There's an archaic song that lingers on the mouths of children; about some white-washed god holding the world in his hands. I'd always imagined those hands cupping the world, top and bottom, closing the gaps, capping our oxygen. I expected the entire population to collectively collapse some day, after we'd exhaled the last of it. Just in case, I still have a mound of pilfered O2 tanks secreted under my bed (not so secret really, they tend to roll out if I stomp around).
My studio-flat is drab and it leaks and the floor has hills. There's a perpetual lump of dishes spilling out of the sink - cleaning isn't a priority. I've littered this place with my habit: I've learned to weave through the piles of stolen gadgets, clothes, mechanical parts, jewelry, books (most everything is still price-tagged, unopen). It's all useless; I've long sold anything worthwhile.
Tonight, I'm sitting in a clearing in front of my couch. I'm swallowed up in one of those antique bean-seats, and I've got the world in my hands. A world - a universe, really. I'm no god, but there is a literal, physical, breathing-alive universe cradled in my fingers like it's no big deal.
I pinched it from some too-upscale-for-you novelty shop. It's a fucking novelty - who has five-hundred and sixty-three tril, collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, to waste on this?
CaeluSarrarium: Play God.
It's brainy marketing - Homo sapiens have been itching-bloody to play god since we slimed out of the primordial ooze - and I've got a shady buyer from the InGründ willing to pay a cold fifty bil. That's a cozy life: I could get a decent house in a decent province, maybe even a decent yard and I could just… breathe easy 'til I'm old and can't breathe anymore.
Cozy. Suffocating; I'd be a fish in a tree. The simple life was never in my stars.
And my stars are in my hands now, in this unassuming little globe. I've never felt permaglass before, it's dainty and damp, like a soap-bubble, but as indestructible as firtanium – and the packaging isn't lying: I tried hurling it onto the kitchenette floor yesterday and the only thing that cracked was the tile.
So, I'm slumped in my bag-chair, legs apart, knees bent (very un-lady-like, mom would say… I should call her), I'm stylus-ing a new nebula. Poking and prodding through the permaglass 'til I like it. Right now, it's just clouds of golden smoke, coiled like a snake. The Cotton-mouth nebula, that's what I'll call it. I'm trying to add some green; dragging the stylus through the permaglass is like wading through cornstarch and water. I love it.
I shouldn't have opened this damn thing…
Yeah, I'm not gonna sell it. I'm – obsessed, enchanted. Power hungry? This thing came with three goldilocks planets, pre-terraformed and full of green and blue. There's not much going on evolution-wise, just an infestation of protozoa. I know I can set up a cycle and bend time forward, but I haven't dived into the manual yet; it's bible-thick. Instead, I've kept busy cluttering the cosmos with nebulae and needlessly-large stars.
Right - so, I'm curled in this ball of a chair, fiddling with a nebula and there's this cold knuckle at the base of my neck, digging in, reminding me: hey, if you don't sell, you're dust.
It's more of a metal knuckle. The classic kind that propels little metal bullets into your brain when you don't hold up your end of a handshake.
And, about a month ago, I shook hands with that shady buyer from the InGründ, and he gave me five-hundred grand up front to pilfer this little universe. Naturally, I fed it all to the economy in about two weeks: food, fucks, booze, and shoes (I'd waste that fifty bil anyway). I tear my eyes away from my nebula and glance the new syntheather hiking boots tethered on my feet - I'm still breaking them in. The dress I'm in is new too: gray plaid and retro A-line, sleeveless.
The pistol presses harder into my spine. Any further and he won't need to pull the trigger, shit.
He prods me again, "My money?"
His voice is very Neanderthal-chic and I can't help but snort a laugh - I'm a little buzzed.
There's a sluggish inhale behind me, he's the kind of humorless buyer you don't steal from; I think I'm finally starting to realize I might die tonight. As good a time as any, I guess, but I'm playing with exit strategies for shits and giggles.
I don't have a/c in this skanky flat – when I first moved here, I jammed the fire-escape window open in a heated tizzy, and now it refuses to shut. It's looking pretty friendly right about now; the grunt blocking it, however, isn't. He's all cue-ball bald and sunglasses at night. Pretentious fucker.
But I can fit through nooks and I'm fast and my hair is scalp-short so no one can grab it. I could probably make it…
Another prod. "Bitch, this is no joke. Give me the ball, or my money."
Yeah, can't do either of those… Protozoa aren't that exciting, but they've been in my care for, like, two weeks and no fucking way am I handing them over.
