Dec 15 2010 1:39pm
I woke early, suffocated by a sweaty and prickling sense of apprehension—exactly the feeling of wool against the skin on a warm day. Yet there, in the dark of my bedroom, the sun seemed impossibly far away. What had set this fear in my veins? None of my current design projects were so difficult or important. I was using a new half-micron twill for a suit, but I had tested the fabric extensively and knew its properties. And though the motor-driven ball gown we were creating was complicated, my assistant and I had spent a whole day installing the mechanics and testing it again and again. No, those projects were essentially complete, and I felt good about their look, materials, and function.
It was no use. Neither sleep nor an answer was forthcoming. I rose, wrapped in swirling unease, and prepared for the day. It was still dark as I drove through the obsidian and gold towers of Ros Begas to the studio. And as I walked the two-hundred-meter metal-and-wood meditation-and-exhibition entry hallway that spiraled in from the building entrance to my showroom front door, I went over the fashion consultations I had scheduled for the day, the calls I needed to make to suppliers, the fabric tests I needed to run, and the gathering swarm of details for an upcoming show. In the hallway, I powered-on the fashion exhibits that I had on display: including two fabric bursting automatons and a pilling analysis machine, and stooped to collect a few dust fibers on the dark wood floor.
At the end of the spiral, I paused at a display that held the yarn I had gotten from my father. It rested on black velvet and was lit with a single heterojunction crystal which bathed the thread with a warm, otherworldly glow, recalling the dawn when I’d pulled this strand from my father’s pocket so many years ago. But my memories could not linger because someone or something was lurking beyond the next curve, near the showroom doors.
* * *
Peeking around the last swell of the wall, I saw a figure draped head-to-toe with dark fabric—the weave was a deep dark charcoal green, with the slight sheen like L-flax—a fiber I never used. While it wasn’t completely unusual for someone to come unannounced, the hour and the dress were suspect. Tentatively, I stepped forward, waiting for the visitor to move or speak. At ten feet away, I stopped and as the milliseconds ticked by in silence, began to fear that this was some sort of an attack, that this laundry pile covered an assassin. But even as I catalogued the properties of my jacket, titled Water Hold #11, with both fluid dynamics and charged particle closures, and thought how I might use it to defend myself, my fear seemed misplaced and wrong. I wet my lips. “The showroom is by appointment only.”
The head turned slightly. The voice that emerged was tatty and frail. “I lived a fool’s life and will come to a fool’s end, but I’ve come to ask a favor.”
The skin on my neck and back puckered with goosebumps. “Vada!” The heels of my Celine-Audis clapped percussive notes on the polished wood. “I never thought I’d see you again. Where have you been? What happened? What are you wearing?”
The outline of an arm came away from the torso and touched the door. A moment later after a small, moist click of what I imagined were her gaunt lips, she said, “I’m sorry. I am dying.”
My throat tightened. “No.” As though simple denial changed anything. She didn’t reply. “Where have you been? What happened?”
“I need help.”
“Of course,” I said. “What happened? Are you in pain?” Without thinking, I reached my hand to hers.
She shrank back, shaking her head. “I need your help.”
Anew, I saw the rumpled, rough material that covered her in contrast to the faultless cut, fine texture, and precise stitching of my garments. Shame flooded me. “I never expected to see you again.”
“I had my battles, my deceptions, and my gardens of failure.” She spoke like it was her slogan.
I gazed where I imagined were her eyes. “I tried to find you. I even hired a detective, but he found nothing.” I wished I could see her face. “Three weeks ago, I was in Kong. You’d never believe it, but there’re fifty chrome towers and solar plots there on that old muddy hill. It’s completely different.”
The cloth shook as she nodded. “You look good, Tane. I’m sorry, but I can’t stay. They’re closing in.”
I wondered what she was running from this time. “You must be hungry… allow me to at least feed you.”
Beneath the cloth, she straightened. “I need a Xi coat.”
Xi yarn. Old, immoral, and drug-infused yarn. “That’s not a cure.” I gestured at the materials of the hallway as evidence of my wealth: the rare lumber, the hand-poured high-carbon concrete, and the custom-built fabric test machines. “What do you really need, Vada? Surgery? I can get satellite organs.”
Her head leaned forward. Wrinkles of the fabric covered her face. “They’re just… No. I can’t go on.” Her words were so quiet I barely heard. “It’s time… I just need pure.”
