Here’s the next instalment of our serialisation of The Titan Kiss, by Clark Nida (2014, 2016). Another 3,000 words (or so) will appear tomorrow.
Three key workers on Project Tahiti meet secretly with Jack in a sauna beneath the Areopagus. Not because it’s the ideal place to “discuss hot topics”, as Boris Mixailovitch, head of Peretchelo would have it, but because it is intensor-proof. There Jack learns what his son Harry was really up to: creating the star-children. Boris conjectures that Tvoul was not in good faith when she married Harry, but planned to eliminate him out of commercial rivalry.
NOW READ ON…
“Table for one, sir?”
“I have a booking. Name of Williams.”
“Certainly sir,” the girl smiled. “Follow me.”
Jack sat down at his table and a drink was brought. As he’d ordered, the table had a commanding view of the dance floor. Above the stage, the eponymous red windmill turned its glowing sails. Couples were already dancing to the band. Tunes from his childhood—a Twenties’ Revival.
But the dancing wasn’t authentic. There was no way you could re-create the Charleston in one third of Earth gravity. This didn’t trouble the dancers in the least as they hopped and span around, their feet hardly touching the floor.
The tables filled up around him. Presently the girl who had shown him to his seat came back with the same fixed simper on her face. “Would you mind terribly if we seated more guests at your table, sir? We’re fully-booked tonight.”
Jack wanted to refuse, but he realised that she was just being polite. His booking for one hadn’t guaranteed him a table all to himself. Nor would it do to claim booner privileges. And if his table was the only one with unoccupied chairs, he’d draw attention to himself.
“End of Nedélia Slëz. Spot-on midnight, Tvoul will be back out there, dancing.”
Jack gave his assent with a resentful nod. He had activated the booner card because he’d wanted to be alone with his thoughts. He had raised a bland holoface because he didn’t want people to guess what those thoughts might be. The holoface became less bland.
Two young men were shown to the seats on either side of him. They tried to make conversation, but soon cottoned-on to the fact that Jack didn’t want to talk. So they ignored him, talking across him as if he wasn’t there.
“I do hope this is going to be worth the effort.”
“Don’t you worry. I come here every Friday, just for the cabaret. Nobody does it like Tvoul.”
“Have you thought of booking her all to yourself, for the Titan Two-step?”
“No…” said the first. “I wouldn’t fancy it, really.”
His friend sniggered. “How do you make that out?”
“I wouldn’t like what it would do to my intensions.”
“But think what it would do to your ex-tension!” They both bellowed like bulls.
Am I getting old?—thought Jack. Or do I really have no idea what they’re talking about? He guessed however that it was less of an age-gap and more of a language-problem. There was English—and there was M2, as he was coming to appreciate.
Presently the compère strode on-stage and waved his arms. “And now, by ever-popular request, we bring you the slickest—sexiest—interspexiest—performer in the whole of Nix City—the whole of the Strana of Olympia—Mars—System Sol—the Galaxy—the Universe!” (Wild cheers.)
He went on. “Citizens of Olympia—Denizens of Mars—Rats of the Nix—let’s have a big round of applause for that most colourful of colleens,” (his voice rose to a scream) “Tvoul! Yeah… c’m’on, baby, take it away!”
The lights dimmed and a hush descended. An insidious grinding beat broke out, like Doc Martens pounding walnuts. A glow grew in a corner of the dance floor, revealing a leggy figure sitting in the foetal position, forehead to her knees. Apart from a pair of shiny black ballet shoes laced up her shins and a glistening wig of tight black curls, she was naked. As the music crept around the hall like tentacles issuing from a fissure in the rock, she progressively extended her limbs and colours ran down them like tumbling smokes.
She reached up as if to grasp at some impossibly high objective and, standing straight on one leg, she drew her lifted foot in a sensuous caress up the insides of her glittering calf and thigh, to probe and gyrate with her foot where her legs met. Wherever her toes touched, her skin flared until her leg and hip were engulfed in the simulacrum of flames. Then stretching her foot straight out behind her, she brought it round slowly to describe an intricate figure in the air. Placing the foot on the ground, she then repeated the sequence in mirror-image with her other foot.
Soon, having run the gamut of poses which a gaian dancer would have found impossible, without shedding the illusion that she had a gaian frame with restrictive joints, the dancer’s evolutions and gestures began to gain momentum. The music quickened, becoming sleazy and urgent. Shocked, Jack suddenly recognised it as a wicked travesty of one of the most haunting of Latin hymns. As a boy he used to hear the monks of Minsteracres sing it at Compline: Te lucis ante terminum. To Thee, the Light before the Close of Day.
The two lads, their faces flushed with anticipation, glanced round at Jack to share their glee—and their eyes recoiled from his holoface, which had once more become the demon door-knocker. But if they could only have seen past the holoface, it would really have spoilt their evening. With every touch and tease to his sensuality, Jack’s fury grew to incandescence. The rush of adrenalin was fuelling—not lust in him, but rage.
Now Tvoul was a thing of fire. Her limbs, whirling and flashing in the spotlights, seeming to glow with their own light—a rush and ripple of oranges, lemons, limes, magentas and violets. The audience forgot to breathe.
At last the dance was fini, leaving Tvoul tangled in an extravagant contortion, evoking a classical ballet-dancer taking a bow. The applause was deafening. Howls and whistles played tag around the hall.
Everybody’s eyes were fixed on the dance floor and the fantastic figure cast down upon it like Satan, in a conflagration of light. Unnoticed, Jack rose abruptly to his feet and rapidly strode from the Krásnaya Melnítza into exterior darkness.
The hugglephone began to glow with coloured light. It trimmed and tightened itself into the shape of Tvoul.
