Floozman in Space
by Bertrand Cayzac
Chapter 8: I Am the Passenger
Nearby, on another orbit, a palotin enters the immediate web. “What news?” asks Joe Dasein’s automatic secretarial assistant.
The messenger turns virtually towards the assistant. Nothing moves, only the representations in the immediate web. He announces that the cable has been attacked and that the container is adrift. The secretary is alarmed.
In the shelter of the large orbital station’s steel walls, Joe did not have to know about the funeral convoy, but the administration of things won’t allow him to forget the cyborg from the Galilean moons. The news reaches him in a disorderly way through the slaves, the cable security staff, the police. And everything is going wrong.
Dingman was expecting the container at the Nantucket’s low orbit terminal, but it is at the Galápagos geostationary station that he has finally had to embark with a group of Martian pilgrims.
The pirates attacked on board a stolen barge a few hours after the descent started. What happened? That information is missing. There was a fight inside the container, fire alerts, damage... The bandits had time to detach the container before the police put them to flight.
Now, drones are following the pirates in hot pursuit while the cargo is heading for disintegration. Apparently, nothing will be done to get it back: there are certainly no survivors; the pilgrims’ indicators have evaporated and, surprisingly, Dingman was found orbiting at a distance of several miles, in hibernation mode. The police will soon revive the man and question him.
Joe has to concentrate on all the problems facing him. He is angry with himself. True, he has not been following the transfer closely enough. But that is not a director’s job! In truth, he should never have accepted the stowaway.
Now Janatone’s eyes are watching him again; they are open in her tomb. Short-term problems are meshing with the gear-wheel of big worries. The pirates were after the escapee from Europa, of course; the convoy was not at that terminal by chance. Everyone knows that the Galápagos cable is still in the hands of Cosmitics Corporation in spite of the recent takeover.
But what do they want with Janatone? For what ransom can the pirates be venturing down into the thermosphere? And then what? If the plan is to destroy her, what’s the point? The container is only a pretty machine transporting a corpse. Joe has done his job. May be it is too late. Surely too late.
You can see her again, Joe, lying in her deep coffin. It’s the time of departure. She is looking at you right in the eyes, and her gaze, her trembling gaze, is like a shining fruit fringed with long black spines in a pod brimming with intelligence. You might have leaned over foolishly and dived into her fragile blondness as into another medium, as one might hide in a dewy hollow hedge on a May morning. But that was not possible.
How could you fool yourself into believing she is a woman? But what else could you believe? What to do? Where is the DF President’s place? And what if the villains attack the corpses?
The bodies are expected ashore by families and lawyers. There are many of them at the terminal, clean, elegant, watchful. They have paid a high price. But above all, you have committed yourself to respect the living who are now dead. If you do not honor the contract, your worst accuser, the one who will continue to haunt you even as you sleep, will be none other than you, yourself, Joe! Come on, Joe, come down to Earth with the rain.
Epode, emotion sequence
In extreme close-up, Joe says, “These are my dead, I must do something!” His gaze and words are true. Now he is on his way...
Yes, when he took his personal shuttle, the pale gold of the east was spreading its brightness over the waters of the earth, and the night it was infusing was secretly tingeing itself with green. He has ascended, his heart coated with silk, to the huge geostationary terminal; he has crossed layers of debris, orbital dogs, nets without sea, rigs without ships, processions of machines, trains of canisters stamped with poor, old-fashioned logos.
The autopilot carefully displayed trajectories in the immediate web, but in vain; Joe’s mind was completely engaged. He said, “These are my dead,” but he was thinking of his living passenger.
End epode, emotion sequence
There has been a fight. One can know the details of what happened, but it is enough to know that, in the end, the heroes fell from the sky.
Action sequence 2
The display reveals great disorder inside the container. The P-voices are talking, and one scene shifts quickly to another. The voices are telling everything we needs to know.
PVoice (The pirates are attacking. 4, 0, Method = I am (optional), I see, I demand; emergency = True).
PVoice (The patrols are on their way. 4, 1, no_joy; emergency = True), etc.
Floating lightly above the coffin, the cyborg stands naked, an arm on its breasts, the other on its pubis. Thus was Monica Vespucci carried ashore on her white shell, as Botticelli painted her in The Birth of Venus.
“She took off her suit is sufficient to describe the action,” objectors object.
