In memory, Sharon Annette Battersby, 
5th April 1969 to 9th December 2001
 
 

Brillig

by
Lee Battersby

art by gak



 
 
 
 
 

Life, like a dome of many coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.

Percy Bysse Shelley
ADONAIS




        During the operation, Brillig opened his eyes. For a moment he was blinded by the light that hung over him. The Man leaned over, the bottom of his face obscured by a mask. He held a scalpel, and when he spoke, Brillig was surprised to find he understood the words.
        "Don't worry," The Man said. "The pain will be over soon." 
        Soothed by his voice, Brillig closed his eyes again.


        Repeat after me: Those who don't learn their history are bound to repeat it.


        There is a room beneath The City. Machines line the walls. They crackle and pulse with hidden energies. Water drips from the ceiling, forming grey puddles. Brillig sits strapped to a chair in the centre of the room, blinded by the single light that hangs over him. A metal cap covers his head, pinning his ears back uncomfortably against his scalp. Wires lead from the cap to a box at the chair s feet. More wires lead from the box to a machine that stands clean and uncaring against the wall behind him. He feels a shadow fall across his closed eyes. He opens them, and sees his torturer standing above him again.
        Often The Man would gather them round and explain things.
        "I gave myself this name because it is a name that other men do not have." He once told them. "Once a person reaches a certain status, a particular level of usefulness, a unique name is appropriate. Most people are called J Soldier 463 and R Clerk 601 or somesuch."
        "But why is my name Brillig?"
  "It's from a poem, written by a man long ago. art by gakAll your names are taken from poems. Poems are unknown these days, or nearly so. I may be the only person in the world who has any, and even I didn't know about them until I found this mixed in amongst the datanet."
        The Man reached up to a shelf and took down a crudely bound sheaf of paper. One of the others had smiled.
        "It s a textbook."
        "No." said The Man. "Listen." And he began to read.


FILE VISION 001 BLACK AND WHITE

        From the 1931 film FRANKENSTEIN. The Monster (Boris Karloff) lies inert on the operating table. By means of chains attached to each corner, the table is winched upwards through a hole in the roof. Below him, Doctor Frankenstein (Colin Clive) shouts.


        Pink has a name. All members of Information Retrieval have names. He stands above Brillig as Brillig screams. Pink raises a massive arm to its full extension and brings it sweeping down across Brillig's face in a thunderous slap, following through until his fingers brush the floor. Across the room, Brown sits in front of an especially large machine crooning senselessly to himself, fingering the electrodes that lead from his temples to a socket in the machine's midsection. At the sound of the slap he lurches to his feet and moves across the mother-machine, pushing buttons, turning knobs, suckling at the electric nipples that feed him. Pink slaps Brillig again, screaming from his seven feet of height at the bleeding prisoner in the chair.
        "Where?"
        Brillig makes a soft choking sound and faints. Brown pulls down a lever, halting the flow of electrons to the chair. Pink turns away.
        "He's lost consciousness again. Get him out of here."


FILE VISION 002 BLACK AND WHITE

A young human female, her curly blonde hair tied with a ribbon. She is singing.

        GIRL:  How much is that doggy in the window?


