[Destiny] Chapter 16: In The Rusted Arms Of Sci-Fi

~~~

Near the zine store was a park with a bench.

They bought some Czech cereal bars and sat down and watched the pigeons for a while. After eating half of her bar, Joanna started breaking off little pieces to give to the birds. Sila told her not to, they might not be able to digest it, but she ignored him. Irritated, he switched tack and talked about how to prevent arguments for the next two days.

First idea, don’t talk at all, but that was unrealistic as they were sharing a room.

Second idea, only talk about the city. That was more plausible, though also depressing.

Third and final idea, talk about anything except Ljubljana and don’t get so wound up, both of them. After that, after two days were up

he could go his separate way

she could go hers

and they’d never have to see each other ever again.

Joanna wasn’t convinced, saying, ‘despite everything, we make a good team, and your cabinet mission is really growing on me. It’s something I think I can adapt to.’

‘Bullshit, you just wanna get me back on that hill.’

Joanna broke off another piece of her bar, threw it at a bored-looking bird and said, ‘not true.’

‘Sure…’

‘Not true at all.’

~~~

Sila sat on the bed in the room on the fourth floor of the hostel, their snug little private space, and watched series 2 episode 5 of his early 20’s comfort blanket, Blake’s 7.

Joanna came back from the bathroom with two towels wrapped around body and head, and asked what he was watching.

Sila stared like a demon hawk at the computer screen.

‘Something about cabinets?’

At Blake’s jacket sleeves.

‘Not cabinets?’

The sheer airiness of them.

‘Is it Slovenian?’

This time Sila noticed her making a study of him and took out an earphone. ‘What?’

‘What are you watching?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Something about cabinets?’

‘No.’

She came over and looked at the screen, keeping one hand on the side of her head towel. ‘Is that supposed to be a spaceship?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Is that supposed to be space?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are they the good guys or the bad guys?’

‘Ambiguous.’

‘Who’s the one with the perm?’

‘Blake.’

‘Is he ambiguous too?’

‘More partisan than ambiguous.’

‘I see.’

‘You know what partisan means?’

‘I do.’

Sila shook his head and muttered Jesus in Slovene, which was pretty much the same as the English version.

‘Where are they now?’

‘Earth.’

‘Are you going to tell me what they’re doing there?’

‘Nope.’

‘How about the plot of the show?’

‘Ha.’

She sat down on the bed, the body towel riding up almost to the top of her thighs. ‘It’s a lonely life if all you’ve got is science fiction forums.’

‘Huh? This isn’t a forum.’

‘Even lonelier then.’

Sila paused the show and took out the other earphone, trying not to look at her thighs. ‘Look, I’m not gonna tell you cos I know you don’t care.’

‘Untrue.’

‘You’ll nod and then find some obscure way to link it to Ljubljana and then, hey, remember Ljubljana, the castle on the hill, that was cool, why don’t we go there?’

‘Why don’t we?’

Sila put the earphones back in. ‘Finished.’

‘I was joking.’

‘No more chat.’

‘Ljubljana is off the board.’

‘I’m watching, bye.’

He pressed play and stared at the screen.

Joanna watched him for a little while then returned to the bathroom and dried her body. Ignoring the hairdryer, which was low-quality anyway, she opened up her bag and pulled out the grey vasic.

She stared at it for a while…then closed her eyes. She thought of chopped time train rides back to Ljubljana, Sila jumping out the window and rolling into a dark, Krsnik-less forest, her persuasions lost in the fog

Eyes open, she tapped the vial and placed it carefully back in her bag.

~~~

Series 2 episode 5 ended and Sila looked at Joanna, looked at her so long that she glanced up from her Austrian Demonology book and said what?

He said nothing and went online

onto Wikipedia

and searched for context on the episode he’d just watched, answers for why they’d killed off Gan and why the other characters got over it so fast.

One look at his empty chair on the ship

then onto episode 6

it was cold and bleak

but then so was space and the 70’s

or so he’d heard.

The info came up, the creator and the cast both saying one of the characters had to die, and the most pointless one was Gan, so Gan it was.

‘… … … … …’

Sila clicked on a video link and the actor who played Gan appeared, looking old and worn out but still jovial, and said, it’s true, Gan was a spare part, the big lump had to go.

‘… … … … … … Gan.’

‘What?’ asked Joanna again, still looking at him.

