Joseph MacKinnon’s newest book, Cypulchre, is a recent addition to the library of cyberpunk literature. The story follows our protagonist, Paul, who invented a technology called the Cloud and fell into exile because of it. Then the Cloud becomes a threat to Paul’s family and those synched to it, so Paul is forced into action.
NeonDystopia has the honor of sharing a sample chapter of Cypulchre below. It is engaging from the first line. The prose is dense, but well written. It crafts a rich cyberpunk atmosphere, full of brutality, but not at the expense of the story. MacKinnon’s writing is smart and compelling. The excerpt below stays firmly in dark territory, but with the aid of Paul’s snarky inner dialogue and black humor it doesn’t leave you feeling too nihilistic.
The chapter below is Chapter 24 of Cypulchre, so there may be spoilers. I really enjoyed reading it, and look forward to reading the rest of the book. There are also plans to adapt Cypulchre as a graphic novel in the future. The book is available from Guy Faux Books and you can follow the book’s related social media on Facebook and Tumblr. Enjoy.
Excerpt from Cypulchre – Copyright Guy Faux Books, 2014
Chapter 24: GRAY MATTER
THEY AREN’T CANNIBALS. Cannibals wouldn’t waste so much meat.
In the seats of melons halved, between wet, useless tendrils thrown in locks to the carnage, each victim’s temporal lobe was tongued-out methodically. Their assassins’ kinky fingers worked with special care around the thalami where Outland-Corp’s tripwires had been said to be hidden. In the PIT, at least past Occam Street, life’s a fiat currency.
The kinks, all three of them, loom above their victims in a repurposed market square, formerly Gladstone Park, nestled at the bottom of a tall, narrow hollow.
Had the victims blinking on Paul’s borrowed wristband still the faculty, they’d be staring up into the guts of the grid—at a web of severed stairways, pipes, wires, and catwalks, criss-crossing above, all silhouetted by LEDs, make-shift neon, and holograms—digesting glow in perpetual conflict with the creeping shadow. The structures alluded to by the tiny portals and balconies lining the hollow extend back into a forest of vertical slums that towers to the heavens, blocking out both the sun and the Son, cursed twice-over with darkness.
Here, on the filth-stained bottom, these scavengers prey on the fallen and the messianic, or whatever else weeps into the abyss. There is no cavalry, no hope, and no second chances. And if there are, they certainly don’t make their way into this region of the PIT.
The square is spotlighted by sodium bulbs, which, sapping energy from forgotten and unattended battery cells, flicker orange-yellow. Appended to the dying street lamps are dated holograms advertising: “A-FRICTION TRANSPORT. ONE WAY TO MEXICO CITY: $28/¥1530.” In synch, they depict a maglev transport scorching past white, sandy beaches on repeat. Exhaust from the upper levels funnels onto the floor, throwing extra dimension to the cancerous blossom and the repeating promise of leisure and escape.
A large red-and-white metal sign for “Bob’s Deli,” with a Yakuza tag, hangs crooked behind the bodies formerly occupied by Emily and Constance, contextualizing this butchery in other forms. Pacific waves crash against the exhaust, splashing a little bit of colour on Bob’s wholesome cartoon smile.
Looking-on through jagged glass teeth at the three murderers as they pick and pluck, Paul actively suppresses his flee response. He maintains a sniper’s placidity despite the nerve-fed acid’s slow climb up his throat. The second-storey apartment’s charred floorboards evidence Paul’s presence with a Styrofoam hiss and squeak.
Paul’s too late, again. He hadn’t believed the android, but wished he had. But if my wishes were any good, I’d wish this all away.
The Outland mechs crashed into an apartment complex, one block over. At least one’s survived, leaving Emily and Constance with the highest bidder, just like Booker said they would. Paul’s sure that the girls had died slowly, as part of the deal, simply for wasting the Sentinels’ time.
Get the case and get out, he reminds himself.
Like the ramshackle building secreting him—pressured askew on its pilings by the monoliths of glass and metal grown around—Paul is out of place, out of his element. No, I’m out of my goddamned mind.
Through his aperture in the Atlassian wall of stucco and wood, he watches history repeated: more stats heaped on a pile of chalk-outlines and derms.
Above vacant eyes, slack jaws, and mouths forever silent, the ring leader of this carnivalesque slum-show candles the night’s loot: two in-tact Outland implants. Noose knots for noosnauts.
