Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Stephen Dee
12:00 AM 8th May 2024

Blood Perfect: Part Eleven

First Episode
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Image by Alexander Lisenkov from Pixabay
Image by Alexander Lisenkov from Pixabay
In the Ladies, Flick sits for a while in the cubicle, letting herself air off. She has scrounged a plaster from Dominion and she sticks the Gamechanger tab to the fleshy part of her skin, between her right breast and her arm pit. It's a good plaster, waterproof and should withstand anything. It is also well camouflaged and shouldn't be visible whatever type of frock she might be compelled to wear. Things could get on top of her if she let them. She feels as though ever since she stepped off the train she hasn't had a minute to herself. The last decent meditate she had was back on her rooftop patio in Holroyd, which was nice enough but dusty. She can still feel it in the back of her throat. From the din of the traffic beneath and the shouting people, dust rose from the alleyways like a miasma. Looking out across the rooftops she would try to focus beyond the harbour, into an expanse of nothingness, the thin, watery blues of sea and sky melting into each other, fading to sunglow behind a cloud of dust. It's what she imagined her final moments in this universe would be like.

Despite living on the edge of the caldera, like all true Murgatrojans she's never felt entirely at ease with long distance views. She finds them stimulating, dangerous and, from her home in Lilleth, a house which backs onto its view with the frontage facing inward, beyond her control. This she likes. It has always helped her to grow, this looming disquiet. But here, in this little cubicle dug out of the quartz surround, she registers the underlying violet glow coming off the crystal, soaking into her and she has no need for meditation. She extricates her phone from the trouser pocket around her ankles and makes the call.

''Parx? Felice Rausch. I'm out. For a bit.''

''Good. We should meet.''

''Agreed. Where?''

''Where are you now?''

''The Half and Half.''

''Where the hell's that?''

''Parliament Square,'' she says, as though it's obvious.

Parx pauses for effect. ''Oh, you mean down in the caves? Under the prison?''

''The Efflorescent Crystal Enclave, yes.'' Flick is getting slightly miffed, even though she knows she's meant to.

''It's a bit creepy for me down there. What about somewhere... brighter? Somewhere with a bit more life to it?''

''Somewhere Temperance, right?''

''As it happens, I do know an excellent place. It'll suit our purpose perfectly.''

''How about lunch tomorrow?''

''Sure, if you're staying out that long. I'll set it up.''

''I'll be there. Send me the coordinates.''

Shem lives in a high apartment overlooking the Alabaster Portico. It's nice. It has a mid-vertiginal epoch façade, designed by Mäµrt, with a KlosseϞKlasse interior. Minimalist but comfortably lit, the different functional spaces overlap to create a disorientating effect, portals used judiciously and sometimes in defiance of the natural flow of the space.

''Mercenary business doing well then?''

''Security. It's a place to crash at least.''

''It's a lot more than that. My brother pays you well.''

''I get by.''

''Whatever he pays you, it's not enough.'' He looks unmoved.

''Look, it's a diplomatic mission. I'm not going in mob-handed.''

''I'm hardly a mob.''

''I'll take Mikey. We'll be fine.''

Flick proceeds to upend her kitbag, scattering the contents all over Shem's pristine living-room floor. Sleeping pills, contraceptives and tampons all at odds with each other. She comments on how tidy he is as she does this, without seeming to understand just how much of a mess she is actually making. When she kicks off the high-waisters though, he realises just how little he minds.

In amongst the ankle socks, camisoles, jeans, skirts, vest-tops, Shem can't fail to notice a few more unwieldy items.

''I don't suppose you've got a lenticular fly half?'' says Flick, dumping a sackful of bits and pieces onto a low obsidian table.

Shem winces. ''I'll tell you what I have got - a fucking tablecloth, thanks for asking.''

He stomps off into what she imagines, for some reason, is the sundry items area.

''Won't work on a tablecloth,'' she mutters, placing four clunky-looking magnets at each corner of the table and a copper matrix onto the stone surface between them. Onto specific joints in the matrix she places a series of ornate-looking pins, followed by a particular alignment of crystals. Finally, she rootles around on the floor until she finds, wrapped up in a pair of knickers, a jewelled disc, braced in a gyroscope which she places again at specific coordinates within the matrix. She spends another minute fine-tuning the alignment until she can see the fractal pattern coming into sharper focus. She then goes to the outer portal and checks the alignment with the buildings and underlying quartz of the surrounding cave, with particular interest in a clutch of stalagmites rising from an undeveloped ‘natural open space'’ area close to the Alabaster Portico. She goes back to the table and changes its orientation slightly, just as Shem re-enters the room, wielding a tablecloth and a rather greasy-looking lenticular fly half. Although the new position of the table upsets the balance of the room he lets this pass when he sees the patterns she's made on its surface. He hands her the fly half, distracted by the collection of disparate stuff so beautifully laid out.

Flick smiles: ''That's a nice one.''

''I had to take the washing machine apart to get it.''

''It's perfect, thank-you.''

She places the device - essentially an electron motor - onto the place she's reserved for it on the matrix.

''What is it?'' asks Shem. ''Some kind of transponder?''

''More or less,'' says Flick. ''It's something I was working on in Holroyd, but it can only function inside the mountain.''

''Bit presumptious wasn't it?''

''I was homesick I guess.''

''What does it actually do?''

Flick holds up a finger, then rootles around again in her clothes on the floor. In the pocket of an old blouse she finds a rough-cut diamond and a tiny silver hammer and holds the pieces up for Shem to see. ''You ready?''

Shem nods, fascinated.

