Meat Puppet Cabaret [A Baroque Novel]
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by Steve Beard
Category: Dark Fantasy/Science Fiction
Description: Meat Puppet Cabaret is a dark fantasy novel that restores the perverse sex, bad drugs and violent rock 'n' roll to contemporary folklore. It starts from a weird idea: what if Jack the Ripper were a demon summoned by the black magician John Dee to steal Princess Diana's baby Allegra from the scene of the car crash in Paris? What if Allegra were hidden in a children's home in East London, but then 14 years later escaped? The novel follows Allegra's adventures as she quests to discover her true identity in a nightmare alternate England. She encounters King Charles in orbital exile, Stalinist bioplasma engineer Natasha Supanova, the conspiratorial Osiris Club, drug alchemist Eddie Boy Krishna, ex-DJ and reality TV showman Mark 23 and gangland queens the Karma Twins along the way before finally confronting John Dee in his hideout beneath Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. This is a novel that takes the legacy of H. P. Lovecraft and updates it for a mediamatic technopagan world.
eBook Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press/Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2005 2006
eBookwise Release Date: September 2007
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [370 KB]
Reading time: 232-325 min.
"I've been reading Beard for some time and enjoying his brand of fiction along with other discerning readers with a taste for the visionary. My guess is that Meat Puppet Cabaret is going to be his big breakthrough novel, which will reach the wider public he deserves. It's packed with good stuff. It's funny. It has an immediacy which rises above the merely contemporary and it delivers a hefty punch of social commentary. And, of course, it's as irreverent as hell, as relevant as the latest health scare. He adapts techniques from across the media web--from modernist fiction to movies to vid games--it's all grist to his imaginative mill. Meat Puppet Cabaret is an exercise in obscuring logic, feints and half-revelations, and keeping the reader perpetually disoriented, left to put ill-fitting puzzle pieces together into some semblance of a story. Avant-garde science fiction on the order of William Burroughs, Steve Beard crafts a tale from inside a near-future British Interzone, one as lurid and discomforting as any Beat junkie dystopia."--Pop Matters
"My guess is this is one of the best and funniest satires you're going to read in quite a while. But be warned: If you think politicians tell the truth, that the British royal family shares your pain and that power-brokers will listen to reason (or your sentimental desire for world peace) if only you can get your message through to them, then you'd better not get near this book, let alone read it. You're definitely down the wrong rabbit hole."--Michael Moorcock
"This horrific farrago of British politics and cultural malaise takes off from the urban legend of Princess Diana's rumored pregnancy at the time of her death in 1997. In Beard's weird alternate England, "King Charles" is in orbital exile, while Diana's lost child, Allegra, wanders about, wondering who she truly is. Allegra resulted from an embryo stolen from Diana at the scene of the fatal car crash by a demonic Jack the Mack (aka Jack the Ripper). How? The clever machinations of John Dee, a hideously wicked black magician. Beard (Digital Leatherette) uses dream sequences, interviews, reality TV/game scripts, net-influenced formats and more to deliver a perverse nightmare of jolting, surreal rhythms and dark despair. His more lurid imagery is sure to repulse some readers."--Publishers Weekly
Context (1) Interview with King Charles in exile
The dozens of Rockwell engines on board the Britannia began the complex pattern of thrusting sequences required to insert us into polar orbit and we hung at a low altitude in the disputed Ukanian/Argentine corridor above Antarctica. The little window revealed dark space. The vid display showed an image of the fly-back booster Atlantis falling away from us with the spent fuel tank. She was a big, angular craft. Her whiteness showed up against the dark. She was looping back over the fiery rim of the earth.
The canned voice explained: "Atlantis is on a ballistic trajectory which will secure her atmospheric entry and return her to St John's old US Air Force base in the Caribbean Sea. So long, baby bird."
The twenty other passengers strapped on board Britannia fluttered in irritation as the announcement of our separation interrupted their viewing of the in-flight entertainment--Theda Bara resurrected from the Hollywood image graves for Chris Cunningham's Old Egyptian-themed musical Don't Fuck With My Mummy. The prestige of extra-terrestrial flight may have become routine for Russian people traffickers, Korean money traders and American internet robber barons, but this magazine's humble correspondent was used to commuting by train. I continued to be fascinated by the live video footage.
