I pull my attention back in to my fulcrum here in the breakfast room. Shigem and Kim have fully refreshed and released me, from Angel and Lucan. I know what I should do now, too, before the chance is gone. I pull my phone out and call Evelyn. “Hi, it’s me. I have a very good reason for calling you this late.”
“Hell, you call this late? I was just getting warmed up for the evening.”
“Well, I know last night’s spokes-sheep session was going to be the last, but I’ve ended up doing a lot more tuning-in today than I expected, just to keep a look-out for any last-minute attacks on Shigem. So I’ve got a final dose of hot stuff that we should throw into Marc’s cold-storage—sorry, I mean the client company’s cold-storage—to add to the symphony of beauties and horrors we’ve already captured for posterity.”
“Fabulous! We’ll see you in ten minutes.”
Twenty minutes later, then, I sit before the lens for the sixth and last imagination theft, with Rik behind the camera and Evelyn and Alaia standing by. This’ll be a quick one—just four tune-ins, from today…
So here comes Kim, for the last time: he’s OK, but how sweet will death be; his reading and his resolution.
Here for the last time is Pippa, like a zombie; her dark and mystic countryside; and once again that demon in her belly.
Once more comes Angel: the fight, the cigarette burn and thinking he’ll be killed; down the escalator; then re-awakening, to Lucan yet again.
And we close with my own Shigem: the unimprovability, the drifting into sleep.
The perfect end to Jason’s raw material.
“Cut, and that’s a wrap,” says Rik. I look up at the monitor, in time to catch the very last second of Shigem’s dying consciousness, before the screen fades to black. “Kiddies, for the very first time in history, we now have enough raw human mind-stuff to build a full imagination … for a cartoon sheep! This is a break-through on a par with the great Dolly herself, the most famous sheep of all time.”
Scattered applause from all four of us. “What’s the next step for all this stuff?” asks Alaia.
“Hmm. I shall decide to believe you… I just can’t watch pain.”
“You had no scruples about singing it and causing it, in our song of death in Big Bang,” I say.
She gives a rare burst of laughter and stares at me. “Is that what I was doing?”
“I’d say you made our audience suffer well and truly, yes! But always harmoniously, of course.”
It’s late, so the four of us split into two pairs in the corridor. Upstairs outside our rooms, despite her laughter just now, Alaia stills feels somehow in hiding from me, but with a new element of resignation … and of sadness. That’s it: she seems sad. In fact, I observe as we stand there, she is quite emotional at the moment, blinking at me with an odd sort of hunger in her eyes. Before I can decide how to process this or whether to ask her what the matter is, however, we are both inside our own adjacent rooms, in silence.
Lying in the dark here, I get that restless sense, redoubled: tomorrow, it is going to break. But what, exactly?
I give up trying to see the future and bend my attention to the recent past instead. On two grand occasions now, my gaze has crackled out through the dusk of unknown towns around the world, through aerials and dishes, copper wire and glassy cables, in between the dog barks and underneath the planes, and has lodged in the eyes and minds of people everywhere whom I shall never meet. And meanwhile, against the distant backdrop of those multitudes, a small fiery troupe has strutted right here in front of me, some of whom I’ve watched from as close as it is possible to get to a human ape—from inside its head.
For the first time I contemplate this fiery troupe together, all posed for a photograph that never will be taken—Marc Albright, Alaia Danielle, Jason Carax, Evelyn Carmello, Rik Chambers, Flames Alleyne, Lucan Abayomi, Kev Banton, Damian West, Angel Deon, Shigem Adele, Kim Somerville, Pippa Vail—and they contemplate me back, from this hypothetical photo. The freeze-frame animates, all of a sudden, as the thirteen in sequence make respectful bows or curtseys at me, each in their own way. Then some of them titter at me, slapping one another’s hands high and low, somewhat undermining their respectful obeisances … and so I drift to sleep.
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