by Chris N. Brown
It’s best first thing in the morning. When you get up out of bed, while the remains of fresh dreams spark into warm ash across the trails of neurons. Especially in summer, when the sun comes on and pushes the gelatinous ozone ooze of the metropolis through the window of your flat on the 114th floor. In that moment when you can’t remember where you are, or even who you are, and know only the hunger of your appetites after a long night hunting in the dream worlds. Before the anthill starts humming, and Capital starts tapping you on the shoulder.
Sometimes Medusa wakes you up, rattling in her crate at the foot of the bed. You wonder if she wants it more than you. When you let her out of her dark wet incubator and she envelops you before you can hold her, pushing you back onto the bed, opening up to you through new apertures of flesh and entering you through ones you didn’t know you had. Lately she has taken to covering your eyes with her own grown film of red membrane. Having no eyes of her own, perhaps she wants to see what you see.
Medusa plugs you in. To yourself, and to her network, the cryptic bioelectrical pathways of empathic genius that she grows in her crate when you put her away after each session. When she grips you, she mirrors your flesh, and makes contact with what seems like every nerve in your body, sending and receiving signals that transcend language. And as the cascades of spastic release hurtle through your body, all the feeling goes, too. Medusa sucks out the pain. She sucks out the very idea of the self and replaces it with flashes of lightning inside the void between your ears.
And then you have to go to work.
Catastrophe bonds are good business in a world of endless little wars and overpass-busting natural disasters. Crafting elaborate derivatives that algorithmically transform apocalypse into internal rates of return does not leave a lot of time for “relationships.” Living in the sprawl of K.L., where you don’t know the idiom or the correct time to kneel, makes it easier to embrace the alone.
You moved here with another, but the tropical fungus scared her away, and the fezzes, and the men in black with their invisible women. She went back to London, to the world of friends and technicolor dinners and the dream of family. You had a light ache and the abstract idea of the loss, but you mostly felt free. Free to be alone.
That was before Medusa. Before you brought her home from the bio-atelier in Hong Kong where she was grown.
You heard about Medusa and her brothers and sisters from some colleagues — men, of course — over a drunken dinner in Shanghai, on a road show to pitch a new series of famine reinsurance derivatives to Chinese fund managers. Medusa was part of the newest generation of the first line of engineered biological entities that could last more than a couple of months without a live-in lab tech as its au pair. She had been developed as an accidental byproduct of the latest injectable male tissue enhancements, grown from a stem cell culture that would be spiked with your own genetic material to generate a custom lover.
The purchase of Medusa was like a cross between applying to the astronaut corps and signing up for an online dating service, with two days of physical evaluations, fluid extractions and psychological inventories. They even monitored your sleep one night, your brain wired to some sort of fMRI that color-coded your dreams and generated semiotic taxonomies of your ascendant yearnings and neuroses. In the end, of course, you knew that the true purpose was really just society’s structural imperative to set you up to maximize your productivity.
For a while it looked like it would have the opposite effect. Like the third week after she came home, when you didn’t show up for work for several days and stopped checking your login accounts, locked with her in your apartment in a sustained orgasmic opium daze, a languorous exercise in the obliteration of ego. And then you remembered you needed to keep paying for her.
The investors rely upon you to sustain the growth of Capital in a world where population has crossed the summit and is irrevocably declining. And as you postulate the socio-economic sine curves propelled by off-season hurricanes and the shock waves of post-nuclear bunker busters, you wonder what kind of alpha is represented by the movement to mass masturbation.
Sometimes in the evening you groom Medusa, plucking her random hairs, cleaning her box, massaging her extruded blood vessels, putting the balms on her different dermal surfaces. The ointments make her colors change, as do the shifting lights in the room.
Sometimes you fall into a post-coital sleep without putting her back in her incubator. She escapes your bedroom. You find her on the bathroom floor, in the kitchen, against the floor-to-ceiling window. Your pink freckled snail, your pet slug the size of a very large dog, looking without eyes for things you cannot imagine. Once you found her squeezed behind the desk, devouring one of the network jacks.
You are the sort of person who prefers numbers to words. Medusa has neither. And you wonder how it is that she communicates the way she does, turning your own feelings into a looped remix that she pumps back into your bloodstream.