A message from Atlantis over the cans: "So long mama Britannia. You've been the perfect host."
The departing booster lobbed us a farewell image of the Britannia--with her snub nose, long narrow fuselage and abruptly curved tail-wings--as she adjusted her position. Theda Bara returned to the screen. I closed my eyes and rested my head against the seat. Once in free flight, the orbiter would breathe fire from her propulsion nozzles and begin the delicate line of approach which led to the rarefied orbit occupied by the Ark of Old England. This spaceship was the hub of the New Ukanian Combine. It was His Majesty's own little semi-permanent autonomous zone. I had been told there was always a queue to land at one of the ten perimeter docking ports.
"Remember ... whatever you do, don't mention Diana." The whispered caution from the Rogers & Cowan PR boy employed by the Ark hissed in my ear. I turned and put him down with a look. How could anyone reckon I would make such an uncool move? It was unthinkable. The King's bitterness towards the surviving memory of his ex-wife and mother of his eldest son, William, is legendary. He has never forgiven Diana for failing to live up to her role as brood-mare by appointment and still has deeply ambivalent feelings about her bastard son, Harry. When Diana died in that tragic car crash in Paris at the end of the last century, Charles was obviously relieved that her embarrassing career as a celebrated prostitute was over. He may also have been pleased that her final suitor, the Anglo-Egyptian money launderer Emad "Dodi" Al Fayed, died in her lap.
Charles's sensitivity over his dead wife is perfectly understandable and something that will be respected by this loyal Jamaican Crown subject. D&S is a publication that has always been sympathetic to the plight of royalty. We are proud to have been commissioned to help spin some good news from the most recent spate of scandals to beseige the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha firm. We would neither mention Diana nor stoop to the level of embarrassing our host with questions about his recent forced withdrawal from England. Still less would we pause to mention the betrayal of his legacy by his turncoat eldest son, the self-styled 'Cheikh' William. The recognition of the Islamic Republic of New New England by the UN is nothing short of a sacrilege.
The old man may no longer be sovereign of the latest new England, but he's still boss of all those islands in the Caribbean sea. Who'd have guessed that those self-righteous towel-heads in the Mosque of Westminster would have been so stupid that they actually gave away the off-shore tax shelters and black bank addresses that go with Ukania? But they did. The dumbfucks got so carried away banning the sale of sex, drugs and money that they forgot what keeps their pensions topped up.
"Thankyou for flying Virgin Orbital. We wish you a pleasant onward journey."
The vid feed closed with a picture postcard image of the Ark of Old England. It floated in space against a backdrop dusted with stars. Its multi-recursive icosahedral architecture was ugly but stupendous. With its nodal spheres and connecting struts, it looked like a giant model atom. The structure had originally been designed decades ago as an air structure for nesting lizards. Now it was being used to house a different kind of dinosaur.
O Rex Mundi! How the mighty were fallen.
The Britannia was powered down and parked in one of the docking port airlock hangars of Perimeter Sphere Ten. As the PR boy and I quit the tiny flight cabin with the other passengers I could see the orbiter's fuselage splitting apart on low hinges either side to reveal the payload bay within. Dockside cranes joined the mechanical arm of the orbiter in busy activity as the Britannia prepared to deliver up its mundane cargo and import a rare payload of Duchy Original Organic Cannabis for the return flight. There were thirty airlock hangars at this docking port and they were all serviced by a collection of warehouses, a light industrial railway and various commercial offices of His Majesty's Customs & Excise. There was the acrid smell of burning weed in the air.
"Don't forget the duty-free shop on the way back!"
The PR boy directed me to the port exit and we took a service travelator in through the Ark's storage and interchange zones until we hit the Home Sphere at the dead centre of its recursive structure. As we rode past the sewage plants and garbage units I couldn't help wondering if this was where HRH stashed his loot. When William had put together his snap coup down below he had grabbed the 300,000 acres of prime real estate which comprise the Crown Estates. Under the tutelage of his crazed Anglo-Egyptian tycoon mentor Mohammed Al Fayed, he had gone on to consecrate it to Allah and designate it an international refugee zone. Charles had managed to get out with his Holbeins, Rembrandts and Vermeers intact--along with a whole pile of tapestries, porcelain and antique furniture--but was obliged to leave behind the family's personal papers.
