SHORT STORIES

This page features extracts from some of the short stories I've had published.  These are subject to copyright.  However, reproduction for review purposes is perfectly acceptable.  I've also included a little background regarding the circumstances as to when and how these stories came to be published -- plus some feedback from readers and critics.

The story Eloise was written when I was approached by Creation Books' publisher James Havoc who asked me to contribute to an anthology of extreme horror that was published as Red Stains in 1992.  The following extract gives a fair indication of the story, which John Coulthart described as combining 'the Poe of Berenice with the age of death camp doctors and genetic vivisectors.'  The complete story -- as with all the pieces here -- is currently published in the anthology, Metal Sushi.

ELOISE

 

And now I see how it ends. How it all must end. The stars swelling obscenely in their orbits: the putrescent, unseeing eyes of forgotten deities, their bloated carcasses rotting in the heavens’ corrupted firmament. The vast and bountiful oceans of creation rendered stagnant, unable to support even the parasites whose effluent and filth have made deserts of the continents, sewers of the seas. Giants dragged down by midgets. The sky grown black with plagues of locusts. Hail horrors, hail infernal world. Did Milton truly understand? Now there is nothing for me to do. Nothing to do but wait. Until they come to find me this way.

Last night I dreamed of Eloise…

****

Sometimes I wonder how it all began. Was this a fate of my own choosing? Or did Destiny lend a hand? It hardly seems to matter now. Nothing matters anymore.

For years I had dedicated my life to research. Pure research. The Institute for Advanced Environmental Studies had been my life. Creative years. Happy years.

And then there was the Colony.

The Colony represented the pinnacle of decades of research: a program which had been initiated in the immediate post-War period while I was still a university freshman. It fell to me to oversee the completion of a project originally conceived by geniuses as brilliant as they subsequently became historically infamous.

Our first subjects were schizophrenics. Their conditions were so deteriorated that nobodynot even the blindest of optimistscould have entertained the slightest hope of recovery. Their illness saw them damned in the eyes of society. But, for the purposes of research, they were perfect.

Inner space. Where does one begin? How can I even try to describe the sheer wonderthe sublime joyof such pioneering exploration? The landscapes of the mind offer possibilities that far surpass the barren planetary terrains of our hostile, cosmic neighbours. The mysteries of pure psychosis are as inestimable as they are wondrous to behold.

And that was where the Colony began life.

Advanced micro-surgical techniques allowed us to extract active neurological and genetic material from the most primitive structures of several subjects’ brains. We were accessing the reticular complexthe so-called reptile brainthe most ancient and primordial aspect of cortical anatomy, the primitive topography of instinctive lusts and savage appetites we inherited from the dinosaurs. Here, within our hands, was the very slime of creation: the primal sludge from which swam, slithered and crawled a bewildering menagerie of creaturessome extinct, others not yet evolved.

And so we allowed it to grow, to explore a variety of forms and species.

We started with reptiles. Quickly we moved on to the lower mammalian orders: rats and larger, domesticated breeds. The results were startling. The process was relatively simple, once we’d overcome the initial obstacle of preserving the cortical tissues under conditions conducive to producing a culture. After that it was a case of straightforward in vitro fertilisation. We had a convenient stockpile of unfertilized eggsboth animal and humanstored in cryogenic suspension.

Our first real breakthrough came with the sow.

This had been our most audacious trial. It was the first time we dared implant a human egg fertilised by the Colony culture in the uterus of a large, warm-blooded animal. The sow, laboratory specimen PF23she was dubbed Bertha by the junior technicians and lab assistantswas impregnated with an embryo produced by gene splicing techniques using cells derived from the Colony culture extracted from the reticular complex of a man named Janov Skrazny.

Skrazny had been responsible for what the Press termed The Stigmata Killings. His obsession was messianic. The saviour’s bloody stigmatathe imprints of the nails on his hands and feet, the centurion’s lance and the crown of thornssustained during Christ's passion on the cross at Calvary exercised a powerful and morbid fascination over his warped imagination. They dictated the labyrinthine perversities of his deviant pathology. The injuries he inflicted upon his victimsall of whom had been initiates of various religious ordersreflected this mania perfectly as Skrazny attempted to reproduce the messiah's iconic wounds. He managed to send sixteen to their eternal rewards before the police apprehended him in flagrante, so to speak. Skrazny's final victiman elderly Jesuithad actually survived his sacrilegious re-enactment of the crucifixion: nine inch nails embedded in his wrists and the insteps of his feet, a halo of barbed wire encircling his temples. The unfortunate cleric lived out his remaining days in an institution for the hopelessly insane. I often regretted the fact that he had not been referred to my care. It would have been fascinating to observe the spectacle of Jesuitic sophistry succumbing to the insidious malaise of psychosis, to watch the sturdy edifice of Reason crumble without the foundation of Faith. Alas, it was not to be.

But I digress.

Bertha.

We had so little idea of what to expect. The reality of it far exceeded even our wildest expectations. Skrazny’s seedwhat we called the Stigmata Colony thrived in the sow’s womb. How it flourished. Its rate of reproduction rivalled that of the most virulent bacillus. This was not a pregnancy. It was an infestation. Over the weeks that followed, the Stigmata Colony made Bertha its own. Ultrasonic probes provided the most tantalising morsels of information right from the start. The embryo was amorphous, shifting shape like a vast amoeba. Mere days passed before it breached the uterine walls. The Colony explored the slimy maze of the sow’s intestines and reproductive system. It enveloped the heart and lungs, polluting the bloodstream with microscopic particles of its own writhing mass. DNA analysis confirmed what we already suspected: the Colony was joining the host organism on the most fundamental level. We had achieved what others had merely hypothesised. Genetic fusion.

Some of my colleagues, distressed by the trauma this congress occasioned, called it an abomination. They dismissed the Colony as nothing more than a voracious carcinogen. They had no appreciation of the frequently cruel imperatives of creation and evolutionwhat Blake meant when he wrote of a fearful symmetry. No matter. There were plenty more who shared my point of view. Who understood.

At the end Bertha had effectively ceased to exist. Her once-vast, corpulent bulk had shrivelled, the flesh itself assuming the appearance and texture of calcified leather. Aside from the sluggish discharge of viscous black mucus from her flaccid, milkless teats, it appeared as if her entire being had been bled of fluids. Like an incubus the Stigmata Colony had sucked her dry of blood, enzymes, even bile. Latterly we had to pump gallons of plasma; mineral-enriched saline solutions; and other life-sustaining nutrients into the moribund host-body. These, too, the Stigmata Colony readily devoured. Outwardly our creature resembled a giant egg case. A chrysalis. We could barely suppress our excitement, anticipating the imago’s imminent emergence.

When our creature finally exploded into the world I understoodfor the first time in my lifehow it must feel to be God. The Colony made itself manifest in a way that was at once miraculous…And terrifying. A clamour of voices, the bewildering cacophony of unintelligible tongues: the interior of the laboratory resonated to these sounds like a tuning fork struck at the birth of the cosmos. The Stigmata Colony emerged. Monstrous. Beautiful. It luxuriated in a dazzling variety of shapes and configurations. Its entire being was in a state of constant flux so rapid it almost hurt to look at it for too long.

I see it now as it first appeared: a vast, conical organism. Uprooted teeth embedded its raw pink luminescent flesha razor-sharp spiral pattern that extended from its pointed tip to the broad, circular base. Spinning rapidly it breached the dry husk of the cocoon like a living drill-bit, liberating itself from the putrid crucible of the sow’s wasted belly. And thenjust as suddenlyit changed. The image that springs most readily to mind is that of a giant jellyfish. Its central bladder must have measured at least six feet acrossradiant, pulsating with an alternating red-and-blue glow. Close by I heard someone mutter something about the soul. Once I might have laughed at such an extravagant conceit, but no longer. The sight of it was breathtaking.

But it did not end there.

Within seconds the luminous, protoplasmic mass began to shed the façade of ethereal serenity. It started to tear itself apart, dividing and sub-dividing much in the manner of the primal nucleus. The things it divulged defied description and classification.

It seemed to meeven thenthat what I was seeing were tangible manifestations of the darker recesses of the psyche: the abstract given form, substance. Several times I saw the face of Skrazny himselfbut changed. Utterly, utterly changed. At times his mouth would gape vastly, monstrouslya lipless maw, impossibly widea gaggle of knotted tongues struggling to articulate the convoluted jabberwocky of the Stigmata Killer’s homicidal doctrine. Sometimes he’d cast off the shallow mask of humanity, his skull blossoming into an elaborate corolla of glinting knives. But one image recurred constantly: his naked flesh budding with exotic stigmata, dazzling shafts of harsh white light pouring from the wounds. His death’s head grimace blazing, he straddled the gulf that differentiates the saint and the psychotic. He had become transcendent, a blasphemous martyr beatific in the cruel consummation of his sacrilegious ecstasy.

Yes, in that moment I realised the wonder of what I had achieved.

I had re-defined evolution’s path, the biological destiny of our species. Pure consciousness given substance, thought unhindered by the tyranny of physical form: this I had made miraculously real. Skrazny’s psychosis had been but the embarkation point of an atavistic odyssey. Its final destination could scarcely have been guessed ateven in his crazed imaginings. I found myself grappling with the rudiments of a discipline beyond the accepted boundaries of scientific research. The words did not exist to describe the phenomenon fully, to do it justice. It wasand issimply the Colony.

Months passed. Our labours were exacting, but rewarding. In this new Arcadia the boughs of every tree were heavily laden with the fruit of absolute knowledge.

