3. CuriosityA Chapter by Rhiannon
Tryxtan again, on spending time with Issa and conflicting emotions. Escape fantasies and a little bit more mature content (not too explicit, but just be aware)
The gala the other night went swimmingly; they always do. Markus’s announcements were met with shrieks and cat-calls, and when they flashed a larger-than-life image of Issa on the wall screen the crowd went absolutely nuts. It was some stupid glamour shot he must have had taken when she was in “training” at the grotto, because she was all done up in iridescent eye-makeup and her hair was in some complicated style that she no doubt hated.
The revelers demanded to meet Issa, that she be brought out, but Markus chuckled and shook his head saying that she’d be released to the public all in good time.
I’ve never really thought that way about Markus, I mean, he saved my life and gave me a purpose. Still, the way he talks about that girl, the way he acts around her, it’s got me feeling sour inside. I can’t shake the image of her lying dazed in his bed after I dropped her off that night, so exhausted from her tirade and collapse at Dionysus Von Driest’s party supply store. I want to ask her about what life is like outside Cityland, but I can’t seem to make myself do it. I wouldn’t want to rub salt in her wounds, especially when she’s clearly on the edge as it is.
When Markus asked me to take care of her again today, I all but jumped at the chance. She’s so...refreshing compared to the other people in Cityland, which is probably not surprising due to her totally separate upbringing. I can’t help feeling that she’s a lot like me; strong-willed and fierce beneath a calm exterior. Something wild lying just under the skin, ready to bubble and burst forth at a moment’s notice.
She’s just as fast as I am, maybe faster.
She isn’t the waif I’d first thought when I saw her on Markus’s lap, either; her body is lean but tightly-packed with muscle.
I can’t resist the urge to tease her as we dangle our feet in the lake, and I’m pleased to see her cheeks color at my goading. It suits her, being flushed and sweaty. When she gives me a little shove for my teasing, I get a little jump in my stomach at her touch.
A voice in the back of my head says something about being careful not to toe any lines with my boss’s betrothed. I ignore it, reason to myself that people who hear and obey voices in their heads are crazy.
Sitting back up, I see that Issa has a faraway look on her face as she focuses intently on a family of waterbirds that have lighted on a rock near the lake’s center.
I’m probably doing something really stupid, getting to know this wild girl who will be Markus’s wife in less than a month, but at least I can admit it to myself.
I nudge her shoulder with mine and she blinks a few times, snapping back into the real world.
“What were you thinking about?” I ask, trying not to look away as she locks her stormy eyes onto me like a target.
“Nothing, really. Just...just wondering about that Novatrix place. I’ve heard it mentioned a couple of times, but I still don’t really get it. Is it another City?”
“Sort of, but not here. It’s on another planet that’s almost identical to this one--or at least how this one used to be before humans got ahold of it.” my chuckle comes out dry and humorless.
Issa shifts her body to face mine, waiting for me to tell her more. I wonder how much she knows about the history of anything.
“The people who live up there were the ones who protested the building of Cityland. Their leader was some genius-scientist who had originally discovered the planet. He sent them up there to live the way the Old World people should have done in the first place.” It’s strange, talking about Novatrix when I don’t really know much about it myself. Sure, we’ve all seen pictures of their pink skies and slightly bluer-green plants, of their Greek-style columns and strange white tunics. Novatrixians are the same as us, only their complexions tend to have a bluish luminous cast, which our scientists have stated is a result of the different minerals up there.
The Novatrixian Ambassador, Cressida Applewhite, comes down once or twice a year to review the agreements between their government and ours. I met her once, and distinctly remember that her hand felt a little waxy when I shook it, like a leaf might.
Hardly anyone from here ever goes up there.
I try to explain what little I do know about Novatrix to Issa, who seems enrapt listening to me blather on and on like an idiot.
“So...it’s like a utopia up there? No technology, no craziness?” she asks after deciding she’s let me talk long enough.
I shrug, give her a half-smile.
“Not sure. Seems like it, though. It explains why they wouldn’t want to come down here, why they wouldn’t want us going up there.”
She seems unsatisfied with my answer, sighing and flopping back onto the grass with her limbs stretched out. She pokes my side with her foot.
“You don’t ever wonder though? Don’t you want to find out for yourself?” she pokes me again, but I grab her foot, which is softer than I’d anticipated. She gives a half-hearted kick, but doesn’t struggle.
