Big Echo

Critical SF

Dying in Miami in the Sun

by Michael Díaz Feito

1.

The first phase of Boss Chibás’s funeral demonstrates the Butoh Boxers’ philosophy: the dance of pain — that is, the decoherence of the shinshin (心身), or the mind-body — doesn’t stop for any of us. The dance’s beauty is our only consolation.

It’s not easy.

But Zhen Osorio — the prodigal disciple just returned from Mars — is out of joint with the faithful.

A rainy, pockmarked beach and a funeral pyre by the breakers which belches up black smoke, its coals snuffed but the heat lingering in the downpour —

The Butoh Boxers are dancing.

Their sand-coated tunics are soaked, slapping off rainwater, sweat, and white paint that runs along their contorting limbs. Dangling shaved heads, the women grin too widely and the men shove out wrinkled tongues.

Zhen, unshaved and unpainted, with a full beard that blacks out very thin lips, stands apart from his adoptive family, already too different. For this difference and for his two-year absence from Butoh Boxer Hall 171, he is ashamed, because his mentor Boss Chibás is dead. The syndicate president’s funeral will last two long days.

Rain forces Zhen to squint. Where the squint obscures his sight, illusory purple zigzags bolt, because another migraine beats his brain. Fear of intangible guilt becomes panic, and then converts into fury. Zhen’s brown hands roll fists. His heart lurches. He spits out rainwater.

“Boss,” Zhen says. “Boss?” He pushes past the dancing Butoh Boxers. “No, you motherfuckers,” he says. “You’re killing him!”

Zhen jumps into the pyre. Flinging away wet sticks and charcoal, he starts to dig out the body.

Felipe Fan, a black man with puffy eyes, the eldest Butoh Boxer, launches a high kick at Zhen’s head. As Zhen drops, Felipe catches him with a chokehold. He drags Zhen from the pyre, saying, “¡Comemierda! Stop it. Cállate la boca.”

Zhen thrashes. Felipe tightens the hold.

The funeral dance continues. The Butoh Boxers cluster together and slowly squat. Leaping up, they twist their torsos away from Biscayne Bay. Their heads whip back, as if tugged toward the bay by the ebbing tide. Led by their bent heads, they caper backward, each hopping on one leg, then on the other, until they press against the base of the pyre itself.

There is no music. Waves pant like drum skins.

Reaching behind themselves with outstretched fingers, blind tentacles seeking, the Butoh Boxers begin to push the pyre into the glaucous water. The pyramidical pile collapses in the rip current. Its debris flows into the bay. It is replaced by deflating Portuguese man-o’-wars and sargassum on the shore.

2.

A new body, that’s what Mars had meant.

To Montse Baine, even with the artificial gravity, Mars offered new movement. She and Zhen had drifted along the ancient malecón while sandy waves from the Oceanus Borealis scaled the basalt wall. The splashing purple water scrubbed their interlocked hands and caked them with fragrant grit.

But then, as always, they had returned to the stagnant pool, the city of Miami, because Zhen Osorio, her new (and second) husband, resisted change.

In a small memorial room choked with wreathes of self-misting lilies, Montse found Zhen kneeling by a framed hologram of Boss Chibás. It was one of those early holographic portraits which kept the subject stuck in the space of the frame, unable to intrude on real things — what real things remained. Montse preferred that.

The holographic Boss Chibás, a white man like a bulldog in a white guayabera, smoked an old-fashioned cigarette. His thumb slowly stroked the cigarette’s textured paper, a seemingly casual piece of choreography.

Zhen’s cheeks glistened with tears, but his eyes stared unblinkingly at the shimmering, smoke-exhaling deceased.

Montse got the sadness, of course. Boss Chibás had discovered Zhen as a colicky infant, a foundling beached where the Butoh Boxers had just kindled their funeral pyre; Boss Chibás had brought Zhen to Butoh Boxer Hall 171, so they could raise the baby — whose name had been tattooed in kanji above a prison barcode on his butt — to be the best of them; and only Boss Chibás had not been disappointed.