I shrug, plan activated. "You could just fucking take it, but you don't have the balls."
Here's my opening. He lifts his gun to whip it against my skull - before he can, I throw myself across the floor with my universe tight in one hand. I roll into my lamp, it falls, shatters, flooding the room with a flash of bright then unexposed dark. A crack from the pistol puts a bullet into the floor in front of me and the Cue-ball is lumbering forward, now between me and his boss.
His feet fumble with the bean-bag and the shit cluttered around it. Perfect.
I dart behind them, even in the dark my feet know where the floor is in all this disorder. Over my couch my bed is on my left. I snatch an O2 tank that has wriggled free (it might come in handy), and lunge for the window. I dip through the frame and land on my groaning-iron balcony.
The night air is sticky with leftover rain and I let my eyes adjust to the moonlight and I don't have time to reflect on my bad-assery. I have to run.
There's sure to be more grunts on the ground, but the only way to go is down, so I'm scrambling the steps, hopefully rattling them enough to wake the neighbors as I go. There's six floors and I started from the fifth. I can hear clambering above me – more complaints from the fire-escape. I reach the fold out ladder that will put me on the concrete and I jump it; there is no time if Cue-ball is on my ass.
Wind is in my ears and I land wrong. Fuck! Fuck these boots and their rigid syntheather – my ankle is whining and I've got to run, O2 tank and universe in tow. I spin around and stumble-sprint into the dark back-alley fed by the gutters of my complex. They're draining now, spitting onto the ground in wet slaps.
I'm halfway through when a large, shadow of a man races in toward me. He's got a gun glinting in his hand but I doubt he can see enough to use it. Thank you foresight; he's only a few feet away and I pitch the tank with all the aim and muster I've got and I hear his nose crunch under his yelp. On the ground, his arms grapple for my feet as I run by, but I leap out before they close around my boots – my ankle burns for it.
I burst from the alley into the open air. To my right I see the buyer round the corner, white goatee and mohawk almost glowing in the night, so I spring to the left just as he lifts his gun.
Another crack and there's fire in my side and my ankle suddenly feels brand new. Shit.
I can't stop. I skid into another alley, this one is lit by a lone, motion-activated light. I'm grateful for it as soon as I see an old-fashioned, rectangular drain against the curb. I know I'm twig-like enough to slip through, my boobs never developed past an a-cup.
I rush over and back into it, feet first and one handed. I can hear puddles erupting under my pursuers feet as I plunge into the dank of the sewer; all of those fuckers are too fat to fit.
I fall into unholy sludge feet first, I'll feel that in the morning… If I make to dawn, that is. I trudge away from the light cast by the mouth of the gutter. There's all manner of fucks and shits echoing into my safe zone and I'm laughing.
I'm laughing and it hurts but they keep coming: deep, guttural, holy-shit-I'm-alive guffaws. Tears roll and I don't know if they're from the pain or the laughter. I hear the word manhole shouted over and over. It'll be awhile before they find one unsealed, but I've got to move in case the get lucky.
I'm still giggling as I slog through this tunnel, my CaeluSarrarium in one hand, the other plugging the hole in my side. It's the first bullet I've taken; if it's still in there, I'll have to scrapbook it.
The sewer is cramped and it shrinks as I plod through. There are turns that lead me who-knows-where and I crawl up and down steps every now and then. Finally, I pour out of a claustrophobic tunnel into an arched, bricked hall I can stand in. And there's a ledge and it's filthy, but so am I, so who cares.
I steady my universe on the platform before pulling myself up, I'm heavier than I've ever been. Small shadows scatter and creep-crawl out of my way as I sit myself against the wall. I can't believe I'm alive. But I guess that's the life I live: always just getting by.
I pick up and cradle my universe; the stylus is still stuck halfway in the permaglass. I pull it out like a knife from peanut butter, and zoom back in on the Cotton-mouth nebula – it fills the sewer with warm-gold light.
I fiddle with its gasses, and I think I might die down here. Who knows what's festering in my gut? But I can't run anymore. Now that I'm sitting I feel my body pounding in protest, on the verge of a riot.
And, if I die… will these little protozoa evolve in my image? Will they fight and kill and maim, in the name of Me, over the tiny countries on their tiny planets?
I almost hope they do: if I can't leave a mark on this universe, I'll leave one on theirs.
I cup my cosmos - one hand on top, the other on bottom - I try to seal the gaps.