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MACRO 8: THE LAW OF THE BEGINNING
‘Is she beautiful?’ Chastity asked.
‘Who?’ said Danny.
They were naked on the bed, entangled in sheets and each other’s arms. Their love-making had been – in Danny’s view – animalistic. They had been hungry for one another like junkies needing a fix. No need for foreplay. That had already taken place in their minds.
And now they were floating gently back down to Earth and Danny had been telling her about his day at work.
Like a couple of old marrieds.
‘Are you jealous?’ he asked.
‘Of a sprite? I should hardly think so. She’s not even flesh and blood. You said yourself you can’t touch her.’
‘She’s a spirit of the cyberworld.’
‘You’ve already said that. What you haven’t said is whether or not she’s beautiful.’
‘Yes. She’s beautiful.’
Danny wondered if he hadn’t told Chastity too much. ‘I suppose she’s beautiful in her own way.’
‘And what does that mean?’
‘It means she’s just a shell. A decorative shell with no mind of her own.’
‘In other words, a bimbo.’
‘Please don’t call her that. It’s not her fault.’
She stroked his hair. Lovingly. Tenderly. ‘You’ll have to take me there – this exotic island of yours.’
‘It’s not my island. It’s Robert Morganfield’s private playground where he can do whatever he wants.’
‘Like a magician.’
‘The Tempest. William Shakespeare.’
The bedside phone trilled. Danny tried to ignore it.
‘You’d better get that,’ said Chastity. ‘It could be important.’
She rolled away from him, freeing up his arms.
Reluctantly, Danny reached for the phone. ‘Yeah?’
‘Good evening, Mr Jasinski. This is Debbie on reception. There’s a Ms Grant here to see you.’
‘Tell her I’ll be down in 10 minutes.’
‘She’s on her way up, sir.’
‘OK. Thanks for letting me know.’ Danny replaced the phone in its cradle. ‘Ms Grant’s on her way. Which gives us no time at all to make ourselves decent.’
Vaguely annoyed, he got up and put on a dressing gown.
‘I can’t believe we’re going to Kafé Krypton,’ sighed Chastity. ‘I wonder if we’ll see anyone famous there.’
There was a knock. Danny went through to the lounge and opened the main door.
Ms Grant looked stunning in a simple black dress. Next to her stood an expressionless man in a chauffeur’s uniform with his arms raised. In one hand he held a dress on a clothes hanger and in the other a tuxedo with matching trousers.
‘Oh good,’ she said. ‘You aren’t dressed.’
She entered the room, followed by the chauffeur who wordlessly placed the clothes he was carrying on a table.
Ms Grant gave him an appreciative smile. ‘Thank you, Naylor. I won’t be needing you again tonight.’
Naylor tapped his brow with a forefinger and went out, closing the door behind him.
‘This is a very nice suite,’ said Ms Grant.
‘Courtesy of your boss,’ said Danny, inspecting the clothes.
‘I took the liberty of picking up some suitable outfits for you and your lady friend. They can be quite snobbish about these things at Kafé Krypton.’
The bedroom door opened. Dressed in one of Danny’s shirts, her hair in disarray, Chastity padded barefoot into the room and waved cheerily at Ms Grant. ‘Hi,’ she said. ‘I love that dress. You look absolutely gorgeous in it.’
There was a twinkle in Ms Grant’s eye as she said, ‘I’m glad you like it. I’ve got you one exactly the same.’
‘Really?’ gasped Chastity. She clapped her hands in glee then hugged Ms Grant. ‘Thank you. Thank you so much! This is going to be my best night ever.’
Kafé Krypton made Danny think of fairgrounds. The supra-modernist furniture – teardrop tables and chairs resembling egg cups with one side caved in – was trimmed with plastic light tubes that changed colour at random intervals. The walls were covered in fluorescent paintings. Danny recognised one as a garish copy of William Blake’s portrait of Isaac Newton and he thought another might be a Gauguin pastiche but wasn’t sure.
