Curved bench looking out at the Byrgius Crater embedded in the ceiling, though I knew it wasn’t really
it was just that gap between the eighth dream and reality
and a few screams of drift-cascade later
or ambivalent reality if I went with a matching A word
and then, with eyes staggered open
back room of video caffé reality
little bit cold.
The duvet was absent from my body and, flipping over onto my right side, I saw why; it was wrapped around Lexi again, tight as a Mexican-made burrito, same trick she’d done before. I pulled some back, despite not being that cold, and thought about running a finger down the tabs of her spines.
Maybe not a good idea.
She was still wearing her t-shirt from the night before, one of the Tenebrae work ones she kept in the other room.
And I was still in my Damijana Chu hoodie.
The symbolism was transparent…to me…owner of the cursed double brain. Could not be bothered to fuck. Or in my case, too anxious to attempt it. Even pushing into the mattress and picturing the naked space vampire from Lifeforce didn’t spark anything. Nor did staring at the nine-tenths naked Sci-Fi queen flaking off my top.
Was this the experiment?
Delayed side effects?
I drifted over Lexi’s back and went up and down the spines of the stacked DVD cases. It was similar to looking at my mum’s living room. The other one…not in Liverpool, Japan…my Japanese mum.
Was I close to her?
Or had I been, before the experiment?
Unlikely, given how I could barely picture her face.
Lexi made a moaning sound, hopefully not sexual, and turned to face the ceiling. Her hand foraged for mine and found it, slotting fingers through the gaps.
The eyes stayed closed.
Then opened cat-like at the knock on the door.
I sat up, accidentally doing a stomach crunch, and grunted good morning at Nick, who was already pushing the door open.
‘Go time,’ he said, frowning at something on the bed.
‘Juana…’ said Lexi, pulling the duvet back up across her shoulders.
‘Drinking coffee in the caffé.’
‘Like yesterday never happened. Come on, up. The sun’s already halfway across the sky and we’ve got a lot of road to cover.’
‘Eventually. In a roundabout way.’ He slapped a hand against the door, accidentally taking down a corner of the STAFF ONLY sign [made of paper]. ‘Why are neither of you moving?’
Both Lexi and I stayed tight under the duvet, apparently too coy to show even our t-shirts.
‘Ahh…couple of prudes. Fine, door closing. But if you’re not up in the next two minutes, I’m coming in and dragging you out.’
‘We’re coming…’ I said, sticking a leg out.
Fucking alien dad.
No…alien drill instructor.
After grabbing a quick breakfast from the caffé supplies, we got in our alien overlord’s [borrowed] vintage KIA stinger and hit the road again.
His tentative plan was to head straight up towards Sacramento, keep following the Five-Way then deviate onto the 97 and stay the night in one of those novelty-themed small town hostels. The reasoning was logical enough; just going up the same monster highway for almost twelve hours would end him, especially as he wouldn’t let anyone else drive.
As usual though, the plan quickly disintegrated, this time at the hands of Lexi and myself. And our logic was even stronger: we’d been wearing the same t-shirts for the last two days and didn’t have any replacements.
‘No problem, I can buy you both new stuff,’ Nick offered, casually flicking a licorice stick he’d taken from the caffé out the window.
‘My flat’s two blocks west at the next junction,’ shot back Lexi, arms draped over the top of both front seats, eyes on the road ahead.
‘That’s very precise.’
‘We’ll just pop in quick, grab Mark’s luggage, grab some of my clothes…’
‘And your language books.’
Lexi paused, shifting to Nick’s side of the windscreen.
‘After all this, you’re still alarmed?’ he asked, taking out a new licorice stick and shoving two thirds of it in his mouth.
‘How do you know about my language books?’
‘Ha, that’s a yes then. Don’t worry, I’m not a stalker. It’s all that memory residue up there, from the surgery I performed. Sorry…surgeries.’
