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"Put your ZOMZ on."

By Sarjé HaynesPublished 3 years ago Updated 2 years ago 8 min read

We'd been walking for awhile through the histricity streets--felt like about six HUnits--when we encountered an unusual sight: a lighted storefront. The lights were blindingly bright and colorful. They were twisted and curved into unusual shapes, a kind of text I hadn't encountered before.

"What language is that?" I asked Harby.

"Not sure. The ZOMZ should be able to trans-it though. Give it a sec."

It was my first mission with the ZOMZ. I had spent my cotrairiod required to manually enter search paras and process inqs. into the +mz, for everything on foreign or historic langs, locs, cult norms, and the rest. It could take +MinU's to load and digest enough data to meaningfully interpret what I was seeing.

The ZOMZ was the upgrade we got upon graduating, typ. I was an unusual case. I was req'd to complete an additional seven missions without the ZOMZ, as a HC for my priv. My familiars invented ZOMZ, and it was assumed I had benefited from its trials and tests during my weaning years. The assumption was all that mattered--truth was, I'd never even seen a single headset.

The biologics were pretty absentee, and the nanny was a pruddite. I spent the suckling and weaning days pretty old fashioned. Sometimes all I could load in was bark books, old fashioneds about second humans' wars, pretty boring stuff about surv and serve confickling. Third humans made some worthy efforts, but spent ages getting around to processing outside binary.

So I guess it made me a natch for the Histricity sector. They thought I'd had special access. More like a long littletime, lonely. Suckling on nanny ain't much to telecon over. Too bizzy with the <+ and the +mz OD. A lot of classics to catch up on, they'd call it. Knocked out in a tizzy bizzy with the OD. So I went to weaning early, tried to see about doing an emance but they shiied me off on account of biopriv. I guess it'll pay off some Unit.

The ZOMZ focused in on the curvy shapes and transf'd them legible.

I turned to Harby. "Hours. Heh. In?"

They shrugged. Harby was about 9 LUs, and tended to slouch a bit. Their wettrench was faded out from attending to so many desert histricity missions, and a bit ragged at the edges. Their smile revealed ragged teeth. Their hair ragged and shagged along, faded acid green and pale yellow. I liked Harby, but they were about twice my TUs and half my priv, besides being the boss on the mission. I tried not to smile too much. Vens give away the priv.

I nudged the portal with my should and it pushed open smooth. Harby followed, and the port clicked closed with a shhhhhh.

The brightness overwhelmed the ZOMZ. I ripped them from my oculars and blinked at the room around me.

Tubes of light--every perceivable WayLey--curving round in pleasing shapes, receding far back into the narrowing passage. The brightness was most conc in what the bark books would call a lobby. Old knowledge seemed enlivened here. I began to step toward the hall, but Harby's digits were grabbing hold.

I turned to look at a face I didn't recognize.


"Who else?" I couldn't be sure. "Coffee?"

I looked into the face I didn't know, into the ZOMZ over their face, peering for the oculars within. They were difficult to make out, but the paleness of greyblue looked familiar. They grabbed my digits with theirs. Zap.

Never knew that feeling before.

I hear a clinking noise, metal on metal, and see a flash. Then more lights blaring at us from nearby--and noise too. A beat, rhythm pounding, a voice crooning--that's what they liked to call it. Singing?

Harby pulls my digits, the rest of me, to them. We're close and I smell something warm, acrid but sweet? I feel myself swing around, the colors are blurring, whizzing past. Lots of air starts pouring out of my chest, pow-pow-pow! I'm giddy? I'm giggling?

The voice croons "and I miss you," and the thundering rhythm boom-boom-booms "like the deserts miss the rain!" And I'm spinning out. I'm gonna be sick. The ZOMZ are missing. I dropped them. They're gonna break. I pull digits away and spin toward the wall. My face hits something hot and hard. I slide down the wall.

Across the hall from me is a reflector. A glass? A mirror. They called it mirror.

I don't know this face either. It's pale and sad. Red is dripping from its mouth. It's slowly chewing strips of yellow vegetation, which sit beside a pile of various edible matter. A stack? A sandwich? Handberder?

The face chews and the digits pick up the stack and it chews more. The face moves around occasionally to a rhythm, the same rhythm still playing around me. Boom-boom-boom.

