Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 8
May 2011 20

Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 8

Posted In Blog,Books,Entertainment,Fiction,Geek,Internuts

by Mur Lafferty

SuicdeGirls presents the eighth installment of our Fiction Friday sci-fi series, Marco and the Red Granny, which is brought to you by SG columnist Mighty Mur a.k.a. cyber commentator Mur Lafferty.

Marco and the Red Granny is set in a not-so-distant future where an alien species, the Li-Jun, has transformed the moon into the new artistic center of the universe, where the Sally Ride Lunar Base soon gains the nickname “Mollywood.” These aliens can do amazing things with art and the senses, allowing a painting, for example, to stimulate senses other than sight.

In the previous installments, Marco, a writer whose career has long been in the doldrums, gets a surprise call from an agent he thought he no longer had, informing him that he had received an offer from Mollywood for a much coveted Li-Jun patronage.

Keen to catch up career-wise with his ex-GF Penelope, who’d unceremoniously dumped him after being recruited by the Li-Jun two years earlier, Marco jumps on the next shuttle to the moon. Once aboard, he finds himself sitting next to a seemingly unassuming old lady called Heather, who turns out to be The Red Granny, a legend in Li-Jun’s reality show world for being a three-time champion of The Most Dangerous Game (which requires contestants to sign away the rights to their life).

After settling into his new accommodations at House Blue, Marco has a brief meeting with his new patron, a Li-Jun called Thirteen. It’s only then that Marco realizes he’s never been shown the terms of his employment, and a sense of unease sets in. That evening, Marco is taken on a trip to see The Red Granny in action in The Most Dangerous Game. After a bloody battle, the senior reality TV star is again victorious. The viciousness of the game however, leaves The Red Granny unconscious, and Marco shocked, disturbed, and in need of a stiff drink.

Unfortunately stiff drinks are frowned upon by the Li-Jun, so at the 2Two2, a bar specifically created for humans, Marco has to console himself with a fisheye – a drink that tastes of oranges and spice, and contains the story A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As soon as he finishes it, a second drink appears in front of him. When he asks who bought it, the barkeep points to a woman across the room who looks suspiciously like Penelope. Deciding to call it a night, Marco is escorted home to House Blue. Later that night, The Red Granny, who’s much recovered thanks to the miraculous work of the Li-Jun paramedics, sneaks into his room with an illicit cocktail created by the Alcoholics Guild. Before leaving him to his already disturbed slumber, The Red Granny warns Marco that in the morning he’s destined to learn first hand about the probing process that enables the Li-Jun to put taste into paintings, music into pie, and stories into (nonalcoholic) beverages.

Marco and the Red Granny – Part 8
Six had laid out a silk robe for him and he slipped it on. The silk was chilly against his bare skin and he felt quite underdressed as the diminutive alien came to get him. “Can’t I put on shoes or something?” he asked, but she shook her head, her tentacles waving in little waves he found oddly soothing.

“You will be comfortable enough,” she said. “Just come with me.”

Again, it wasn’t an invitation or request. Marco swallowed and tightened his robe, hearing a quiet lullaby as he did so. He followed Six down the hall. It was 7:00am GMT, and the house was beginning to bustle with activity. Bright lights gave a pleasant glow to the hallways and rooms branching off, imitating sunlight during the long lunar evening. Li-Jun glided from room to room, some on clear domestic duties, some with more pressing business. Six stepped aside from each Li-Jun, submissively, and Marco figured she had to be the last on the totem pole. He felt a little sorry for her.

His pity melted like ice on a hot stove when she led him through a door on the second floor and into a windowless room. She grasped the robe with her tentacles and pulled it off him, her strength much greater than his own.

“Whoa, hey!” he yelled, grabbing for the robe as she pulled it away from him. “What the hell?”

“Please, Marco, relax,” the soft voice of Thirteen floated over to him, and he relaxed immediately. He understood it was part of their skill to mix emotions with other senses, and resented it. He covered himself as best he could with his hands and glared at her.

The room was dark, but he could make out at least two Li-Jun milling in a corner, and Thirteen was at the far end of the room, adjusting the controls on a box that stood against the wall. It was probably twice as big as a coffin would be, wider and deeper.

Marco jumped as Six began putting sticky white electrodes on him, her tentacles quick and precise. Some went on his neck, some on his forehead, some behind his ear. Others went on his chest, back, thighs, and she darted in with one tentacle to place one exactly between his balls and his ass.

