Floozman in Space
by Bertrand Cayzac
Chapter 3: She Will Never Go Back to Earth
To pay his debts, Fred Looseman is working in space colonies where economic GROWTH already attracts millions of men. Mining, metallurgy, solar energy and transportation are the main engines of this development. So is, of course, organic engineering, which benefits from an innovation-friendly legal framework. Montaigne sums it up when he quotes Seneca, loosely: In negotiis sunt negotii causa. — ‘Business for the sake of business.’
The relativistic banking network deployment will take whatever time it takes, and Fred won’t be complaining. He is feeling rather good. At this moment his team is on the Super Estrella, at a level-five dynamic costs control zone, which includes the possible suspension of vital functions. Level five is very demanding. TermiBank claims that its employees and sub-contractors are proud to work there.
Fred has successfully embraced the OBJECTIVES of the program. He knows that the hourly cost of a human technician must not exceed the mobile threshold to preserve the MARGIN. His own refreshed cost is discreetly displayed on his TermiBank suits with the rest of his individual indicators.
He understands that RESOURCES must be carefully measured to achieve this output. In space, everything is a resource: not only food and cubic meters of living space but also air and water. Matter — the elementary matter that was once abundant — has become wealth for all who take shelter from the void. Is it in deserts, in barren snows, or in camps that men have been drawn to attach a value to common stones or to the slightest scrap of metal or cloth?
Often, he would like to let himself slip into oblivion, but he feels and experiences that things are too real to let him do that. These things are here; they persist in being, most often in a feeble, low-intensity light. He does not know them anymore when they exist in the dark, aside from his sleeping bag, his web corner and his tubes.
But these things come back with the hours as an inexhaustible source of annoyance: the dry shower, the rays, the small, ugly rings hemming the collar and the sleeves of his old spacesuit, the warped gasket on the right side, and the impassible uniformity of these narrow, brushed surfaces, constrained and insolent.
There is also the inner coating which is fraying in patches, the cloakroom odor, and the gleaming metal of the docking bars. These things do exist, and he has to live with them. He knows those which will never please the eye, those which deform the mind and those which soothe a little, such as the others’ skin, the airlock alveoli and their suction noise... And, beyond the airlock, there is work: the work that is nerve-racking and that would cost too much if assigned to new-generation robots, considering their TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP.
After the mandatory exercise and the twelve-hour work day, he goes back to his alveolus to wait for the end of the curfew. If his indicators are good, he will get free access to the sexual web and, once a month, to the disco, which has artificial gravity.
Sometimes during the spacewalks, he stops a while to watch the Earth. He thinks it is pretty and that he is lucky to be so high. But he quickly gets back to work and not fall behind. And the work, too, is real: the eyes have to refocus, and the hand has to grab and turn...
Gazing towards the closest modules, veiled by swarms of drones, one can distinguish riggings, walls and towers erected in space in all directions. The largest of the edifices are circled by black, glass-paneled bays.
* * *
Inside the tower are other characters. In the background, behind the dark glass, one can see Fred and his crew like insects against the broad, round flank of the Earth. The Moon and the Sun are aligned in an inhuman light. It is a cosmic scene, a breathtaking setting for Homo Sapiens-sapiens. Let us slowly approach along the axis of the bridge.
Movements. Postures. She is really good-looking, full of live, perfectly at ease in space. We can easily feel that. As to the tall, bushy-haired old man with a handsome face, he is gesturing. Something is happening. We come closer and attempt interest.
“She will never go back to Earth,” states Dr. Alvin Weenie, “like most of the refugees.”
“One would think you’re pronouncing a curse,” Captain Diana answers with a questioning expression on her face.
Dr. Weenie maintains that disadaptation is irreversible. Her heart has become atrophied, and her biological rhythms are definitely altered. She wouldn’t survive more than a few days on Earth in spite of her sophisticated prostheses.
“Is she still in the interzone?”
