Sunday, January 18, 2009

Anime stepped from the recessed bed, cool recycled air playing against her bare skin. She glanced down into the shallow contoured basin that held the gel mattress; the man's sleeping body had curled into a fetal position beneath the randomly flickering translucent sheets. She was reminded of insect pupae, snug in cocoons of dried slime while the world progressed around them as if in time-lapse.

The buoyant lunar gravity seemed to caress her as she navigated the darkened bedroom. She had ever known the torturous pull of Earth or the chest-constricting push of take-off. Her bones, though augmented by supplements and periodically refreshed by nanomachines, were as temperamental as so many glass sticks.

The bedroom was cavernous: faceted walls, dormant flatscreens, polished lunar regolith that absorbed shadow like some vampirish sponge. Silicates extracted from lunar soil had been turned into walls of opaque glass inset with palm-sized newsfeeds and free-form holography. The screens bled light, illuminating transparent furniture, scattered components of virtuality workstations. A brain-link lay coiled on the floor between her feet, nasal studs encrusted with blood and mucus. The man she had slept with had used it before they had gone to bed, his eyes staring at nothing.

One side of the room featured a louvered window, shut to block the unfiltered glare of the Sun across the ash-gray plain. Invisible retinal scanners sensed the intent in her eyes and the louvers parted with a quick whispering sound. The man continued sleeping, chest heaving beneath the sheets. Mossy-green light played across his closed eyelids.

Standing naked in the dark, she wondered if she was something more than the moonbase's AI, a mere extension of its sensory embrace. She knew she was artificial; she had seen her own skin lifted from a frothing vat like a pinkish wetsuit, hands like empty gloves, facial features deflated into a thoroughly demeaning caricature. The techs had installed her sense of body-identity before adding the actual body; her abrupt adolescence had been spent in a grueling immersive dialogue with Turing auditors.

Her first vision of the world -- the real world, as opposed to the auditors' cybernetic fictions – had come when her body had achieved a semblance of womanhood. She remembered awakening in a scalding foam of nanomachines, gloved hands drawing her up into a haze of disembodied eyes and fluorescent strips that left rungs of purple light on her newborn retinas. She knew intuitively why the techs were wearing rebreather masks; she was an infestation in the form of a woman, to be handled with obsessive care.

Shortly thereafter, the first of her implanted memories had risen to the surface, as silently and impersonally as newsfeeds. She knew they weren't true memories -- her designers hadn't wanted to deceive her into adopting some phantom past. Not for her convenience, but for theirs: her sudden emergence on the Moon would have taxed any fictitious past, breaking its own narrative stability and quite likely her psyche in the process.

The Moon appeared behind the polarized glass: a tortured yet somehow peaceful surface of petrified dunes and hulking rocks that gleamed near-silver in the light from the landing beacons. The Earth was an anonymous crescent, defining features veiled by cloud.

Memories: episodic flashes of oceans overgrown with a gray, fibrous substrate, hordes of metal insects dripping their armored eggs over quarantined cities. A mushroom cloud seen from a great distance: as insubstantial as a cheap hologram -- not the incandescent orange she would have expected had the memory actually been hers, but a sickly luminous gray-brown . . . the unassuming color of a camouflaged moth.

She walked away from the window, a chill creeping up her legs as she headed for the bathroom and donned a thin white robe. Above the toilet -- little more than a streamlined bulge emerging from the yielding dun-colored tile -- was a mirror. She looked into it wincingly, bothered by the quizzical stare, lank black hair, pursed lips.

Anime wondered whose DNA was incubating beneath the unassuming olive of her custom-crafted skin. For some reason it seemed to matter, as acutely as if she carried some potent and uncategorized virus. Again, memories of Earth, leaving a taste like cheap plastic in her mouth.


Colette said...

Very well done.

Absorbing and eerily transcendental.

Mac said...

Damn. I was going for "eerie and transcendentally absorbing"! ;-)

Colette said...


Seriously - you are a great writer, Mac. I love your writing. Truly.