This could be the end of the autobahn. At some point it had to be. But there were rat eye headlights in the distance. And no sign of curves or junctions. Not even the chance to turn.
Just a little bit further, said Sila, pocket blonde albatross perched on his shoulders.
To Ljubljana, she replied.
If we’re lucky, the doors to the cabinet factory will be unlocked.
If it’s still there.
The autobahn continued. The headlights became tiger eyes became squid eyes became Cthulhu eyes became godhead. The child demon pretended to slip, as an excuse to dig nails into Sila’s chest. He refused to say ouch. Called her a challenging daughter instead. Challenging yet ethereal. Worth it five times over.
Five times over the rim of Hell, she thought.
But didn’t say out loud.
The autobahn narrowed, coloured itself in.
Ja, this pink slime is completely normal, Sila explained, pointing Søren’s arm towards the gutters at the side of the road.
Castle must be nearby, answered Joanna.
Albeit a darker tone than expected.
Not that I want to go up there.
Are you still cold?
But I probably should. Just for old time’s sake. To see the Argento red wall.
Here, take the duvet back.
The tree where you…
No, it’s gone, hasn’t it? I forgot. Never mind, I’ll buy you a new one when we get to Brasov. Assuming they have bedding shops.
I feel cold.
Cabinet factory, stab professor, train, tomorrow morning Brasov. Bedding shop. Bedding.
Joanna pulled her arms in tight. Slipped the fingers inside her skin and hugged herself. In the gutter, the pink slime expanded, called out to her. Whispered in unorthodox Cantonese.
Prepare self for object-real.
Are you warm slime? Friendly?
Do not instantly look down at floor.
Is the castle nearby?
View is abject. KAV field ready to dilute, if fear or ennui.
She jabbed forward, at the autobahn, the entire thing coiled ad infinite, outside herself and twice outside the others. Sila a hologram plaque in 2-D. Søren poking fingernails through his paper thin chest. Losing balance as his head phased purple. Tumbling into a pink field of positronic waves and hanging there, static/old.
Now wearing the costume of a floating purple orb, flanked by five other purple orbs, Sila told her in spotty Cantonese to sit up and object-real.
‘Object…’ she muttered, rubbing at her eyelids, flinching at the blood streaks on the bedsheet, shivering when she realised the duvet was missing, reeling arms in to block the purple orbs perving on her.
‘An event happened within night hours,’ transmitted the purple orb on the far left, flickering.
‘Where’s Sila?’ she asked, looking at and into the background haze doubling as dorm walls.
‘To prepare first, an interview.’
‘On the roof?’
‘Start query. Did the slime feel symbiotic inside or traumatic?’
‘That fails information.’
‘What are you-…what is this? Where’s Sila?’
‘Counter query stacked up, elusive, not work. Form change better option. Scan start abrupt. Do not shiver.’
A pink glow materialised, the same as the field that Joanna had just noticed was pinning Søren to the space behind the hover bed. Similar to the one in the language input room. Calm and sociopathic. Pink as a starfish. It spread itself around her body, giving a series of tiny electrical pinches, then dissipated.
‘Scan end. Slime was traumatic, with fleeting moments of ecstasy.’
‘I feel strange.’
‘Query two. Base outlook seem reptile or mammal, from human eye?’
Joanna shifted in the bed, searching for her base uniform. Then remembered that she always left it on the floor [cos there was never any dust down there].
‘It is enervating to look left. Please do not.’
Joanna poked her head downwards and looked left. A lump covered by duvet, stained with dry-looking blood.
No, not blood.
A bunched-up duvet with red paint, randomly shaped.
Left by renovators.
Messy thieves with not a violent bone in their-
‘This base not equipped for human psychology. Prepare for dilute scan.’
‘What is…’ Joanna started to say, mostly to the floor as the pink particle field returned, this time a brighter shade, with electrical pinches at first and then electrical caress, especially around the scalp, the inside cracks of her brain, feeding her the message that Sila was currently dead, laid out minus kinetic-potential on the floor and in another few seconds she would have a chance to look at the corpse, to understand that the object-real was in this state and after that she would be guided to the CLUTCH room to begin the process of making her own decision, plateau or onwards, but first the corpse.
The pink field again dispersed into nothingness, or transferred back to Søren, whose eyes were open and staring blankly at Joanna.
‘What are you doing to her?’
‘The entity decision is fixed, waiting for you.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Please, respect to arrangement. Remove the duvet and input corpse visual.’
Joanna heard the words and saw the purple glow from all five orbs, and somehow, had no bile in her throat, no dread building in the left side of her brain, as she walked the three steps to the lump, bent down, lifted up the duvet and, without pause, accepted the image of Sila with eight puncture holes in neck, thigh and torso.
She even used the word torso in her thoughts, a clinical word, and felt cold enough to wrap some of the duvet around her shoulders.
Sila the shell.
Sila the hollow cask.
Eyes shut, no need to pull down the lids.
Messy blood streams.
She closed her eyes, bracing for tidal dread, something at least marginally depressing and
A ripple of how the fuck did he manage this, in one night.
That was it.
She opened her eyes again and focused on his face. The thing she’d argued with a thousand hundred times. Kissed. Tried to inject with grey krsic. Fake smothered with a pillow. Folded in against.
Face. History. Skin. Duvet. Corpse.
Grey as Franju.
What am I, a serial killer?
Even solipsistic, there should be something, a hole of I’m on a base alone now, beyond human reach, stuck with purple orbs and callous demon myth.
Except a little bit cold.
‘Corpse time is ended,’ transmitted the purple orb, floating a curve around the side of her face. ‘In one human hour, your brain will process this as death-real. Emotion will flood. Dread cavity will form. It is advice if you make decision this time before.’
