A MAN STANDS ALONE ON STAGE, NEAR MIDDLE, HOLDING A SCRIPT AND LOOKING DOWN INTO IT TO READ FROM. HE DOES NOT VARY FROM THIS STANCE. STAGE LIGHTS ARE DARK, HE IS ALL BUT SHADOW.
SIM: When I was still a boy my mother and I traveled to some of the countries listed as the places of origin for characters in the Street Fighter 2 video game. My father, who left the morning after my conception, was a Street Fighter 2 champion. He told my mother how the quality of video game champions had diminished in recent years with the social reduction in access to video game arcades. When you play in the comfort of your home, without desperately cradling coins in your palm and battling it out on the harsh arcade floor, you never really learn how to play.
My mother was a professional archaeologist until I was three years old and then work dried up. Bone dry, she never laughed. At this same time I started exhibiting extreme difficulties with being a child, physically and psychically speaking. The combination of these events caused my mother a great deal of grief. Some days I would say her name and she wouldn't answer.
In response to her situation my mother purchased a Sega Mega Drive with a copy of Street Fighter 2 and played it for near endless hours in our small Sydney apartment. She played for many weeks until she stopped and instead began to ravenously search the internet for international flights to Brazil, Russia, China and wherever else. She had printed out a Street Fighter 2 world map that showed the home locations of the characters in the game, to each of which she drew red lines and calculated how much money she had. On Street Fighter enthusiast forums she requested fights in each of the countries represented in the game. A few days later we flew from Sydney to Brazil. After a sixteen hour stop-over in Brazil where my mother plugged the Sega Mega Drive into a foreign powerpoint and television and then fought and lost against a young man named Oscar, she played as Chun-Li and he played as Blanka, we got on another plane and headed to Russia.
As children, as adults, we all have a private language that fills our heads and learns in time to harmonise with the public language of the world outside. One of my difficulties as a child was that my private language was like the siren of a fire engine, its tone precariously uncertain, bending up and down like a toy with a dying battery. At times it felt like the siren was a testing signal, and other times it felt like the voice of a fire engine doing stand-up comedy. Imagine its shiny red bulk on stage, arching towards the audience, defending the city.
One of my other childhood difficulties was my inability to maintain a constant physical form. While rushing with my mother through Moskovsky railway station she tried to hold onto my hand but I fell from her grip and, when she turned to take hold of me again I could see her staring anxiously to the floor where heavy black boots soared above my head. I held tight to the end of an umbrella that leaned against a marble pillar, so tight that my mother had to pick up the umbrella and shake it from side to side until my grip dislodged and I fell into her trembling hand. Minutes later, beneath a white night as we crossed Vosstaniya Square outside, I fell from her grip again as I became nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding hotels. My chest was a sandstone block and my head was a framed window, and all my mother could do was cry until I was able to crumble down beside her.
In an asparagus green apartment, at the end of the second of what should have been three rounds of Street Fighter battle, I was spinning around the room like a washing machine when I knocked a glass of juice over that my mother's new acquaintance, Bogdan, had poured for me. It splashed onto the Sega Mega Drive console, causing the game on screen to stutter into fragments of red and black before the console gave a loud popping sound. Everything went silent. I looked to my mother's face, her eyes were wide and she appeared as though paused in space, as if when the game stopped working her own power source ceased as well. Bogdan said Правда, я всё улажу, не волнуйся, только слезай оттуда, прошу тебя and then he left the room and returned with a cardboard box filled with computer boards, plastic cases, wires and cords. Within half an hour he had taken to pieces my mother's Sega Mega Drive and had rebuilt it as something completely new. When he turned it on to show that it worked, the console made a loud fan driven noise and the game on screen didn't look much like Street Fighter 2, it read MUGEN on screen and rather than having twelve selectable characters the game now had a matrix of many thousands of characters to choose from. I thought my mother would be upset by this change, but she just shut down the console, unplugged it from the wall, thanked Bogdan and then we left his apartment en route for China.
I knew my mother was running low on money when we shared a small packet of Want Want mantou cookies for breakfast on the train as we left Pudong Airport for the Shanghai Sunshine Rehabilitation Centre where my mother's next opponent was waiting. We arrive in the dorm room of the nurse who has accepted the battle, and when my mother pulls out the newly refurbished Sega Mega Drive from her bag the nurse makes a very audible gasp that takes my mother and I by surprise. A note at this point that I am the shape and size of a rubber gardening glove and I'm trying my best to sit on the edge of the nurse's bed but I can barely maintain form let alone function. After the console is plugged in and starts to whir, and the software on the screen starts to read MUGEN with a whole lot of other code above and below the logo, the nurse takes hold of the Mega Drive and says 我不明白.
