A Home World Like Roy
by C. J. Simpson
|part 2 of 5|
I feel uncomfortable here, unable to settle, as though I’m not completely in this room, as though my consciousness is out of phase with the rest of my body. I’m not sure whether the three bottles of beer are to blame or the seagull I’ve watched fly across one wall to the other, then reappear where it started and begin the cycle again.
I nod at the barman, who disappears to collect me another bottle; we have developed an understanding.
As I pay with my thumb for the fourth bottle, I find I’ve been joined by a stranger. I look at the man sat on the stool next to me; he looks back with a knowing smile. I wonder if he’s making an effort to irritate me, or if he’s oblivious to the reaction his appearance has evoked.
“I see you’re not infected,” he says by way of an introduction.
“No I’m not.” is my short reply.
“You don’t see many people these days without,” he observes and sips from his own glass of beer.
“You sure don’t,” I agree.
He’s old; looks to be close to my age or at least as close as I can judge it. His round, friendly face is lined; his cheeks have lost the firmness of youth, and their flesh hangs loose from his cheekbones. His eyes look tired; his chin shows a couple of days’ worth of stubble. In short he looks like he spends a lot time in places like this; a barfly, a term from my youth.
I glance at his glass of beer. He notices this and says, “I had them implanted a while back, just waiting for the effects to show themselves.” He points at his own, grizzled face, illustrating his point.
“Right,” I sigh and turn back to face the bar.
“Hope you don’t mind me asking, but you got any plans to get them?”
“I don’t like the idea of them running things behind the scenes,” I say. I keep my response as brief as possible.
The man smiles at me again and laughs. “They’re no worse than the millions of bacteria you’ve got right there in your gut.”
“Those are different. These bugs are parasites. They found them living on fish at the bottom of the ocean. As far as I’m concerned they may as well have found them on Mars.”
“Yeah. I guess,” he says, smirking.
I have no urge to say anything further to this man, and I wouldn’t but for an internal voice, that of Susan’s, telling me to behave and make friends. So I turn back to the stranger and say: “I’m just happy with the way things are, is all.”
“Who isn’t? I don’t like change. Change is for the young, not for us old folk. But this isn’t like when regular TV shows ended. When that happened I was outraged; I’ve still got my old TV bolted to the wall at home. All I watch on it these days are old film streams.”
I nod in agreement; my old TV is bolted to my wall and is rarely turned on since regular TV shows were cancelled in favour of holographic programming.
“You agree, don’t you? You’re nodding. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Music was better when we were younger. Films were, too. But these bugs aren’t technology. They’re as natural as the bees that pollinate the flowers.”
He seems to think he’s made his point, but I stare back blankly, refusing to give him an inch. I say: “It ain’t natural, looking 26 when you’re 66.”
“Sure it is. Why not? Elephants live a long time. So do... I don’t know... Tortoises? There are trees that live for thousands of years. I’ll tell you what ain’t natural: living 70, 80 years and shrivelling up and dying bit by bit.”
“I’m not sure,” I say with a shrug.
“Think of your ancestors for example. How old are you. 70?”
“OK; your ancestors would have looked like you do now at 35?”
“Well, it’s not just that. It’s all the other stuff they do as well.”
I don’t like the direction the conversation is taking, I’m on my back foot, on the defensive; I struggle to get my point across coherently when I feel I’m under attack.
The man doesn’t seem to notice, at least, I hope he doesn’t.
He says, “They’ll only do that other stuff if you let them. They’ll consume your shit if you want them to. They’ll keep you clean and smelling like roses. Once they’re in you they’ll do exactly what you ask. Mine make me feel drunk, when I’m drinking this crap.” He points to his glass of beer in front of him.
I smirk, check myself; frown.
“They’ll make you feel happy if you’re too sad, or visa versa. They can pull the strings in your head. But they only do what you say.”
I shrug; there’s nothing he can say to change my mind. “There’s something not quite right about them. I don’t trust them,” I say.
“As a matter of fact I had a run-in with the guys at artificial bacteria factorium...”
“Artificial Bacterium Facilitation,” he corrects me.
“ABF. I had a run-in with them. They called me, tried to bribe me.”
“Hang on a minute, I know what you’re talking about. They called and offered you cash to take on a bug colony? That’s what they offered me, and I practically snapped their hands off.”
I stare at him.
“Hey, it was a lot of money. I’d be a fool to turn it down.”
I shake my head. “Well, I guess I’m a fool then.”
He raises a hand plaintively, “I’m not saying you’re a fool. I don’t know your circumstances. But my situation wasn’t so good. So I helped them out, took the bugs on, and did my bit to save their lives.”
