No morgue at all
And the body wouldn’t decay at -235 degrees
So why not magnetise the lump, dump it outside?
In the most basic terms possible
becoming lazy, stagnant, we all need to dig in and ski more
goes back upstairs and tries to have an Urdu lesson but ultimately it’s too much noise and beyond the Urdu there was this flickering replicator light that
book was weird cos it was predictive
someone read it, attached their own self to it, made the events within actualised, with a bit of help from the passive AH-bot, which is often the case
and now people think it was written after the events
if you look at the dates and the
272nd drama about aliens lurking in the Oort Cloud, don’t they have anything new-ish to mush us with?
Stalinists on Sedna.
Apart from that one.
My Beautiful Talking Laundromat.
May I Replicate Myself For You?
Shit. Generic. Like drinking from a plasma conduit.
I liked it.
Nice hat. Acrylic?
Taking into account delta v plus the current theories of Malken and Tai So, it is safe to predict that the ship will be overwhelmed by radiation somewhere in the
Lilac swirls parted, drifted to the side, and
the voices attached to faces
lounging around in what looked like a resort lobby, all blurred
shapes vague as ghouls
I blinked mechanically, particle by particle reducing the haze.
And when I put a hand…my hand…up to rub a head…my head, the voices on the couches ceased abruptly, each figure freezing within the frames of the action they were currently involved in.
Which seemed to be drinking from wide-rimmed wine glasses.
Two other voices, closer by – one of them a decent mimic of Reshmi’s – continued as I pushed my arm left and collided with another body. Then turned and saw a crop of green hair. The blue cheek of Lavinia Mistress of Death on a t-shirt.
Also coming to, judging by the arm spasm.
‘Three is too many. Too much for you to control within your current state.’
‘Four including you.’
‘Glibness will not make you correct. You should be in the Steam Lab, recuperating from your struggle with the djinn.’
I stopped rubbing and gazed up.
Pinned down outlines, flesh.
Reshmi…in Colombia football jacket…was leaning against a high table, an over-sized glass of pale blue liquid in one hand, pointing the knuckles of the other at an equally tall woman with pale yellow skin, who appeared to be glitching. Orbiting both these forms [hallucinations?] were eel-like whisps of purple vapour, some of which separated from the two woman and slithered over to the hotel guests in the background, still frozen with their drinks.
Beyond all of it, through a long strip of rectangular window, sat the looming blue sphere of Neptune, overlooking an ice field tinged with pale green spots – possibly my blurred eyesight – that had to be a VR rendering of either Pluto or Triton.
No…Neptune, that close…had to be Triton.
Or another moon I’d never heard of.
Or another solar system…
‘Ah, you’re awake…’ said Reshmi, raising her mega glass. ‘A little lethargic compared to Juana, but…’
‘VR?’ I asked, faltering on the R.
‘… … … … … … …’
‘That blue thing…is Neptune?’ followed Lexi, index finger pressing hard into her palm.
I looked down and realized I was doing the same thing.
‘Hmm, those responses are beyond embarrassing…as is the exit jabbing…but I’m a forgiving comrade so…let’s just call it transition haze and move on.’ Reshmi dipped a finger in her blue drink, then pulled it back out and sucked on the residue. ‘I assume you have a vague memory of how you got here…the purple bubble…so we’ll skip that part, go straight into the intro. Welcome to Triton, my beautiful home…and yours too for the foreseeable future. As you’ve probably noticed by now, we’re embedded in the rockier part of the moon’s surface, with a containment field beyond human comprehension keeping us all snug and safe in the base here. What? The green bruises? Don’t worry about that, just some battle scars, they’ll clear up in a few-…’
‘I’m not patching out,’ said Lexi, now digging each finger separately into her palm.
‘The tab, it’s not working…’
I watched her for a second, vaguely confused about the point of her action, then switched to Neptune in the background. Then the ice fields. Then the hotel lobby construct with people standing around that [I now recognized] were dressed in different period clothing. Mostly modern, but there was one guy in a green yukata, and a woman in some kind of flapper-era hat.
Weird just like amateur VR.
But with a level of detail that was…something beyond professional…close to object-reality even.
‘Is this Pluto 2280?’ I asked, focusing back on Reshmi, and then muttering, ‘wah,’ when the pale yellow woman next to her flickered out of existence…disintegrated, atomized…then reappeared on the other [creased] side of the couch…with a slight fizzing sound the only [outside of myself] proof that something scientifically insane had just happened.
‘Readjustment,’ she said to Reshmi, resting her hands on the back of the cushion to the left of me.
‘I’m getting there, Assta.’
‘On a needlessly circuitous path.’
