State of Flux
(Thirty years ago)
Sun 9th Sep 4:01PM
Sleeves jostled against each other, and shoes scuffed closer to the edge of the curb, teetering near the road. The buzz of rumour flitted between people dressed for work in what was known unofficially as the Office District. Pizza delivery girls, couriers, staff from coffee shops, electronics clerks, all of them had stopped dead on their way to or from work, or had pushed their wheeled chairs away from their desks to stand with the other pedestrians and strain their necks looking upward.
Gazes scanned up past the countless grids of office block windows, and one man put his hand on a nearby woman’s shoulder.
“Come on,” he muttered, “it’s not her, let’s get back inside before we get fired for this.”
The woman, dark skinned with a halo of thick hair, didn’t break her gaze as she replied with a grin, “No freaking way.”
Slick, black-gloved hands were moving in sharp relief against the slice of clear blue sky that hung atop the roof. One hand adjusted the glove around the wrist of the other, and then pulled out something cylindrical and silver from a bag. On the billboard that looked down at the street from the edge of the roof, splashes and strokes of colour began to emerge. From that, shapes began to take form, blocked out in flat colour. The black hands moved over and over the billboard, even as it wobbled when a Skyrail bullet train passed noisily overhead, making the lamp posts that hunched over the track flicker. It cancelled out all sound momentarily with it’s din. The canvas was a sleek white ad for cosmetics. The one the woman, and everyone else, was standing on the pavement to see.
The small figure stood on the few inches of metal that separated the board from a sheer 40 ft drop onto the street. From far below, all anyone could make out was a mask and hood, a black rubber jaw and that arm, swaying and moving on the board like a needle over graph paper.
Cars began to back up as the lights turned green and drivers switched off their auto-drives, craning their necks out to see what all the fuss was about. The windows of the buildings framed indistinct figures standing near the glass trying to catch a glimpse of the artist at work.
The sun was setting summer slow, casting out low gold light. A kind of lightning was striking the ground here. They could feel it as they watched her work on the edge; a pulsing in their bones that hid beneath the appropriate layers of white linen and dark polyester. She was a celestial event, and the people here were those caught by chance and timing to witness the blink of a split-second supernova.
A crescendo of chatter began to rise amongst the observers.
“Who the hell called them?” and “Think we should try and shout to her? Wonder if she’d hear from that height…?”
The smiling eyes and smooth flesh of a giant face disappeared under the masked girl’s hands, a riot of pastel colours.
She’d chosen broad daylight. She knew she’d have an audience.
“Come see? Come see what?”
A door on the other side of the roof whooshed open, the noise of the slam eaten away by the wind and the height. Birdlike, her head flicked up from her work.
She dragged a line of iridescent mint-green paint behind her as she sidestepped the narrow edge faster than looked safe. The bystanders gaped as the impossible unfolded. Two blue-clad cops were running across the roof, while the girl scaled a ladder up the side of the billboard. At the top she balanced on the the edge of the board like a gymnast’s beam, broke into a lithe and graceful sprint as though she were no more than a few feet from the ground. The image was replicated on dozens of screens on the ground, people filming with their Links.
She ran out of steps and her motion condensed into a final spring, an impossible leap off the edge. Her limbs sliced through air before she caught a pipe that ran like a bowling gutter along the overhead railtrack, hitting it with her midriff, arms clinging to the furthest edge. For those few seconds someone like that girl up there could turn your veins into cables. Bones and breaths hummed with change, the streets shivered under her feet. For a moment, seconds that existed outwith ordinary life, every ounce of potential inside them vibrated, bursting to get loose. Their hearts filled with the sheer power of it as they watched her feet dangle above buildingfuls of air. The sorry figures of the two useless officers looked small and dumbfounded as they watched her swing her legs up and scramble over.
Fifty feet from street level up on the overpass, the girl-creature took a bow, and saluted to the crowd. They trampled on urges to run and cry and scream. It was as though she were connected by string to those primal forces in the bottoms of their minds and backs of their hearts and with every step away from them she took – disappearing behind the curb of the overpass, the track where a bullet had thundered by only minutes before – she wrenched the forces up and out, to the forefront.
There wasn’t much left of the cosmetics company advert she had chosen.
