Pollen, p.1
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       Pollen, p.1
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           Jeff Noon

  Even Napalm cigarettes aren’t going to help if it’s 4 a.m. and your black cab is off the legal maps. No amount of money is going to justify the trip if you have to beat the Zombies back into the city and your fare has just appeared, a young girl who smells like a garden in the springtime. Because you’ve just started sneezing and it feels curiously good…

  Coyote was the best black-cab driver of all time, picking up passengers where others were afraid to drive. Now he’s the first fatality of the Pollination, the first to fall victim to the massive cloud of pollen that has descended upon a remixed and futuristic Manchester. Amid vicious blooms and a soaring pollen count, people are sneezing themselves to death. Only a very few are immune to the fever, and two of them—shadow-cop Sibyl Jones and her wayward daughter Boda—must travel separate paths back into the darkness to find the seed that has spread the nightmare. What they find there will forever alter the ancient relationship between mankind and the myths it creates to make sense of the world.

  In his award-winning first novel, Vurt, Jeff Noon explored the urban future with a dimension-bending feather called Vurt, a new world where dreams and drugs seep into reality. Now there is much more at stake: one mysterious murder, new pollen deaths daily, and a city in desperate need of saving. Pollen combines a classic detective story with a lyrical and bold look at the cyberfuture and the mythical realities that threaten a society on the edge.

  Also by Jeff Noon


  Copyright © 1995 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 1995

  CROWN is a trademark of Crown Publishers, Inc.

  Printed in USA

  Design by Jennifer Harper

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Noon, Jeff.

  Pollen / Jeff Noon.

  I. Hay fever—Patients—England—Manchester—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6064.045P65 1996



  ISBN 0-517-59990-2

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  First American Edition

  For Julie

  John Barleycorn

  There were three men came out of the west

  Their fortune for to try

  And these three men made a solemn vow

  John Barleycorn must die.

  They’ve ploughed, they’ve sown, they’ve harrowed him in

  Threw clods upon his head

  And these three men made a solemn vow

  John Barleycorn was dead.

  They’ve let him lie for a very long time

  Till the rains from heaven did fall

  And little Sir John sprung up his head

  And so amazed them all.

  They’ve hired men with the scythes so sharp

  To cut him off at the knee

  They’ve hired men with the sharp pitchforks

  Serving him most barbarously.

  They’ve hired men with the flailing sticks

  To cut him skin from bone

  And the miller he has served him worse than that

  For he’s ground him between two stones.

  And little Sir John in the nut brown beer

  And the whisky in the glass

  And little Sir John in the nut brown beer

  Proved the strongest man at last.




  Monday, 1 May

  Tuesday, 2 May

  Wednesday, 3 May

  Thursday, 4 May

  Friday, 5 May

  Saturday, 6 May

  Sunday, 7 May

  Monday, 8 May

  Tuesday, 9 May

  Monday, 28 August

  Extracted from The Looking Glass Wars

  by R.B. Tshimosa

  There is now little doubt that one of the most important discoveries of the last century was the ability to record dreams onto a replayable medium, a bio-magnetic tape coated with Phantasm liquid. This liberation of the psyche, in its most advanced form, became known as Vurt. Through the gates of Vurt the people could re-visit their own dreams, or, more dangerously, visit another person’s dream, a stranger’s dream.

  It is generally accepted that this ‘doorway between reality and dream’ was first opened by the amorphologist ‘Miss Hobart,’ but the actual origins of the Vurt and the method by which human beings travelled there (via ‘dream-feathers’ which were placed into the mouth) will always be shrouded in mystery.

  Much of this frustrating lack of knowledge stems from the nature of the Vurt itself, because the ‘world of dreams’ very quickly achieved a life of its own. The early people of Earth were, in the main, ignorant of this aspect of the invention. It was this ‘self-dreaming’ attribute of the Vurt world that eventually led to that series of battles we now call the Looking Glass Wars. This book will attempt a dispassionate overview of the terrible wars between the dream and reality, a conflict in which both parties would suffer terrible losses before an eventual victor was declared.