        Brillig wakes. He finds himself looking up at a ceiling. He stands slowly, shaking his head to try and relieve the electric-sharp pain that nestles behind his brow. He is in the cell in which he was first incarcerated, after his capture. The metal door behind him bangs open, and he turns to face it. A man shuffles in, carrying a tray piled high with bones. Brillig looks at him in disgust. He is a parody of humanity, even worse than those who have been torturing him. One leg must be shorter than the other under his rough robe, for he leans heavily to one side as he walks. What Brillig can see of his face is covered in hard, leathery nodules, ranging in size from no bigger than acne to one the size of a concussion grenade. Seeing his look, the stranger snorts.
        "You no picture youself muttsey. You want something eat? This look good?" He grunts and puts the tray down on the floor. As he does so his robe draws back from his arms, revealing hands that are no more than duo-digital claws.
       "You no thank me? Up to him," he tilts a head towards the door, "not even this."
        "Why am I here?" Brillig asks, pressing one hand against the pain in his forehead. "What have I done to you? What happened to your hands?"
        "These? These legacy muttsey. Daddy give these, and Daddy before and before. Foot-soldier hands these, no pretty scientists hands."
        "But what about me? Why am I here?"
        The ragged man smiles up at him. Brillig sees only gums behind the scarred lips.
        "You monster, muttsey. You unnatural. Frankeystein. You not live not natural. We find you scientist man, he no make no more mutsseys, eh?" 
        Brillig finds his reasonable tone frightening, more so than if he had been ranting. He begins to edge towards the door, but the torturer's assistant looks up sharply.
        "No try leave, no no. Me shout little shout, they come get you."
        Brillig stops. "I could kill you." He bares his teeth in what he hopes is a fearsome manner. 
        "Then what?" the little man laughs. "Go back in city? City dead." He stops laughing suddenly, and his voice turns harsh. "No. Stay here, tell us he where. Much better."
        Brillig forces his face to become still. "I don't know anything about him."
        "Pity. Only pain then." The awful little man backs out of the room, swinging the heavy metal door shut behind him.


        It was easy, in the before-time, in the days before capture. He and The Man had played together in the public park outside The City, a last vestige of green that The Man had laughingly called Our Little Sherwood . All the others had gone back, returned to the grey steel buildings and concrete paths within, determined to live like their former masters had lived. But The Man had chosen to stay. He had hidden as the others had left and so Brillig had stayed with him, and they played together beneath the shadows of the walls.


        He told them once.
        "I was a surgeon. Well, molecular engineer was the correct term. Did most of my work with a computer and a DNA string really, but I still got into the surgery when I could. You were my best friends, but you couldn t really share my life fully. So I worked upon you in secret. I used my knowledge to accelerate your potential, pushed forward your evolution a few hundred millennia or so. The clues were all there in your genes. You would have reached this point anyway, eventually, 
maybe, at least your race would. But you and I would have been long dead, and I just didn t want to wait."
        Like so much of what he told them, they did not understand.


In the chair once more. Pink looms over him.
        "Tell us, or we ll give your bones to the crows."


FILE VISION 003 COLOUR

A music video. The Mad Hatter and his friends sit around a giant table. Alice lies spread-eagled on top. As the Mad Hatter sings, he cuts a slice from Alice s body. It looks like cake.

        MAD HATTER:  Don t come around here no more. Whatever you re looking for, hey! Don't come around here no more.


They had stood together and watched as the rest of his people had readied themselves to move down into The City. The Man was talking to one of the Canan, as they had chosen to name themselves.
        "I wish you'd reconsider."
        The Canan smiled.
        "I was about to say the same thing." He tilted his head to look over at Brillig. "And you?"
        Brillig tried to think of something to say, some reason he could give for his decision to stay. He recalled a line from one of the movies they had watched together on the nights when they had punched into the Tainmentnet, and offered it.
        "If you build it, they will come."


Once they leave him in the chair while they take a break from their endeavours. He feigns unconsciousness, and catches snippets of their conversation. 
        "I don t understand. How could such a noble creature become such a twisted and hateful object?"
        "They pervert nature to their own ends. Beasts that offer such an affront to nature should not be allowed to live, don't you think?"
        "I was talking of the Doctor."
        "As was I."


Pink raises a blackstick and brings it crashing down on Brillig's shoulder. Brillig screams as the bones snap. Brown sits with his eyes luminous, one hand moving under his robe, masturbating. The ruined man who had bought him the bones lurches about in the shadows, laughing.
       "Kill him! Kill him!"


Repeat after me:  In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.


FILE VISION 004 BLACK AND WHITE

From the documentary CULLODEN. A young Scots warrior, dead, stares blindly past the camera.


