© BlueNight -- all rights reserved
Chapter 01: Chairman
The board of directors was sitting at the small, round table. In the big chair sat Alan Aoyoru, President and CEO of Alan Conglomerated, and chairman of the board of directors. The man had a face that was roundish, but well-defined. It was a face that didn't stand out in a crowd, and was more known for the always-perfect hair framing it.
"Now that the business is out of the way," said Alan, "I'd like to discuss something with you all." He pulled off the wig, and his ears came with it. He changed the proportions of his snout, and his skin became scaly and green. In a matter of moment, Alan was a lizardmorph.
Gasps came from around the table. Alan continued, "I have been a SCABS victim since before I started this company. I have realized recently that lies are worse than the things people can do against me for having a disease I cannot control. The stigma ends here."
The room was silent. Finally, Ted Ulrish, Alan Con Vice President, spoke. "Sir, I don't mean to be rude, but I think your judgement is impaired. I'm taking over."
"Ted," replied Alan, "you've been with me for five years. Have you known me to make bad business decisions?"
Ted looked down, and said, "Rarely, sir."
Alan watched his friend for a moment, then looked at each director in turn. "Like I said, it's all about stigma. People think, oh those dirty animals. They don't realize that the brains inside our skulls are just as human as theirs."
Charles Gutenshire, director of the nationwide Bill's Book Nooks chain franchises, said, "But you spread the Flu."
Alan's smile faded. "It has been proven to two decimal places that the chance is zero of catching the Flu from a Biomorphic Syndrome victim. It has been proven that pre-morph Flu carriers are more contagious than people with the common cold. The Biomorphic Syndrome itself cannot be spread. This is the stigma I mean. There will be a series of public service announcements, each dealing with a relatively unknown feature of SCABS. Sally, I'll send you the email detailing the subjects I want covered."
Sally Hamm, Alan Con PR director, said, "Any details you would like to mention right now?"
"Preferably, SCABS victim celebrities who look like cartoon animals," said Alan, "I'll do the 'not contagious' ad myself. Any more talking points?" Nobody raised their hands. "Okay, meeting adjourned."
ChesnoAzul sighed. The latest experiment had been a failure, and all she wanted was a bath and sleep. She set the bathtub to seventy-five degrees, the water level to neck-high, and the bubble-maker to -medium-, took off her clothes, and lay down in the tub.
She sighed with the feeling that her day's troubles were being carried away with the steam, as the water filled all the little spaces between her fur and her skin. She mused on the ancient method of mixing two streams of water, and the plumbing innovations that now took less than ten seconds to fill a tub. The old way was okay, but after a long day, it was too tiresome to bother with.
Relaxing into the mountain lion form she most enjoyed, she closed her eyes and yawned. The sounds of short term memory dissipated as her mind cleared, and she fell asleep for a minute. The computub, sensing that she was not aware, changed shape slightly to keep her head from going underwater.
After a short dream involving mitochondria and prions, she awoke to see a face upside-down, two inches from her muzzle. It was pink, fuzzy, and cute. She grinned, and scritched the critter behind the ears. It nuzzled up against her hand, and mewed softly.
She sighed, and said, "Today was a bust. The prion sequence is off, and the cells mutated and died."
The pink thing frowned, and made a sad mew. It looked rather like a pink cartoon hamster with a big head and a long tail, but it was twenty inches long from head to toe. It wagged its tail, and jumped from the side of the tub onto her tummy. It rested its chin on her chest, using her cleavage as pillows. The large eyes blinked, and she grinned.
"I know it's probably a dead end, controlling the flu by controlling the 'virus', but if we can't find the real pathogen, then we can't do a thing about any of it. We don't even know if it's carried in the sheath with the MNA." Chesno sighed again, and the creature sighed in a very cute way.
Its large eyes blinked, and it tilted its head. Reaching one miniature, three-fingered paw up to pet the 'pillow', it made a curious mewing noise. She closed her eyes as the thing stroked the finely furred surface.
The creature again tilted its head, and poked the nipple. After nothing happened, it grinned, and made a happy noise, and started playing with her breast.
