‘Most recently-fired workers would’ve gone to the KIK-DEPOT, or one of the SUN ROOMS, but Suni knew what they both offered and didn’t want any of it. Besides, the SUN ROOMS would push her into a revenge scenario, which would quickly turn into hundreds of revenge scenarios, and she wasn’t angry enough anymore for all that, how could she be, they’d all been arrested, and even if she wanted to do something more personal, she didn’t know who actually did it, who threw the fatal dart, she didn’t know any of their faces, she’d never actually visited the factory where Kito had worked…every time she went, she’d just waited in the RED POSSIBILITY ROOM nearby, so…
If she did go in the SUN ROOM, she’d need a face, and based on what she’d been reading and thinking of recently it’d probably end up being Bakunin.
I don’t wanna throw darts at Bakunin, she thought, stopping next to LUM TAI DOR café.
Don’t wanna throw anything at anyone, except maybe myself.
But only because she fired me.’
With good reason, I thought, dropping Moon Prison to knee level and then sliding it across the floor all the way to Kristeva.
Mrs. Oh My Abject wouldn’t mind, she was dead.
At least I thought she was.
Last I’d heard.
Was she though?
On the other side of the lobby, Lexi fumbled through another line of Portuguese and got told immediately by the guy in the Coffin Joe t-shirt that it was half good, two thirds bad.
‘Which part was wrong?’ she asked back, ignoring the weird mathemathics.
‘Sound is too English. You use recordar instead of lembrar. Some other things I’ve forgotten now.’
There was no reply to that except a glare at Assta, who’d created this new hologram as a language partner specifically for Lexi [from nebulous input], then more Portuguese.
I picked up the note pad, the JoJo pen and started stabbing the page.
Around the edges of it.
Re-read my notes.
‘Hologram caretaker and shipwrecked alien plot abduction of human captives on Earth, using their yellow muon blob technology.
Other holograms help at some point?
Caretaker slowly warms to Japanese main character, then re-solidifies as threat.
Alien is killed halfway through after losing powers.
I moved the pen, drawing a spiral around and then through jarring.
Stabbed the edges again.
Looked up and suppressed a groan as Reshmi appeared, stopping briefly next to Assta and then taking a slow curve towards my stool.
‘I mean Moon Prison.’
‘Dude…Keni cat…it’s been nearly a week.’
I hunched forward, turning a page of the pad and hoping the notes weren’t dark enough to be seep through.
‘Perhaps some Portuguese to relax the neurons.’
‘Think about it. You can’t be much worse than Lexi…’
‘She’s doing okay.’
I turned back a few pages, pretended to review scribbles, then closed the pad and put my cocktail glass on top of it. Stared out at old uncle Neptune. The deep black flanking it on every side.
‘Have you thought about it yet?’
‘It’d be more of an achievement than writing dull chapter notes.’
I shook my head, feigning confusion.
‘Killing me off halfway…Assta falling in love with you…’
‘What are you-…what chapter notes?’
‘Wah, I really must stop overpraising humans. To think…after feeding you a gem like Moon Prison and you still can’t-…ah, why bother? This is why Portuguese is the way, Keni. No need to use your brain. Just copy the patterns and you’re silver.’
‘I haven’t written anything yet, I’m still-…’
‘Or dilithium. Much more valuable. Okay, stick to your notes then. I’m going to find Juana, see if she’s up for a game of chess outside. Hopefully the poor sap’s not still staring at that plasma conduit. If she is…’
Reshmi pushed the stool she hadn’t sat down on back under the counter, blew a kiss at Neptune, then headed off to the corridor exit that led to…somewhere.
Not the Alienology Wing.
The third section… with all the forbidden doors…and that metal pillar with the pink orb on top.
I still wasn’t sure what it was exactly – only looked at it once, briefly – so I left the notepad and went over to ask Assta, what is that pink orb, but as I got close, she spotted me and de-materialised instantly, before I could raise a hand and say hey, and, doing a full three sixty of the lobby, I realized she wasn’t gonna be materializing back.
Had she also read my notes?
The seduction scene?
Did Reshmi tell her something?
Keeping the pink orb pinned to a child’s recreation of my own frontal lobe, I walked out the same exit Reshmi had taken and followed the chain of corridors and turns and alien-text signs until I reached my target.
Again the door was wide open, and the pink orb was calling me in.
I responded, walking closer.
At that point, I had already decided I was gonna touch it cos if it were dangerous, or deadly, they wouldn’t have left the door open like that.
It was dilithium logic
And putting skin to orb
I lost breath
drifting up two thirds of the way to the ceiling and back out the door, residual pink blotches blinking at awkward points on the walls all around.
Was I a ghost?
Had I just been vapourised?
I sent out the command SHIFT BACK and the floating body obeyed, showing me the room I’d just left and the form of myself leaning against the orb pillar, face blank, arms limp
Was that dead?
Another command RETURN TO BODY and a blast of wind carried me back in, arms flailing, almost knocking over the orb as I got used to having substance again.
A sense of…touch…abstract and physical…
Not dead then.
After a few tentative trips down the same corridor, I gradually built up enough courage to send out bolder commands
GO THROUGH WALL
And the last one took me about five corridors over to Reshmi scratching grey off a light panel, shouting down at Juana to stop staring at the fucking conduit and get outside onto the Viewing Platform, cos the chessboard was starting to erode.
I hung back a second, instinctively, but a second instinct further down commanded me right up to Reshmi’s shoulder.
Somehow, she didn’t notice anything, didn’t hear my breathing.
