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The Chimera Transit

After sex the stranger, whose name was Rebecca, cuddled under my arm. I transmitted seretonin—enough to raise my mood above depression without inviting further arousal. The stranger moved against me, her leg slung over my hip, her hand on my chest, breath in my face. She had a mouth like Lynn’s, the shape of it. I waited until she was asleep then carefully extricated myself from her body and her bed.

I walked home in the rain. It was past two a.m. The gloom came upon me again. Looking up, rain anointing my face, I transmitted a dopamine and norepinephin brain cocktail. My mood soared, and for a moment I was infatuated with the sky, as I used to be. A distant roll of thunder reminded me of the Outbound shuttle launches I used to watch with my dad when I was a kid, daydreaming stars. My mind felt nimble. Jazzed. City lights underlit the cloud cover. I thought of starships, which led to my father and the Big Bang (weapon discharge in the basement), which led to Lynn, and I wondered what she was to me.

A woman laughed. I looked across the street. She wore a long coat and floppy hat and she was with a man, hanging on his arm, ducking. A green Tinkerbelle Flirt hovered around her, flew away, returned. The man reached out and captured it in his hand. They bent over it together, their faces illuminated by a green flicker. I heard her say, “It’s beautiful, I love you!” She moved her face under his and kissed his mouth. I looked away.

What Lynn was to me: gone.


The next evening as I was dressing to go out a fairy light hovered in close to my window. I stared at it, my shirt hanging open. I thought of half a dozen women who knew my name and could access my People Finder code. But none of them possessed a romantically flirtatious disposition. They might call, or pop me an EyeText on my retinal repeater. Fairy Flirts were kid stuff. I whacked the window with a rolled up New Yorker. The Flirt drifted back, flimmering wings making a ruby nimbus in the rain.


I sat by the window in a coffee bar on lower Queen Anne, sipping espresso and reading a flashprint copy of a faux Updike novel. The style and plot were perfect Updike (Rabbit in the 22nd century) but thin under the surface, like all program-written books. I read the sentences and listened to the words in my head. It improved when I transmitted some phenylethylamine into my limbic system. A boost of joy surged through me. The words glowed. Analog or not, it didn’t matter.

A pretty girl sitting alone at the next table suddenly ooo-ed in my direction. Her hair was styled into glossy blue spear points. I tried a tentative smile, but the ooo wasn’t for me. Ruby light shimmered on the other side of the window.

“You have an admirer,” the pretty girl said.

“So it seems.”

I stowed the fake Updike in my overcoat and went out of the bar. The Fairy did a couple of loops around my head. I was conscious of people watching me through the window.

“Okay, okay,” I said to the Fairy. It darted off. Too fast if it expected me to keep up. The pretty girl inside the bar made a shooing motion at me. It was idiotic but I started after the Flirt.

Really it seemed determined to evade me. I picked up the pace. The Fairy veered down an alley. It was running out of juice, skimming low, ruby flimmer reflected in rain-stippled puddles. I splashed after it in hot pursuit. It tried to soar up the side of the building on my right, winked out suddenly, and dropped like a dead clinker. I caught it in my hand.

I looked up at the lighted and unlighted windows. The little Flirt was warm in my palm but the rain was cold and I’d left my umbrella in the bar. I started to walk out of the alley. A window opened.

“Hey—” Tentative female voice, almost apologetic. A slight figure backlit by the apartment light.


“That’s mine.” Some kind of accent. Eastern European? “Toss it up?”

I could have, maybe. She was on the second floor. But I shook my head. “Nope.”


Her name was Anca. Romanian born. She was fluent in three languages—four if you counted an obscure source code imbedded in a thousand or so of the early DAT model implants. The tech in those old implants was so clunky that you couldn’t remove them from the host brain without risking serious tissue damage. I knew these facts because I knew Anca, slightly. My partner at NanOptions, Dario Crow, had one of the old implants. Dario was old, that’s why he had one. He and my father had been partners. Until dad’s single-minded pursuit of a workable neuro-stim device collapsed under the weight of his misconceived approach and bankrupted the first incarnation of NanOptions. Twenty years or so later I came along, little Jackie all grown up and twice as clever as his old man. Or so I thought.

Anyway, Dario introduced me to Anca who was helping correct a glitch that had occurred between his DAT and his more contemporary retinal repeater. That was weeks ago.

“Hey, I know you,” I said when she opened the door to her apartment. She smiled shyly and didn’t meet my eyes.

“And I know you too, Jack Porter.”

“Ah, here’s your Flirt.” I handed it to her.

“Thanks. It’s not really mine. I borrowed it. How can I afford such silliness? And I asked Dario for your People Finder number, for the little Fairy to know where to go. So you see it’s a grand conspiracy.”

“You think it’s grand, huh?”

She giggled, quirking her lips as if the giggle were a bug that wanted to get out—a bug that she was fond of keeping in.

“Would you—?” She opened the door wider.

