[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 16: Background Chess


Back above ground it was daybreak and Los Angeleans were swarming around the streets, heading for breakfast or work or their beds or the earthquake crack where John Fante used to watch old men play chess and, despite being tired and injured, Noble still had enough clarity of thought to recognise the Nazi in the suit sitting alone by one of the chessboards.

‘You left me,’ said Noble, creeping up beside Frank and making him jump.


‘Everyone up, start shooting. That’s what you said.’

‘And I shot at them.’


‘The others panicked, fucked up the plan.’

‘You were the first one out.’

‘Well, as General Lee once said, retreat is often the mark of a winner.’

‘Your Mexican’s dead.’

Frank looked confused for a second, then shrugged and gestured with an elbow for Noble to sit down on the stone bench opposite.

‘Not interested in chess.’

‘Because you’d lose?’


‘You’re Cuban, I’m white. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘I should shoot you in the head.’

‘With your injured arm?’

Noble looked at the singe marks near her shoulder and frowned. Frank was right, she was not in good shape, though she could still grab his neck and snap it easily enough.

‘It’s a moot point, anyway. We’re clearly on the same side.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘You hate them, we hate them too.’

‘Not true.’

‘Let’s join together and fight our common foe, eliminate them on behalf of a better future.’

‘Like the Armenians and the nationalists?’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 15: Frank Castello Gang


Ten minutes later, Noble was in a large bunker with twenty cave-tone men and one pinkish Mexican in a Conan The Destroyer t-shirt.

The only white man wearing a suit sat down next to Noble and offered her some coffee.

‘How did you make this?’


Noble looked at the walls of the bunker around them with a quizzical face.

‘Ah, you mean where’s the kitchen? Don’t worry, my friend, we’ve got one, and very decent coffee, too. Made with our bare hands. It may look messy down here, but we’re quite competent when it comes to the basics.’ The man looked at Noble’s chest, then her face. ‘You know, you’re very pretty.’

‘I’m a robot.’

‘Especially the hair. Most bots have the cropped template and never change it.’

‘Who are you guys?’

‘Hmm, names. Okay. I’m Frank Castello, and this is Rebel Headquarters.’

‘I don’t understand.’

The man in the suit, Frank Castello apparently, raised a hand and followed the eyes of the guy next to him, who was pointing at one of the computer screens.

‘What is it?’ asked Noble, but they didn’t answer so she watched for herself.

On the screen, the two psychotic robots who’d murdered poor Debit and allowed Farrokh and Katya to get blown up were walking past the cameras this group had clearly set up in the tunnel outside. Or they’d been put there by the city council. Either way, Detroit was using his index finger as a torch while saying something inaudible to Angela.

‘Don’t worry, my friend,’ said Frank, patting Noble on the shoulder, ‘they won’t find us.’

‘They have scanning tech.’

‘Doesn’t matter.’ Frank guided her to another computer screen and gestured for her to sit down. ‘They can do what they want, we don’t care. Our fight is focused on our values, not the reactionary drivel they spew out.’

‘What are your values?’

‘I’m glad you asked.’ Frank held up a sponge cut-out map of Japan. ‘Do you see?’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 14: Battle: Koreatown


The drive was a short one as the couple lived nearby, and, although it was weird and they didn’t know each other, they said Noble could sleep on the couch if she liked.

Having nowhere to go apart from an essentialist stronghold, the robot accepted.

‘Maybe wash a bit of that ash off too…’ added the woman who now that the light was a bit clearer didn’t look at all like Maggie Cheung. And was called Ying apparently.

‘It’s my natural skin colour.’

‘Oh. Is it?’

‘You mean grey?’ added Jemba, not Yaphet Kotto.

Noble smiled through the rear-view mirror. ‘I’m half Finnish.’

‘And the other half?’


‘Right. Okay.’


The living room Noble walked into twenty minutes later emitted a cosy vibe, containing a small clinic of books on the shelves, and a film collection that seemed to be primarily Asian and European, with one or two nods to Nollywood.

‘You like Hong Kong cinema?’

‘The old stuff, yeah,’ replied Jemba, removing his jacket. ‘Not the new stuff.’

‘I lived in Hong Kong before,’ said Noble, picking up the DVD of Fight Back to School 3.

‘Shit. Me too.’

‘In Shatin.’

‘Fuck, man, me too. Tai Wai.’


‘I lived with a French guy near the station. You know it?’

‘A little.’

‘Fuck, I miss that place. I mean, the French guy was a bit weird, and I got a lot of old guys staring at me, but nothing sinister or anything. Language is a bitch though.’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 13: Unwise Blood


Noble rode the trust train back to West Hollywood, staring out the window, noting the huge distances between buildings, the lack of people walking on the streets.

When the train went underground again, she counted out each individual minute and by the time she arrived in Hollywood the count had made it all the way to twenty-seven.

Like two different planets, she thought, walking out onto the street, realising she was nowhere near West Hollywood, igniting her rocket boots and stealthing between buildings and alleyways until she was back at the gallery.

