21 May 2008

Starmeander 2077

The worst winter storm in three decades knocks politely on the windows. Crack Paul turns away from his video ipod to acknowledge the pathetic electricity outside. He has a pact with the weather. He pays homage, as per the red ink instructions on his pilot's license. The storm began somewhere near the Los Angeles Heloplex. By 2 AM, she'd reached the Denver Interstellar Spaceport, bringing high-altitude ice crystals along for the ride. Denver replaced its insulation last year, the storm doesn't stand a chance. But Crack Paul admires her spirit. Storms are good company, especially in Denver at 2 AM. There's nothing good on TV. And his lottery ticket lost again. 

Captain Kidd is playing some gambling game with One-Eyed Jack in the poorly-lit corner of a TGI Friday’s. Paul smiles at the scene. Marvels at One-Eyed Jack. Jack is blatantly submissive, Punky only knows how he even got into the crew, but somehow he's always able to leverage his healing power into material advantage. No one dares make light of his half-sight, not even the captain. But if Jack ever fails to heal... well Paul doesn't want to be around for that. He doesn't even want to think about it. But there's nothing good on TV. Maybe he can justify a drink. There's still three hours until the next flight. Why not? No one has to know.

"Hey Jack, tell me how you do that thing," Kidd says. Oh boy, here we go, thinks Paul. But if Kidd wants to start shit, it might create an opportunity for covertly ordering a black russian.

"Captain, we've been through this," Jack says. "I can't go into that stuff alright? I just can't. Now you gonna ante up?"

Kidd tosses two packets of peanuts and a wad of deutsche-marks in a rubber band onto the plastic TGI Friday’s table. Jack seems satisfied, studies his hand, and rids himself of three cards. Kidd chuckles. Crack Paul tips the waitress 50% because she's the first non-blond he's seen in this whole lame-ass spaceport.

"Just tell me this," says Kidd, "Does it have something to do with non-linear quantum causality streams?"

Jack chokes on his coke. It dribbles out his nostrils. He fails to suppress laughter for a good twenty seconds after that. He apologizes and silently commands himself to lose this round. Kidd maintains a poker face. If only he could fly a ship like he played cards, Jack muses.

The black russian arrives, ahead of schedule. Crack Paul picks it up and stares at it. Looks to the server with the jet black hair and porcelain skin.

"Actually, uh... I'm not gonna drink this," Paul says.

"Then why'd you order it?" asks the baggy-eyed server. Paul is beginning to notice her minor physical flaws. She’s rapidly becoming attainable. Too bad he can't blow off work. That hair. Goddamn, that hair. Maybe he can take a lock. How do you ask for a lock of hair at a Denver spaceport at oh two hundred?

"Oh, well... I dunno. It was a stupid idea. You know."

"Oh." The server nods. "I see."

"Yeah. My higher power wouldn't approve."

"And who's that? The captain over there?"

Paul snickers. "Well yeah. But actually, Satan is my higher power."

The server smiles and flashes Paul the evil eye. Paul returns the gesture. Both are startled by Captain Kidd's loud victory. Jack feigns disappointment and fumbles for his video ipod.

"C'mon, let's play another," says the captain.

"Nah, I want to watch TV or something, I'm sick of cards," Jack says.

"Sick of cards? The fuck you talking about? One more game, c'mon."

"Captain, I'm out of deutsche-marks and I want to save some francs for later, so I'm just gonna watch TV if it's all the same to you."

"There's nothing on, you asshole."

"Well, that's your opinion." Jack switches on his ipod. The blue glow is more intense than the overhead light, but that's not saying much.

"I can't believe you laughed off my question about quantum causality," Kidd says. "I'm not a retard you know."

"Jesus, I never said you were."

"Not that I believe that shit, I was just testing you. You know how Crack Paul goes on about that bullshit, haha. I take it with a shaker fulla salt... and a spoonful of garlic."

Jack smiles and scans the program listings.

*

Anna Besque sits behind an easel in the middle of the foodcourt. She's oil painting and munching on muncheros. She has to get the right movements across. It's almost too much kinetics for the senses but not quite. An automobile takes shape amidst the tracers of spaceport patrons.

Anna has an hour long commute. It's a bitch, especially in a blizzard. She's supposed to paint a mural in Concourse B. Jane got Concourse A, the skank - and they let her choose her own theme. Anna is stuck with a painfully kitschy commission - a beach scene, innocent palms, and no people. People freak people out, it's not good for business. Especially Anna's people. But she can't bring herself to do that errand, not today, especially not with such a friendly storm rattling the windows. Yes, they're paying her good money. Oh, the guilt. That pressure building up from the third vertebra. The physical consequence of her negligence. Body consciousness sucks. During her commute, she'd seen an advert on her video ipod introducing a nasal spray designed to repress that specific stress subset. But really, there's no cure-all like barbiturates. It's late for barbiturates. And she can't paint on barbiturates. And she doesn't want to feel her ancestral connection to Abbie Hoffman right now. She wants to paint patrons. There's no time like the present.

If you call it art therapy, she'll attack you with a withering critique of your character, what little she can glean from your body language, choice of words, and physical appearance. You won't be sure what's happening because she always leaves a wide margin for interpretation, like open fifths on a slightly detuned bosendorfer.

Anna Besque looks good for her age, probably because she abstains from sex and drugs, not counting that one thing. She's schooled in the ancient Chinese art of masturbation. She's an evil cock-tease online, but only for self-proclaimed sophisticates - vocabulary is the achilles' heel she exploits.

Anna casts a glance at One-eyed Jack and digs a sharp curve into her canvas with a ring fingernail. There's no ambiguity in her interpretation of the gambling cyclops. She saw through the eyepatch and into the socket. She just about has the perfect contour, a def crescent perpendicular to the patron smears, when Crack Paul breaks her balletic fingerflick with a spit-take.

“PTFPHWAA COUGH COUGH COUGH!”

Captain Kidd laughs loudly. "What the hell is wrong with you ensign? You should probably stop drinking that coke, it doesn't want to be drunk."

"Wait wait wait," Jack says, "Are you serious?"

"Of course," says Kidd. "This TGI Friday’s is one hundred years old, TODAY. As of two hours ago. Of course I'm the only one other than you who gives a damn. I talked to the server chick, she talked to the manager, and they wouldn't even arrange a drink special. It's almost as if they want to keep the anniversary under wraps."

"But what would they stand to gain from that?"

"You don't even wanna know. Well I dunno. But you know me."

"Yeah I know you. You're the captain. You appreciate the finer things. You're a lover of-"

"If you say antiques I will cut you," warns Kidd.

"I wasn't gonna say that," says Jack.

The server shows up with a platter of delicately arranged melon slices and berries.

"Um, is that yours?" asks Jack.

"No," says Kidd. "Well, yeah. So what?"

"So nothing," Jack says.

"Fuck you,” says Kidd. “Just cause I'm eating a fruit salad doesn't mean I'm a queer."

"Hey!"

"Who was that?" asks Jack.

"Hey!" Anna calls again from the food court.

" Are you shouting at us?" calls Kidd.

"Yes! Captain! Can you hold that pose please?"

"What?"

"Oh, I know that woman," says Jack. "She's painting you. Do what she says."

"Huh? Um, okay. Wait, THIS pose?"

"Yes!" Anna yells. "Exactly like that. With the spoon in your hand. Just for a minute." 

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