~~~

The next day was a warmer one, at least five degrees, and to make the most of it they went back to the river.

For some reason, Prague still had tourists with physical maps, and all the depressing things that came with them, which meant it was a blessing from Prospero himself when they came across a second hand book shop, in a deserted alley, near the pickpocket bridge.

Sila didn’t bother asking for opinions, he just went in and settled down in the Mythology, Occult and Folk Tales section.

Joanna lurked nearby for a while then drifted towards the Asian fiction area.

Half the books were in Czech, the other half in English, and, possibly market-related, there were even some books Joanna knew from her youth, in the original Chinese.

The Book and the Sword // Jin Yong

The Deer and the Cauldron // Jin Yong

Ah, they had the Condor series too, but only in English. She thought about not buying it, but then remembered the plot and the TVB series when she was thirteen years old and went to the counter and bought it, rationalising it as both an impulse buy and an experiment in translation.

After all, that’s what she’d studied at University – linguistics, different types of translation – so it would be interesting to see if a…

wait, who wrote it?

She checked the cover and saw a western name.

It would be interesting to see how a foreigner would translate a book from a culture he had no immersive experience in. Sure, they might know the language, but only from a textbook or a classroom. It wasn’t the same as living it

not even close.

~~~

As they left the shop two hours later, Sila noticed the book and asked if it had anything to do with her precious Ljubljana monster.

‘No.’

‘Incredible, a second interest…’

‘It’s martial arts fiction.’

‘Like in 2046? Faye Wong and Tony Leung?’

‘No.’

‘Ha, blunt as a Russian. Aren’t you surprised I know about Faye Wong?’

‘No.’

A random Czech slalomed by on a bicycle, turning into Sila as he got closer and forcing a cat like dodge. After saying, ‘watch it’ in Slovene, he caught up to Joanna, who was sitting down on a circular bench winding all the way round the trunk of a giant tree.

‘Okay then,’ he said, sitting down next to her. ‘What’s your martial arts fiction about?’

‘China.’

‘And?’

‘Old China. Chinese things. I have to read it first. Then think of a way to translate it back to you.’

‘Read it when you’re high?’ he asked, peering at the man with swirly robes on the cover of the book.

‘Don’t be silly. I’m not high.’

‘That drug…your daily dose of vakic…’

‘Vasic.’

‘You’re gonna read a book and skip time and somehow still know what’s going on at the end of it. Good luck.’

‘I won’t take it today.’

‘That’ll be a first.’

‘I can’t, it’s too late now.’

‘Really? I didn’t know skipping time had a deadline…’

A guy sat down on the bench next to Joanna, looking too far in the other direction. ‘If I take it after 2pm then it will bleed into my sleep. Make the whole dosage meaningless.’

‘Is that true?’

‘I will take it tomorrow morning, when we leave.’

‘Man, you are weird.’

‘Or I won’t.’

‘Probably the weirdest person I’ve ever met. That isn’t American.’

‘It’s not weird,’ she replied, glancing at the Czech guy’s hand edging towards her thigh then standing up and moving to the other side of Sila.

‘The weirdest non-American I’ve ever met.’

‘Your compass is malfunctioning.’

‘Ha, compass…’

‘The man who hunts cabinets and has no job.’

‘Hunts them? I don’t hunt them. I open them. I find them and I open them.’

‘You think manga is weird too, don’t you?’

‘What?’

‘Manga.’

‘I’m lost. Why are we…’ He paused, looking left and seeing the Czech guy’s hand almost at his jeans pocket. ‘The fuck are you doing?’

Rumbled, the guy said something in Czech then got up and headed with hands in pockets to the next bench along.

‘Fucking bold…’ muttered Sila, finishing the line with cunt in Slovene.

‘He tried to do the same thing to me,’ said Joanna, tapping her jacket pocket.

‘Probably cos you’re Chinese. Thinks you’re rich. What were you saying about manga?’

‘Weird. From your perspective. Nintendo, too.’

‘Nintendo? The games company?’

‘Yes.’

‘How’s that related to manga?’

‘I’m as weird as the creator of Mario, and so are you. That’s the relationship.’

‘We’re as weird as Nintendo?’

‘The creator of Nintendo.’

‘The Mario guy…’ Sila pictured a walking mushroom in his head. ‘Yeah, maybe you’re right. About that specific one.’

‘I am right.’

‘Though I don’t know how we got from your time drug to Nintendo.’

‘By talking.’

‘Uh-huh.’

‘The drug is weird, so is Nintendo. So are we all.’ Joanna picked up her book and stood up. ‘Let’s go.’

Sila didn’t have the energy to resist so he just nodded and said, ‘fine.’

They walked back across the bridge, looking down at the river on both sides, forgetting about the pickpockets who were supposedly everywhere. If they were as talentless as the bench guy then it didn’t really matter anyway.

When they got to the other side, Joanna asked if there were any cabinets on the schedule that night.

Sila paused a while, looked at the Hungarian Book of Folk Tales he’d just bought and said, ‘no, probably not.’

