Jun 2011 17

by Mur Lafferty

SuicdeGirls presents the twelfth 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 has 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 Marco settles for an early night

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 and thoroughly probed by the aliens so they can be monitored and recorded, Marco finally sees the terms of his contract.

Having accepted the Li-Jun’s too-good-to-refuse offer, Marco settles into his new life at House Blue. However, though he’s been handed everything he ever wanted, somehow the reality of it is hollow. Twenty thousand words into his new graphic novel, with his first deadline looming, Marco suffers from a severe case of writers block, and searches for inspiration in the bottom of a glass that’s actually had something worth drinking in it.

Marco stumbles across an illicit drinking establishment on the seedier side of the moon which turns out to be run by a collective of folks who are strictly persona non grata as far as the Li-Jun are concerned – The Alcoholic’s Guild. There Marco has an uneasy encounter with a glass or three of gin, his ex-GF Penelope, who is now going by the name Knowledge, and her AG sponsor, Defect. However it’s only after downing one too many drinks that Marco begins to get a sense of exactly how severe of an infraction the Li-Jun consider the consumption of alcohol to be.

Marco and the Red Granny – Part 12
Marco stood outside of House Blue, swaying slightly, realizing he faced a problem he hadn’t encountered in fifteen years: how to sneak in while hiding the fact that he’d been out drinking. The gum Defects had given him was in his mouth, but he doubted he could hide the fact that he could barely focus, spoke with a slur, and would likely punch that cocky Seven if he came across him.

He was a man now, not a scared fifteen-year old, and he should be allowed to go where he pleased. He took a deep breath and put his hand on the door handle.

It swung inward as he touched it. Seven was there, his eyestalks dipping to look at him. “Marco, so good to see you. Been sampling the human half of Ride Base?” If he’d been human, he would have sounded sarcastic. Marco giggled.

Marco opened his mouth to compliment Seven’s usage of human sarcasm, but instead he bent over and vomited on his own shoes.

Seven had him by the arms and carried him down the hall. “I c’n walk,” he said, but his feet wouldn’t obey him.

“I’m sure you can, Marco,” Thirteen said from behind him, “But this is more efficient. We must do another artist mapping.”

Realization trickled down his spine like iced molasses. “What? No, my agent said I wouldn’t have to-”

“A sub-clause in your contract says you will submit to another mapping if you exhibited behavior unlike yourself. Something we perhaps missed in the mapping.”

That didn’t make sense, but Marco couldn’t remember all the details, and he seemed to be without his phone. And then without his clothes. Seven put him into the coffin-like pod with efficiency, electrodes slapped only to his head this time. Still, he struggled when the fluid filled the pod, banging his fists against the door and yelling. He tried to rip the electrodes off, but the glue was too strong.

The taste of gin filled his mouth again, this time not from vomit but from the memories, now pairing the taste with shame, disorientation, and sick, desperate longing. He’d been lying, of course, to Knowledge, and although he thought he hid it from her well enough, he wasn’t able to hide that emotion in a box away from whatever the aliens did to him, and he wailed into the breathing tube.

It didn’t take as long as before. When the feelings attached to his current state were depleted, the fluid drained, and the Li-Jun had left the room. Marco was alone, kneeling inside the pod. The doors slowly swung open and the electrodes fell off his head.

The Alcoholics Guild said Li-Jun didn’t like humans drinking. “Understatement of the year,” he muttered, wiping the goo out of his eyes.

The hot water in the shower lasted five minutes this time. Swearing, Marco left the shower, feeling more sober now, and wrapped the robe around him. He felt immediately calmer, but still confused about the evening. He checked his watch: midnight, GMT. Heather might be asleep, but considering how often she showed up in his room, he didn’t feel terribly bad about disturbing her.

She was in her own robe, brewing tea, when she called for him to come in. “Marco, what can I do for you?”

“What’s up with the Li-Jun and drinking?”

