Her hands were starting to look like lobster claws. She said she wasnâ€™t going to go all the way, and wiggled the smaller claw to show it was still opposable. She said she liked the little teeth, though, and squeezed my arm too hard. She laughed at the little indentions in my arm. She almost fell off her chair.
The cappuccino machine hissed behind her. She liked coming to this place because it still had one of the old cappuccino machines. It was a relic, now. But things used to be built to last, and so this hunk of brass and copper still spewed out caffeine and foamed milk. She liked it because it was shiny and noisy. She used to do an impersonation of the machine, bouncing on the bed, hissing and squealing.
We donâ€™t sleep together anymore. Not since she rolled over on me and I caught the business end of one of her new back-spines. I still have the scar.
She started tapping her claws on her forehead. The clack of chitin on chitin made me feel visibly uncomfortable, and she saw that. She stopped, and reached out with her claws at me. I didnâ€™t want to recoil, but I did anyway.
She used to tickle me. She used to run her fingertips down my face. She used rub my stomach for good luck. I looked at the way the track lighting glinted off her enhanced brow-bumps and sickly noticed how similar it was to the glint off the cappuccino machine.
â€œThings used to be built to last,â€ I mumbled. She heard me anyway. Small tears slid down her face. They were falling much to fast, not having pores to slow their descent. I reached out to wipe her tears away, an instinctual motion. She was still soft around the eyes. They were still her eyes.
That’s when I knew things would be okay.
No one really found out how. In 2009 there were no more than twenty super-powered heroes trying their best to save the world, spread out thin as they were. They were always so busy. The Blaster stayed in the US, fighting off organized crime, while Sister Scion dug into corruption of Scotland Yard. They barely had time for talking, let alone anything or anyone else. It was said that most of them had never met, but…what can be said? There’s something very sexy about superpowers.
“Kade, honey? Are you coming to bed? I’m wearing that new slip-on you bought me.” A soft, sultry voice slinked downstairs to the man in boxers illuminated by the computer screenâ€™s eerie blue glow.
“Oh, you know I will! Just have to finish this…” Click. Kade, otherwise known as The Blaster, sat up and smirked. He placed his hands behind his head as he imagined the fun the two of them would have tonight. Nothing was more passionate than a relationship between two super-humans; Time Magazine had said so.
Kade hurried upstairs, his mischievous grin wide. Sister Scion was in for a whole different shade of trouble tonight. He kicked down the door to the bedroom and it crashed to the floor with a loud bang, leaving him posing in what remained of the frame. “The Blaster is here! Have no fear!”
“Cheesy as ever, Mr. Blaster.â€ The woman in bed was fair-skinned, with long black hair tied behind her in a ponytail. Sister Scion slender figure, usually encased in a silver and black outfit, was now laced up in black and red, hugging her succulent curves to the pleasure of her lover. â€œGet over here and let me show you some moves.”
Kade sprang towards the bed while trying clumsily to tug away his remaining clothes. “And what moves are those?”
“The kind that don’t involve you accidentally blasting a hole in Yankee Stadium, genius. You need to watch where you point your arms while you’re-”
“Yeah, I get the hint. So uh… you ready to get into… formation?”
Scion rolled her eyes and reached over, grabbing her male companion by the back of the neck and tugging him into a heated kiss. It was a spark, then strong, and then as she pulled back suddenly, it faded. “Mm… going to make me fly?”
“Well, you can do that yourself, sweetie. I was speaking more about mundane positions.”
She blinked, “Wow, that’s new. You mean… no…flying, or space-sex?”
He shook his head, staring her down, “Nope, I heard that normal people do it in missionary. It’s where you lay down on your back and…” He waggled both eyebrows at her in suggestion.
She bit her lip, “I don’t know, Kade, sounds kind of… well, boring. Can’t we do the one where we have it while falling from the atmosphere?”
“Oh, come on! It’ll be different. It’ll be like… like we were teenagers or something.” His eyes pleaded as his body edged closer, that superhero physique pressing up against her warm skin.
“Errrr… okay fine. But I swear, Kade, if you put a hole in our house I’m gonna kill you!” Her eyes narrowed as she pulled him on top of her. Kade reached over and turned the lights off.
