Brian Dodge | Cait Maloney
Edel never sleeps. She swings in her boss’s silo, post-rota, drifting her chemically unhinged consciousness across her brain’s hemispheres as she staggers on the concrete loading dock, chrome spurs flaring. The triumphant surge of a wild cat lifts at her fluttering heart, held together by gently gnawing stitches and an (ignored) bio-surgeon’s manual. Venom hovers at her shoulders: phantom feeling. Yi promised the scorpion-tab would dissipate the moment she’d withdrawn.
That had lasted nineteen days and an argument.
Over at Manx, the High Hill. Purple skies shot with gossamer vapour-trails, landing lights elongated, incorporeal elastics. Hanj led her to the clearing-pad a half-mile from the launcher batteries. They were shaken, not swung. A mild hint of alien deliriousness at worst, palmed off Bhor Khat of supply and distribution. Hydroponics guru with three whole pounds per (local) month in artificer subscriptions.
She was worse. Caught up in a xihit’s morbidity: their stately attention to universal decay. Pink reedpalms only registered as half-lives, their mitochondria pulsing in time with the arrhythmic palpitations of her heart. She was pretentious. And dying.
“The rest is here,” they said, an hour along the path. Away from the market-nets and shelterdomes, the three thousand crew of Settlement 98-Selma. Not even citizens, not even linked. Just crew. Numbered off in rows like the fore bearers who settled her a hundred rotats ago with only a single primeval WiFi router to tether them all.
“Rest?” she said. Panted. Swinging tricks your synapses into holes they’ve never been conditioned to root around in. Cardiovascular systems they can’t even conceive, even when your head’s been crammed full of bootleg biology and posthuman propaganda. All of it disreputable, buried deep in the primitive Net all colonies received.
No wind. Just vapour trails, sunsets, skies. White and pink and brilliant gold now, the purple of Coriolis fringes chased away for a blindingly brief second as she locked eyes with their smooth cheeks and elongated torso and realized that this world was locked and she was bound here and there was no way off Gorna except death, uploading, or swinging. The first two weren’t lives, not really. Networked pastimes at best while you stared into the skies and waited for your fantasies to hitch a ride on a launch.
“You’ve had a good run. Swingers all over the system take their cues from you.”
“Yes, they have! Third time I’ve said. How freewheeling are you right now?”
Centuries dribbled between their knuckles. Both fists extended.
The left one opened. An oval, smooth, so black the double-suns gobbled up the glare entirely. A scrubber. Neurological detox device.
“Yours. For free. Consider the vids you did for me a buyout from your last two orders. No strings, no favours.”
No transition. Their right fist lay open.
White, eight pearls. Sickly pollen, a thousand times stronger than any of the local flora. Earthswing. Savannah, perhaps virgin forest. Untouched.
“Twelve thousand. Eighteen Major favours, my choice. Take your pick. Last choice you could ever make.”
Materialistic and exploitative. The hills echoed with it, ringing at her head with her ears as she stumbled forward into those arms, that arm, shrieking about the limits of the consciousness. About the death of stagnation, stagnation as death, whatever permutation existed to tweak her id to its fullest potential and keep her stoned. Anything, see?
She took the network hit. Put her back into every demeaning chore the colony’s taskers could contrive. Hand-coding, greasing, shuttle tech on the after-atmo crew: the one with pressure hoses and scrunched addict faces as they annihilated super-large pollen clumps from every single thruster.
Nineteen days. Hanj’s angle was clear. Swinging is shaped and bidden. It only tacks onto a framework that already exists. Chemicals prod the synapses along for the first few hits. Experiential lust propels the rest.
She’s a panther now. Shifty/fluid/snapping. At the shadows of pack lifters in her boss’s silo. Alarms ring on her comm-cuff: pay confirmations. An onyx cube. Neuro-ware, deliverable in a week’s time.