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Only this

Mila stood before the holo-V. The fine-pulsed chimera of light and
electromagnetivity moved in the room: driven to us along the quantum
byways of the tower’s ENT lines.
“No,” she exclaimed, “it cannot be”. Her voice rasped sweetly.
“Viens,” she said. “Vite.”
I stepped from the balcony. The stained and scratched silicon door
closed quietly behind me.
“What is it,’ I asked.
“C’est incroyable, c’est vraiment incroyable,” she said.
“What is unbelievable?” I wanted to know.
The face of the n-Teller floated among images. It was a queer face:
too large and angular. A face as though made of equal parts fantasy
and despair. This was Global-Net’s anchor on reality. Its voice spoke in
post 7th-Republic French. Phrases of English and Chinese were locked
in. Mila touched my arm.
It was indeed unbelievable. The Confederacy had closed its borders.
All external bio-Passes, holo-Passes, space-Tru Passes, whether from
the eastern Atlantic zone, the western Atlantic zone or the Pacific zone
were to be invalidated. The Confederacy, the thirty-two states of the
former US, was in turmoil. ‘And,’ the n-Teller continued, ‘the NAU, the
North American Union of Canada, Alaska and the Seventeen has
appealed to the UN Security Council, to China and the Eastern Alliance
to guarantee the integrity of its borders - if necessary with military
action.’
I listened carefully. Followed the images. Mila voice-activated the C-
menu, pulled up a txt screen.
>At about 13.00, CMT, a group calling itself the Guerillas of Christ
for the 3rd Millennium seized power in the American Confederacy.
Armed with light laser weaponry, communication scrambling devices
and backed by renegade elements of the state’s Air, Space and PSY
Authority they took government complexes in Dallas and Florida. A
spokesman, calling himself Elijah the Avenger declared it to be a
glorious day. A new strength, a new discipline has been born. ‘It was,’
he continued ‘a movement toward security and righteousness.
Furthermore he called on citizens of other Global sectors to support
the actions. The Un Security Council has yet to comment. Beijing says
it is currently monitoring the situation<

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I sighed. Then began to laugh. Softly. Mila looked at me.
“Why,” she asked.
“Why what?” I said.
“Why are you laughing?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “It’s funny. The Confederacy out of
bounds. It’s simply funny.”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“So it’s funny.”
I looked at her.
“Just recently I was thinking of how things change. How what is up
suddenly becomes down but then it was down all the time. Our dreams
are transient. What we think of as real is an illusion. It’s a fear.”
She put her head against my shoulder. I felt the warmth of her
body. I ran my hand through her thick hair, savoring its texture. Then I
gently caressed the face I had come to know so well. She looked me in
the eye.
“What do you want to do,” she asked.
“I’m going to sleep. I want to sleep for a while.”
“Are you unwell,” she asked. “You have not been well today?”
I smiled.
“No. I just feel a little strange. As though something is about to
become clear. I cannot explain. I’m ok. I’ll sleep for a while.”
I stepped away from her. I walked toward the sleeproom, thinking of
the curtained, heavy darkness. Then I called back.
“When I wake lets go out. Lets go to the Old Sector.”

When I woke it was evening. A warm, golden light suffused the


doorway. I thought of how the long curved windows of the balcony
would be glowing with the setting sun.
I lay for a moment, thoughts running through my mind.

I had not worked in fourteen days. Now there was a story. I would
be needed to retrieve the transcripts from Visio-France-14, Global-
Net’s local Service-Node. Then begin preparation for porting to the
databanks of the EuTel-Sat. Summarize them in English before they
went to the Sino-sector where they would be rendered into Cantonese
and Mandarin for txt-stream. Still there was more than work on my
mind. There was Mila: my dreams, waking and sleeping.

I thought of when I first met Mila. It was winter in San Sebastien.


That was a bleak period. Drifting as I was want to do. Not sure how
much credit I still had: a data-Translator and vagrant.