There was rustling and in the dark, Kade whispered, “You know, maybe if you’re up for it, we can invite Femme Fire next time…” It was promptly followed by the loud slap.
“Kade! That was not what I meant when I said she was hot!”
Passed by that star today. The charts say itâ€™s called Erigo, but it might as well be Antarctica. Nothing. No inhabited planets, no probes, no satellites. No sign of life. No useful supplies, eitherâ€”most of its planets are gas giants, and thereâ€™s no way I could get enough oxygen out of them to help. I doubt Iâ€™d even make back what Iâ€™d lose by changing course, so thatâ€™s out. Just another useless system.
Repaired that intake valve. Turns out all it needed was a good cleaning.
Still in the outskirts of the Erigo system. Thatâ€™s E-R-I-G-O if anybodyâ€™s listening, forty-three radians and twelve thousand light-years, give or take, from galactic center. Watched the last onboard recording today. Some shit documentary about moon formation, but at least it was something. Now thereâ€™s nothing on this damned ship I havenâ€™t seen.
Oxygen still good, but running low on real food. Started alternating with ration packs to make it last longer. Had a slight fever today, but there were some injections for that in the medkit, so I took one and itâ€™s gone now. Engine running clean but hot. I shouldnâ€™t have gone into Erigoâ€™s gravity well.
Out of the system. Good riddance. Clipped toenails today as they were getting a little long. Looked through the charts, but thereâ€™s nothing around here that I can make it to without more fuel. Itâ€™s just black space for light years and light years in all directions, or at most, a little uninhabited star system. After the Erigo fiasco, have decided against checking any more stars listed as uninhabited. Set a course for the nearest sure bet, which is Aschelon. Barring some miracle where the hyperdrive spontaneously comes back online, Iâ€™ll never make it. So hi, anybody listening. Could really use a hand here.
Threw a fit yesterday and chucked a ration pack under the console. Felt good to scream my heart out, but afterwards I realized Iâ€™d used twice normal oxygen. Figures. Slept an extra twelve hours to compensate and didnâ€™t wake up once. Considered sleeping more often, but that feels too much like dying. Iâ€™d rather stay awake.
Nothing left but ration packs. Losing weight steadily, but not quickly. Had another fever two days ago. Two injections left in the kit. Hope nothing worse happens.
Gave in and decreased oxygen to nineteen mole percent. Increased sleep cycle to 11 hours. So many stars in the window, but I canâ€™t reach any of them. I want to scream, but I donâ€™t want to die. Someone please get this soon.
Recorded more log entries, but they were mostly cursing, so I deleted them. Donâ€™t remember making them. Mustâ€™ve happened while I was sick again, â€˜cause this time I didnâ€™t use an injection. Dumb idea. Kids, donâ€™t try this at home.
Running out of fuel. Turned the heat down to try to save power. Increased sleep cycle to 14 hours. Always tired now.
Fuck! Fuck you, you fucking assholes! Why wonâ€™t anybody come? I know you can hear me, damn it! I know it! Fuckingâ€¦ hell damn shit motherfuckers! I know you can hear me!
Iâ€™m soâ€¦ itâ€™s so cold. So hard to stay awake. I have to keep talking just to keep from sleeping. Iâ€™m so hungry. Itâ€™s cold in here. Itâ€™s so cold.
I was a Nexus then, regulating and regurgitating information into packets that were fed to the meat files of mainstream media. I was constantly hooked in, floating in nutrient-gel, eyes covered, fingers locked, steering, loading and filtering information so that people engaged in other pursuits could be kept current on politics, art, media and technology. My efficacy made me rich and my wealth allowed me to submerse myself further into my work. I could afford the kind of technology that would stimulate my muscles, feed me, and provide sufficient entertainment so that leaving the tank was unnecessary. We still have reporters, first person raw information sources that spend their time in transit on the ground, transmitting unfiltered data, video, audio, occasionally an opinion. Reporters are paid in tiny increments by hundreds of people like me.
I was aware that the northern guerilla fighters might attack me, for what I distributed in regards to their recent carnage. They didn’t care that I had written a similar critique on the atrocities of the UBE Army, they just wanted vengeance. I knew, but I was so disconnected from my own sense of physical self that I took no action to move, I could only watch it happen.