Montse nonetheless wanted to rush her young husband through mourning. It worried her. She sensed its stubbornness, how Zhen’s grief could harm their relationship, how it could erode their enthusiasm for a shared future.

She set a steaming bowl of caldo gallego on the floor by Zhen, who had not noticed her watching.

“You have to eat,” she said.

“No,” he said, “I don’t.”

Zhen wiped tears and held his face. He said, “How’d he die? He was so ... You know?”

“But,” Montse said, “his heart was weak. He humed nicotine, cocaine, DMT, and caffeine. He knew.”

“And you believe that?”

“What?” she said.

“I don’t!” Zhen said. “I don’t have to. He’s too tough, too real. No. No!”

Montse flinched when he shouted and that frustrated her.

“Sleep, then,” she said. “It all starts again early.”

3.

Felipe Fan squatted in a tidal pool.

“We,” he said to the crowd of Butoh Boxers and bystanders, “don’t know shit.”

A greenish glow spilled from the dawn sky over the naked mudflats. Felipe reached into the tidal pool and dug up a handful of slop.

“Because,” Felipe said, “we exist among the shit. Our martial dance may only ruminate it like the molars do.” He held out his tongue while he said, “And so knowledge is an idiotic goal.”

Felipe slathered the slop over shut eyelids. His tongue retreated. He said, “Feeling what is and what is not, it’s all we got. We are real-time transmitters of — ”

“THE DANCE OF PAIN!” the Butoh Boxers chanted.

Throughout the delivery of this final day’s eulogy, Felipe closely watched Zhen Osorio. This morning Zhen’s eyes were even blacker, and those hollow-point eyes alarmed Felipe. To him Zhen’s eyes said I’m so stupid I’ll defy the stupidity of death. And yet, Felipe admitted to himself, something of the original sense was lost in his translation of Zhen’s angry eyes. Jesus Christ, he said, even his eyes are stubbornly nonverbal! El cretinoide este could fission here into sinfully speculative violence without a fizz of warning.

Felipe was reassured, however, when he noticed Montse Baine watching her husband Zhen just as warily.

¡Chivatos!

Nattily dressed in shiny suits, the Keepers of Personal Secrets — chivatos, or snitches, to those who disliked them — marched in file from the beach to the mudflats. Their patent leather boots spit up wet sand. Seagulls in their path fluttered off, chuckling. The Keepers spoke as one unit when they reached the crowd around Felipe:

“We apologize for the interruption of this interminable funeral. An urgent message from our company leadership needs delivering. The urgent message is this: We recommend the immediate dissolution of this syndicate.

After years of capitalizing on the Anarchy in our state of Florida by monopolizing violence and then extorting payment for protection from that violence, at last your anachronistic services are no longer necessary. Our updated criminological technologies are already removing all violent impulses from the public network of minds. The passing of your pietistic president provides the opportunity for dissolution. Welcome to our supreme clientele.”

The crowd of Butoh Boxers and bystanders was quiet. Because it is hard to follow a wordy message like this when it is barked by a line of people, the crowd was also confused.

Zhen Osorio was confused and insulted.

The blunt history of Butoh Boxer Hall 171 recited by the Keepers of Personal Secrets was not wrong.

When Boss Chibás won the syndicate presidency — political competitors failed to protect their necks — the Butoh Boxers were already at the forefront of modern dance and violence. They even outcompeted the Jiu-jitsu and Capoeira syndicates. And like any group administering a public service, of course, they had to impose a tax on the people.

If that’s extortion, then so be it. As Boss Chibás himself said, “Only those who do not pay the tax experience it as extortion.” And anyway, isn’t living itself a prolonged act of extortion?

