Plugs

This guy comes up the block in a silver jumpsuit, and he’s thinking, I could move to one of those LaGrange orbitals. Plenty of jobs up there, and all kinds of relocation bonuses…

Another guy, older, coming the other way in a plaid jacket that totally clashes with the tattoo on his face, is remembering the cliffhanger ending from last night’s episode of /Urges/, playing it over and over in his mind. He seems to be more interested in the cutting remark that Lola just made to Charles, and less in the way the elevator is falling out of control.

A woman on the expresswalk is going over what she needs to do to clinch the Callazon deal — if she drops the renewal price by 3% and moves the upgrade window from five months to four… Biv in sales owes her a favor anyway. And if she lands this one, Robertson will have to promote her. He’ll have to, no matter what he thinks about clones — the bigot.

There’s silver jumpsuit guy again, going the other way, thinking: …or one of the undersea domes, lots of jobs there, too. And they have great schools — now that I’m pregnant, I can’t just think about myself. I’m sure I’ll get used to the damp eventually. They say it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as it really is…

A woman passes by, wondering if she should stop off at this coffee shop or wait and just grab a cup from the machine in the lobby at the office, which tastes as good, but the foam’s always a little flat. She doesn’t stop.

A man with one of those biofeedback jackets glides by, mellow and smug. He’s thinking, yeah, it was expensive, but it looks just like my own hair, and with the foil lining, I don’t have to worry about those damn headhoppers anymore. My thoughts are my own!

Latte nearly comes out of my nose at that one. Like anyone cares what he gets up to when he goes virtual, even if he is stealing company linktime to do it. And I hope his real hair didn’t look like that.

You’re right, we should move on; we’ve been here like forty-five minutes. Even though nobody’s noticed, they might.

Wait — here comes that guy in the jumpsuit again.

The Black Goat of the Woods, Shub-Niggurath, pranced obscenely through the red-litten clearing, its worshippers copulating frenziedly beneath its myriad udders. Soon, they would seize their obsidian knives and begin to slash at one another in an ecstacy of sanguinary lust. Shub-Niggurath would feast, but would take the best bits home for its Thousand Young. Especially its favorite, Shubbie the 422nd.

The Vermilion Gopher of the Plains, Aug’-Durlett, popped menacingly from one of its myriad holes. A nitid effluent of its malevolence poured forth, blotting out the sun. Traffic on I-70 came to a halt, and there was much rending of metal and spilling of entrails. Aug’-Durlett’s 230 Wives and 1973 Young would eat well tonight in yellow-litten Yah-Squireel.

Hamstur the Unspeakable, Tawny Gerbil of Doom, raced disturbingly upon the shrieking Wheel of Abomination. The slumber of sensitive souls was disrupted across the globe by a myriad ear-piercing squeaks, and even the mighty wizard Fak-bel Knaplung vainly pressed its withered hands to its shockingly hairy organs of audition.

The Ebon Cricket of the Sinister Bamboo Palace, Shrikk the Inaudible, played upon its shockingly malformed limbs a paean of charnel desecration and soul-destroying horror. Dogs throughout east Asia howled in anguish, annoying the just and unjust alike. Yabu Dabi-Tzhoo, Lord of Kay-Na’ein, lept through a foul depiction in stained glass of the Vivisection of the Myriad, and vanished from mortal ken, leaving behind an appalling stench.

Myriads flooded the streets as the Sigil of Unpleasantness, alluded to in the Pleistocene Upchuktic Manuscript, fulminated and was not consumed in the sky above Lichtenstein. Interminable was the wailing and many were the unattractive facial expressions manifested on the green-litten visages of the unhappy Lichtensteiners, for they could feel the fat profits from the tourist trade sublimating from their wallets, retail establishments, and entertainment facilities in the abhorrent effulgence discharged by the Lime-Green Sign.

Much was the inadvertent discharge of bodily fluids and other organic substances as the myriad Calamari of Chaos floated to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, broadcasting their unhallowed and vile thoughts to all within line-of-sight and, after nightfall, those reachable by reflection from the Heaviside layer.