The furniture and walls provided all the available light. As the waiters hurried along with their trays and trolleys, their faces changed colour, giving them an air of unreality.
The place was packed but it always was. For once Danny didn’t mind being surrounded by strangers. These weren’t the sort of people who would gawp at him or try to engage him in conversation. If any eyes were to stray his way, surely they would feast not on him but on his two delightful companions who were chatting away like old friends.
Ms Grant took the lead in ordering the wine and recommending the Mad Mousse for starters. Both Danny and Chastity let it be known they were happy to let Ms Grant take charge of the ordering.
It was only when he looked at the menu to see what the mousse contained that Danny had any qualms. Green tea, mint, lime and liquorice were four things he liked but he couldn’t imagine them working in combination.
The Mad Mousse was delicious.
As they waited for their main course – Tartar of Kobe Beef with Imperial Beluga Caviar and Belons Oyster – the topic of conversation drifted inevitably to Avalon III. And to Colette, the sole denizen of a virtual paradise.
‘You say she’s conscious?’ asked Ms Grant, swirling red wine in an oversized glass.
‘She has machine consciousness,’ said Danny, ‘as defined by Mohl and Schneider. Some say it’s not real consciousness but I disagree.’
‘There’s no way of knowing, is there? I mean, for all I know, I could be the only conscious person in the entire universe. Just because you appear to be conscious to me, doesn’t mean you are.’
‘Agreed,’ said Danny. ‘But I am.’
‘And even if Colette is conscious in a way you or I would recognise as conscious, what good does it do her if she can only do what she’s been programmed to? There are many things that make our existence worthwhile, Danny, but to my mind free will is the biggy. Without it, we are nothing.’
Chastity raised a finger. ‘What about the soul?’
‘Do you believe in the soul?’ asked Ms Grant.
‘Of course. Don’t you?’
‘Yes. I suppose I do.’
‘And how about you, Danny? Do you believe there is some part of us that is eternal and incorruptible?’
‘I don’t know. It’s not the sort of thing I like to think about. It does my head in.’
‘But it’s an important question.’
‘Not to me it isn’t. At least not yet. Maybe when I die…’
‘I wonder,’ said Ms Grant, ‘if Colette has a soul.’
‘Of course she doesn’t.’
‘Then what happens to her when the computer shuts down? Is she gone forever? No, because all that makes her Colette is stored on a database somewhere.’
‘That’s information. It’s not a soul.’
A waitress parked a trolley beside the table. ‘Three Tartar of Kobe Beef with Imperial Beluga Caviar and Belons Oyster?’
‘That’s us,’ said Danny, relieved to be able to push Ms Grant’s disturbing question to the back of his mind.
As the waitress served the main course, Danny observed the play of the ever-changing light on her face. It was fun watching blue give way to green to red. Sometimes she looked remarkably pretty, other times hideous.
As she walked away with the trolley, he thought he saw her face turn green. Green and scaly.
Time for a Fromoxodin, he thought, slipping his hand into the inside pocket of his Tuxedo to make sure the pill was still there. Tonight would be a mighty bad time for me to be seeing lizard people everywhere.
Palming the pill, Danny manufactured a polite cough which allowed him to slip it in his mouth. It was an unnecessary manoeuvre as his two companions were fixated on the wondrous fare set before them.
He saw no more lizard people that evening.
‘This?’ said Chastity, pointing to the serpent pendant hanging between her breasts. She’d just been asked about it by Ms Grant. ‘It’s the Kundalini.”
‘She who is coiled,’ said Ms Grant, translating from Sanskrit.
They were halfway through dessert. A green-veined, nutty-brown paste flecked with gold flake that was described as an electric truffle supreme.
Danny’s tongue tingled. Chastity’s breasts fascinated him. So did Ms Grant’s. Even in the quirky neon twilight of Kafé Krypton the two women matched his notions of ideal beauty.
