Vurt, p.1
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       Vurt, p.1

           Jeff Noon
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  Awake you know that dreams exist. Inside a dream you think the dream is reality. Inside a dream you have no knowledge of the waking world. It is the same with Vurt. In the real world we know that Vurt exists. Inside the Vurt we think that Vurt is reality.

  Vurt is a feather—a drug, a dimension, a dream state, a virtual reality. It comes in many colors: legal Blues for lullaby dreams. Blacks, filled with tenderness and pain, just beyond the law. Pink Pornovurts, doorways to bliss. Silver feathers for techies who know how to remix colors and open new dimensions. And Yellows—the feathers from which there is no escape.

  The beautiful young Desdemona is trapped in Curious Yellow, the ultimate Metavurt, a feather few have ever seen and fewer still have dared ingest. Her brother Scribble will risk everything to rescue his beloved sister. Helped by his gang, the Stash Riders, hindered by shadowcops, robos, rock and roll dogmen, and his own dread, Scribble searches along the edges of civilization for a feather that, if it exists at all, must be bought with the one thing no sane person would willingly give.

  Already awarded the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award, Vurt is sui generis in form but filled with the shadows of classics—from the Orpheus and Faust myths to A Clockwork Orange and Blade Runner. With relentless pacing, exuberant originality, and prodigious wit, Jeff Noon has created a language, a world, and a love story destined to take its place among the classics.

  Copyright © 1993 by Jeff Noon

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.

  Random House, Inc. New York, Toronto, London, Sydney, Auckland

  Originally published in Great Britain by Ringpull Press in 1993

  CROWN is a trademark of Crown Publishers, Inc.

  Manufactured in USA

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Noon, Jeff.

  Vurt / Jeff Noon.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  I. Brothers and sisters—England—Manchester—Fiction.

  2. Manchester (England)—Fiction. 3. Virtual reality—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6064.045V87 1995




  ISBN 0-517-59991-0

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  First American Edition

  For Nick

  —totally feathered up, living on the dub side



  DAY 1

  DAY 2

  DAY 3

  DAY 21

  DAY 22

  DAY 23

  DAY 24


  A young boy puts a feather into his mouth…

  DAY 1

  ‘Sometimes it feels like the whole world is smeared with Vaz.’


  Mandy came out of the all-night Vurt-U-Want, clutching a bag of goodies.

  Close by was a genuine dog, flesh and blood mix; the kind you don’t see much any more. A real collector’s item. It was tethered to the post of a street sign. The sign read NO GO. Slumped under the sign was a robo-crusty. He had a thick headful of droidlocks and a dirty handwritten card—‘hungry n homeless, please help.’ Mandy, all twitching steps and head-jerks, scurried past him. The crusty raised his sad little message ever so slightly and the thin pet dog whined.

  Through the van’s window I saw Mandy mouth something at them; ‘Fuck off, crusties. Get a life.’ Something like that.

  I was watching all this in the halo of the night lights. We stuck to the dark hours in those days. The Thing was on board and that was a major crime; possession of live drugs, a five year stretch guaranteed.

  We were waiting in the van for the new girl. Beetle was up front, ladies’ leather gloves pulled tight onto his fingers, smeared with Vaz. He likes to feel a little bit greased when he rides. I was in the back, perched on the left side wheel housing, Bridget on the other, sleeping. Some thin wisps of smoke were rising from her skin. The Thing-from-Outer-Space lay between us, writhing on the tartan rug. He was leaking oil and wax all over the place, lying in a pool of his own juices.

  I caught a movement in the air above the parking space.

  Oh shit!

  Shadowcop! Broadcasting from the store wall, working his mechanisms; flickering lights in smoke. And then the flash of orange; an inpho beam shining out from the shadowcop’s eyes. It caught Mandy in its flare-path, gathering knowledge. She ducked down from the beam, banging, hard-core, on the van doors.

  The dog was howling at the cop, scared by the lights.

  I opened the doors a thin-girl measure. Mandy slipped through.

  The dog went for the cop’s legs, twin fangs closing on nothing but mist. That dog was confused!

  Mandy handed me the bag.

  ‘You got it?’ I asked, dragging her inside.