After a minute of this, she sighed, and picked up the thing. It made a questioning noise, and she said, "I'll be out for dinner, don't worry. I'm just really tired." It made another noise, shook itself dry, and scampered away.
After her bath, she went to her room and stuffed the clothes in the hamper. The house computer quietly removed them through the false floor, and would place them in her closet in fifteen minutes, cleaned and dried.
She sighed, and fell asleep. Her dreams were fitful, as she chased the cure for the virus. They could eliminate the virus protein sheath in test subjects, but the morphological anomolies remained, and the virus reappeared after several hours. Shifters could shift without the 'virus' being present, but there were only clues about the mechanism of shifting. They had known this for a year, and yet they still had no luck finding the true pathogen. They didn't even know what the Martian nucleic acid in the virus meant, since it included an otherworldly mix of helium and silicon.
In her dream, she was looking over a pink snout, and wagged a long tail. She realized that dream-logically, she could catch the cure by flying. She flew up, through the stars, until she reached Mars. There, she met a Martian, and he gave her a vial. She placed it under her bed, and
awoke, startled. The room was darker, indicating evening. The pink thing was on her bed, with its head tilted, staring with those eyes. "I almost," she said, then started again after catching her breath. "I almost had it. I put it under the bed."
The pink thing said, "Tell me next time, if you look under your bed." It turned, sat on the edge of the bed like a child would, and looked out the window. The room had turned orange, and the thing said, "Again with the sunset. Day in, day out. I know it's the Earth's rotation, but sometimes, I think it's trying to tell us something."
Chesno Azul nodded. "You're as constant as they are, the sun and the Earth. I hope we find a cure soon."
"I hope the author knows what he's doing," replied BlueNight as he transformed into a cartoon-proportioned lizard. "I hope there's light at the end of the tunnel. I hope this isn't my eternal reward. I... just hope."
She hugged him, and they went downstairs to eat.
The Blind Pig wasn't crowded that Tuesday night. Many of the patrons were inanimorphs, but Donnie the barkeep bull and a few other biomorphs were also there. The piano played soft piano jazz, giving a coffee-house feel to the atmosphere.
BlueNight the lizard sat at one side of the room, next to a whiteboard and dry-erase markers, sipping a root-beer-cola. At 9:10, Pascal the plush porcupine walked in. "Sorry Blue, I just finished class. What did you want?"
BlueNight stood up and cleared his throat. "I asked Donnie to make Tuesday night the Blind Pig's inanimorph night, and I emailed Pascal, Bob, Bryan and Brian, because I needed opinions. I have a theory on SCABS, and I don't know what to do with it."
Some of the patrons watched with interest, while others looked away or into their drinks. BlueNight drew three stick figures on the whiteboard. The last had a snout, pointy ears, and a tail. Above them he wrote "Uninfected", "Infected", and "SCABS Victim". He pointed to "Uninfected". "This is a normal human. I'll name him Bill. Bill thinks he's just one big chemical reaction with no soul."
BlueNight drew tiny dots around "Infected", and said, "Then, he catches the Flu. He is one of those hardy types with a good immune system, and he manages to survive. He's a carrier, folks." He drew dots inside Bill's head. "He spreads the Flu, carries the Flu, and people who don't know he's been sick don't know not to touch him. It mutates inside the body, and the body can't figure out what defense to mount. Doctors have isolated the pathogen at this stage, but when they remove it from the body, it is an empty protein shell. Bill thinks he's still a chemical reaction, a group of atoms that can walk and talk and breathe."
BlueNight walks to the third figure. "Here's Bill as a foxmorph. He woke up this way, being one of the lucky ones who doesn't need intensive care while he changes. He's still a biological entity, though, and the point I'm going to make will be lost on him, so..."
He erases the stick-figure fox and in its place draws another stick figure that looks like the first two.
"Bill is now a life-sized Ken doll, although a bit more anatomically correct. He can move his arms, legs, and head. His boss allows him to work from home, as he works in an office building. He's one lucky S.O.B., because if he was a manual laborer, he would have been fired outright.
