[Void Galaxia] Chapter 48: Alt Route To Fresno


Drunk treading water

mottled blonde hair in the way as

I try to circle round

find the best method to hold her without leaking any more blood.

‘One hand on the shoulder, other on the waist,’ shouts Nick from the pier, dressed in Moon Prison shirt and Moon Prison cap, ‘before the eel comes out.’

I do another lap and try again but

this Lady in the Lake is resistant

almost life-like

her mouth yawning open, letting out the eel

its eyes shark-like and

there’s static from the pier, Lexi hanging down, struggling with the tannoy device, shouting at the wooden boards above her head that she’s nearly got it, just a few more twists of the wrench and

Nick yells again,

‘grab her fucking shoulder, Keni, quicker

before the eel comes back,’

but I can’t

it’s too hard to get a grip, her body’s too

out there

cavernous in a-


At breakfast, we all sat perched on the edges of high stools, studying the nostalgic Arrowhead paintings, hoping the sun flowing in through the patio screen door wouldn’t persuade Nick to lasso us into another day of lake activities.

Actually, I didn’t really care if we stayed or fled – home had been a nebulous thing for a while now, family too – but I knew Lexi’s mind was set.

She’d repeated it three times in bed the night before, and twice this morning before coming down.

‘Need to go home, sleep in my own bed.’

What Juana thought…no idea. She just sat there in her Spider Demon t-shirt, rotating a pear on the table surface, possibly a come down from fucking the simulated version of Maika Monroe the previous night. Or being rejected by her. Rejected and…

‘Pretty day,’ said Nick, finally, finishing off the dregs of his juice.

I sucked in kitchen air, waiting for the next line…

‘I’ll go start the car.’

…and released.


Thankfully, by car he didn’t mean the usual Lego thing we’d been riding around in, but a semi-vintage KIA stinger he’d apparently borrowed from next door. A generous neighbour who owed him a favour [allegedly].

He didn’t say which one, and none of us really cared as this set of wheels was a definite upgrade. Safer, too. Looked like it might actually be possible to crawl out if Nick suddenly went full alien and drove into the lake, as opposed to the Lego thing which would’ve pinned us in for sure.

‘Five hour drive to Fresno,’ said Lexi, as Nick pulled out onto the main road without checking right. ‘Down to the 210, switch to the five-way and end on the 99.’

‘Relax, comrade, I know which way to go,’ he replied, patting Juana on the knee.

‘Without Auto-Nav?’

That stumped him for a second, and me too. Then I noticed the small hole where the Auto-Nav should’ve been. ‘Guess he must’ve taken it out,’ Nick said finally.

‘Your micro car didn’t have it either.’

‘Never mind. Alien knowledge plus phone should be sufficient. Juana, you ready?’

The Mexican poked her finger in the Auto-Nav hole and said, ‘.’

‘In Yaqui?’

‘… …’

‘If we don’t make any stops, we could get there for lunch,’ I said, offering Lexi some vague optimism as she gave up on the front seat nonsense, straightened out the Xxun the Neutrino Alchemist t-shirt and dropped her head down on my shoulder.

‘The two of us, okay.’

‘Of course.’

Our new spacious set of wheels carried on round the lakeside road, past the trail towards the creepy Reagan shack, Andi Chopra’s villa on the left, the western shore, all of it observed through a haze lens as I was still half asleep.

Just before the corner that led straight to the main part of the town, Nick pulled over and pointed at the blood red roof of a mansion sticking up over a closed gate.

‘You wanna knock on the door, invite her along?’ he asked, turning to Juana.

‘… … …’

‘Who?’ I asked, squinting at the sign on the wall.

‘Why are we already stopping?’ tried Lexi, leaving my shoulder.

Nick ignored us both and stayed with the Yaqui native. ‘Not as malleable, but looks-wise…’

‘Keep driving, por favor.’

‘Or you could just eat her.’

‘Pedal. Drive.’

‘Yeah, drive, please,’ seconded Lexi, staring at the road to the left, the way out of this adventurist void-scape.

‘Okay. Your call.’

The car backed up and rejoined the main road, with neither Nick nor Juana adding anything more. In the back, Lexi abandoned my shoulder and leaned instead against the window, pulling vacantly at her t-shirt collar, while I slouched back and tried to figure out whose mansion that was.

The gut said Maika Monroe, cos Juana had cycled there in the Lake Arrowhead VR, but there was no way to be sure.

And I only knew about five of the residents anyway.

Two of them female.

