Memory, And That Time You Drank Tea
got into eyes the eyes went blind.
The ones that fell down it grew over and they vanished.
The ones that went blind and walked into it vanished.
The ones that could see and stood still
It swallowed their shadows.
Then it swallowed them too and they vanished.”
—”The Last One,” W. S. Merwin
wanna be erased,’ the construct said. ‘I told you that, remember?’”
—Neuromancer, William Gibson
Edwin Coin could not remember his age.
He had the face of a twenty-something, although he was sure he’d been alive for longer than that. Memory was, his mother used to say, his least greatest talent. Win’s mother told him other things, too—things to make him laugh, to make him cry, and to make him laugh until he cried—and she would (Win remembered) always tell them with a smile. She smiled when she told him there wasn’t going to be a war, and she smiled when it turned out there was going to be one after all. She smiled when Mars surrendered its moons, and even when Father left her—who left for no other reason than to leave. She smiled when she left Win, her stem-thin wrists slashed to the marrow.
Win had found her on the green chrome of the kitchen floor, slumped against the softly pissing sink, next to a splintered tea cup. It was as if, Win sometimes imagined, the shattered porcelain had done the deed. That would have been something.
It crept to nuzzle the rug, that whirlpool of blood and tea.
The monitor was the only source of light in Win’s apartment, so when his window lit up red with a glow from somewhere in the distance, Win recoiled. He blinked, once, and it occurred to him that he had not closed his eyes in a long while. It felt good to blink, so he did it again.
The window was still reflecting a dark red glare, giving everything in his home a maroon tinge. The light birthed new shadows around him, made him shiver, despite the warm color. Win stood, and like a ghost, drifted to the red rectangle in his wall. The light retreated as he neared. Outside and below, Glowbank carried on as if it weren’t two in the morning, as the city always did. On this side of the moon, the people were used to the long dark.
His pants chirped, then rumbled.
Win pulled out his pocket terminal and read an update from The Crater Post: MINISTER RELENTS, DARKIN HOUSE TO FACE DELETION. Win’s terminal presented the headline as “breaking news,” but he could be certain the minister’s decision came not at all as a surprise to the rest of Sol. Releasing the news at this hour was a sneaky move on the old minister’s part. The old building’s destruction had been an eon coming, everyone figured, since the Treaty. The war was over and many people had moved on, but there were always those who held grudges like gravity held moons. Easier to appease than argue.
Deletion, Win thought to himself, mulling on the word, breaking it apart and slapping the letters together again:
To Lie End
Let No Die
Win sighed, slipped his terminal back into his pocket, and returned his gaze to the window. Staring into the kaleidoscope that was Glowbank traffic, Win imagined the news swimming through the usual channels: of course, the Pole-Aitken Basin would learn of it first, and then the rest of Diana. Next Earth, then Mars and its canister-towns. Beyond that, only rocks in the void.
His mind shifted perspective: he wondered how many Earthers breathed relief as they heard the news. Not many, Win figured; not enough people cared any more.
Again, his pants chimed. Win swiped at the touchscreen to accept the call, and a familiar face materialized on the display.“You heard, right?” the freckled face said without preamble. “Of course you heard. Are we going?”
Win gave the caller a flat look. “At this hour?”
“What, you weren’t sleeping, were you?”
“Trying,” Win lied.
“Meet you here?”
“It’s brewing now,” the caller said, as if he knew how Win would reply. “Come on down then, Coin.”
Under the number 409 sat the name “Montgomery Cherona” in black acrylic letters. The door slid open with a lover’s rasp and disappeared into the wall before Win could knock. Inside, the musk of ganja and burnt rye folded around him in an unwelcome embrace.
Win coughed. “I don’t want to know what you’ve been doing in here,” he said as he entered.
“I wasn’t going to tell you.”
“Accha.” Win nodded.