Some said that what we spawned were merely monsters. There was some truth in that. The creatures, which sprang from the host-bodies of the Colony, were monstrousin the truest, most literal, sense of the word. And we observed them in speechless wonderas the angels might have done, peeking over the shoulder of the Almighty as He brought forth Cosmos from Chaos. And yet they defied our capability to understand themexcept on the simplest, most superficial, level. We used fields of polarised electromagnetism to contain them. There was no telling what they might have been capable of.

Yes, monsters they were: sublime, awesome, fascinating.

Unpredictable.

We continued to work with schizophrenics and psychopaths. Behind the anonymous façade of the Institute for Advanced Environmental Studies, shielded by its bland, euphemistic title, some of the most sensitivesome might have said unethicalresearch was conducted far from the prying eyes of public scrutiny. We were limited to severely deteriorated psychotics for the raw material of our craft; that way secrecy was guaranteed. And, if truth be told, I was happy to continue that way. The Colony cultures grown from the cortical tissues of their diseased brains produced such flamboyant chimeras. Serial killers and pathological sex offenders: compared to the creatures that inhabit the distorted topographies of their lurid subconsciousness, the surreal creations of Salvador Dalithe infernal panoramas Hieronymus Bosch committed to canvasare rendered innocuous, mundane.

I see it now: the Colony, writhing and shrieking. A vast, dripping thing, three metres tall, culled from the mind of the multiple rapist and torturer, Albert Sweetmanthe one they’d dubbed The Skewerlooms forward on spindly pseudopodia. I watch, appalled and astonished, as the abomination rails against the invisible, electromagnetic barrier. Its grotesque physiognomy irresistibly reminds me of the Venus flytrap. Enormous bloated parodies of the female genitalia blossom hideously on snaking stalks. The labia are exquisitely colouredcrimson, violet, amethyst and cobalt bluedilating and contracting with a terrible kind of hunger. The inner-walls are studded with curved prongs, wracked with the agonies of peristalsis, a ravenous appetite obscene and insatiable. Clitoral tongues, glutted with luminous sap, protrude from between those suppurating, colourful lips. The Colony makes manifest the spectre of Sweetman’s deepest, darkest fear: the obsession that prompted The Skewer to rape and torture so frequently. So viciously. Its ghastly howling recalls savage voices not heard on the surface of this planet since the Jurassic era.

And I see more. Oh, so much more. A surreal collage of psychoplasmic carnage projected from the conceptual matrix of phylogenetic memory.

This is the living fossil record of madness and murder.

Scorpions with the faces of demonic cherubs, cephalopod malignancies that gestate and multiply in the distended bellies of degenerate matriarchs: this is a graphic illustration of the warped compulsion that motivated the slaughter of fourteen infants, the ritual disembowelling of five pregnant women. Reams of scintillating razor wire erupt from the vacant eye sockets of gleaming skulls, festooning the bare white bones. A deformed leviathan coalesces from a vile cesspit of bubbling slime. Its ungainly physique exhibits unmistakeable, simian characteristics. The facial features are a hideous composite of crudely caricatured ethnic and racial stereotypes. Its monstrous phallusdisproportionately vastejaculates an endless deluge of slimy invertebrates, malformed and aborted foetuses: an obscene cryptozoology of embryonic hybrids. This is the supreme manifestation of sexual paranoia, racial bigotry and insane prejudice that drove the Son of Siegfried to take such drastic, murderous action to preserve the spurious purity of his assumed Aryan-Christian lineage. And I see flesh embellished with bloody runic symbols, an abstract mosaic of flayed skin encrusted with shards of stained glass: the atrocious aesthetic that guided the Hammer of Jehovah to glory and the gallows.

Magnificent.

****

 

The story Black Static was written when I was approached by DM Mitchell to contribute a piece to an HP Lovecraft themed anthology, which was published by Creation Books in 1994 under the title The Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to HP Lovecraft.  The collection included such luminaries as Alan Moore, JG Ballard, Grant Morrison and William Burroughs -- and featured John Coulthart's awe-inspiring graphic interpretation of Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu.  In the introduction Ramsey Campbell described Black Static as 'an authentically Lovecraftian marriage of contemporary science and the cosmic ... '

BLACK STATIC

 

Static everywhere.

Razor hail maelstrom of endless orgasm. The Hierarchy of the Scourge materialises in a blizzard of sensual excess, monsoon of sulphurous secretions, lethal grapeshot of virulent spores. Synergy of sex and death. Venom, pheromone and phosphorous. The Gordian Knot of chromosomal destiny unravels.

Clusters of obsidian, compound eye modules slide languidly across the featureless polyhedron of my transfigured flesh. Crashing waves of pure terror, unutterable exhilaration, convulse the pulsating gel—the anti-symmetry—of my inexplicable being. The squirming ganglia of numberless, autonomic neural colonies are wracked with seismic convulsions, plasmic tsunami.

We, the Nameless, the Faceless, the Undying—Hyperbreed, Omnibeastsseep, collide and explode onto this plane. Our limitless bodies span the multifarious frequencies of time and space, the super-geometric, abstract dimensions defined by the interface of the Ultrasphere and Quantaplex. We unleash the arsenals of the Catastrophes: the unbearable cacophony of the Endless Scream; the ecstatic tortures of the Misery Spores; the unspeakable Rapture. I clothe myself in the raiment of light, the celestial mantle of Atrocity. Our will be done on earth as we have done in Heaven.

We unearth continents by their roots. Ocean brine is transmuted into shimmering expanses of liquid mercury. Or lava. Excrement. Blood. Tectonic plates are prised apart and slotted back together at random like pieces in a child’s jigsaw puzzle. The biosphere is our plaything, subject to our slightest whim. We break it, refashion it—destroy it—endlessly. The potential of even its crudest elements is inexhaustible. Whole populations are fused into a single, screaming organism: an amoebic monstrosity hundreds of square miles in area. Millions of shrieking mouths utter an incomprehensible babble of polyglottal panic, forced to wallow in—and feed upon—the steaming dung that explodes from countless, distended rectums. A towering Babel of steaming, bleeding, shit-encrusted flesh.

We rove about the surface of the planet at will. Sometimes slowly—rolling across the hemispheres like a sluggish tide of glutinous, protoplasmic flesh. Sometimes at the speed of thought, our fluctuating molecules luxuriate in the shrill dissonance of mass-mind interface—the ceaseless exchange of information and sensation—the symphonic chaos of Ultraspace.

Vast, incomprehensible shapes glide across the bile-coloured sky, eclipsing the radiant fury of a disinterested sun. Solar flares erupt from its seething surface like Roman candles. This dawn rose on the blood red day of centuries. Its setting heralds the aeons-long darkness of millennial night: the victory of sublime Chaos over the folly of Reason. Anguish and futility engulf the fragile mirage of humanity’s banal, mediocre ambitions.

I preside over scenes of epic slaughter. The pure breadth and terror of my limitless vision concoct orgies of inventive violence and sexual perversity, the endless permutations of which I choreograph with the random precision of quantum manipulation. Revelling in my irredeemable divinity, I inflict the meaningless agonies of the Embryo Vats, the Howling Loom and the Narrow Spawn. I contrive psychotropic plagues, which culminate in complex ballets of ritual slaughter and synchronised mass-suicide. Language reverts to its primal origins: a sonic carcinogen that literally devours brain tissue and nervous systems. A single conversation is sufficient to reduce its participants to comatose vegetables.

My wide skirt of semi-translucent flesh conceals row upon row of buzzing, chainsaw teeth that can grind granite into sand, reducing diamonds to shimmering dust. The moist expanses of my layered palates are highly sensitised to the sweet delicacy of human flesh, the metal acidity of blood. The taste of souls.

My hunger is boundless. I feed it voraciously.

The conical, erogenous structures that stud my heaving, corpulent flank glow with the vivid iridescence of endless arousal. Ultra-endorphins bombard the hydra-headed proliferation of my insoluble neural labyrinths. My serrated teeth spin muscle and skin into dripping red strands, gossamer-fine like a spider’s web embroidered with arcane obscenities. My taste buds explode with effervescing pleasure. The searing disintegration of masticated souls surges along the coarse surfaces of my many tongues, scorching my salivating palates with its unique, irresistible piquancy.

The pupil-less facets of my compound eye modules glint with the cold, black lustre of gleaming obsidian. They meander with lazy satiety across the irregular planes of my moist, diaphanous flesh. A thousand miles to the east, in the broiling ocean of molecular acid that was once the Pacific, there lies a nameless island whose only inhabitants for millions of years had been marine birds and ocean-going reptiles. There is some irony in the fact that so inauspicious a location should provide the terrestrial cradling of our celestial seed. A single beam of pure, aetheric energy is transmitted light years across the galaxies from the primal nucleus of Maximus Prime—fulcrum of the Quantaplex, for millions of years the impassable threshold of the Hyperbreed’s extra-dimensional prison. The island remains a geomantically active beacon. Following the molten disintegration of the Copernicus radio telescope, it continues to absorb the energy directly.

Copernicus. Though twice separated from the memory by the barriers of time and my own transfigurative metamorphosis, the recollections retain the vivid tenacity of a fever-spawned dream. And the reverie is doubly reinforced by the fading embers of dim, pre-racial memory, telling me that the stringy pulp shredded between my teeth—the delicious firefly of liberated consciousness greedily ingested by the swelling tubers and snaking entrails of my various alimentary tracts—was once a child. I feel neither remorse nor empathy, despite the fact that the hazy mirage of half-memory reminds me of my own humble origins. That once I, too, was a mere man

****

I had always hated the sea. Feared it, had I been honest enough to admit it. The tang of brine, its sour suggestion of ripe decay—of death—on a chill sea breeze had always been sufficient to awaken a dark and nameless dread in the blackest recesses of my subconscious. In retrospect it seems foolish, so pitiably weak. But, at the time, its persuasiveness was such that I could never shrug it off.