The brand was well known, one of those names that only looked normal because you had seen it so many times. The slogan read; There’s more to life than looking good. But it’s a good place to start.
She left the slogan intact, the crueller choice, because it seemed all the more petty and meaningless as the background for a dangerous injection of colour and life into the days of the temporary residents of this clump of city. The graffiti was a simple line of letters, straight and stout, but strangely transparent, and glowing like blocks of neon perspex.
In her wake, she left the juicy open invitation in lazily coded letters; “ID. B1. R2.”, and a raucous uproar that rose like a wave.
(The day before)
Sat 8th Sep 1:28 PM
Hours. The car had been parked there since… well. A long time anyway. The plainclothes cops that sat in it were on six hour shifts. It was hot in there, sweaty and stale with the smell of junk food. The car was parked for an optimum view of a half finished piece of graffiti on the south wall of Rhombus Park. The park was pretty, but Jahrio couldn’t really feel the magic when he’d been staring at the same patch of criss-crossing fountains and grass-lined, LED-fitted colosseum steps for almost five hours now. His partner tried to start a conversation about the “cool” eco watering systems and UV boosters for the exotic flowers, but gave up when Jahrio replied with a terribly enthusiastic “Yeah…”
This stakeout was a waste of time anyway, the girl wasn’t an idiot, she’d know they were watching and she wouldn’t come back to finish her piece now. Jahrio only knew as much about graffiti culture as the rest of the cops, which wasn’t much, but even he knew that finishing a piece that had been interrupted was the equivalent of a suicide mission.
Midday and sticky. She was about the only one who had ever gone around vandalising in broad daylight, cocky, but even the great and powerful Flux wasn’t gonna run straight back into the police’s hands. At least that’s what Jahrio was thinking right up until the moment the car doors autolocked.
“What the-?” he mumbled, pulling the door handle back and forth ineffectually, “Did you do that? What did you touch?”
“Nothing!” His gormless partner shrugged defensively, “I didn’t touch a thing,”
“Well someone obviously-”
A head popped out from the side of the windscreen.
“Fuck! It’s-!” There was a flash of alien eyes and a large wolfish grin before a black coversheet descended around the car, blanketing all the windows. Then, twisting in his seat to crane behind him, Jahrio heard the rip of duct tape and the rustles of the sheet as she taped it down.
“Open the damn door!” he snapped, frantically pressing buttons on the dashboard screen, but it was no use. The car system just kept coming up with a frustrating grey box. The error message said “INVALID INPUT. EMERGENCY OVERRIDE IN EFFECT.” And every time Jahrio touched the screen the system repeated those words in the stupid pirate voice his partner had been messing around with before the override.
Jahrio glared at his partner, settled back into his seat and watched the clock, painfully aware that this was likely to get him fired. Yet more proof to his brother that he was incompetent at basically everything. This was only his third assignment since getting this job. He suspected a lot of rookies got put on what was officially dubbed “Vandalism, Trespassing and Antisocial Behaviour Prevention” but everyone really called Flux Patrol. If it was the newbies that got made a fool of then the higher-ups had an excuse for why she’d evaded them yet again. He wormed up in his seat to unstick his trousers from the leather.
A couple hours of restless waiting later, just as his partner was starting to snore, the sheet began to move. Then Flux herself ripped it off, doors still locked. Jahrio just stared, trying to wrap his head around the strangeness of her. She wore a black respirator mask now, and her hair spilled in coarse waves over her chest from under a black hood, in the shadow of which glinted inhumanly large, glassy amber eyes, set wide amongst her sharp, peculiar features. She clad herself in black, and Jahrio saw a gold-spun horseshoe shape that lay across her collarbones, though he couldn’t tell if it was printed into the cloth or a trick of the glaring sunlight. Her eyes narrowed as if she might have been grinning again. She rattled a spray can at them like a cocktail shaker and scrawled an indecently sized smiley face on the windscreen in black paint, then slapped the car hard, making his partner jerk awake with a grunt. Leaping up onto the bonnet, she hurtled over the roof – footsteps clanging above them – then off the back bumper in the opposite direction. Five or ten minutes of stunned silence later, the lock pegs snapped up and the car system shook away its error message and politely booted itself up again and asked for a destination. Jahrio scrambled out into the fresh air, where Flux was nowhere in sight. Sure enough the painting was glittering arrogantly, finished, in the sun. The blend of lilac, green, blue and silver coalesced into an intricate pattern that could almost be deciphered as the letters which spelled her name. But, just to season the wounds properly, she had elaborated further, on the wall to the left of the mural she had painted letters in an alarmingly simple black font: “Come See”.
