The Latex Princess

1998

A bespectacled young girl of slight figure, who looked exactly like the long-haired young Coleridge from Peter Vandyke’s portrait, rode on a rickety bicycle by a long, rutted concrete wharf, where tired Polish freighters unloaded a brown Silesian coal whose protozoic edges could take off a finger in seconds. Streaked through with hairlines of pale gold and silver, the coal was high-calorie food for the antique Mountview power-station a mile up-river, and if the girl could yet speak she would say, typically, that she herself was equally high-calorie food for the new University of Grasschester, the place of work towards which her ancient machine was heading.

The university lay between two sections of roaring motorway and the line of a tidal cut where the sea-estuary narrowed sharply. Prevailing east winds, whipping over the unloading chutes by the deep-water basin, sent the hard, sharp dust of countless generations of ancient European forests over the fields and the university buildings within what irate colleagues of the cyclist had declared was an area more polluted than any Communist industrial triumph.

These fossils were a perpetual and almost invisible snow over the speeding red and grey stream of the worn nineteen-fifties motorways, and the damp but sharp grains settled on the reversed peak of the young woman’s baseball-cap; coated the humming transformers of the overloaded power station, and even penetrated the pack of sausage-sandwiches stuffed in her saddlebag. The abrasive dust also lay thickly on the twenty-two-kilovolt National Grid transmission lines, which became diamond-scored veins in the layers of grey tones spread by worn nineteen-fifties chimneys and cooling towers. The carbon monoxide from the exhausts of 10 thousand cars, buses, and trucks per hour was added to the badly filtered output of the inefficient furnaces of the station, contributing yet more half-roasted, almost invisible agony to socks, necks, bedsheets, and fingernails of the region, none of which ever seemed clear of adamantine one-fiftieth pinheads of families of silicates, phosphates, and also a species of surprisingly radioactive oil-shale, whose disturbingly high Geiger count on many occasions was a well leaked national secret. In laboratories, workshops, and testing sheds, these hard locusts caused endless trouble with clocks, calculators, computers and the delicate moving parts of experimental equipment. Occasionally the shale caused apocryphal meter swings in nineteen-sities cloud-chambers and even disturbed gold-leaf counters of scintillations from a much earlier epoch, when pathfinder Mosquitos bound for Berlin took off from runways not a mile from the entrance to Grasschester Senate House, which had no grass, no senate, even less universitas, and Chester was forty miles away.

Enter quad, more often referred to as the Car Park. Chain bicycle to torn girder of upturned combine-harvester, “Knowledge,” a £100 thousand piece of “burnt bronze,” known locally as the holocaust memorial. Wave merrily to incoming strata of staff and students. Note the scowls of Principal Sam “Mr. Pastry” Brent and Joyce “Potemkin” Sales Head of Administration as they pass by in state and note copy of The Sun I have placed on prominent stanchion of holocaust memorial. Take sandwiches and flask from saddlebag. Take down grin. Get ready to begin another techno-scientific working day. Bring back grin as Potemkin and Pastry enter glass and concrete mongrel mix of Grasschester University Senate House, a vision suspended between a nineteen-thirties cinema, a Maginot Line fortification, and a bingo-hall in hell.

Last cigarette before entering restricted areas of bovine-correct.

Striking a match on jutting stanchion of holocaust memorial, she knew that if a physical structure ever had a conspiracy against it, it was this expensive piece of “industrial theme” sculpture which had proved an irresistible siren to destructive curiosities. According to The Independent it was meant to represent the “union of science and democracy” in the new “technological university” of Grasschester. Originally it had consisted of a cast-iron willow-tree suspended above eighteen stainless-steel buckets ascending and descending on an endless chain, filling and emptying water from a surrounding fountain-bowl. In the year prior to the girl’s striking of her matchhead much of the machinery had been stolen by raiding gangs of scrappers from the vast caravan camp nearby or vandalised by what the local press called tower-block mutants, mainly from the scorched areas of local estates. Within six months the broken mass had rusted solid, the subsidised forge of its birth had gone bankrupt and its stick-legged designer had died. Complete refurbishment was now “not cost-effective,” a phrase which, to the girl leaning against the fountain and blowing smoke into the twisted wreck, was beginning to be as familiar and as sinister as that previous managerial cure-all of “we were only obeying orders.”