Reshmi spat something out in non-English, placed her pseudo decanter down on the high table nearby, and bent down in front of her two new and confused guests. ‘This is a little disappointing, after all we’ve been through…hey, stop doing that.’
She grabbed Lexi’s hand and covered the palm. ‘This is obviously not your shitty VR scape. Look at Neptune out there, the detail of it, the nitrogen plumes…’
‘No, it’s-…we can’t actually-…how did we-…’ Lexi started, floating off towards the blue planet, the end of the line going with her.
‘Okay, don’t gawp, let’s just…’ Reshmi clicked her fingers in front of Lexi’s face then moved level with our own eyes, putting one set of three fingertips on both outside temples. ‘Let’s just get the basics out of the way first.’
‘It’s not too late to send them back,’ said the pale yellow woman from her intimidation point behind the couch.
‘Or turn you off.’
‘Visit them from time to time, if you wish. Keep the other creature as a pet until she’s reoriented. If you must.’
‘Bit of quiet, please, Assta.’
The back of the couch lightened suddenly and the pale yellow woman apparently called Assta returned to a lieutenant position behind Reshmi.
‘Okay, little ones…sorry, comrades…’
I sat still, as did Lexi, my limbs dormant yet alert, waiting for our old friend purple to sensualise things.
‘We are on Triton. My base of operations, as humans might call it. Military humans. The figures around you are holograms, quite basic. Capable of moderate conversation and corridor intrigue. Irritating if you spend more than four hours with them. Assta…is a little different. They appear holographic yet are in fact the AI caretaker of this whole complex. Not a hard concept to come to terms with. You have similar characters in some of your dystopian media, albeit a little more childish. Yes, it’s making sense now, isn’t it? No more jabbing at your palms and half-finished sentences. What else? Juana is in detox. Or in proper terms, the Steam Lab. Not the same as a human steam room. You’ll see that later. Though she’ll probably have been moved to a different room by then. Externals? Neptune is lingering up there, out there, as it usually does, along with the nitrogen ice fields. The base gets the view of that pretty green tint as we’re near the equator. Elsewhere, it’s mostly grey….blue-ish grey if you have retina deficiencies. In terms of suit-less exploration, you can go out a few hundred metres, as far as the containment field stretches, but after that things become death-real. Even for me. Though obviously my form would perish at a much slower rate than either of yours due to a more adaptable physiology. Don’t look hurt, it’s just nature. No one’s fault. Okay? Right. There it is. All the foundational stuff. You may now slouch back and do your very best dazed panda impressions…same as after Kip’s house…wah, that was a fun time, wasn’t it? I’d almost forgotten.’
Her dark fingers left my temple and conjured up a wine glass out of nothing, holding it out towards me. I took it and curved back, swaying my whole body to a comical degree as I followed the pale blue currents moving within.
‘Is this alien?’ asked Lexi, studying the same blue liquid in her own glass.
‘Blueberry and vodka.’
‘Very. Anything else would be fatal. This, however, is the opposite…it relaxes you, soothes…makes things a little more manageable.’
Lexi sniffed around the rim then looked at me, whispering, ‘you first.’
I shrugged, oddly confident, and took a sip.
Couldn’t taste the blueberry or the vodka…but it wasn’t bad.
Lexi copied, acted facially pensive for a few seconds, then drank a whole lot more, stopping just short of making a comical ahhh sound.
‘This whole place is yours?’ I asked, gesturing with my glass at the lobby around us.
‘You mean you’re renting?’
‘Please don’t apply human concepts to my home.’
‘And seriously…dude…no more err sounds. It’s becoming a very annoying habit.’
I thought about modifying to arrr, or parroting dude back at her, but decided it was probably best to just shut up and drink my blue juice. Even though errr was an understandable response to what she’d just said. The queen of applying human concepts to everything. And king before that, when it was the Nick era.
‘Where are all the others?’ asked Lexi, her glass already on the brink of empty. ‘The ones like you…’
‘Sabbatical,’ replied Reshmi drily.
‘On a different planet?’
‘You didn’t tell them?’ asked Assta, appearing next to Lexi and refilling her glass with a stream of blue.
Reshmi finished off her own drink, from the decanter-sized glass, and then tossed it casually over to Assta. Phasing herself quickly out of existence, the glass fell right through the space Assta had been occupying and, a second later, vanished into the dark red carpet lining the floor.
Or part of the floor. Based on what I could see of the rest of the lobby, it was more like a series of rugs, most of them placed beside the couches.
‘As you’re more relaxed now, why don’t we take you for a little tour outside,’ said Reshmi, putting two fingers up at Assta, who had rematerialized next to one of the more basic holograms, a tanned guy in a fedora.