Poll Archives>> Filter; by year >> 30 years>> Search; Keyword: Flux
So wat do u guys think of Flux?
|||||||||||||||||||||||||||| | 41 % said: Her art is awesome
||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| | 35% said: Vandal, I hope the police catch her
||||||||||| | 22% said: She’s a hero/inspiration
|| | 2% said: Don’t care
She’s a vandal. That’s people’s property she’s painting on, and they have to spend money to clean it- how would she like it if someone painted stuff all over her house? Should be locked up, as she clearly has no respect for other people. If she’s fined she’ll just do it again.
I agree. She painted on my uncle’s restaurant wall, cost a fortune to get rid of it.
You must be joking! Shes the only good thing ABOUT this city! She doesnt just scribble her name, its real art, its about time someone did something out there! Your uncles an idiot if he cleaned it away. He just power-sprayed away his best tourist attraction, and some evidence that we aren’t all mindless drones.
_ _ _
For the revolution!
His art is sooooooo goooodd I wish I could drw like that ):
More people should be like Flux. Then maybe we wouldn’t all be so fucking apathetic.
@maria How is it apathetic to obey the law? Graffiti is illegal. And stupid. If you want to do art then go get a canvas and spray that, why piss people off by vandalising?
@Sasquatch Go and do your homework and then you can maybe have your parents cook you dinner, then go to bed at a nice early hour to wake up for school and have your brain indoctrinated why don’t you? If you don’t understand now, you never will.
What the fuck, I was just expressing an opinion, which you’re apparently all for if you want people to spray paint it in people’s faces, I’m just saying there are plenty other of ways to do art. Some of the stuff the graffiti Pride are protesting I agree with, honestly, but come on, so you really think a bunch of schoolkids (or whatever they are) doing illegal art is really going to make a difference to corporations and government policies that they want to change? They’re just making the whole movement a joke.
does anybody know who she is? I looked on Google but I couldn’t find anything… I really want to know!
@Sasquatch If they don’t do it, who will?
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(Three days later)
Tues 11th Sep 6:47AM
Everything was ready. And it should have been, they’d been planning this for weeks, months. They’d chosen a building fairly close to his workshop and set up some rudimentary CCTV on the place, because they had no idea how long it would take people to “decode” their baby cipher.
ID. B1. R2.
Industrial District. Building one. Room two. Barely a code really, but the point was for people to get there. Everything was in place, the coin-slot turnstiles waited eagerly. The first to come was a Latina girl with pink hair. The morning after the billboard stunt with the address she turned up on the CCTV, having triggered the motion sensor blinker.
She dropped her money in the slot and went in.
She stayed for half an hour maybe, forty five minutes, and then left as quietly as she’d come. A few hours later Scritch woke up groggily at his work counter to find the motion sensor blip blinking and the screen filled with people, pushing and shoving to get at the turnstiles.
He wiped his hand over his mouth, tripped over his stool, rushed out and made it there in a few minutes. It was pandemonium. He blasted their ears with the air-horn to get their attention.
“Make a line, or no one gets in!”
The noise dimmed. “Who’re you?” demanded a man in the line.
“I’m her ambassador,” he said, and pointed at his chest. She had stencilled her name on his T-shirt. Branded. Claimed.
“You mean you actually know her?”
After that it was easier for him to force them into some semblance of a queue. It went on like that for hours. He closed it at midnight and climbed over the turnstile himself to sit inside and rest. The press that had been in the crowd had been prying at him all day trying to get information. He gave them none.
He looked around as he sat on the floor against the wall. There were a few smaller pieces, some of her older style lettering, but the focus was the installation. She called it a truth box. She’d told him the aim was for it to be like a mathematical function, the ignorant went in one door, and the enlightened came out the other. She didn’t dare hope it would actually work, but that’s what she’d planned. The room was split in two, reality and fantasy.
