Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 9
May 2011 27

Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 9

Posted In Blog,Books,Entertainment,Fiction

by Mur Lafferty

SuicdeGirls presents the ninth 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.

The next day, Marco learns first hand about the process that enables the Li-Jun to put taste into paintings, music into pie, and stories into (nonalcoholic) beverages. Having had his deepest and most depraved memories dredged up in a claustrophobic sensory deprivation tank so they can be monitored and recorded, Marco is in need of a shower. However, having been thoroughly probed by the aliens, he knows no amount of water will wash his mind clean of the experience.

Marco and the Red Granny – Part 9
There was no timer on the shower this time, and Marco stayed in it for twenty minutes, hot water turning his skin red, his head leaning against the frosted glass of the shower. The silk robe had been replaced by a soft, puffy cotton robe, and he dried off and wrapped it around himself, recognizing the smell of cookies as he wrapped himself in the robe, resenting it but still accepting the calm it gave him.

His brain tried to register surprise that Heather sat in his room when he came out of the bathroom, but he was just too tired.

“So doors don’t lock around here, do they?” he asked.

Her thin fingers wrapped around a steaming blue mug. She reached to the table and passed him an identical mug, this one full of coffee. He accepted it.

“Our patrons don’t have anything to hide, and they don’t think we should either. You can probably guess they don’t have a lot of understanding of shame or nudity.”

He thought of the situation he’d just been through and his stomach twisted. He sipped at the coffee to keep from shaking. “I don’t have anything to hide, not anymore.”

“It is rough,” she agreed.

“Did you go through that? Does everyone?” he asked, sitting on his bed and pulling the covers over his legs. His sheets had been changed to soft linen that brought to mind the scent of lavender. He drank deeply of the strong coffee.

She regarded him over her mug. “Of course they do. I told you, the Li-Jun do not feel passion. This is how they merge sensory output, how they put taste in a locket or a song into a dress.”

“So do they want me for my writing and illustration skill or my memories and emotions?”

Her brown eyes didn’t waver. “I honestly don’t know.”

He put down the empty mug, which had suddenly become too heavy. “Do I have to go through that again?” he asked in a small voice.

The Red Granny, whom he had recently witnessed kill two people in arena blood sports, rose from her chair and came over to him. She sat on the bed and wrapped her arms around him. “Oh no, honey, you won’t have to go through that again, ever. They’ve got all your sensory-emotional connections, they don’t need any more.”

He leaned into her, accepting the maternal care, and closed his eyes. The scent of cookies and lavender seeped away, and he smelled her, warm, baby powder, and sweet coffee.

He didn’t have any tears left so he just let her hold him.

Through this comfort, a cold voice in the back of his mind reminded him that her words were less than comforting.

***
He found it odd that everything that had happened to him that day had happened before ten o’clock. After his phone chimed with a text saying his agent wanted to see him, Heather left his room and he dressed and went to meet Kathryn for brunch.

Despite the dark circles under his eyes, Marco felt calmer and grounded, ready to discuss with his agent the terms of his patronage. He was still unsure, but felt better after the shower and the quiet encouragement from Heather.

Kathryn entered the restaurant like the force of nature she was. “Marco! There you are!” she called in her raspy voice, causing many patrons to stare first at her, and then at him. He gave a little wave and fought the desire to hide.

Kathryn stood nearly two meters tall, with curly blonde hair down the middle of her back and a huge smile. Marco had thought she looked like a natural beauty that had been somehow enhanced using paint software, complete with missing pixels and distortions. She carried two large purses that Marco knew from experience were not her luggage, but simply what she needed for everyday work.

She dropped her bags beside her chair and put her hands on her hips. “Well, aren’t you glad to see me? Where’s my hug?”

Fighting the urge to remind her that she had dumped him two days prior, Marco stood up and embraced her gently, which didn’t stop her from crushing him to her formidable chest.

“I’m so glad to see you, Marco. This is going to be exciting! Let’s order mimosas to celebrate, then we can go over the contract.”

She plopped down into her chair and picked up a menu.

“They don’t have mimosas at this restaurant, Kathryn,” Marco said. “The coffee’s quite excellent.”

“No mimosas? Then I’ll have a Bloody Mary.”

Marco wondered if he should just let her be disappointed. A Li-Jun waiter approached them, wearing a sheath over his body that identified him as House Orange. “No, the Li-Jun don’t drink and don’t like it when humans do. It’s hard to get a drink up here.”

“Gahd, that’s harsh, I had no idea. But I thought Mollywood was where the Alcoholics Guild was based?” she asked.

He shrugged. “You can get a drink, just not from a Li-Jun establishment. They haven’t outlawed it, they just don’t serve it, and they run most of the businesses here.”

She slapped the menu shut. “All right then. We’ll skip the celebratory drink and save it for later. Now let’s talk contract.”

Marco held up his hand. “Kathryn, let me stop you. I’m not so sure I’m taking the patronage.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” she said, louder than Marco preferred.

“Of course you’re taking it! No one ever turns down a patronage!”