You will appreciate, then, the feeling of deep foreboding that overwhelmed me as we approached Stahl’s island. True, the weather was perfect. Optimum visibility. The vast swell of the Pacific was so flawlessly blue and agreeably placid. But, still, I had to struggle to conceal my gnawing anxiety, the bitter cauldron of bile fomenting within me. As we drew closer to the island—little more than a nameless, uncharted rock—the gleaming dish of the Copernicus radio telescope, luminous against the pale blue canvas of the southern sky, seemed to assume an almost surreal aspect. Its setting in the midst of this featureless, crystal sea seemed so startlingly inappropriate. Ostensibly its geographic location enabled the observatory’s dish to fully exploit the low-level refraction and ambient distortion potential afforded by the hole in the ozone layer, which by now extended over most of the southern hemisphere: the euphemistically termed environmental window. Nobody could have suspected the ulterior motivation of its founder and principle architect, Reinhardt Stahl.

Sweating uncomfortably inside military-issue, anti-contamination suits, we made landfall shortly before noon. There were six us: myself, chief scientific and technical advisor on the mission; Ehrlicson, a biochemist specialising in virology, an expert in the field of bacteriological and chemical warfare; and fourteen US marines on secondment from the naval base at Manila. The grunts appeared to be packing enough firepower to overthrow a medium-sized banana republic. But, then again, that was their business.

We had arrived on the island expecting the worst. But I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the reality that awaited us. Of course, we had heard reports of an unknown, viral epidemic, which had forced the Copernicus staff to remain almost a year in self-imposed quarantine. Details of that had been sketchy enough to arouse suspicion in some quarters.

However, it was not until a foundering, Filipino fishing vessel ran aground on an adjacent reef that the alarm was truly raised. Taking to the lifeboats, the sailors had at first headed for the island and the supposed shelter of Copernicus. But something they saw there had been disturbing and frightening enough for them to prefer to take their chances on the open sea. They were eventually picked up by a Japanese trawler some three weeks later, suffering from heat stroke, extreme dehydration and malnutrition.

Obviously, the more outrageous elements of their story were treated with scepticism—if not downright incredulity—as well as being kept out of the public domain. But one thing was obvious. There was a mystery on Stahl’s island that merited further investigation.

Walking into the observatory’s central chamber—the essential heart of the Copernicus complex—I felt as if I had suddenly turned my back on thousands of years of human civilisation. Abruptly—unexpectedly—we had been confronted with the darkness of the primordial soul, its palpable, undeniable reality.

Copernicus had been transformed into a necropolis. In the midst of towering banks of computers, still functioning with pragmatic disinterest in everything but their own remote programming, the dead were everywhere. This was their domain.

At first, none of us spoke. It was a scene of such enormity and horror that words were rendered meaningless. It took a matter of minutes, perhaps, for the realisation to sink in. This was not the aftermath of some fatal pestilence, but a deliberately orchestrated mass-suicide. The ritual dimensions of the act were inescapable, the trappings of mystical arcana pre-eminent and ubiquitous. Piece by piece, gripped by the kind of morbid fascination that compels one to return again and again to pick at an unhealed scab, we began to reconstruct the events that had culminated in this atrocity.

We counted sixty-five bodies, in all. Twenty-three remained unaccounted for. Initially. Each had been systematically laid out in its own individually sealed, plexiglass cocoon. The transparent caskets resembled the prototypical stasis pods designed to maintain cosmonauts in suspended animation, a process widely believed at the time to hold the key to manned deep-space exploration. The pods were arranged in tiers, starting at ground level and climbing the curved walls of the observatory. Considering the condition of the bodies inside—skin blackened, bellies vastly swollen with the pungent gases of decomposition—I was struck by the irresistible image of a gigantic insect colony’s incubation chamber. The ravages of corruption conspired to contrive the forceful illusion of an imminent, pupal metamorphosis.

Perversely, though, in spite of the frankly unfathomable horror of what we were seeing—the sight of so many corpses, obviously weeks old—there was something else, which was all the more alarming by virtue of the fact that it was apparently inexplicable. Each of the bodies—without exception—was fitted with a contraption resembling a virtual reality headset. Holographic, laser-optic goggles were stuck fast in the slick mire of decaying eyeballs. Withered genitalia and key neural clusters were studded with electrodes like glutted, metallic leeches. The implication was as obvious as it was baffling. The Copernicus observatory staff had been participating en masse in a virtual reality scenario at the time of their deaths. To what end? At this point I did not care to speculate.

And then, of course, there was the most macabre—and to my mind tellingaspect of the entire conundrum. The arcana.

Everywhere one looked there appeared the timeless symbols of mystical devotion. Many were immediately recognisable: the ankh; Celtic cross; pentagram and swastika. But there were others—arabesque hieroglyphs, what appeared to be quasi-mystical, pseudo-scientific equations scrawled in the esoteric lexicon of an obscure, numerological system—that defied recognition or understanding. It came as no surprise that these magical glyphs had been daubed in blood: animal or human—it was too early to tell.

As a scientist I could not shake the feeling that there was something…obscene in the sight of this: the cool disciplines of pure, logical research succumbing to the irrational malaise—the ritual barbarity—of primitive mysticism. It was like watching, helplessly, as the primordial jungle reclaimed some pristine metropolis, the cradle of technology and civilisation. The hungry darkness.

I could not tolerate it.

There was a solution to this enigma. I was determined to find it.

Over the following weeks I immersed myself in Copernicus’ extensive library of computer-based data. In the history of the project and that of its founder, Reinhardt Stahl. And, ultimately, the madness, which had claimed him.

Reinhardt Stahl had been both the most celebrated and notorious enfant terrible of the scientific community in recent years. It had been his quantum leap in the field of bio-molecular intelligence that had been directly responsible for the development of the first self-replicating organic computers and synthetic enzymes capable of processing data in such a way that would eventually consign silicon chips to the junk heap of obsolescence. Needless to say, the revenues generated by the patents—of which he retained sole copyright—made Stahl stratospherically wealthy.

That Stahl should choose to divert his resources into the field of radio astronomy might have seemed unorthodox, but hardly surprising. His interests were as varied as his talents were prodigious. We had, in fact, studied together many years earlier and, for a time, had become close friends. We had much in common, sharing not only a fervent passion for the pioneering spirit that characterised the new breakthroughs in quantum physics; chaos and anti-chaos dynamics; the exciting potential of Artificial Intelligence; but also for more esoteric matters: the occult and all its associated trappings. Stahl, I recalled, was particularly interested in the arcane symbolism of prehistoric pagan cults, the anarchic principles and ritual practise of Chaos Magick.

Stahl’s wealth and influence was such that he soon became the director of the ill-fated SETI III project. Originally founded in the 1970s, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence—SETI—had largely been established to satisfy what was, in effect, a millenarian yearning: the need to reach out and commune with our supposed cosmic brethren. It was a plea for help, a subconscious bid for salvation. The fact that subsequent years saw the project’s radio telescopes detect nothing more exciting than the deceptively regular transmissions emitted by pulsar stars and the endless dissonance of natural radio static—echoes of the Primal Event reverberating around the galaxies—ensured that both public and serious interest quickly evaporated.

In its third and final incarnation SETI III occupied two major radio telescope observatories: one high in the hills of southern California, the second in the arid wastes of the central Australian outback. Both facilities, operating under the personal supervision of Stahl and his hand-picked team of technicians, were fully equipped with the most highly evolved prototypes developed from his own original neural processors. These bio-molecular computers added a new, conceptual dimension to the interpretation of the data received from the fathomless depths of space. And it was these very interpretations—and Stahl’s controversial conclusions—that precipitated an irreparable schism between not only himself and many of his SETI III collaborators, but with the greater scientific community as a whole. The ensuing conflict resulted in the abandonment of the SETI III project, Stahl’s ostracism. And, inevitably, the foundation of Copernicus; Stahl’s subsequent madness; and the tragic, horrific denouement of the entire episode.

 

In 1997 DM Mitchell approached me with an offer to publish an anthology of my short stories with his newly-founded company Oneiros Books.  The result of this, Metal Sushi, was published in 1998 and featured material that drew on horror, science fiction and surrealist traditions.

 

In Gothic Science Fiction: 1980-2010, Mark P Williams writes: 'Metal Sushi is a Gothic science fiction novella with significant implications for contemporary fantasy fiction ... seeking to reach a higher level of insight ... The story uses dense literary allusion to explore and ultimately subvert the tyranny of form in genre fiction.  It blends inter-textual references to Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, HP Lovecraft, Philip K Dick and William Gibson, alongside films such as Apocalypse Now (1979) and Forbidden Planet (1956), embedding them within the stylistic structure of the hard-boiled detective narrative ...

  'Conway treats the unification of Gothic and science fictional impulses as a chimerical marriage with the potential to produce an unprecedented new form ... '  

 

METAL SUSHI

 

The corridors contract insanely, assuming the twisted perspectives of an Expressionist nightmare, the stilted asymmetry of an ancient UFA studios fantasy, hand-coloured by autistic children. Slate grey, indigo, violet and black: the funereal hues of a sombre, fauvist lithograph contrast with the sensual vulnerability of my own luminous fleshivory infused with shades of icy turquoisethe stark lividity of an exquisite corpse. The air thickens, a gaseous soup curdled by the intolerable stresses of spatial distortion. Light bends grotesquely, revealing the malformed aspects of a previously hidden reality. Abstract shadows evaporate like smoke. Congeal like liquid tar. My own movements define the dimensions of this nebulous, twilit realm. The configuration of my thighs, the dark nexus of their various intersections, illustrates the transient alignments of its fluid geometry.