  All the great theories of warfare can be reduced to a manifestation of greed. Thus it was that the creatures of the dream, as they grew more powerful, started to despise and look down upon the original dreamers, whom they called the mere ‘storytellers’ of planet Earth. Indeed, the creatures of the dream now saw their fantastic realm as a separate world, Planet Vurt. The ‘Vurtuals’ longed for independence.

  One particularly weak point in the barrier between dream and reality existed in the psychic air that surrounded Manchester, a rain-drenched city to the north-west of Singland (which was known in those primitive days by the name ‘England’). It was in this fabled city that the incident now called the Pollination took place. This is generally believed to be one of the earliest skirmishes in the Looking Glass Wars…


  1 May

  My father told me that I would live as many years as the grains of dust I could hold in one hand. Consequently I have lived to such an advanced age that now, when my body is ravaged by time, and powerless, all I have left to me is this voice, this shadow, this urge to tell.

  My name is Jones. A simple gift made uncommon by the Christian name my father gave to me—Sibyl. Sibyl Jones. I was born with the curse of the Unbeknownst, which meant that I was never able to dream. Imagine, a life of unpopulated sleep, in the days when the whole world was addicted to Vurt feathers, the shared dream. The state of Unbeknowing is a genetic lack; six per cent of the populace would always suffer from this inability. The ones who could dream called us the Dodos, the flightless birds. Often, in my youth, I would envision the Dodo part of my body as a river of dark, sterile liquid in my veins. At other times, a black, hungry beetle seemed to be alive in my stomach, gorging himself on my just-born dreams.

  This was my curse. The gates to Wonderland were locked.

  My salvation was the gift of the Shadow, which allowed me access to other people’s thoughts. I was a head-tripper, a mind-reader, living my life at one remove. One hundred and fifty-two years I have lived in this state, and the dust gets everywhere. Every orifice is clogged with it. The folded map of the brain becomes a drifting garden of powder.

  It was not always so.

  Once I was young and juicy, constantly wet—whether with blood, or love, or drink—well, it matters little. Take it as read: I was m
aking recompense for the lack of a dream. I was a willing participant in the flood of ripeness, a willing victim of biology. But oh, the dust came to me, earlier than most, so that I got old before my time—my husband left me because of this, my daughter left me—until all that remained was the urge towards a non-specific justice. I became a Shadowcop in the employ of the Manchester Police, lending my telepathy to their interrogations. And all things in those days were neat and deftly placed; my life became a long crusade against crime and betrayal, and, beneath that, a river of alcohol and smoke and loneliness was roaring. My life was at home with this pattern of denial.

  It was all soon to go astray.

  I want to tell you this story, my daughter, this story of fragments gathered from Manchester: flowers and dogs and dreams and the broken maps of love. I think it’s time. Soon she will die, this mother of yours, this woman of dust that I have become. Please listen closely. This is my story, your story, my shadow, your shadow; my life of drifting air, my book, my Sibylline book…

  Coyote is the best black-cab driver of all time. He’s taken more people more miles, to stranger places, in stranger times, with less hassle, less shit on the windscreen, with slicker twists of the wheel, deeper moves on the map, with fewer accidents, fewer wrong turnings, fewer complaints, fewer refunds, along more shortcuts and outlawed roads, and with more gravitas, for less money, and with more wounds to show for it all than any other driver could even imagine.

  Two minutes to four in the morning, May 1, the world is fluttering all around him; dark birds, wings of soot, black fields and a blinded moon. Also, it’s just about to start to rain. Badly. This matters little; Coyote is a top dog driver and now his jaws are slobbering at the thought of some rich meat, some golden fare, some big juicy muscle of money.

  Meat and money: twin dreams, a way to pay back the debts.

