Jul 2011 22

by Mur Lafferty

SuicdeGirls presents the seventeenth 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. However, humans remain suspicious of the Li-Jun’s emotion-imbued goods, so while their entertainment can be beamed back to earth, a trade embargo prevents anything from being physically imported to the planet.

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 hastily 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 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. He ultimately accepts the Li-Jun’s too-good-to-refuse offer, and embarks on 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. To this end, he 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. After downing one too many drinks, Marco begins to get a sense of exactly how severe of an infraction the Li-Jun consider the consumption of alcohol to be.

While attempting to conceal his inebriation as he sneaks back into House Blue, Marco is caught red handed by his Li-Jun keeper Seven (it was probably his spontaneous vomiting that gave him away). The punishment is a second bout of mind raping/mapping. Afterwards, with his patronage in jeopardy, Heather gives him a ‘special’ necklace to calm his nerves and promises to plead his case with Thirteen.

The following morning, Heather takes Marco on a behind-the-scenes tour of the secret areas of House Blue where the Li-Jun infuse emotion into art. The Red Granny also reveals that everything created in Mollywood will soon be permitted to be legally imported back to earth. Duly inspired and placated, Marco is allowed to resume his patronage…However, that was before he got kidnapped twice in one day. The first time by Penelope/Knowledge and Defect of The Alcoholic’s Guild, who made him realize the Li-Jun had brainwashed him into compliance, and the second time by the Li-Jun, who were rather upset about the fact he’d just been fraternizing with said Alcoholic’s Guild – albeit initially unwillingly. Marco’s punishment for this infraction? He was to be a contestant in The Most Dangerous Game.

Having selected his weapon of choice, with a little help from Heather, we join Marco as he prepares for his first bout – armed with nothing more than a bad case of nerves/abject terror, a staff, and a seemingly unassuming knife. However, something Heather said gives him pause for thought:

We are not that dissimilar. We’re just going about our paths in a different way.
Before he enters the arena, Marco cuts himself with the knife to see what it might be imbued with. He discovers thanks to its nefarious Li-Jun properties, it gives him a sense of rage he’s never felt before…

Marco and the Red Granny – Part 17
Being single-minded was liberating. Marco felt none of his usual second-guessing or wondering if he’d left his computer on. There was no listening to his own panicked breathing or wondering which way he should go.

The rage was deep within him. After a moment, he realized this was not rage brought about by his own memory. It was a stronger, more primal rage, caused by the betrayal of someone close, and the loss of family and love. A small part of him wondered if it was Heather’s nostalgia, but he barely acknowledged it. No matter where it came from, it was his driving force.

He came out onto the Lunar landscape running full-tilt, a low, forward-focused gait that barely lumbered, taking only a moment to get his bearings with the bulky suit. He made for a rocky hill that offered shadows he could hide in. From there he could plan.

Something nagged at him, but he ignored it utterly. He reached the hill relatively quickly. He hadn’t seen any other contestants.

The enraged mind doesn’t think defensively; he hadn’t considered someone else might be waiting in the shadows for him. The suited person leaped out at him, a crossbow raised, and Marco dropped to his knees and pushed off with his feet, propelling himself forward like a low-flying bullet. The shot must have gone over him, but it didn’t matter. He hit the person in the belly with his massive helmet and knocked them down. He reached over his shoulder and slid the Red Granny’s staff off his back and came down with the butt of it, smashing the person’s helmet inward. He didn’t even register the shocked, bloody look, and left the body to finish dying.

That was for my family, he found himself thinking. Three left.

He took a moment to get his bearings. He saw no opponents anywhere around him, not in the shadows, not in the hills. He ran his tongue over his teeth, tasting the sweet tea still, and realized he still held the staff in his hand.

Like a big pencil.

Billions of people were watching him. Everyone on the moon, nearly everyone on Earth; certainly everyone who were fans of the alien culture, the alien culture who took delight in watching the barbaric humans fight each other.

The moon dust was thick, an easier grain to push around than sand. Marco had always enjoyed stories of the great artists on the beaches, drawing before the tide came in to destroy their masterpieces.

He took the staff and dragged it behind him, running into the light again. The sun glinting in the black sky sparked another memory, but the two warring emotions of must-create and must-destroy were too loud in his head, fighting for control. He saw two bodies flailing at each other in the distance, but he ignored them, continuing to draw in the moon dust, incorporating his large footsteps into the drawing, thinking woolly, woolly, as his feet landed, making little puffs.

The world must think I’m mad.

He was nearly done. He glanced up and saw a body running toward him. The hot bile of rage rose in his throat again and he jumped lightly out of his drawing so the resulting bloodshed wouldn’t mar it. The body looked vaguely feminine, in a Li-Jun created suit. It plowed into him and he took care to make sure they fell away from his drawing. He tried to throw the body off, but she had a death-grip on his suit, and he saw with growing alarm that she had knives on her left glove.