Below, a look of satisfaction crosses the scavenger’s face, yanking taut the acne-scarred skin around his eyes and the wrinkled gang tats snaking down his neck.
The harder Paul looks, the more the scavengers look like demons, pricked with horns and devilish flare. He pops another SIK pill, not that his delusion has really changed anything.
“Nothing on this one’s mind,” says the ringleader with a sneer. He stashes Emily and Constance’s implants and swings forward a brain stem like a limp croquet mallet, freeing it such that it plunks between his lackeys. “Shame, seen? Although renk and sipple, these would’ve made I and I a pretty coin Shanghai-way. Sexing robots wets tongues for the real thing.”
His cronies shift anxiously, rattling the bones threaded and dangling about their shoulders.
The ringleader’s facial skin loosens, and bunches-up into a frown. He scrapes the remaining occipital lobes off of his salvage. “Just two’s no good.” He turns his back to them.
One of the two lackeys, a wraith-like woman, steps through the mulch and bends over one of Oni’s dead. She flicks active her wristband, and scans their PILOT mechanisms for synch IDs.
“Yan nuh see, Whitney?” she says waving the probe over the steaming meat. ”S’more around to sweeten the pot. Just a minute.”
“A minute’s waning.”
Paul shakes-on his Monocle and zooms-in on the bandits. A stream of data filters across Paul’s iris, detailing armaments, vital signs, heat signatures, etc. Definitely not demons, at least not in any literal sense. The Monocle-scan throws a reticle around a metal object, buried beneath the bodies. “UNKNOWN” flashes in red.
That’s gotta be it. That’s got to be the briefcase. Paul recycles his only option, praying for a revelation—for anything. Bartering credit or airtime for the implants would make Paul complicit in this bight of a long string of brutal murders. There is no deal on the table. No negotiation to be had.
His revolver, cold and heavy in hand, feels purposed somehow, fated even—a hammer weighted to fall on the nails below.
Fuck it. Desperation and amorality make uninhibited bedfellows. Paul sequence-blinks off his Monocle. He knows where he’s got to go and what he needs to do.
He shuffles across the chipped and weathered floor. Heeling into a feigned tip-toe, he pops constellations of glass shards en route to the rot-iron staircase. Half-way down the broken helix, he jostles one metal step against the stringer. With the creak, he pauses.
A sudden quiet floats the interruption, and washes away the alley-curate’s sense of solitude. Biting his lip and palm-muting his heavy exhalation, Paul focuses on the threat. The banister frames a bloody triptych.
Alarmed, the ringleader reels back towards his lackeys. He hastily wipes gray matter off on his pant-leg, and hands the trodes over to the wraith-like woman towering at his side. Yanking the front lip of his crusty coat open, he jerks loose a sawed-off. With a nod to the third in his party—nothing more than a feral boy—he creeps forward into the tangerine corona of the square.
“Shit,” Paul murmurs, gripping one of the balusters tightly. The whisper and the fear spiriting the bane seem to urge the demons closer.
The ringleader fires a random shot into the second floor.
“Nice try,” Paul sneers, recomposing himself and numbering his targets with the barrel of his firearm. He needn’t preserve their skulls’ contents.
“D’be in there?” the ringleader shouts at the façade. “Yah might wonder what d’is you saw. Come out now, slow-like…Jah knows there’s no need for ketch up.”
The child, in tow, scratches at an invisible menace plighting his tangle of hair, and bares his teeth in Paul’s direction. Though ostensibly a voiceless abductee from prehistory, the boy paroles a few words of caution: “Just rats, Whitney.”
Paul quietly descends the remaining stairs. At least they don’t have infrared shades, although they undoubtedly have a sixth sense for fear.
Turning his wrist outward, as if in a Kohanic blessing, the ringleader suggests the non-importance of the gun, trigger finger uncurled. “S’okay, see?” he lies to Paul, still crouched in ambush.
Paul sees right through the bullshit to the sadist’s burgundy worm pies. Paul is judge, and his will, action.
The low-weighted trigger gives to his pull with a whomp. In the blackness of the dilapidated first floor, the revolver rocks back in Paul’s hand. His manic smile, illuminated only for an instant, fills the feral-boy’s head with more fear than he can shut his mouth around.
Paul fires again, pressing his way through the broken door and into the square behind his .44 Anaconda. The sonic snap waves up the hollow, ejecting hybirds from their nests and ushering misshapen voyeurs to their balconies. Screech Owl drones and news probes whizz down, capturing the violent pornography for the defensively entombed.