"He is now plastic, and masses more than he did before, except for his head, which is hollow rubber. He can use the information of light and sound hitting him, instead of merely absorbing it like a non-SCABS doll. He isn't alive in the idea of being a chemical reaction of blood and muscle and neuron. He seems to break the laws of physics."
BlueNight sat on a backward chair and rested his arms on the back. "What is he now? He's obviously alive, but will stay forever young and plastic. This is either high technology or magic. Following the Judeo-Christian paradigm of souls, I've come up with a theory. The souls of ordinary mortals and SCABS biomorphs, whatever they are, influence the quantum states of the bioentity's neurons. In effect, thought is biological, emotion is chemical, reality is defined by five senses, and life ends at death-" Here BlueNight paused for effect, "Because the soul cannot further influence the dead brain. It cannot move the body."
Most of the patrons were looking at BlueNight. George the #2 Pencil and Francine the chair were not moving, indicating a state of attention.
"But what if something altered the very nature of the body's atoms, made them as receptive to quantum variation as biological neurons? What if the soul could stay on, inhabiting a group of atoms that can move without muscles? What if the soul holds the thoughts and memories, now that there is no brain capable of these tasks? What if the soul was the very essence of who or what someone was?"
People were nodding, and BlueNight felt driven. "I'm here to tell you that I think SCABS does exactly that, that we are bound, not through our brains, but to our brains, to our bodies, to our very electrons. Electrons have memories, you know, and we still haven't figured them out completely. I'm guessing that SCABS binds the soul to the body in a very unusual way. I don't know how or why, but that's why I invited doctors and scientists to join us tonight. Anyway, thank you for listening. I was hoping to get your ideas and questions."
A clay dragon raised its hand. "What do you mean by quantum variations?"
George extended his eraser. "What do you mean by paradigm?"
Questions broke out left and right, and BlueNight quieted them. "I'll take questions, but there were too many right then. I'll start with the first two. Paradigm simply means a way of doing things. The soul paradigm is just a way of looking at the idea that there is life after death. There is also the essence paradigm of the Shinto and Bhuddist cultures, that the essence isn't really a piece of identity, it's just a node of God. That's what paradigm means.
"Quantum variations are the probabilities on the micro level of matter that say there's a fifteen percent chance this electron is over here, and an eighty-five percent chance it's over there. If something could change those chances at a very high rate of speed, a pencil could bend just by wanting to. Some SCABS victims, like our friend Bill the action figure, can't bend that way, or can only bend at certain points. This piano can only move its keys and footpedals, but making its strings vibrate in a certain manner could allow it to talk."
The piano, shocked, stopped playing, and started vibrating strings without using keys. BlueNight said, "Awesome. I bet you could hold your strings in one position and let them vibrate, like a harpsichord."
The piano "plucked" itself for a few moments, then started playing a minuet. After the song, everyone applauded. The piano made a happy noise, and said to BlueNight in nearly understandable tones, "Thank you."
"You're welcome, friend." He looked around. Pascal had her hand up. "Yes?"
"I've made modifications to myself, and the pieces I added felt seperate at first, but now feel like me. Under your theory, pieces can be absorbed, possessed as it were, by our stuck souls, right?"
BlueNight nodded. "Of course. Others might not have that possession ability, so they would be stuck being the way they are. Losing a screw or a part, replaced bits might feel like prosthetics, like a piece of clothing. George was sharpened once. Hold on a moment."
BlueNight picked up George, and held him eraser-first over Hal, the laptop. Hal obliged by starting Notepad. George pointed at the key he wanted to press, and BlueNight moved him closer so he could press it. Eventually, this was typed, and BlueNight read it aloud.
when i was sharpened, it felt like my toe was being cut off. it hurt like hell. i wanted to scream, but i can't because i am a pencil. i made my presence known by wiggling around, but i fear that someday i will be written with and it will feel like road rash, like being scraped along a road. i don't know if i would run out of lead, and if i would be just a stub in a landfill if i hadn't found out how to move. i'm just glad i was able to make my way to a keyboard and tell my co- workers what happened. the end
"The end. Thank you, George."
The discussion ranged from alcohol's effect on most of those attending, to "What to do if one is mistaken for an object" to quantum physics and the nature of reality.
