The Red Pagoda
Stain waits, ready to merge as soon as his colours are ready. Long and lean, dark and dirty, Stain exists on the fringe of space. Many would like to know how he finds the slipstream so easily every time he wants to travel. They are unaware of his skill with colours, learnt during a protracted and intense apprenticeship to his Uncle Whitsun, Master of Tints, Shades and Meaning. In his appearance to others, Stain is an aberration, a centipede and a person no one wants to know. And that is how he likes it.
Crimson, topaz and emerald are the pures Stain works with; but this time he adds a drop of shale grey for tonight Stain is going to visit the Red Pagoda. Also, carefully hidden, are the other colours he plans to use.
On another plane of the galaxy on the Planet Jhazu the beautiful Yah wi waits by a gilt doorway, her skin like the cool morning mist, her hair like a waterfall, her smile as warm as Jupiter. Her eyes are large and lustrous, full of the syrupy indigo glow of her kind. Her flesh is the clean white of the Northern Star, her hair a black that is almost blue. She is as irresistible as morning.
Jhazu is a cold planet; it is full of high spacious white houses built very close to each other and to the road. The houses are deserted in winter. The only place above ground in Jhazu that is warm in winter is the Red Pagoda. It’s fires burn larger than a stag, its washa drinks are like fireballs and the people crowd into its rich oriental rooms whenever they can. Looking out of the glass door frosted with fine icicles, Yah wi can see a farmer driving his cattle over the frozen ruts of ground. Their bodies are sheathed in thin layers of ice, but their heads and bony legs constantly break free, as the snow blows around them.
Yah wi watches but she is bored because she is not rational; she is just a collection of skin, bone, blood and feelings. She lives in a perpetual hell state, because she has no regulator, no thermostat. She is a Bonwin. As well as being known for their huge dark fringed eyes, Bonwins are also famous for having no logic and little self-control; they feel, but do not think. Their lack of control makes them easily controlled by others, giving them great value. For a brothel this is very handy, and the harsh and petulant Fajuli who run this frontier town are glad to buy the rare Bonwin whenever one comes on the market. Despite the blue sky-price, the Fajuli make their money back in six months. The Bonwin are the perfect prostitutes, male and female, because they love their work. Work sets their feelings on fire and they are pure feeling. The more they can work, the more content they are. Obviously this is a great advantage for a money-making venture such as the Red Pagoda.
Stain surrenders himself to the journey. As he slides through the night he has no idea what this visit will bring. For although the Fajuli can recognise a profit when they see one, they are small beer who cannot compete with the larger powers. Usually the Fajuli are left alone as too unimportant to be noticed, but one of them has been engaging in extracurricular activities lately. Fellanon, a loose built man with a clenched fist of a face, has been dabbling outside the recognised Fajuli area; his attempts at espionage have been noted by a rival faction. Fellanon knows a secret.
Yah wi still waits bored by the door of the Red Pagoda. Fellanon stands nearby ready to take the cash and keep order in the house. As a glorified bouncer, he thinks his secret identity is unknown. Stain slides along the slipstream, letting himself enjoy the sensation and anticipate his pleasure. It has taken him a while to get the money together for this evening but he is feeling more than just the usual physical longing. Stain is in love and he plans to get Yah wi out of captivity tonight.
On his private planet, orbiting the fabulous Capo dicha, Lord Calophone sits at his meteorite desk, many times larger than himself; he has to perch on a cushion on a chair with extra long legs. He is the size of a fire hydrant with an ugly blue face. He is so small that he likes everything around him to be big. He likes to win; he has to dominate. Lord Calophone is a hereditary Lord of the Waspen Dynasty. He is not at the top of the Dynasty, far from it, but even the lowliest Lord of the Waspens is a power.
Lord Calophone is angry. He thumps his desk. He bangs his drawers. He yells and threatens and commands. Lord Calophone has Bonwin blood in him – he is not all feeling, but he is more feeling than rationality. His retainers live in a never-ending state of anxiety as a result of the intensity of his emotions. And Lord Calophone is sick of it, he shouts, sick of it all. This little creep from Planet Jhazu has interfered is his plans for the Great Dynasty War with his pathetic spying game. Fellanon is on Calophone’s hit list. Not only that but the whole moiety of the Fajulis has been filching all the best Bonwins. It’s about time they were taught a lesson. YES! It’s about time they found out who was boss. He commands his NJL Squad to prepare for a raid tonight on the Red Pagoda.
