Illusion Number 342 Take Back the Skies The stories in Illusion Number 342: Take Back the

Skies are set in an unspecified but far gone future where the world and its people have all become more or less the same and the only indicators that remain of identity are given names. These stories take planets, planetary moons, and make something new—and therefore strange—out of them. Beginning with Eris, one of the farthest bodies in the Solar Federation, working inwards to Earth, and up to Mercury, the stories bring a perspective to writing and story-telling that is at once bizarre, macabre, and yet inordinately amusing. Some stories have traditional creatures in unexpected roles: Saturn is populated by hobgoblins that are excellent at various technologies and music and fashion design, Eris has werewolves that are also Michelin Guides. Mars is populated by giant spiders and human beings—but it is the spiders that are excellent at molecular gears and other gear systems. Each story shuns traditional ‘realistic’ story-telling, and yet is consistent with others, though each story is also stylistically different from the others. Some are reminiscent of cult films, some of glam rock fashion and music. All stories are also about the different ways in which they have been told.

ILLuSIoN NumBer 342

Take Back The SkIeS

dIaNa romaNy | aNIkeT jaaware

The stories in Illusion Number 342: Take Back the Skies are Copyright © 2008 by Diana Romany and Aniket Jaaware. Photographs © as listed. This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. The electronic version of the text is distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike License. Go to http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ to see a full description of the license. In brief, the license has the following terms. You are free to Share, that is, to copy, distribute and transmit the work and remix, that is, to adapt the work under the following three conditions: attribution: You must attribute the work as “Illusion Number 342: Take Back the Skies by diana romany and aniket jaaware. copyright © 2008 by diana romany and aniket jaaware,” and you may not suggest in any way that Diana Romany or Aniket Jaaware endorses you or your use of the work. Noncommercial: You may not use this work for commercial purposes. Share alike: If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. Any such remixing must be distributed only under the same Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike License, making clear the terms by including a link to the Creative Commons web page describing the license. Nothing in this license impairs or restricts Diana Romany‘s or Aniket Jaaware’s moral rights to this work. Book design by Diana Romany

coNTeNTS
Eris: The Michelin Guides to Death Pluto: That’s Why It’s Exciting, and That’s Why People Like It Titania: The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Emilio Miyake, Jaco Ayala and Zegna Seydou Neptune: Where Memories Go To Die Saturn: A Hobgoblin Almost Dies Europa: Zappa Blue Ceres: Strawberry Letter # 24 Mars: The Spider Book of Names Moon: The Uncanny Disappearance of Figaro Cusa Earth: Death by Chocolate Venus: The Solar Federation Fashion Show Mercury: Circus Chromatique in B Flat Photograph/Illustration Credits

Description is Composed of a sight indifferent to the eye. It is an expectation, a desire, A palm that rises up beyond the sea, A little different from reality: The difference that we make in what we see And our memorials of that difference, Sparklings of bright particulars from the sky. The future is description without place, The categorical predicate, the arc, It is wizened starlight growing young, In which old stars are planets of morning, fresh In the brilliantest descriptions of new day, Before it comes, the just anticipation Of the appropriate creatures, jubilant, The forms that are attentive in thin air. —Wallace Stevens, from ‘Description without Place’ V

ERIS

The Michelin Guides to Death
We have a love/hate relationship with the Tao, and don’t understand T.S. Eliot. —From Tristan Tzara’s Eighth Symphony, or How Dada came to me in the form of this self-contained manifesto

The werewolves, or the Michelin Guides as they are called, escort to Eris people who have decided that they want to die. They command respect and awe all over the Solar Federation for they do this with a great deal of attention and competence; and, furthermore, they do not accept any sort of payment in return. They have always kept themselves to themselves, little is known about their way of life or what they believe in or if they do; they are also the only species in the Solar Federation that has never been coolhunted. Even the spiders of Mars haven’t escaped coolhunters. In all of recorded history, a werewolf has never been denied entry to operas, to restaurants, to the Federation Cup even. No matter how full these places might be, no matter how many reservations they might have. They can walk in anywhere, anytime and walk off with anything they might be in need of—clothes, food, ammunition—anything. This is not because they look fearsome, though they do look fearsome, or because they deal with death on an everyday basis; though they do that too. Instead, this is because it is next to impossible for a sapient species capable of metacognition not to acknowledge the fact that sooner or later thoughts of death will cross their minds and if one really wants to cease existing of one’s own accord, it is best that it be done in an orderly manner without a great deal of rush. The Michelin Guides run a regular shuttle leaving twice each day from every planet (except Mars) to Eris. They have exclusive rights for travel to Eris and no-one’s tried to argue with them on this account. The werewolves, the only truly altruistic species, make sure that despondent people make something fine of their deaths. They use the Scarborough detector to gauge deathwish levels. “Death. Be in it,” they say.

ef “Do you really want to die?” the werewolf growled, not unkindly, at the little girl standing in front of him. She shuffled her feet and clutched her teddy bear tighter. “Yes,” she said. The werewolf bared his teeth and whistled, “It might be painful perhaps. Why do you want to die?” The little girl blushed and the pink ribbons in her stick-out pigtails quivered when she replied, “Because mommy and daddy won’t let me pierce my kazoo.” The werewolf made a choking noise. “Ahem. And why do you want to pierce your…kazoo?” The girl screwed up her eyes and looked up at him as if he were completely and utterly stupid and said, “Because, in The Daily Metatron, Sid Vicious XIV said his girls always have pierced kazoos. And I want to be his girl.” The werewolf had seen and heard a great many things but he found himself foozled. For one, he found himself wondering what exactly a “kazoo” was. For another, how on Earth was he supposed to refuse to take her to Eris? The rules clearly stated that anyone who really wanted to die had to be allowed on board. The Scarborough detector had measured her vitals and they had checked out positive. She really did want to die, that was real despair in her eyes. He loosened his collar with a hairy finger and was about to call Protocol, when a boy who looked about thirteen came running and stopped in front of them, out of breath and panting. The little girl squealed with delight and clapped her hands. The boy frowned at her and said seriously, “I found your letter before mum did. You better come home with me.” The girl stuck her tongue out at him. “I won’t.” She stamped her feet and shrieked impossibly, “I want to pierce my kazoo! Death or glory!” The boy calmly told her, “I have a plan.” The girl looked at him with great suspicion. “You do? For real?” He said, “Yes. It involves an anonymous mad scientist,

peyote, Pillai the Punch,” and he lowered his voice to a whisper so only the werewolf heard what he said, “and Sid Vicious XIV himself.” He looked around, as if worried that someone might have heard him. The old couple standing behind the girl, next in line, turned their faces to the right to hide their smiles. The little girl’s eyes turned as large as flying saucers. “Are you lying?” The boy stood straight and folded his arms across his chest. “What, now you don’t trust me? The cheek!” He knit his eyebrows together and managed to look really pissed off. She threw her arms around his legs. “No! Don’t be angry with me, Baboo! Please, don’t be angry! I believe you!” He pulled her pigtails playfully and said, “Okay, you little drama queen, let’s go then.” The girl smiled brightly at the flabbergasted werewolf and asked him if his kazoo was pierced. Then she ran after her brother, pigtails flying, without waiting for an answer. The werewolf heaved a sigh of relief and ushered in the little old lady and her husband into the spaceship that had Morte Michelin Inc. written on it in silver Book Antiqua. “Leave it to the professionals,” they say. ef Aboard the spaceship Mrs Seth was surprised to find that nobody was asking her personal questions. She was going to her death, after all. Didn’t they want to know why she wanted to die? She was, quite understandably, miffed. She pressed the call button and a large werewolf came ambling towards her. His fangs looked as if bits of crescent moons had been cut out and stuck into his dark, inky, night-like jaw. She asked, “What are you called, then?” The werewolf said, “Lupus Luchea Farul. What can I do for you?” “I need to talk to the manager.” “There is none. You can talk to me.” She found herself staring into his golden eyes. His sleek body

was made of muscles that looked like branches of the tall trees of Mars, his eyes shining as if through a Saturn-designed lamp—as if the light came out of his eyes, as if he could see right through her, to deep deep down inside her soul where she told herself lies. She said in a small voice, “Does nobody want to know why I want to die?” “Do you really want to die? Why do you want to die?” he growled, not unkindly. “I do. Just because,” she said, and smiled, relieved. There. She’d said it. He smiled back at her and walked away. She sipped pink champagne and watched fluffy clouds for part of the journey. “ Your death is in our hands,” they say. ef Saturn, populated by the intelligent species of highly intelligent hobgoblins, has the highest suicide rate in the Solar Federation. The hobgoblins are, in general, also a very moral species. They made great progress in computation, aviation technology, nanotechnology-based polymer modification, and of course, as everyone knows, in hosting the Solar Federation’s biggest radio station, Sat-Nine. Their usage and knowledge of tools has allowed them to take to unprecedented levels their ability to control and adapt to their environment. Everybody on Saturn is happy in varying degrees. And maybe because of this, or perhaps in spite of this, shuttles that leave from Saturn to Eris are always full, though there are never any hobgoblins yelling and screaming to be taken to their respective deaths. They like certainty in the things they do, and most of them kill themselves to ensure that death won’t be a mere happenstance. They are also the only species not afraid to die alone. They consider it a serious event—to be pondered, considered from every angle, the details prepared carefully, to be savoured like fine wine, alone, without spectators. “Ideas for death,” they say.

ef No shuttles go from Mars to Eris. The spiders of Mars do not kill themselves, they do not even contemplate death and they are the only sapient species capable of metacognition who do not. The most important event in the life of a Martian spider is when it is given a name. One of the reasons for this is the resulting trust which is the secret of the indestructible family structure among them. Researchers conjecture, though they do not know for sure, that this is why no spider has ever committed suicide. “We learn it by watching you,” they say. ef Rustam Tabari looked around Simplest Pleasures. It was similar in design and layout to most Earth supermarkets. Tabari was a prominent physicist but his shady affairs and serial murders had come to light and he’d decided he’d rather kill himself than be put through the legal machinations of justice. A werewolf bared his fangs at Tabari in a smile, introduced himself as Lupus Corneliu Albu and asked him if he needed assistance. Tabari was glad that he was talking to someone experienced and sophisticated enough to understand the art of murder. They discussed at length the various ways in which it could be done and the werewolf advised him about the latest trends, chic swords that would be more his style. Rustam left with a wakizashi forged in hira-zukuri of a combination of pure Uranian steel, with an inner core of Kevlar 79. “Death is personal again,” they say. ef Lupus Mihai Maghiaru took the body out of the Nitschke machine. Most people wanted to prepare for their deaths little by little, embellish it, assemble the minutiae, discover the ingredients, fantasize about it, desire it, get recommendations and guidance on it. Very few asked for the machine which asked a series of

questions, and automatically administered a lethal injection if the correct answers were made. Piers Alcor had asked for a sky burial and Lupus Maghiaru would see to it that the body would be disposed of as per Alcor’s instructions, his letters delivered, relatives notified, legal matters arranged. Everything would be taken care of. “Because you’re worth it,” they say. ef A long, long time ago, lived a man called Paul Savoir. His lover Michelin Zabriskie had locked himself up in a nondescript hotel room and slit his own wrists. He’d been found by Solar Federation prowler squads before he’d bled to death. Michelin Zabriskie had then lost the will to live and lost all interest in dying as well. He also stopped eating, talking, making love and turned into a zombie. It is around this time that the werewolves of Eris found the Golden Record and sent back a reply, which said, “Send more Chuck Berry.” It was Paul Savoir who received and decoded this message. It is unclear exactly what happened next (the werewolves are notorious for being secretive and uncommunicative). All anyone knows is that Paul Savoir suddenly had free run of all the land of Eris and turned it into a death resort. He called it Simplest Pleasures, the logo in blue-gray Edwardian Script IT ). It is an immense, beautiful campus that covers almost half the planet. Once he’d done that, Paul Savoir killed Michelin Zabriskie, walked to a busy Saigon intersection and burned himself to death. It is reported that as he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound. “Just say yes,” they say.

PLUTO

That’s Why It’s Exciting, and That’s Why People Like It
to keep yourself on the dial of life, in the place where you’ve only just arrived, to proceed along the illusory and ridiculous upward path towards an apotheosis that only exists in your neurasthenia: there you are, full of —From Tristan Tzara’s Eighth Symphony, or How Dada came to me in the form of this self-contained manifesto

Once upon a time, Nova Platonia had used flat-plane radio telescopes equipped with parabolic reflectors to scan the cosmos for natural radio signals. One was found and a 23x73 2D grid message was sent. It contained galactic coordinates to Earth’s location and Carlos Herrera’s recipe for margarita. They’d never received an answer. Or so they thought. Nova Platonia’s Royal Astronomer, the legendary Salman Tycho, is reputed to have died asking, “Where are they?” That took place roughly 4.28 billion kilometres away. An aeroshuttle takes off soundlessly into the leaden sky outside. You can see it through the window, which is soundproof, bullet-proof, acid resistant, anti-explosive, anti-corrosive. But the aeroshuttle takes off soundlessly because it can. Like ports all over the Solar Federation, this one’s built to the comfort of those who do not mind the dangers of leaping over time as long as it’s rewarding. Zakir Nazario has come back after many years, nothing much has changed. The lights keep changing from green to blue to purple back to green again in the thermohaline tunnels. That’s noiseless as well. Nobody likes noise here. That’s why the Grigori. They’re acoustic watchmen and will drag offenders away to lock them up in a cell where they will be made to listen to green noise at an unbearable (but not murderous) decibel level. Murderous decibel levels are for third-time offenders. There haven’t been any for at least a decade now. There are iDears zipping zooma zooma all over the place, built to the specifications of the Five Laws, doing as commanded by their masters. The Neo Romantics call them “Slaves of Steel”

and insist that whatever is created in the image of sentient life will sooner or later acquire characteristics of sentience. Therefore, they say, iDears should be freed from the Five Laws. The Neo Romantics are also heavily into grand theft auto and fashion, firm believers that clothes maketh. QED. iDears can be taken anywhere, everywhere. They can be collapsed into the size of a small playing card. They’re made special (brilliant chefs, conversationalists, lovemakers, heartbreakers, jazz players, guardians—combo packs are usually the best) for people with shimmering pockets. But no one’s ever heard of an iDear making something new. Just goes to show. People are people whatever they are. Behind Terminal 4 is an old-fashioned staircase few people have seen. For some reason, it’s only ever been found by couples who think they have to break up for silly reasons. Once they’ve found it, they never do. Last year it was someone from the NonFranchised-Universal wanting to leave someone from the Asia Franchise because of all the stinking politics and the water wars. They wanted a place to hug and cry in private, so they found the staircase. Next thing, Luka was kissing Zane and promising he’d never ever leave, no matter what, they’d been in love from the moment they met, now they’d die together, Vegas or bust, love love love, ethereal, sparkling, neverending, forever, like giant guitar strings across the sky being strummed by the thundergod of the ancients, like flying with wings flapping flapping, up up up, down down down, always, belonging, home at last, someone to miss at last, bite lips at last, fate, destiny, come back early or never come. The orange kismet of synchronicity, for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand. Zane hadn’t said anything, like stout Cortez. But no one’s been there for a great big moby while. Dust fairies live there now. To the left of the entrance to the port is a tremendous building, the façade crafted from fine porcelain china. This is the Federation headquarters of a multi-yottabillion company. A company so rich you’d think they’d employ more people than are on some planets but that’s not true at all. It only employs 25 people. It’s called EverLove® and what it does is make exclusive

ADNRs created from tiny parts (hair, bones, teeth and suchlike— exclusive carbon molecules) of the departed to commemorate their mayfly lives. Because aggregated diamond nanorods are forever but love isn’t. Next week there’s a two-day auction for a Fateh Ali Khan ADNR, the only one to be created, afore or since. To be sold to the highest bidder. EverLove® also gets letters from normal people with boring lives, they are Legion and scattered all over the Solar Federation.
Dear EverLove®, Thank you so much for my very own ADNR ring. It’s like having Hernando wrapped around my finger all over again. Sometimes I’m doing something utterly ordinary, like pointing at something in the distance, and all of a sudden it is as if the ring has swum into my ken. And I know, irrevocably, inextricably, I know that Hernando’s in a happy place and he’s watching over me and his love envelops me, bringing back a whiff of that unforgettable aftershave, those burly arms that could just lift me up and put me on the clouds, it all comes rushing back and I am glad, just glad, secure and safe in the light that surrounds me, the knowledge that I have been loved for me, for all that I am, as I am. I feel sad and happy in a whirlpool of inexplicable emotions, but mostly happy. EverLove® has done what my PSI-analyst could never achieve, not in a million years. It’s just like having Hernando here but I don’t quarrel with him anymore. Even better than the real thing. It’s worth everything I paid for. Yours truly, Venezuela Olafsson

Further down is the Temple of the Monks of Sonic Zero. The rituals that located and sited the temple were performed by an augur through the surveillance of the pulsing of stars. The monks believe that silence has a colour and that it’s blue. Within the sect, they’re divided into Tintists and Shadists. The Tintists believe that the exact colour of silence can be obtained only by adding white to True Blue (the veracity of which has never been established)—that it is the presence of all the colours that make up the universe and presences make silence. After all, if a tree crashes in the forest and there’s nobody to hear it, does it crash at all? The Shadists, on the other hand, believe that the colour of silence can be obtained only by adding black to True Blue—that it is the absence of any colour and absences make silence. After all, your senses lie to you all livelong day. The important monks, the ones higher up in the order, spend long periods of time grinding lapis lazuli, azurite, smalt, cobalt and processing indigo. For the Tintists there is the question of which white to use—there’s chalk white, zinc white, lead white, gypsum, kaolin, soapstone, conch shell, titanium, flake (the ones who prefer conch shells are considered radicals). The Shadists think of themselves as purists and say that there’s only one black, that’s lampblack and you shall have none other. Many important people are followers of the monks, but who they are and what they do and where their loyalties lie is a secret well-hidden from prying eyes. A short way from the temple is the Red Curve. A good place to sit and think about things. All sorts of things. Few people do that now. Mostly everybody prefers to go home, plug DreamBeams into their heads and wait till they get back to work again, or till something happens. Mostly everybody just waits, waits for they know not what, making small improvements to machinery while at it. When he was ten, Zakir Nazario had sat on the Red Curve in exactly the same place. He’d been treated to an uramaki roll by the stranger Monsieur François Vatel. The Financial Tower, far away from the port, is an architectural wonder; you can’t get in there if you don’t have a biometric subdermatological identifier. Space, volume, texture, light, shadow and abstract elements have been harmoniously blended to

create a structure that hovers on eight baroque columns that rise over the commercial heart of the planet like an eerie tarantula. It is home to the finest restaurant in the Solar Federation, the Blue Baboon, run by the Schönwald brothers, Albert and Michel. They came to work as private chefs for two powerful families—Albert for Satori Rothschild, and Michel for Major Gavroche, Chancellor Layla Micallef Ghawazi’s horse trainer. When the brothers tired of the monotony, they quit their jobs and opened their restaurant, offering a style of fine-dining yet to be found anywhere else. Zakir Nazario contemplated the menu and decided he’d have a plate of uramaki rolls, but the waiter told him the last dish had already been served to another customer (Monsieur François Vatel, but Zakir didn’t know that). Zakir paid no attention to the waiters (real live ones, no borg parts) who passed by bearing a delicious woman on a silver tray. Nor did he know that she was being taken to one of the tables on the terrace where businessmen (among them one with the initials DLH tattooed in redshift ink on the small of his back) decided the futures of small countries. They’d paid a lot for the experience they were about to have.
Imagine that you are standing in ankle-deep seawater. The seaweed brushes around your ankles with the ebb and flow of the tide. It feels strange and unfamiliar, but only for a moment. The pouring of sake through the Pink Temple is a popular way of ushering in the spring. At first, the Pink Temple is stimulated to create juices which are perfect in order to experience the subtle mixing of flavours. The navel is filled with sake until it overflows. The body is slightly inclined to provide you with a gastronomic explosion of tastes. As the sake flows down you will be amazed at how the hair moves in precisely the same blueprint as seaweed in the ocean! Is this not astonishing? Pour it liberally, let it run down and then begin

to drink it. You will feel embarrassed and uncomfortable at first, but you’ll soon get over your qualms. The Blue Baboon’s Seikosha Ginjo mixed with natural Temple juice will give you feelings of ecstasy, banish your gloom, and make you forget your chores. All you want, all you will ever need is already before you. Make it last. Would you like to have sex now, or afterwards?