An image of Malina Weissman getting her ass thumped by a pensioner careened in and out of my brain, then reconfigured itself with two test dummy inserts, fucking in a more normal way.

Yeah, Maika Monroe’s house.

Had to be.


According to Nick, it was about an hour to Pasadena, giving us enough time to sit back in Tarkovskyian silence and watch the San Something Valley roll by.

Nick tried a few tangents – Big Bear Lake, forest fires, a centre for abandoned pets in Bakersfield that taught them how to count and read – but nothing stuck, so he resorted instead to humming melodies and tapping the wheel.

Lexi kept her post by the window, staring at the bungalow shacks drifting by.

On my side, it was the mountains.

Valley people.

Huge sections of broken road.

Car Insurance boards.

Sidewalk fires [for burning rubbish].

And the occasional recharge station.

When we started creeping up on the fringes of LA, Nick stopped humming and asked if there were any good places to visit in the city.

‘Me?’ I asked, confused.

‘Dude, you were there for about two minutes. I’m asking Lexi.’

‘Don’t know,’ she answered in a slow drawl.

‘What about Redundant Beach?’

Lexi glanced at Nick through the windscreen mirrror. ‘Ask Juana. She lived in LA for years.’

‘Yeah, but you lived there recently. More up to date info.’

‘Why are we talking about LA?’ asked Juana, winding down the passenger window an inch and letting in some breeze.

‘Prep and planning. We need to find some scumbags for you to eat.’

‘Not hungry.’

‘And as we’re right next to a capitalist stronghold…’ A car to the side suddenly cut in front, provoking Nick into a tirade of fuck neologisms and horn smacks. ‘Dude, there’s the first candidate. Probably a TV producer. Nah, but we can’t do anyone famous…even vaguely famous…which rules out Bel Air and Maliboot. How about West Hollywood? I heard that’s pretty depraved.’

‘I’m not that kind of hungry,’ Juana said again, winding down the window an inch more.

‘You will be at some point.’

No hoy satanás.’

‘Plenty of scumbags for her to choose from in Fresno,’ said Lexi, rolling up the sleeve of her Xxun Alchemist t-shirt – another habit, along with the collar pinching, that I’d noticed in the last day or two.

‘What, the Neo-Nazis?’

‘For starters, yeah.’

‘That’s your normal diet?’ he asked, turning to Juana.

‘Fresno,’ she replied, sticking her arm down the outside of the door.

‘Strange answer.’

‘Familiar terrain. Comfortable.’

Nick muttered more than LA? then finger-tapped the wheel. ‘Okay, Fresno it is then.’


Glendale was after Pasadena, then a switch to the Five-Way, but for some reason Nick chose to continue right on the 210, telling a white stain on the windscreen that he hated Glendale for reasons that were too opaque to go into.

I thought of asking anyway, but we were already quite far along the highway, so I shifted over to Lexi and asked her about her time in LA instead.

‘Later,’ she answered, fairly abruptly.


‘When we’re alone.’

She took my hand as compensation and stroked the palm, her eyes going back to the scenery outside that was split almost binarily into strip desert on the right, stark mountain vistas on the left.


After an hour of continually driving north east, Lexi leaned forward and told Nick he was going the wrong way.

‘It’s an alternative route…’

‘No, we’re heading in the wrong direction. See, the sign says 395 now. That goes up to the east side of Yosemite.’

‘She’s right,’ confirmed Juana, seemingly waking up from a trance as she swayed her head left and then right before finally using her hands to manually steady herself.

‘I’m taking us in via Lake Isabella. That’s this way.’

‘Can I borrow your phone?’ asked Lexi.

‘Trust me, I’ve done this trip before.’


Nick reached forward and brushed invisible dust off the dashboard, which seemed like a no, so Juana snuck her hand into his jacket pocket and took it for him. A couple of swipes and she had the map up. ‘Lake Isabella?’


‘We’ve gone past it already.’

‘What? Are you sure?’

‘We need to go back and turn left onto the…no, turn right if we’re going south…turn right onto the 178 and…Lake Isabella is maybe twenty minutes away.’

Nick covered Juana’s hand and shifted the phone screen towards himself, laughing when she repeated 178, then calling the stain on the windscreen an idiot.

‘Must be immersion haze from last night,’ he explained, spinning the wheel and doing a no-look turn into the opposite lane.

Luckily, no other cars were around.

Or speed cams.

Just a faded yellow sign promoting Yosemite.

And a deserted payment booth underneath.