Fellanon has been spying for a long time. Although his home is on Jhazu, he works as a special agent for the Aphistas, and for the head of Aphista Intelligence, Morgana. The Aphistas are known far and wide as the chief scientists of the galaxy, ingenious industrial designers, and makers of the best clocks. One of their top researchers has discovered that if you heat up and treat dark matter with a disburser catalyser system, you create a substance (temporarily christened dM2) with many valuable uses. One of these is making unbreakable china; another is curing the space disease known as pagilomorphia, a disease which affects the outer nervous system.
But the most exciting and secret use so far discovered is that dM2 acts as a sort of antidote to the feeling state. dM2 given in small doses activates dormant coldly rational, logical brain cells, but only temporarily. There is a sea of endless possibilities for the use of dM2 on Bonwins. While this information is confidential at the moment, the fear of it being leaked to a competing planet is huge. dM2 could make all the difference to the Aphistas, making them a real power in their own right, rather than a most valuable partner.
Fellanon is not really a very good spy. He just always seems to be in the right place at the right time. A brothel seems to be a good place to pick up information; he can always get the Bonwins to talk about their clients with a little extra money and a few threats. The Aphistas know all about Fellanon’s work at the brothel and his access to plenty of Bonwins. They want Bonwins to test their dM2 on and Fellanon has them. Fellanon must deliver half a dozen Bonwins to Morgana by the night of the Double Full Moon or face losing his extra and very profitable employment with the Aphistas. He has been reluctant to part with his Bonwin stock, even for a short time, but with the advent of dM2 he has begun to feel in danger and decides that at the waning of the Double Full Moon tonight or tomorrow morning he will make the trip to Aphista with his chosen six, including Yah wi.
Night of the Double Full Moon
Evening customers are drinking, dancing and engaging in other pleasurable activities with beautiful Bonwin girls and boys at the Red Pagoda. Yah wi’s indigo eyes are sparkling bright. Fellanon and his barbarian Fajuli mates are celebrating the Double Full Moon with everyone else while keeping a weather eye open for any trouble. In the club part of the facilities the band Meteor Assault is belting out their trademark sonic reggae beat, but out the back is a windless waste of snow and debris as the NJL Squad materialise in quiet menace amongst the bins. All in snowstorm khaki, equipped with bulletproof uniforms and the latest Waspen Destruction Dimms, they look like Sumo Ninjas with poor muscle control. They can’t help bumping into each other as their vision is obscured by their huge helmets (chosen by Lord Calophone) so heavy that they cause the squad to lurch widely in an off balance salsa.
‘snicker snack, snicker snack’ chant the Sumo Ninjas.
Their Lord is with them, geared up for action in his own specially made child sized uniform and walking on stilts at the head of their formation. NJL Squad spreads out to guard each exit waiting for the word to move. Above them their spaceship circles, transmitting pictures onto Lord Calophone’s Hand Hooley. Everything is ready to go.
Stain has arrived on Jhazu. His colours are well hidden, sewn into the back of his jacket. Fellanon knows him and has already had him up against the wall warning him to behave himself and checking him for weapons. When Fellanon lets him go, Stain heads straight for Yah wi; she hums to herself thinking that now she will be able to switch on her feelings to the full. Yah wi’s love for Stain is half-hearted until he arrives. She has no way to love him or even think of him at all when he is absent; her whole being turns off and her abstract ideas are almost non-existent. But now that he is here she is wholly violently without any question in love, all atremble for his touch. Taking him to her room, Yah wi smiles widely and holds him close so that Stain is transported to the place he longs for, the place where he is loved. He explains his plan; they will wait for the long night of the Double Full Moon to end when everyone will be exhausted and ready to sleep. When the guards check the rooms Stain will hide with the help of his colours until it is quiet and then they will walk to the place of the slipstream and glide away. Not knowing if it is not a particularly clever plan or even likely to work (though of course, she is used to this) Yah wi agrees and they are united as Stain mixes the colours they need.
