They’ve surely done a good job on the ghost.
“Just look at it, Roop, like a million bucks!” Fred Thunder turns in the plushy seat to face the ghost and wince his famous wince. “The suit must’ve set them back two grand—what is it, Guccee? How are they so well-funded?”
The limo cruises in stealth-mode down New South Head Road toward Watson’s Bay. High clearance beams freeze the other cars on their spots and shift them aside to make room for the CoreCorp vehicle.
“Hugo Boss,” Rupert Murdoch spits. He looks quite cheery for having cheated one hell of a headline-grabbing death. “The shoes are Gucci and don’t match. Proves again that money don’t buy you taste.”
They cruise through pretty places with pretty names like Point Piper, Hermit’s Place and Rose Bay while occupants seethe inside their stranded vehicles trying to catch a glimpse of the limo. You can tell the ghost has never been to these parts and is trying hard not to look at the pretty things, the harbor and tree-lined streets, but specially the pretty ads flickering on the bulwark that contains the advance of the rising seas.
The ghost should be dead, deader than it already is. The first reaction from the boys was to tear it apart and rape what was left of it, but Murdoch has sniffed a potentially high-hitter here—he’s still got that journalist’s touch. That’s why Fred Thunder’s here too.
Speaking of whom, Thunder leans closer as though to whisper in the ghost’s ear. “At least they could’ve sent us a woman, we could’ve had some fun.” The way Fred Thunder speaks like he’s always in front of the cameras emphasizing words arbitrarily to some obscure effect secretly annoys Murdoch. “Feel these seats, they are synthetic baby seal. Anything washes off them.” But the public likes his tantrums and the way he punches his guests on his show until they bleed all over the teleprompters. CoreCorp’s surely pumped a lot of juice into his products; he’s even got his own action figure out next quarter.
Murdoch smirks: “Are you sure it’s not a woman?” He waits for Thunder’s brown-nosing laughter to subside. “What do you reckon? An expose? A special investigation? Page three girl? You got the exclusive, Fred, don’t let me down.”
“The secret funding trail of the terrorists!”
“I’m not sure we call them that anymore, Fred.” They change the term regularly, as soon as the techs glimpse the tiniest lunge in the Attention Span Index. Murdoch turns to Wall: “What are they called now? I forget.”
The fourth, last and aptly named occupant of the limo snaps out of a reverie. Wall looks like a Russian cyborg except he’s not Russian. His massive frame seems hardly human, a mountain of flesh or stone, a Sphinx. In any case, something you don’t fuck with.
“The Shits,” Wall dictates, looking at the pretty colors. The back of the containment blocks holds the largest screen on earth. CoreCorp owns it and Murdoch’s very proud of it. The advertising revenue ejaculating out of it should be enough to buy off the Consortium if only they’d let him.
“The Shits!” Fred echoes. All ghosts are Shits but not all Shits are ghosts. “Hey Wall, are you sure it’s neutralized?”
Wall’s ocular globes pivot in their respective sockets to acquire target Fred Thunder. “Can’t hurt a tiny teeny-weeny girl fly.”
As they ascend the winding streets, they catch sights of the ocean and the price of real estate and the severity of the security measures soar proportionally. This is the land of minus zero tolerance well to the right of the Chasm. The high clearance shield shoos away drones, deactivates mines and neutralizes early warning response systems. No one on the streets, houses in darkness; the whole place seems like an abandoned disaster area. Wall himself spotted the ghost in the crowd as it approached the barrier at the end of the premiere. Incompetent idiots, couldn’t they just see the rat face with their own eyes? The thing screams ghost to the four winds, smells ghost from miles off. The thing shivering on the seat and staring uncomprehendingly at the most expensive advertising on earth is literally a walking bomb, with explosive compounds tweaked right into the biochemistry of the cells. Smart catalysts can turn the locked-in triglycerides and phospholipids into volatile substances that leave a crater visible from the moon. You can hide the trigger compounds anywhere: chewingum, a can of Coke. One sip, kaboom.
It’s unbelievable the ghost managed to walk undetected across it. Once, the Chasm marked the boundary of a real place, or rather a series of scattered places hidden away from the public mind: refugee camps, slums, settlements, ghettos, detention centers, the Outlands of course, and all the rubbish, polluted real estate you can’t mine or otherwise profit from. But the Chasm is everywhere now, weaving in and out of people, in between them, zigzagging across streets and fence-lines. It marks imperceptible and always shifting boundaries. Two people standing three steps apart will not see each other because of the Chasm. It’s great if you’re in the security business, currently 23% of CoreCorp, but one slip through the Chasm can have Hollywood consequences. Case in point, the ghosts. Undetectable, anonymous, non-existent. Generic genetics, nonspecific data points that slip under biometrics. Face-recognition, retina-scans, gait-analysis, background-checks—you name it. Triggers false IDs or just a blank. No profile, no prints, the ghosts are a new breed of data destitute in a global order that has installed the state of exception as the universal rule.
