(This is a photograph of a bar designed by HR Giger. I know, right?)
Previous episodes are here, here, here and here.
Cara ushered them through a set of double doors into a small lounge, where chairs shaped like clam shells were arranged around rectangular tables. Which would not have attracted anyone’s notice aside from the fact that everything floated a good foot above the floor.
Cara caught their mutual expressions of disbelief and laughed.
‘Rare earth magnets and molybdenum. They can take the weight of a Gysterfanica warpod, so we’ll be fine, I promise.’
She gestured towards the bar.
‘Now, I will get us drinks, and you have to trust me here. There are at least eighteen things on the menu that will kill you and about thirty that will turn you blind or insane.’
Drea chuckled and shook her head.
‘Sounds like my kind of bar. Although what the fuck is a Gysterwhatever?’
Gloria saw that Olivia had turned tense and pale, she put a hand on her shoulder and asked if she was okay. Olivia gave a tight nod and took a deep breath.
‘It’s a lot to take in, you know? My biggest concern was keeping the farm running and maybe someone to run it with, ya know?’
Gloria saw the pensive light in her eyes and expressed a true pang of sympathy for her. At least her and Drea had some form of pop culture to inoculate them against all of this, but Olivia was experiencing the cognitive dissonance that would result from giving a Victorian lady a Hitachi Magic Wand.
‘If it’s any consolation, I am ready to run around screaming at any possible minute. So look, let’s keep this in perspective. If you’re mad, then so am I and if we’re not, then we see what she has to say. Deal?’
Olivia managed a terse smile and put a callused hand out to shake. Gloria shook it and grinned, surprised at the strength she manifested in a causal handshake. Farm girls, she thought. The contact was enlivening and grounding, reminding her that she was not the only one going through this.
Cara came back with a black slate tablet and gestured to a nearby table.
‘Drea, a warpod is a species of an intelligent mollusc race that used to cause all kinds of shit, but they’re absolutely hilarious once you get over the whole cultural barrier. Now let’s sit down and I can fill you all in on the next bit.’
Drea frowned and pointed to the tablet in Cara’s hands.
‘Where are our drinks? If I’m going to listen to more space cosmic shit, then I want at least one entertaining anecdote to wake up with.’
Cara rolled her eyes and placed the tablet onto the table, where it sank into the surface with the ease of a pebble dropped into a body of water. Four tumblers emerged from the mass of the table and immediately filled with an orange carbonated liquid. In the centre rose a small column that began to glow and hum with a sequence of different colours. The air around them vibrated and became tangible against their skins as they sat down.
Drea picked up the tumbler and took a sniff. It carried an oily, citrus scent and when she brought it to her lips, it was thick and warm with the aftertaste of bubbles. She set it down and stared into space for a second then looked at the three of them in turn.
‘When I used to watch Star Trek, they all used to drink these fruity, strange looking drinks and I always wondered how they tasted.’
Cara picked hers up and raised it.
‘Here’s to mayhem.’
The three women looked at one another, with mutual apprehension before Olivia and Gloria took sips of their drinks. When their powers of speech returned to him, Gloria asked if she could have a drop of water added to hers. Cara chuckled and said that she could, but only if she wanted it to explode in her lower intestine. Gloria set the drink down and it melted into the body of the table.
‘That’s a perfectly fine Undara Surprise you’re not drinking.’
Gloria winced and shook her head. She leaned forward, forearms resting on her thighs, afraid to touch the table in case it did something to her. She had always believed that the future would appear bizarre and at too high a velocity for a traveller from the past, but she could not say whether this was the future or not. Cara was the only recognizable human, and Gloria noted that her syntax and intonation had an odd, stilted quality to it.
‘I’ve had enough surprises to last me a lifetime. So, now that we’re all settled, why don’t you tell us what we’re supposed to do.’
Cara downed her drink in one and set it onto the table.
‘I like a woman who gets down to business. So, I’ve chosen the three of you-‘
Olivia coughed as she took another sip, with her eyes glazed over and a beatific smile on her face.
‘This stuff is…yeah…it kind of creeps up on you, don’t it?’
Drea tried to give her a thumbs up, but the brain-body connection that she took for granted had surrendered to whatever was in the drinks. Instead she gave a sloppy grin and tried to arrange her features into some kind of order that denoted mindfulness and concentration. She failed, but she figured it was worth the try.