The apartment was a modest set-up: a living room, which opened up to a small kitchen, a bedroom and a bath. Wider than Win’s unit, although older. The flat was defined by its curved archways between each room, a remnant of the architecture favored by the predominantly Indian colonists who first came to the Moon. The curvatures appeared to Win as randomly placed, which made him feel unsteady.
Monty stood under the sterile beams of his kitchen lights, stirring a beaker of black liquid. “Sugar?”
“Muddy, tonight,” Win replied, as he took a seat on the orange matte of the living room couch. It contrasted brilliantly with the gray of the carpet.
“My man,” Monty said, with a smirk.
He was nearing twenty-five, was Monty: a spectacled, born-and-raised Dian with a penchant for burnt toast whenever he was high on whatever it was he got high on. He had told Win he worked at a place “down the Basin.” Win never inquired more of that, and Monty never elaborated. The friendship was new, but had grown fast, and with a familiar ease.
“While you’re here”—Monty’s voice wafted in from the kitchen, along with the balmy aroma of instant coffee—”can you take a look at my frame? It’s been acting all ‘daisical.”
“Your frame is older than Darkin,” Win exaggerated. “And slower than your pocket terminal.
“Slower than usual, then,” Monty allowed. “Besides, it’s all I got. Boot it up, you’ll see.”
Against the wall parallel to the door sat an old mainframe, nestled between a stack of yellow-paged books and the glass slit that barely qualified as a window. The frame’s monitor was taller than it was wide, its surface lacerated heavily around the corners. The dual-input console, a greasy incline of overused keys, extended on either side. It reminded Win of what the antique chain down by Selena and Iso called an “arcade machine.”
Win activated the frame, finding the switch readily, despite an obtrusive knot of red and black wires. The aged power array whirred to croaking life, causing the monitor to flicker in response. He sat down to diagnose the problem.
“It’s the RAM,” Win declared, after a minute of perusing the frame’s blue and black interface.
“Of course, yeah, RAM,” Monty acknowledged hopelessly. “I thoroughly understand what you are saying to me.”
“Your existence is tragic.”
“Accha, got it. Now what’s RAM?”
“Random access memory,” Win answered. “I’d tell you to upgrade it, but you’d have to shuttle to Earth to find anything even remotely compatible with this piece of scrap.”
There was a pause, as if Monty was actually considering it. “Is this your way of telling me I need to get a new frame?”
“No,” Win replied, “my telling you to get a new frame last month was my way of telling you you need to get a new frame. This?” Win tapped the monitor and a cloud of dust burst forth from the screen. “This is Shakespeare.”
Monty appeared from the kitchen and handed Win a beaker of mud. Frowning, he said, “Shakespeare-funny or Shakespeare-sad?”
“Yes,” Win answered.
With a toothy smile Monty said, “How’s a lowly plumber like me going to pay for a new mainframe?”
“Ah, so when you said you worked ‘down the basin. . .?’”
A single knock came from the direction of Monty’s door, which rumbled with a dull vibrato.
Win turned abruptly to face the closed door across the room, oblivious as to why such a thing would alarm him so. Maybe it was because no one ever knocked on his door. He turned to Monty. “Who’s here?”
“Uh, well, I invited Lia,” he said contritely.
Monty shushed him heatedly. “She’ll hear you. Besides, you shouldn’t use that word.”
Win didn’t apologize. “You invited her to the house?” Win gestured at the walls. “Or the house?” meaning the soon-to-be-deleted Darkin House.
“She’s coming with,” Monty said with finality. “Don’t give me that look. She wants to go as much as you do.”
“And you want in her chinos as much as Earth wanted in Mars’s coffers,” Win retorted.
Monty glared at him. “Don’t ruin this,” he said as he stood to answer the door.
Win shrugged, letting the subject go, turning back to Monty’s dusty frame. “Ruins,” he said under his breath, remembering what lay ahead, at Darkin House. We’re going to go see ruins.
