Not Tai O exactly
but shacks on stilts, waterless, simulacrum desert lifted from Almodóvar Chicken outskirts, totems with flashing lilac light, beam communication system, mountain face with cut-out alcove for the local baron to dwell
no sign of baron security, thugs
air particles sparse
avoiding her mouth, nose, that’s what it felt like, moving her face, amber-stuck, then her arms, legs, fingernails, crawling over the weird rough dirt, trying to
‘… … … …’
Joanna dropped back down, gasping for atoms, head tilted towards the hazy structures nearby.
There had to be someone
a guard, lookout of some sort
farmer, farmer kids, desperate cows
wayward Almodóvar Chicken staff
Sila Søren sheriff alien outreach
‘Machine,’ she mumbled in Cantonese, rolling up her eyelids another millimetre.
Vision or vision-esque, maybe real, but
No idea, no way to answer, no choice but to observe as, in the middle of what looked from her eyes like the town square, only oval-shaped and barren, a large pale-green orb rose up out of the dirt, and sprouting out of that orb was a white totem with a blinking purple light on top and, as it got higher, a small valve slid open and fired out something small and mechanical, possibly a drone-dart.
Joanna felt a sting on her neck, took a non-raspy breath, a series of them just to make sure, then closed her eyes and counted out one slow minute.
Opened them again and saw the exact same terrain. Same pointless shacks on stilts, albeit not as disheveled as she’d first thought, hallucinated. Quite sleek, actually, now that she wasn’t suffocating and could sharpen her sight better.
And the green orb, the purple flashing light, it was gone now, back into the dirt and
she didn’t know how
the abyss, the drop, the space tunnel, the spectral human shapes holding her hand as she neared the ground, the no feel impact
but here she was
in a town or village three quarters the same as the place she’d just left, not within the hidden Crowley basement, but a Jodorowsky oval-square forum, rough dirt sand, pastel coloured tiles, bone white totems, edifices that were human-familiar in shape yet surrealised on top, at the sides, various kinds of tubes, walkways, platforms, all linking the shacks together as a total communal organism, with different coloured orbs hovering above like exiled chimneys.
Taking it all in three, four, seventeen times, Joanna stretched her legs out, rotated her ankles, amazed nothing was broken from the infinite fall, then got to her feet and did a quick perimeter of the square.
There didn’t seem to be anyone else around, the forum tiles and maybe-benches were all empty, and now she was up close, she could see that none of the shacks had doors or windows.
It’s weird I didn’t notice that before, she thought, deciding almost straight away that it wasn’t a big deal, she’d just been overwhelmed
or distracted by the hovering orbs
and that was sufficient to mollify her heart beat, possibly the pulse too if she had one, until she looked up at the orbs again and this time noticed the sky and the three moons beyond it. And the billion stars or so beyond those. And the Dadaist interpretation of the Northern Lights encompassing that.
‘… … … … … …’
Staggering backwards or gasping would have been expected, but she’d seen too much for that, and
an alien planet
at least it wasn’t death, or a pocket within death where she could still fear it, feel nothing from it, write zaum poetry about it, Ghana gha na eke something
no, it was firm ground, with air she could now breathe and
the only thing it needed really was life
Sila Søren all/either
That thought carried her around another lap of the oval-square, the air poked out of it by the internal recreation of her journey, the idea of falling down and being spat back up, dropping from a sky with three moons, landing in a place that looked like a Varo feast, not human, defiantly unhuman inhuman
yet there she was
walking around its flesh
wherever whatever the hell it was.
The concept of three moons really was a tough one to shake, which seemed odd as she didn’t even like space, had no desire to live on a different planet, even if there was a type of infrastructure already set up and the aliens were friendly and broadly left wing, she had never wanted to go up there or out there
but now that she was there, clearly on a different planet, a billion, trillion miles from Portugal, she couldn’t stop thinking, how?
If it was a wormhole then why wasn’t it in space?
How could it be dug into the ground?
Why was the entrance in the Portuguese desert?
How was she able to breathe here?
Constructed by who?
Why did the buildings look vaguely Portuguese?
There were no answers to any of them, not without a pocket scientist or
Taking out the miraculously undamaged phone from her dusty jacket, she checked the signal and, unsurprisingly, there was none, not even one bar, though she could still play cabucabu, which could be valuable
if it turned out this place didn’t have internet
She sat down on a section of wall near where the green orb had appeared and looked around again. Tried to make sense of the tubing linking each shack together. The parts of it that broke off and spiralled upwards at erratic angles. The orbs hovering above, most of them dimmed of colour, dormant. The shack on its own that she hadn’t noticed earlier, giant citrine yellow Prisoner balls attached to its primary façade. The mountain lurking as backdrop, with an alcove halfway up. The faint purple blotches scattered across its jagged slope.
