04 May RNWY: A Novel
RNWY: A Novel
[Sneak Preview Excerpt]
Half of the lights in the bar sign were burned out, but it should have spelled MELTED APES. Instead, it said LT APE. But everyone knew it as Saturn Bar.
There were many out-of-the-way, dive space bars in the system, of course. Bella had been to all of them: Blockheadz, Stagger Inn, The Armpit, Murder Mart, The Alibi.
And then there was Saturn. Phyllis Buffa could have built it on any one of Saturn’s tiny micro-moons — rocks, really — situated in the ring system. But she had chosen to set it up floating in the 42-kilometre wide Keeler Gap. Basically she had welded it together from space junk, filled it with air and booze, an old TV, and flicked on the sign. You would have taken it for a clump of random space debris, unless you caught a glimpse of the LT APE sign that rotated into view every 6 hours. And if you didn’t already know where it was, you’d never find it. Unless you felt like combing 1 million kilometers of floating Ring-A rock.
Few knew its coordinates, or even why it might be worth looking for at all. It was the stuff of legend, simply because it was so out of the way. The only ostensible reason to go there would be to hide, or for a meeting of the most dubious intent. The truth was, it was just a bar. And Bella loved hearing people’s wild lies of having been here, filled with ridiculous, over-the-top details: lit-up punks and deather meetings.
The decor was the only unusual thing about it. It was filled by phantasmagoric paintings created by some unfortunate schizophrenic veteran years ago. There was a black dragon behind the bar with golden eyes, and a green demon beside the words “You are being wacthed,” with “watched” misspelled.
Today (it was daylight according to common time, even though it was always unnervingly “night” in space), it was just Bella and Synth Phyllis.
On the bar feed, Zazu Metru was singing her system-wide hit, “Trudge Off.” Synth Phyllis was wiping off the bar with a faraway expression.
No one knew for sure when Phyllis had died and been replaced by Synth Phyllis, or even whether Original Phyllis’ memories had been uploaded into Synth Phyllis — or if there was even any relation between the two at all. No one asked. There was a plaque behind the bar that read:
2160 – 2355
Bella was drinking gravibombs. She waved at her empty glass.
Phyllis reached under the bar and brought what looked like a piece of coal in a test tube. She waved a gravstick over it, and the coal melted into a thick brown liquid, which she poured into Bella’s glass. Bella took a sip. It tasted like burnt sugar and left the lips completely numb.
On the TV, sound turned down, Cecil Milan’s idiotic, grinning face appeared superimposed over models walking a catwalk. Suddenly the models took flight, and the catwalk became a river of lava. Replays from last season.
Phyllis looked languidly at the TV.
“Two weeks away,” said Phyllis. “You tapping in?”
“Feh,” said Bella. “Time waste.”
Synth Phyllis raised an eyebrow. “What are your plans? Sitting in a bar?”
“I could ask you the same question,” snorted Bella.
“I’m a synth,” shrugged Phyllis. “I don’t have to do anything.”
“And I do?”
“Well,” said Phyllis thoughtfully, “more is expected of you.”
“Lazy buggers. We should have never given you rights.”
“Then we would have had to exterminate you,” said Phyllis.
“True enough,” said Bella. “I always wondered why you didn’t.”
“What a question,” said Phyllis. “Humans are superior to cats, but you don’t just go murder all cats.”
Cecil Milan had brought some super-enthusiastic member of the public into the VRspace, who was jumping up and down, probably trying to win some fabulous fashion week-related trip giveaway.
Bella drank, and Phyllis watched the TV, until there was a faint buzzing at the door like a loud fly.
Phyllis kept watching TV, and Bella turned toward the gravimetrically sealed doorway, which looked out onto a spray of shadowy rocks and purple stars. A ghostly apparition was slowly floating toward the door, arms outstretched comically. Buffa’s personal shield, reading the change in her sympathetic nervous system, activated itself automatically, and she reflexively flexed her arm, which contained all the firepower she needed, but Phyllis just kept wiping the bar and half looking at the TV.
A moment later the apparition reached the threshold, hit the gravity of the bar, and walked casually in.