  A tangerine flare from outside, a burning light.

  ‘Got some Beauties,’ her answer, as she stepped over the Thing, into the van.

  ‘You got the one?’

  Mandy just looked at me.

  Something was howling outside. I glanced back and saw the poor dog on fire, the shadowcop moving towards us, reloading. He let loose a tight inpho, beaming onto our number-plate, which was just a series of random numbers anyway. You won’t find that in your banks.

  The Vurt-U-Want doors crashed open and a young man came stumbling through, looking scared.

  ‘It’s Seb,’ whispered Mandy.

  Two cops followed him out of the doors. Real-life versions. Fleshcops. They chased Seb over towards the wire fence that skimmed one edge of the car park. I turned around to the Beetle. ‘It’s a bust!’ I shouted. ‘Let’s go, Bee! Out of here!’

  And we were. Reversing first, away from the bollards. ‘Watch it!’ This from Mandy, nervous as fuck, as the van jerked backwards. She was thrown to the floor, landing on the Thing-from-Outer-Space. I was clinging to the straps. Brid was rudely pitched from sleep, pupils in shock from the sudden awakening. The Thing had six tentacles wrapped around Mandy. The girl was screaming.

  The van leapt up onto a pavement. I thought the Beetle was trying to dodge the beams, maybe he was, but all we felt was the sickening thud and a yowling scream as the left back wheel put the collector’s item out of its misery.

  The crusty was crying over his dog and pushing his fists through the shadowcop’s smoke as we scorched the forecourt. The van made a wild circle, and I saw the whole thing sliding by—the shadowcop, the crusty, the dead dog, until Beetle got it under control. Mandy was struggling with the Thing-from-Outer-Space, calling it all the names. Over the Beetle’s shoulder I could see the wire fence coming up close. Seb was dropping down on the other side, down to the tramlines. The two fleshcops were struggling with the fence. Beetle turned on the headlights, catching them full-beam. He gunned the Stashmobile towards them, total, shouting out, ‘Awoohhh!!! Kill the cops! Kill the cops!’ The cops fell off the fence. Their faces in the headlights were a joy to behold; fleshcops, scared to fuck. They were running now, away from the van’s bulk, but Beetle had it; he swung the wheel around like a true star, last moment, taking the Stashmobile all around the parking space, heading for the gateway. The debris of a thousand trips was banging and clattering all over the floor as we took a vicious U-turn onto Albany Road and then left onto Wilbraham Road. One last glimpse over the Vurt-U-Want wall and I could see the shadowcop beaming messages into the air. The robo-crusty was a pile of fused plastic and flesh. A cop siren wailed through the darkness.

  ‘They’re ont
o us, Bee!’ I cried. ‘Hit the jam!’

  Beetle took the brow at speed. Oh boy, were we flying! Stash Riders! Riding the feathers back to the pad. The point of impact squelched Mandy deeper into the Thing’s embrace.

  Mandy screaming at the Thing, ‘Get the fuck off me!’

  Keeping firm hold of the strap, I dropped the goody bag, and reached down with the free hand, jabbing at the Thing’s belly flesh, tickling him. The one weak spot. How he loved that! His laughter was dredged up from deep inside, from thousands of miles. He was writhing around and Mandy was able to slide free. ‘Fuck that! Jesus!’ She was shaking from the fight.

  Through the back windows I saw a cop car’s lights flashing. Its siren was loud, piercing. The Beetle took the corner onto Alexandra Road without slowing. Brid was clinging to the straps, desperate for sleep, her skin full of shadows. The Thing-from-Outer-Space was crying out for a fix. Mandy had a tight hold of herself, and I had the goody bag back in my free hand. The Beetle had the wheel.

  Everybody has to grab hold of something.

  Alexandra Park was a dark jungle shimmering the right side windows. We were skirting Bottletown by now and no doubt the park was full of demons; pimps, pros, and dealers—real, Vurt, or robo.

  ‘Cop car’s closing, Beetle!’ I shouted.

  ‘Hang on, folks,’ he replied, cool as ever, twisting the van into a tight right, onto Claremont Road.

  ‘They’re still with us,’ I told him, watching the cop lights following.