His spider arms, hard and agile, curled around my naked body and lifted me from the tank. It was dull and shadowy; the tank was the only source of light in the room. I craned my neck to look back at the tangle of wires and screens and sense-pits. I wanted to go back, but I let myself be lifted from the gel by the military machines. I looked at the lean silver face of the military cyborg, eyes black reflective surfaces, the smooth metal expressionless. I was not weak or tired, just disinterested. It spoke.
“Simona Rysler, you are herby confiscated by the UBE military forces. You are to remain docile while in transit to the holding facility. Your life is in danger. Remain calm.”
The voice was oddly soft, masculine and terribly earnest.
“I produced a story about the UBE converted forces.” I said, touching the thin metallic limbs that surrounded me.
“I know.” He said gently.
“It wasn’t complimentary.”
“I know.” He began to move. The UBE conversion forces are almost completely limbs, just a small center section barely as wide as my thigh comprises the center, which encases the spine and the brain. The thin cylinder that comprises the head is made for us more than anything else, something for the civvies and officers to look at. His spider limbs, one side a silver jointed blade and the other a flatted rubber surface alternatively held me and moved to catch the ground beneath us. I had seen videos of the UBE cyborgs rolling leaps and soft ballet landings, but to be inside the cage of his limbs, extending and contracting with his movements was magnificent. The wind was harsh on my sensitive wet skin. I watched us, detached, uncomfortable, as he leapt across silver buildings, spinning and landing on stone artifices. I was like a small egg inside a carefully constructed metal box. I looked through the web of his arms and saw the chasm of the city spinning down beneath us. I vomited, a dribble of fluid and then wretched empty heaving. He pulled my shaking body close to his metal center.
I had written about the cyborgs when their existence was revealed to the public. Young men stripped of their healthy human bodies and placed in robotic shells. It was dissemination of information and a philosophical treaties about waning humanity, the loss of human community and the devolution of mankind from a spiritual being to a materialistic creature. Robots would never war with us, as predicted in the old science fiction stories; rather, we would discard our bodies, our humanity, and hand our world to them without resistance. The essay had been very popular.
“Close your eyes, breathe deeply.” He said. There was a sharp sting on the back of my spine. The nausea drained and my muscles relaxed. When I opened my eyes, all I could see were his limbs and cylinder head.
“Where are we?”
“On the side of the VRINN building.”
“Oh.” I was feeling giddy. “You’re nice.”
“I’m designed for human transport. Retrieval and relocation is my specialty.”
“Don’t you ever miss sex?”
I was about to protest, talk about my active sexual life, but the truth was, although I was often involved in simulation, I hadn’t had a skin lover in nine years. I whispered to him.
“I’m sorry about what I wrote.”
It isn’t about the air. Everyone thinks it is, but it’s not. The air is beautiful and salty sweet, but it’s meaningless after the comedown. It’s about the dreaming. That’s all there really is.
My first time was a girl. Her name was Aida and her skin was blued out with cyanospore, eyes black as the feeling of airless lungs. When I looked at them I could see an afterglow, like the world was reflecting through her. And it was. I could tell.
She was one of them, of course. It didn’t take long for me to figure that out. I was wandering home from the airbar and I didn’t see her coming, I didn’t see anything at all. Then, the wind hit like the inertia of a car crash and my mind went empty as my head met the wall. When I remembered where I was, there were hands against my shoulders and brick against my back. I couldn’t breathe through her mouth. Her tongue pressed between my lips like she was searching for something, but she didn’t find it. Kept looking. When she pulled away I choked and gasped.
“You’re dreaming,” she told me. And I was.
I don’t know why she chose me. I woke up in the alley covered in sweat, and my mouth was bitter with her aftertaste. I picked myself up and stumbled home. My legs felt like water. The back of my head throbbed for days.
Aida, said the owner of the airbar. She’s a regular. A Dreamer.
The drugs didn’t bring her back. For weeks, I inhaled combinations of sweet-smelling fumes, but the streets remained empty. She wasn’t missing, of course. She found other people in their airdrunk sleepwalking, but never me. I waited. She didn’t come.