‘Outside?’ I asked, vaguely remembering the foundational intro talk a few minutes earlier.
‘Stretch those long legs a bit. Get the two of you some sweet Triton air.’
‘Filtered through the base containment shield, obviously.’
‘…at least try to remember the things I just explained to you…’
‘And you didn’t say anything about air filters in the shield.’
‘That is not a nod.’
‘Far as I know…’
‘Still not a nod.’
Lexi had eyes trained on me, so I shook my head, keeping my real thought – use your imagination – cloaked.
‘Lexitron…comrade…in cases of the implicit, fill in the gaps. Or in peasant terms…’ Reshmi put a nail on Lexi’s knee, circling the bone. ‘…use your brain.’
‘It’s Lexi,’ she replied, shifting her leg away.
‘… … …’
‘Not that hard to remember.’
After finishing our blueberry vodkas,
and nodding through a pretty weird, alt-historical defence of the name Lexitron
[to which Lexi responded with, ‘okay, Reshmitron,’]
we left the lobby that, according to Reshmi, had been maintained that exact way for seventy-eight years as a type of Trekkian comfort blanket to her previous human guests, who we were forbidden from asking about for personal reasons,
headed through what our guide called a KAV-Tunnel, with bright sun-like icons accompanying us along the walls, each one growing and deflating on loop,
beyond the [apparently] invisible tetryon protection fields,
and then traversed another two hundred metres of greyish-blue dirt to the fringe part of the Eastern perimeter, a plateau with rocky stubble called View Point 2.
‘See the blue flecks dancing around over there,’ said Reshmi, pointing beyond the plastic table with the chessboard on top. ‘That’s the containment field. Permanently active.’
Neither Lexi or I said a word.
It was impossible to.
Containment field and blue flecks dancing and no comment at all about the Middle-Eastern guy standing corpse-still a few metres beyond, eyes open and blank, arms peeled into jagged green strips, legs just a mass of darker green…something. Goo? Sludge?
‘Any of you two know how to play chess?’
It took my brain a second to process the question, and another three after that to form a rudimentary no response.
‘What did you do to him?’ asked Lexi, coping a little better.
‘If not, we’ll have to set up a different game.’
‘The green guy…over there.’
Reshmi looked past the vertical corpse, feigning confusion, then reeled back. ‘Ah, that’s what you’re gawping at. I thought you were talking about Neptune. Yeah, don’t be alarmed, it’s dead. Very deserved too. Don’t wanna go full Juana, but that sneaky little wretch tried to touch me mid-battle…right inside the brain muons…not to mention the things it got up to in that silly museum.’
You killed him was pointless so I edited to a more scientific, perhaps even sociopathic, approach. ‘How exactly did he die?’
‘That’s good, Keni. Adjustment.’ Reshmi moved to the edge of the containment field, seemingly unconcerned as the blue flecks began flickering close to her hair. ‘It died…the same way you or Lexi would. Only a little bit slower. Something about its mist-like parts storing oxygen for up to seventeen and a half hours. That’s what Assta said anyway.’
‘Assta is the AI…’
‘Which is why his legs look all green and mangled. An AI, yes, at their core. Quite dynamic though, flexible…at times. Lexitron, you feeling okay? Your face seems broken.’
Lexi shifted side-on against the plastic table, putting the dead djinn out of sight and replacing it with the generic ice-scape of Triton. I walked up to her non-table side and looked out at the same view.
Miles and miles and mega miles of frozen blue-ish grey tundra, some parts with green flakes of freshly chilled nitrogen sprinkled on top.
It was hard to know if it had been engineered by Reshmi, or was simply a natural lunar spasm, but a plume of gas erupted about fifty metres in front of us, activating our shit, volcano reflexes and forcing us a few steps back.
Reshmi laughed, pointing at the blue flecks zipping about erratically as the dust from the plume swept into the side of the containment field.
‘You’ll get used to it,’ she said, picking up the black queen on the chessboard and moving it five squares forward. ‘Lexitron.’
After a pop in and snap viewing of the Steam Lab, the Battle Room, the Ball Bouncing Room, the Collage Room, and about fifteen different versions of can we see Juana now? from Lexi, we were led into a circular space, with a giant pulsating orb in the centre, and told that this was the newly created Dogged Eye Sanity Zone, repurposed and retooled from its previous incarnation as the Settle Haze Room.
Apparently, De-stress Room or Meditation Chamber would’ve been a more human-friendly name, but Reshmi had met a hippy in the 70’s who used those words constantly and, every time she heard them now, she thought of his seven conceptual mansions and felt spiritually nauseous, so…
‘Which one is Juana?’ Lexi asked, scanning the four identical figures all sitting with their legs out straight, in different parts of the room.
