Post by dantalion on Nov 4, 2019 8:14:12 GMT -8
Title: Mushrooms, Act I
Rated: R (language, drug use)
Genre:Fractopian, Magical Realism
Summary: Hue has a job to do, or is it just the mushrooms talking?
Read more (soonish): Dusk Beneath the Hyades
MUSHROOMS, Act I
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a fairy hand in hand
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand
There is a tear in the world. A strobing, omnicolorful streak that slides slowly up my left field of vision. Things blur and warp around the edges of the tear, so all I can really do is sit tight and wait for it to pass. Ocular migraines are a side-effect of the pain management implant in my brain stem, and on the upside, when they hit, the chronic pain tends to fade away. At least, it’s at its least overt when the colors flash. The tear hovers at the top of my vision, and the strobe calms down to a slight transparent distortion.
I leave my visual suite off for now to avoid an actual headache. Reading the physical menu taped to the side of the food truck, I order a couple hot tamales printed from swamp taro and locust protein, washed down with mushroom tea. The lights of the parking lot twitch orange in the heat haze of the thirty-three-degree twilight. My own already twisted reflection flashes almost discernible in the truck’s antique chrome. My wrist com chirps, and with a resigned half-moan, I snap my suite back on and take the call from Doggo as Pyewacket weaves between my feet, glowing purple and feline. Doggo’s mongrel avatar floats in my left field of view and my temples are already pulsing.
“Hue! What the fuck, huh? You were supposed to check in with the Dietzes on their kid. What are you playing at, Mx. I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-my-contract?” Pyewacket growls. Guttural by way of autotune. I sigh, and my avatar sighs with me, “I finished that contract last week, numb-nuts. I told them their son was dead. How the hell is it my problem they can’t handle reality?”
“Yeah, but they want you to take another look. A closer look,” she’s already turned off her haptics. I can tell by the sudden flat affect from the fur-and-light mastiff superimposed over my rapidly cooling hot tamales. She’d come in hot, expecting me to immediately crumple. When that didn’t happen, she’d gotten… annoyed. I decide to shut the conversation down before it gets anywhere tense, “They want a second opinion, they can get a second opinion. I’m hardly the only finder in town.”
“Well no shit, fam, but you’re the only one with The Dimber Damber’s recommendation on your motherfucking CV,” Christ. This again. You do your goddamn job… “Fine. I’ll look again and find the dead kid. Which is impossible. It’s impossible to find a dead kid, Doggo, because they’re dead and you can’t locate someone that’s BY FUCKING DEFINITION NOT FUCKING THERE.” I’m getting looks from the crowd around the food truck. They aren’t happy. Neither am I. This bullshit sets the rest of my skull pulsing in time with my temples and the truck’s throwback diesel thrum. I wave left to right and Doggo disappears before she can retort. There’s no point. I finish off the stone cold hot tamales, toss back the now bitter tea, and head toward Northwood Station.
Northwood looks like it was built out of Lincoln Logs, if Lincoln Logs were concrete rectangles. The general impression is almost Soviet. Stairs lead up and inside, transit cops scattered throughout an interior even more boring and gray than the exterior. In AR, it’s not much better. A handful of Coke and Sony ads. City ordinance at least keeps public transit relatively clear, and this far out from the city core, the crowds are downright anemic. With the suite active, the folks around me are lit up with the overlay of their avatars. Their daemons trotting, swimming, floating, flying, slithering beside them. Pyewacket, for her part, curled across my neck, purring through the haptics. I fall in behind a miniature neon kaiju, wave my hand over the turnstyle, and head down a mirrored escalator to the platform.
