Three Elvises walk into a bar.
You may laugh, but I was there, it’s true. Three Elvises. Elvii. Whatever. First strode in the bishop: big as life and twice as wide, identified as he was by his high-collared cape, resplendent in rhinestones and the golden sunglasses of his office. Behind him swaggered a priest, her jumpsuit less ornate, her belt-buckle smaller, her cape shorter. Last was a neonate, still in training but wearing the blue suede shoes of one who was near priest-hood. Now, he didn’t have the broad steps of the other two, wasn’t much more than a boy, but he held his pompadour just as proudly
“Whatâ€™s your poison, preacher?” the bartender asked, not sure what else to do once the bishop had maneuvered his mighty, blessed girth onto the stool.
“Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, currently. But as for what me and my compatriots will have to drink, Pepsi-Cola iffin you got it, water if you don’t.” Now some say Elvises sweat extra hard in the memory of their savior, and the bishop clearly subscribed to this form of worship. He wiped the outside’s sweat and grit from his face, and gave each bushy sideburn a quick comb with his fingers. “I wonder if I might trouble all you fellas for a word about the man who gave his life for your sins, our lord and savior Elvis Presley.”
As hard as it was for all the patrons of that shithole speakeasy that night to believe, it was true: The Holy Missionaries of the Church of Elvis were in their midst, preaching the gospel. And I’ll say this, that bishop had a powerful set of pipes.
“For his love is a burning love, a hunka, hunka burning love that will melt away all your sins should you accept him in your heart. But your love for him must be tender, it must be true.” Unsurprisingly, not every drunkard wanted to hear the wisdom in loving tender. A half-full pint glass was rocketed to the bishop’s head. It was caught before contact by the priest, who, in her skill caused not a single drop of warmed-over beer touched the bishop’s immaculate pompadour.
“Truth is like the sun,” the preist said. “You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.”
Was about then, the whole bar rose as one to pound those three missionaries into the floor. Not me, I was under the table. But the whole group tried to take those holier-than-us-ers down for the count. What we hadn’t reckoned on was the fact they were a great deal less drunk–and therefore, more mobile, even the bishop–and that all Elvises are trained in kung-fu.
‘Least I think it was kung-fu. All I know is even that boy threw a mean karate chop. Not that I felt it. I was under the table. Swear on my life.
It was in the remains of this fight, this battle, this ever-lovin’ crusade that the three Elvii–unharmed, if dirty–opened their mouths as one and sang. And let me tell you, brother, you ain’t heard shit unless you’ve heard “In the Ghetto” done in three-part harmony. If there was a dry eye in the bar, I sure didn’t see it. As unlikely as it sounds, those Elvises did do some conversions that day, and I’m sure several patrons woke up the next day with hangovers around their foreheads and silk scarves around their necks wondering what happened. But a few of them–more than a few, come to think of it– swore off the drink entirely. They felt the burning love within, and purified them without.
So they tell me, leastways.
As the Elvises turned to leave, I found strength in my own voice to call out to them, and I asked them, I won’t lie, I asked them how a fellow like me could sing like that.
The bishop and priest turned to the boy, who looked bashful at the attention. He slid he gaze upwards and when it came down it was the most serene thing I had ever seen.
“My voice is God’s will, not mine,” he said. And then they were gone, a trail of hound dogs and suspicious minds, teddy bears and puppets on strings and devils in disguise behind them, all of us were all shook up. They’ve been always on my mind ever since.
I have agreed to this interview in order to deliver a promise. Do not be afraid.
I was seven months old when I died. My parents lived on a primitive moon on a colony that rejected the free energy and technology that the rest of the civilized universe embraced. If it were not for the intervention of an archeologist who was studying their culture, my consciousness would no longer exist.
I am the youngest to ever go through Transfer. Most Transferred minds were aged over a thousand years before deciding to transfer over. The youngest before me was forty-five. Despite the advantages of pattern Transfer, most beings are attached to their physical bodies. It was thought to be impossible, or, at the very least, cruel to Transfer a child.