Tvoul as he remembered her, basking naked in the sun.
The husky voice was unfamiliar, but it was probably down to the repertoire of the voice-chip. You want sexy and seductive? Just drop the menu and eyeball the option.
“Why, hallo, Jack. What can I do for you?”
Kaleidoscope colours swirled over her face and body in a random pattern, faithfully mirrored on each side. Well—Boris was right. No zygocysts or parturition scars. Her luscious physique looked pure… and sterile.
He stepped into the hugglephone field, which he knew would activate the dummy in Tvoul’s apartment. But he didn’t touch the ectoplast—and he kept his clothes on, in defiance of the thing to do, which was to present the person you were calling with a bare torso. The hugglephone was for social intercourse between intimates. Its reproduction of textiles was mediocre. It was at its best doing flesh.
“So you do remember me?”
“Jack: let’s just say I know who you are. You’re famous now, aren’t you? You’re the cultural leader of a project dear to all our hearts—and that’s something that won’t be forgotten for a long, long while. But I ask myself: when did I last meet a man like you—with an SP unit? I have so many clients…”
“I didn’t have an SP unit when you saw me last. I had lungs… in tatters.”
Tvoul affected a slow sweet smile. “That must have been a long time ago.”
“A long time ago, on another planet,” said Jack, parodying the lazy drift of Tvoul’s speech. But he was determined not to let the mask slip.
“Another planet…?” said Tvoul in mock surprise. “You must tell me about it. Life gets so dull, cooped up here in Nix City.”
“Yes, I’ll tell you all about it, all right,” said Jack. “When we meet in the flesh. Can I come up and see you? We’ll have lots to talk about—and not just other planets. We have a few tricks of our own on Gaia that I’d like to show you.”
“I have all the time in the world… for you, Jack,” she said with a dreamy smile. “Yes, just call ahead and let me know when you’re coming.”
“How do I get to you?”
“Your marscar will bring you here. ‘Say nothing but my name.’” A short chuckle. “Well, it works with the newer models.”
“Okay, pet. I’ll be seein’ yer.”
She blew him a kiss. “Bye, Jack. For now.”
The dummy relaxed and became featureless. The instant the transmission light went out, Jack picked up his pool cue in its case, which was leaning by the table. Again and again he smashed it down on the dummy until it surrendered its humanoid form and hung over the black plinth limp and torn, bleeding its grey ectoplastic paste.
“Ja-ack!” came a voice behind him. He dropped the cue and span round.
“Kat—oh it’s you.” He flopped down on a chair. Kat closed the door and walked slowly into the room.
“Why are you beating up your hugglephone? You could really hurt somebody doing that.” Kat tiptoed up to the hugglephone, touching it sadly with the palm of her hand. “Now your friend Gabrielle won’t be able to call you.”
Jack replied in a muffled voice “Gabrielle’s gone. Right now she’s on her way back to Gaia—for keeps. She won’t be calling anymore.”
“Oh, Jack!” Kat came and stood behind him, putting her hands on his shoulders. Her tiny thumbs went straight to his pressure-points, massaging into them. As she did no doubt for her mam, when she had spent herself for others’ sakes and came home wrecked.
Jack winced out loud, in delectable agony. “A bit lower, love…”
“I am sad—for your sake.”
Jack reached down behind him and patted her calf. “She sends you her love. She says anytime we’re on Gaia we’re to pop round for a cup o’ tea…” His voice faltered.
Kat carried on massaging. After a while she said “Perhaps you will meet someone else—someone nice to phone you up. Shall I order you a new hugglephone?”
Jack spoke like a man asleep. “No, pet, don’t worry. There’s no rush. Unless you want to phone me up?”
Kat, practical as ever, said “There’s no need. I can come round any time I like. And then you can see all of me—not just my top half.” There was no trace of suggestiveness in her voice. She was turning into a little nurse—a little vratchka, like her mother.
Jack screwed his eyes shut. She massaged harder, spreading her palms, in ever widening circles. “Jack… what’s biting you?”
Should he confide in this mere slip of a thing? This little old head on young shoulders?
“It’s all getting on top of me,” he said at last.
“First it’s the oven, now it’s the hugglephone. You don’t get on with modern technology, do you, Jack?”
“I used to, love—I used to. When I was your age. Then I went and got old.”
“Age is an attitude, not a condition. Think young.”
Jack patted her tiny hand. “You’re quite right, love…” His voice snagged on the sunken wrecks of sorrows. “I’ll bear it in mind.”
Kat stopped massaging and murmured in his ear. “Is that better, Jack? Everything all right now?”
She slipped her arms round his neck and kissed his cheek past the visor. “What’s wrong, Jack?”
“I’m a long way from home, hinny.”
She gave him a quick hug. Then she let her arms drop and considered what he’d just said.
“I’ve never been that far from home. Except once… when Mummy took me to Cydonia to see the pyramids. I was terribly scared.”
“I’ve seen pictures of them. They do look scary.”
“But I knew a poem. I said it to myself in bed at night and it soothed me off to sleep.”
“That’s just what I need,” said Jack. “Something to soothe me off to sleep. No more nightmares…” He shut his eyes and forced a smile. “Go on love—what’s your poem?”
Kat raised her eyes, snapping into the formal stance for reciting poetry in school, her hands clasped behind her back.
How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten.
Shall I get there by candlelight?
Aye—and back again!
Though you travel half the night –
You shall get there by candlelight!
Jack’s eyes widened. He made as if to speak, but couldn’t. Eventually words came out. “How come you know that nursery rhyme?”
“Why, everyone knows it. It’s the Anthem of the Star-Children.”
…to be continued.