Throw cigarette-stub into dry bowl of fountain. See it join first leaves of autumn, dead pigeon, and old copy of TV Times. See it smoulder across the cover smile of some almost nameless prancing garage doll of last month’s Full Feature. This great waste-God, not quite passed on, somehow manages to smile back, face pitted by the inevitable black Silesian crystals.

Am I alive?

The university says so. The university says that I am Professor Gillian Bamforth, Head of the Computer Science Department.

An eighteen-year-old youth detaches himself from that mass of resurrected bri-nylon which for some ancient reason the local villagers call students, and glances at the picture of the HRH the Princess in a bikini on the front page of Gillian Bamforth’s politically incorrect newspaper.

He smiles and gives me a thumbs-up sign.

Which means there is still hope for the young.

I should know that.

Because I am three years younger than he.

She passes along a narrow, sunless, oil-stained road between heavy equipment delivery bays, loomed over by the vibrating buildings of the Engineering Research and Test Facility. Here, her usual morning stab of panic arrives, perfectly timed. For the two minutes it takes her to walk to the stairway she is a child at the bottom of a canyon, flanked by sky-high systems of thought. This concrete and steel trough, quite void of all sunlight, sees her mentally crushed by the intimidating slabs of the disintegrating cultural armour of the teeming ant-hills of her century’s best expectations.

I have a problem.

I have never ever wasted time.

I look at the picture of the Princess again.

How does her system work?

Climbing the stairs, the lights of road-lamps dim and flicker through bunker windows. The cheap timers of the lamps along the campus roadways are always out of phase, throwing the entire place into charcoal octaves of day-night mix, made even more confusing by curious pollution-driven weather-changes. The timers are also thrown out by voltage fluctuations caused by the design of the “revolutionary” blades of the MountView turbine generators designed by the Engineering Department, which only ever run at fifty per cent efficiency. If output ever rises above this miserable level, these blades promptly shoot from their “revolutionary” high-tech mountings, frequently piercing stout casings and thick walls with the easy appetite of anti-tank missiles. However, almost all of the dwellers of this extensive Development Area agree that fluctuating Third World lighting is an acceptable irritation compared to the benefits of letting the scientists and engineers go nuclear.

Within these curve-less rectangular intimidations, she says to herself, which look like national car-parks built to resist nuclear hits, I spend my days and nights trying to help research engineers squeeze just a little bit more performance out of the last generations of diesel-electric and internal-combustion engines. I pass many fallen tribal names of campfire England, become now ciphers embedded in the conglomerate hyphens of the notice boards: Hawker-Siddeley, Vickers-Armstrong, English-Electric. Like Bottom, we are all being translated.

A massive crane truck pulls up and conveniently conceals her from the seriously committed brows of a pair of 18-year-old electrical engineering students, one of whom was notorious for still speaking of something called the working-class, and the other who gave talks entitled “Science and Social-Democratic Planning: The Way Forward.” Neither student was intellectually able but in this particular university there was no such thing as being dismissed, still less Sent Down.

The ones who couldn’t do Research went into Planning, those who couldn’t manage Planning went into Administration, and, she thought as she passed a tinted forelock, fancy creatures who couldn’t do anything at all, inevitably flowed into Media Studies, or finally something called Performance Arts. After that, there was only harakiri or the penal battalion of the Foreign Legion.