‘That is the point.’
‘Identity schism. In base terms, three are configurations created by the orb. Reflections of different neural paths the real Juana is attempting to construct in order to…balance the thing in her head…the urge to eat brains. Or something similar. To be honest, Assta’s the one to ask about all this, she designed the thing.’
‘You’re going to cure her?’ I asked, scrutinizing the nearest Juana.
‘Readjust is a better word.’
‘In fact, looking at her now, she’s doing much better than I thought she would. After that Israeli neo-fascist debacle, the Sadia rejection…’
Lexi moved forward, swerving left as the orb pulsed a brighter shade of purple. ‘Can we talk to her?’
‘You can talk at her…but she won’t be able to hear you.’
‘She’s in a trance?’
The orb flashed another vivid burst of purple, sending Lexi closer to the wall and within a few feet of one of the four Juana types.
‘Time to show you your room. In the Humanology Wing. I have a feeling you’ll like it.’
‘Sounds a bit weird,’ I said, mentally playing back the words.
‘Humanology Wing? Yeah, that’s exactly what Keith said. Like a zoo experiment, man. But it’s fine. Fitted and furnished to make you think you’re on a human base. A base from one of your VR projections, obviously, not the primitive things they’re pitching on the moon.’
‘It even has your media embedded…a bigger selection than GENTE+ in fact…lots of that Doctor Who thing you like, classic sci-fi books, old music, new music…romantic pornography, abject pornography, animal-…hey Lexitron, door, come on.’
I tracked Reshmi’s outstretched hand and saw Lexi nudging her foot into Juana’s thigh and saying ‘wah’ when it passed right through.
‘I’m serious, stop fucking about with the hologram. You’ll see the real Juana tomorrow. Okay?’
Lexi stared at her own foot as the words faded, then looked over at the closest Juana and said [in quite a defiant tone], ‘tomorrow.’
Reshmi wasn’t wrong about the Humanology Wing.
The corridors had lemonade pink walls, doors with high numbers on them, art canvases hung up – or levitated up as there didn’t appear to be any nails behind them – every few metres, all of which appeared to show the same face; an elderly professor type, two side clumps of grey hair and telescope lens glasses, each one deconstructed in a marginally distinctive way.
‘Guy looks kind of familiar…’ I whispered to Lexi, who tilted her head at the blue pixel piece and said, ‘yeah, I think it’s Mario Caiano.’
‘Nightmare Castle director. Had the same type of glasses.’
Nodding robotically, I pretended to give the next painting along a closer look then moved on to the door ahead, the one Reshmi was clicking open.
The room inside was equally human. Carpeted floor, TV screen hovering by the wall, king-sized bed, a window with drawn curtains that looked out onto Earth scenery you could change with a human-type remote control.
If I hadn’t been told…or readjusted to accept things by the purple mist…I would really have thought I was staying in another Californian hostel.
‘To be blunt, most of the stuff is stolen,’ said Reshmi, clamping a firm hand on my shoulder. ‘But you don’t really care about that, do you?’
‘Not really,’ I said, watching Lexi peel off the deep red cycling jacket Reshmi had given us earlier [before the tetryon fields] and plunge backwards onto the bed.
‘Exactly the right attitude to have given your current context. First humans on Triton since Keith David and Kei Fujiwara. Just settle in, get some rest. Enjoy each other’s company.’
‘The rest part sounds good.’
The shoulder clamp turned into a fierce massage, with Reshmi’s eyes shining that old warning flare lilac. I shifted a bit, trying to slip free, and then stopped as the hard pinching sensation dissipated and the soothing glove of god took its place, making my shoulder blades feel as if they were made of artisanal dough.
‘That’s better…’ said Reshmi, finally releasing her grip and turning to Lexi, who was now under the duvet with the remote control in her hand. ‘I recommend your favourite, Nightmare Castle. It’s a director’s cut that never got officially released and…you’ll definitely like the changes. I’m sure of it.’
‘Director’s cut…’ Lexi muttered, pressing buttons.
‘See you in the morning then. And don’t worry about over-sleeping, the purple has set an internal alarm in your subconscious. Nagging and deluxe. Don’t worry, it’ll make sense when it happens. Purple helps with base directions too, so there’s no chance of getting lost. I think that’s all of it. If there is anything else, call for Assta.’
‘You mean she’ll appear…in here?’
‘Right there in the bed between you, fully naked, if that’s what you want? Nah, don’t say err, I’m joking. They’ll knock on the door first, then come in if you don’t open it within two seconds. And they don’t need rest like us biologicals do, so any hour of the night is okay. But nothing trivial…they get annoyed if you do that. Trust me.’