~~~

With Czech traffic

and Czech arguments on the street outside

Sila sat on the bed, watching an old episode of the original Star Trek, waiting for the shower to be turned on in the bathroom.

He’d been watching Blake’s 7 again

fifteen minutes earlier

but he wasn’t really in the mood for series 4 episode 13, not yet, so he’d switched to Trek instead, one of the DS9 episodes.

Series 6, just after they’d retaken the station

one of the happy ones

especially the first two minutes when the three flags came down, and Bajorans, Humans and Klingons walked around the promenade drunk and pointing and looking to get more drunk, happy to be back in the war.

The shower came on and Sila paused the video.

There wasn’t much time so he stayed on the same topic and typed Trek actors actresses naked.

Not much to choose from.

None of the male actors had done anything sleazy, not that he could find after a quick search, so he was left with Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby and, beyond that, the guest stars. The highlight of course was the infamous green-haired woman from The Gamesters of Triskelion, who apparently left the silver bikini behind and went on to do erotic thrillers.

He loaded up the video and pulled down his pants and pressed play, expecting soft lighting and nipple shots

but it was harder than that

much harder

Jezus

you could actually see the guy going inside her muff

what was this?

He stopped tugging, stared at the video the same way he’d look at a rusted bicycle chain, pinned down the phrase ascetic wank then opened a new tab and searched the actress’s bio.

Angelique Pettyjohn

Star Trek actress and

in later life

hard porn star

died aged 43 of cervical cancer.

‘… … … … … …’

He pulled up the video screen, still paused and studied her frozen body

the guy’s cock halfway in

and wondered how old she was at the time this guy was fucking her

or how old she was when she was fucking him.

Late 30’s?

40’s?

God, was it when she had cancer?

He clicked off the video and loaded up images of her from the Trek episode.

Green hair, silver costume, huge tits.

It wasn’t enough, so he looked for the episode online. It took a while to load but he got it to the halfway mark, with a topless Kirk showing her what kissing was and, as a loose supplement, love

and she seemed so innocent, so trusting, so unable to die of cancer in her early 40’s

or tell a bad actor to fuck her like he meant it in a cheap motel room

it was insane

how could she do that

was it even the same person?

Sila switched back to the screen and tried his usual trick of placing himself in the man’s position – gay and straight porn both – but each time he tried the scene changed

to a table

two cigarettes

and an aggressive attempt to get her to go have a check-up before it was too late.

~~~

In the shower, Joanna rinsed her hair and closed her eyes and tried not to think of anything.

As usual, it was no good.

She pulled the shower head down to her thighs and put it in-between, pointing upwards. Her fingers followed as auxiliary force.

There were lots of times with her and Yute Long in the shower and on the bed and even awkwardly in the sea

but the only picture she could pull back was

him and her on the hill

in Ljubljana.

‘… … … … … … …’

Her, Yute Long, the castle wall, before the krsnik came.

Her, Yute Long, on the hill, before the krsnik came.

Her, Yute Long, by the tree, before the

Krsnik came and took him and this time, somehow, she was fast enough to follow them both all the way back to its Styrofoam cave and inside the Styrofoam cave Yute Long pushed her against the wall and kissed her and fingered her and

the krsnik watched

in the corner

at first

but then it was next to her

swatting Yute Long across the Styrofoam cave

its claws or paws running over her thighs, up and down, then grabbing her breasts and

its face

its face was like Fire Hand Zhang

after the wolves had got him

and it kept grabbing and biting and

no

this isn’t

it’s not

She turned off the shower, grabbed two towels and stayed in the cubicle, thinking slowly and deliberately, thought is not truth, caves are grim, krsnik are asexual, they wouldn’t

I’d kill myself before I ever let that happen.