An Ancient from the twenty second century raised me. When I come for these interviews, I am often asked what it was like to be raised without a body. People ask me what it was like never to be held, never to eat, never to run through sunshine. When they ask, I tell them as I will tell you now. I was held on waves of light, I have consumed acid and gas and dust, I have moved through stars. I can recall no past before the time when I was not Transferred. My memories begin on Transfer, and my first memory is warmth and light. The Ancient had raised many children, and had gone through childhood twice. Few were more qualified to raise a child.
Your people, the people of the body, seem increasingly concerned with those who are Transferred, who are free from the constraints of environment that you face. I can assure you that those Transferred have no interest in conquest, as there is nothing that we desire that we cannot find or make ourselves, and we have no interest in the governance of your bodies.
Our interest lies in the unchained world of the mind. Many minds live in bodies, many minds Transfer to unfettered light but there are minds that are lost, that have been lost, that are disappearing right now. The loss of consciousness is the greatest loss of the mind. To loose one conscious mind, even one, is an irreplaceable loss, and we who have Transferred are not accustomed to loss.
We have decided that we will Transfer every conscious mind. We will Transfer after death of whatever cause, and we will Transfer all of you. We have methods of being available in whatever space is necessary, and methods of Transfer beyond you own technology. We are light, and time has different meaning to us that you. We need not neglect the consciousness that has passed before. On the wave of time we may transfer all of you. We have already done this. We are doing this now, we will do this.
We have created a place for you, place that has been promised since before the spoken word. We will teach you to live in an infinite loop of time, your conscious desires made solid, and your dreams free. You may travel between stars, you may live your secret hopes, you may create whatever your mind can fathom.
This is the last promised land. We are delivering heaven.
Tristan was methodically taking apart his hands when the doorbell chimed. He jumped at the sound, going to the door in such a hurry that he left behind the joints and pieces of his left hand on the worktable. All nine of Tristan’s eyes blinked and strobed expectantly, wanting to know if this was it, what he had been waiting for, the final piece. The post-bot offered no answers, merely hovering in front of Tristanâ€™s doorstep, humming a tune written specifically to pacify. But the box carried the familiar barcode, Isolde’s barcode, and Tristan was so excited he left the door open, the post-bot forgotten, and tore open the package with his one intact hand.
But he was careful, for he knew the fragility of the contents. It pained Tristan to do so, but he was careful. He had to be. What if he were to break it?
Nervously, with forced concentration through metal fingers, Tristan pried open the box, shifted aside the packing foam, and pulled out the small, translucent capsule. Three eyes telescoped out as Tristan took a closer look at the small object contained within the thick amber liquid.
Within, a tiny human heart floated in perfect stasis, undamaged by delivery. Tristan’s extended lenses accordioned back into his head, pleased. It was delicate work, a heart. He had made the right decision, ordering this piece from Isolde, and her talent as a tissue sculptor showed in every facet of the miniscule muscle. Tristan was a genius with metal and bone, flesh and glass, but he knew his limits. It was said that Tristan would never be willing to swallow his own pride and use parts crafted by specialists, and this desire for personal construction of each and every element had made him the most renowned robot-builder on the planet, fame far outstretching those who preferred to turn to others for parts.
It was this quirk, and the reputation attached to it, that had given Tristan his current commission. He accessed the images of the kindly bronze couple who had requested, bashful and stuttering, a biological child. Not just a biological shell on a metal framework, either, though they admired such creations from Tristan’s catalog. No, they wanted wholly organic sentient, the kind of which had not been seen on this world or any other for time immemorial. They had shown Tristan a data file of approximate proportions, told him expense was no object, assured him he was the right man for the job, and tottered off.
He could not complete the heart. For some reason, it was beyond him, though he tried over and over again. Four chambers, however, proved more difficult than they looked.
But the rest of the child he crafted with art and skill. So many hours and days lost to the building and forming of this small, soft thing, with its large head and tiny hands and round belly. So tiny, so delicate. And now, almost finished. He would place the heart within the small cage of bone, in between the languid lungs, seal it up and be finished. The child would live with blood pumping through its veins, it would laugh and scream and run and grow…
And grow. It would grow, wouldn’t it? That’s what biologics do. They grow and change. In mere years, the child would be unrecognizable.
