I – The Warehouse
Geming Tang sits smoking Double Happiness, wearing only an open Zhongshan jacket, silk boxers, tea shades and a pair of 1957 low-cut oxford All Stars. All priceless, all real connoisseur’s collectables. He opens a vintage 1989 bottle of Coca Cola, pours it into a Gong-Fu teapot and parcels it out to his guests, following ceremonial protocols.
“You can’t beat the real thing,” he says, smiling.
Rumor is Geming’s psychic. The truth is that he’s connected; genetically modified to seamlessly integrate into the global syntegrated ecology. His DNA sequence is twelve letters long, a composite of organic amino acids and bacterial nanotech markers in constant communication with the world’s cyborganic substrate of products, buildings, plants, animals and people. Even the ever-encroaching Gobi sings symphonies of information to Geming’s distributed biotech brain.
“You look like shit,” he says, “No Mai Lu. No time, man.”
I pass him an original pressing of Love Supreme. He runs his hands over the sleeve, analyzing its authenticity, inks, paper, printing, soot, microbes, the genetics of sequential owners – an historical residuum of skin cells and unseen finger prints slotted in unannounced amidst the rubber lacquer grooves. He sounds the ancient analog interface, transecting history, places, people, where each was when once a record was playing in the background, spilt whisky, the air heavy with smoke, a brutal Michigan Ave. summer’s eve…
“Hau,” he says, nodding. “Hau.”
II – Xiangshan Park
Geming calls it, “chasing the Tao.” Backward reading the future, he moves between the emphatic histories of the past and the probability vectors of their affects, accessing the vast repositories of physical informatics, attentive to chattering ghosts and their as-yet kin. An event, enwombed within the immanent, he serves midwife for all potential futures within a +/- 0.3 margin of error.
“Xiangshan Park,” are his only words.
I do not need to know exact coordinates, times, what Mai Lu will be wearing. I do not need to know anything more than “Xiangshan Park.” This simple seed will grow of its own accord. The statement is neither predicative nor proscriptive, it is what is necessary in the moment.
I know better than to press for details.
III – Old Town
General Mao’s portrait still smiles benevolently on the square. It does not portend. It stands only as a relic to its own iconicity, a symbol for consumption.
A child screams, a parent suckles, an argument ensues, bartering goes on, as usual. There are no informatics here, connectivity is restricted; there is no way of measuring and monitoring, of controlling and understanding, only the animal symptoms of syntegral separation syndrome, of nanite pill-droppers seeking signals; the agony of nanite death, of informatic viruses eating host DNA.
“Authenticity,” the touch and feel of things, the smells and tastes, sounds and seeing of such as biology has made it so, datum, the appeal of “real” sense as considered by a certain class of purists. Feed drop, cybernetic symbiots starving informatics. The burnt husk of a harvest moon, an illusion promising.
Restricted access feeds Old Town’s dual economy of tourism and crime. Disorienting, the sense of not feeling connected, the perpetual network chatter suddenly gone silent, isolation. The confusion of infantile re-emergence, time expands, one, maybe two frames per second, the stuttering staccato of dead senses, atrophied under informatic immersion.
If Geming’s pronouncement is literal, Mai Lu is somewhere near. If not, this is only an interlude. “If.” The damnable “if” of contingency, of thermodynamic nomads colliding in a quantum diaspora of possibilities, of selves seemingly set adrift, symbiots tethered together by spooky sympathies, decipherable only to level 10 syntegrates, like Geming.
IV – Chuang Tzu Bamboo
Maple leaves flutter, flapping, diminutive phoenixes floating on the crisp air, bowing, rising, bowing in the undulating ocean of an Autumnal squall. Fodder for their photosynthetic kin. An illusion; the rods and cones of seeing shifting, excited by chroma caught in contrast, the effects of light and atmosphere, minute variance of electromagnetic wavelengths.
A synaptic scenography of unfiltered experience, the taste of auburn lingering on the tongue, the caressing wind cradling, undulating, like a vast gaseous ocean, the scent of gravel, the sound of snails oozing their way along the earth; the breaching of syntegral separation syndrome. There is no time, only the utterings of cycles, caught in suspension; a single still sustained, shifting only slightly along the edges. And then – a cacophony of change; zoetropic, stutterings at first, followed by the fluid unfolding of unmediated things clothed in translucent impenetrability.
“The vast breath of the universe, this is called Wind. Sometimes it is unmoving; when it moves it makes the ten thousand openings resound dramatically.”
V – K’ung Fu-Tsu Bamboo
The portal to the People’s Ministry peals back; trillions of obedient nano-bugs working in synergetic sympathy, providing access premised on permissions. The acquiescent infrastructure of bio-machinery that underlie the anticipatory interface of New Beijing. Polite, respectful.
Passing through the permeable perimeter of the Ministry, an invisible film of sensors – the analogue epidural interface – scans my skin, memories etched into our flesh, like mnemonic tattoos, the body a repository of all that it has ever known, intricately woven into nano-neural nets, a stenography of chemistry, biology, technology. Announced, I need no introduction.
I do not give a dossier of findings – the Ministry knows. The minister, a slim level 8 symbiote with a vacant gaze, welcomes me with the graciousness of an ancient hausfrau, smiling artfully. I bow. There will be no excuses.
“The situation is unresolved. The Chairman expresses his concern.”
The reprimand is as expected, as are the implied consequences for continued failure. I thank the minister for his advice, bowing in retreat. Protocol, access, permission, politeness, respect.
“Filial piety and fraternal submission – are they not the root of all benevolent actions?”
