This guy comes up the block in a silver jumpsuit, and he’s thinking, I could move to one of those LaGrange orbitals. Plenty of jobs up there, and all kinds of relocation bonuses…
Another guy, older, coming the other way in a plaid jacket that totally clashes with the tattoo on his face, is remembering the cliffhanger ending from last night’s episode of /Urges/, playing it over and over in his mind. He seems to be more interested in the cutting remark that Lola just made to Charles, and less in the way the elevator is falling out of control.
A woman on the expresswalk is going over what she needs to do to clinch the Callazon deal — if she drops the renewal price by 3% and moves the upgrade window from five months to four… Biv in sales owes her a favor anyway. And if she lands this one, Robertson will have to promote her. He’ll have to, no matter what he thinks about clones — the bigot.
There’s silver jumpsuit guy again, going the other way, thinking: …or one of the undersea domes, lots of jobs there, too. And they have great schools — now that I’m pregnant, I can’t just think about myself. I’m sure I’ll get used to the damp eventually. They say it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as it really is…
A woman passes by, wondering if she should stop off at this coffee shop or wait and just grab a cup from the machine in the lobby at the office, which tastes as good, but the foam’s always a little flat. She doesn’t stop.
A man with one of those biofeedback jackets glides by, mellow and smug. He’s thinking, yeah, it was expensive, but it looks just like my own hair, and with the foil lining, I don’t have to worry about those damn headhoppers anymore. My thoughts are my own!
Latte nearly comes out of my nose at that one. Like anyone cares what he gets up to when he goes virtual, even if he is stealing company linktime to do it. And I hope his real hair didn’t look like that.
You’re right, we should move on; we’ve been here like forty-five minutes. Even though nobody’s noticed, they might.
Wait — here comes that guy in the jumpsuit again.
There’s still a little behind-the-scenes turbulence here at the cabal in the aftermath of a server migration. (Which would be why you’re seeing Alex’s story for a second day.) Please bear with us for another day or two while thing settle down.
I’ve heard so many comments about The Glass Flames
in past months, all opinion without substance: “so strange, so sexy, you must see it.” But my curiosity eventually sent me to the marketplaces where homemade films are sold on DVDs with purple backs.
The opening scene is of a prostitute lying on her back, wearing only jewellery. The camera is from the viewpoint of the person having sex with her, who must be crouching. This continues long enough for me to notice small, red and orange pieces of glass tied into her black hair. The glass flames of the title? And there is a word tangled in jewels around her throat.
After she has come, the scene changes: a drabby block of flats with the title painted on the side. ‘this is a true story’ appears in small letters under the title. (I love fake true stories.)
More instances of the word. I still can’t read it.
The story unfolds: a break-up, a mutual turn to prostitutes, except it’s always the same one. When the girl visits her, they use a two-way glass dildo with small, smooth-tipped flames sculpted up its sides.
Why this repetition of images? A pretence at heat? Hot and fragile at once?
Halfway through the film, I’m thinking that the quality of the film-work speaks of webcams and cameras fastened to necklaces: low quality visuals, shaky camera movements, poor focus. And the dialogue ranges from brilliant to the banality of everyday life.
“I like fire,” she says during one sex scene, and it must be a trick of light but it looks like there’s a brief flame in her hair.
No wonder so many people watch this film: it’s half sex.
Near the ending. She’s masturbating to a camera (on a shelf?). Someone bangs on the door, over and over, shouts in a foreign language. She looks frightened.
She takes the glass flames from her hair and arranges them in a circle around her bed. They turn into fire. (This bit can’t be real.)
“My name is,” she whispers to the camera, and the repeated word comes into focus when spoken: a strange mess of sounds, ‘cz’ and ‘kh’ and ‘fl’, and I can’t say it properly.
She smiles as the flames burn brighter, higher, consuming her bed. Shouts, “I’m running away!”
The final scene: a fireman enters the room and finds no body, only the glass flames and a glass woman-shape, completely hollow.