The Keepers of Personal Secrets distributed strips of colored plastic to the crowd. The text of their recitation was printed on these strips of plastic in Spanish and English, addressed “A los Pestíferos del Sur de la Florida” on one side and “To the Plague of South Florida” on the other.

Disrespect! Zhen said to himself.

Cecilia Roig agreed. She was Felipe Fan’s favorite student. She was also very high on cocaine, because earlier she had been too sleepy for this second funeral. Her small face swelled and shined around the hateful glower of bushy brows.

She loped into the Keepers like a long mantis. A few of the Keepers wobbled from her swirling kicks. But then the Keepers took aerosol cans from jacket pockets and sprayed Cecilia. The rose-scented spray shifted the tides of Cecilia’s neurons till her face slackened and her punches slowed. As they sprayed her, the Keepers said:

“The neural humer is our newest product! It is a lactic acid- and ethanol-infused spray, a potent stimulant of gamma-aminobutyric acid. Huming it is like ingesting a year’s worth of yogurt, lorazepam, and liquor at once. It smothers any present violence of the mind.”

One of the Keepers, Shohei MacGregor, crouched by Cecilia’s supine body. Shohei was a young middle manager for the company. His blue-black hair was shoulder-length and corkscrew-curly, and he nervously flipped it whenever he spoke.

Shohei whispered a threat in Cecilia’s ear as her pupils alternately closed and gasped open. He threatened to reveal to the crowd of Butoh Boxers and bystanders the filthy secrets of Cecilia’s ancestors’ online history. He flipped his hair.

Cecilia was scared.

Shohei clicked open a can and sprayed Cecilia again. She smiled.

“W-would anyone else,” Shohei said, “like a free sample? W-we have here rose-, lavender-, hibiscus-, and vanilla-scented humers.”

Montse Baine gripped Zhen’s forearm. She said, “Let’s go. Now.”

“Them,” Zhen said. “But Fan, it was them, Fan!”

“Take him,” Felipe Fan said to Montse. “The service is ended.” And to the Keepers, he said, “You’ll get our official response soon.”

Felipe later worried. He said to himself, Was I too curt with Montse?

4.

The backyard of Butoh Boxer Hall 171 was enclosed by a chainlink fence and a canopy of electric cables. The grass was tall and waxy. Sea grapes, palm trees, and gumbo-limbos clustered around a yellow birdbath. Montse leaned against a gnarled gumbo-limbo while Zhen ranted. She peeled flakes of red bark off the tree’s bole. The flaky red, of course, reminded her of Mars.

“Mars is lonely, right?” Zhen had said on the shuttle to Miami. “Not a loving place. So’s this goddamn space, all of it. ‘Space’ is exactly — that’s just right, what it is. Space.”

Asinine shit, Montse said to herself. And the insectoid painters on Alpha Centauri Bb? Or the fluid methane talking on Titan? The bee-like fish with hives of superconducting honey on Kepler 62e, the teleporting translucent algae on Europa, the raga-chanting iron caves on Mars —

Discoveries, good company, all disqualified by Zhen’s grief. Space is lonely to him, Montse said, because it lacks alien people. No humanoids to reflect his self, or to love him back. But I do, she said. There’s still me.

“Zhen,” Montse said, interrupting his rant. “Come.”

She hugged Zhen. She quieted him. She was very tired. They had now argued for two hours.

It was dark outside the hall’s floodlights. A pungent breeze wafted in from Biscayne Bay, and Miami’s glowing city skyline loomed over the chainlink fence. A downtown skyline of gilded skyscrapers self-spinning and illuminant, onion-domed sports stadiums like orchids’ buds, strobing megacasinos spitting coolant plumes of vapor, and litters of levitating yachts among holographic billboards.

The Anarchy didn’t stop downtown boosters and developers — it encouraged them. Montse, an architect, had depended on this growth. Cancerous or not, the city sprawled, and Montse worked. She could be practical.

“So what?” Montse said. “What can you do?”

“They murdered Boss,” Zhen said. “The chivatos. I know it.”