She said the reason people believed the fantasy was cause it used to be true. The world really did used to be all green meadows, painted cockerels and farmyards. There were posters too, she used some real ones, food company ads for Wow-I’m-Really-Almost-Starting-To-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter and juicy steaks. Really honestly beautiful food photography. The kind that companies commissioned to match the buzzwords “succulent” and “quality”. From the outside, the next room was smallish, boxy. But when you stepped in, it was bigger on the inside. Every inch of walling, ceiling and floor was painted with expert perspective. A floor of dirty, injured chicks stretched out into the distance, met the walls of a vast, dark warehouse. The room after that was physically larger but felt smaller.
There were four perspex boxes mounted. Three on the reality side, one on the fantasy side. The fantasy box was empty, the card underneath said “There is no control subject to put in here, because we have bred them all away.”
On the other side, was the stuff she cringed to show them. Three boxes. Hen, dog, piglet. They were labelled with:
Lifespan (81 days, 2 years, 6 months)
Name (K2556, 00832, BM4993)
Health (skeletal muscular deformity, skin lesions, debeaked; anxiety induced psychosis, bludgeon wounds; conscious unanaesthetised castration, psychosis, compulsive biting)
Purpose (broiler, fur trade, meat)
Slaughter Technique (neck partially broken; skinned alive; unsuccessful firing pin shot to forehead).
Next to the boxes was a list of familiar words, the names of corporations who did this in the thousands, millions. Household names, words you saw inside your own cupboards and in your own bathroom.
He had watched people go in and come out all day. They went in eager and they came out numb. Some were angry, a few even cried, many claimed it was faked, exaggerated. Art was all very well, but where was the proof?
Scritch had seen the truth of it all when he had helped her get the bodies, Flux had tried to spray the proof all over some interior walls, but he knew some would refuse the evidence until it was choked down their throats. In all likelihood that’d never happen since everyone but Flux and a few Prides would do anything to keep a distance between truth and people’s throats.
The bodies would start to smell and eventually decompose in hours or days, and he would remove all trace of this place ever being here.
For now he emptied the coin-slot turnout into boxes and lugged it back to his workshop. A few days later the media was ablaze with curiosity, photos showed up everywhere online.
Photos of cardboard boxes of heavy coins on charity doorsteps, each one signed in paint.
(One month later)
Sat 13th Oct 3:01PM
She was sprinting down the main street. Weaving through crowds of shoppers, she threw apologies behind her for knocking old ladies and slamming past pedestrians, but she kept running. A fast, pounding the ground, all out run, the kind of run you only see when someone is being chased. She didn’t seem to be too out of breath yet, though it was hard to tell when she was wearing that gas mask thing. She’d been running since at least the bottom of the street, which wasn’t a short distance. She was wearing what might have once been an oversized hoodie but was now an armless dress, underneath her sleeves were black secondskin material. Her bag was the only thing that seemed to weigh her down at all. It was muffled a bit, but it clinked every so often, the contents jangling. The straps that would have hugged her perfectly when new had started to stretch out a little, and it rode up and down on her back. But she kept running.
She had three cops in tow, pushing through the human sea to try and get to her, knocking elbows with Saturday shoppers. But before long there was more than just police on her tail. Figures in unfamiliar clothing had begun to appear and join the hunt; clad in black to match their prey, though it would do them little good as camouflage now, in the mid afternoon.
The officers were puffed out, but the black figures seemed to run almost as easily as Flux herself, and their helmets had the sheen of interactive visors. State of the art stuff, not commercially produced yet. Some of the pedestrians nudged their friends and murmured, “they must be AVE.” They pushed on, though she eluded them; this girl was a golden goose, and they would be the ones to shoot it down.
Two of them had been directed to nearby N.A.P.D. hub-pockets that used to belong to various Prides and were now state-funded caches, containers dotted around the city with supplies for the police and, it was rumoured, the AVE From the humming sounds behind her she guessed they’d picked up a pair of Skybikes, and so she made a split second decision. She veered off the street and into the Meze.