‘You know, thinking about it…from a human perspective, I mean…it is a fairly intrusive act. Fiddling with someone’s brain. If you want, I can let you do it to me? Balance things up a bit.’
‘Why would you-…what other memory residue did you see?’
‘But then…the logistics of that…with your limited natural abilities…’
‘What else did you see?’
‘Fuck…a bit loud there, Lexitron.’
Hearing the same feral tone, I put a hand on Lexi’s hoodie sleeve and, as expected, got swatted off immediately.
‘I’m not Lexitron. What else did you look at in my brain?’
‘Still a bit loud.’
‘What else? Tell me.’
Juana took a break from putting cream over the weird yellow marks around her mouth and turned to the back seat. ‘Relájate querida. He didn’t get it from your memories. I told him.’
‘Sì. He wanted to know more about your life.’
‘Why?’ I asked, pushing into the gap between the front seats, half reflex, half tactical [to stop Lexi springing forward and doing something stupid].
‘He wanted to know what books I had in my bedroom? He asked you that directly?’
‘And you told him?’
‘But…why?’ came out of my mouth again, a little dumber this time.
Nick chewed off the end of the licorice and tossed it out the window, smiling when it hit the back window of the car next to us. ‘Truthfully…I was considering hijacking Lexi’s brain. Making her my next identity after this one. Putting her in the old ice bucket and…siding up to young Keni here.’
There was no point any of us saying what, even Juana.
‘Joking. Comrades are always off limits. Triton rule.’
‘And sorry Juana, but you’re wrong. I actually did pick it up from your brain, Lexi, when I was helping you deal with your bathtub ordeal. You studying four different languages at the same time, the books in your room. Then I asked Juana and she confirmed it. Yeah, don’t do victim face again. I didn’t dig out anything else, I swear.’ He paused, tapping another licorice stick against his lips. ‘Which doesn’t mean much cos technically I could be lying and you wouldn’t know a thing about it. None of you would. But the language thing, the skill level…that’s just a potentialism thing, right? You’re not actually fluent in any of them, you just want to be on the way to it.’
Lexi slouched back in the seat and gave herself over to the window.
‘It’s quite admirable, really…that kind of task-setting.’
‘You missed the turn,’ she said, moving to fold her arms then changing her mind and half crossing them awkwardly instead.
‘Not a problem.’
He swerved into the other lane and headed back, flicking a half-chewed licorice stick at the only car that bothered to beep at him.
‘Fucking lunatic…’ Lexi said, pushing herself back up.
‘Yeah, don’t know how they can even get a license. Reaction time of a fucking koala. Which street are you on again?’
It took a little longer than advertised to shift all our stuff out of Lexi’s flat, mostly cos she spent the first seven minutes standing monk-still in the living room, fixated on a wall she claimed was weird in some way then, after that was done, took me by the hand to her room and blurted out in a controlled whisper how fucking annoying Nick was sometimes.
‘You mean just now?’
‘Beyond annoying. Patting me on the head like a dog cos I’m learning languages, then saying I’m not fluent in any of them…as if he knows what my level is.’
‘Yeah, that was pretty weird.’
‘What he really wanted to say was, ah, all three of us are fluent in something and you’re not. You, Juana and him. But he’s got the purple shit, the alien thing…that’s why he’s fluent in all this. Or it probably is…’
I picked up her Japanese study book, flicking through some random pages. ‘Only reason I know Japanese is cos of a failed science experiment. It’s not a talent.’
‘I mean, he’s okay sometimes, like last night in the Nightmare Castle dungeon, for about five seconds, but…then he gets whimsical and starts trying to wind us up.’
‘Maybe we should ask him more alien questions.’
‘It’s weird…like, one minute he’s trying to keep us all together, saying we have to save Juana, and the next minute he’s calling you a weakling, and me dumb and emotional.’
‘Or just block him out?’
‘Like he’s schizophrenic or something. Yeah, block him out, good idea. Just me and you in a back seat bubble.’