She meant pure Xi, the loving, the universal, the erotic, and the dreaming Xi as opposed to the other kind: dark Xi, skreem Xi, nightmare Xi. It occurred to me that she was wearing the basketweave not so much to hide from the authorities but because she had been disfigured by torture. “Listen,” I said, stooping to meet her hidden eyes, “come in and sit. Whoever is after you… I’m sure we have a few moments.” I reached for where I thought I would find her wrist or forearm, but bumped into what was probably her hip and pulled back.
The pile of basketweave turned as if to leave. “Vada,” I began, “I guess I was looking for you because… I have been thinking about us. The truth is, in some way, there’s been no one else.”
“I hope you weren’t waiting for me!”
“No.” I felt small, though the truth was I had not. “I just mean that…” I stopped and chided myself for trying to explain.
“Tane… I’m sorry. I understand.” Her voice warmed. “I think of you, too. We had an incredible affair.”
She had overstated it. “We had eight months,” I corrected her. “Two hundred and forty outfits and costumes in about as many days.” I tried to keep my tone light, but felt it strain.
“You know who I am.”
I nodded and smiled politely. It was always about who she was.
In the stillness of the hallway, I could hear her swallow. “I’ve heard about you and your work. I’m proud of you. You’ve made wonderful things.” She seemed to laugh for an instant, but then I heard what I thought was a tiny, clenched grunt. She was still for a long moment, and when she finally inhaled a convex of the fabric formed over her mouth.
I stepped toward her, fearful she might collapse, but she backed away.
“Can you please make me a Xi coat?” She exhaled a ragged breath. “I just want to die without pain.”
I had absolutely no idea where or how I would get the Xi yarn. “I’ll do it.”
“I’ll come back tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow?” I laughed. “Wait, Vada. First of all, I don’t think the yarn is even still made. I would have to find someone who somehow still has some, get it here, weave it into cloth, and then make a jacket.” I waited for a reply, but none came. Whispering, I said, “Tomorrow is impossible.”
“You’re very talented,” she said, and turned away.
“Wait!” Irrationally, I was struck with a terror that I might never see her again, and even as I tried to choke the words in my mouth, I asked, “Did you ever really love me?”
Her body slumped, fabric pooling at her feet.
“I’m sorry, Vada.” I felt ashamed. I was unraveling before her. “It’s just that I’ve been thinking about what happened… mulling it over and… I’m sorry, I’m just in shock that you’re here.”
“Tane,” she said very quietly. “I must go. Please, I need the coat tomorrow.”
“Vada, tomorrow is impossible. I’ll try my best, but it will take days.” Even as I spoke, the rounded top of the cloth relaxed like a balloon beneath was losing air. Wrinkles and valleys appeared as the pile descended to the floor. She was collapsing before my eyes. Reaching into the fabric to grasp an arm or a shoulder, I found nothing but more wrinkles of the basketweave. I flung the fabric to the side, afraid I was going to uncover a puddle of flesh.
I found nothing.
Dropping to my knees, I pushed aside the cloth and felt the cool floorboards beneath. I turned my gaze to the showroom doors and down the curve of the hallway. The place was empty. And silent. It was as if I had been visited by a ghost.
Studying the floor where she had been standing, I discovered that one of the heartwood planks had been disturbed, the clear diamond-coat sealer neatly sliced along its lines. Yet as hard as I banged on it, I could not make it move.
“Vada! Where are you?”
Slumping to the floor, I heard the rhythm of my breathing, the air molecules being sucked into and pushed out my bronchi. I heard the rush of blood in my ears and the distant clap of my heart valves. She wasn’t the fool; I was—for believing and cherishing the impossible. Picking up the basketweave, I held it to my nose and inhaled. I smelled a mixture of rose, corn, and a hint of smoke.
PART 1 PLY
SEATTLEHAMA: A PECULIAR FASHION BUSINESS
When I am asked about my talents in the yarn arts, I like to say that there is no such thing as talent. When they ask how I came to be one of the world’s top designers, I shrug and mutter some cliché like hard work, luck, or perspiration. In an interview a year ago at FiberKon, someone asked when I knew I was a fashion genius. I told him I was not a genius. I believe that. But I do have a few special talents that no one else seems to possess. Maybe I always knew I was different, but it was during my first year in Seattlehama that I saw real evidence.
