that throbbing pink thing
July 20 1998
San Francisco: Fresh ink gleaming on his bald skull. C swings the laptop over his shoulder. He pushes his way through the suits of commerce. Score. One-fifteen p.m. and Market St. what a combination.
C enters McDonald's and takes a booth in the back by the coinlock restrooms. He takes the lid off his vanilla shake and examines his score. Supple leather pleasures his hands. Id's, credit cards, and $320 cash. Sweet.
On his way out, C catches his reflection in the glass doors. He admires the growing collection of chips that slicken his scalp.
Visions: a thing of the past. The future: a Max Headroom tattoo.
Nova Scotia: A radio crackles. A black box is listening.
Wind whips through the shattered cockpit. The second engine dies and the small plane dives into the Northern pines. Moments later a globe of flame rises to meet falling stars.
Beside the plane, a pink and inexplicable thing throbs.
Check the children.
Lock the doors.
Duck and Cover.
July 21 1998
New York: Bathed in sheer neon night. Naast drags his brain and a virgin cigarette to the phone. Answers it.
"Yeah Rach. What's doin'?"
"We got trouble."
"Hmm. That's surprising." Naast tries to sit up. Can't. He reaches behind his head and unfastens the black cord affixed to his collar. Lets it fall against the sheets. The opposite end still bolted to the wall. "What now?"
"You remember that call I told you about?"
"Not particularly. Refresh me."
"The mystery caller, just before I went to Portland."
"Sure. I thought we negated that."
"We did. So did someone else."
"How's that?" Naast massages himself with Black Label.
"Details are sketchy. Plane wreck. Nova Scotia. Hell and Gone."
"You see a connection?"
"Call me Paranoid."
"OK. Where are you?"
"Denver International. Waiting for my flight. I'll be in New York around nine this morning."
July 22 1998
Denver: Blue faces wrinkled like prunes. They are gathered in pews watching an i-maxed simulation.
The Border Patrol agents observe a copter wing break an illegal convoy by keeping silent and using satellite direction. Several taut explosions on the ground.
Every last one of their right hands is flattened into a disc, silicon webbing. Some tense in their laps when one of the copters falls out of formation and fireworks apart.
Small video game people run from the destroyed convoy. Green and red lines from the circling copters plow into their midst, eating up earth and flesh.
A Seargent from amongst their ergonomic ranks rises from his seat. Readies to speak. The video stops.
The Border: Maquiladores spot both sides of where the border used to be. Really more like a border zone now. Where exactly Mexico divests itself from the United States is of little consequence.
Maybe it's more like a militarized zone. Trade Wars.
Meta-feudal Maquiladors climb on the assembly line of hell's industrial belt. Prosperous nomads prey on the weak and the strong, ripping through flesh, steel, plastic, silicon, and hearts. The Border Patrol preys on the rest.
It's a perfect place to start a family.
New York: "There he is. In the sort-of-flesh. Mr. Information. Man of the Millenium. Breaker of redundant codes. Ladies and Gentlemen. Byron Naast." Purple lip and black eye, Naast is sprawling on the couch. "Man. Someone's always beating the shmeg out of you Byron." Rachel kicks off her shoes.
"God, I love you."
"Shut up," replies Rachel.
"So. The Empire's doing some heavy shit. But how are they involved in this?"
Naast is lying on the floor seeking refuge from twelve inches of gravity. "I don't know." Up on an elbow: "But I'm pretty sure they haven't even made an attempt at contact. They don't seem to be interested in real aliens."
Rachel says, "Naast. Get off the floor. Maybe they're not involved. What do we know?"
Something is jabbing the side of Naast's leg. He reaches in his pant's pocket. Pulls out a paper clip. Looks at it. And throws it on the coffee table.
Rachel says, "Let's get out of here. Grab a shower. I'll take care of my business here in short. Get us a flight while I'm gone. To Nova Scotia." She leaves.
Excerpt from Chapter 5
The Mess is a weekly Science Fiction Serial written by jon nevada and jef virginia. It comes out every wednesday. Back episodes are available through the website (www.cruzio.com/~mess). For more information e-mail jon and jef at firstname.lastname@example.org.