Another face-body walks up, acid green hair, wild and curly, wide mouthpart teeth gleaming. There's a wide, hard surface between them, but they still look close? It speaks to the pale face. Pours brown liquid in the cup beside the food.

"Cafe glass," I hear, just over the sound of the booming. I can't tell if the music is still outside me now. "Put your ZOMZ on."

Harby is beside me. Their face keeps changing. "The frequency. Put them on." Their digits are outstretched to me, offering my headset. I glance back at the mirror, the curly head-smiling face, holding a pitcher? Decanter? Carafe. Oldwords sliding past me, in the air.

"What's coffee?" I ask.

Laughter, like the giggle thing before, and I can almost feel it even though it's coming from them now, and lower. Louder. Slower. "Put the ZOMZ on and I'll show you."

I take them carefully. No more zaps ready, for me. I'm still tizzy wizzy. I slide the headset on, and the room darkens a bit. The lights clarify into words, more oldwords, like Love and Kiss. Harby's face is regular again, but I can still see it shifting nanoU's. It's weird.

They stick digits out again to help me up. I hesitantly take them. Warm. A squaw. Square. Squeeze.

"What's up with this place?" My head feels fuzzy.

"Old structures like this had a lot going on in them during the third wave. Sometimes the energy sigs overlap. Especially where collectors live."


"Yup." Harby doesn't say anything else now, releasing my digits from theirs. I feel cold race up my appendage. We walk down the hall, past more lights and mirrors. Some of them reflect us walking through them, but from the wrong directions, like we are walking past in other halls in other places. One of them seems to be following us from behind. I look over my should but see nothing unusual. The ZOMZ are clarifying the sigs. Still. It's weird.

The end of the hall stretches endlesslike. It glows with the lights, which stretch into long stringy shapes. We stretch with the hall. I hear my voice saying "What's up with this place?" But it's low and slow and raspy, and it's ahead of me and it's behind me.

I shrink into the pulse of light around me. I feel myself being pulled and pulled and pulled into my comp parts. I deprogram down to hex, binary, barely even there.

The light is short WayLey, only that now, and the room is fluid and stinks. We are shimmering into silver paper. Frozen moments in light. The darkroom feels oppressive. I feel myself strangling in the fumes.

There's Harby's digits again. I'm stretching and shrinking back into a self. I'm pouring into the vessel. I'm dark and hot and bitter about something. Harby is laughing, and the laugh is echoing and escorting me through the hallway. A spotlight is on us, as we push balls around felt. Everything is still red, except their hair, acid green.

"Drink up. You're a damn fine cup of coffee." Harby blinks with one eye.

I stare and sip. I set the cup on the table and turn the handle. Harby's head rotates in TUnits with the cup. The ZOMZ are glowing on their paledark face. I pull the face down to mine.

"I don't like coffee. But I like you."

Harby winks (winks!) at me again and puts mouthparts on mine. My vens aren't visible now. The priv doesn't matter, now.

We stretch together through the tunes and tubes and portals and WayLeys and metals and glasses. We dissolve into a singularity and resolve into sand. We blow through the deserts, ragged into smooth, chaos into hot concentrated order. We become reflections looking back at Harby and me, frozen tableau looking back at ourselves. And we hear the tune repeat again.

"I miss you like the deserts miss the rain."

"Need a refill, hon?" The waitress is standing across from me, holding up the coffee carafe. Her hair bounces, framing her face, a vivid shade of green. I push my cup forward, turning the handle a bit.

She turns her head, and smiles. "Cheer up, sugar. You're not alone." She squeezes my hand and I look into her greyblue eyes, and smile widely back.

"I know."

I close my oculars. When they open again, we're standing outside the store front.

"How did you like the collection?" Harby asks.

"Acceptable. I'll report mission success."

Harby laughs and takes my digits. "Wanna go again?"

"Thought you'd never ask."

"Then you weren't paying attention."

I laugh too, fully and finally. We pull the ZOMZ off from each other's oculars and stare, as we dissolve once more.

science fiction

About the Creator

Sarjé Haynes

Sarjé is a painter and writer living in Kalapuya ancestral territory. You can learn more about her at http://sarje.art.

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