The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2012 by Anderson O’Donnell
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Tiber City Press
First Edition: May 2012
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62110-554-1
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011940885
West Hartford, CT
Table of Contents
Tiber City Calling or Bio-Punks on Zinc
Tiber City Calling
Bio-Punks on Zinc
By Jack O’Connell
Three weeks ago, I wrote the following introductory essay for Anderson O’Donnell’s debut novel, Kingdom. This essay, I have just discovered, is now obsolete and misleading. I include it here as an illustrative comment regarding the writer and his work.
Not so long ago, I was sharing a drink with O’Donnell at the Vernon, way back in the ship room. We were tippling some Bushmills and talking, believe it or not, about Aquinas’ theory of the soul and its ability to exist outside the body. Somehow, O’Donnell made an interesting connection between Aquinas and John Lydon. Or maybe it was Joe Strummer. I was about to ask for some clarification when his cell phone went off. My young friend held up a finger and disappeared into the men’s room. A few minutes later he returned, shaking his head.
“There’s a story about to break in Mexico,” he said, sliding back into the booth. “Mutated soldier ants.”
“Soldier ants,” I repeated.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “They protect the colonies. But these mutations are apparently man-made. Gigantic heads. Ridiculous strength. And get this, they can spray formic acid like their bullet-ant brethren.”
“To science,” I said, raising my glass.
“All about the coulda,” he responded, quoting Patton Oswalt, “and never the shoulda!”
And thus, a typical night in Wormtown on the Blackstone.
Typical, in fact, of almost any night I happen to spend with the mysterious Mr. O’Donnell. Whether it be in New Orleans. Or Marseille. Or Berlin. For he is plugged-in deep. Hardwired to information sources of which most of us will never hear, let alone access. I have known the guy over 10 years now and I still have no idea where he gets the tidbits he casually lobs like plasma grenades across the saloon table. I don’t even know which of the many rumors about him have any credibility.
For instance: I tend to believe that he has worked at a variety of weird-ass think tanks. But I doubt that any of them were located in Central America—his Spanish strikes me as classroom slick. I sometimes believe that, yes, okay, it is possible, however unlikely, that he once labored as a child audio engineer for Throbbing Gristle. But I reject the story that he is really the love child of Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jane Breyer. Likewise, I have no evidence that he spent some time in a heretical Gnostic seminary somewhere in Japan. But, Jeez, the guy knows a lot about Gnosticism and where to get the best sushi in Kumamoto. (Supposedly, a place called AzumaZushi.)
What I have, like all his other acquaintances, are anecdotes both amusing and perplexing. I first met the guy at a rare reading by the late, great fantasist, Donal Zies, in the sadly defunct Roanoke Lounge down on Lafayette St. (It was a small crowd that night, but it included Patti Smith and F.G. “Froggy” MacIntyre and Sol Yurick.) At intermission, I went out into smokers’ alley for some air. Three young punks were involved in some kind of transaction on the far side of a pink dumpster that smelled, I still recall, of burning sulfur. One of the transactees was wearing, I swear, a three-quarter-length chartreuse leather coat. Despite this fact, I tried to ignore them. Tried to dream up an opening line with which I could introduce myself to Yurick. But their haggling took an ugly turn into mother-based obscenities and some pushing and shoving. Soon, one of the trio was knocked to the ground. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t just hightail it back inside or even back to the worst room I have ever had at the Chelsea. But this was the heyday of the Doc Martens steel-toe and the thought of a guy’s cranium being bashed in by somebody in a chartreuse leather coat annoyed me for some reason. Also, one side of my family is loaded to bursting with cops and, I’ve found, in moments of stress I can give some passable cop-voice. So I turned in their direction and said something like, “Is everything alright over there?”
Realizing they had an audience, Chartreuse and his buddy took a moment to reach down and take something off the assualtee, and then strolled out of the alley. I walked over to the dumpster to give a hand to the guy on the ground but he was already upright by the time I arrived.
Seeing that I wasn’t a cop, O’Donnell’s first words to me were, “When did the fanboys turn vicious?”
“You okay?” I asked.
He was dressed, I’m pretty sure, in black jeans, a white t-shirt, and an old Dark Carnival tour jacket. He brushed himself down and said, “I’m just pissed. Fuckers took my rent money,” then, looking up at me, added, “Are you Vinny? You here to score?”
That night I was more on the wagon than off, so I shook my head at him and turned to go back into the lounge.
“Hold on a second,” he said from behind. I stopped, he came around in front of me and slapped a stained manila envelope into my chest.
“I’m not Vinny,” I told him. “And I’m not here to score.”