As the human race, insignificant pustule on the acne-scarred backside of Planet Dirt, wailed, moaned, and perished, the Great Old Ones, including Retrievotep, He Who Inexorably Returns, and Nemah-Toad, She Who Burrows Within, began to feed.

And short-lived but heartfelt was the lamentation engendered therefrom.

End

I made her swallow it, just before she died. Her blue eyes washed pale with fear.

‘So you’ll come back,’ I said.

She was frail, so light she made no dent on the mattress. Her hair was bleached by the surf, from the days when she would ride the swell, thinking of ways to leave me. It fell out in clumps on her pillow when she tried to move, to relieve the ache wading through her bones.

When finally her eyes rolled back, I picked her up. She was bird-light.

Four years together. We were perfect. She’d loved me for so long without my knowing; when she declared, I was amazed, grateful, bewildered, ecstatic. Eventually I believed in only us. I had not truly seen her before. Everything became peripheral to my obsession: her taste, her touch, her voice, she became breath to me.

Then she decided to leave. Said I smothered her, that she no longer recognised the woman she had loved. That, in being so immersed in her, I had become less than I had been. She thought I didn’t hear the furtive phone calls, didn’t see the flirty emails.

She stopped noticing me. I tried to speak of the clever things I once knew and embraced, but I’d forgotten them; or they had forgotten me and were not forgiving. And I had cast aside my friends long ago.

I carved it from wood, hollowed out the small oval, stuffed in clippings of my hair, dripped in menstrual blood, sealed it up with bees wax and whispered over it. I cooked all her favourite dishes. When she started to get sick, she needed me again.

Six months ago I laid her in the ground. I’ve bided my time, letting the need build until tonight. I whispered her name, spoke the words to the earth so they’d seep into her bed of dirt.

It’s a moonless night. I hear the door creak, familiar and sad. The bed moves. I smell decay and things best left alone. The bitter taste in my throat may be regret, may be fear. I thought the arsenic would have preserved her better. She slithers across the sheets and settles her rotting flesh against mine, her fetid mouth pressed to my ear and whispers, ‘I’m home, my love. I came when you called and I’ll never leave you.’

Carla backed up so she could see the reef better. A tessellation of almost-identical shells, each occupied by something vaguely resembling an octopus, individually as intelligent as a cat, and about half the size of a cryopod. As in a coral, the “animals” were connected, forming one colonial organism. It sounded like the cell right in front of her was the one that had spoken. Last time, the colony had been much smaller, and it had not understood her next question.

“Which one of you spoke?”

I am only one. There is no one else but you.

That was interesting. The first few visits, she had not been sure it recognized her as an independent entity. And the language lessons she’d broadcast from the buoy seemed to have been assimilated. Was it gaining intelligence as it grew? She went through the rest of the questions, recording the answers.

“I’ll be back next year. Your health and prosperity.”

As on her previous visits, it only responded to direct questions.

You have returned. Why?

The reef was huge, extending several meters above sea level and for kilometers along the sand ridge. The base was lost in darkness. She hovered above the waves on the seaward side. As always, it seemed that the polyp directly in front of her was the speaker, though she never could see an organ moving or vibrating. She set up a slow leftward drift of the skimmer, to see if the conversation stayed with the original polyp or moved with her.

“You are my research project,” she said. “I study you, to find out how you grow, how you think, what you do.” The reef was silent for a bit.

Again, why? Small organisms that I eat don’t visit me. Only you visit me, and you are not like anything else I know. The voice moved with her, transferring seamlessly from one polyp to the next.

“I visit you because my people want to learn about others. Because we are not alone.”

Another pause.

Do you know others like me?

“I don’t,” she said. She and her Thesis Committee had agreed to say nothing about the fossil reefs stranded 100 meters above sea level. The reef spoke again.

I will create a motile form. It will transport my essence as you do for your “people.” There will be more like me. They will speak with you.

Your health and prosperity.

end

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