On the outskirts, where anyone hardly ever went, where the old thermal power stations stood like whales on their tails baying at the moon, lay the Crypt, six feet down, sealed away, forgotten, biding its time. Among the items in the Crypt were microfilms of over 800 books and reference materials, along with audio recordings and movies. The Crypt was scheduled to be opened in 8113. But it had been forgotten since the shift from Earth a century back (except by the Hamada family, the latest successor of which, Dumont Lilienthal Hamada, preferred androids to people). Beyond even the Crypt, where the land is pretty much desolate and used for nothing, sits a cube made of Muntz metal. It

opens into two halves; the opened cube reveals two smooth, curved surfaces that fit perfectly together when closed. Not many people have come across it but those who have don’t remember it. It’s as if the senses automatically gloss over its existence. It’s always raining inside the cube—if anyone looks—a gentle rain perpetually falling, drifted by an alien breeze. But that’s only a curtain. It can be pulled aside, technically speaking. And you can step inside, which is infinitely bigger than the outside. The cube is a gateway to a frozen star. The Starman waits there to guide whoever walks in. He will wake up the moment the cube is opened. He stands straight with his arms at his sides, his face, tinged shocking pink, looks like it was struck by cold lightning that left a flash scar, a deeper shade of pink edged with electric blue, his hair, coppery red, shines with life. His pacific eyes, closed in sleep, are edged with serene black eyelashes, the eyelids are neon pink. His vivid cerise lips are slightly parted. When they finally open the cube, and this will be overseen, strangely enough, by a descendant of the Herrera family, it will give in with all the grace of a geisha. And the Starman will blow their minds when he fixes his glittering green eyes on them and smiles his crooked welcoming smile. Many years later, Zakir Nazario would come to the Blue Baboon once again, and once again order uramaki rolls. He would recall the earlier incident and smile to himself. And in the same instant, an almost senile (but nobody had suspected this yet) Monsieur François Vatel—once a chef who’d civilized the bloodthirsty lunatics of the Gaia League with his culinary delights, slated to perform his famous santoku that evening—would, of his own accord, walk into the tip of the ceremonial sword that had been a gift from Mazzy Abdulaziz al-Filistini, the Fourteenth Empress of the Islam Franchise, half-crazed because the fish was too late. The entire planet would go into shocked mourning and Zakir Nazario would go without uramaki rolls yet again.

TITANIA

The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Emilio Miyake, Jaco Ayala and Zegna Seydou
Everyone (at a certain moment) was sound in mind and body. Repeat this 30 times. —From Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love

Emilio covered Jaco’s face with a thousand kisses. He carefully poured honey in a straight line from Jaco’s jugular notch down to his navel, then bent his head down and licked it up in a straight line from his navel to his jugular notch.
Even when he was ten, Emilio Miyake had looked like a little god. Perfect from his head down to his toenails. He sat tied up in a chair, staring blankly ahead. Sweat ran down the sides of his face in spite of the cold air circulating in the warehouse. Two men and a woman had walked into the warehouse cool as fuck, grey suits, dark glasses and all. The woman had been the last to come in. She’d locked the door behind her, keying in the code like it was her own house. They hadn’t expected the boy to be in there. Kenta Lee Miyake had messed up a consignment delivery and Ramuel Samyaza hadn’t been too pleased about that. The men had gone over to Kenta Lee and held his arms on either side while the woman slipped a leather hood over his head. Then she’d tied up the boy and gagged him, wiping her hands on her pants. The warehouse was big, everything echoed in there, it made her head ache. When she turned back to look, Kenta Lee was suspended by the leather hood from the ceiling. They used shearing scissors to cut off the big toe and little toe on each foot. Then the thumb and little finger on each hand. The woman marvelled at the amount of blood. Kenta Lee had fainted by then. In any case, his mind had curled itself into a tight little ball and rolled away under the very last seat in the theatre. Grey Suit #1 took off his coat and uncoiled the sword wrapped around his waist. It sprang out like a cat from his expert hand and cut Kenta Lee’s jugular vein. His associate Grey Suit #2 sent an axe whizzing out and severed the body so Kenta Lee’s head hung dumbly from the ceiling. Then the Grey Suits came over to the chair and untied Emilio. He dropped to his knees and passed out. After they left he crawled across the floor to his father’s body. He dipped his finger in the spreading pool of blood and tasted it. Then he put his arms around the headless body and went to sleep.

Zegna scaled the building’s exterior glass and steel wall using only her bare hands and feet. The wind, cold as a dead man’s touch, whipped her hair across her face. The building’s architect had said at the grand opening, “According to Lao Tse, the reality of a hollow object is in the void and not in the walls that define it.”
Zegna Seydou was thirteen when she lost her virginity. She hadn’t found much use for it, in any case. He’d leaned across the seat and kissed her, then he’d asked her to take her clothes off and when she’d looked like she was hesitating he’d said it was now or never and she couldn’t bear the thought of never so she’d taken her clothes off and he’d fucked her to the tune of Illusion Number 402 playing on Sat-Nine. She had mulled over this delicious secret in her head, raised it up, like a glass full of blood, to catch the light. But he hadn’t told her his name and she’d never seen him again.

Down in the street below, behind a garbage can, two cats fought over a fish head. The Masked Marauder—not really a marauder, he just liked dressing up as one and taking long walks, it made him feel at one with the world—poured water over their heads and the cats scooted away. He kicked the fish head aside and went on his way.
Wonderful she was too!—But not for crawling around looking for nutcases planting century-old bombs. I have changed my mind about keeping this thing. He was scowling now, angry and dangerous. As my mother always said, “What is it?” Il faut être absolument moderne. No women. And we can’t even talk about them. Just this one time. And never again. A bit hungover, are we? I suppose there is the tachyometer. I blinked as I saw two arms encircle his legs, sent him staggering. Everybody’s so full of shit but I’ve loved you since the day you showed me Titania through the looking glass. But where did this joker come from? There I am playing right beside him—and I swear that I have never seen him before. He was jazzing with his trombonio, complex and gleaming together. Accidents happen. Your companions will, I am sure, watch with pleasure. Might I interrupt? I don’t care why, but 75 per cent of women do. They are pretty sure that a bigger one will make their desire stronger. You have the chance to change your life. It will help you for sure. The remedy can be sent galaxywide. If you won’t be satisfied, we will return all your money. No bullshit.

Jaco Ayala was crazy, cracked, demented, deranged, erratic, insane, touched, unbalanced, unglued, unhinged, unzipped. Jaco was very definitely wacko. Always had been. That’s what made him so irresistible. Zegna cut through the glass and stepped inside. She crept silently towards the bedroom. It was open so she walked in neatly and pulled two Beretta Cheetahs out of her holster belt. She aimed the left one at Emilio and the right one at Jaco. They put their hands under their pillows. Jaco aimed a Glock back at her and Emilio a Heckler & Koch. “You said you loved me, Emilio. Me,” Zegna said quietly. Emilio’s reply was simple and it made Jaco laugh. “I love you. And I love Jaco too,” he said. Jaco was still laughing when he said, “Everybody’s so full of shit!” and fired. The first four shots went off almost simultaneously, there were eleven in all. When they found the bodies, Emilio’s arm around Jaco’s, looking for all the world as if he was asleep, the mediacasters called it a crime of passion and it shocked people who were easily shocked.
But me, I expected it to happen, I knew they’d lose control, I knew they’d lose their little minds, and shoot each other full of holes.

NEPTUNE

Where Memories Go To Die
TRIUMPH #1 FOR...OH SHIT I CAN’T REMEMBER, SAYS KOKO —From Tristan Tzara’s Eighth Symphony, or How Dada came to me in the form of this self-contained manifesto

Like elephants, memories too have a place where they go to die, and it is a very cold place. Very. Cold. It is about -210° C. I know you will want to know who I am, and why I am telling you what I am, and how I know what I tell. I will tell you straight, since I don’t want to be forgotten by you, by society, by history, and most certainly, I do not want the future to forget me. I know it will. Therefore I write this testimony, which you will find only after I am dead, and my cells have forgotten me, or, for that matter, that they are cells. I mean each and every cell will be dead cold when you read this. Like a message from the past which tells you that you will be doing this or that—and it can reach you only if you did this or that. I know about all this because I survived, while others died. I mean, I think they must have, I haven’t seen their bodies. I decided that verification was too risky. There is always this tradeoff between available evidence, and the collection of indubitable forensic evidence. I know. On this expensive expedition, I should collect as much of information as I can. I don’t care anymore. I have had too much emotion everywhere. I survived. Yes. But I survived because I was not allowed to go. Not because I was too precious to be risked, but because there has to be someone who holds the fort, solitary, insignificant, while all the great heroes live, or die, heroically. I was merely in the Orbital Vehicle, while those who died, each one of whom I knew intimately, more intimately than anything or anybody you ever did, were in the Landing Craft, which landed, they disembarked, even. After that, they will become heroes, and I fear I will be forgotten. That is why I take the trouble of using this recorder, so that I will not be forgotten. Hi. Hellow? Do you remember me? In fact I will be dead by the time you read this. I know the future. ef

My name is Ari KLG. The KLG is not really a part of my name, but it has stuck to my name for the last 53 years, it used to be my nickname, because I was fat and liquid as a child. I was heavy, and watery, so they did not know how to measure me, so they concocted this measure called KLG, it’s one kilogram per litre. Please laugh, it’s a children’s joke. When I stopped being a child, I discovered, afore others did, that I was different. Only, until they did all their research, I had not been able to know, and I had not been told, how different. I was totally different. I was not similar to anybody else. I was me, myself, and alone. I was an affect-receptor. It took them—the scientists—one year to coin that term, it took me four years to understand what they meant. However, I agreed that that is what I was. An affect-receptor, and seventeen. You know, all of us are that. The difference is of degree, not of kind. I mean, I have survived on the hope that the difference of my culpability and disability is only one of degree and not of kind. This language that I have to use is so strange. I have not been able to use it without a sense of oddity—oh don’t mistake me on this matter—I know many languages. It’s having to use language as such that I find odd. As you know, an affect-receptor receives affects. I receive the affects, the emotions of others. Many years ago, I would be called a telepath. And many more years before that, a witch. Whatever a witch used to be. I know in my time, they are called affect-receptors, and are taken to well-studied, well-engineered laboratories, are studied, are valued, and are made to survive extremely low temperatures inside super-heated space-suits. ef Earth Central Exploratory Vehicle AURIGA. The first humandriven exploratory vehicle to Neptune. Driven by superconductive base-drives, the best example of the affair between pure science and industry, and technology, and experimentation. It was product of group sex, and I think I was an unwanted child of that kind of sex. It wasn’t, of course, very bio-centred sex, of course. But you know what I mean, I am sure. Perhaps sex is not an appropriate metaphor

here. I mean, I have so little experience of it myself. Nevermind. Well, that was too cryptic, so I should explain. Now, if you remember, I am an affect-receptor, so I knew what other people felt when they had had sex recently—recent, for me, is minutes. I know exactly what they were feeling, because I was receiving their affects, whether I wanted it, or not. I knew what it felt like when I was, I think, two years old. Too, too old, already. Nevermind. AURIGA was the second attempt. The first had failed without reaching even the Orbital Stage. AURIGA was manned by those whom I knew more than they knew themselves, because I knew, I was conscious, aware, knowledgeable, savvy, of what they felt, what their affects were, or what they affected, whereas they were not so, necessarily, or always. I was required to, as necessity requires. ef First Labourer Kingsson Smith Hamnafas Pehlavi III (Islam Franchise) Sergeant Ellen Naraian Muttusamy (South Africa Franchise) Shipmate Andrea Palatova-Henry (Europa Franchise) Second non-Officer Jelena Kantarovsky (Eu/Russia Franchise) First non-Officer Johnny D (North Europa Franchise) Second Officer Muhammad al-Nafsavi-Humi-Dan (Asia Franchise) First Officer Badrika Kashyap-Mathur (Asia Frachise) Second Mate Mbutu Nagoya-Spakoda ( Jap/Chin Franchise) Assistant Engineer Sienna Fulsom-Watson (Chile Franchise) Chief Engineer Messner (Europa Franchise) Programmer Olaf Gundersson-Persson-Noennies (Europa Franchise) Third Assistant Captain Smita Johannes Kaprinova (Eu/ Russia Franchise)

Second Assistant Captain Sautrinne-Josie-Gornaire (Europa Franchise) First Assistant Captain Rajeev Mathur (Non-FranchisedUniversal) Assistant Captain Xinru Pi Chi Wong IV (NonFranchised-Universal) Captain Somaya-Dortermund-Po-Chanal (NonFranchised-Universal) I remember all of them, and all that they felt. They are me. No. That’s not even close to the truth. I am them. Yes. Truth is never centered on oneself. They are the direct objects of my being. I mean they were. Now I have no objective in life, and, in any case, after that cold grief that I felt them feel, I wish to die, though in this superconductive thing, I cannot die like them, in that cold. All that the rescuers will discover is this testimony. Soon I am getting out. I just have to put in language what I feel, and then I am done. I am getting out of this Orbital Craft, and I am going to drift freely in space for a few seconds, and then I will explode and scatter. I wonder what pattern I will make when I do. Bliss from all emotion, finally. Perhaps I will meet myself before the last cell explodes. All I know, until now, is what others have felt, and were feeling. Right now, there is nothing to receive, for there is no transmission. All the minds that are working are beyond the range of my mind. I have never been alone in my life. I always felt what others felt, deep in the mind, where other people are able to be alone, even there, I could not be by myself. There were always other people in there, some weeping, some laughing, and a few merely catatonic. ef I was in the Orbital, they, in the Landing. I was to make sure they had a link to Earth Control. I was not to go to that cold place which they were trained to explore. I was not trained for anything at all. I mean nothing specialized, apart from keeping the Orbital into Orbit around that coldest place in the solar system. As you know, the cloud cover on Neptune is the coldest

place in the solar system, though the surface is very hot. In fact, it was discovered that the temperature difference causes some very strange effects on Neptune. The AURIGA expedition was designed to study them. Neptune had remained a solitary, mysterious planet while most others were populated, terraformed, had become centres of this or that, or the humans there had evolved differently, except Mars which was known to be inimical to human beings. And we were also hopeful of explaining why Neptune looks such a brilliant blue. We were to explore and find that mysterious substance which caused that blue. The astronauts were trained from the beginning, when they were below twenty-five. The training was intensive, complicated, competitive, and eliminative in its first phase, and in the next one, it was all about bonding and understanding. The astronauts would be living with each other for months on end in relatively constricted spaces. They just had to fit in with each other organically. They had to know each other intimately, emotionally, sexually, intellectually, ideologically. I was there simply as a fortuitous human recorder. This was not my idea at all. It was an idea that Earth Central Scientific Advisor had, when he heard that there was some new psychoactive substance discovered in the Conamara Chaos Zone on Europa. He didn’t know the connection, but I was sitting beside him when he had it, and I knew what the connection was. Psychoactive reminded him of psychology reminded him of the money he had spent on the project which sustained me reminded him of my ability and in a flash he said, mind already made up: “Oh Ari. You are going to Neptune. On AURIGA.” He had a gruff voice, and a way of announcing decisions that comes only from attending high-power decision-making committee meetings fourteen hours a day. He has forgotten what science is. He thinks in terms of trillion Earth Central money units. By then I had learnt to de-focus my mind in such a way that I could receive affects selectively. I never learnt to shut people out of my mind completely. But this ability to select was bliss enough already. I have grown with people inside my mind all the time. And the range kept increasing. Imagine—there is no way you will understand—that you can “hear” or see, or feel what everybody

is feeling in a range of about three hundred metres. That should give you some idea of how I live, every moment of my waking life. If there is any blessing in the world, it is sleep. After he informed me that I was going to Neptune, I tuned him out. I did not want to hear anything unpleasant, the calculations, the greediness, the overpowering hunger for success. I turned to Captain Somaya, who was sitting next to me. He looked away from me, and instantly I knew that he did not want me on the spaceship. I could understand that. Nobody really wants me around, people like their privacy, and people, for some reason that I have never understood, think of their minds as private places which are not open to others. ef But eventually, three months into living with them in simulation conditions, they came to accept me slowly. Perhaps they began to understand that having to use language and gestures to express their thoughts and feelings was not necessary where I was concerned. They began to understand that I understood anyway. I imagine it was a relief for them, sometimes, not having to explain themselves, justify themselves and so on. I understood. I understood like nobody else ever did. For me too, it was a good experience: I was with a team, and it was focused entirely on the expedition to Neptune. There were no jealousies, once the team was formed, no competition, no loveaffairs, though there was free sex—there had to be, and nobody minded anything. Sanity depended on not minding anything, and always doing everything correctly, as far as the spaceship was concerned. Everybody had their own mental signatures, which became firmly coded in my mind too. Even outside simulation, I could very often tell where everybody was, and what they were thinking. In simulation condition, I could pretend that I can hear their hearts beat. No human being has been this close to another in history. Perhaps will not be in the future. Not I, certainly, because I cannot bear this loneliness anymore, and after finishing this record keeping, I am going to jump out and scatter my blood and bones

and molecules and neurons into space, close to Neptune. I had thought of taking an escape launch and jumping into Neptune’s atmosphere. But I didn’t want to die like that. I would freeze and break into pieces as I approached it. Naturally, I would not be wearing the wondrous spacesuit once I jumped out of the escape launch vehicle. ef The first one to wink out, just like that, was the sturdy and clever Sienna. Her signature was that state of mind where you are fully alert of things around you, and are always looking for what can be used for what purpose. She pitied me my forever confused state—it had taken me seven years in childhood to focus on the task at hand, I simply did not know who to make a part of my mind to do something other than receive other people’s thoughts and feelings. Even on the spaceship, I moved about in a state of deep de-focus. She was thinking, as the Landing Vehicle hurtled towards the cold clouds, that everything was perfect, was working perfectly. She was happy. Then she was not there anymore. The shock of losing her like that made me stumble and fall down as I walked towards the kitchen. I lay there, gasping for breath, struggling to rise, and trying to probe my mind for her presence, and found nothing there. Her signature, and her thoughts, were gone. I have never known such sheer terror. It felt as if someone had cut away a part of my brain. It was that painful. Sienna still hurts. As do all the rest. I managed to hobble and stumble my way to the communicator to Earth, and I also turned on the radios for all of them. I tapped out a message to Earth: “Sienna has disappeared.” Then I got on to Somaya on radio. Remember, I only can receive, I cannot send thoughts and feelings to other minds, though I have tried hard all these years. It does not happen. For this receptivity is not a state of mind that I can control, but something of a biological, or a chemical, or perhaps even a quantum phenomenon. I asked him what was wrong with Sienna, and he said,

perhaps to me, or to someone else sitting beside him, “Is there something wrong with Sienna?” “Yes. I can’t feel her at all. Is she unconscious?” It turned out she was. Somaya spared Johnny D from his tasks, and asked him to revive her. Barely a minute had passed from when I felt her go out. I was hoping that she was merely unconscious, but I knew, in my heart, that she was dead. Someone else would start taking on her tasks, and so on all the way to the navigation, which Somaya handled himself. ef Badrika, who had been a close friend of Sienna’s, was extremely worried, but managing to do all her tasks correctly. She was trying hard not to frown even. I felt that deep breath that she took as she sought more control—and then she was gone. ef They all went, one after the other, and there was no way of finding out what went wrong. I know that when the rescue vehicle arrives, they will send probes and perhaps even discover what happened. It may be something other than what I think it is. I think what happened was, somehow, the cold clouds approaching from below, made them lose their memory. I think they lost their memory of everything. Badrika has a very sweet smile you know, and I can tell you she means that smile. Kingsson Pehlavi III always had music playing in his mind. That stopped as he rose to help Badrika. He went. Jelena panicked, got up, fell down, went. As he got up and bent down to help her, Mbutu went, I think he must have fallen at her feet. Andrea, Humi-Dan and Johnny D winked out. Now there was huge hole in my brain. I had stopped using the radio. I was already sure they were all going.

