"Reach" by Shelton Bryant

 

I REMEMBER OCTOBER
by Candi Chu

 

A pinkish cloud of April spritzed from the calendar bottle. When months went on sale at the Time Store, Chanu bought dozens of EconoSpring, her favorite line. Spray the perfumed powder on your electropulse points and there you were, surrounded by wisteria and daffodils, your blood alive with a sense of falling in love.

She had been poor for many, many years after the impact and could remember smelling of nothingness. A void, unattractive.

She blinked at the directional control unit inside her helmet. Her right wrist was raised even with Tekla's olfactory simulator. "What do you think of this? I just bought it. It's April."

Tekla, her roommate, winced. "Cheap-o. Honey, that junk's about one step above rotgut wine. Lucky for you the Survs developed sight as their dominant mating sense."

"And what's to see? A lot of fancy wiring?" Chanu tapped the infusion cables that ran along the inside of her bubble suit. "An army tank is more attractive than this."

"But an army tank can't dance like you do. Come on, let's set the floor on fire; it's Happy Hour."

"I don't really --"

"Come on! Maybe you'll meet somebody."

"Yeah, I always meet somebody. Somebody who's married, or unemployed ..."

The Bac Bar was jammed with the usual suspects crowded round the dance floor. Rowdy Survs, women thrusting their Econo-scented wrists at men. Only one or two Alphans, secluded over by the pinball machine.

Chanu pointed. "They look cute," she said.

"Mmm, they're divine." Tekla's tongue flickered over her scaly lips. "Don't wait up for me tonight, sweetie."

Every time they went out, Chanu found herself jealous of Tekla. She was so lucky to be an Alphan. They wouldn't even look at her. Only the Survs. And who wanted a Surv for a husband? There was no future with them, just a lot of depressing talk of the past.

Even though she was one herself, she tired of the survivors of the impact; all they wanted to do was talk about the old world. Times had changed. She was ready to forget the old world.

A buzzer sounded above the music.

"Hey, hey, you have anything smaller than a twenty?" Tekla asked. Chanu handed her a five.

Tekla rushed to the bar and placed five on 0257.

The geneticist who tended the bac bar shouted, "All bets closed!"

Everyone hushed. The fight was projected on the wall screens. Two virile bacteria were pitted against each other in the ring, a petri dish.

For a moment, it looked like 0632 would win.

"Get him, get him, get him!" Tekla shouted. The two attractive Alphans by the pinball machine gave her an inviting look. She returned it with a seductive gaze of her own.

The crowd started cheering, yelling. In a tense finish, 0257 triumphed.

"Woohoo!" Tekla jumped up and down and hugged Chanu, then left to collect her winnings.

Chanu moved self-consciously through the bar, trying not to bump into the couples making out, or the Klix dealers or the huddled Survs shooting Klix into their infusion cables.

She stepped over a passed-out Surv sprawled on the floor. Stupid; only fools messed with street Klix, a cheaper, sometimes lethal homemade version of a calendar bottle.

Someone grabbed her arm and pulled her into a dark corner.

"Hello Chanu."

"I thought you were dead."

"Must be my lucky day," he said, "at least you didn't say 'hoped' you were dead."

"What do you want?"

"Same thing I've always wanted."

She pulled free of him. Jim K, her former unit commander in the Resistance. She had trained with him, marched with him, dodged air raids with him. Loved him. Until the battle of Los Angeles.

"How did you get out?" she asked.

"I'm a Survivor, remember? Just like you. Or have you forgotten who you are, Chanu? Has too much Alphan high life made you forget where you came from?"

She turned. Tekla sidewinded through the crowd. "Over here!" She waved her webbed hand at Chanu. "I found a table."

"I think you want to hear me out," Jim K whispered from the shadows.

Chanu paused, then waved back at Tekla. "Be there in a minute," she mouthed over the crowd. "All right," she said to Jim K, "you've got one minute. Start talking."

"We were right, all of us in the Resistance. There is a vault at core level. And it does contain --"

"I don't want to hear about this."