Blood surged to his face and he moved to pull it off, but she caught his hand. “Please don’t remove the electrodes,” she said.

He snarled and batted her tentacles away, and she retreated. He didn’t know if he had won at his little rebellion, or if she was merely done.

“I know it seems new, Marco, and possibly somewhat startling, but it’s all necessary. Once we go through this last test, we can discuss the terms of the patronage.”

I’m not sure this whole patronage thing is a good idea, he thought, but kept his mouth shut.

-Only to have it pried open by Six, stuffing a breathing apparatus into his mouth. He expected it to taste like rubber, but it was an amazingly neutral taste, nothing good or bad or noticeable. She fitted the mask behind his ears. Two inserted smaller tubes with putty-like washers into his nose, forming a seal.

“We are going to place you in a sensory deprivation chamber, Marco,” Thirteen said. “You will feel nothing, taste nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, and smell nothing. We will be stimulating parts of your body, encouraging hormones, synapses, other things, in order to read you better. This is our first step in creating our art; it’s really your art, because all of your work will be flavored by your own passion.”

There’s that word again, he thought.

Marco wanted to refuse, to see what would happen. He wanted to stand up, to say he didn’t want the patronage and- and what? Go back to earth and live in his miserable dark apartment? And write? No agent would touch him if he refused Li-Jun patronage. The only career ahead of him was to make coffee, or maybe open his own coffee house someday.

With what money and business sense? he wondered. Did all artists really go through this? Was this a dirty secret of patronage?

“This will last approximately fifteen minutes. If you encounter any distress, just press the red button, that’s the emergency release,” Thirteen said as Marco tried to avoid the tentacles pressing against his bare back, guiding him into the chamber.

That’s not so bad, he thought. At least this messed up dance has a safe word.

He went into the chamber and spotted the red button on the ceiling. The door closed and Marco was sheathed in darkness. It was a frightening darkness, the kind that made him open his eyes wide, desperate to drink in any light at all.

He jumped slightly as pumps engaged and viscous fluid began to gush out of faucets at the back. It was quite warm, nearly the temperature of his own body. It filled the chamber quickly, and he breathed a little quicker, the claustrophobia pressing in. He thought about the little button on the ceiling.

Once the fluid closed over his ears, he could hear nothing, not even his own frightened breathing or his heart pounding. He tried to hum, make any sound, but whatever the liquid was completely shut down his eardrums.

The fluid had now covered him, filling the chamber completely. The warmth matched his body heat perfectly, and his skin didn’t even register the small currents caused by his own movements. He would have to endure fifteen minutes of maddening emptiness?

He breathed deeply and tried to relax. It was peaceful, floating here, but with no stimulus at all, his brain began to race.

Had it been fifteen minutes yet? Certainly five had passed by now. One-third of the way there. What were they tracking? He had no idea. The electrodes were soft and barely noticeable on his skin, even the one between his legs.

He shifted in the water, trying to force a current. He tried to touch his face, or clasp his hands, but although he could tell his hand met with an obstacle, his brain did not register that he had touched anything.

Vertigo gripped him and he flailed in panic, his limbs reaching out to touch the walls but finding nothing. She’d said to press a red button, but when he could see and feel nothing, how was he supposed to find a red button? He tried to scream into the mask but his ears couldn’t catch the sound vibrations in his own head.

Sensory deprivation nitwit, he thought. Calm down.

Panting, he slowed his movements and concentrated on breathing deeply. He wasn’t in pain, he could breathe, and he was fine. And this was only for fifteen minutes, right?

And it wasn’t total sensory deprivation, either. He could smell something coming through the tubes, a distant smell of baking. It wasn’t steady; it more had the sense of walking past a kitchen as someone pushed a door open, letting some of the aroma escape. What was it? Cookies?

Marco’s father used to bake cookies. It was their Thursday night ritual: bake cookies, watch a movie or a football game, and he’d get to stay up a little later than usual. They started it soon after Marco’s mother had died, and it always brought the sense of safety, of love, of slight bittersweet memory.

After he had moved out, he continued baking on Thursday nights, just for himself, and he’d send his father email every Thursday night to talk about the latest movie or football game. When he finally got his father set up with a vidphone, they’d had phone calls.

He had tried to share his Thursday night ritual with only one other person. Penelope had had to work late that night. She had apologized, but she never really got how important Thursday nights were to Marco, and he didn’t bake for her again. She was a pastry chef; she always did the baking anyway.

His father had never worked late on a Thursday.

