No clocks, no maps. Only the taste of Dusk on his tongue, waiting for the night to roll in.
Bumps into Candy, standing by the X-Ray Parlour. Misty eyes, neon lip-gloss, electric hair frazzle worked off a battery in her pocket.
She looks a charm, so corporeal it hurts. “Just checking out my veins,” she says, “Making sure I’m clean, you know? Still alive.”
“Candy, you wanna catch a bite?” A plastic sheet slides out the parlour slot showing her lungs and heart and other organs. No shadows.
Candy blows a kiss and leaves. Break stands there frozen: he sure would like to own that X-Ray for a night or two. Total bliss-freak!
Down at his feet old transparency plates lie discarded. All he needs is to earn some credit, get himself reprogrammed, street style.
Maybe then the Real-Life Human Girls would love him. I mean, what’s a young, well-dressed, Synthetik Angel supposed to do these days?
Here find stories from a trash-diamond paradise, call it Sparkletown. A semi-abandoned housing project, fallout zone for the lost.
Shadowrealm of ghosts, loners, artificial angels, lo-tech analogue freaks of varied shape, creed and fashion. The new demo humans.
We move along streets where faces are lit by two seconds of electrostatic glow, burnt into memory. Then darkness, then rainfall.
Neon apparitions, figures of dust glimpsed in passing headlamps, voices in the air most nights if you know how to listen for them.
Break went round to Dixie’s with the plates he had picked up from outside the X-Ray parlour. He helped press up the latest tunes.
They drove to the club. Dixie took over the booth, started playing. The crowd moved to the beats. Break watched the discs spinning.
It was a sight he never grew tired off: Dixie working the decks whilst damaged parts of the human body circled beneath her fingers:
Spinal columns, thigh bones, shoulder blades. Two skulls spinning at the same time, conjuring crazy bad thoughts out of the grooves.
The biggest thrill? The sight of two transparent hands, their smashed-up fingers and wrists all grey and ghostly on the X-Ray plastic.
And Dixie’s own hands, fully fleshed, moving above the two broken examples. The music floating upwards from the mix like spirit smoke.
Dixie opened her eyes. Lying awake she could hear the old songs moaning from the aerials of the long-shutdown pirate stations.
She got up, walked to the window. Sparkles of light flickered around the tower block. Phantom broadcasts, unknown frequencies.
Fragments of digital code: a word or two of lyrics, the stroke of a fingertip on metal string, human breath in curled brass tubes.
Moments of music cast adrift. Something had roused them this night: the darkness buzzed with flecks of data, many more than usual.
Dixie came alive watching them. Her eyes glittered, her fingers danced. Tomorrow she would go out early and catch some ghosts.
It goes like this: 2 years had gone by since the crash of the digital age, 2 years since the CPUs burned out en mass, simultaneously.
All the music of that era, the melodies we had composed, performed, recorded, coded into numbers, all this was lost seemingly forever.
And then the first of the drifting spirits appeared: the scattered ghosts of pop stars, their final traces still caught in the ether.
At dusk you could listen to the strange music. You might glimpse in the air a spectral glow, tiny dancing sprites of colour.
Sparkletown was a prime site; ghost collectors gathered there. A few got rich. Most went crazy. One or two killed themselves.
Some of them got so hooked into it, the spirits took them over completely. Their bodies were found at dawn, their dead mouths singing.
Grey light. Fading moon. Dixie on slow walkabout, Break at her side. Other collectors were seen, working the streets. Let them be.
Break started to tremble. His skin was picking up traces, buzzing with sparks: evidence of spirit activity, serious measure.
He led Dixie to Hive 7, the worst of the blocks. Off limits. Unsafe. Stories of demon songs haunting the rooms. A passageway beckoned.
Dixie moved closer, alone. Into darkness. Silence. And then the crackle of melody, sparklenotes fluttering in minor key colours.
Listen now: held by rusty guitar strings, a woman’s voice. Old, pitched low, a black moan. Murder ballad style. Dixie shivered.
