This was back when we still hadn’t figured out the key to living forever, back when all the dumb schmucks about to check out down on Earth would pay to have their minds warehoused in the chitinous skin of those giant low-grav shrimp and lobsters they’d let loose on the moon, in all the new oceans that happened when the craters filled up with industrial rain.
Back in the stupid days, I mean.
I was right in the thick of it.
See this scar, right here?
It’s from then. Not from a giant claw or some antennae whipping back and forth like you’d think, either.
It’s from a dame.
And before you jump on my case for calling her that, dial back to then if you can. Everybody was financing family crests, becoming instantly royalty. Dukes, princesses, counts, a few kings, an emperor or two, and â€˜dame,’ that shuffles in there somewhere, I’m not just real sure where. Maybe it’s like a knight?
Guys who’ve been reduced to p.i. work late in life, well. There weren’t a lot of princes among us, I guess you could say. Mostly mongrels, if you want the truth, and even in that pack, I wasn’t top dog.
My office was the storage room above a bar. When I could make it upstairs at closing time, it was also my bedroom. When I couldn’t make it down, it was my cell. You get the picture. These weren’t exactly my gravy days.
But then your mom walked in.
She carried her breasts before her like a platter of cookies, I swear. Just looking up and seeing her, I was ten years old again. But growing fast.
As for how she found me, your guess is as good as mine. I’d guess she lucked onto me in the Directory. For all I know, one of those gadgets she had lacquered into her fingernails could find a midpoint between Discretion and Gullibility, then associate a name with it.
Rock Turner, p.i.
At your service, ma’am.
I’d say your mom was all legs, except for her breasts.
It’s been a clean two years since that day, but I’m guessing that if she walked through this door, I’d forget what I was saying all over again.
Just like then.
I was on the phone with a former client, trying to leverage another payment, even considering taking payments toward that payment, but when your mom sat down on the other side my desk, I hung up as gently as I could.
“What can I do you for?” I asked.
She settled into this tall chair I had back then, crossed her legs like she’d just flunked out of leg-crossing school. At least the one for ladies.
I would have lit her cigarette for her, except for the bans. Everybody was afraid of lighting the atmosphere on fire again. What they were really afraid of was that smokers would be the only ones able to breathe fire, the only ones to come out the other side, but still, you could get fined, and, since they’d taxed smokes to hell and back, I’d quit carrying my lighter.
Until now, though, until I needed a good reason to lean forward, change my point of view, I hadn’t much regretted it.
“My husband,” she said. Because it had been highlighted in her script, probably. Because she’d seen all the old watchies, knew what was expected of her here.
I didn’t care. Not that she was lying to me, and not that she was married. Really, the first, the deceit and how easy it seemed to come to her, it was what was making the marriage not so important at the moment.
Anyway, I won’t bore you with the rest of what she’d made up to bait me in. It was the usual sob-story of being cheated on, a prisoner in her own house, victim of the fairy tale, all that. She even worked her own mom in somewhere, but then, towards the end, we got to the important part: her husband had checked out.
She didn’t want to find him because she loved him, but because the house detectives were closing in on her, she was pretty sure.
You might not remember that, though, right? â€˜Check out?’ It wasn’t the technical term, was just what you said about somebody when they’d called the Service. Had one of their bots come out, attach that thing to your head. The SoulSucker.
Everybody remembers them.
Ten minutes with a SoulSucker and the most important parts of you were in storage thee hundred K away, had become a kind of transparent amoeba or bacteria in a giant lobster’s shell. You were part of its armor, now. You were in storage.
As for the tech on that, I’m probably the wrong detective to ask. Far as I could follow, with crustaceans, we’d always thought they were native to earth. Cockroaches of the sea, all that. Good for dinner and date, just creepy the rest of the time. But, turned out, they were creepier than we’d ever thought. They weren’t from earth at all, had just drifted down some millions of years ago. And, the only reason they were all small and puny, it was our sludgy gravity, shaping them. Keeping them down.
