A super transporter station near a popular nightclub called Kissers.
Sitting in the express queue, a wealthy computer specialist.
He is deaf— but is able to read lips and communicate using a miniature device .
He is captivated by a beautiful woman, waiting in the long standard fare line.
Because of his corporate status, he is confident that his encounter with her will provide a rewarding end to an already festive night.
But is beauty truly a reward? Or is she just a mask?
by loujen haxm’Yor
thanx from Uncle Sam—
to the smiling stockings
on Creep Street—
for the short time
he was with them
There were plenty of empty seats at the express lug. Thank God for that! It had been another Friday night of wall-to-wall bodies and boozers and loosely erotic party hardies. Another night of Yblic’s bodyguards having their stress factors maxed out amidst the crunching wake of his merry making, his relentless witticism, and those awful impersonations. Which meant till Kissers and the rest of the Gaslamp pubs closed up. If they decided to close up— on their own. No one knew the meaning of Last call! Not at the start of the Great Meteor Shower weekend. Especially at Kissers. They could go on forever with their liplocking services between cocktails. Which meant that tonight the city’s trollers would again perform the closing ceremonies. Anyway, at last it was over.
While the aurascan identified the four fares, Yblic Bough Mir posed his fingers inside the fluxecord and dialed home. A score of interstops between here and Eboin Manor flashed on the tack screen. His merit rating would have him cleared for nonstop transport in twelve kayars, enough time to catch the news— and a quick stick, why not?
Setting his pocketlator to the vista mode, he ran the spectrum until a holographic pair of lips tuned in and focused. Hmmm… Let’s see… Levin eddies in South Veld. (Why would anyone want to live there?)… Some unknown sets new maze record during qualifying heat at the Beltway… Flariele Pezzy wins Antarctican primary hands down. Could be first non mother to hold post of Nascent Rector… Government officials give in to secondary demands of Head Winds Cult (Not them again!) by releasing three members awaiting trial for February’s Vatican Silo incident. In return the revolutionaries agreed to set free Osegra Hof, daughter of the Commander in Chief of Orbital Fleet Esther. Em Hof’s condition is presently listed as serious— following a prolonged untreated bout with Agent Saiccan, a chemical beam linked directly to the HWC. Preparations have already been made to receive Em Hof at York Station’s renowned Ind Clinic… Saturday evening’s long awaited meteor shower should get under way____
Yblic clammed his pocketlator. He also put his filtered ceestick away, deciding to save it for when he could relax in the peace of his ariaden. No sense wasting a good high over the solar skirts.
Oh, well. A few more kayars and we’ll be ____
He noticed the standard fare line. The young woman near the end of that line. She was beautiful! The most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Dun olive hair dressed in a Psyche knot. A gold feathery sash fallen from her left shoulder and draped over nothing much more than the woman herself and hemmed at her thighs. A pearl strung anklet clashed with her one day honeysuckle sandals and her single coalmite earring— a more recent fad. (Whatever the kids conjured up, the establishment was sure to market it.) Finally, on her left upper arm she had a tattoo of a hummingbird sipping from a flower.
Yes. She was quite ravishing. But waiting for a standard lug?
Last leg of the evening. She’s got to be coming from… some fancy bash. Didn’t see her at Kissers. (Or she’d be with me now.) Maybe the Odeum. But alone? I must know her.
He felt a nudge in his side. Had to be Deanne Boosh, his chief bodyguard, overminding his welfare. There should have been a callous in that spot for all those years of nudging. Dammit! He was right. Been together too long, Dee.
“Last call— remember, Yblic?” She’d always look at him straight in the face, then fan her head like a searchlight till she satisfied the scene to memory. “Overtime tomorrow at the Satel lab— remember, Yblic?”
With his eyes feasting on the beauty in the near distance, he stroked his pocketlator, and said, “Dee. Do you think she knows the difference between true manhood and a combination plate at Kisser’s Smokehouse?”
Em Boosh could feel it coming. “You mean your manhood, Yblic? Probably not.”
He gave his companions an earnest look, and his little black box responded, “Good. Then I’ll ask her out to dinner.”
Everyone burst into laughter. Everyone— except Deanne. She simply shook her head insipidly, unfocused herself beyond the express foyer’s transparent dome and the approximate quadrant of tomorrow’s meteor show, and muttered, “Yeah. Right.”
Em Bough-Mir gestured to Orbul and Phlance to hold the lug, while he and his other escorts stepped into the lobby. It was packed with the entire Gaslamp Quarter.
The woman turned to see another lady and three men, one of whom was fiddling his fingers in the field of an open pocketlator.
A voice issued from the small translator, and said, “Hello. My name is Em Yblic ____”
Suddenly a nervous macering glared at him. And her moonlight lips pressed hard onto the stone of another band— and blew hard. A bodyguard lunged between Yblic and the woman.
Bough Mir was slightly embarrassed. “Hey, c’mon! I only want to ____”
The nearby direlug began flashing. And a couple of trollers appeared. Yblic’s broad banded arms detector went off, fervidly enough to attract the crowd’s attention. And he quickly shut it off.
“Someone send a distresser here?”
“I did, officers. This…clown here… and his friends… I’m sorry. But I’m not in to braindeaders and their mime alongs.”
“Oh, yeah?” One of the trollers set his wristband in surveyor mode and aimed it right at Yblic. ” Please hold for a shot, Em.”
“Pardon me, officers,” said the woman in Yblic’s troupe. “We’re federal retainers assigned to this man’s ____”
“Pardon me, lady!” snapped the constable.
“Em Boosh is the name. And this is all so ridiculously overboard.”