“Listen,” he said, standing between me and the back door to Roanoke, “Screw Vinny, right? He’s late and you’re here.”
“I have to get back inside,” I said.
He nodded but kept the envelope pressed against my chest.
“That’s fine,” he said, “but I owe you. So keep this as a token.”
Then he just walked away.
I never made it back into the Roanoke for the rest of Zies’ reading. I never got to meet Yurick or MacIntyre or Smith. Overcome with curiosity, I made my way to that horrific Roanoke rest room and opened the envelope I’d been given. Inside was the weirdest manga I had ever encountered. You think Uzumaki and Soma are weird, kids? The stuff in O’Donnell’s envelope makes them look like The Family Circus. The artwork was amazing and deeply unsettling. If I write, It was like Giger on a barrel of DMT, I would be criminally understating the case. I will admit that I am no connoisseur of the weird, but I know people who are and, when I’ve shown them the contents of that envelope, they react in ways that encompass aspects of both the violent and the swooning.
I left the Roanoke toilet on a mission to find the young man who’d given me this bizarre, brutal, gorgeous, epiphanous artwork: The envelope had a return addres
I introduced myself.
He surprised me by doing the same without any hesitation and, noting the similarity of our names, said, “We’re bog-trotting cousins.”
He bought us dogs, then took me to an afterhours club downtown, where we drank some strange hot chocolate before adjourning to the rooftop, which must have contained a half-dozen leather couches that had been ruined by the rain. There he explained that he was currently working as the North American broker for a pair of Japan-based brothers, known collectively as “Gaki.”
“The online scuttlebutt,”—yes, he used that word—“says they’re twins, but they’re not.”
One brother or the other had been trained as a pathologist. One brother or the other was severely schizophrenic. They lived, O’Donnell explained, “underground—both figuratively and literally. They come from a very wealthy family, which is utterly ashamed of them. And they’re geniuses.” The brothers were involved in a lifetime’s project of producing an epic, serial narrative, which had no title, no captions, and no dialogue bubbles. Just images. Such as the ones I’d seen in the alley outside the Roanoke Lounge.
Though it’s a great one, I won’t go into the story of why and how O’Donnell eventually broke with Gaki. I will simply say that they were only one of many influences that inspired O’Donnell to leap into the world of biopunk. There are numerous others, some of which I know would surprise you. Some of which come from those subterranean information nodes, of which O’Donnell appears to have a psychic ability for locating and plundering.
The story you’re about to read, Kingdom, is your introduction to a narrative as wild and large and exciting as anything those Japanese siblings dreamed up in their freaky little lair. The story gets bigger as you proceed. And Tiber City is just one pulsing gland inside the heaving new creature that O’Donnell has been constructing for the past decade. This is a gargantuan and complex transmedia beast, folks. And yet, you need to remember as you read that half of its DNA comes from the underground global news services into which O’Donnell is always jacked. So consider that warning your passport stamp. And hold on tight as this thrilling new writer takes you into tomorrow’s territories at speeds that will rattle your spine.
Okay, now, listen: Two weeks ago, I met O’Donnell at the venerable Coney Island hot dog luncheonette here in Wormtown. I gave him the essay to read while I fetched us lunch. As usual, there was a long line and by the time I got back to our booth, O’Donnell had his head thrown back and was sort of giggling to himself.
I put his plate in front of him and asked, “What’s wrong? You don’t like it?”
He shook his head at me for a while and then said, “I forgot all about that shit.”
I slid into my side of the booth and asked, “What shit?”
“All that stuff,” he said, “About Gaki. And the crazy Japanese brothers. And their underground studio bunker.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“I thought you knew,” he said. “I really thought that, by now, you knew.”
“Knew what?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.
“I made all that shit up.”
In retrospect, I regret throwing my hot dog at him and storming out of the place. It was a juvenile and wasteful gesture. And it prevented me from asking where the original biopunk manga really came from. And, more importantly, how many of those “news stories” with which he’d bombarded me over the years he’d also invented. And, now that I think about it, who he was, and where he’d been, and why he so enjoyed blurring the lines between fiction and fact wherever he went.
Like I said, all I really know about the guy are some peculiar anecdotes. And I have no idea which ones, if any, contain some degree of veracity. For example, I wonder, today, if O’Donnell was kidding me when he told of his plans to get a bar-code tattoo, the scanning of which would allow instant download of his novel. (In fact, now that I think about it, I’m wondering if that fashion model wife and toddler son that I met last year are genuine … or did the trickster rent some talented actors for the evening—just to mess with me?)