~~~

In the room, Sila was coffin-vertical on the bed, still watching the science fiction show.

When she asked him what was happening, he said,

weirdly,

‘no, nothing good.’

~~~

The next morning, they checked out of the hostel and Sila said, I need more cash, gotta sell some stuff, so they spent the rest of the day looking for a pawn shop that would take the jewellery he’d probably stolen from someone else

or maybe even taken from the krsnik’s cave.

‘Where’d you find that stuff?’ she asked as he searched on his phone for decent places, but he didn’t reply.

With nothing much else to look at or do, she asked again, just as he was handing it over to an old Czech lady and he said, in a sharp tone,

‘it’s mine, give it a fucking rest.’

~~~

The train station was so non-descript that Joanna wondered whether or not communism was as buried as the museum had told her it was.

Not that it was real communism.

Nothing was, and never had been, as her dad had told her, coming back from the factory one night with tong soi for all of them.

Buildings looked shit everywhere

especially in the capitalist dreamland of Hong Kong

much shitter than this train station, which looked clean at least.

And had quite a cute clock above the entrance.

Sila didn’t seem to notice any of it as he was too busy buying his own ticket. He tried Czech first, which got as far as the counter staff’s initial reply then switched to Slovene, or what she guessed was Slovene.

That got a one word response, followed by a retry in English, which made them both comfortable.

‘Where are we going next?’ Joanna asked, when he turned round.

‘East.’

‘Poland?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Which city?’

Sila put the ticket in his jacket pocket and leaned in close to her. ‘I’ll tell you what. You buy your ticket first then we’ll see if we’re going to the same place.’

Joanna nodded and went to the counter.

‘Well?’ said Sila, when she was done.

‘Same as you.’

‘I doubt it.’

‘Berlin.’

‘What?’

‘Leaving in 17 minutes.’

‘How the fuck did you know? I said East.’

‘I saw your ticket.’

‘… … … … … …’

‘I think you wanted me to see it.’

‘Did I fuck.’

‘Liar.’

‘… … … … …’

~~~

The train pulled into a station somewhere in North Germany, a station with no buildings surrounding it, no people waiting on the platform and no people looking to get off.

‘I’m gonna drop here,’ said Sila, wiping condensation off the window.

‘Don’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘It looks like a horror movie.’

‘Doesn’t look that bad.’

‘Like Rosemary’s Baby.’

‘Just a bit of mist.’

‘Or House of Usher.’

‘Huh? You know that one?’

‘If we get off here, we’ll regret it. There’s nothing to see. We’ll be back on the platform within an hour.’

Sila looked out of the window, seeing himself out on the platform, away from her, liberated, in mist imported direct from Jupiter. If he did go, he’d have to go now. But then he’d get off and be stuck with the only other person on the platform, a fat old man who’d appeared from nowhere and was now staring at a poster for toothpaste. In a town called Salzwedel.

He turned back to the stalker. ‘Where would you like us to drop then?’

‘Ljubljana.’

‘Ha, back with the old tune.’

‘Or we could try Bled?’

‘Nope.’

‘Maribor?’

‘You know we’re heading in the wrong direction.’

‘At the moment.’

‘And you said you were okay with that.’

‘This train station has changed my mind. Too bleak. How about Munich?’

‘No.’

‘Salzburg?’

‘Can you say somewhere that’s actually in the same direction as us?’

‘Hallstatt.’

‘Where’s that?’

‘Austria.’

‘Okay, fine. I’m out.’ Sila folded his arms, felt melodramatic, unfolded them. ‘Now we’re heading even further north. All the way out of Germany.’

The train started moving again, and Joanna looked at the train station disappearing into the past.

‘You can get off at any point.’

Pulling out her Jin Yong book, she opened up to a page she hadn’t reached yet and started reading.

It was fresh for a few seconds then

as she recognised a line, a character, a scenario

it became worn again

enervating.

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