These less than charitable thoughts of early morning were fatal and the god of liberal vengeance pinioned her against the crane-cab door in the form of Jolly John Briars of Programming Applications. Inevitably Jolly John talked without cease about his latest work on traffic computers, traffic-lights, traffic management, traffic control, and the analysis of traffic jams. This morning it was a rail-traffic control computer and something called a Packaging Technology Analyser. Wondering if the latter wore brown-paper academic gowns, she extricated herself with great difficulty and, giving a sheaf of promises, reflected that it was getting difficult to find a true philosopher in Grasschester University.

Tall rectangles stretch to the horizon just like the pit-heads at the turn of the century. Lines of students clock in and clock out, equal slaves to the same obsolescent industrial objectives. Doomed to hack forever at seams of fossilised mind-fuel to secure the permanent sustaining of meaningful schedules of high-powered pseudo-purpose. The increasingly expensive activities in these pieces of over-promoted cubism are just as wasteful and inefficient, just as polluting—and finally lead to the same industrial and social nowhere as did the old collieries. But nevertheless these schedules have to be maintained, thought she, for just as a healthy body has to be kept within a very narrow range of temperatures, apparently the mind has to have these treacherous marsh-lights of reason as junk-fixes for increasingly artificial highs of progress and meaning.

Stop now by bunker-parapet which might well be from a Normandy 250mm blockhouse of 1944. Light the other half of split cigarette. Blow smoke across an industrially blasted heath, towards the high tower-blocks of The Harold Wilson Garden City Estate, yet another prizewinning project within Sam Brent’s “Community and Technology Working Together” scheme.

The Garden was a nineteen-seventies housing project whose design arose out of the combined efforts, over five years, of Grasschester’s Department of Social Studies and the Department of Architecture and Design, aided by what the Minister for the Environment described at the time as “first-class expert professional advice” from Grasschester’s Departments of Psychology, Building, Planning, and Materials Studies. These last three Departments had been responsible for the faulty river and chimney filters of the Mountview Power Station, which proved better at earning knighthoods than filtering.

After ten years only some 150 barricaded tenants were brave enough still to live with the benefits of fabulously expensive Critical Path Analysis in the Estate. When night fell, as victims in a rationalised area, tenants of all races became first colonists, their pistols and axes beside suitable firing-slits and steel doors. Come darkness, the only traffic in the area was either criminal, police, or came from the kind of independent film company which could not afford actors, sets, or writers. A few hours’ free shooting with video and still-cameras was often sufficient to capture and sell enough enlightenment-mythology in action for a possible “serious” TV short-feature. Some frames could be sold for an edgy magazine cover or beautifully produced coffee-table book on “urban decay” complete with heavily guarded pouting actresses in short skirts draped over wrecked cars, as symbols of suffering  within “the agony of the devastation.”

I only know one thing about rationalisation. It’s always the last stage before the lights go out.

She remembered her dreaming.

Wooden-faced panjandrum called Science at work desperately re-advertising itself. Faraday’s coils rise up from the dust, Wells’ electric-pylon Martians stalk the air, now full of neural nets and fuzzy circuitry as night-self conjures Fritz Lang’s massive cogs and Flash Gordon’s high flashing voltages and massive circuit-breakers. But here in Grasschester were no wire-trailing Frankensteinian monsters, no wild-haired professors with staring eyes throwing huge switches as lightning strikes outside the laboratory at the witching hour. Only old tidal and magnetic midnight is still the same, the only time it ever is in such places as the twelfth floor; for thinking animals are only really happy when the sun goes down and the Nets and Webs start to open up, just like old Medium Wave Radio.

Once upon a time, two decades before the young Professor was born and long before the planners and the planning, the managers, the statisticians, and the rationalising, Grasschester People’s College had been a happy and contented collection of efficient and busy trade-schools which produced consistently a good-quality essence of the modest: cobblers, solicitors, pastry-cooks, accountants, and hotel managers. Upgraded to a Polytechnic, these solid and useful meats had been replaced by a fallen pseudo-science which in Gillian’s opinion, had made occultism intellectually respectable again. Now upgraded again to a full university, in the mind of the girl sucking on the last of her cigarette at the parapet Grasschester, was the keystone of the social surround which made a vast structure of evolving impostures complete.   