Lying in his cell, turned so that his swollen, agonised shoulder avoids touching the floor, Brillig finds solace in his earliest memory. The Man, much younger than he had been when Brillig left him, was sitting on the back steps of his house. In the distance, just in front of the flitter pad, two gardenbots tended the flowerbeds. He watched them depositing twigs and weeds into the top of their waist-high barrel-shaped bodies, and saw the mulched remains emerge from between their stubby legs. Reaching down between his feet The Man grabbed a small rubber ball and threw it to where Brillig and a friend fought and played over it. A servitor robot, taller and thinner than the gardenbots, came out of the house and gently cleared its metallic throat.
        "Will there be anything else sir?"
        "No, take the... wait a minute, yes." He looked up at the robot. "Could you fetch me the book on nano-surgery please?"
        "Sir?" The robot s face was impassive. Only its voice betrayed its uncertainty.
        "The Singer book. Effects of N. Masipulaoria on...." He got to his feet. Brillig stopped playing and watched him, hoping he was coming down the steps to join in the game. Instead The Man pushed past the servitor.
        "I ll get it myself," he said, and entered the house.
        Brillig's friend jumped on him, and Brillig went back to playing on the soft lawn in the bright sun.


Pink raises the blackstick and brings it down again, but instead of the thudding impact of carbonite on flesh there is a strangled scream. Pink pulls his hand away, letting go of the blackstick so that it flies away and lands dangerously close to the mother-machine.
        "He bit me!" he shouts, clutching his wrist. Between his fingertips Brillig can see the beginnings of blood, dark and thick. "A full load. Give him a full load."
        Brown pulls down on a large lever and the electricity courses up through the chair and into Brillig. The light and the flames flow through him. Raped by electrons he screams, and the scream seems to last forever.


They stood on the Hill and looked out over the highway where once their people had walked down to The City. Now it was a rutted, twisted concrete ruin, lacking all purpose and definition. Smoke rose like funeral pyres from the few buildings still burning. Many of the buildings had fallen. As they watched, another slid glacier-like into the rubble.
        "Dead." Brillig said.
        "Yes," agreed The Man. "They ve got hold of the city now. They ll chew it up and spit out the bones before they re through. At least we re still free, eh boy?"
        He tried to smile, but the wetness of his eyes betrayed him.


Brillig opens burning eyes. Pink towers over him. Through ears still humming with electric agony he hears his tormentor  speak.
        "If you do that again you won't have time to make whatever prayers it is you creatures have."
        Brown pulls the lever the last small distance to its resting position. Brillig slumps as the final trickle of electricity is banished from him. Pink straightens.
        "Now. Tell us once and for all. You know where he is. We want to be told. Tell us, or there will only be more pain."


Brillig lies in his cell and tries to ignore the pain that blankets his body. Come what may it will only last for a short while longer. In his mind The Man sits once more on the back steps of his house, a book in his lap. A puppy lies next to him, his head resting tiredly on the open pages.
        "How about this then?" The Man says, and reads, "Neural activity in the frontal lobes can be traced to the direct receival of aural and oral stimuli. Thus neural activity can, to an extent, be stimulated both by increasing the intensity of the stimuli received and improving the receptors."
        He reaches down and scratches the puppy on the top of his head.
        "How does that sound boy? Fancy getting fed more sights and sounds, do you?"
        The puppy wags his tail and barks happily.


A tank, leading a platoon of foot soldiers, rumbled slowly along the highway towards the dying City. The ground rocked as explosions sounded from distant quadrants. Gouts of flame erupted art by gakfrom between buildings. Above them, a stick of paratroopers descended from an aircraft, dropping like rain before slowing sharply as their HALO chutes opened mere hundreds of feet from the ground. From within the walls came the sound of fierce fighting: gunfire, grenade explosions, 
shouting, and screaming. Brillig and The Man turned away and walked slowly back towards their cottage.
        "One of the other Cities. People like me, they don't understand the Canan. You're too new, too different. They're afraid of you, of the rapid progress you ve made. They're scared that the Canan will replace them, and that our two races will never be able to co-exist. They want you all dead."
        As they went inside Brillig took a final look back over his shoulder.
        "They're getting their wish"