The reptile little giant rushes down the stairs, but I ride as we drop to street level. My own literal image is reflected back at me with none of the ornamentation of AR. My head is shaved, large dark eyes, high cheekbones, heavy makeup, eyes and lips. Slenderish frame clothed in jeans, tshirt, gray orbital fatigue jacket. Oxblood Doc Martens hit the platform, and I board the southbound train. I ride standing, shrug a battered messenger bag off my shoulder, and watch the farm towers give way to business blocks and industrial parks as the train rushes core-ward. It’s over an hour ride to city center, and at each stop, more and more people exit. By the time we hit Midtown Station, the crowds are straight-up dense. More stops, more people transferring and boarding. Parks are replaced with more and more towers. The city proper rises stories above the street. Glass and steel, and color screaming in holographic waves.
Despite declining overall populations after The Crash, there was also a huge migration to inland cities. While the suburbs dwindled and rural zones floundered, the city cores exploded. As you’d expect, the platform is a chaos of writhing forms inside high walls of bunker grey. Physical ads are more common here than in the stations edging the sprawl, but AR ads are just as sedate. The riot here is more or less entirely from personal suites. At some point during transit, the train drops below street level, and sound echoes cavernous down here despite the press of bodies. I subvocalize to Pyewacket, “Pathfind: Eastbound Redline”. She chitters without raising her head from my shoulders, and a red ribbon winds away from me through the crowd. I can walk this route blind, but the station is a maze at the best of times, and I’ve found it’s best to be careful when things get this tight.
A metal catwalk bridges the Westbound to the Eastbound Redline. About half-way across, my hands and calves cramp up. This has nothing to do with fatigue and everything to do with the brainstem node I mentioned at the start of this not doing its goddamn job. I grit my teeth and push through to the next platform. A few steps across, and I can’t anymore. I find the nearest bench and drop onto it. The masses grind past me, but my eyes are clamped shut in a grimace that crimps my forehead. Muscles cinch tight in hands and legs, and I stifle vocalization as a spike of sharp pain shoots over top of the dull cramps. I ride it as best I can. Breathing deep as it rolls in waves. After fuck-knows how long of sitting stiff and clenched, the implant picks back up, and an almost warm wave of relief washes top to bottom. I catch my breath. Get immediately swept back up upon standing, and barely make it onto the loaded train car.
The Redline is mostly underground. Nothing but tunnels for half an hour. Physical graffiti like cave paintings in shockingly unlikely places. I mean, there’s AR graffiti here, too, but that’s just a QR sticker slapped on breaker boxes. Spray paint takes time, even the stencils. Somebody took a real risk to get it up there. We arrive at Decatur Station, and I head back up top. Once above, I catch the 107 bus, and dive into the city proper. Old century buildings blended with more and more printed storefronts that give way to housing. Home is in Oakland Park. Low-rent and safe enough if you stay off the main strips. Neighbors tend to be helpful, but keep out of each other’s business. I walk from the stop into the neighborhood. Only a few folks even acknowledge me. Nobody makes any effort to even stop me. Home is a single-story shotgun. Walls of the front quarter knocked out, a cap and a stem. The front yard is completely covered with Sweet Gum seed pods. Sizeable woody caltrops that give slightly before breaking off in your foot. I blew off the driveway this morning, and it’s already got an inconvenient carpet of the damn things up to the covered carport. Hand on the knob unlocks the door and lets me into the kitchen. The open format means the den, dining room, and office are basically one big room. Bathroom, bedroom, laundry room walled off through a locked door across the hallway. Open the fridge, snag out a jar of gelcap pills and a can of UCC coffee. Wash down a few caps of psilocybe cubensis. The coffee tastes better than the tea.
“Pyewacket, docs filter: Dietz,” as I drop onto the mycelium-packed hemp futon behind a pressboard coffee table. Pull open the central drawer and retrieve a burnt-down, stubby paper cone and pink plastic lighter. Get myself in the mood to work. I read and re-read every single note and correspondence involving the Dietz kid. Nothing new. Nothing missed. Just to make sure I haven’t missed anything, I hit up my contacts. By 01:00, I’ve got a whole bunch of nothing. This isn’t going to be worked the same way twice. Clap my house interface up and start printing. Couple minutes pass and I’ve got a biovinyl map of the city printed in squares 65 centimeters to a side. I clear space and assemble the map on my living room floor after dropping my boots by the door. Tape down the squares. Open a drawer in the office, pull out a spark plug hanging from a leather thong the length of my forearm. The thing was last mass produced in the 1990s, and the leather isn’t much younger. It’s well-worn, soft, and oiled so deeply it’s probably water-proof. Pop another handful of caps, and get down to old school Work.