“How? The Keepers don’t condone — ”

“If I hit them,” Zhen said, “I can prove it.”

5.

Before he went astray and worked in landscaping and got married to Montse and moved to Mars, Zhen Osorio had briefly patrolled a small beat for the Butoh Boxers. The beat was along NW 17th Avenue in the industrial neighborhood of Allapattah.

The neighbors and industries of Allapattah had not been happy with Zhen’s service. They complained about his laziness as an enforcer, and they complained about his frequent use of excessive force. So Boss Chibás had fired Zhen.

But Zhen had learned to love the constant hum and stitch of the textile factories. When Montse left Butoh Boxer Hall 171 to visit her parents, Zhen decided (without his wife’s approval) to unofficially patrol his old beat one more time.

While the nearby neighborhood of Wynwood had blossomed into a pleasure dome for aesthetes and investment bankers in the previous decades, Allapattah had languished. The cement cracked, water and weeds poked from potholes, and the old factories oxidized — rusted fences, rusted roofs, rusted doors, and rusted machines. Pale ficus creepers like varicose veins bound squat buildings together, and subtropical glare bathed the neighborhood in yellow.

Coño,” a passerby said, “this prick again?”

Zhen ignored the civilian — with difficulty.

Él le rompió la nariz a mi abuela.

¿Por qué?

Porque sin querer ella le tumbó un platanito de la mano.”

Zhen whistled while he patrolled. It was not cheerful whistling. It was staccato whistling, breathy and aggravated, like a pan flute siren signaling his approach. Four laps later, Zhen finally found a few Keepers. He hid behind a big bougainvillea, unruly brambles along a broken wall, and watched the Keepers across the street.

The Keepers of Personal Secrets were outside a small factory. The factory’s sign said, ¡QUÉ MATTRESS! While one Keeper was knocking on the factory’s front door, six other Keepers rapped the glass bricks of the building’s façade. Rings on their fingers rattled against the glass bricks.

“Mrs. Puig,” the Keepers said, “you have ignored our consultants, and coincidentally we have identified multiple indicators of potential violence to properties among the online comments posted to the public network of minds by you and your son Wifredo. As per our contract, humigation is now required.”

This factory makes smart mattresses for homes, hospitals, hotels, and prisons. Sewing and stuffing mattresses with imported nanofibers, ¡QUÉ MATTRESS! offers its clients antibacterial and odor-resistant mattresses, which filter any nocturnal enuresis or emission. ¡QUÉ MATTRESS! also offers drug-suffusing mattresses that release therapeutic (or lethal) doses of psychedelics and sedatives. All mattresses are fully automated, connecting to the private network of things; and all ¡QUÉ MATTRESS! mattresses report user data to the Keepers of Personal Secrets.

¡Váyanse pa’ la mierda!” Mrs. Puig said from behind the factory door.

Yosef Pudín, the Keeper at the front door, sighed. “Ey, what you just said?” he said. “That’s an indicator. We’ve recorded it. Now it’s in your threat profile.”

The door opened a crack. Mrs. Puig said, “Wha — “

Yosef pulled an aerosol can and sprayed. The door drifted open after Mrs. Puig, unconscious, fell back. Yosef frowned at the thunk of Mrs. Puig’s head on tile flooring.

Zhen watched. His belly clenched. His shoulders warped and his hairy knuckles trembled. He was angry. He pictured Boss Chibás’s holographic portrait, and again he asked himself, Did these people really kill Boss?

Zhen got angrier. So he answered himself with a qualified yes. He knew how to turn this answer into an absolute yes. He was running at them.

Zhen salmon-leaped over the six Keepers by the glass bricks of the façade. Landing in front of Yosef Pudín, Zhen’s body imploded. Four gut punches caromed, and Zhen’s headbutt popped Yosef’s nose. Blood sprang and speckled them both. As Zhen’s body jounced back like a bowed branch, he drew Yosef along. Bile pumping, Zhen felt sick and strong. Illusory purple zigzags flittered past his eyes. He threw Yosef over his shoulder. Yosef slammed into the huddle of Keepers.

