PANGBORN, a story by Greg Tate

black fembot grrlPANGBORN

Once again, Hera was hungry.

Once again she deeply longed to gnaw on her own flesh. Never mind how technically speaking it was not really her flesh.

Or that this flesh, newly acquired, was not the only stolen flesh she had ever longed to rip into as if it were her own.

In truth she had no flesh she could truly call her own.

This had never stopped her from masquerading as a woman or being mistaken for one.

She did have a raced and gendered identity, a raced and gendered consciousness, a very very strong and determined will, and yes, even a job, of sorts, to speak of. But as to skin there was none that she had actually known to be hers since her awakening.

That sort of flesh a true soul was wrapped in until the day one died and such.

Now you could say her ravenous claims on this body or any body she happened to appear in were, as always, rather dubious.

Once upon a time this particular body, today’s body , had belonged to a woman who made her living as a corporate management troubleshooter.

Hera had taken the woman’s body from her at gun point, (or really by way of gunbutt) using yet another stolen body.

The body she held the gun with was the same one she’d returned from the moon in.

The hijacking of the new body took place right before the old body had given up the ghost on playing host to Hera’s murderous imagination.

The original owner of her new body was now dreaming quite pleasant artificially induced dreams whose soporific effect Hera checked up on periodically.

The dreamer wasn’t thinking much about being hungry but it wouldn’t matter much if she were. Being that Hera the compulsive eater of host-flesh was the one in control of all bodily functions, they’d eat when Hera said she’d eat, whether her host was hungering or not.

Though it was only dawn and though she had eaten twice on the redeye from Chicago, (for the host’s sake, knowing what a long day and night lay ahead), there was no denying her own real hunger either. Or the knowledge that only feeding off her current body’s extraneous parts was going to satisfy that craving.

Problem was she could not start gnawing at this too- too-tired flesh until after the job at hand was over and done with. Hera knew she’d be stark raving mad by then but what could she do?

Generally when her hunger jones came down a lightheaded, dizzying feeling liked to follow.

Hera had been made acutely aware of her hunger’s capacity to induce vertigo on her last job. The unusual duration of the gig had exhausted her , shredded away all the patience she had in reserve. When she was no longer able to hold herself back she did the unthinkable: fed off her stolen flesh while she worked.

It had not been pretty and it had not been cute.

(Imagine having to watch your entire family dying at the hand of a woman who was biting off her free hand, finger by finger, knuckle by knuckle, backhand by backhand).

 

As morning painted itself in, Hera couldn’t help but notice the moon.

Once again the thing was right above her head rather than just below her feet.

This moon was the real deal: that fabled pie in the sky moon, A blood-orange cuticle of a thing. It was also refusing to leave the stage.

As the sour stew of Harlem’s summer stench rose from the pavement as nature intended, this moon was refusing to do what it was supposed to. Fade, vanish, evaporate.

The new day’s sky probably didn’t care to see the moon holding on by a sliver but there it was anyway: holding firm above Harlem while vainly exhibiting its milky red orb

 of an  eye a wee tad too long.

   Like most of us, Hera believed her perfect lover would be a more generous, evolved, expansive version of herself. On the moon that turned out to have meant a version of herself more generous with more expansive criticism of Hera’s state of evolution, or lack thereof, than Hera could use.

 

The morning’s blue canopy had replaced the night’s black curtain but this devil moon, scarlet and pompous, was refusing to take its marching orders. Something in the moon’s refusal to leave struck Hera as a bitter reminder of obnoxious things past.

Once upon a time Hera had gazed upon the earth from the moon.

Once upon a time had only been a mere summer ago but it still felt epic and eons-ago to Hera

Everything was artificial then:the green grass, the not so low gravity, the robot girlfriend. The girlfriend unit she’d purchased for the trip turned out to be a real pain in the ass. Robot girl had been given to a lot of rhetoric and speechifying about the natural way to live.

Problem was her mechanized significant other had not provided any of the nurturing or comforting Hera so desperately needed from her at the time. Instead the thing just incessantly bitched whined and needled Hera. After two weeks of listening to her shit Hera had dismantled the contraption’s throat, fucked her speechless machine-ass a few good times and returner her to the mechanics in tatters and shreds.

She decided the next time she provided specs for a mate she’d make sure she got one that came with hella less lip.

The kind of girlfriend whose talent for stealth and silence outstripped her gift of gab and her desire to make home repairs.

“See thing is I know what to do with a sneaky, shystie bitch. You just sneak too and a certain equilibrium is achieved. But it’s always those ones to out to make you a better human being who confuse the issue. Because they think they’re so perfect they want to raise you to their level and that’s what makes them such a pain in the ass. Bitch gonna try and fix me when I’m the one brought her broke mechanical bride ass home from the shop? Oh hell to the no.”