She shook her head vaguely, too tired to say what.
‘Now for cathartic. Come to EFF room to witness disassemble.’
The pink haze descended again, not over her but in the air in front, leading a buffering path to a door beyond Søren, an exit she hadn’t seen before.
‘Leg one, move.’
‘To the EFF room…’
‘Correct. Disassemble will happen imminent.’
She realised her head was still swaying and stopped, switching to an imagined nod and then obedience, legs one and two taking her along the shining pink path
face solo glancing at Søren as she passed
nail digging into her palm as she saw the blood on the blonde demon’s base uniform.
The EFF room
EFF short for nothing human-related, according to the purple orb named Engineer Barra’n who apparently spoke for all the others
but sparing the smug disdain EM had utilised in his own rhetoric, which didn’t bother her anymore as her brain was still in comfort mode, head bobbing along as Engineer Barra’n filled her in on the event within the previous night hours, Sila killed by the little blonde creature in order to trip the alarm, the horror room full of flayed humans who’d had the misfortune to fall through the portal into Engineer Many’s game arena, the comrade orb, EK, who’d been deflated almost a year earlier, undetected, the extrapolation from all the above that indicated Sila and Joanna would’ve been flayed within two further days, the attempt by EM to pose as EK on the other orbs arrival and pretend that EM was elsewhere, leaking purple up quarks and
etiquette regret that their system didn’t account for these kind of fringe outposts, couldn’t monitor them in a more thorough way, though
to mitigate things a little
there was the EFF room, which Joanna was now being led into, and a human-style plastic chair for her to sit on as they played out the ritual disassembling.
‘What exactly will you do?’
‘The green particle field. Focus.’
Engineer Barra’n couldn’t point and didn’t have to as the middle of this room with background clear walls, decorated with symbols that she’d seen before, at the village when she’d first arrived, on some of the base panels too, lit up Re-animator green and
lowered down from above
a dim purple orb that may or may not have been EM.
‘I’m EK,’ they transmitted, barely strong enough to reach Joanna’s ears, and it was repeated for the next minute as the green particle field turned a deeper neon and the curves of EM started to drip off in melted strips.
On some level, Joanna knew it was a horrific death she was witnessing, but the noises emitted by EM came out as 80’s synth, and
there was no joy
no satisfaction in watching a purple sphere melt into purple goo
just a sense of endurance
as in, when was this going to end, when could her brain start to feel things again, and
diving squid deep into the nihilism pond
could they melt her past oblivion too, in a non-painful way?
After the execution, Engineer Barra’n and the four silent orbs drifted over to the corpse of their ex-comrade, EM, and hovered.
Faint trails of lilac streamed down from all five of them.
‘Importance to desecrate the remainder,’ explained Engineer Barra’n later, guiding her via the pink river to the CLUTCH room. ‘More high desecrate, more opportunity of EK and human skin victim go to better step galaxy.’
‘If not understand, ask extra.’
Joanna rubbed her left eye, having the sudden feeling that one of the pink particles had intruded, then shifting to the image of Sila in the ferry cabin, telling her how purple the sky was outside.
Then another image, the two of them sitting in the Danish hospital, arguing over whether Søren was new daughter material.
And another image, on top of Ljubljana hill, Sila standing by the sacrifice tree, moaning, asking in fluent Cantonese why the castle wall was so red.
Telling her that they would have to go back to Hong Kong eventually cos his parents wanted him to be a lawyer and he was already falling behind.
Calling her an annoying, pedantic cunt as she tried to guess what the restaurant guy was saying to them in German, when his own German had just died on the shore of his tongue.
Fucking her again from behind even after she’d told him it was uncomfortable.
Helping her down the stairs of Burger King when her body turned against her.
Insisting that early life relationships were transitory and they’d probably drift apart at some point
Suggesting a marriage of why not plus Søren in Almodóvar Chicken.
‘Decide time arriving,’ transmitted Engineer Barra’n, breaking the stream, dragging her back to object-real. ‘If sceptic, have doubt, scan can start easy resolve.’
Joanna did a full rotation, taking in the CLUTCH room. Not much to see. Just moon visuals and alien hieroglyphics. One or two panels to the side. Residual haze.
‘What exactly am I deciding?’ she asked, turning back to the purple orb.
‘Go forward alone, plateau in comradeship.’
‘Death is escalator. Back to one moon planet. Essence of. Human dead friend, second travel for him, copy of a copy, some residue knowhow. First travel for you. If choose.’
‘I don’t understand…’
‘Language challenge, human definite number one. Death is escalator. Human dead friend, dead only temporary, copy can start abrupt, before one human year gave same experience.’
‘Sila was dead? Before?’
‘Second travel for him, second copy. First travel for you, if choose. If fear, stay at base, go forward alone.’
‘What do you mean, travel? I don’t-…you don’t mean-…it’s not death, is it?’
Engineer Barra’n flickered purple on the right hemisphere, seemingly activating another green particle field in the middle of the room.
‘Scan end. You choose inside.’
‘No fear, green atom move this way. Keep stabilise. Before scan still coated on brain network.’
‘Wait…is this death? Are you killing me?’
‘Close eye if fear, but open also match.’
‘Is it death?’
‘Counter query end. No pain. Please, now unwind.’
No pain, Joanna mouthed back, spotting the green atom blurring closer out of the corner of her eye, and then full-on as she spun to face it
briefly holding up an arm in defiance, a Durruti reflex
accepting the comfort of the electrical caress
letting the green soak in and
whatever it did
nothing could be worse than base plateau
this pink wall-less fucking place, cargo hold of human skin, psycho petri dish
stuck in it for the rest of her life
no one to spar with, no ridiculous Slovene optimism
no chance to
no way to