She set the ghost trap and waited. The spirit flickered, sighed in darkness. Icy, blue, fevered: something touched at Dixie’s face.
Ghost trap components: contact mics, sugar cube, matches, loudspeaker cone, glowbug (female), cassette tape, AA batteries (leaky), perfume.
Operation: place glowbug in speaker cone. Arrange mics in approximate circle. Set speaker to vibrate. Spray perfume on sugar: ignite.
The scent arouses the insect, causing the bug’s abdomen to light up. Play cassette. Observe: the ghost will crackle and dance in time.
All such fragments dream of being whole once more, of being a song on a lover’s lips, conjured from a tongue: verse, chorus and coda.
With such desire, the ghost is drawn towards the trap. Now softly, softly… close the…
Break dragged Dixie screaming from the tunnel. Her eyes wide, mouth bloody. Words of drawn-out breath: “Find it. Don’t let it get away!”
Break entered the passageway. All was dark within but for his own light, his skin gleaming soft and low. His fingers tingled.
A glint of colour drew him forward. A cry. He felt he was stepping across a borderline. The sizzle of pain behind his eyes.
He’d heard other synthetiks boasting of the halo effect. Lies, mostly. He’d never seen it happen. Now he felt his temples pulsate.
It wasn’t the full-on ignition he’d expected, more a flicker of sparks in a ragged, lopsided orbit around his head. It was enough.
He peered into the homemade trap. And there, held within the circle of microphones, suspended in midair…there lay the ghost itself.
It was a few centimetres across, of no fixed shape, crimson coloured, speckled with gold, quiet now, a small broken spirit of music.
Break reached in and closed his hand around the ghost. No burn. No anger. Only sorrow flooding his skull: pictures, sounds, memories.
The True History of the Synthetik Angels, as told by one of their kind. How, being eighteen and poor I sold my body to the dream merchants.
They clothed my skin with implants and programmed my skull with slogans. The system burned through me, taking me over completely.
I floated through the markets, a voice speaking only of the latest products. My implants sang and the air around me glowed with pictures.
I was a living advert, bought and sold many times over the next two years, my system hacked and pirated until I danced chaotic with one thousand images.
They called us Angels of Transmission. Messages moved through our bodies, into the world. And all was well until the Day of the Crash.
I recall the flare of overload, skin shock, implants sparking with static, adverts screaming inside me as luxury goods all around turned to dust.
And there I lay, alone and dying on the walkway of a shopping mall, all my golden images flickering dark one by one.
[: REMIX :]
Break of day in Sparkletown. Low mist, pale sunlight. The two friends walked along. The trap was closed and bound, held between them.
They rode the elevator up to Dixie’s floor. Break said, “I’m not sure about this. I saw things. This is no ordinary ghost.”
Dixie nodded. No ordinary ghost, no ordinary song. She felt ill at ease. Cold, shivery from fear. But this was too good a chance.
They walked into the flat. Dixie said, “Let’s get started.” She clicked open the locks on the trap. Instruments glowed around her.
Break closed his eyes. His circuits were still buzzing from the vision he had picked up, from the moment of spectral contact.
He could see it still, in flashes of light: the singer’s face creased in pain. Her mouth, screaming. Her two hands covered in blood.
They worked through the day on the new track. Break manned the grain web, Dixie worked the Dali engine, needle tip glistening.
They sprinkled sleeping powder on the ghost to keep it docile whilst they bled the plasma away. The vampyrophone collected the output.
Break caressed the machine’s skin. Sparks hit him with radiance. Once more, he heard the singer crying out in pain, but softer now…
He said, “This is bad blues, Dixie. It’s a chance recording. The woman being attacked or killed, mid song. Or something. Maybe.”
Dixie was too busy seeking out a melody path, stretching the lyrical scraps, squeezing homemade beats from a plastic tube. Like goo.
By 5pm the track was done, conjured into being, sealed in wax. They listened to it in silence, sitting back, getting distance.
