Ruby-June stood shivering in a cloud-shaped queue at what appeared to be a bus stop on the sidewalk outside the Frisbee-shaped terminal. Awake for endless hours already she sang a song under her peppermint breath and every frosted word she crooned exploded like kisses on a Crossmaus wind. And there and there around her other dim lanterns of human breath rose and blurred into the evening.
Singing under her breath was always a sure sign that Ruby was nervous, thought Ruby, nervously, but what was there to be nervous about?
Ruby sang doot-da-doot-da-doot…
Remembering when floatels were silver puddings. Puddings forty feet tall. She remembered that from childhood, the softly bright giants jiggling on the din of a thousand flaps punctuated by linear jets of ballast-water down sky lanes between fixed buildings. And then up through twilit clouds and over the horizon. Always daydreaming that she was on one, Ruby-June, near the top, waving from a bubble balcony, waving down at everyone who had never loved her and even as a child she’d seen herself from the rising hotel waving in a fancy hat with her freckled bisque face, the fancy hat denoting fame, power, no one to boss her around.
Little Ruby always dreamed of floating across The Cleaner Sea to Germandy with a fabulous menagerie of personalized pets such as rabbits with noticeable elements of her facial features. That was back before the percentage of genome a personalized pet could share with its author was strictly regulated. Back when rabbits and dogs and dolphins started looking and acting less and less like rabbits and dogs and dolphins. Before that stuff was forbidden. It was bad enough when it was restricted to mammals. Ruby had later studied it all in the broken down library-truck on the horizon-to-horizon parking lot of her young adulthood. After the fad was forbidden, many of the non-flying and non-swimming pets got their own island off Moray, Looziana, though, with commendation-bounties on the rest, so: Happy ending.
Ruby-June loved happy endings…
She could only pray to The Sky Vagina to have one herself. Ruby had a fear of being drawn and quartered. She was what you call phobic. She’d seen a sex vid of a man being drawn and quartered for spitting on a sex vid of the Queen.
At least she had some money in her pocket: she’d changed a small wad at a desk in the airport behind her without exchanging a single word with the woman working there, who acted like that was normal. She gave the lady green and the lady gave her a paper rainbow, flyer-sized money with pictures of princesses and scientists on it. So Ruby had some cash in her pocket and she had her pens and a sketch pad plus global maps and translation apps and an anti-rape siren and a lie-detector app and a night vision app and fifteen thousand songs and two hundred movies and eight books on her phone. She had a Java Jiva™ thermos-mug of pineal tea she’d tanked up on and enhanced before grabbing the shuttle and she had her vintage full-length leather coat which she was wearing and her dead sister’s vintage boots with three-inch Lucite heels which she was wearing and two pairs of red Ryde-or-DieT panties which she was wearing and three red Ryde-or-DieT bras which she was wearing and mostly nothing else.
Oh yeah black temp-job slacks she’d slipped into and run out the door in before remembering, in the shuttle, as the odor of accumulating crotch wafted up like a beckoning cartoon finger in a Tex Avery gag about a fragrant pie cooling on a suburban sill with a pack of hungry bulldogs up the alley, that they hadn’t been washed in a week. Ruby decided she wasn’t nervous and afraid, she was just smelly and dog-tired. Jet-lagged.
The journey to the Second World had taken fourteen hours with a three-hour layover in Schiphol where a giant Dutch soldier with a submachine gun had pulled her out of the check-in line to do some flirting.
Uploaded: yesterday 9:06 a.m. Pacific Time: Ruby-June on the beach in an over-sized Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure t-shirt, scared as Unholy Hells. Only, in the selfie behind the hooker shades you can’t see that Ruby is scared as Unholy Hells. She looks poker-faced and chill in the pic to the left of the cryptic all-caps caption SEE YOU SOON, CUZ!!! and all you see in the fly-eyes of the retro shades on Ruby’s face in the pic is Ruby’s long skinny arm like a string on a kite in the cola-colored sky, the god’s eye view of a stone-faced narcissist on the beach. Pooing bricks in the sand just praying that her skilled friend ElRon can hack her a last minute ticket to Let’s Get The Heck Out of Here Land, Fast.