  Beetle burned all the way down, over the Princess Road, into the Rusholme maze. Cops were following, but they were up against three killer factors: Beetle had lover’s knowledge of these streets, all moving engine parts were greased with Vaz, Beetle was hooked on speed. We hung on tight as he took a vicious series of lefts and rights. It was a tough job, hanging on, but we didn’t mind. ‘Do it, Bee!’ cried Mandy, loving the adventure. Old-style terraces passed by, each side of us. On one of the walls someone had scrawled the words—Das Uberdog. And underneath that—pure is poor. Even I didn’t know where we were. That’s the Beetle for you. Total knowledge, fuelled by Jam and Vaz. Now he was driving us down a back alley, scraping paint off both sides of the Stashmobile. That’s okay. The van could live with that. A quick glance through the back windows; there go the cops, speeding on by, towards some dumbfuck nowhere. Bye, bye, suckers! We came out of the alley, and there we were, the Moss Lane East. Beetle took another right, heading us back home.

  ‘Slow down some, Bee,’ I said.

  ‘Fuck slowness!’ he replied, burning the world with his wheels.

  ‘We’re like eggs back here, Beetle,’ said Mandy. And the guy slowed us down, some. Well there you go; some things will slow the Beetle down; the chance of a new woman, for instance. Bridget must have had the same feeling; she was looking daggers at the new girl, smoke rising from her skin, as she tried her best to tune into the Beetle’s head. I guess she wasn’t getting too far.

  No matter.

  We were in some kind of easy travelling by now, so I picked up the goody bag, emptying the contents out on to the tartan rug. Five blue Vurt feathers floated down. I caught a few as they drifted, reading the printed labels.

  ‘Thermo Fish!’ I said. ‘Done it.’

  ‘How was I to know?’ said Mandy.

  I read another. ‘Honey Suckers! Oh my shit! Where is it!?’

  ‘Next time, Scribble,’ Mandy said, ‘you go shopping.’

  ‘Where’s English Voodoo? You promised me. I thought you had contacts?’

  ‘That’s what he had.’

  I read the other three. ‘Done it. Done it. Not done it, but it sounds boring anyway.’ I’d let the feathers go in disgust. Now they were floating around inside the van.

  Mandy’s eyes were darting from feather to feather, as she spoke; ‘These are very beautiful.’

  ‘And the rest…’ I said.

  ‘What’s that mean?’

  ‘No messing. The whole bit. English Voodoo. Deliver.’

  A blue feather had landed on the stomach of the Thing-from-Outer-Space. One of his tentacles reached out for it His spiky fingers took a hold, and a hole opened up in his flesh, a greasy orifice. He turned the feather in his feelers and then stroked it in, direct, to the hole. He started to change. I wasn’t sure which feather he’d loaded, but from the way he was moving his feelers I guess he was swimming with the Thermo Fish.

  I sure know that wave.

  The Beetle glanced back at the noise of the waves, shouting; ‘He’s going in alone! No one goes in alone!’

  The Beetle had this obsession about doing Vurt alone. That you’d need help in there, friends in there. What he really meant was—you need me in there.

  ‘Cool it, Bee,’ I said. ‘Just drive.’ Just to spite me he put on a sudden spurt but I was holding tight to the straps. No problems.

  I turned back to Mandy; ‘Give!’

  ‘You want?’ said Mandy.

  ‘I want. You found the Voodoo?’

  We turned right onto the Wilmslow Road, as Mandy pulled a stash from the inner reaches of her denim jacket. It was a black feather. Totally illegal. ‘No. But I found this…’

  ‘What is it?’

  ‘Seb called it Skull Shit You think he got away?’

  ‘Who gives a fuck! This is all you got?’

  ‘Said it was red-hot. You don’t like?’

  ‘Sure. I like. It’s just not what I want.’

  ‘So make do.’

  ‘Mandy!’ I was losing it. ‘I don’t think you realise…’

  Her red hair was catching fire from each passing streetlamp; I had to pull myself away from the flames.

  That new girl was getting to me.

