I wrote this piece of tongue-in-cheek steam punk David Bowie fan fiction several years ago. I think I originally posted it on the website of the now-defunct and sadly missed WORD magazine. I am reposting it here today in remembrance of David Bowie - a man who transformed his life into a magnificent work of art.
Changes: A novel
By David Robert Jones (aged 11)
In the celebrated history of the British Empire, and all across its expanding length, and widening girth, there can have been few careers more mercurial than that of Professor David Bowie. His rise from bare-knuckle pugilist,where he fought under the moniker Bromley Dave, to respectable man of science and intellect is a stirring tale for our age, and a timely reminder of those remarkable individuals who have been chief among its architects.
This young man’s extraordinary ascent, from what had been a base and brutal subsistence on the wharves of Greenwich, was, in part, subsidised by a series of boxing matches, arranged to slake the bloodthirsty urges that were barely-repressed by otherwise upstanding members of The Royal Society. Every Friday for two years the teenage Bowie would climb bare-chested into a rope-bound arena measuring just 24 feet square. There he would pit his strength and his wits against a succession of automata fashioned from raw chemical elements by the finest minds in all of England and her principalities. The end goal of these scientific pioneers: To create a Periodic Table in which the raw building blocks of the physical world were arranged not by atomic number, but in order of brute strength and guile.
During one such bout, a sharp left hook to the face, dealt by a golem fashioned entirely of Potassium Permanganate, resulted in a permanent violet discolouration in Bowie’s left eye. As disfiguring as this injury was to the young man, it allowed him to perceive the world in a lilac hue, paving the way for the numerous scientific discoveries that he would make thereafter.
It was before the fruits of one such breakthrough that the professor now stood. The Tin Machine was the culmination of a decade’s worth of research. At its heart was a patented Reeves-Gabriels engine. Its surplus hydro-energy was contained as miniature lightning storms inside a pair of giant Sales Jars. A labyrinth of gleaming metal pipes that completely obscured the walls of the cellar wherein the device had been constructed, funneled obliquely into the Quantum Field Chamber that occupied one corner of the room and contained an ornate full-length dress mirror, tilted upwards at a slight angle.
It was into the chamber that Dr Bowie, resplendent in a floor-length, sequined ball gown, now stepped, positioning himself with his back to the looking glass.
“I think that I am ready to proceed” he announced.
From across the room the Professor’s tousle-haired assistant - a man named Michael Ronson - performed a sequence of last minute safety checks. Satisfied that everything was in order he depressed the ignition button.
For a few moments a heavy silence that was pregnant with anticipation filled the confined space. Then, slowly, the engine began to stir, the mechanical throb, building in pitch and intensity, spreading clockwise around the cellar as, one by one, the Tin Machine’s components juddered into life.
Inside the dead-end street of the Quantum Field Chamber, Professor Bowie glanced at his pocket watch to find time running wild.
“515 the angels have gone,” he muttered. “I must prepare as best I can to gaze upon the strange.”
Swallowing hard, he turned towards the mirror, as if to face himself.
In that same moment the entire machine seemed to make a noise as if incredulous of the demands that had been placed upon it and the universal laws that it was being called upon to brazenly disobey. There was (the two men later agreed upon this order of events) a prolonged grinding noise; the rending sound of metal sheering from metal; a loud “POP!” as one of the Sales Jars shattered, followed by a shrill whistle as an adjacent boiler blew a gasket in sympathy, sending a scalding jet of white steam into the air. A small explosion of orange flame brought the proceedings to an abrupt halt.
As pieces of plaster began to rain down from the ceiling, Professor Bowie emerged from the cloud choking on the mildly caustic vapours and feebly waving his hands in an attempt at dispersing it.
“Damn! Damn and blast!”
He staggered to the centre of the room where the fumes were at their least dense. Broken glass crunched underfoot.
“Ronson! Do you still live? Speak up man!”
A head, crowned by an unruly mop of shoulder-length blonde hair peered tentatively from behind the console.
“Is it safe Sir?”
“Yes, yes... Oh for heaven’s sake, do come out Ronson. You are not to blame. The fault is entirely my own.”
The young assistant emerged from his makeshift refuge. Following in the Professor’s wake he busied himself as best he could, brushing the debris from the explosion from the pleats of the ruined ball gown. If Bowie was aware of this supercilious attempt at placating the foul mood that invariably ensued in the aftermath of a failed experiment, he chose to ignore it. Instead he paced the walls of the laboratory making a cursory study of the rent and ruptured pipe work; for the first time regretting his decision to construct the metallic parts of the tin machine from so flimsy an alloy.
“As you know Ronson, I devised this apparatus so that I might objectively quantify how an ordinary man, in possession of no great intellect, might perceive a faker, such as myself. Alas! If today’s experiment has taught me anything, it is that I am too fast to take that test. By the time the device has accumulated sufficient enough of a charge to document this quantum event, the desired image has long since vanished into the ether.”
Ronson continued to studiously brush the dust from Bowie’s garments, while inwardly he racked his brains for a considered response that might sum up the predicament the Professor found himself in.
“If I may say so Sir, you are renowned among your peers for your impetuous velocity.”
“Yes…Yes quite. Up until this day such god-gifted speed has served me well. Yet now my quicksilver talent hardens to reveal a double edge that impedes my research and by association hampers the very progress of science. For how am I to communicate how others see a faker, if my experiment cannot be replicated and dragged into the realm objective truths that are the currency of all rational men and a select coterie of masculine women."
He paused in mid-step, turning on his heel to address his assistant directly.
“Ronson: You are a man who has spent long hours in my company. One might almost say that there is none better qualified than yourself to describe to the high society how an ordinary working class commoner from the north of England might perceive a creature of my singular appearance.”
Unfortunately, and in common with most men, Michael Ronson’s visual cortex was only able to interpret the shifting chain of chemical reactions taking place across ten-dimensional space-time, that constituted the physical form of Professor Bowie as a nebulous cloud of shifting primary colours, bisected by a red lightning bolt and bedecked with an ostentatious plume of ostrich feathers. In vain he searched for words that might do justice to the spectacle, only to find himself quickly overwhelmed.
“I wouldn’t rightly know how to explain it, Sir. As you have remarked on previous occasions the enterprise is beyond language.”
“Yes… Yes, of course. Clearly something must be done slow down the faker in me – a distraction of some kind that will give the machine the opportunity to…”
A spark kindled in the professors left eye, his face suddenly animated by the wild fires of inspiration.
“Brilliance! Genius incarnate! Ronson, reactivate the Tin Machine at once. There is no time to attempt repairs.”
Hitching his ball gown and its numerous flared petticoats above his knees, Bowie hurriedly made his way over to the quantum field chamber. His assistant returned to control console at a more reluctant pace than before and commenced the process of restarting the machine.
“May I wait in the corridor Sir,” he called plaintively from across the room as the wounded engine sputtered into life.
“I am afraid that will not be possible Ronson...” replied Bowie, raising his voice so as to be heard over the ascending mechanical din.
“...I will need you to join me inside the Quantum Field Chamber. My plan requires that I simulate oral sex upon your person!”