After that, Reshmi was out the door and gone, to the Alienology Wing probably.
Whatever that looked like.
Liquid helium pools? Gas pods?
And what form would she revert to?
I sat down on the edge of the bed and started pulling off my shoes.
It hadn’t been in my head for a while, not with all the other distractions, but now that we were physically on Triton, in an alien base…what did Reshmi really look like?
Part of me recalled her mentioning helmets earlier, when we were going through the tunnel with the yellow suns on the walls, and she did say she would die outside the containment field if she stayed long enough…which meant she had to be at least a little bit similar to humans.
Sucking in oxygen and…what else?
‘Found it,’ said Lexi, kicking me gently with her duvet-covered foot. ‘Wah, she was telling the truth, it’s a director’s cut. Fuck, I’ve never even heard of this. An actual, real director’s cut. I’m putting it on.’
Taking off my red cycling jacket, I looked at the screen and squinted as the actress I’d forgotten the name of drank from a full glass of brandy and told her husband she may miss him while he was away.
‘Same so far,’ muttered Lexi, kicking out again with her foot, telling me to get in bed and snuggle up to her before the death scenes started.
‘It’s Triton. I need your body warmth.’
My brain immediately set off the warning signal, running through the recent litany of failed fucks, the lack of any kind of reaction to Lexi’s body, or anyone’s body, even VR ones with which there was no pressure to interact and
I mumbled a yes, but stayed pinned to the edge of the bed
going back to the screen and
the actress who’d said she may miss her husband, the brandy drinker, was with a different man now, pulling him down onto the floor of the greenhousse and kissing his neck and
the director did a fade-cut onto a giant four-poster bed, raising the camera up and over the two lovers as the clothes-less man pushed his dick inside her and
‘Is this…’ I started to say, turning to Lexi and killing the rest of my line as she stared forward at the screen, left hand moving under the duvet and
I had no idea when or how it happened but
my fingers were on her calf, moving up, along the inside of her thigh and
‘Mark…’ Lexi called, throwing off half the duvet while her other hand started pulling up the Lavinia t-shirt.
I crawled over like a quantum drunk, those exact words in my head, helping her get off the blue Goddess of Death, kissing cheeks, lips, nipples, then skipping the pointless neck part and going straight down, pulling off knickers, kissing thighs, clit, lab, other parts I couldn’t name, and then losing it completely, telling her, ‘I just need to get in,’ as she grabbed my dick and pulled me inside.
On the screen behind us, the lovers of Nightmare Castle continued their fucking, character moans and grunts bleeding into our own and then detaching again as I panted out, ‘too fucking good,’ into Lexi’s semi-green mop of hair
tried to pull out
got clamped by hands on my ass, on my back
heard fucking fuck me and
came inside her.
There were no tissues nearby, so I had to go out into the corridor of elderly man deconstructions and into the bathroom opposite. The walls were lemonade pink too, and spotless.
Washing her hands at the sink was Reshmi, eyes vivid purple.
‘Good filmn?’ she asked, observing me through the mirrror.
‘Toilet,’ I said back, vanishing quickly into the cubicle.
‘I knew you’d like it.’
Back in the room, the director’s cut continued, as did the sex scenes.
The murdered ghosts of the actress, who Lexi reminded me was called Barbara Steele, and her caretaker lover fucked in seven different [empty] rooms, all with clear-cut penetration shots.
‘No way this could ever have been released,’ I said, stroking the tips of Lexi’s green hair.
‘Or filmned,’ she replied, playing with my thumb. ‘Not in the 60’s.’
‘Maybe they were hypnotized…by a certain alien trickster from Triton.’
‘I prefer the illusion theory.’
‘You mean the filmn itself?’
Lexi mumbled a yeah and then drifted off into the filmn that may or may not have been a shared hallucination. For a while, I followed the thread, linking my sudden sexual urge to Reshmi’s firm hand on my shoulder and then to the obvious correlation that she was the one who had caused my impotence in the first place. Or Nick had. And then sat there observing me as I lost my fucking mind.
When exactly had they done it?
The Reagan Cult Shack?
And what was she gonna do next now that we were stuck on Triton with her…for how long?
Until she got bored?
Moaning sounds from the screen brought me back as the caretaker’s dick once again slid inside the monochrome hole and, a minute later, Lexi was on top of me
leaning back so we could both see it
telling me she missed this
me and her
missed it so fucking much
so so so fucking much
fucking caretaker cat
After the filmn, we lay there and watched another director’s cut we’d found in the GENTE+ archives, Void Galaxia.
