Trigger Warning: This story contains themes of childhood sex abuse and drugs.
Unlike other Terrans, I never dreamed of dancing in clubs on the moon; the music sounds like static, Loonies are snobs, and their blue milk swill tastes like sour gravy. But it’s the only place to kill demons.
Standing outside Chandra’s thumping doors, the crackling music zig-zagging in the OxDome, I shift my heavy, clanking sack to my other shoulder. I walk into the dark club, looking for an old friend among beams of pastel light. Tiberius is across the gravFloor, past floating bodies entwined in mid-air bliss, sitting with trust fund Loonies, laughing, smoking, fucking. When I’m closer, I see his eyes are vacant and jittery, and his sweat smells like tart perfume. He pushes an amorous throuple into the gravity field with a spindly arm and a laugh.
“‘Lo, Ty,” I say.
He squints at me. I let his drug-addled brain pull me from his distant memory. He shifts uncomfortably, then smiles with too many teeth.
“‘Lo, mate!” he screams. His tall hair is an orange flame. It snaps and crackles. “Been a while. Lookin’ for a taste?” He pushes a dead-eyed waif towards me. She is tiny and barely dressed. I want to break his face.
“No,” I say. “I hear you sell Soma.”
He waves it away. “That stuff’s piss. Why don’t you try Viper Gloss or Ultra Kykeon? I also got this great lil’ number that’ll rip your atoms apart so you can feel the universe.”
I shake my head. “Just the Soma.”
His flaming hair turns red. “Why? Whatcha after?”
“I think you already know.”
He grits his teeth. “Ain’t no good gonna come of it.”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
My heavy sack clinks. We eye each other.
I hold out my wrist for a credit transfer, but Tiberius waves me away with a sigh. “This one’s on me.”
He gets up with a careless smile, gesturing for me to follow. We wind through the thick crowd to a simple door with a scanner. He opens it with a keycard, escorting me down a long, crooked hallway. The music dies. Through another door is a small, quiet room of fat pillows and foam walls. He lets me pass with a bow, closing the door with grace. I set the sack down, sitting cross-legged. He takes out a small vial of purple elixir, hesitating to give it to me. I take it from him.
“Don’t speak,” he says. “Close your eyes and see.”
I swallow the elixir before I lose my nerve. The taste of Loonie music prickles my throat as psychedelic tendrils pleach my brain. My senses are heightened, each breath an echo. The room dissolves.
I’m seven years old, standing in the dim upstairs hallway of my childhood home. Mother’s cooking is baked into the dark walls, replacing family photos we never had. A dark web of repressed memory blocks the stairs. Only light can shed the dark, my old professor once said. I hadn’t felt a light since this night. It’s why I’m here. But I came prepared. A distant memory of my father and I talking about nothing. I don’t remember when or where, but it’s my happiest memory. My only memory of him before he left. I think of that now. The darkness dissipates. My hands shake, walking downstairs.
The soft blue of the holoVid flickers from the doorway of the dark living room. Mother is working the third shift again.
An unshaven man sits on the couch. His real arms are draped over the back while his ebony, knockoff SpyderLims feed him grapes, change the streamChannels, and play Solitaire on the coffee table. He turns to look at me. I recognize him as our neighbor’s nephew, whom no one in our neighborhood seems to like.
“Little buddy,” he says. “Your mommy had a work emergency and asked me to watch you. As if a little man needs to be watched.” He drops the grapes and pats the empty space beside him with a SpyderLim. “Join me. I’m just watching some Vid.”
Happy to be included, I run and sit. He puts on an action flick that Mother would never let me watch and offers me grapes.
“Is it just you and your mom?” he says.
I nod. “She works a lot.”
“She must trust you then, looking after the house.”
My little chest swells with pride. I smile. He smiles back. His teeth are yellow. The long-haired warrior in the Vid is slicing through his enemies, but they kidnap his beloved anyway. I feel my sitter’s eyes studying me from his peripheries.
“Can I show you a secret?” he says.
A smartScreen appears in one of his Lim’s black hands. His companion AI cycles through new toys until it lands on one I’ve been dreaming of all year.
“I know I’m old,” he says. “But I love toys. I just got this one the other day. You like it? Your friend, Ty, loved it. I watched him the other night.”
Funny, I hadn’t seen Ty for a while. I love the toy, but something tells me he doesn’t have it. The AI most likely connected with the holoVid to see which commercials I didn’t skip. Still, I like that he’s trying. “It’s cool,” I say. I want him to like me.
The movie continues. The warrior is at a low point. All is lost, but he’s about to have his greatest triumph to win the day.
My sitter’s smartScreen is still open. I see his AI cobble together a digital flyer for guitar lessons. I’ve always wanted to play, but Mother can’t afford them.
“Did you know I’m a teacher?” He leans forward. His breath smells of beer. “I give lessons for free to my good friends.” He winks. I smile. He thinks I’m a friend?
“You’d have to ask her,” I say.
“I already did.”
He shows me his screen. He sent the flyer to Mother’s smartwatch the minute it was compiled. She sends a thumb’s up with a smiley face. She’s busy. She must think he’s showing her a mock-up for a future business. Otherwise, she’d have questions.
“Well, that’s settled,” he says. He shimmies closer to me on the couch, removing one of his SpyderLims from his back harness. “We’ll use this as practice for now.”
I take the Lim and hold it awkwardly. He repositions it to sit like a guitar in my arms, then gently places real and bionic arms around me. His scruffy face scratches my cheek as he leans in.
I remember now.
I’m back with the pillows and the foam walls, panting and sweating. Tiberius stands in the corner. He lights a cig with his hair and puffs acid green clouds of smoke.
“Feel better?” he says, mocking.
I tremble. I can barely stand. “Did you know I’m a certified PsychShrink?” I say.
He quirks a thin eyebrow at me. “So?”
I grab my sack, removing a crystal vase with a matching cylinder. I place the vase on the floor and hand him the tube.
“You didn’t forget that night,” I tell him. “You lived with it.”
Tiberius smokes his cig to the filter. “This ain’t my sesh, mate.”
“But we can move on together.”
I touch the vase. Balls of light appear, swirling faster and faster, until they erupt from the center into the silhouette of a person. Our unshaved sitter materializes, flesh and bone, with his SpyderLims splayed out like a spider on its web.
“Little buddy!” he says, smiling.
My heart races. Bile burns my throat. Tiberius sees the tube in his hand is now a kitchen knife.
“Trust your gut,” I tell him.
With a manic cry, Tiberius rushes him, burying the knife into his stomach. Our sitter’s red-rimmed eyes go wide. He takes it out and stabs him again and again. And again. We fall into a heap with tears soaking our faces as our sitter writhes on the ground and disappears. The knife is a crystal cylinder again. The lights in the vase dim and transfer to the tube to become motes of sapphire lights that float from their chamber and into our skulls. Euphoric bliss washes through me like a warm tide. The guilt, the powerlessness, and the shame disappear. I let out a sob of relief, hugging myself and releasing my anguish.
“Synaptic de-pruning,” I say after a while. “My own invention. It repairs the neurological damage of abuse.”
“Thank you,” he chokes. “Thank you, mate.”
Tiberius lights another cig and stumbles out in a cloud of smoke. I leave soon after. I don’t see him in the club or outside. Only the endless jade cities of the moon stretch before me, their OxDomes glinting with the peaking sun. So many souls are lost in the machine of technological evolution. I plan to balance the scales.
I leave for Earth, riding the wave of joy the whole way.