‘It’s okay, it wears off in a bit if you just have the one, plus I’ve got RB’s if anyone’s a bit too off their tits.’
‘Arby’s?’ Gloria said.
Cara shook her head.
‘Receptor blockers, basically sobers you up instantly. I swear by them, especially with the diplomatic functions I have to attend.’
Gloria sat back and decided to go with the confusion. Source yourself in nothingness, she told herself and let it all happen. She remembered the retreat at Spirit Rock meditation centre, how it had removed the thorn of grief left in her heart’s paw, but it still stung when she moved.
‘Anyway, so what makes us so special?’ Gloria said.
Cara pointed at her with her index finger and the platinum ring there began to glow with a soothing amber light.
‘You in particular, or in general?’
‘THIS BOY WEARS COVERS, KIND OF HIM TO FAINT.’
The four of them turned as a Klee cloud from earlier billowed into the room exuding drunken indignation, which resembled in it’s scent signature, a gas station bathroom at four a.m. Cara rolled her eyes.
Olivia raised her hand.
‘The guy said it was because ah can shoot.’
Gloria fought to keep the consternation from her face, for fear of offending Olivia, who had inspired a protectiveness in her even though they were roughly the same age. There was a lack of sophistication to her that Gloria warmed to, from the very first. Cara gave her the thumbs up.
‘Yes, you, my dear, are a regular Carlos Hathcock. Also you give off a tremendous amount of potential energy when viewed from my particular perspective.’
Drea sat back in her chair, cautious because she realised that she was sitting in something with no apparent means of support.
‘There’s better fighters than me, out there. No shame in that.’ she said.
Cara nodded, in agreement.
‘Again, I’m working from a particular set of criteria here. Sure, you may not be Ronda Rousey but all my data centred around you three as a cluster of possibility.’
‘You’re using English, but I will be damned if I know what you’re talking about.’
Cara’s humour left her and she fixed Gloria with a look that could freeze the blood in her veins.
‘I could give you reassuring techno babble, none of which you would understand and we could waste time. I chose you because all the horribly sophisticated intelligence arrays and the experiences I have had, most of which will have shortened my life expectancy by centuries said that you three would be the most effective means of subduing -‘
Olivia cocked an eyebrow.
‘Y’all said kill.’
Cara nodded and waved her off, her attention focused on Gloria like a magnifying glass on an anthill.
‘Subdue, kill, either way if we don’t stop the Leviathan, there will be months of diplomatic wrangling, some messy and futile military action and then nothing.’
‘Nothing doesn’t sound that bad.’ Drea said.
Cara blinked slowly and sat up, pulling her shoulders back and lifting her chin.
‘When I say nothing, because my fear is that Leviathan will eat creation itself, or enough of it to make sure that our lives, inconsequential as they may be, are no longer around to be mourned.’
Gloria tried to imagine nothingness, much like the concept of zero, it took a great deal to approximate the idea of it. Endless possibilities, ended and she would never see or experience any of it. She thought about it on a smaller, more manageable set of concepts. No more running in the mornings, no more books to be written or read. No more ‘I love yous’.
‘So come it falls to you?; Gloria said.
Cara winked at her.
‘You know how Bond was the bastard of the British Empire, you know, everyone knew it was him coming if you messed with the empire and he was going to kick seven shades of shit out of you, raid your liquor cabinet and shag your girlfriend?’
Gloria smiled, warmed by the endearing swagger that Cara projected.
‘You’re the alien equivalent.’ she said.
Cara winked at her and made finger pistols.
‘Got it in one, but part of it means that I get a degree of levity that means I can move resources around faster than organisations or governments can. You three are assets that all my intelligence shows to be the most effective, least messy way of sorting this out. I outfit you with the kit, point you in the right direction and we all go home at the end of the day. That’s really about it.’
Gloria chuckled and shook her head.
‘I write books, what possible kit do I think I can get from you?’
Cara reached inside her jacket and retrieved a slim case, the kind that you would find a decent fountain pen within, a gift set that looked classy but showed little to no consideration. She slid it across the table to Gloria.
Gloria looked down at it, then back up at Cara who gave her a challenging, smug expression. She opened it slowly then looked up and sneered.
‘False nails and contact lenses? How the fuck am I meant to save creation with that?”
TO BE CONTINUED