Floozman in Space
by Bertrand Cayzac
In a space station in Earth orbit, Janatone Waldenpond, a refugee from Europa, is trying to return to Earth. She meets a long-lost cousin, Fred Looseman. Meanwhile, Jenny Appleseed, the president of the Cosmitix Corporation, holds a conference to plan interstellar expeditions.
Chapter 8: I Am the Passenger
Every body perseveres in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon. — Isaac Newton, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1759.
As a stowaway in Dasein’s Funeral’s pressurized container sliding down the space-elevator cable, Janatone feels an almost uniformly dull movement, but it is not yet the sensation of descent she has been expecting.
This is what Janatone thinks and remembers, suspended between the earth and sky:
I am strapped in this padded coffin, I can’t see anything but its label in the immediate web: model B4Death, 71% authentic pine, classic finish, total connectivity. I feel the smell of freshly worked wood, more bitter than the hours in the plant that has produced it and the minute slithering of the silky cloth at my fingertips. I know it would be white if light could break in here. I know mainly that the day of my return has come.
She is still alive then; she exists. By her thought also the planet Earth exists, as well as the ropes hanging from space into its atmosphere. They are similar to the rootlets of a delicate aquatic plant hidden from sight. By her thought also, the ratios of mass and distance exist, the infinitesimal signature of gravity that has curved the flight of silent birds in the sky of her slumber.
Yes, she is still alive, the gods are watching over her, and the cables are holding tight. She has been hibernating for only ten hours or so, hidden in the sarcophagus descending towards Earth in the elevator container. But what is the plan? Where is she going to land, and what will happen after she passes through Customs?
Dingman, the Dasein Funerals employee escorting the funeral transfer, is awkwardly installed on a jump seat. He is asking himself pretty much the same questions. He is a small man with greasy skin and thick hair. His basic space suit is is rumpled around his buttocks. He kneads his hairy hands and listens to the acolyte facing him.
The acolyte is a strange man with large blond curls haloing his forehead. He is exaggeratedly handsome; blind eyes lend his smile a bestial stare. He is holding a stick topped with a bowl of hydroponic ivy: the earth-worshiper’s thyrsus.
A damned Martian freak, Dingman thinks. A degenerate cyborg. How can they be allowed to descend after all that has happened? Of course, these creatures do pay, like everybody else... But humans have a very short memory.
In a different complication of orbital movement, things have begun to go awry. The pressurized cabin conveying the runaway and the dead technician has been rerouted in emergency mode to the geostationary cable hub above Darwin, in the Galapagos.
The reason is that the general flight plan has been reconfigured to absorb the peaks in traffic caused by the attacks on the Moon. Dasein’s Funerals’ logistical systems have had to revise their priorities and routes. They have also had to accept requisitions by sheer enforcement of spatial procedures, without any human intervention. That is why another passenger is riding in the cabin.
Dingman is a pilot, and it is an understatement to say that he can’t stand elevator rides. The very idea of moving oneself vertically on a thread like a parcel is odious to him. It really is the end of all navigators on this planet, he says to himself. And now this psycho who never shuts up!
“Yes my master was of human descent,” says the thing. “I remember that his grandparents were still sending him chocolates from his country for Earth’s New Year, before independence. He could metabolize them, even the ones with big black cherries. How happy he was then!
“I am an old robot, Mister Dingman.” The employee’s indicators are visible on his suit and in the immediate web. “Yes, a robot, let’s not mince words. I have seen many things and the mesh of our time is quite tight; as the poet says, ‘It’s platinum thread, no Moirai shall cut it.’ My master’s mates are programmed in the core of their system to honor the earth. It’s a gratification for me to bury them, a great day for my indicators, Mister Dingman. A great day...”
“I understand...” The obscene picture of the black cherry persists in the immediate web. Did Customs check to see if his weapons have been deactivated? the human thinks. These things are always heavily armed.
“And the cyber page Akim 12, whom I am escorting, is not switched off, do you hear me? He shall remain operational on Mother Earth long after the celebrations, while we, the other robots, we go to the mountain...” His pupil shines and turns oval as he utters these words.
“Which—” Dingman bites his tongue. This mountain idea is stupid, but it is even more stupid to try to correct the robot.
“Which mountain, Mister Dingman? Well, I don’t know: ‘The Mountain’ of which your ancients spoke, and they are also ours. Ah... Charles Trenet!” He hums: “Mes jeunes années / courent dans la montaaagne. The web translates: “’My young years / are running to the mounnnntain.”