“If, and that’s if I even gave a s**t about Novatrix, I’d never be able to afford all the licenses and pass all the tests required to go see if the stories are true.” I say, brushing my thumb over the arch of her foot without thinking. She shivers, and I notice.
It’s not often that I’m in such close proximity to a girl my age, an attractive girl, who isn’t a payed pleasure worker. Most City girls with money go to school, which I don’t, therefore they are out of my league. I’m low-class.
A few have slummed it with me before, so I’m not a total innocent, but it’s a totally different thing when you’re sitting next to an equal. When you feel a kind of pull towards the sameness in the other person.
“That’s stupid,” she says in an exhale. “You probably have a better chance than a lot of people. I wish I could go.”
I’m still holding her soft foot I realize, and drop it while hoping my cheeks aren’t too red. She’s obviously in such an awful situation, knowing she can’t go home but not wanting to call Cityland home either. No wonder she likes the idea of a far-off Utopian planet.
“Yeah, well, if I ever get the money I’ll let you know. We can take the tests together.”
Her smile is enough to make me actually consider it.
Back in the Belly, in my apartment, I’ve got a ton of unread messages from Markus and other people who I do his business with. I dropped off Issa an hour ago, and since then I’ve felt like a balloon someone let the air out of. Just five minutes ago on the street outside I saw a couple of girls maybe 14 and wobbling in high-heels they were too young for, getting hassled by some greasy guys outside a bar. I started towards them but stopped when I was close enough for a better look.
The girls had that glassy sheen in their eyes, and the thought of trying to help them vanished as quickly as it’d come; you can’t help dusters. They just don’t want to be helped.
It’s almost funny in a sick way, how different life down in the Belly is from the shiny and clean Upstairs.
All the messages from Markus are from earlier, checking up on Issa, asking where we were and what we’d been doing all day. He sounds like a cross between an overprotective father and an obsessively jealous lover. Delete.
The other messages are from various social climbers, stylists and designers, and of course some spam from grottos and clubs. Delete.
I shoot Markus a message saying that I showed Issa around the City some more and that she seems happier today, leaving out the fact that it had nothing to do with him.
When I’m washed up and lying on my couch, flipping through the million channels on my wall screen, my mind goes back to what Issa said about Novatrix and how I have a good chance of going there.
I know it’s ridiculous, childish, foolish, only...what if? If I could somehow manage to convince Markus to give me the money, all I’d need to do would be training and studying to make sure I pass the regulation tests to obtain the permits and licenses. And then my file would be reviewed by the Novatrixian government and the board for interplanetary relations, along with a video of myself explaining why I wanted permission to visit.
There is no way they would let a street-rat kid who worked for Barnabas Drexel’s son step foot on Novatrixian soil.
Even so, I doze off half-watching a program about the pleasure industry, unable to stop thinking about escaping on a spacecraft to that glowing planet.
With Issa strapped in beside me.
I’ve overslept. My digitab’s alarm is shrill and pierces my brain like a spike, letting me know that I’m needed at the Luxe. The clock reads 11:15pm, which means I’m forty-five minutes late for the little get-together Markus wants me to host for some emissaries of the British Republic and United Europe.
They’re businessmen and women, politicians, people of general importance. They don’t like to be made to wait, and I’m cursing as I hop in and out of the shower and dress myself in record speed.
“S**t, s**t, s**t,” I singsong to myself while lacing up my dress shoes, buttoning my shirt, adjusting my tie. I hate dressing up for Markus’s friends or clients or whatever, and doing it in a rush is even less fun.
When I finally make it to the Luxe’s blue velvet VIP room, the guests are on the drunker side of tipsy and I breathe a sigh of relief. Markus doesn’t look angry as I take a seat between Dr. Bruno Brightman and Vice President Konstantin Ferguson of B.P. The two older men are red-cheeked and chortling over some joke one of them told, and the smell of liquor is heavy in the air.
“Sorry to have kept you waiting,” I nod curtly at the guests, then at Markus. “It won’t happen again.”
“No, I should imagine it won’t.” says Markus with a strange little smile. “How did Issa enjoy the Arbordome today, Tryxtan?”
I can’t let him see how my stomach has coiled itself into a knot. How does he know where we went? Would he really have us, have me followed? Relax. She could have told him herself that we went to the Arbordome. Maybe. Possibly.