The opening of the locked vaults which housed the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha archives in Windsor Castle had coincided with William's declassification of all Ukanian secret state papers. Smart move. The vigorous young Cheikh looked like a dragon-slayer, while the ageing King was left carrying the can for the criminal failures of a whole political class suddenly revealed to be up to its neck in the atrocities of the twentieth century.
The sad thing is that throughout all this, young Wills has merely been a puppet in the hands of Mohammed Al Fayed. Some say the paranoid old devil is taking his revenge on those he holds responsible for the death of his son in that bloody car crash in Paris. Others reckon he's the head of a worldwide Muslim conspiracy. D&S is quite ready to believe that he's a jumped-up arms dealer who got lucky by manipulating a confused young man's desperate need for a father-figure.
Whatever. It was my job to spin the shit of history into the pure gold of media dissimulation. The King had instructed his Lord Chamberlain to invite the editor of D&S to attend only his eleventh Royal Interview with a member of the press. We were only too pleased to accept.
Actually, things weren't so bad for the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas. All the Nazi stuff was old news which was explained by the fact that the King's mum's great-grandmother was the aunt of the Russian Tsar murdered by the Bolsheviks. As for the drive-by shootings of unarmed civilians by Frank Kitson's psyops mob in the Irish low-intensity conflict of the 1970s ... well, that could be handled with an out-of-court settlement. Quite a generous offer really when you think about it. After all, like the old boy has said, he can't really be held responsible for the cavortings of his mum's ancient ministers. Half of them were mad.
No, it was this whole Argentine business which was really threatening to blow things out of orbit. He wouldn't hear a word said against his dear departed papa. That was the problem. Too loyal, see?
A court eunuch from the Royal Protection Unit ushered us into a Bristow helicopter and we fluttered round the super-structure of the Home Sphere on a brief tour of its simulated open-air environment. The roll-out polo fields, pocket golf courses and floating game park unscrolled beneath us. The trees were dripping with ice and the hills were thick with snow. There were track-marks on the white crunchy floor of the game park.
"His Royal Highness still enjoys a shoot." Uh huh. By this time, I was feeling physically sick from all the bobbing around in semi-micro-gravity. Holograms of late-afternoon fair weather cumulus were projected past us on to the concave roof screens of this tiny orbital kingdom. We scudded over the genetic sequencing pharm which housed the Royal Extra-Terrestrial Biological Entities--rows of demountable sheds with clip-on mock-Tudor facades--and I watched the boom-supported observation decks sliding gracefully over their lab specimens on poised steel adjustment feet. The snow was melted and churned on the ground. This was a working environment.
The whole internal volume of the Home Sphere was really one big operational matrix serviced by travelling gantry cranes, mobile platforms and multi-level suspension grids. Tucked away deep in the back-stage infrastructure of the whole show were the grace-and-favour accommodation units which housed the King's entourage of stewards, clerks, steganographers, Oxford-schooled quantum mathemagicians and tame Soviet genetic engineers. The old buzzard's private apartments were enclosed at the centre of the Home Sphere within a modest floating White Palace camouflaged with blanket holograms of zero-field space.
The copter pulled up away from the sculpted ice forest below and passed through the weather projections and the invisibility holograms to plonk itself down next to a fold-out observation deck. I was thoroughly disorientated but staggered after my two companions through an infrared motion detector curtain into the grounds of the Palace. We crept through a maze of audio-visual surveillance stalks into a silent pleasure-garden and passed through an entrance gate into a gloomy ante-room which somehow connected to the Presence Chamber.
"Shhh!" The PR lad had his finger to his lips. There was the pungent smell of caviar and aftershave in the air.
I was immediately conscious that it was only the earth's distant gravitational pull which prevented us from falling into the sun. Somehow the thought eased my distressed metabolism.
A footman appeared and watched silently as I was patted down by the sexless bodyguard. Then we all trooped into the Presence Chamber and I stood beside a ritually placed table. It was very dark and extremely cold. My breath condensed in the air.