Smita, known for her strong bearing, was feeling confused. She managed to say to Somaya, almost screaming, “What’s happening?” I felt Somaya form a reply, and then he went. ef Ellen, the strongest and coolest of them all, yelled at everyone to be quiet. “Evacuate! Evacuate! Evacuate!” she yelled. ef They all got up, those who were left: Chief Engineer Messner (Europa Franchise) Programmer Olaf Gundersson-Persson-Noennies (Europa Franchise) Second Assistant Captain Sautrinne-Josie-Gornaire (Europa Franchise) First Assistant Captain Rajeev Mathur (Non-FranchisedUniversal) Assistant Captain Xinru Pi Chi Wong IV (NonFranchised-Universal) Ellen was already putting on the spacesuit, turning it on, turning on other spacesuits as soon as she had managed to pull her helmet on and seal the suit around her. Olaf and Sautrinne helped each other, as did Rajeev and Chi Wong. Messner, still outside his spacesuit, was shutting down the Landing Vehicle. Not one of them was paying attention to the fact that I could sense them, I could feel what they felt. Olaf went as he pushed the helmet down on Messner’s spacesuit. Ellen was opening the first hatch. Chi Wong was thinking of his wife in Beijing. Rajeev was thinking that it was

perhaps a mistake to have joined the mission. He could have flown his favourite combat jets all his life had he not, he was thinking. Ellen was already opening the next hatch. Then she remembered me. She thought to herself, Ari must be sensing all this. She will know what happened. Even in that blankness of pain, I felt a certain warmth emanating from her. She said, “Hurry up!” Sautrinne fell down as she reached the first hatch. Chi and Rajeev looked at each other, and with a full understanding between them, they picked her up, and carried her. Messner was systematically shutting everything down behind them. Their spacesuits fully functioning now, Ellen opened the last escape hatch. When she looked back at them, they were all gone, all fallen down, Messner’s body was jerking, others were quite still. They were all gone, I knew. Ellen, knowing I was sensing her, said to me, in her mind, and aloud, “Bye, Ari. I will try to survive. Tell Earth Central what happened. And don’t come down alone, wait for the rescue mission. Bye.” She jumped. And then she too winked out. ef The emptiness in my mind was total. I fell unconscious, I think. When I came to, it was after two hours almost. Earth Central was screaming itself hoarse on the radio. I managed to get up somehow, and replied to them, asking them for a rescue mission. I told them that all except me were dead. I told them how Ellen had decided to evacuate, and how she jumped. They should be able to find all the bodies, they should be able to analyze what happened. It was as if some cold hand had groped inside my skull, and scooped out all brain matter, all the fluids, all the delicate sheaths, and left behind only a dry skull, empty of everything, and bitter

cold. saying,

When I began to listen to Earth Central again, they were “Ari! Ari! Why are you repeating their names?” I did not know I was repeating their names. First Labourer Kingsson Smith Hamnafas Pehlavi III (Islam Franchise) Sergeant Ellen Naraian Muttusamy (South Africa Franchise) Shipmate Andrea Palatova-Henry (Europa Franchise) Second non-Officer Jelena Kantarovsky (Eu/Russia Franchise) First non-Officer Johnny D (North Europa Franchise) Second Officer Muhammad al-Nafsavi-Humi-Dan (Asia Franchise) First Officer Badrika Kashyap-Mathur (Asia Frachise) Second Mate Mbutu Nagoya-Spakoda ( Jap/Chin Franchise) Assistant Engineer Sienna Fulsom-Watson (Chile Franchise) Chief Engineer Messner (Europa Franchise) Programmer Olaf Gundersson-Persson-Noennies (Europa Franchise) Third Assistant Captain Smita Johannes Kaprinova (Eu/ Russia Franchise) Second Assistant Captain Sautrinne-Josie-Gornaire (Europa Franchise) First Assistant Captain Rajeev Mathur (Non-FranchisedUniversal) Assistant Captain Xinru Pi Chi Wong IV (NonFranchised-Universal) Captain Somaya-Dortermund-Po-Chanal (NonFranchised-Universal)

This is my litany, now that there is nobody to sense.

I am terribly alone, as you will never ever be.

This is my litany, I am very worried that I will lose my memory. I don’t want to forget them.
I can’t take it anymore. I am still saying their names, I think. I can’t take this silence anymore. I am going to jump, bravely, as Ellen did. It’s all going blank for me. I cannot remember so many things. All I know is I should not forget them. I shall say their names this last time First Labourer Kingsson Smith Hamnafas Pehlavi III (Islam Franchise) Sergeant Ellen Naraian Muttusamy (South Africa Franchise) Shipmate Andrea Palatova-Henry (Europa Franchise) Second non-Officer Jelena Kantarovsky (Eu/Russia Franchise) First non-Officer Johnny D (North Europa Franchise) Second Officer Muhammad al-Nafsavi-Humi-Dan (Asia Franchise) First Officer Badrika Kashyap-Mathur (Asia Frachise) Second Mate Mbutu Nagoya-Spakoda ( Jap/Chin Franchise) Assistant Engineer Sienna Fulsom-Watson (Chile Franchise) Chief Engineer Messner (Europa Franchise) Programmer Olaf Gundersson-Persson-Noennies (Europa Franchise) Third Assistant Captain Smita Johannes Kaprinova (Eu/

I knew them so well.

Russia Franchise) Second Assistant Captain Sautrinne-Josie-Gornaire (Europa Franchise) First Assistant Captain Rajeev Mathur (Non-FranchisedUniversal) Assistant Captain Xinru Pi Chi Wong IV (NonFranchised-Universal) Captain Somaya-Dortermund-Po-Chanal (NonFranchised-Universal) and then I will open the last hatch, where I am already standing, and I will jump.

I wonder what scatter pattern my molecules will make. I am so alone. I have no memory of being alone.

SATURN

A Hobgoblin Almost Dies
...for art isn’t serious, I assure you, and if we reveal the crime so as to show that we are learned denunciators, it’s to please you, dear audience, I assure you, and I adore you. —From Tristan Tzara’s Monsieur Antipyrine’s Manifesto

There was a time when Saturn was not a cold planet, and was populated by the intelligent species of hobgoblins. They were descendents of the Earth species of humans, but had evolved, and changed considerably. They no longer looked like humans but like themselves. Hobgoblins had evolved from hoblins and gobbits. Hoblins were a little like street-dwelling, homeless people, whereas gobbits were solid citizens, homemakers and tax-payers. Some of the gobbits were morally sensitive people, and formed organizations that attempted to take care of hoblins, and it was out of that moral and political and sexual union that hobgoblins came. They were, in general, a very moral species. They had very broad cheekbones, tapering foreheads, thick necks, pointed chins and those amongst them as were muscular, looked like tree trunks with thick arms and legs, and very sharpedged lips. They, especially the masculine variety, mostly wore tightfitting latex clothes, even if they were not very muscular, others wore them as if they were shibboleths, or standards of war. The latex glued itself onto muscle extrusions and intrusions, revealing each muscle fibre almost. Their fashion statements mostly consisted of pendants—as large as dinner plates—tied to their waists, and it was considered a particularly cool thing to have your pendant hanging not on the front or the back; but at a rakish angle, on the right. The females of the species usually wore much smaller pendants, and for them, the pendants just had to hang at the front. The hobgoblins spent a lot of time on fashion, since they were a very peaceful people, who rarely had crimes like murder or jealousy, hate, or love. If two hobgoblins, of either sex, decided to be together, it was always approved unanimously. Most hobgoblins made those decisions when they were very young, so there was very little possibility of two of them wanting to pair with the same

hobgoblin—it was, in fact, a structural impossibility. Thus, they had taken fashion to heights that are called incredible. The heights of fashion, naturally, did not have anything to with the heights of individual practitioners of fashion, but with sophistication, refinement, and finesse, and carriage. Being a tall and upright species, they were fond of metaphors of height. The colour that ruled was the green of amorphous plant life that grows underwater, a deep sea green. This was particularly dominant, because that also happened to the desired skin colour; someone with a light green, or god forbid, a parrot green skin had very little opportunity in childhood to pair up with someone. Such hobgoblins usually took up science, or art, with a majority taking up Fashion Design, hiding their colours behind brilliantly designed logos and brand names. The hobgoblins governed each other turn by turn. The changeover was calculated and predicted by the turn of the stars as they returned to the regular parts of their orbits. That is why it was a very peaceful society. They did not allow any progeny to take a turn at ruling. They had invented the universe’s best and truest random number generator, and the ruler was chosen through that generator. They had made great progress in computation, aviation technology, nanotechnology-based polymer modification (that’s where the latex clothes came from), and of course, as everyone knows, in hosting the Solar Federation’s biggest radio station, SatNine. It played music from the whole of the Federation. Be all that as it may. While everybody was happy in varying degrees, there was only one truly unfortunate hobgoblin on all of Saturn, and this was Hjulmbar Moghshul. It was her particular destiny to be exceptionally nonmuscular, thin, so thin, in fact, that even specially designed latex glued itself only loosely around her body, hanging loose on her chest, her belly, and her bottoms. This particular misfortune had taught her deep humility, but even that could not prevent the disgust that other hobgoblins felt for her when they looked at her: her skin colour was definitely un-Saturnine—it was a mix—if one can imagine it—of pink and brown. She was made up almost

entirely of recessive genes, and that was proved by the fact that she looked like an Earthly human. Her Hjulmbar genes, recessive all the hundreds of years, had finally so expressed themselves in her body. Very early on, from her parents, she learned to cover up her body entirely, with a loose wraparound gown that also had a cowl that covered her pinkbrown face, her ungainly thin nose, and her ugly thin lips, and her smooth long hair that needed constant care. By the time she was an adolescent, she looked like a hashishin, her bright blue—ugh—eyes shining from under the cowl. However, right from her childhood, she had made creative and positive use of the solitude that her body forced upon her: she studied very hard, and she studied hard at things that hobgoblins left for the more talented but odd scientists and artists. Given the grossness of her reality, it was understandable that she became something of an idealist, interested mainly in abstract things and arts. She naturally turned to mathematics and to music. Her parents, good hobgoblins that they were, protected the child from possible abuse, and never sent her to school. She was taught privately at home, the teachers being young research students in need of money, or friends of the family. None of the teachers ever got to see what she looked like, especially since it was very well known that she looked like a monstrosity, and few were curious about getting to know exactly how monstrous she looked. Even her music teacher, an old female hobgoblin who had once performed on Earth, one who was deeply interested seeing her talent in music blossom and surpass hers; even she of the gentle voice and soft hands, even she had let escape a gasp once, when, trying to tune the instrument, Mogh’s cowl slipped, and her face became visible. Before she could make polite apologies for the gasp, Mogh, as she called her, had said, “Sorry ma’am. Didn’t mean to shock you.” She had become that used to the reaction her look generated. Not only had she internalized it, she knew that she, and no one else, was to blame. Her agony, however, did need expression, and it found expression in three things: very bad eating habits, excellent musicmaking, and wonderful problem-solving in mathematics. The

eating habits resulted from childhood anxiety: she couldn’t lift morsels of food because they were heavy and large, given that it was hobgoblin food after all. When the parents realized that she couldn’t lift her morsels like others, they cut them up into smaller pieces so she could eat, but how long were they going to do that? By the time she was twelve, she had been told, once and for all, to manage, or not eat. She solved the problem by eating badly, and mostly, alone. By the time she was sixteen, her fingers trembled in anxiety only once in a while, especially if there were others around. She spilled food on the table, on her dress, she slurped. Sometimes, exasperated, she put her mouth to the plate instead of spoon to plate and then to mouth. All this, partly because at the same time, she was either eating; or listening to Sat-Nine. Whatever she decompensated with food, she overcompensated with mathematics and music. By the time she was sixteen, it was abundantly clear to her family, her teachers, the small social group in which she was so solitary—that her talent did not really know any bounds. In mathematics, she had an intuitive grasp of the problem, and usually solved it before its statement was complete. In music, she had absolute pitch—for music from anywhere in the solar system. She had mastered all kinds of musical structures, scales, styles. Her favourite instrument—an unorthodox choice—was the Earth-made Musitron. The Musitron had mutated from a combination of the ancient electric guitar and the electronic keyboard. It was a difficult instrument; on Earth, it usually took two people to play it. Hjulmbar Moghshul was the only person in the whole Solar Federation who played it by herself. One reason why she was so good at music was actually the distance between her ears. Her recessive genes had given her terrible body, unbearable face, but they had put the distance between her ears at an exact solar average—an average of all the different humanoid species on all planets, including evolved hobgoblins, and ancient Earth humans. This made her unique— because she could hear music as music, irrespective of culture and style. It was when she was sixteen, and already very famous on Saturn for the music she made, that she discovered the Shepard Scale, invented by an Earth bound human, way back in time.

The scale gave a remarkable auditory illusion—the sound did not change, but seemed to be changing, going up, or down in pitch even as you listened to it. Now, the Shepard Scale depended on Earth bound mathematics, and historians of music speak of the Weierstrass function and so on and so forth. Hjulmbar Moghshul, however, was a Saturnian, with a different mathematics. She based her first serious composition, called Illusion Number 1: Saturnalia, on an equivalent of the Shepard Scale, but derived from functions that were discovered by a contemporary mathematician from Saturn, a hobgoblin called Humbal Kachinsha. She progged her Musitron that day, and played it for a very small audience. For fun, she put on a deep blue gown and cowl as she played. It was an image, a sound, and an event that all those present remembered forever. The image was odd. There, on the stage was this hobgoblin dressed in the most unconventional manner—not a single feature of her body visible. Only once in a while, as she nodded to what she was playing, would there be the brief hint of blue eyes, that too if she turned to her audience. As for the image, the audience felt as if the insides of their ears, the distance between them, had suddenly transformed into a garden, the constant notes like plants inside their heads, and fleeting notes like butterflies alighting for microseconds, and the sweet caress of their proboscis as they fed on their ears. Then there was the gentle breeze that gently touched and rocked the long-stemmed, heavy flowers, and the ears could feel that gentle touch conducted to the very roots of plants. It was the strangest of illusions, because butterflies lived in a soundless world, but they somehow had become musical. Suddenly, the garden was bathed in rain and the light that was vertical became angular, as if the sun had sunk to the horizon. Mogh had added vocals—she was singing herself. Then slowly, the light began to fade, the butterflies began disappearing in midflight, the flowers too disappeared, and all that remained was a pleasant twilight over emptiness. That lasted as long as Mogh held her note, and then as she stopped, that emptiness went away too. As Mogh got up and stood facing them, in the customary salute to the audience, left hand on heart, and right on forehead,

she saw that some were staring into nothingness, unconscious of their eyes streaming with tears, others looked at her as if she frightened them by the ecstasy, and others still, were smiling as if they were not there at all. That’s when Mogh decided that she preferred music to mathematics, though that too would remain with her. She became an instant celebrity. The news spread across the Solar Federation, for music was still something that spread across cultures. One week later, Sat-Nine representatives visited her and signed a one year contract for twelve pieces. She was invited for performances. She accepted all of them. She was overcompensating. She hadn’t even begun adjusting to the idea of being a celebrity. Mediacasters wanted to interview her, wanted her on live chat shows, live performances. She balked at the idea. She was very worried about the cowl slipping, or a hand suddenly becoming visible, because she would get excited talking about music, and would forget what she looked like. She refused mediacasters. But she accepted audio interviews. She knew she could control her voice. She was never going to be adjusted to what she looked like. Over one year, her style of dressing was reported on various media, and pictures and videos of her, taken with zoom-lenses, hidden cameras appeared all over. On Earth, it became a fashionable swish thing to dress like the Saturnian hobgoblin, Hjulmbar Moghshul. It would never become fashionable on Saturn itself, where the average standard was to display the body. One must remember that until she became a celebrity, she had hardly met people. Meeting so many of them, and quite a few from other planets, made her feel a little confident of herself. She also experienced the first stabs of desire. ef One day, she decided to confront the problem by herself. She stood in front of her mirror, and took her clothes off. It must be said that to a large extent, she herself felt disgusted at her body. It just was

not good enough for anything. She was sure that nobody would ever want to have anything to do with her body. She stood there for a long time, and then with a sigh of relief, put on her gown and cowl again. However, it became increasingly difficult for her to meet so many people, who admired her, and not to feel interested in some of them. A few of the regular fans were, in fact, rather attractive hobgoblins. Very appropriately muscular—not too large either—and gentle of speech and behaviour and visage. When one of them came to meet her yet again after her performance, his eyes brimming with admiration, for a moment she thought she would ask him to visit her. She pulled back the cowl a little, and extended her hand so that she could offer it for him to hold. She saw him look at her hand—thin, long fingers stretching from what could only be bone and skin with no muscle—a palm that looked like a spider—he recoiled. It was a passing moment, the boy recovered and the admiration brimmed again in his eyes, but she knew that she had lost him—at least as a potential lover, though perhaps not as a fan. In fact, he was surprised that she had shown herself capable of that kind of interest. This happened to her again and again. This happened to her with boys, older male hobgoblins, girls, older female hobgoblins. Again and again. At some point her desire would prompt her to take the risk, and she would, and the result would be the same. It was not until she was much older, and retired from music that she understood that this was not her fault. But by then, her desire itself was more a remembered than a present experience. ef Her most ardent fans were Earth bound humans. It was thus that Hjulmbar Moghshul became the second hobgoblin to perform on Earth. She was already twenty-six years old. She had performed countless times, and composed one hundred and seventy six Illusions, some of them quite long, lasting over six hours, some very short, lasting about a minute or so. It was strange, but the shorter ones were more difficult.