As her memory surfaced, he felt the bitter disappointment he’d felt that night, the painful betrayal.

A taste touched his tongue then, coming through the mask. Cinnamon and sweet, turning hot after a moment. Like the cinnamon candies. Those candies had been on a coffee table the night before his friend Reggie’s thirteenth birthday party. He’d been twelve, waiting with Joanne, a childhood friend, for Reggie’s mother to stop futzing with his tie back in a bedroom. Marco had eaten a cinnamon candy and started in surprise when the heat had grown uncomfortable.

“Damn, that’s hot,” he’d told Joanne.

She had grinned at him. “Aww, want me to kiss it and make it better?”

“Yeah,” Marco replied, joking.

And then her lips had been on his, touching, slightly clumsy, fleeting. Then Reggie had been ready and they’d bustled to the party, Marco’s head reeling. Nothing more ever happened with Joanne, but Marco had always associated the fire of cinnamon with the breathless rush of that first kiss.

His heartbeat quickened and his cheeks warmed with the memory.

More memories came, the coarse feel of his first dog’s fur and the thrill of exploring the woods with him. The cheap beer that had been on his tongue when he’d asked out the hottest woman in the bar and the accompanying shame when she had laughed. Grief as distant as an old toothache triggered by the sounds of bug zappers, placed all over the mausoleum where his mother had been interred. As his senses were stimulated by different sounds, tastes, odors, and feelings, memories surged, leaving him angry, thrilled, shamed, and grief-stricken. Memories of Penelope kept surfacing: her perfume, the feel of her straight black hair, the sounds she made when they made love, and the ratty Notre Dame sweatshirt she’d been wearing the day she’d received the letter of patronage and had dumped him after his envious, childish tantrum.

Shame and grief. It overwhelmed him, his chest tightened, and his tears floated off into the viscous liquid. Please, let me think about something else. Stop reminding me about Penelope, he thought.

He’d burned dinner the night his letter rejecting patronage came through, and drank beer instead. The taste of the hot, thick, bile of the subsequent hangover flooded his mouth, and the same impotent rage bloomed in his chest.

And they continued to come. At this point, Marco began to sob, overwhelmed, no matter whether the emotion the Li-Jun triggered, he sobbed more, despair and confusion taking over. He felt wind on his face, reminding him of the roller coaster he’d been on as a child, but he sobbed still. No more, please.

Fifteen minutes has to have passed. It has to end soon, he thought, feeling the tingling rush of sexual excitement as he heard the deep thumping of the drum and bass music Penelope liked to make love to. Even after she left, the sound of that music never failed to stimulate him, and he hated it and the memory it brought with it.

The shame of his arousal, of knowing they were watching, monitoring him, caused him to flail about again, screaming through his sobs into the mask, even as the sensations increased, causing him undeniable pleasure despite his attempts to ignore it, despite his embarrassment, and he wept as he shuddered in release, the music pounding in his head, the scent of Penelope in his nostrils, and pure hatred for the bastards who did this to him.

All sensation ceased. He panted and bit hard on the mask, trying to calm himself. He could suddenly feel his hair, wet and matted, cool in the air. He realized the fluid was draining, his skin finally able to feel again. Once the fluid went below his eyes, he blinked and could see through the glass at the impassive aliens watching him, Thirteen watching the computer bank connected to his tank.

As the fluid drained, a speaker popped to life above him. “That was excellent, Marco, thank you,” said Thirteen’s voice. “We’re going to recommend you go back to your quarters now. You likely will want a shower and rest.”

***
Excerpt from the Marco and the Red Granny, published by Restless Brain Media at Smashwords. Copyright 2010 Mur Lafferty.

Mur Lafferty is an author and podcast producer. She has released several works via audio podcast, including her novel Playing For Keeps, the novellas in the Heaven series, the audio drama The Takeover, and many others. She’s won the Parsec Award and the Podcast Peer award. Her published works include Playing For Keeps (Swarm), Nanovor: Hacked (Running Press Kids), and Tricks of the Podcasting Masters (Que), not to mention several short stories. She is the host of I Should Be Writing and the Angry Robot podcasts, as well as the editor of Escape Pod, the sci-fi audio magazine. Marco and the Red Granny was originally published as the premier podcast serial at Hub Magazine, and is available for Kindle via Amazon.

Mur lives in Durham, NC with her husband, Jim Van Verth, their daughter, and two dogs. You can find her in the Murverse, at Smashwords and on Twitter.

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