Six Kinds of Darkness

Excerpted fiction by John Shirley. From the just published final installment of A Song Called Youth trilogy

Submitted by ludd on July 4, 2010

It is not without precedent that we reprint fiction (eg. Kareendi's Story). In this instance, we present an excerpt from the just published final installment of John Shirley's A Song Called Youth trilogy (Warner/Questar). What is unusual is that in this case we do so with the author's permission, nay: encouragement.

In Eclipse, the start of the trilogy, Europe has been devastated by a NATO-Soviet war triggered by the KGB hardliners after a Central Committee coup ends the Glasnost era. To maintain security NATO has brought in a private security firm, The Second Alliance, to police its turf. The SA is in fact part of an extreme right-wing plot led by a charismatic preacher, Smiling Rick Crandall. The cabal believes that Hitler lacked efficiency and stability: their plans are at least as cruel.

In a raid on one of the concentration camps--designated Processing Centers--the New Resistance, a loose alliance of many disparate groups, finds prisoners: Every one of them had been bound in the stuff, tied together, squeezed in so tightly there was barely room to move or breathe. Torrence recognized the hard but prehensile gray plastic as sparks shot from the clippers, severing it. Restrain-O-Lite, it was called. Used by British cops to hold large numbers of prisoners after a riot; the stuff absorbed static electricity and gave it off when you moved—about a fourth of them had died in the restraints; were hanging there, rotting. Some had rotted free, slipped to the floor. The others were starved, bruised, cold, bleeding from the shackle cuts, drained of dignity.

At the end of the first book a rocker, Rickenharp, has taken the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Playing a wildly amplified guitar and singing rebellion, accompanied by the staccato of assault rifles and the basso percussion of mortar, he taunts the SA. They destroy the Arc, its environs, and its occupants, with a Jaegernaut--an enormous swastika-like metal wheel.

By the end of Eclipse Penumbra the score has been evened somewhat; the space colony at L5 has been taken by the technicki--the workers, and the SA has suffered losses, especially in North America, but it still has the upper hand in Europe. In the third act (Eclipse Penumbra), we meet Jerome-X, musician and video-hacker (a la Captain Midnight) as he prepares for a show in London.

"We backstage, now. Gimme a kiss." She crushed him to her, and he gave in. She broke it off herself, looking him in the eye, almost nose to nose. "You know de protocols?"

"I know the UNIX protocols. I know the systems call code to log on as a superuser. I know how to evoke the debug function. If they haven't changed the debug function."

"Dey probable haven't, 'cause dey use a rented system. High security, but rented. If dhey have changed it, fuck 'em, we'll log off and dey won't be able to trace it to an aug chip. I think de back door is still open on dis system--"

"Where'd you get it from?'

"De anarchist underground. Plateau subsystem bulletin board."

"Some of those Wolves'll give you fake codes just to get their rivals in trouble."

"Dese ain't Plateau Wolves, these are Plateau Rads. About de only people I met on the Plateau I trust. Dey got a guy used to be a hacker for SAISC till he found out what dey were into. He knows de system's back gates."

"The anarchist underground cooperates with the NR? You'd think they'd say fuck off. The NR wants to establish the old European republics. That's not very anarchist."

"Anarchists hate de Fascists worse den de Social Democrats, worse eben den de Republicists. Dey scared, like ever'body else out in de cold, boy. ..."

[later, out in the crowd ...]

They ordered vodka martinis and sat hunched together between two groups of sweating, almost-naked men giggling over cocaine fizzes. Advertisements blinked up the cocktail straws; taped music groaned like a machine about to break down. On the walls, videopaintings recreating scenes from medieval paintings of the Crucifixion and Resurrection flickered through sequence in doleful chiaroscuro; occasionally the images of Christ alternated with other figures, paintings by Paul Mavrides and other icons from the erstwhile post-acid House era; Timothy Leary ascending into heaven, riding a floppy disk like a flying saucer; William Burroughs and Laurie Anderson waltzing through a concentration camp while starveling camp victims played Strauss on orchestral instruments; Kotzwinkle shooting skull-shaped dice with William Gibson; Bob Black and the minimono star Calais chained to Stephen Hawking's wheelchair; the American guru Da Free John with an arm growing from his forehead, arm wrestling with an arm growing from the forehead of Rick Crandall; Robert Heinlein goose-stepping with Adolf Hitler and Le Pen; Rickenharp falling into the rubble of the collapsing Arc de Triomphe; Ivan Stang adding twentieth- century paper money to the flames under the stake on which a grinning J.R. "Bob" Dobbs is being burned alive; David Bowie eaten cannibalistically by a demonic horde of twenty-first century pop stars; Buddha making love to Mrs. Bester, the President of the United States.

And back to the dead but numinous body of the scourged Christ, his head in Mary Magdalene's lap.

[and now the show begins ...]

He was into the system. Jerome felt it before he saw it. He was in.

The computing work was done by the left brain -- and the camouflage by the right brain. The right brain was singing. Singing the chorus to "Six Kinds of Darkness," while the other part of his mind worked with the chip. The right lobe singing .ls1

Six kind of darkness, spilling down over me

Six kinds of darkness, sticky with energy

The left lobe hacking

London UNET: ID#4547q339.

Superuser: WATSON.

The left lobe of his brain working with the chip, which emitted a signal, interfaced with a powerful microcomputer hidden among the micalike layers of chips in the midi of Bone's synthesizer; Jerome-X seeing the Herald on the hallucinatory LCD screen of his mind's eye:

London UNET, ID #, date, assumed "superuser" name.


Scanning, at the root, for the branch of the system he needed.

Scanning for: Second Alliance International Security Corporation: Intelligence Security subdirectory ...

Watching from the audience, Patrick Barrabas remarked (and was unheard in the blare) that Jerome-X had a funny, contortionistic way of dancing as he sang. His eyes squeezed shut, his hands waving as if over typewriter keyboards. ... Not playing the "air guitar," but typing on the air keyboard. ...

Jerome was typing the commands out. Using a technique Bettina had taught him to implement more complex commands; seeing through his aug chip by radio trans to a powerful mainframe. Typing physically on a mental keyboard.

The chip fed him tactile illusions and read out his responses through its contact with parietal lobe, reading the input from the proprioceptive sensors -- sensory nerve terminals -- in the muscles, and kinesthetic sensors -- tactile nerves -- in the fingers: Jerome's movements translated into cybernetic commands. His rapport with the aug chip essentially creating a mental data-glove, a data-glove that materialized only in the "virtual reality" holography of consciousness.

As Jerome sang,

Darkness of the Arctic

Six months into the night

Darkness of the eclipse

forgetting of all light

Six kinds of darkness

Six I cannot tell ...

Finding his way through the darkness in the forest of data. Taking cuttings. Taking information. Planting something of his own ...

--John Shirley