What is waste?

She passes the window of a deserted lecture room. A computer on a desk. The smart plastic case smiles. Pleasant, affable. Factual. But there are other faces there. Faces surrounding a nineteenth century keyboard. Faces of nineteenth century mathematicians around a nineteen-thirties cathode display. She hears names. Ideas of programmability from the 1950s and 1960s. Faces, names, ideas, all gather in chips from the 1970s and 80s, all strung together by ideo-ladders across canyons, ideo-stairs into cellars, priest-holes, and secret journeys into industrial wonderlands. And not a little failure and despair along the way for this compact mass of rigged conventions and stage-fronts. Flow, pulse, wave, particle, all deceptions to make the maths look respectable.

And not a few wastes of time.

And some mighty conspiracies, mysterious deaths, and bankruptcy, and not a little genocide along the way. What I see before me in this smiling slim plastic case of the computer is such a thing of souls, that it is a wonder that anything so absurd as a mask of solid, disinterested materiality would have the infernal cheek to walk on stage.

I understand all of this.

Except the wastes of time.

What is waste?

Who is the Princess?

Her brow furrows as if considering some mathematical problem. The Radiation Laboratory looms. She is dreaming again. She pushes aside the thought of the cancer growths on the monkeys in the basement, deliberately induced by way of intellectual disgrace. In the far distance, a 22 thousand-horsepower marine turbine tethered to five hundred tons of basement concrete roars for the sea. Other ideas, other names, and other faces came out of the sea towards her, some of them mouth Attic cries of long ago of, eliminate yourself, take notes, form theories, and reach objective conclusions.

Towers inside and out. I feel sick. Skyscraper thoughts full of the notes of history formed through trying to get rid of the mess of the self. Now the mental vertigo of Chemistry, Physics and Biology buildings. My several minds are mountain-ranges of quarto, foolscap, down to whatever odd-sized vellum-scratches and scrolls and skins the god of the formula demands. As I follow the discernible movements of the nice arm-muscles of Dan Hartley of Administration, I trace the treacherous correlations, which snake sometimes only a baffling part-way through all the tables, calculations, and curves. I chose this wandering path, I suppose, because long ago before I was born, I was bored trying to find out whether God had a navel, a name, or how many of his minions could stand on the point of a pin. I am frightened of this snake’s progress. When the cerebral goddess creature strikes, all acolytes are frozen to a serving shadow, like myself. When this snake sheds its skin, then all curves, tables, charts, and formula are carefully transported into museum twilight. Whether the notes be of mansions of the moon or of beta-scintillation, they are doomed to become a layer just below the ticking surface of such a thin, carboniferous shroud as is now being almost invisibly laid upon Grasschester campus.

Is this waste?

From the ledge of the masterpiece of bunker-art she gazes to the east, over by the Police Post which announces the native quarter, and over a short strip of 1944 hard-standing which once witnessed 22 thousand-pound Grand Slams being loaded into Lancasters bound for central Germany. Her eyes meet yet another monument to Reason and Enlightenment: The Hilda Barraclough Cash N’ Carry Super Sex Mart. The latest and extremely popular item offered within this additional rectangular fortress is a luminescent sex-doll model of the tabloid Princess, complete with “fully vibrating and self-lubricating body-orifices.” Optional extras for this creation were a tiara, a model mobile “secure” phone and an “authentic” exercise machine. The doll came complete in a plain box with a free copy of the current Majesty magazine. The “Latex 11” of which this creation was made had taken Grasschester’s Department of Industrial Chemistry no less than five years to develop. Twenty million pounds later, only Hilda Barraclough had ever found a useful job for the strong, silky stuff to do. What Scientist 2000 magazine called “this triumph of chemical engineering technology” now fluttered atop a high flagpole on the car-park roof of the Mart, in the form of a spread-legged and open-mouthed Princess.