“I think she liked it very much. All the fresh air,” I add, hopefully sounding convincing without going into detail.
Markus nods but his eyes are sharp still; shards of grey glass that I am unsure whether or not he means to cut me with.
“Yes, it seems to have agreed with her. Only, next time perhaps don’t take her so far in.” he says, lips curling faintly. “She was all tuckered out when I came home. I would prefer in the future if I am the one to physically exhaust my fiancee.”
The foreign guests all laugh, and I will my face not to redden, my hands not to make fists at my sides.
I can’t stand him insinuating things about Issa, especially in front of these lecherous rich men and women from overseas; she isn’t something to be owned by him, by anyone. I can’t understand why none of his other flings bothered me, except that maybe it’s because they were all City girls.
Issa is fierce and wild, not bred in captivity like us.
There are four girls from the Grotto on their hands and knees, platters strapped to their backs with glasses of alcohol and bowls of fruit on them. They’re all naked, utterly exposed, and I am suddenly sick. They can’t be far from my age, and they’re literally acting as tables, as inanimate objects.
It’s niggled at me before, tugged at the back of my mind, but now I am disgusted. I am disgusted as a politician from EU runs his hands along the body of one table-girl, knowing she isn’t allowed to move or make a sound.
I am disgusted as Dr. Brightman shoves a large strawberry into the mouth of another table-girl, as she tries not to gag and he fondles her vulnerable breasts.
I am disgusted as the man who is the closest thing to a father I’ve ever had sits back and lets these girls be shamed, as he no doubt fantasizes about possessing a girl less than half his age.
And lastly, I am disgusted with myself when I paste a knowing smirk on my face and reply,
“Oh, who knows, Markus? Maybe she’ll be the one tiring you out.”
The guests and Markus all laugh again, and I sit out the rest of the night feeling like a caged rat.
Once, probably a year ago or so, Markus tried to hire a pleasure worker for me. Said that he wanted me to “get some experience with women.” I adamantly declined, mortified at the thought.
He pressed on, and eventually wore me down. He sent one to my apartment in the Belly, she was waiting for me in my bed when I returned home from work one night.
I didn’t ask her her name, but she was clearly older than I was. Also, she was completely naked. I can never forget the awkward series of sweaty fumblings that occurred in the dim light of my bedroom, the way her movements were a little too well-timed, a little mechanical. She was beautiful, like all pleasure workers are, with silky black hair and green eyes that no man could deny; still, the whole thing left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Her words were sweet and her voice was inviting, but her eyes remained dead the entire time. It felt good, everything she did to me, but it somehow wasn’t what I’d thought it would be. For something that people spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on yearly, it was something I could (pardon my candor) just as easily do for myself.
Sure, the packaging is different, but the end result is always the same.
A lot of people go to grottos to get something they’re missing from the person they’re married to or dating, to fulfill their fantasies; I don’t want to.
Sure, my eyes follow a beautiful girl around a room just as often as any other guy’s. My point is, everyone wants to feel wanted, to feel desired, and that’s why they go in the first place. What I wonder is when did we stop being able to want people we could actually have, when did we become so undesirable that we had to start paying for it?
They say prostitution (a dirty word for a billion-dollar industry of Cityland) has been around since the dawn of mankind, but I know for a fact that in the Old World it wasn’t how it is now. It was around then, sure, but it wasn’t like this.
People could still love each other for free.
I wonder what it’s like outside of the City, if the free-range survivors can enjoy each other purely out of love and passion.
I kind of really hope so.
The weeks leading up to Issa’s wedding to Markus slip out from under me silently, and before I know it it’s the day before. Markus has temporarily put my job at the Home on hold so I can be available more during the daytime.
I’ve spent a lot of time with Issa in preparation for the Big Day, but we don’t really talk about it.
We visit the Arbordome, the training facilities, the museums of Old World history. Anything to keep her mind off of her impending doom.
I can’t stop myself from bringing it up, though, as we wander down a fake replica of a street in the old USA circa 1925. I like the old things in this museum, and I can tell that Issa does too from the way her eyes go all wide and she puts her fingers up to the glass display cases.
“So. Tomorrow,” I say without looking at her. I can almost hear her shoulders sag and her smile crumple.