“Yes, in the Europan low-orbit hospital, at the maternity ward... Well, you know...” Dr. Weenie smiles faintly. “Behavioral disorders. Records show that she remained disconnected from the flight’s web during the entire trip, can you imagine?”
“So alone and idle... She must have been sleeping a lot... Space lag?”
“Yes and no, her awareness is subdued most of the time. She lets herself be led by her own equipment. You think you’re talking to her, but in reality, you are dealing with her stimuli shield.”
“Her stimuli-shield. More Europan technology. It’s an auto-adaptive cortical implant that filters the signals coming from the environment. And maybe more... It seems that this thing automatically manages part of the interactions... We really don’t know. In fact, it’s a super stimuli-shield. Freud had already used this notion to explain the development of consciousness in contact with the world of sensations.”
He makes a mental gesture, and the web presents them with an extract of the work Jenseits des Lustprinzips (“Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” 1920).
We have more to say about the living vesicle with its stimulus receiving layer. This small morsel of living substance floats about in an outer world charged with the most potent energies and it would be destroyed by the operation of the stimuli if it were not provided with a protection against stimulation. It acquires this owing to the fact that its outermost layer gives up its structure pertaining to living matter, becomes to a certain extent inorganic and now, as a special integument or membrane, operates in keeping off the stimuli, that is makes it so that the energies from the outer world can now propagate themselves, with a fragment of their intensity, to the next layers which are still alive.
“And...yes, he suggests that conceptual schemes such as time and space might have their seat in the stimuli-shield...”
“Yeah, ‘suggests” is the right word. With that thing, you never know who does the talking. It’s very disturbing. She might be completely crazy behind it.”
“I wish I knew her...” continues Captain Diana, contemplating a non-Cartesian point in the world of female friendship.
Dr. Weenie sees her eyes asking, “What?” Is it the determined compassion of Judith beheading Holophernes? Dr. Weenie wonders, thinking of Caravaggio’s painting. But Diana is darker, more rustic. How beautiful! And a soldier. And I am going to the Galilean moons with her: how lucky can I get?!
“She is not... easy to know,” he answers at last. Dr. Weenie is still troubled by meeting Janatone. Is she beautiful or is he merely fascinated by her monstrosity? For she is a monster, an abomination. How could she disregard medical monitoring? With what support?
Anyway, she is paying the price. He sees her lank limbs and her all-white skin again, her blonde face consumed by large, sulfur-colored eyes. Had he really understood what life on the moons really meant before this sidereal gaze took his breath away?
Europa! It’s a lot worse than what has been shown to the public since the refugee ships’ arrival, even worse than what can be read in the government reports. This cyborg was looking at him straight in the eyes. It was as if he were awakening to the frozen darkness on a wooden platform in a mushroom town in the far north of the world.
“This is not possible. You couldn’t stand it...”
“You have no idea of what she could stand,” says the Stimuli-Shied, with no more discretion and in its Stimuli-Shield accented speech.
It’s cold outside and the night is immense. It stretches into their very soul. Out of mimicry, Dr. Weenie starts speaking more brusquely.
“We have to ban your access to her.”
“Are you going to lock me in?” Janatone seems to ask.
“I’ll do it, if you put yourself in danger. But you are already under house arrest in this station, and there are others who want to limit your freedom.”
“What do you mean?”
“I belong to the Central Health Commission. I am well informed. I know exactly who you are, and I know that Cosmitics labs have just lodged a complaint against you for committing sabotage and divulging trade secrets. You know as well as I do that they will not settle for a legal way to neutralize you.”
Janatone sighs. And that is her, for sure: the Stimuli Shield can simply not sigh that way.
“Yes, they will: Europa’s legal way. Jenny Appleseed’s way.”
“It’s precisely this drift which is causing the problem. I am not spilling any secrets in telling you that the government has just approved the survey mission. Everything is ready. We will be leaving in two weeks. You could help us...”
“I have already given all the information with my application for asylum: the Cosmitics dictatorship, the slavery of the semi-living, genetic modification, the 80/20 biotechnical coupling experiments, the expulsion of the religious, the failed rebellion...”