‘Good walk?’ asked the Philosophy Student, smoking something green.


Later that evening, Noble waited for the others to go outside then told the Philosophy Student about what had happened in Compton.

‘That’s good,’ she said, stubbing out another cigarette. ‘A bit snobby, but good.’

‘They said what they needed next was enough cash to invest in film equipment so the kids could make films.’


‘Maybe we could help with that?’

Que? How?’

‘I don’t know. Donate some money to them.’

‘Hmm. And then what?’

‘Then they’d be able to buy the film equipment.’

‘Okay, but then what, Nobes?’


The Philosophy Student reached forward, put a hand on Noble’s forearm, lit up another cigarette with her other. ‘Sorry, but you’re missing the sad reality here. They can make their films and do their art but there’s still a ceiling waiting for them. You see? Say one of them makes a good short film, then what? They take it to the next level, but it gets rejected cos minorities get rejected at the first gate, that’s the reality. That’s the system. Maybe one or two get through, but not a mass of them, and only with shit that’s compromised. Come on, Nobes, you know it’s true, in your gut. There’s only so many places they allow for people like us. The invisible quota. , I know it sounds harsh but the system is racist and sexist and that’s the way it is. All the way through, at all levels.’

‘I understand that, but-…’

‘Not done yet, Nobes. See, the reality is this system is not ready for the poor yet, not on their own, it needs to be changed by us. Trust me, I learnt this the hard way, in the trenches. We need to get well-connected people of colour like Debit and the gay Chinese guy in, get them in at boss level then we all move up. Expand the quota, create more spaces. You do see that, don’t you?’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 12: A Kind Of Praxis


Taking the albatross symbolism round the back of the shed and holding a shotgun to its neck, Noble left the gallery and got on the train heading to Long Beach.

From what she could gather from online forums and The Human Tornado [1976], that’s where a lot of working class black and Hispanic people lived and just because the new left cause was centred on role model creation for future equality didn’t mean it wouldn’t welcome something a little more direct, if prodded.

The aim: tell the people about the gallery, ask them to come, pay half the train fare if they seemed reluctant.

More optimistic aim: discuss ways to teach art/film in working class areas, ask them their ideas, then maybe set up a few zine stores.

Negatives: does anyone really care about art anymore?

Noble slid down the steps of the subway station and looked for the ticket machine. They were all vacant. No turnstiles either. Four minutes later, she realised why. LA operated on the trust system i.e. the people trusted that they could avoid paying without getting caught.

It was a weird system, but semi-socialist so Noble hopped on the train and sat next to a Mexican-looking guy in a Corinthians jersey.

‘Nice jersey,’ Noble said in Spanish.

The guy looked at his own jersey to check what it was and then came back with a pinched face, saying, ‘they’re shit this year, but what can you do, support is support.’

Noble nodded and looked around the train. ‘This train is free, right?’

‘Not for much longer.’

‘They’re changing it?’

‘Yup. Next month. Was cool while it lasted, but no one’s paying. They’re all scroungers, I guess.’

‘Do you have a ticket?’

‘Fuck, no.’

‘Did you think for even a second about getting a ticket?’

The man pulled Sean Penn face. ‘If it makes me seem like a decent guy, sure.’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 11: LA Exhibit


Another week and the Philosophy Student could take no more of Hong Kong, so the group packed up and headed to the airport.

Despite writing nothing useful and being “too nice” on the forums, Noble was convinced to pull herself out of her rut and come along.

‘You really need me?’

‘Of course, you’re crucial.’

‘But I haven’t written anything good.’

‘What did I say about ‘but’?’


‘You’re still getting used to things. I struggled at first too, but, trust me, it gets easier. Just read more of our stuff, align yourself to the truth of things.’


‘And stop stressing. You were born in the old ways, it’s normal that it’s harder for you.’

‘Can’t use that excuse forever though, brother…’ said Detroit, looking up from his laptop.

‘Ignore him…sister,’ said the Philosophy Student, flicking a raw baron look at Detroit. ‘We’ll give you as long as you need.’

‘Thank you,’ said Noble, letting herself be patted on the head. ‘I’ll go and buy some new make-up.’


‘In case they notice my skin colour.’

Detroit stared at Noble’s cheeks and nodded. ‘It is pretty grey.’

‘I’m going to lighten the tone a bit. Pass myself off as Finnish or Russian.’

‘That work?’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 10: Dhalgren Flux


The next four weeks were spent in the same apartment [Noble’s], following orders.

Write more articles on a lack of diversity in creative industries.

Scan for straight white man quotes.

Attack found quotes.

Escalate if impact is negligible.

Hassle targets on Twitter/Tumblr/IG.

Isolate + smear defenders of target.

Complain about Hollywood casting.

According to the Philosophy Student, this was the fastest way to revolution, but the key was to stay loyal cos final victory might not come within their lifetime.


