1. [01-05]

They released her from custody.

She went down to the Spore Station,
using a veil of smoke to hide herself
from the security guards.
She crept past the front desk.

Alice was twenty-six years old.
Her electric skin was reflected
in the studio monitors.

Carefully, she operated the Acid Machine.
She tasted petrol on her tongue
and felt herself rising on pixel wings.
Alice cracked open seedpods…

The image spores floated free.

She said thank-you to the machine
and then went outside,
seeing that eleven angels on the plaza
had let their halos drift away.

Now plug yourself into words, Alice
and make your announcement:
That language can be opened
by a coded snake tattoo.
Gather up all the broken creatures,
feed them on scented roots.

Her first customer insists on decorated components.
His name is Ian. He has ink on his face.
Alice, encloud him with drugs
and halo blossoms,
let them mingle on his skin.

Show him the YES/NO button-
Press HERE to be recharged.

Which will he choose?

2. [06-10]

Eros recognized himself in the newspaper. It was a story of 17 people found dead, a family, buried under icy ground.

The police took him away for testing. They were certain he was to blame, in some way, for the murders. But he could speak only a few words, in riddles, and these in a strange language. He had lived too long inside his own image, which he saw now as a mirror coated with poison.

They broke his arrows in two, and placed him in quarantine. He sat in a corner, staring at the walls and ceiling. It was hot in the small, enclosed space. He felt sticky, he was sweating. He tried to speak, but his lips would not move.

Night fell outside the tiny barred window. A woman’s voice sang in the dark, the same three notes echoing over and over. Eros listened, enraptured. The song invoked the ghosts of the old country. Eros had once been real; now he lived on as myth. But still, he was troubled by fear.

The Minister of Love consulted his Narcissus Screen. The sacred reflection spoke of the need for a replica, a replacement Eros to be built, an android. The Minister made a broadcast, using an artificial tongue to convey the message. The new Eros was shown off at a press conference. He bore a slight resemblance to the original, but for the skin, which was transparent. And inside his chest a heart of glass could be viewed; it pulsed with a crimson fluid. His arrows were blunted, as required by the safety regulations.

Years later, the real Eros was released from his prison. He booked into a small dingy hotel on a back street. Here, he passed his final days. His skin cracked and poetry seeped out, released at last from its bodily confines. Now the poetry needed a voice. It needed to escape the poisoned mirror: to sing again, to whisper lyrics of flesh and fire. Invisible, it floated across the city, searching for a host.

3. [11-15]

Vampires cloaked their true status in order to cross the borderline without detection. They smuggled illegal vials of Lady Diana mutations, hidden in secret compartments. Now they walked unknown through the city, their bodies passing as normal.

In secret, they licked at blood-stained lips, and mixed the Princess DNA with lower elements.

Six months later there were over 250 variations of the Diana face on the streets. The police testers tried to scan them all, hoping that the original, stolen DNA would emerge. It never did.

Diana Variant 45 lived alone. She dissolved the stalks of magical plants in chemicals. Her eyes glowed as she conjured up the biographical data of the true Princess. That night she lay abed, dreaming of cameras.

Her days of borrowed fame were numbered, she knew that now. Her red lips were cracking. She got up and went down to the all-night medical centre, to Room 601, where human features were removed to be sold on to image designers. These women without faces became known as Vapour Girls. But at the last moment, she could not go through with the operation. The face would stay with her, for a while at least. She took a cab back to her complex.

Diana Variant 45 woke up in darkness. She could sense a presence in her lonely room. It was a body devoid of sunlight, a ghost, but neon-lit. The true Princess stepped out from the shadows.

The two faces, real and fake, kissed and intermingled.

4. [16-20]

There were these two part-time replicators, totally hooked on methylated spirits, who ran a cheap-rate, burn-out joint down on Lee Street. One evening a man turned up, asking for a room. He gave his name as Escher. He resembled a half-finished person, a good idea for a human being whose construction had come to a halt, due to lack of funds.

What the replicators didn’t know was that Escher had a tin wardrobe where he kept a robot locked up, a living mechanism he’d won in a gambling palace downtown.