My projected lunch in Fresno, just the two of us, Lexi now became a club sandwich at an abandoned camping ground on the east shore of Lake Isabella. Which, for some reason, still had its price banner up: $31 per night base charge, extra $11 for each person, $13 for pets, $10 for each vehicle, $4 per hour of campfire duration, $25 security coverage, $9 for noise allowance, and about forty other extortionate add-ons.

‘Fucking adventurists…always a dozen fucking devils in the details…’ Lexi said, her tone surprisingly caustic.

‘At least it’s quiet,’ replied Nick, scanning the lake.

‘Yeah, like a graveyard.’

‘Hmm…or a small moon. Governed by a suffocating hologram.’


‘With a graveyard nearby.’

‘…I suppose.’ Lexi took another bite of the sandwich, dropping some lettuce bits on Xxun the Neutrino Alchemist. ‘Fuck…kuso…’

‘Is that a coffee shop over there?’ Nick continued, oblivious.

‘Coffee?’ I asked back, frowning as the lettuce bits were switched to my hoodie sleeve.

‘Yes, it is. An actual coffee shop.’

‘Huh? I can’t see anything. Where?’

‘Of all the places…’

‘Is it behind us?’

The door opened, Nick slid out. ‘Back in five.’



After finishing the meal [and leaving the crusts], Lexi and I got out of the car to stretch our legs a bit, walking to the edge of the water and attempting to skim non-flat pebbles on the surface.

Juana stayed in the passenger seat, napping.

‘You think he’s messing with us?’ asked Lexi, picking up yet another ill-shaped stone and lobbing it grenade-like into the water.

‘The alternative route thing?’


‘I don’t know. Maybe.’

She frowned, picking up another stone…then dropping it back down again when she saw dried bird shit.

‘It was weird that he avoided Glendale.’

‘And took us up the 395.’

I threw a stone of my own, getting three skims. ‘You don’t think that was an honest mistake?’

‘No one accidentally goes the route he did, it’s impossible.’

‘Even for an alien?’

She gave up on throwing and wedged the tip of her shoe under a fairly large rock.

‘We’ll both keep an eye on him this time…’


‘…make sure there are no more weird turns.’

‘…but a soft eye.’

Leaning back, she flicked up the rock and gave out a single ha when it landed a foot short of the water.


After a few more throws, we headed back to the car and…hissed out fuuuuuck and kusssoooo when it wasn’t there anymore.

‘Tracks,’ said Lexi, pointing at the clear tire marks up ahead, and we followed them for two, three hundred metres, cursing that devious alien fuck every step of the way. Finally, the car materialised between a large rock and a shack, with Nick perched on the bonnet, happily chatting to another guy. As we got closer, I realized it wasn’t any ordinary guy, it was a mountain; large, bearded, bitter-eyed, with a flak jacket that said Serbian Death Squad – that literal text, in English – on the back.

‘Jano here has invited us in for a coffee,’ said Nick, sliding down off the bonnet, eyes beaming pure neutrinos.

‘Sorry, no time,’ answered Lexi quickly, nudging me in the side.

‘We are pretty rushed.’

‘Okay, no problem. A coffee by the car then. That okay with you, big guy?’

Jano looked past Nick, at Juana in the front seat, and scratched dry flakes of skin off his neck. When there were no more left, he grunted.

‘Great. You go brew up four cups, I’ll fill in these guys about your hobby.’

‘Takeaway cups?’ I asked, getting another nudge.

‘Wah…don’t be so rude, Keni. Jano here is a very interesting guy. Very ethical, too.’

The big Serb shoved a hand in his trouser pocket, eyes still glued to Juana. ‘She speak English?’

‘Coffee first, big man, chat with the lovely Juana later.’

‘Yeah, actually, can we just skip the coffee and go?’ asked Lexi, tone not even close to making it a question.

‘You haven’t heard what Jano does here yet.’

‘Don’t really care. No offence.’

It was a redundant supplement as Jano was too busy walking round the side of the car, one hand still wedged inside his trouser pocket, the other running a fingernail along the paintwork.

‘He makes cyborg dogs,’ continued Nick, gesturing to a shack to the left of the slightly bigger shack that had JANO COFFEE painted on it. ‘Trained to attack criminals. Without mercy. That’s his workshopp over there.’

‘Cyborg dogs?’

Jano knocked on the window of the passenger side and waited for Juana to wake up and wind it down. It took about a minute, but finally she managed it, sticking her head halfway out and asking, ‘what’s going on?’ directly to Nick.