 

Manufacturing ideal lovers was an imperfect science but the hairy-chested old mechanical  boys in the shop assured her they’d one day get it together.

‘Mark our words, Hera, one day we’ll have it down. Right down to the nearest bloody tearjerking decimal point.’

Hera took it all with a grain of salt. She believed nothing lab-assembled could ever simulate real human love, freely and desperately given, freely and desperately recpirocated.

Only a creature assured of dying could surrender enough of themselves to the self-martyrdombeing  good lover required.  No robot girl she’d ever owned had ever seemed an ideal candidate for romantic suicide.

 

The body Hera was currently in possession of was frailer than the one she’d taken to the moon. This body shivered more easily but ate and slept less.

Some weird kind of neurotic feedback loop went on there. The body in question wasn’t very good at hiding its apprehension and sense of oppression by the world and all the things in it. You could scope out everything it was feeling just by staring in its eyes. It was most likely scared of its own shadow even in the most serene of settings.

It seemed to be an incredibly honest body though—one that was earnest, forthright, full of conviction and integrity with the reflexes of a born scrapper to boot, no matter the odds.

Hera had a feel for bodies by this point.

A feel for what they could would and wouldn’t do based on their DNA, their brain folds, and the fired neurons skipping to the loo  around their heads.

This time she knew she’d gotten the body of a fierce spirit, a warrior-spirit, the kind she would have wanted beside her going into battle.

Though hardly fearless, this body knew something better: how to use her fear to utterly focus on surivival. This body might start shaking if confronted with an animal attack but it wouldn’t back down from the fight. Not even if she was staring the animal right in the face.

 

Hera’s employer was an animal who liked to bare his fangs whenever he told Hera how she kept surprising him.

By which he meant he always expected her to be the one to fuck up a mission.

By which he meant he expected her to be the one to ‘derail n’ bail’, not the older, more experienced guys he kept sending along to shadow her.

Those guys tended to be the ones who actually did all the fucking up. Not being able to keep up with Hera had everything to do with why.

They would be made pay for their lagging behind by not coming back home in one piece.

Eventually, after the loss of several human operatives Hera’s employer had gotten the message.He stopped sending anybody out with her.

She took it as the lefthanded compliment it was—one she knew not to expect to be followed up by rewards, bonus points or any greater recognition of her skills and kill ratio.

 

Being out in the field on her own had its good points and its bad points. She worked better alone because she could improvise as much as necessity demanded and because she didn’t have to worry about destroying a wounded, torture-able colleague before

the enemy got to him.

But working alone also meant she had to manage everything, no matter what else was going on.

Everything as in the handling of all comers, job related or not.

Everything like restraining herself from her feeding on herself until the job was done.

Restraining her from cannibalism was the only strong argument in favor of her going out with a partner.

She had barely managed without a partner on her last job– so gruesomely at the end of the day that it still haunted her.

This go round she had planned on arriving early enough to answer the call of the wild but her plane had been delayed and then boarded by police at the gates.

Her schedule was now off by about two hours. This meant there’d be little to eat before or immediately after the job.

She needed to do something about her hunger sooner rather than later.

Personal flesh eating might not be an option until her next body. Could she manage it? She had to. Her closing performance on the last gig had been sickening. It also left her vulnerable to attack at the end of the day. She could not hazard a repeat.

This time she hoped to head off the disaster of hunger demanding her attention when she could least afford it.

She was between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

She felt like she was being crushed from the inside out.

Hera often imagined her hunger as a swollen beast, coiled, knotted up and lodged somewhere between the esophagus and the intestines, destined to come roaring up out of her gut whenever it got good and ready.

She imagined a beast who was not going to take no for answer.

A beast who could be counted on to drive her to self-destruction.

So it was that once again she found herself on her way to a job trying to talk her hunger down.

She had taken to calling her hunger ‘baby’ because she saw it as a kind of jealous lover who wanted all her time, all her attention, all her affection. It also helped her imagine the beast as an evil lover, hair-trigger violent and deadly but still available to seduction.

‘Relax baby, relax. You know we’re in the danger zone here. We get caught feeding ourselves around these parts and the game will be up. The job has got to come first. We go make a good clean kill and an even cleaner getaway and then we chow down. This is a good deal we got this time. We make good on our part and we can feast to our hearts delight. I mean for as long as we bloody well like. Listen, baby, listen, don’t growl at me like that. Let’s use this hunger we got for flesh bone and blood to strengthen our thirst for the battle ahead. Let our great beast roar but not be distracted by him. I know we’ve fed on nothing for a while now but let’s hope and pray we’re done before it begins trying to feed on us. For soon come a kill and after the kill we’ll eat a nice fancy meal off these parts and then we’ll suicide this body and the company will have us resurrected in another one lickety-split.’

