unhomely charm

by uzwi

Paulie deRaad had boltholes all over Saudade. This one was a bleak single room off Voigt Street in the noncorprorate hinterland, no different from the rest except Paulie kept a military cot there, which he always made up himself; along with a few things he valued from his vacuum commando days. He also ran some of his communications through it, via the various FTL uplinkers and orbital routers which made him nationwide. As soon as he opened the door, a foul smell came out. It was like shit, urine and standing water.

“Jesus, Paulie,” Vic said.

Paulie told him he didn’t know anything yet. Along with the smell, there was a kind of bubbling sound. Lying on Paulie’s cot, partly out of its clothes, was the entity that called itself “the Weather”. Last time Vic saw it, they were at Suicide Point together. Somehow it had choked on Vic’s artefact, and the two of them were glued together at some level no one but another Shadow Boy could understand. A wedding had taken place. Whatever tied the knot had also wed them to the Point kid. They were all three stuck with one another–although, to judge by the Point kid’s unfortunate condition, not for long. He looked frightened and ill. He had tried to undress himself and get under the blanket, for comfort as much as warmth. His shorts were half down, his skin a fishy white under the low wattage illumination. Every so often he convulsed, his mouth gaped open and he threw up what looked like cold tapioca.

“So what’s this, Vic ?” Paulie DeRaad wanted to know.

The kid heard Paulie’s voice. It sat up trembling and looked from one to the other of them. It caught Vic’s eye. It recognised him. He could see the operator far down inside, and the Point kid, and in there with them both the artefact, still white and unknown, some animal-like thing running towards Vic across the event site. There was no way to avoid the directness of this: something wrong was happening. Wherever Vic and Paulie situated themselves in the room they couldn’t hide from it. They still caught flashes of the Shadow Boy’s unhomely charm. For a moment the foul air would be full of rain falling through sunlight, the smell of the sea. Between moans from the kid and bursts of code like music, they heard its voice.

“Am I here ?” it appealed to Paulie. “I can’t seem to see myself.”

“This happened two or three days afterwards,” Paulie said to Vic. “I can’t pass this off on my buyer. I can’t use it for myself, even if I knew what it was. This ain’t good business, Vic.”

“I see that,” Vic said. “Can we get out of here ?”

The Point kid laughed. “No one gets out of here,” it whispered, in three separate voices at once.

[From Nova Swing, 2006.]