The three of us walk down the hallway, well by walked I mean I am still a glove and my mother carried me as such, and we entered a canteen area where two men and two women were watching a television cooking show. The nurse places the Sega Mega Drive on the table, says 看这个 and plugs it in to the television. The men and women, medical students by all accounts, look surprised and excited as they pick up the console and start to go into menus that show lines and lines of letters that I would later learn were clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. The nurse turns to my mother and says, in English - This is a CRISPR module : Why do you have one of these : You can edit genes with this : This is very powerful hardware : See the biomaterial goes in here : You can print tablets that can change genetic code with this : These are very rare : Where did you get this. My mother squints in emergent recognition and says - What do you mean it can change genetic code.
THE SAME MAN STANDS ALONE ON STAGE, NEAR MIDDLE, HOLDING A SCRIPT AND LOOKING DOWN INTO IT TO READ FROM. STANCE REMAINS THROUGHOUT. STAGE LIGHTS ARE DARK RED NOW, MARGINALLY LIGHTER.
SIM: When I was close to forced retirement age the school for children with special needs that I was a music therapist at held a grand musical performance. I assume it was grand at the very least due to feedback that I heard afterwards, unfortunately while I was there at the start of the night I was unable to stay for the performance. What made it all the more unfortunate was that the musical was one that I had written, as had been the tradition for a number of years at the school. The topic of the musical was very personal to me, as truth be told they all had been, all the previous iterations of the musical. Being completely honest here, the musical was always the same story with some minimal instrumentation changes and structural rearrangements between one year and the next.
Our students performed all the parts of the musical. Those who could sing, sang. Those who could dance, danced. And really, me saying that does not really capture the immense humanity that composed the performance, for always all of the children sang and all of the children danced, there were no limitations, it was a festival of inspired possibilities and one of the absolute joys of my life at the time. The children on this particular night, around twenty minutes from rise of curtain, were all hurriedly working with our teachers and families to get into costume and position for the opening number. Some of the children were dressed as video game players, wearing hip sunglasses and thick jackets emblazoned with eSport sponsors, while some of the other children were dressed as archaeologists and flight attendants, waiting behind a smoke machine for just the right moment to move across the stage and into the spotlight.
The opening number for the show, the theme that illustrated the narrative of the musical, was to be performed by a girl in her first year of high school, Joei, a student who had been with our school since kindergarten. She was to sing a melody about the skills required to be considered one of the best video game players in town. But tonight she was nowhere to be seen. I began with a few seeking questions for those on stage, but quickly turned frantic as I ran around the corridors of the performance centre asking everybody if they had seen her. I poked my head through the curtains to see if her parents were in the audience, but in the seats allocated them towards the front of the room they were absent. After phoning all available numbers I eventually caught a busy signal on the home phone, so, without another reasonable plan to consider, I got in my car and drove across the dark Jape Town streets to the home in which Joei lived.
The place in which she lived was a Pizza 'n' Pinball business run by her parents, positioned on a main road in the industrial part of town. I hadn't been there for many years, since initially meeting her family when they first enrolled in our school. The decorative scenes on the windows, painted in red and black flakes of paint, of low polygon landscapes and empty virtual spreadsheets streaming into the distance, were unchanged from ten years prior. I look through the windows and can see Joei standing motionless in front of a pinball machine that was making up for her static state by displaying all manner of spinning lights with bumpers and gateways dancing in repetitive movements back and forth across the table. Joei does not answer the closed door when I knock on it, so I push it inwards and enter without being welcomed in.
I say her name but she doesn't answer. I walk beside her and look into her face to see what is happening, what she is focusing on. She is staring into the pinball machine and, with a calm voice that seems in the least bit unsurprised to find a teacher from her school having burst into her home announced, she asks me why it is that the pinball machine tells the exact same story as that which the musical tonight is about, that which all of my musicals have been about. I have no idea what she is talking about until she drops a coin into the slot and a ball throws itself around the table, passing in an arc against a background of digital clouds like a plane traveling across the world, the ball bouncing between red bumpers shaped like boxing gloves, then ricocheting off and knocking over a bucket of lights that cause a glowing black box to fizz with sudden sparks. And then the ball falls down the length of the tables and straight between the two protective flippers at its base, two test-tube shaped paddles trying desperately to catch the falling ball. For the duration of the game I am unable to breath.