 

The job was way way uptown, in some project buildings besides a place called the Macombs Bridge, within spitting distance, the specs said of Yankee Stadium and The Bronx. The grizzly old man on the D train who she double checked her perfect directions to the Bridge Apartments had told her, ”Soon as you come out of the train station you’re gonna be right in those projects so stay alert, look alive and grow some eyes in the back of your head.’

As if she her s.o.p.was in need of a consultant.

 

Coming up the station’s stairs Hera could already tell old grizzly was neither lying nor exaggerating. There they stood before her in all their high rise welfare prison glory. The PJs. Your mamas prison pajamas.

Like all public housing projects she’d seen from Algiers to Oakland these seemed windswept and bleak even on the sunniest and stillest of days. This one was likewise was strangely desolate and deserted for all the bodies she knew to be packed in them. An existential no-man’s land set on concrete and lifted to the limit of the city’s air housing rights. She knew projects always seemed emptier than they were. The trick was to see what was lurking on the edge of visibility around the edges.

There was a method Hera had for scouting out camouflaged hostile terrain: give the area a 360 degree scan and pretend you can’t locate a soul anywhere. Absorb the environment in every detail then render the human elements visible, pull them clearly into skulking and hiding view.

Human elements like those junior thugs over there in yonder lobby there, the one with no front doors. Thugs openly engaged in laboriously loading and counting bullets, cleaning barrels and scopes in the lobby’s dying florescent gloom.

As Hera scanned twenty feet in any direction she saw that such life forms abounded here—clustered in twos and threes near bushes, building corners, lampposts. Soldiers, dealers, runners and all kids, juveniles, for the most part.

The kind of kids Hera loved to lump together under the general category of ‘Teenage Armageddon’. Hormonal apocalyptics whose aim she believed was not only to dispense chemical death but to help terrorize and maintain the misery index for those she identified as The Regular People, The Good People, The Hardworking Normal

People.

All the folk who later that evening would be heading home fast from work hoping only to scurry out of the underground and speedily shuffle across wide, angular walkways to their building doors. Praying all along the way they’d make it up to their floor unbloodied,unbowed, unscathed.

‘Lord, just this one more night let me get in that building up those stairs into my multiple lock home Jesus thank you.’’ All they wanted was to burrow deep inside their shelters and dig in tight for the night. Slip past the gauntlet of rude boys and fall to sleep perchance to dream with one eye open. All the while knowing that those wilted flowers of evil they’d passed on the way in, those ragtag bouquets Hera had tagged ‘Teenage Armageddon’ were taking on their night blooming guises—that of African Violets, African violence.

As always, Hera had been given a mantra. Code words especially related to her mission. One phrase that had been intercepted from the opposing team. This time it was: ’I’m here to buy a violin from the man.’

 

She’d rehearsed the line so many times, delivering it myriad ways, hoping, as always, that she’d wouldn’t have to say any more than that.

Because the minute you got to say more you’re opening yourself to whatever’s waiting on the other side of door number one– some fools disbelief, an ambush or worse of all, that most unwanted byproduct of bad intel–nobody home or an obsolete address.

Given the resident population, this was not the kind of mission where there was much room for deviating from the program. For finding herself having to deal with a bunch of doubting Thomases. All of that Teenage Armageddon over there who surely packed heat, ignited easily with attitude, and who’d likely never believe a slight, wiry bitch could cause them problems.

The manual would call that the wrong way to spend Christmas, even Christmas in the PJs.

Only, sure enough, as soon as the thought was thunk. up rolls a specially elected representative of the Teenage Armagedon crew. He appears suddenly at Hera’s blind side and just eyeballs her in a way that really gets her goat. ‘Just look at him baby, looking at this young fool. Looking a womyn up, looking a womyn down, looking a womyn all around town. Look at him: Rolling his eyes, licking his lips, stuffing his long arms and big manhands down even deeper into his mineshaft-deep black denim pockets.

Look at him:looking for the slightest hint of afraid. But I bet you he’ll move his narrow ass right the fuck along when it becomes clear Hera aint gonna do so much as blink.’

And so it was.

Not that it meant he wasn’t going to tell his higher-ups a strange female was in the courtyard, one who carried herself like she might be packing.

Something in Hera said Run for the building, skip and sprint if you have to, just go. Run like a bitch then tell yourself how, You’re made of some stuff gal. Tell yourself how we’ll be needing more from where that came from later on. But she realized that direction wasn’t coming from her gut but from host. Or what was left of her, survival impulses peeping through the thick veil Hera had draped over her REM phase with chemicals and nanobots

This breach of the host’s interior fourth wall couldn’t be totally disregarded though . It told Hera how much her hunger was about to be making a major comeback.

Hera’s belly took to rippling spasmodically.

Something that seemed like the clatter of cold knives began wildly flip-flopping down there.

