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 11: Big River
The lean black car comes toward Janatone on the path beside the cornfield. The car announces that it is a capital asset of Dasein Funerals. As it does for all things under the sun, it outlines its mission, strategy and indicators. It asks Janatone to excuse Mr. Dasein, who could not come because he has a lot of things to arrange on account of the accident. It assures Janatone that Joe Dasein will quickly make contact with her.
“Where are we going?” asks Janatone, still immersed in a dream of dying.
“To the cemetery on the plains,” the hearse answers. “Mr. Dasein has asked me to put myself at your service, but I first have to finish my tour.”
“On the plains,” Janatone repeats in a dreamy tone, sliding into the passenger’s seat.
“Mr. Dasein sent Mr. Looseman’s coffin to the depot. We can have him buried on site, if you so wish. You’ll let me know where to drop you off afterwards.”
“Don’t trouble yourself. I still don’t know where to go. I simply came to see the light of day and then die, I think.”
“I do not know trouble, Madame. But if you don’t die, we’ll still have to go somewhere. Regulations require it.”
«Don’t play dumb with me. I’m really tired. I know you machines, , believe me. This makes you pseudo-laugh but we do sometimes want death. I could die right now, but it’s not that simple. And don’t talk to me about the laws of robotics!”
“I’m not laughing...”
“I don’t want to die just anywhere. I want a special place, a place that’s beautiful.”
“A place that pleases immediately, without a preconceived notion? I have models for that, tested on millions of human responses and a database of critical comments confirmed by the best universities.”
“Yes, certainly. But not only beautiful...” Silence. “I’m looking for a place I am in tune with. A place where I can let myself go, give myself up to it, so to speak. It’s a place where I can pass away, a kind of passageway. Maybe it’s the country of my childhood. Or maybe not, I don’t know. It’s all dead now, and everything has changed”
“A garden. I would just like to sit on a bench... Oh, yes... And nothing will be ugly. Everything will be alive. Now that’s an idea for you. Flowers, maybe some roses...”
But what intelligence, artificial or human, can fully understand what ‘to sit on a bench’ means? Janatone asks herself. Even when there were benches, there weren’t very many people who understood what it really means to sit and watch the world go by.
“Is that your wandering-attention trick?”
“I’m in no mood for joking. We have to do something about Fred....”
Janatone recognizes a road behind the signals pulsating in the windshield. The road is straight, clear to the horizon. At last! The hearse gently passes brown stones, trees and even clouds. It goes fast, much faster than in the vacuum where she comes from, but she can think of that later.
The tall, wild grass on the road embankments passes faster still. Janatone’s mind focuses on little leaves, delicately shaped seeds, roots, everything. She sees again, under another sky, the countryside from the depths of her time. It is worked by filthy, stubborn engines, innervated by electricity and fed with fertilizer.
The sludge on her fingers. The cars, the motorbikes, the chainsaws, the green harvesters, the red trucks and the yellow cranes. The kids hopping from one village to another in a few quick jumps, for no reason, or for a fight, a boy, a girl. They are going to breed in beauty, hidden behind the fairground trailers, at the dodgem cars, in the tart shade where black cables run.
And the docile machinery obeys them: the bearings, the black chains of shining axles coated with slick grease. The wheels turn, turn and take them to their loves. Inebriated by the song of exhausts, they lean along the curves, and so does the long grass grown in good soil, intoxicated with life.
But the days of carnivals and small, faded plastic flags are soon behind them. Moving at top speed on the district road, hair glued back by the wind, the young people take to the main roads and soon leave their countryside behind. On TV screens men walk on the Moon for the first time. And everything begins all over again, as always.
The hearse reaches a little town. From the top of a gentle hill, one can see the main street from beginning to end. Everything is clean in the sunlight. The cemetery stretches out of sight to the west. On the eastern side, drones bearing industrial logos stand watch over crops. At irregular intervals, a red laser beam strikes the ground and disintegrates a field mouse.
“Better not show up at the depot,” the hearse says when it drops Janatone off downtown. “You can go out if you want to, but don’t stray out of public streets.”
She takes a few steps in the sunlight. A few pedestrians are standing almost motionless on the sidewalk, like toys. It’s as if nobody really lives in this city. Everything is brand-new: the grass and the cleaning robots going about their business in the middle of the main street.
Janatone connects momentarily to invisible ghosts who seem hesitant to cross. She passes in front of a few luxury shops. A real estate agency in the immediate web presents her with prices, illegible prices, walled communities, retirement homes, protected medical residences, swimming pools, golf courses. Ads are biding their time.
If she were to exhaust the place, she would have to mention the antique wind mill and red fire hydrant. She is in a sort of deserted shopping mall. The web is fraught with all kinds of heritage value: land, beautiful wooden houses, raw materials, and tourists.
The procession is forming now. A few coffins are waiting before the fancy boutique of Dasein Funerals. As Janatone passes by, staggering slightly, she hears a voice in the funeral web.
“I see by your outfit that you are a cyborg.” She turns back. “Come and sit down beside me and hear my sad story, for I’ve been shot in the chest and I’m dying today...”
“The dead man’s agent is making fun of you,” whispers the stimuli shield. “It’s just an old song, and it’s not even true. Your reptilian brain is being over-stimulated by pollens, and you’re about to do silly things. You must reactivate me...”
“So what? I like this song,” Janatone answers. She finds it strange to have a stimuli shield on Earth, where she was raised.
She talks to the voice in the funeral web. They communicate for a few seconds in machine code. They talk of moons and asteroids. They don’t talk about love or of non-being between planetary bodies.
“Where are the people?” Janatone eventually asks.