So ElRon managed to hack the ticket and he saved Ruby’s life but now he isn’t answering her emails. The emails in which she keeps praising the “raw beauty” of Sarasota, Florissippi and her third-cousin’s “wonderful home-cooking” and the warmth and “surprising generosity” of the “Latino community” in “beautiful Sarasota, Florissippi”. Maybe she went too far. Is there even a Latino community in Sarasota, Florissippi? What if Sarasota, Florissippi, by some joke’s-on-you coincidence, is the only city in the United Fifes without a Latino community?
She turned and saw a boy was pointing his telefinger right at her. A man, she meant. Or a boy. A man? He smiled. His telefinger cocked and clicked.”Impressive Afro,” he wondered. “It’s real.” He waved weakly from two feet away and said “Brody 27.” Which meant he was old as her oldest co-father. All the way over here in Germandy, just like her. Ruby thought his haberdasher should be hanged.
He was whitely goateed, dressed in a light jacket he had to be freezing in but at least his ears were warm. His hat looked like a helmet from the Carpathian space program. Except that Ruby suddenly remembered that helmets from the Carpathian space program were really pretty chic with those little metal wings flat over your ears. Under a furry shelf Brody’s eyes were two-drops-of-ink-in-a-shot-glass-of-water blue. A 20th-century-skateboard was lashed to Brody’s backpack. He stood there, waiting yet not-waiting, lips like a coin slot, mind idle, attuned to interior vidz. When Ruby’s name wasn’t forthcoming, Brody took an absent-minded picture of a baggage cart, finger cocked and clicked.
The baggage cart was stacked with a dozen translucent trash bags of refugee refuse near the terminal exit. Some of the bags had dolls in them. All the pink and gray and off-white long underwear in one bag was clumped together in a bulge on the side like textile intestines. A man in an Afro- Balkan mustache returned from the curb and assumed a territorial stance beside the intestines so Brody took pictures of the schedule on the yellow pole marking the bus stop.
This man is the 20th century, thought Ruby-June. She almost forgot her troubles for a moment. This Afro-Balkan man was very “in” in the developed world of Ruby-June Gambol 60. In the undeveloped Afro-Balkan world he was shit.
The sky was cold water in an ashtray.
“Oh my god,” croaked an interesting voice.
Ruby turned again and saw that a sexy bod supporting a puppet-like head was on its haunches, admiring Ruby’s boots. Center-parted platinum touched the sidewalk. How had Ruby not noticed these on the flight over? Such broobz deserved Greek and Latin nicknames. Ruby herself was flat as a pizza’s EKG.
“These ain’t no clever fakes, sista ” said the platinum broobz-monster puppet girl, admiring Ruby’s footwear. “These beez the real-azz deal!” In a pseudo-Afrimcan voice.
She stroked a boot.
Ruby thanked her.
Was she a girl or a woman? A woman? A girl. After the girl stood again and extended a hand and identified herself, Ruby realized that she hadn’t been listening. What was her name? She had rings on every finger, including her thumbs. She was tanned to the color of gluten-free lunchmeat.
Ruby leaned down and said, “It would be so wonderfully cool if you pretend you’re my travelling companion so the creep in the Laplander’s hat won’t hit on me.”
The girl laughed and pointed at Brody and said, “The creep in the Laplander’s hat is my boss.”
The girl’s raspy voice was charming. She looked roughly twelve and sounded roughly forty. A chain-smoking forty. “But that’s okay, he knows he’s creepy. Most successful people don’t. Or maybe they do but don’t care. He cares. Well at least he wants to. Is that pineal tea?”
The girl drank from Ruby’s thermos-mug while Ruby cupped it in both hands. Brody wandered over and took a picture or maybe a video that would become a gif of her drinking from Ruby’s mug. “I’m getting the steam that’s sort of billowing around your mouth while you drink,” said Brody. “Gorj. Do it again slower.”
Ruby said, “Sound like a porn director.”
