01/01/2004. Contributed by Michael Haulica
It was one of the most select restaurants of Time. Beyond Knot Pitt, marked on any chronotopic map of the Tourism Special Offices ... Michael Haulica serves up some time twistery in the form of his latest short SF story.
It was one of the most select restaurants of Time. Beyond Knot Pitt, marked on any chronotopic map of the Tourism Special Offices. One could enter a huge Gothic hallway with walls in massive rock having icy colours that iterative reverberated the chords of the famous adagio of the Solemn Mass.
Once gotten in here, every human, Tourist or Regular was welcome as an old friend by the stylish and courteous Ober, then walked into the saloon: to the Golden one, Silver, Blue, Mauve or even to the Black one, depending on his mood.
El-Eftis, a Regular, was ushered into the blue saloon.
The modular walls, feigning immensity, were engraved, in an apparent mess with large sparkling saphyres. These walls supported the ceiling, whose vault had crystal spheres with delicate corellias gracefully rippling and becoming luminescent when someone was stopping by or just passing them.
Moldings in Brazilian rosewood in bud covered with gold, were caressing with their light the mahogany panels, imperial version, blue-pearl, whose arabesques evoked the sensation of the Universal Genesis.
Here and there, embedded in the aggressive ironware (especially programmed to alleviate the inedia syndrome), the spherical fireplaces in metaglass - where there were smouldering the Kollodoc chicks illegally brought all the way from Galla - provided, through excruciating trills, a pleasant and lucrative environment.
According to some esoteric laws, the tables were spread on the petrified ebony floor with their legs looking delicately arched under the burden of the panels in Kyonos marble. Around them, there were biomorph armchairs covered with impala leather. Luminescent flap doors indicated the places harbouring the clearing innocentias, some carnivorous plants extremely congenial, result of some genetic engineering experiment and abandoned at the end.
In the centre of the saloon, an oasis of verdure. Obviously, blue verdure: the hemocyanotic natives freed from Opallonia's sands were showing this way their gratitude, through the artesian wells. These wells, by the clusters of ray of light thoroughly distributed, supported the dancers whose movements, no matter how clumsy and unwieldy, once reflected in the liquid mirrors with golden ivory frames became elegant and masterly.
But El-Eftis knew all that. He was the architect. The interior programmers did nothing but follow his indications and the restaurant erected magnificently, a perfect self-portrait. It was the material representation of his soul, made with an absolute honesty. No detail was overlooked. The general idea that each saloon was both part and whole of the ensemble expressed, as a matter of fact, the main principle of its interior structure.
Inside this space, El-Eftis was feeling as if he was inside himself.
Even the androids on duty were his creation: exact copies of personalities in vogue.
As a matter of fact, vogue was something established here, in this place. No one was a true star unless there was at least one waiter bearing his face. In order to get acquainted with the new looks of the personnel or to ensure the continuity of the old ones - status that called into play fabulous amounts of money, careers, lives - the restaurant was visited frequently, despite the exorbitant prices, by all those who thought they were stars. They would be stars or they had stars in their power: sportsmen, artists, programmers, politicians, businessmen or priests.
El-Eftis stopped within the floating space limit, programmed the table for one armchair and sat. The bluish aura of the corelia above, deeper around the tentacles, surrounded him with a warm light, sticking to his face, colouring him and integrating him to the saloon. He reached out for the menu and slowly browsed the real paper pages, with vignettes representing the plant or animal of which each food was made.
He abandoned himself to the smell emitted by each page and tried to figure out what to order. Anacrodon gizzard, crusty xeres, staphylogenes wings. There were so many temptations. Not to mention the real delights promised by the artistically prepared salads of alms, phytohelees or morphostyls. And the sweets...the glazed lymphodocs...
He was pulled out of this olfactive delirium by the light and sound sign requesting his order and preference for the serving android. From the great number of culinary combinations, he chose the one having an indicative QI and then watched, on the table's little screen, the folder containing the personnel available. He went for the beautiful Task Me, nicknamed The Persian Cat after the actress, had the role of the scanner Oldernon's adjutant in the series of polemographic movies that made collapse, at least partially, prejudices, myths and governments.
