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The story of a boy, glossy headshot perfect and clean and lit, precise like a clone, rendered mythical. He's the memories you wish you had, to have known him or to have been him, but it's somehow too late. Max is a Tarot card. He's been told all the stories about boys, the fatherless boys, the prodigies, the first loves. So he can't get out easy. He'll have to pull off something. Young Max, like a home movie or a documentary. It looks like there's nectar beading in the corners of his eyes, on his forehead, when he's older, the way he looks you can see backwards and forwards in his time. It's sweat in candlelight. He looks too perfect, people have to back away. The stories of boys come to save the world. The way children point out and forgive and erase flaws.

Everything Max can do already at the age of twelve. Already immunized and addicted. More doctors sliding over the background like cut-outs. Max has had to identify with the cartoonishly large, slug-shouldered patient as a defensive mechanism. Already demonstrating the psi that will one day make him famous and anomalous.

At this point, Max younger and older than his age in the way a rigid context would precipitate, as he walks or is led down the halls, dusty sunlight amber commercial breaks between the episodes of brilliant laboratory white or cerulean or pink or grass, there is no above and no below, there is only Max.


"Maximillian." The nurse, her accented voice like it's from a movie trailer.

"Yes?" She leans down closer to him, he can smell her, flowers, and passes him a folded piece of paper almost covertly. These kinds of almosts are exactly the basis of Max's trajectories, Max the new hero. She whispers that it's from one of the girls in West Building, but he can't know for sure if she's telling the truth, maybe she wrote the words 'I love you' herself, the penmanship is clean and precise, maybe medicinal. These kinds of formative encounters, accruing like the excuses or explanations we desire, act as gateways for young Max to be contacted by the spirit world. Some of the patients and staff like Max, some dislike and others are skeptical, and is he aware of them enough and at the right times?

There is no way this is going to be easy for Max. It's an agreement that got made in the century before his. When they invented the needles plunging like kingfishers into Max's arms and legs and buttocks. And he dreams of them in his eyes, emerging tip-first from his eyes. Coming to in a sweat and calling for his mother, then waking up - tonight he's in the dormitory - and understanding that it was only what the doctor calls a 'memory'. He demonstrates some of his charming initiative, the kind of thing to get him noticed, and studies the sounds of the others' breathing. That's Max, learning to go the places he'll go.

Over breakfast one of the bullies, one of the bullies from the stories, is making fun of everything the big fat cartoony patient says. And Max is associated in some way, because of some mingling of archetypes, as Max chose consciously or not, and that the bully-character can detect. Max pretends he is an android to avoid being hurt by the comments. The android-identity lends him the calculating insight that one of the doctors may be behind this abuse, that it could be medicine.

"Why Max," the guy says just then, his mouth wet with cereal, "you've got everything to be afraid of."

Max tilts his head. The sound of a flashbulb snapping, is how it feels, these moments of evolution.

"Max," he says. "It's like you can never have the one woman you truly love. That she's dead."

Young kid only but Max's thoughts move like a flock of birds in flight and he reaches the conclusion, an inevitable design like an urban skyline, that the doctor is planning to murder the girl who sent him the note.

The way he takes the time to do things properly, as if he already senses the way things will turn out. All the running and improvising and compromising he'll do, so play while you can. Max manufactures etiquette for the doing of things. The bed must be made before he can lay down to read. The long-sleeved white shirt is for certain times, indoors mostly, when events are at all organized. And the short-sleeved white shirt is for feigning surprise, the appearance of the impromptu or the busy, or for labor or sport. Anything recorded about Max are only ever examples from much longer lists. Some doctors consider them examples of disorders, while others vaguely remember times when they were Max's age reading passages from books about different religions, the queasy, genital feelings. Max passes the spirits on. Visiting day, never for Max's building, Star Building, and the doctors pass the spirits to outsiders. So in a creepy, menacing way Max's work has already begun.

Surveillance wanes on such days, the air and emotion in Star Building feels like a foot that's gone to sleep. Wake-up's after dinner, pins and more needles. Max has until then to discover if the girl is dead or not. If we wish hard enough Max can do anything.