This is the lie ABF told me: ABF offered me so much money because they needed to find hosts for the bugs. They told me that too many of them had been bred too quickly and if they didn’t find hosts for them billions would die. I didn’t believe a word of it: it sounded like BS to me.
“How can you believe them?” I say, turning away from the man slightly, as though by moving away one degree at a time I might escape his attentions.
The man laughs: “There ain’t any big conspiracy, man; it wasn’t a bribe. They’re not out to get us. You need to take things at face value sometimes in life.”
I take a sip of my beer. I’m feeling hot and uncomfortable and irritated. Though the beach illusion is far from perfect, the bright sky on the screens and the hot lights are getting to me. I check my collar, it feels tight. The top button is undone. My shirt feels as though it has shrunk.
I need to leave.
But now the lights are fading, as is the soundtrack of the beach sounds. Low, bass-filled, electronic music begins to seep into the room and the walls fade to black. Stars slowly appear, peeping into existence, punctuating the complete blackness of the room. I look down at the floor which has disappeared and I feel as though I’m floating in space.
My head is dizzy.
I look at my bottle of beer. It is almost empty. I nod to the barman again; more alcohol will cut through this feeling I have.
“Must be eight o’clock,” the voice next to me says. “Looks like we’re entering space night.”
“So what’ve you prioritised?” I ask, proffering an insincere olive branch.
“Oh, the internals: the engine, the gears, that sort of thing. Been feeling old and tired lately.”
“You got any AORs?”
“Nope, 100% my own equipment,” he says and I think of my own Artificial Organ Replacement: a fake kidney I had implanted twenty years ago.
Sensing movement behind me, I look through the mirror hung behind the bar. I see a pretty young woman dancing there; her slim body in a short white and black dress gently moves in time with the music. She flicks her neat, black, bobbed hair as she dances and her hips rise and fall in time with the strange alien beat. I feel my loins uncomfortably stir.
My new friend follows my gaze and says: “There are more obvious benefits to having the bugs.”
“Yeah. I know.”
The man turns on his stool and calls out, “Hey, Amanda.”
The girl turns to him, smiling, and mouths the word: ‘What?’
He flicks his hand in our direction and she obediently walks towards us. I watch her hips sway languorously as she moves.
“Amanda, I want you to meet a new friend of mine. This is...?”
“It’s Roy,” I say, feeling hot and uncomfortable again.
“Pleased to meet you, Roy,” she says.
“Pleased to meet you, too.”
“So what rubbish has Greg been saying?”
“Nothing much; nothing at all, in fact,” I reply, wiping my hand across my sweat-soaked forehead. The room feels as though it is beginning to close in on me, which is odd, because we’re still floating in the infinity of space.
Amanda puts her arm around Greg’s back and whispers at his ear. He chuckles at whatever it is she says. Then she says, “Nice meeting you, Roy,” and walks away. I can’t help but watch her behind move as she leaves us.
“She has a friend if you want me to introduce you?” Greg says.
“I have someone.”
“Let me guess: happily married for fifty years?”
“No, I’ve only been seeing her for a year.”
“Ah and where is she?”
“At work, I imagine. She works at ABF.”
“You don’t say?”
“Yeah. I met her when I complained about their tele-sales staff calling and trying to bribe me.”
Greg laughs and slaps his thigh loudly and foolishly, making me grimace.
I continue to talk over him. “She’s a supervisor at their call centre and we ended up talking after I complained.”
“But I thought ABF were based in Alaska?”
“Jeez, it must cost a bomb getting over there.”
“I’ve not been yet,” I reply.
“You’ve not been; does she come over here?”
“So you’ve never met her?”
“Not in person.”
Greg laughs again and shakes his head from side to side. My discomfort is growing; a mixture of beer, bright lights and bad company is making it necessary for me to leave.
“How do you know what she looks like?”
“She looks very beautiful,” I say, about as sternly as I can manage.
“Yeah, on a vid-screen or as a hologram, but those things can be easily faked. How do you know she ain’t some ogre of a woman? How can you be paranoid that the bugs want to con you, but you’ll date a woman you’ve never met?”
“I just know, OK?”
“And why’s she over there then? Why’s she not moved over here?”
“She can’t afford to retire just now.”
“And will she ever? What’s your plan, Roy? Do you even have one?”
“Yes, we have a plan, OK?” I want him to leave me alone; it’s his questioning that’s making me feel ill.
“I’m not sure you do, Roy.”
“I do, OK?” I say, but the last word leaves me as a gasp.
I feel bad; my chest is hurting and I need to drink, but I feel too weak to lift the bottle.
“See...” Greg begins, but the remaining light begins to fade from the room and I slip off my stool, struggling for breath.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by C. J. Simpson