Murdoch strongly believes that the solution is universal ID’ing—microchipping, barcode on your forehead, whatever. Good business too, but the zealot Right is always muddying up the pond with that whole Antichrist thing. The Christian neocons may be his allies and good customers, but Jeezus they can be a splinter in the balls sometimes.
“We’re going to make you a star, no-name. Provided you open that mouth for once and say something we can broadcast.”
Murdoch looks at the ghost as though honestly waiting for a reply.
Thunder chips in: “What are you, scared?” The ghost stares at them, shivers. “Does it even speak Engleesh?”
Murdoch tries his version of being nice. “You must’ve heard about Fred Thunder. He’s got a successful daily show, blog, syndicated column, and PA profile. Yes, you can program your wearable to talk like him. Don’t you have media where you come from? All that virgin market, all those wasted consumers! Anyway, this to my right is Wall, real name Wallace. I once saw Wall whack an insurgent with a flick of his wrist. He drove the guy’s nose-bridge into his brain and it shot out of his ear. They were protesting for something. Rights, love, justice, I think.”
“Yeah, Boss. You can see the footage in my toobe channel. Wall is not a killing machine… he’s a fucking killing machine!” It seems that Thunder is going to touch the ghost any moment. “And you must have heard of Rupert Murdoch. He’s the one they sent you to kill, abo fuck.”
They are all a bit jumpy. Only two months ago, the Shits had their first home run with a ghost like this one decked with biostealth explosives. Todd Schneizer, CEO of ZoeSys and member of the Consortium of Five, was DNA’d from a charred memento the size of a SD card. They tried to hush-hush the whole thing but it didn’t work, they couldn’t just pretend the top five floors of 432 Park Avenue had not dematerialized in a puff of smoke—BTW the conspiracy theorists crawled out of the woodwork claiming the fact that the rest of the skyscraper still stood proved the WTC in 9/11 was controlled-demolitioned. So Murdoch watched defenselessly as his recently bought 30% of VitaEterna, Schneizer’s star gig, plunged into the void like a faulty space shuttle. He had no choice but to do what he always does, which is drown what is left of public consciousness in screaming commentary and endlessly looping footage. Thunder here spent like eight casts enraged about nothing else.
Now the audiences have forgotten, most people just go Schn-who? So enter Velissa Xin-Lin, better known as that woman, who’s taken Schneizer’s place and become the most powerful female on the planet—well, besides Gina Rothschild, although no one thinks of that immobile lump of morbid hyper-obesity as female. Xin-Lin now controls the most powerful pack of technologies in human history: Indefinite Senescence (IS). It is true that the Consortium is supposed to represent the most influential industries on what is left of the planet: Resources, Banking, Biotech, Media and Military; but without IS there is no Consortium. It pains him to admit that he’s been upstaged and by a woman or woman like Thunder would say. He, Rupert Murdoch, has once been the most important one, the one entrusted with the vital job of keeping people stupid enough to keep buying what the other members of the Consortium have to sell. Now they are all biotech junkies craving VitaEterna. Murdoch himself is turning 156 next summer. And if Schn-who wasn’t selling, Xin-Lin is selling even less.
“I shouldn’t take it personally but I do,” Murdoch blurts. He’s getting excited, must be the cog extension chips playing up again, making him think aloud. “The Shits want me dead for the crime of being successful. For having built an empire from humble beginnings through my sustained effort and merit. For trying to hold on to what is rightfully mine. The Shits are going to make sure that Indefinite Senescence does not perpetuate existing power structures. After all, it isn’t murder to kill someone who is rightfully dead is it?” One thing Murdoch has to admit, though: having nothing to lose makes a formidable enemy out of anyone. “Wall, are you recording this?”
Suddenly all blood drains off his face. The support system reacts quickly; automated straps wheeze into place and needles zoom out of the wearable and drive into his flesh, pumping him full of Life® again. As the drugs hit, an image of Xin-Li’s face shoots into his mind. She is sneering: what would Biotech be without Pharmatech? Xin-Li is rumored to be ninety years-old but looks not a day past twenty-five. With that shiny bald egghead and retro-sci-fi fashion sense, she looks like a cancer survivor from outer space. Although that transhuman holier-than-thou chic is all the rage among biotech corporatives nowadays, Murdoch suspects she is trying to impose World Socialism on everyone….
“For fuck’s sake,” Murdoch shouts. “She’s a card-carrying commie.”