The gun in my hand is a dull weight. Its static charge of death suggests lethal potentialities. I move through a fluctuating matrix of warped angles and mismatched planes: an abstract kaleidoscope of unfolding space, inverted time.

Reflections in an obsidian eye. I watch myself and Kyoko, our bodies straining in the throes of passion, glistening limbs deliciously entwined. Hir jewelled flesh is golden, radiant. The sleek glamour of hir gilded scales scintillates with the fatal allure of some dazzling, irresistible siren. S/he writhes languidly against me. The undulating curves of hir slender body ensnare me in a serpent’s cool, sensual embrace, gasping and hissing towards the accelerating release of reptilian orgasm.

The corresponding vanes and clefts of our tumescent glands fuse seamlessly, the synergistic elements of an erotic theorem. Identical shafts of chitinous, erectile tissue simulate the courtship ritual of priapic vipers. Dilated vestibules of fragrant flesh are ravenously engorged with hot, eager blood. The scalding juices of our sterile coupling erupt simultaneously like ropes of burning solder, flooding the vaginal caverns of our flushed groins. At the climactic moment of criticality our bodies melt together, the brilliant liquidity of sensual dissolution. A fluctuating aureole of spectral gold shimmers briefly, diffracted by the prismatic lens of a dark, crystalline eye.

Deadly orgone stench of ritual murder. Heavy energy cancers. Psychic fallout. Pheronapalm death.

The gun’s cold cache of ballistic kisses anticipates the ripe carnality of the Janwar abattoir, the occult inversion of space and time. Black celebrations of nameless obscenity. The warped geometry of the distorted continuum expresses the optimum profile of sacrificial mutilation. Atavistic energies disrupt the symbiotic alignment of cosmic subtle bodies. They penetrate the fragile membrane that separates space from what lies beyond it. I’m in the slaughterhouse once more. I can see the bodies. Smell them. Everywhere. And the things that feed.

I look down at my hand. Instead of the gun, I find myself holding a child’s tiny, severed arm. The blanched fleshthe vivid crimson of its bloody stumpnestles firmly in my grip…

****

 

ONE

 

I wake up with a start, tasting metal. In the bed beside me, hir naked body barely covered by the crumpled sheets, Kyoko hardly stirs. Blinking the viscous film of sleep from my eyes, I gaze down at hir, wondering at the innocent serenity s/he exudes. Hir deep, aquamarine hair with its spiky, gold-tipped frondssagging limply on the pillow nowframes the elegant geometry of her delicate features, the crowning glory of an Atlantean priestess. Crystallised elements of Kyoko’s elusive beauty: the subtle curve of hir full lips; the perfect symmetry of hir high cheekbones; hir almond eyes set like opalescent jewels in the glamorous jade-and-gold death mask of a youthfully deceased Heian princess. A sleek mesh of gold, emerald and amber scales, smoothly annealed like a gilded body stocking woven from the scintillating threads of a spider’s gilded web, sheaths the firm globes of her breasts, the sensual contours of hir slender torso, narrow waist and hips; the lithe extremities of hir slender limbs.

Idly, I run the tip of my right index finger along the curves and recesses of hir body, hir sublime, frictionless skin. I circle the purple bud of hir slightly rigid left nipple, exploring the shallow cleavage of hir breasts. S/he inhales deeply as my finger caresses the articulated, chitinous plates that encase the hollow concavity of hir abdomen in a flexible carapace of bright, reptilian armour. My hand moves lower, lingering briefly at hir groin, massaging the supple flesh of hir smooth inner thigh. An electric tremor of carnal arousal surges through the nerves and sinews of my hand, prompting a reciprocal rush of excitement between my thighs. Kyoko shifts fitfully. S/he murmurs something in Japanese, like the slurred fragments of an abstract haiku too obscure to understand. Kyoko reminds me of a changeling childan elemental cuckoousurping the place of a mortal infant, innocently swathed in the ethereal matrix of magical, alien dreams. I inhale the strange perfumes of hir body, savouring them.

In many ways Kyoko remains a mystery to medespite the fact that Krell’s Variation has rendered us so much alike. S/he seems immune to the random violence and squalor that surrounds us here. It’s as if hir life is strangely charmed, an aura of feral invulnerability shielding the obvious frailty of hir slight physique. Whilst I, on the other hand, continue my descent down the treacherous slope of narcotic fuelled paranoia.

It’s early afternoon. I’m still sloughing off the scurfy grey membrane of another narcocil-phased slumber. Strobing phantoms flit behind my eyelids. Liquid prisms warp the convexities of my retinal implants, efflorescing like the incandescent after-images of a chemical kaleidoscope. This lingering fugue state is symptomatic of the Kelp-E hangover. Kyoko and I have been doing vast amounts of the stuff recently, fusing the primal atavisms of our squid consciousness with the archetypal, cosmic ocean of elevated, amorphibian perception. Of course, the Kelp-E trip does have its darker side: involuntary recall of the Janwar massacre, for instance, the grotesque dimensions of the act suddenly comprehensible.

I wait for the residual mists to disperse. Slowly, the interior of the cheap, Silver Quay hovel we’ve been crashing at swims into focus. The mundane squalor of the place coalesces before my eyes with the bleak inevitability of a recurring nightmare.

Leaving Kyoko to the languid tranquillity of hir untroubled dreams, I rise from the bed. As usual a glittering film of silver scales coats the crumpled sheets: squid spoor it’s sometimes called. Automatically I take a cigarette from the bedside table. I light it and walk, naked, to the window.

Outside, a piss-coloured shroud of ozone-corroding smog diffuses the sun’s pallid radiance. It reduces the grimy canvas of the sky to the dull, leaden haze of relentless twilight. The grim, undisciplined sprawl of Harbortown greets my tired scrutiny: a desolate spectacle of leprous dereliction. Bustling quays ring the wide harbour, which industrial pollution has transformed into an eerie, toxic lagoon. Beneath its calm, poisonous surface sick sharks patrol the murky depths, congested gills retching heavy metal isotopes. The vivid stigmatisms that mottle their psoriatic skins scintillate like the flamboyant liveries of heraldic beasts. Leviathan class tanker-submersibles remain stoically moored at their berths, ready to depart for the deep waters of the open sea. Their course will take them past the sunken cities of the submerged Western Seaboard.

Reclaimed by the ocean, the decaying necropolii of crumbling concrete and rusting steel have been utterly transformed. Colonies of mutant coral encrust the skeletal remains of drowned stratoscrapers, a labyrinthine jungle of fossil reefs. The baroque majesty of its cavernous vaults and galleries evokes the cyclopean geometry of lost Atlantis. Most normals consider the sight of this submarine Eden, abandoned to the primal tranquillity of the emerald sea, an ominous, depressing sight. It’s understandable from their point of view, I suppose. Personally I’ve always found the serene topography of silent vistas and haunted grottoes both surreal and deeply poignant. It’s like a numinous vision that resonates equally with the power of phylogenetic memory and the vague intimations of precognition.

Beyond the liquid mirage of the transfigured cities lies the harsh reality of the vrill plantationscountless acres of verdant, protein-rich marine pastureswhere gangs of squid labourers toil for a pittance in conditions little better than slavery. Close to the shoreline giant processing rigs wallow in dry-dock like beached megaliths. Stained hulls gnarled with crustacean parasites, they constantly pump tons of sludge and noxious bilge from their cavernous holds. The entire waterfront district of Harbortown seems to have simply congealed around the water’s edge, scab tissue adhering to an infected wound. I can imagine it oozing up through some fissure in the earth’s crust: liquid excrescence expelled from the asshole of Hell itself.

The brisk trade in the miracle food vrillthe thriving marine protein culture transplanted from the ocean worlds of the Sirius system and cultivated for decades beneath the Terran seasis vital to Harbortown, its economic raison d’etre. Since the Big Thaw, and the subsequent loss of vast tracts of arable land the world over, the rich yields of its quarterly harvests have proved crucial to the continued survival of the planet’s population. Without it we’d starve.

I think of Venturis briefly, focussing on the mission. Somehow it seems irrelevant now. I could lose myself here. Leave the country. After all, I’ve done it before. But, then again, I don’t think Venturis would let me slip through his fingers quite so easily. Malthusian and his followers are still out there, peddling their lethal brand of millenarian redemption, the hallucinogenic ecstasies of Kelp-E. Although Venturis played his cards close to his chest when I was briefed, I’m beginning to wonder just how much he really knows. I draw long and hard on my cigarette, pondering the question.

Turning on hir side, Kyoko mutters to hirself once more, apparently in thrall to some delicious, sensual reverie, the spellbinding lorelei of the Kelp-E hit. Suddenly detached, I find myself speculating as to just how much s/he knows. Kyoko had been my first contact with the Kelp-E traffickers. It was via this route I hoped to track down Malthusian and his group, the murderous cabal of the Heilige Kraken. It’s impossible to envisage Kyoko playing any part in Malthusian’s conspiracy. S/he’s an ingénue, a naïve sylph, like Prospero’s elemental familiar, Ariel. I know I’ve become too involved with Kyoko. It’s clearly affecting my judgement, which is already impaired by a steady diet of narco-synthetics: tundra, narcocil, psychrome, adrenazine.

And now Kelp-E.