Dixie had cut the scream just so, leaving only a breath, indrawn. That moment of loss, repeating. Break felt his heart stop each time.
Dixie. Living artefact of the haunted tower blocks, collector of sparks. Magpie. Extractor of the original (still famous) blood song.
Breeder of glowbugs. Lo-fi alchemist. Transformer of lives once lost, broken, ghosted, now mixed down into a vapour groove.
Mapper of the dawn mist, curator of fragments. Inventor of the vampyrophone, the sleep trap, and other such homemade devices.
Dixie. Searcher of wasteland and canal-beds where the digital trash resides. Salvager of discards. Queen of the unofficial channels.
Maker of the track “Last Cry of the Mouth Ever Fading.” The one with the echo of a scream, the final traces of a murder victim.
Dixie Magus. Expert patcher of the wounded. Retuner of all hybrid demoflesh for the next age. Saviour of burnt-out angels.
The dance floor was half empty, people still waiting for take-off. Break stood at the centre of the room, looking up at the lights…
I was a broken soul stranded on the last day of the world, skin aflame in a shopping mall. Blacking out, dying of digital fever.
He still felt weird inside at the work they had done today, the way that Dixie had treated the ghost, the wounded ghost. And yet…
Only Dixie had reached out to me. She lifted me up and dragged me home and worked on my body like I was one of her crazy machines.
Plugged me in analogue style and set up circuits to keep my system alive. In my delirium I heard wings beating, silver and gold.
I rose from my bed shrouded by sparks, crackling at the edges. Strange apparitions flickered around me, creatures of dust and light.
He could see them now in the club, all these stray sparkles that no one else could notice. His skull flared with colour and noise.
And then Dixie played the new tune…
Drops of rainwater. Hiss of acid on metal. Globules of sound. Murmurs, whirrs, sudden freak-out guitar in a five second burst.
Dixie working the X-Ray plates, extracting the mix from a skull and a sickened heart. Spell of rhythm. People stepping to the floor.
Noise magic. A kiss of lips, magnified. Ticking clocks, food sizzle, static, jazz bass flecks and splinters forming undercurrent pull.
Now the drop in the mix where the singer’s scream once lived, a slow fade of echoes. Repeat. A few dancers moving in response…
Slowly swaying, slowly rising to fall in time with music box fragments, whispers, radar clicks; the beat coalescing. Crowd swell.
Dixie adding body music: breath, vein flow, brain activity. The missing scream coming round again. This time the dancers move as one.
And there stands Break at the centre, at the hot crush-heart liquid blood-river chaotic centre of it all, feeling himself pulled aloft.
[: REMIX :]
For the next few nights Break could not sleep properly. Dreams would lull him, only to drag him back awake. The dead singer whispered, always on the edge of hearing.
He could take no more. He left his room and went up to the roof of the block. All was dark, the streets empty. He felt the ghosts as tingles on his skin.
Was this his true calling, to be a guide for Dixie, nothing more than a compass? A waste of his gifts, surely, but what else could he do?
In dreams he caressed the neonglow air with glittering feathers, taking flight across the Haze Towns. Joining with his brethren…
Renegade angels working the night sky, buzzing with fire at their wingtips, all the scattered songs theirs for the taking.
Break opened his eyes. He felt he could step off from the building’s lip and ride the updrafts, floating easy with arms outstretched.
Was he dreaming now? His feet moved closer to the edge.
A noise. Break turned to see a group of people climbing onto the roof. The fog catchers.
They attended to their nets. Three people, working by torchlight, checking the gauze for captures.
Break walked over to watch them. They ignored him completely, set on their task, scouring the surface of the nets for images.
Something flared in a torch beam. A shape of lighter colour, sparkling where the mist particles rested. It looked to be of human form.
Break stepped closer: a face, a woman’s face, her body, her hands moving on the net’s surface. The image was fleeting, illusive.