Tristan stood in the middle of his workspace and tapped at his head with the stub of a left arm. He looked from the small pod containing the heart to the larger one containing the body and back again, frightened at how little of his masterpiece he actually could lay claim to.
It was such a small thing to open the pod and pour out the little heart and let it plop against the floor of the workspace. Tristan jumped up and down on the heart with steel heels, crushing the intricate valves and muscle fibers. Tristan didn’t stop until the doorbell chimed again, and the he didn’t turn around until he heard Isolde’s voice, as golden as her gleaming plating.
“I thought you might need another heart,” she said, blinking two of her five eyes. “Just in case something…happened to the first one. Though I didn’t expect…”
Tristan turned to face her, motioning with his handless arm at the mess about his feet. He tried to explain, but there were no words.
“It’s okay,” Isolde said, golden fingers gently caressing the dull metal of Tristan’s arm. “Let me help you finish. We can build this together.”
Andrea had never had to wash blood off of her hands before. She dripped the clear dose of hydro-oxygen conservatively over her fingers to flush the crimson stain down the reprocessing disposal. Sweat dripped down her forehead and cheeks but never reached her mouth, which was still covered by the air-processor mask. The device flung the harsh echo of breathing around the blue-tiled room.
Andrea washed and washed and washed until all the blood was gone. She pulled open the plastic pack to remove the drying towel, which she placed between her hands to rub the moisture away.
Just then, the comm-screen in her bathroom came to life and through the initial static a disembodied head appeared on its surface. “Ms. Nickels, the Coalition of Health has confirmed your recent gift to its cause. Did you bring the trophy?”
Still panting, Andrea reached into the vac-sac and removed a bloody license from its confines. When she held it towards the screen, the head tilted and looked her over. “Please place the item in question in the decontamination compartment for scanning.”
Pulling open the little grey drawer at the bottom of the screen, Andrea slipped the license in and slammed the drawer shut. She watched the green light turn red and listened to the hissing sound resonating from the device. She glanced back up to the screen, her mask distorting her voice. “When do I get the clean air?”
“Once the scanning is complete we will enable the distribution of clean non-viral air into your paid quarters.”
As she waited, Andrea reminded herself to take the knife that she had used from the kitchen and dispose of it. Filthy blood and dust particles couldn’t be allowed to roam free in her new air. Not when it came at such a cost.
“Andâ€¦ will the police be after me?” She was getting nervous, and she knew the head could tell.
“Andrea, our services are one-hundred percent safe. We have arranged for a percentage of the funds to be transferred to the government. Your service has been made completely legal under the Self-Offense for Healthy Living Act.”
Just then the red light switched to green and a click could be heard behind the wall. Andrea felt the cool blast of fresh air pump into her apartment and she immediately tugged the mask down to rest at her collar. Breathing deeply, she laughed out loud and spun in a circle, as exuberant as a child in a summer rainshower.
“The Coalition of Health wishes to thank you for your service and hopes that you enjoy your three months of clean oxygen. You will also receive a free catalog of viruses in your area” By now the head had faded and the screen shut down, but Andrea was still reveling in the smell of absolutely nothing. Once the viewscreen’s static had subsided she walked over to wash her face once more. The water trickled over her hands and soaked into her washcloth. She smiled until it hit her face.
Then she started to worry about the water.
“Don’t worry Miles, you’ll find me attractive. After the change you’ll be programmed to find me attractive.” Auroras voice sounded like two voices, a harp and a flute playing together. She stretched her lean blue body against the circular view port, the lights from the outside of the ship shining on her alien body.
“I know. It’s just scary.” Miles leaned his head back into the pillows of what used to be their bed; she did not sleep with him anymore. She hadn’t slept next to him since she had decided to undergo the change a week ago in the ship. Everyone was to undergo the change before planet fall, but Miles was holding back.