''Pass me your phone.'' Flick carefully places the diamond in a point on the matrix which, once it has been put there, looks like the obvious place for it to be. The phone, she holds in her hand, wafting it about the matrix as though looking for inspiration. While she's thinking it vibrates in her hand.

She's about to pass the phone back to Shem when she notices who is calling. She answers the phone, looking at Shem.

''Hello Mum,'' she says.

Her mother hardly misses a beat: ''Darling!'' she says. ''So it's true? I can't believe you haven't called!''

''I would have, Mum, but I've been a bit busy. Surely you've been watching the feed?''

''Oh of course darling, of course. I'm hooked. You're doing very well. Have they let you out already? I always hoped you were innocent.''

''Innocent of what is the question, Mother,'' says Flick. She hands the phone to Shem. ''It's for you.''

Shem takes the phone uncertainly. Flick gives him a look which dares him to leave the room with it.

Shem stays put. ''Hello?''

Flick can hear the tone of her mother's voice but she can't make out the words.

Shem listens. His eyebrows are raised but it's a neutral expression he's wearing. He could be curious about who he is speaking to. Equally, he may be curious as to what the great Ris guFlecht has to say to him. He may just be excellent at keeping neutral expressions on his face.

Eventually he nods. ''Okay,'' he says, before hanging up. ''I'll pass that on. Of course. Good-bye madam.'' He hands the phone back to Flick, his face radiating innocence.

''Your mother says we should do lunch. When we've got a free afternoon.''


''I think she got the impression I'm your boyfriend?''

Flick doesn't know why she's bothered exactly. If her mother's got skin in this game it could get very complex very quickly but they are essentially on the same side. Probably.

''She said she's prepared to stop blaming you. For what your father did.''

''She didn't say that,'' says Flick. ''I think you might be getting a bit clingy.'' She looks back at her invention and sees immediately where the phone should be placed. She sets the phone and takes the little silver hammer. She taps the diamond with the hammer with a little flourish, like it's a musical instrument.

Apart from a slight rocking of the diamond after the strike, nothing happens. Then the phone says Oh.

A holographic map of the local volume emanates from the phone and hovers above the onyx table. Half a dozen red blobs fade in. A couple of them are moving through the volume.

''What's that?'' asks Shem, suspiciously. ''What have you picked up?''

Flick has a glint in her eye. She whips off her top then grabs a small pastel-blue dress from a pile of clothes.

''Wow,'' says Shem.

''Too tarty?''

''No,'' says Shem, quickly. ''It matches your eyes.''

She smiles, pulling on a pair of canvas shoes. She grabs the phone. ''Got any Gigs?''

He retrieves a pair of shades from his jacket pocket, switches them on.

The holographic display disappears. Flick takes the shades off Shem and puts them on. ''Let's go!''

They dash down three flights of stairs and out into the street. The Alabaster Portico is about fifty cubits off. Flick heads for that, phone in hand. Shem follows.

The portico fronts a pedestrian portal that leads directly out of Parliament Square into a substrate layer known locally as ''Hyperspace''. By a fluke of geography you can gain entrance into half a dozen distinct, lower-strata sub-volumes within a two hundred cubit quadrangle, done out in checkerboard style with black and white square cubits across the floor, walls and low-hung ceiling. It's quite disorientating. Even if you manage to find your way back to the Gnostic portal, it is programmed only to allow pure Blues entrance into the Gnostic zone. It's controversial these days, even amongst the Gnostic population, with its significant mutate minority being slowly assimilated into positions of power, and tends to be used only by sex workers, shady businessmen, teenagers and the occasional tourist who's looking for a way down to the utility levels. There are moves afoot to reprogramme the portal to make it more inclusive and then to put regeneration funding into the area but that's just a surefire way of killing it as far as Flick is concerned. Sometimes it's better for a community to wear its scars; it's good for the memory.

Flick, guided by her device, leads Shem through the dark granite of Hyperspace and into another portal about three-quarters of the way along the checkerboard, through one of the white-painted floorside squares. This portal slides into a curved, fallopianesque tunnel which, after a bit of a bumslide followed by a short run, pops them out under the arches of an old viaduct or railway line. The arches have been dug out to create additional storage space for the recycling yard which stretches out into the gloom beyond.

Shem is becoming edgy: ''This is Paradigm territory,'' he says.

''So? Paradigm are fine with me.''

Shem grunts disapprovingly, revealing his insular politics. It provides Flick with another snippet to stash in the old datahoard.

She leads them out from between a stack of battered A-G units and an aluminium roller shutter portal housing, presumably salvaged from some non-fractal sub-ordnance datum level utilities depot and left here slumped against the side wall.

Flick, who is normally enchanted by these types of places, is distracted by the signals presented to her through the Gigs. She can only see the surrounding treasure in wireframe and it contains none of the magic which would otherwise make her stop and take it all in.

''Over here,'' she whispers urgently and Shem follows her down past a line of dilapidated railway carraiges to a junction best described as ad hoc. Flick comes to a sudden stop and peers down a skimmer-lined grove, looking first with the Gigs on and then again with them lifted. Her journey through the scrapyard has left its mark and Shem is deeply turned on by the increasingly grubby appearance of the little blue dress. It seems to be structured from a particularly absorbent felty-type of material and has rapidly become smeared with very fetching little thumbprints and dark calligraphy.

''Did you see it?'' she says but Shem wasn't looking in that direction. ''This way, quick!''

They move off at a jog now and Shem is starting to realise what it is they're hunting. It makes him feel deeply uncomfortable, morally, and physically repelled at a more basic human level.

''Oh look!'' Flick whisper-calls from the next junction. ''It's a male.''