A futuristic story in some parts funded by the great people over at my Patreon. Pictures sourced at http://rekall.tumblr.com/ as usual, click on them to visit
SV: YOU’RE COMING IN WHERE??
In relationships what separates people from being resources is love. It is any kind of binding of love, care. It is not love when the employer thanks the employee for good work, and it is not love when a reporter writes down quotations from a source, and it is not love when a private detective turns in the private details of a citizen for money. Love is not unadulterated admiration or awe, because if it were, love would end after the first disappointment. An employee is fired. A faker is sent on their way. Love carries on after disappointment. It stretches into the black abyss. The stars that pock love’s history wink and gleam.
LY: LOOK OUT YOUR PORTHOLE
SV: WHAT THE HECK
SV: SLOW DOWN
At some point, had we considered it, we might have understood that money took the love away. Money collapsed the bonds between people when it made them do things they did not want to do for a living. Money made it necessary to ‘expose’ people. It made it necessary to be cold. It made others cut bonds like cutting tendons to let them bleed out.
Money made us cold. It made it inconvenient to love.
Metro Nine vibrates towards my bare feet as I drum the glass with my toes; music thumps through all the winking lights of the grubby navigation instruments. Empty foil crisp packets float up and slight me on the cheek like loose fingers.
(It is two in the fucking night cycle, he is thinking just now, but he does not say it to me because he does not curse. Instead he says)
SV: PUT THE THRUSTERS ON IM ENTIRELY NAKED AND THE BAY IS A STRAIGHT RUN DOWN THE B CORRIDOR
LY: CAN’T SLOW IT DOWN SV. NO FUEL.
SV: I KNOW YOU HAVE BATTERY BECAUSE YOU ARE MESSAGING ME AND I CAN SEE LIGHTS AND YOU PROBABLY HAVE THE BASS UP TO RED
LY: HURRY THE FUCK. UP.
I thump the hatches either side of me. The Heart, my monstrous vintage cannonball, is hurtling through the black and stars towards the hard industrial edges of Metro Nine. I am on assignment, three days of online heists for some tiny sum.
INCOMING: CHANGE OF ASSIGNMENT
INCOMING: CHANGE OF ASSIGNMENT
FOR INCREASED REMITTANCE, PLEASE CONSIDER NEW ASSIGNMENT. TERMINAL: METRO NINE. JOB: MONITORING
It’s not that I hadn’t considered the possibility of drifting for a full week on vapour; it’s that when you move from planet to satellite to station, afraid that the next wink of a faster than light arrival are vigilantes gunning for your head, you contemplate going mad from isolation and insomnia, starvation, drifting into an eternity of back problems from napping in a patchwork-taped cockpit chair, one finger twitching on the hyperdrive stick. It’s impossible to squint into the future when there’s a switch flipped and there blinks in the green glow of life’s dashboard:
SURVIVE NOW. THERE IS NO LATER. SURVIVE NOW.
One doesn’t contemplate calling ahead, making plans when you are certain the next moment you might lose it, and that moment is every moment.
The future: it does not exist for vagabonds. The present must be punched into the ground first and forever. Forever.
At some point work provided bonds. Five years ago I met SV at a conference for Network Freelancers, a tall wiry blonde whose grip leaves a soft imprint on handshake, a mark you remember. He gave a speech on Personal Protection because Freelancers are often picked off, pursued, left to fragment in pieces and fall to earth over distant suns. We went for a drink afterwards; he gave me a blaster, a hangover, sexually-transmitted conjunctivitis. SV’s only precautions are firearms.
SV: HANGAR TWELVE. CLOSE YOUR EYES.
LY: DO YOU HAVE ANY BUFFERS
SV: NAE LUCK
LY: CLOSE YOUR EYES
I’d say, for about six months, that SV and I were deeply in love. Perhaps he would say we were “Dating. Sort of” either because he is gutless or because he was waiting for something better. The dismissive “Dating. Sort of” is the only kind of romantic love I think I have ever had; it always ends up in a complicated friendship where both parties tell jokes and get dinner long after it was ascertained that the sex was not supposed to mean love, but it is all still just subtext for I wish we were still in bed because whatever happens the accidental touches are still electric. Or, perhaps those are just the echoes of desire, and the echoes continue down the dark tunnel forever.
People do not fall in love with a vagabond. It is too dangerous.
People do not offer freelancers full time jobs. It is too expensive.
TAKING INTO ACCOUNT YOUR EXPERIENCE, WE HAVE ASSIGNED YOU AN AVATAR AT PALMYRA.COM. HOURS ARE 2100-0200 METRO NINE TIME. PLEASE REPLY ‘YES’ TO ACCEPT THIS ROLE.
