The Crane, Part2: The Puppet Show

Part2: The PuppetShow

He got off the train in the Slopes. It was a seedy hood, mostly run by blackmarket, but it was a great place for this reason: Any day of the year, and any time of day or night, you can find something you’d never seen before. If there were strange and unlikely opportunities for a rescourceful man to be found, surely, it would be in the Slopes.

He saw a killbot hiding by an incinerator. It was an awful thing, dark plastic, 4legged, and akwardly loaded with strange weapons. …motionless and full of dormant horrors.

He saw some children scavenging data. They were educated street kids, staring blankly and logged in. The oldest, maybe 12, stood guard with a spear of sharpened opticable.

He saw a bum with no chip begging for blocknoodles.

He saw an old adpost, that was sending out ad files for a compressedair bike. And airbikes hadn’t been manufactured for years.

He saw rat traps around a bloated deadlady, who had been recycled as bait.

Then he saw something odd. There was info on the phenomenon from history but nothing of the experience. It must have been a secret art lost in ancient times. That day, Delmar witnessed a truly lifechanging thing, with his eyes, and recorded it all. A man had made little people, out of scavenged parts-actually MADE little people-like toys once were. They had a little stage, and they acted out a really long file. They weren’t bots, and experienced nothing uploadable. They were moved by the man with little hidden wires. The effect was truly strange. Most people walked off before it got truly interesting because they couldnt find corresponding data on it. Delmar watched, entranced. He realized that this experience being enacted was on a different timescale and different style than any exp file he had seen. It required a little effort, and he had to pay close attention. He had to think about what had happened earlier on, and what might happen later to the “characters”, but the effect was amazing. It was a Story. There was a little boy who had been disfigured to look like he was always smiling, and an evil uberman who had stolen from the boy without him knowing it, and a girl who couldnt see, and the disfigured boy fell in love with her… so much was happening; yet none of it had ever happened. As it dragged on and on, Delmar forgot it wasnt real. He found himself, feeling, if he let himself forget, what several people in the story were feeling. Whats weirder is that they were completely unconvincing as people. Their faces were crudely painted balls of resin or plastic. Most didnt even have moving fingers. Their voices all came from the same old man. But something about the way they moved was so majical. The sound effects were done by someone hidden in the stage with the man who moved the characters. There was a bamboo flute, it set the mood for the different experiences within the story. At first, Delmar had looked up every sound effect to figure out how it was made, but about 30 gigs in, he realized it was better not knowing, and let himself believe the totally fake story with his entire being. This, surely, was an experience he could sell, but he would have to see it again to understand more about the complex interactions- but then his realizations, and fascination would be less. He knew how the story ended now, and felt like it should be a secret. Not knowing the ending had made the whole thing so incredible. At the end, the old man (who oddly enough, had no searchable name, devoiced or otherwise) and the sound girl walked out of the little box that had contained so much incredible new things. Delmar realized he was almost weeping. The story had moved him more than real events from his actual life. The crowd had thinned and left without Delmar noticing. Most people, totally unfamiliar with a story of this ancient type, hadn’t watched more than 8seconds of it. The girl and the old man bent at the waist, like Japanese, then started packing up the stagebox, and putting their things on a little metal cart.

Delmar ran up to the strange pair. “Where can I look this up?!” he said to them, a bit loudly. The old man laughed. “You can ask me.” he said, holding his arms out in a strange gesture. “but it’s not a skill, its an art, you can only learn by hand, and no one can do it the same…oh-Tips in Creds are Much Appreciated” He intoned strangely. The old man must have known Del didn’t have money, why did he ask?. “I’m broke, but that was really great!” Again, Del was inadvertantly yelling, and perhaps a bit overenthused. The old man squinted at Delmar. “Gadang, your a little wired, aintya? You been layin under the train?” He laughed and turned around, as if to continue packing. The old man turned back around with the hero of the story in his arms, “This is Gwynnplaine”. Delmar stared, gasping, and still recording at the widest bandwidth he could. The little fake person had bentwire hooks for joints. The wires and sticks that had animated him were disconnected, and he was now limp and lifeless. Delmar touched its face. There was the hideous grin and sad eyes that he had believed so well in the show, now clearly a lifeless and cobbled together thing. “This is so cool!” Delmar said, this time he forced himself to talk slower, and more quietly. “Yes, yes it is,” The old man smiled. “Who..ah..owns this file you enacted?, is it called The Man Who Laughs?” The old man interrupted him, smiling- “YOU own it! We tell the story, but YOU dream it, and you GET it, and no one can take your dreaming of the story from you. Even if you sell it, no one can truly see it like you do, and besides, only a fool would sell his dreams, you WILL be needing those before you die.” Del was hardly listening. “Wow…. what a night!” Del was now staring at the boxes on the cart, and jumped to help them move the stage/box thing on to it. “Unfortunately…” The old man continued, looking half serious now “now that you know our secret, we cant let you leave here alone. Im sorry son, but your gonna have to eat with us.”