In competition with a cacophonic choir of PIT dogs starting to bark, the wraith-like woman eulogizes: “Whitney, no!” She steps forward, miming absolute terror at the sight of her perforated captain.
Screaming, the feral child bolts down the alley into fuzzy-orange orbs carved by lamps into the grey exhaust.
Paul shoulders past the wounded ringleader. At the head of the alley, he annihilates the small marauder with a double-snap. The boy somersaults uncontrollably into a cruciform pose.
The tall wraith, strangely shocked by another’s brand of savagery, drops the trodes onto the mangle of bodies. She sidesteps the carrion, palms flat and hands high in defeat.
Paul bolts to the centre of the square, and takes aim.
“Ease up! You don’t need your cannon, boy,” the wraith says, scouting a seductive tonality. She forces a smile. “Sekkle. Let me be one to your own.”
Paul shakes his head. His sight outlines the woman’s shaved dome. He pulls the trigger.
She winces at the impotent click. Paul pulls the trigger again, but to no effect. The convict tilts her head as he announces another empty chamber.
“Dead hoods get no special treatment,” she says, brimming with confidence. “We’ll be back for you.”
Paul takes a step forward, displacing her Cheshire-cat smile into the darkness. The tick of her boots against the pavement echoes, intensifying to a clamorous boom. Paul tells himself she’s not worth the sweat or the ammo.
Discordant caroling begins above as the hive resumes its dysfunction. The ash and embers from one-thousand rushed cannaberettes flake to the floor. Paul’s lost his audience. Thanks for all of your help.
Mulling over loose ends, Paul pivots to the sound of a metallic crack. The sadistic ringleader, gurgling upright, alludes with an index point to the shotgun at his feet, tarnished by a Fibonacci curl of vitals.
Paul strides over to face the ringleader, still standing. Noticing Paul, his teeth wall up into a red smile.
“I and I,” he says. The syllables stain his chin red.
“Save it.” Paul sticks his finger into one of the craters in the ringleader’s chest. “The both of you’re going to burn.”
Doubting his mortality, the sadist paws at his breast with a shaking, limp hand, only to find Paul’s arm spearing him. With what sensation his fingers still report, he reads Paul’s extrajudicial verdict. He shakes his head in disbelief. Paul steps back, leaving him to sway.
Staged between his coat’s waist flaps, the thug’s stomach strains with parts missing, parts out of place, parts surrendering to the earth. He glimpses one last sight of the inverted hell he leaves behind, and his eyes retreat into their fleshy folds, as if looking for a solution. With a thud, he crumples to the ground, without one.
Cannon empty, Paul salvages the double-barrel and some shells from the former ringleader’s bandolier, and heads back for the briefcase.
“Where the hell is it?” Paul mumbles to himself.
Ah-ha. He spies it, half-buried under one of the bodies, and hunches over to grab it. Paul pauses to pay a moment’s respect to the disfigured shapes. He can tell by the scrubs that the nearest form belonged to Emily: a sweet lady who got wasted, wasting time rehabilitating wasted people.
“Jeeze,” Paul sighs, acid staining the invocation.
In the fold of her torn blouse, an ID card spells out her empty signifier: Emily Bishop; just another nice kid who’d promised serenity to rain-outs suffering withdrawal. Someone who offered reality in the place of pleasure circuits, nirvana, data flows… the CLOUD. Should’ve known you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to get better.
Paul can barely make out the freckles on her face, yanked back from the incision like a latex mask. Cringing from the sight, Paul notices her windbreaker—shiny, black angel’s wings fanned out over cracked pavement. He lifts her arm to pull it free, and enshrouds her with it.
Constance is worse-off. Unrecognizable as an individual or a human being. The only reason Paul knows it’s her is by the simple math. A bloody shame.
He pulls the briefcase free, and unlatches it. The case is bullet riddled. Egg-foam flowers indicate at least three penetrations. One round clearly decimated Katajima’s deck, evidenced by the countless shards of silicon and plastic.
“Damn-it!” Paul yells. He sends the deck flying through the holovert sunset.
The fragmentor is tucked away in the foam padding. Paul pulls it out carefully. It’s still good, at least.
Paul quickly sandwiches the fragmentor in foam, and tucks it away. He smashes the girls’ trodes, making sure no one benefits from their murders. Once again finding himself surrounded by death and destruction, he pauses to lament his involvement and the hell consuming his world. A modicum of perseverance finds him. Anything for Pythia and Angela. Anything.