When the Earth Representative’s Office called her up, suggesting that perhaps she would like to meet the Earth Representative (Culture) at a certain hour, she was very apprehensive. It was clear that this was most likely an invitation to perform on Earth. She did not know what she felt like. Going to Earth was like meeting those recessive genes— they had made her miserable all her life. It would be like meeting some ancient ancestor who suddenly makes a claim on your body, saying loudly, “Your body is mine!” On the other hand, she had also heard, and seen, that she had a cult following, who dressed in gown and cowl, putting coloured lenses in their eyes. A plan formed in her mind—it might even work—if she played things right. She had realized that the only place that she could be herself, and still be in disguise, was amongst those fans that were dressing up like her. Perhaps, if she mixed with them, pretending to be another fan, and bonded with someone, boy or girl, perhaps…perhaps then she could have that which all hobgoblins experienced from age ten onwards, and she hadn’t—the joys of pair-bonding—and good sex. ef What Hjulmbar Moghshul did not know was that being a celebrity was a different thing on Earth. On Saturn, it merely meant that more and more people wanted to meet you and talk to you about your work. That’s what fans did on Saturn. It was very different from the moment she stepped out of the vehicle that brought her straight to Earth Central Art House. There were hundreds of humans there, all look-alikes, many of them even more so because they were dressed in her style. And they were screaming. For quite some time she couldn’t understand that they were screaming her name—and mispronouncing it, of course. She asked the human who was sitting on the other side of the vehicle, in awe, and he replied that these were the fans. And what fans did was to scream your name. That’s what being a fan was about. Screaming the name of the person that you were a fan of. And there were some people with sticks in their hands, who were controlling the fans. They, he explained, were policemen who

would prevent the fans from touching her, clutching her, tearing her to pieces. They would provide her safe passage to the entrance. These fans probably would not be able to get into the Art House. They wouldn’t have the money. It was all incomprehensible to her, though she had read up whatever she could on Earth humans’ behaviour. ef She was to give ten performances in the ten biggest cities on Earth. Earth Central Coordination had planned everything very well. The last performance was fifteen days away, in some city called Mumbai. She went through everything in a daze, mostly not understanding anything that people said, and people mostly not understanding anything she said. But her music—that formed a bond that she could sense, just below the superficial, languagebabbling that humans seemed to practice more than hobgoblins. Every performance a bigger success than the earlier one, every performance bringing more and more demands for video interviews; in Moscow, she felt tempted, and acquiesced to a video interview. The fans were showering so much attention on her that when the media-person said that her fans have been deprived of her for such a long time that it was her moral duty to satisfy their desires, she heard “satisfy their desires”, and said, “Yes.” So just after her performance, they set up a room, lit it up bright, and asked her to sit down on the sofa, and the mediaperson, he sat quite close to her. The smell emanating from him was, to her sensitive hobgoblin nose, synthetic and repulsive, almost nauseating. How could anybody wear a smell like that? But she controlled herself. She didn’t even realize when the cameras were turned on, and what questions she had answered, when she heard him say, “Hjulmbar,” He thought he was being intimate, on first name basis, but he did not know that he had addressed her by her family name, reminding her of the recessive genes. But she let that pass, because there was a look of such sympathy and care on his repugnant face that she was touched, and then heard him say,

“We have heard rumours that you dress in your trademark clothes because you have some anxiety about the way you look. Is that really true?” She was touched, and shocked by that intimate question. No hobgoblin, no human fan had ever asked her what she thought she looked like, or what she felt about it. In as truthful a voice as was possible for her, she said, “Yes.” The man smiled very gently. And said, “And why exactly are you anxious about looks? Is it some childhood trauma? Or something that you’ve been taught to think of as disfigurement?” She said, in a trembling voice, “No, there is no, what you call, a disfigurement, excuse me.” The man leaned towards her and said, “Then what is it, Hjulmbar?” He looked as if he really wanted to know. She didn’t know what she was doing. But she was among strangers, who were being sympathetic. She did what she would have never been able to do on Saturn. But her looks were hated there because she looked human. She was amongst humans. She did not have to worry, really. And she was feeling completely disoriented anyway. She said, “Do those who really like me really want to know?” “Oh certainly. Do tell. There are, let’s say about five million humans watching you eagerly right now. And with a one-hour time lag, this will be cast on Sol-TV too. Do tell.” She didn’t say anything. She merely pushed the cowl away from her head, and shook the gown off, releasing the knots very quickly, and stood there, in her ill-fitting latex clothes, her extremely expensive pendant in the front. All over Earth, those who watched her, felt a disgusting shock. Some young fans fainted. Some went into denial. Some laughed out too loud in unacknowledged embarrassment. The man talking to her was the first to recover, but by then, Mogh had understood everything. Before he could mouth his next question, she put her gown and cowl back, and walked out

of the room. The cameraperson was the second to recover, and she managed to get a nice trolley and zoom-in shot as Mogh walked out. She held the shot till the door shut on it. ef For the truth of the matter was that, while to hobgoblins, she looked too Earth human like, for Earth humans, she looked too much like a hobgoblin, and as long as she was dressed in gown and cowl, and looked mysterious, as a person, she was fine. But what happened was too much for most human beings. Most of those who had listened to her music forgot the enchanting Illusions she created. They said that she didn’t need such a cheap publicity trick, her music was great enough, she didn’t need that kind of publicity. Next day, from her hotel room, she saw a few people dressed in her style, staring at her window, and decided to go down. The hotel security offered to accompany her, as did several Earth Central guards, but she walked off ignoring them, forcing them to follow her at a discreet distance. As she reached the group, the guards closed in, but one of those people said to the guards, in a language she did not understand, “Nyet! Vai ni ponimaytye!” The guards did not seem to understand, so the woman said again, “No! You don’t understand. We only want an autograph. We will stay away!” And she moved away from Mogh, and held out a piece of paper. By then Mogh had got used to putting her mark on pieces of paper randomly proffered. Disappointed that all that was going to happen was that, she snatched the paper impatiently, and brought a marker to put her mark, but when she looked at the paper, it had something written on it, and the woman was staring meaningfully at her. The paper said,
We understand you! We are your true fans!! When you go to Mumbai, the people I represent will come to meet you, and take you out to meet some real fans. Please go with them. They call themselves the Mumbai Red Boots Girl Gang.

As she read this, she heard the woman say, in a low voice, “Do give us your autograph, Moghshul!”

Mogh felt strange, but pleased. There were some people who at least claimed to understand her. She was skeptical still, but she was also young, and hope dies slowly when you are young. She marked the piece of paper, and turned back to the hotel. The people dressed like her were happy, the guards were happy that nothing happened. ef The Mumbai fans were different from the beginning, from her arrival. There were many more than most other places, but they stood silently watching her, not screaming their heads off. Some of them threw some harmless things at her vehicle—flowers, rice, harmless things like that. She liked the sound of the rice rattling on the bullet-proof glass. She gave her best to the performance the next day. She followed her routine after arrival. She ate whatever was given to her, she wasn’t really there, she was composing her piece already. When she progged the Musitron, she was already sure this was her best. It was as if for the first time, her genes were feeling comfortable. She decided to call her piece Illusion Number 401: Mumbai Reminds Me of Something. First, she had thought the smells were reminding her of something, and had planned an olfactory illusion, but she decided to go visual and tactile, just before the performance. The math was not all that difficult for that transposition. She played for three hours. The basic illusion was of star travel: a steady deep hum that reverberated in your ribcage before you heard it. It was almost sub-sonic. Then there was the everenlarging moon, that absence of sound in space which is different from silence, and then the almost supersonic twinkling of a million stars, the whrooooosh of the sun as it moved, and the constant talk of people, echoing in the large chambers of the spaceship. On top of all that, she played out a long melody on that instrument which she had seen on Saturn, a deep sounding flute that almost stole your ears from you. Nearing the end, she filled it in slowly, imperceptibly, with the sounds of the city, made strangely melodious.

After the performance, after the usual stunned silence, the loud applause (she had not heard the claps that this audience had given her even as she played), the showering of attention, of people weeping, people laughing, people staring at her in stunned silence, after everything, she went to her room, where, mysteriously, a girl was sitting already. She was smiling brightly at Mogh. She wore a kind of short dress, and red boots. She even offered her hand to Mogh. Mogh was taken aback. This was the first time anybody had done that to her intentionally. She put her hand out and took it, her own hand shaking a bit. This was the moment she was waiting for. The girl said, “I am called Estel. It means Hope in Sindarin. That’s the language we speak at the club. You can call me Stella. But you must be tired. Why don’t you rest for an hour, and then we go out? Will that be okay? You got our message in Moscow, I know. Thanks for accepting our invitation. I will now wait in the other hall.” And with that, Estel went out. Mogh was too excited to be tired. She quickly changed her latex, took up a bright green gown with a bright red cowl, and went out. ef Estel took her to what she called a bar. A place where people came to drink alcohol. It was called The Red Boots Bar. There were several girls and boys there who wore red boots. Some dainty ones, some like combat boots, though Mogh wouldn’t have been able to distinguish them by name, she could hear the tone. When she and Estel entered, all attention turned to her, and the bar-owner, a short-haired female, went up to the door and closed it, saying something to the door-man, who stuck a “Closed” sign, and came in himself. They all stood or sat around her, in chairs, on tables, on the floor. She was very embarrassed when several of them sat near her feet. This was a mark of abject humility for hobgoblins, but she ignored that.

They asked her all manner of questions, and she answered them all truthfully. Nobody asked her anything about how she looked. They talked about difference, they talked about sex, they talked, above all, about music and mathematics. For the first time, Mogh felt as if she could belong somewhere. It was clearly here that she belonged. She drank whatever was given to her, and then out of politeness she asked what others were drinking, and they explained, and a boy in red boots, with very pale skin offered her his drink, a whiz key, he said, and she drank it too. She drank everything that was offered. She was, after all, a hobgoblin, immune to the effects of alcohol. Much later, she noticed that others were tired, or sleepy, and some had started holding hands or cuddling each other, and that made her yearn for Estel. Who was looking at her with those bright eyes. Mogh said, “Will you now take me to my hotel, Estel?” Estel smiled brightly, but before she said anything, Mogh said, “And will you spend the night with me?” Estel looked deep into her eyes, and said, “Perhaps!” Some as were awake cheered both of them. Then Mogh and Estel left. ef In her room, Estel came close to her, and said intensely, “Shall I take off your clothes, then?” Thrumming with desire, every nerve alive as if in a dream, Mogh nodded. Estel undid the knot on her gown and cowl, and pulled it away. There was Mogh, feeling naked enough already, and wanting to hold Estel, but Estel was not satisfied yet. She tried to take the latex off, and couldn’t do it. Mogh had to do it herself. When she was stark naked, Estel said,

“Come on, take that one off too.” “What?” “Come on. You can’t cheat Estel. Estel has seen everything. Take the last layer off. Let’s see the real you really naked.” “I don’t understand.” “Come on silly girl, take that disguise off.” “This is not a disguise. Please.” Mogh was eager to touch Estel, but she was standing just that much off. Slowly, comprehension appeared on Estel’s face. It closed, tried to open, closed, tried to smile, closed, smiled. Estel took a deep breath, and then her face crumpled. “I don’t believe this. This can’t be how such a beautiful person looks. It’s unfair!” Mogh felt as if she had been invited to a party and was being thrown out. “You mean—you…” Estel sat down on the bed with a thump. She said, “I am sorry. I thought—I am sorry. I am sorry” and then she started crying. It was Mogh’s experience which stopped her from crying; instead, she consoled Estel, sitting beside her, cradling her in her bony arms, and spider-leg fingers that touched Estel all over, still extracting a little joy, but also consoling her, and inadvertently, uncontrollably, she tried to kiss Estel’s cheek. Estel felt the sharp hobgoblin lips. Estel’s body shrank into itself, hardened. Mogh let go. Estel, crying, walked out of the door. Mogh, crying bitterly, stood near the window, thinking, incoherently, that she will watch Estel coming back to her. She didn’t see her at all. Mogh came very close to jumping out of the window, and killing herself. She opened the window, and the blast of humidity and heat hit her. She almost jumped in her final despair. But she didn’t. She was going back in the morning.

ef She sat down beside the Musitron, and composed a piece. It was the most heart-rending music ever written. When it was performed, a month later, people talked of its effect as of that of a nuclear disaster. Some people killed themselves. It was as if the children in the park had suddenly disappeared, flowers withered, and so on. She called it Illusion Number 402: Dar-kli-ng, the last meaning, “the sound of me”. ef Before she left, she looked for the card that Estel had left, and sent her the first copy of what she had composed, made sure that it was delivered to the courier before she left the hotel. Then she left for Saturn, heart-broken. She wondered if she would ever be able to produce music that made people happy. She was sure she couldn’t. She did not compose for over two years after she reached, and then slowly, very slowly, she was able to compose pieces that bordered on pain and joy. All the music that she wrote, which she hoped would produce joy, only gave the impression of deep serenity that was detached from the world. She made a lot of money though, and after a few years, announced her retirement, and moved to Manifold. For more than 300 hundred years, Manifold had been the destination of prosperous families from all over the world who came to the cape to protect their fortunes or to find them. The hacienda she bought was designed in an eclectic blend of Araby and Hesperian motifs, which reflected the impeccable construction methods of an epoch when homes were built keeping in mind that generations of the same family would come and go. Skilled craftsmen fashioned every beautiful structure, even the nails and mortar were specially commissioned. Hjulmbar Moghshul loved listening to the gentle murmur of the fountain as it trickled over polished limestone, the hushed movements of people walking, the sound of Antakya tile floors being swept, the seductive swishing of royal palms as gentle breezes drifted through her private paradise, everything simplifying her life so all she had to do was compose.

Sometimes she went and ran her hands over the elegant handcarved stone mined from the local quarries, the rich tropical wood of the doors, the flights of fanciful ornamentation in dexterously forged iron, so she could believe that all of it was really there. In the evenings, after the sun had set she walked in her perfectly manicured garden filled with mango, banana, citrus and a riot of ever-blooming exotic flowers. ef As for the music she had left behind, it reached Estel, and she played it and cried, and cried, and cried, and when she fell in love with a Hungarian song-writer, who had come to learn her language, she played it for him, and asked him to put some words to it. He did that, but not knowing the language that Mogh spoke, he thought it was to be called Darkling. He sold it to a company, and it became very famous. So famous in fact, that he was depressed by it, and one day, feeling depressed and guilty over nothing, having read a fortune-cookie, he jumped off the window.

EUROPA

Zappa Blue
A manifesto is a communication made to the whole world, whose only pretension is to the discovery of an instant cure for political, astronomical, artistic, parliamentary, agronomical and literary syphilis. It may be pleasant, and good-natured, it’s always right, it’s strong, vigorous and logical. —From Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love

Mommy Lo/Max was a businesswoman involved in the illegal drug trade that was a universal black market of the production, distribution, packaging and sale of illegal psychoactive substances. The greatest drug dealer in the free world, she was crazy, wore these cool blue aviators, owned a Spyder, and was currently living in her vacation house which had a pool table, a TV room, exercise machines, a Dozois refrigerator, a Greenberg Jacuzzi…lots of terribly expensive stuff like that. More importantly, she could also afford the marvellous legal advice of Messrs. Jakubowski and Hill. Exactly five feet and eleven inches tall, she wore white corduroy pants and colourful vacation shirts most of the time. She never left home without her brown carpet bag and Glock 7 (a porcelain gun made in Germany that didn’t show up on X-ray machines and cost more than what middle-level executives made in a year). The bag contained lollipops filled with heroin (they were the hollow lollipops, they were the stuffed lollipops). Like most astute businessmen, she knew her clientele thought that kind of thing cool and was completely aware of the fact that anybody seen buying drugs from her automatically acquired a kind of transitory fame among their peers for having done so. In addition to the most important rule, that of the mark up (a complicated figure that took into consideration various factors such as the availability of the product, complexity involved in obtaining it, current market price and legal nuisances that could result from product acquirement and circulation), some of the other rules that had made her rich were: NEVER say something is “excellent shit” unless it really is; make a profit on a close friend; advertise; sell to someone under 18; cut the product; trade drugs for sex. ALWAYS deal professionally (it was a business of acquaintances, but business nevertheless); weigh the product in front of the client; remember that most people prefer to have as little contact as possible with drug dealers; keep all products and

records at a separate, secure location; use safety deposit boxes at different banks; avoid paper and electronic trails; buy good product, charge a fair price and practise strong customer service. The thing about Mommy Lo/Max was that she knew how to walk the fine line between right and wrong and though she might have been a great many things, insensitive she was not. For example, she was never rude to her husband even after he lost his mind; took complete responsibility for her actions, never shot anybody that didn’t need to be shot and had great respect for human life. She thought of herself as a necessary conduit to an alternative reality. She also owned Take 5. Take 5 was a lovehotel for people who couldn’t find love all on their ownio. It was tucked away in a corner where you could hardly see it and didn’t advertise, didn’t need to. The stairs leading up to it were easily missed, so it was like if you didn’t know about it, you’d never find it. And even if you did, not everybody could get in there. It was like someone you knew had to go there first and have a good time and tell you all about it and then you’d ask them: So, hey, tell me, I want to come along too, and they’d have to take you there. And when you got there the security guard would check your friend’s credentials on their database and ask him or her if it was all right to let you in and your friend would have to say: Sure. The guard would then let you in because it was all like a network, a big web and everybody knew everybody and prices were disclosed only on request. The security guard who stood at the main entrance was always a handsome young man dressed in old-fashioned NYPD blue. He was always very alert and polite and you wondered where he went when he went home and what he did when he got there. And he was always white, white like truth and beauty and angels and toothpaste and schoolgirl socks. When after everything checked out and he let you in, these massive ornate wooden haveli doors would open up and you’d enter a huge room that was dimly lit, tastefully done up, with thick noiseless carpets on the floor and an immense thangka of Green Tara covering an entire wall. People always stood and stared at it. Then a tiny Tibetan lady (it was always a tiny Tibetan lady of a certain age) would come and give you a catalogue (printed in Singapore).

The catalogues were printed every three months and were always beautifully indexed (by race, country, colour, vital statistics, artistic taste, gymnastic ability, political ideology)—you could find anyone in there, the man or woman of your dreams. Or nightmares, if you were so inclined. The editor of the catalogues was a regular visitor, she came by every three months to fact check (the establishment was officially shut down for maintenance that day, no other holidays, 24/7 otherwise) because she liked getting things right. The current issue’s cover had Take 5 written in plum Monotype Corsiva across the top and showed an antique telephone (with push buttons and all) off the hook on an official-looking table. You could take as long as you wanted to go through the catalogue and once you’d made your choice, you rang a bell and the nice Tibetan lady of a certain age would come and nod appreciatively and tell you that it would take about an hour, meanwhile, why don’t you try what our bar has to offer, sir. Or madam. And you could decline and just sit there and wait or go to the bar and order absolutely anything you liked. Anything that could be drunk, snorted, injected (room service was 40 per cent extra so most people preferred getting high at the bar, except for newbies who only found out later). Then someone would come and touch your elbow or shoulder and lead you to a room; there were no luxury suites, everyone got the same thing, it was all about what you made of it. The room had a big bed, a small bar, a table and two chairs, a cupboard filled with accessories, ceiling-to-floor glass windows that looked out on to the river (a breathtaking sight if you had enough money to stay the whole night), a shiny white bathroom— everything plus bells and whistles. Not soon after you had marvelled at the ceiling, the door would open and love would walk in on shoes or stilettos or barefoot, according to what you’d asked for on the little form you’d filled out while you were browsing the catalogue. After a while, if someone could see you, they’d tell you that you were all yellow. Happy happy happy shiny yellow. Like the sun up up up high in the sky. Of course, it wasn’t true love because you’d paid for it but it did happen sometimes that people would fall in love, and though they’d paid for it they still thought it a very

good deal. Because everyone was sense-ibble and prack-tickle and lodgy-cull. And you’d spend the next day dizzy as a bumblebee. If bumblebees ever get dizzy, that is. And your heart would feel as big as Moby. ef Cana (named after her father’s aunt) was a regular customer at the hotel. From time to time she went there, hung out for a while at the bar sampling its delights before going up to one of the rooms. She hadn’t found love yet and though she wasn’t desperately seeking it, she did think it was an interesting sort of thing to look for.