The PR boy and the footman began conferring together in sibilant whispers. There was much snickering and rolling of the eyes. Soon I was informed that HRH would be ready to join us for tea as soon as he had finished watching an old tape of one of his charity polo matches at Cowdray Park.
His arrival was announced by his genetically modified dwarf dogs who bundled into the room in a baying and yapping pack. Everyone started bowing and scraping and sneaking glances at each other. Suddenly he was sprawling in a high-backed chair while I was eased into an over-stuffed couch by the coded movements of the footman's white-gloved hands. The table was between Charles and me.
I can't recall much of what happened next. It's possible that I'd been subject to some form of post-hypnotic command by the bodyguard or even worked over psychoactively during the flight. Who knows? Not me. I've only got flashes.
There was a butler serving us Earl Grey tea and darling little jam sandwiches made from processed white bread. Except that the old buzzard was knocking back the Black Forest cherry brandy and smoking marijuana cigarettes straight from the packet. Wasn't he? We followed protocol and talked about the weather. No, he kept moaning about Diana and how she'd ruined his life.
I was standing there with no clothes on talking to myself. My hands were held out in front of me and my knees were bent. Someone was dropping food on the carpet for the dogs. There was shit everywhere.
"Now! Now! Now!" The PR boy was hissing at me. It was time for me to do my thing. I was able to remember the access protocol deal. No embarrassing questions.
"Some say that Diana was eight months pregnant when she died. What is your comment?"
No ... that wasn't what I was supposed to say.
"We are glad you asked us that question. One is now ready to reveal that one had a private autopsy conducted on one's first wife immediately before her burial. The report shows definitively that she exhibited no signs of disease or any other significant change in her condition."
HRH was casually dressed in a scarlet Gieves & Hawkes dressing gown and green Wellington boots. His discreetly exposed collar and cuffs showed he was wearing royal blue striped pyjamas underneath. He kept crossing and uncrossing his legs throughout our interview and readjusting the hang of his gown. He seemed uncomfortable. One of his slavering little dogs jumped on his lap in the middle of one of his homilies and began to nuzzle his master's groin. HRH gently massaged the creature's dark testicles. Then he brushed the animal off without pausing for breath and finished his lecture about the benefits of organic farming to the drugs economy. The whole room pretended nothing had happened.
This is probably a screen memory.
What the fuck. I got my exclusive on the whole Argentine business. Remember that? The Argentinians claimed sovereignty over the orbital territory occupied by the Ark of Old England spaceship and had been only too pleased to be graced with a request from the United Republic of Eire to extradite Charles in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukanian armed forces. The charges related to crimes against humanity committed on Irish soil. Can you believe those treacherous South American scumbags? Official international recognition of their disputed borders with Ukania meant they might eventually get their hands on oil rights in Antarctica.
Well, I guess you can't blame them. It all goes back to oil in a way. See, the Argentinians were extra pissed off by the release of Ukanian cabinet papers from 1962 which the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha mob--quite properly--had originally ordered sealed until 2057. That little sneak Wills again! Suddenly all the old Commies were saying that the real reason Charles's deadbeat dad went to Buenos Aires in March 1962 was to aid and abet the military coup which got rid of President Arturo Frondizi and his crazy plans to nationalise the US oil companies.
What a joke! If only the stupid sack of shit had been that far in the loop. Anyway, the King finds he can no longer protect the memory of his long gone papa in the way he would have once preferred. How about that? HRH is now prepared to admit that when his dad fucked off on a tour of Argentina's polo fields in 1962, the randy old goat sired a love child with rich bitch socialite Magdalena Nelson de Blaquier in her groovy estancia.
Or as he put it to me in the only unscripted moment in the interview: "One had a half-sister one never knew. She died of a drugs overdose, don't you know. Cunting tragoedia!"
Indeed. I'm sure even the most cynical old Fleet Street coke-head could not fail to be touched by the King's halting Latinate resort to the final taboo word. Such a fine manifestation of human frailty!