I mean, yeah, on the moon they still had that buggy look, don’t get me wrong. But they were monster-huge, and their proportions were just different enough to make you nervous, and, lo and behold, get enough of them in the same heavy-water tank like you’ve got on the moon, and bam, them suckers can lock together like puzzles. Not to make some even bigger lobster or shrimp, but . . . nobody really knew. Some natural part of their life cycle, or were they huddling up to plot against us?
You could take a sub, pry them apart, but they’d just fall away dead, and those ones that fell away, none of the other lobsters or crabs would eat them. It was like they were poisoned, or fallen soldiers.
Like I said: creepy as hell.
Still, we’re pretty smart monkeys down here on earth sometimes. We tested the water and when they all locked arms like that, got their mental space orgy on, it released something into the water that changed the other lobsters that were still solo, waiting their turn.
It changed them so we could use them like storage devices.
And that’s where your dad was, evidently.
In one of a hundred and twenty-two giant lobsters in uncharted lakes on the moon.
The rub, though, it was that somebody had put him there.
He hadn’t made the call himself.
Somebody’d dropped a serious dime on him. My job was to roll it off.
The blast to get me lunarside was the usual thing.
I softened it with four hours at the bar-two on earth, two on the moon, all the drinks there swirling with calcium so that you’d have grit in your mouth after tying one on proper.
Like I care about a little chalkmouth.
I wiped my lips and found myself a captain. Not the one your mom had hired, because I do have a few self-preservation instincts, mind.
The guy I found was a girl. She carried a laser bullwhip on each hip. I didn’t ask what for.
Hand in hand like she’d claimed me for the night, we made our way out to her ship and she took us across to the Sea of Tranquility.
All the seas kept the same names they’d had when they were just craters. Like I say, these were the stupid times.
As for why we knew to go there and not to any of the others, it was that the investigation into your mom, it was only three days old, meaning your dad couldn’t have checked out more than four days ago. So-I didn’t get my license for nothing-of course he’d still be in the Sea of Tranquility. It was the staging area, was where the sensors monitored whether your personality was going to synch up with your shrimp or not.
If not, no big deal, they could move you to a crab, and if that wasn’t love at first insertion, then they’d just load you onto one of the krill. On earth, they were a joke, were nothing, but in low-grav, they were zeppelins, floating through the new seas. They were gods, dwarfing any of the lobsters or crabs. Who knew, right?
Anyway, the first week out of your body, they liked to keep tabs, just to report back to the family on earth: “Papa Walter’s loving it up here! He’s in the third right-side leg of a snow crab forty feet tall! He’ll be ready for whenever you decide to download him!”
You know the racket.
To this day, no one’s ever been properly downloaded.
Evidently that same chemical or whatever the lobster huddles infect the water up there with, it’s like mind-glue for any consciousness that comes into contact with a crustacean and then stays there long enough for the eggheads to solve death.
Mated for life, yeah?
I don’t need to tell you.
Anyway, this is where I get to say it: The Sea was angry, and so was I.
It’s no joke, either. The trick with water on the moon, it’s that just barely lowering your ship into the water, that creates a wave, right? No big deal on earth. On the moon it’s not either. At first.
Those round craters, though, something about their specific curve, they magnify the ripple, pass it back and forth a few times in low-grav, so that, next time you see it, it’s a swell, kind of rocks you back and forth, makes you reach for the rail.
They didn’t let these craters fill all the way up, though. They didn’t want the monster lobsters crawling from lake to lake. Hard to track that way.
So, these swells, they just crash into what for them’s a wall, then come back harder, and harder, until, about eight minutes after you set down, you’re staring down a tidal wave. One with giant red antenna whipping back and forth in it.
Your mom, she wasn’t paying me near enough.
The captain I’d hired, Lorenga, she’d tapped into the Service’s monitors, of course, knew which lobster had the most recent rider, but we were only just figuring out what depth it was when I looked up into a wall of water balancing above us like in a Japanese painting, where the falling edge of the water’s all curled in and dripping foam.
