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 14: Claire
One day, Janatone is feeling hungry. A nameless depression takes hold of her; it is worse than SPACEDRAG. Blind trailer trucks are on the move all around them as they reach the massive highway interchanges, remnants of the private-car era.
Between the pillars are the last fragments of paradise on earth: nettles, thistles and brush are growing freely there. Is it the spirit of the place that has just hailed them or these two tramps who look like cowboys, under the concrete arch? Machines go about, repeating that the Web is crumbling. Janatone is feeling sick. Might she die suddenly?
She pictures the hospital, the heat of a closed room quite similar to the cells used in spaceships, as well as the gravity and the common Web, which never goes silent. She perceives the gruesome smell of cleaning products. Nurses calculate her silicone curves, a fugitive reflection of beauty in Hell. If she faints now, the car will certainly try to rescue her. Giddiness comes spinning, more and more enveloping.
She still has atropine nanocapsules under her skin. She releases a dose with a mental command in order not to lose consciousness. Everything gets right again, but she feels lost. She has no place to go and, if living people still dwelt in some place called home, what would she tell them? What if she followed the hearse’s advice? She could stop at the next village and get it over with right away. Why not? Why wait?
But the Web’s perturbations are still rare on side roads. Attracted by the relative inactivity of the car, advertising appears. Its contents are organized according to available information, namely Claire’s indicators and Janatone’s mysterious lack of data. It could be the signature of a rich Martian robot.
[Tourism sequence begins]
Visit Earth, visit the South. A wealth of brain-guided activities within protected areas, a large choice of solutions to produce your satisfaction efficiently. Hiking for all levels. Discovery rides. Hiking discovery formulas. Hiking discovery, gastronomy formula. Exogastriums included for non-digesting persons. Super-flexible hiking: discovery, gastronomy, history and culture. Prices. Discover paragliding or rafting and finish with a relaxing stay in one of our five-star hotels with golf course and spa.
[Tourism sequence ends].
“Hey, upload yourself now into the virtual wing of this hotel,” says the map to the stimuli-shield. “Do it right away. I’ve got quite a few prepaid nights there. You’ll have plenty of time to think of the future. Just do it, you won’t owe me anything. You can install everything you need to operate. And you can switch later when you’ve decided, provided we have a connection.”
“Why not?” pseudo-muses the stimuli-shield. “I’ve been working for that crazy cyborg long enough. It’s not my fault if she has lost sight of the real world. It’s high time I went my own way... Maybe I do need to go my own way... Maybe it is necessary that stimuli-shields take their independence and go their own way. And maybe, just maybe they should be in control after all.”
“Yeah, man,” says the map.
At that moment a call comes in. The hearse puts the map program on hold, and common time comes back. Embellishments vanish; all that remains is the commuter town and its small commercial zone.
“Help! I can’t get up...”
Her name is Claire. Obese, she is standing on all fours at a parking lot entrance. Her plump fingers are spread out like a beast’s toes. Her large grey blue eyes don’t tell more than her silent indicators aside from distress. She is carrying a little bag of mussels. Where did she find mussels? She’s too poor to be coming from the market.
Janatone helps her and offers to take her back home. Supported by the tall, half-dead she-cyborg, Claire, still stunned, gets into the car and calls home, so it seems. “I felt down, it’s all right now,” she mutters into her throat implant. Nothing more. Was there anyone at the other end of the communication channel?
They look for her address in the city. Her data is skimpy and out of date. They get lost. The car enters a highway ramp.
“Let her out!” Janatone commands.
The car doesn’t react; neither does Claire. “Let her out or I’ll tear out your cables!”
The hearse is heading out of town now. Janatone slides into the driver’s seat. She recovers all her reflexes and almost all the commands she knows.
The engine goes BEEuuuuuuu. The car gives in. The cyborg thinks of her father, who taught her driving on little country roads. And now? Millions of miles and hundreds of years later? Now what?