‘We can practice Japanese…’ I said, holding up the study book.
‘Or Portuguese. He doesn’t speak that.’
‘And if he does, we switch to Slovene. There’s no way he’ll know that one.’
I closed the book and looked towards the bed…pictured the two of us merged with each other, her telling me to hold her tight…then switched quickly to the door.
‘Ah, we better get down there, before he decides to come up,’ said Lexi, grabbing her half-packed rucksack.
In the corridor outside, a door opened and, ten seconds later, the TV came on. Followed by inaccurate Japanese sounds mimicked by what I assumed was Lexi’s flat mate.
‘Fuck…’ she muttered, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
‘Your flat mate?’
‘Thought he’d sleep later.’
‘Well…at least now you don’t have to send him a message.’
Back in the car, Nick must’ve telepathically detected Lexi’s rant upstairs cos, as soon as the doors shut, he admitted with caught cop face that his own language skills were basically implanted.
‘The purple?’ Lexi asked back, almost a grunt.
‘And Keni only speaks two languages due to a botched science experiment. So, compared to us, you’re doing pretty well.’
I laughed, provoking a quizzical look from Nick, then asked Juana if she needed to stop off and get more clothes.
‘You got enough from the caffé?’ asked Lexi.
‘Two dresses, and this one.’
‘No need to panic, querida. My plan is to buy in Portland. Upgrade my wardrobe to something more seasonal. Nick said he’s going to do the same.’
For the eyes of Sadia was my initial response, but I didn’t put roots on it. No way of telling how much that level of directness would debilitate her.
‘Any more stops you want to make?’ asked Nick, pulling out of Lexi’s street and onto the main road.
‘No, soy buena.’
He smiled, taking both hands off the wheel and stretching upwards. ‘Good, good. Then it’s Oakland in about two hours, comrades.’
Despite Nick’s slight mellowing-stroke-confession, Lexi and I spent the first hour sticking to what we’d planned out in her flat, which was practicing beginner level Portuguese.
Juana and Nick mostly stayed out of it, watching the grape farms roll by, the AH-bots propped up by the KEV-poles, recharging for their afternoon shifts.
Occasionally, Juana would say ‘eh?’ and turn back, telling us that something we just said sounded like Spanish.
‘About seventy per cent’s the same, right?’ asked Lexi, for some reason facing me.
‘Não sabe,’ I muttered, quickly scanning the phrases on my phone.
‘Não sei,’ she corrected, checking her own phone. ‘That’s what I read anyway. Around seventy per cent the same, but the sounds are a bit different. I could be wrong though. Juana, how much can you understand?’
‘Of what you said?’
‘No sé. Most of it sounds like Russian to me.’
‘Fifty per cent? Less?’
Lexi looked at her phone and read out a sentence in a pretty strong Portuguese accent. ‘That one?’
‘You don’t want to go to work?’
‘Ah, you can understand.’
‘It’s correct? Wah, the stars must be aligned…cos all the other things you said were just-…’
Nick cut in with a librarian’s cough and told us that Oakland was now only fifty kilometres away, so get prepared, physical and mentally. When that didn’t get much of a response, he coughed again, louder, more wretched, and launched into what I quickly realized would be a monologue. One that started with, ‘you might know this, Keni, from that book you read, but you other two…’
As with most Nick tangents during the past week or so, I had almost no idea what he was talking about at first, or second or third, but then he name-dropped Jeff Fahey and anarchism, and I managed to get a foothold. Apparently, around fifteen years earlier, most of the Oakland district had morphed into the skeleton of an anarcho-communist collective, even more radical than Liverpool’s or the ones in Ghana, and the adventurists of that time…the capitalists…could do fuck all about it. The people were a unit, coordinating with local farms and utilities, buying enough of their own properties to keep a solid grip on the area, and staying strong and united when the cop-agents were sent in.
