Jabbing all the buttons but
the lift had already started to ascend and
they were both on it, her hand cult-gripped in his
not love, but definitely fucking.
I pushed past random miners, a depressed radiation mage, industrial insurance reps, Kontolian peace reps, other reps, a flickering darts promo and leapt up the spiral stairs three at a time all the way to the upper level and
just as I was about to reach the hold lift button
the beast started to descend
Ryu’s hand around her arm, the slow creep to the side of her breast, and all I could do was run back down the stairs again.
He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t
slalomed through the neurons of whatever this mesh was inside my skull
but I knew he would
this version of Ryu, he definitely would
and when I jumped the last four steps down to the lift pad, they were gone, on foot, already two thirds of the way down a corridor, heading to the habitat ring,
heading to bed and
I ran as fast as my boots would go
almost colliding with a tentacle alien and another alien with green skin and another with a slightly ridged nose and another in robes who looked like an aristocratic grey lizard riffing on the Waugh meme and
even before I reached the corner, I knew it was no good
they were already in bed
on top of the covers
fingers inside each other and
I couldn’t bear seeing that right now, not in this scape, so I stopped sprinting and turned left through a door and slumped down by the wall, with the guy opposite telling me it was okay, he’d killed the other Keni, stabbed the wretch and buried his remains in a twelve foot hole by the docks in Kawasaki.
‘With a shovel?’ I asked, looking up and filtering in the tanned face of Yosh. Without a single second’s pause, I told him to go fuck himself.
‘Let’s get another coffee, talk about future plans,’ he continued, poking the call button seven times.
‘He’s with her right now, in bed.’
‘The way I see it, with your doppelganger gone…’
‘Probably talking about Anarchism…’
‘…we can start up the game exchange again.’
‘Just call up your brother and tell him to be more consistent with his scheduling.’
‘Yeah. He won’t even talk to me.’
‘Then we won’t have to do anything.’
‘Keeps running away.’
‘Just sit back and soak up the cash.’
‘With my Sadia doll.’
The waitress came over and, after a second of appearing Honduran, morphed into Lexi complete with Mpama-tone skin and Tenebrae t-shirt, and told Yosh she wouldn’t serve him.
‘Cappuccino, and this time without half a cup of foam,’ the gangster replied, stretching out his arm and accidentally clipping the head of the kid patched in on the table behind.
‘I’m not serving you,’ she said again.
‘Cappuccino. Light on the foam.’
Lexi turned to my side, eyes on the half-naked Chinese woman across my chest, and asked what I wanted.
‘I don’t know.’
She tossed over a menu full of cappuccino pics. ‘Choose.’
‘This bitch is really pushing it…’ said Yosh, pulling a hunting knife out of his jacket pocket, placing it on the table surface.
‘Yosh…I don’t think you can do that in here.’
‘Implicit, kasu, relax.’
He put a hand on my left shoulder and my whole arm spasmed, brain telling me to pick up the knife and stab him in the neck, second brain screaming banshee-like to sit still and continue with the spasms.
There were other choices, too, but they all fizzled out as Lexi leaned over the table, picked up the hot water jug, poured out a glass of not just hot but boiling water and then, without any ethics chat with the boss A.I., chucked it in Yosh’s face.
Melting wasn’t expected, but that’s what happened, the kid behind Yosh taking advantage of his ordeal to climb over and start whipping him with the VR cable he’d pulled from under the table.
‘Probably gonna do the same to you,’ Lexi said, pouring out another glass.
‘If you don’t stop me.’
‘No, I can’t melt, it’s-…’
She finished pouring, picked up the glass, took another look at Damijana Chu pouting in her spacesuit, tutted with reverb, and threw the whole thing plus a water park right in my face.
My hands went up, grabbing at my cheeks…
…vocal chords groaning pre-emptively, waiting for the pain, eking out melting in lieu of screams…but the pain didn’t come and…with my hands squeezing random parts of my face, I started to hear sounds nearby…voices having a conversation that didn’t seem possible…moving the castle? Finding someone new to induct into the ways of Satan?
Blinking Saizeriya out of existence in six controlled clicks, I opened my eyes to what I instantly recognized was the projection room. In the back area of the video caffé. Somewhere in Fresno, California. Not Japan. Not Moon Factory 7. Fresno.
‘Bad dream?’ asked Lexi, putting a hand on my thigh, forcing a reflex flinch.