Lorenga felt my silence, turned around.
Or-okay, not exactly silence. But I wasn’t screaming either. This is back when I still carried one of those dicta-wills, that you could talk into, change on the fly.
I was willing my remains to your mom. Just so she’d have to pony up for transport, sterilization, interment.
It would about equal my bill, I figured. And, it wouldn’t be going to me, but she’d paying it anyway.
I’ve tried being not petty. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
But then, that wave already changing the temperature of the thin, manufactured air around us, Lorenga slid her two whips off, lit them with a harsh crack.
I didn’t even have time to step back to the wheelhouse.
She slashed forward, using them in sequence, and cut us a hole through that wave.
The ship rose under us, but she’d cut tall enough that we barely had to duck.
Afterwards, I was laughing.
She looked to me just long for me to see the complete lack of humor in her eyes, just long enough for me to wonder if she had been manufactured, if she still had to charge up at night.
And then a thick red feeler wrapped around my waist, pulled me into the water.
Your dad’s lobster?
It had found us.
Because I hadn’t thought ahead to get fitted with gills-I could have billed your mom for it, even-I had to try thrashing and screaming and drowning, finally biting into that meaty feeler.
It didn’t care even a little.
We were diving, diving.
Above me I was pretty sure I could see Lorenga’s twin whips, but then a snow crab ghosted in above the lobster, its spidery legs so graceful that, right before I passed out, I think I probably smiled.
Above us, I’m sure the surface of the water was calming back down.
I came to with my head stuffed up into an air-filled divot that had been chipped into some underhang in the crater.
It was barely big enough for my head.
I pushed down from it but all around me there was just water, all lit up that eerie way you get when the atmosphere’s thin and unreliable.
I came up for air, gulped it down, got a lungful so I could look around some more.
A giant crab was scuttling down the wall to me. It had just surfaced. There were still bubbles of air roiling off its skin.
Working delicately with its hind legs, it delivered three of those bubbles up past my neck, into my headhole.
The air was warm and musty, and I loved it, breathed it all the way down to my toes.
When the crab left, I pushed down again, my hands keeping my place, and looked around.
All along this underhang were other people. Just bodies and legs. And arms.
This was the refrigerator. We were in storage, and not the good kind. We were what the krill had been on earth. We were those little pieces of meat drifting down from the unfiltered sunlight. Perfect little pieces of meat.
I gulped, held, and looked below me.
The floor of the sea was crunchy with crustaceans. All crawling over each other, looking, from this distance, just normal-sized.
Way in the distance was a giant, impossible disk. One of the huddles I’d heard about.
What were they doing?
I wanted to laugh, I guess. I needed a drink.
I shoved my head back up into its new home, breathed deep.
So this was it, then.
Rock Turner flies to the moon, goes for a swim with the pretty bugs, doesn’t come back up.
I imagined the headline: New Show Announced! Your Participation is Vital!
Nothing about me, yeah.
Like your mom was going to report me missing and dead?
I kicked just to try to stay warm. Watched that giant snow crab move past.
And then it came back to where it had been. Like it was running from something.
She was underwater, had both whips going, some kind of powered flippers on her feet.
She cut the tip of one of the crab’s legs off. The meat was flaky, white, perfect.
I coughed, almost breathed water, had to go up for another drink of air.
When I came back, found her, she was on the crab’s head, one of her whips severing an eyestalk, her mouth open in rage, her last few bubbles screaming up and up.
At which point your dad entered the scene
The thing about using space lobsters as storage devices for people’s minds is that it wasn’t an entirely known process. Then or now. I don’t know why we ever thought it made sense.
My suspicion-this is now, not then-it’s that the eggheads didn’t really care about putting grandpa on ice until some later date. No, what they wanted to do was infiltrate those huddles. My guess is they were all holding their scientific breath, waiting for a storage lobster to join a huddle. At which point they’d harvest the person they’d put there, wake them up, see what was what.