“I know. I know all about it. I even know what you’ve done for the robots who have escaped slavery. But the bases are spread all over the moons of Jupiter. As planetary geologist, you know them very well.”
Dr. Weenie takes a breath. “Listen to me carefully. This is confidential information: if our conclusions support it, we will have to overthrow Appleseed’s government and restore DEMOCRACY. This won’t be very complicated. We have the mandate and the military escort to do it.
Reforms will prove more difficult, though. We will need people who know the field. You have the perfect profile. If you want to, you can play a role in this mission...”
“Everybody knows that you are going there to seize Europa’s technology. It is more advanced than yours, and it is a threat to you. Besides, all the events are beyond your control. But I just don’t care. I want to go home.”
“I am asking you to do it, Ms. Waldenpond.”
Calmly, Janatone looks at him and says, “I said no. Are you a doctor, Mr. Weenie?”
Dr. Weenie sighs in his turn.
“Are you really a doctor?” Janatone repeats, finding the most disembodiedly impersonal tone her logical coprocessors can produce.
“Yes. A neurologist and a specialist in altered states of consciousness. I don’t have a consultation practice. I am managing a research team. I am taking these steps in the interest of the expedition...”
“Then, if your medical check is complete, I will thank you to leave me alone. Goodbye, Dr. Weenie.”
The WILL that forces Dr. Weenie to step back hits his awareness like an elemental force.
“One last question, Ms. Waldenpond. What are you going to do with the baby?”
Janatone remains very cool but makes a veiled threat, suggesting she might have hidden powers. “I don’t know. I’m telling all those who come to the maternity ward: you can take him. I saved him from Europa, that’s enough. I was able to save this one... I explained it to him.”
“To take him,” Dr. Weenie repeats, “this is the first time that the government has been faced with this situation. Who is taking care of this? Dr. Objegalix?”
“Yes, he is taking care of it, too.” Janatone smiles.
“Technically, you’re pregnant. Well, that’s what the hospital says. The law does not recognize the Artificial Uterus. But I’m afraid nobody wants to take responsibility for this machine. That’s what’s going on. It will have to happen, though.”
“And you, do you want to take him? It’s not complicated; the A.U. knows what to do. But it will quickly go out of order if we don’t get the Earth-Europa filter.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The AU’s electromagnetic filter has burned out on account of an Earth-Europe EMP. We’ve been expecting the part for days. What do you say to that? I can even tell you it has just dropped out of suspended mode...”
“Biostasis. Embryonic development is starting up again.”
“Err... I’ll see what I can do...”
* * *
“This is it...”
“We could take Janatone and the baby aboard the Lighthouse!” Captain Diana exclaims after listening to Dr. Weenie’s story. “Our flagship has everything they need.” Diana is sincere. She is pretty, like springtime on Earth. Her complexion is as fresh as a satori arising between the toes, a misty March morning on the river...
Dr. Weenie is doubtful. “Janatone does not want to be helped. She has just requested a filter for her Europa-Earth uterus, and the administration has done nothing. The technology is still experimental.”
“I’ll see what I can do...”
“Mmm.. okay. We had better be wary of these Europan cyborgs. We do not know all they can do.”
“Such mistrust is not like you, Dr. Weenie.”
“And you? Do you trust them?”
Captain Diana says curtly: “I believe Europa is behind the crash of the cargo ships.”
“Ah, I had not thought of that. Because of Waldenpond?”
“They are coming for her. And they are on the Estrella.” She says “Estrella” as though the word is funny. “The administration will surely let her escape to Earth to avoid a fight on the station. And they’ve gotten all the information they wanted. Tell me, do we know if Janatone is the baby’s mother?”
“No, we don’t. Her file says nothing about it. They have not done the tests.”
“And you didn’t ask for them.” She smiles.
She is greater than the logos. She is grander than grandeur. She is what she wants to be, Dr. Weenie says to himself.
“But what can I do?” Captain Diana wonders.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2015 by Bertrand Cayzac