The stranger had come full of bizarre smells and even odder forms of payment, and while Hikari wrinkled her nose at the collection of coins and seeds, it was technically money. So she tucked the coins away, placed the seeds in some soft earth so they could blossom properly, and offered the stranger coffee.
“No, thanks,” he said, his eyes glued to the window and the hangar beyond yet. “Is that a monkey?”
“Say ’bout eighty percent of him, yes,” Hikari said, her ears twitching. There was something about this man she wasn’t sure she liked. Though she had to admit, now that she had gotten over its exotic nature, she couldn’t get enough of his smell. “It’s not just a clever name.”
“And he’s going to be working on my ship?”
“If he likes the look of you. ” Hikari allowed a sly smile to play across her muzzle. “Wouldn’t sweat it, I haven’t seen him turn down a pregnancy once. He’ll probably go at it all night. ”
“All night, but how could..well, if that’s what it takes…” The man slumped on the couch, and ran his hand through his hair. He had lots of hair, long black curls. Hikari liked his hair.
“This your first time, hon?”
“Yeah. That obvious? Caught me a bit by surprise. Checking the cargo hold and finding…I didn’t think she was that kind of ship, you know. I probably left her too long at port. Back at Sumter there was this whole gang of Plesocopuses that were up to no good, bet it was one of those…”
“Oh, hush,” Hikari said. She leaned forward toward the man and played a bit with the shoulder strap of her tiny shirt. “That ship of yours ain’t hussy. And you can trust me, I know the type. Back when I was kitten on Osiron, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting some bastard swizzleskid or tamerind. You fellas forget how much of your ship is flesh and blood, forget that a girl’s got needs.” She walked over to him, her hips swaying in time with her tail.
“I imagine she does, at that….”
“She was just doing what came natural.” Hikari slinked onto the couch next to the man and stared at him, black slits narrowing in deep green eyes. “You two came from Sumter? Long ways. Not surprised you turned down the coffee. Reckon I could find other ways to help you relax. ” Hikari snuggled up close, and gave a soft purr as he stroked the soft mottled fur down her back.
“Well, if the monkey’s gonna be at it all night…”
Liberty ate her lunch alone. It wasnâ€™t that she was shy; back at home in the national park where she grew up, she had been very outgoing. In the city, under the press of glistening buildings and cars speeding through the sky, advertisements wailing and the press of people, sensation zappers shooting through you from ads, spreading the taste of chocolate or burger or the scent of perfumes Liberty needed time to recoup. Liberty took quiet lunches to collect her thoughts before going back out into the crowing sensations.
The little Martian restaurant close to campus always seemed crowded but somehow there always seemed to be a table when she came in. Then Liberty realized that the Martians were seating her before other people, preferential treatment for a regular. They always smiled at her when she came in, and she always left them a big tip on her credit line.
Once, on a slow day, she asked for a dish they didnâ€™t have on the menu. Most Earth people didnâ€™t like it; it was a pickled root that was engineered on Mars, and cooked in a spicy curry.
Liberty had been to Mars once, after the war. She was only ten years old then, but she had family on Mars. Her grandmother had gone through the genetic treatment before the war to become fully Martian. When her father and her mother had stepped off the ship onto the alien world, six Martians were waiting for them. They were the tallest people that Liberty had ever seen, they looked like they had all been stretched by giant hands. Their skin was red and orange in swirls that bled into each other, and each one of them had giant eyes with a thin clear eyelid that slid over quick, and a thick outer eyelid that looked tough and callused, even on the children. Back then, all the Martians looked alike to her, but her mom had known her grandmother right away, and they touched each otherâ€™s faces and embraced, and all the weirdness of standing in front of people they didnâ€™t know seemed to disappear. In those few months Liberty was free from school, and spent all her time running around the red Martian caves with her grandmothers children, and eating the Martian curried root. Her father had said that the war happened because the Martians didnâ€™t want to be human anymore, and by being there, Liberty was showing them what they were missing. When Liberty was older, she learned more about the war, and a lot of what her father told her was shattered.
Once, when she was eating her lunch, a couple at the table beside her started to argue with their waiter.
â€œBring me the tab in Chinese!â€ demanded the purple haired woman. â€œ I canâ€™t read it in Martian, I want it in Chinese.â€ she said, her voice like a car horn. The man with her, with matching puffy purple hair muttered something about Martians, and how they aught to learn the three basic languages if they wanted to live here.
â€œThe menu is in Chinese.â€ said their waiter helplessly holding out the menu pad to them. â€œYou can read the price there if you think we are cheating you.â€
â€œI need to enter the data values of calorie consumption and fiscal consumption into my data bank.â€ She exposed her left breast, which had a counter of calories and her exposed credit line in moving ink on her flesh. The waiter looked away. Tattoos of any kind were forbidden in Martian culture.