This is him pre-kung fu remember, but it seems stealth comes naturally to the boy, and there's always the possibly of genetic modification. The ways in which Max has been designed are many. Small and nimble in the hallways of West Building, recalling the voices of the oldest patients in the base of his spine, tales about an order to the Buildings, a pattern that, if unlocked by visiting them in sequence, will lead to the exit.

All the doors are different here and all the rooms are different. And the smells are different and soft and make Max aware of his skin. Is this diversity something Star Building will one day evolve into? Or are these mutations already fossilized and only historical, the future of all the Buildings progressing, futile, towards the Victorian space-station cathedral sterility of Max's home?

Max, please enjoy the stealth, the freedom, except he's intent, playing with the tool intention, still years away from the other magicians showing him the tool's secret compartments. Focused on finding and saving the girl. Finding and being saved by the girl.

The poster on her wall is what makes Max learn that this is her room. All the girls are in the Visiting Hall. The girl who lives in this room must be the one who sent him the note. Another beginning of the mysteries of how things become. He looks wide-eyed at the poster. It's implanting deep into his brain. Causing him to cry a hundred times in the future, but he won't remember or can't understand. Days later when she is still alive, passing him on the sports field with a fumbled smile, and all the initiations with her to follow, it will be the poster that is the bullet and the moment and the wound.

Announcing the release of the latest installments of the anime series. The four characters in stylish body-armor-meets-nightclub-fashion, their wide eyes and colored hair, their exaggerated promise-of-martial-arts posture and baroque not-tech, not-organic, third-path gear.

AEON TRIUMPH GUN MESSIAHS
Birthing the world in time
is our mission
and to enjoy.
These Are The Heroes Now!

It is quite simply the greatest thing young Max has ever seen. Event; the pattern iterates.

After Max has told you this story and the music and the sweat of the bar return, gentle fade-in as if from commercial break, he smiles, shy and mundane now, like your perception of your bedroom after you've returned from trance or woken from a dream, the terror of continuity asserted, and he says:

"An angel gives us each three words before we leave the womb. I was told once."

The sounds of the bar, the bartender you flirted with, the urge to piss become an opaque spider-web around the edges of perception. The present is transmutating potential into history - our chance to really get to know Max is fading, a countdown echoing in the spaceship corridors, venting steam, a race to the escape pods, the fate of secondary characters looming.

"I know what yours were," says the other person at the table, who you came with. You resent their attentiveness towards Max then envy it. You have your own ideas anyway, about how this is about genesis, how he is using, unconciously by the look of him, Neo-Linguistic Programming to make you wonder about your own events. "'Paranoia, cartoons, teleology'."

"No," Max says, glancing behind him, maybe making eye contact. "'To be continued'."


*

Jackie only draws pictures when she is sad, never to celebrate, happiness reserved only for the imagined day she falls in love. And she likes euro-dance music, songs so epic she says, making her feel like she's in a Japanese cartoon, opening credits softly burning over images of heroes and dire moments, making her feel like she could drive forever. She would meet him on this journey, a sweet and comic moment at a truckstop, hours of conversation as the sky darkens and lightens, the whole atmosphere a phoenix, wings unfolding from the ashes in her stomach, the oven of solitude. And their words are like hands gently gathering the ash and somehow transforming it into charcoal for her to draw with, illustrations sharp and clear like diamonds. The night they would spend talking in the truck stop passes like geological time. Jackie opts for longing instead of anger or sarcasm because she believes that longing can, if done correctly, summon futures while the others chase them away or ignore them. Jackie is a perfect teenager and when she meets Max he destroys her like a plague.

High school is Max's great opportunity to luxuriate in stereotypes, but he's so distracted, so easily distracted by all the incoming messages. From his dreams, lyrics of songs, voices in hallways, voices in two or three of his minds. A disconnectedness that promises so much for the likes of Jackie, her eyes moving between her science text book and his shoulders hunched tightly, on that first day he joins the class. His awkwardness in the new school, this girl's crush on him, is as normal as things will ever be for Max. His destiny is a kind of terrorism.