Of course, in the end, I suppose it doesn’t much matter who Anderson O’Donnell is or what is and is not true in his personal history. What matters is this introductory visit to the ever-expanding world of Tiber City. Be careful as you walk its streets. Remain always alert. Don’t take any candy from strangers. And guard your genetic material as if it were your life.
Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.
All around the child, the land was dying.
From every corner of the burnt-out urban slum drifting past the car’s bulletproof window, lights glared back at the girl. But these were empty lights that cast shadows everywhere, illuminating only the impossibly angular features of nameless faces staring down at her from the cracked screens of broken digital billboards.
This fading, pale light eclipsed all the stars the girl had once learned about in school; neon corporate logos were the new constellations by which lost men now sought direction. In this final century, there was no night and there was no day. Instead, an artificial twilight was perpetually draped over the city like a shroud. And it was through this twilight that the girl watched the slum burn.
The girl knew nothing of the slum’s history; she knew nothing of the men who, years ago, came out of the desert, their black SUVs cleaving toward the edge of the continent in a blur of chrome and steel and exhaust, offering the people who lived in these forgotten slums free medical treatment, performing procedures and delivering vaccinations that would otherwise forever remain inaccessible, distant as the skyscrapers and towers twinkling on the horizon; she did not know that these strange men had demanded nothing in return, no pound of flesh—they offered only charity.
Or so the people of the shantytown had thought until tonight, when the same SUVs brought different men to the slums, men who carried machetes and guns and covered their faces. These men swept through the slum, bringing death and the oblivion of the desert with them.
The girl tried to turn away. She did not want to see the rows of men lined up, awaiting execution; she did not want to hear the screams as women and children were fed to the flame; she did not want to smell the roasting human flesh.
The girl looked across the car at her father. Why had he brought her to this place?
He only smiled.
As the car pulled away from the burning slum, the girl, with tears streaming down her face and the smell of charred flesh in her nostrils, watched as hunched figures appeared at the edge of the slums, and, moving through the darkness, began dragging several of the burnt bodies back into the desert.
The American Southwest
Nov. 15, 1986
The elevator raced past the research dormitories and the corporate soldiers’ barracks, past the replica of Central Park and down into the earth. When it finally glided to a soundless halt, Jonathan Campbell stepped out into the seventh and final level of the Morrison Biotech arcology’s research facilities.
It had been three years since Project Exodus had gone underground, since Campbell and Morrison had struck their bargain. It had been almost as long since Campbell had visited these lower laboratories that Morrison marked as his own. The two men labored separately, their results synchronized by the massive mainframe computers that linked every corner of the corporate arcology. Much of the work Morrison performed in these underground labs had been indispensable to the work Campbell performed aboveground. And so, for many months, Campbell did not question the origin of his former pupil’s data: What did that matter when they were within a fingertip of curing so many of God’s mistakes?
Yet the whispers had grown darker in the recent months: hushed rumors of trucks coming and going in the dead of night, urban jungles swallowing children whole, Mexican immigrants vanishing from the lands surrounding the arcology—the Chihuahuan desert. As a man who had devoted his life to science, Campbell could no longer bear the uncertainty.
Although the corridor outside the elevator was deserted, Campbell’s presence would not go undetected. Security cameras craned their necks, silently transmitting a detailed bio-scan of Campbell to five different security control centers, and, inevitably, to Morrison himself. The hallway itself was little more than a tight white tunnel, funneling visitors toward a single steel doorway no more than 40 feet from the entrance to the elevator. All around Campbell the walls seemed alive with the sounds of industry: Unseen machinery hummed and whirred, greedily consuming the glut of megavoltage pumped daily into the building by thousands of miles of fiber-optic arteries. Yet as Campbell forced himself toward the door, the hallway went silent, as if the building itself was waiting for him to open the door.
Campbell punched in his security code, his fingers trembling as he entered the five digits. His code would work; he knew Morrison no longer considered him a threat. The keypad flashed red, then green and then, as he expected, the door to Morrison’s research sector slid open with a barely audible hiss. Campbell stepped through the doorway, the closed circuit camera above him straining to follow his every movement. One by one, the overhead lights in the laboratory came to life, flooding the room with a harsh light. For a moment, Campbell was blinded. When the room came into focus, he screamed.
Vague approximations of human beings, sealed away in suspended animation chambers, lined the two opposite sides of the laboratory. Strange limbs protruded from the torsos of some of the creatures; others had two mouths and no eyes. Some seemed to be infected with diseases the Western world had not known for centuries. Yet, all were still alive, staring at Campbell, mute agony plastered across their faces.