by Mur Lafferty
SuicdeGirls presents the first installment of our brand new Fiction Friday 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 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. When someone asks a starlet, “Who are you wearing?” she could as easily say “J.K. Rowling” as she could “Gucci.”
“Goodness gracious, is that Janet Omaha? Who’s she wearing?” the old woman next to him on the shuttle leaned over, breaking all sorts of personal space rules by putting her hand on his shoulder and breathing Juicy Froot Loops gum in his face. He winced.
“No idea,” he said.
“I’d heard they were coming out with a Ernest Hemingway/Gertrude Stein line of clothing, two contrasting lines, but I think those in House Magenta will be wearing Cory Doctorow now. They’re getting into the early 2000s authors,” she said. “Will you turn it up?”
Marco sighed gratefully as the attendant chose that moment to turn on the disruptor that forced all electronic devices to reboot. Several people around Marco groaned as their calls or games were interrupted, but Marco stowed his phone with relief. The old woman next to him humphed and started fumbling under her considerable purse to find her seat belt.
Marco’s literary agent had cautioned him against space travel while hung-over, but what was he going to do? When Mollywood called, said his agent, you hopped the next shuttle to Ride Lunar Base. He sucked down his vitamin water before the attendant could do her efficient swipe of the aisles and willed his rebellious stomach to take it like the bitch it was.
The trip to the moon was considerably cheaper now that the gate was up and running. Before the three day trip would have taken a half year’s worth of Marco’s day job pay, but now it was cheaper to go to the moon than to fly around the earth. The airlines had lobbied Earth’s governments to not allow gate technology within Earth boundaries, and had succeeded in making them available only for off-planet travel. Earth governments had been adamant: no aliens on the home planet, no alien technology taking away human jobs, and no import of alien goods.
Marco hadn’t planned on heading to the moon that day. He hadn’t planned on anything except for sleeping late and possibly playing video games. Yesterday his agent had dumped him, saying that his latest graphic novels weren’t getting the notice his previous work had. The only writers selling work these days were the patrons of the aliens who ran the moon colony, the Li-Jun.
When fanatic xenophobes had succeeded in keeping the new alien allies off the home soil, the humans had made the moon neutral territory if the Li-Jun would help them set up a base. Since the aliens had already colonized Europa, they accepted the invitation. Ride Lunar Base, a massive domed city capable of sustaining three million inhabitants, had gone up in ten short years.
What no one expected was the effect the Li-Jun would have on the creative culture of Earth. The aliens had seven senses and communicated with five of them. Their initial contact with humans had nearly caused neural shutdown as the humans attempted to process the information assaulting their eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. Once the Li-Jun had discovered human art, they studied painting, movies, novels, dance, fashion, gourmet cooking, sculpture, and more. Any way the senses could be massaged, the Li-Jun wanted to know about it.
The concept of patronage returned with a vengeance, the aliens commissioning the best and brightest Earth had to offer for their creations. Ride Lunar Base soon earned the nickname “Mollywood” as it was where the greatest art, films, and novels hailed from.
The Li-Jun had a way of looking at art that was beyond human comprehension. While humans could combine art and writing, movies and music, they had never combined movies and food, painting and ballet, fashion and writing. Humans couldn’t make you taste a short story, but the Li-Jun could take a writer and a chef and somehow give a cake an adventurous beginning, middle, and end, or give a romance story a spicy taste. Earth went crazy for the creations, and the Li-Jun took the best and brightest, flew them to the moon, and paid very, very well.
Marco had watched his contemporaries either get patronage or quit outright. At first, Marco hadn’t even applied for a patronage, thinking secretly that if the best writers went to work in Mollywood, that would leave more room in Earth publishing companies for people like him, who wrote and illustrated good, not great, stories. He didn’t expect most of art creation to move to the moon, the resulting works more elegant than humans had ever considered creating. Wrapping a novel into a dress was something humans perhaps didn’t understand, but they did know that it was the most beautiful dress they had ever seen, that the ballet contained within jewelry was uniquely moving.