"He going be dead."
        Pink turns and backhands the knob-faced assistant in one swift movement, sending him lengthways onto the floor. "Shutup! If you want to question my methods you can be the next to test them." His lackey grovels on the floor, frantically trying to scoop up the blood that flows from his nose and push it back in.
        "No questioning, no questioning. Thought it was planned plan, is all."
        Pink stoops and hauls him upward by the front of his robe. He dangles from the giant's outstretched arm, nose level with his master's but his feet a good metre above the floor. Growling, Pink shakes him like a dog worrying a bone.
        "You do not have the rank to assume anything of my plans. You are useful, not expendable. Do you understand?"
        His underling nods feebly, choking. Pink opens his fist, and once more he falls to the floor in a filthy heap. Pink kicks him once, viciously.
        "Put him in his cell. And get out of my sight."
        While the little man scurries to do his bidding Pink turns his massive head towards where Brown crouches grinning at the mother-machine.
        "And you! Find me something special in those infernal wires of yours. If I can't break him next time I'll break you instead."
        Brown smiles a smile of sharp teeth. From somewhere beneath his luminous robe a hissing voice issues.
        "What will you do?" he says. "If I'm dead you cannot hope to operate the machines. If I'm alive I don't think you can afford to threaten me every time your little plan goes astray, do you?" The voice dissolves into a sibilant giggle.
        "Just do it." Pink storms from the room, Brown's molten laughter at his back.


Repeat after me:  Power corrupts. Electric power corrupts electrically.


One night, a week after it had happened, he came back from walking in the woods and found The Man talking into a small device that he had previously not seen. When The Man went to bed he found it and took it back into the woods. He found buttons marked rewind and play, and quickly learnt their functions. Holding it up to his ear, he heard The Man speak.
        "The Canan progressed quickly in technological matters once they left us, but that proved their undoing as I had tried to warn them it would. They thought that to live like the Hierarchy was the only way to live, but the Hierarchy monitored their outputs and saw them as a travesty. The Canan thought all people were like me, and would love them and treasure their uniqueness. They were destroyed for this innocence. Luckily the prime subject and myself have remained hidden, or 
we would also have been killed. Once the Hierarchy has satisfied themself that they have removed the threat, and recall their Extermination squad, I should be able to continue the work. This time I shall be sure to modify my approaches to teaching."
        Brillig sat a long time in the dark mulling over the words he found on the recorder. In the darkness before dawn, he began to understand.

#

In the garden, the man reads to the pup.
        "Artificial Intelligence: the simulation of intelligent behaviour so that it is indistinguishable from that displayed by a human being."
        He puts the book down and picks the pup up.
        "We don't want simulations, do we boy? We want the real thing, don t we?"


FILE VISION 005 BLACK AND WHITE

An Australian soldier, with bandages over his eyes and left arm in a splint, is helped across a Papua New Guinean stream by another soldier. In the background, two more wounded have also begun to cross.


        "See?" The Man had asked, pointing out various parts of The City. "The Canan are fighting back."
        "Who is winning?"
        The Man took a long time to answer. "Only you and I."


They bring him back to his cell and dump him in a corner. The nameless one, who has carried him here, turns to leave but then changes his mind and crouches over his eyes.
        "Not found him yet, no no, soon will." He says softly and not without some feeling. "Save you both pain you tell us. He remain hid not much longer. What your pain to him? Nothing. Nothing or he have come for you." He reaches out a claw and runs it gently across the back of Brillig's unmoving head. For all his agony Brillig manages to sketch something like a smile.
        "I don t remember anything about him."
        "You die then." There is pity in his voice. He leaves, and the door clangs shut behind him.


Listen:  you might think it surprising that they have not thought to look outside The City s walls for their prey. But it is not so really odd, for these people have been locked away in their separate bolt-holes since the Gene Wars all those generations ago, societies curled up in fetal positions, sucking their thumbs and afraid of the dark, only venturing forth to fight or trade or when the radclouds gather and fear sends whole cities out to the old shelters for a time. To live under open
skies, to surround oneself with trees and grass and the uncontrollable whims of nature, this is as unthinkable to them as poetry. Like all monsters, cleanliness and freshness offends them and fills them with fear.