I flip the music up to deafening as Heart slips through the hangar doors, smashes into the landing lights, and scrapes deafeningly across the floor, my feet still braced against the fortified glass and the hull of my poor ship grazes itself into the landing bay and slumps like a scolded puppy in the maintenance trolleys. Poor sweet metaphor, I think.
The hangar doors grate closed and oxygen floods in, and I try to take pleasure in another arrival, gravity I think, gravity. But I can’t take pleasure in it.
I rummage in the medical supplies box and produce a hip flask and cigars. SV wrenches open the warped hatch with those long fingers, an arm reaches in for my shoulder. He hauls me out into the floodlights of the deserted hangar.
“Ah! You are naked,” I say. “You are in fact, naked. Cold?”
“Sleepy,” he says, scratching a hand through the blonde mop, leaving a blade of the stuff sticking up, stubborn. My brother was killed in a mining accident when I was nineteen on some moon with long numbers. But when he was small he used to call these accidental hair erections ‘lulus’. I smile at SV for this reason. SV looks sinewy and almost marblelike like this, so he thinks I am smiling at his fatless figure. I can read men. I’m like Cassandra: I can tell what will happen but there is no way to prevent it.
I hold up the cigars and flask.
“Aren’t you going to bring anything else from this trashbike with you?” SV’s face is sometimes concerningly emotionless, his big blue eyes seeming to absorb every detail in every wrinkle and pinprick around him. He probably has a blog, I think. A blog I will never read.
I turn around to look at my little soldered-together trashcan, with the big headlights, only enough room for a chair and an engine on the back, and the huge pink love heart, now flaky, I’d painted on the side. I hadn’t bothered to actually name her. She’d just sort of named herself. She reminds me of a rig I put together once, Frankenstein parts, old dust-logged motherboard, stolen RAM, huge pink monitor. Looked cute, ran like a tractor with bad graphics.
“There’s nothing of worth in there,” I say.
SV puts me on the couch where he lets his corgi nap. The elderly dog looks up at me sadly, and I pat him. His name is Ludo.
“Do you want to stay on the couch with me?” I ask Ludo. Ludo lies down by the couch and whines gently.
SV puts a tshirt on and gives me a cup of green tea. “Ludo’ll sleep with me and RL when he gets in. He’s working super late these days on some new model.”
“RL?” I say.
“New one. Boy. Nice. Designs the corvette types over at the far side of the station. He’ll flip when you tell him what you do. Since I retired from all your stuff he always wanted to meet a notorious freelancer. You know, the sort that people have heard of.”
“They’ve only heard of me because I’ve stuck around long enough to make a lot of enemies. Because of that slip over at Horizon Point.”
“Do you know they call you the Pop Idol?”
“Because of the music.”
“Well I mean, it’s not because of your good looks.”
SV looks slightly apologetic for a little while, whilst he recognises he didn’t mean it.
I sip my tea and suddenly remember a time where I made a joke about his ex leaving him because of some petty thing I disliked. It could have been anything, not replacing the toilet paper in the WC or… Anything. But the sudden silence that ensued widened in such a way that I knew I’d really hurt him when I’d said it. Perhaps it was even just the mention of his ex. Perhaps it was that it made him think I was going to leave him. Maybe it was just that I had made a joke about not wanting to be around and he’d thought about my leaving suddenly. It could have been anything, but I kissed him and apologised immediately. But I was never actually certain that that was enough. Men don’t say anything, when it’s emotional. They just let it hurt them, and they get angry later. Maybe that’s why, at the end, he didn’t talk to me for four weeks when we were still living together. He never apologised. It was just emotional outsourcing. He was just letting me be upset for him. I always did like work.
“Hey,” he says. “You still look good. You need a shower, and your clothes have holes in them. And you look like you haven’t seen yourself in the mirror for weeks. But for a notorious lance you look good, LY. Your hair grew out.”
I sigh heavily. “Can I have a hug?” I ask. “I’ve been in that pod for days. My body is screaming for sleep. But I just want to feel someone else’s goddamn warmth on me. A person.”
He kneels down and gives me a hug. His skin smells clean with some sort of cologne, his tshirt is clean and new, the beginnings of his beard is still smooth enough not to hurt my cheek, but I can smell myself mixed with it, stale sweat, metallic, like saline, the inside of the cockpit. He holds me, rigid, to communicate that he’s this huge robotic-like frame that holds an armoured umbrella. He doesn’t say anything. The tea steams gently on the table.
“Thanks,” I say as my eyelids try to shut themselves down. The last thing I see before I black out is the ceiling and walls stretching away from me in the blue dark, guns upon guns in racks, a secret hovel of tricks, and a message on my charm-smothered handheld that I try not to notice:
PN: I heard some old record and thought about you today.
I dream about invoices and listen to the hum of Metro Nine.