  God knows Coyote has enough of them. Debts to the banker, debts to the court, debts to the little girl who lives down the lane. This is what he calls his daughter, a sweet kid he sees now and again, and whose mother—Coyote’s ex-wife—is constantly asking for more support payments. Coyote doesn’t mind paying, in fact he likes paying; it’s just that he doesn’t have much money at the moment.

  Everybody, everywhere—they all want money.

  So does Coyote. Not too much, mind. Just enough would be fine. Just enough to pay off his debts and then some for himself. He has the idea that maybe he will head on down to sunny Pleasureville one day. Set up a little cab service there, sit in an office, watching the fares flood into his system. Live the life of a pedigree for a change. For the first time in years, Coyote has started thinking about the future again. If he can just get some capital together, some buried bones together. He’d vowed he’d never return to Limbo, but this is a lean period for good rides.

  Now Coyote is waiting on this big meaty trip, booked two days ago, time and place specified to the last digit; fare to be paid at the drop-off point. He knows that most of the regular drivers insist upon money up front, but Coyote is old-fashioned. That’s why he drives a black cab. He even has the original fare-meter up and working. Modified to his own specifications of course, but still—nobody does that any more. Coyote is unique, and so proud of it. It’s just that unique gets kind of lonely after a while.

  The time on his dashboard clock blinks back at him. It’s 4.02 in the morning. The fare is late. Thick-bellied clouds are gathering over the moorland track where he’s parked, looking like the first stirrings of a wet dream, and still no sign of the passenger. Coyote is getting nervous. Not about the threat of rain; Coyote has driven fares through hurricanes. Nor about the dark world all around him. In fact he likes the darkness. These days most of the rides he takes are highly illegal, and the darker the better is the rule. It’s getting close to the daylight and, if the passenger doesn’t turn up soon, he is going to call the whole trip off, and that is that. Time is Coyote’s main enemy. Time is where the daylight lives, and there the cops live too; sitting fat and desperate, waiting for some outsider-dog like Coyote to speed along, breaking the rules. He’s broken the rules before—Coyote lives to break the rules, that’s his job in life—but one careless day he had been caught for it, and was still paying off the fine. He wants to pay off the fine—that’s the human in him. But still, this isn’t something he wants to repeat. Trouble is, he just can’t stop breaking the rules. That’s the Dalmatian in him.

  Coyote is a half-and-half creature.

  He stubs his Napalm cigarette in the dashboard ashtray, grabs another pack from the glove compartment, gets out of the cab, breaks the airtight plastic wrap open with his claws, lights up another cig, leans against the cab, watches the clouds dancing for a while. Through the gloom the dark moors seem to be moving. Coyote is feeling nervous; he’s the only dogman for miles around, and the Zombies are gathering around him in the fields of the night. He knows that the moors of Limbo belong to these half-dead monsters, but this is where the big fares live. Is the top dog driver going to give up on that chance? Some jumping flea-jitters shiver through his skin, and suddenly these dead fields are too much to take; he needs some human company, some voices. He reaches into the cab to turn the ignition, and then strokes the radio. As usual he’s tuned into FM Dog National. Those sanitized howlings from the Dog Jockeys and all those records they play, sugar-coated bones sung by sweet young bitchgirls, are not right for his current mood. He wants something more human, something to appeal to the human side of his soul. Leaning in through the open cab window he retunes the radio until he reaches Radio YaYa. The fading moments of a long-ago song transform into a voice deep and slow and as parched as the earth Coyote is standing on…

  ‘And that was John Barleycorn Must Die by The Traffic, a mighty folk-rock paean to the regenerative spirit of Mother Earth coming to us from nineteen sixty-nine. Sure was a fine year, and a lovely touch of flute in there—you catching me, people? This is the good Gumbo himself starting the new day, May the first, the day of fertility, with a wish that John Barleycorn keeps on rising. As long as he keeps his polleny fingers out of this old hippy’s nose. The time is four minutes past four, and the pollen count for today is coming in at 49 grains per cubic metre and steady. This is day one of the sneezing season, so Gumbo YaYa says to all his listeners, keep a clean and sweet pair of nostrils about you. Coming up in the next hour the official news from Wanita-Wanita, plus all the stuff the Authorities don’t want you knowing about. You know that’s why you love the Gumbo so much. And now a hot twist from sixty-six, Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Play some loving guitar for me, Jimi…Ya Ya!’