In spite of the purists and even in spite of the laws that banned the use for commercial purposes of everything that could have something to do with the fighting instinct of the human race, Polemography really gained millions of fans. It used to block the communication lines with their recording requests, only to be able to admire, in short sequences, a 38 bullet or the stock of a tank or in the most innocent movies, a fist tussle...
The firms that used to intermediate this trade established on the initial embarrassment of the solicitants had disappeared long ago, the records starting to be obtained by requests directly to the producers. Meanwhile, dozens, hundreds of clandestine magazines came out and the polemographic literature was printed in an impressive number of copies. The social phenomenon existed and the sociologists predicted essential changes in the society's life.
The Final Ritual was taking place to a table next to his. The waiter, a copy of the psi-lifters' absolute champion, was assisting his customer who, at the end of the feast, was smelling once again, as a recap, the Stimulant - the natural equivalent of the meals he just had.
A gentle tinkling announced the presence of three copies having the looks of Task Me. They lined up in front of El-Eftis, presenting him the trays with the ordered dishes.
On blue Kaloghera porcelain plates, whose edges were engraved with a game of golden sparse lines representing stylised helioplantooshes, the Stimulant was offered to him. He sniffed the component dishes one by one, performing the Initial Ritual. Then he made the first Sign. They could proceed.
The first Task Me put the crucible containing the Total Soup in front of him. Steams and flavours of all soups in the Acknowledged Universe were charmingly rising from the plate with Stimulent-soup. He started to eat without taking his eyes off the girl's face.
Hubbub all over the saloon. El-Eftis was eating the Stimulent.
The Persian Cat was reciting famous lines from Maceta, mon amour. Lines that, by the images they evoked were supposed to react with the consumer's gastric juices, increasing the Stimulent's effect. At the end, she handed him the linen napkin having printed on it, with golden letter, the words: enjoy today's meal.
El-Eftis made the second Sign.
The next Task Me put the crucible with mushrooms' stew on the table.
All the customers in the saloon were staring at him in total stillness, as if they were dining in the garden with statues by Litowski, the sculptor who embracing the Humanist Movement initiated a real revolution in the art of those days, bringing the Man to the centre of attraction.
This time, the Cat was wearing the outfit from 'Gone With The Bombardier', one of the most expensive super-production of all times. He was watching her, listening to her words, while the stew was melting and, when on the bottom of the plate were left only some sauce stains, felt a violent impulse to lick his fingers, but he restrained.
The hubbub became general. He consumed the second Stimulent. The older clients, from the next tables, backed out ostentatiously. Behind them remained the words more bearable, those polemographic ordeals and after all, how can a bazooka be more disgusting than this guy?
This guy was wiping his lips with the napkin made of golden cassarg hair, having written with round letters to eat is humanly.
That was too much. Even the butler, an android with the always smiling smiting face of the Cofederation's Regent, came to the same conclusion and he saw a lot in his life. One night he even saw the real Task Me in an exquisite transparent outfit, tightly fitting her flawless body. To show that antiquity's jewels were fashionable again, matching her hair and her eyes, that is blue, she was wearing a tiny Mitsuki chastity belt, sport version, with a tiny pistol...very tiny...but still a pistol.
And El-Eftis made the third Sign...
The last Cat brought him a perfect orange. He drew closer the plate with the humble and complex Stimulent-orange, a bit scrawny and without its well-known shiny skin. Obviously, that was the real thing! He reached out and grabbed it from the plate.
A bang was heard. At the second table on the left, a man fainted.
He peeled off the orange and ate it slowly, admiring the girl's breasts, a bit loose, where two big green hands were painted, the hands with three fingers of the Nikenian man.
She was standing in front of him, naked and cyanided just like in Gun Story. Slowly, when the producers' courage reached the acromany level, the viewers were offered a scene where, for ten seconds, a gorgeous and primitive machine-gun could be seen in the forefront.
He ate the orange very slowly. Then he picked up the pieces of skin and pressed them against his fingers, splashing himself with juice, perfuming his beard...