Seemed like it.
Or was she just pretending?
I had no way to answer that, though I did have the feeling that her acting could never be this good, this sustained, so I continued hovering behind as she picked Juana up by the arm, rode out the spasm claw attacks, and guided her down several corridors and outside to where…for some reason, probably psychopathic whimsy…the dead djinn had been re-installed.
Kuso…his skin was starting to flake…
With dried green fluid that had to be the demon’s blood.
Wah, better not to look.
But it was tough, they were right there, a few yards from the chessboard, dulling the ice-scape in the near distance.
‘Are you conscious?’ Reshmi asked, making me jump a bit as she was looking directly at my face.
‘Don’t wanna play chess,’ replied Juana, flicking over one of the rooks.
‘Then just sit there and watch. I’ll use two oppositional styles, make it interesting. And if you change your mind, just whine, I’ll tag you in.’
‘The conduit…wanna go back.’
‘Yes, by design, and no…you can’t. Wah, how could such a weak poet do this much damage to a mesmerizing ancient-…’
‘I’m going back.’
Juana got up as she spoke out the words, walking straight through my left shoulder.
‘Kuso…’ I said, more wind than sound.
The Yaqui stopped, perhaps hearing me, or perhaps not as she turned and stared off at the ice fields, a plume erupting not too far off that was way more stark than my muffled kuso.
‘The conduit is now off limits,’ barked Reshmi, clutching the king by its cross. ‘Go back there and you’ll find the panel closed and sealed.’
‘Panels are soothing…’
‘Don’t be pedantic, panels are panels. Now, if you really don’t want to play chess with me…which is a bit insulting, actually, but…if you really want to do something else, why not sit in the lobby for a while, talk to one of the holograms?’
‘Good, then I suggest the Thai one. She is programmed to be sexually aggressive and cold afterwards. And is completely untethered from human culture, past and present.’
‘Much better than the archive types. Even your precious Varo…’
Juana stooped down, picked up some moon dust, attempted to crush the already crushed.
I floated nearby, sucking some of it towards my leg.
Didn’t matter, it was only dust.
‘If you really want to get past this…state…’ Reshmi continued, still talking to Juana’s back. ‘My offer is still open.’
‘You know she deserves it…’
‘…for how she treated you.’
Juana half-turned, switching to the dead djinn. As did I. We stared, both of us, long enough for a new patch of skin to flake off the poor thing’s neck.
‘Bring her,’ muttered Juana, picking up more dust.
‘Wait, you can’t just-…’
‘Leave her alone. Stop asking me. Solo quiero un poco de paz.’
The Yaqui stood up and threw the dust out towards the containment shield, at the dead djinn, and walked off towards the base as the dust blew back into my non-physical face.
I blinked as if it were real
Looked at Reshmi with the king piece still gripped in hand.
Waited for her to mumble something
then wished I hadn’t
as she said, full volume, no restraint, ‘kill them all.’
Back in the lobby, in my own physical body, I sat rigid on the couch next to Lexi and watched her go over her notes.
I thought about telling her about the pink orb, I truly did, but I just couldn’t seem to get the words out.
And then I thought, if she knows, she’ll use it too.
Spy on me when I’m alone.
And I’ll never know when.
Permanent observation, forever.
As long as we’re on this base.
Which could be forever.
Or the end of the night if Reshmi unraveled enough.
‘Don’t know if learning in block phrases is actually that good of an idea…’ said Lexi, staring off into a random patch of lobby air, ‘or is it a good idea? Maybe I’m overthinking…’
‘Yeah,’ I replied, looking at the lines on my palm. ‘Wonder where Reshmi is now.’
‘But if I just do single words then…I can’t get the blending…when the other guy talks.’
‘Probably not in the kitchen zone.’
‘It was just…like a blur train…he doesn’t slow down at all.’
‘Maybe reading my notes again. Or thinking up new ways to shove Moon Prison down my throat. Gods, I don’t even know why…just can’t seem to finish the thing.’
‘The movie topic was okay though…I understood about a third of that…I think.’
‘Fifteen more pages and…nope, can’t do it.’
‘Ah, maybe if I get him to-…’
Lexi stopped, and a second later my brain picked up on it and stopped too.
I followed her Argento face and exterior screams to the couch near the main exit, muttering, ‘kuso,’ when I saw Juana’s jaw attached to the Thai hologram’s scalp, and then a more formulaic, ‘wah,’ when Assta materialised out of nothing and put a long finger against the feral Yaqui’s head.
Juana dropped instantly, rolling off the couch and onto the padded lobby floor.
‘Was that…’ Lexi started, half-rising as Assta bent down.
Sensing the two faces gawping at her, Assta raised her left hand and said, in an unusually soft voice, ‘go back to your activities, she is not dead.’
Neither of us said anything back.
In case we got zapped too.
That’s was my reasoning anyway.
Probably Lexi’s too, if she still had a survival instinct.
But then I leaned back into the couch, watched Assta stroke Juana’s hair, watched her ignore the moaning of the bleeding Thai hologram, and thought, she really is quite alert, quite useful, quite nurse-like
quite pretty too
in a base authority kind of way.
Maybe I should put her in my book?
‘Something really off about her…’ whispered Lexi, eyes on her Portuguese notes.
‘If she does anything to Juana…’
I nodded in place of another yeah, picking up Moon Prison and keeping Assta in background micro-frame as I pretended to read, finally adding a soft, ‘she won’t,’ when I realized that Lexi was still looking at me.