Regaining my composure, at least for outward appearances, I ask Joei to go and get her parents. She asks again about the story in the pinball machine, of our musicals, and I don't want to be too firm but I tell her this time without asking, Joei, you must get your parents now, go and find them upstairs or wherever they are, now. When she has left the room, I wrap my arms around the breadth of the pinball machine, like an embrace, to get a sense of its mass. I then quickly unplug the power from the wall, pull the machine backwards from its position and turn it around, and I then proceed to push it out of the door and onto the road outside.
Nobody is on the roads in this part of town at this time of night on this day of the week. I push the pinball machine down the middle of the dark road with barely any street lamps to illuminate my steps. Without much in the way of surrounding environmental sounds, the only thing that anybody in the vicinity would be able to hear would be the shake and rattle of the mechanical parts of the pinball machine, the little wheels under the table doing little to reduce the earthquaking of the landscape beneath the glass, a half dozen balls jumping violently around like globes of metal popcorn near ready to explode. The paddles keep flipping up and down like somebody gesturing from the ocean in either a state of utter glee or desperate distress, and with that image in mind I suddenly realise where I am traveling to.
As I head to the beach I think of a story my mother once told me when I was young, one night when we were together in darkness, unable to sleep, in that hospital in China. It was about an architect named Rico Paolni. He was no ordinary architect, however, he was an architect of the inside of people. My mother said, if Rico had have worked in this hospital and you were to listen very carefully next to another person's body, you would hear a world of wonderful sounds. Were you listen next to me, for instance, you may hear the rattle of train carriages rolling through a country station. And, she said, if you were able to place your ear next to your own chest you may be able to discern the sound of busy footsteps upon wooden walkways, the echo of swing seats jangling in the park. Rico was the first architect in history to have learned the manner in which to construct functioning, forever active cities, within the bodies of other people. My mother said she remembers hearing how Rico's nephew once fell against a sharp wire fence and, rather than the laceration giving rise to a gush of blood, instead a bounty of colourful cars and buses toppled out of his leg and onto the ground like lollies from a jar.
As the bitumen turns to sand there is, thankfully, a wooden walkway that leads down to the oceans edge that I can roll the pinball machine on. I start running now as I hold the table in front of me, and as it starts to acquire its own weighty momentum I lift my feet off the ground in rapidly increasing intervals as I am carried along towards the black mass before me. As the jangling percussion of the mechanics inside the machine reach their cacophonous peak I let go of the table and watch as it soars off the end of the walkway and crashes into the ocean. I am surprised by how quickly the table is dragged under the water, swallowed by it in a gulping breath that removes it from its previous life in the dry world above. I am not surprised however when the machine appears to turn on from beneath the tide, a wave of red neon rippling like a reflected moon glow, pulsating now in ever fading beats as the table sinks lower and slower while a sound rises up, some ambient pulsating cry, and I recognise at once the voice behind it.
THE SAME MAN STANDS ALONE ON STAGE, STILL, NEAR MIDDLE, HOLDING A SCRIPT AND LOOKING DOWN INTO IT TO READ FROM. STANCE REMAINS. STAGE LIGHTS ARE RED, MARGINALLY BRIGHTER THAN BEFORE.
SIM: For two decades now this has been my job, to defend the morning city of Newcastle. I am definitely what you would describe as humanoid in my presentation, my form appears as though somebody created a professional wrestler out of storage containers and buses. I reside out the back of a gym and an electronics store where I was synthesised over time. Eventually enough old treadmills and weight machines will pile up, tangled between a mess of power cords and circuit boards and alligator clips that, when one thing leads to another, gives life to a robot. I am convinced the city doesn't know I am here or what I do, and to my mind it is best that this situation remains.
Never have I seen or felt before a calm so deep as this city in the hour before it wakes. Newcastle has a harbour that is structured not unlike the interior of a cathedral. The primary corridor of water extends in regular quadrants, beneath the bridge upon which I stand as I breathe in deep the harmonics from the power poles around me, and then the harbour bends into a vestry and alter area that continues in neat whole number ratios that mirror the network of veins that comprise the roadways of Hunter and King. Sometimes I leave messages in a given empty street where the warm triangles of light come to splinter.