The woman choked on the tea laughing and said, looking sideways at Brody after coughing herself a little red, “Well guess what.”
“Tink,” cautioned Brody.
“Tink,” whispered Ruby.
“Sometimes I do films,” admitted Brody.
“Welcome to the club,” said Ruby.
“No, silly,” said Tink. “With like a real crew and like real equipment and like Sundance film festival.”
“Really,” said Ruby.
“Last seen directing Giovanni Ribisi in an Obamacare commercial but he rage-quit.”
“Ribisi’s a closet case and a prick,” said Brody. “His hat size is ridiculous.”
“Big head,” translated Tink.
The sky was a windshield at twilight with spit still on it after one pass of the wiper-blade.
Several hotels were rising into and above the clouds while one was coming down so low that Ruby could see the expressions of the faces of the people waving from its lowest bubble balconies as it angled over the terminal wall toward a lot on the airfield.
“I’m on a waiting list to get on a longer waiting list,” said someone to someone behind Ruby.
When the craze for all things 20th century really caught on, floatels lost their functional grace and became enormously literal-minded red-brick things with shingled roofs and green awnings and penthouse swimming pools. Isn’t bad taste always abetted by new technology? New technology was Bad Taste’s enabler. These ungainly structures turning slowly through sky trailing alphabet-shaped shadows. Why not bring back airplanes, then? Houses? Apartment buildings? Multi-occupant vehicles without beds and toilets? Jobs? Money? Photosexuals? Non-English-based languages? Where would it end? A little 20th century was fine, it was fun, but these things were always taken too far.
Ruby jammed her shivering eyes shut. But she felt safe in the crowd.
The sky was ______ on a _______.
There was a shudder of heavy hydraulics coming to grumpy life. Warning beeps and candy-stripe flashers. There was expectant chatter as the rusted block-long slit in the asphalt in front of the terminal opened in a diesel belch and a bus rose turning like a biomorphic shell in a rifle chamber, level to the curb and locked upright in blues of greased air. The bus was painted with festive logos giving off tinny music promoting popular attitudes of the season. Wanting is Having read one theme. Believing is Seeing, read another. A blue-eyed gamine with a bright red Afro under a cocked Santa hat was performing a sex act on an implausible generative organ with the knowing wink of the optionless. Everyone in the cloud-shaped queue filed on to the bus.
Ruby was fretting as she found a red-corduroy nook toward the rear of the low-ceilinged vehicle. The nap was worn. How much trouble could she reasonably expect to be in for murdering a nobody? Was she even in trouble at all? She began drifting off as the warm throb of the revving turbos of the earthneedle prepared to hurl the vehicle through sub-cemetery kilometers of old Berlin, where Ruby could only hope to lose herself.
She felt someone settle into the seat right next to her on a largely empty train.
She peeled one eye open to see the belly of the interloper who was wearing a bright-yellow Mack E Mouse t-shirt. The interloper spoke in a loud clear voice that seemed more aimed at the rest of the train than to Ruby herself, saying, in a disturbingly familiar voice (a voice so disturbingly familiar that it paralyzed Ruby, in fact):
“I am an artifact of the 1970s, which means that I believe very strongly in the necessity and rightness and cultural vitality of Reading. I believe that Reading expresses itself as two kinds of Love: General (love of life, humans, the moment) and Specific (love of the partner in Reading)… and these are expressed in every Reading in varying proportions. I have never Read lovelessly and, in my innocence, when I first started, didn’t realize that anyone could. Anger, violence, humiliation, pain (in me or my partner in Reading) would kill my desire to Read immediately. As such, and 36 years after the first time I ever Read, I am an artifact without a proper context, the floating symptom of another era, possibly as funny as Lucite platform shoes and as offensive as “O Calcutta!” Wait, did I say ‘reading’? I meant ‘effing’. Have a copy of my latest…!”
He put a book in front of the eye Ruby had peeled open. The title of the book was “HOW RUBY KILLED ME OWING ENTIRELY TO A SEXUAL MISUNDERSTANDING AND ALMOST GOT AWAY WITH IT” and Ruby opened both eyes and went shivery and sort of…