The man-being who calls himself Quin visualizes the Earth from above, his awareness suspended indeterminately between, within, around and through the infinite spaces that constitute our reality.
Temporarily eased from familiar leaden shackles of physicality by the arcane theurgy of the trance-inducing concoction Javasco and fortified by an inexplicable natural affinity for remote viewing described recently by his ancient shamanic mentor as ‘breathtaking, like a toddler somehow achieving mastery of the unicycle’, Quin takes his first tentative leap alone through The Quarantine.
He follows an intimate genetic bond resonating like the hum of a disembodied cicada throughout time and space; a bond his wizened mentor Apollo cannot sense; one only he (and presumably his cloned brethren) could possibly trace through that discombobulating maelstrom of sequestration. His awareness is buffeted and shredded through a migrane of egoic insanity, a tempest of gibbering entropy that has brushed aside his each and every attempt these past twelve months to penetrate.
But not this time.
This time, Quin hangs on for dear life. This time, Quin breaks through. Trillions of pixels of kaleidoscopic infinity rediscover their coherence…
My tastebuds have become eyes. The foul taste of Javasco has
migrated to my optic nerves, decoding the sensation into a vast, chessboard
Footsteps; expensively booted feet clicking and clacking across the cold, black-and-white marble tiles to stop at the foot of a small, raised dais with six steps, each carpeted in thick, crimson velvet.
Seated behind a dark desk atop the scarlet-clad dais sits a man with my likeness - my original! Bearded, greying; older. He is dressed in an immaculate white suit. He is gazing levelly at the owner of the expensively-booted feet, who waits deferentially at the foot of the steps, his head bowed. The silence stretches into long moments, until the increasingly uncomfortable visitor reluctantly sinks to his knees.
‘Where's my clone?’ Harley rasped finally at the man grovelling before his raised, mahogany desk. Stone gargoyles decorating the wall behind him grinned their never-ending, psychotic grin, their tongues lolling out as if his wrath were something delectable to them.
‘O Gatekeeper, we search for him still,’ the man almost stammered.
A clenched fist slammed on the desk. ‘Knave! Do you ever say anything else? You have had two whole years to grow proficient in such searches. You have all the Dark Sciences at your disposal. You have an unlimited budget. Yet. You fail me miserably.’ Harley stood up and leaned over his desk, an ugly scowl twisting his black-and-grey-bearded face. ‘I have tolerated your incompetence so far, as the only one of my clones missing was a relatively expendable singer. But the loss of this latest one is intolerable!’
‘Yes, Worshipful Gatekeeper,’ the spokesman agreed meekly.
‘”Yes, Worshipful Gatekeeper”,’ Harley repeated in a mockingly nasal, effeminate voice. The spokesman flinched. ‘So. What have you been doing to try and find my espionage clone?’ The Gatekeeper sat down again in a studiously calm manner.
‘Sir, as you had commissioned Quad on a reconnaissance mission to uncover intelligence about the activities of rival bloodlines, we have activated bio-locators in all the underground bases.’
‘Bio-locators. Underground. To sniff out his DNA. Oh, of course!’ Harley drawled sarcastically. ‘Except for the tiny inconvenience that he shares my DNA. So when I make one of my own, frequent visits to the Underworld - as I am set to do this very afternoon for a meeting with the Troglodytes - I am to go through the joys of being apprehended by one of my own uniformed goons.’ He lurched back upright, paced lithely around his desk and down the half-dozen crimson-carpeted steps to his cringing underling. ‘Quad is a clone of me, you simian retard!’ he yelled into the trembling spokesman’s ear, savagely biting off each syllable with apparent relish. Then, with frightening swiftness, his rage seemed to fall off him as though it were nothing more than a mask. ‘What is your position, sonny?’ he asked the spokesman quietly.
‘Chief of Staff of the Intercontinental Bank of Agreements, Sir.’
‘I meant your standing in the Order, fool,’ Harley said delicately.
The man’s back straightened, though he still trembled visibly. ‘I have the honour of being a Knight Kadosh, O Gatekeeper,’ he stammered.