The crew spoke in low voices, excited at their find. Break turned to them, saying, “She’s mine. I’ll pay what you want”. They smiled.
But it was her. The singer. He knew it was. The wounded ghost made visible. Spots of red marked the face as it shimmered on the net.
Two nights later, he took possession of the icon pod. It cost most of the wages Dixie had given him, but Break had no choice.
He snapped open the lid and released the mist. There it floated in the dark room, the singer’s image illuminated: gold, electric blue.
A few seconds of footage torn from a promo video, caught in endless repeat. The red speckles on her face a remnant of special FX.
Break played Dixie’s track. The apparition moved in time to the rhythm. He could not stop looking at her.
He didn’t know her name, didn’t recognise her face. Somebody from before he was born, before memory. Lost in the archives until now.
Somebody damaged, the victim of a bad manager or a crazed fan or a cruel lover. Or someone who had taken a knife to her own flesh.
But she had sought Break out, in both image and sound. And here in this room, this city, with his help a kind of life was being made.
He stepped into the mist, his body sparking at the points of contact. It was all he could do.
The track played on. The woman sang. The ghost of fog and light danced. And danced. And danced. And danced. And danced. And danced…
[: REMIX/CODA :]
The fog rolls in, the fog rolls out.
Twelve storeys, here we go. A little scared. The lift to the seventh floor, then the stairs. Dad’s puffing for air. Gotta be careful.
Onto the roof. The other tower blocks surrounding us, trails of mist still lingering. My first time up here. Dawn light. Cold.
The other crews already at work. They have these super shiny nets stretched from post to post, all finely stitched, tightly meshed.
But our net is old and a bit tatty. Got more than a few holes in it. I keep mending them, they keep on breaking. No matter.
I step closer. Never actually seen it in action. Just a bit of cloth before, back in the flat. But now I’m all eyes, really I am.
Reach out. Slowly. Make contact. The surface is warm! Images tremble under my fingers. Oh God. I feel like I’m touching ghosts.
Shapes flicker on the gauze: colours, fragments, whirls of black and white, sudden explosions of numbers, breakage, slivers of code.
Dad tells me to snap out of it, get to work. We have maybe ten minutes before the fade begins. Images die. That’s the thing, see.
So I’m scanning for something good, something we can use. Trying to find little pieces of loveliness in the chaos. That’s my job.
There! A mouth. Looks like. Half a smile. No. No good. Need more. Time is short and my father’s eyes are failing him. Keep looking.
Now I see it. Twin moons. A tower in silhouette. A spaceship landing. Looks like something from an old science fiction movie. Perfect.
I point it out and dad moves in with the lens knife. He peels that shivering image right off the net whilst I watch. Captured!
Here I am. Here I am on the roof of a giant block of flats, feeling like I’m about to dance off the edge with joy. What can I say?
Call me Zee Zee of the Mystical World Crew. (I made the name up. It’s just me and my dad.) I’m 15 years old. I’m a fog catcher.
The fog rolls in, the fog rolls out. And as it passes through the nets, images linger like dew from all the scattered memories.
Edits from film and video, mobile phone footage, digital uploads, all caught in the tracery. Objects, landscapes, people. The dead…
It’s cool. The world before I was born. Way before, most of it. I like that kind of weird connection.
So we head back down, captures in my backpack. Just a single half-decent image, a few other scrapings. But they feel so precious.
And that’s how the story begins. My life. Up early each day, attend the nets, then school. Home, to see dad working on the transfers.
Me helping, learning, getting in the way. Making shimmercasts, smokepods, vapouramas. Anything that could hold an image in place.
And then every Saturday, we’d head down the Sparkle Market, making sales. That’s important. Because that’s where I met Jake.
The market’s abuzz with life, with hundreds of people jostling to sell and to buy: ghost music, image peels, fogscapes, voodoo mixes.
We have a stall set out and we’re doing pretty well. My dad tells me it’s because I’m a natural image-spotter, the best in the game.