A familiar muscular tension was dribbling and rebounding all over her neck and shoulders.

There was an undeniable chilling goose pimpling effect that was out to make itself felt right down to her toes. Frozen fingers would be next and what about that?

 

Hera knows from frozen fingers.

Frozen fingers were what she found herself clutching when she woke up just before they took her last body away from her. Because in the hours she’d been left to die on a lunar- lit beach in the cold, she had severed that body’s left hand, gnawed on it for sustenance and comfort and then fallen asleep. While she slept the molecular killing machine that she was, a few thousand

beaded and microscopic strands of sentience slithered out of the woman’s mouth.

Unfortunately the host woke up before she did and began screaming while Hera’s machinic form slipped off her tongue.

The host screamed loud and hard and then begun her slow motion process of fast-dying. Hera’s air support finally arrived around that time. Her beaded self was quickly scooped up by the support team then injected into a host-lozenge.

She could have let her former host die alone in that alley but she didn’t. Not this time.

She had made a promise to herself. Never again would she up and leave a body that had served her so well, abandon it to die alone.

And so a new Hera, one full of incomprehensible compassion and grace sat down beside the woman until she finally expired.

It was an autumn day she knew she’s never forget.

One that provided Hera’s remarkable powers of recall the never to be forgotten sound of her delirious, drooling and screeching former host begging Hera to please somehow stop the flow of red red wine hemorragging out of the broken bottle beside her.

A bottle the host thought had fallen or been thrown from a high window to splatter in the alley besides her expiring body, little recognizing that what she identified as a bottle was her own bitten-off arm.

Hera hadn’t always stuck around to comfort them or watch them die ( nor had she always mutilated them either, for that matter).

But doing so had become her only solace of late, a newly triggered concern for the quality of her host’s death experience.

It was truly a novel desire among her kind of nanozombie.

One that had suddenly shown up late last year for no good reason she could discern.

Why now, after so many years of contract killing with other peoples bodies?

More than likely it was related to her programming, this embrace of another’s fleeting mortality. She suspected it meant she was soon to be retired herself and was intended to soften the ride.

 

From where else could these feelings have come–this errant, incipient desire to make her hosts curtain call be as love-filled as possible? Given the nature of her business, this was as close to angelic as Hera figured to get.

Especially since she hadn’t otherwise developed any new scruples around killing in the bargain.

Waiting around with the dying did have the benefit of making her feel like something human, or at least like what she felt humans to be—a messy tangle of emotional attachments and anxieties.

Hera cherished the experience for that alone.

She hoped the extreme calm she displayed in the face of her hosts demise was truly a comfort.

Hera’s makers had programmed into her a healthy respect for the glorious after life of human beings.

She hoped to impart that knowledge to her fearful and trembling hosts, fast aware as they were of being mere seconds away from using up their earthly time.

And having spent probably a lifetime unaware that there were other so many more lifetimes out there her soul might explore before all was said and done, Hera hoped they’d learn from her soothing touch that death was to be understood as a new beginning and not as ‘The End.’

 

    Hera knew better than to talk to the dying about the actual afterlife though.

She had been taught to believe that only after coming out on the other side of the light and after many howling nights in the dreadful realm of Bardo would the host be ready to reckon with the facts.

Only after being forced to endure dark nights with other terrified spirits would they grasp what kind of living was possible after a violent death.

Hera hoped her presence eased their trip to other side nonetheless.

That was then.
And This is now:
Incoming:
A present from Christmas in the PJs:
More Teenage armageddon, this time at twelve clock high.

Hera’s mission beckons.

Hera wants only to answer it’s call and not waste time

entertaining or wasting the local hoodlum population.

Building number six was where her assignment was holed up.

Unlike other buildings in the project compound’s courtyard, number six was heavily decorated for the Christmas season, sporting more ornaments in its lobby in fact than armament-carrying youth.

Strobing bulbs glittered and slithered down the exterior brick, wrapped around a rainbow of glowing glass and insulated plastic ivy.

A manger scene was somehow surviving on the lawn too.

A pack of hormonal apocalyptics who’d somehow themselves avoided martyrdom rotated between buildings five, seven and nine but for reasons unknown avoided six.

Guard duty was life’s reward to them for being quicker with the Glock than the brainstem but something told them to stay away from six too.

Were they bad boys? Sure, but certainly not beyond redemption in Hera’s eyes. Even if they were appeared interested in seeing who could obtain the worse reputation in the PJs. Socially, emotionally,intellectually.

 

Hera knew they’d been reared too far removed from much in the way of viable alternatives.

Suggestions as how they might pursue a change in occupation would seem laughable, even to her.

You might as well tell them go to Mars as tell them to try a life unrelated to being a ghetto criminal.