Noble shifted her screen and pointed it towards Detroit, who read the first few lines, tutted and called over the Philosophy Student.

‘Is it bad?’ asked Noble.


The Philosophy Student came over and read the introduction then the first paragraph. She skimmed through the rest before highlighting the entire text and asking Noble, ‘shall I delete it or do you wanna do the honours?’

‘What’s wrong?’

‘It’s not what I told you to write.’

‘It isn’t?’

‘Do you remember what I said?’

‘Write a piece on Samuel Delany and his effect on American Science Fiction.’

‘That’s not what you’ve written.’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 9: No Iskra In Team


Despite misgivings, Noble bunkered down in her apartment with cheap wine and mint Polky sticks and tried her best to back up the Philosophy Student’s campaign of righteous terror.

Terror was bad, obviously, but, as Angela explained it, not always bad.

‘Bad against our side is bad, bad against fascists is mandatory, but bad against infiltrators is good. Who’s an infiltrator? That’s the key. Use your filter. Same way protestors sniff out undercover cops. You have a filter? Old standard? Doesn’t matter. It’s still usable for our needs.’

‘Okay, I think I understand, but…’ Noble stroked the top of her metal arm. It was tough. The last few days, there had been a lot of lectures, or re-orientation as the Philosophy Student labelled it, and most of it made her circuits tired. ‘I don’t know,’ she added, realising she was being stared at.

‘Don’t think too much. Use your gut. Your filter. And if you’re unsure, just follow the names on this list.’

Angela pulled out four pages of small text names, some of them familiar, some of them unknown, a few of them crossed out.

‘It’s still a little vague,’ said Noble, reading from the bottom up.

‘Which part?’

‘All of them. For instance, how do I know for certain who’s an infiltrator?’

Angela shook the list of names, making a rustling sound.

‘Aren’t they the honest ones?’

‘Hang on.’ Angela went in her jacket pocket and pulled out another list, this one as thick as a small novel. ‘These are the traitors.’

Noble examined the first page and stopped on the fourth name down. ‘I know this person.’

‘You’ll know a lot of them, I’m sure.’

‘But…she’s left-wing.’

‘Fake left.’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 8: What Isn’t To Be Done?


When Noble got back home, the door was unlocked and the Philosophy Student was still-life on the couch with a laptop on her crotch.

‘How did you get in?’

‘Forced the lock.’

‘I didn’t know you could do that.’

‘I can’t…’ She pointed at the wheelchair lady on the other side of the room, throwing an orange up and down. ‘Katya can.’

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Continuing the struggle.’


The Philosophy Student held up her laptop and twisted it around until Noble could see a white-on-black forum site on the screen.

‘See this? The right-wing fuckers are trying to spam a new Native American actress-stroke-film-maker-stroke KOL, you know, to suppress her voice. So we’re making sure there’s some balance.’

‘That’s nice.’

‘It’s harder than you think, actually, Nobes. Most people would just bite back, but the way we do it is, we bite back, claro, but we do it in a way that makes anyone reading it sway to our side.’

‘How do you do that?’

‘Deflect five times then thrust.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Too long to explain, but the point is…’ Detroit came in from the corridor, carrying his own laptop, and sat down on the floor next to the Philosophy Student. ‘What you got, Dee?’



‘Mutt Damon.’

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[Sonic Death Bot] Chapter 7: Danger: Yum Cha


The next morning, the Scientist asked Noble if she’d been stagnant in Hong Kong all this time or whether she’d used her robot brain and come up with any practical left-wing theories.

‘My slow robot brain?’

‘Or non-practical left-wing ideas. Anarchist ideas. Anything new would be welcome.’

‘Should we have breakfast first?’

‘Or are you also in the grip of the fake left?’

Noble got up and put on her Death to Servalan t-shirt. ‘There’s a yum cha place across the street. It’s full of right-wing elderly people, but you won’t mind as you won’t understand what they’re saying.’

‘You have been following the world, haven’t you?’

‘Is that a no to yum cha?’

‘You haven’t checked out…’


‘Fine, eat first. But you can’t dodge forever.’


At the yum cha restaurant, Noble tried to order, but didn’t understand what the waitress said back to her. When she couldn’t catch it a second time, she just nodded and said, no need.

The waitress looked at her like she was a physics textbook and walked off.

‘Do they not understand English?’

‘Not here.’

‘Must be tough.’

‘It’s my fault, not theirs.’ Noble started washing the bowls and chopsticks. ‘What’s this fake left you keep trying to group me with?’

The Scientist took the lid off the teapot, peered inside then put it back on.

‘It’s a kind of tea.’


‘Not poison.’

The Cuban smiled then leaned back in her chair and talked for thirteen minutes straight about the fake left, referencing terms and phrases Noble had never heard of, explaining the myth of Janus, mentioning wealth and class struggle before leaning forward and trying to sum it all up in one line: ‘Basically, it’s a bunch of rich people heading off change by asking for change.’

‘I’m not sure that makes sense.’

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