He couldn’t reach the staff; he’d dropped it by the artwork. He took her scrabbling left hand in his, squeezing tightly to hurt himself as much as her, and pulled the hand off. Her little knives hadn’t punctured his suit yet, and he bellowed in his helmet, encouraging the rage to continue. She turned her wild eyes on him and in a moment of clarity he recognized her.

Penelope. In a Li-Jun suit. Attacking him with murderous rage.

Oh no. Not Penelope.

He let her go, jumping backward, trying to get out of her range, to keep her from attacking him, loathe to attack her back. Her face contorted behind her mask and she screamed silently, running toward him again.

Unlike Marco, who tried to balance the two opposite urges within him, something had given Penelope only rage, and she leaped at him. He dodged her and she fell into the moon dust.

“Please, Penelope, Knowledge, don’t do this, please,” he said the mantra to himself, chanting at her, trying as much to calm his own manufactured killing urge as try to get through to her.

But he forgot where they were. He forgot that they weren’t alone. He forgot that while he was willing to spare Penelope, his ex-lover, Knowledge of His Will, no one else on the battleground was.

The body hit her from above. Another Li-Jun suit, similarly made, with double knives in the fists puncturing her suit at the collarbone, slicing upward toward the neck, and it was over. Knowledge of His Will crumpled without a fight, the escaping air in her suit making little white puffs in the vacuum.

The attacker didn’t even have a chance to pull the knives out before Marco was on him. The staff was back in his hands and he used it with brutal efficiency. There was no grace and beauty to his using the weapon, this was not a use the Li-Jun would be impressed with. It was over quickly, with the helmet bashed in, and the face of Spiritual Awakening stunned and bloody. Thirty seconds later, and all you could see to identify him was the 12 on the side of his neck.

Marco wheezed, sobbing, his voice loud and pitiful in his helmet. Somewhere he remembered; Seven had told him that every season of The Most Dangerous Game had one capital punishment trial. No glory here; the winner got to face the champion and go free if he won. But everyone seemed to be artificially pumped full of rage.
The next realization was ice cold down his back. Heather. She’s all our handicap.

Would she kill me? Have I imagined this alliance?

If this battle were like the others, there would be one person left, or two if Heather didn’t count. He saw her about fifty meters away, dispatching the final contestant. The “remove your opponent’s helmet” trick had proved to be a popular move, and she had done it again, her victim lying in the vacuum, his ten seconds to die seeming to be a very long time.

Marco didn’t recognize the victim.

Marco gripped his staff tighter, feeling the blood squelch in his glove. The rage crested again, and Marco took a couple of steps toward her. He paused, though. Maybe Heather had a plan. Maybe there was a way out, maybe they’d be picked up by a shuttle and be whisked away… where? There was no other moon colony. A rogue shuttle wouldn’t be allowed into Earth’s atmosphere. They were stuck, there, bald and naked in their final minutes.

He turned back to his art, knowing that the world was, indeed, watching. He had almost finished it. To him it looked awkward and tilted, impossible to parse out what he had created. But he knew that the aerial cameras, and thus the billions of eyes watching, could see it perfectly.

He put the finishing touches on it, trusting her to give him room. He added some embellishments here and there, to add to the shock value, and stepped away. If he had done his work correctly, it would convey what he needed it to.

The rage still brewed, and he had no idea where to point it. He couldn’t attack Heather. He was fighting to the death out here, but he wasn’t stupid.

The Red Granny walked toward him pumping her arms, building up speed. Marco paused, unsure, but the rage blinded his fear. He ran for her, the roar in his ears drowning out his primal scream.

She did not resist him. Later he realized he was nothing but a ball of rage, something a focused martial artist like her would have had no problem dealing with. She could have grabbed him, thrown him, dumped him down a crater. But she skidded to a stop and opened her arms to him, letting him overpower her. He knocked her down and came down with the knife the way Spiritual Awakening had done to Penelope, his Penelope, and cut easily through her reinforced suit. Behind her mask, her eyes flew open as the rage he was feeling entered her, too, but it was too little too late. She grasped his sleeve weakly and then closed her eyes at last.

The area was already lit well with arena lights and the weak sun overhead, but Marco had to shield his eyes against the applause as the crowd stood as one and flicked their lights at him. He stared down at Heather’s corpse, and then Knowledge’s. The rage finally began to dissipate, and his knees buckled as grief and exhaustion overtook him.

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
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 12
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 13
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 14
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 15
Fiction Friday: Marco and the Red Granny – Part 16


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