“You disrespect,” Zhen said. “Take back what you said. Confess!”

The Keepers calmly pointed at bloodied Yosef. They said to Zhen, “That’s recorded.” Then they took out the aerosol cans, the neural humers.

Zhen ran away. Euphoria fueled him.

Kicks, stabbings, warp-spasms, punches, leg- and arm-locks, bitings, throws, salmon-leaps, gunshots, cauterizing glares, and chokeholds, the dance of pain, Zhen is now convinced, will define the truth about Boss Chibás’s suspicious death.

6.

Inky scraps of paper mottled the black-carpeted floor of Boss Chibás’s bedroom. The bedroom stank of toner, which stained rolls of paper spit by three antique laser printers on the dresser. All the paper — sneaking into dresser drawers, into pillowcases, into the torn duvet — was scrawled with nonsense, Boss’s extramural sermons to himself.

Felipe Fan cleaned the bedroom. Boss’s late interest in words qua words and paper qua paper disturbed Felipe. He said, Paper’s just a fancy way of rolling words, and words dope the dance of pain.

He told himself, Write that down later.

Felipe pocketed a stack of huming cartridges found under Boss’s bed — nicotine, cocaine, DMT, caffeine. He disposed of almost everything else, including two paperbacks, The Donald Richie Reader and a slim volume of poems by Donald Justice. Both books were annotated beyond legibility by Boss’s script, which obsessively blacked out every blank space.

Felipe, the president-elect, was preparing Boss’s bedroom for himself. Aside from the show of presidential authority, Boss’s bedroom offered Felipe something he had desired for many years: a bed, or really, a mattress.

Felipe sat on the bed. He listened to the splash of his own heavy breath. He pictured Montse Baine’s green eyes. He was thankful for her. She had disarmed Zhen when the Keepers stormed the funeral. Montse’s wit is kind, Felipe said, helpful. Boss loathed her — and why? Her skin is cinnamon. Her eyes are green like splintered-beer-bottle seaglass.

The love of a good mattress is forbidden to Butoh Boxers. A voluptuous mattress hugs the muscles, coddles them out of measure, and so drains the sacred tension required for the shinshin, the mind-body, to dance without splitting into its two dumb members. Butoh Boxers sleep in humble plastic hammocks, instead, and are allowed (never encouraged) to sleep three hours nightly in hall dormitories.

Boss Chibás of Butoh Boxer Hall 171 had exempted himself from this rule. He indulged in the coziness of a private bedroom and a real mattress, concessions which were apt, he explained, because “a syndicate president is sufficiently pained by the office, and, when sleeping in, by the nightmares it provokes.”

7.

Zhen Osorio awaits Felipe in the memorial room. Sitting cross-legged in the corner, wheezing, gazing at the holographic portrait of Boss Chibás, Zhen looks sick. Sweat trickles down his forehead, drips from his nose. His eyes lower when Felipe enters the room, and his lips curl into an odd smirk. Zhen’s smirk buzzes and bumbles at Felipe, biting till Felipe’s irritation becomes dread.

“What?” Felipe says. “You make more mischief?”

“Look outside, and see. Fucked them up.”

Felipe goes to the next room, the cypress-paneled dojo, and pushes aside dancing disciples to reach the window. A squad of Keepers stands outside the hall.

From the memorial room, Zhen is yelling: “Goddamn it!”

“Eh ... Felipe?” Cecilia Roig says. “Those chivatos have been knocking for a while. Should we ... stop the training? See what they want? Asking for — ”

“No,” Felipe says. “I’ll go.”

Pobrecita Cecilia, he thinks. To see her so dulled, soft — humed. A deadly serpent now made like jelly, the quick muscles of her mind-body mired, her venom sugared and set with pectin.

