What I Read: SPACE CASE
by Jarret Liotta
By earth standards, Wendy Molé wasn’t the most attractive specimen roaming North Ackley. Her pointy features may have been better suited to a cartoon character. Her big, dark eyes were far apart and not quite level. Her hair—an asymmetrical mass of brown straw—seemed to change shape at will, as did her skin tone, which vacillated between a non-descript pale and, when she was particularly stressed, a sickly yellow speckled with mysterious red bumps. She wasn’t fat, but she carried herself like a fat woman would—distending her belly like a three-year old with its finger up its nose. Wendy waddled when she walked and had an unconscious habit of always leaving her mouth agape.
That said, Wendy Molé was (for the most part) a good person in spirit. She was a seeker—someone who eagerly delved into all things unusual—occult studies, new age spiritualism, and an occasional 12-step meeting. Part of it was her deep desire to expand her consciousness and explore the distant realms of reality in this and other dimensions. Part of it was that she really wanted to find a husband.
At 37, Wendy’s reproductive calendar was in the first days of autumn. If she didn’t land a good man before Halloween (metaphorically speaking), odds were she’d find her stocking empty once Christmas came. So Wendy used her involvement in a wide variety of alternative explorations as a means to meet members of her opposite sex.
“I’m Wendy,” she told a bald man at her meditation class.
“Ssh,” he said. He was not entirely bald, but had that smart, carefully groomed side hair growing in a neat perimeter from ear to ear. His pate top, meanwhile—smooth and tan as a ball of smoked fresh mozzarella wrapped tight in plastic wrap—shined radiantly in the dark meditation hall, reflecting beams from several tiny, well-placed overhead spotlights.
Wendy admired his concentration, the swell of his strong back, accentuated by his perfect lotus position, and the subtle flickering of his eyelids as his eyes rolled effortlessly back into the middle of his head.
“Do you come here a lot?” she asked, hoping he might appreciate the gentle tone of her whisper—an almost musical whisper, like the chime of the one-note mini-gong the instructor used to push everyone toward enlightenment.
“Ssh,” several people said at once, but the man didn’t answer. Wendy wondered if he’d heard her, but before she could ask again, the instructor descended beside her and, with a gentle arm, gestured her to the back of the big, solemn, wood-walled room.
“Are you blocked?” asked Vel, the meditation teacher—a cherubic man of 50 who looked like Truman Capote in a muumuu.
Despite his obvious sexual preferences—in fact, he spoke openly about his partner, Duke, and what a “bitch” he was—when Wendy first joined the class two years ago, she invested considerable time pursuing him. Vel was affable toward her advances, and while he found them somewhat deviant—he was gay, after all—and thought she looked like a scorpion fish besides, he did consider impregnating her as a sort of kitsch performance art piece, but later changed his mind.
Instead, they settled into the sort of unique friendship reserved for gay meditation teachers and their female students. Wendy would often confide in him about her various woes, which were numerous—everything from failed romantic pursuits and failed jobs, to the dramas involving her mother and peripheral dysfunction, as well as her poor skin. Vel always had a compassionate ear and listened attentively to all she said, except when her skin was really broken out, and then he’d have a hard time concentrating on what she was saying.
“I dunno,” Wendy sighed softly, hoping to illicit some sympathy, which she felt she’d earned by having had such a hard day. “I’m just … y’know.” She sighed again to emphasize her point, vague as it was.
“I know, dear,” Vel said, rubbing her arm and shoulders as only a gay man can. He was very gentle and spoke very softly, like a fly. “Maybe you’ll find some peace in my office. You can go and rest there until class ends.”
“No. Thanks, Vel. I’m … I think I’ll just head out early. I have some studying to do.” (Wendy was pursuing her law degree, although first she’d have to get through the first class of the first semester at the local community college.)
“Peace go with you, dear,” Vel said, gently guiding her out the door. A considerate man, he waited until she was well in the parking lot before rolling his eyes.
Unlike Wendy, RX2-D48, an Experiential Exploration Drone (EED), was never equipped with a biological clock. Physiologically, he had the capacity to create life, both as a fertilizer and a seed carrier—a natural hermaphrodite, as was common for his species. Yet these abilities would never atrophy, as was the case with human beings on earth. In fact, most Visnodians wait until they’re on their deathbeds to reproduce, which keeps overpopulation in check and makes settling estates on Visnoid much less complicated.
But as an EED, RX2’s destiny lay far from the beds of reproduction. His mission—his utter raison d’etre—called him to travel far out among the stars, where fostering offspring is as irrelevant as a Visnodian’s need to feel pleasure during the fertilization process. Once his journey began in several days, RX2’s sole duty would consist of gathering experiences for the consumption of his fellows on Visnoid, and hopefully not wrecking the pod he’d be piloting.