I looked for her. I became better at dreaming, and gradually others appeared. Boys, girls, in every color of dreaming. Old ones, young ones. Some led me to forgotten places and some whispered in languages I didn’t speak.
Two weeks later, the owner of the airbar took me aside. You aren’t right for her, he said.
I didn’t believe it. More air. Always more air. The Dreamers became malicious, laughing at me, tearing my clothing and wrapping their fingers around my throat.
She isn’t coming, he said, but I knew he was lying.
They wouldn’t let go. The air was sour now. It tasted like sulphur and gasoline.
One night, after hours of breathing, a green-skinned boy led me down Broadway towards the beacon light of a hovercab. I woke up bruised and broken, gasping through spasms of blinding pain. I crawled to the sidewalk and vomited to a silent unconsciousness. When I woke up, my mouth was sticky with blood.
“You’re dreaming,” she said, but when I forced my eyes open everything was dark. She was right. She had always been right. Of course it’s about the dreaming. That’s all there really is.
Uchenna watched his eight-year-old daughter Nat charge into the surf. She let out a piercing cry that was one part scream and three parts laugh as soon as the water hit her bare skin.
“It’s so cold!” she said, adjusting her bright red and yellow goggles. Nat grabbed her arms and gave herself and exaggerated shake. “Brrrr!”
“She shouldn’t be out in that,” Corrina said, and drew her shawl closer around her neck. “It isn’t good for her.”
“You lathered that gunk on her–what is that, SPF four-zillion? She’s got her goggles on, she’s fine.” Uchenna shifted on their shared towel. “She’s fine. It’s the beach.”
“She shouldn’t be in the water.”
“We haven’t been to the beach in years, Cor. Let the girl play.”
“Don’t you even! Just don’t. I am not the bad guy here. I’m surprised you’re not worried about our daughter’s safety.” Corrina turned her head suddenly, surprising Uchenna. The scars that edged her eye-sockets stood in sharp contrast from her white skin.
“Nat’s fine,” Uchenna said. He scratched at the tattoo of a gleaming rocket ship on his bicep and turned away from his wife. “She’s got her goggles on. The water’s only bad for your eyes.” Corrina scrunched her face up, but said nothing.
“You used to liked the beach, Cor. We got married here.”
Corrina exhaled. “It was different then.”
“Not so different. Wasn’t that long ago. Remember? There was that bagpiper…”
“We did not have a piper. We had a violinist, and my sister sang.”
“No, no. There was a piper on the beach. He was just walking along the edge.”
“That was a different beach.” Corrina pulled her giant-brimmed hat closer to her ears. “I worry about Nat. She shouldn’t be in the waves like that.”
“I’ll go down their with her. We’ll walk down the surf,” Unchenna said, in response to Corrina’s expression that might have been called a glare, once.
“Be sure to take your goggles,” she said, handing him his green and black pair. Even without eyes, Corrina knew exactly where Uchennaâ€™s hands were. “Just in case you have to go in, or something.”
Uchenna felt a bit like alien, detachedly staring at the other denizens of the beach through his goggles’ tinted lenses. But he couldn’t help it. He watched his daughter dodging the incoming surf. There was a small boy intently digging a hole for not other reason to dig a hole. There were a handful of people bundled up, like Corrina, afraid of the sun and the water. Teenagers, afraid of only each other, nervously beginning a dance that would go on for the rest of their lives. And there were the hardcore swimmers, easily identified by their chalk-white ocean-damaged skin and hair. Some of them had scars like Corrin;, red lines like tears from when their eyes, turned liquid by the water, a seared their way down their cheeks. But still they charged the surf.
Uchenna was surprised to see a wedding party further down the beach, and ran with Nat to catch up to it. The bride and groom were wearing matching neoprene wetsuits, and as they kissed a reggae band struck up and he infectious rhythm wafted along the sands.
Uchenna watched as his daughter danced to someone else’s love song, backed by horizon split evenly between a sky that would burn her flesh and a sea that would melt the rest away. He watched her splash and laugh.
And then he joined in. Because he didn’t know when they’d be back.