"Look Chanu, I'm not some idealistic fool. This thing is for real. And it's our only chance to return to the old ways."

"45 seconds --"

"I remember October," he said. "Pumpkins, apple cider. The smell of burning leaves -- "

"Shut up! I told you I don't want to hear about this."

"You remember it too, don't you."

She said nothing.

"Listen," he leaned closer, "they've opened the vault. Sleevy wants to bring it out for the Chancellor's Ball; thinks it'll get him in good with the Council."

"You're lying."

"Have I ever lied to you?"

She gave him a look of pure hatred.

"That was for your own good," he said, "I had to throw you out of the Resistance. You were hooked on Klix in L.A.; you were a danger to us all."

"You told me I was your best soldier."

"You were. Before. But it got to you, just like it gets to all of us, eventually. Our sense memory, raped. That shit they put in the calendar bottles, right." He shook his head in disgust. "If we could ever really smell a rose in July --"

"You took your sweet time finding me."

"I shouldn't even be here now. Please," he pulled her to him, "if you only knew how many times I've risked my life to be with you. So many nights I've crossed the border, been so close to you and had to turn back. I left you a message once, in the amethyst garden outside your window. I drew a heart in the sand."

"That was you?"

They embraced in the shadows. A familiar warmth surged through her. All the old feelings raged to life. She still loved him and always would.

"I had to see you again," he said, "my next mission ..." He paused.
"I may not come back."

"Oh Jim K, no --"

"It was in the vault like we always suspected. It's the real thing. A cryoline bottle of October."

"Don't do it. They'll kill you."

"I have to, it's our only chance. The Alphans know how dangerous it would be to reawaken our olfactory memories. That's why they want to keep this world antiseptic, unscented. Nothing available but those cheap calendar bottles. They don't remind us of shit, they don't call up anything but synthetic trash. And notice how they don't even manufacture October; it's too dangerous even to simulate it in their cheap calendar bottles. They know it's too risky to remind us how rich we once were. Then who'd work in their stupid factories? They know we'd fight to the death for October."

"You're sure they're bringing it out for the Chancellor's Ball?"

"I'm sure."

"Can't somebody else go in --?"

"No Chanu. I won't let anyone else take the risk."

"Well, at least let me help."

"Your friend, Tekla. She works for the Council. They'll be using Survs to wait tables at the Ball. But I'll need a pass. You're a trained soldier. Do what you have to do to get it."

Chanu joined Tekla and the two attractive Alphans at a table by the pinball machine.

"Who were you talking to?" Tekla asked.

"Nobody."

"Well, for a nobody," she said, "he sure put some motion in your ocean. For awhile there, I thought it was me who shouldn't wait up for you."

 

* * *

 

Arnold Sleevy, the Alphan entrepreneurial genius who founded TimeKlix, Inc., manufacturer of calendar bottles, owned the Hope Diamond of the New World: the only surviving bottle of authentic October.

He learned that the Chancellor wanted to examine the relic, so he planned to display it at this year's Ball. Sleevy and his wife Mara sponsored the Chancellor's Ball each year to honor the Alphan elite. Sleevy used the Ball as an opportunity to win favor with the Council--and raise funds for his new factories.

The night of the Ball, the dome gleamed bright as a golden sun. Alphan dignitaries and their wives arrived by the dozen in hoverlimos. Diamonds glittered on webbed fingers; the women's scaly faces shone from hours spent readying themselves at the Beauty Spa. Security guards were posted at every entrance around the dome. The Chancellor's bodyguards worked the dome floor.

Nerves taut, Jim K waited outside with the other Survs. Microvalves of XT45 -- a nerve gas cocktail invented by the Resistance -- were hidden in the infusion cables inside his bubble suit. When it was his turn, he flashed his Council pass at the beefy Alphan guard posted at the kitchen entrance.

The guard examined him, then the pass. "Go in."

The Ball was underway. A small orchestra played while a tangle of Alphans slithered among each other on the onyx dance floor.