Meaning maybe that mind-glue sticking people to their lobsters, it was a defense mechanism, yeah?
That’s not my case, though.
Pay me to care, I’ll try. Don’t pay me, and-well, you’ll see.
As far as storage went, anyway, putting somebody almost dead into the exoskeleton of a giant crustacean, that crustacean, it didn’t really seem to mind. It was like having a barnacle or something, I guess. An itch in a place it could never quite scratch.
Try to stuff somebody in who’s all the way alive, though, and, yeah, one of those barnacles, it’s going to be more than an itch.
Instead of just hanging on, existing, your dad had fought to the top of his lobster, was at the reins now.
His giant lobster-he, him-cut up through the water like, I don’t know. Like some monster born in the depths of the universe, some monster from when the stars were young, some monster that had cut across millions of light years for just this showdown.
With his big claws, he snipped off one of the snow crab’s legs. Then another.
The snow crab reeled back, mute, offended, and Lorenga took its other eyestalk then dropped her whips, started doing that full body shudder of somebody who’s finally got to drown.
Your dad pinched her delicately in his claw, kicked hard for the surface, and, even now, I would give whatever it took to have been on the shore right then. To see this giant claw burst through the water, a limp woman in its grip, a thousand dusty galaxies as backdrop.
Using his claws as no lobster ever had, then, he climbed the crater’s wall, left Lorenga coughing on the rim of a cliff.
And then he came back for me.
Evidently-this is just from something one of the eggheads said, it’s not like me and your dad talked or anything-evidently your mom’s scent had still been on me. When I’d dipped into the water, it had shot all through the sea, had woke your dad up from his long sleep.
And he woke up mad, let me tell you.
He knew who’d put him there.
Not ten minutes later, he nipped my foot with his claw, pulled me down from my headshaped hole.
Instead of saving me like he had Lorenga, though, he pulled me into his maw of a mouth, swallowed me whole.
If you’ve never been inside a giant space lobster, well. I don’t recommend it.
He climbed the crater wall again, stepped around Lorenga-I’ve never seen Lorenga again-perched on the cliff’s edge. Then he used what he’d found in the lobster’s backbrain: potential. Old programming.
From the side, I’m guessing his giant lobster body must have looked like a dragonfly. At least when those massive, delicate wings unfolded from his shell, flapped to get dry.
We lifted up, up, batting hard against the thin air-inside the stomach was dry, which made no sense to me-and then made history.
Instead of taking a transport or a tube back to Earth, your dad flew us there under his own power.
My eardrums burst from the pressure and I clawed at my ankles deep enough to bleed, but I was awake the whole time. And screaming.
That’s not where this scar comes from, though.
That’d be your mom’s handiwork.
After we cut through earth’s puny defenses-they were all for ships and transports, not for flying lobsters with laser eyes and killer claws-we burned through the atmosphere, your father’s wings turning to ash with us five miles up.
We made a crater when we landed, and this crater, I crawled up from it all by myself, had no clue that, on the moon, the krill had risen to witness your dad lighting off for the territories.
Right about the time we were crashing down, the monster crabs and lobsters and shrimp were piling onto their huddled brothers and sisters.
Until then, we thought the way they’d locked arms, one behind the next, it didn’t matter much.
They were a disc, though.
The krill drifted into place below them, started glowing with power. They were the engine, apparently. The battery.
As one, twelve discs broke the surface of the lunar seas, their backs thick with giant space lobsters, with delicate interstellar crabs, and then they turned away from earth. Never to come back.
People wept, reached to the sky for these creatures they’d never known to worship. The usual story.
Like I cared.
There were endorsement deals, talk shows, new digs for a while. My name was even on a toothbrush.
Everything dies, though.
Evidently, the unregulated pressures inside a mentally-hijacked space lobster’s stomach, especially when that space lobster’s taking on its interstellar dragonfly form, they’re unique and transformative, to say the least.
And then there was the chemical wash part of that ride, and the exposure to cosmic rays, and whatever else nobody’s been able to replicate, especially since all our gods have abandoned us.