‘But the one thing the capitalists always have…’ said Nick, chewing on his seven hundredth licorice stick, ‘…is patience.’
‘And capital,’ I added, sarcastic enough for the words to go nowhere.
The sermon giver coughed, threw away the licorice stick, continued.
‘Slowly the fox-faced fuckers wormed their way back in. Starting on the fringes…buying up unused land, abandoned car parks, strip malls…then moving in on the core, which, in the case of Oakland, meant the Ervin Complex. They utilized their supreme weapons, the unrivalled enervators. Plastic shit. Burgers. Coupons. Capital as well, obviously, and others too, but I’ve forgotten…to be honest, it’s been a while since I read about it. But this is the devilry we’re driving into, guys…the evil of your system, what it does to a place.’
‘There was a similar thing in LA,’ said Lexi, taking a break from her window vigil. ‘Got co-opted, gentrified.’
‘Before I was there.’
‘In Redundant Beach?’
‘Hmm, very sad. Very, very sad. What was it you did there again?’
‘Ha, funny. No, but what did you do there, really? And how miserable was it that it made you go back to a backwater like Fresno?’
‘Construction,’ Lexi repeated, staring at Nick through the windscreen mirror, holding the stare until he looked away.
‘Just a question…’
The words drifted through the car without response from anyone.
Juana started humming a melody with occasional Spanish inserts, possibly a ploy to lighten the mood. Or to stop her own mood drifting to…other thoughts. Like the vapour from that kid’s brain the previous night. Or the possibility that the stuff she took from Nick’s alien brain wouldn’t hold and at some point she’d-…
Nah, too bleak.
Not a match with the blue sky outside.
And, besides, she was humming…jauntily…
I went back to my phone, switching tabs to Big Brain Bakunin, trying the first paragraph of Why Bukharin Got Lost In Sociology.
To my left, Lexi lost herself in the view outside, waiting out a good few minutes of signs and signifieds before coming back in and nudging me in the waist. ‘You wanna try a different article?’
‘Not BBB. Portuguese. Something a little more challenging maybe.’
‘Yeah, that one.’
Forty minutes later, Nick’s previous monologue was put into visuals as the city of Oakland emerged.
Artisan shopps interrupted by the odd GUV Burger, a whole strip of VR plazas flanked by related merch stalls, and then the Ervin Complex, which had a huge banner hanging down from its roof, declaring in giant capitalized text: WHERE THERE IS REPRESSION, THERE IS RESISTANCE.
Below that was a branch of HELL OH Coffee trussed up with 1st generation Black Panther icons; the Fred Hampton face beaming like an evangelical, raised fist on one side, cartoon cup on the other [its face also beaming].
‘See what I mean?’ said Nick, steering us left onto a street where thankfully there were no more franchises.
‘Pretty bleak,’ I muttered, tapping Lexi’s arm to wake her up.
‘Colourful,’ said Juana, winding down the window.
‘Reminds me of Cuba.’
‘Good aesthetic. Vibrant.’
It had been a while since breakfast, so we found a place that sold decent Mexican food, sat down and waited for Nick to say something random or needlessly provocative.
Or both combined.
Miraculously, it didn’t happen. He just sat there and stared off at the nearby roof of the Ervin Centre, saying how depressed Lorenzo would be if he were still alive.
‘Was he a famous anarchist?’ I asked, biting into my burrito and instantly dropping half the ingredients out the other end.
‘That is a contradictory question.’
‘Or it should be. Didn’t you retain anything from the Fahey book?’
‘I flicked through it twice.’
He muttered something in Japanese, which I couldn’t quite catch…may have been don’t bother…then put his death glare on Lexi, who quickly asked him what kind of political system Triton had.
Laughing and offering a quick, ‘clever girl,’ he switched to Juana, who was using her little finger to rub sour cream off her lips, and, when that was cleared, venturing a little further to the mysterious yellow marks from earlier.