At the end of the night, they went home, happier than they had been for months. Donnie declared Inanimorph Night a success, and posted a notice to that effect, as well as an open invitation for biomorphs as well. As for Pascal, a nagging feeling was stuck in the back of her mind. Something BlueNight had said.
"We are bound, not through our brains, but to our brains, to our bodies, to our very electrons." We?
Chapter 4: The Truth
BlueNight the lizardmorph sat on his couch. His face was a scowl.
Across from him, on another couch, sat a plush porcupine with her arms crossed.
BlueNight took a deep breath. "So, what exactly do you know?"
Pascal said, "I know that you're an inanimorph. I know that you're powerful or practiced enough to appear to be a biomorph. I know that you're a multi-billionaire. I know that your computer security still isn't good enough. I want to know the truth."
BlueNight said, "And I know that you know that I would never kill anyone just to remain a secret. So, I am at a disadvantage."
Pascal nodded. "I also want to know what happened to Natalie Gadmouse."
BlueNight sighed. "Okay, I'll start from the beginning. I was at home, sick with the Flu, when my heart stopped. It was an extremely odd feeling. My muscles ached from the acid caused by the anaerobic reaction of ATP, which is how the body gets energy when no oxygen is available. As my cells died, my senses shut down. I realized that I should have been heading off to Heaven."
He looked down, then into Pascal's eyes. "I should have died that day, but the Flu kept me here, bound me to this immortal shell. As every cell in my body died, I found that I had no sense of time, and nothing to keep me from going insane. I realized that I was in great danger of going insane, so I quieted my mind, and listened, and watched."
Pascal waited as BlueNight stopped talking. Finally, she said, "So, what did you do?"
He shrugged. "I waited, and waited, and prayed, and I found I could hear something. It was a very slow vibration, but as I focused on it, I realized that it was music. My sense of time snapped back into place, and I realized it was classic rock. Carry On Wayward Son, by Kansas. I was hearing the radio waves hitting the iron in my corpse."
Pascal managed to acquire a surprised look on her plush face.
BlueNight continued, "I discovered a number of new senses that day. Radio of all sorts, I could concentrate on any band, anywhere, even unencrypted government bands. I found I could watch television waves, by deciphering their encoding. I wasn't going anywhere, and I could speed up my thoughts. Finally, I discovered how to see. A simple modification of electromagnetic listening, really. I saw infrared through ultraviolet, and beyond. It's amazing how much energy passes right through us, and we never knew it.
"I also discovered I could feel the gravity of my situation, of the blankets and matress, and especially of the Earth. I could feel the Moon's tide in my stilled and coagulating blood. I could feel the chemical composition of particles hitting me, just by feeling their gravity on different portions of my corpse. I could feel the bacteria inside me chewing, gnawing at my dead cells."
BlueNight said, "To make a long story short, I could listen and watch, but I couldn't do anything. I wondered what would happen to my conciousness when the bacteria finally devoured me. Would I be a skeleton, a skull buried and forgotten? I saw my own funeral. I saw my family crying, my parents, sisters, aunts, uncle, grandparents, and cousins all wearing black, all my out-of-town relatives having spent money to travel to Albuquerque, to watch my corpse as Pastor Tom talked about life and death and Heaven. I saw the lid close for the last time, and I felt myself being buried."
Pascal muttered, "Poe's worst nightmare."
BlueNight nodded. "It was worse for me, because I knew I couldn't ever really die, or maybe I'd become part of a bacterium and lose my soul, or anything else. I was really freaked out. I think emotions can manipulate the Flu, because just as I was sobbing inside, and praying and crying to Heaven, I felt the bacteria stop eating me. They were gnawing, but they weren't able to take me apart from the inside. I was giddy for a while, until I realized I was truly immortal, and I couldn't ever be taken apart. That's when I decided to leave my coffin."
Pascal said, "Wow."