â€œCanâ€™t any of you write in Chinese? Or can you only write in your make-believe language?â€ screeched the woman.
Liberty stood up and grabbed the data pad out of the waiterâ€™s hands. â€œI can translate Martian.” she said, and she wrote the words into Chinese on the tab and threw it on the table. â€œThere. Now I think you should pay the man.â€ The woman with the purple hair paid the bill and left in a hurry. They did not leave a tip.
â€œHow did you learn to read Martian?â€ asked the waiter.
Liberty picked up her bags. â€œWhen I was a child, I used to be a Martian too.â€
Today, my arm itches like hell. Then again, lots of me itches. Everyone has an itch somewhere, but the scarring is never permanent. I’m working my new arm left and right trying to get the feel for it down while walking to my favorite breakfast place. Everyone I pass looks at me in the same way I looked at them when they told me I wasn’t perfect. Crazy asshole.
I don’t know why they think I’m different. No one with cash is 100% themselves. The good lord giveth and then he taketh away. Then chop shops borroweth and giveth back to people like me who can’t stand being at anything less than full potential.
Sitting down at the diner I order an OJ because I gotta remind myself that some part of me is still lactose intolerant. If I knew which part, I wouldn’t have that problem anymore. Today, being allergic to dairy products is the least of my worries. My daughter is having her play tonight and I’m going to go see it.
She don’t think much of me since I got the new nickname; won’t even look me in the eye when I come and visit. I dropped the idea that it was because parts of me were African or Asian. Nah, she’s too young to remember what racism used to be. Ex-wife tries to put on a happy face when I come around but I can smell the same old bullshit running through her head, too. Crazy asshole.
Orange Juice is good for you and so is an arm from an Olympic weight-lifter who had a bad case of the trips; the kind of trips that end at the bottom of a fifteen story building. Tough luck for him and his family, but I’m the one cashing in on it.
That’s what makes them sick, I think. Most are all right with what happens to people when they’re alive. People get tortured, molested and raped and the world goes by without a bat of a lash singing happy songs about how fuckin’ grand everything is. Somebody dies and you get the stink eye because you want to claim a piece of organic material as your own.
Checking my watch, I can tell I got to get a move on if I want to be ready for the play. That waitress is giving me a real mean look like she sees a cockroach she can’t crush. “Something wrong with your tip, ma’m?” I asked. I didn’t expect her to answer. I didn’t expect the owner to ask me to leave, either. One look at his scalp, though, and I had his number. “Nice hairpiece, buddy,” I said. “What was his name?”
I always wonder about what piece I’m going to get next. People are talking on the streets and in the courts and the big fucking temples they call legislative buildings. They’re talking about a revolution of flesh. Something about that reminds me of pitchforks and torches. Fuckers might even go storm a castle to find me one day. I wonder who’s going to get my parts.
The neon sign outside the dingy brown building said “Roxie’s Travel Agency” and featured a woman in a fedora holding a white machine gun. Few people but Roxie, the owner, are old enough to get the reference. She’s had a good deal in front of her that night, a couple of newlyweds right out of the chapel, coded together forever. The door displayed them as legally married when they passed under, a fact that made the woman squeal with delight. They were holding hands so tight that she could see their tattoos shift over between them, the designs and the viral skin ads all mixing together. Roxie smiled. Newlyweds were always a sweet deal.
“How can I help you folks?” she said reaching out and shaking their hands, shaking the mechanical ad dust off the membrane on her gloves. Roxie was plump and just old enough to start reminding people of their grandmothers.
“We want to go to the Moon!” said the woman, one of the high-rise women, manufactured celebrity feature. She leaned into the man. “It’s our honey-moon!”
The man laughed. Roxie pulled her tight plastic pants down on her legs; crazy fabric was always riding up. “That’s mighty expensive folks, are you sure you might not want to take a few weeks and go to New Slavia?” She pulled out an animated brochure. “Best service in the world in New Slavia. For what you would pay to go to the moon you could stay in your own palace apartments and be treated like a King and Queen!” She winked. “Awfully romantic.”
“My baby wants to go to the moon,â€ said the man “What she wants, she’ll get.”
Roxie could never understand trips to the moon. Sure, there was a bit of romance behind it, but there were much better, cheaper and more comfortable trips here on earth. “Well alright, but you know lots of people get nauseous up there and have to take pills – you two have any objections to pills?” The couple looked and each other knowingly and roared with laughter. Roxie shook her head, aware she was being made fun of “Well, it don’t hurt to ask. I never do like to assume anything.” She removed one of her gloves and palmed her computer.