Good food. Great wine. And a couple of stunning women for company. Dear Lord, if I’m to die, let it be now...
‘Kundalini,’ said Chastity, ‘represents the subconscious mind of the universe which resides in each and every one of us.’
Danny didn’t know what that meant but knew it was something positive. Something that spoke of divine purpose rather than a cold, meaningless universe that just happened to be.
Chastity spooned electric truffle into her mouth. Some of it came to rest on her lower lip. When she licked it off, Danny thought he saw sparks.
‘It’s lovely,’ said Ms Grant. ‘And it goes so well with your dress.’
‘Thank you.’ Chastity smiled warmly at Ms Grant. ‘It’s the symbol of my religion.’
‘Oh yes? And what religion would that be?’
‘The Church of Everyone.’
‘That’s a new one on me. But then there are so many new religions these days.’
‘Papa Bela – our founder – says religious belief is becoming ever more fractured. We all have the same questions but never the same answers. He thinks one day there will be as many religions as there are people.’
Danny was curious. ‘What exactly does your church believe in?’
‘Talk about hedging your bets.’
‘Papa Bela wanted a church that anyone can join. There are plenty of people within the Church of Everyone who openly believe religion’s all a load of nonsense. Some of them are priests.’ Chastity dipped a finger into her electric truffle and licked it. ‘They say God has nine billion names and there’s almost that many people on the planet. Papa Bela preaches we all have a secret name for God even if we don’t know it. Once all nine billion names are used up, the universe will have fulfilled its purpose.’
‘And then the Rapture.’
Danny was in the toilet when the bomb went off. He was admiring himself in the mirror, congratulating himself on being out on the town with two beautiful women, dining at possibly the world’s most exclusive restaurant. Wondering what he’d done to deserve such good fortune.
Afterwards, he couldn’t remember hearing the explosion. Only feeling it.
The door to the dining area flew from its hinges. He saw it in the mirror, a rectangular projectile laying waste to a water fountain. Everything in the room flew apart and his only thought was to duck and watch for flying sewage.
For an indefinite time, he crouched beneath the wash basin as the world around him rearranged itself. Mirrors shattered. Tiles fell from the walls. Basins cracked.
When the last of the debris had rained down, he stood up and wondered how his jacket had gotten torn. Then he spent a few joyful seconds watching jets of water spray from fractured pipes, creating a fine mist populated by rainbows. It reminded him of his trip to Angel Falls.
Although he knew he wouldn’t find any, he searched his pockets for pills. Something to snap him back to reality. Preferably Fromoxodin but anything anti-psychotic would have helped.
Not wanting to return to his dinner companions in the grip of psychosis, he waited for the hallucination to die down to something less dramatic. Supposing he went out there and saw them as they would look if there really had been an explosion? Sitting there, chatting away, their faces shredded, limbs missing, bits of debris embedded in their skin.
To them, everything would be normal. The nightmare would be his alone.
They’d ask questions. What did you think of the meal? Wasn’t the wine lovely? Where shall we go next? A cocktail bar? A night club?
And he wouldn’t be able to hear a thing they said, only the clamour of alarm bells and the wailing of sirens.
It’s the electric truffle supreme doing this to me. Too rich. Too much sugar.
Someone burst into the room. A man in a black suit who looked like the maitre d’ except that his face was covered in dust and his shirt was torn.
‘Sir! Are you all right?’
Danny heard the words as if from a distance. None of your business, he thought. Comes to something when a man can’t go to the toilet without being hassled. Out loud, he said, ‘Yeah. I’m fine.’
‘You’ve got to get out of here. It isn’t safe.’
‘I said I’m fine. I’m just waiting for my dinner to go down.’
‘Sir, you’re in shock. I don’t think you realise what’s going on.’ The maitre d’ tugged at Danny’s sleeve. ‘Come on or I’m going to have to leave you.’