I stepped past her into the room. I’m no giant at five ten, but Anca was boyishly small, almost frail and no taller than a twelve year old. She looked starved but cooking smells wafted from the efficiency kitchen. Something boily with cabbage. Her apartment was like the rest of the building. Old, run down, reasonably clean, and too dark. It was the brown carpet and all that stained wood. Lamp light absorbed into it. The overall effect was a little depressing. I resisted transmitting.

“Some wine?” she said.


When she handed me the glass she met my eyes briefly then looked away again.

“That Flirt. I’m not for fads, I mean I would never—”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Do you want to watch the review?”


It was one of those cheap liquid screens. It rippled like wind over a puddle, then a jerky image appeared. Me waving a magazine, being dive-bombed, etc. Anca suddenly turned it off.

“Oh, well,” she said.


“It’s so silly. I liked you, you know. So—”

I touched her hand.


She clung to me in the dark of the bedroom, her boyish chest crushed against me. I could feel her bones. Her fingers were cold. Rain popped on a fabric awning outside her window. Don’t go, she’d whispered before falling asleep, as though she knew me.

I caused endorphins to occur and eventually slept.


She caught me at it over orange juice the next morning. Caught me adjusting brain chemistry.

“What are you doing when you close your eyes like that?”

“It’s a neuro stimulation device.” I tapped my forehead with two fingers.

“Oh. Dario told me about that. You’re going to make millions, yes?”

“Maybe. We’re at the experimental stage. I’m the guinea pig. Just like your old DATS, only this thing can be easily removed. NanoBotz lay a gossamer web over the brain, attaching to axon fibers. Consciously directed electrical microbursts release chemical molecules from the neuron sacks at the end of the fibers, transmitting them to receiving neurons. It’s great tech.”

“Hmm.” She bit into an apple slice and chewed slowly.


“How do you know what you really feel?”

“It’s not that dramatic. It just allows you to have more of what you already possess.”

“It sounds a little terrible, though.”

“God I hope not. It was my dad’s idea to begin with, only he never really got it off the ground.”

“Okay,” Anca said. She put down her half-eaten apple slice. “Do you want to see something with me?”



It was a little museum of oddities near The Pike Place Market. She led me to a trembling holo of a Martian desert. A sign with a down-pointing arrow said: LISTEN. Anca nudged me. I leaned into the aural sphere and heard . . . wind. After a moment I drew back and made a question mark face. Anca shook her hands like she was trying to dry them.

“It’s the wind on Mars.”


“From the first times, before there were any people. From a robot lander. A digital recording. So old.”

“It’s nice.”

“Oh you’re dense.” She giggled, quirking her lips, holding in the happy bug. “It’s the idea. The way it was so distant you could never be there, the way the wind was blowing on another planet and there was only a little robot to record it. A whole empty world. It’s romantic, Jack.”

I leaned forward again and listened to the lost romantic wind of Mars.


“Who is she?” Anca said a month later.

“Who’s who?”

We were walking in bright October sunlight in an urban park not far from NanOptions’s offices.

“The woman, the one you can’t let go,” Anca said.

“Whoever said—”



“Of course you don’t have to tell me.”

The sidewalk was plastered with wet leaves gone an ugly dun color.

“It’s irrelevant who she is,” I said. “And besides I have let her go. Mostly.”

“You haven’t.”

I scraped some leaf slime off the path with the heel of my shoe.

“Why don’t you call her?” Anca said.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“She’s Outbound to Tau Boo.”

“Oh.” Anca became thoughtful then said, “Oh,” again.


“And you didn’t go with her.”

“I couldn’t. You only get one shot at the qualifying exam.”

“I see. And you failed but she passed. How terrible, but why didn’t she stay with you if she loved you? Why—”

“Anca. I didn’t fail the exam.”


“No. I haven’t taken it yet.”

“But why not?”

I transmitted and felt better about not answering.

“But how long?”

“Since she left? Two years, almost.”

“Two years,” Anca said.

I transmitted until the two years didn’t matter.


She came back to bed with two glasses of wine. It was that uncomfortable stage in the relationship. The stage where I wanted to go home by myself even before the sex. Transmitting oxytonin helped by producing hormonal arousal, but on the down side was a concurrent feeling of emotional attachment. Anca handed me my glass and slid under the covers with me.

“I lost mine, too,” she said. “But it happened in a different way.”

“Lost your—?”

“My beloved. Perhaps I was mistaken and he wasn’t my beloved, or supposing I wasn’t his is more truthful. He said he loved me, from all our talking and virtual intimacy, while I was in Bucharest. But when I came, at my own expense and using everything I had, things were different. So. I warned him I was not what he might want in a woman. This happened in San Diego. He flew away to Tokyo and stopped calling. I did make a fool of myself but it didn’t help. When my money was almost gone I began offering my DAT skills on the Ethricnet. That’s how I came to Seattle after my beloved abandoned me.”

She had finished her wine. She reached around to put her glass on the end table and it tipped off the edge and fell empty to the carpet. Her reaching arm, the way her shoulder blade slid under the skin, like bird bones.

“Oopsie,” she said. And: “Aren’t you going to drink that?”

I gave her my glass.