“They don’t do it, if that’s what you mean,” she said, stirring honey into her tea. “Darjeeling?”

He shook his head, refusing to be distracted. “I know that, but are we completely forbidden to drink? Are they that much against it?”

“Of course they are. You mean no one told you?” she asked.

“No! I never heard this. When I met you, I had a hangover, and you didn’t say anything about it!”

“Why? You didn’t go out drinking, did you?” Her eyes were wide.

“Well, yeah, I had a hard day of writing and I needed a drink.”

She rubbed her forehead. “This is very bad, Marco. Did they catch you?”

Marco indicated his wet hair. “Yeah. I just got out of the hell pod thing. Again. It was unpleasant. Again.”

She tapped her fingertip against her mug. “They’re not going to be happy with you for a while. If you don’t want to lose your patronage, you’re going to have to listen to me.”

Marco frowned. “Okay…”

She looked him up and down; looking suddenly like a department store shop woman trying to decide what he’d look best in. Then she went to a dresser and pulled out a drawer. “How are you feeling now?” she asked, not turning around as she rummaged.

Marco shrugged. “I don’t know. Tired. Annoyed.”

“Angry? Irritated? Feel like you might run through a wall and strangle someone?”

“No, none of those, I don’t think. I’m pretty calm, I guess.”

“Good.” She came back with a leather cord in her hand. It was three cords braided together, a white cord, a blue one, and an indigo. “Wear this, at all times, even in the shower,” she instructed. “It’s a symbol that will show your dedication to House Blue, to everyone.”

Marco eyed it. “Are you sure-”

Heather held up her hand. “If you don’t want to lose your patronage, do what I say. Take this back to your room, put it on, and go to bed. Tomorrow I’ll talk to Thirteen for you. Maybe I’ll get a chance to take you around to the labs.”

Marco took the rope from her and felt calm and gratitude relax him. He yawned. “Thanks a lot, Heather. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here to help me find my way.”

She smiled, her eyes a little sad. “You’ll be fine. Just keep that on. Tomorrow morning I’ll meet you for breakfast.”

Marco slept deeper and more peacefully than he had in weeks. The necklace bothered him at first-he’d never been much for jewelry-but he quickly got used to it. He woke early, dressed, and walked to the kitchen where one of the Li-Jun was cooking breakfast. He got a plate of pancakes and sat down.

Heather came to join him. “Good morning, I am surprised you’re up.”

He blinked and yawned. “I just felt like getting up.”

She nodded. “I spoke to Thirteen and assured her that no more binges are in your future. Was I right in telling her that?”

Marco swallowed his pancakes. “Oh definitely. I won’t be going there anymore. I’m feeling better about my patronage now than ever.”

She beamed at him. “That’s wonderful. Now finish your breakfast and I’ll take you to the artist labs.”

He nodded and drank his coffee. When he was done, he followed Heather to an area of the house he’d not seen before, behind a door marked with the Li-Jun’s language that consisted mainly of concentric circles.

“Here is where they take what you write and infuse it with other pieces of art,” She said. They walked down a hall that opened to a huge room with one wall nothing but windows out to the Lunar landscape. She smiled at him. “They like the inspiration, they say. Now come over here and meet Fifteen and Sixteen.”

Two Li-Jun worked at one of several tables. Tendrils of wires snaked out of a red computer case, and they had connected these wires to the seams of a pinstripe suit. Marco and Heather watched as one alien held the garment while the other peered into the computer monitor on the table and typed some adjustments in their keyboard, which had only five circles on it.

“So what are they doing?” he whispered to Heather.

“That short story you wrote, the one about the man who made mechanical plants to occupy his time in prison? Anyone who wears this suit will hear that story,” she told him.

He frowned. “How did you know about that?”