‘Give him some space,’ said another voice, vaguely familiar.
I turned right and there was a dagger flash of a Mexican woman eating from a giant human-faced bowl in the basement, which quickly altered into something more stable, the same woman eating a bowl of cereal, half-typing on a computerr, asking if I’d got lost looking for the toilets.
‘Here, drink this,’ the Mexican woman said, pushing a cup into my hand.
I looked left, measuring Lexi’s reaction, and she nodded, saying, ‘go on, it’s an old Mexican remedy for migraines.’
As if magnetized, I reached up and rubbed the back of my head, then my neck, surprised at the lack of moistness.
‘Don’t worry, there’s no serious damage,’ said the Mexican woman.
‘You tripped down the stairs, in my office.’
‘Hit your head on the floor. Luckily, the carpet is quite thick down there.’
Another image cut into my mind…an orange headband circled by a nascent moat of blood.
‘Drink, it’ll make you feel better.’
I rubbed my head again, taking the cup with my other hand and sniffing the surface of the Re-animator-green liquid. Satisfied it wasn’t toxic ooze, I took a sip.
‘I added some extra spices, a bit of sugar. Do not tell my ancestors this, but the original recipe is quite bitter.’
Swirling the medicine around the cup, I said thanks and drank some more. Even in my fuzzy state, I could see out of the corner of my eye that they were both watching me, scrutinising perhaps, so I focused on the projection screen instead. The castle dialogue I’d heard made sense immediately as it was the Count Duckula remake from a few years ago. A bizarro, psycho-sexual horror based on an old kids cartoon made to look like it was actually made in the 70’s. From what I could tell, it was about a third of the way through, up to the scene where Duckula tells Agravita he’s only half duck and then warns her never to step foot in the dungeons.
‘That’s it…drink it all down,’ said the Mexican woman, long fingernails stroking the sleeve of her jacket. One of those retro 70’s ones that poets used to wear to look more favela.
‘Are you the boss?’ I asked, surviving another sip.
‘Of this place? Si. My name is Juana.’
‘Ah…I was coming to see you.’
‘I know. Lexi told me.’
‘After ten. That’s when she said to come, and…I came in…I remember that part, but…after that it just…everything feels kind of blurry. Motives, plan. Kuso. Why was I coming to see you again?’
‘Finish the drink first. Watch the filmn.’
She guided the cup back up to my lips and, cos it did actually taste pretty good, I only half resisted, lifting up a sheepish arm and then allowing her to lower it back onto my leg again.
On the other side of the sofa, Lexi still had her hand on my thigh, but wasn’t saying very much. In fact, when I turned to ask if she’d seen the filmn before, I thought for a second that I was looking at a mannequin. Pam Grier reformed, re-cropped with much smaller hair
Then she blinked and the thought dissipated.
But still…she wasn’t saying much.
Was the filmn that absorbing?
Following the wind-heavy soundtrack back to the screen, I watched while both rubbing my head and finishing off the rest of the drink. The main character, Agravita, couldn’t sleep and was wandering the castle. Poor naïf didn’t realise it, but the tiles she was gliding over had satanic iconography painted on, an easy thing to miss as the candles and wall decoration were beautiful, ethereal, and the other woman in the castle, Vulianko, was opening the forbidden door to the dungeons wearing nothing but a thin, transparent gown, the same one she would be murdered in later, and down Agravita went, as I would’ve too, entranced, chasing the trail of Vulianko into a well-lit office corridor, with tidy, little work cubicles set up in each cell she passed.
‘Such a great twist…’ I muttered, still grinding the top of my head.
There was no response back, so I turned left and saw that Lexi was asleep on the back cushion, her head tilted towards me, barely an inch from my shoulder.
‘How do you like Fresno so far?’ asked Juana, from the other side.
I shifted to face her, opening my mouth to say honestly, it’s better than I expected, even though Sadia’s not here, then stopping when I realized how long that sentence was and how much effort it would take to get it out and how comfortable this new shroud of wispy, colourless fog was and-
‘Could you imagine staying here for a while?’
‘Can’t…’ I answered, a bit groggy. ‘Have to go.’
‘Then you can stay a while.’
‘No…really have to go.’