There was purple in the hidden basement too, she thought, focusing tighter on the alcove. Mineral slashes on the walls of the passageway, all the way up to the pit. The abyss. The portal. But that purple wasn’t artificial like
There was a humming noise from outside the oval-square, at first soft and distant, then, stark and dominant, like a gargantuan bee with an amplifier on its wings.
What the King of Hell was that?
She held in breath and waited, doing the ear equivalent of squinting. What was the word for that? She didn’t know, even in Cantonese.
the humming noise again, louder.
‘Sila?’ she said, failing to match its volume.
There was a chance it wasn’t him, but then again, there was a bigger chance that it was, after all he’d gone down the same pit she had, him and Søren,
why wouldn’t they end up in the same place?
Another deafening hum, and this time she got up and walked towards it, out of the square and onto a path-less slope, with the occasional patch of lava red grass offering a comfort distraction.
‘Silaaaaaaa…’ she said, basically a shout.
No answer and no more humming noise.
She kept walking, looking back at the doorless shacks and hovering orb chimneys she’d left behind, making sure they hadn’t vanished on her.
Nope, still there.
‘Silaaaaaaaa’ she tried again, turning once again to the slope ahead.
Her legs kept going, giving her another ten minutes before they would pivot and head back to properly explore the alien shacks, maybe the alcove on the mountain face too.
If she could climb up there.
Between Sila calls, she bent down and plucked blades of red grass from the dirt, briefly wondering if it would be toxic for her skin, then deciding, for no real reason, that it wouldn’t and quickly picked some more.
After seven or eight minutes, the red grass dried up and a cliff appeared. An intermittent stretch of half-destroyed white wall running along the edge, purple lines of light slashed into the sides.
It looked a little bit like the mineral deposits back in the cave, but this time intentional. The series of uneven wall-track ran all the way to the clearing directly in front of her, a thirty, forty-metre space of rock and dirt.
Standing there, lonely as a panda next to a robot panda, was a stone arch, a bell hanging down from the centre, and a spinning axel perched on top, with two purple dots blinking weak light at both ends.
Was axel the right word?
Hard to know, engineering wasn’t something she’d ever studied, but she did recognise that the broken white wall was strangely distant from the town it was protecting, or had once protected.
If that was its function?
Maybe not, it was pretty far. Almost a kilometre, if her internal map was working right.
She looked back at the orbs and shacks in the near distance, to double-check, and then up towards the mountain overlooking the whole area.
Okay, maybe not that far.
‘… … … … … … … … …?’
She spun quickly, tracking the voice and seeing absolutely nothing except vague alien landscape and a glowing purple orb, about the size of a basketball, hovering under the stone arch, with a tinier, paler version of itself doing electron-like circles around it.
‘… … … … … …?
Joanna stared at the thing. She couldn’t help it. A purple orb was making sounds at her. Communicating. Singing. Yelling. Rapping in Helix Nebula dialect.
Was this real?
‘… … … … … … … …?’
She squinted, muttering an instinctive wah in Cantonese.
‘… … … … … …?’
She had no idea what it was saying, the sounds didn’t appear to be aggressive, not like Korean or Russian or Mongolian or Klingon
yet it was also pulsating random bursts of deep purple and possibly staring at her and
no, wait, it was lightening again, almost as pale as its little electron cousin
okay, that was good
Maybe lighter was bad, a threat
maybe it was tricking her into lowering her guard before it
‘… … … …’
no it wasn’t
the orb was moving towards her, wisps of purple fog now spilling out and forward from its main body, alien haze, poisonous, absorbent…
‘Back…’ she slurred in deranged Cantonese, pulling her krsic blade out and pointing it at the misty purple death trap.
With cyborg cat reflexes, the orb stopped.
‘I have already stopped,’ it said, in clear Cantonese, the voice seeming to emanate from a sound system within its misty jacket.
‘You still wish to stab me?’
‘Sorry, I thought you were from somewhere else. But now that you’ve spoken, things should be smoother.’
She lowered the knife slightly.
‘It’s quite annoying as I’ve just gone through the whole greeting ritual in another language, specifically for your type. Ah well, can’t be changed. I assume you have just arrived? Via the Portugal portal, correct?’
‘Who are you? How are you-…’
‘Perhaps you’re looking for the human and wild ax-form who came through a few days back?’
‘Ah, what again. That is no good. No good at all. Gonna have to accelerate things a little, I think.’ The orb drifted forward, its mist passing through her knife without effect, then reaching up and swirling spiral patterns around her scalp. ‘Close your eyes if you are sensitive to strobe lighting.’
‘What are you doing?’ She tried to put the knife against the orb’s main body, but it wasn’t in her hand anymore. ‘Stop.’
The orb flashed purple on its left hemisphere as it hovered near her neck, its mist expanding over her forehead, eyes, cheeks, mouth and then the air beyond, colonising until everything was lilac and tiring and