‘Very nice. Congratulations.’ Harley’s voice was silky smooth. ‘I’ll not recommend your further elevation. Furthermore, I’m arranging for you to be demoted to the Bank’s board of directors. Stuff up like this again and you’ll find yourself relegated straight out of a window off the top floor of the Burj Khalifa, and I don’t care how well-connected you are or who you’re related to. What do you say?’
‘Sir, please! Don’t tell the Trogs about my oversight. I – I’ll find Quad. I promise! Just give me forty-eight hours.’
‘You’ve got thirty-six,’ Harley growled. ‘And put a check on those bio-locators until tomorrow, for Jabulon’s sake.’
‘Yes, sir. Right away, sir. Thank you, sir.’ Still bowing profusely, the man backed out of the room.
As soon as he had left, Harley stood up, opened a drawer of his sumptuous desk, and withdrew an ornate, carved ebony truncheon embossed with gold and studded with gemstones. Turning to face the stone gargoyles behind him, he began to chant a deep, sonorous dirge in some hideous, unearthly tongue. Every thirteenth syllable of his chant was accompanied by a sharp rap of the bejewelled truncheon on the smooth, obsidian surface framed by the gargoyles. When he had finished, the obsidian surface slid downwards, revealing a brightly-lit, modern-looking metal elevator-like cubicle.
Harley stepped inside, and I allowed the focal point of my awareness to drift along as Apollo had trained me to do so over the past year until I was inside the cubicle with him. As I did this, my elder doppelgänger seemed to frown momentarily, as though my presence had pricked some hidden sense. His eyes flickered around the cubicle for an instant, his brow furrowed with a hint of suspicion. Then he shrugged and seemed to dismiss it as the obsidian hissed once more to a close.
Harley made a gesture into the open air and a comfortable seat sprang up from a panel in the ground into which Harley strapped himself securely. The cubicle lurched and started to plummet downwards at an unbelievable rate. He opened a panel in one of the seat’s arms and pulled out a copy of the Guardian, a small bottle of the finest malt scotch and a beautiful crystal shot glass. After pouring himself a shot, Harley settled into the seat and began to read, smirking occasionally to himself at the contents of the newspaper as the elevator plunged ever deeper into the Earth’s crust.
This journey into the depths of the Earth must have lasted about a quarter of an hour before finally the cubicle seemed to slow up (I was bemused at how I seemed able to sense the change in inertia in spite of not being physically present) and the obsidian door once again slid down. Harley unstrapped himself, placed the newspaper and the scotch back in its compartment, and dismissed the chair with another wave of his hand.
The cubicle’s opened door revealed a crimson-carpeted corridor, dimly lit by flickering, imitation flame torches. Faint howls of trepidation and despair echoed down from the darkness beyond. Apparently unperturbed, Harley stepped out into the gloomy passageway and began to walk briskly and confidently. As he walked, he even began to sing quietly to himself:
Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year - stole many a man’s soul and face…
As my disembodied awareness followed him in growing fascination and disbelief, he turned this way and that down the endless, mournful corridor, along which he had evidently walked countless times before. Set inside the smooth stone walls of the corridor, here and there, exquisite works of art, books and scrolls were displayed in cloisters of varying sizes behind crystal panels, most of the works faded and worn by their incredible antiquity. Harley strode briskly past them all. A couple of times, his way was barred by heavy steel doors, but they slid aside when he demanded it of them.
Presently, one of the thick doors opened into a large cavern lined on both sides by grim-looking, iron cages.
‘Mister!’ a child’s voice pleaded from inside one of the cages. ‘Mister, help us!’
‘We’ve been kidnapped, sir! Please, sir!’ another child’s voice.
‘Where are we?’
‘What’s happening? Please tell us!’
With a cold, serpentine smile, Harley paced slowly up to one of the cages. He crouched down so that his eyes were more level with the half-dozen pleading young eyes which surged desperately towards the bars of the cage. Small, tear-streaked, white-knuckled hands clutched pathetically at the bars.
‘I’ll tell you what’s happening, girls and boys,’ Harley said in a quiet, velvety-smooth voice. ‘You – every single one of you – is going to die!’
A stunned silence was followed by dozens of wails of consternation and despair.
Harley straightened and stretched his arms wide. ‘Yes!’ he now shouted. ‘All of you! You’re all going to die, very soon indeed. Devils are going to drink your life’s blood!’ he added gleefully. Then he shivered with an almost sensual delight as he glorified in their misery.