"After a whole week of trying to move," continued BlueNight, "I discovered the secret of motion you limited inanimorphs know instinctively. I flowed to the surface, a mass of chunky body parts. It was night, and the moon was full and bright, and directly overhead. I straightened myself out, became a bad parody of human, a mass of pink with eyeballs stuck in like cherries on a sundae. I couldn't separate any part of myself from any other part, I theorize because my soul was bound to the whole mass. Over two hundred pounds of mostly carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen.
"That night, I soared as a dragon."
Pascal nodded. "So, with practice, you found out how to simulate biomorphia. Interesting story. Now..."
"Natalie?" BlueNight asked, then sighed. "We were married in Utah, along with Beth and Caryn. From the start, Nat liked her gendermorphed body. She had been ten months into a pre-op program when she got a new body free of charge. She didn't like the mouse parts, didn't like the feeling of being part animal, so she had her tail amputated and scheduled an ear-bobbing and snout reshaping plastic surgery. Her tail grew back."
Pascal's face saddened.
"She was locked into that form. Locked forms are still something of a mystery, because some seem to be psychological, and others seem to be just plain stuck. She could gendermorph other people, but being human-morphed
by others didn't work at all."
Pascal sighed. "I met her online around February two years ago. She started sounding depressed two months ago."
BlueNight nodded. "She had been more morose since a surgical ear-bobbing failed to keep. I tried to comfort her, but she finally took her own life."
Pascal asked, "Couldn't you have stopped her? Couldn't you have healed her?"
BlueNight clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut. "I was too late. She blocked the house computer from watching her actions; she programmed it in the first place. I could see that she was dying. I tried, I sent tendrils thinner than her capillaries into her, slowed my time sense down to a virtual standstill. I repaired cells, filtered and fed her oxygen, but the damage was too extensive. She died in my arms."
Tears fell from his face. Pascal covered her bead-eyes with her paws, and made sad sounds. BlueNight, sensing a need, slowly changed into a warm plush version of himself, padded across to Pascal's couch, climbed up, and held her.
After a while, Pascal sniffed. "Thanks. I'll be going now."
BlueNight said, "Do you need to go anywhere?"
Pascal thought, then shook her head.
BlueNight said, "Would you like to go to the moon? I find that sitting on the rim of the Sea of Tranquility can be a marvel for easing pain."
Pascal looked at him, and nodded.
Chapter 5: Moon Shot
Pascal was enclosed in a clear bubble, reading a book. The bubble was BlueNight in a decidedly nonhuman form. Finally, he released her.
"Okay, we're good to go," he said, reforming into a plush lizard, "You don't need oxygen or an atmosphere, so that reduces the fuel weight by tons. Are you ready?"
Pascal said, "I've got a three-day weekend, and I didn't have any other plans. I'm ready to go to the moon."
"We'll leave from the backyard," he said, and walked through the doorway. "Would you like any food or drinks along with your book?"
Pascal, squinting from habit as she stepped into the morning sunlight of the backyard, said, "No, I'm fine without."
BlueNight nodded, and, turning into a shiny sky-blue rocketship, opened his door and formed steps. Pascal climbed inside, and sat on a recliner designed for her size and tail shape. The stairs retracted and the door closed. A small television screen lit up, and a cartoon representation of BlueNight, appearing as if he was in a pilot's compartment, twisted knobs and turned dials. He asked, "Would you like a transparent vessel, or a solid-looking one?"
She thought for a moment, and said, "Transparent. This should be interesting."
The cartoon nodded, and turned a big dial. The walls of the vessel fuzzily became transparent. "Okay, to reduce the fuel needed, I'm going to become lighter than air, and therefore buoyant. For this stage, we'll travel around two gravities. Tell me if you become uncomfortable."
The television disappeared, and she watched as her recliner seemed to float off the ground by itself. The speed increased, and it seemed as though they were falling up. She could see the ground disappear, and grinned as the river became visible. They passed through a thin cloud, and kept going up.
After ten minutes, their acceleration had dropped to nearly zero. "Okay," he said, "As we've been going up, I've been collecting oxygen. Now that we're a few miles up, I'm collecting hydrogen, and once I've done that, we can boost through space. I'll reduce my surface friction to zero, which means we would fall no matter how light we are, but I'll start the combustion that moment, so we'll thrust without friction instead. Get ready for five or six gees. By the way, I am the atmosphere through which you're listening to me."