“Yeah.” she says weakly. “Tomorrow. I can’t believe it’s actually happening.”
“Me neither,” I say and realize that I mean it. Funny, I should believe it, seeing as how I’m the one who put the whole damn thing together. Markus is content to let others make his arrangements for him, as I know well.
“Can we--can I see your house?” Issa says suddenly, stopping to admire a fake storefront with a window display of flapper dresses. I’m a little taken aback by her request, but I try not to show it.
“Sure. It’s...I live in a different part of the City, though. You know that,” I cast a sidelong glance at her, to see if she remembers what little I’ve told her about the Belly.
She fiddles with the end of one of her cornsilk-colored braids, chews her bottom lip. I’ve noticed that she does that a lot.
“Yeah, yeah...just--just forget it. Never mind,” she sighs, trudging aimlessly down the “street” away from me.
I catch up, nudge her shoulder with mine in a way that’s become kind of ours.
“If you want to see where I live, then by all means, next stop: Downstairs.” I’m being cheesy and I know it, but it’s worth it to get one of her rare smiles.
We look at some more old stuff at the museum before catching a hovertaxi to the tubes, which Issa is extremely wary of until she sees someone else getting on.
When we step out of our tubes, she’s looking around the way she did when we first went to the Arbordome, all wide-eyed wonder. It’s probably closer to the ruined streets outside Cityland that she’s used to.
“And you live...here? Instead of up there?” she points heavenward, indicating the shining City above.
I shrug, leading the way to my humble building and thanking my lucky stars or whoever for the streets being relatively quiet today. There are a few bums, a duster or two, but no fights or rapes. No corpses stuffed into trash receptacles.
Issa seems to be standing a little taller down here in the Belly, a little less like a dog who’s been kicked. I’m certain that this reminds her of her home.
Inside my apartment, she sprawls on my couch as though she’s the one who lives here and not me, kicking off her boots and sighing. It’s strange to see her here, in my place. I can’t help thinking that she fits.
“Are you hungry? Thirsty?” I offer, suddenly feeling like a bad host. I don’t really have guests, well, ever. Larkin has come by a few times, but more often than not we hang out a bar or see each other while working.
“Thirsty,” she responds, already flipping on the wall screen. I’m glad that I didn’t leave it on one of the erotic channels.
We watch a reality show based around a pink-haired young socialite, Aphrodite Blue, whose life consists of going to parties and choosing outfits and flailing her hands wildly in regards to whatever new drama is happening with her beau-of-the-week.
It’s incredibly stupid, and Issa and I make fun of it while taking sips of iced mint tea. It’s nice to sit with her, having mindless conversations with her, and I realize with a frown that I’ve come to think of her as my girl.
Which she isn’t, and never will be.
I’m mildly horrified by my own brain’s betrayal, but still shameless enough to sit beside her for another two hours. She looks so happy, I can’t be the one to ruin it.
When it’s getting late, though, she turns to face me with that deep worry in her eyes. She undoes her braids and looks like she wants to say something but is unsure how.
“What’s up?” I ask softly, poking her side with one finger.
“I can’t do it.” she says, looking up at me through her silvery-white lashes. I think that she means marrying Markus, but what can I tell her? She has to marry him, she has no choice.
“Yes, you can.” I tell her, taking her smaller hands in mine. “You’re brave and smart. You’ve lived outside, you’re strong. You’ll learn to love him.” I say, trying to ignore the sour taste those words leave in my mouth, “And if you can’t, then you’ll learn to control him.”
For a moment I fear I’ve said the complete wrong thing, a tear rolls down her cheek and lands in her lap.
“You’re not that smart,” she says in a watery voice, a small smile on her lips. Before I can protest, though, she is in my arms and her mouth is crashing into mine.
It takes less than a second for my body to respond, my lips to relax and move against hers. We’re awkwardly half-sitting, half-lying on my couch, kissing like it’s the cure for everything wrong. My hands are in her hair and she tastes like mint and tea and I’m utterly aware of the unforgivable act I’m committing:
I’m kissing my boss’s fiancee on the night before their wedding.
© 2012 Rhiannon
On The Wire
Oak Lawn, IL
Abouti'm a classically trained operatic lyric coloratura soprano who works in a library while striving for a future in the FBI. I don't wear black ever. Nature and being as far away from big cities a.. more..