It was the strangest sensation to witness this despicable
behaviour in my disembodied state. There was an unfathomable emptiness where I
knew the immensity of my anger and outrage ought to be. Paradoxically, I felt
the emptiness most keenly, even mourned the humanity it robbed me of. I yearned
to feel that rage. I craved its power, its energy. I craved it so that I could blaze
retribution into my twisted doppelgänger’s rapture-contorted face. But there
was nothing there; it felt like the impotence of a neutered man in a harem full
of wanton, nubile goddesses – or perhaps that of a starving man with no mouth
sat before a sumptuous feast.
And yet, absurdly, the depths of the nothingness I felt seemed like a thing in itself; like the silence between the notes of a discordant melody. I had already learned a great deal about nothingness during my time alone in the cage. I understood something of its illusion; its power. Embracing it eagerly, I allowed it into my very being as though it were the negatives of some old film I promised myself someday to develop.
In the meantime, Harley had stridden off past the cages, leaving a desolate pandemonium of distraught, inconsolable children to bewail the fate that had just been so cruelly spelled out to them.
Embracing the void of my fury as though it were a mighty engine, I propelled my awareness once again forward.
It was an entire city underground. Every now and then, Harley walked past glassy-eyed men in military uniforms who saluted smartly as he passed them. At some point he exited the main building that housed the elevator and the imprisoned children, out into an immense open space, a cave so vast that my localised remote senses could not gauge its limits without losing their point of focus. It was too much for me to take in at once: domes and plazas and bizarre, alien architecture mingled with more familiar neoclassical styles. This vast underground cavern and its streets and buildings seemed to stretch out for several miles in every direction; I had to quickly zoom back in on Harley before I lost him. There would surely be time to explore later.
Harley now entered another building, one of the grandest ones surrounded by doric pillars and breathtaking, bejewelled fountains. A change seemed to have come over him; his demeanour had grown wary, his posture less regal. Now it was he who inclined his head as he walked through an open door flanked by two red-robed figures. With a non-physical jolt of surprise, I realised that the figures were not human, but reptilian, at least a head taller than the tallest humans and with ochre-patterned, greenish-brown scales. Beyond the door was a small room dominated by a round table, around which eleven other figures sat; six female, five male, all human. Harley apologised for his slight lateness in a neutral tone and sat down in the remaining empty chair.
What followed then was a brief ritual in which a cup of thick, dark liquid in an ornate golden goblet was passed around the table and everyone drank briefly from it, including Harley. I watched in fascination as half of the other people around the table seemed to shimmer and blur until their features had become as reptilian as those of the robed figures guarding the door.
‘I call this meeting to order,’ one of the reptilians whispered in a predictably sibilant voice. ‘Gatekeeper, what news from above?’
‘The awakening gathers pace,’ Harley replied distastefully. ‘Useless eaters ask increasingly bold questions of our agents and representatives – and worse, in the full glare of the public eye. Whistleblowers leak information on the net faster than we can kill, compromise or discredit them. Our prescribed worldview is challenged with growing audacity and intelligence.’
‘Distract the bastards,’ an evil-looking old man, incongruously dressed in a skin-tight, spandex leotard and rattling with gold bracelets and jewellery, said sharply. ‘Let me back up there, that’ll give ‘em summat to talk about!’
Harley sighed and shook his head. ‘No, Sir Sammy,’ he said firmly. ‘You’ve been believed dead for several years. You’ve already half passed into Halloween folklore.’
‘So what?’ Sir Sammy shrugged. ‘If it’s distraction we need, what better?’ He produced an enormous cigar, made it dance through the fingers of his hand for a moment, and stuck it in his mouth, unlit.
‘The Great Families would never allow it. Your close and long-term association with them is far too well known by now. It took all our guile and ingenuity to reign in and censor speculation and get them to lie low for long enough so that all the fuss and speculation died down about your relationship to them. If you come back from the dead now it will reignite all that. There’s too high a risk it will backfire and expose everyone. You left a pretty wide and dirty trail, you know.’
Sir Sammy lit his cigar and snorted smoke derisively through his nostrils. ‘Never caught me though, did they?’