That night she wore peculiar make-up (her eyes outlined in black, and burgundy lipstick; it made her face look like suddenly seen under traffic lights in the rain, fantastic and implausible) and black Chuck Taylor All-Stars. She flung her hat riotously on the small table and fell giggling on to the bed. Her phone rang, playing out Illusion Number 123: Geistes Liebe. She flipped it open and stared at the LCD for a long time before putting it to her ear. She said, “Hey, baby, I’m so…wasted.” She always called her boyfriends “baby”—“baby, let me explain this” and “baby, let me explain that”. As if it were all a great big movie which would end in a holiday postcard. She flipped the phone shut, placed a strip of S22 on her tongue and lay back with her eyes closed, waiting for it to dissolve, and counted on her fingers: “Not Alice Blue, which looks really nice on dresses; not Azure, which is made by grinding lapis lazuli; not Prussian Blue, which was accidentally discovered by a painter in Berlin called Diesbach who was trying to make red but ended up making blue; not Bleu Celeste; not blue, blue, Electric Blue.” This last she sang out; getting up to pour out champagne for herself. “Zappa Blue!” She took a sip and didn’t like it much. She was about to call for another bottle when the blood vessels in her eyes burst and she fell face down on the carpet. In less than a minute she was dead. Sensors set off the alarm and the door came crashing down and security guards covered in black from head to toe pointed their weapons at the lifeless body on the floor. A man in a bright blue zentai suit (guided by a Tibetan lady) walked in and out of the scene without ever seeing anything. ef Mommy Lo/Max was deeply upset. She didn’t like people dying on her premises, and this was the second time it had happened. She decided she would attend the funeral. Early Friday morning, Cana Izehar’s body received benediction. A terrible tempest was raging and the few people who had gathered stood under shiny black umbrellas around the bier which was then carried to the freshly dug grave. As the storm grew

worse, the mourners turned back at the gate so when Cana’s body was lowered into the grave only her brother and her drug dealer remained. Isaak Izehar (named after his grandfather) wore cargo pants, a camouflage t-shirt, black Chuck Taylor All-Stars and a Mackintosh (slick with the rain) that beat wildly against his body. Mommy Lo/Max felt sorry for the young man. Isaak, on the other hand, recognized the old woman who stood on the other side of the grave. In fact, he even had a plan. ef On Sunday Mommy Lo/Max woke up to find Christopher (her driver: a rather sluggish, bearded man with beady eyes who had been a petroleum geologist before succumbing to low-grade heroin) tell her that her Spyder v4.5 had been stolen in the night. It was probably just some kid doing a dare. She had to take the EZPort elevator to Europa at 0800 hours; there were other things to think of. Besides, the Spyder had an AVL and it wouldn’t be long before it was found. She leaned back in bed against fluffy pillows and asked to be put through to whoever was in charge of Grand Theft Auto. A pleasant baritone voice, deep but not gratingly so, answered and identified himself as the Inspector in charge. He assured Mommy Lo/Max that they would do absolutely everything to retrieve the vehicle. And when exactly would she be back from her interplanetary trip? Mommy Lo/Max told him. The Inspector hung up before she could ask for a name. Well, she’d deal with that after she got back. She got dressed, picked up her Glock 7 and carpet bag, got into the Lux-Cab waiting outside her house and took off into the sky. Isaak called for coffee and croissants. He concentrated on chewing his food like it was the most imperative thing in the world and never took his eyes off the photograph of him and Cana as two awkward teenagers, standing next to the bookshelf in her room. She was leaning with her head against his shoulder, her eyes watching something on the ceiling, her face almost expressionless. That picture had been taken by their mother with their father’s antique Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR. His hair was tied back in a pony-tail

and there was the slightest trace of a smile on his lips. In a tiny little tight white corner of his heart he was guilt-ridden and didn’t know why. He opened her diary at a random page and wondered if he really wanted to read it. It was a large Moleskine notebook with squared pages.
I’m on intravenous zen. So I get this call from this guy I’m in love with, and he says he’s not in love with me anymore, never was to begin with, why did I ever make such a big deal of the whole thing and now I get feeling so numb I can’t feel my face so I don’t know if I’m crying. But it’s not as if it’s national security or something. Getting older is like doping. Your soul gets hard. You start needing bigger sorrows to feel the same amount of grief and larger quantities of happiness to get to joy. Makes me see what my mind is thinking. Scares me. My friends think I’m a slut. I’m in love with someone else already and maybe that makes me a slut. But I don’t let this bother me because I know people sometimes just want to know that someone’s sleeping next to them when they wake up.

He didn’t want to read any more. He started working on the Iris. Three days and nights disappeared in forward chaining and backward chaining state-space searches, graphplans, synthesized heuristics, satplans. He played Lentigo all the while; they were Neo Romantics gone ultra-electro underground. At dawn, he would eat an enormous breakfast and sleep for a couple of hours before going back to work. The mail delivery boy at his office thought he looked too content for someone who should be mourning the death of his sister. ef

Europa had been terraformed in an effort to industrialize the agriculture of Borago officinalis from which was made Nesia, a miracle drug that supposedly reversed the effects of aging. Nesia turned out to be the biggest hoax in over 5000 years of recorded human history. Nevertheless, Europa was given Federation rights shortly after the Fifth War. It flourished and became one of the wealthiest planets in the universe. Starships went to and from Europa to every planet in the Solar Federation and formed the basis of the Federation’s trading network. Europa’s stock exchange was the first to trade continuously in real time and it was the leading interplanetary financial centre till it lost out to Venus following the collapse of the Gaia League. But the best thing about Europa was the Europan drug policy, which was based on the common principle of autonomy in matters of the body. That’s what Lo/Max was thinking anyway as she stepped off the flying saucer at Yamauchi Stretch. She felt a little disoriented. Time always went funny on space elevators. The Stretch had no windows, there were complex multiple entrances designed to allow people to enter and leave unobserved. She was going to see Tseten Dolkar, its proprietor and one of her oldest, most trusted friends. They were planning to go into business together, securitize cash flows from their hotels and sell to interplanetary investors and buy-out funds, work out a possible merger, which, if it happened, would mean that between them they would effectively control roughly 63 per cent of the market share. Also, Dolkar had promised her a spectacle of extraordinary proportions. After they were done with business, Dolkar took Lo/Max in a Rimmer to Conamara Chaos. They went right into the heart of the icy terrain. Dolkar pointed out the complete absence of turbulence in their transporter, a direct result of new mathematical discoveries that explained how spacetime affected Kolmogorov microscales. In the centre of the storm was a towering sheet of Zappa Blue that looked like it stretched into infinity. At Dolkar’s behest, Lo/Max touched its cold surface, it felt precisely like sentient steel. She ran her fingers over it and a small piece of the blue the size and shape of a marble came away in her hand.

“Taste it,” Dolkar told her, “don’t swallow.” It felt ice-cold on her tongue. Lo/Max turned to Dolkar and grinned. “It seems that the mood amelioration business has found itself a new hero.” Dolkar nodded gravely, “I’ve had six pharmacokinetic evaluators look at it. They have no idea what it is. Eighteen months of research shows instant effect, no psychological or physical dependency, affects every neurotransmitter…it’s almost too good to be true.” “Long term effects?” “Nothing acceptable enough to provide a basis for logical reasoning.” “Are you marketing?” “Not yet…” “We should.” “But we don’t know what it does.” “Well, then, shouldn’t we find out?” That closed the deal. ef Lo/Max got off the EZ-Port with 200 ampoules of Zappa in her carpet bag. Her boat—Cujo, painted white, a vintage catamaran MTI 39 Series with two Mercury Engines—brought her ashore. She put on her cool blue aviators and looked around, breathing in the fresh air, feeling at peace with herself and all. A hobo pushing along a trolley collided with her and apologized, slurring over his words. The trolley fell, and Lo/Max stumbled, the bag falling out of her hand. The hobo stood up drunkenly. Lo/Max was feeling generous so gave him 10 Solar Federation Units and patted his back. The hobo grinned dreadfully at her and shuffled away. Lo/ Max stopped (as she always did when she came back from these long trips) and bought momos from Wylie’s Wagon, absolutely the best in the universe, perhaps in the galaxy. They were made of minced beef and pork, spiced with salt and pepper, combined with onions, shallots, garlic, and cilantro. Isaak smoked his apple-flavoured cigarettes like they were

going out of style and waited for the call. He got rid of the ash and butt ends in the Can-It! complete cigarette dispenser that even eliminated the smoke and smell. Meanwhile, he thought about his girlfriend. She used to be an actress or exotic dancer or something; she never was really clear about the details. He’d met her when she was doing time for counterfeiting, grand larceny and vandalism. She was crazy as a coot and he loved her to pieces. Which is why he’d helped her break out of prison. Now she was safe (in a manner of speaking) on Venus, still getting in and out of trouble like nobody’s business. He wondered when he’d see her again, and if she’d be dead or alive when he did. What was wrong with all the women he knew? Why were they all so explosive corrosive? Lo/Max called for Christopher while she did sums in her head for the Zappa trial run (already she’d decided that it couldn’t be called anything but Zappa) when the Spyder v4.5 stopped in front of her, hovering in mid-air, and the door noiselessly opened. She slid into the seat and placed the carpet bag next to her on the plush velvet. She asked Christopher if they’d be taking the 76G Bypass. Then Lo/Max saw that Christopher didn’t look like Christopher at all. Her hand went to her holster and found that it was empty. Isaak executed a perfect caracole to the left, taking them beneath the flyover, out of sight and surveillance. He turned, Lo/Max’s Glock 7 in his hand. He waved the gun around, grinning devilishly, and said, “Perhaps you’re looking for this?” Lo/Max held her hands up, chest height, “This is completely unnecessary, you know. It wasn’t my fault if that’s what you’re thinking.” “I know. But you can’t argue with the fact that killing you will give me great satisfaction.” Lo/Max conceded and put her hands down. “There is that, of course.” She looked around and said, “If you’re into drugs, I have something here you’ll love.” “What?” “I don’t know. Nor does anyone. But it’s pretty good. Want some?” Isaak shrugged. “Is it poison?” Lo/Max laughed with genuine good humour and shook her head. She handed over an ampoule from the bag. “Oral. And I

suggest you try only half the contents.” Isaak tried it and found himself delighted. It made PCP feel like ginger beer. He held out the rest to Lo/Max. Lo/Max was in a most excellent mood when she found herself staring into the barrel of her own gun. She told Isaak that Wylie’s momos were not to be missed. He must taste them. Then her smart brains splattered all over the back seat and rear window. ef Isaak grounded the Spyder v4.5 and put a call through to Homicide. “Lo/Max in her Spyder with her brains all over the backseat. Backup.” The voice at the other end said, “Holy fuck,” and hung up. When Detective Inspector Rohan Bailey arrived on the scene, he shook hands with Isaak and asked him how he’d ended up there. “Lo/Max reported her Spyder stolen on Sunday. We found it this morning,” Isaak said and lit a cigarette. “What took so long?” “The RFID reader was jammed up until this morning. Then it turned up again. Just like that.” “You were handling this?” “Yeah. Something with the East Coast runners.” “The Neo Romantics?” Bailey was impressed. “Yeah. I have to get back. Shall I leave you to this, then?” “Sure. Thanks.” “Aight.” Isaak walked off, still smoking. He knew Bailey thought it a most disgusting habit. Isaak reckoned he’d killed the greatest drug dealer in the free world simply because he could.

MOON

The Uncanny Disappearance of Figaro Cusa
We began with the possibility of NOT writing; hence our timely arrival. Having chosen between apples & oranges, and opting for beef, we now sit at the feast of social construction, napkins on our heads. We give grace to our silent potentials, then eat them raw with an air of arrogant indifference. The scraps, bones and tendons, the parts of the animal they don’t sell in stores, these constitute the foundation of make-up to which I will apply the blush of ontological negation, the no, the I-am-not, saddened and victimized individual eyeliner of intention. All of this just to say: we don’t look like this in the morning; we’re actually quite ugly but we like ourselves. —From Tristan Tzara’s Eighth Symphony, or How Dada came to me in the form of this self-contained manifesto

Six hours back, Royal Palace, Nova Platonia Word had spread unbelievably fast and the whole world was abuzz with rumours but only one person had come forward till now and he waited downstairs. The King put down his binoculars, turned to Queen and sighed. King: Do you think it’s worth the trouble? Queen: Certainly. There have been legends about it. Even Granny knew. King: Well, I haven’t heard of these legends. Queen: That might be because you’re incredibly thick. King: At least I’ve never tried to curl my hair with CocaCola. Queen: I’m not having this conversation with you. The King chuckled quietly over his morning tea. They were both mad as bats. The Queen steadily sipped her way through the bottle of Moët et Chandon, which she kept in a pretty cabinet. Towards late afternoon the King began to pace up and down. In the evening they heard the hurried footfalls of an attendant and braced themselves for the news. The attendant knocked and the Queen said “Enter!”imperiously. Queen: How many? Attendant: Two, Your Majesty. The King sat down heavily in the armchair. They

needed two…what if one of them failed the preliminary test? The Queen didn’t let anything bother her. Let them eat cake, she wanted to say, just like Marie Antoinette. Queen: Very well, show them in. The attendant hurried and returned with a boy and a girl. They looked very scared and very young. The King and Queen were heartened by the fact. They liked kids with spunk. Yesterday, Second Settlement, Nova Platonia The Olafssons were one of the oldest families in the world. For years and years they had been furniture makers. They traced their bloodline back to ancient Mesopotamians. They’d never done anything else. It was rumoured that about fifty years back an Olafsson had tried to run away and join the circus because he believed himself a wonderful acrobat but he’d come to a bad end. There were hints and allegations of an elephant gone wild and trampling him in the process, a bearded lady who strangled him with her beard, a sword-swallower who’d tried to teach him a few tricks, a drunken knife-thrower, a midget with teeth filed to sharp points, all sorts of gruesome things really. (In actual fact, he’d died from getting accidentally locked up in a Roquefort cheese factory, but it was wonderful to have an unfortunate runaway to talk about, so these incredible stories were encouraged and expanded upon by the Olafsson family elders.) Olaf Olafsson was an adventurous boy, the youngest of three sons. His father Hernando Olafsson, was accustomed to smoking cigars and snapping his suspenders as he talked. His mother, Venezuela Olafsson, baked the most marvellous cakes and loved her boys to distraction. She just couldn’t bear to see them unhappy. So when Olaf came to her saying Mama, let me go, I want to see the Moon, oh, please won’t you let me go, mama, and looked at her with those melting brown eyes, she couldn’t bring herself to refuse him. She flashed her own eyes superbly at her husband, and told him, if Olaf wants to go on an adventure, let him, it will do him a world of good to travel to the Moon, Hernando, it is another planet after all. Hernando was a ruthless

bastard when it came to business but his wife had him wrapped around her little finger. He didn’t mind at all, he said, in fact, she was utterly correct, it would do the boy a world of good. He snapped his chubby fingers and tap danced a bit to make her laugh. Three days back, Fifth Settlement, Mount Ananas Figaro sat despondent in her room and surveyed the bleakness of its furniture. Most of it was cheap bamboo and perhaps before the winter was over they would have to chop it all up for firewood. She stared at the flier in her hand; she’d read all the fine print, mostly it was about nobody being able to sue anybody in case something went wrong. She looked at the blank canvas in front of her. Even if she did have some money she’d have to buy firewood and not colours. Then she made up her mind, attached the Kukri to her belt and walked out. She knew her parents wouldn’t worry; they were used to her disappearing. She sold her shoes for a ticket to Nova Platonia and hoped she’d be on time. Trains leaving from Ananas were always notoriously late. Four hours back, Royal Palace, Nova Platonia Olaf Olafsson sat looking up at the chandelier; he’d never seen one in real life. There was food laid out on the table in front of him, really good food. He was halfway through a steak when a girl who looked like a hurricane was ushered in by an attendant. She sat across him and nodded to acknowledge his presence. When she told him her name he tried not to look curious. He only said, “It is I, Olaf!” Magnificently, for that was how it was done in their part of the world. A month back, Royal Observatory, Nova Platonia Salman Tycho, the most brilliant astronomer this side of the hemisphere, was observing the moon. He was working on combining what he saw as the geometrical benefits of the Flammarion system with the philosophical benefits of the Rosicrucian system into his own model of the universe. He swung his telescope and it brought into view a singularly mystifying object. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The next morning, he put in a requisition for a 1000-centimetre telescope. The Auditors saw the mind-boggling figure and turned him down. Tycho swept his robes

around him and went straight to the Queen. He had immense faith in her and she didn’t disappoint him. A week later, he had his telescope. This time the object sat there, large as life and twice as natural. He gasped. He paid no heed to the fact that it was the wee hours of dawn and ran to the Royal Palace. He kicked and screamed his way through the palace guards and beat upon the door of the Royal Chambers crying hoarsely, “Your Majesty! You have got to see this!” Tycho gesticulated wildly, trying to explain, but words failed him and he asked the King and Queen to follow him to the Royal Observatory. When the bleary-eyed King put his eye to the glass, he gasped, and when the Queen did the same she gasped too. Their royal gasping and wonderment filled the room. On the dark side of the Moon, sitting innocently in a crater was a perfectly ordinary black suitcase. The royal astronomers of Nova Platonia had always kept a careful inventory of all the objects left on the Moon by accident or otherwise, especially in case of such an event. And this wasn’t on the list. On the very next day fliers were dispersed all over the world. They said:

WANTED
Person to Undertake Perilous Mission to the Moon Will Probably Lose His or Her Life in the Process Success Guarantees

$$ HUGE REWARD $$
Being King and Queen, they couldn’t go to the Moon themselves. In any case, Nova Platonia was in a politically delicate

situation because of the Opium Wars that had started even before the Water Wars had ended. Now, Royal Palace, Nova Platonia They hadn’t done all that badly, Olaf thought. The girl had hardly said anything, only giving her weird name and no other information. He wondered if there was something wrong with her. Maybe some childhood trauma, something horrible, perhaps her parents had kept her locked up in a closet and fed her through a straw in the keyhole, perhaps she had run away from home. Perhaps she was greatly unhappy. Thinking such open-ended thoughts he fell asleep on great pillows stuffed with eiderdown. Meanwhile, in her room Figaro had already fallen asleep. She never went to bed with unresolved problems. If there were problems, she simply never slept till they’d been solved. She was simple, only not in the way people thought. Three days later, Royal Observatory, Nova Platonia Salman Tycho stood with his hands clasped behind his back. He was a slight figure, dressed in uncomplicated robes, with the air of a street magician who chased people to show them how he could pull rabbits out of hats. But he wasn’t like that all. He was shrewd and calculating and knew how to amass a great fortune. And, best of all, he was also a very decent person when it came to what truly mattered. The King and Queen seemed distracted. They couldn’t quite make themselves believe that Olaf and Figaro had both come back alive from Hades, they’d each done it alone too, gods only knew how. Queen: I guess this means both of you go. King: And bury this mysterious suitcase, of course. Olaf and Figaro looked at each other. Figaro: What’s in it then? King: Can’t tell you. Figaro: Why not? King: I don’t think you’d comprehend. Figaro: Try me. Queen: Quiddity.

Olaf: What?! Figaro: Okay, I didn’t understand that. But it doesn’t sound dangerous. Why bury it? Is it radioactive? Olaf: What’s Quiddity? King: Essence. Olaf: Of what? King: All things. Olaf: It fits in a bag? Figaro: Good question. Why bury it? Queen: It’s not time yet. Olaf: Who— Figaro: Okay, Olaf, we need to talk. Excuse us. Figaro pulled Olaf away and they huddled in a corner. First she whispered and he looked suspicious, then she whispered again, agitatedly, and a look of comprehension dawned upon his face. Then he whispered back cautiously. She shook her head and whispered some more. Then he appeared to agree and they came back. Figaro spoke first. Figaro: We want ten times the money you’re offering. the other. Olaf balked. The King and Queen looked from one to

Queen: Five. Figaro: Ten. Queen: Six. Figaro: Ten. Or we walk out now. Queen: Ten it is then. Why do you need so much money, anyway? Figaro: I just got back from Amsterdam. Why do you think?! The Queen searched the girl’s face and found nothing there. She turned to Olaf. Queen: And you, young man?