What did it all add up to?
I had died in transit. I was still dead. All my measurable life processes were flatlined, but it didn’t matter. I walked up out of that crater on my own, smiled for the cameras, winked at this one cute little number in the front now.
And, when that parade was all over months later, I went to see the queen.
“You,” she said, standing in the doorway, her voice sharp enough to draw blood.
I handed her my bill.
She laughed, wouldn’t take it.
“I don’t traffic with the dead,” she said.
“People pay for this bite,” I told her, snapping my teeth to show.
“And does it work?” she said.
I found somewhere else to look.
We figured out how to live forever, sure. Just be dead, but walking around.
Now that there are no more space lobsters left to hitch rides in, though-well. I’ll be at your funeral. I’ll be at all your funerals.
“You were supposed to bring him back alive, anyway,” she said, her hand to the door like she had no time for this.
“Bring him back so you could kill him again?” I asked.
My skin by then was pretty decayed, I guess, so it was hard to get a good smirk going. But I tried.
It made your mom’s hand reach up to her own face. For the wrinkles she’d pancaked over.
They’re showing even more now, aren’t they?
“You can’t prove I put him up there,” she said, smoking a cigarette she’d lit herself. The atmosphere somehow not turning to fire.
She passed the cigarette to me and I breathed deep, couldn’t even begin to feel it charring my lungs.
“That he came back is proof,” I said, blowing smoke. “If earth’s gravity hadn’t found him again, he’d have snipped you in half.”
“You don’t like me very much, do you?” she said.
“You sent me to the moon to die,” I told her, just like I’d rehearsed on the drive over. “Just to tell the house detectives you’d given it an honest effort. You’d even have a receipt to enter into evidence.”
“I don’t need a receipt anymore.”
“I could tell them what you did.”
“You’d trade your version of fame in for that? You’d just be a passenger then. A victim. It would be my husband’s revenge that made you like you are. Not your own . . . what did you call it?”
“They were putting words in my mouth.”
“We needed a hero.”
“Needed,” I said.
“Very past tense,” she agreed, and then I felt that tap on my shoulder I always feel about this time in a case.
This time it was a pair of giant, vatgrown butlers.
The one on the left came at me with a hot katana.
It flashed out of nowhere, split me from my cheek, here, down to my armpit-is the feed picking this up?
Here, I’ll lean in.
Yeah, pretty ragged.
Turns out when you’re dead, though, they can just sew you right back together.
Anyway, in case I go infectious at some point, can make everybody else live forever just like me, the Service keeps agents in the bar, now. So I won’t go getting cut in half anymore.
That doesn’t mean I’ve forgot, though.
That first time your mom strutted in? I was on the phone, collecting a payment.
That’s what this recording is about.
If I did it live, I’m sure they’d find a way to stop me. And, I would be leaving this on your mom’s machine, but she won’t accept my calls anymore.
With me, though, you always pay. One way or another.
Here, let me . . . recognize this?
Yeah, you do.
Cute little crawfish. Been keeping it in a tank under my desk all this time.
Oh-I mean him, not â€˜it.’
When I crawled up from that crater your dad made falling from the heavens, I’d crawled up alone, yeah. But now I had a rider. In my pocket.
Gravity had found your father again, just like I told everybody.
In low-grav, with the stars as backdrop, he was a monster, a giant, a space god.
Here on earth, well. As you can see.
Was that a rocket in my pocket or was I just glad to see your mom again?
Take a transport up, open the airlock, let Daddy here float out, and, bam, instant spaceship. Immortality. Eternity awaits. Live forever, madame.
Funny thing about this is, I don’t even really need to eat anymore, right?
But-here goes, here goes, into the hangar-I can still chew, as you can see.
Legs and all, baby.
Nice, good. Tastes like hope. No, no. Tastes like justice.
So, if you need my services again, you can find me in the Directory, I expect. I’ll be filed under Dead, probably.
Dead and Loving It.