by K. Ceres Wright
Henry angled up the steps, opened the corrugated neon-green metal door, and stepped inside. Music wafted out of the lean-to juke joint, a zydeco-country fusion remix escaping the sweaty desperation of the place. A bank of multicolored lights ran the length of the building, throwing disks of red, purple, and green on the gyrating patrons.
Jose sat in his usual corner, reading his heads-up display and smoking his pipe. Henry thought the scene anachronistic. He pushed past a group of drunken bridesmaids—evidenced by their tiaras—and took a seat at the bar. He gave the bartender, Leslie, the sign for his regular drink. She nodded in reply. Being deaf was an advantage for a bartender in this joint, he thought. An upswell of noise filled the space behind him and he twisted in his seat. The woman wearing the BRIDE tiara had climbed onto the stage and began dancing with Kyle, who was playing backup guitar to Rita’s country singing and fiddle playing. Octavius rounded out the trio on the old world accordion. The bride ground her pelvis into Kyle’s backside. Rita scowled and motioned for security. A bot flew down from the ceiling and delivered 25,000 volts to the bride. She yowled in pain, which elicited laughter from the crowd. She tore herself away from Kyle and slunk back to her merry band of maids, who cheered her return with a dousing of bottle-sprayed champagne.
“Where’re they from?” Henry said. He had to shout over the music.
Leslie shrugged. “I heard one of them mention New Rho.”
Figures, Henry thought. There were five domed settlements on Mars, all interconnected by underground tunnels and rail. New Rhode Island was the smallest settlement. New Rhoers always came to Camp X and the larger settlements to party, some of which devolved into fist fights. New Rho contained the elite of the colonists—engineers, physicists, rich investors. Camp X had a hodgepodge of people—actors, musicians, dancers, social workers, reporters. The other three—Chronitis, Seer Park, and Nouveau—were specialty settlements, where the geologists, botanists, archaeologists, metallurgists, and others lived.
Henry was the only magician, at least as far as he knew, which was fine by him The New Rhos were always throwing company parties and inviting him and his troupe to perform.
A man slid into the stool next to Henry and tapped him on the arm. “Hey, man. I thought you’d gone to Seer Camp.”
Henry twisted in his seat as he downed his beer. He slammed the mug on the counter and grinned. “Derrick! Just got back. The hell are you doing here, slumming?”
Derrick bellowed a guffaw. “I’m a rebel, Henry. They only keep me around cuz they don’t feel like finding another theoretical physicist before the contract runs out. I figure I got about 8 months before I’m out on my ass. But lucky for me, I already got the next job lined up. Amethyst Industries needs a team lead for their asteroid mining project.”
“Mining? Since when do you go in for corporate interests?”
“Since they’re willing to pay me enough to retire on. I can whore myself out one last time and then start working on what I want to…teaching needy children about science and tech.”
“You should’ve become a teacher,” said Henry.
“On that salary? You do know I like the finer things in life…food, running water, heat…”
The pair sat silent as three men dressed as an asteroid miner, policeman, and scientist led the bridal party to the back rooms.
“At least somebody’s getting some action.” Derrick jutted his chin at Henry. “What about you? What’re your plans for the future?”
Henry shrugged. “I left Earth for something new and exciting, but compared to most cities, the Mars settlements are small. I’ve gotten bored already. Thinking about going back to Earth. Got a friend in Vegas who can get the troupe a gig.”
“Where you can be one of a hundred acts? I know you, man. You’ll be bored quicker there than here.”
Henry paused to consider the veracity of Derrick’s words. He leaned back on his stool and examined the tattoos on his forearms in contemplative silence. He had received most of them from a Mentawai shaman on Siberut Island. It was just after he’d lost his father and the world was pressing in on him with questions and expectations—Will you finally get a real job? Come work for me as my assistant. Let me invest your money for you. Is that really where you live? He had escaped it all by closing his eyes and pointing to a spot on a map. Actually, his finger landed in the middle of the Indian Ocean, so he chose the nearest land mass.
The kids on the island had loved his magic tricks. One of the older shamans, however, acted as if he thought Henry was there to steal his job. To ease his mind, Henry had taught him a few of his tricks after eliciting a pledge never to reveal them, on pain of death. The shaman, Po’ku, had been cool after that, even giving Henry a replica of the tattoos on his arms. In fact, he told Henry that the tattoos would always connect them, and he could watch over Henry, ready to kick his ass even from miles away. Henry had dismissed the notion, until one night he’d been driving, alone, exhausted, and had nodded off. Po’ku’s voice sounded in his head and he jerked awake in time to avoid crashing into the side of a tungsten refinery. At the time, he’d chalked it up to coincidence, but a few more incidents had convinced him. In fact, he could imagine Po’ku now, bald, dressed in saffron robes as he went about his duties at the temple.
“Hello?” Derrick waved his hand in Henry’s face, snapping his fingers. “Mars to Henry.”
Henry shook himself out of the reverie. “Sorry, just…thinking.”
Derrick guffawed. “Rare activity nowadays. So?”
“So what?” Henry suddenly grew irritable.
“What are your future plans?”