Nothing. Just that the flow of things has passed, and that’s it. Water has flowed under the bridges. She doesn’t know the name of the city and they have already missed several exits.
Claire doesn’t care. “I don’t care,” she says. She is staring at the road. The woman is sick; something has come loose in her head.
“Okay, I don’t care either,” says Janatone. The map comes back. The map doesn’t care. They pull out of Kankakee and roll along a railroad that the famous City of New Orleans used to fare, passing trains that have no names, freightyards full of old black ghosts and the graveyards of rusted automobiles. Holes in the Web are getting larger and more frequent.
They ride for long hours, and the map weaves the landscapes with a greater self-confidence. They are always hungry and Janatone is feeling sick again, her heart cannot find the right rhythm. At times, gravity drives her mad. Again, she releases atropine molecules into her blood.
Claire wants to eat the mussels, which are beginning to smell now. They open the windows. The balmy air refreshes them; the ocean is not far away.
With time, the map hits her stride and improves her grip on things. She takes large detours unknown to the passengers in order to avoid unattractive perspectives and harsh lighting. She speeds across shimmering grass and,on the clear night of mesas, she makes herself diaphanous in order not to add to the beauty of the place. At a crossroads city, they fill up with ‘C’.
They don’t really know how they end up in a small abandoned house or how they came to be sitting on a ruined moldy mattress with the Uranian Rover Toy, Moon City Kid and the Fisher Rat. They boil water in tin basins and eat the mussels. They also eat catfish.
It’s been so long time since Janatone last recalibrated the mini-stomach she had reinstalled for the first academy symposiums that she cannot absorb more than a few spoonfuls. She knows she has eaten too much.
She retires to the neglected garden and makes herself throw up with the fingers, onto the roots of an oak tree. The powerful aromas in her belly are telling her of their own animal being, impetuous to the point of possessing her, but the dark roots at her feet tell her nothing other than their sheer existence. It persists in her mind until it gives way to a memory of the famous vision the philosopher Jean-Sol Partre — or was he called Jean-Raoul? — lends to one of his fictional characters.
What splintering, dizziness and foolishness; she is still willing to conjoin the two thoughts in her old mind. She vomits again, and burning lumps penetrate her sinus. Didn’t Roquentin know existence on the cheap? For days, he walked about on his own two feet in the cities of Earth, well-fed, well-clothed, well-endowed with free time?
Of course there is being, all the CosmiGirls know that. And many-centuried Janatone, far older than any others, has stayed for a mind-numbing time on the most isolated asteroids in the Kuiper Belt, where the meager light of the sun never changes, where no soul ever visits what has no soul in the eternal holidays of outer space.
Still Jean-Raoul is his vision-brother along with all those who know, and the children, too, are her sisters and brothers, and the animals, and the roots. He wrote his books by hand, didn’t he? Did he use a quill pen? Janatone throws up.
The convoy presses inexorably onwards. They sleep without stopping except for Claire’s pit stops. Janatone is equipped with a dissipator. The map takes them in secret across the border of a flood plain. In the morning, the map spreads herself virtually over hills of mixed reality, unrolling forests of mossy cedars, spawning storks and blue herons, and pink flamingos in the sky.
The map braids together on the green oak branch begonias and wild vines, colocynth and wild lianas, too. She sounds the quail’s chant. She releases parakeets and hummingbirds into the shivering shadow. In the reeds, under the vault of magnolias, she sets the crocodile and red snake in motion. She evokes the odors of jasmine, mallow and fig trees.
The map has a lot of information. But the map is not the territory. Behind her veil, the real towns are ever poorer and covered with ancient signs. Ruins of industrial zones and shopping malls have not been swept away. When the map choses to send real images of her route, they show storage tanks, railway stations and warehouses. The map takes them into one dead end after another. They continually make long detours. They are tirelessly seeking the Man...
To be continued...
Copyright © 2015 by Bertrand Cayzac