Even when the Earth governments had banned the import of Li-Jun goods in order to protect the Earth economy, travel to the moon was cheaper than travel between continents, and it wasn’t illegal to buy personal goods there to bring home. Digital files were also allowed, so Li-Jun books, music, and movies were well within the Earth’s creative consciousness. Food, clothing, jewelry, sculpture, and any other art that took tangible form were legal on a personal import case only.
Marco’s sales had trickled to a stop as a result. Six months ago, his agent, Kathryn, had informed him that the previous quarter had brought more returns than purchases. He had to face it – working with the Li-Jun was the only way to go if he wanted to keep going.
He’d applied for a patronage. But by then anyone who fancied themselves writers, not just the bestsellers, were applying, and the application centers were said to be ten times worse than any Earth agent’s slush pile. He had little hope.
Yesterday Kathryn had dropped him. She was moving to the moon to have direct contact with Li-Jun creators and wanted to revitalize her career herself, and Marco was not part of that. He had tossed his books into his fireplace and watched them burn while quietly making a bottle of rum his personal best friend.
He had woken up this morning from the phone, a ring tone he now realized he’d paid far too much money for, if it was going to wake him up in times like this.
“Marco! Thank god you’re still taking my calls!” Kathryn shouted. He winced; his agent reminded him of his grandfather. Years of smoking the Li-Jun herb lumin had given her an attractive, odd glow at night, but had also ravaged her voice. But it least it didn’t cause cancer, she’d crow triumphantly.
“I didn’t see it was you, honestly,” he whispered past his thick tongue. His body was holding an emergency meeting to decide how to punish him for his abrupt waking and exiting of his prone position. The head wanted to explode, the stomach wanted to back up.
“Hah! Honest to the last. I love that about you.” Her voice had an agitation to it he couldn’t remember hearing since he’d signed with her ten years prior.
“What is it, Kathryn? Need to tell me more stuff about my impending failure?” He closed his eyes; the head was winning the argument.
“No, Marco, of course not. I wanted to let you know about the email I just got. You’ve been called to Mollywood!”
Marco rubbed his forehead. “Why are you still planning my future? You said I didn’t have one.”
The phone crackled as she scraped her long nails over it to get his attention. He winced and moved the phone away from his cheek until it stopped.
“Helloooo? Marco? You need to pay attention. A Li-Jun patron wants to meet you. You’ve gotten THE CALL, buddy! I’ve got your shuttle ticket, the address where you need to go, and everything.
“You’re shitting me.”
“Marco, I have my flaws, but cruelty isn’t one of them. Would I call and tell you that Mollywood wants you just for shits and giggles?”
He tried to think through the fluff in his head. “Sorry, Kathryn you caught me at a bad time. I fell into the rum bottle last night.”
“Oh, that’s not good. Travel to Ride Base when hung-over is going to suck.”
That news brought the crushing reality down on him. “Wait, what? They want me today? I can’t travel today!”
He could hear her lighting another lumin. “Ticket’s already bought, sport. I’m forwarding it to you now, along with the list of stuff you should pack, that I send to all my clients who go to Mollywood.”
Marco let this information process. “So that means I’m your client again?”
She barked out a laugh. “Did you find other representation in the past twelve hours?”
Marco hated being so easily discarded and then picked back up, but she held all the cards, including his shuttle ticket.
“No.” He paused and swallowed bile. “And thanks, Kathryn.”
“My pleasure. And save lunch for me next week, I’m heading up there to look for a place myself. Keep me posted on your Li-Jun situation, ‘kay?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said. “No, wait. Hang on. Who’s the Li-Jun I’m meeting with?”
“I don’t know much about her, just her name. Thirteen of House Blue. Later, tater, have a good trip!” The line went dead as she clicked off her phone.
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.