The Call of Haibao
Dispatched from the British Consulate, Doctor Helen Goodwhite arrives at the Jiangnan Special Hospital for Inexplicable Foreign Devilry to interview a problematic inmate.
Dr Goodwhite: How are you feeling today Mister Vaughn? They tell me you’re quite a bit calmer.
Vaughn: OK, I guess. A little disoriented. How long …?
Dr Goodwhite: Do you remember why you’re here?
Vaughn: Not exactly.
Dr Goodwhite: Those scars on your arms, any ideas?
Vaughn: [Hesitating] Some kind of accident …?
Dr Goodwhite: I’ve got some witness reports here, all very consistent, maybe they’ll jog something. It seems that you were walking down Nanjing East Road when you suddenly started shrieking “a-ya, a-ya, a-ya” with a highly unconvincing Chinese accent before switching to English and shouting “Get out. Get out. We have to get out of the city.” After that, when nobody took any notice, you continued to ‘yell aggressively’ …Umm, let’s see [riffling through her notes], ah yes, “Haibao spawn, you’re all effing Haibao spawn, effing plague-blood zombie Haibao spawn,” and so on, considerable obscenity it appears, and then … ah, here we are “filthy future-toxed effing robot Haibao spawn, die, die, we’re all going to die” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Then you rushed across the street and smashed the plate-glass window of an Expo gift shop with your bare hands. [Looking up] Do you remember any of that, mister Vaughn?
Vaughn: Some of it, yes. Now you mention it. It’s coming back. But it wasn’t really like that.
Dr Goodwhite: It wasn’t?
Vaughn: Not really, no. At least, those things happened, yes …
Dr Goodwhite: They did?
Vaughn: Yes, but it’s just, what they meant … [hesitating]
Dr Goodwhite: Go on.
Vaughn: Well, they didn’t mean anything of course, what I meant to say was, well, it was sort of a mistake.
Dr Goodwhite: A ‘mistake’?
Vaughn: Yes, or, I guess, more of a misunderstanding.
Dr Goodwhite: I’m afraid you’re going to have to be a great deal more specific if we’re going to make any progress.
Vaughn: It’s rather complicated.
Dr Goodwhite: Please. Just start at the beginning.
Vaughn: I suppose it began at the pavilion.
Dr Goodwhite: The UK Expo pavilion?
Vaughn: I was working there you know.
Dr Goodwhite: It’s in the file.
Vaughn: So you know what it looked like?
Dr Goodwhite: Yes, of course.
Vaughn: The tendrils, the shimmering, the name like a taunt from … them.
Dr Goodwhite: It was called the ‘Seed Cathedral’, according to this.
Vaughn: Seed Cathedral, Sea Cthudral, whatever, it had been sent back, sent up, to show us their true ‘face’. … At least, that’s what I thought at the time, but that’s just ridiculous, isn’t it? I realize that now.
Dr Goodwhite: But at ‘the time’ you thought ‘they’ had ‘sent it back’?
Vaughn: I’d been working too hard. It was quite stressful, you know. I wasn’t sleeping well, worrying, and that’s when they began chatting.
Dr Goodwhite: Who were ‘they’ Mister Vaughn?
Vaughn: The Haibao, of course.
Dr Goodwhite: Ah yes, the Expo mascot …
Vaughn: Mask, not mascot.
Dr Goodwhite: Did you know that the Shanghai Corporate Pavilion was defaced with luminous blue paint, on the night of September the ninth? [She passes a photograph.]
Vaughn: [Shudders silently]
Dr Goodwhite: The message is rather cryptic, but your words reminded me of it, for some reason. It’s a bit difficult to read from the photo, but I’ve got a transcript. “We are many and yet singular. Our name equals 90, the seething void, enfolding artificial intelligence and the terminal alpha-omega. We come from the depths, from the blue screen at the end of the world. Cthublue.”
Vaughn: I don’t know anything about that.
Dr Goodwhite: Really?
Vaughn: It’s Haibao cultist, hardcore. I’d never touch that stuff – not ever.