There was pornographic fucking in this one too
alien holes and tentacles, human confusion, gas emissions
but the plot was changed
the quite interesting monologues from the alien mystic and the alien technician, the quantum tunnel scene, green-skinned Kontolian in holo-suit of her own self, what would he be doing with a neutrino scanner
so I just stroked Lexi’s green hair, dormant, asking at some point if she’d ever go through a wormhole, given the chance?
And then a supplement, would she consider staying on Triton full time?
‘No,’ she replied, muito curt, pulling the duvet up over her shoulder.
‘For a year? A month?’
‘I’m trying to watch.’
I nodded, turning back to see the alien that looked like a tulip opening its petals, either about to eat the human below, or fuck them.
Or perhaps something else.
As promised, a purple suggestion repeated several times – pen, not syringe, pen, not syringe, pen – got us out of bed early and [after a quick half episode of Doctor Who] back over to the seventy-year old lobby for a human-style breakfast.
There were fewer holograms lounging around compared to the previous day, but they were quite chatty, some of them even coming over to us on the high stools by the window and asking [in various accents] if we were from Pluto-Cha.
‘Or are you those inner system types they keep shipping in?’
‘Inner system…you mean Earth?’
‘Ah, Jovian haze…the bunkers in Io…am I right?’
‘You know you don’t have to answer them,’ cut in Reshmi, seating herself on the stool next to me, a cup of coffee in one hand and Moon Prison in the other.
‘Excuse me, we’re not furniture,’ protested the Thai-looking woman in the bored pineapple t-shirt.
‘Your couch is that way, Sali.’
‘Wah…unbelievable. Not even an attempt at decorum.’
‘Would you like to be deleted?’
‘I think I preferred it when you were sulking in your room.’ The Thai-looking hologram turned to me, forcing a smile. ‘I’m sorry in advance for having to put up with this one. Truly a special case.’
‘Five, four, three, two…’
Reshmi pointed at the couch on the opposite side of the lobby and whispered one and zero as the Thai-looking hologram fizzled out and rematerialized in the designated place. Shouting out something presumably in gutter Thai, she grabbed a cocktail from the table and slumped down onto the cushions, almost clipping the man in the green yukata, who appeared too out of it to say anything.
‘Wah, they really act so real…’ said Lexi, dipping her spoon into what Assta assured us was real muesli and fresh milk. ‘Way more than the NPCs in VR.’
‘Of course they do, the tech’s more advanced. But you’re still dealing with constructs, on a base level.’
‘I don’t know…the way they interacted with us…’
‘…is a mirage. That thing she just yelled in Thai? One of four set phrases she has to use when she’s been slighted. The furniture line? Heard that about five hundred times, exact same intonation. You stay here long enough, you’ll hear it again too.’
‘Can’t you expand their programming?’ I asked, prodding at the floating bits of muesli in my bowl.
‘Ah, a follow up, great.’
‘Make them more adaptable maybe…’
‘No, they’re already adaptable. To the nth degree. And no, I don’t wanna go into the details of that.
‘What about your fellow aliens? Do they talk to them?’
Reshmi let out a jet of coffee breath, modifying it with little stutter sounds of Juh juh juh juh. ‘Gods, you’re persistent.’
‘Are they here now, on the base somewhere?’
‘Okay, how about we leave the alien inquisition for later and go play the game I’ve set up outside? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not chess.’
‘Uno?’ I said, picking up my cup and peering at the brown flakes on the surface.
‘Second hint. It’s not a child’s game.’
‘Okay, stop guessing and just come outside. The equipment’s all set up. I even removed the djinn exhibit so you wouldn’t get distracted.’
‘What about our breakfast?’
‘Hmm. Well, you are nursing it a bit…but fine, suppose there’s no real rush.’
‘Back in a minute,’ said Lexi, sliding off the stool, grabbing her cup and wandering off to the back of the lobby.
‘That was abrupt.’
‘I think she’s getting a coffee refill,’ I lied, glancing back and seeing Lexi maneuvering to different sides of Assta and then outright pursuing her when she teleported to the part of the lobby with the series of white splashes on the wall. The inevitable decay of a white dwarf star in eleven stages, according to Reshmi, though she’d been smirking when she’d said it so maybe not.
‘Here’s an old friend of yours from the hostel.’
‘What?’ I turned back, seeing her tapping the cover of Moon Prison.
‘You’ll have time to finish it now you’re here. And start on your own work. The long-awaited Yellow Muon Blob. With Lexi relaxing seductively in the background, Barbara Steele style.’
‘Yeah…’ I said, drifting out to the ice fields.