Win heard the door slide open behind him, and then carpet-dulled footsteps soon after. He decided to sneak a glance over his shoulder. Irelia Rao stood close by, inches from the orange couch where Win had just been sitting. Her greasy, coal-black mohawk clawed achingly at the fan which hung from the ceiling, and only half of her pale, gaunt figure was visible. She seemed an apparition, until her “eyes” met Win’s.
“Edwin,” she said curtly, impossibly, in a single syllable. Had her lips even moved?
Win gave her his warmest fake smile, thinking teeth, teeth, teeth, and returned the greeting: “Lia.”
It wasn’t that Win didn’t like her—he didn’t even know her—it was simply that she genuinely terrified him, turned his spine into lunar rock. No, it wasn’t her specifically—although her proclivity towards all things zippered and black-leathered didn’t particularly jive with his taste—it was her eyes. They weren’t human eyes; at least, not the ones that humanity was meant to have.
Her eyes were fake. They were glossy orbs of manufactured whiteness, tucked perfectly into the sockets of her small, round head. But not even that was what made Win uncomfortable. It was only when she looked at him, and he at her, that he had to stifle a cold shiver. Lia’s eyes shone when she looked at him, like a pair of uninhibited stars. They burned through his eyes—his normal, fleshy eyes—and bore straight into his skull.
“You look good,” Monty said, breaking the silence that Win hadn’t realized was there. “Those new?”
“Sahi,” she answered affirmatively, then reached up and tapped her right eye with a fingernail polished black. It spun playfully in its socket. “Nguyen-Costanzo’s.”
Monty whistled—feigning fascination, Win figured. He didn’t know what RAM was, so Win doubted he was up-to-date on the latest shiner tech.
Lia’s eyes flickered and shuttered between Monty and Win, before settling on the latter. “What are you doing?”
Win turned away—hopefully not too hurriedly—and realigned his fingers onto the input console. “Nothing, really,” he said, and left it at that.
“Want anything?” Monty inquired of Lia. “Mud? Pekoe?”
“Tea, if you have it,” she answered. “Iced.”
Win shifted uncomfortably in his seat, then pulled up a window with enough code and programming jargon to make it look as if he were doing something substantial.
Behind him, Win heard movement, and then from his periphery saw Monty’s shadow glide out of the room. There was some shuffling from Lia’s direction—he could only assume that she had taken a seat.
“All I’ve got is blood tea,” Monty called from his nook of a kitchen.
“What?” Win half-shouted the word before he could stop himself, then turned to see two gleaming beads of light locked squarely onto him—Lia’s stare.
Monty was looking at him from the doorway, slightly alarmed. “I said all I’ve got is Thai tea.”
Lia’s stare did not waver; she continued to look at him curiously, as she said, “Accha. Thanks.”
Silence ensued, which Win was fine with, until Lia broke it: “So you’re going with us?”
Win did his best to keep the annoyance out of his voice. “You mean you’re going with us.” Period.
“Sure,” she replied.
Nothing bothered her. Or at least, she never showed that anything bothered her. Win was being petty, he knew, but it was like she wasn’t human. And, in point of fact, her eyes would never be.
“. . .never be.” Win had spoken the last two words aloud, had typed them onto the screen, evidently. He backspaced as quickly as Monty’s decades-old console would allow.
“What?” Lia asked.
“I’ve never been there?” Win offered.
Win knew that Lia sensed his discomfort, but she didn’t mention it. She was, undoubtedly, enjoying his failure at small-talk. The thought caused Win to mash the “shut down” button on Monty’s frame a little too forcefully.
When he turned, Monty was there, handing a glass of pale orange liquid to Lia with a dumb, horny smile. She took it with a smile of her own, and set it on the table before her without so much as a sip. Win found himself staring at the glass as Monty put it down, its surface beaded with condensing water. Where Monty had held the cup, there remained a damp smudge in the shape of his hand, like the palm of a ghost.