On Aphista, pressure has come down hard Morgana. Higher powers cannot wait any longer and she understands the position and the urgency. Deciding that rather than trust the idiot Fellanon to deliver her Bonwins, she will go to pick them up herself. Donning her black mantis uniform, Morgana gathers her team.
‘move along,’ yells Fellanon, shaking his whip and making the Bonwins cower. When they are afraid they are very afraid, at the whim of every other being. Three boys and two girls are crowded into the corner of one of the inner chambers. As the most valuable of the girl Bonwins, Yah wi has been sent for, but she has disappeared from her room. The guards do not realise the use of the colours to conceal; they have no idea of Stain’s powers with them. When they report her absence to Fellanon, he leaves the guards in charge and runs up to check Yah wi’s room for clues. He must leave for Aphista immediately to get there on time; Aphistas get ugly when they have been stood up. Their access to chemical knowledge makes them dangerous and he dares not welsh out on their deal.
As Fellanon stands in the room looking at the long mirror and narwhal comb, Stain and Yah wi crouch invisibly against the wall hardly breathing; they hear the sound of guns. Looking from the bedroom window, Fellanon sees Morgana and her fellow Aphistas draw their light weaponry and fire toward the brothel. He thinks the Red Pagoda is being attacked, that the Aphistas have decided not to pay, but to steal. They must have decided not to wait for him to bring the Bonwins to them but to come and get them themselves. He leans out the window, keeping in the shadows and catches sight of the Waspens in their ridiculous uniforms. What are the Waspens doing here? Why are they firing their Destruction Dimms? Destruction Dimms against the Aphistas. What fools they are. Aphistas command the most sophisticated weapons in the galaxy. All around the snow glitters with green blood pouring from Waspen bodies. Lord Calophone is screaming ‘snicker-snack! snicker-snack!’ to his bloodless soldiers, his Hand Hooley dangling loose from his jacket with its gold braid and splendid red stars. From the upstairs window Fellanon cannot work out what has happened. He bolts down the stairs into the main salon. Customers are flat on the floor and the Fajuli are with them.
Confusion. Fear. Smoke. Suddenly the noise stops. Silence drips through the air. Lord Calophone has been lifted to his spaceship and already the Waspens are darting through the sky, disappearing, deserting their stricken soldiers. Morgana, in her mantis black and with a monster weapon over her shoulder strides through the door, scattering bullets into the wall.
‘what kind of a double cross is this?’ she yells at Fellanon.
The five Bonwins, terrified by the noise and the fighting come running into the room, straight into the arms of the Aphistas. Fellanon falters.
‘no double cross,’ he says, ‘ I don’t know who they are.’
‘liar’ Morgana snarls. She gives some orders to her men. They disappear with the Bonwins out into the snow; the Aphista have come prepared with dM2 to administer to the Bonwins and it is not long before they have all been dosed. Morgana sits on a stool and orders a double washa, staring at Fellanon from her kohl-rimmed bloodshot eyes.
Upstairs Stain and Yah wi are holding tightly to each other. During the fighting outside they slip out the window and keeping to the shadows, disappear into the snow-laden trees. Yah wi is shining with joy, she has never been so happy. Stain rescues his colours and begins to mix crimson, topaz and emerald and a little shale grey and soon they are on their way, wrapped in each other’s arms. Soon, very soon, he will tell Yah wi what has happened and the significance of his name.
Behind them the Bonwins have had their doses and have begun to change into hard cold logical selfish beings. Their brains have begun to work and their long dormant capacity for communicating telepathically kicks in. Without a word being spoken for their captors to hear, they come to a united decision. Turning on the Aphistas they grab them by the ankles and begin to slowly beat them into the ground. It doesn’t take long for more green blood to colour the snow.
The Bonwins turn and walk slowly toward the Red Pagoda.
Dotdotdash issue 4 Antimatter, Winter 2010, duckduckdash publishing