  Behind the back of Vurt-U-Want, when the time was right, so Mandy said, you could buy a bootleg remix. The mainman was Seb. The supplier, so Mandy said. He worked the legit counter, with a nice little side-sweep in black market dreams. So Mandy said. So we’d sent the new girl after English Voodoo. Girl had come back with five cheap Blues and a vicious Black. Added all together—a thousand miles away from the Voodoo. Girl had failed.

  The van took a sudden swerve and we were all thrown to the wall. The black feather slipped from Mandy’s grip. The Thing made a swipe for it, but he was so wave-deep, pressed against the van side, his feelers were numb and he missed out.

  I scooped the outlaw flight up into my palms. The van took another swing, no doubt dodging some dumbfuck pedheads. The Beetle was shouting through his window; ‘Fucking walkers! Get a car!’ He was driving like an insect; not thinking, just reacting. The guy was high. Cortex Jammers. You know how a fly flies? At the top speed always, and yet dodging obstacles instantaneously? That was how the Beetle drove. They say don’t jam and drive, but we had total belief in the master. He was jammed right out of fear, and that was beautiful.

  I twisted the black feather around to read the label. It was handwritten, which always meant a good time.

  ‘Skull Shit…’

  ‘It’s good?’ asked Mandy.

  ‘Is it good!? Oh come on!’

  ‘You don’t want?’ she said.

  ‘I’ve done it already.’

  ‘No good?’

  ‘Sure. It’s fine. It’s dandy.’

  ‘Seb told me it was sweet.’

  ‘Sure it’s sweet,’ I said. ‘It’s just not the Voodoo.’

  The Beetle jam-reacted to the title. ‘Did she get it, Scribble?’

  ‘She did fuck.’

  ‘Well bully!’ spat Mandy.

  ‘Yeah. Well fucking bully!’ I told her.

  ‘Hey, you two. Keep it quiet,’ Bridget said, in that smoky voice of hers, the shadowgirl. ‘Some of us are trying to get some sleep.’ Bridget was Beetle’s lover, and I guess she was just putting the new girl in her place.

  ‘Sleep is for the dead,’ replied Mandy. One of her slogans.

  ‘Almost home,’ announced the Beetle.

  We were riding through Rusholme, straight down the curry chut
e. Mandy hand-cranked a window. She managed a half-inch gap before the mechanism failed, clogged up with rust. But through the tiny gap a rich complex of powder smells was making my tongue wet; coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom—each of them genetically fine-tuned to perfection.

  ‘Christ!’ Mandy told the gang, ‘I could kill a curry! When did we last eat?’

  The Beetle answered; ‘Thursday.’

  ‘What day is it now?’ slurred Bridget, from the half-lit world of Shadow.

  ‘It’s the weekend, sometime,’ I said. ‘At least I think it is.’

  The Thing-from-Outer-Space was by now a blur of feelers and I could almost see the Thermo Fish swimming his veins. It was making me envious.

  ‘Can anyone tell me why we’re carrying this alien shit around?’ asked Mandy. ‘Why don’t we just sell him? Or eat him?’ The van went silent. ‘I mean, why are we chasing around after feathers? We’ve got the Thing right here. We don’t need feathers!’

  ‘The Thing comes with us,’ I told her. ‘Nobody touches him!’

  ‘You just want to make the swap,’ Mandy replied.

  ‘You got a problem with that, Mandy?’ I asked.

  ‘Let’s just get home.’ Her voice defiant. ‘Let’s take some stuff.’

  ‘We will do.’ I felt for her all of a sudden. She was new to us, two days old in the gang and full of the will to please.

  It’s just that she had a hard act to follow.

  ‘I know I did bad in the Vurt-U-Want. I didn’t know what to look for.’

  ‘I told you, didn’t I? Precisely?’

  ‘Let’s stay up all night playing Vurts,’ she said. ‘Let’s make a meal from scraps in the fridge. Let’s not go to bed.’

  ‘We’ll do all that,’ I told her. Anything to hold back the pain.

  We took a hard right turn into Platt Lane, and then another into the garage space behind the fiat. The van scalded to a sudden halt. ‘We’re home,’ announced the Beetle. Didn’t we know it? Only the Thing was coping, his body full of wave-knowledge, Vurt-knowledge. He just sort of flowed into the doors and then away, loving it.

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