‘I got a private server VR inside, state of the art,’ said Jano, putting a giant hand in front of her face. ‘You can come next to me, patch in.’

Juana blinked half-comatose, then squinted. ‘Who are you?’

‘Or we sit on the couch, play with cyborg dogs. It is also okay.’


Grinning like a JAL-bot pimp with a monopoly on the Miho model, Nick walked over and clamped a hand on Jano’s shoulder. ‘It’s okay, comrade, I’ll show you his workshopp after. You’ll feel completely guilt free. I promise.’

‘… … … …’

‘What she say?’ asked Jano, peeling off Nick’s hand.

‘Think of it as storage food.’

‘… … … … … … …’

‘Come on, at least use Spanish.’

Juana sat up straight, and started to wind up the window.

‘Hey, what is happening?’ demanded Jano, giving Nick a hard shove in the shoulder…then coughing…spitting up blood…dropping like a sack of cyborg parts on to the dirt…and crawling a few feet to a small metal sign that spelled out JA O P ACE in broken radium tubes.

‘Fine. Onto Fresno then.’

Nick bent down and grabbed a chunk of Jano’s morally questionable jacket then, with no warm-up breaths or please god please, lifted him up to waist height. ‘Get in the car, I’ll be back out in a second.’

Lexi was already by the car door, putting my Damijana Chu hoodie on, while I stood and watched Nick carry a two hundred odd pound man like a grocery bag over to the workshopp shack.

It shouldn’t have been a huge surprise, I’d hit him before and he just looked at me as if I were a four year old child with sponge hands…but part of my brain clearly thought it deserved some astonishment.

An alien with super strength.

And memory altering purple shit in his fingers.

Driving us around in a KIA stinger.

With no Auto-nav.

‘Stop gawping,’ shouted Lexi from inside the car, and it was enough to break through. I opened the door on my side and shifted over to the middle, telling them both that we should probably be nice to him for a while, at least until we got to Fresno.

‘Or just nap like Juana until we’re back,’ countered Lexi.

‘Also a good idea.’

A few minutes later, the driver’s door opened and Nick collapsed onto his seat with an exaggerated outpouring of breath. ‘You had your chance, Juana. Sorry.’

‘Fresno,’ she replied, opening one eye.

‘What did you do with Jano?’ I asked, not really sure I wanted to know the answer.

‘Left him in the bosom of his work.’

I flicked the top of my thumb with my fingernails. ‘You mean…’

‘He’s in the workshopp.’


Nick sat up, looked over the driver’s seat, shook his head at Lexi’s hoodie.

‘…near the door or…’

‘The dogs are eating him, Keni. And making weird synth noises while doing it. That enough detail for you?’


To keep my brain from sliding off into some horror dimension with Nick as the emcee, I quickly decided that he was joking and that the cyborg dogs were still locked up tight in their cages.

It seemed like Lexi had done a similar thing, compartmentalizing the weird stuff and then grabbing Nick’s phone again to make sure he didn’t sway from the designated path.

He still tried it though, pointing at the mountains to the right of the 178 and saying how that was the secret, more interesting way to enter Fresno.

‘30km. Bakersfield. Switch to the 99.’

‘Dude, so robotic…’

‘Goes straight to Fresno.’

‘Like a cyborg dog.’

Lexi leaned forward and put her hand on the back of Nick’s seat. For a moment, I thought she was going to hit him or scrape nails down his neck, but instead she smiled and said, ‘please, Nick.’

It seemed to do the trick.

Or confused him enough to nod and not turn right at the next junction.

‘Fresno express it is, comrade.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Guess we’ll have to check out Cedar Grove some other time.’


By the time we arrived at the outskirts of Fresno, the sky was ethereal pink.

Nick stopped the car next to a billboard sign still promoting Grape Fest from the week before – or two weeks before – and told us to take a minute to appreciate the view.

It wasn’t said in an insistent tone so we stayed where we were, me staring at the grape fields through the windscreen, Lexi looking at the highway to the left and Juana napping like a baby.

‘How about some fresh air?’ asked Nick, pushing open his door. ‘A walk in the grape rows?’

‘I’m okay,’ I said, then almost tumbled out onto the grass when my door swung open.

Nick circled the car, doing the same to Lexi and Juana, showing just enough care to catch the latter with one arm as she dropped.

‘I’m not sleeping out here,’ said Lexi, shuffling forward and leaning on the bonnet.