‘All right!’ said Danny irritably. ‘But you have seriously blown your chances of getting a tip!’
He followed the maitre d’ into the dining area and wondered what had happened to the wall. Out in the street, cars burned.
The room was a Cubist nightmare with nothing seemingly where it should be. Tables and chairs were embedded in the walls. Bits of people too. Bodies lay half-buried beneath plaster and shattered furniture. Arms and legs protruded from the rubble like the exotic flora of an alien planet.
Danny headed towards his table. Perhaps Ms Grant, being the perfect PA she was, would have the meds he needed to climb out of this nightmare. He certainly hoped so because it was beginning to piss him off.
He felt a tug at his arm. Turning round, he was face to face with the Devil. Old Nick himself with horns and hoofs and smoke coming out of his nostrils. Looking remarkable like the maitre d’. ‘This way, sir!’
‘Stop calling me sir! That is so annoying. Look. My friends are over there. I can’t see them but I imagine they’re finishing up their coffee and After 8 mints. I’ll give you my credit card. Please charge everything to me with a 20% gratuity and then call us a taxi.’
‘Of course, sir. If you’d just step this way.’
Now this was better. The Devil was showing him towards the hole in the wall. Out into fresh air only mildly polluted by the tang of flaming gasoline.
He wondered what the Devil was doing working in a London restaurant. He also wondered if a 20% tip wasn’t too generous. Not that he minded about the money. He’d had a great meal and the food was transcendent and the serving staff had been suitably deferential without being intrusive or obsequious. He’d have quite happily tipped 100% but that would have smacked of showing off and being patronising.
A fire engine pulled up. Firemen wearing masks and armed with axes leapt out of the great red beast, modern Vikings intent on rape and pillage.
Danny giggled at the image. Realised he was making a prat of himself. Giggled some more. And then stopped.
His knees gave way.
A fully armoured fireman caught him as he fell and slung him over his shoulder. Moments later, he found himself sitting on the far pavement at the end of a long line of bomb victims.
There was no sign of the Devil masquerading as the maitre d’ of the most exclusive restaurant in the world. He was gone. No doubt to welcome yet more gold card holders to the Legions of the Damned.
A fleet of ambulances streamed down the road. It reminded Danny of swans on the Thames by Richmond Bridge where he used to sit and read War of the Worlds and imagine Martian tripods wading down the river, thinking they were masters of a new world when they had but minutes to live.
Was that what was happening? Had the Martians arrived hours after the launch of the first manned voyage to the Red Planet? Were our nearest neighbours so afraid of our decadent ways they saw no choice but to finish us off?
A man staggered past. Judging by his clothes, he was rich. Judging by the state of those clothes, he’d stood in the middle of a fireball. Danny watched skin drop from the man’s face and thought: this has gone far enough.
No matter how embarrassing, I’m going to have to ask someone for an anti-psychotic. Maybe the maitre d’. Satan earning his keep as a restaurant employee. Maybe he can get me some Fromoxodin.
He recalled a rumour on the Internet claiming Fromoxodin was a mind-control drug manufactured on the planet Fromo.
No such place, he told himself. Some people will believe anything.
Fromoxodin is synthesised on Venus where the natives boil aborted embryos in vats full of sulphated water. I’ve seen it on the Internet. Actual video footage. So it must be true.
‘Danny!’ Something warm pressed against his cheek. He saw Chastity’s face as an outline. She kissed his ear. ‘We thought you were dead.’
She sat on the pavement in a dress that had cost thousands. Her skin was paler than ever. Saliva bubbled out of her mouth. ‘Oh Danny, oh Danny, oh Danny, oh Danny.’
Ms Grant crouched next to the snivelling girl. Wrapped her arms around her. Drew her to her bosom. ‘There there. There there.’
Danny closed his eyes. ‘I don’t suppose either of you has Fromoxodin?’ he asked. ‘Or a couple of aspirin?’
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