The royal form now flew where once a windsock helped safely guide home shattered bombers piloted by a generation of British youth whose fathers, whilst infants, could well have attended the funeral of the great Victoria. Seeing the blimp of her floating in the air not a half-mile away, Gillian thinks that the opinions of such fathers on Grasschester’s Latex Princess might well have been worth hearing.

This morning the Princess is particularly well produced. Through a firing-slit on a damp, seeping stairwell, Gillian sees that an intense winter sun has risen behind the floating form, giving it a particularly spectacular Grasschester Spectre. Students are out in scores looking at this mirage which experts suggested was produced by light being refracted through bands of different kinds of air pollution though, as with all mirages, nobody quite understood the refractory laws of this phenomenon. This afternoon it consists of a pattern selective of the many industrial sites of the Grasschester area. Profound interpretations and fish-eye-lens views had already appeared in colour supplements and things called Arts Slots. No less mysterious is the irregular cycle of this phenomenon. It could occur two or three times in a week, then not for a month or more. With no immediate convincing explanations forthcoming, it became a disturbing thing to expect or live with, like a City fraud, a government Denial or a proliferation of crop-circles.

A Princess sculpted of waste, produced and lighted by waste?

Like the sex doll weather vane, the Grasschester Spectre physically reflected human interests and activities, though no-one had yet succeeded in identifying a single particular location for the Spectre. For the several hours that it lasts, this image in the sky is a frustrating and mocking thing, virtually an alien spaceship hanging in the air whose doors look as if they are going to take a very long time to open. The appearances of the Spectre have become part of Grasschester culture. Under its influence, skin feels as if statically electrified and tempers are on edge. It is a not-quite occult, not-quite rational thing which influences jokes, moods, and relationships. Its appearance also coincides with intensity of peaks and lows of the infamous Grasschester dust, integrating performance of machine and instrument into its cycle. This vision in the sky baffles the complex of the explanation-bacillus of which Grasschester is a pulsing cell. Some say that it is not the first time in history that explanations have been confounded by visions in the sky, or even by floating Princesses.

Like my equations and my programs, I am clever and I am efficient. Unlike the Princess, I am not lost in deserts of media waste.

But like my programs, I have reached the waste barrier.

Waste defeats me. I cannot comprehend it. My entire profession and my short life have all been dedicated to getting rid of inefficiencies, minimising losses, cutting friction, delay, mistakes, and silliness. We cerebrals have no time for cosmetic dramas, for the world of appearances, for wasteful bough-plumage and endless show.

Yet the Princess is wiping us out.

She was probably here well before us.

And she will be here when the last equation and the last program are vapour.

The Princess commands waste. Without waste there would be no time. Nothing would die. Waste controls time.

Unusually, this morning Gillian Bamforth passes the Faculty on the twelfth floor where her research team is waiting for her. She makes her way up to the flat roof of the fifteenth floor, where the dish-aerials and microwave links hum and turn, air-conditioning vents roar, and a single thin metal rail separates her by 400 feet from the rusty spikes of the holocaust memorial directly below.

She leans on the shaky rail and bawls an address down at the vast crowd in front of her.

“Yesterday morning I made a discovery. Going to my local public library, I found that Time had disappeared completely from the Borley Road. I looked in vain in the popular newspapers for all the proper world-props, which appeared to have disappeared overnight. All the arrays of action and significance, all the traffic reports, air-crashes,  murders, the sinking of ships, and the compulsory updating of the mundane doings of pin-brained politicians – all these doubtful claims, essential to the mass manufacture of pseudo and artificial significance and meaning, had all once more been quite vanished by the Princess.

“She had been heard talking to one of her lovers on her mobile digital phone.

“I looked in vain for the pain of war and famine, the fantasies of something called the Economy; I looked equally hard for the warnings about the dangers of an amateur-sponsored nuclear holocaust, but it appeared that all these carefully maintained tensions of paranoid person had had their locked membranes dosed with a great dollop of pink-ice-cream and for a significant historical-hysterical moment the old Profound was no more.