‘What?’ she asked, noticing the sudden attention.
‘Just admiring your dress,’ replied Nick, drinking some of his beer. ‘Very summery.’
‘That’s because it was bought for summer.’
‘Never seen you wear this one before,’ said Lexi, leaning over and taking some of my coffee. I gave her a surprised look as she’d said she wasn’t thirsty, but she just shrugged and took some more.
‘Not much need for it at work. Besides, it was mostly for LA, when I lived there.’
‘And worked in the filmn industry,’ finished Nick, flicking at the strap of her dress.
‘… … … … … …’ shot back in Yaqui.
‘Just a guess.’
‘Actually…if you really want to know…I worked for an independent group. Kind of like one of those collectives you talked about. They had a four tier system for profit sharing, with very little gap in between. Beginners, semi-pro, supporting crew, core crew. It was quite interesting.’
‘A business by any other name,’ said Nick, drinking more of his beer.
‘Is that why you like filmn so much?’ I asked, the stack of DVD cases sliding back into my head.
‘No, no…that was way before LA. But I suppose it did function as a similar thing. Sì, most of our filmns were pastiche, copied shots and techniques. Maybe it played a part… no sé.’
Lexi and I nodded and continued with our shared coffee. Wasn’t sure about her, but I knew what I wanted to ask.
Did you eat any brains back then?
Or how exactly did you function for so long without getting caught?
But then I remembered what Nick had said the night before, how she didn’t actually need to eat the whole brain to survive. Somehow, I’d forgotten about that. Possibly cos I’d seen her dunk a claw into someone’s skull…and tell me to my face that she was going to do the same to mine.
What was that called? Phenomenological vs…the other one…the thing I’d pretended to study at unii…experience vs scientific fact?
My brain sailed off, on one river to another river to a darker river to the mouth of the Acheron until Nick snapped his fingers right in front of my nose, informing me and the rest of the table that it was time to talk about the road trip.
‘Good, cos I’ll test you afterwards. Maybe. If I can be bothered.’
I nodded, taking the coffee back from Lexi…and frowning when I saw that it was almost empty.
‘Thirsty…’ she whispered, some foam residue still on her top lip.
‘Hey, Lexitron, Keni cat…road trip spiel. Pay attention.’
We both looked at Nick and said sim.
According to our alien tour guide, the Five-Way shrieked grey and boring [his exact words], and so did Sacramento, therefore, the only option left was the green and mountainous route to Portland.
‘Without any Serbian nationalists?’ Lexi asked, taking the very last dregs of my second coffee.
‘Or cyborg dogs?’ I added, getting back an empty cup.
‘No, no, no. Trust me. It’ll be very serene.’
Serene was fairly accurate once we made it past the private toll gates for the 99, and the accompanying shop while you wait stalls, which as far as I could see sold mugs with about fifteen hundred different place names on the side, as well as poorly made fruit and animal toys.
I was briefly tempted to get out of the car and buy a Nonchalant Grape for Lexi, more as a joke than anything, but then I saw the faded pink parts around the edges and stayed with my forehead against the window.
‘It’s only here cos of Lake Tahoe,’ Nick said, and Lexi confirmed it, telling us about the time her and a friend had come up on a tour and been practically forced off the coach to visit all the stalls.
Was that friend a guy, I wondered, and then a supplementary thought; did he ever have moments where he lost his sexual urge completely?
No, worse than that…did he ever go days without an erection?
I ran along that track for a good hour, watching signs go past for Emigrant Gap, Yuba City, Weed and then a giant one for the 97 Freeway, deciding at one point to just go in the next VR plaza and patch in to Harem Survival 4, rub against an onsen girl until something sparked then rush back to the room and jump on Lexi. And if that didn’t work, just go into martyr mode and eat her out until she came, tell her it was my way of making it up to her for…something…a lack on my part…vague ennui.