My morning routine involves the usual. I walk forward, jump forward, jump straight up, jump backward. I practice my forward flip, my defensive crouch, my spin defence. I have special moves, of course, that I practice where there is the appropriate space to do so, but also, at times, I practice where there is definitely not enough room, where it would seem a disastrous space to try such a move for fear of crashing into heritage sandstone and through the sheet glass windows of some downtown office. But those are just the spaces I need to practice in so I am ready for a spontaneous attack that might not give me the grace of battling in a quiet, open parkland arena. I practice jumping over the tennis net at the courts that overlook the city and the sea, and I sound so much like a garbage truck that I do my best to synchronise my training routine with the waste collection schedules of the neighbourhoods across the city.
One morning another robot from a neighbouring city tried to get to the heart that beats at the centre of our town hall, in the middle of its circular, donut structure, within a modern art fountain pond that cycles gently, in and outside of office hours. This is a worse case scenario to be honest, it was something I had been preparing for in an abstract way with my morning routines, but I always anticipated another threat. Not even a threat from another sentient being, mind you. It might just be the threat of, say, a flood, which has happened before, which resulted in a frightening rush to raise up some of the lower buildings from their foundations so they could avoid some of the immediate impact of the water filling up the streets, and to stomp holes through the bitumen in strategic positions that would allow water to drain away from the most critical areas. It was difficult for me to not get too soaked in the process, as you can imagine. For weeks afterwards I did not move for fear of turning on my systems and short circuiting them due to any remaining water lingering in me. Although, in retrospect, the damage caused by this might have had unforeseen outcomes that could have drastically changed the course of my existence, again.
The opposing robot did not get the heart from the centre of town hall. No doubt, you'd say if you saw me. No doubt Big Red will not let this other bot steal our heart. I used back defence and defensive crouch positions to block the opposing attacks. I waited for mistakes and then attacked accordingly. I did not use my special moves too much lest they provided an opening for my opponent. I nullified fireballs with fireballs when the opportunity presented, and I recognised that after three strong attacks, when my opponent was dizzy, I was able to inflict as much damage as possible. As the opposing robot leapt towards town hall in a final, desperate bid to get inside the sandstone donut I tackled it with such ferocity and precision that I could feel whatever air resided within its cables and pipelines urgently squeeze out as I skated on its metallic body down the middle of King Street. Not wanting to simply discard the robot in the ocean for fear of disturbing sacred memories, I carried it to a fort on top of the hill near the tennis courts I train in, where I found an old military tunnel, unused for centuries, into which I stuffed the now obsolescent bot deep within.
More than a lifetime ago I mentioned a story my mother had told me about the architect who built cities inside of people. If my mother was here with me now I would tell her about the surgeon who could build people into cities. I would tell my mother that this surgeon would have met Rico and would have placed her hand against his heart and would have guided his hand to the wall of his apartment so that he could have felt that feeling where your head starts to fill up the expanse of the room you're in. Rico would have looked at the surgeon like a rock upon a comet, I know this. I can see even now the wooden flooring of his apartment quickly becoming his feet, as a centimetre becomes a metre, his arms becoming banisters, his eyes the height of doorways and rooftop antennas. It would fill me with such delight to see the walls of his home gently expand and contract, the windows shimmering like never before with a warm crimson glow rising up from low behind the glass.
As before, as in my memory, as forever, it is raining now. Water is filling up the world and I migrate beneath a torn fabric canopy hanging out the back of the gym where I live. The world is all red bleeding neon, it feels like some if it is dripping onto my face. I don't try to dry my face with my hands, imagine wiping a refrigerator across a bulldozer to try to wipe a splash of water away. The canopy didn't used to be this torn. There are other places across the city where I could get out of the rain, of course. Underground carparks, streets where high foliage is particularly thick, the tunnel where I threw the robot that tried to steal our cities heart. But I don't move during the waking hours for fear of being seen, if there are still people living in the city. I imagine there are sometimes, but it has been many decades since a garbage truck last did the rounds. Sometimes I think I imitate the sound of a garbage truck just to coax one back, like a bird song trying to encourage a beak from amongst the birches.
The canopy must have really torn right through now, finally after all these years. The water is bucketing down onto my head, my face. It is hard to see, to hear anything. The city is a matrix of many thousands of characters, letters and numbers, clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, all turning into raindrop zeroes, one by one. Behind the torrential waves swallowing the city I can see a silhouette, a gigantic shadowed presence moving towards me, through the rain and the fragments of red and black that are stuttering in front of my eyes. There is a loud popping sound and everything goes silent.
Lifting open the jaws of my mouth and feeling the inside of me fill up with sparking water, I say her name once more. This time, forever, she answers.