Almost since birth RX2 had studied his mission planet—a tiny fragment in the distant constellation of Nurfus, known to Visnodians by the name Ferndale (although you probably know it as Earth). This planet’s culture, customs and characteristics—as learned through a series of disjointed television and radio broadcasts—had come to occupy the center of RX2’s heart, (if a Visnodian can ever claim such an emotional reference).
Like other EEDs, RX2 represented a peak physical specimen—nearly 5’2”, limber as a Gumby doll, thin as a whip, greyish-white all over, and able to run at speeds that would put a cheetah to shame. His bald head was smaller than the average Visnodian to accommodate the considerable wear of space travel, but he still prided the large almond-shaped eyes, slit-like mouth, and nearly non-existent nose that identified his species. (Two quivering black gashes where the nose would be on a human being served as the Visnodian’s main air portal, though there were others.)
For nearly four years now—almost since birth—RX2 had trained constantly for his life’s mission—transmittal of External Experiences (EEs). Like all Visnodians, he saw this duty as not just a responsibility, but a supreme honor. Since his seventh week, when the training started, he eagerly looked forward to the time when he would be jettisoned into space, meld with the far-off civilization on his target planet, collect experiences and emotional sensations, which he would transmit back to Visnoid (by way of a sort of psychic satellite), then return home to a hero’s welcome, buoyed by the knowledge that he had done his duty well.
As you probably know, Visnoid is the Visnodian name for the seventh planet that orbits the stars Tweekula and Yentu —a binary system approximately 45 light years from earth. While earth astronomers have long known of the double stars (although by other names), it was never suspected that an advanced civilization inhabited one of that system’s many satellites.
While Visnoid prides an oxygen-based atmosphere like earth, physically it is very different. For one thing, it rains constantly, like in Seattle, and though there are two suns, due to the constant rain and cloudy weather, residents will go many months without even a chance to tan. One might think the temperature would be cold, due to the heightened humidity, but actually it’s a very balmy planet overall, with lots of thunderstorms. The terrain is very lush, with rampant overgrowths of red and orange fungus, as well as several common varieties of thick moss, which glow a remarkable turquoise color in the dark.
Along with the vegetation, Visnoid has some unique specimens of animal life. While no animal has ever found the gift of natural flight, several are excellent jumpers, including the galloo—a small, furry vole-like creature able to reproduce through spontaneous cell division. To survive, it attaches itself around a host creature’s neck and parasitically feeds on its internal juices. (Neither Visnodians nor any of the creatures inhabiting the planet have blood as it’s understood on earth, but instead their bodies contain a translucent bluish fluid known as cagney.)
Visnoid is also overrun with a tiny insect known as the schtoopy. These little biting bugs constantly pester Visnoid’s bipedal creatures (meaning Visnodians). Unlike earth, however, swatting these incredibly fast-moving vermin is impossible, even for quick-reflexed Visnodians, so they must be repelled through the use of high-frequency screeches, which Visnodians make by pulling on their own genitals.
Details on the history and culture of Visnoid could—and in fact do—fill volumes. (In actuality, they fill the receptor minds of those specialized Visnodians whose function it is to maintain the oral library of the planet, for while trees for making paper are plentiful on Visnoid, there is an alarming shortage of pencils.) But for the purposes of this narrative, suffice it to say that socially Visnoid is a place quite unlike earth. For one thing, there is no television, only Experiential Theater (ET). Here, the inhabitants congregate to enjoy a range of External Experiences that have been gathered (by EEDs such as RX2) from throughout the galaxy.
While naturally capable of feeling various emotions, Visnodians have had the better part of their emotional palette systematically bred out of them through centuries of mental concentration exercises and fatty foods. This was done in order to maximize productivity, (much the way earth corporations have used the introduction of on-site gymnasiums and daycare centers to keep employees from leaving the premises). Over time, however, authorities discovered that even the most focused Visnodian worker requires some recreational escape to keep from spontaneous collapse. The problem was that centuries of joyless focus on work had deadened the average Visnodian’s ability to experience emotion. Further, the ability to develop creative ideas geared toward joy had all but withered from lack of use.
So the only way authorities could see to bring feeling back into the population was to capture it elsewhere and, in essence, inject it physically into the masses. So the ET was created, and the residents of Visnoid could once again feel the many moods of living, thanks to hard-working drones like RX2, who searched the greater-known galaxy to find the best of what was being felt, seen and experienced.
Next up from me: Some goodies from the current work in progress, EARTHFALL.