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Mila was sitting in a nutri-Bar. The décor was twentieth- style. There
was music coming from somewhere. Real sound, an alto saxophone
and a guitar, a jazz-blues maybe. Silvery notes floated over a dreamy
accompaniment. Melancholy too: the ache of the old immigrant cities
and ports. Before we were all immigrants
She did not turn around. She sat in a nylon rain-breaker and high-
neck. Her copper wave of hair and pale skin were soft under the
ambient light. It was only when I was drinking my juice and staring at
the maroon warmth of the wine I was aware she was talking to me. She
spoke in Russian, which I did not understand. So I asked her to speak
in English or French and heard the Slavic weave of her voice for the
first time. Fingering a scratched looking p-C and asking if I knew the
upload pre-fix for somewhere I had never heard of. I did not and
shrugged. There was an active fict-Tab on the bar before her. She had
been reading.

We walked around the coast and left the town. Up across a


headland hanging over a choppy sea, darkened by grey and amber
sky. The cloud was low and in places broken.
I was dressed in a zip-over and mandarin jacket - real leather – a
rarity I had picked up second hand. Winter over-pulls, a fake-fur hat
and travel boots kept me warm. Mila had wrapped a heavy woollen
coat over her rain-breaker.
In the wildness of the coast, the blown, leafless trees some
connection was made. We walked against the wind and then with the
wind. Climbing as though into the pale scattered sunlight. Then coming
back to the town. Finding a small harbour south of the seafront,
deserted and wave sprayed. We sat and listened to the waves and
watched the sun set: red and slow.

In the old-world Pensione I removed my jacket and sweater and


searched my travelbag.
I found what I was looking for: a sealed pack of pre-Rolls, pure and
sweet from the Afghan valleys. They were a gift from a friend in
Copenhagen. Rare, with the original Van Schengen stamp on their
white pure-paper stems, an old fashioned sailing ship and sun.

We smoked slowly. Sitting next to each other, our backs to the bed.
We looked through the long balcony windows. Not voice activated
these sea-blown, sun-beaten antiques of the twentieth. No
photoelectric cells to change transparency, to re-polarise. No silicone.
There was just the long and shadowed street and the juxtaposition of
old and new. In the distance a promenade with its bars and ENT
centres burning tungsten. Then there was the sea, dark and
mysterious as it has always been.

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We became silent. I felt her next to me. I turned and saw the grey of
her eyes, dark. I put my hand to her face, touched it as though I were a
blind man re-finding the contours of long-lost love. I felt her hand on
the back of my neck. She pulled me to her and our foreheads touched.
And we remained, in the furrow of that moment, in that place of
meeting. Breathing until the tenderness changed and became desire,
until I felt a longing within me. It burned up and took me. Took her,
took the street, took the night.
We made love on the bed. With the intensity of strangers who have
found themselves at some unexpected juxtaposition of time and
imagine they may have always know one another. With candour,
affection, the longing only one human can know for another.
Later I lay awake as she slept, her breathing even. Her face was fine
in the night-light. I felt warm and remembered the salty taste of her
skin on my tongue. Through the window the sky was clear and full of
stars. Moonlight threw the railings of the balcony, the roofs into relief.
Everything was indigo with a pale sheen.

To get to the Old-Sector we needed to take the m-Rail. The station


could be reached by community turbo-Lift. Because most sectors of our
city-tower were off-limits to any with public-sector status we had to
activate our bio-Passes. This ensured we did not attempt to leave the
lift at halts where our access was restricted: perhaps seventy percent.

The station was empty but for Security-staff. The air smelt stale and
of electrical discharge. There was the almost plastic heat of fibre-optics
and rail hardware. Silicone and titanium and dust mixed with those
very human smells; perfume, sweat, urine, food.

