Chapter Nine

Jardel knocked on the bright red door. She noticed the mailbox was full of mail and took it out. Although every resident of the commonwealth had instant access to email, there wasn’t a whole lot to do for humans these days and a lot of the old jobs arose from sheer boredom. Being a letter carrier was so popular that there was a waiting list.

A chain rattled from inside, a lock slid back into its slot, and the door swung in on its hinges revealing Old Lady Vic.

“Honey, I didn’t mean for you to come all the way up here. You could have called me and walked me through it.”

“I don’t mind,” said Jardel. “I couldn’t sleep anyway.”

“Sleep! At a time like this?” Vic said. “Come in, come in.”

Jardel walked into the house; the lime green carpet soft under her feet. Old Lady Vic plopped herself down on the equally lime green couch and exhaled loudly.

Jardel tried not to show her shock at how much Lady Vic had aged since she had last seen her. Jardel had done 30 years in hyper-sleep and had only been out a year, so it was 31 years ago, probably to the day, that she had seen Vic and Vic looked it. Vic was old, at least in her 50’s when Jardel had last seen her, and it was weird seeing anyone older than 30 back then. Now she looked to be at least 80. Jardel’s helmet was following a little too close when Jardel stopped and it bumped into her. “Sit,” Jardel said to the helmet and it parked itself on the coat rack. In doing so, the oranges fell out onto the floor.

“You hungry?” Vic asked, motioning to the kitchen table. “Eat.”

Jardel picked up the oranges and looked at the table covered in food. “Dear God woman. Did you make this or is it fab?”

“Fuck you. I made every goddamn one of those casseroles, meats, and desserts,” Vic said.

Jardel’s stomach reminded her that she hadn’t eaten in twelve hours by growling loudly. She walked over to the table, drawn like a tractor beam to the spread. It was a large table, covered in a hand stitched tablecloth. Pork, turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, dressing, gravies of all the good kinds, and desserts too many to count.

Jardel looked back.

“You sure?”

“I’ll cut your ass, you skinny bitch,” Vic snapped. “Of course I made those. All of them.”

“No, I meant, are you sure you don’t mind me eating your food?” Jardel said.

“What good does all that food do me? Those ants are gonna eat it all before any of my ungrateful neighbors respond to my invitation.”

“You don’t have too many neighbors anymore,” Jardel said as she fixed herself a plate.

“Like rats on a sinking ship, the spineless bastards.”

“Most of their kids have grown up and moved on,” Jardel said.

“It’s not that,” Lady Vic said. “It’s those cocksucking developers. They wanna turn this quaint neighborhood, the last little bit of nostalgia I got, into a motherfucking sports arena.”

“I’ve seen the plans. It’ll never pass,” Jardel said, sitting down with her plate of food. She realized she had forgotten to get a drink and went back to the kitchen.

“I know that, but these dimwitted dipshits I got for neighbors don’t and they’re scared. Goddamned pussies, every one.”

“What do you have to drink?” Jardel asked.

“Beer in the fridge. Wine beside the sink. Scotch in the cabinet above the sink,” Vic said pointing to the cabinet with her own glass of scotch.

Jardel opened the fridge, grabbed a beer, and sat back down to her plate of food.

“To the jump,” Jardel said and held up her beer to Vic.

“I don’t need no excuse to drink this early,” Vic said tossing back her drink.

“OK,” Jardel said taking a sip of her beer.

“Don’t you get righteous on me, dear,” Vic said. “Why the hell people wait until it gets dark to start drinking is beyond me.”

“Well,” Jardel said, “some of us have jobs.”

“Even more reason to drink during the day,” Vic said. “Believe me, you’d have much better luck finding a new boyfriend if you were half lit at lunchtime than going around stone cold sober like you’re doing now.”

“This is a damn good macaroni pie,” Jardel said stuffing her mouth.

“You’re trying to change the subject,” Vic said. “I know why you came on this trip and you need to get over that asshole. Move on.”

“I’m trying.”

“By going into hyper-sleep every five years? You’re sleeping your life away.”

“Well what are you doing?” Jardel said putting her plate of food down. “Look at you. Why are you letting yourself get old?”

“I earned these wrinkles, bitch, and ain’t beholden to nobody,” Vic said. “I still feel the same inside and these wrinkles keep those horny, cheating males from pawing at my tits. That funsuit is all I need and it pleases me like no man ever did. And holds me tight afterward.”

Jardel looked at Vic’s funsuit stationed in the corner. It loomed large, like a suit of black, shiny armor. In a moment of quick understanding Jardel realized you didn’t have to wear the suit to enjoy it. Jardel embarrassed herself thinking about little old Vic and that big, black suit getting it on and glanced at the floor. The funsuit’s feet were large, combat boot shit kickers, and as she looked at them she noticed a small, antlike stream of nanocells moved from one of the boots across the floor into the kitchen, up the legs of the table, and to the food.

Jardel rose and returned to the table. She looked closely and realized the ncells were taking small bits of food and carrying them, antlike, to the garbage chute in the sink. Jardel laughed.

“What the hell you laughing at?? Vic asked.

“You don’t have ants,” Jardel said. “When did you set this spread out?”

“Yesterday. Wait. What’s today?”

“Tuesday.”

“Ah hell, it might have been Sunday. Got my days mixed up. Thought we were jumping at the beginning of the week.”

“Your suit is saving you from a stomach ache, old woman. It’s recycling the spoiled parts,” she said pointing at the line of ncells.

“Goddammit,” Vic said. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I thought it was ants.”

“You ain’t bothering me,” Jardel said. “I’ve been meaning to visit you anyways.”

“Well fix me another scotch and let’s visit,” Vic said.