"I don t understand," The Man had said, "After all you ve seen and heard, after all I ve told you, you re still going? What if there are people still down there?"
        "Yours or mine?" he had replied, and for once there seemed no answer.
        "It will be dangerous."
        He remembered the voice recorder, and the words he had listened to that night.
        "So is staying here," he said, "if your people think to come and look."
         So he had gone down into The City, many months after the last bomb had fallen and the last tank had rumbled away. He padded through rusting jaws that were once buildings, eyes and ears opened in the hope of hearing a voice he recognised, seeing a face he once knew.
        And they captured him, standing overlooking a pit where they had thrown many of the bodies. A military flitter lay half in and half out of a nearby building, a human body hanging head first from the shattered cockpit. A nearby water main had burst and the gushing water had transformed it into a surreal waterfall, water spraying high over the craft before running into the street below and down the drains. He had raised his crying eyes from his dead friends and seen it, had stopped to look at it for a moment, and they had stepped out of a building right in front of him.
            "Well well well," the ugly giant had said, "I don t believe we've met."


Repeat after me:  you don t miss what you've never had.


So they found him amongst his dead, trapped him and took him to the deep dark down-under halls and dungeons of  The City where they felt most safe, and raped him with their machines and their tortures. And when he would not tell, their play grew more vicious. The knives and truncheons; the deprivation of light, of food and water; the constant repetition of sound; all the methods of Information Retrieval they knew so well would not break him. And in the end pain and reality and 
memory fused into one liquid whole and all that was left was the mother-machine and her electric lovemaking, and even then he still would not tell.
        "Well?"
        "Yes." Brown nods, and turns back to his machine. Pink stands once more above his bound captive.
        "Where is he?" he says softly. "This is the last time. Where is he?"
        Brillig says nothing, but a triumphant smile plays across his features. Pink throws up his hands.
        "All right, all right. Do it."
        Brown seems to glide to a large, gleaming box newly attached to the side of the bank of machines. Tendrils of wire emanate from the front of it, coiling into one thick, multi-hued cable that wraps itself round his throat and disappears into the socket at the base of his neck. He presses the button that is the box s only feature.
        The room hums. Brillig and Brown arch in obscene choreography as the cable that joins them leaps into the air and becomes taut. From inside Brillig a brightness emerges as whatever arcane power the electric-suckling Brown has harnessed pours through his helpless body. The brightness grows until Pink can no longer look in his direction for fear of being blinded. Still it grows; pulsing with a life that threatens to drain every fibre of vitality from those present. Pink hears someone screaming, "Turn it off, turn it off", and is surprised to recognise his own voice. But Brown can no longer respond. Pink can see his drained, lifeless husk suspended by the rigid wires feet above the ground, slowly turning on lines of force that whip through the air. Pink covers his eyes and runs for the door, and the brightness grows until it engulfs the room.


Brillig and his friend play together on the grass, rolling and fighting in the waning sunlight. The Man sits watching, smiling. The sun slowly begins to settle into its bed, and he calls out to them.
        "Watch the sunset. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?" and Brillig understands him, even though he is still just a pup and the surgery is many years in his future.
        "I'm dreaming." He thinks, but the dream is good. The sun goes down, taking the light and his life with it.


Light rain mists the air as two men, perhaps Pink and his misshapen assistant but looking many years older as if part of their lives have been sucked from them, emerge from a doorway. They carry a man between them, or at least it looks like one in the dim and uncertain light. They take the crushed and battered body into the street and drop it in a nearby shell crater half-filled by rain. The body lies, half in and half out of the water, its face turned away from them as if in disgust. They stand looking down at it. It is a long time before the smaller man speaks.
        "Brave." He says.
        "Shutup. He was an animal." The giant with the stooping shoulders turns away and painfully hobbles back inside.
        "Maybe." The other agrees. "Beat you though. Like a dog."
 
 
 
 
 

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