Mila leaned against me. I smiled. She buried her face in my jacket.
And let out a sigh. Over her shoulder I noticed a station-marshal
watching us. His black one-piece and visor-protected face gave him a
somewhat hybrid air: half-human, half-insect. I saw that the gel-display
on his hand-held was lit, meaning it was actional. The display band
above his visor shimmered so he was a live-feed to his unit-cell.
I whispered to Mila.
“Don’t turn too quick but I think a security-marshal is sizing you up.
Maybe he has mistaken you for a deranged cy-user or . . .”
Mila turned, as I knew she would. She stared directly at the station-
marshal. He looked away, quickly, pretending to examine the timetable
shimmering above the rail. Then he walked further up the platform.
“Perhaps he is an old friend,” I said to Mila.

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She flashed an angry smile then raised her eyebrows, gave a little
shrug.
“Perhaps he is,” she answered. “More likely he is simply bored.
Strutting around a station all day, riding the m-Rail. Looking for trouble
but not wishing to find it.”

The train approached the station: the direct-banlieue Evreux to


Paris service. It would stop only at Mantes and St Germain before
terminating in Paris-Les Halles. We sensed its rush through the tunnel.
Pushing the dust and scents of the spring night air before it.
Swallowing the kilometres like a sleek predatory fish.

We went through to Les Halles. I wanted to walk, to stroll through


the streets. The Meknez and Cadiz ports were open which meant
access to St Michel and the Left-Bank was not restricted.
“Lets walk,” I appealed to Mila.
Mila did not always like to walk. She preferred to take the t-Bahn.
Perhaps because she had unlimited travel-time, was always flitting
about the Parisian t-sectors, she considered it a natural way to move.
She worked for a skinartist on the Rue St Honoré. Officially she was
named his ‘colour-coordinator’.
Mila could make me laugh with her mimicry. She would do the skin-
artist’s grand entrance at a viewing, or the launch of a new holo-V
installment. She would do him, sweeping in, his face a study in
sensitivity and beatitude, drug induced of course. On his arm would be
his ‘guru’, a small, docile man from Kolkatta. Or she would stagger and
mime him being bundled into his private transport after one wine too
many. Its black and sleek shape hovering just above the street, its
blast-proof door sliding shut to conceal him from the world. Until Mila
was needed, the following morning, afternoon or weekend

“I want to walk,” I said to Mila. “The night is clear. It’s spring. I love
the newness of spring.”
There was a full moon. It came up in the domes. Multiple moons,
drifting across the skyline. They shimmered and broke among curves
and lines. Hiding then revealing themselves again in an arc. They were
like lost children asking to be noticed.
“You know,” I said to Mila, “spring makes me realise how dark the
body becomes. Spring opens a nerve. Each spring I feel I am stepping
out of myself again. I am stepping into a new self. Only each new self
is part of some other self I have yet to touch.”
I looked at Mila. Sometimes she ignored me when I talked like this. I
could smell her perfume. It mixed with the scent of food, of coriander
and garlic from nearby restaurants. Suddenly I wanted to be alone.
“Mila,” I said. “I want to walk alone for a bit.

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She stopped. Then frowned. She gave her face of ‘I don’t care but I
really do care and I won’t let you see it’: the struggle for maturity in a
36-year-old body. Cursed with the weight of an over-defined society.
“Where will you go?”
“I don’t know. I just want to walk.”
She was already checking her p-C, pulling it from underneath her
linen-white wrap-around.
“I have to get some clothes,” she said. There’s an Uzbek designer-
display on the Place St Andre-des-Arts. . .opens only nights. . .”
“Meet me at the river, the steps. You know where. Ninety-five
minutes,” I called after her.