“I challenge you to something,” Anca said.

We were drinking Guinness in an Irish Bar called McGerry’s and it was a mistake. The bar, not the Guinness. Lynne and I had spent one of our last nights out in this same bar. McGerry’s was saturated with her presence.

“What kind of challenge?” I asked.

“I challenge you to spend one entire night with me and not adjust your chemistry to do it.”


“Never mind. I know you can’t.”

I sipped at my second Guinness and resisted an urgent impulse to transmit.

“You are never in the place you are,” Anca said.

I smiled. “I’m here right now.”

She shook her head. “You are always thinking about someplace else or somebody else or some other time. There is no now for you, I believe.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said.

“I think you are too afraid of making even one permanent decision. You always want to take it back, whatever it is, or not give it in the first place, so you can think of the possibility of giving it. Oh I’m not making sense, am I? What are you doing giving this black beer to a little person?”


Around three a.m. Anca woke up next to me in bed. I was staring at the ceiling, not transmitting, my arm loosely around her. She rubbed her eyes. “Aren’t you going? You always go lately.”

“No, I’m staying.”

“You don’t act like it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Whenever you stay you are like this,” she said, and she flung herself around on her left side, facing away from me and as near to the edge of the mattress as possible.

“Hey come back here.”

“And why?”

“Because I’m not done with you yet.”

“You can’t make me,” she said.

I grabbed at her waist, which must have tickled. Anca shrieked and jerked away but had nowhere to go but the floor. She didn’t make a very big crash. She said “Ouch,” and we both laughed, and I pulled her back onto the bed.


You aren’t allowed any enhancements when you take the Outbound exam. They want the unadulterated best and brightest. So one day an army of NanoBotz disconnected and devoured my neuro-stimulation web and then dutifully dissolved into my blood, eventually to exit in a stream of piss. A month later I arrived at the Outbound Center with a dozen other hopeful-but-not-too-likelies. Exam questions routed directly to our retinal repeaters. Two hundred questions, each set tailored to the individual’s specialties, mine being nano technology and biochemistry. At the end my score was instantly tabulated.

I stood on the sidewalk, head craned way back, staring up the copper face of the Outbound Center. The sky was clear and twilight was upon the world. The first stars had begun to appear. I thought of lying on the roof of the house with my father, watching the shuttles go up, their propellant streaking goblin green across the sky. “There are other worlds now,” he had said to me, referring to the advent of Kessel’s Outbound Drive. “And if you’re good enough you can go to them,” he added.

If you’re good enough.

Almost pathologically self-critical. In dad’s view, I guess, he hadn’t been good enough to make NanOptions a success. He poured his heart into it, and when it failed he accounted his life a failure, too, and put an end to it. That was certainly a greater failure as far as my mother was concerned. After a year or so she started dating. Indiscriminately.

So I finished growing up mostly on my own, and eventually I figured out the neuro-stim thing for dad. It’s always easier to make someone else’s dream work. Insurance money helps, too.


Anca, who didn’t have a mouth like Lynn’s, sat as near the fire as she could, huddled inside my overcoat. She was always cold. The fire was in a floating bar on Elliot Bay called Aquablue. The flames cycled through a chemically dictated rainbow pallet. Management dialed the walls and floor to vitreous invisibility. Anca and I and the fire and the tan leather sofa thing all seemed to float upon the surface of the bay. Maybe it was that choppy green water and the steely cloud scud that made her feel so cold.

“I’ve been thinking about your lost one,” Anca said.


“I think you like her out there where she can’t touch you.”

“There’s some truth to that.”

Anca held my hand. Her fingers were ice cold.

I remembered sitting on this same sofa (it was a sunnier day, though) with Lynn. This was where she told me the results of her Outbound exam. Lynn’s hands were always warm and they had been that evening, especially warm in the memory of a thousand intimacies. I’m sorry, she had said, but you’re stuck in your fear and I can’t wait.

Anca was on her third glass of wine. After a while I told her the results of my Outbound exam. Her grip tightened on my hand. And when I looked into her face and told her about my one irrevocable decision I could transmit nothing. Nothing.


Because Outbound was the only truly irrevocable decision. Once Outbound there was no returning. In a peculiar way, Outbound ships are like Ouroboros, self-consuming. They measuredly convert their specialized mass to energy, feeding it into a tachyon funnel, becoming the funnel. By the time you arrive in the Promised Land you barely have a ship anymore.


There is a longish period while you transit out of the solar system. A period in which there occurs more than enough time to recall and reform the recent past, to come up with stuff like lips that quirk to hold in the happy bug, and to notice that even in the absence of artificial neuro-stimulation, feelings of attachment persist. There is also time to remember the things you tried not to remember otherwise. Things besides the shape of a mouth and the sweetness of a long confessional summer. The way a person abandoned you, for instance, after you surrendered all your secret pain. Even after that. The transit between Earth and the interstellar gulf, then, is the vacuum between Chimeras.

Then the Outbound Drive kicks in. The stars gather into a whirling funnel. A knot tightens under your heart, and the ship begins to devour itself.

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