Perhaps, I conjecture, smiling thinly, it’s simply a question of loyalty. Where does mine lie? With Kyokoa squidone of my own kind? Or with Hayden Venturis and the Cadre? Hardly. The Generic Stability Decrees have seen to that. I would be crazy to believe the Under-Dictator’s offer of reinstatement to the office of Invigilator on one of the off-world colonies where, allegedly, the draconian strictures of the Decrees are due to be relaxed. Of course I don’t actually believe him. Venturis has his own agenda, and I have mine. Perhaps Malthusian holds the key. He is at once my quarry and…something else. The boundaries have become blurred. I’m no longer sure what I’ll do when we finally confront each other.

Grinding the butt of my cigarette into the brimming ashtray, I look down into the large, plastic tank containing the two cephalopod simulacra. Their writhing tentacles stir the crystal liquid, their natural element. The radiant phosphorescence of their diaphanous flesh projects fluid arabesques along the water’s swirling eddies. The snorkelling valves of their tubercular gill-arrays pump regular, silver spheres of carbon dioxide. Their suckered limbs coil and uncoil languidly. I look into the inscrutable disks of their remote, octopus eyes, the elliptical dilation of vertical black pupils. The simulacra play a central role in Kyoko’s burlesque club act, the focus of which is the living recreation of various shunga, the erotic woodblock prints of Japan’s Edo period. A particular favourite with the crowd is hir interpretation of Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a tableau of anthropomorphic sensuality in which s/he is playfully ravished by the cephalopods.

Kyoko has quite a reputation on the artistic revue circuit, as s/he rather coyly alludes to it. However, even that’s become a more hazardous way of life these days. The Legion of Light who run a slum mission to the east of Silver Quay have been violently proslethysing in Harbortown recently; evangelical stormtroopers using strong-arm tactics to 'purify' the ghetto. They’ve fire-bombed three clubs and a labourers’ hostel over the past month in this district alone. Kyoko has had a couple of close calls hirself. Hir former partner, with whom she’d formed half of the legendary Nagasaki Dragon Babies double act, fell foul of a void-addled psycho two years ago. He used strips of hir skin to wallpaper his apartment. But, even now, Kyoko seems impervious to the dangers, untroubled by them.

I only wish I shared hir confidence.

I walk from the window to the cramped, closet-sized bathroom. I’m eager to wash away the dry, caked sweat that adheres to my skin like a congealed patina of diseased ectoplasm. I fill the tub with hot, sterile, desalinated sea water, and climb in, almost insensitive to the heat. Pale clouds of semi-opaque steam fill the tiny bathroom, billowing out into the rest of the apartment like the dank vapours of a marine fog bank. I listlessly soap and rinse my tired limbs and body. Amorphibian I may well be, but the moist heat of the watermy natural element in so many waysscarcely comforts or revives me.

The clear, soapy water darkens suddenly. A dense sepia cloud blossoms thickly between my thighs. The smell of it is overwhelming: a heady, pheromone musk underscored with the rank suggestion of putrefying fish carcasses. Along with the inky discharge my body expels the residue of Kyoko’s sterile ejaculation, crystallised like minute fragments of opalescent glass. There is a dull ache in my lower abdomen. Spasmodic cramps churn my intestines. Though wearily accustomed to this distasteful, cyclical process since early adolescence, I still half-expect to a see a nursery shoal of freshly hatched cuttlefish propelling their way blindly through the briny soup. Or colonies of iridescent protozoa, like tiny spiral galaxies, illuminating the cosmic ocean’s primal, liquid darkness. I’m almost embarrassed to catch myself indulging such conceits. The Kelp-E hex continues to bend my consciousness into unfamiliar shapes. Yes, that must be it.

My limbs still heavy, I practically slither from the tub. Almost as an afterthought I pull the plug, sending the polluted liquid gurgling noisily down the drain into Harbortown’s overburdened sewage system. Entering the apartment’s narrow studio room, I cross the floor to the full-length mirror. A moist film of condensation frosts the glass. It renders my reflection a hazy, liquid blur. I crouch down and begin to sort through the unruly tangle of clothes lying on the floor. My movements are still slow. Sluggish. I try to tell myself that my lethargy is simply the after-effect of the potent cocktail of tundra, narcocil and Kelp-E I consumed the previous night. Somehow, though, I can’t quite convince myself.

Rummaging idly through the pockets of a neoplastic-Kevlar jacket, I retrieve a cylindrical, black phial. It contains a handful of silvery, oblong-shaped capsules. I flip the lid and drop a couple of the pills into the palm of my right hand. Eagerly I pop the capsules into my mouth. My throat is dry. A viscous layer of slime furs my palate and tongue. I swallow hard, gagging slightly.

After a few moments I feel the old, familiar, psychrome rush sweep over me like a cool, metal wave, greeting it with a sense of welcome relief. The hard knot of fatigue and anxiety clenched in my guts seems to evaporate and disperse in a glacial high of chemical euphoria. The liquid mercury smooth meniscus of the psychrome hit engulfs the lingering pain and fatigue. Sublime.

At last I feel ready to face the world. To face myself. With the heel of my hand I wipe the moisture from the mirror’s frictionless surface. I survey my reflection critically. The remote, elevated fugue state of the psychrome fix helps me to put things in their proper perspective.

Actually, all things considered, I guess I don’t look that bad. Like most squids, I’m tallwillowya little over six feet, in fact. My build is slim, typically androgynous, practically waif-like, with delicate bone structure, elegant long limbs and gaunt facial features. My shoulder-length hair is black, poker straight. It scintillates with natural highlights of anemone blue and ultramarine. My large, narrow eyes are set far apart above high, angular cheekbones and a wide mouth whose lips are naturally coloured a subtle shade of mauve.

I blink away the last vestiges of narcocil-tainted sleep and return the uninhibited scrutiny of my own reflected gaze. In spite of the previous night’s excesses, the vitreous humour is unclouded. The fragile membrane of the cornea remains translucent. The irises themselves retain a startling clarity: incandescent emerald-green gilded with minute flecks of burnished gold. My widely dilated, elliptical pupils recall the infinite blackness of the ocean’s icy, endless night.

The acute symmetries of my hollow featuresthe aquatic intensity of my cold, green eyesare imbued with an elusive, feral quality: the remote deportment of a nervous predator, constantly alert. My ivory white skin is infused with the radiant lustre of glacial turquoise. Like all squids my entire body is covered in a layer of translucent scales. It glistens like a gossamer mesh of liquid chain mail. Incandescing coldly in the argon glare of the hovel’s ambient fluorescent lighting, it enhances the illusion of alien otherness.

Illusion? Perhaps.

Perhaps not.

I slip into a pair of sleek, black, polycarbon-satin briefs, pulling them between my thighs into the tight nexus of my groin. The biochemically engineered synthetic fabric fits like a second skin. Its fine texture is so light it’s practically weightless. Beneath the smooth ridge of my pubic bone the protuberant layers of the outer labia are clearly visible. They mould the briefs’ glossy black crotch to the delicate contours of their sensual dimensions. The articulated shaft of the pseudo phallus protrudes slightly from a corolla of erectile petals, like the semi-tumescent stamen of a carnivorous orchid. The triangular nub of the glans-clitoris remains wedged in the moist furrow of the vulval cleft. The impression this strange organ creates beneath the clinging black fabric of the briefs resembles an abstract bas-relief sculpture. Or the fossilised remains of a prehistoric crustacean transfixed at the moment of extinction by the metamorphic vulcanism of crystallising obsidian.

Metamorphic?

How appropriate.

The slinta fully functioning, hermaphroditic sex organsymbolises all of the repulsion, fear, contempt and secret fascination with which we squids are regarded by the so-called normals. Our aberrant sexuality has inspired such a climate of atavistic terror that the Cadre’s Strategic Executive felt compelled to force through the punitive Generic Stability Decrees, prohibiting us from the professions, academia, the judiciary and law enforcement. Aside from the introduction of compulsory sterilisation, the Decrees have corralled us into squalid ghettoes like Harbortown’s Silver Quay district. They’ve only fallen short of the last resort of mass liquidation. Currently the authorities are confident that the existing measures will be sufficient to eradicate the recessive gene responsible for Krell’s Variation, the mutation that spawned the amorphibians.

Briefly I continue the frank appraisal of my naked body. I lazily trace my fingers along the silky smooth scales of my inner thigh. My palm brushes softly against my groin. The erectile tissues of the chitinous, phallic shaft are semi-tumescent. It slides moistly against the walls of its fleshy grotto, swelling beneath the elastic material that confines it. My hand moves slowly upwards, flat against the hollow concave of my abdomen. The hardening organ slackens and retreats to the fragrant darkness like a hibernating snake settling back into its lair.

Almost in a dream I explore the shallow depression of my belly between the bony promontories of my narrow hips. The slim trunk of my thorax is mottled with a regular pattern of what appear to be metallic scars. In size and shape they resemble the impression of antique silver coins embossed upon my scaly flesh, the stigmatic legacy of a transfigurative plague. Closer examination reveals these lesions to be occluded orifices similar to arthropod spinnerets: a glittering bodice that corsets my slender torso all the way up to my small, high breasts. The true purpose of these curious features remains a mystery. Occasionally they ooze an oily discharge of sticky, opalescent gel. Aside from this, they appear to serve no useful function. The same, however, cannot be said of the deep grooves, lined with a fine mesh of cartilaginous fibre, that score the flesh of my elongated neck just below the jawline under my ears. Rudimentary gills are a typical amorphibian trait. They are as essential to our nature as the dual-sexed slint.