“My astonishments knew no bounds.

“According to this newspaper only the other week the ex-husband of the Princess (that is the Keeper of Protestant Mysteries in Waiting) was heard on his own mobile digital phone saying that he wanted to be reborn as a pair of his secret lover’s knickers.

“Which gives me a totally new view of the Lutherian Incarnation.”

As the wind catches her red-ribboned long brown hair, for a moment Gillian thinks of buying a frequency scanner and perhaps having the luck to catch the Princess talking to some film-star lover, both ecstatically borne aloft in the magnetic flux. That, or perhaps the Queen herself talking to some important personage and even hinting of state secrets. For a moment she has an idea that the work which goes into such a scanner, possibly the ideas of ten generations or more, was not for weaponry, or public utility, but really to develop a divining talisman, to rediscover a long-lost communication with the regions of a ruling nature, now once more so refined as to become quite ethereal like the Princess herself. Perhaps such an instrument, she thinks, might enable the gods and goddesses to come back home to their proper medium through convention of pulse and charge, of carrier-wave and frequency-modulation. And all to carry and preserve the secrets of our beloved Leaders.

Perhaps, she thinks, the Princess could even conquer Time. Gillian was familiar with Einsteinian Time, with Aristotelian Time, and even with the Decimal Time of Concordet. But early yesterday morning she had made a discovery.

“I was astonished! Time, reduced to the dimensions of a single advertisement, had disappeared completely from Borley Public Library. 9.30 on a rainy Monday morning in late November is not a good time to find a collection of fundamentalist philosophers hovering around the newspaper table. Especially those philosophers so carefully austere that they deny themselves the price of a daily newspaper. But already the single Daily Mirror available to all had the look of fish-and-chip paper of the night before last. The tension was like that of the arrival of much-thumbed Xeroxes of Colour Climax under the desks of the Sixth Form of my old public school, before they made their way down to the patient and salivating Fifth, Fourth, and even the Third.

“Here, shadows gazed eyeless at sports pages as they waited their turn for the Daily Mirror. Cracked spectacles were fumbled for amidst ragged bus-passes by all ages, conditions, and levels of mental stability. With excessive and furtive politeness, a natural pecking-order was established. The impoverished Major first, the ex-alcoholic headmaster second, then a male Miss Marple or two, followed by a mud-stained bug-eye fresh from the Children’s Shelves, and a stinking psychopath fresh from the park-bench. Here were the very average citizens assembled for the by-now-almost-compulsory daily thigh-gazing at the Princess and to prove it, there wasn’t a Daily Mirror to be had in town after five minutes past nine by Borley Town Hall clock.

“Finally, I am allowed to see the Princess spread-eagled across the middle pages in full colour. There is certainly an art of masterly high suggestion which makes humans gibber and salivate like cats before pigeons. Nothing to do with acres of stimulated naked flesh, but the irresistible blatant cheek of a complete vacuum, against whose perfect surface all salivating expectancies beat their tiny wings in a universal dance of insect-death.

“Try a program for that.

“Beyond all possible pornographies, there lay the queen bee, her muscles gently exercised by stainless-steel and royal-blue washable nylon: there lay this blank piece of washed-out technicolour protein, spun by pure suggestion rather born, a B-feature simulation rather than any DNA construct. Arch-glancing even to her private self, her little orange pants emphasising the pouting lips of her universal yoni, which is being nicely streamlined for sacrifice by rules so old and perfect, soon Her Royal Highness won’t even feel the passing of time between the advertisements of life and the advertisements of death.

“Now here was a waste of time indeed.

“Only the siren frequency of the advertisements oozing from this universal yoni could unite such charming grotesques as were gathered there. Nothing else would do. These people were nothing if not connoisseurs. No actress or porn star, no stripper or film star could possibly command this level of hypnotic resource. Such a masquerading pseudo-yoni as theirs would be ignored, spat upon, even rationalised out of existence. It has to be the yoni of the Princess herself and no other.”

