Rain falls heavily, noiselessly, onto the illuminated concrete below Nadrix’s window.
A splotch had begun developing, Nadrix had noted, in a convalescence of two flows: the flow from the northernmost corner of the eavestrough meets with another from the east; they find a new departure point, they pool, slightly, on this illuminated concrete, before dispersing again under the radiation of the sun, leaving its residues, bacteria, microscopic populations distributed along its shoreline.
Within a few days, the splotch would be noted by a State official, removed and aseptised. Nadrix was one who noted these passings, long forgotten by others, and who dealt in these disturbances. Long ago, before the technicalities of chemical stimulation jurisprudence or even digital property realism had come and gone, people were said to be more broadly aware of this para-reality outside of reality where life still persists. And in this world there were merchants. Dealers. People whose duty it was to inscribe reality into reality, though they certainly had not realized that was their Destiny at the time. Nadrix sometimes considered themself to be in that lineage—the merchant—but knew the metaphor was not sufficient; perhaps sufficient just enough to be desired.
Nadrix was relegated now to the log-sign, Dealer, whatever circumstances may come with that, until they were no longer able or willing to register another log. At which point, Nadrix was no longer officially a subject of the State. Of course, only Nadrix—as far as Nadrix knew—knew this, and it didn’t matter anyway, because Dealing suited Nadrix well, or so they had been told.
A 213 Hz hum breaks the silence of the rainfall. The cleaning crews were 21.5 seconds earlier than Nadrix’s approximated arrival time. They pull the mask over their face, and they become untraceable. Everyone could do this; most just preferred to be seen. This is what made Nadrix a Dealer, or so they had been told.
22 steps down the fire escape, one for each second the crew had been early, and then one more for the rounding error. This number is the initial condition for the Deal. Every subsequent step, for Nadrix, must carry with it the mark of these 21.5 seconds.
Curling around on the final landing of the fire escape, Nadrix pulls out of the downpour of rain and light into an alcove and observes as the Cleaners take up the battery of the State. Along the side of their long, sleek, dark green vehicle were inscribed the insignia of the State and the acronym SIS (Sanitation and Immigration Services). The standard Cleaner outfit. The Cleaners operated through a state encrypted communication network. Of course, why they kept anything encrypted was beyond Nadrix’s capacity to fathom; it was so obvious what they are here for. The splotch? Perhaps. But Nadrix calculated it would be another 16 or 18 hours at least before someone else noticed that, let alone was able to log a complaint. Nadrix knew that they were really here for the Deal. There was only the Deal.
The Cleaner turns towards the gate of Nadrix’s residence, and Nadrix slips from the dark alcove into the naked invisibility of the LED illuminated street. Who knew—in the rain, against the camouflage—what really moved in the blinding void of information. Their target is the social engagement perimeter, into the Publics. The zone of Dealing.
They pass through every security checkpoint without a single blip from any of the guards. Nothing registers, nothing is there, until at last the threshold stands between them and some other reality. There was no longer officially a “Public” zone, its space was carved mysteriously out of the concrete. Like sigils carved into ancient monoliths. One had to create the barrier as much as traverse it. Original sin.
22 steps, 21.5 seconds, approx. 3558 milliseconds between flow pulses out of the spout on this corner, indicating a rainfall volumetric flow of f(3558)””[l;… If the rate were increased by 15 ml/s, the period-doubling would increase, increasing the erosion on this point… This was the point. Nadrix stops, the State would not recognize this fault for another 6 months at least, or longer… often it was longer in these cases, because of the nature of Cleaning. Always stupefied to find that the world has become dirty again. Nadrix was the splotch, naked in the light, standing in laughing defiance against cleanliness, and still always invisible.
Now the disturbances begin, as the last green Cleaner unit’s electric hum fades into nothing. A window (re)opens; a child begins to cry. And a man comes around the corner. Huey: the Deal’s target.
Nadrix approaches Huey as he slinks up to the console of the structure. Huey is dressed in plainclothes, or as plainclothes as one could be in the rain. He had somehow obtained a pass encryption key, allowing him to forego the chafing of the polyskin camouflage against his genitals.
For a passionless microsecond, Huey’s line of sight diverges slightly from his direct path and his gaze passes into Nadrix’s eyes, whereupon he returns to face the console calmly. Huey now knew of Nadrix’s presence, though he could not betray it too obviously.
Huey coughs twice, another luxury afforded him by plainclothes, and punches in a code at the terminal, emitting a barely noticeable grumble over the raw muffle of air-conditioning units and rainfall. He steps back twice, and the console dissolves back into the wall, revealing an opaque black opening: the social engagement perimeter. Without hesitation, Nadrix glides in and Huey routinely follows.