“They are not here, they are at the market. And don’t follow the procession, cyborg; it’s a trap, they are after you. Take this map and go see my old mother: tell her—”
Janatone accepts the electronic map. Just as the object is loaded in her implants, she feels a cold sun in her plexus, crystalline spirits in her jaws, ears and scalp. An endless pleasure raises and expands her infinitely.
“Is it ‘C’?!” she asks, feeling exalted, powerful. Her eyes are feverish.
“C”! Of course! Just a few hours of a viral code that overloads the gratification networks in the nervous system. It’s pleasure in pure form for bionic circuits, massively parallel electronic drug, that eventually corrupts information systems. They no longer support their default settings, nor repetition, nor instructions... nothing. They become pure negativity. But why not, since I’m going to die? Janatone says to herself.
Employees dressed in uniform gowns call on the passers-by all along the sidewalks. They claim to be looking for six pretty women for the funeral.
Janatone understands. Stealthily and carefully, she disappears. She enjoys running and getting lost in the shady side streets. Long tendrils of invisible fire emanate from her chest and whirl in spirals. A great sense of adventure overcomes her. She is seeking... what? A horse? Who, what inspired companion, could ride with her without slowing her down?
In the back room of the pharmacy, Innocuous and Odorless, from the Michel Simon section are furious.
An avatar materializes in the pharmaceutical web. It’s Smurf. “I’m too late. Who had the idea of this stupid trap?”
Jean-Michel Innocuous explains, “She is dangerous and has no indicators anymore. We need triple-level, double-trigger devices. Trust us, we have experience with this type of mission. This one did not work out, but visual contact has brought us information. For example, we know that she doesn’t have the UA.”
“You mean you didn’t know that? Your methods will have to be completely revised!”
* * *
Janatone reaches the marketplace, to which the web has guided the townspeople as it does every Thursday morning. In front of stalls of white tablecloths laden with victuals barely stained with cherry sugar or hake’s blood, centenarians dressed in pastel linen polo shirts celebrate TASTE.
The value of the dead creatures and the efficiency of the techniques they will soon be wielding to eat them are the measure of their skill. Their art is far superior to that of their neighbors, well rooted in nature and history because they are excellent men.
However, it is still possible to distinguish oneself. And this a just reward, for it is a long journey to attain the knowledge of what is good.
“And if my father saw oysters like the ones they serve there, he would toss them out...”
“If you haven’t tasted the Philadelphia blue oysters, you have no idea...”
“They think they are eating fresh tomatoes, but no, they aren’t. And freshness is useless if you can’t appreciate it. It’s a whole education, I say.”
“I’m going to open a Sauvignon.”
“A Sauvignon? Hmpf. Now, I know the owner of the Willoughby oyster farm. My uncle owns some land nearby. I’ll tell you what they do. It’s really very simple...”
Janatone goes on her way, secretly making a sacrifice to the dead spirit of the place for, unbeknownst to herself, she is thinking the whole village now, from its shining sewers to its black antennas. She follows a large street of pink stones bordered by flowerbeds flourishing with forget-me-nots.
Finally, she finds herself in front of the cemetery gate. It is a brand-new portal, high and black, a flamboyant wrought-iron work such as Vulcan can forge when he loves Venus and Venus loves him. At dawn he forges, half-naked with a numb penis.
The portal opens. Janatone takes a few steps on the pathway neatly paved with stones. Icons of the dead greet her in the funerary web. But unknown men are approaching her. Her predictive models say they may become threatening at any minute.
At that very moment, the web starts to tremble. Objects flash erratically and then disappear. For an undeterminable length of time, the universal veil disappears. Janatone sees the gate, the stones and the mosses as in a memory or in a physical dream that would take her for a walk in the woods of her childhood, where the ruined fountains are... Shouts are heard; the threatening men stop.
The car is back. It has just turned the corner of the street at full speed. It screeches to a halt.
Janatone runs through the cemetery gate and jumps into the car. “Let’s split! Floor it!”
“What shall we do with Mr. Looseman? I have loaded the coffin. Didn’t you want to bury him here?”
“Let’s get the hell outta here. I’ll explain later.”
In a few seconds, the small town disappears from the screen. Once again they are speeding across the plains. “I see you’ve found a psycho-geographic map,” says the car, inspecting what new objects are not hidden.
“Why don’t you mind your own bus... What map?”
“A psycho-geographic map. These maps don’t claim to represent reality. Rather, they show the interaction of the mind with the environment. That’s better than nothing, what with all that’s happening on the web.”
“Mind? Whose mind?”
“Not mine, I assure you. I don’t have any, even if I happen to draw one or two of these maps just for the fun of it. The road can be long, when you pseudo-think every nanosecond and in between. Let’s see... This one looks good. It’s called ‘Big River’. Its economic model is quite elaborate, but its owner gave it to you. You don’t have any money, do you?”
“Not a single zouz. My accounts are blocked. I was a refugee on Estrella, fully supported. But I won’t last much longer. Drive!”
“And now Earth should pay to recycle your extensive parts, eh? As simple as that. But beware: ‘Don’t think the grave is a refuge,’ one of your doctors said.”
“All right already! Drive, dammit!”
“Just kidding. The map runs in the direction of the flow, to the South. It knows the roads that ‘please the eye’ and the ‘landscapes that open the soul’, the author says. You can also enable enhancements in the immediate web: unifying interaction, divine resonance, distortion, resurgence of the past... Beautiful work, as far as I can judge. Ah, there’s also an aged mother.”
“To the South, then. Big River?” Then, after a silence: “But... is it ‘C’?”
“I reckon there’s some in it.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2015 by Bertrand Cayzac