I hesitated, confused by the yellow glint in Juana’s eyes, but it was only momentary as she put her hand on my forearm and repeated her question in the most soothing voice I’d ever heard. Like a Kontolian silk pillow in sound form.
‘Need to find Sadia,’ I replied, closing my eyes.
‘You know her?’
‘No. Not really.’
‘You’ve talked to her?’
‘Yes. Online. A lot.’
There was a long silence, with gaps in the fog that prompted a Bōlian refresh of the room. Yes, a room. Things pleasant and similar. Projector blanket. Lexi asleep. The viewing couch. Juana my guide. Kind of. Her hand was still on my arm, but the yellow eyes appeared to be lost in the filmn. I looked over, recognizing the scene. Duckula in one of the few dungeons that actually matched the signifier, torturing the Israeli guy who’d come to the castle with Agravita. Dagger in one hand, prisoner’s semi-erect dick in the other, the Count stared trance-like at the three red lights lined up vertically in the alcove opposite.
‘Did you do something to her?’ asked Juana, pulling me back to the sofa, the grip of her hand tighter than before.
‘Sadia. Did you do something to her?’
‘Do something. No.’
‘Do you know where she went?’
‘But you do like her?’
I hesitated again, this time genuinely stuck. Her writing is good. She responds to what I say. Seems depressed about where she is and I’m outside of that. But none of it was really accurate. They were just constructions. Better to say the truth. Juana wouldn’t judge. It wasn’t in her nature. Somehow I was certain of that.
‘She’s very pretty,’ I answered, looking at Agravita waltz down the castle stairs, blonde hair flowing wild past slight Gaelic shoulders.
‘Do you like her poems?’
Juana took her hand off my arm and, although there wasn’t enough light to be sure, it looked for a brief second like she was smiling.
‘More drink,’ she said, leaning down over the arm of the sofa and coming back with a refilled cup of neon green stuff.
I didn’t have the energy or the will to say no…in fact, I wanted more as it was quite tasty…so I took it from her and drank half of it in one go. Then leaned back into the sofa and concentrated on the filmn again.
Ah, good timing. Agravita was in the bath, with Vulianko and her dagger opposite, and Duckula watching from a peep hole in the wall. I’m coming closer towards you, said Agravita, breasts partially cloaked by hanging blonde curls. Don’t you dare, replied Vulianko, nipples distorted just below the surface. If I hadn’t been so exhausted, so absorbed in the fog, I would’ve got hard, but as it was, I just sat there and appreciated the set design, the actress placement.
‘Do you like Lexi?’ asked Juana, as Agravita reached an arm forward.
I tilted left, looking at the woman who’d quoted Tomomi Itō – a theorist I’d only half read – the low-hanging collar of her Tenebrae t-shirt, the tattoo text on her forearm that I hadn’t noticed earlier. This is no church. Her napping position, the vague squint on her face…her hand still on my thigh.
‘Yes,’ I answered, finally.
‘I don’t know.’
‘She quoted someone I know,’ I said, sliding down into the couch, giving the keys over completely to my subconscious.
‘Has the same name as Lexi Alexander.’
‘Palestinian-American filmn-maker. Martial artist.’
‘Pretty. Slim. Tits.’
There was another pause in the questioning, so I looked at the projection screen again, hoping to see the Agravita and Duckula sex scene. Nope. It was way beyond that. Somehow they’d got to the end of the filmn already. Agravita in the snow outside the castle, pursued by the purple drone bee trying to mesmerise her back to the Count.
‘Do you like Lexi enough to stay here?’
‘Yes,’ I answered, eyes still on the screen.
‘In the video caffé?’
‘As a worker?’
‘Good. Very good.’
Taking the cup out of my hand, Juana slipped into the folds of the fog for a few seconds, then came back and gently guided my head away from the screen.
‘Stay fixed on my eyes,’ she said, pupils a blurred yellow.
‘No wavering. Pure focus on me. This face.’
I did as she said, keeping my whole head steady as she placed fingernails against my temple, and then…without preamble…began slowly, methodically pushing them in.
There was no pain, just the soft, insistent tone of her voice.
‘You’ve been working here for three days. Fresno seems like a cool place. Sadia’s gone to Portland, she’s fine. You should talk to Lexi more. You’ve been working here for three days. Fresno seems like a cool place. Sadia’s gone to Portland, she’s fine. You should talk to Lexi more. You’ve been working here for three days. Fresno seems like a…’