Salman Tycho scuttled away. There was so much to be done and he only had two days in which to do it. The spaceship was not a problem, he tinkered around with it all the time, and it was in perfect condition. But there were other things, the O2Cons and AlonBubbles for one—they were still in the experimental stage and though they’d worked perfectly fine on the space monkey, a few tests still remained to done. And there were the 7-League Boots. Essentially, the boots fused both technologies and used AlonBubble to generate an invisible airtight force field around the wearer. It worked with the O2Cons which broke up moon dust into its components to produce oxygen. Both were revolutionary inventions which did away with the need for bulky spacesuits. Tycho opened the door to his laboratory and rubbed his hands in glee. This was the perfect chance to see if everything worked. Ten days later, the Moon The Great Gig was about to land on the Moon. Olaf and Figaro had done nothing for five days, except read or listen to music, and were restless. The robot had done everything that needed to be done. Back on Earth, Salman Tycho hadn’t slept since the launch. He’d been continuously monitoring the robot, synchronizing software to control the possibility of errors. Olaf peered out of the porthole; it made his stomach feel funny. The girl never talked unless it was absolutely necessary. She’d been an immensely boring travelling companion. At the moment she was wondering why the robot couldn’t have buried the suitcase if it was all that had to be done. The robot set the coordinates for Daedalus; the spacecraft landed not far away from the crater. After a while, the airlock opened and titanium steps cascaded out. Olaf went down, followed by Figaro. They had eight hours, after which the 7-League Boots would run out of power. They walked slowly over to the crater, dragging the drilling machine behind them. On Earth, Salman Tycho sighed wearily and fell into a deep sleep. The Royal Observatory of Nova Platonia had already

Olaf: I don’t know. I could buy a piano…and a cow. And insurance, I guess. I’ve always wanted to buy insurance. And I simply like money too, you know.

acquired an even better telescope. There was a camera fixed to it and the King and Queen watched the screen uneasily. Olaf and Figaro walked towards the suitcase. They circled around, neither wanting to be the first to touch it. Olaf walked fifteen steps away from it and said. “How ‘bout we start drilling here?” She nodded and set to work. They took turns. After two hours, the hole looked quite deep; the machine was supposed to sound an alarm when it had reached the required depth. And after about fifteen more minutes it did. They went back to the suitcase and when they looked at each other, they knew they’d arrived independently at the same conclusion. They came to an unspoken agreement and knelt in front of the suitcase. When they opened it, a silver rock of no particular shape hovered up and hung still in mid-air before them. It glowed eerily. They put their hands out and touched it exactly at the same time.

The biggest invisible fist in the universe borne on the wrath of the gods sucker-punched them. Their noses started to bleed. It came out slow like red molasses. They were both sucked into a noiseless vortex. Their blood fell down in drops in front of their feet. Later, back on Earth, when Figaro would close her eyes and think of it, images and words would pass by in front of her eyes like the slowest slideshow in existence. She’d been in all her possible pasts and futures; had seen herself endlessly divided. There had been no stars in the sky, which had turned into an immense brilliant sheet of light folding everything into itself. She had turned into anything which was, which was everything which was. She couldn’t explain it; only think of the experience she had no words for. At first, Olaf stood smiling to himself. He had no troubles, and felt like he was ready to take on another day, any number of days. They seemed full of the things he loved, things he missed. And he stood in the middle of it all, just him. He felt like he was swimming somewhere with that peaceful, easy feeling

knowing that somehow he’d find his way home. Then, slowly, it was as if he was falling, falling, and his feet falling away under him… Just before the universe imploded, Figaro let go. She twisted Olaf ’s wrist until the misshapen silver rock fell back into the briefcase and then she shut the lid on it.

The King and Queen blinked. The rip in time had sealed itself seamlessly and they couldn’t fathom what was happening on the screen. Neither moved to call Tycho. Olaf stood up and turned upon her with murderous rage. His blow knocked Figaro off the ground. She fell back and remembered what the astronomer had said when he’d been fitting them with the boots. The AlonBubble was fragile, though pliant. It could not withstand great pressure. She wondered if her fall on the regolith had punctured it. The loss of blood had weakened them both and Olaf reeled from the effort. He hit her again and she felt the sickening crunch of her nose break. She looked at Olaf and got up unsteadily to her feet. The whites of his eyes had disappeared; there was night where his eyes had been. Her right hand went behind her back. He lunged at her, wanting to pin her down with his weight. Or his body did, at any rate. Olaf wasn’t really at home anymore. The AlonBubble offered no resistance to the steel blade when it came. Figaro had wielded a Kukri since she was seven; the insurgency and political unrest on Ananas demanded self-defence of everyone. The point struck the jugular and a quick draw across the rest of the neck with the blade effectively rendered Olaf ’s body useless. Blood spurted out and he buckled at his knees. Figaro stumbled back and caught his body before it hit the ground. She laid his body out on the ground and for a whole minute watched blood slowly spread over the regolith with fascination. Then she jerked herself out of her reverie and went back to the suitcase. She threw it into the deep hole and adjusted the drilling machine’s controls to covering up the hole. While it did that she dragged Olaf ’s body to the Great Gig and covered it with a blanket. She wondered when the blood would stop flowing.

It was spreading everywhere. The blanket was already soaked. His eyes looked up at her with their terrifying black emptiness. She shut his eyelids and put them to rest. She went back to clear up all evidence of them ever having been there, as she’d been instructed to do. On Earth, Salman Tycho woke up and stared dumbly at the screen. He shook the King, demanding to know what had happened, but they didn’t seem to remember or know anything. He pulled himself together and went back to monitoring the spacecraft so Figaro could be brought back safe. In space, Figaro pressed the emergency airlock opener and pushed Olaf ’s body out. It floated off like a helium balloon, followed by the blanket. She shut the airlock again and watched him through the porthole. Then she slept. Fifteen days later, Nova Platonia Figaro opened her eyes and saw the Queen looking down at her. She threw off the covers and went and got dressed in silence. She refused to speak with anyone and left the moment she received her money. She bought herself a Spyder and flew back home, and nobody asked her where she’d been. The child was so unreliable, coming and going like nobody’s business, her mother thought. Figaro stayed up all night painting a large square six-by-six feet. It was all yellow. She decided no matter what happened she’d never sell it. Long afterward, Manifold Figaro’s paintings sold for unimaginable sums of money. They were colossal works that showed strangely recognizable alien spectacles drenched in and spilling out light. They always seemed to be on the verge of exploding into supernovas. She moved out of Mount Ananas to Manifold. For more than 300 hundred years, Manifold had been the destination of prosperous families from all over the world who came to the cape to protect their fortunes or to find them. The hacienda she bought was designed in an eclectic blend

of Araby and Hesperian motifs, which reflected the impeccable construction methods of an epoch when homes were built keeping in mind that generations of the same family would come and go. Skilled craftsmen fashioned every beautiful structure, even the nails and mortar were specially commissioned. Figaro loved listening to the gentle murmur of the fountain as it trickled over polished limestone, the hushed movements of people walking, the sound of Antakya tile floors being swept, the seductive swishing of royal palms as gentle breezes drifted through her private paradise, everything simplifying her life so all she had to do was paint. Sometimes she went and ran her hands over the elegant handcarved stone mined from the local quarries, the rich tropical wood of the doors, the flights of fanciful ornamentation in dexterously forged iron so she could believe that all of it really was there. In the evenings after the sun had set she walked in her perfectly manicured garden filled with mango, banana, citrus and a riot of ever-blooming exotic flowers. One morning she woke up at dawn, troubled by dreams of coloured music. She went out walking on the beach, feeling the waves lap against her feet. Then all of a sudden she remembered a poem by Tao Lang Pee that she had read a long time back. It walked into her head of its own accord. It was called Sampan. It went like this: Waves lap, lap Fish fins clap, clap Brown sails flap, flap Chopsticks tap, tap. Up and down the long green river, ohe ohe lanterns quiver Figaro stood on the shore watching the sun steadily climb up the sky repeating it under her breath, over and over again. Soon it would get very hot and she would have to go back in or all her skin would burn out. The rays of the sun danced crazily on the water. She held up her hand to shield her eyes from the sun. In the time it took her to say “fish fins clap, clap” she noticed that the

sunlight still streamed through her palm, flesh and bone offering no resistance. She didn’t know what was happening. She held her hand out in front of her and watched the vanishing spread up her arm with alarming rapidity. If she’d been standing in front of a mirror, she would have thought that someone was erasing her so nobody would know, nobody would remember that a great mistake had been made. It travelled up her neck, down her chest, her stomach, her legs, down, down, down, to her feet till it reached her toes and there was no place left for it to go. She didn’t even have time to think of all the things she loved, all the things she’d miss. She turned her face up to the sun and when the light hit her pupils it shattered into a spectrum. The tiniest hint of a rainbow hung in the air for the tick of a clock and then that too departed. ef That is how she disappeared, Figaro Cusa, the girl who was given a boy’s name because her poor immigrant parents couldn’t read very well and named her after what they’d seen on a bottle of olive oil. She wanted to become the greatest living painter and did.

CERES

(Found in a thrift store in Greece, circa 2777)

Strawberry Letter # 24

Well then, draw the inferences. “I have.” Now think of the person you love most. “Have you?” —From Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love

Dear Gizmo, Since there’s no-one else I know I can write a letter to so I can say a proper goodbye, it might as well be you. I had a Visitation last night. I was looking to see if I could find stars, I’ve seen so many pictures of them, taken before the sky changed, I couldn’t find a single one. Then I saw this light blinking up above and I was so excited, I thought maybe it’s a star. Then whoosh! it came closer till it got bigger than a whale. Right close to my eyes. And these people, they’re not very Pleasing To The Eye, and I’m not sure I can call them people, but, well, they asked me if I wanted to go with them. But they didn’t have to talk out loud, since they were talking to me in my head. Like I always thought god would talk, you know, very politely, in one of them Dangerously Low voices. You know how things have been. First there were the water wars. Then everybody died and left me alone with not even a radio to my name. I tried and tried to work very hard and become Fabulously Rich but that never happened because it takes a lot of money to be Fabulously Rich, and as I said, I don’t even have a radio. Also, I don’t like working hard as much as I like sitting and looking at things and thinking. And even though I don’t know anyone except you, there are just too many people with their fancy flying cars and robots with wheels. I don’t like that either. Speed kills and robots have dead eyes. There’s love, of course, which is meant to Save Your Soul, but maybe my soul’s different, because I couldn’t get the hang of it, maybe it doesn’t want to be Saved. First there was Vic, whom I madly loved. But mostly we were into getting jazzed and making out, till he Walked Off Into The Blue Yonder and didn’t even leave a note. I’m leaving a note for you, even though you’ll probably never read it. He could’ve left a note, you know. Maybe he was too jazzed, but I don’t think that’s any kind of excuse. Then there was Kale, who loved me madly, but I didn’t feel very intense around him because he did dumb things sometimes and got simple chemical formulae wrong just as often. So I left him, but I did leave a note saying I’m going. I didn’t sign my name though. I don’t want him to remember me. Then I tried to kill myself but that was scary on account of nothing might happen next. I tried looking for a Hobby to Occupy My Time but couldn’t find any. I thought I’d found one when I went travelling but you have to sit in big boxes that fly through the sky or under the sea, locked in with so many many other people so I don’t like it much. The Tourist Attractions and

Natural Wonders weren’t all that wonderful or attractive either. There’s always music, but I know that all the songs I heard could be made better if only they made a few small changes. I don’t know how I know this but I do because I can hear it in my head. But since I can’t read or write music and can’t explain it, I don’t know what to do about this. I could tell somebody, I guess, but I don’t like anyone that much. I also tried Philosophy but that’s just people thinking what I’m thinking, only they can say it all out like that da-da-da and I can’t. I don’t know why everyone makes such a great big deal out of it. Then there was the Appreciating Art thing but that was so tedious, my head felt like someone was playing ping pong with a lead ball tock tock from temple to temple. Of all the things I tried doing, I liked getting jazzed and pondering scenery (especially trees and oceans) best. But since it made me go slightly mad after a while, I decided that though it was an amazing thing to do it must be like chocolate. If I ate chocolate all the time I’d probably just get fat and die. So there went I but for the grace of god. In addition to all the people, there’s all this noise. Someone’s always drilling or hammering something or building something around here. Fucking always. It never stops. It makes me wish the whole damn thing would just blow up. Now I must go, because these nice ugly aliens are waiting for me. I told them, well, I thought it and they understood, that I’d like to go with them but I wanted to write a letter and say goodbye and they didn’t seem to mind that much. I’ve left a saucerful of secrets for you in the kitchen. Okay, it’s just milk but you always look at milk like it contains the mysteries of the universe. Goodbye, Gizmo, I shall miss you but I daresay I’ll get over it soon. I hope Ceres is better than this shithole of a planet. It’s very far away, so it probably is. In any case, I don’t care much because I’ve Had It �pto Here with this place. It has Bored Me Senseless. I wish I could take you with me but in case the aliens are taking me because they want to torture me or perform vicious experiments on my body, it’s best you stay here. Just in case. I hope I never have to see pasta again. So long and thank you for your gracious company all this while. With much affection, Don Piano

MARS

The Spider Book of Names
I don’t like you, but I’ll do what I can. —From Tristan Tzara’s Eighth Symphony, or How Dada came to me in the form of this self-contained manifesto

There are only two animate species on Mars, spiders and humans; the rest is rock, water, and green grass; and huge, wide-girthed, tall trees. There are no birds, or fish anywhere. There are only two animate species. Spiders and disgusting humans. The spiders of Mars are, in relative size, as huge as humans on Earth, and the humans on Mars are, in relative size, as small as spiders on Earth. Nevertheless, it is the spiders that are mortally scared of humans. It is customary for a spider to jump involuntarily on its many legs when it sees a small human scurrying into or out of its path. Spiders think of humans as an icky, ugly, oily, disgusting, but harmless species. And it is great fun to squeeze humans until their icky soft cover breaks open, leaving flaming orange fluid on your front-pads. The humans do not have normal colourless fluids, their so crushable bodies contain flaming orange fluid. The fashion of having flaming orange on your front-pads is, however, waning. Being the only two animate species, it is understandable that the two species have managed to live together, though one could not really say that they were symbiotic—not in an ameliorative sense, at least. The spiders of Mars build three dimensional webs, with a front room, a bathroom, and a sleeping room, and a room for baby spiders. If an icky human is involuntarily trapped in such a web, it is customary for spiders to shriek and jump about so that the whole building shakes, mother is rudely woken up, and the babies want to pull the human’s limbs about, and then father shakes the house further, so that the human being finally drops from wherever it had got stuck in the web. Not all the spiders of Mars are three–dimensional web builders who live in cities. Some live freely in the enormous, superb trees, dropping to the ground occasionally to feed on rotting leaves, or sap, or plain moisture. Some live in deep forests made up of those wide-girthed trees, their girths stretching to several spider-

sizes, and they build their webs very high up, and they look very beautiful against the morning sunlight. These are tourist attractions, in fact. So much so, that your tour guide always says that it is taking you to a web never ever seen by spider eyes. These forest dwellers rarely go away from their forest. It is not as if the spiders merely enjoy playing with body parts of human beings. They also maintain a certain level of human population, for the human creatures have an invaluable role in the life of spiders of Mars, and this role is too serious to be called incidental pleasure from casuistic disfigurement, or casuistic killing. The spiders maintain a level of population of humans that is a little above the rate of population growth of spiders—which is quite high. This means that at any given point in time, there are a little more human beings than pregnant spiders, particularly when you add just born baby-spiders who have not yet been given a name. The rest of the story is how baby-spiders are given names by the spiders on Mars.

The most important event in the life of a spider is when it is given a name. There are several reasons for this: 1. Because you are so much a baby when you are given a name, this most important event is not something that you remember; in fact, that is why it is an important event
1.1 It is like your birth: the most important event in your life, and you don’t ever remember it. 1.2 It is like your birth: you don’t know anything about it; you have to trust your parents, believe what they say. 1.21 This trust is the secret of the indestructible family structure among the spiders of Mars.

2. Because until you have a name, you are just a category called baby.
2.1 Once you are given a name, you know when you are called. 2.2 Once you are given a name, others can call you. 2.21 Once others begin to call you, you can call them back.

3. Because the naming ceremony is one occasion when every spider within walking distance is present.

3.1 This is one moment in spider society that spider families see each other, for that moment, they get out of the shells that their families are. 3.2 It is not a rare event, given the growth rate of the population, there is always some baby-spider to be named every other day, however, the nature of the ceremony is such that every spider within walking distance is present. 3.21 Given spider anatomy, the walking distance actually spans tens of kilometres.

Given the nature of the naming ceremony, where it is held is also significant. It is held in an enormous machine. From the outside, it looks like a Klein bottle: a bottle that has its mouth opening into itself. From the inside it looks like nothing that you would have seen. A very large part of the machine is designed to open and close, and turn the pages of, an enormous book. The rest of the machine is devoted to changing steps into a slope that inclines towards an immense funnel-like structure that opens inside, a few metres above the book. The book itself is the venerable Spider Book of Names. It contains all past, present and future names. It is believed that adding a new name to the Book of Names is impossible, not merely in practice, but in principle. The exact date when the Book of

Names was written, and the people who wrote it remain unknown, undiscovered. A spider can only be named from one of the names in the book. The book itself is as large as a wall. It is bound with iron rings, and covered with leather. You can easily imagine where the skin came from, given that there are only two animate species on Mars. The pages of the book are made from bamboo pulp, and it is impossible to determine what colour they were when the paper was made, or when the book was bound. At the present moment, all the pages are dull orange in colour. Nobody but a trained name reader can read what is written on the page: to an untrained eye, which is to most spiders, it is as if the pages are just dull orange and blank. However, there was a time when the names were legible. At the present moment, specially trained spiders memorize all the names that are written there, page by page, name by name. Usually it takes about twenty years to memorize all the names. The training is given in secret, and name reading is, while a highly respected profession, not a very popular one. This memory is handed down from one generation to another. One can frequently see an old spider, and a young spider working together in the naming ceremony. Needless to say, name readers are invariably female. The wall of the machine is made of alloy-metal, and it is circular, and about twenty times higher than an average, urban spider house. It is sheer, and cannot be climbed at all. On the other side, outside, there are staircases that lead to the top, and these steps are really minuscule, quite obviously specifically designed for some species other than spiders. If you climbed up, you would reach what looks like a Greek amphitheatre, with a very small performance area. The spiders prepare the machine an hour before the naming ceremony, and they are doing it now. Between the outside and the inside of the cylindrical, urn-like walls, water is being released into the hollow. It will take more than an hour to fill it up fully. Some spiders are busy with controlling the build up of heat that will turn the water into steam, which is channelized into the main chamber, from where it is further directed into several assemblies of gears and cam-shafts. The machine uses banks of millions of small poppet valves, and hundreds of desmodromic valves. None of these

is visible. Once the machine begins to move, the arrangement of gears and valves makes the tiny stepped staircases move upward. After half an hour or so, the staircases stop moving, and the steps on the amphitheatre begin to change: one step collapses, causing the next one to collapse, and thus the whole line of steps collapses, and becomes a slope, making you fall directly into the small performance area. Having prepared the machine, they ring the bell. This is the sign for spiders from within walking distance to start moving towards the machine for the ceremony. This is also the signal for a platoon of spiders to move to the holding bay, open its gates, and drive hundreds of human beings towards a platform that circles the machine, and stops at the tiny stepped staircases. The platform, once filled with human beings, moves to the machine and stops at a staircase, and tilts a little, so that the mass of human beings does not have an option but to get on to the staircase. After a few minutes, the platform moves the next staircase, offloading another group of humans on to it. And thus it goes on, until most of the staircases have human beings on them. It is then that the staircases begin to move.