I finish dressing quickly, sliding nimbly into a pair of tight, black, polycarbon-latex pants; a simulated snakeskin top; and knee-length boots with lethally sharp pointed toes. Black fingerless gloves; ceramic bracelets; and an articulated metal belt slung at a jaunty angle around my slim hips, complete the ensemble. At a glance there is nothing much to distinguish me from the rest of Harbortown’s flourishing population of hustlers, addicts, criminals and hookersthe squid variety, obviously.

And that’s just how it should be.

It’s hard not to allow myself a brief, wry smile, like an actor climbing into the well-worn skin of a familiar role. My long, thin, pointed black tongue flickers across my lips as I deliberately mimic a lizard tasting the air. The psychrome coursing through my system accentuates the pathological intensity of my cold-blooded metabolism, the icy aloofness of my true, amorphibian nature.

Normals?

Fuck ‘em, I think with venomous relish.

I slip on the neoplastic-Kevlar jacket. Fashionably cut, the garment is completely impervious to hi-velocity fragmentation shells; hollow points; Teflon roundseven flechettes. It would take a cluster shell or armour-piercing slug to penetrate the tough, lightweight fabric. Of course, such garments are practically de rigeur on the street these daysespecially in neighbourhoods like Harbortown’s Silver Quay district. The locals here tend to go around packing the kind of fire-power that wouldn’t have been out of place at the outbreak of WWIV.

Which reminds me.

Crouching down, I open a hidden compartment beneath the waste-disposal unit. This is where I keep my secret cache of weapons and ammunition; several weeks’ supply of psychrome, adrenazine and narcocil; and about 15,000 dinaro divided more or less evenly into small bills and low denomination credit chips. There are three handguns and a lightweight automatic rifle fitted with a silencer, infrared, telescope and laser sighting. Considering my options for a few moments, I select the German-made Farben-Fassbinder Mach-20 ceramic handgun, my favourite Geschaft Festung Europa export. A flawless precision instrument, reliable to a fault, it’s fully automatic with a revolutionary, triple loading system.

There is a wide variety of ammunition to chose from: heat-seekers, soft-points, incendiariesthe whole toy store. But I don’t need to think about it too long. I slide eight 9mm cluster shells into the secondary chamber of the breach. Properly dispersed they can stop an armoured car in its tracks. The first of the twin magazines I fill with steel-jacketed, armour-piercing rounds. I load the second clip with a dozen hi-velocity hollow points: a 12 gauge shot suspended in liquid Teflon impregnated with an isotopic serum of tetradotoxin derived from pufferfish venom. The poison induces paralysis in half a second, death in less than three. The slugs, laced with a toxin synthesized from one of the ocean’s most deadly inhabitantsthe tropical fugu, a prized delicacy of Japanese cuisineare custom-made for me. Professionally speaking, they have become my trademark, as personal to me as my own signature. Metal Sushi, I call them. And now so does everyone else in the business: all the icemen, hitters and voidboys. In fact, sometimes that’s what they call methose who know me by reputation alone. It’s practically become a synonym for my own name. I flip one of the lethal shells between my agile fingers with the skilful ease of a stage illusionist. When I slot the last one into place it slides in smoothly with a satisfying, metallic click.

Metal Sushi.

Cute, huh?

Before leaving I walk back to the mirror again. I try a few practise draws with the gun. I favour a two-handed griprigid stance, legs apartanticipating the weapon’s sharp recoil as I dry-fire it, blasting imaginary holes in my own reflection. In a strange waypractising with the weapon, my mood buoyant on the crest of a slow-rolling psychrome waveeverything seems to snap into cold, hard focus. As I holster the weapon and head back to the bedroom, I can hear Kyoko’s soft, lilting voice. Its cadence seems somehow unfamiliar, as if s/he’s attempting some strange, alien dialect.

I enter the bedroom. Immediately I find myself confronted with a group of black-garbed figures. The narrow lapels of their uniform jackets are emblazoned with the silver insignia of the mystic sigrunen. Automatically, my right hand leaps to the weapon holstered under my jacket. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Kyoko leaning over the cephalopods’ plastic tank, cooing at them like a proud parent with a pair of cosseted twins. The jarring incongruity of this imageKyoko poised on the tip-toes of hir stiletto heeled boots; petite and coquettish in designer fetish wear; the erect hackles of hir rigid, marine-blue coiffure framing hir innocent expression with a crown of fearsome spikesmomentarily confuses me. The strangersshaven headed; visor shades; nasty-looking, pig-nosed phase-disruptors drawnare members of Malthusian’s cult, the Heilige Kraken. I notice the open bedroom window, the rope ladder used to gain access from the roof.

Everything is moving in slow motion. I free my gun from its holster, staring down the dark muzzles of the four weapons directed at me. Kyoko continues to play with the octopoid simulacra, stirring the water with an extended index finger, apparently oblivious to the danger. I release the safety catch, feeling the subtle vibration as the first slug slides into the breach. My eyes search feverishly for cover, finding none. Too late I notice the fleeting, silver flash at the periphery of my vision. I feel the cold bite of metal sinking into the back of my hand, breaking my grip. The gun clatters to the ground. A single shot is discharged. One of the goons goes down. His left leg is obliterated below the knee. The exploding debris of atomised blood, charred flesh and powdered bone reconstitutes itself in abstract forms on the walls, floor and furniture. The radical amputee is dead before he hits the floor. Metal Sushi toxins are coursing through his system. They dilute the plasmic soup of adrenaline and histamine that has set his blood racing, catalysing the poison’s deadly efficiency. The remaining three keep their distance, apparently unconcerned with their comrade’s fate.

My vision blurs. The room swims before my eyes. The smell of cordite fills my nostrils, burning my tongue. I look down at my right hand. A glinting, silver shuriken is embedded deep in the muscle, which absorbs the fast-acting neural suppressant impregnating the projectile. Kyoko is watching me from the corner of the room. A wan smile plays about hir lips. There is a strange, apologetic expression on hir face. S/he toys with a second, star-shaped shuriken, turning it nervously in her slim, nimble fingers.

A pool of liquid darkness opens at my feet. It swallows me whole.

The tape loop of involuntary recall rewinds itself.

****

 

In 2009 Creation-Oneiros Books published the anthology, Songs of the Black Wurm Gism: Hymns to HP Lovecraft, which featured contributions by Grant Morrison, DM Mitchell, David Britton and many others and my own Manta Red.

 

Regarding this story Grant Morrison wrote:  'I remember reading Manta Red a few years ago and feeling the same excitement I'd felt as the first kid on my block to discover Lovecraft or Burroughs or A Clockwork Orange.  Here was something new and filled with energy and dazzling originality.  And there was something so uncompromisingly misanthropic about it; here was writing which held the 'human condition' in contempt, which treated the 'human condition', in fact, as something not too far removed from eczema.  Here was a voice that demanded nothing less than the complete and ultimate overthrow of humanity and all its works.  Here was a blazing, demented demand for a new, transcendental biology and a new language with which to describe it.

  'Conway's combination of superheated, superdense prose -- part Lovecraft, part Manga, part post-human porn -- seems to be made to be snorted rather than read.  Manta Red, like all of Conway's work, comes in hard on a narcotic rush of subconscious imagery; obsessive fetishistic descriptions of technology and flesh in constant copulation, souls burning and flowering in the appalling light of quantum armageddons, men and women transfigured in episodes of dread-inspiring cosmic grandeur.  There was horror there, no doubt, and there were also elements of science fiction and comic book bravado, but the story seemed to me to defy genre and aspire instead towards the visionary ecstasies of Coleridge or Artaud or Lautreamont.  I was hooked.'

 

I have to admit to being profoundly flattered by such a resounding endorsement, and hope the extract I'm including here lives up to Grant's kind words ...

 

 

MANTA RED

 

The hologram shimmers momentarily and then materialises like a high-resolution mirage. An intangible sculpture moulded in light, the illusion of depthof palpable realityis deceptively compelling. And yet, for all its digitally enhanced definition, the life-size tableau retains an ethereal quality: an eerie remoteness reinforced by the prevailing silence.

Dr Yoshida hovers close by, hypnotically drawn, like a perverse incarnation of acherontia styxthe enigmatic, nocturnal species that feasts on tearspowerless to resist the fatal allure of an incandescent flame. The glacial euphoria of realised ambition illuminates his bland, androgynous features: the transcendent rapture of a dreaming insect anticipating the beatific miracle of an immanent metamorphosis. A single thought. She is here.

At last, she is here.

Holographically conveyed from a distant chamber in the estate's east wing, the woman liessilent and immobileon a bed of shiny black metacarbon-latex, the gleaming fabric seductively moulded to the enticing contours of her lithe figure. A skin-tight catsuit made from the same glistening material encases her entire body. It clings snugly to every line and curveher slim thighs and small breasts; the slender nexus of her waist; the smooth convexities of her hips. Not a single centimetre of naked flesh is exposed. A tight-fitting mask envelops her head, concealing her face, eyes, nose and mouth.

The versatile plasticity of the basic metacarbon molecule can be manipulated to satisfy an infinite spectrum of practical applications. Metacarbon heat shields protect the hulls of space craft and Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles from the hellish temperatures generated during atmospheric re-entry. Synthetic transplant organsno less delicate and sophisticated than their natural counterpartsderive exclusively from a variety of metacarbon products . The sleek black fabricthe seamless mask and catsuit concealing the identity of Dr Yoshida's mysterious female guest beneath a glamorous carapace of ominous eroticism—incorporates subtle organic properties. Its porous quality permits both pulmonary and epidermal respiration, negating the risk of asphyxia.