“I don’t know, why? You got any brilliant ideas?”
Derrick shifted on his stool, facing outward, watching Rita and Kyle flirt on the stage as they sang, “One More Night.”
“As a matter of fact, I do. But not here. My place.” Derrick slid off the stool and cogged both their drinks. The settlement’s AI, Cognition, kept track of every purchase, schedule, meeting, and all other occurrences on the planet. It debited and credited the proper accounts, managed itineraries, arranged travel, and made dinner plans. Among other things, Henry had heard that if you knew the correct password, you could access drugs, indulge fetishes, and even order up some harassment of your enemies.
“I don’t feel like riding all the way back to Camp X tonight. Can I charge at your place?”
“Yeah, sure. C’mon.” Derrick headed for the door.
Henry got Leslie’s attention and signed that he was leaving with Derrick. She nodded and slid a quick look toward the stage to indicate she’d tell the troupe.
Henry was the troupe’s de facto leader, meaning he was the most responsible, which wasn’t saying much. He’d spent the past weekend nursing a hangover from the Friday before. And at 33, he was feeling the pressure to settle down and have kids. That crushing fear of conformity led him to Mars, where he fell in with a group of itinerant actors, dancers, and musicians. As a magician, he wasn’t seen as a rival, and they would come to him to confess their sins and receive absolution and whatever advice Henry could dredge up from his 30-plus years of experience.
He climbed into Derrick’s car and they sped off toward Chroniton. It was about a 40-minute drive at 200 m.p.h. They made small talk about VR games and sports until they arrived. The car pulled off the underground highway and snaked past several individual garages before pulling into Derrick’s. The two alighted and rode an elevator straight into Dererick’s apartment. An android greeted them in the large foyer and took their jackets. They headed left, toward the kitchen.
“Drink?” Derrick stood in front of the fridge display.
Henry wandered toward the entertainment room, which housed a holographic staging area, VR display, mini-bar, and a couch/loveseat set. He took up residence on the loveseat. Derrick handed him a beer and sat on the couch.
“So what’s the deal?” Henry took a sip of his beer.
“We’ve found a planet comparable to Earth. All the data we’ve recovered from probes indicate it could be a fuckin’ paradise.”
“Huh, I haven’t heard anything.”
“Beause GSEC didn’t discover it. Avent Technologies did. And they want to send a scout team, under the radar.”
“How the hell do you launch a scout team under the radar?”
Derrick shrugged as if everyone knew. “Disguised as a satellite launch. No optics, just a line in an article.”
“And you think that’ll work?”
“It’s worked before.” Derrick held out a bag of crisps. “Chips?”
“No, thank you. And when before?” Henry threw up his hands. “You know what? Never mind. I don’t wanna know. But why all the hush-hush? What’s the point?”
Derrick chugged his beer and slammed the bottle onto the coffee table. “Another one?”
“No, thanks. Pacing myself. Answer the question.”
Derrick hung his head as if Henry had just scolded him for breaking curfew. “They want it for the rich. To send them off for an exorbitant fee to get away from the poor wretches on Earth. The appeal of toiling underground on Mars is wearing thin.”
“Yeah.” Derrick got up and crossed over to the kitchen. “And I got a feeling something else is going on.”
“I think they’re doing genetic experiments.”
Henry paused mid-draught, then swallowed. “You’re shitting me.”
Derrick shook his head. “No, unfortunately. Like out of fuckin’ Brave New World, making the brown people class D or whatever the fuck. Sterile, of course, so they can’t reproduce. Just make more by combining chemical X with protein Y and shoving it into an artificial womb.” He sat, staring at the blank holostage.
Henry’s mouth fell open and he sank into the back of the chair, slack-jawed. “Jesus.”
Derrick’s gaze panned to Henry. “That’s why I want you to go. To be my eyes and ears.”
Come find out what AFROFuturism is. How does it affect us as human beings not limited by perceived notions of race, religion, or culture. How do “creators” from many different backgrounds make use of AFROFuturism in their works? Is this merely a flashy promotion for more Black Panther movies or a solid foundation for many new things to come?
Hope to see you there!
Looking for a writers support group that addresses the needs of people of color? Come meet DWASF board members and find out what we can offer.
Great News!! DWASF will have a panel at AwesomeCon on March 31 at 7:00 pm EST at the DC Convention Center !
The topic will be all things Black Panther! From the spectacular movie, indie comics, marvel comics, Black characters, and of course the speculative fiction that goes along with this whole enterprise. So, if you are in the MD/DC/VA area come join us!
Hi Everyone! As we all know, Black Panther had so many stellar and terrific moments. One of them was the powerful roll women played in that movie. I recently was apart of a podcast discussing the women of Wakanda and the destiny of Afrofuturism so check it out!
(Start at the 7:15 mark)
Good Afternoon Everyone!! Make sure you grab your copy of Sycorax’s Daughter! A horror anthology which contains short stories, poetry, and book excerpts from Black women horror writers! This masterpiece was nominated and a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award!
The Bram Stoker Award is a recognition presented annually by the Horror Writers Association for superior achievement in dark fantasy and horror writing.
My contribution is “Of Sound Mind and Body”.