Any souls salvaged here, Hera reckoned, would have to be highly self-motivated, highly self-medicated and highly delusional all at once.

Among the ranks there would always be those rare ones who’d figure how to put all the pieces together. Gather all the necessary fragments of the truth necessary to overcome their tragic circumstances and early death. She’d met more than few of them in her time with the company. All had come from PJs to not so different from the one whose grounds she dared to tread upon now.

 

Hera loved the way a body could come back to the same PJs for years thinking they were seeing the exact same faces they’d seen their last time there. Until it hit you that those faces who looked to be dead ringers for old ones were just their younger kith and kin.

So a body might ask after so and so just to be polite, only to find out so and so was doing a 25 to life bid or was dead or nearly dead from having served their country and come back in more than one piece.

A body would then also be informed, ‘Now see that boy over there, the one packing heat and prisonyard muscle? well you know he’s old dead so and so’s baby brother, sisters husbands kid from they first marriage’ and so forth.”

 

Looking at todays collection of the quick and the living dead Hera amused herself thinking, If there’s enough time, on my way out, I’ll pull one of them aside. Whichever one seems intelligent enough looking to be preserved and exploited as a host. Offer him some alternative career options. Zombie assassin for the state, that kind of thing.’

She felt it was the least she could do since she figured anything had to beat living and dying a typical nigga death in the PJs. Such generosity always

strangely seemed possible around the time of a kill– any kindness, any benevolence, as long as it could be done with the quickness.

Who knows? Maybe this time she really would take a bad boys or two out with her.

Drag them away to sunny So Cal for a day and fully exploit their bodies before the company came knocking.

Or take them someplace like Rio where the sheer danger of walking around in an unauthorized body would make her escape seem that much more delicious. The danger only matched by the pleasure that would come from defying the company.

Hera waded into the lobby of Building Six right before an exiting mob of civilians on their way to work. They surged out but already looked haggard and anxious in anticipation of their rush hour commute. She got on the elevator in Building Six before she realized another Teenage Armageddon rep had flown through the door right behind her. Swooped in actually. Looking for all the world in her peripheral vision like wraith and vulture rolled into one.

She reached for her knife, hoping to stab first and ask questions later but Teenage Armageddon spoke first. “You’re here to see a man about a violin, correct?” Hera took a deep breath, prepared to lose an arm and grace upper Harlem with the sight of an inferno, but before initializing that countdown Teenage Armageddon spoke again: “I’m from the company. Page sent me. Said to tell you stop before you do something we’ll all regret. Page sent me to alert you. He’s withdrawing company authorization from this job. The job is freelance now. You’re free to go through with it, even track down the money, if you like but the company’s involvement has been, as of this conversation, officially withdrawn.”

 

Hera immediately knew what that meant. It meant if she was captured or killed the company would disavow any knowledge of her actions or existence. It also meant any vendetta which grew out of the hit would be settled with her, not with the company. It meant this was now a mercenary gig.

 

Meaning she’ have to go collect from the client herself, meaning she’d be stuck rotting in this body until another assignment came in.

All in all, things were not looking good.

Hera was pissed, dizzy and she realized, suddenly deaf.

She saw more than heard Teenage Armageddon throw her a question. She heard him barely. Something about the conservation of energy clause in her contract.

She didnt have to hear much more than a word to know that Page’s flunky was asking what state of combustion she’s in . Hera lets him know: ‘I’m fourth stage. About ready to jump out of my skin if you must know. You tell Page that, okay? Tell Page that when he finally got word to me to abort the gig I was fourth stage, about to jump out of my fucking skin. I also haven’t eaten all day and when I get off this elevator I may not know where my life ends and my incendiaries begin. Tell Page, I’ve got no choice here because his timing sucks. That this eleventh hour shit came way too late for me to be calling anything off.

He know’s how Im built. He knows the deal. He knows how I work. There’s a beast I’ve been keeping in a dungeon all night and day. The beast needs to be fed so I can maintain my sanity on this job. There is no gentle way to say it, to do it, or to be it. I am of the flame. I shall begat the fire. I’ll be getting off on 19. I suggest you get off on 12 and take the motherfucking stairs to the basement’.

 

So on 12 Teenage Armageddon books from the elevator, his shuffling feet no poor substitute for the proverbial first thing smoking. Those feets won’t hardly fail him nowHera thinks. Soon as he’s gone though Hera realizes she’s got questions no one can possibly answer for her. What if he’s lying to me? And who’s betraying who here? Was Page betraying her on the clients behalf or was Page betraying the client? Either way it was all politics again. All the trifling shit that never had nothing to do with her job, her simple part in the scheme of the thing. All the trifling shit that was never so clean and simple as the business.

The only question was whether the set-up was coming from the front or the back end of the job though from where she standing that hardly mattered.