Wall keeps a stern eye on him, recording, while Thunder tries to hide his glee at the old man’s tantrums.
You don’t understand how tech works, Rupert. There is always a way around it. When you design a system, you also design its destruction, a way to cheat the system. Haven’t you read Paul Virilio? When you design the airplane, you design the airplane crash and the hijacking. And when you design Life®, death is part of that Life®. Just like natural life. We can only slow it down a little, but sooner or later the cancer and mutations will start bursting like popcorn out of all your bodily orifices. The Greeks knew it: technology goes with nature, not against it.
Murdoch has some fuzzy affection for the Chinese; he’s even married one, Wendy-whatshername? It was a failed attempt to extend his dynasty there. The Chinese are small and serviceable and make good consumers but they’ve also bought everyone’s debt. And they are communists, although it’s not polite to mention this.
He feels much better now that Pharmatech’s here. Now, seriously, in this context the increasing radicalization of that woman’s discourse is of great concern.
When the State of Exception becomes more dominant that the Rule it supposedly suspends, then the system will begin to be eaten from within by its own contradictions. Let’s face it: Capitalism is a form of parasitism. We are all parasites. This means we can’t eat the host or we’ll die with it.
Of course, Murdoch banned those words from ever coming out from any outlet over which he has any minimal control. But the left-wing press and the social networks laid down a nice picnic blanket on them and, oh boy, did they have a Roman orgy.
Murdoch stares out the window, trying to regain his dignity. The limo is cruising back down through Old South Head towards the CBD. This part of Sydney is just as he remembers it. And it looks better without people. Now they’re heading back to headquarters, back to Holt Street to feed the ghost to the journos and the masses.
“You’re not going to say anything, are you.” The ghost looks at him blankly and it occurs to him that it is blind. “Wall, tell the ghosts here the secret of my success.”
As Wall’s neck gyrates on its axis, you can hear the strands in the thick log of muscle actually tear and regrow. He recites from beyond: “It’s easy to make people believe anything as long as you hammer it down their throats enough. And people believe whatever makes them happy.”
They’ve entered the Safe Zone. They zoom down Eliuzabeth and swerve into Holt where the gates let them inside the heart of Murdoch’s Australian media operation.
It should make him all warm and fuzzy but it doesn’t.
The limo halts. Guards and the usual cohort of arse-lickers flock to the vehicle like raging prepubescents.
Inside no one moves, a strange moment like time stopped. It lasts but a second and then something flickers at the corner of his vision.
A loud dry crack.
Amazing, thinks Murdoch without thinking.
Brains are running down Fred Thunder’s shattered face. His eyes wide open in shock flicker once as though to jump out of their sockets before the gooey mass occludes them. With one elegant ballerina movement, the security agent has squeezed Thunder’s skull like an egg with one massive hand. They gray stuff looks like mechanically separated chicken three months out of date. Thunder has no time to even whimper—the nerves that would have allowed it have been snapped right at the source.
One eyeball dipped in brain rolls out of sight on the baby seal carpet.
The ghost has moved out of the way and is actually frowning. Wall has that look on his face: he’s uploading the whole thing real-time to the toobe.
“Who,” Murdoch mutters stupidly, “who is it? Who did it? Jeezus, fuck!” Out the window, the crowd is approaching in awful slow motion with no way of realizing what’s going on inside. The ghost looks at Murdoch, its face one silent question mark.
Wall is popping open a can of Coke he has just pulled out of his pocket. “Sorry not sorry, Boss. Just business, nothing personal.” He gurgles down the whole can while crushing it in his hand. With the other hand, he shows Murdoch the screen of his device.
Murdoch sees an anime version of Velissa Xin-Li winking a huge eye at him. A high-pitch squeal looped to a Babymetal riff: Thanks for shopping at VitaEterna, pigfucker.
There’s a bubbling, fizzy sound, like coming out of a cavern. The ghosts is desperately fumbling at the door.
Before his component atoms scatter across a three-block radius, the last thought of Rupert Murdoch is something odd. You actually got a nice voice, I should have put you on cable.
Andres Vaccari was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and migrated to Australia at the age of 18. He washed dishes, worked for Rupert Murdoch, edited a magazine (Abaddon: A Journal of the Imaginary, 1999-2003), published a handful of short stories in anthologies and magazines such as Overland. He self-published a novel (Robotomy, 1997), and freelanced as a book reviewer for The Australian, The Sunday Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald, among other places. He taught media and cultural studies at Swinburne University and the University of Canberra, and received his PhD in philosophy from Macquarie University, with a thesis on the links between Descartes’ biological mechanicism and posthumanism. He currently lives in Argentine Patagonia, as a full-time Researcher at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) on topics such as philosophy of technology, posthumanism, and the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon.