Carmina Claypool didn’t look much like a madam. She looked more like a fishmonger, which, Allie had to admit, was awfully appropriate. She was a powerfully large woman – soft and muscular simultaneously – and her clothing seemed to make her even larger. The gargantuan galoshes, the voluminous apron, the immense rubber gloves, all of these increased her already imposing stature. She seemed almost out of place in the lobby of the hotel, what with it’s gilded detail work and red velvet trim. Almost, but not quite.
“Haven’t seen your face around here before, have we?” Carmina bent at the waist to bring her eyes closer to Allie’s level. Though the gesture was meant to make her feel more comfortable, it only succeed in making Allie feel smaller.
“No…I…I haven’t been…it’s my first time here…”
Carmina smiled. “A virgin, then?” The word wasn’t said with any malice, but it stung just the same.
“No, I’ve…I’ve done it, I’ve had…you know.” Allie found herself unable to make eye contact.
“Not like this, you haven’t. Trust me, deary, this is like nothing you’ve ever had before, But then, you already knew that, didn’t ya? Otherwise you would have come. Well, step in the parlor and we’ll see if we can’t find a companion for you.” Carmina waddled off, leaving deep indentions in the rich red carpet.
Allie began to wonder if perhaps this was a mistake, if she should leave, right then and there. She’d only just walked in; she could go out again, quick as you please. It wasn’t like she’d paid yet. Her inexperience shamed her. Allie had read stories of this sort of thing, erotica. She was now suddenly aware of the difference between reading about something and actually doing it.
Allie looked down at the scuff-marks her sneakers had made in the carpet, the only evidence of her presence. She then turned toward the room Carimina had gone to. The parlor. She could see an edge of back tarp covering the red capet just inside the doorway.
She had to see the parlor. She knew she couldn’t leave until she did.
The parlor was decorated much the same way the lobby was, with old Victorian woodwork and velvet curtains. There was no place to sit in the parlor, for it was filled with aquariums of various sizes. The Plexiglas tanks lined the walls, larger ones on the floor, smaller ones on bookcase. Inside each one could clearly be seen an octopus, each one different in size and color from the one next to it. It was the most beautiful room Allie had ever seen.
“Do I get…any one of these?” Allie was slightly dazed, allowing her fingers to drift across the clear tanks walls.
“That depends on how much money you’re willing to spend.” Carmina motioned to collection of small aquariums in a converted china cabinet. “We usually recommend these for the first timers. Rosa there is particularly easy-going, very giving. Wanda looks a bit stand-offish, but she’ll warm up as soon as you touch her. They all do, the lot of softies. Wanda just puts up a front. Now Bernie, here…”
Allie cut her off. “What’s in here? She was kneeling beside a tank nearly as big as herself, it’s cloudy water swirling ominously.
“That? That’s Leroy. Oh, no honey, you don’t want him. He mainly services our male clientele. Which is a shame; Leroy’s got a beak like satin. But he’s a bit more than most girls are willing to take on.”
Allie wasn’t sure why, but she placed her hand in Leroy’s tank. She felt his movement, first gently across the back of her hand (“His head,” she thought as her pulse quickened), and then more brusquely against her palm. She gasped a little as one powerful tentacle lashed out and wrapped itself around her arm, it’s slick tip sticking up out of the water.
Allie was not prepared for this. It was a muscle that was entwined around her. No, it was many muscles, pulsing and flexing. A symphony of pressure working in harmony up and down her arm. She could feel the grip of each suction cup, the creeping clammy calm of the arm itself.
She let out a low moan, barely aware she was doing it.
“This one,” Allie said, gazing lovingly into the murky water.
“Are you quite certain, honey? Leroy isâ€”” Carmina was unable to speak, stopped fast by Allie’s hard look.
“The one I will be using,” Allie said. She flexed her forearm slightly, but it was enough of a signal that Leroy let go.
“Far be it from me to dissuade a customer.” Carmina removed a small phone from her apron pocket. “Juliet? Can I get an extra tarp in Room 14?” She smiled at Allie “I have a feeling the two of you are going to be a little messy.”
There was a young lady at the door. They were always sending young ladies.
She rang the doorbell again. Mzee looked at the screen for a few more minutes. She was very pretty, well groomed, her hair black and shiny, like India ink. She was holding a bouquet of flowers, a wildflower bouquet. One of the flowers was tucked neatly in her hair. When he opened the door, she bowed.
“Good morning Grandfather,” she said, smiling politely.
“Go away,” said Mzee. She bowed again and walked right past him into the house. Mzee grumbled. “I’m not your Grandfather.”