It’s Zhen’s fault.

When Felipe returns to the memorial room, Zhen is beating his head against the wall. “Fucking migraines!” Zhen says. Thin-painted and flimsy, the drywall winces at each beat.

“Stop,” Felipe says. “Stop. ¿Qué hiciste ahora?

Zhen says, “I won’t sleep, I won’t eat — I haven’t ... I’m decided. I won’t stop. Not till I get to truth.”

This naïve notion of truth, Felipe says, will stunt my accession to the presidency. Zhen’s “truth” about Boss and his death is stupidly singular and punctual, unreal and insignificant — but it already keeps Felipe from settling into office. It already keeps Felipe from the mattress’s embrace.

It’s done, Felipe says. He’s got to go. ‘Tá bueno ya.

Felipe met the squad of Keepers outside the hall. He came to an agreement with Shohei MacGregor, the middle manager. Butoh Boxer Hall 171 would stay operational and unharassed, as a subcontractor hired by the Keepers of Personal Secrets. Felipe also accepted a special invitation on Zhen Osorio’s behalf: Zhen was invited at once to the Keepers’ headquarters, to the Prime Hospital of the Keepers of Personal Secrets.

“And sometime you’ll have to teach me,” Felipe said to Shohei with a stern nod, “how you all speak in one voice.”

8.

It was not what you’d expect.

Zhen Osorio had imagined he’d soon be storming the ugliest of tech company headquarters. Montse’s hated “bricolage of synthetics,” maybe — too many pastel plastic columns, gilded steel, neon fiberglass, rococo shit. (Zhen loved her knee-jerk peeves, so few and particular.)

Instead, Zhen was chauffeured by the enemy, aboard the Keepers’ private ferryboat, to a remarkable building.

The Prime Hospital of the Keepers of Personal Secrets was one gigantic outcropping of coquina rising from Biscayne Bay. It was a continuity of organic shapes, an exposed reef of expressive rock, bone white mottled with blue-gray lichen, and its small windows were pores along the pinnacles.

Zhen pictured a sick community lured to a tiny island of mangroves by a promise. How these sick people happily dried out there, giving in to the harsh white heat. How they petrified into limestone, becoming the walls and towers of the Prime Hospital.

Zhen’s teeth gnashed. Joints locked and his spine crackled as he straightened himself. His body put a stop to reverie, as if to say, What the fuck?

“Don’t fight it, Osorio,” Shohei said. He flipped his hair. “Fighting is like ... W-well. It can be unpleasant.”

Shohei referred to the effects of the neural humer.

Earlier, Felipe Fan, loaned an aerosol can, had sprayed Zhen once for the Keepers of Personal Secrets, to help them extract him from Butoh Boxer Hall 171.

Shohei promised Felipe, “Osorio w-will have a tour of the Prime Hospital, and he’ll even engage our CEO. That should fix the optics here.”

When Zhen woke already aboard the Keepers’ ferryboat, he knew he had been gifted the best opportunity for further investigation into the truth — and for revenge, too.

He kept alert through fantasies of torture.

9.

An open and empty lobby. The high ceiling soothes Zhen after he emerges from hallways like damp bowels. Light fixtures overhead shed a sleepy glow, failing to illuminate the space between them, so that the shadowed rock shapes novel constellations.

An altar of steel anchors the Prime Hospital’s lobby. It is the single item of furniture. Above it a purple tapestry drapes, hovering autonomously. Gold icons on the tapestry advertise the commercial products hawked by the Keepers of Personal Secrets.

A nude woman with coils of hair holds a bowie knife to her throat and grins — an icon Zhen does not recognize. Under her gold feet, the name TERMAGANT is appliquéd.

“You assholes,” Zhen says. “You’ve gone all ecclesiastical.” He points to the nude. “Montse, my wife — she would hate that sexist shit.”

“Do you?” Shohei says. “I’m not sure w-what it means myself ... But it’s not sexist. She’s smiling.”