When they finally do talk at the party Jackie can hear children laughing and dancing by firelight, an exchange dark and archaic, and she is frightened but so insistent that she assures herself later that his failure to be exactly is proof that he is absolutely. She wants his love so bad, she is so ready and wet for love, wants it like his cock inside her. The doom of her desire is already clear in that hollowness she feels after masturbating about Max, the party shifting into a truck stop and a bloody howling sacrifice. Jackie calls him the next day, terrified and out of control deep down in her cells, voice cool and soft. Romance has become persistence.

"I had a great time talking with you at the party," she says, feeling sure in the way sickness is sure, mistaking inevitability for confidence.

"Yeah," says Max. "You're... Well, I've never really met anyone like you before." He could be lying. It's clear every scenario Max will encounter in high school has been calculated and imprinted somewhere in his minds - he's already met Jackie and tried to fall for her and broken her heart - but if he doesn't understand this, if he can't articulate the knowledge, can he be accused of being false? Max has always been and will always be an experiment.
   
Jackie in pursuit. "Yeah, you're totally different but at the same time I feel like I can totally relate to you. Like I understand you. I want to know you. To learn your stories. Where you came from. What you want."

Max finds there is only silence in him. And this begins or marks the first sighting of one of his principal curses; meeting the sound of others with silence. And one day soon he will learn of the other curse, a conjoined twin in the womb of him; a raging, burning need for the sound of others when he is alone with the silence of himself.

This repeats and repeats, Jackie's sound like a song becoming static and Max's silences until after weeks or months her only sound is sobbing and his is still the same strange and violent quiet.

"But... But we want the same thing!" she finally yells, back amidst the trees where they first snuck away from the party, a grand and vain gesture. She has become a zombie feeding on the corpse of them.
   
He hears one of the voices inside him, perhaps one of the doctor's: "But what you want is not each other."

Crying again she says, "Max, don't you see? The world is dissolving around us. We could save each other. There's all this weird weather, and wars, and conspiracies and paranormal shit. We could... We could..." And it's all true, everything she says, but somehow they don't.

This account appears folded neatly inside a brown featureless envelope that smells vaguely of flowers. _________ finds it in his mailbox the day after his meeting with Max. He doesn't tell Shannon.

Max reappears almost exactly when he says he would with no indication, no clue regarding the envelope. The way the mystery surrounds him, a thousand springtimes of possibilities, and _________ begins to see the way of him. His perpetual motion at rest, like water forever in search of the lowest ground. So clearly the envelope and its account are part of an agenda, be it the government's, Max's, or powers' stranger still. Shannon and _________ walk with him down by the docks, masts like antennae, either radio or insect, and Max the ground between these two figures, the two possible metaphors, the two people. Shannon asks him whether he ever went to school, if he graduated, the question all part of the jigsaw puzzle synchronicity or conspiracy. _________ briefly mourns the loss of trust for his partner and then it is gone.

"Right at the end of high school," Max says, looking at the ships like they are toys. "I got sick."

Max is taken in by a group of artists, as if without a sun in this modern world they draw in the moon of him to balance their orbits. He reads their minds constantly, no different than an animal developing camoflagued colouring. This is when the first stories are written about Max that aren't diagnoses; the machine-ness of Max enough to other him among them, he becomes subject rather than peer.

On the tattered couch, legs crossed, disconnected like he's on a film set. Helena is saying, practiced gentleness, "Your fiction, Max, and your drawings are inferior because you live in too many worlds at once."

From another angle Max is shedding these paintings of him, these poems about him, these versions of himself, like scales. Excreting them through the hands of Helena and Timothy Gallows and Angela. And in return for their aid, their complicity in Max's colonization of the culture, they gain access to a friend who speaks in tongues when he sleeps, who exchanges meaningful glances with strangers, who so desperately needs them to take care of him when the sickness starts.

That's when he leaves though, when he walks away from Helena and Tim and Angela, and from   ______ and Shannon, and from Jackie, right when it's about to happen.

*


Laying on the ground, grey paralysis in him, grey morning and stormy sky, and the man moves into the periphery, his fingers moving like striking a match, his face obscure, covered by a smudge, a crack like broken glass across my vision, or maybe the air itself has been damaged. I try to relax past the terror, the forever that stretches, an endless rack where here I am unmoving and threatened, unable to beg or to return. The small part of me that will not miss the other things, the effort to relax into it, a death yoga, but then I return. A mast on the horizon the memory of it, dropping, diminishing, a hybrid of memory and horizon.