I showed up for work one morning to find my boss, Withor, standing over my little desk. The drawer was open and on the top sat my secret yarn collection that I had gathered over several weeks. It was significant to me, but wasn’t even enough to knit the toe of a sock. “Did you steal this from me?”
“No!” Withor was a cloth jobber who had an office filled with samples. “I found them.”
He grabbed a magnitron loop from his desk, held it between his eyebrow and nose like a monocle, and peered at the stuff. “These are all torn bits of junk!” Frowning, he asked, “Where’d you find them?”
“Just around,” I lied.
“You’re a thief! You stole them from somewhere. I should send you right back to the dirt!”
* * *
He meant the slubs, the vast corn-filled world that surrounded the city for thousands of miles in all directions. It was where I was born and had lived until I was nineteen. It was a world dominated by corn and sadness. I never wanted to return.
“I did,” I confessed. “I’m sorry.”
“T’ups.” I hadn’t meant to use the slubber word for city men, but he didn’t seem to notice. Shrugging, I added, “I just grab them.”
“You grab yarn from cloth?” He snorted. “Impossible!”
“It’s true. I can show you.”
In the hallway outside of his office, he pointed one of his long fingers. “The woman in the orange crinoline halo dress. That’s a half-denier yarn. I defy you to pluck one of those from her fat behind.”
I approached the t’up who stood before a showcase window of pewter, blackroot, and satellite ivory buttons and notions. The fabric’s yarn was incredibly thin, but I could see that the grid of the weave was at a forty-five-degree angle, and noticed a small twisted loop near the center seam that stuck out just a thirty-second of an inch. That was enough for me to grasp between my fingernails. With a snap of the wrist, I yanked out a bit, turned, and headed back to Withor and handed him the thing before she knew what had happened.
He studied it with his magnitron. “Unthinkable for the denier…” He tossed the thing to the floor. “Impossible! I demand you repeat it with someone else.” He scouted the crowd. “There! The gentleman in the green plaid, strolling suit.” He made me take a dozen more yarns before he believed that I wasn’t tricking him.
“Fine,” he said, and tossed the samples at me. “I’ve seen enough. You stole the yarn. All this capacity of yours amounts to debris only useful to a sparrow building a nest. It’s a disgusting frayed mess. They’re torn little bits of thing. Don’t do it again or I’ll toss you out!”
Withor’s dismissal stung, but over the next several days, as I looked at my collection, I decided he had a point. The ragged ends were ugly. Using several odd bits of metal, broken scissors, and wire that I had found in his office trash, I made two tiny sharp hooks. At first I tried to hold the tiny knives, but found it was better if I glued them just under my fingernails. Once I had practiced with them, I showed Withor, thinking he would be impressed.
He popped his magnitron on his eye and inspected my hand. “What’s the purpose of this? I told you to stop that disgusting yarn snatching!”
“They aren’t frayed anymore!”
He glared at me. “I really should have you sent back down to the slubs and get a slave who isn’t a criminal nuisance.” Then he eyed my fingers again. “You mean you actually cut a single yarn with those?”
In the hallway, he pointed to a t’up in a butterfly hat, vermillion clack shoes, and a long white crepe floor jacket.
I ripped a high-twist yarn and handed it over.
“Ha!” he said, as he examined it with his magnitron. “I should have guessed. Cheap irradiated cellulose!” He let the magnitron drop from his eye socket and caught it in his right palm. “And indeed… it is perfectly cut.” Narrowing his eyes, he fiddled with the pin and bolt near his tie knot. “This is nothing! I could do it easily myself.” He stared forward for a beat. “Quite easily. Cutting a single yarn from cloth and extracting it. It’s nothing at all…”
Three days later, Withor directed me to sit in the guest chair across from his desk for the first time. “I mentioned that odd talent of yours to an associate,” he began in that languid rhythm of his as he fiddled with the bondage of his necktie. “Well, talent is not the right word. What you have is a perversion of sensibilities.”
From his desk he picked up a square of black cloth and kissed it to his lips. “I would have ignored him, but he is offering a substantial reward.” He set the cloth down and glared at me. “I fully expect that you will fail. You might even be maimed or killed.” He laughed dryly. “Such a tragedy that would be!” He leaned far back on his chair and spoke toward the ceiling. “Oh, I had such hopes for my life… for artistry and grandeur, but it has become overgrown with deals. And now another contemptible scheme has found me.” Sitting up again, he finished, “But I would be a fool not to investigate the possible lucrative side of your repugnant little ability. In any case, this associate happens to have a wet spot for the repulsive and saccharine Tinyko 200. Namely he wants a bit of yarn from her little puff skirt.”