‘Or she can try writing something too. Mind is definitely erratic enough for it. Even more so after all that’s happened. In fact…no, I won’t say it. Too divisive. Stick to your thing, Keni. As long as you don’t magpie your way through it…or steal the Uranus sub-plot from Moon Prison. Or the Xaaa character…’
I shifted my eyes to Reshmi, vaguely aware that she was still talking, then quickly floated over to the Thai-looking hologram in the bored pineapple t-shirt and mustard yellow shorts.
Possibly still sulking from the Reshmi insults, she was stuck to book with DETERMINISM IS in huge red capitals on the cover.
Or holo-reading it with her holo-eyes and holo-interpretative circuits, turning each holo-page with her holo-fingers, processing the plot and themes with her holo-
‘You seem distant, Keni,’ said Reshmi, off-screen.
‘Not happy on Triton?’
Picking up my coffee with a no-look grab, I squinted at the Thai hologram’s book cover, trying to read the smaller text subtitle. Then turned when I felt something hit my elbow. It was the corner edge of Moon Prison, pushed by the Indian-skinned puppet master.
‘Too alien for you?’
‘Actually, everything’s pretty comfortable,’ I said, putting my cup on top of the book.
‘Well, a good host…’
‘Like one of those future-themed hotels in Austria or Nagano. Not alien at all.’
It was supposed to be a trivial line, but it seemed to hit Reshmi hard as her eyes flared purple yet again, honing in on the disintegrated/disintegrating white dwarf stars on the far wall.
‘You wouldn’t understand it,’ she mumbled loud enough to be heard, then another word that sounded like ant.
Probably would, I thought, picking up Moon Prison and flicking to the back pages. If you stopped fucking around with my genitals and dead djinns and actually shared with us something concrete.
With your friends, I added quickly, remembering her claim of telepathic powers.
Luckily, she was still engrossed in the white dwarf death slide, so I took a sip of coffee and pretended to read the end of Moon Prison.
With the occasional sneak glimpse of Neptune in the background.
Was that what we all were?
‘Ah, the coffee seeker…’ Reshmi said after a minute or two of silence, tapping the table.
I put my finger on a line I wasn’t even reading and looked up.
It was Lexi, back from her trip.
‘Try to ask Assta where all the others are,’ she whispered tight in my ear, sitting back down on her stool with a fresh cup of coffee, which she held up as evidence to Reshmi.
‘What?’ I whispered back, disguising it as a kiss.
‘I just tried…three times. Said it was beyond my limits.’
‘Now it’s your turn. Go.’
I took another sip of coffee then put the cup down on the window-side counter, shook my head at the view, said wah when a plume of nitrogen gas spurted out a few hundred metres away, ignored the knee jabs on my thigh from Lexi, stared generally at Neptune, pictured chandelier hotels, mining orbs, diamond rain and, finally, got bored enough to walk over to Assta and ask her Lexi’s question.
‘It is beyond your limits,’ she replied, preparing what looked like a giant syringe for…something.
‘Is Nick…sorry, Reshmi…is she alone here?’
‘It is beyond your limits.’
‘Is that an automated response?’
‘What are you putting in that syringe?’
‘It is also beyond your limits.’
I nodded, noticing that both Reshmi and Lexi were looking my way. Okay, time to move. In a smooth fashion. Opting for the scenic way back, I stopped next to the Thai hologram planted on the couch and asked her where all the other aliens were.
She looked up, too fast to have been genuinely reading her book, and replied in a puzzled tone, ‘it’s an open base. They’re everywhere.’
‘They’re here now?’
She turned left, gesturing with the edge of her book at a man who looked like he was cosplaying an Ondōan from Beyond the Rabbit Hole.
I nodded, thanking her for the help, then returned to my stool.
Sipped lukewarm coffee.
Glanced at the blurb of Moon Prison and muttered, ‘beyond their limits.’
‘Are you speaking in some kind of code?’
Reshmi looked at me, tilted her head and stared [forcing me back down to the back cover of Moon Prison]…hummed an unfamiliar melody…cut it short…said she missed my blonde hair and blue dot dress combo. Then, when that got no reaction, told the two of us that she’d made a list of places we could go within the local vicinity.
‘Does it include Earth?’ asked Lexi, stirring her coffee.
‘Earth. Our home planet.’
That got a long stretch of silence, and a lot of staring off at the ice fields. So much staring that I started to think she’d actually spotted something important.
But then she turned back and said, with a barely cloaked tone of irritation, ‘Earth. Sure. Why not?’
After that, she left her stool and told us it was time for her to take the usual morning walk outside.
‘Should we come?’ I asked, half picking up my red cycling jacket from the back of the stool, but it went unheard as Reshmi was already halfway across the lobby, taking the DETERMISIM IS book out of the Thai-hologram’s lap and throwing it at the white dwarf chaos as she left.