Finally, my inner Materialist got a foothold and forced me back into the actual environment of the car; Nick was giving Juana a test on cult filmns, the current question being, who was the murdered student in Even the Wind Is Afraid?
‘Never heard of it,’ said Lexi.
‘Me neither,’ I added, repeating the filmn name in my head.
‘I’m looking at the plot synopsis on my phone,’ said Nick, only one finger on the wheel. ‘Definitely a real filmn.’
‘Andrea,’ said Juana to the passenger side window.
‘Played by Pamela Susan Hall.’
‘Wah, also correct.’
‘…who died a few years ago.’
‘Hmm…that one I’ll have to check. Later.’
‘Una cara tan joven.’
Nick swiped at his phone for a few seconds, eyes still nowhere near the road, and finally came back up with a new question.
‘What does the alien want in Liquid Sky? And why?’
As the sky got darker, and pinker, Nick told us that his alien battery was running low and eyeball constructs were on the verge of evaporation, so it might be for the best if we got off the road and checked into one of the themed hostels.
‘How much further to Portland?’ I asked, looking at a sign passing by that claimed Klamath Falls.
‘About five hours.’
‘Hostel, por favor,’ said Lexi, stretching back her shoulders.
‘Same. With comfortable bed.’
I didn’t seem to get a vote but said, ‘okay,’ anyway then sat back and continued with what I’d been doing for the last forty minutes; reading about the guy Nick had talked about earlier, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin. There was a lot to choose from too.
According to bakattack.io, he was a strong anarchist who trod the opaque line between representing the black community and becoming ossified within it. He also spoke out about the proportionate argument, saying that the numbers of black prisoners in totality had almost surpassed whites, therefore, it was time to centre them instead of pandering to [white] summertime allies.
There was more, but it seemed heavily referential to things I’d never heard of, so I switched back to the window and saw that we’d stopped outside a long stretch of cabin-shacks, headed by a sign that had WinterMute Hostel in neon green valorax.
‘Seems like your kind of place,’ Nick said, patting Juana on her bare knee.
‘Has a pool,’ she replied, staring out the windscreen, looking at the same corner of water to the left that I had just noticed too.
‘And a VR shack,’ said Lexi, pushing open her door.
‘Wah, what happened to comfortable bed?’
‘Just noting the facilities.’
‘I like to relax before sleeping.’
‘And it was Juana who said bed, not me.’
‘Water nearby helps that.’
‘Ah, fast comebacks…at long last. Well, car park’s empty. Hopefully, there’s some vacant rooms too…that don’t have cum stains on the floor.’ Nick turned off the engine and addressed me and Lexi through the windscreen mirrror. ‘Don’t worry, kids, everything’s on the washed-up filmn star. His treat.’
Either out of generosity or necessity, Nick got two rooms; one for him and Juana [in separate beds, I assumed], and one for me and Lexi, with a surprisingly soft double bed and two heart-shaped cushions with HEART sewed on front and back.
No hardcore porn shots, thank gods, but [apart from the cushions] the place did have a clear theme; Neo-Cyberpunk. Reflected in radium tube kanji on the walls, logo prints for futuristic-sounding things like Kabuki Intrasolar and Geisha Bank, and the opening line of Neuromancer printed out above the TV. With deed channel instead of dead. And poor in place of port.
Well, the intent was there. And the novel was pretty old…
Dressing down to Kung Food Fighting t-shirt and knickers, Lexi lay coffin-flat on the bed and watched an old horror I’d never heard of called The Long Hair Of Death, while I sat with my back against the bed wall, still in pants and Damijana Chu hoodie, reading Chapter 22 of Moon Prison.
‘It’s the same actress from Nightmare Castle,’ she said at one point, without highlighting any one of the five characters on screen.
‘No, the filmn.’
‘She played Lavinia Goddess Of Death too…but they used a different model for the game version, sadly.’
‘The one on the left. Barbara Steele. Those legendary eyes…’
I looked and this time isolated the woman with half her face covered in long black hair…possibly of death…and a giant, hypnotic eyeball.