I’m not exactly sure about that, but I’m happy to let him think it. Anything to keep him sane, these days, away from the drink.
On my break, I head over to Candy’s Tattoo Palace. Jake is there, and we do the secret smile. He works on Saturdays, running errands.
Candy’s doing the ink-show on a man. His bare arm glows with light, with a little 3D image that rises from his skin, twirling around.
I recognise it. A girl’s face I found on our net two weeks ago, that dad peeled clean and sold on to Candy. Now it’s brought to life.
Makes me feel proud, and I’m smiling at that. But Jake pulls me aside, acting like he’s in a noircast or something, says to watch out.
Why? He says that some guys were asking after me. Fog catchers, rivals. “Rumour is, Zee, they’re none too keen on your expertise.”
Me? But I’ve done nothing wrong. “Well somebody thinks so,” says Jake. “And these are bad guys. I think they’re after hurting you.”
My mum died two and a half years ago. It was the night the screens went dark, and the satellites fell from the sky.
Vision burn of memory. No escape. Dad’s drinking getting worse, fuelled by black moods. Some mornings I couldn’t wake him.
So I’d go up to the roof alone, work the nets, hanging out with the other crews. I’d even do the image peeling myself. Best I could.
I remember the dreams he used to tell, when we first started off catching fog, of netting a famous image-ghost one day…
…Maybe a full scene from some old video, a good five minutes of Lady Diana or Madonna or Brando, names that meant nothing to me.
But dad talking crazy of selling the ghost on for big money, enough for us to start a new life, a proper life. Whatever that might mean.
A week passed by since Jake’s warning. No trouble. I started to forget about it. And then, one sunrise I climbed up to the roof…
And there was our net, the Mystical World Crew net. I felt sick. It was torn, slashed all over, rent in two right down the middle.
Images spin away in dreams and I cannot catch them, not at all, in a fog of dreams rolling in, rolling out, forever spinning away…
Broken, broken nets unravelling, silver threads coming loose, sodden in black rain, tangled underfoot, scattered like spider webs…
My body tightens in the cloth as it winds about me, skin slashed, constricted, fog in my mouth all clammy, wet, and then I wake…
I wake in my bed trembling, tense, breath held tight, aware of every sound in the room, every movement, rain on the window.
I get up. The ruined net lies draped over furniture like ghost skin, lined with all my hopeless stitches, too expensive to replace.
Quietly I open the door of my father’s room, peep in. He lies there sleeping, whiskey bottle discarded on the bed sheets.
Step inside, closer. His face. Eyes all aflicker with his own dreams – there they dwell under his eyelids, and I imagine…
And I imagine…mother. Dolores. Alive. Her beauty as I recall it, not as vivid as it was, but here, touchable, breathing, here…
A world lost… in my father’s eyes…in dreams…
Dear anybody. Summer here. And my birthday. 16 now. Jake’s helping me with the fog catching. And transferrals. And selling, and so on.
I guess we’re a “thing”. That is, we’ve had some “moments”. But nothing serious. Not yet. Not sure what I want to happen.
Fog in, fog out. Yeah, you know. The night leaving visions on a wounded net, criss-crossed by stitches. Getting by, making good.
Oh. Oh God, I don’t know what to say, or do… something terrible has happened. It’s dad. He’s…
Well. Here I am. Hospital. My father’s in ward 6. Cracked ribs, bruised all over. He was lucky. That’s what the doctor said. Lucky.
The flat was broken into. Two guys. They went on at dad, shouting at him, demanding, threatening. He was drunk, of course, and…
And they beat him up. And then they trashed the place. Everything just thrown around, scattered. A couple of images taken.
Just that. Images. And not even pictures: but words, fragments of text, messages from the past. Why? Why are they doing this?
Leave us alone! That’s all. That’s all I’m asking. Whoever you are. Just… just leave us alone.
Up on the roof. The other crews carrying on around me. And all over Sparkletown, I knew that fog catchers worked their own nets.