Now here’s the thing: the robot was a girl robot. Actually, more like a plastic doll than anything, with two crystals for eyes, and a secret door that led to her beating heart. But her fingers, it must be noted, were designed more for killing, than loving.

This Escher was a man for telling stories. Probably, in better days, he’d been a writer of some kind. One or other of the replicators would often bang on his door in the night, to ask him to be quiet. But Escher had a hobby. He liked to sit the girl robot on the bed and regale her with tales of giant eyes running through the streets, of human faces being stolen as people slept, of a sentient mirror that prowled after the handsome features of a soldier called Turing. So many stories. In truth, the girl robot was falling a little in love with Escher; and he with her. But one night a rival turned up, a man who had taken the room next door. This neighbour started to pursue the robot’s affections. He threw wild parties and invited her along.

Escher sat on his bed, drinking whiskey, listening to the noises coming through the wall. He could hear the girl robot laughing. A painful image flashed through his mind. He felt he was trapped in one of his own fabulations, with no exit route. Without thinking, he slid a long clean blade from under his pillow and walked out from his room, along the corridor to room 29.

One of the three of them would die tonight, of that he was certain. Only then could the story end.

5. [21-25]

The pop star was taken down from the cross.

He was tired and weak from his ordeal. It seems that his own publicity team had tied him to the wooden beams in the city’s central park. However, the punishment was self-inflicted in the sense that he demanded this final obligation of his staff, before relieving them of their duties.

Only a few days before, the singer’s highly successful run in the reality documentary, “Product Hell”, had come to an end. Despite being the final contestant to leave the pit, he freely admitted to loathing the show. In his post-release interview he stated, “I fear that my image has taken me over completely. My physical body is being left behind.” The show’s presenter looked at him, askance.

Two weeks after his mock crucifixion, the pop star walked out of rehab only to be greeted with even greater adoration than before. He could not escape his fame. There followed a descent into abject decadence. Downloads of his unofficial “sex and drugs” video broke all records. He now went against the Entertainer’s Code, by revealing that his various “public images” were entirely artificial, having been created in a laboratory. The singer had bolstered his own talent by the use of illegal chemical and psychological processes. He had now decided to sever himself from his own image. Only by these means could he hope to live freely again.

His image was cut loose from his body in a procedure that lasted three hours. It was extracted in 2,129 strands. Blurred footage of the operation escaped from the surgery. Careful examination of this reveals very little: the operation may have taken place; it may have been a hoax.

His disconnected image was ground down into a powdered form.

The pop star organised a competition, with questions of such obscure, personal nature that only his truest fans could hope to succeed. The six winners were taken up to his private apartments. Here, they revealed areas of naked flesh to him, each area chosen entirely by the individual fan. They were, it must be emphasised, willing victims. Working calmly, the pop star numbed each area with an anaesthetic spray, before making neat incisions in their flesh with a sterilised scalpel. Then he rubbed the powder of his own image deep into the wounds on their bodies.

At last, he was free. Free to tour cheap, crumbling venues, down filthy back streets. Admission was set at just 15 dollars a ticket. Only a few people turned up for each show, and within a few years the singer had disappeared into blissful obscurity. Of the competition winners, five of them returned eventually to their normal lives: the last followed suit until some twelve years had passed. She was by then a 37 year old mother of two, a divorcee, an office worker. Her name was Margaret Shaw. A number of events were announced, where Ms Shaw offered to reveal her wound to the public. Queues formed. I freely admit, I took part in this ritual myself, waiting in line in the hotel conference suite for my turn. There was a charge for the privilege, but it seemed very reasonable given the uniqueness of the exhibit.

Margaret was in many aspects a perfectly average human being, and the wound itself was barely noticeable: a small scar on her forearm. But the effect on her psyche was palpable, even after all these years. I don’t know what had been passed on exactly through the pop star’s image, but the woman had definitely been changed by it. I could not stop looking at her, at her face, at her eyes especially, which glistened with a knowledge of life far removed from my own.

At this point, I should reveal that I too had entered the singer’s competition, and failed.