Most of the parts of the machine—especially those parts which carry human beings—are weight sensitive, and provide a feedback to the assemblies of gears and valves, thus regulating the speed of the rack and pinion assembly of the staircases, the tilt angle of the platform and so on. By this time, some spiders have already gathered. Once enough spiders are gathered, the staircases begin to move up, like escalators, carrying the humans to the top of the machine. As they are moved up, the name readers come closer to the book, and page turner and book closer are tested for the last time. All the spiders that are present are now solemn. The baby-spider is brought in, and is given its first view of the book. Then the baby is placed on an ornate cushion just beside the book. Up above, unseen, the humans instinctively sit on the steps, as if a performance was about to begin. Babies are clinging to mothers, children grip their fathers’ hands, the fathers look at mothers and smile defensively. None of them know why they have been brought here, or what is about to happen. It is now that the book is opened, and pages begin to turn. At some point in time, one of the steps on which a human is sitting suddenly collapses, causing the next one to collapse. This is managed by a rack and pinion assemblage. Several humans slide down what is now a slope, and fall into the small performance area. This actually is a very fine membrane, made of interlocking molecular gears. It is very sensitive to weight. When the weight of the total number of human beings on the membrane reaches a critical mass, one of the gears unlocks, causing the one beside it to unlock—the membrane splits, and human falls through it into the funnel. It is shrieking, but the noise is not heard. The human falls down, down, sliding in a spiral; and then falls through the hole, into the turning pages of the book. The book thumps shut. The iron binding clangs. Steam hisses. Now the ceremony enters its next phase. The book is opened again at the page where the human has fallen, and has been pressed flat when the book shut. The place where the human is splattered and plastered is significant, as is the splatter pattern. For the difficulty of finding a name is not over yet. So

many humans have been splattered on the pages of the book in the hundreds of years that the ceremony has taken place, that the name is simply not visible under the flaming orange of human blood. But one can distinguish, usually, between fresh blood and dried blood, and thus the place on the page is identified. The crushed, flattened body is removed with a pair of forceps, and the splatter pattern carefully examined. The tiny bones of the human being have made tiny indentations, one can, if so trained, see where the skull was crushed, and where the spine, the pelvis, the tiny, tiny toes and fingers, the gooey sticky place where the stomach was. All these are important, because there is a correlation with the seasons. Since it is summer now, it will be the skull that is significant, and not the pelvis. The name that is there under the minuscule indentation, that name will be chosen. There is considerable interpretation involved, for the indentation might not be exactly on the name itself, but perhaps on the first half, or the last half, or just under and above a name. The name readers have been trained to interpret these phenomena. Needless to say, they know what names are on that page, they have spent more than half their training life in doing just that. Through all this, the spider baby is watching the whole thing, and it leaves an impact for a while, but soon enough, the baby forgets the tiny drop of blood that fell on its chubby, fluffy, adorable black back. Soon enough, the baby is lifted up, and the tiny, broken, splattered remains of the human body are put in a small ornate amulet, and the amulet is tied between its cephalothorax and opisthosoma. It will be removed only when the baby becomes capable of reproduction. This is why the Book of Names is flaming orange, and illegible to normal spiders.

EARTH

Death by Chocolate
The score thus far : Telephone calls : 3, Mail-Pak Coupons : 0 Riot Photographs : 15, Sleeping In : 2 Industrial Chaos : 23, Anthropomorphism : -5 Bee Baa Bo : 1, Boo-Boo-Gaga : 0 Cigarettes at night : 5, Cigarettes in the morning : 5 Self-Parody : 62, Truth in Love : 12 Radio Static : 10, Manifestos : 0 —From Tristan Tzara’s Eighth Symphony, or How Dada came to me in the form of this self-contained manifesto

Sometimes you’re just standing around, waiting for a taxi or smoking a cigarette or sitting somewhere drinking coffee, wishing that someone would quest for you or save you or something just as banal. Suddenly you feel like a pause button’s been pushed on the world, it’s like you lost a few seconds and don’t know where they went. Like the days when you can’t remember what you had for breakfast or the smell that reminds you of a thing or a person vaguely familiar but can’t for your life remember. That’s exactly what happened that morning. Only, it happened to the whole world. Absolutely everyone got this feeling that something somewhere was off key. Most people forgot it very quickly or ignored it. Some mentioned it to their friends, who said, “Me too. Probably the weather. Forget about it.” So everyone forgot about it except for Danny. She noted it down in her diary as a singular occurrence. Her real name was Danielle Lebowski but no one called her that. They called her Big Lebowski (because she was petite) or they called her Danny. Now Danny Lebowski was a writer of cookie fortunes. She was immensely rich because she was employed by thirty-one of the biggest, shiniest, sparkliest hotels in the Solar Federation to write their fortunes every month. Twenty of those were Federation chains. Eleven were very exclusive and accepted nothing but the best for their well-heeled clientele who would’ve frothed at the mouth and convulsed had their fortune cookies told them something they didn’t want to hear. For them, Danny wrote fortunes that reeked of Vangelis jets and dripped with Reprise

diamonds. Basically it came down to 15 fortunes for a hotel a day (except in February, April, June and November, which Danny laughingly referred to as her “rush months”). It all went smoothly. She was efficient and had worked out a whole system using Eu/ Russian precision and technology so things didn’t go wrong. Her Churchgate office was furnished with stacks of financial reports and A Dictionary of South Indian Proverbs. After graduating from St. Christopher’s with degrees in engineering and business, Danny had joined Bank of Costa Maura, and then run a company that exported logs from Sri Lanka to China. Then she’d been hired by a Chinatown chopstick manufacturer, which eventually expanded into fortune cookies. She had worked with them for a while and when she found the job too stifling, moved out on her own. Now anyone who wanted to hire her had to get through her formidable assistant. And then they had to get lucky. Only once had Danny written a bad fortune. She’d had a terrible day because her favourite white shirt had been ruined, absolutely ruined, by a clumsy oaf of a date spilling his coffee and had put her in a foul mood. So that night she’d slipped in a fortune that said, “Evil men have no songs.” That fortune went to Take 5—an incalculably old, immeasurably plush establishment over which hung an air of snobbery and bluebloodedness—to a Hungarian songwriter who had decided to stay in Room 120 for a week. He’d written words for a song called “Darkling”. It was said that troubled lovers listened to this song and were mesmerized into defenestrating themselves from tall buildings, like the investors did when the stock market crashed in October 2029. The melancholy song declared at its climax, “My heart and I have decided to finish it all.” It was forbidden to play it in public places and anyone caught doing so was liable to be prosecuted, and yet everyone had heard it or owned the bootleg single. (The extended version and the Oakenfeld III Mix were very successful too.) When the songwriter saw his cookie fortune, he jumped off the window of his hotel room. It was his twenty-fifth birthday and pieces of his brain splattered all over the parking lot causing a great deal of inconvenience. The songwriter had left a note that he’d decided to

kill himself because the success of “Darkling” had actually increased his misery. Fortunately, he’d flushed away the fortune before anyone found out that it was Danny’s words that killed him. Danny herself was oblivious of the fact and always danced like a hot diggity mama when the Oakenfeld III Mix played at her favourite nightclubs. ef

Bandy-legged fiends from a galaxy far, far away had discovered time travel. On that March morning they entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Four alien pioneers floated down like giant bats from the sky and landed in the Kalahari; they looked out at the real world, our world, through slitty gold eyes, and then they skittered away at tremendous speed. No one saw them except for a bunch of Japanese tourists who had decided that they would not walk around taking pictures of everything because it was so trite. So they didn’t have any cameras but each wished secretly in his or her own heart that they hadn’t been so irrational. Now they had nothing to corroborate their wild tale. For a month, the aliens observed everyone and everything—movies, television, football (the Federation Cup was on, the Chile Franchise won, and Danny was delighted). They hung around in cafés, with junkies, college professors, winos, they did all sorts of things to collect information. They decided that taking over the planet would be easy-peasy. They decided they would perform a little experiment first, a trial run. ef Now Oscar Zeta was a very tall, very quiet man, young-looking but not really young. He was seated on a barstool in the nightclub Albedo 0.39. He was a little bored, but not very bored because he was thinking of creating new software that could be used by large auction companies. He was convinced that it would be a great success. He was usually right about these things. The nightclub was a crazy place, all sorts of things happened there—nude wo/ men on bicycles sold cigarettes off a tray hung around their necks, nude wo/men on roller skates served ice-cold beer, fully clothed wo/men pushing elegant wheelbarrows sold all sorts of drugs to the more discerning customer. But he’d been there often enough for the novelty to have worn off. Besides, all the nude bodies were in perfect shape and blended harmoniously into the background, it wasn’t such a great big deal. He watched a man in a grey business suit who had somehow gotten his head stuck in a Ming vase. The man staggered around blindly with a pink cocktail in his hand until someone came and broke the vase with a dainty little hammer.

Then he looked around, blinking as if seeing the world for the very first time, sat down heavily on a couch and started to giggle. That man was the biggest fission fuel baron in the Solar Federation. An acquaintance he hadn’t encountered for ages happened to be walking by and she stopped in her tracks to greet him expansively. He privately thought of her as the Woman From The Planet Zork. She was loud, dressed in ill-fitting clothes and had indiscreet love affairs with powerful and wealthy men. Also, she looked like she didn’t take care of herself, she looked unhealthy and there was a slight tinge of debauchery around her mouth. He smiled at her with vacant eyes. It took him a moment to register the presence of the girl who was with her. She looked as if she was embarrassed for Zork. She wore a plain white shirt, sleeves rolled up, tucked loosely into faded blue jeans, Birkenstocks and an old watch with fraying straps. Oscar Zeta looked away and hoped she wouldn’t realize that he’d fallen madly in love with her. Zork introduced them, “Oscar, this is Danny, she writes cookie fortunes; Danny, this is Oscar, he writes programs and also knows chemistry.” Danny looked at him with a deadpan face, shook his hand, said, “I think I’ll go outside,” and hurried away. Oscar followed her with his eyes and watched her melt into the crowd. Zork grinned at him sleazily and was about to say something when he cut her off mid-sentence and started discussing geodesic domes with the bartender. Zork wiggled her fingers at him, said, “See you around,” and went off, shouting out this or that to everyone she encountered on the way. The bartender mixed a Wallbanger for Oscar. Danny stood outside the side entrance of the nightclub and shared a dopa joint with the bouncer Random Jackson (called so because someone had once seen him painting and asked if it was a random Jackson-type thing). She was telling him that she’d just met a man with a face all shut down like a castle door. “Nubbuddy in there?” he asked her incredulously. “Nobody at all, I’m afraid. The wind blows in there and makes a great swishy noise,” she said and they laughed uproariously. “Was he cute?” he asked as she watched his pupils dilate. “I don’t know, Randy. And I don’t care one bit.” “What was he wearing?” Randy was gay and thought it very important to know what people were wearing. “A grey shirt,”

she replied. Before Randy could ask for more details, a whole wave of people came by and engulfed her; she disappeared into the nightclub again. When they’d gone, he leaned against the door and listened to the dull thudding of bass that came from behind it. ef Danny decided that she liked Mr. Zeta. They were in a café discussing the prophecies of the Dalai Lama and the Sprüngli takeover. Oscar discovered that Danny didn’t like nuts in chocolate and therefore refused to have dessert because it had nuts in chocolate and there was no way he could be that…rude, he finished, feeling a little lame. He asked her what she did when she wasn’t writing fortunes. She arranged her face to make it look like she was considering his question very seriously but she was actually wondering if his mouth tasted as good as it looked and imagining pushing the tip of her tongue into the little gap between his two front teeth. It made her spine tingle in the most delicious manner and she barely heard him say, “You’re taking an awfully long time to answer that.” Danny thought her ears would burst into bright orange flames, she was that embarrassed. She decided she’d tell him the truth, “I like eavesdropping on people’s conversations in cafés.” He raised an eyebrow and sipped his coffee, for a second looking like the kind of man who’d think it most improper to hold hands in public. “Heard anything interesting yet?” She shrugged and tilted her head to indicate the people she was talking about. “That couple there, they’re arguing because she wants to buy a weighing scale but he refuses to; she thinks he’s being callous, she can’t be the only one concerned about his health, he’s got to make an effort too.” She rolled her eyes in mock exasperation and gestured to her left. “They have a kid at home who wants to watch Le Bleu Romancer tonight, but his mother won’t let him and his father doesn’t care because he’s having a screwy time, the shipping being delayed and all due to the storms in Malaysia.” She tapped a forefinger on the tabletop. He asked her, “What else?” She narrowed her eyes, bent forward and brought her voice down to a whisper, “On the table near the entrance, there are four guys dressed in Benedictine cowls.

You can’t see their faces because of the hoods and they haven’t said anything to each other since they’ve been here. I think they’re friars. They’ve each eaten a Nanaimo bar. Nanaimo bars are gross,” she said with a frown. Oscar stood up suddenly, left money on the table and said, “I think we should leave.” Danny was flustered, she wondered if she’d said something awful, then figured she didn’t care, so what if she had. They started to walk out together and when he put his hand on her back she was quite convinced that her spine really couldn’t withstand the onslaught of all that tingling. He was about to pull the door open when one of the “friars” stood up and barred his way. His three friends stood up, too. They pulled their hoods off and grinned horribly, baring four rows of malevolent teeth. Oscar pushed Danny behind him and stood in front of her, calm and unruffled. There was shell-shocked silence in the café but not for long, because Danny indignantly stepped forward and asked Oscar, “What on Earth do you think you’re doing?” She folded her arms and glared at the uglyass aliens, she didn’t like this one bit. They chittered, pointed at her and talked in high voices that sounded surprisingly melodious. Then one of them brought out what looked like a small Odin stone. The sound of traffic that always hung in the air suddenly disappeared. Danny had the scariest thought— what if they were floating in space? She looked at the window, the cash dispenser still stood outside it, but it looked all warped, like looking in the rear view mirror. But she was relieved that it was still there, at least. Oscar looked around the café. People were staring blankly at them. The friars pushed them back in the direction of the table they’d been sitting at. The money he’d left was still lying next to the empty ashtray. They were shoved into the chairs. Then the friars went back to their table and started singing to each other, well, that’s what it sounded like anyway. Danny looked in her bag and found her pack of Marlboro menthols, she shook one out. Oscar asked her if he could bum one. “I thought you didn’t smoke. Don’t know why though.” He lit one, said, “I used to, I don’t anymore,” and blew smoke at the ceiling. “Enter Tilburina, stark mad in white satin, and her confidant, stark mad in white linen,” Danny said and started to laugh uncontrollably. Then she sobered up and said,

“What the fuck’s going on?” to no one in particular. Oscar said, “I think we’re—all of us—being held hostage or being abducted or something. By…aliens.” They smoked their cigarettes in silence which was punctuated by the sobs of the woman who wanted to buy a weighing scale. Her husband looked at her as if it was all her fault. “They look like they’re waiting for something,” Oscar said. Danny wondered what he’d say if she leaned across and kissed him. But before she could do any such thing he asked, “They seem to like chocolate, don’t they?” She shrugged, wishing that the stupid aliens would disappear already. She picked up a chopstick off the table and pointed it at him, “You know what I think? I think we’re suspended in time.” People had started talking amongst themselves and a soft murmur hung in the air. Oscar put his hand out and firmly gripped the arm of the chair she was sitting in and pulled it towards him. He leaned in to her, their heads almost touching and started to talk. Oscar said a lot of technical chemical things that Danny understood only dimly, the technicalities were lost on her, but not on him, nor would they be on the aliens, he hoped. Danny vaguely understood something about some experiment, a sparkling powder, deadly when mixed with theobromine. When eaten, it multiplied something wicked inside the body. It also involved nanorobots, but Danny was singing Italian songs of love and desire inside her head so didn’t pay much attention. She couldn’t imagine why he’d want to carry around something like that. Oscar was wondering if he could pull it off. It had worked fine on rabbits. He stood up, held out his hand and said, “Shall we?” with a solemn twinkle in his eye. Danny thought he looked completely outrageous but put her hand in his anyway. They walked towards the kitchen like stars on the red carpet and she whispered under her breath, “What if we die? Besides, how do you know there aren’t lots of them out there?” Oscar said, “I don’t. But I’d like to see if this thing works. And then, if we do get out of this alive, I suggest you invest heavily in the shares.” The aliens looked up, didn’t think the humans very interesting, and went back to doing their own thing. The kitchen was empty. And spotless. All the staff were outside, sitting at various tables. Oscar locked the door behind

him and turned to her, “There’s something else I have to do first.” He kissed her, sending filaments of white hot pleasure coursing through her veins. He took off her shirt, her jeans and she, in turn, undressed him, laughing when she saw his boxers, they had tiny red chillies printed all over them. He kissed her like he was promising he’d stay forever, she thought. She got him to back up against the wall and knelt in front of him. He ran his hands through her hair. She lay back on the countertop and he moved aside a deba knife. He rolled up his shirt, placing it under her so the edge wouldn’t hurt her. She thought it the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for her. Danny got ice from the refrigerator and did a great many wondrous things that made Oscar gasp with amazement and pleasure. They lay on the floor side by side, catching their breath. When they sat up, the friars were standing in front of the closed door, observing them curiously. “What the—,” Danny started dressing up hurriedly, “I think we’re done for today.” Oscar eyed them irritatedly and did the same. Then, while the friars watched, they baked a chocolate cake, laughing because it was all quite absurd actually. Before it went into the oven Oscar took out a packet of what looked like fairy dust from his pocket, sprinkled it over the mix and stirred it in. They waited and talked while the cake got done. They tried to get the friars to play I Spy but they seemed unwilling, or perhaps they were just shy. When the oven bell rang, Danny put on a mitt and took out the cake. She made chocolate icing, dipped a finger in it and licked it, winking lewdly at Oscar who rolled his eyes heavenward. Once she’d poured the creamy icing all over the cake, she cut out thick slices, put them on a plate and held it out to the aliens. They looked suspiciously at her and sniffed the air above the plate. Then all four stretched out their claws and picked up a slice each. Danny watched them, horribly fascinated. She leaned against the counter, next to Oscar who put an arm around her and said, “Here goes nothing.” The aliens made pleased sucking noises and warbled like birds. Oscar bent and kissed the top of Danny’s head. He noted with great satisfaction that her hair smelled of him. He mentioned

this and she dug her elbow into his ribs saying that there was a place and time for such comments and it was not here and now. They watched the aliens fall down one by one like skittles. It was enthralling. Their bodies bloated alarmingly, looking like they’d explode but they didn’t. Their skin fell off in peels. A disgusting smell filled the air, making Oscar and Danny gag. After a while, all that remained was a large congealed blob of what looked like gumbo. ef Later that night, while a bunch of secret agents from the Federation Bureau watched a tape of the surveillance camera that’d been in the kitchen, Oscar and Danny were eating hamburgers accompanied by an exquisite bottle of Chablis. When dawn came, they were still awake and while sweat ran in tiny rivulets down Oscar’s back, a swarm of bandy-legged fiends descended in the Kalahari. They kept coming out of the sky, like locusts, wave after wave of them, landing like flakes of black snow on the ground to disperse in all directions.

VENUS

The Solar Federation Fashion Show
Apropos of logic, I consider myself very likeable. —From Tristan Tzara’s Eighth Symphony, or How Dada came to me in the form of this self-contained manifesto

Today I turn fifty-seven. I have been in the fashion business for forty years. I walked my first ramp on Earth when I was seventeen, and that was for the Miss Solar Federation Contest, and I won it then. Winning contests came naturally to me, as natural as my exquisite body, my exquisite and delicate face, and my uncontested razor-sharp intelligence, my gentle manner of speech. I still hold the record for winning that contest the maximum number of times. The first was when, as I told you, I was seventeen, then when I was twenty-three, and the last when I was twenty-six. No other person has won it more than once. This is what I looked like when I won it first.

The image was done, naturally, by Hideo Takeda, by far the most obvious choice that year. He took only four images in a twohour session, his Zen concentration was phenomenal. Out of those he showed me only two, and asked me to choose one. This is what I looked like when I won it the second time, but wait for a while until I show you the image, for now I am warming up to the subject. After the innocent joy in success had faded, and the media all over started saying I had put on weight and so on, I realized that apart from the training for the contest, I had done nothing myself to be beautiful. It was nature’s gift, or, if you like, it was the gift of my genes, which had expressed themselves thus. I can still think how in the womb, as I grew there, the aminoacid chains must have formed in a particular way, and the way was guided by my genes. I have had occasion and time to think about my genes, because there came a time, soon after I won the contest the second time, that I—me myself as such—had very little to do with my beauty. Oh, I must tell you that the second time I won the contest, it perhaps was my dress that did it for me. You see, just a year before, they invented LiquidGlass®, and my dress was made from silk and LiquidGlass®. Let me describe it to you first, so that you will understand the image. The cap I wore was made of glass, and it had pipes and channels in it, through which flowed parti-coloured water, all mixing at my left ear. Then I had a scarf, that was made of finest silk from the Asia Franchise—the Korean office. It was cut and put together in such a way, that whichever way I moved my arms, or my torso, it would always stay in place. It was a deep orange with red chilli specks, of course. Then the dress itself, well, the extraordinary chemise was a combination of silk and jute—the silk was bright silver-blue and the jute was steel grey, to tone down the texture and colour of the silk. This chemise seamlessly flowed into a narrow wrap made again of silk, and this was orange again, of course. This was cut at an angle, so that it began from the left, and grew at an angle to cover the top of my right thigh. This is where LiquidGlass® entered: it grew from the orange at my hip, and flowed down to my left knee, swirled to the right, and climbed up to the orange again. See? This is the image.