“Oh Marco. Your computer is on the network. When you’re done with a story or poem or comic, they take it and make something out of it. The cake entitled Penelope was particularly bittersweet; they had done an amazing job matching the love and regret with the sweetness of strawberries and the sour of rhubarb. I wished you could have joined us, but you weren’t ready, they said.”

Marco normally would have felt embarrassed and violated. No one had ever read that poem about Penelope. Not even Penelope. But now he felt only annoyed. He took Heather’s arm and dragged her away from the Li-Jun, who still hadn’t acknowledged their presence. “I wrote that two years ago, not while here on the moon. How did they get that?”

Heather leaned in to him; he could smell the Juicy Froot Loops gum on her breath. “They have the rights to all your work, Marco. Didn’t you know that?”

He didn’t. “But how did they get it?”

“They have an eye on all media. That’s how they choose whom to give patronage to. The applications are worthless, Marco, they want to know what a person can really create.”

“So they’re spying on humans?” Marco said, surprised, but finding that he didn’t really care, now that he thought about it. He got his patronage, what did he care how he got it?

“’Spying’ is such an ugly word, Marco. That implies it doesn’t do us any good. And it’s quite beneficial to us, don’t you think? Rumor is that you got one of the best patronage deals ever. Even better than mine.”

He smiled, irritation evaporating. “So how do they do all this?”

They walked back over to the aliens, who were hanging the suit on a hanger and bringing out a gold necklace with a pendant of a little clockwork bird.

“No one knows, and they either can’t, or won’t, teach us,” she said. She squinted her eyes and said, “Oh, this should be interesting.”

Marco looked to where she was focused and saw only concentric circles on the monitor screen. “Can you read their writing?”

“A little,” she said. “You get used to it. All I can tell you is instead of a piece of art, they’re going to be putting an emotion into this necklace. They are just now experimenting with the stronger senses of nostalgia and emotional memory connected with it. As I said, they have nothing similar to that, so this is experimental.”

“What emotion?” he asked?

“I’m not sure,” she said.

“Why are they going ahead with research, if they can’t export what they have now on Earth, why make more?”

Heather leaned in again, “You didn’t hear this from me, but the embargo lifts next month. We’re going to be shipping clothing, jewelry, art, even food down the home planet. It finally got enough votes in England, China, the US, and Texlaska. After those biggies, the rest of the world will follow.”

“But doesn’t that mean you can do, I don’t know, love potions or something? I mean, this is like real beer goggles. Almost like mind-”

Heather slapped a hand over his mouth. “Shh, we’ll disturb them. We need to be quiet.”

Marco stared at her and rubbed his lip, which was swelling slightly from the force of her blow.

“Why are you showing me this?” Marco whispered.

“Because you are part of House Blue,” Heather replied. “And House Blue is at the forefront of exporting goods to Earth. They need us for art creation, and for modeling, and for reassuring the people back home that this stuff is perfectly safe.”

“Perfectly safe,” echoed Marco softly as they watched the aliens work. He rubbed the necklace Heather had given him. It calmed him.

“The goal is to get everyone on Earth accepting Li-Jun art,” Heather said.

“Wearing, eating, everything. And when that happens, they can experience the peace we know here on Ride Base.”

Marco nodded as the aliens brought a fancy cake to the table and one of them spoke into a microphone, reading from the computer screen. The other end of the microphone wire wasn’t plugged into anything, but looked like a small hose that exuded golden light. As the alien whispered, Marco could hear the words come out of the other end and alight on the cake, as delicate as a meringue.

The freckle under your eye, I love the most
I think God put it there after He made you
Your perfection was so complete he couldn’t bear to part with you
So he gave you one

The words sounded familiar to Marco, and pulled up a small ache in his chest, although he didn’t know why. Heather watched him carefully, and he smiled slightly at her.

“What’s up?” he asked.

She smiled back. “Nothing.”

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.

Catch Up With Marco and the Red Granny:
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 1
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 2
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 3
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 4
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 5
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 6
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 7
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 8
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 9
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 10
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 11


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