The girl smiled politely. “My name is Sophia,” she said, walking directly to his kitchen. “May I prepare your breakfast?” She reached under his kitchen fountain and took out a crystal vase. All these women always knew where everything in his house was. She clipped the ends of the flowers and arranged them artfully in the vase on the dining room table.
“I would like bacon,” said Mzee.
Sophia–in all likelihood not her real name, probably had a name he couldn’t pronounce–bowed again. “I will prepare you a salad and a vegetable omelet,” she announced, her hands folded. She bowed again and went into the kitchen, clattering about with his generator.
“I don’t like to eat salads,” said Mzee. “Salad for breakfast isn’t right.” At no time during Mzee’s five hundred and thirty years of life was salad at breakfast an acceptable norm. Sophia nodded, smiled and bowed again. She prepared him a salad and a vegetable omelet, using fresh, not synthesized products. Mzee wanted to hate her and the breakfast, but all these girls were good cooks, and none of it was really awful. Maybe the food was a little bland, but not bad.
“Grandfather, after breakfast, would you like to go for a walk?”
“No.” There was a time when Mzee would have loved to go for a walk with a pretty girl, when he was only home to sleep, always out, moving in the world.
“There are some school children who would like to meet you,” said Sophia, as she waved a glowing globe over his dishes, shining their porcelain surfaces.
“You are a great man.”
“I’m not a great man. I was a truck driver. I worked in dock, unloading things from ships. I had a farm. I grew things for people to smoke.”
“I’m sure the children would like to hear about it.”
“I don’t want to go out.” Outside was always strange. In here, he could keep things just the way he liked, in a way that made sense. The world had become incomprehensible, at once lewd and bound by etiquette he didn’t understand.
“Grandfather, you are a living record. You have a responsibility to the young people. The children should hear from you what tobacco plants looked like, how people drove cars, what people wore.” Sophia knelt next to his chair and put her smooth hand on top of his dark wrinkled one. “You spoke to me when I was a child, and it meant very much to me. It inspired me to pursue a degree in 21st century history. Please, allow these children the same gift you gave me. ”
“Get off the floor, girl, everyone’s gotten so god damned formal nowadays. Whatever happened to ‘just do it, ye old bastard’?” Sophia stood and bowed.
“Then you will go? You will speak to the children?”
“Yes, yes. I’ll go. I can’t do whatever it is people do with those vehicles nowadays. You’ll have to drive, or ride, or whatever it is you do.” Sophia smiled brightly, her grey eyes dancing with excitement.
“Of course.” She bowed and placed excess food into his Filter. Sophia helped Mzee out of his chair and ran around his house getting his hat, coat and Lift. She attached the little metal disc to his belt and suddenly it felt like he was floating and moving was easy again.
“Here’s the deal,” said Mzee. “I’m not going to follow any young woman around. I’m escorting you, alright?”
“Of course, Grandfather.”
Outside, pink balloons floated against the sky, barreling towards their destinations, penetrating the liquid metal of the temperature-controlled domes. The young lady’s grey eyes turned black in the sunlight, her skin darkening to suit the atmosphere. “Ready to go, Grandfather?” she asked.
Mzee sighed. “Go ahead.” She touched a silver bracelet on her wrist and a pink bubble enfolded them, like the petals of a flower.
I know that Amy is in there. I can see her, in the smirks and smiles and the way she shoves her hair away from her eyes. She’s still the same person. She has to be. There’s no reason that this should feel wrong.
In a cinderblock building over the river, my fourteen year old body is submerged in a bath of pink nutrients. By the time I’m fifty, the body will be twenty, and I’ll be ready for transfer. Cancer didn’t wait until she was ready for transfer. Beside my fourteen year old body, the second chamber is empty.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with those tiny bones pressed against me and I don’t know how to feel. They’re Amy’s bones, I know. It’s Amy’s skin and Amy’s muscle and everything about her is Amy.
Most nights I push her away. I still love her, though.
I’ll always love her.
â€œMom! Mom, I wanna look at this one!â€
Stephen was pulling on his motherâ€™s arm, straining against it with that eight-year-old lean that kept him just within the bounds of parental supervision, since he wasnâ€™t allowed to let go of his motherâ€™s hand, but created the same effect as the puppy-dog eyes he was giving her now. â€œAll right,â€ Marie laughed, letting him half-pull, half-drag her over to the booth. â€œGo ahead and look, Stevie, but donâ€™t touch anything.â€
â€œHello there, maâ€™am,â€ said the booth owner, a grizzled, baseball-capped lug of a man. He smiled at Marie and then chuckled at Stephen, whose eyes were practically sparkling at the sight of his wares. The vendor wiped his greasy hands on a cloth. â€œLooking for a new piece for your son?â€
â€œMaybe,â€ Marie said, letting her eyes wander over the rows of gleaming black metal.