‘All I thought was,’ answered Nick, guiding Juana to the steps behind the billboard sign and seating her on the first row, ‘we could sit for a while, watch the AH-bots work over there in the field.’

‘It is weirdly relaxing,’ I said, joining Lexi on the bonnet.

‘Until the locals turn up and start fucking on the grass.’


‘This is a black picnic spot. Code for teenage sex site.’

‘Ah…that explains all these tied up condoms,’ said Nick, peering through the slats of the steps.

‘Well, there’s no one here now,’ I said, looking around, smiling when I saw Nick holding Juana up by the shoulders, as if he were trying to promote the Moon Factory Ø pic on her hoodie. ‘Just us and the AH-bots.’

‘And memories.’

‘Huh, you’ve been here before?’

‘Not my memories. Other people’s.’ Nick looked at Lexi, who was suddenly pretending to monitor the shifting purple fade in the sky. ‘Your young poetess, Sadia, for example. She came to this spot before.’

‘How you know that?’ slurred Juana, jerking upwards, and instantly switching to grinding the side of her head.

‘Alien magic.’

‘You got her trace?’

‘Aspects of it.’

I pushed off the bonnet and walked over, sitting down next to Juana, who appeared to be acting out some kind of paganistic head dance. Possibly a migraine. But that didn’t matter…what about Sadia? The rational side of me was saying, forget it, she’s in Portland, you’ve never even met her, but the other side, the sensualist…

‘This bench we’re on,’ Nick continued, pressing the tip of his finger onto the metal board, ‘she sat in this exact place. Watching a boy messing around with one of those AH-bots.’

‘And now?’

‘That takes determination. Process.’

‘Actually…I’m pretty sure she’s in Portland,’ I said, nudging Juana and disrupting her head massage. ‘Sadia sent you an email, remember?’

‘A brief one.’

‘Possible she’s still there.’ Nick put the metal board finger against the palm of his other hand and activated purple mist. ‘It’ll take a day or two to follow the source. Though I suspect she’s not alone.’

‘Boyfriend,’ I muttered, glancing over at Lexi, who didn’t seem to be listening to any of this.

‘Girlfriend?’ asked Juana, hitting her temples.

‘The last time I was here…in my other guise…I paid a visit to her housse. There was a tree outside her bedroom window.’

‘I know that tree, I climbed it.’ My voice was rushed, excited, and loud enough this time to bring Lexi away from the pink sky. ‘After she disappeared.’

‘You wanted to spy on her?’ asked Lexi, pushing off the bonnet, arms crossed.

‘No, she wasn’t there, I was just…checking out the area. There was a weird guy nearby, with sunglasses…’

I trailed off, as Lexi half-smiled and sat down on the bench next to me.

‘Pervert,’ she said softly.


‘He wasn’t the only one,’ interrupted Nick, replacing Juana’s hand with his own,  digging fingertips into her skull. ‘One of the branches had a trace on it…another guy had sat there, before Sadia left. The same guy who is now in Portland.’

‘Wah, he followed her?’

‘Unclear. But his mind…’

Juana shrugged off Nick and used my knee as leverage to lift herself up. Then, with one hand rubbing her head again, staggered back to the passenger’s side of the door.

‘We have to…’ she started to say, before slamming face first into the car window and sliding down onto an emaciated patch of brown grass.

Nick was the first over, propping her up against the passenger door and putting two fingers firm against her forehead.

‘Is she okay?’ asked Lexi, hovering by his shoulder.

‘I warned her to eat something…’

‘She fainted?’ I asked, coming round the other side.

‘Fucking stubborn Yaqui lunatic…I warned her…gave her the guy on a fucking plate. Fuck.’

‘Nick…is she okay?’

‘Ah…we need to get her a meal. Quickly.’


‘Use your fucking brain, Keni.’

I paused, trying not to let in the basement scene. ‘But…it’s only been, what? Two days?’

‘Not even that,’ edited Lexi, putting a cautious hand on Juana’s hoodie sleeve.

‘And she’s already hungry again?’

There was no response, just a distant humming noise from a re-charging AH-Bot in a nearby grape row.


‘Addiction cramps…’


‘Expected but…kept tight under that Yaqui bonnet. No, Kip was just a snack. One that was both half-assed and interrupted…nowhere near enough.’ Nick looked way back, past the billboard promoting expired grape festivals, towards the distant blocks of Fresno sealed under the darkening yet still quite pinkish sky. ‘She needs something bigger. Something substantial…’

‘In Fresno?’

‘…or she’s done.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s