Mila knew me by now. She had learned of my sudden moods. When


it seemed things reversed. What was inside became out. I withdrew
and crossed a strange river under a leaden sky. It was a scene from an
old Flemish painting. Was that Charon waiting by the banks of the
Styx?
I came out onto the Boulevard Sebastopol. The t-bahn was busy.
The PR-status cars cruised the centre lane. By the ped-lanes, PUs
waited. They were colourful, painted in wild designs. North-African
flourishes, Sanskrit text and the ever-present ‘publicité’ inlays: splicing
commercial messages with updates on celebrity, sports and our
leaders.
I liked this part of the city. The strange old facades of the buildings
gave atmosphere. Yes they were shadowed by the once radical Centre
Beaubourg; now shadowed itself by the Centre Chinoise and the Visio-
France Sat tower. Still they spoke of the past, of time as a continuum
not spectacle.
I walked until I reached the Rivoli. I turned right and sauntered.
Taking in the sounds, the smells, the spring night, musty and warm.
I felt relaxed suddenly. As though whatever was unclear was about
to become clear. I reached the Place des Pyramides. The trees of the
Tuileries stood quiet and shadowed. I thought of the coolness and
darkness beneath them. Lights reflected from the covered Quai de
Louvre.
Where the old buildings ended and the gardens began there was an
ENT node. It led to the Carrousel. As was customary, a titanium
display-tree hung with tiny screens showed what was available.
Everything from a casino, an eros-centre to the art of the museums
was on offer.
A crowd stood arguing. They were an assortment of people. Old and
young, different skin types, sectors east and west. A thin man faced an
elderly Chinese. The thin man was dressed in a long beige robe. His
voice was electro-treated. The Chinese wore the typical dress of an

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Eastern official, a mix of traditional clothing and western business
attire.
“But brother,” quavered the thin man, gesturing dramatically with
his arm, “yours is a spirituality compromised with economics. Our
beliefs are unconstrained. We do not look on the business of life with
longing. We find no pleasure in the body. It is in the ancient cosmic
powers we find our meaning.”
I had heard this before. The thin man was a New Worlder. New
World was an unusual sect from the Pacific zone. Once they had been
popular but were in decline. This was perhaps due to a near fifty year
wait on a spacecraft they claimed always to be imminent: but never
arrived.
I watched as the Chinese bowed. He was probably happy to
concede the point. It was a Daoist concept to accept the wisdom of
difference. But there was a sudden cry from the crowd. A strange,
tattered figure stepped forward, dressed in a workman’s one-piece.
Cheap sunglasses covered his eyes. His French was fluent though full
of the broadness of North American English.
“No,” he cried. “There is only one who can deliver us.”
Eyes turned on him.
“Listen, listen,” he shouted. “Ignore these fools. They speak only
lies. Today those who would bring us truth seized power in the
Confederacy. Comrades the soldiers of Christ are marching. Their
victory will be swift. Their vengeance mighty.”
A voice murmured from the crowd.
“Vas-te-faire foutre Ámericain...!”
The strange man continued.
“Brothers, sisters. Listen. Take the Lord Jesus Christ for your leader
now. Turn to him. March with the guerillas of righteousness. Be on the
side of good. Reclaim the millennium for He who is the Way. He who is
the Truth and the Life. The powers of the eastern Satan will wane.
Death to them.”
He pulled the sunglasses from his face and threw them to the
ground. There was something wild in his eyes. An intensity. The posed
sanctity of a 15th century painting. I backed away. The crowd became
uneasy. The young man brought his arms down, abruptly. An older
couple near to me started and turned to go. Yet his movements were
quick. With a sleight of hand unexpected, he pulled a small metallic
device from his breast pocket. He twisted it and looked into the air
above him.
“I will die for the Lord,” he proclaimed.
It was clear what he held. A micro-mine. There were small, stifled
cries now, anxious exclamations. The New Worlder stepped back. The
Chinese appeared frozen. I saw a Security Marshall, from the ENT
node, begin to walk toward the crowd. The man in the work-suit was
quick. He opened his mouth and swallowed.

