Home Again, Home Again
Tesseracts 8, Tesseract Press, October 1999
This story is a sequel, of sorts, to Shadow of the Mothaship, which Kim Mohan has purchased for Amazing Stories.
I got the idea for this while snorkeling in the Bay of Pigs, on the south coast of Cuba. I'd just gotten out of the water and picked up E.L. Doctorow's brilliant Book of Daniel, when the entire story smacked me between the eyes. Once I returned, I sweated blood for a month, cranking out the 10,000 words -- I had this tremendous vision of the effect I was trying to capture, but implementing it was trickier than it appeared. I finished it on a Sunday afternoon, read it through twice, and decided it was the best thing I'd ever written. I've just re-read it, prepatory to emailing the manuscript to Tesseract Books, and I still think it's brilliant.
The kids in my local bat-house breathe heavy metals, and their gelatinous bodies quiver nauseously during our counseling sessions, and for all that, they reacted just like I had when I told them I was going away for a while -- with hurt and betrayal, and they aroused palpable guilt in me.
It goes in circles. When I was sixteen, and The Amazing Robotron told me he needed to go away for a while, but he'd be back, I did everything I could to make him guilty. Now it's me, on a world far from home, and a pack of snot-nosed jellyfish kids have so twisted my psyche that they're all I can think of when I debark the shuttle at Aristide Interplanetary, just outside my dirty ole Toronto.
The customs officer isn't even human, so it feels like just another R&R, another halting conversation carried on in ugly trade-speak, another bewilderment of queues and luggage carousels. Outside: another spaceport, surrounded by the variegated hostels for the variegated tourists, and bipeds are in bare majority.
I can think of it like that.
I can think of it as another spaceport.
I can think of it like another trip.
The thing he can't think of it is, is a homecoming. That's too hard for this weak vessel.
He's very weak.
The foam, which had been confined to just the newer, Process-enclaves before the Ascension, has spread, as has the cult of the Process For Lasting Happiness. Process is, after all, why the dirty blue ball was judged and found barely adequate for membership. Toronto, which had seen half its inhabitants emigrate on open-ended tours of the wondrous worlds of the bugout domain, is full again. Bursting. The whole damn planet is accreting a layer of off-world tourists.
It's a time of plenty. Plenty of cheap food and plenty of cheap foam structures, built as needed, then dissolved and washed away when the need disappears. Plenty of healthcare and education. Plenty of toys and distractions and beautiful, haunting bugout art. Plenty, in fact, of everything, except space.
He lived in a building that is so tall, its top floors are perpetually damp with clouds. There's a nice name for this building, inscribed on a much-abused foam sculpture in the central courtyard. No one uses the nice name. They call it by the name that the tabloids use, that the inhabitants use, that everyone but the off-world counselors use. They call it the bat-house.
Bats in the belfry. Batty. Batshit.
I hated it when they moved us into the bat-house. My parents gamely tried to explain why we were going, but they never understood, no more than any human could. The bugouts had a test, a scifi helmet you wore, and it told you whether you were normal, or batty. Some of our neighbors were clearly batshit: the woman who screamed all the time, about the bugs and the little niggers crawling over her flesh; the couple who ate dogturds off the foam sidewalk with lip-smacking relish; the guy who thought he was Nicola Tesla.
I don't want to talk about him right now.