Afterwards, the apartment always seems to know what to do. Though when the radio comes on with music you haven’t heard before but instantly love, you wonder what Medusa is telling it.
Salter is a lawyer you work with. She represents your investment house, helping contractually structure the derivatives. She’s based out of Melbourne, but comes to K.L. every couple of months. You always have dinner, and sometimes more. You share a rigorous, overeducated clinicality that allows you to sequester your emotions beneath layers of impenetrable logic. After a perfectly spiced protein and an engineered Bordeaux, you like to let your feelings out to play with each other, like underdeveloped sheltered children. It feels good, or at least the idea of it does.
When you and Salter roll off each other, though you both may be physically satiated, you feel like you know each other less than you did before. The nakedness, and the inadequacy of language, amplify the abyss between your personalities, a gap in perception that cannot be traversed except through primate grasping and thrusting and grunting.
Which does not stop you from trying.
How is it, you sometimes wonder, that this woman who is so like you in so many ways becomes more alien the objectively closer you get? While the essentially brainless masturbatory aid you keep by your bed makes you feel transported to some plane of metaphysical oneness?
Your relationship with Salter is mediated by so many different forms of exchange. Language, money, pheromones, numbers, clothing, the narrative overlays of the idea of love. Medusa just lives. Part of you, in a very literal sense, her genomic key opening undiscovered compartments of your brain, revealing flashes of satori within.
Salter sometimes wears a designer merkin of blue synthetic material to adorn her fashionably depilated body. When you take it off, she tells you the reason we have pubic hair is to remind us we are animals.
You tell her you want to open your other eye, the one you got from your amphibian ancestors. You wonder if Medusa can help. You wonder if Medusa is a variation on the amphibian.
One morning you wake to find Salter with Medusa, writhing in the pink fingers of dawn. The sounds Salter makes, sounds you have never heard her make before, are what wake you up. You do not know how Medusa got out of her crate. She is wrapped around Salter like a sleeping bag made of skin. A sleeping bag that goes inside you, too. Salter is shaking. Medusa moves through a range of color you haven’t seen.
In time, you help coax Medusa off of Salter.
Salter did not previously know of the existence of Medusa. She does now.
You show her how to put Medusa back in her crate. You talk to her. You call her by her first name, the one her parents called her when she was an infant.
Later, you and Salter try to invent new words to explain how you feel.
Salter schedules time off the Network for a long weekend with you. And Medusa. You close the blinds this time, banish clothes to the other room, and turn out the lights. And the three of you find each other in the dark, swimming in space. Medusa comes between you, and in doing so, brings you together. It feels like you are all three breathing the same epic breaths, even though Medusa does not have lungs, so far as you can tell.
You find each other at a level you did not imagine possible. Medusa is the bridge across which authentic feeling, uncorrupted by language, can cross. All the feelings you don’t believe in, like love, and the ones you do, like pain. You cry, and forget the first words you learned, and quiver together like a slab of mixed gelatin, jolted by spasms of convulsive shock Medusa conducts through your nervous wet tissues.
When Salter returns again three weeks later, something is wrong with Medusa. She becomes inert. She resists leaving her crate, and if you remove her she refuses to move. You notice a lump that was not there before. You call the laboratory for support.
The laboratory sends out one of their field techs, who cannot figure it out either.
And so you all pack up and fly across the sea to Hong Kong, and meet with the white-haired men with white coats and extra Ph.D.s.
Dr. Wu explains that Medusa is pregnant, if that word can be applied to this singular and unprecedented circumstance, as he describes it. Pregnant with what, only extensive testing will tell. But they know at least this, that the growth inside Medusa has parts of each of the three of you.
The doctors share their conclusion that Medusa must be destroyed. Salter confounds their engineer logic with insoluble legal puzzles of ownership of this thing within the Thing. You look at the red mass squirming on the imaging of Medusa, and wonder what she would want. And understand that for all of you, the idea of choice is, and has always been, a masterful delusion.
About the Author
Chris N. Brown (aka Chris Nakashima-Brown) writes fiction and criticism from his home in Austin. Recent stories include “Windsor Executive Solutions,” with Bruce Sterling (Futurismic, 2010) and “The Sun Also Explodes” in Lou Anders’ Fast Forward 2.
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