Gillian moves to the edge of time between shadow and substance of dish-aerial and flagpole so that the Latex Princess, floating gently in the distant sky, was become older than Moses, older even than the first trash-dump on the outskirts of the first trash-town. To the north, on the twentieth floor of Britannia House in the Harold Wilson Garden City Estate, a receiver of the benefits at the lower ebb of the social-scientific curve just then smashed his five-year-old daughter’s head against a rough-dressed fortress-wall so hard and so often and so fast the wall was pockmarked as the machine-gunned bunker-walls of a time not all that long past. The man then dived from a sill of the twentieth floor with his shattered child in his arms. A bounce off the annex of the Architectural Department sent both his broken torso and his shattered babe straight through the roof of the Volkswagen of the Grasschester District Director of Social Services, who was about to drive off for a long EuroWeek organised by the German Christian Socialist Party.

Metaphors have a long shelf-life.

Gillian grips the single rail, which sways on a rusted stanchion above the holocaust memorial, looking to her at that dizzy height for all the world like an opening, rusty, iron flower.

“I felt privileged watching that universal yoni unite all those widely divided and troubled mentalities around the library table. No war could do such a thing, no social policy, no amount of good sense, worthiness or profound intellectual truth could unite those human shadows nearly so much nor so powerfully as the common urge to salivate even before only the shadowy, dot-screened outlines of those particular labia.”

Around her thoughts, sirens wail as the forces arrived which were required to disentangle father, babe, Volkswagen, and the almost severed head of the Director of Grasschester Social Services.

“And attendant conspiracies gathered around this special vagina like guardian angels of the transfer regions of matter and spirit. In the picture, like a true goddess, the Princess is not sweating, under strain, or concentrating, just gazing straight into a noisy Leica above her, apparently worked remotely from an unbelievable 100-foot length of electromechanical transmission cable. Her hair is perfect, she is wearing make-up, and she has the usual half-blush of an amateur actress who knows she is being photographed.

“What is waste?

“The Princess activated such folklore in creation that her magic of complete waste conquered all before it. Five hundred million years for this high-concentration of Darwinian questions to see the promotional hormone in the Riverside Gymnasium. Five hundred million years since the first thoughts moved from the shallows to the tree-line. Another hundred million years before the thoughts could scratch their armpits, throw coconuts at giraffes, and defecate on passing lizards.

“And another hundred million or so to form this single, elegant solution in the Riverside Gymnasium!”

Gillian’s fifteen-year-old clenched fist now punches the air just below a microwave horn-aerial, which was hosing the major hallucinations of the dying Century over ten counties.

“I thank the great Princess. She has saved me for the cause at an age when I should be having a crush on oink-groups, putting pop-tarts in the microwave, and reading Grazia.

A mile to North, the Latex Princess whirls and shakes in a sudden breeze, as in ages past, a windsock had once turned to guide home the bombers of another story.

But what was this? The Latex Princess was being hauled down. Stop. Jerk. Latex legs pulled down through the air: bob, slide, and slip, the uncertain film-frames of her life, falling like Icarus.

Maintenance, replacement, redesign?

Six yards to the East, a scaffolder’s transistor burst into life.

The Princess was dead.

A piece of the rusty rail came away in Gillian’s hand.

“And I now fully accept that the search for rational order is over.”

Open-mouthed scaffolders watched one foot hover over the lip of the canyon as she crossed her heart with the piece of broken rail.

“I sacrifice my virginal yoni in her name.

“Hail to the Chief!

“And God save the Queen!”

At which point fifteen-year-old Professor Gillian Bamforth plunged herself more than willingly from the fifteen floor of Grasschester University’s Senate House, to transfix herself upon the holocaust memorial, whose purloined stanchions and broken brackets received her as if with open arms.

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