The first cyber bacchant examines her while Akim keeps Dingman at bay.
“For the last time: where is the uterus? Yours is... empty.”
“Yes, I have no other,” Janatone responds with a smile.
At the same time, two pirates dressed in light spacesuits set foot on the platform of the nacelle carrying the container. They exchange a few grunts with the robots from Mars and then head for the control panel.
The smaller of the two pulls off a large metal plate and begins to rummage around in the cables. They give off showers of red sparks in the cobalt blue of the sky, on the polished surfaces of the silver spacesuits and the golden helmets. The pirates work away, insensitive to both light and beauty.
PVoice (The ejection procedure has been engaged from the bucket. 4, 0, I see; emergency = True).
PVoice (Cut the power, dammit. 4, 1, blame; emergency = True), etc.
The nacelle’s bolts are blown away. The bulky cargo container is released; it starts sliding lightly towards the exterior. Small puffs of vapor and bright, drifting parts confirm that the container is ready for release. The micro-boosters are engaged. The cable swings. An alert sounds.
“You will explain yourself to the captain,” says the glabrous bacchant, turning away. “They will take us all. This will be much simpler...”
Cut out everything! the PVoices shout.
All cable three power!
No, not the three!
The container drops into the void. The laws of physics serve their purpose: while the geostationary cable moves away eastwards as fast as the planet spins, all the view angles inscribe the big box against the curve of the globe, as solitary and immutable as a sleepy Sunday afternoon. But the Jolly Roger is flying on the pirate ship. The enemy is approaching.
Inside the container again, incredible images: The cyber-bacchants observe the barge through an immediate web window when, in an extended time-frame, with a gesture barely visible to human eye, Janatone brings her hands under her breasts and simply takes out two of her ribs. Her eyes, white, turn to the sky in a trance. Her gesture is mysterious and intimate. Her breasts are firm, perfect, spiritual.
She assembles a weapon in a few stealthy motions. It is curved, unheard-of, elegant. With one foot, she kicks away the robot who has been questioning her. Two yellow rays surge from her gun and pierce him with great precision. A few sparks fly to the wall and die out. The Martian’s eyes stare sightlessly. A pungent odor of burned polymers fills the compartment; then come torrents of foam. More alarms add their sound to the polyphony.
Outside, the enemy spacecraft maneuvers and opens a hatch door wide.
Guided by the stimuli-shield, Janatone presses herself against a wall. She moves under the emulsion of light. Now she stands over the open sarcophagi. Through the less dense zones of vapor, she discovers the corpses twisted in their straps.
With a slight jump, Janatone propels herself to the bottom of her coffin. She moves too fast and too precisely for her motions to be authentically human. As she gathers her garment, the second bacchant comes in. In a flash, he closes the lid on the cyborg. But Dingman is on him.
They disappear in the cloud of vapor. They can be heard fighting. Meanwhile, Janatone stands up and dresses. How do we know that her motions are ordered by the stimuli shield? She has a woman’s way of putting on a spacesuit, but there is something else, besides..
But there is something else. Her mind must consist only of geometric figures, calculated volumes, probable curves, vector music. Only a neuronic prosthesis can propel her so swiftly to the emergency locker where the spacesuit helmets are stored, and only it can instantly correct her trajectory according to the effects of gravity.
Her chin disappears under the large collar of the spacesuit. She moves on Dingman. The stimuli shield doesn’t think twice; it looks for the optimal angle of fire to shoot him down.
“Don’t shoot, I work for DF! I’m escorting the funeral convoy.”
There is a terrible wavering, for an instant, in weightlessness. Janatone seems not to see him. Finally, with a sullen voice, she orders, “Get dressed and hide in the spacesuit locker.”
Dingman barely has time to get ready. As the pirates’ barge approaches its prey, sudden changes occur in its data, the source of which is not immediately identified by the captors. Unforeseen acceleration, wisps of gas, then a collection of various objects have to be analyzed and subjected to risk assessment.
The actual cause is that the pressurized box has expelled all its air through a small hole that Janatone has burned through the hull with her weapon. Then, a few seconds after the initial thrust, the main door has opened wide, spilling all sort of detached hardware and wetware, namely food and dismembered dead bodies. The devastated container careens wildly away towards the trash collection area.
PVoice (The drones are in zone, locked on target. 4, 0; action = maxaction).