As with the glass from the previous day, it vanished into nothingness the precise moment it hit its target.
‘That wasn’t very reassuring,’ said Lexi, shuffling her muesli around the bowl.
‘She did say yes, technically.’
‘Same way she did with Portland.’
I looked across the lobby, spotting Assta in a statue pose with her giant syringe. Reshmi had told us she could sense through your brain patterns when you needed her to appear, which was clearly an exaggeration as I was thinking her name now and getting nothing.
Assta, I thought, literally prodding my head forward to get it over to her.
It worked, finally.
There was flicker of light, a vanishing then a pale yellow woman standing to my right, still clutching the giant syringe. ‘Yes?’
‘I want to ask…is it possible to go back to Earth?’
‘For us too?’
‘How?’ asked Lexi, taking her spoon out of the bowl and accidentally flicking milk drops through Assta’s face and onto the carpet behind.
‘It is beyond your limits.’
Lexi nudged my hand, tagging me in.
‘How?’ I tried.
‘It is beyond your limits.’
‘Is that all?’
I shrugged and Lexi went back to her muesli, which was obviously enough of a signal for Assta to flicker-teleport to her original position.
‘Wonder why she’s holding that thing,’ I said, looking over and then changing to, ‘wah, is that Juana,’ when I caught sight of the Mexican walking out from rear arch.
‘Foda…she looks lost,’ said Lexi, as we watched the sleepy-looking Yaqui muddle her way through and around the couches, stopping at one point and staring down at the Ondōan hologram, then resuming her passage and reeling back in self-surprise when she saw the window [presumably her own ghost-like reflection].
Taking the stool next to Lexi, she accepted the bowl of muesli that Assta placed in front of her, and the coffee that followed it, then told us in a soft voice that everything looked faintly purple.
‘Faces, décor, this coffee…the sky outside.’ She put her right palm flat over her cup, closing her eyes. Waited a few seconds. Opened them again. ‘The back of my hand. Fingernails.’
‘I feel okay though. Brighter today. Clearer thoughts.’
‘Clear is good.’
Outside the window, another plume of nitrogen gas shot up towards the still semi-ludicrous backdrop of Neptune, the resulting dust-drizzle causing the blue specks shielding the front of the base to mobilise.
Then, a couple of minutes later, another one erupted.
And then another.
And then another.
Until I had the idea of making a game out of it.
Predict the nitrogen gas eruption/plume/spurt/killing fog.
Bonus points if it aggravates the containment field.
‘Aggravates as in makes those blue bits flicker,’ I clarified, sucking up the dregs of the coffee…glancing at the rim of the cup…briefly thinking Fresno, Lake Arrowhead, Saizeriya…before looking up and seeing Neptune again. ‘What do you think? Worth playing?’
‘Guess the next spurt…’ muttered Lexi, eyes already scanning the ice fields.
‘The general area, yeah.’
‘Is that a positive hmm?’
‘Long as I don’t have to move from this stool.’
‘Good. We’re set then. Juana?’
‘There. On the left.’ She put out a crooked hand, pointing at a spurt nearby that had just erupted. ‘Do I get a point?’
The containment field flickered blue, letting in foreign molecules.
‘We haven’t started yet. All three of us have to be…’
‘…looking out the window. Huh? Me?’
‘Just give her the point,’ said Lexi, taking my cup, frowning at the lack of coffee left in it. ‘She did see the spurt…gas plume…’
‘I saw it even earlier, but my arm…was too slow to point at it.’
‘Technically, you’re supposed to predict it, not-…’
‘Sensed it, not saw. Sì, predict, that too.’
‘…Juana gets a point…for being extremely alert…and predicting the first spurt.’
Lexi coughed into the rim of my cup, possibly a laugh, then shot up and almost clipped me on the ear as her hand jabbed at the window. ‘There, over there…plume.’
‘One point to Lexi.’
‘Nice prediction,’ added Juana, patting the air near Lexi’s shoulder.
‘That’s really a point?’
‘Results so far; one point to Juana, one point to me, zero to the complaining sceptic. Let’s make it first to ten so it isn’t endless. Juana?’
‘If it is me, sì.’
I hunched forward, eyes on the bottom line of the window, cutting out the dagger thought of fucking cheat witch cunts, annoyed at the idea that a plume might burst up and be denied as prediction if I saw it, resigned to losing the game I’d just invented, paranoid that at some point Lexi would get drunk and fuck Juana and realise it was better to be with her than me cos Juana would lick longer and
I looked back up
saw both of them pointing at the ice-scape with circus astonishment
heard, ‘two points each, sceptic still on zero,’
closed my eyes
blacked out the base Neptune Triton and