Isn’t it beautiful? The dress, I mean?

The third time I won the contest, it was seen as the victory of late maturity over early naturalness. This is what I looked like the third time.

The dress was a very simple modification of what was then in fashion—the Hjulmbar Moghshul dress. The modification was not in the design itself, but in the material, which was a mix of cotton and semi-transparent Kevlar.

Here are some other pictures:

Dress: Cortazar, Spring Collection. Hat: Condotteri, Shoes: Gold Shoe Labs.

Dress: Traditional Zardozi, Summer Collection. Scarf: Schiapparelli, Shoes: Saturn Design Studiette.

Dress: Hjulmbar Shayol, Saturn Winter Collection. Silk: Martian, Shoes: Saturn Design Studiette, Winter Head Gear: Olaffson.

Platinum Bikini: Sheena Rai. Beach Design: Hjulmbar Kaghila. Towel: Traditional Panama.

Anyway, by now you might have begun to understand that in this great order of nature, I had done nothing more than learn to speak intelligently, and walk in a certain way, carry myself in a certain way. As someone said to me once, “Beauty is immortal in the flesh.” That’s why I always call beauty empty. Oh, that smile that I had to generate as I walked the ramp. It was so beautiful.

MERCURY

Circus Chromatique in B Flat
gentlemen and ladies buy come in and buy and don’t read you’ll see the fellow who has in his hands the key to niagara the man with a game leg in the game box his hemispheres in a suitcase his nose enclosed in a chinese lantern you’ll see you’ll see you’ll see the belly dance in the massachusetts saloon the fellow who sticks the nail in and the tyre goes down mademoiselle atlantide’s silk stockings the trunk that goes 6 times round the world to find the addressee monsieur and his fiancée his brother and his sister-in-law you’ll find the carpenter’s address the toad-watch the nerve like a paper-knife you’ll have the address of the minor pin for the feminine sex and that of the fellow who supplies the obscene photos to the king of greece as well as the address of l’action francaise. We are circus ringmasters and we can be found whistling amongst the winds of fairgrounds, in convents, prostitutions, theatres, realities, feelings, restaurants, ohoho, bang bang. —From Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love

The Circus Chromatique was a permanent fixture on the pleasure planet, resort planet, and the hub of all knowledge related to pleasure public and private. Some of the items on the circus fare were permanent fixtures too, and had been running into their hundred year anniversaries. Possibly the most famous was:

Work for Money For this item, the circus ring was made to rise a little above ground level, so that it looked more like an opera stage than a circus ring. The item itself was part melodrama, part mime, part opera, with mixed media installations all around the performance space. There were only two actors, a male actor, made to look like an Earth human male, and a female actor, made to look like a typical sentimental Venus female. The item began with them falling deeply in love at first sight. The man was poor, and the girl wealthy. The man was talented in many arts, the girl was talented in martial arts. But nothing could stop their love from flowering. As they embraced at the end of the first scene, they were lifted up up up up up by the force of their love, and circus machinery. All among the audience, including the spiders of Mars, felt elevated at the sight of this unfettered, spontaneous and evergiving love. The next scene showed the two escaping to Titania, their flight punctuated by the sights and sound of various bodies they encountered. (Occasionally, for the sake of variety, the circus

director used Illusion Number 343 instead of Illusion Number 434.) The third scene showed them trying to settle down, find jobs. The fourth scene showed their failure at the above. Then came the unexpected last scene. They both decided to end their lives together. The woman pulls a knife across her throat, and large amounts of blood begin to pour down her chest. (This is when Illusion Number 402 cuts in.) The man watches her die, and then he puts the knife into his stomach, and pulls it across, like the first step in a seppuku. Instead of blood, money begins to pour down his stomach, and he keeps pulling out chains of Solar Federation bank notes, a whole chain of them. (There is no music for this scene.) So much money comes out that the whole ring begins to sink under its weight, and as it begins to sink, the lights begin to dim. But before the whole circus goes dark, the money keeps shining under millions of pencil lights meant to pick that silver spot on the bank notes.

Possibly equally popular was the following item:

The MarTian Trapeze arTisTs The spiders of Mars suspended their disgust for human beings in the Circus Chromatique, and in fact worked with human beings, with Saturnian hobgoblins, and any odd creature that cared to collaborate with them on this item. Very often, they asked members of the audience to join in. The trapeze network was made of Martian spider webs— the tensility and strength ratios were the best in the world. The network was three-dimensional and for most people other than Martian spiders, incredibly high and wide—it reached up several kilometres. If it didn’t it wouldn’t even be fun, let alone risky, for the spiders. What makes the act so popular is that the spiders build a network even as they perform, throw each other about, hang from one leg and other standard trapeze tricks. The most exciting act is when they throw a human away, and then the spiders compete in building a small web to catch it as it lands. When they put on this act, you can feel the difference in energy levels, and you can see their spinnerets working hard. For what you can do, if you are a Martian spider, is that you can jump and land, and as you land, you start a thread at the point of impact, and swing and extend that thread in any direction—and because you have eight legs, you can make yourself bounce off in any direction whatsoever. This act is usually performed by that somewhat unusual species on Mars that have their spinnerets on their feet, and not on the under-belly. In the hundred years of popular history, not a single creature has fallen from any height whatsoever: the spiders are that good as trapeze artists. The spiders did not perform everyday, however, unlike the earlier item. They worked only for special shows on Sundays, and perhaps that explains why their show was always more crowded than the earlier one.
The Circus Chromatique was not a private enterprise, it was the creation of the Solar Federation. It was the show-piece, the reflective identity of the Solar Federation, for it was here that the Federation could show its citizens the variety that the Federation governed. It had even managed to placate the

spiders of Mars enough to curb their natural disgust for humans, and work with them. It had managed to get two hobgoblins to perform on Earth. The Federation was happy with itself. The Circus was big enough to cover the whole of terraformed Mercury, and if you were so minded you could spend several years there, and a lot of money. The Circus has obscure nooks and corners, where performers go on performing to a very small and, without doubt, select audience.

The obscure pleasures of siTTing sTill This is actually what used to be called a meditation room, but it now has a lot of hobgoblin-designed fashion installation, very expensive even by Saturnine standards. As with most expensive forms of entertainment, the performers perform very little, and make the audience perform. The artists are various, but the art work is always the same. The audience too changes—except the devoted regulars—but the work of art is always the same. It has a simple title: The Cage of Silence. You walked into the installation room (after paying a hefty amount for entry), and it was brightly lit, as brightly as a fashion show ramp. After a little while, the light became a shade dimmer, more pleasant, and the first batch of artists walked in from a door that merged with the wall in such a way that you did not see it until it opened. The artists were various—musicians, sculptors, painters, media-performers, mimes, dancers etc. One of them started doing something—like playing a tune on the Musitron—and then others joined in slowly, picking up hints and themes from the initiator. The painters sketched, the dancers danced, the sculptors worked in LiquidGlass®. After they left, you sensed a strange sadness, and a strange emptiness of expectation. That was when the performance really began, because for a long time, nothing happened. The closed door could not be seen, it merged with the wall so well. You began to fidget. You looked around to see if there could be other doors that merged so well with the wall from which artists might emerge. Then you thought of the colours in the room, the unmistakable hobgoblin design, the lush comfort of the designer chair in which you were sitting. Then you realized that you were fidgeting too much, and

noticed others were fidgeting too. Because you were sensitive to art, you realized that you shouldn’t be fidgeting, but focusing instead. You tried to sit still. A musician arrived, and he played a kind of music that bordered on silence: Illusion Number 124: Sometimes I Think I Should Be Silent. He left too soon, though. Then again there was silence, fidgeting, silence, this time, the pattern seemed familiar so sat still much earlier than the last time. After what seemed a long time, a female Earth human walked on to the ramp, a middle-aged model, but still exquisitely beautiful. The only thing that betrayed her performance was that empty smile that she had, but even before she returned, you wondered if that was the performance, and not the looks, nor the walk, nor the constant grooming of the body. A much longer silence fell. By now, almost everybody except nosy people worrying about their money attempted to fidget about, cough or sneeze or rustle their clothes or wallets. You were happy to sit still by now. Then, after a very long time indeed, a solitary, nondescript person walked in, dressed in a cowl, and sat down in the middle of the ramp. The posture varied in every performance. But he— perhaps it was a she—sat down, and did nothing at all. You all sat together happily, the last time you went, you did not realize that you were sitting still for six hours, and almost missed the return flight. The silence had almost caught you.
In a more discrete part of the circus, known only by word of mouth, there was a Take 5.

Take 5 Take 5 was a lovehotel for people who couldn’t find love all on their ownio. It was tucked away in a corner where you could hardly see it and didn’t advertise, didn’t need to. The stairs leading up to it were easily missed, so it was like if you didn’t know about it, you’d never find it. And even if you did, not everybody could get in there. It was like someone you knew had to go there first and have a good time and tell you all about it and then you’d ask them: So, hey, tell me, I want to come along too, and they’d have to take you there. And when you got there the security guard

would check your friend’s credentials on their database and ask him or her if it was all right to let you in and your friend would have to say: Sure. The guard would then let you in because it was all like a network, a big web and everybody knew everybody and prices were disclosed only on request. After a while, if someone could see you, they’d tell you that you were all yellow. Happy happy happy shiny yellow. Like the sun up up up high in the sky. Of course, it wasn’t true love because you’d paid for it but it did happen sometimes that people would fall in love, and though they’d paid for it they still thought it a very good deal. Because everyone was sense-ibble and prack-tickle and lodgy-cull. And you’d spend the next day dizzy as a bumblebee. If bumblebees ever get dizzy, that is. And your heart would feel as big as Moby.

You could of course go to the Main Circus Tent, taking your own Spyder and family, and watch the animals. The greatest success of the persuasive diplomatic powers of the Solar Federation was the agreement signed with the spiders of Mars, stipulating that in return of trade in spider-silk, and related technologies, a spider will perform in the most popular show of the circus—for this was one where there was no bloodshed, no risk and breathtaking performances, which, of course, meant you could take your family with you.

The aniMals

WereWolves First comes the werewolves from Eris. The werewolves were made to look special for the show. They look fearsome, and there are about fifty of them in the ring, and they look as if they could, by themselves, slash every member of the audience at their own pace, and nobody would dare to stop them. Their sleek bodies are made of muscles that look like branches of the tall trees of Mars, their eyes shine as if through a Saturn-designed lamp—as if the light came out of their eyes. Most of them keep their jaws open so that their metre-long tongues drop out down almost to reach their knees, wet, red, not really limp, but snaking about from this side of the terrifying jaws. The fangs look as if bits of crescent moons have been cut out and stuck into their dark, inky, night-like jaws. Initially they move about slowly, displaying themselves like models on a ramp, or like baby-spiders doing somersaults in a family gathering. Then one of them howls, the sound ringing inside your skull, as if some hand was drawing a sketch on your brain matter; with a sharp point. Then the howling werewolf picks up pace, the next one howls and joins in, and turn by turn they howl and speed up—by the time the last one has joined in, the first one has run the perimeter twice already. Then the first one pretends to jump into the audience, and is pushed away, as if by an invisible protective wall, and some of the audience begins to scream in fear. Then they slow down, and take positions on the perimeter, as if defending, and then suddenly, at some invisible signal of ear or tail, they begin to laugh. If their howls are incredibly high pitched, their laughter is deep throated, and their tongues do a kind of snake dance in unison with their tails, then they take their bow, and leave in complete peace. Very few people are surprised,

really, because everybody knows that werewolves are the only truly altruistic species, and because, except a few people, everybody knows that they are also known as Michelin Guides.

spider Next comes the spider of Mars. The entry is marked by movement of the seats and tents—this itself of spider design. The seats are pushed further back, the roof raised more, the tent just gets bigger. Then the spider ambles in. It is huge, even by Martian standards. It is about forty feet tall with its legs bent in three places. If it straightened its legs, it would be at least twice as high. The spider has dressed itself specially for the occasion. It has put on expensive fur boots on its legs, painted blue (so that humans are not reminded that once upon a time on Mars, it was quite fashionable to have the feet in the orange of human blood). The spider performs some dances, with incredible footwork, given that it has eight legs. Then immense mirrors are brought in, and placed around it, and on the floor. While the last mirror is put on the floor, the spider simply hangs from the roof. Then it climbs down and does push-ups on the mirror, and all the angled mirrors reflects that movement. The incredible springiness of the legs makes you hold your breath. By the time it has done a million, that movement is forever imprinted on your mind. You wish it wasn’t forbidden to take pictures. But you couldn’t anyway, because all you would get, even with the latest 20 million fps cameras, would be the white light reflected by the mirrors, and the dark blur of the spider’s push-ups. lambs The lambs of Earth were the only truly exotic species. They came in next because they contrasted so well with the spider from Mars. They were tiny, barely three feet tall, and they were all uniformly white. They all looked as if they didn’t know where they came from. The innocence in their beady eyes was completely inartificial. They did not really know where they came from. They did not smell foul, and they trotted in and milled around themselves, as if lost. As they milled around themselves, they looked like waves of white foam rolling in and out, undulating. The whole ring looked like white foam. Slowly, they stood still, one of them stood still, then another, and as if at some invisible signal, before you realized it, they were all still. Not a single ear, nor tail

nor hoof or nostril moved. Their white silence filled the whole tent, and then, again too suddenly to notice its beginning, they moved and struggled to get out of the ring, and then they were gone.
There follows a historical section, where animals from Earth perform all kinds of tricks. The elephants stand on stools, the beautiful woman puts her head in a crocodile’s jaw, tigers behave like cats, cats like dogs, dogs like monkeys, and monkeys like humans, and humans do some basic trapeze work, which shows primitive when compared to the spiders, and some humans balance an incredible number of things on the tips of their dull short noses. Traditionally, this is known as the Dull Centre of History.

The everyday Zebra The only Earth animal to be displayed as a discrete item was the zebra. Now as everybody knows, Earth humans often suffer from a disorder that was called schizophrenia, it means having a split personality. Research of course has shown that this was not a culturally induced disorder, but a genetic one. That makes the zebra a related animal, because it was discovered in the last century that the zebra too suffers from genetic disagreement: some of its genes want to be white, and some black. That makes the zebra a genetically schizoid animal. That is why it is partly white, and partly black—it survives the internal and natal genetic conflict because a third party gene decided that dispute, while it cannot be exterminated, it can at least be managed. The zebra thus ends up partly black and partly white, but in a systematic and almost fractal way. Now because it is a genetic thing, and not a mental or cultural thing, and because the third faction of genes decided to guide the internal conflict, the schizophrenia was encoded into the body itself, so actually the zebra is quite a happy animal, as you see it here. See how it happily runs about, allows that beautiful woman to jump on and off its back, do some cabrioles and pirouettes. See how happily it goes away.
There follows a standard Solar Federation section, where each of the intelligent variations on human beings are displayed, especially hobgoblins and the like. Then, with much fanfare and bowings and bendings human beings are announced.

homo sapiens (earTh varieTy) You wonder why Earth humans would be displayed, especially if you were an Earth human on Mercury, visiting it for the few days that your money can afford. But there is a reason why they are displayed, and that reason becomes clear when they enter: they are naked. You are now reminded that you too are naked under your clothes, that clothes have historically evolved. They walk about, as if the circus ring was a garden and they were taking exercise. You cannot understand why others are cheering, like the hobgoblins and the spiders and Michelin Guides. You wonder if it is historical or anthropological respect they are expressing. You wonder if it’s the body proportions, the gait, or the brain-case to body weight ratio. You wonder if it’s the technology, you wonder if it’s some new kind of installation art passed off as a circus item. You wonder if you are of the same species. You don’t want to be. By the time the couple goes away, you feel you know them too well. You wish you didn’t.

NOW GO HOME!! SHOUTS KOKO THE CLOWN, A CIGARETTE DANGLING FROM HIS HAPPY-SMILE LIPS.
—From Tristan Tzara’s Eighth Symphony, or How Dada came to me in the form of this self-contained manifesto

PHOTOGRAPH / ILLUSTRATION CREDITS

In order of appearance:

COVER: † NASA, GRIN DataBase Number: GPN-2000-000876 ERIS * OiMax (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oimax) * trash jack (http://www.flickr.com/photos/trashjack) PLUTO * tanakawho (http://www.flickr.com/photos/28481088@N00) TITANIA * OiMax (http://www.flickr.com/photos/oimax) * Dplanet:: (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dplanet) NEPTUNE † NASA/JPL-Caltech † NASA/JPL-Caltech SATURN ‡ r.i.c.h (http://www.flickr.com/photos/madstillz), remix ∞ jijis (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jijis008) ∞ Jay Morrison (http://www.flickr.com/photos/artiseverywhere) ∞ massdistraction (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharynmorrow) EUROPA ‡ zero_point (http://www.flickr.com/photos/esa_raditya) ∞ rebel rebel. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tabathasabrina) ∞ Jelle Druyts (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jelledruyts) CERES ∞ Call To Adventure (http://www.flickr.com/photos/call-to-adventure) * trash jack (http://www.flickr.com/photos/trashjack), remix MARS * annia316 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/annia316), remix * Severin Koller (http://openphoto.net/user/profile.html?user_id=51), Stairs in Memory, remix * tribaldo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tribaldo)

MOON ∞ photographer padawan ••holiday! (http://www.flickr.com/photos/7933170@N03) * pasotraspaso (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pasotraspaso), remix * medium as muse (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_mckeague/) ‡ taras bulba (http://www.flickr.com/photos/francescobelsito/) ∞ athena1970 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/athena1970) EARTH ∞ kaneda99 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaneda99) * Clearly Ambiguous (http://www.flickr.com/photos/clearlyambiguous) ∞ akuhlmann74 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/21617436@N00) ∞ CaroWallis1 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/carowallis1) ∞ kaneda99 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaneda99/) VENUS ∞ Daniel Greene (http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielgreene) ‡ leroialeks (http://www.flickr.com/photos/leroialeks) ∞ José Miguel Serrano (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shadowhut) * Rebecca Cotton (http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebeccayeow) * Lampeduza (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lampeduza) ∞ Romeo Detonation (http://www.flickr.com/photos/romeodetonation) * Rebecca Cotton (http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebeccayeow) ∞ jzakariya (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jzakariya) ‡ uBookworm (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ubookworm), remix MERCURY ∞ AlmostJaded (http://www.flickr.com/photos/almostjaded) ∞ AlmostJaded (http://www.flickr.com/photos/almostjaded) ∞ AlmostJaded (http://www.flickr.com/photos/almostjaded) ∞ AlmostJaded (http://www.flickr.com/photos/almostjaded) ∞ Lush.i.ous (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanicus) ∞ darylfurr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/darylfurr) * Pikaluk (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pikaluk) ∞ AlmostJaded (http://www.flickr.com/photos/almostjaded) ∞ AlmostJaded (http://www.flickr.com/photos/almostjaded) THE END * SlapBcn (http://www.flickr.com/photos/slapbcn) Photograph courtesy Judith Nazareth
* Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/) ‡ Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/) ∞ Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/) † NASA (http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/copyright.html)

AbOUT THE AUTHORS Diana Romany is an editor. Her stories have been published as a book, Spoonful of Grey (MapinLit, 2004) and in the anthology 21 under 40 (‘Ferris Wheel’, Zubaan, 2007). Aniket Jaaware is Professor of English at the University of Pune. His earlier publications include: Simplifications: An Introduction to Structuralism and Post-structuralism (Orient Longman, 2001), and Neon Fish in Dark Water (MapinLit, 2007), a volume of short stories set in the year 2050.