‘She’s so beautiful…’
Lexi repeated the line and then gave a brief biography about how Steele had starred in dozens of Italian horror filmns but never spoke Italian, which used to impress her but now seemed a bit arrogant as she was working in their country, with Italian actors and crew, how hard would it have been to learn at least up to intermediate level?
‘They must’ve been mesmerized by her eyes…’
‘Or her body.’
Lexi glanced across…and then reached out a hand to push aside Moon Prison.
‘Do you think Juana’s okay?’
‘Seems stable enough.’
‘You think she’s nervous about seeing Sadia tomorrow?’
‘Don’t know. Probably.’
‘Are you nervous?’
‘You or the pillow.’
I checked under my crossed legs, prodding the pillow case, trying to give myself time to think of an answer.
‘You must’ve liked her if you came all the way to Fresno.’
‘That was Nick’s idea.’
‘To come to California, with him. Yeah, a hundred per cent. I mean, there was also a family issue that kind of…pushed me that way…but Nick’s the one who jumped on it, got the plane tickets.’
‘So…you weren’t planning to meet Sadia?’
‘Meet her? Maybe. For a coffee or something.’
‘If she wasn’t freaked out that I turned up. I mean, I don’t even know her really. Just online. A few messages on a writing website.’
‘What about tomorrow?’
‘You’ll get to meet her for real. Talk to her.’
‘I’ll probably stay in the car.’
‘Let Juana have her moment. Hang back a bit. A lot. In the car. With you. Hopefully not Nick. I don’t know.’
Lexi stared at the Geisha Bank logo near the window for almost a whole minute, probably trying to piece together my ridiculously fragmented answer. Then the giant eyeball woman shrieked on screen and she did an abrupt pivot back, watching the scene play out. The husband walling up his wife and her gardener lover. When the last brick was in, she turned back to the bed, nudging Moon Prison up towards my face. ‘Do your homework. I’m going back to the filmn.’
‘Good luck,’ I replied, returning to Chapter 22 and wondering why I’d just said such an odd line.
A couple of scenes later, Lexi paused the filmn and said she was thirsty.
‘There’s a drinks machine outside.’
My eyes stayed with the book for three, four seconds before feeling the mesmerism cloud and drifting across towards the door…then doing a slow dolly back to take in my fully clothed body. ‘You want me to get you something?’
‘If you’re thirsty too.’
‘Good. Then I’ll have a no sugar lemon drink. Any brand. Kudasai.’
‘Sounds tasty…’ I said, putting Moon Prison flat on the duvet and leaning down to my shoes.
‘And don’t sneak into the VR shack without me.’
‘I mean it. I’ll be annoyed if you do.’
‘No, I mean it too. The prices are insane. I’d be broke after an hour.’
‘And if the prices were reasonable?’
‘Err…then I still wouldn’t go? Cos it’s no fun without you?’
She nodded, said a word I didn’t know in Portuguese, and went back to the eyeball woman on the screen.
‘Was that the correct answer?’
Outside, the Neo-Cyberpunk theme of the hostel continued, with various shades of neon represented on the exterior walls, on the windows, and even on the trunks of some of the thicker trees. Plus another Kabuki Intrasolar logo, this one on a half-torn sticker… next to a bird-shit stain on a faded pink patio tile.
Kuso…seemed like an okay place…but look closely enough…
I walked with hands in hoodie pockets, half thinking about Sadia as a silhouette without a face, half wondering if Lexi understood that I saw her as my girlfriend and that this no erection, no eros thing was really fucking me up. Intermittently fucking me up. Every now and then. Though, weirdly, it had been fairly comfortable on the bed just now. Her semi-naked. Me dressed for autumn. Neither of us making any hint of a move.
Maybe it wasn’t fucking me up as much as I thought?
Or at all.
But…wouldn’t that be a bad thing?