Jim K was assigned four tables in the back to wait upon. Between servings, he disappeared into a pantry and pieced together the microvalves of XT45.

After two hours of dinner and dancing, Arnold Sleevy and his wife Mara stepped up to the podium. "We're so delighted to have you all here tonight," he said, "and even more delighted to unveil tonight's main event. Chancellor?"

Two bodyguards escorted the Chancellor to the podium.

The trumpets sounded a fanfare. A glass case was wheeled into the
ballroom.

The chief of security unlocked the case, carefully removed the precious bottle, and presented it to the Chancellor.

Jim K unleashed the XT45.

A green haze filled the dome. Alphans screamed and trampled each other trying to reach the exit. Bodyguards surrounded the Chancellor and fought their way out of the dome.

Arnold Sleevy pushed aside his wife Mara and lunged for the precious bottle of October.

But he was too late.

It was already gone.

 

* * *

 

Chanu waited in her apartment. She had watched at the window all evening while beyond the hills, the golden light of the dome brightened the night sky.

Every passing moment was a torture. Just like the old days in the Resistance, every time Jim K left for a mission. Is he all right, she worried? Has he done it yet?

The guilt didn't help any, either. She had hacked into Tekla's docucomp and secured a pass for the Ball. The Council was thorough; the mistake would be discovered. And Tekla, no doubt, fired from her job at the Council.

Worse, Tekla was at the Chancellor's Ball. She had taken one of the Alphans she met at the Bac Bar. She was walking right into whatever Jim K had planned. What kind of lousy friend am I? Why didn't I stop her?

The sound of gunfire jolted her from her guilt.

Racing over the hills toward her apartment complex, hundreds of Survs ran for the lives. "Run, run!" they yelled. "They're killing Survs!"

He's done it, she thought, help us all, he's done it.

She bolted all the doors, turned off all the lights and hid in a tiny crawlspace reachable by a trap door beneath her bed.

She muffled her audio sensors but could still hear the screams and the trampling feet outside. Please, Jim K, please be all right, please don't let them hurt you. Just leave October alone, it's not worth it.

She huddled in the dark. Gunfire punctuated the screaming, frightened horde of Survs outside.

It always comes to this, she thought. Someone firing, someone fleeing.

She thought about Jim K and her time in the Resistance. And wondered about all the other Jim K's scattered throughout the universe.

Was it all for nothing?

 

* * *

 

The next day, the city crackled with tension. Survs hid but most fled to the safety of the Guala Desert, until the crisis cooled.

Beyond the hills, as the sun rose on the golden dome, Chanu spotted the Alphan military tribunal gathered under the glass oak tree that guarded the front lawn of the dome. From its highest branch hung a Surv, his body dangling from a noose.

It might be Jim K, she thought.

But it might not.

Tekla never returned home. She assumed the docucomp error had been discovered and Tekla had fled.

It was at least a week before Chanu ventured out of the apartment. The sun hurt her eyes. It felt funny to walk without walls.

She made her way around to the amethyst garden outside her window. She paused, stunned.

A heart was drawn in the sand.

Her vision went blurry, a feathery tingling started in her stomach. She knelt and traced the outline of the heart with her fingertips. The sand gave way. A small steel plate cover appeared.

She dug up the cover and set it aside. A hole yawned in the earth.

Something glittered down inside the hole.

Carefully, she reached down and removed the small bottle.

She looked around her. The courtyard was vacant, the apartment windows shuttered and dark.

She uncapped the bottle and sniffed.

Her eyes closed and she was transported to the Old World. She was a teenager on a sunny autumn afternoon, wheeling her bicycle through whirlwinds of golden and scarlet leaves, carved pumpkins on doorsteps, caramel apples cooling in the kitchen.

You were right, Jim K --

October is worth it.

On the horizon, an Alphan military unit marched door-to-door, searching for Surv rebels.

She sniffed the bottle again.

And began to cry for home.

 

Story copyright 2001 by Candi Chu chuchu@banet.net

Illustration copyright 2001 by Shelton Bryant avengers39@coastalnet.com

 

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