Small police robots are attacking the pirate ship, which is fleeing. The chase begins.
PVoice (The container is heading to a waste collection site. 4, 0; action = maxaction).
PVoice (The magnetic streams will pull it inside. Fragmentation is very active; we won’t be able to recover it. action = maxaction).
The trash cloud is a vast, murky oblong, shaped by magnetic fields and stirred by chaotic motions, an infinite dance of fragments born of collisons with other fragments. The ancients placed their highest spheres in this region of the sky, where orbit dogs bulldoze immense amounts of space junk.
The PVoices are legion. Everybody is talking: the police; central control; trash dogs; spectators with questions; pirates hurling volleys of abuse in Martian dialect; the most intelligent wastes, which are reformulating their strategy; and the most humble ones, humming in resonance.
“Jump, Dingman! Jump before it’s too late. They’ll rescue you. Above all, don’t say anything about me. I’m not here. I don’t exist. If you don’t do it for me, do it for Joe Dasein,” It’s the cyborg’s voice, which fades in and out.
“Come on!” says Joe’s employee, without much conviction.
“No. I came to die on Earth. But its sky will do.” Then Dingman jumps in the void.
Joe comes in very fast, at another angle. He sees the chase and the container as it gets sucked into the trash field. Little orbit dogs dart out of his way as he passes. He does not see Dingman drifting clumsily towards the drones, or does he not want to see him?
If Joe wants to follow the container, the power and agility of his sports vehicle will give him an advantage; it’s a “Satan’s Soul” General Orbital Phi-7, a customized model, also known as “Satan’s Suppository” or “S-Supp.” The name is one of the director’s rare whims. Flying S-Supps can bring a unique pleasure known only to initiates, and it has played a part in Joe’s decision to rescue the passengers.
And this is what he really wants. Joe rushes into the wake of the box, avoiding the obstacles, which are getting denser and more unpredictable. He accelerates as soon as the computer offers him a safe window.
Collisions and trajectories can be seen before they occur but, from time to time, reality does not correspond to projections, and Joe has to steer manually to avoid new debris while the course is being recalculated. The cabin rings under the hail of the smallest, unavoidable fragments. The spacecraft cannot help making little, plaintive alerts.
But Joe closes in. He docks, buckles on his spacesuit, and exits. He aims for the front panel, which is now wide open. He enters the container, unaware of the whirling bowl that is bearing down on him.
Blind thing, damned mass, no collision will ever set you free again! You will be, indefinitely, indifferently, however many your fragments. You will be. But, for Joe, the collision comes as a shock. Everything rolls, he rolls, and he bumps into Janatone amid the open coffins.
Joe and Janatone look at each other; they are alive. Stuck to the ceiling, crouched, then floating, they are still here. As at a cave’s entrance, the blue of the sky shines in. “Who are you really?” asks Dasein Funeral’s Director, looking at the ruined interior of the container.
“Just an Earth girl.” She smiles, and the mother planet comes closer. Objects are dropping out of the bottom of the waste slick. A few minutes later, streaks of fire bear witness to their disintegration in the denser layers of the atmosphere. Fiery traces constantly plummet into the waiting sky.
The Supp has been jolted loose and separated from the container. In the sector between three and six o’clock from Joe’s perspective, it seems to be tacking about erratically within the cloud, but it is actually following a path intricately calculated to bring it back to Joe and Janatone. Joe knows that the machine is liable to fail but, in the web, he sees it closing in successfully.
“I won’t follow you without Fred,” says Janatone calmly.
Joe does not answer. He is confronting bad thoughts. There is not enough room. Besides, if I’m going to get out of this, I will have brought back the only dead guy who has not paid for the trip.
“I don’t care!” Janatone adds. Joe abandons the idea of knocking her out; he knows she is stronger than he. Together, they laboriously extract the unwieldy corpse of Fred Looseman from the coffin in which it is still stuck.
The swollen spacesuit cooperates with all its abductors but insists so much that they rid it of the dead body that they finally have to unplug its main batteries. They see the technician’s swollen face stuck to the fogged globe. His hideously distorted nose oozes a thick black liquid as they move the corpse.
Outside, the Supp is docking; fiery filaments curl around its ailerons. Everywhere, around everything, these delicate streaks manifest the increased density of the atmosphere. The passengers realize they are falling.
Copyright © 2015 by Bertrand Cayzac