‘Oh, they caught you all right. Dozens of times. They just never punished or exposed you. For which you have us to thank,’ another figure chimed in. With great astonishment, I noticed for the first time that the man who had just spoken was another doppelgänger of me, this one clean-shaven and appearing more like my own age.
‘Which leads us nicely to another salient issue, Hal,’ one of the reptilians hissed at my younger double. ‘Your attempt to use the Large Hadron Collider to punch a hole in The Quarantine recently was unsuccessful. The Archons demand an explanation.’
If my younger double, Hal, was in any way troubled by this mild rebuke from a reptilian being, he did not show it at all. ‘With respect, Great One, your information is not entirely accurate,’ he replied calmly. ‘The attempt was made by my younger clone Halley – the academic one – and was not unsuccessful, though I concede that it was inconveniently thwarted to a significant degree. It seems that a group of humans associated with the renegade bloodline was able to manifest a malfunction in both software and hardware at a critical moment.’
‘Impossible,’ another reptilian rumbled. Then it paused, seeming to reconsider. ‘How?’
‘A focused group meditation, Great One,’ Hal answered respectfully.
The reptilian shook its head. ‘That would have to have been executed with perfect timing, which implies a certain foreknowledge of our plans.’
‘I regret to inform, Great One, that it is now very clear the renegade bloodline has such foreknowledge.’
There was a sudden crash of such power that the entire round table jumped. One of the reptilians had banged its clawed fist on the surface in frustration and with stunning force. Each of the humans, Hal and Harley included, flinched a little and lowered their heads submissively. ‘However, if I may offer some reassurance, Great Ones,’ Hal continued in the same calm voice, though he was now speaking to his own lap, ‘as I said before, Halley assures me that the attempt was not entirely unsuccessful – merely weakened. A small hole was opened, and communication with the outside has been established. He regrets that the hole is not so wide as to allow physical traffic, however.’ Hal fell silent and seemed to tense his shoulders slightly, as if bracing himself.
The reptilians were silent for a long moment. ‘Under the circumstances, your clone has performed adequately,’ one of them answered finally. ‘Instruct him to report in more detail to us about the nature of this communicative link with the outside.’
Hal relaxed, and even allowed himself a slight smile. ‘I thank you, Great Ones,’ he said in a quiet voice.
‘Now, to the matter of sustenance,’ a reptilian went on. ‘While we recognise that efforts have been stepped up in this department, it is not enough. We – and especially the Archons – require more!’
For the first time, I recognised the slightest flicker of concern in Harley’s bearded face, which had paled slightly. ‘More, Great Ones?’ he repeated.
‘Yes! More!’ all three reptilians barked back at him.
Harley paled still further. Sir Sammy grinned broadly around his cigar. ‘I can assure you, Great Ones,’ Harley said carefully, ‘that we are doing everything we can to meet your demands for sustenance. Our media channels are working flat out promoting fear and dread around the clock. Wars are being ignited, celebrities perverted, children harvested – ‘
‘Yes, yes,’ one of the reptilians interrupted impatiently. ‘We know. We feel it. And we do not pronounce our displeasure unto you. Not yet. But it is not enough, we say. There must be more false information disseminated. More chaos. More blood sacrifice. It is getting increasingly difficult for us to traverse the energetic shifts that are taking place. This must not continue. Get your clones and their servants to work harder.’
‘I assure you, Great One, we are working as hard as we can,’ Hal cut in smoothly.
‘You are perhaps, and the academic one, and your original,’ a forked tongue flicked in the direction of Harley. ‘But what about the others? What of the hipster? The secret agent and the entertainer?’
One of the other reptilians leaned forward. ‘The entertainer went missing a couple of years ago,’ it said to its fellow.
My awareness grew several degrees sharper; I realised they were talking about me! I puzzled over the mention of two years having elapsed; according to my own reckoning, well over six years had passed since my abduction.
‘Ah yes, that one,’ the first reptilian rasped. ‘Still no news?’
‘None, Great One,’ Harley admitted. ‘Though with Halley’s
hole in The Quarantine, we are now able to make inquiries with the Outside.’
‘So. You believe him to have been taken Outside?’ The reptilian managed to sound slightly worried.