  This will do. This ragged noise makes Coyote want to howl. Gumbo YaYa is a pirate DJ broadcasting a diet of 1960s classics along with classified information stolen from the cop-banks. All of which comes floating from some unknown location in Manchester. Gumbo YaYa is an anarchist trickster figure, strictly anti-authoritarian and this appeals to Coyote’s psyche. Coyote leaves the radio to play and then turns on the cab’s headlights. They cut two dying, yellow paths through the air, illuminating a huge but withered oak tree. Coyote drags deep on the cig, looking at the new pack for its message; SMOKING MAKES YOU LOOK COOL—HIS MAJESTY’S IMAGE CONSULTANT. He manages a small grin, just to keep the fear at bay, and then looks back at the clouds.

  Coyote loves the rain. It makes him think of the streets of Manchester. And he loves his Napalms. But best of all he loves his black cab.

  You just can’t get hold of these cabs any more, not since Xcabs appeared on the scene. Xcabs! With their computerized, super-slick vehicles, all armour-plated yellow-and-black paint jobs. Designed by accountants, driven by retards. Xcabs were latter-day self-styled Knights of the Road, and there were a thousand rumours surrounding them. Coyote’s street-smarts told him that most of the rumours were true. For example, that the drivers were drained of all previous life-knowledge, fixed up with robo implants and a complex knowledge of the streets. That the overall system was run by some nebulous cab-creature
calling himself Columbus. That the cabs had guns mounted on the front, just next to the headlights. That the drivers were in some way prescient, they knew you wanted a taxi even before you knew it yourself. Nowadays you called a cab, Xcabs turned up within less than a minute, guaranteed.

  But not Coyote. He’s a real antique-scenario. Oh God, how he hates those Xcabbers.

  He grinds his cigarette into the dirt road. Lights up another immediately, because suddenly he is thinking about Boda. Boda is one of the Xcab drivers, and she and Coyote have met up a few times at late-night cafes, and got to talking. Coyote had had to water down his image of Xcabbers—Boda came out shining in Coyote’s eyes. She was the genuine diamond, the one he had always been looking for. Coyote was dazzled by her presence, especially when she made up a song for him, just sitting there in that late-night cafe, the smokiness of her voice erecting his fur in tingles of joy. They had chatted until the street lamps went off, and it seemed to Coyote that the Xcabber was getting right inside his mind, speaking to him direct. It was like he had no secrets left. This made him think maybe she was one of the Shadowgirls, but he didn’t like to ask. Because weren’t Dogs and Shadows sworn enemies? And anyway, weren’t the drivers supposed to just live for the Xcab Hive and that was it? So why was this glamorous specimen talking to him then? And why the traces of Shadow reaching into Coyote’s mind? Surely Xcabs would have removed those wayward features. But he could see the fear in her eyes as she talked to him, like she was sinning against some kind of hidden code. So Coyote had kept his jaws closed on that score, regaling her, instead, with tales of his black-cab adventures. Boda had seemed to love all this; she had promised to pass some business his way, stuff that was too illegal for Xcabs. Xcabs couldn’t operate beyond the city’s boundaries.

  This is the reason Coyote’s standing here, in the fading darkness, waiting for a pick-up miles from anywhere. Boda had given him the number to ring and a dark-tongued voice had answered his call: Proceed to The Floating Pig, carry on past it, taking the dirt track second on the left. Proceed three hundred yards down the track to the withered tree. Wait just there, four o’clock in the morning. Wait for fifteen minutes. If nobody turns up, leave. You catch that?

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