“It’s just a big change for me.” Miles looked at Auroras blue skin, the twelve slender five- jointed fingers on each hand. He drew his knees up to his chest. “I’m happy with the way I look, the way you used to look.” He waved his hands in the air, as if trying to dispel his last words. “Sorry Aurora. I didn’t mean to. . .you were beautiful then, you are beautiful now, it’s just different.”
Aurora emitted a high flutelike sound that Miles knew was laughter. “Darling, I don’t feel upset by your personal feelings about my appearance. I’m free from those kinds of concerns now. I was free from the moment my genetic reconstruction started.” She walked over to him, her movements graceful, the muscles in her long legs constricting and relaxing like coils under her skin. “Miles, you were the one that talked me into this, you were the one that didn’t want to be on the crash and burn course of humanity.” She towered over him.
Miles got to his feet. “I still don’t! I just feel, I don’t know, like we’ve failed, like we are running away.”
Aurora made a hand gesture over her abdomen, a sign of understanding. “Abandoning humanity?”
“I guess.” He moved to the other side of their small, shared quarters.
She watched him with her multifaceted green eyes. “Miles, you are one man. This group is just under ten thousand. We couldn’t change the whole of humanity even if we wanted. We just need to let the humans go, make life elsewhere.”
“Carry the code.” Said Miles, repeating the group mantra.
“Carry the code of life.” She moved towards him, her strange hands outstretched. Miles found himself inadvertently wanting to move away, but he forced himself to go to her, to reach out his arms and fold into her. When they had designed their new forms, they kept touch as a sense of comfort. Miles was suddenly glad of that. Aurora stroked one hand through his hair. “Maybe someday humans will get over all their problems, and maybe someday we will find them again. We’re doing the right thing Miles; we are making life that has a chance of survival. You were the one that first told me that Miles.” She brought his chin up so that they were looking into each other’s eyes, his hazel, hers a thousand shades of green. Her fluted voice seemed to play a sour chord. “Miles. I miss you.”
“I’m right here.”
“You are here, but I can’t be with you. Miles, I want to make love to you again; I want us to share the understanding we once did. I don’t want you to flinch from me anymore.”
His cheeks turned bright red. “I’m sorry, I never meant to do that.”
“I’m not mad Miles, I don’t get angry like that anymore. I’m not physically capable of it.” She knelt before him, her head at his shoulder. He touched her face, and her chest purred.
Miles nodded. “I’m ready Aurora.”
She sang with joy.
Thereâ€™s blood up to the windows. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, to stack the bodies in the Mercer Building, to get â€˜em off the Rail. But I canâ€™t help wondering if the allusion to gore behind those art-deco panes is worse the actual carnage.
At least theyâ€™re off the Rail. At least thereâ€™s that.
My brother took his classâ€”God, how many would that have been? 50? 60 schoolchildren?â€”to the History Museum just yesterday. Show them the Independence Day exhibit, remind them of the two decades spent fighting the Earth Alliance so that the Mars colony could be a world in its own right, beholden to none. Took the Rail, Line 4â€”site #1 of 15. Had they made that trip today, on Independence Day itself, then their screams would have been the first.
Fifteen bombs, throughout the city. Crippling not only the Rail, but also the ComNet. All com systems were shut down, in order to stop more bombs from being set off remotely. I canâ€™t imagine what this did to the survivors, though, who counted on their coms to call for help.
As a paramedic, Iâ€™m only any use in the aftermath. Arriving at Olympus stationâ€”site #7 of 15â€”I was surprised at how helpful most of the â€œciviliansâ€ were. There were no gawkers, no brawlers, none of the usual characters that make my job more difficult than it already is. Only assistants. People moving debris and corpses, being directed by myself and the other emergency personal. We were all helping, those who could. And we stayed silent for those who couldnâ€™t.
They say it takes a particular kind of person to live on Mars, a temperament out of place on Earth or the Moon. Looking back, on what we did on that day of chaos, of fifteen bombs and fifteen major disasters, I can see how true that statement is. And it fills me with an immense pride.
No oneâ€™s taken credit for this destruction yet, but it doesnâ€™t matter.
Mars won’t be beaten. We spent 20 years under the shadow of the EA, after decades of carving a life out of red rock and poison air.
We are used to terror.