'...he ate the Stimulent, Mister Manager!'
'So what?', answered the restaurant's manager, the only human of all the staff. 'Our customer is his own master! Can you deal with the customer's preferences? Besides...he's doing it on his own money, so...his money - our money!'
'Yeah, but it's immoral!' concluded the butler, bearing the same smile.
Annoyed, the manager reached out a limp hand and dialled the Neurodome's code. Doctor Maddock's terminal-looking face appeared, crampy grinning. Probably, he took the call out of reflex. Obviously he was in a delicate position trying to hide behind him something that looked like the last issue of Play War magazine. Connected to several terminals, he was likely to work at the new experiments. The invention he announced, the bio-terminal, was more and more often mentioned in the scientific discouragement works published lately.
Briefly, he was informed of what just happened.
'What? Natural food???' Maddock jumped to the ceiling and then he scuttled away without disconnecting, without turning off the holophone, leaving the manager accompanied by the 12 Siamese cats that invaded his den, fighting to get a place in front of the keyboards.
Three minutes later, an ambulance pulled up abruptly in front of Knot Pitt. Two strapping fellows stepped out, followed at a certain distance by Maddock, who was still removing sockets, wires and hair from his head. They entered the saloon when El-Eftis was throwing on the table the napkin made of idiopter natural silk having embodied, between Forget-Me-Nots, the words each gulp seems a goodbye and he was starting to tell the three Task Me the dream where...
He didn't get to say what happened in his dream. He was taken immediately to the clinic, his shape got worse from day to day and, after three months, El-Eftis died as the first case of LAPINS recorded.
LAPINS (Low-Alimentation Pronounced Immune-Narcotic Syndrome) was a disease that worked havoc in the years '40. It manifested by swallowing natural aliments, respectively the stimulants that accompany regular food, leading to death in maximum 6 months, despite all the efforts made in clinics to feed the patients with the most nutritive products of the bio-chemical plants from all over the planet.
From the present day perspective, the history of this disease has nothing spectacular. It could be represented by a mild curve, whose equation isn't even worth being mentioned.
As they couldn't give up the natural Stimulent (this would have resulted in an anabiotic propagation of the klisten in a hermanian way, leading to genetic mutations impossible to conceive, so considered catastrophic), the calamity of the century, as they used to call every new disease. The scientists got to work and, after a few years of intense research, they discovered the carrying agent: a virus spread by oneiric way. They called it hypnovirus.
A few years later, the EXONEIR was launched on the market. Just in time because people, frightened, gave up sleep and dreams...becoming the bargain of the century, the EXONEIR ensured rest at an astronomical price. Without dreams, but who cared about that any more?
That's how the story ends. LAPINS, one of the diseases of the century.
No one even remembered it a few years later, when a dizzy and exhausted crowd, with sad faces, was marching in the streets, unifying their voices in the new generation's song:
Give dream a chance."
(c) Michael Haulica 2003
English version by Adriana Mosoiu
Michael Haulica is the editor of the e-zine Lumi Virtuale (www.lumivirtuale.ro). He has published more than 50 stories and novelettes in Romanian SF and literary magazines. His stories have been published in 5 anthologies: "Motocentauri pe acoperisul lumii" (Motocentaurs on the top of the world, 1995), Nemira SF Anthology, (1995 & 1996), Romania SF 2001 and QUASAR 001, 2001. In 1999, he published his first book, Madia Mangalena (the Vladimir Colin award in 2000), and in 2001, the second collection, Despre singuratate si ingeri (About loneliness and angels) winner of the SIGMA 2002 award.
In November 2001, at the SF National Convention, he won the National SF award for "best book" and another award for "best performance on the Internet" for Lumi Virtuale.
On the Internet he has published some stories in Aphelion, Antipodean SF, Redsine, sf4you, Double Dare Press, Distant Worlds, Megaera, Nave de palavras, Via Galactica, Stick Your Neck Out, Wild and Whirling Words, Anotherealm. His works had been translated also into Hungarian and Croatian.
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