She had just been fucked out of a good paying no- brainer of a company gig. Now she had to think like one of them, like a groveling political animal, like a Page who she had never so despised as much as she did right now.

Page’s messenger boy had just handed her a pink slip. One that came with a unspoken suggestion she exercise her contracts suicide clause. An escape clause, really, for the company should any of her friends and relations come snooping around.

Teenage Armagedoon probably would have tried to kill her if she hadn’t let him think she was going to do it herself. Go head up to the roof, do the honorable thing and go airborne over the PJs. Light the sky up like a one-woman Chinese new year. But there was always time for that. Right know she needed a plan.The target she knew couldn’t be changed. Her whole body was still aching, as programmed, to bring down the target.

 

She knew she didn’t have to kill the

target so much as decimate his contaminated living space.

But if this target was game and handled himself with enough finesse he could even be brought in and possibly bartered with down the line.

The target could be swallowed up into the current fucked up state of things, and if he was destined to be as lucky as that Biblical Jonah who got spit out of the leviathans belly, coat all shiny and bright, halo of fire around his eyes, things might work out better for both of them, him and Hera, all the way around.

Of course the target could also cold refuse to be brought into the game but like the real Hera’s daddy used to say, You don’t ask, you won’t know.Stepping out of the elevator onto the 19th floor Hera found herself right in front of the target’s apartment. Some notion to pause stopped herand from rapping above his keyhole. Her once confident hand suddenly became doubtful, hesitant.

Something in her didn’t savor as she typically did that charged moment right before she rapped gently on a target’s doors, hand

suspended in mid-air, ready to smoke them as soon as they appeared at the peephole.

This had become a new game entirely. So let’s have a look at this target and let the farce began. She knocked, heard him shuffling to the door.

I’m here to see the man about a violin’, she shouted,

‘Best offer so far has been $1300. You prepared to double that?’

He’d answered her codephrase correctly.

Now he just needed to seal the deal and open his door. Only it was the door behind her which opened instead. Hera swirled about at the sound of it.The man who stood there looked exactly like every picture of Albert Einstein she’d ever seen only a wee bit browner.

‘You cant be too careful up in here nowadays you know.I had to devise some safeguards.

They just failed you miserably old man.

I was sent here to kill you then got told in the elevator my company was no longer under obligation to satisfy the agreement. I have however been programmed to

detonate this arm in the next 30 seconds. Therefore I need you to jump outside when I step in. You’re an old man but you don’t look like you’re ready to die or too feeble to jump if you have to, and believe me, you have to.

When you blow up, what happens to my neighbors below?

Nothing if they’re not home at 8 in the morning. Luck of the fucking draw is what happens to them. Ready to jump old man?

Hera leans in across the threshold and points her arm at the ceiling.

She hops into the old man’s room and he hops out. Then the fun begins.

From 20 miles away people will report of seeing the fire-crowned roof of a skyhigh public housing building blast 50 feet in the sky.

They report of seeing it arc out and then come back to earth like a drizzling meteor, all small whisks of fire streaking from red to black. A sharpeyed few will even report the sight of an old man being dragged down the side of the three story building and then led

across the courtyard by the good hand of a wildeyed and skinny woman whose stumparm was aflame, aimed and raging at the heavens.

 

PART TWO OR ARZNEVARKS LOVE SONATA FOR HERA

Just one lousy message. The full bounty of a seven hour lag between voicemail checks had yielded just one lousy mesage. Predictably it was from Arzvenark. (Of course.) Once again recommending yet another disc of passive-aggressive and depressive laptop music.

Sounds certain to pacify the already down and defeated and surely describable by some oxymoronic subgenre label like German dub.

Arzvenark had been a roll lately when it came to digging up this kind of stuff.

Barney was sick of the stuff quite frankly but because he loved his friend, and knew how much he treasured their connectedness through exotic sounds,he indulged his buddy’s file-sharing.

 

Barney was actually really more interested in hearing how Arznevark’s daughter Shala was holding up after her divorce.

What kind of life she was piecing together for herself? Had she made any new friends to help whittle away the long Icelandic nights now that she and her husband had split up?

Twas a season for breakups in Barney’s world.

A constellation of broken homes and broken hearts was forming around their loose little circle.

So what do people listen to when they feel all alone and dangerous to themselves? Introspective dance music decided Arznevark.

The sound of falling bodies under arrest.

Music that approximated that feeling you get in a really happening club when everyone is dancing but you. When the whirligig world has sped up and you just keep slowing down before you finally sit down and began observing from your perch.

Taking note of all around you from inside a shrunken cave of silence, withdrawal and apathy. Holding on to some terrible sense of being arrested.

 

Barney is a watcher, ‘quite the looker’ he jokes about himself to friends not in the business.

He’s very good at his job.

It’s what the company pays him a decent enough salary for.