Marco felt his calm slip. “That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I don’t fit in here. I don’t like it.”

“You’ve been here a day! What could have happened in the day?” Kathryn waved her arms and nearly whacked their Li-Jun waiter.

“Good morning, what can I get for you?” he said smoothly as if Kathryn hadn’t nearly punched him.

“You can get me an explanation!” Kathryn said. “You can tell me why this boy won’t accept Li-Jun patronage after being in Mollywood only one day!”

“I’m sure I do not know,” the alien said. “Would Madame like a coffee? Decaf, perhaps?”

Kathryn waved her hand. “Sure. Bring two.”

The waiter glided away and Marco wondered if he’d ever be able to make a decision for himself again.

“Have you heard the contract terms? Is that what you’re mad about?” she asked.

“No,” Marco said.

“What have you done since you’ve been here?”

“I met House Blue. Moved in. Went to The Most Dangerous Game last night. Went out for drinks – Li-Jun drinks,” he added, seeing her raised eyebrow. “And then-” he stopped. He couldn’t bring himself to begin to explain what he had been through that morning. He’d never call something “rape” that didn’t involve an actual sexual assault, but he felt shamed, exposed, bruised, and completely unwilling to discuss his experience.

“Then?”

“I had a meeting with them this morning that showed me I didn’t really want to get involved with them.” He didn’t meet her eyes.

“Oh, was this the artist mapping?”

He looked up. “The what?”

“The artist mapping. It’s how they combine all the art concepts. They map the emotions of the artists and store them for later use in art.”

His cheeks flushed. “Is that what they call it.”

“Yeah, you’re not technically supposed to do it until we sign the contract,” she said, digging through her massive purse. She pulled out a tablet and punched some commands on the screen. “If they made you do it before signing, then we can likely leverage more money out of them. But don’t worry about it, I hear it can be intense, but everyone goes through it. No biggie.”

Marco felt an irrational desire to strangle her. Or perhaps it was rational. He wasn’t sure. He just wanted to make her understand that what he went through was not, “no biggie.”

She looked up from her tablet when he didn’t say anything. “Are you all right?”

Marco opened his mouth, and still found that the shame was powerful enough to keep him quiet. “Intense. Yeah, it was.”

She waved her hand. “Still, it’s over now, and I hear that’s the worst part about patronage. Now you rake in the dough and create all day. Isn’t that what you always wanted?”

I didn’t know the price before, he thought. Out loud he said, “Why didn’t you tell me this was going to happen?”

“Well, if you’d studied patronage instead of pouted for the last four years, you would have known about it. There are books written on this shit, Marco. Besides, as I said, you weren’t supposed to go through it until you signed the contract. Which,” she scooted her chair around the table, oblivious of getting in the way of the wait staff, “I have right here.”

She put the table in front of him. It was mostly a lot of legal text that made his eyes glaze over, but she pointed to a number. “There, does that change your mind?”

It was impressive, twice what he made on Earth. “That’s my yearly salary?” Kathryn grinned widely. “No, Marco. That’s your monthly salary.”

He felt the spit in his mouth dry up. Her long purple fingernail traced other clauses of the contract as she listed them. “You get the money and become part of House Blue, which includes housing, meals, wardrobe, use of vehicles, and seating at all entertainment House Blue attends.” She cocked an eyebrow at Marco. “Which you apparently got last night. Now what you give them is exclusivity of course; no working for another house. You will submit to artist mapping. You will deliver one graphic novel and six original pieces of art a year. They will take your work and enhance it with sensory art as they see fit, and sell it for what price they want. Your salary is the same whether you’re a bestseller or a flop. At the end of the year, you both have a chance to renegotiate. They can dump you if you’re a flop, or you can ask for more if you’re a hit.”

She lit up a lumin. “Look, Marco. The worst part is over. If you’re upset about the early mapping, we can demand more. Is there something else you want? Anything in the contract you want to change?”

Marco sat feeling like an empty husk. Tears pricked at his eyes and he brushed at them impatiently. “I feel like I’ve been handed everything I ever wanted, but it’s hollow.”

Kathryn blew smoke out the side of her mouth and leaned forward, lumin smoke making her voice even rougher than usual. “If it was that bad, Marco, we can make them pay. And what did you have on Earth? Seriously? This is your chance to turn everything around. You’re in a different place, with money, with new opportunities. Shit, take the patronage for a year, bank the money, then move back to Earth and live on your riches. And like I said, you won’t be mapped again. This is your dream, Marco, but it’s not empty. I promise.”

The waiter brought their coffee. Suddenly hungry, Marco ordered a huge breakfast. They ate in near silence. When they were done, he wiped his mouth and sat up a little straighter. “This morning was the worst experience of my life, Kathryn. If they want to keep me, I want double what they’re offering.”

She choked on her coffee and started to stammer, but he kept his gaze steady. She guzzled her water to stop choking and then sat back, panting. “If that’s what you want.”

Marco grinned slightly. “You’re the best in the business, right?”

***
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.