Across the darkness threshold is a double door airlock. Once on the other side, it takes a moment to adjust to the light, a moment sitting in sensory deprivation, to fully acclimatize oneself. No one could speak in this private border space. There was no NETCOM service. Whatever this space was, it didn’t belong to you. No one knew who it belonged to, but there were consequences for breaching the silence.
After 10 or so minutes, though it was nearly impossible to tell how much time had actually elapsed without NETCOM, a faint light begins to fall upon the contours of the space. Versace, Gucci, Baskin-Robbins. These are the ruins of a lost empire. Huey glances at Nadrix, acclimatized, then towards the end of an aisle of cleared debris: tin cans, obsolete auto-parts, broken consoles and uplink sticks from ages long gone. The tools of primitive man. There was a glow, and even a murmur which issued from that corner and Nadrix and Huey silently approached it, swung the door open, and breathlessly shut it behind them.
“I guess they were 23 seconds early today.”
“21.5… 22 is generous. You have to get on the updated algorithm. These rounding errors could cause a colossal fuck up… wouldn’t be my fuckin’ problem though.”
“We both arrived at the same point at the same time; what difference does it make?”
“Aren’t we Dealers?”
Huey says nothing in response. There is no reply. They both know the grave consequences if Huey hadn’t been there. The question was rhetorical. One second was as valuable as all the seconds thereafter, forever.
“C’mon, I’ll show you where we’re headed,” mumbles Huey as he begins slowly and carefully down the dilapidated passage before them, slapping a mask over his nose and mouth. Nadrix follows, removing their mask, replacing it with another. One is the mark of the invisible Dealer in the Privates, but here in the Publics, one needs a different kind of mask.
The panelled ceiling above them hums with the glow of the outdated lighting system—hardly enough light to make it to the floor, insects gnawing at whatever scraps of death they can scrounge.
“I just lost my license,” Huey nervously chokes, “I shouldn’t even be here, it’s just because of my condi…”
“Your log-sign says Dealer,” Nadrix cuts in. they’re not interested in small talk. “I can’t help you.”
In the Privates, everything moved according to a rigorous system. One had to see the faults in it to locate oneself, while in the Publics it was reciprocal. Nadrix observes a lightbulb flashing 27 times in 3 minutes. With this rating of light, the electron flow would be f(27/180s…)… How can we get more accurate?… 14 times in 1 minute, 3 times in the next, 10 times in the third… An exceedingly low sample size, but judging by the light spectrum… against the distribution of flashes, the electron flow is… it seems this building was originally constructed in 2018? It’s hard to know how old buildings are when they’re not on the newest calendar… Nadrix knew it was from before the calendar change, so that was enough information for their purposes here. Even the most ancient structures in the City still feed off the grid. This one used to be a distribution centre, common places for populations to pool. In the Publics one had to see the perfection in the chaos that issues from the purity of non-being. Of not properly being a real place. That was the means of carving geographies and territories here.
After meandering through the maze-like structure for two painstaking hours, avoiding the micro and macroscopic dangers of the dark, Huey diverts his path towards a cavern breaking off tangentially from that before them.
“Over ‘ere,” Huey snorts as he kicks a moldy panel aside, beginning to gag.
The stench coming from the pit behind the panel was the smell of life, beautiful human life. A gag sometimes was a necessary reaction, but this was not that time. Huey was not attuned to the world of life. He was not for this world at all. He was the target and he was completely unaware. Blinded by his perfect vision, deafened by a reality of noise.
“After you,” Nadrix says harmlessly.
“Just gimme a minute,” Huey adjusts his mask, spits, and quickly replaces it. “Place fuckin reeks.”
Huey descends the first step, the staircase was short and was marked at its end by a sign reading CAR PARK in faded red lettering.
That’s when Huey notices her. From the corner, a small being unfurls from where she was previously scrounging and begins to dart towards the car park.
“SHIT,” Huey exclaims as he stumbles down a few stairs, catching himself on the rusted handrail.
He examines his hand. There’s a small scratch.
“That might be infectious, did you bring your aseptic?”
“No, did you?”
Nadrix had brought two, there was always a chance you would get paired with a first-timer on Deals like this. Huey wasn’t a first-timer, but Huey was stupid. Nadrix knew Huey wouldn’t last long. They thought briefly about withholding it—why should it be wasted on Huey? He was not for the world of 27 minutes from now, so why should he be spared in this second? This was the shaky logic of the Private world, the logic to which Nadrix could not allow themself to entirely succumb. This is what made them human, why they were a Dealer, or so they had been told.
“Take mine. if you don’t aseptize that now, I’d say you stand a sixty-seven percent chance, minimum, of contracting tetanus 3. Its mutation rate has taken off in the last fourteen months.”