Pascal put her bookmark in the book, and placed the book in a conveniently labeled "Book Holder" which had grown next to her acceleration chair. The chair strapped her in, and the invisible wall filled in so close her nose touched it. She said, "I'm ready."
The monitor, now embedded in the invisible wall, showed a picture of the back end of the BlueNight Spaceliner, as well as a diagram of the layout. At the back was an engine, connected to fuel tanks which were outlined in glowing green. As she watched, they started flaming, and a tremendous pressure pushed her into the couch. She was startled to realize that she was squashing, her body becoming thinner as no human's could.
She watched the sky turn from blue to black, and saw more stars than she imagined were possible. She gazed at the glory of outer space in wonder.
The pressure remained, and she watched the engines nearing her compartment. A text label appeared on the screen: "There is no need to waste fuel on an empty tank, so I'm shrinking as I burn it away."
Finally, the acceleration slowed, and stopped. Her chair rotated so the sun was behind and above her, the perfect reading light. The book popped out of the slot, and the monitor displayed a cartoon Earth, Moon, and rocket. The rocket appeared to be standing still, just a pixel past Earth. As she watched, it moved another pixel. An "Estimated Time of Arrival" countdown clock appeared, and displayed "12:04:19". Pascal shrugged, took her book, and started reading.
A beeping woke her. The ETA clock displayed "00:04:00", and she yawned. Her book was held on the page she had been reading, caught when she dropped it. She sighed, and looked around. There was the Sun, and the Earth, but the Moon...
The chair turned, and her breath caught. It was tremendously large. Its gray glory was shining in perfection, and growing larger. It filled her entire field of vision, as seen by her bead-eyes, and she shivered as she saw it with her entire body. It was beautiful.
And it was growing fast. She said, "Uh, BlueNight?" A snore from the monitor caught her attention, and she saw the cartoon lizard napping on the console. "BlueNight!" she yelled, and slapped the wall.
The lizard woke sleepily, and muttered, "I don't wanna go to school, mom." Then he caught her eye, and started twirling dials and flipping switches. Alarms started to go off, and Pascal gasped, as the rocketship display became a display of a ball. Around her, a ring of what looked like gray metal appeared, and her chair rotated to face space. "We're coming in too fast!" he said, and the monitor showed the surface approaching at an alarming rate.
Then, she glimpsed something slowly growing on the screen. It appeared to be a dark spot on the moon's surface. Acceleration caught her, and squashed her against the couch. She gasped as they plunged into the hole, and the dark sky shrunk to a few stars surrounded by rings of light inside the tunnel.
They slowed to a stop, a pink bubble surrounding a plush splotchypine, resting on the floor of a moon base. The bubble dropped her to the ground, and sputtered around like a popped balloon before becoming a human-proportioned lizardform once more. "Gotcha," he said with a grin. She punched him, and walked toward the door, floating into the air with each step.
He bounced to catch up with her. "I slowly decelerated while you were asleep. The railrings were just the final step. I use them to get back to Earth without much fuel. Here," he said, handing her a nametag with a pattern of light and dark squares, "This'll keep them from tossing you out on the surface." He grew a patch on his own chest. "Are you ready for Moon Base Alpha?"
Pascal nodded, and BlueNight pushed several buttons on a keypad next to the door. It cycled open, and shut behind them. Another door opened when the light turned from red to green. Pascal was puzzled, why have an airlock when there was no air on either side? For that matter, how were they talking?
A team of security personnel, all wearing blue uniforms and caps, was waiting on the other side, guns pointed. "Chill," said BlueNight, and they lowered their guns. Pascal looked at them in wonder.
There was a zombie-looking man, muttering something about false alarms. There was a metal hedgehog, with metal spines and a specially-made shirt. There was a wooden office chair, also wearing a blue uniform, carrying a stun pistol. In front, and in a posture of authority, was a skeleton, also wearing a uniform, its bony hands placing its gun in a holster.
