Qualos freezes before screaming. He teeters on his clogstilts like an icon of incredulity. He tells himself don’t. Don’t scream. Screaming will only serve to. The car is gone anyway. It’s long gone anyway. Fast as cars move these days the thing is a kilometer gone and screaming will only help Snatchers track him and how much is all the paper in these books worth, after all? The big book alone. 500 pages and he’s got three of them and here he is Qualos K. schlepping this royal stuff unattended. Fatty Snatchers are sub-verbal and post-culture and heartless as the useful dead (as the saying goes) and so anything of value…anything. Qualos shudders. Aware of the booming black market in azfat.
Don’t worry about the books. The books are fine. The trousers are ruined. The books (in aluminum overcoats) are no problem but the trousers are toast. Digression: Qualos’s young colleague Wahn did an etymological study on the word ‘toast’ and discovered that long long ago the word referred to a fermented beverage. The modern usage (pertaining to a thing’s utter uselessness) obviously relates to the deleterious effects of inebriation via this potent ‘toast’ drink. Anyway. What was the kunt doing offroad?
Qualos’s one fucking good pair of trousers, his inheritance, 100 percent natural fibers. He was to be married in these ancient irreplaceable things and he only hazarded donning them in the first place on this day of all days because there was going to be this supposedly special department meeting with Chancellor Shahvez present and now look they’re oozing with cum-streaks of acid mud and wouldn’t you know it the meeting was called off (department head beheaded; El Ai for you) so… great. Might as well strip. Right down to the skinsuit. Kick the rags down a firehole and be done with it. Blend in with the tards and proles in his skinsuit until he gets home.
No, he thinks, raising his chins.
No, a scholar wears trousers.
He sloshes home with self-satirizing dignity past several garbage-ringed fireholes along the way. The trousers soon hang in strips from his waist the skinsuit shining like a lamp under the smoking tatters yet behold the chins of Qualos, so resolutely high-held. This is where his breeding comes into it. The resolute chins, the noble baldness. The shreds of the heirloom Armani.
My problem, thinks Qualos, as the rattan ginormity of Hotel 547 looms unreflected over its sludgy moat into view. Too proud to exercise my prerogatives. Could have txtd Muhreea with the car’s vassalplate and Muhreea could have txtd her dad and dad could’ve called in a personal airstrike. Two minutes tops and Mr. Sports Tank is bar-b-cue. Qualos can see it clear as day the six-wheeled chunk of metal spinning on its back like a turtle dropped on a rock by a gull and te fruit-dealing negritoe within: a guttering wick. This makes Qualos smile.
What’s the point of marrying into a Warlord’s clan if you’re too proud to indulge in the perks? Qualos shakes his head with mock-long-suffering pride in his pride. Just as he is sometimes afraid of his fear and disgusted with his disgust he is proud of his pride. Typical scholar. Muhreea says don’t smile, Qualos, it makes you look so weak but he shakes his head and he smiles. What Muhreea and the rest of her dynasty fail to grasp is how a perceived weakness cloaks an unperceived strength.
Qualos breezes in through the southeast checkpoint and gets the green flash and the strangely disparaging (and vaguely homosexual) he’s harmless from the screener chip. No one so much as glances up from their phoenbooks, frowning through loupes at all the little paradise-colored displays. The guests, the guards, the residents all hunched and loafing with their phoenbooks in the sweltering lobby. Because their rooms are shit. Most of their rooms are pure shit; are prewar toilets; are prewar toilets without toilets. How many of them have ever seen a genuine natural fiber example of what Qualos is carrying?
Digression: young Wahn the colleague informed Qualos once that way-back-when they pronounced ‘toilet’ as toy-lit.
Anyway. Paper-based books or unicorn eggs: same diff. But no one even looks up and Qualos, modeling his hissing trousers like they’re an antediluvian museum-piece of a grass skirt from the lost island of Haw-y-ee, makes a beeline for the lift. It’ll take twenty or thirty minutes to elevate to the 182nd floor (Senor Heyzeus owes him a saki and a handjob) and he wants to get this over with. So, up to the 182nd and then back down to his corner suite (in this case he must admit he indulged in a perk or two alright: he has a tubtoilet, a vertical bed, a kitchen and a closet) on the 160th. It takes longer to elevate to the penthouse (that he would ever have any business up there) than to drive to the next city. He hopes he can score a seat in the lift. Both directions. But he’ll settle for up.
As it happens, there is a free seat in the lift and it’s right next to someone Qualos knows, slightly, another scholar named Geeairmoe. Geeairmoe with the long hair and high forehead and the little mustache and mincing lips looking terribly like that guy on the Dreamervision show, the show that’s supposed to be so well-researched and so well-calibrated that it won’t even give you headaches after doing it solid for a month. Won an M.E. award.
Geeairmoe, who certainly knows his way around a paper-based book (and would recognize the aluminum protector plates as property of the Uni in any case), nods at the pile in Qualos’s lap and says, pretending to feign interest, “What you got there?” He doesn’t even mention the trousers. Geeairmoe’s tact is infinitely more wounding than a gaffe could ever have been. Lethal bastard. He’ll be a Head in no time. “Anything good?”
“Amis the Younger.”
Geeairmo’s eyes twinkle with the soft reflected torchlight of the citadeled pleasures of youth. Like if Qualos had mentioned boysex or something. Saying Amis the Younger always gets this response, notes Qualos: that good old Amis twinkle. Not terribly unlike the so-called Rowling Effect, as SocPsyc Officers call it: even apeshit hammer-mad loonies go all placid (enough to tranq ’em, at least) when you chant a few paragraphs from The Potteriad. Likewise the number of times people have afforded Qualos himself the goodwill that Amis the Younger’s beloved works engender. As though Qualos were the centuries-dead Amis’s Sancho. Or his emissary. In fact Qualos often wonders if Muhreea… if even Muhreea… and so on. He shakes his head.
“They’re all by Amis the Younger but it’s not the Little Paco series.”
“He… aha. He produced other books?”
“Quite a few, actually. Most people aren’t aware of the fact that Amis didn’t even begin the Paco until well into his seventies, which was considered an advanced age for intellectual activity back then. He first published in his early twenties, which people in those days considered rather young. Between his early twenties and his late fifties, he produced a fair amount of work, though only experts have read any of it, of course. We tend to refer to them as the minor works. The apprenticeship he had to serve, if you will…” Qualos sniffs, “in preparation for the masterpieces he’s remembered for.”
He strokes the scratched metal cover of the uppermost book. “I’m working on a Global Thesis Post (he can see that Geeairmoe is impressed, despite himself) to the effect that these so-called ‘serious’ early works…all of which Amis wrote in Old English, by the way… were intended to be every bit as comedic as Little Paco. It’s the radical difference in style and the shift from Old English when Amis made the all-important conversion of working only in Spanish (which in turn has to be converted into modern Spenglis) that throws the historians off, I believe. Not that I can’t commiserate with the clueless bastards. The ornate language of these early works can be pretty slow going. A pretty tough slog. I’ve been working on these three alone for a metric year. Trying to think of a comparison. Have you heard of a paper-based Old English book called Finnegans Wake?”
“Ah,” nods Geeairmoe, who neither truly understands nor cares.