‘If not killed, then yes,’ Harley confirmed. ‘There is no way he could have evaded our detection for so long while still on Earth. We anticipate this mystery to be solved very soon.’
Somewhere very far away, as I hung disembodied above the table listening to this fascinating meeting, I felt a stirring of apprehension at this conversation which concerned me directly. Oddly, it seemed to come from two sources, one much closer than the other. It felt markedly different from the usual hollowness where my feelings should be; the habitual mental filling-in of habitual emotional reactions that were absent during remote viewing. Normally, I would experience only a ghostly echo of apprehension, like the phantom surrogate rage I had experienced earlier with the imprisoned children. But this was different, a real apprehension that seemed to grow closer and closer to me…approaching…real and tangible…until…
The feeling of apprehension changed to jubilation, and just a hint of calculated cunning. I felt a presence all around me – a tantalisingly familiar awareness. I felt it see me! Panicking, I looked down towards the table, expecting Harley or Hal to have somehow sensed me in the room; but no, they were going on with their meeting, discussing the clone they referred to as “Trip”, “the hipster”, whose job it was to confound and confuse the human conscious awakening that they had referred to earlier.
That’s me they’re talking about, the thought came to me. I am Trip, the third clone of Harley. Hello, brother.
You…can see me, I thought into the empty air.
‘See’ is not entirely accurate, Quin. But I can sense you. This is incredible! How did you learn remote viewing? Where in hell have you been?
A confused swirl of thoughts assaulted me, so that I nearly lost coherence. My awareness flashed momentarily back to the cave in Aventou where my unconscious physical form lay.
I see! Trip’s thought came to me. How fascinating. How deliciously…unexpected!
Listen, Quin. I can feel that you are pretty freaked out by what you have seen
of what our other brothers are involved in. I understand how you feel, okay? We’re
a very bad bunch, especially the older ones, but we seem to have gotten
progressively more reasonable as we were cloned. Don’t ask me why.
How can you sense me? Can the others sense me? I thought frantically.
No. Shit, you’re almost as good at this as me! But then, that’s perhaps no surprise when you think about it. I learned remote viewing because it’s part of my assigned role as the hipster, the esoteric one. I keep some of my cards very close to my chest, so you don’t need to worry about me giving you away, okay? They aren’t aware of how I feel about the shit they are peddling; and I intend to keep it that way, at least for now.
Where are you?
Trip paused. That’s not important for now. What is important is that we can communicate, and that you are outside The Quarantine! I could feel my clone’s excitement, and again, some kind of unreadable calculation behind his words. I could not, however, discern the nature of his intent. You are in a unique position, my brother. Between us, you, me and Quad might be able to put an end to all this evil shit.
The fourth clone. Least mean bastard among us, with the possible exception of yourself! I wouldn’t underestimate him, though. He’s the espionage guy.
He’s gone missing, hasn’t he?
Trip projected slight surprise, and a flicker of new respect. Goodness me, you have been paying attention, haven’t you, Quin?
At that moment, the familiar dizziness started to overcome me that signalled the Javasco was wearing off. I've got to go, Trip, I projected at my elder clone. The Javasco is wearing off.
You're using plant science to remote view? That's a handy way to get started, but a bad habit to continue, you know. No matter. We'll talk more later. For now, can we agree to an alliance? I'm sure you can see that these lunatics need to be stopped. Quad agrees and is with me on this. What do you say?
I had very little time to consider; already the room containing Harley, Hal, Sir Sammy and the reptilians was losing coherence, and Trip's projected thoughts were growing faint. It was all terribly confusing - I could sense duplicity in Trip but not whether the duplicity was aimed at me or at our evil elder clones. Could I even trust myself? Not knowing what else to do, I decided to play along for now, until I could find out more and perhaps track down Quad and get some more verification from him.
Ok, fine. I'm happy to be allied with you for the moment, I agreed, trying my best to sound as assured and perfidious as my brothers seemed to be.
My last impressions coming from Trip were of a curious mix of amusement, relish and wariness. Very good. Until next time, then, my brother.
A loud pop cancelled out my dream-state. The fire was crackling in the cave beside my inert form. Awareness rushed back into my body and my eyes beheld a pair of shapely, bare legs standing over me.
'Well, Quin,' said Marion. 'Isn't it about time you shared what you have learned with me?'