It would have been impossible to escape Tinyko 200. As the Celebrity Executive Officer of Bias-Anderson-Commonwealth¬Burlington-D her image, sounds, and brands saturated the city in the form of engineered alloy, fan engines, pumps, diagnostics, extruders, fabricators, and a popular line of dresses, gloves, eyeglasses, and radio underwear. Tinyko herself was a tiny, young woman with wide blue eyes and a pert mouth. She was famous among the young Cute Bubble Active style girls, but since her recent birthday, had started venturing into the mature market, or as it was called, Wetting the Show.
So that I would blend in as an IMG collector, Withor bought me my first suit and tie. I remember staring into an audience of mirrors and marveling at how I looked. I was no longer a boy, a slubber, an indent worker, but a city man. To finish my costume, Withor also bought me a knit mask. “IMGs wear these silly cloaks, so you have to too.”
The thing was like a super-fine stocking made to fit over the head and obscure and soften the features. With it on, I looked like a mannequin. With the necessary pass in hand, I headed to the banquet hall at the top of the city, and slowly worked my way toward the stage.
The others all held their photo-cams, sight-cannons, airtricity gauges, infra-and ultra-meters, waiting for a glimpse, a peek, for the chance to cut an image of Tinyko’s tongue momentarily caught between the raspberry of her lips and her milk-glass teeth, her soft fuzzed cleavage as she leaned forward to laugh, her delicate and slender fingers frozen in an inappropriate pose seemingly about to caress the tiny spike of her left nipple through a silken skullcup of a bra.
Beside me in the crowd, another masked man said, “Last show, I got a shot of her crotch so tight you can smell the salt scrod of her cut.” He smacked the black, dimpled barrel of his cam and laughed. I nodded as if in appreciation but soon slipped away. His passion seemed desperate and alien.
Moments later, atom lights flashed. Torrents of blue smoke shot from around the crystal stage and the thundering beat of Tinyko’s newest song began to vibrate my gut. A phalanx of dancers and strippers ran out and genuflected as from the center came a roar of a fan-jet and there, in an elongated bubble of orange light, was Tinyko. She waved at the crowd, flashed her fluorides, and then opened her mouth wide and screeched her first note with an ultrasonic intensity. One of her slender fingers riffled through the chiffon at the front of her skirt and for a split second revealed the glistening ultra-white of her radio panties. Like piranha, the crowd pressed forward and spattered her face, chest, and crotch with ricocheting white, green, and pink flashes.
Going sideways, right shoulder first, I jockeyed through the men, pushing an elbow here, nudging against a moist twill there, and made my way toward the right side of the stage where the stairs were guarded by a dozen men who wielded smoking-hot scimitars. Between the men sat black guard dogs with long hypodermic teeth. According to the program, after her flash song, she would come down the stairs, let several fans feel her breasts, and auction off a thimble of her virgin love-juice. It was then that I had my best chance to get close enough to rip a yarn from the puff around her nineteen-inch waist.
As I got closer, it actually became easier to swim through the bodies because most of the others were pushing themselves under the lip of the clear stage and pointing their lenses up. And just as I reached the edge of the long glass stairwell, close enough to smell the rubber and asbestos of the guard’s safety jackets and the red-hot of their curved blades, she started down.
Her steps were shaky and clumsy. And up close, I could see the depth and opaqueness of her theatrical make-up, her horsehair-thick lashes, and the way her lipstick was drawn beyond her natural lips. In person, she seemed small, artificial, and awkward.
As she came to the bottom of the steps, I squatted, and when she neared, reached between the legs of one of the guards toward her skirt. The infinity chiffon was the softest thing I had ever felt. It was like fresh corn silk and distant whispers and I touched it a split second longer than I might have just to experience its excruciatingly tender hand. I couldn’t see my fingers in the haze of the fabric, but found one of the micro-denier yarns, cut it and yanked it. Next, I dropped to the floor and twisted away just as the thick arms of one of the guards twitched. He smashed his scimitar blade a foot deep into the carbon-cement floor right next to my ear.
Standing, I turned and pushed my way through the worshipping throng, my heart pounding.