It leapt horizontally, making use of the lower gravity, and BlueNight caught it and twirled it around. "Blue!" it squealed, and pressed its bony jaws against his face. He made kissing noises, and held it gently. "I just couldn't stay away, Shelley," he muttered, running his hands down its back. It responded by pressing its bony frame against him. After a moment, they stood straight, and BlueNight said, "Pascal, meet Shelley. She's chief of security for Alpha."
Pascal held out a paw, and the cold fingerbones embraced her cloth. "Nice to meet you, Shelley."
"Welcome to Moon Base Alpha, Pascal. I hope you have a good time here." She released the plush paw, and Pascal grinned.
"How are we talking?"
Shelley pointed to her own ID badge. "These contain radio transmitters and microvibrating speakers. Same tech as in holo VR goggles, but modified for use in non-atmosphere conditions. You hear it because you can hear with your body, same as most of us. Jimmy there," she pointed to the zombie, "doesn't have blood pressure anymore, so he's part of the security team."
Pascal nodded. "Nice place you've got here.
Shelley's constant grin was infectious. She followed the rest of the security team toward the door at the end of a hallway. "These tunnels were hollowed out by nanos of BlueNight's design, and are even secure against moonquakes. We are powered by a nuclear fission reactor, and make our own air and water. The other side of the compound is for the few biomorphs we have here. They're mostly here for low gravity reasons."
Pascal nodded. She felt fluffier and taller, in spite of the lack of air.
She lay on a beanbag chair in the Dome Room, staring at the ceiling. It was incredible. Due to the high-powered telescopes of the military, and the threat of micrometeorites, they didn't have a dome, but a fisheye camera provided a live feed of Earth and the surface of the Moon, 24/7. The Dome used the Visible Paper tech, developed by the eBook industry for low-power handhelds, and Pascal felt like she was really in a cafe on the surface of the moon.
It had been only five hours, but she had met an astounding number of inanimorphs. Most of them were conducting e-business, experimenting with low-gravity manufacturing, or doing things related to the future of the colony, but she felt a personal connection to each, even those with the most esoteric forms. She felt like she had at her first science fiction convention, her first Comdex, her first IRL meeting of people she'd only known online. It was a warm feeling deep in her fuzzy innards, and she liked it.
Earth is overrated, she thought, and fell asleep.
Pascal was on the surface of the Moon. It was very bright, because the moon was half-full on the ever-spinning Earth, and Moon Base One was at the edge of the dark side. BlueNight had explained the placement earlier that day, using his body as a diagram.
"You see," he explained, turning his right hand into a model of the Earth, and his left into a model of the Moon, "The Earth spins, so people see the Moon rise and set. The Moon has long been gravitationally locked, and only one side ever faces the Earth. Nobody can see this side, so they call it the dark side."
He grew a second right arm, stretched it to one side, and made it shine on the other hands. He started spinning his Earth, and made the Moon orbit, always showing one crater-pocked side to the Earth. Pascal could see that the shadow was always opposite the Sun, not the Earth. "However, it gets its share of light, which is why we use solar power during the fourteen-day lunar day. This base is on the trailing edge of the Moon, to avoid hurtling rocks from space."
He grew a second left arm, and each finger became a meteor on a thin wire. He moved this hand into the orbit in such a way that the meteors hit the Moon hand. "The leading hemisphere of the Moon has much more meteor activity, so the trailing half is safer. We do have five bases, one at each corner of the dark side, and one smack dab between the others."
He reabsorbed his extra arms, and turned the Earth back into a hand. The Moon grew slightly, and five green spots appeared, along with a thin black band to delineate the side visible from Earth. He pointed at one. "We are here."
Pascal remembered with a grin. Her tours of the labs, the biomorph quarters, and the cafe were good memories. Then, looking up at the naked stars, she remembered her mission.
Shelley, head security and administrator of Moon Base One, a skeleton, and BlueNight's fourth wife (legal in Utah since 2006), was worried. BlueNight had not checked in for three hours, and his signal tracked to the rim of a crater only three miles from the surface entrance of Moon Base One. Pascal had volunteered to pick him up in a Moonbuggy, partly because she was worried, and partly because she wanted to see the surface.