A couple who never had sex?
The drinks machine loomed ahead, robot-shaped, snapping me out of my self-made puzzle box.
No sugar lemon drink.
Luckily, it accepted my Liverpool card, though it did seem to buffer a while getting to that point.
Maybe a dig at our collectivism?
Half-assed as it was.
I bent down to take the drink and then turned left and walked the long way back around the hostel.
The pool was nearby, shaped like a four-leaved clover [not very Cyberpunk, owner must’ve run out of ideas] and I thought my hybrid-real brain had to be hallucinating when I saw Juana sitting on the edge of the shallow end, bare feet dipped in the water, white summer dress rolled up almost to her crotch, eyes glistening yellow.
A few more steps, some rapid blinking.
Nope, she was real.
I raised my hand to wave, but she hadn’t noticed me at all. In fact, she seemed more concerned with bending down to the pool surface and splashing water over her hands and forearms.
Argument with Nick?
She still wasn’t looking up and I was already past her so I kept going, turning through a little passage with welcome kanji above a little arch, the cracked tube flickering green, dark, green, dark, green, dark, green…
I’d seen it in some cyberpunk films, anti-adventurist symbolic, but…the way this one was flickering…the crack placement…
Intentional trashing of radium tube to evoke decay? Similar to the mangled Neuromancer quote?
When I got back to the room, the light on Lexi’s side of the bed was off, her back was turned to the door, and the TV was muted.
I put the carton down on her bedside table and whispered, ‘no sugar lemon.’
There was a moaning sound, but nothing coherent.
Moving to the bottom of the bed, I picked up the remote and changed back to the GENTE + menu screen.
Doctor Who was my first thought, nostalgia reflex, but then another name sauntered in: Dead Bitch On Pluto. Nick Stahl’s cult masterpiece.
Then a different name…an old one…Alien.
Then Beyond the Rabbit Hole.
Then Portals & Portals.
Then I’m All Alone In The Kuiper Belt And That’s Okay.
Then Void Galaxia.
I put the remote down and rubbed my head, trying to stop random filmn names barging in and bulldozing my neurons into grit and diodes…
Infinite Atom Mall. Alien. Void Galaxia. Long Hair Of Death. Puppet Master 2. Re-Animator. Heathers. Solaris. Planet Dark. Doctor Who. Alien. Moon Factory 7. Portals & Portals. I’m All Alone In The Kuiper Belt And That’s Okay. Doctor Who. Void Galaxia. Planet Dark. Long Hair of Death. Infinite Atom Mall. Heathers. Nightmare Castle. Puppet Master 2. Hellraiser. House of Clocks. Kip’s Place. Reagan Cult Hangout. Alien. Portals & Portals. Solaris. Nightmare Castle. Beyond The Rabbit Hole. Planet Dark. Moon Factory 7. Hellraiser. Kip’s Place. Solaris. I’m All Alone In The Kuiper Belt And That’s Okay. Dead Bitch On Pluto. Planet Dark…
I got up and walked drunkenly into the bathroom, turned the shower on and dipped my head under cold water.
Finally, the trivia deluge subsided.
Probably the two brain thing, I told myself, returning to the bed and switching off the TV without looking at any more filmn cards.
Or some of Nick’s purple shit manipulating my cortexes.
Assuming he lied about never touching me with it.
Taking off the Damijana Chu hoodie, the Planet Dark t-shirt [that was starting to smell pretty bad], the template pants, I set myself down on top of the duvet so as not to disturb Lexi – she was on top of it too, limbs sprawled out like an Ondōan – and picked up Moon Prison.
No, probably the two brain thing, I decided.
That was the proven one.
The thing that actually, definitely happened.
At least that was what my brain was telling me.
‘Moon Prison, Keni. Focus.’
I skimmed down to the part I remembered being up to and continued reading, scanning, absorbing, stamping the words into my haze-fragmented brain-scape.