Normally, he would have run. Maybe it was the Titz, or his sensory seeking, that he had turned on, like an escoteric and subtle search engine. He suspected that his “other search engine” had brought these strange people to him, and as it often happened, Delmar would have to bravely follow odd and unlikely scenarios on a hunch to see if his search was working. Usually, he would get in to something distracting and forget what he was looking for before he found it. In hindsight, his hoodoo seemed to work. He followed the perplexing people to a non-descript tent that was half tucked into a boarded up building.

The girl was strange. She didnt speak or make eye contact, but there was nothing about her presence that was humble or subserviant. She worked around the old man, quickly and deftly, almost forcefully. Was she his wife, servant, daughter, grand daughter? The old man would haphazardly start to grab something or start up their little methane stove, and the girl would immediately commondeer and finish the task as the old man went on speaking. He kept Delmar busy with fantastic and improbable scenarios that were long and complex like the strange show had been. Del didn’t care that the man was likeley lying (falsification of anything was very hard to pull off in Delmars world, and lies were nearly as foreign as stories were to him), his mind was completely captured with story. The odd pair gave Delmar tea that smeled like pine trees, and the girl cooked 5pigeons in a teflon bag. The tea was delicious, and as the old man finally presented a break in his fascinating rant to sip the hospitably hot beverage, Del asked why he couldnt find names for them. Indeed, their tent must have been well sheilded, because he couldnt even get any signal from inside it, and they were in a high end of the Slopes. The old man leaned in close and the strange smell of his breath mingled with the warm steam from his tea. “Can you keep a secret?” Del made his face serene and clear “Better than anyone I know” he said “I knew it!” the old man yelled joyfully “I bet you can bullshit too! I find it interesting that you understood our show, thats rare- anyway, Im Seppy the Puppeter, and this is my student, Marie. (She made brief eye contact with Del, and made her face look kind without smiling) I am on the run currently,” His booming voice got quiet and fast. “I had to learn to live with a sheilded chip, so the killbot wouldn’t get me too easy. I dont take meds either, not even the gov ones, not even soda. I was somewhat wealthy once, but I dont regret sacrificing for my work. Im on allotta shitlists these days, ya know.” Del wondered if the man was delusional, and nodded politeley as he wondered what a Puppeter was-“Puppet…like Poppet? I seen dolls once, but not even the bot toys of old moved like these things” Seppy didnt seem to hear him, and continued as Marie pulled the sizzling and odiferous bag of bird out of the can stove. She opened the bag and the smell filled the thick little tent, overpowering the methane and pushing out all the acrid smells of the Slopes with a torrent of billowing oily steam. “remembering stories for the people is half the work, avoiding the killbot is a big part too, know what I mean?… -well, help yourself. I know you arent hungry, and I know you need to eat” He gestured toward the open teflon bag. Marie had already pulled out a pigeon and had begun to eat in a fast, meticulous, deconstruction of steaming bird. It felt very strange that these people were feeding him, but they seemed so kind and comfortable. He really liked being around them, even though he felt he didn’t yet know the young girl. He tried to take on their attitude, like a warm jacket, and pulled a bird out, careful not to singe his fingers on the steaming bag. There was a serene moment of no voices, as they sat crosslegged on the floor of the Puppeters’ tent, and smiled greasy smiles full of bird. Marie threw out the bones and passed a washbowl around; after grabbing Seppys’ half rinsed cup; said “goodnight” and her voice sounded like a 7 year olds’. She rolled out a sleeping bag, 5 centimeters from Del and went straight to sleep.

Delmar and the Puppeter talked long into the night. And Del told his first story. It was clumsy, and short, but Seppy egged him on, proposing plot shifts as “what if” questions. They had both been isolated men, at one time or another. Though one had constant close company, and the other communicated with thousands of people in a day; both men were revitalized and healed by a shared meal and long, face to face conversation.

Seppy asked Del to carefully edit out any human faces or hands from the puppetshow file. This was not an easy task, but it could buy the man more time to live if, as he said, he was almost chipless and had killbots set on him. Del remembered something scary. “I saw one today, you know. A killbot. Not too far from where your show was.” Seppy took notice, but didnt seem overly concerned that his life may end soon. “Maybe it was set on someone else? Who knows, its a big nieghborhood. Theyll get me when they get me.” The old man said dismissively. “I live in a huge block,” Del said “It’s not shielded, but its not likely to get raided either” The old man was touched, but reluctant. “We never stay anywhere more than 72 hours, and I wouldnt dream of bringing a killbot into someones home, but thank you anyway. Maybe we can stop by and say hello on our way out…” Seppy looked uncharacteristicly tired for a moment, then added “You can stay here tonight, if you like, of course.”

The old man rolled out 2 bedrolls, which completely covered the floor of the little tent, and went to sleep. Del told himself he needed to stay awake and keep watch for his strange new friends, but in truth, he still had a Titz buzz and wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway. He sat outside the tent and edited the exp file with the puppetshow on it. It took forever. Around sunrise he walked to the train.

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