“Luna-Vista travels” she said, and the booking site popped up. “When you folks want to leave? They got a shuttle going in two weeks, you want to be on it?”
The man looked suddenly uncomfortable. “Nothing sooner?”
Roxie produced another brochure, but the couple didnâ€™t even glance at it. “Luna-Vista is the only real reliable tour and it only departs once a month. I wouldn’t be responsible if I told you to go on the Wen-Kuo or Verba lines.”
The man shrugged. “We don’t care. We want to go now. You don’t book us for tomorrow, and we’ll take our business elsewhere.”
Roxie shook her head. “Now I’m going to be honest here kids. The Wen-Kuo line departs tomorrow, but they’re not going to treat you right, no amenities, lots of turbulence and you can barely see anything from those little portholes on the ship. Folks, for what you are paying, you should really book something nicer, even if you’ve got to wait.”
“We don’t want to wait.” The mans smile was stiff.
Roxie folded her hands. “Well it just donâ€™t feel professionally right to do it, so if you want to take Wen-Kuo, you can book it yourself.”
The womanâ€™s face fell, the ditzy, happy expression vanishing. “We need to get off this planet, as soon as possible.â€ Her voice had fallen about an octave, was now husky and dark. â€œJust book the goddamned flight.”
Roxie wouldn’t have noticed it if she wasn’t looking, but her Buddy had been a member of the Central Enforcement before she lost him in 52â€™ to that horrible infection scandal. Both of these folks had clothes that covered up places just big enough to hide a holster right in the places where Buddy used to carry his. She relented. If this was Central Enforcement, she didnâ€™t want to block their way.
“Fine, whatever you want.” She said. The man handed her a credit disc, and she fed it into her wall unit. She reserved the flight, her first ever booking with Wen-Kuo. The wall spit out two plastic discs. She handed them over cautiously.
“Your flight leaves tomorrow at 5AM. You can use your discs to take any kind of public transport you want to the shuttle.” The couple examined the silver discs and tucked them away.
“Thanks.” The man cracked a smile. â€œTake it easy.â€ He sounded earnest and sad, like he really meant for Roxie to take the rest of the day easy. The couple turned to leave. Roxie called after them.
“Hey!” The couple turned and Roxie gathered up her courage. “Is there any reason why you two want to leave Earth so quickly?”
“Yeah.” Said the man “Remember the expression; live each day?”
“Like the last.” Roxie completed the phrase. The man nodded.
“Nothing truer.” He said, and left with the woman, into the florescent night.
“What just happened?”
Eliot’s eyes were as wide as Cid’s as both of them skimmed the code-riddled display. The letters and numbers went on for as far as the eye could seeâ€¦literally. Their cruiser looked like a speck of dust next to the onyx-colored greatness that spanned out farther than anyone could see or detect in both directions.
“I uhâ€¦ think I pushed a button like you suggested.” Cid said weakly.
The two stood in their vacuum-suits on the platform that held the console, a half-mile back from the screen. The metal console had two buttons, nearly identical except for the fact one had seen much use while the other looked untouched. Two big red buttons on a small console in front of a huge expanse of teeny tiny code.
“Let’s back up here.” Eliot said. “I told you to hit that button, right?”
“Yup, you sure did,” replied Cid.
“Okay. And then, did you hear anything? Feel anything? What happened?” It was hard to keep calm. Eliot had this feeling that something had gone horribly wrong, but it felt like the screen before them: simply too big to comprehend.
“I pushed the button and thenâ€¦ uhm. Then you asked me what happened.” Cid, not being the brains of the operation, turned back around to give the dwarfed cruiser the thumbs up before turning back to his partner.
Brows coming together, Eliot sighed and turned back to Cid. “So nothing happened, then. Great.”
“Should I push it a-”
“No!” Eliot nearly smacked him across the visor for suggesting it. They both turned and looked at the cruiser hovering only a few hundred yards off. “We’ll just go back toâ€¦ uhm. Go back toâ€¦ ”
Cid was smiling like a fool but even he was wondering something just as similar when he asked Eliot, “Something wrong?”
“No, you buffoon. We’re just going to go back toâ€¦uhâ€¦.that place. You know what I mean. Where we keep all our stuff andâ€¦ wait, do I even have stuff?” Eliot’s eyes went wide and he turned back around towards the console. Rushing over to the lesser-used button, he used his gloves to wipe away the space-dust covering the space below it.
Both stood there staring at the word in utter horror.
“Does that sayâ€¦”
Eliot nodded to Cid without turning away. “Delete.”