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I knew micro-mines were primed within ninety seconds. After that
any significant movement would cause detonation.
He stood still: this strange man in his work suit. Slowly, very slowly
he raised his arms until he stood in a cross-like position. A terrible
smile crossed his face.
“Lord, lord,” he cried out, his voice breaking, tears welling into his
eyes. “I stand here for you. I shall stand here always for you. My
saviour. My commander. I will be your foot-soldier in this city of
darkness. In this city of sin . . . I . .I . .I am ready to shed my blood.”
Even as he breathed in, as he prepared to speak again, the Marshall
ran. Mistaking perhaps the cries of ‘no’ from the listeners, their
strangled shouts, their scattering, as an indication the man held a
weapon. Then he dived.
There was a thud and a ripping sound. The Marshall’s body covered
the man. For a moment they were complete. Then there was a hole in
the Marshall’s back. Pieces of flesh and bone and blood flew. I saw the
American’s legs twitching. Then stop. The upper part of his body was
shattered. The New Worlder lay unconscious, his beige robe, stained
red. The Chinese swayed on his knees, staring in horror at his flesh-
spattered body. Some staggered away. Others just stood stunned and
silent. A few were injured. The security-Marshall had cushioned the
blast.
I watched for a moment. As though I were outside myself. I was too
shocked to move. I was not hurt. There were no body parts or blood on
my clothing.
From the corner of my eye I saw a street-Marshall arrive. With his
visor down, his helmet and his body armour already activated, I knew
he would have called in his unit-cell.
I turned and pushed back quickly through the crowd. I began to
walk up the Rivoli: the musky spring air seemed suddenly deadened
with burnt flesh and sirens. The t-bahn was rapidly clearing its centre
lane.
I stopped under the arches near the Place Chatelet: and retched. I
was shaking.

Mila was waiting where we had arranged. She stood by the river,
under the shadow of Notre-Dame. The Cathedral was silent. Its dark
walls muted the light.
I stopped. I wanted just to look at Mila for a moment. I wanted to
look at her leaning over the water’s edge, her copper hair and pale
skin softer in the moonlight. Then I called.
“Mila.”
She turned and smiled.

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I suddenly felt weak. I walked forward, taking the steps slowly, my
feet echoing off worn stone.
“What is it,” she asked. “What is happening? I heard sirens. My p-C
has gone dead.”
“I was there,” I said. “I saw it. It was one of those psy-terror acts.
Only it went wrong.”
Her face became anxious. Her eyes shadowed.
“Where?”
“On the Rivoli. Across from the Pyramides. Before an ENT node. It’s
the third this month. The third in the Old Sector.”
I put out my arm and pulled her to me. Until I could smell her
warmth, sense her concern. I buried my head in her shoulder.
“Tell me,” she said.
The water pushed against the stone embankment. It was green and
dank and ancient.
“I don’t know, I said. “I don’t know. It was so casual. So easy. I
mean, the violence. It happened and then was done.

We found a bench. Now the sirens had ceased. The city was finding
itself again. Its life was returning. The activity of streets and buildings
and traffic and human beings took up. The imperfect world we needed
to continue in. The sky was spring-clear. Stars shone through the
moon’s penumbra.
I watched Mila stare into the water. Her eyes moved with its flow to
the stone banks to the shadowed bridges. I saw the laugh lines around
her eyes, the deepening of her features with time. Small changes
noticed that only being with someone could bring.
“Do you remember the night in San Sebastien?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
I waited. She moved, she uncrossed her legs, placed her feet at an
angle to mine.
“I remember the sea, the coast, the wind-blown trees, the lights like
diamonds on the promenade.”
She paused. She sat forward. Her face was lifted to the moon, to the
stars, the city, as though they were simply dreams of worlds within
her.
“I remember how I woke and you were warm against me. Then I
slept and dreamed as I hadn’t dreamed for a long time.”
She turned.
Why do you ask?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I was just wondering.”
She took my hand. Slipped her fingers through mine and wound
them there. Then leaned close to me.

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Copyright © Peter Millington. October 2005

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