Dingman cannot believe his ears. He looks down.
“But summits we shall find, we have money. We shall also find the lush grass of the valleys, the shadow of the forests, the black turbo-snowboard runs. We shall throw our heads backwards in the air humid with dew; we shall dance, then we will drop to the ground amid the rumbling sound of our ghetto blasters.
“We shall analyze beasts’ blood — no, not human blood, Mister Dingman, the ethical restraint is installed in our brains, as you well know — and we shall crown ourselves with things that grow. We shall compute the secret numbers of life and we shall sing them until they implement themselves in us. ‘Shall not Loveliness be loved forever?’”
“We shall live, Mister Dingman and, one day, Mars shall live with the same life as Earth. While brother Akim lies in his cemetery, he shall be watching, in communion with the chthonian powers until his batteries give out after ten million Earth revolutions. Then he shall enter the kingdom of the dead, with all the others, the most numerous. We have studied. The earth is our common mother, Mister Dingman.”
They are silent for a moment. The acolyte remains absolutely inert, absorbed in his internal processes until an awkward jolt animates him again.
“So you are the boss, uh? The boss. That’s good...”
Here it goes again, Dingman thinks.
“You’ll be able to help us in checking the content of the coffins.”
“Verify? Excuse me? Us?” He has involuntarily brought his square hands back at the height of his thighs.
“A high-priority program is pre-empting us, Mister Dingman. The good friends who are offering us this pilgrimage are seeking a terrorist who may be here. A dangerous terrorist from Europa. Here they are. They are on time. This is good. Shall not Goodness be loved forever?”
Then, in the web and through the sinister triangular window in the ceiling, Dingman sees an incredible thing: a black sign painted on the identification panel of a large garbage scow that is descending on a north-south route. In his chest he feels dismay, and a chilling stupor and, in his eyes, the imprint of a laser sabre. No, two! Two crossed laser sabers! He checks once more the data his senses have just delivered to him: the ship that has just passed is really flying the rigid black pavilion stamped with a death’s head: the Jolly Roger.
Phobos pirates! Dingman says to himself, incredulously. They have camouflaged their ship!
At the same time, in the cabin, a coffin moves slowly on its slide. The lid pivots opens in a hissing of pistons. The naked torso of a second robotic bacchant emerges and points his thyrsus at Dingman. The hair of this one is just as blond as his partner’s, but he has a thick beard on his cheeks.
“I recommend you co-operate with Akim, Mr. Dingman, if you want us to maintain conditions favorable for human life.”
To support his threats, a short squirt of lemon-yellow energy glows from the tip of his weapon and heats the electric panel red hot. It gives back a wreath of blue sparks. It is pretty.
[Action sequence 1 begins.]
Computer voices are heard. The sound is parameterized for operational efficiency.
PVoice (‘Alert’, 4,0, no_joy; emergency = True).
PVoice (‘The barge is in the hands of pirates!’ 4,1, no_joy; emergency = True), etc.
An alarm sounds. The cabin slows and stops. Momentum snakes up the elevator cable in a wave. Everything moves. All unsecured objects crash against the ceiling.
Then the perspective toggles. It is very dark. Janatone has struck the sarcophagus lid. Her neck is hurting, her urinary pocket is punctured. But the automatic objectors object we don’t know that. The benefit of the scene is null and void.
Inside the elevator cabin, one of the blond cyborgs throws a switch on the control panel. The six coffins glide gently out of their chambers. They all open together, releasing a greenish cryogenic fog. Dingman has his back to the wall, under the threat of Akim’s thyrsus. Plans follow one another at an accelerated pace.
Coffin interior: The noise of the lid is heard. Janatone finally sees light, a green glow. She stiffens. What to do?
Urinary pouch interior: the walls of the nearly empty pocket stick together and form gooey folds on which greasy-looking air bubbles appear. What to say?
Outside the cabin, facing the radiant blue of the Earth, the pirate ship brakes on all rockets, blurting out a shaggy fire. Then it rolls and drops towards the clouds. Now t is flashing red and coming back to meet the elevator cabin. A few seconds before the shop overtakes it, heavy silhouettes arise out of a bunker and pounce on the cables.
Back in Janatone’s perspective, the acolyte with long hair approaches. It stands looking down at Janatone. She continues to pretend she is dead but does not really believe the ruse will work.
“Where is the uterus?” the cyborg intones with a disembodied voice he uses for the first time.
[Action sequence 1 ends.]
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Copyright © 2015 by Bertrand Cayzac