“Whatever. I’m still running a scan on him. Maybe on you too. And your pals here. Em— a big smile for Big Brother.”
“The rest of you please step back,” requested his partner.
The man waved agreeably at his friends, as the lens began tracing his form. Yes. It was just another Friday night. And another entertained crowd at Kisser’s passenger boarding queue.
The info conversion was prompt.
“Yblic Bough Mir… Federal clearance… Blah blah blah— No kidding? Satellite software, huh? Okay, Em Bough Mir. Your mug checks. Now, if you’ll just move along.”
“Oh? Is it a crime to strike up polite conversation?” spoke the pocketlator.
The fashionable nightowl puttered with her sash, and scowled, “Sorry. Ventriloquists aren’t my style.”
Boosh broke in good humoredly. “Hey, beauty bar. This ain’t no skit. Em Bough Mir just happens to be a little hard of hearing, that’s all.” Then she stood right behind Yblic and cupped her hands over his ears, and said, “Like— no hearing at all. But, he’s a pretty good lip reader. And most of the time____” With her own hand she signed directly into Yblic’s pocketlator. “Most of the time!…he behaves himself and is quite the gentleman.” Then turning his face toward her, she moved her lips distinctly: “Aren’t we, Em Bough-Mir?”
Deaf? The young woman’s eyes dropped from his handsome cast to his compiece, and she frowned. Moving closer to him, she said, “I’m sorry, Mir.” The man made an unapparent effort to inhale the fragrance from those rorulent lips. “I thought you were… just… another weirdo.”
That gadget again!
The trollers nodded at one another and moved on.
“I’ve only met one other deaf person. But she didn’t have one of those things.”
“This one’s experimental,” said Yblic. “But—” he hesitated to add, “They’ll probably be very expensive.”
“Naturally. We have our privileged… and underprivileged. That’s how it’s always been.”
“Well. Maybe we could discuss that situation sometime. Say— at the Smokehouse at Kissers… tomorrow evening… Yes?”
She muffled a laugh. “No thanks. But thanks anyway.”
“Of course.” He blew on his pocketlator then wiped it with his handkerchief. “We have our lepers and our clean bills of health. Nothing’s changed there either.”
“It’s not that at all. I just ____”
A holigraphic image beamed from the pocketlator, announcing that the express lug was in subkayar standby.
“Then at least let me amend for having pestered you tonight… and accept the next transport. It’s due any moment now.”
For just a moment she looked over towards the express side. “Oh, no. That’s okay. I’ve only got one interstop after this.”
“Aw, c’mon!” he insisted. “A token of amity between lugfarers.” Seeing her so absorbed in the fancy transport room with all its mind boggling gismos made it seem more like the perfect opportunity. Yblic knew she had never afforded an express lug. “Please… Em…”
Her emerald eyes held him momentarily. “All right,” she smiled. “Out of amity, Mir… and a provision for dinner.”
His heart in overdrive, Yblic twiddled his compiece and told Phlance to hold the lug and redial ____
“Oerter Square,” said the woman, who handed her courtly acquaintance a visitor’s token. “That’s my stoa number. If I don’t see you before the shower tomorrow night, I’ll know you were very busy. Anyway, thanks for the fare, Mir.”
He loved her sauce. Offering his hand, he said, “No problem. But please call me Yblic… Em…”
“No Ems. Just Dofaan.” And she accepted his handshake.
“Lug’s ready, Em Dofaan!” Orbul set the transporter on hold.
“Thank you!” She seemed excited. What with the forthcoming ride. And tomorrow’s date. With this important man. “And thank you… Yblic.” Again her loving orbs crucified him.
Unexpectedly she raised up on her toes and bussed him squarely on the lips, the tip of her tongue and a small pearl ring just teasing by. A mischievous grin looked back at him. And she underwent the lug’s secondary aurascan. Then stepping onto the floor port, she activated the transit timer and dematerialized to Oerter Square.
“Didn’t think you went in for bratrockers, Yb.”
The eminent programmer arced his chin upwards and tugged at his lappels in a victorious manner, and transmitted, “Sometimes, Phlance, it is necessary that we bridge the gaps in our diverse modes of expression.”
Boosh feigned an ailing visage, and said, “Spare me and dial Eboin Ward first. Must’ve been that combination special at the Smokehouse. Or was that really true manhood?”
Em Bough Mir mimicked her jest perfectly, except he overdid his part and keeled over right at the entranceway. His convincing spasms caught everyone off guard. And they almost laughed themselves to the floor with him.
“A real lady killer!” shrieked Orbul.
Shortly the twitching stopped. Yblic’s pocketlator fell to the ground. The laughter gradually gave way to the voice machine’s lug announcement, followed by a hacker’s flash bulletin.
“…As a further demonstration of our resolve to contest the perverted authority of the present establishment, we of the Head Winds Cult have just optimized our crusade by deleting from memory SATEL 2 Software specialist Em Yblic Bough Mir…”
“What the ____”
A concerned bodyguard stooped down and touched her hand to the recliner’s shoulder, shaking him lightly.
An interstop later, a young woman with a hummingbird tattoo removed an antidote needle from her arm and a conspicuous attachment from her tongue. Both were dropped into one of the avenue incinerator trays. She thought for a moment. Of the words she had learned. To become what she was. A Someone. Even an infamous Someone, damned by the genteel followers of a cosmetic constitution.
such passion in isolation— with insides blacken’d by the brand of a winter’s mask; a purse of ravenous cobwebs smiling against th’ odds in revelry to the success of the deed yet undone…
There was a faint odor of burnt Saiccam in its purest form. Then it was gone— along with a proud rebel named Dofaan, who blended into the citizen fabric of Oerter Square.