Panic-stricken, Huey swipes the applicator from Nadrix.
“You terrified that girl. You have to pay attention.”
“I didn’t even see her! She should have been paying attention to me!”
Nadrix didn’t need to dignify such stupidity with a response. Instead, they gesture impatiently down the remaining stairs.
At the bottom, sure enough, there was a sea of whispering flesh. People come here because they have nowhere else to go, and in 6 to 8 months they will have to move again, or be aseptized… or apply for immigration. Though that was probably pointless, some would never stop trying. That’s why there were still the Dealers. Others learned to love their life here, in the places that don’t exist. And those folk knew the Dealers well.
“Well, I don’t know where to find ‘em from ‘ere,” Huey blurts, his voice thundering brazenly through the chamber, over every other (non)sound. Several bodies nearby jolt meekly in apparent surprise at the outburst.
“Speaking like that, it won’t take very long for…”
Disembodied voices become intelligible above the din, interrupting Nadrix’s low whisper. “Deelahs! Deelahs!”
“Shut the fuck up, pig!”
“Shh! Are you trying to bring the Cleaners here?!”
Of course, this wasn’t possible. There was no way any sound from this room could possibly register a complaint – that was a negligible factor in this environment. It would have to be well above 150 dB and persist for at least 4 minutes… Or at least, that was the average threshold for breaching the silence of the perimeter zone, let alone registering a street-level complaint. But no one knew that… except Nadrix… and maybe Huey? Huey’s log-sign says Dealer, but then again, Huey hadn’t seen the girl. He had gagged at the signs of life. Huey was right, he wasn’t a Dealer. One had to be human to be a Dealer. Huey is a target.
A shadow vaporizes up from the flesh onto Huey’s arm and Huey leaps back, aghast. He’s tense. He’s scared and his heart rate has quickened. Sweat is pooling on his forehead. He’s going septic. He should have worn his polyskin. Nadrix had tried to help Huey, but it seems that Huey might not even make it to the delivery. 23 minutes was the delivery time, and Huey likely had only 18 before convulsions and heart arrhythmia would begin. Good thing it was the body they wanted. Not the life. The bacteria can be aseptized. Huey was… what… 60 kilos? Goddammit.
“Here are my Dealers,” the shadow hoarsely whispers, “and… here’s my trinket.”
A frail pair of hands with “live free” tattooed across the knuckles stretch out towards Nadrix and uncoil to reveal a faintly glimmering token.
“This is unexpected, the delivery time is not for another 22 minutes… I’ll…”
“Sometimes the chaos, too, issues decrees unto the Law.”
Huey begins to look down at the token, as his eyes fall in and out of focus. He’s seconds from entering convulsions.
“I can’t complain. Our friend managed to get himself septic and I wasn’t looking forward to dragging him through here.”
Spittle begins to form on Huey’s chin as he begins silently shaking… Nadrix didn’t hate Huey, but many others died who Nadrix also didn’t hate. Huey was no different.
A low, pathetic moan rattles from his lungs, as his body slumps forward. Nadrix reaches out their arm to touch Huey’s body just below the mask.
1… 2… 3… As suspected, no pulse.
“He’s all yours… such as he is.”
“Thank you,” the shadow replies as it wraps Huey in a shroud of dark.
Nadrix gently takes the token from the hands as the shadow sublimates back into the tide of bodies beyond. Offering a small tear for their sacrifice, Nadrix traces Huey’s vector back through the labyrinthine crypts of the ruined distribution centre until they find themselves again at the console, standing in the rain, remasked for invisibility in the light.
The hum emerges from the east. Early again! Nadrix must have spent a few more minutes acclimatizing with Huey than they’d originally predicted. This would all have to be logged, with the token sacrificed to processing. Who knew what it meant. That wasn’t part of the Deal. And Nadrix was a Dealer, or so they had been told.
Robert Grieve is a Toronto based artist. Their work encompasses a passion for mathematics, philosophy, and improvisation.
In their musical career, they primarily work as a session guitarist, having performed, recorded, and toured with a number of popular music artists.
In addition to this work, Robert has a separate creative practice which involves procedurally tracing fractal patterns at odd angles into vibratory membranes, setting undulatory forces into flux against themselves. This practice has produced several recordings and numerous performances with artists such as Karen Ng, Nick Fraser, Tatsuya Nakatani, Jess Ackerley, Matthew Fong, Colin Marston, Chris Pruden, and many others.
Robert’s current theoretical work sits between speculative realism and pure fantasy, meeting realist skepticism with the only assurance of its truth: that it is radically unknown. Robert holds a Dip. Contemporary Music Performance from MacEwan University, a BMus in Jazz Performance from the University of Toronto, and a MFA in Music Composition from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.