VI – A Consultation with the Oracle
Geming was out, because he had to be out. His secretary, a heavy level 6 transgender conscientiously popping a mouthful of Bazooka Joe, real Bazooka Joe, recommended that I consult the I Ching. My first thought – ignore the suggestion. I don’t, because it was made bearing the oblique stamp of Geming’s indirect discretion.
Most of the lines are Yang, with Yin in the 2nd and a moving line in the 5th positions. 10. Lu – Treading upon the tail of the tiger. It does not bite the man. Success… No Blame… If we want to know whether good fortune will follow, we must look back upon our conduct and its consequences…; 38. K’ue – Above, fire; below, the lake: The image of OPPOSITION… The superior man retains his individuality… As a wagon full of devils. First one draws a bow against him, then one lays the bow aside… isolation due to misunderstanding.”
V – Tsingtao Serenade
The Forbidden City, crescendo, decrescendo, crescendo again; shadows in the setting, needy, like a child seeking suckling. The room is arbitrary, needed only now for the purpose of housing such me, in want of shelter. An ethos of impermanence alien to the calcified tides of tile outside the window.
Useless, this room here, without someone to need it. I order dinner, Tsingtao. Arriving as hunger, thirst and the desire to slake both take hold. Opportune, like a well orchestrated automaton, all parts working in time.
Beyond, the tall towers of New Beijing umbrella closed, conserving, calculating, anticipating; data streams cascade across a starless sky, meteoric streaks of information; no errant salmon running cross grain, everything succinct, stitched into the ecological stimuli that drives cyborganic evolution. Stability within the mean of transformation, calibrated to need, want, whatnot. Indeterminate architectures, vacillating between alternating norms; implied and acquiescent.
I recline. Tsingtao. Access: Love Supreme; the formal improvisation of New Beijing unfolding.
VI – Treading on the Tiger’s Tail
Mai Lu is a conundrum. A ghost in public guise; an anomaly threatening normalcy. Any divergence, unfamiliar, threatening. Quotidian trope; antiquated tether, fraying. Nobody born above level 2. Economic eugenics, presumption of preservation, advancement through genetic rigging, perpetuating self-similar cycles; branding.
All beholden but nature. Registered, natural birth to immigrant parents in Pasadena; low-level technicians. More emerging; uncharitable early aptitude exams – children test subjects, embarrassing, disruptive. Mostly, tracking is recognizing patterns, a matter of mapping the mark to established algorithms of behavioral predictability. Anomalies don’t fit: no pattern, no algorithm, no bounty.
VII – Hutongs & Stray Dogs in the Fish Market
Go down, along the edge of Old Town, where ancient Hutongs linger through neglect and indifference; a portal, for tourists transitioning. Low, grey brick buildings, tile roofs and courtyards nuzzled beneath undulating nanotech towers; diminutive kiosks, alien, homely. Most converted to markets selling calligraphy brushes, xuanzhi paper, yan tai stones and inks, ornate chop-sticks and ceramics, t-shirts, a combination of faux and real luxury goods, a compendium of kitsch chinoiserie, dumpling stands, at the center, a fish market.
Mostly manufactured, fabricant, bones, scales, eyes and guts; all with signs reading in “real fish” in Chinese and English. The back-allies, dismal corridors, near old-time public restrooms, little more than holes in the ground, where there are no signs, simply open doors, black-market fair; pass the scanner, a two wheeled cart, flush with fish. The stench of it a sign of black-market authenticity. And the strays.
The proprietor eyes me uneasily. A level two, limited access, long rap-sheet. She smiles uneasily; I point, a stray bounding for a fallen morsel upsets the cart; wedge my foot between wheel and platform, stabilizing. The fish slide gently to one side and stop; “Shi shi.” “Ko-chi.” “Free of charge,” the stray licking the street, ragged teeth exposed.
“I’m looking for information.”
“Toi po chi, ni shwa sha ma.” Pupil dilation, tick in her lower lip, right cheek, an acceleration of respiration and increase in blood pressure. Slight inclination of her head. Smart lady.
VII – A Wagon Full of Devils
I follow the fishmonger’s discretion, a parcel of paper-wrapped fish in my pocket, into an unmarked bar. The bartender conscientiously smoking fine American cigarette, watching European football, shirtless, turns an indifferent eye, slowly descending the cooler on which he his perched, poising before an almost empty room. “Ni Hau, Meygua.” Electromagnetic tattoo shifting beneath his skin, frustrating any possible reading; cartography of signal cancellation, beautiful, illegal.
I place my package on the counter, “Yes.”
“I’m looking for information.”
“I know, Meygua, you seek salvation.”
“Salvation… is expensive.”
Delicate English residue clinging to his words. Hong Kong, perhaps, or European educated. Impossible to tell. Could be level eight or higher, upper-class criminal, part of a syndicate, head.
“I can pay.”
“Can’t enter Heaven without a sous and a soul. You have a soul Meygua?”
His tattoo constricts and elongates, fingerprint swirls, reverberating, aboriginal, converging, collecting.
“I’ll give you a piece of advice. Stop looking,” he says, returning to the game. Over his shoulder, “Free of charge.”
I leave the parcel.
VIII – Xiangshan Park
Go back to the beginning; watching Sunday Tai Chi practice. An elderly level 1 squatting, smoking, too tired, too old, preparing for download, his memories etched into a record few will access, nearby watches. Ritual remembrance. Protocol.
Nanite towers bloom in the background, opening, adjusting, adapting, evolving with the awakening city. Efficient, clean, clear crystalline edifices, growing like inverted candles dripping, cordial, respectful into a cloudless sky. A slight young woman sits down next to me, calm and quiet in a peony-print dress, long black hair done up in a messy bun, indifferently, the slight smell of jasmine softly sifting.