â€œMom! Look at this one!â€ Stephen was on his tiptoes, eyes alight and mouth open in a huge grin.
â€œThatâ€™s a semi-automatic flux rotating laser pistol,â€ the man informed them. â€œSpecial anti-shielding matrix that also works against adaptables. Changes frequency so fast they wonâ€™t even get a chance to shift.â€ He chuckled. â€œItâ€™ll take out a raid party of two at a thousand yards with auto-target turned on. Your sonâ€™s got a good eye.â€ He grinned at Stephen.
â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€¦â€ Marie was frowning. â€œIsnâ€™t he a little young for an automatic?â€
â€œMom!â€ Stephen protested, looking like he was going to throw a tantrum. â€œHe said semi-automatic! All my friends have them!â€
â€œStephen, shush,â€ Marie cautioned him, then looked up at the shopkeeper, an embarrassed flush on her face. â€œHeâ€™s eight,â€ she explained. â€œHe still thinks guns are just big toys.â€
â€œAll the more reason for him to learn early,â€ the man told her soberly. Marie looked shocked at this change of demeanor, but he continued before she could protest. â€œDid you know that eight is the minimum age for the mines?â€ Marieâ€™s mouth dropped open in a soft â€œo.â€ Stephen had already moved on to another gun model. â€œIf a raiding party gets him, theyâ€™ll ship him underground right away. Unless you live in a military base, itâ€™s best to get the boy a manâ€™s weapon. I donâ€™t need to tell you what will happen if heâ€™s captured by those monsters.â€
Marie shook her head, eyes lowering. â€œHis father was taken from us in one of the first battles, right when the war started,â€ she said softly.
â€œAll the more reason for his son to learn to fight, and learn early. If it was men we were dealing with, Iâ€™d say to let the kid live a littleâ€¦â€ The man shook his head. â€œBut these creatures arenâ€™t even human.â€
Marie was quiet, head still down, until Stephen interrupted with another excited burst. â€œMom! Mom, look at this one! Can we get this one mom? Please?â€ Marie looked from her bright-eyed son to the sober face of the merchant.
â€œLetâ€™s try it out first, honey. You want to make sure itâ€™s light enough for you to shoot.â€
The life of every Venusian Cowgirl is circular. Moxie was told this repeatedly when she signed up. To drive the point home, a silk-screened sampler saying as much was set on the opposite wall of the entrance portal to her new apartment. Moxie put down the boxes of clothes she was carrying, hooked her thumbs into the loops of her jeans, and stared at the imitation cross-stitch. It entranced her so much that she didn’t even notice her brother coming in until he started yelling.
“Goddamn! It is hot out there!” Apple said. He set down the bureau he was carrying and collapsed next to it all in one liquid motion. Moxie brought him a globe of water, closing the door with a swing of her hip as she walked past. Apple pulled the metal ring from the bottom of the globe, then put it to his forehead. The globe’s chemical reaction cooled the water it contained and Apple’s face simultaneously. “You’re sure I can’t change your mind?”
Moxie scooted down on the floor next to him. “Don’t tell me you only offered to help me move to Venus so you could talk me out of it. You’re thick, but you’re not that thick.” She pulled the ring on her own globe, drinking the content before it had adequately chilled.
“Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“I can, too.”
“So this is what you want, huh?” Apple motioned around the apartment with his half-empty water globe. “A tiny apartment in a ranch complex, taking care of mutant cattle.”
“They’re not mutants, they’re genetically engineered. Six legs are better for the terrain here.”
“Any cow with six legs is a mutant, I don’t care what you say.”
“What about the pigs?”
“I have never been against science that give us more bacon.” Apple stood up and ambled to one of the apartment’s round windows. “This is what you want. It’s veryâ€¦”
He turned to face her. “Yellow. Very yellow. And hot. Andâ€¦it’s just so damn far away, Moxie! I mean, you wanna be a cowgirl in a hot place, fine. You can go to Buenos Aries, or Madrid or some place else close. Not here. Why do you have to move here?”
“It has to be here, Apple.” Moxie leaned against the circular doorway, regarding her brother from across the room. She absentmindedly rubbed her water globe against her vest, leaving dark tracks on the light tan suede. “I can’t be on Earth anymore than I can be a teacher.”
“Why can’t you be a teacher anymore? You were good! Those kids on Earth still need you.”