6. [26-30]

One biomorphic dusk as the world drifted apart…

He turned on the lamp in the room of leaves. It made a soft glow, a sphere of contained yellow light. The leaves rustled in the shadows beyond. They covered every inch of the walls: above, around, below. He felt them crackling underfoot. There seemed to be very little air. His vision blurred slightly. He could hear voices, disembodied, tender like a song but lost in static noise: radio waves from a dream station.

He stepped forward towards the central platform with its antique bed, its dusty coverlet. There she lay sleeping, the old woman. He opened the vanity case on the bedside table. It contained a few items of jewellery, make-up, coins, and a decorative hand mirror. He took this last item. The mirror’s frame was cracked, its silver tarnished, but nonetheless he held it in place a few inches above the woman’s lined face.

Her eyes did not open, but the lids flickered. That was sign enough; she was dreaming. He called her name, gently to begin with, then with more insistence. She did not stir, her mouth did not move, not at all, yet the voices in his head grew more coherent. Through vapours, in clouds of dust, words were forming. Stephen listened as best he could. Some years had passed since he had last visited this place, this chamber of sleep. He was known by a different name in those days, a nickname. He’d been a young man with a desperate life. And now…

Now Miss Hobart spoke to him. The consonants popped like seeds from her unmoving lips. He saw the vowels as dark fluttering moths. …Good evening, kind sir. What do you need from me? He tried to explain. His words came slowly, and once or twice he coughed. He pressed at his side where the bullet was lodged; blood was seeping through the makeshift bandage. He didn’t have long, he knew that. The woman spoke in his thoughts: Are you alone? “Yes,” he answered. The Game Cat? “Dead. They killed him.” The woman’s eyes flickered again beneath crinkled skin, but there was no longer any direct reply. The room itself was responding. He watched the leaves moving on the walls, where blossoms were appearing, hundreds of them, tiny petals opening, red, blue, green.

Stephen turned back to the bed. An object was floating in the air above the woman’s face. It was a bird’s feather, silver in colour with tiny gold splotches here and there like evidence of a sickness. He had never seen such a combination before. He reached out and took the feather in his hand. There was a slight pressure as the flight was held for a moment in the old lady’s dream, and then it came loose and was his alone.

He made his way back to the door. He was message and text, a man built from fragments, elements in a story, from words. The corridor outside was already infected. He could hardly walk for the pain in his side and he staggered a little, resting against the wall for support. His body sank into the wall partway; it took an effort to pull himself loose. Miss Hobart’s chamber was now the last dreamhold. He panicked. He was not ready for this. Help me, somebody. Anybody. What should I do? Silence. Stephen felt he had stolen a secret from a secret house, from a secretive world. The flight glowed in his hand. He closed his eyes.

One biomorphic dusk as the world drifted apart, a man raised a feather to his lips…

7. [31-35]

Caught on camera: a life turned liquid.

Lady Gaga arrives at the Earth/Moon interface. The border guards will not allow her through, because her papers are not in order, and more importantly, she looks nothing like her publicity shots: all her designer outfits have been left at home.

Lady Gaga is left crying at the frontier. The lunar village shimmers beyond the interface, a paradise realm that cannot be touched. For now, her body is the only world she may travel towards.

Back in New York, scientists step forward to examine her. Experts and professional gossips discuss her on television, and try to repair her image with spider webs, glue, and show-business voodoo. Lady Gaga lets them have their way, with a smile.

The moon has disappeared from her sky.

That’s all she ever wanted, to visit the moon. Not to sing there, not to dance, but to walk along a powder road as the blue Earth appears on the satellite’s rim, her breath fed to her through a tube. Instead, she visits daily the Archive of Lost Dreams. In private, she plays Chopin and eats crackers and studies cloud-sculpting on the internet.

Once, Lady Gaga existed only to stand so close to us, through the camera, that her piano caressed our eyes. She was always an actress; now doubly so, playing the role of herself playing herself.

Until one day the Secretary of National Pain summons her. He’s a huge fan of her work, and so, in secret, he hands over the keys to an escape pod, a decommissioned White House model. Mission undertaken: towards some obscure sea of grey dust, far from the lunar enclaves.

Gravity will still hold her, but with a gentler hand.