With being a watcher however comes the knowledge that somebody’s always watching Barney too. Somebody somewhere is always watching him at his watching and receiving as decent a salary as he does for his snooping too.

When you have no god your god is counter surveillance and its first disciple, Professional Paranoia.

Barney knows he’s taken every precaution and also knows they’re all for nought because the company’s counter-countersurveillance is likely so far beyond known current science as to be beyond undetectable.

Barney knows that just because he’s done the math doesn’t mean they haven’t found some new math he isn’t even aware of yet. In fact Barney is certain they are onto him because he knows

they’re always around, always watching but  he can’t detect them anywhere.

 

This is simply how the world works:everybody has to be monitored by somebody sometime, especially the Barneys of this world.

Those monitors in whom the company has invested so much? You better just believe somebody’s monitoring the monitors, buddy. We’re talking a universal truth of this age, dude.

What Barney has in fact decided is that the surveillance technology is most likely in the music Arznevarh keeps sending. Him. Not that he suspects Arznevark but there are no unsecured channels. So they could easily be there in the dusty bleeps and glitches the music is composed of, secretly recording every little move he makes and every breath he takes. Reporting back to his superiors via encoded rhythm and melody. Highlighting his weak points, his stress points, his probable breaking points.

But enough about you, right Barney? Because hey, that looks like serious incoming you’ve got on your tracking relay. The girl they call Hera is on the move with the old

man.

Her thermal signature is unmistakable, ablaze  like a wildcat oilfield.

Barney can only imagine the panic and havoc she’s causing.

A woman with a burning arm held up to the sky stiffly and moving fast through the rush hour train system offering neither explanations nor apologies, brusquely barreling through the cars like she and the geezer she has in tow got no kind of time to waste on civilized decorum.

Her aim is to make sure she goes where she supposed to before she burns out. No detours, no sudden and unanticipated changes in direction. Barneys job is to monitor that journey to it’s conclusion. Which is supposed to mean until her thermal signature turns blue. There’s no way she can know Barney is out there, scoping and scanning her all the way. Even though it has lately become his sense that every one he tracks can feel his eyes and his devices on them and that they are not pleased. He’d always been told its one of the hazards of the profession. Gets so you can’t ever get enough downtime to shake the feeling you need to exit the field before it takes out your head.

Nobody in his experience has ever left gracefully though.

They’ve had to be escorted away, sometimes forcefully, and always after several warnings, probations, forced sabbaticals.

It’s just a matter of time before even the best operators show signs of cracking up.

Knowing all this Barney still decides that he has to place himself in the path of this Hera creature and see if she recognizes him on sight or by scent or by his aura.

Just briefly allow her to catch sight of him is what he’s thiinking.

If he can just manage a few fractions of a second in her presence and he’ll know for sure if a man like him could exist for her on even a submerged subconscious level.

He knows this is how it begins for most of those who provoke the company to command early retirement. He also knows he cannot continue to function in fear. The fear that this Hera isnt headed anywhere near her programmed destination but straight to his supposedly well-hidden coordinates.

 

Hera was surprised to find the old man was as spry and durable as he was.

He claimed to be a marathon runner but no marathon prepared you for the course they were on—in and out of subway tunnels and sewer shafts, dashing across three and four rows of train tracks, climbing onto platforms and up power company repair ladders mounted in open manhole covers.

They had been holding to each other so tightly for hours now that they felt like a single mobile unit and moved accordingly.

Time was not on her side and her options were nil.

She had to turn herself into a birthing center before the next time she combusted but that was as certain a death sentence as waiting to explode.

The only course that seemed to offer some flexibility was turning herself and her services over to a rival company. In Manhattan that meant Gauss, which meant they’d torture her before and after they heard her offer.

A sucky option as options go, but at least one with some wiggle room.What she could not escape was the feeling that she was being directed to annihilate herself

whatever course she took.

It came with the territory of being a semi-programmed creature. Even in what appeared your most spontaneous moments you always doubted you were really the one writing the script.
She knew for example that her memories of being in the womb, of being birthed were hardly real, that she had really been ‘activated’, ‘switched-on’, like junk DNA, rather than hatched.

Yet because those were the most visceral memories her consciousness contained she knew anything else she felt deeply must be false, implanted, manipulated, distorted or reprogrammed.

There was a logic implicit in this particular operation that went beyond her spiritual anxieties though. The company clearly did not want to kill her or the old man. They clearly wanted her to keep him alive but be able to report her as a rogue to their client. Or at least their original client since she assumed there was now a new client the company needed to remain a shadow partner until the old man was safely wherever he was supposed to be. All of which led her to opt for Gauss.

4.

Barney envisions meeting the girl on the street, far away from the safety of his machines and his digital panopticon vantage point.

In his picture of their eventual meeting Barney makes a boo boo upon sight of her. Craps in his pants at the sight of her.