The place was a labyrinth of sleek white and shining commercial stores, open plan like a kitchen warehouse. Shoppers passed in and out of its doors and interconnected cubicles like bees through a vast hive. She didn’t bother with the routes laid out for customers. A rogue queen, she vaulted and leapfrogged over counters, knocked over racks of plastic-encased electronics and left a trail of shocked and unsettled customers in her wake.
The pursuers couldn’t follow her eclectic route, and they broke apart to comb the complex relying on their numbers. On the other side of the Meze, Flux emerged into the street, barely out of breath, eyes bright, sniffing the air. But she was only a few pounding steps out of the doorway before the waiting Skybikes descended on her. Ambushed, she sprinted straight into an alley. Dead end. For some.
She ignored the wall blocking her way, ran full pelt towards the dumpsters and like liquid pushed herself onto the lid; from there she leapt onto an extractor fan higher up. By the time the Skybike riders got to the end of the alley she was scaling a fire-escape.
The ladder from the top level to the roof was broken, so she swung her bag off and threw it up there, where is slid under a fat maintenance pipe, but just as she was about to plant her foot and launch herself up after it, she came face to face with a splash of paint: a scribbled name and compass on the brickwork, chrome and silver to look like polished metal, someone else’s graffiti.
She seemed to falter and lose concentration. She stopped rushing up the steps, and before her hand could cross the space and touch the painted wall, someone slid down off the roof, landing next to her.
A clip shot out from a taser and stunned her body into silence. It slumped backwards off the edge. As she fell she changed, though you’d only see it if you were close. Her form cut the air, moment by moment like Zeno’s arrow, her eyes relaxed from fierce tawny to a mild grey, became human and smudged with makeup; her hood slipped off and the hair underneath softened to a pale ash blonde. She became an ordinary girl. All these miracles took place in a few select seconds as her body careened down several stories to the cruel kiss of concrete below.
(Eight hours later)
Sat 13th Oct 11:00PM
Three hours. He had been waiting here, to meet her, for three hours. Calls, texts, the creeping crawling of panic, and no replies. All he could think was how he had left her last night, in the street, alone and hurt and how if he’d stayed with her, taken her home, she’d be with him now. Safe. If he’d not been so selfish after their argument, and just been there for her…
It had gotten dark while he waited, the sky was a mass of ugly roiling clouds. It had become so cold that he was on the brink between total numbness and unbearable pain, but he wouldn’t leave to get a coat in case he missed her. He was standing on the riverside pavement, the lights of the city centre lined up across the water. A chrome bin hunched next to a polished metal bench, wet with earlier rain.
He called some of the writers she knew, and then her sister.
“Do you know where Chlo is?”
“What?” Amiya replied, and then fear began to steal into her voice. “No, I thought she was with you. I haven’t seen her since yesterday. Is she not with you?”
“Do you think I’d be fucking calling if she was?”
“She’s not here.”
“No, just came from there, no sign.”
“Fuck. No. This is not happening, Scritch. Not her too, how could you let her-”
“Let her? I can’t stop her. You know that as well as anybody. This isn’t my fault. You can’t stop a hurricane.”
“She listens to you. If you’d asked her to stop she would have.”
“And if you had, none of this would have ever happened, I wouldn’t be-” there was a sharp sniff or sob, muffled by the sound of the river and the wind, “on my own.”
He ran his fingers through his damp hair and clutched at his forehead, as if to hold himself together. This was too much, it was too soon.
“I’m going to the police.” Amiya said after a few moments of phone silence, with a quaking sound in her voice.
“That’s not a good idea,” Scritch said, gripping his Link hard.
“It’s not like I’d report her as Flux!” she snapped.
His own voice sounded far away, strange in his ears, as he said numbly, “They’re probably the ones that have her.”
“Well,” she sniffed angrily, “What else can we do?”
Nothing. He felt his eyes prickle as the realisation hit him. He couldn’t get her back. There was nothing he could do. If she’d been caught to be charged with vandalism it’d already be all over the news. If procedure was being followed she’d have used her call to contact him. She’d have called Amiya to bail her out. But… nothing. She’d just dropped off the face of the earth. He knew Flux had enemies. Either the police weren’t following their own rules, or it wasn’t the police who had her. He pictured her lying crumpled in an alleyway, limbs broken from a fall, a leap just a little too far, an escape just a little too slow.