Dr Goodwhite: Yet you seem to recognize it.
Vaughn: From dreams — bad, really bad, dreams. I told you, I wasn’t sleeping well. They wouldn’t stop talking, telling me things I didn’t want to hear, I couldn’t stop them. I tried, but they kept calling me.
Dr Goodwhite: Calling you to bow before the most high?
Vaughn: [Outraged] I never said that. I’d never say that. It’s absurd, obscene. It’s not even code.
Dr Goodwhite: [Checking her notes] So, you understand now that ‘hairy crab’ isn’t a secret anagram for ‘Haibao’?
Vaughn: Yes, I can see that, of course.
Dr Goodwhite: It isn’t even close, really — too many letters, for one thing.
Vaughn: Well, six and nine are rotational twins, and ‘o’ is a ‘cry’. [Sobs slightly] … It’s all nonsense. I see that now. I was confused.
Dr Goodwhite: The trouble, Mister Vaughn, is that this subject still seems to excite you rather disproportionately. I think we need to conduct a little test. Let’s see what happens when we compare this [she reaches into her bag and lifts out the statuette of a tentacle-faced abomination, sculpted long ago by some Pacific island tribe, presumed extinct] with this [a soft, cartoonish, vaguely anthropomorphic blue doll, suggestive of a toothpaste advert for children]. The similarity isn’t especially striking, is it?
Vaughn: No, no, no, no, NOOOOOOOOOO.
Dr Goodwhite: I’m sorry, what?
Vaughn: [In an almost indiscernible whisper] Deep ones.
Dr Goodwhite: I didn’t catch that.
Vaughn: From the depths, the ocean – deep ones. They’re from the sea – ‘treasure from the sea’ [laughs morbidly]. Even you have to understand that, doctor. Globalization, technocapitalism, Shanghai, alien invasion, the Thing — it could hardly be clearer. It’s escaped from the abyss, and now it’s exposed. The time has come. Sea Change, Modernity, call it whatever you want, it doesn’t matter. The Haibao will tell us how to think soon enough, and we’ll comply, because they’re behind us, beneath us, and we’ll peel away from what they always were like dead skin from a snake. They’ve shown us the ultimate city god already, so it won’t be long. Their words are arriving, whispers, mutterings …
Dr Goodwhite: [Disquieted] Oabiah nasce zhee ute ewoit.
Vaughn: Excuse me?
Dr Goodwhite: That means nothing to you?
Dr Goodwhite: Strange, then, that it’s tattooed on your arm.
Vaughn: I’ve no idea how it got there.
Dr Goodwhite: Alright, let’s move on, shall we?
Vaughn: Move where doctor? We’re already here, in the city at the end of the world, the thing that came out of the sea. We aren’t going anywhere. It’s coming for us, right now, and it can’t be stopped. What did you expect? A New Jerusalem? [laughing unpleasantly]
Dr Goodwhite: Alright Mister Vaughn, I think we’re done here. We need to get you some proper, professional attention. Then, after some rest, back to your family …
Vaughn: [Prolonged laughter, even more ghastly] Too late, doctor! Way too late. The Haibao have already taken them. It came for the children first, don’t you realize that? Do you know how many Haibao dolls my sweet little kiddies have accumulated? [Voice cracking] Seventeen! They might as well have tentacles growing out of their eye-sockets — it would all amount to the same thing. Haibao melted their souls into the blue screen months ago. That generation’s gone. Long gone. It was over even before the Haibao clones slithered out of the television set.
Dr Goodwhite: [Backing away nervously] This has been a very interesting chat, but I’ve really got to be going now. I’ll tell the consulate that … that …
Vaughn: [Zoned-out into the blue] They want to transmute us — replace us – with something unspeakable, with a bionic monstrosity from beyond the blue screen. Our metropolises are turning into, into … Actually they were never ours. The deep ones, the Haibao, were always using them to modify us, using us to make them – that’s the circuit: alien animation. It was a cosmic gamble, a bet, and now they’re raking it in …
Dr Goodwhite: [Turns pale, a hideous comprehension dawning] Better city, better life …