Even so he works up enough nerve to pull a gun on her, tell her she’s under citizens arrest. The knife she expertly drive between his bushy eyebrows make him stumble back over a garbage can while clutching the blade handle sticking out of his spurting forehead. He loves the idea of it: a clean kill. Made by a longterm subject of his surveillance.

What better way could there be for him to die?

As long as he gets to tells her how much he loves her, how much he’s loved them all really. Somehow through his stuttering eyelids he’ll look at

her blankly, and appear shocked she mistook his designs on her for anything but love.

5.

The man had been more than patient and now she was more than famished too.

Lovely in this light, his noble profile and her wildeyed stare not quite canceling each other out.

People lose their sense of dignity goes before their sense of style if they got any to lose.

This was not going to be easy to pull off this escape from mortality without a parachute.

No cavalry on the way, no knights in shining saucers come down to save her this time, no emergency time to call her own.

What a waste this would be if there was no more she to pass through a hundred more bodies and even more murders.

Who would sing of her deeds or pass on her art to the next generation should memory fail her.

Greater and lesser beings than she had all had to eventually recognize mortlity for what it was – a one way ticket to palookaville.

To the dirt and the bugs youre just another meal however great you find your life and consciousness to have been.

The thing she was beginning to realize, and had no choice really but to recognize, under the circumstances, was that all the women she’d ever been were also screaming their way up and out of her consciousness.

Meaning that she’d been programmed to cannibalize herself to keep  from going crazy trying to filter out the murderous intentions and murder accusations from all those raging voices.

 

She had silenced and repressed them forever but they hadn’t really gone anywhere but just below the surface of her persona and now that she was dying inside of herself like any wounded animal they were rallying around the wrong done to them and setting up something of a courthouse in her deepest interior.

A place for some old style frontier justice and judgement, ”not this truth and reconciliation crap”, one of them commented.

The voices in her head didn’t really bother her so much –she’d imagined them for so

long that they’d become a part of her guilt complex.

Hera had even remembered their names and professions enough to know who was talking when and about what life that had been taken from her.

 

She had chosen the complexity of mind and feeling of women, preferred it actually, but she would never know whether that was because that’s how she was wired or whether her own complexity and her own sense of self-consciousness compelled her to.

How had she been gendered by her maker? It was a question she might get an answer to if they ever let her back into the company.

The old man was too weak to stand.
How had he become a biomorphic safehouse for the mollyflockers they both worked for?

A daughter had gone to prison for them, as insurance against him ratting them out they had to be able to have him do a few jobs more, become further implicated.

”It was so unnecessary” he told Hera. His daughter he felt, had been revolutionary martyr material since

 

She was 13 and had grown to confuse her life with that of a succession of doomed heroines from the womanist reading list left behind by her mother– Sylvia Plath, Anne Frank, Joan of Arc, Assata Shakur, Patty Hearst.

There was most of all the diary her mother had left from her days as an info-mule. A carrier of illicit and untraceable biomorphic devices and data woven into the DNA of the various fetuses she had carried in her womb for them . Them and their doomed little war against the enemy they never referred to as anything but ‘The White Bodypolitic’, an enemy that never wanted to destroy them so much as subsume them and their technology within its own bosom of unholy and unnatural desires.

Hera herself he suspected was one of the byproducts of their absorption. Several stages beyond info-mules would be artificial intelligences like hers that could parasitically impregnate the brains of host-bodies by ingestion or inhalation. ‘Soul-eaters’, knew Hera, was the internal code-word for the project that had engineered her into being.

 

Strangely enough, it was only now that she realized why the oddest parts of her prgramming, her cannibalism and her conscience had been written in as control mechanisms, stringent means for making her dependent upon the company for corrective and invasive psychic surgery.

Now the company was just leaving her to die on the streets.

And to be picked apart by whom she wondered? And to what end?

Particularly since the technology that gave her life would be unretrievable once she lost consciousness. Obviously she had been set up and sacrificed on whatever altar the virtual gods had created for obsolete AI’s.

So this is mortality, eh? Boy does it suck.

Knowing that you’re going to die and knowing that you’ll be doing it all alone no matter how many other voices are sharing the rooms in your head with you.

 

Author: Enter My Cipher

Author/musician/cultural provocateur who thrives in Harlem, Howard U Bison Nation rep-at-large, co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition, leader of the Conducted Improv big band Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber since 1999, Rivers On Mars collaborator, That Dude whose books include Flyboy In The Buttermilk, Flyboy 2 The Greg Tate Reader, Midnight Lightning:Jimi Hendrix and The Black Experience, Everything But The Burden--What White People Are Taking From Black Culture and the forthcoming Beast Mode:Iconic Gods and Monsters of the Black Atlantic (FS&G,2020)

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