“No, Apple, they don’t.” She walked over to him, and turned him back toward the window. “Did you see this control panel? You can adjust how much heat and light comes in through the window. Check this out. This only half up, but feel that sun!”
“Moxieâ€¦,” Apple began, but she wouldn’t let him.
“Do you remember Kandie? Smallish girl? Always had ridiculous hair? I know I’ve talked about her.” Moxie wasn’t looking at her brother, but at the vast expanse of Venus that lay outside the window. “I had the whole class draw pictures of their families. She showed me hers, and pointed out her mother. Her mother’s face was all red. I asked her why, and you know what she said? Because her mother was shot in the face. That’s why. It’s getting worse. Every day more of Earth becomes more of a battlefield, and you can’t escape it. Not anywhere on the planet.”
“So you come hereâ€¦” Apple reached out to Moxie’s shoulder, surprised at the intense warmth the suede kept.
“Where’s there’s not a soul but us Venusian Cowgirls.” Moxie turned to him, and gave a weak smile. “I can do things here, Apple. If a cow gets sick, I can fix it. I can save it. I can’t do any of that on Earth. This is what I want. This is what I need, to get my strength back.”
“And then you’ll come back.”
“And then I’ll come back.” Moxie didn’t want to say it, but she knew it was true. “You know what they say about the life of a Venusian Cowgirl.”
Don’t wake up yet, Mischa. Please, please don’t wake up.
At nineteen, Christopher Malloy was the youngest person on Io to receive his degree in neuronanotechnology. It was quite an accomplishment, according to his parents and teachers and friends, but at that moment, on the sunken platform of the medical arena, Chris felt as small as the machines he worked with. Seven professors, nine technicians, two medical journalists, and one blinding halogen light glared from the space overhead, waiting for him to make a move.
“The patient is female, age fourteen,” Chris said, and the room filled with quiet clicking as the journalists transcribed his words. “Mnemonic reserve is at thirteen percent.”
According to the colony’s medical records, no one had presented with symptoms of mnemosis before the age thirty, but beneath Mischa’s closed eyelids Chris could see the REM flicker of the Forgetting. He bit the end of his pen, which was a nervous habit he’d developed in grade school. The room was tense with waiting. He stepped to the surgical tray beside the bed and picked up an empty syringe.
Chris had appealed to Mischa’s parents two months ago, eager to gather evidence for his doctoral thesis. Back then, the girl’s mnemonic reserve had been eighty three percent, but she was declining fast. “I can save your daughter,” he’d said with the arrogance only an eighteen-year-old prodigy could muster. They’d believed him, and signed the waivers. Now, the girl was a shell. Her brain was eating itself.
Chris took the silver vial from the tray and inserted the needle through the rubber shield. “I am injecting the patient with approximately seven thousand Pitschok neuronanocells,” he said, and pulled the stopper until the syringe was filled with sparkling grey.
Just a little longer, Mischa. Keep sleeping.
“Standard neuronanocells work to quarantine mnemosis by flooding the synapses of nearby cells,” Chris lectured for the benefit of the journalists. He slipped the glistening thread of needle behind Mischa’s ear, through layers of skin and membrane and water and blood and into the parietal lobe. “The Pitschok strain, on the other hand, has been bred to attack the infected cells and use the body’s own immune system to wipe the mnemonic reserve.”
Under the halogen light, Chris could feel sweat tingling just beneath the surface of his skin. He pressed his thumb against the stopper and the syringe emptied, spilling its shimmering contents into Mischa’s hungry brain.
“Once the electrical state of the patient’s brain has returned to its normal state, the Pitschok neuronanocells will use a low-energy pulse to stimulate regrowth of the damaged neurons. Within hours, the patient’s mnemonic reserve will return to its state before infection.”
Chris did not look away from the girl’s body, though he felt the unasked question filling the air like saline. They wanted to know if her brain could find its swallowed memories, if she’d wake up as the giggling girl they’d seen on the home videos Chris had included in the press kit or if she’d be a shadow, brain healed into a pristine blankness.
Shh. Mischa. Almost.
Chris watched the shape of her eyes flicker behind her eyelids. Impossibly long lashes trembled at every movement like a spider dancing on the edges of its web. He wondered what she could dream about, with her mnemonic reserve down to thirteen percent. Did her brain simply recycle the same images over and over, or did the dreams come from somewhere outside of her experiences?
Chris had no answer for the professors, for the technicians, for the journalists. Now, Mischa had all of the answers. He pulled the needle from behind her ear and a lock of stray hair brushed against his hand. It was soft and loose, like sleep.
Now, Mischa. Now. It’s time to remember.