The tableau creates the compelling impression that the woman's body has freshly coalesced from an icy reservoir of thick black oil. She resembles a sublime, unknowable sirenan obsidian Venusspawned from the subterranean cauldron of aeonic extinction and fossilised decay that has fuelled the invincible rise of technology's bleak, irresistible tyranny. A beguiling icon, she remains aloof and strangely alluring: the embodiment of ritual fetishism, impersonal sensuality.

And this bizarre arbour provides her with the perfect setting. The cool empty silence. The scalpel-clean sterility of pure white light. The atmosphere is strictly controlled. Filtered. Recycled. Nothing survives here by accident. Nothing thrives that has not been designed to thrive. Immense tiles of transparent aluminium panel the walls. They house a species of radiant planktoncountless billions of microscopic organisms—glowing with the coruscating brilliance of a hostile, nocturnal ocean. Dr Yoshida engineered these genetic mutations vastly increasing their natural phosphorous content, boosting their voracious sexual appetites and instinctive cannibalism—with the sole purpose of illuminating this place: his jealously guarded sanctum sanctorum. The walls exude the decadent iridescence of sex and death: a harsh, implacable cycle.

Dr. Yoshida has furnished the room with a Spartan simplicity that harks back to the transcendental virtues of Zen. A low table laid out with the requisite accoutrements of the sado, the traditional tea ceremony. A katana and tantothe full-length samurai sword and short dagger associated with the seppuku ritualstand sheathed and mounted lengthways on an ornamental, teak display rack. These ancient weapons remain every inch as lethal and exquisite as when they left the master craftsman's forge centuries before the accession of the first shogun.

The flayed hides of twelve yakuza gangsters upholster a brace of traditional ornamental screens. Dr Yoshida acquired five quite legally at auction in NeOsaka. The other seven represent the by-products of his more unorthodox enterprises.

The skins are remarkableflamboyantly embellished with the most spectacular examples of the tattooist's craft, executed in the strict irezumi style. Fabulous dragons and other monstrous chimeras rendered with breathtaking precision. Cranes and birds of paradisethe subtle variations in the colours and textures of their luminous plumageflawlessly executed. Elaborate tableaux depict epic scenes from myth and legend. The artists' skill completely subverts even the slightest hint of the macabre implied by the sight of tanned human hides displayed like barbaric trophies. One of the screens remains partially denuded. It would accommodate two more skins perfectly.

A second holographic image enters the insubstantial frieze; a young girl materialises silently from the projection field's invisible periphery. Resplendent in the traditional kimono, symbolic make-up and rigid coiffure of the geisha, her dignified appearance evokes the archaic conventions of a sublime culture lost to the nebulous mists of time. Occult motifs embroidered in shimmering brocadeturquoise, silver and goldadorn the pristine white silk of her formal gown. The geisha's gilded ensemble contrasts starkly with her companion's glossy black costume. She glides across the floor to the bed, standing over its motionless occupant: a voluptuous fetish sculpted in radiant latex.

Gentle and graceful as a dove, the geisha extends a slender white hand. She plucks a perfect circle of the paper-thin black fabric from the inert woman's featureless mask, revealing her right eye. It remains openthe opaque gaze of a cemetery angel serene in funereal repose. As a professional, Dr Yoshida cannot fail to acknowledge the quality of the workmanship. The eyeset in its almond-shaped orbit like a deliquescent jewelbears eloquent testimony to the technical expertise of NeOsaka’s thriving bioscaping clinics. The emerald green of the iris suggests a lush evocation of long-extinct, equatorial rainforests. The pupil's elliptical dilation exhibits a startling feline aspect.

The little geisha continues to methodically pick her unconscious companion’s oily black costume to pieces. She peels the woman like a fruit. One by one her sublime treasures are slowlytantalisinglyrevealed. Within a very short time she is completely naked. Her flawless pale flesh assumes a spectral radiance. It contrasts luminously with the mattress's shimmering black surface. The deep lustre of her long black hair is shot through with metallic blue. It scintillates with the cold brilliance of burnished chrome. The emerald iridescence of her large green eyes glitters hypnotically: jewelled runes filled with strange enchantments. Like a dreaming naiad she seems to peer blankly from the depths of some mysterious alien sea. Her coral pink lips remain slightly parted to reveal the scalloped ridges of her teeth like neat rows of pearlsperfectly formed, hard and white.

"Beautiful" says Dr Yoshida. He draws his clammy sweet breath through a persuasive fugue of arousal. Beneath his skin the messy miracles of biochemical transmutation initiate a series of chain reactions. The process accelerates subtly inexorablytowards the apex of critical mass. Soon. It will be soon.

"Aiko" Dr Yoshida addresses the holographic frieze directly. The estate's sophisticated communications and surveillance systems carry his voice to the chamber where the ritual disrobement of his sleeping guest has been performed. Aiko, the silent geisha, turns her impassive face to the source, recognising her master's voice.

"Prepare her now," he says, "and take her directly to the Conservatory."

Aiko bows deeply, indicating her compliance. Dr Yoshida allows the hologram to linger for several more moments. And then, at his unspoken mental command, it wavers and abruptly de-materializes. In its place, almost simultaneously, two more holographic tableaux coalesce with the deceptive illusion of solidity. Nothing happens within the walls of the estateor anywhere on the island itselfthat escapes Dr Yoshida's attention. His elaborate security systems afford him a level of omniscience once the alleged prerogative of the gods.

He watches, intrigued, as a group of five young men make their way with caution and stealth along the corridor which links the estate's eastern wing with the central core of the complex: the Conservatory. They are all comprehensively armed with the most lethal and sophisticated weaponry currently available to the modern assassin. Dressed in chameleonic metacarbon combat fatigues; flexible lightweight body armour; and featureless visored masks, they resemble a platoon of belligerent ants: a single mass-mind obsessed with the insect imperative of murder.

These faceless killers are members of the mercenary elite known as Termination Executives. Under the auspices of the Free Trade Charter, observed by all the Pan-Pacific conglomerates, they are legitimately licensed to commit contract murder. Discorporationthe term enshrined in the legislation's bland lexicon of euphemistic jargonis a recognised tool of commercial enterprise. In the context of corporate and contract law it falls into the same category as a hostile take-over. This group is led by Ishiru Okida. One of the most highly paid Termination Executives operating out of NeOsaka, he has accepted a 15 million yen-dollar bounty from the Hakashi Corporation, sanctioning Dr Yoshida's discorporation. Stories have been circulating among the upper echelons of NeOsaka's business and scientific communities, concerning Dr Yoshida's secretiveand allegedly fruitfulresearch into the fields of bio-intelligence, molecular transmutation andmost tantalising of allnanotechnology. Assuming the rumours are true, the Hakashi Corporation estimates that the secrets to be unearthed within the cloistered fortress of Dr Yoshida's island estate will give them years’if not decades’advantage over their competitors.

Dr Yoshida observes the mercenaries' progress with cold disdain. In his thoughts he remains as remote from their cruel materialism as from the maggots that feast on the ripe ooze of death and decay. These murderous philistines have laid siege to his island retreat for precisely seventeen minutes. From the moment their boots hit the sandy beach they have been closely monitored. It is time to dispose of them. Dr Yoshida issues a series of mental commands, initiating the estate's defensive measures.

The resulting carnage is brief but colourful.

Nanomatsmicroscopic machines produced by the biological manipulation of viral mitochondria and synthetically modified protozoa, genetically programmed and consciously directed via direct cybernetic interfaceare activated. Comparable in size to the virulent molecules of a thriving bacillus, the nanomats represent the cutting edge of exotic weapons technology. They proliferate at bewildering speed, precipitating a razor-ribbon maelstrom of shrapnel hail. Diamond grapeshot condenses out of empty air like fatal ice. The coruscating vortex effortlessly shreds the Termination Executives' body armour and sturdy fatigues. Cybernetic cancer spores materialize on their naked bodies. These voracious tumours propagate with a hideous efficiency that far surpasses the insidious progress of the most aggressive, naturally-occurring carcinoma. Fragments of flayed skin swirl on buzz-saw eddies of the brilliant whirlwind. A delicate red mist of atomised blood suffuses the sterile air of the blue-white corridor. The would-be assassins writhe like moulting serpents, shrieking in wordless agony. Observing calmly, Dr Yoshida relishes the excruciating music of their screamsa hellish cacophony orchestrated by a fastidious sadist.

But this is no mindless, indiscriminate slaughter. Dr Yoshida is far too astute for that. There must be at least one survivor for him to interrogate later. He remains determined to learn who was ultimately responsible for this invasionand to exact appropriate retribution.

Bleeding from countless wounds, his protective outfit in useless tatters, Ishiru Okida staggers through the swirling red fog. He is deaf to the screams of his comrades. At the end of the corridor an electronic door slides silentlysolicitouslyopen. Through a searing haze of blinding pain, Ishiru manages to reach and stumble through the door. It opens directly onto his original objective: Dr Yoshida's Conservatory. The door glides shut behind him.

Meanwhile, in the corridor, the nanomats continue their work. It has taken seconds for the mercenaries' bodies to be reduced to a state scarcely recognisable as human. A synthesised dew of molecular acid renders bone to steaming gelatinous ooze. Vertebrae melt into an undifferentiated mire of pulped gristle and molten fat. Seeping viscera spiral wildly from their pelvic cradles like nests of frenzied snakes. Bulbous malignancies, the size and shape of bloody cauliflowers, cling in unendurable clusters to the men's disintegrating bodies. They howl for death. Somehow it remains callously reticent.

