I’m a robot detective. My name, in places where time runs forward, is Trey Taylor. My first name becomes trev when time runs backwards, and in the realms beyond death, I need no name, for what need is there of names when everyone you meet is filled with overwhelming awe at the discovery of their continued existence?
There have been murders. Flaming serpents have been used to disembowel human targets. I’ve yet to find what links the attacks. The serpents attack the mouth, replace the intestines, and either slowly kill by interfering with the digestion process, like a parasite, or immediately, by disembowelling.
I’m called to a home where flaming serpents are suspected. I enter through the open door. Inside, a servant wrestles with a serpent. It burns her face, splitting her head in two, but she continually heals, and the flaming serpents strike again.
I realise there was no link between the previous targets. Someone was randomly targeting the population to see what resistance it offered, if any. Like an evolving species, adapting to the limits of a new environment.
I talk to the servant, our flow interrupted by the melting and reforming of her head. She tells me she has something inside her, that regenerates her. The Cohort, she calls it. It counteracts the effects of the flaming serpents. They can’t kill her, merely inconvenience her for a while before she kills them.
Someone is controlling the serpents. They’re the real enemy. I return to the training ground. I need a weapon to kill these serpents. I train with a chainsaw, using it as a weapon, practicing with my officer in a sand pit.
The perspective changes. It’s a later time. I’m in an isolation camp. Everything I described was in a tv show. Old robots don’t retire, they end up here, isolated, in case my faultless memory reveals an unwelcome truth. The TV set flickers off. I walk across the grass. Larger robots come in, and grab any robot like me, I’m the last of my kind. This triggers a memory. Something I’d hidden. They are looking for me still. I changed my markings and serial number, swapped personalities with another robot. His life has not been so eventful. Programmed to serve, he was happy to help. The memories flood back. The case of the Flaming Serpents. I have to escape this involuntary retirement, there’s work to be done.
I’m sharing a bedroom in a hotel . The other guy comes in, I’m in the wrong bed. We swap. I sleep.
I wake up in the morning. Sleeping across our beds, and on the floor, are a group of Sufi saints, and two baby hippos. I pat one of the hippos. It’s tail wags like a dog. I get up, pass robes to the sufis and explore the building. There’s a boy with a gun. A real gun. He fires wildly. I confiscate his guns, both toy and real, and all the ammunition he has. He has a tantrum. I explain how dangerous violence is, that he must learn to express himself in other ways. I throw away the guns and ammunition, outside in the snow. We are near Winnipeg.
J joins me, with two others. I have a flashback of a Turkish film we watched together, detectives in an old house searching for a missing, murdered family.
I discuss with J what supplies we have, to get out of this place. We talk of friends we can stay with elsewhere. I throw her packs of cigarettes, as I don’t smoke. I spill soya mix on to the gravelly snow. As I bend to eat it, a man shouts a warning that its poisonous.
I’m with a group of friends, in an apartment, waiting for someone to bring round Hawkwind’s ‘Sonic Attack’ for us to listen to. One of the group is the now-grown-up boy with the gun. He gets each of us alone, and beats and torture us.
Back together in the same room, we jump him. I smash a bottle into his face repeatedly. We leave him unconscious in the hallway. I suggest to my friends that listening to Sonic Attack is probably a bad idea given our mental state from being tortured. In the hallway, the torturer has vanished. We search the building. He’s left.
I go outside in the snow to work, clambering down blue steel constructions. I arrive at a large warehouse. R is there. He supervises people moving rugs, carpets, and bric-a-brac. There’s a room full of beautifully carved old wooden furniture. I worry about the torturer coming back. I check the entrances. He’s not there. I worry he will gain access under a false name. I walk around on the grass outside, always looking over my shoulder. I see hungover employees dozing on the grass, sleeping off the effects of St Patrick’s day.
I think about going back to sleep, in the wrong bed.
Alaska. A crater formed by mountains. A tall blond woman wakes up alone. The mountains are red, the sun has set. It is 3pm. She finds some steps down into the mountains. A diorama of the valley. A red pin marks her location. Downstairs. A cowboy bar. Drunk men collapsed. She walks outside. A small, black guy in a suit greets her. He looks like he’s waiting for a date. He does this often. This is the first time any woman has turned up. He shows her around the underground base, introducing her to people as his date. They laugh until they see her. She likes his humour and optimism, the fact he is right, and she loves seeing how pissed off people’s faces are when they see she’s real.
