The encrypted message had taken 15 minutes for the device to render, familiar roman glyphs unspooling from the mess of cyrillic quicksand which made up the communication. Blinking red turned to solid green in the LED eyes of the device, and the quartz composite heart of the wartime machine started to cool after the exertion of the computation.
The message was clear – he had been granted a face-to-face meeting with the most elusive artist never seen in the Twelve Boroughs. The relevant coordinates and timestamp were there, just above the holographic signature depicting T* – the headless crucifix intertwined with DNA strands resembling snakes – so there could be no mistaking provenance. Global positioning took him to the Hemlock Chameleon, the kind of Shoreditch splice agency built on the exploitation of the meta-reality, all polished red obsidian and behavioural insight algorithms. There was an excessive gravity to the room, from the knap of the calf-skin lined cupola in which he sat waiting, to the automaton studiously ignoring him from behind the shining altar.
Signalled through the frosted sliding wall by the automaton, a corridor snaked away irradiated with light coming seemingly from nowhere. The shrinking dimensions of the corridor proved to be a trick of this maleficent luminescence as he proceeded down the shiny red rabbit hole towards an oblong of blue neon framing the sole exit. Beyond the neon, the high-ceilinged room was featureless with what looked like a 3-sided phone box inset into the far wall. Guided by the mute facade of the automaton, he crossed the space in three sonorous steps and cautiously entered the alcove, passing through the light curtain. He was plunged through the skein, free-floating in a cold white limitless space.
Prompted by haptics beneath his feet, the clinical surface on which he came to rest guided him towards the single figure in this expanse of absence. It was clothed in a silver filigree cloak and a mask seemingly hewn from the same red obsidian as the building. The short red pillar which stood next to the figure was crowned with a very large and dirty-looking fax machine, which occasionally uttered a loud chitter as it expelled a short length of perforated printout.
From the lifeless obsidian facade emanated a rasping pulsed chain of noise within which could be discerned changes in wavelength and frequency, but which caused an opaque corona to form at the edges of his vision, like a halo blind spot. As if in response to the screech, the old machine spewed forth several meters of yellowing printout, which cascaded to the floor at the foot of the figure, and stopped abruptly. But far from reacting in unison, the pulsing wave directed from the stone mouth seemed to intensify, and the opaque halo closed further in and in, eventually pulling him down into a deaf, blind trance, as if floating in treacle.
Awakening reclined on a park bench, he started and jumped up prepared to defend himself from ner-do-wells who might want to exploit his vulnerability. After several minutes musing that this part of his day was at least no less strange than what had gone before, he stood up, thrusting his chilled hands deep into his parka pockets. Turning the tightly folded wad of printout he found there over and over in his fingers, he made for home, past the fountain to the station, sick with the anticipation of which might come next. The audio files which arrived nameless and tagless the next day marked the crossing of a line he didn’t even know existed.
Threads* New Single Arvo will be released in June 2020.