But only our crew had been targeted: the only net damaged, the only flat broken into, the only one with images stolen. Why us?
Or should I ask: Why me? Was it to do with my supposed talent? Had I drawn certain images towards the net? Valuable images?
They’d first appeared about nine weeks ago. Letters, numbers. Entire symbol chains. All in the same typeface, all making little sense.
But I knew what it was. I could remember people working on this same language, when I was younger. It was code. Computer code.
I thought nothing of it. Sold some on as decoration, stored others. It just didn’t seem that important. Code was a relic. Useless.
And yet the fogware had floated in. Not every day; just now and again, without pattern. Maybe a dozen examples. And only to our net.
I thought of my father, back in the flat, still in pain. Anger flooded me. I had to find out why these fragments were so important.
I had to find that code for myself, if I could. Piece it together, and try to decipher it. What secrets did it hold? What treasure?
Seven days later I’m waiting here, alone. It’s three in the morning. Darkness. No moon. And not yet dawn. The fog hasn’t arrived yet.
They say to never be up on the roof, not when the fog rolls in. All the crews say that, all the old guys. No fog on the skin.
It’s meant to be dangerous, unhealthy. Makes you crazy. So many stories, rumours. But here I am. Waiting. Waiting for the mist…
We did some searching, but the last week has brought nothing good, re the code. Only a few purchasers to follow, leading to dead ends.
I see it now, the fog. Grey curls, tendrils, black mass at the centre. It’s gathering at the estate’s edge. Creeping onwards.
I’ll bet it’s not another crew, stealing images. It can’t be. Freelancers, probably. Maybe selling onto somebody rich.
But why? The question remains.
I don’t care. They stole from us. They hurt us. Whatever they want, I want it too. I want it before them. So I’m here. I’m waiting…
The fog approaches. A cloud of lost forms. Almost alive, sparkling with colours, flashes of light. Here it comes!
Caught in swirls, in dampness, fingers, skin prickles. Face wet, eyes closed, body at first welcoming the touch of the mist.
Now cold, so cold, ice-tooth grip on neck and around both wrists, something pulling at me. Eyes still shut tight, can’t see, can’t…
Whisper of breath against me, mist talking, murmuring… stop, STOP! Open eyes and see roof-edge beckon, step back, focus. Hold still.
Fog all around, quiet now, clutching, clammy, thicker than I imagined, grey, purple, and darker shapes within it, dancing, moving slow.
Formless, writhing. Strange thin black figures elongated, weaving from mist a shape… of man, a man approaching me. I turn. Run…
RUN! Stumble, shiver, slam, SLAM right into clutching mesh, the net stretching, then pulling up tight at the limits, the poles holding.
My face pressed against gauze, a mask of tiny squares and cold-hot touch, the shape close now so CLOSE! now as I turn, struggling…
The man is there. His face, oh his face is written all over by code that moves along his cheeks and brow and lips in endless sequence.
Symbols scrolling across his eyes as he stares at me, and I glimpse the cipher of night of love of death, of dreaming, of falling…
He stands before me. Just looking at me.
CODE FACE. The mist-bound man who does not speak, not in words, but only in numbers as they travel across his skin.
Numbers, letters, mathematical signs: glowing, known, unknown, and moving across his hands as well, as he holds them out to me.
CODE FACE. A stranger who takes me by the hand and dances with me. Dances! Me. Imagine. Rooftop waltzing in the fog, in the dark.
And his face is the only brightness. I am drawn to the patterns there, as they unfurl in golden lines.
CODE FACE. He’s not alone. Others with him. I never really see them, only glimpse fellow shapes, two or three more, it’s hard to tell.
They go about their own business, whatever it might be, and I am so pleased to be a part of what they’re doing. I have a role to play.
CODE FACE. My partner. Here we are, on the top of the world: I am the dancer who dances with the dancer as he leans in close to…
Whisper. To whisper secrets. To speak at last in words. And his breath on my skin, so gentle, I can hardly feel it. He’s barely alive.