I’m under a bridge with international officials. We are trying to get the European train moving. I ask Putin about rebel groups in the Ukraine. We agree that stability is best for everyone. I climb on board the train, splicing power lines together, improvising connections. The train begins to move. A friend is concerned about my wiring skills. He goes to check the connections.
I’m in a remote housing estate, in the foothills of Dartmoor. Anarchist poets are causing trouble. They have a PA system, and are shouting obscene rhymes about local dignitaries. The locals aren’t happy. I see a crowd with iron bars approaching. I decide to leave. I walk to Ide, looking for a bus. I stop to buy cakes for the journey. At the bus stop, a Jali with a kora asks me if it is legal for him to play his harp and busk here. His face is disfigured on one side. I tell him that here he is free to do whatever he loves as an artist.
A group of detectives enter. They approach me. They say I match a description of one of the anarchists they are looking for. One asks me if I have any poetry apps on my iPhone. Yes, I confirm. But slam poetry was never my thing. Too competitive. The detectives seem to be happy with this answer, or have a poor description of me. They leave. I leave shortly after, aware of the limitations of walking against an enemy who drives.
Thailand. I’m feeding a stray cat. I pay for a tin of tuna in Baht. An old woman feeds animals in the street.
A rare Dadaist text. It is written on tiles on the wall of a flooded sewer. A French woman is told the text is so important, so rife with meaning, even in the font choice and spaces between words, that she drowns in search of it. She swims through clear toilet water, blue tiles beneath her. Through a flooded bathroom and children’s bedroom. She hears children through the walls. Down into a dark sewer, where her breath finally fails, as she glimpses the sacred tile text, her drowned body swept away like a stool, into a cavernous darkness.
I visit a family. The boy is troubled. I pray for him. I leave holy water and sacred catholic charms to protect him. I ask his parents if they have ampules to store the holy water on leather straps around his neck. The mother is called away next door. It is a cold night. I talk to the father about exorcism. I have a kit, and know a former priest who can help. We go to see the boy. He is missing from his room. We find him in his mattress in a wooden garage. His hair is grey, his clothing covered in frost. He describes being visited by a boy, a devil, a demon, who ‘floated very carefully’. I tell him that he has been very brave. It’s raining outside. I receive a message on my phone. A secret society have kicked me out, after I shared a story in public about a woman drowning in search of a sacred Dadaist text, written on tiles, in a dark, deep sewer.
I’m in Lithuania. I’m walking through a park. I see birds with cutlery eating animal remains. I’m in a parallel world. I can’t think how they could have evolved like that. I reach where I’m staying. A bedsit. I’m cutting some linoleum for my sleeping area. It’s blue and white. It forms a funnel, and I’m trapped inside it, like a black hole. A voice tells me not to interfere. I climb out, and go outside for a walk. Ice creams vans play music I don’t recognise. Everyone is American. A stadium is promoting British Military songs. An outside market sells army surplus clothes and punk jewellery. I wander through the university, looking at an incredible sunset. It becomes obscured by clouds. I see fireballs entering the atmosphere. Buildings nearby start to burn. I take a photo, and run for cover.
Waves of heat and pressure sweep over me as waves from the sun reach earth. I survive. I head back, past burning buildings, a parent and child tell me how they used psychic powers to direct the waves to one safe point, saving them. I am annoyed that I didn’t know about pressure waves from the sun.
I’m on a bus. In Altrincham, I’m discussing the merits of alternative power generation. I’m arguing for power that is fun, and makes you laugh. Not necessarily a reliable power source.
We pass a domed steampunk building, curved metal pyramid layers. At the end of the street, houses like washing machines. All steel angles and giant round glass. I’m upset I never came here before. It’s within a days bus journey. I remember a reality TV show set in the building.
I’m walking to a meeting along the seafront. I’m carrying placards, that in the sunlight become crosses in my shadow. I see Matt P working outside a pub. I think how much that suits him. A failing fire juggler makes me laugh. He’s enjoying himself. I pass a child feeling existential angst at my potential protest. I’m amazed at her youthful vocabulary. I arrive at the squatted cafe where the protest will begin. I lay my placards among the others. My slogans are silly and sarcastic, one calling for a petition against another group there. An old man falls out with a young man by offering him an empty sweet wrapper. I notice a table where the important people sit, while I sit on the floor.
The inequality of furniture distribution.