II

Jardel carried several beer bottles to the kitchen and tossed them in the trash. “And don’t get me started on Steadman!” she said. “I’d only been out of hypersleep a month; had barely finished my rehab when he asked me on a date! I can barely walk and he wants to get between my legs.”

“They’re worse than dogs,” Vic said. “All we are to them are pretty pots to squirt their little seeds into.”

“Disgusting.”

“But true,” Vic said.

“But true,” Jardel repeated. “You want another?”

“I’m breathing.”

Jardel smiled and pulled down the bottle of scotch and filled a clean glass. She grabbed a beer out of the fridge and walked back into the living room.

“And he thought I’d be impressed that he spent the last 30 years becoming a famous musician. Why would that impress me?”

“He’s pretty good,” Vic said. “I heard him on the radio.”

“Sure, if you like sappy love songs.”

“I’m a sucker for sappy love songs,” Vic said. “That one song, about the lady in the tower, I really like that.”

Jardel found this extremely funny. “You? Sappy love songs?” She handed the scotch to Vic. “I never would have thought.”

Vic took the drink and sipped it.

“I’ll be honest,” Jardel said. “I kinda like that one too, but don’t you ever tell him that.”

“I think that song is about you,” Vic said.

Jardel cocked her head to the side, going through the lyrics in her head for a moment. “Son of a bitch, it better not be,” she said, thinking out loud.

Vic smiled.

“Son of a bitch, you might be right.”

They looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“Fucking Steadman,” Jardel said.

“Fucking Steadman,” Vic repeated.

“I just want to get off this ship. I just want us to get to the new world; I don’t want another romance.”

“Why would you want to get off this wonderful ship?” Vic asked.

“I feel claustrophobic.”

“We have everything we could ever want here,” Vic said.

“I want to run through open fields…”

“We have those here,” Vic said.

“Yeah, but it’s an illusion. I know we’re inside a giant rock. I feel like I’m in prison.”

“You just want a bigger cage,” Vic said. “That’s all a planet is really.”

Jardel thought about this for a moment.

“The truth is, I’m just not very good at all this technological crap.”

“But you’re in IT,” Vic said.

“I know! I was a comp science major back home. I loved being surrounded by all the latest, shiny gizmos. I really did. But now…”

“We’re moving too fast.” Vic said.

“Exactly!” Jardel said standing. She paced in front of her chair. “I can’t keep up. And if I can’t keep up, how the hell is someone like you… no offence…”

“None taken.”

“… supposed to keep up. It’s ridiculous. Take this jump for example. What is wrong with flying a ship through this goddamned universe at half the speed of light? Like they used to!”

“No, that’s not good enough for us anymore. Now we just pinch space and time like some galactic snot rag and boom, we’re in another fucking galaxy.”

“It’s ridiculous. Do you have any idea what could go wrong?”

“Please don’t ruin my buzz by telling me.”

“I won’t. I’m just tired of this, what, race that we seem to be in to get to the end of everything.”

“If you keep hypersleeping, it’s going to get faster and faster for you. That’s why I just chill the fuck out and enjoy my funsuit, and when I can get a reservation, the simdeck.”

“The simdeck. Right,” Jardel said. “You mean the sex deck.”

“I know some people use it for that,” Vic said.

“Most people use it for that,” Jardel said. “Believe me, when I first started in IT, I had to clean that shit up.”

“I’m sorry,” Vic said.

“We have this giant, ship-spanning, magical device that you could use to explore ancient civilizations, sail the ocean or even just use it as an enormous LEGO set but no, the idiotic, human race has to use it for their fucked-up fantasies. Why can’t we use it for good?”

“On my last visit, I used it to try to solve an ancient mystery.”

“Oh, that sounds good,” Jardel said. “Which one?”

“You ever hear of the lost explorers of Mount Mechana?” Vic asked.

“No,” Jardel said truthfully, but unconsciously her eyes moved up and to the left as all humans are prone to do when they’re searching for a bit of information or trying to make something up. Her neural implants detected this and searched automatically for Mount Mechana Explorers. Her mind’s eye was filled with articles related to the search. She shook her head slightly, erasing the search.

“It was before the new beginning, before everything was segregated and you could just go to the jungles down south of the equator and risk your life for fortune and fame. Well these two explorers and their university sponsored expedition disappeared without a trace. One of the few unsolved mysteries that even the SI and the XI couldn’t solve, or maybe they didn’t want to waste cycles on it, so that’s what I did.”

“Really?” Jardel said.

“Yep. I got Dad to download all the ancient data on it and create this scenario for me and I spent a whole week on the simdeck and guess what?”

“What?”

“I found them!” Vic said.

“See, that’s what the simdeck was invented for,” Jardel said. “What happened?”

“It started out all academic. We documented all kinds of plants and animals that no one had heard of in a very long time. We found the trail of the lost explorers and then I was gang raped by a tribe of cannibals.”

“What?!” Jardel said.

“But it’s okay, I knew it was a possibility so I set a safe word with Dad before I left, just in case they got too rough. But they didn’t.”

“Wait. What?”

“And they tried to cook me in one of those big pots, but I freaked them out by eating the carrots and veggies they threw into the pot.”

“That doesn’t sound very authentic,” Jardel said.

“Oh, Jardel, it was great. It was just like the old stupid tv shows – a big old hot tub, but they couldn’t get the water hot enough to boil me, so I became their queen. And I punished those that tried to eat me by making them fight each other to the death.”

“That’s weird,” Jardel said.

“And by fight, I mean fuck,” Vic said.

“You made them fuck each other to the death?!” Jardel said.

“Well, I helped.”

“That is so wrong.”

“Well I did find and free the missing explorers,” Vic said.

“Well, I guess that’s good.”

“By free I mean fuck,” Vic said.

“Of course,” Jardel said finishing her beer in one big gulp.

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