Once the interview was over I was invited with other guests to attend a party to celebrate the completion of the Sirius Leyline and the opening of interplanetary trade between Old England and the Sirius star system. I had a wild time. The highlight of the festivities was a little show of twentieth century Ukanian folk art in the pavilion theatre. There was a tatty old shark in a tank and old tabloid newspaper headlines blown up on a board. It was hilarious. The climax of the evening was an appearance by the distinguished court concept designer Sir Martin Creed, who offered us a reprise of his famous works The lights turning on and off and Everything is going to be just the way it used to be.
I stood near the back but still had a great view. I could clearly see HRH in his deck-chair at the front of the stage, looking relaxed and alert in his Armani shades. It was unfortunate his mood was spoiled by what happened at the climax of the show. An Extra-Terrestrial Biological Entity was hauled in from the pharm to offer a display of her charms. But it all went badly wrong. Maybe it was a tasteless idea to begin with. After all, these chimerical entities are quite controversial. The Royal biologists guard them very closely. We don't really know how they're produced. Some say they're grown in test-tubes using Sirian DNA. Others say they've beamed down in teleportation chambers. They're a Crown secret.
I couldn't see too much of what was happening on stage. The curtain went up to reveal a white-walled stage-set bathed in coloured lights. Nothing happened for a while and people started giggling. Maybe they thought it was another of Sir Martin's outrageous concepts. But then something began to take shape amidst the whirling pink and blue spotlights. It looked like a sad little girl. Except it only came into focus from a certain angle. It was like a hologram of flesh and blood and bone. It was weird. It seemed insubstantial. But it had an animal magnetism.
I could feel myself falling into its large white face. It was a female. They all were. She had eyes like pin-holes. She was looking directly at HRH and he was rigid with fear. He was gripping the sides of his chair. Noone said anything. The creature was flowing across the stage. Her tiny bones rode under the surface of her skin at unexpected angles. She was wearing a white bikini together with some kind of green belt. Her hair was thick and black. But then it began to change colour.
The little girl was shape-shifting before us. This was the special talent of these creatures. It was the first time I had ever seen it occur. It was like another figure was projected on to the little girl in a double-exposure. But then she began to adapt herself to the new image and fade out her original form. She was looking down at HRH the whole time she was transforming herself. Like she was doing it all for him--changing her hair, her facial features, changing her posture, even her clothes. Only her eyes didn't change--those relentless green orbs drawing all the energy from the surrounding environment into a deep internal void.
HRH was choking. It was as if he couldn't breathe. People gasped in the audience. We all saw what was there on the stage--the image of his dead wife. It was only there for a moment. But it was recognisable enough. There she was with that sheeny blonde hair, that over-groomed Versace look, that insufferable expression of piety and need on her smiling docile face. Only now it was mixed up with something else. Hatred and fear and guilt and spite. It was horrible.
The King screamed in the end. He just couldn't take it. The curtain came down like a shot. But not before I had the chance to see the shape-shifting chimera revert to its natural state. It abandoned its Diana impersonation and passed through some kind of liquid mercury interval, where it hung in the air like a molten silver snake that had been charmed to raise itself up on its tail. Then it phase-shifted again and became this small and wizened little old crone with a scarred face and flashing green eyes. She stood there swaying from side to side as she laughed at the stricken King.
People were rushing to support the King as he lay there gasping. His aides needed to give him oxygen and rush him back to the Palace. I was bundled away from the scene and dumped in a Waiting Room with the PR boy and other confused guests. Once the King had recovered, his official media speaker dismissed the whole affair as an instance of heat-stroke. No mention was made of the evening's entertainment or the performance of the Royal Extra-Terrestrial Biological Entity. But I know what I saw.
It was only when I got back earthside that I made some discreet enquiries about the fate of the creature I was convinced had bewitched the King. I was led to believe it had been taken away and destroyed. Perhaps it's just as well. These strange entities have such brief lives anyway. We know so little about them.
No matter. The important thing is that HRH emerged from the whole episode fitter than ever. He remains Charles the Third, by the Grace of God of the New Ukanian Combine of Old England, the Channel Islands and of his Downworld Territories of Anguilla, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, the Royal Antarctic Territory, the Royal Indian Ocean Territory, the Royal Virgin Islands, St Helena and its Dependencies, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands King. Who would dare to begrudge him that?