I could have done this to begin with, but the Work always has a cost. It’s proper night out. A little after 20:00. I stand at the south-eastern corner of the map, speak the kid’s name clearly, and wait. 20:15. Ides of evening. If I knew what the fuck an “ide” is. Another kind of warmth starts in my toes, creeps up my legs like kudzu, and I’m set to go. Slip my left finger of Saturn through a slip knot at one end of the thong, let the plug drop into suspension and sway through an arc. I step slowly across the map. Describing a barefoot, tightly-wound clockwork spiral. As the mushrooms start to send ripples across my vision, the pendulum’s arc stops dead mid-drop. The spark plug hovering stiff with no apparent support over Hudson Grove. The Grove is the city’s largest neighborhood. The Dietz’s home sector. “House: print Hudson Grove. Sector detail” and the house spits out a map of The Grove near as big as the city one. Tape this one down over top. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Except that, after two hours shuffling in and out and back in again across the map, I got zilch. Kid’s a non-entity. Well, he is this plane, anyway. Fuck. Old school indeed. Grab a blue glazed, hand-cast ceramic bowl from the coffee table, set it in the center of the Grove map, and my attention fades and focuses at the same time. The swirls and bands in the glaze melt and reform in unknowable geometrics. Pour a couple grams black salt into the bowl. Now I need something sympathetic. Back to the desk drawers. Bottom of the bottom right. Ziplock bag with a swath of the kid’s hair. Pull it out, drop onto the salt. Grab the pink lighter, set the locks alight, let it burn. Smoke takes on spirals, almost-faces. Retrieve my great-great-grandfather’s Buck knife from ass pocket of my jeans and slice open my palm. Let the blood mix with the ashes and salt.
The pain is symphonic through the psilocybin. Splats of dark red against the black and ash. Blue camo handkerchief from my other pocket. Fill my hand with it. Press it against the gash. Stow the blade.
A name echoes in my head and I say it, “Rory.” The boy’s name. Yes. Rory. The smoke has billowed out of all proportion. Hovers low over the whole of the map. The smoke congeals. Takes on a silhouette about a meter high. A child’s shape. A boy’s silhouette.
The boy-shape nods.
I open my eyes and I’m ankle-deep in mud. “Pye…,” Voice grinds out and I cough from a dry throat, “Pyewacket: what time is it?” Nothing. No display, no overlay. No Pyewacket. Battery’s dead. Usually charges via vascular flow. Without recharge, it’s got may eleven hours. Reflexively rub my chin and scratch stubble. Immediate wave of dysphoria. I’d shaved that morning. This is like two days of growth? Scalp is in the same situation.
Nothing around me but trees and mud and low mist into obscurity. I pick a random direction and start walking. Mud sucks at my feet every step. A thick sloshing as my boots pull and push through the grime. Left hand is screaming. Gash is barely healed. rest of my palm is scarlet angry. Keep walking for fuck all how long. Push through the mud to a circle of pine trees covered in shelf fungus and moss and lichen. The mud in the circle bursting with pine-cone mushrooms, fenugreeks, and swamp beacons. Step into the circle, and the kid lies in the center. Kneel and brush away the spores dusting his skin. He shudders and coughs and a cloud of spore hits me square in the face. Mycelium in my eyes.
The torches gutter and flare against the walls of the hut. Their greasy flames smearing black on the stone walls. The girl’s legs frame my face and shoulders. Her belly full and round above me and she screams. The child’s head crests as she bears down. The child slides out, all covered in womb water and caul tatters.
It’s a boy.