During the credits, there are photographs: the flames on sale in a charity shop, the hollow woman-shape on display in a gallery, an orange-winged bird perched on a wall. (The bird, like the glass turned to flame, is a marvellous piece of visual fakery, made to seem more real by the lack of CGI/illusion elsewhere in the film.)
Marcus hiked out before dawn, over snow with just enough ice on top that it held his weight for nearly a second before he crunched through. He got the robotic crow into the tree well before dawn.
The flock of real crows came up from the river while the sky was still predawn pink, and alighted in the next tree over. The robot issued its preliminary croak. Marcus held his breath for the flock’s response. It never came — something spooked the birds. Wings slapping like applause, they disappeared into the forest dark.
Marcus swore and keyed “recall” on the control fob. The robot bird fluttered to his feet and went still. The cold metal stuck to his gloves as he put it back in the padded bag.
He walked out by way of Highway 212 — a longer, but easier route. He had time. Of all Halverson’s raven trials, the only ones that had worked had worked on the first encounter between wild birds and the robot mimic. Marcus hadn’t had a successful integration yet, on any encounter. He’d have to find a new flock, maybe nearer to Agriville, where there was more of a farm and forest mix… He was trotting along the on the frozen gravel shoulder when the beep of a car horn interrupted his thoughts.
A small car pulled alongside, and a frosted window purred down. The driver leaned across the empty passenger seat. He shouted, even though the engine only murmured softly, “I can drop you somewhere!”
“Sure,” said Marcus, and he climbed in.
The driver was friendly enough, and said his name was Larry. “What are you doing way out here,” he said, “and so early?”
“Research,” said Marcus. “Ornithology.” He wrestled his notebook from his back pocket to jot some notes while he still remembered details of the non-encounter.
Larry nodded sleepily; sipped a styrofoam cup of coffee. “I’m meeting some folks for breakfast in Winslip,” he said. “Denny’s.” Another sip. “Join us if you want.”
He sipped again, the exact same pursing of the lips, a forward tilt of the head to the exact same angle as the last sip. The kind of thing Marcus would never have noticed if he hadn’t spent the last eight months trying to program that kind of uncanny nearly-lifelike quality out of the crow.
“Sure,” said Marcus. “Breakfast sounds good.” He could take notes later.
John knew them all: the giant grasshopper, the amoeba with floating brains, the child-sized ones with big heads and even bigger eyes. This one looked like a lobster with the head of a horse; no more or less bizarre than many of the others. It must have been the expression. All the rest, the ones with faces anyway, smiled all the time.
The horse lobster kicked a rusty can out of its way and squatted, knees far above its head. “Why do you do it?”
“Excuse me?” John took a swig of Magic Shake. All of a sudden he didn’t want it, and spat into the fire, which hissed and flared green.
HL waved its arm, as if to take in everything around them: the desolate camp, the ruins of Miami, the ruins of the whole human race.
John raised his bottle. “Here’s to rescue from ourselves. Perfect nutrition, a taste you can neither become addicted to nor tired of, something in the air I suppose that vastly reduces human fertility, and our 10,000-year effort to wipe ourselves out is stymied. Our rescuers could have demanded anything, but instead they demand nothing. Because they demand nothing, we produce nothing. So the question, ‘Is Nothing sacred?’ has been answered in the affirmative.” He threw the bottle into the fire, with another fluorescent emerald response.
“Your species is bisexual,” the creature said. “You should have a mate. Instead, relieved of the threat of violence or want, you have practically nothing. Why? What happened to the civilization that had almost made it to the stars?”
“I had a partner. Although I think you mean that my species has two genders. Bisexual means something different. I had a partner. He’s gone. He couldn’t take freedom. Couldn’t cope like I can.”
The HL seemed to nod. “Those busybodies go everywhere, bring their technology, makes everything so easy. What it doesn’t do is give you access to the things they don’t know. The places you could contribute. There are such places. There are such things. My group tries to warn young races to stay away from that debilitating drug.” HL pointed at the fire, where the plastic bottle stubbornly refused to burn or melt.
“Similar things happened when human cultures met. We should have known. So. How long will it take to recover from this mess?”
“It’s a process,” HL said.