She saw the lizard sitting with his back to her as she approached. She parked the electric vehicle, muttered something to Shelley on the frequency she had assigned, and joined him on the rim. He was sitting with his head in his hands, looking glum. She sat down next to him, and sighed. He didn't even blink.
Finally, he muttered, "The worst part is not knowing. Did she do it because she wanted to, or because HE told her to? Was her action extrapolated from the psychological trauma of being a mouse, or because I was destined to help that lizard in the bar? Was I unable to save her because of realistic extensive biological damage to her tissues, or because it was more dramatic? These are the questions I have to face, because I cannot know if my reality is fiction or fact."
There was a silence, the silence of the stars and the moon and the stillness of the grey landscape. Finally, Pascal said, "All I know is, you have to keep going."
BlueNight turned to her, his face a mix of rage and frustrated sorrow. "Do you know what it was like? I held her in my arms! I rubbed her pearly white breasts! I kissed her snout! Oh, if I could have fixed her mouseyness, I would have! She was a perfect woman! I don't even know if our first date was real or a figment in some college kid's stupid imagination!"
Pascal stared into his eyes. There was something there, something pained, and hurt, and very small. She said, "It's real to us, and-"
"And that's all that matters, is that what you were going to say?" he interrupted, standing suddenly. He picked up a rock, and threw it into the crater. A puff of dust rose where it impacted, halfway down the slope. "I had a wife, a beautiful, loving wife, and I don't know if she was taken from me, or took herself! I need to know these things, and the universe can't break the stupid rules! I dare the universe to show me right NOW whether or not it is real!"
The dust from the rock he had thrown settled, undisturbed by the lack of wind. No desert breeze whipped across the grey plains and grey valleys. The stars were perfect, unmoving points of light. Nothing happened that shouldn't have.
BlueNight watched the Moon's uncaring nothingness for a minute, then in sudden rage, ripped off his ID badge and leaped down the slope in giant bounds. Pascal jumped after him, her shorter legs not able to make leaps the size of his. She came to a stop to one side as he reached the floor of the crater and started pounding away with giant fists. He pounded at the surface of the moon, then fell to his knees and pounded with both hands at once. when he stopped, his tears dripped into the dirt, then sucked back into his eyes, because of course he couldn't be separated into more than one part, and had been connected to them by a thin, molecule-sized thread to his eyes. He loved the symbolism that he couldn't even cry, she thought, and watched as he turned into a dragon.
The form that BlueNight achieved was thirty feet from head to vent, with a tail just as long, and wings that unfolded from his back and stretched a great distance, as he screamed a silent roar of pain and agony at the farthest stars. His scaled, clawed hands clenched, he took another breath of nothing, and screamed again, his eyes closing. He yelled his silent scream of anger and pain at the bright sun overhead, at the stars, at the universe itself.
And he crumpled, shuddering with imitation of the physiological emotional reaction of crying. He clawed at the surface, making deep furrows in the fine coating of dust, and the rock below.
After a minute, he stopped crying, laid on his back, and stared at the sun. He shrunk to his usual form, then farther, until he was the size of a small child. His features were younger, cuter, but still held the pain. He glanced at Pascal, and she ambled over awkwardly in the low gravity. She sat down, and he crawled over and curled up in her lap and started sucking his thumb, eyes closed. She rocked with him.
An hour later, they walked back to the Moonbuggy, and drove back to Moon Base One. BlueNight disappeared into Shelley's room for hours while Pascal used the Dust Removal Nanosystem and prepared to leave. When he came out, he was his usual, cheery self, but there was something more honest in his cheeriness. They said their goodbyes, and entered the acceleration tube chamber once more.
As Pascal was enclosed by BlueNight, this time a metal sphere, she asked, "So, how do you do it with a skeleton, anyway?" The monitor panel again appeared, and the cartoon lizard turned a few dials and pushed some buttons. "You be her flesh. Map muscles to her movements, map sensory data to her bones, and use a mirror. She used to be African-American, but this time we were an eighteen-year-old Irish redhead in prime shape." He pushed one final button, and a tremendous acceleration expelled them from the Moon.
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