It’s not Termagant’s smile, or the suicidal blade, that discomfits Zhen. It’s the needlework nude’s feet.

Her toes curl ecstatically.

10.

Lulled by a long tour of two frigid wards of towering solid-state drives and servers — settlements of rare-earth Babels looted from DR Congo, flashing in the codes of Miami — Zhen was slow to notice people in the next room.

“This,” Shohei said, “is SyncDorm. But I’d call it the Oneiroom.” He flipped his hair. “I shouldn’t have said that, maybe. Don’t mean to question Branding.”

Clusters of triangular cots met at acute angles to make polygons, and they were stacked like bunks. Keepers, locked under transparent plastic lids, slept on the cots. Their heads lay side by side at each sharp point, presenting hubs of many faces, female and male.

SyncDorm was white and blindingly lighted. Tubular lamps mimicked the bunks’ shapes and thrust so much heat that Zhen sweated. The lamps defied restfulness. It was more important to keep the faces visible than asleep. The sealed Keepers’ faces shined with sweat, too.

“Keepers sync to the Prime Hospital’s private network of minds once a day,” Shohei said. “It’s how to maintain our unity of purpose.”

A lumpy nose, crusted with glue and purpled by bruising — Yosef Pudín slept in a cot. “I did that,” Zhen said to Shohei. He smirked.

“Yes,” Shohei said.

Then Yosef Pudín kicked at his plastic lid. Zhen reflexively slapped the lid and jumped back. Yosef whimpered. He writhed in his sleep. His head shivered, because he struggled to move and couldn’t, but the useless exertion charged the muscles of his face.

“Like I told you — ” Shohei said, “Fighting w-what’s good can be unpleasant. It’s just a 404. A bad dream.”

11.

Zhen received a cumbersome pair of glasses and was ushered into a pink-lit cell.

“And now,” Shohei said, “meet the CEO — our very own Central Entelechy OS! Moving forward, our Thought Leader itself is your guide, and to maximize learnings, w-we’ve prepared a familiar avatar to mediate your engagement.”

When Shohei exited, the room started droning. The pink light undulated.

Zhen twisted, stretched, touching his toes, slapped his face. He prepared to finish the investigation. He didn’t get who or what he would fight. And that single spray of the neural humer, helped by Shohei MacGregor’s tedious Prime Hospital tour, slouched against his preparation, gumming to his tendons, hamstringing his senses.

Zhen said to himself, Can a central entelechy take a kidney punch?

Boss Chibás stepped from the far wall. The pink light coalesced around him, a humid spotlight. He wore a white guayabera. He smoked an old-fashioned cigarette. His thumb slowly stroked the cigarette’s textured paper. He was a hologram with real weight.

¿Qué bolá, mijo?” Boss said. “¿Cómo andas?

The typical greeting.

Zhen groaned. He couldn’t speak, so he sat. He sat cross-legged on the floor and shielded his eyes, because the pink spotlight burned, and because a migraine cut illusory purple zigzags into his vision of Boss Chibás. Zhen tugged his beard. He plucked hairs from his lips. He whispered, “What ... what?” and then, “No.”

Boss smiled. He said, “I’m the CEO, a software appointed by the board of directors. I want to engage people like you, the last critical nodes of violence in Miami’s public network of minds. I want to show you that our innovative solutions don’t just heal the Anarchy, you know. Our solutions disrupt the paradigm of mortality itself! So, for example: with data mined and bucketed gratis from the private network of things and the public network of minds, and with your continued cooperation, we can bring Boss Chibás back.”

The CEO gestured at himself, shrugged, stamped out his cigarette and lit another. Just as Boss would, he struck the match under his chin.

The typical smell, too.

The pink-lit cell stunk of phosphorus, ink, and real tobacco. Zhen inhaled, sucking his nostrils shut.

“I understand you have questions, anger even,” the CEO said. “I’ll let you address Boss directly.”