I walk slowly past the places where I hold her, soft albino embrace, past the train-tracks, the slotted and slatted measure of what comes next, what comes when I'm out of this bed. Step fully-formed, almost like there's nothing missing, barely any sense of the pieces stretched and scattered elsewhere. I almost can't even smell them, or when I hear them I can still but they sound different. Always endless sleight of hand. Always returning and convinced it was all just a dream, and always leaving again whenever a door opens, or a rabbit scampers across the tracks, or a song comes up into the speakers from a film that you wanted do much more than what comes next.

Today I'll go out into the newest sun, the way the streets move all around me. Today I'll devise new strategies for leaving. Like playing games, and even though so much is coming true, dreams slotting into packages with assembly line precision and dispersing planet-wide, so many things I imagined are. Even though, I'll still think about being somewhere else. It's a function, could be, it could be my function in the super-organism, it could be the blessing and the curse, it could be destiny, the way I've always sort of known it, the way it would turn out, but perhaps I've just chosen it, but if I can't find the moment, then maybe it is a god after all or might as well be.

This is Max after he's been brainwashed.

I spend my off hours writing this journal where I describe everything that happens to me in the format of a TV script.

INT. Max's apartment. Max is sitting in front of his laptop, typing. Music is playing from the speakers plugged into the computer.

MAX (VO)
I spend my off hours writing this journal where I describe everything that happens to me in the format of a comicbook script.

PANEL ONE. A shot of Max from behind, sitting with his shoulders hunched.

PANEL TWO. We see over Max's shoulder; he's typing on a laptop.

PANEL THREE. A close-up of Max's eyes, looking intent.

PANEL FOUR. A close-up of Max's fingers striking keys.

PANEL FIVE. Same shot as panel one.

CAPTION: I spend my off hours writing this journal where I describe everything that happens to me in the format of a short story.

PANEL SIX. A close-up of the computer screen.

TEXT ONSCREEN: I spend my off hours writing this journal in the hopes that I will one day understand what it is that is happening to me.

The great thing about living here is that no one knows about that time I was sick. And no one knows about the doctors. No one knows about this girl I once knew who dressed in a trench coat and carried a japanese sword, we both woke-up in VR-immersion tanks in a deep-sea shadow government base designated Atlantis, and when we joined in a running gunfight to escape our captors, commandeering one of their attack subs, we both knew it was love and that it really couldn't last, would only ever be forever in the most zen sense of the word.
   
One of their bullets pierced the hull and a spray of water hit me in the face and I woke up in bed in a cheap motel in Tokyo and the roof was leaking, the sky outside was storming.
   
And this is just not the sort of thing I need to worry about anymore - except for the recurring dreams and the inescapable loneliness and the constant lying and the radical ontological doubt - because no one here knows anything about it. It's great.
   
All my medication is disguised in the form of television shows; I dose regularly once a week with episodal narratives that leave me feeling saddened and energized. None's the wiser.

When Shannon finally tracks Max down. The rows of endless suburban houses, terrifying monominoacidchain viralstrain endlessly replicating like consumer culture defecating. He's hiding in the basement apartment, hiding in the delusion that he is finally safe. She stealths into the room, footprinting the carpet with ________'s blood - the last clue to his fate at the hands of the anti-conspiracy that has taken over Shan's life and his death - and her intention is to finally get some straight answers from Max. But because in her pursuit of Max she has inevitably become Max, she too is now the experiment, of course, it's the way these things always end, she too has learned from the magicians who taught Max, passing on their wisdom in their dying breaths as the anti-conspiracy finally claimed them too, Shannon and ________ just quick enough to reach the murder scenes before their breaths were dead and the police and reporters and the world came. Shannon too then learned what Max had learned about intention, about the true source of the beginning of things and how causes truly become effects. So when he appears before her, hunched over the laptop, typing, crying, she doesn't ask at all, because that's the last thing poor Max needs is another question and instead she gives him a better answer than the one he's hiding in and she holds him and kills him and leaves him.