Strange IndiaStrange India

Is the sun settin’ yet?

Brilliant. Try not to miss it meself what with me busy schedule, hah. You see how it is. Oh — couldn’t help noticing … is that a HeadMAX-9?

The DS9? That’s just — gorgeous. Didn’t know they went for a DS. Tech, right? Gets ahead of itself. Hah, geddit? ‘A head’.

Could you bend down again, like you did there?

Lovely. Marvellous. Don’t mind me saying so. Name’s Joblard. Not one you’d hear much of, I fancy. Me and the trouble — Chandra there — used to run the South Bend till they shut us down.

Professional reclaimers, the both. Right. Years ago. Develop an eye for the lovelies, you do, in that line. Sunsets and tech.

Oh no, further back, this was. I mean, wait — turn there a little bit. At the joint. Right there.

Sorry, um — get carried away with the visitors, that’s me. Reclaimers. Don’t blame you for it. Fact is, I saw them float the city and I thought, ‘Well, that’s it. Everything down there’ll be left behind.’ Forgotten. Cherish it, I do. Bit of a romantic, see? Always hated it when the Transcom stopped working and you had to make the deal yourself, or when it stopped halfway — gave us both the sweats, it did. Even so, did well for meself … before this, I had “Fancy a kidney?” down in 27 languages, so that’s something. Had really good ones, too. Kidneys, right. Hah.

Listen, do us a favour. Turn us ’round a bit, would you? ’Course it’s alright. I don’t want to miss the moment of it and I can’t do it meself, see.

Oh no, they encourage you to handle the displays. Yeah, that’s what we are now, but you don’t see ’em doing nothing about the crack in me helmet, do you? Don’t mind Chandra, just chatting up your friend there. Hard to get a good one goin’ these days.

Over there, by the window. Round one. Lovely. Quite a crowd, eh? You’d think they’d come to speak to us. But no.

You’ve got a nice touch, by the way.

Know what, I can’t really see … could you give us a lift, up to the window? Guard? Oh, don’t worry ’bout Iain. He’s not looking here right now, is he? I mean, um, we’re mates.

OK, fine. Forget it. It’s just I’ll miss me sunset on account of me having no body and all, and all I’m asking is —

— ah. Cheers. Hope I’m not too heavy. There we go. Takes the breath away, don’t it?

Hah. No, it’s fine. You ask. Chandra and me being the only ones here … makes you wonder. Well, how it happened was — this lab, by the Bend. Not there anymore, of course, this being before the floating. And the waterfall. Used to harvest heads then dump the rest down the river. And Chandra and me … we were satisfying a demand. Knocked off enough to save an entire sector, wager that. Don’t know nothing about that “organs ending up on the menu” business. Should’ve called us Samaritans, insteada mugs, but what can you —

How —? Well, got caught, didn’t we? Went up-river with a clear deck but it was paltry, what do you do? Got up to the lab meself. Wasn’t going to be caught looking a lump in front of the missus.

You’re right. Talking at the top of me lungs here. Say, I got some credit and there’s a nice spot down by the second floor, let’s get us a tumble. Head-to-head. Give that body of yours a rest, y’know? Always a good time for it. Don’t mind Iain, works too hard, that’s what I think.

And that’s the DS9 with the quick-release dual-socket, am I right? As a way to switch heads — bodies, I mean. Convenient, eh, tech? Compatible, too.

What? I mustuv heard it somewhere. Hah.

Brilliant. So, anyway, I’m there. And the lab’s a freak show. Used to seeing bodies without their lumps in the river, but I never got the dead animals till then. Can you see it? Right, don’t worry ’bout Iain. Fidgety type. Just keep walking.

Where was I? Then I hear something behind me, real box of toys, and needles go through my back — OK, maybe hurry up a bit then — and when I wake up — gawd, you got them big plates — I’m in this bottle. Tasered. Body’s gone. And there’s me trouble, Chandra, right next to me … came looking, didn’t she? The lab was all tied up with that nasty Natal business. Unethical. Till this day I still think — stop looking back, will you — think it was a baboon with a human body I saw. Ours were long down the river by the time the place got shut down. Waste of a good kidney, if you ask me.

Over there, the stairs! He’s what? Well run then!

No-no the scandal — couldn’t reattach — e-e-even after the ’eadMAX — oi, CAREFUL! You’re dropping me!

You — oh. It’s no use. Thought I’d’ve learnt … after that last bloke. Must’ve talked that one up to something else. Never again, Joblard.

Ey … hiya, Iain. Just telling me friend here ’bout the time we almost got thrown out the window. Good thing he had a lousy reach, eh, that one? What a laugh. You, uh, wanna fix this crack in me helmet now?


Back then are we, luv?

Yeah. Tip of the apple, right there.

And your best one yet … whatcha tell ’em?

One about the lab.

I love that one! Don’t you?


Insteada saying the Transcom gagged up again, and you sold off both our bodies by mistake.


The story behind the story

Table of Contents

Taik Hobson reveals the inspiration behind Head talk.

Blocking CCTV cameras with balloons and standing traffic cones on self-driving cars are both examples of the same thing: savviness trumping tech. A sense that, no matter how far we get with our gadgets and gimmickry, it’s plain old shrewdness that cuts it every time — and, in Head talk, other people’s shrewdness. Being of credulous stock, I know this first hand; it’s probably the reason behind my long fascination with London’s East End (fictionalized here as the South Bend) and its many denizens.

Head talk also takes a page from the proverbial writer’s black book, kept for when hands are full and an attractive idea comes along. It also belongs to a small series of stories, all spun out from the same fictional lab, itself situated in an as-yet-unwritten, larger story. And finally, it gives a nod to two of my favourite London writers, Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling (Joblard being a pseudonym), both namechecked in the story. Sadly, we lost one of them last year.

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