The cold began to tighten around him, trying to squeeze the breath right out of him. He uttered a grunt of anger and threw his Link hard at the ground, where the screen popped off. He dropped to a crouch, wrapping his fingers around his temples to steady himself. Gone. Gone forever. A few seconds later, his Link was hone and he realised he’d thrown the pieces into the river. All that was left was the marrow-deep need that pushed him, that had no words.
(Fourteen years later)
All he’d wanted to do was get some work done. But somehow, he’d been stuck with this kid. The last time he’d visited Chlo’s sister, her six year old daughter had wrapped herself around his leg like an over-friendly dog and refused to let go. And so he’d been coerced into babysitting Amiya’s kid. He knew Chlo would have split her sides at the thought of it.
“What zis one do?” she asked, picking up a dusty LED-fitted respirator from a cardboard box of junk.
“It stops you getting poisoned,” he snapped, snatching it from her small hands and putting it back in the box.
Why she had thought his workshop was a good place for a little girl was beyond him. He’d been using the place for decades now, a converted garage-come-warehouse tucked into a corner of the Industrial District. It had a few bean bags and a big work counter, but the floor was only half laminated, the rest was dusty concrete, and it smelled of damp wood and turpentine. The fumes from this place were probably slowly killing him, or perhaps they’d slowly kill anyone else who had spent so many years here, but Scritch has this strangely illogical belief that he was immune to the poisons, paints and chemicals he worked with. A gut feeling told him that after all he had been through, it wasn’t going to be something as mundane as paint-stripper that would strip him of his life in the end.
Amiya’s daughter bellyflopped herself onto a beanbag and started to investigate the small plastic set of drawers in the corner. Amiya hated New Arcis, she’d told him more than once that as soon as her daughter went on to higher education or moved out she’d move away from the city for good. While she stayed for her little girl, she frequently went on holiday, or drove out on daytrips. And so here he was.
“S’your name again?” he asked gruffly, folding his arms and trying to stifle a painful thought that was fighting to take place. She turned her head, with its crop of smooth blonde hair and showed her small, even teeth when she smiled.
He failed to suppress the thought. This girl was a spitting image. Admittedly she had a dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks which Chlo had never had, but her nose and eyes…
Scritch had sometimes, not often, but sometimes- imagined what their child might have looked like… and now to have the child and not her…
“You don’t like my name,” she said, pouting. “I know, I told mummy, it’s an old person name.”
He somehow found his voice gone, and Helena, undeterred, turned back to rummage amongst the drawers of old drives and app tags he’d collected over the years. He didn’t realise he had been standing motionless for a few minutes until she spoke again.
“What’s this?” she asked, holding out some paper to him. Two polaroid photos. Old. The first was almost indecipherable if you weren’t the one who’d taken it (and Scritch was). A geometry of black, flesh, and hair, until you got the angle and understood. A skim of jaw and cheekbone. She had Helena’s blonde hair. The second photo was a figure perched on a metal ladder, dwarfed by a giant, vibrantly-coloured mural. “Who’s that? Is it mummy?”
“No…” he said, and then for some reason he couldn’t place, he decided to let her in, this small curious person who has stolen the eyes of a girl long gone. “I’ll show you…”
Dropping the polaroids on the counter he grabbed a ladder from the corner and stood it by the wall. This one had been covered by a vast black curtain for a long time. He took the hammer hanging from his back pocket and used the end to prise out the nails that had been holding up the swathes of thick material. He felt the nails loosening and then falling out as though they were an extension of his own body, an unveiling of some soft part of himself that stung as it was exposed to the air. The curtain fell away, Helena gasped and stumbled forward to run her hands over the aged paint, eyes drinking in the dark sky alight with ruby dragons and catherine wheels whirring out gold sparks, but he could barely register her presence. It was as if the present world had become the ghost, and the past was assaulting his senses as if it were reality. It was the mural she had painted that summer, the last summer, the landscape of the city, the paint dulled and dirty, but there nonetheless. One of the parts of her soul she had left behind, trapped in a few fragmented images scattered across the world.