Four dark shapes emerge from a vat of raw metacarbon base that resembles a treacherous, prehistoric tar pit, its cloying black depths teeming with nanomats. Glistening black humanoid forms coalesce rapidly, assuming a familiar configurationa deliberate simulation of the traditional ninja assassin, the historical antecedent of the modern Termination Executive whose homicidal skills are so highly valued and lucratively rewarded. The ninjas are armed with orgone disrupters. They move silently through the fading red mist. Not a single droplet of blood adheres to their smooth obsidian skins. They dispose of their victims with passionless efficiency. The orgone disruptors discharge bursts of concentrated DOR: Deadly Orgone Radiation. Writhing bolts of blue-green energy destabilise the holistic principles essential to the cohesion of all living organisms. In theory and in practise the process has been described as a form of genetic fission.

For a second the mercenaries' bodies glow an eerie green, tissues incandescent with the fatal radiance of nuclear transmutation. And then they erupt. The result is not simply one of decayof accelerated putrefaction, even. The orgone disruptors initiate chain-reactions of internalised temporal distortion. Metabolic time travel. Molecular bonds shatter. Complex protein chains unravel, swamped by the quantum catastrophe of chromosomal chaos. In moments the Termination Executives are no more than four indistinguishable pools of bubbling, protoplasmic slime. The putrid ooze swarms with the primitive mitochondria that once fuelled the species' evolutionary ascent from the fertile depths of the primal ocean. These, too, are quickly devoured by the tireless hive of proliferate nanomats. They scour the walls, floor and ceiling of the corridor. Not a fragment of skina single iota of bloodremains. The metacarbon automatons return to the vat that spawned them, melting back into the cold black morass. An icy calm pervades the sterile air, the blue-white radiance of the corridor.

Less than two minutes have passed.

Dr Yoshida's attention shifts to the second holographic frieze. Two young men are slouching casually on a large sofa. They are identically dressed in grey business suits that shimmer slightly with a subtle metallic sheen. The expert cut of their suits disguises the fact that they are both carrying shoulder-holstered handguns. Their state-of-the-art weapons are equipped with laser sightings and heat-seeking smart shells whose draconian fire-power is frankly superfluous beyond a military combat situation. Both men wear their hair fashionably short and slicked back severely. It accentuates the softness of their smooth, clean-shaven features. Their bland expressions are infused with the innocent cruelty of psychopathic children. Several dishes of synthetic fruits and sweetmeats, genetically engineered for their mild narcotic and aphrodisiac qualities, are laid out before them on a glass-topped table. The men nibble at the succulent delicacies, enjoying a light euphoria of hallucinogenic arousal.

These men are members of the yakuza, the insidious criminal underworld that permeates every stratum of Pan-Pacific society and its economic satellites. They have been responsible for the abduction of the woman whosubject to Aiko’s tender ministrationsis being prepared for the culmination of Dr Yoshida's lifelong ambition, the pinnacle of years of research and heroic endeavour. Dr Yoshida directs the men to the Conservatory, where, he assures them, they will be paid for their services presently. And he hints at a special bonus in store: a reward for the exemplary manner in which they executed their appointed task. They move languidly into the corridor. Avarice adulterates their drugged serenity with its cold, pre-meditative edge.

Dr Yoshida banishes both holograms with a single thought. Now he is alone with his dreams. The elaborate anatomy of a unique pathology extends beyond his mind like the web of an elegant, predatory spider. A cocktail of exotic poisons infuses the subtle tapestry, gilded with abstract diadems like crystallized jewels of brilliant antimony. Four hapless flies have become entwined in his lethal trap. He could have waited centuries for this moment.

But now the waiting is over.

****

Subdued ultraviolet lighting. Suggestion of pheromone laced with the dry tang of ozone. Dr Yoshida's Conservatory combines the steamy humidity of a pre-Cambrian swamp with the fertile putrescence of a ripening dung-heap. It recalls the excremental womb whose foetid heat incubated the gestating eggs of the legendary basilisk. What is he trying to hatch?

The subtle twang of a lonely samisen. A stunted cherry tree sheds its blossoms in time to the cascading melody. The fragrant shower gently breaks the fragile meniscus of a languid stream, scenting the water with a little of its perfume. Just below the surface large, elaborately coloured koi glide and shimmer silently.

Dr Yoshida enters the Conservatory, moving across the floor gracefully. In his left hand he carries a small silver bowl. It contains a species of black sea cucumber marinated live in the venom of the spiny freshwater manta ray. Manta Red. The brilliant crimson juice is prized not only for its unique piquancy but also for its powerful psychotropic and aphrodisiac effects. In anything but the most minute doses pure Manta Red would prove instantly lethal to a normal human being. But Dr Yoshida is far from a normal human being. He has been using Manta Red daily for many years. The quantities he so casually imbibes would kill a dozen men. From time to time he plucks a specimen of the pungent delicacy from the bowl and pops it whole into his mouth, grinding the ripe meat to pulp between his busy molars.

Dr Yoshida’s fingers are slim, elongated, with prominent joints like the ghostly digits of the Madagascan aye-aye. His large almond-shaped eyes look remorselessly black, reinforcing the illusion. Dressed in a white silk yukata, fastened at the waist with a red obi belt, his costume recalls the traditional attire favoured by the honourable suicides of Edo. His hair is long, aromatically oiled. He wears it tied at the back in an elaborate bun, similar to the style once sported by the samurai elite of the old feudal hierarchy. He remains barefoot andbeneath the yukatacompletely naked.

The Conservatory consists of a large, circular chamber housed beneath an immense metacarbon dome. The dome functions like a vast cornea surrounding the strange array of surveillance systems and sensory organs that constitutes the complex pathology of the Bio-Hive, Dr Yoshida's unique biological computer. The whole, or individual sections, of the dome's surface may be rendered selectively transparentlike glass, or unilaterally in the manner of a two-way mirror. It also functions as an audio-visual monitoring device, upon which an overlapping montage of holographic images from every part of Dr Yoshida's island estate may be projected. The dome is completely impervious to the elementsthe catastrophic power of monstrous tsunami and devastating typhoons. It can even withstand the apocalyptic force of a ten megaton nuclear airburst.

The Bio-Hive dominates the Conservatory, but remains largely invisible to the naked eye. More than ninety per-cent of its bulk lies buried beneath several thousand kilos of black, nutrient-enriched plasma-mass: a form of primal soil synthesised by the accelerated putrefaction of living organisms. Bulbous growths, like rotten cantaloupes glistening with the rancid sweat of corruption, protrude above the mist-shrouded compost. These vegetal excrescences palpitate with the steady rhythm of aerobic respiration, indicating that they are alive—the highly developed sensory organs of a malevolent intelligence lurking below the surface.

The plasma-mass also supports a fragrantly wasted undergrowth of emaciated, flesh-coloured shrubs. Closer scrutiny reveals this macabre flora to be a collection of excised human nervous systems. They have been reduced in size and preserved by a process that combines the exacting disciplines of micro-surgery and genetic engineering with the ancient art of bonsai. Wrinkly, sap-heavy fruit dangles from their spindly limbs: the active remnants of their former hosts' brains. Precisely dissected, these pulsating clusters of cortical tissue have been metabolically adapted to perform myriad new functions vital to the Bio-Hive.

The Conservatory also contains a number of large, transparent aluminium cocoons. They line the inner perimeter of the dome like a nursery of giant, crystalline eggs. The cocoons are filled with a milky semi-opaque liquid: the fertile, amnio-seminal fluid secreted by the hermaphroditic Bio-Hive. The life forms contained within these synthetic wombs exist in a state of perpetually-arrested embryonic development. They represent a branch of evolution so highly specialised that they are, in fact, little more than autonomous reproductive organs. These creatures are sexual symbiotes. Their sole function is to catalyse the procreative union of unrelated species so utterly divergent as to be consideredquite literallyalien to one another. The resulting alchemical pregnancy, Dr Yoshida anticipates, will yield a hybrid offspring: the first of a new race. It is a long-held theory, its roots in the myths of antiquity. He has already put its initial phases into practise. Soon the procedure will reach its climax.

Dr Yoshida pauses before one of the cocoons. Its occupant is a large, eel-like creature, its leathery skin slick with a visceral, amphibious quality. About four feet long, it coils and uncoils languidly, returning Dr Yoshida's regard with what appear to be equal measures of curiosity and instinctive menace. The head resembles that of a carnivorous, prehistoric fish. Its eyespupil-less, colourless disksswivel ceaselessly on each side of its bony skull. Feathery gill-arrangements flutter rhythmically just below the jaw. Instead of a mouth it possesses a tube-like proboscis. A single coil of gristly tissue spirals inward on itself; its motion grotesquely lampoons the normal action of peristalsis. The proboscis functions as both a mouth and excretory organ. It also disseminates the creature's specialised, symbio-procreative spores.

The Gene Pool occupies the centre of the Conservatoryas wide and deep as an Olympic swimming pool, filled with the amnio-seminal fluid secreted by the Bio-Hive. Nanomats infest every fluid ounce. Surrounded by Dr Yoshida’s meticulously cultivated gardensdwarf trees where birds of paradise perch and preen; crystal streams deliquescing with shoals of colourful koi; the carnal torture orchard of the Bio-Hivethe Gene Pool resembles a numinous lagoon at the heart of a surreal Eden.

His senses singing with the erotic vibrancy of Manta Red; taste buds tingling with its dry tang; a sudden reverie overwhelms Dr Yoshida. Its force is irresistible, persuasive. His heightened perceptions evoke a visceral high so intoxicating that he seems to literally re-experience the original event rather than merely remembering it.

****

 

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© David Conway