Boss Chibás related his own death data:

He had been scribbling a sermon about affectation and its bodily benefits, when he yawned. It was late, and he was tired. But Boss didn’t want to disrupt the dictation of inspiration. He wouldn’t give up the words. So, pulling cartridges from under his bed, Boss loaded and humed three cartridges of cocaine, four of nicotine, six of caffeine, and one of DMT.

That’s a lot.

The laser printers in Boss’s bedroom hotly exhaled drafts and copies of drafts of the inspired sermon. The sermon quoted and responded to one of Donald Justice’s poems, which began like this:

“I will die in Miami in the sun, / On a day when the sun is very bright.”

The easy violence of those two things, Boss had written, that is, the sun and you-know-what (death), is what we have to enjoy here. Reciting this wet ink, smudging the steamy paper with his fingers — Boss became more and more excited.

His heart growled. He farted. His heart stalled. He died.

As Boss Chibás told his death story, Zhen’s vision of him distorted. His mentor yellowed. The eyes bloomed like red giants. The jowls peeled around erupting pustules. Zhen retched. He was fighting the effects of the neural humer and the reincarnated Boss Chibás’s words. It was unpleasant, indeed.

Zhen ran away.

12.

“No running, please,” Shohei MacGregor said as Zhen sprinted past him. “You could break something, or even hurt yourself.”

Shohei stood backlit in the doorway to SyncDorm. Zhen pivoted, and a high kick reeled from his hip to Shohei’s chest. Shohei stumbled.

“Fuck you,” Zhen said. He wiped his eyes. He was crying.

A troop of Keepers, pouring from alcoves along the coquina hallway, circled Zhen. They aimed aerosol cans. Shohei recovered and waved them back. He flipped his hair.

“It’s ok,” Shohei said.

Shohei scratched his scalp. Before Zhen had bounded by him and then kicked him, Shohei had been carefully combing his scalp in SyncDorm’s white light. He was concerned.

“Relax, Osorio!” Shohei said. “I underestimated your allergy to the tech of life. I’m sorry. But look, could you check my scalp? I might have lice, and I don’t w-want to pass it — ”

Zhen salmon-leaped onto Shohei. He pummeled Shohei’s head and gripped his throat. His grip at last sculpted the truth. He yelled, “For Boss! The real Boss!”

Zhen throttled Shohei. Shohei’s face bloated like a beached fish. When the veins inside Shohei’s eyes exploded, Zhen imitated the gushing sound as loudly as he could.

In the fog of neural humer that then shrouded Zhen and Shohei, Shohei died.

For Butoh Boxers, the dance of pain is the experience of nature, or universal truth. It is entropic. It is wonderful. Their punches are negative, an apophatic enactment of the present, engaging nothingness in suffering. As Hijikata Tatsumi writes, “Butoh is a corpse standing straight up in a desperate bid for life.” Their truth begins with a corpse.

Zhen’s actions, then, are unorthodox. He has ended with a corpse.

13.

Montse Baine, screaming, shoved Felipe Fan. She berated him for surrendering Zhen Osorio to the Keepers of Personal Secrets. And especially for then trying to kiss her.

“Oh, we are so done with this shithole!” Montse said. “When Zhen gets back, that’s it. We’re going home, to our new and good and safe home. That’s Mars, not this ... And I swear we won’t come back again, goddamn it. Ya se ‘cabó. I won’t permit it.”

Montse left Felipe Fan moping on his “thirty pieces of silver” — the bed in Boss Chibás’s former bedroom. Felipe peeled away the comforter and the sheets. He wanted to touch the naked flesh of the mattress.

“Erase this day,” Felipe said to the mattress. “Ave colchón, massage it from my shinshin. Just this once.”

As he sank into a disturbed sleep, Felipe caressed the bare mattress. His hands caught on a bumpy patch that read, ¡QUÉ MATTRESS! But soon Felipe snored wheezingly.