Andy, crouched under the dense buzzing of solar-powered fans, screams, “Yes. Are you bleeps getting out or what?” His condensed cry sets the bleeps in question leap off their power-out NCs.
Rubina taps at her sadly self-manicured thumbnail to trigger green texts blow up before her face. Junk texts and texts of unpaid bills.
“Next. Next-t. Next-t-t,” Anand joins the reverbed refrain as Andy pretends to nap just as he prays to god only knows how many gods.
Rubina chews on a power-out toothbrush even as Anand chews on a guava leaf he nicked last night off a 10-rupee Fruitbot.
After fifteen nexts, Anand almost chokes on his leaf just as Rubina lets out a stifled,
“Bleep yes. Appointed.”
Saying “I’ve incurred a ticket, too…of theft,” Anand creeps up to Rubina, “but I’m no longer a…what’s the word?”
“Soon we’ll be mooing to.”
“A bunch of Invalids.”
“Says who, dah?”
still.” Andy coughs up streaks of red vectors in the air. First, a ship takes off from Tiruchendur Sea Station, then there’s a moon and its craters. A cabinet made of uncertain wooden stuff levitates midair, suspended by a single cable. He coughs, comes to, sees static hues against grey background. The asphyxiation feels aberrant. He tries to lift his head only to find the cabinet to be shut tight. He cannot bring himself to lift a finger or a toe. He musters up enough oxygen to mutter, “Le me ou. …”.
“You cannot let yourself through the coin slot,” an automated tone cracks through the silence. “Funds insufficient.”
My unplugged night cabinet speaks, how, he thinks. “What?”
“You’re laid, now lying, in your coffer, mister, not your cabinet.”
Andy taps his thumbnail to have red texts blow up in his silhouette of a face.
March 28, 2092
That’s ten years into the future and 200K miles away from earth. “No, naa, no.” I can’t be buried at moon. I’m not a Priceless. “I’m not ded. Le me ou aa…”
“Slot does not recognize you, Invalid
As the bunch of them pace the street, Rubina points to the blue sky, “Look, Pushpak.”
“Yes,” says Andy, “buto those who’re much less sentimental, Fata Morgana, it is.”
A girl carts her mother and fishing drones to the sea. A 5-rupee Sweepbot gathers dead leaves and sand off the side of tarmac. There are legs and arms of aluminium protruding out of the three-foot dumpster behind it. Must be worn out, irreparable but recyclable Watchbots. The town quickly begins to pound the familiar pulse of working day.
Anand pays the Fruitbot in coins, that Andy had gathered from his three grimy pouches, 99 in all.
Andy wants to insert his finger into the palm-sized slot by the counter but he would not as he is afraid of hearing, once again, the beep that signifies his invalidity. He simply wonders instead about the various inconveniences human-sized slots might have caused.
“Hundred bucks, fines and all, not a rupee less,” says the Bot.
Anand takes back a five and drops three twos. “We could barely make it to the station now, bleepers.”
“The two-rupee coins have been invalid for days now, rascals, and the caked dust, ladies, will your moms be visiting to wipe them clean?”
“You, metal bleeper, can have the twos switched around the corner. As for mom visiting, you try shoving those coins up your absent bleep holes.”
There is a clang; a Fluto having crashed down creeps to the pavement. Its headlight comes flying across and hits Anand in the face. He falls to his knees, then, holding his face, to his back. Rubina
and Andy come around him. The head splits in three, vertically, then, it splits horizontally, in five segments. He clenches his fingers. He cannot find his tongue as he grinds his teeth.
A kid chases a hen; in the NS7, speeding Flucks smuggle nimbus clouds. His memories overlap.
Andy wakes up in an powered cabinet that with his awakening transforms into a revolving couch; a lady emerges and declares that he is now a Priceless; she takes his face out, replaces it with another yet the same face, as though it were an x-ray; she takes his torso out, replaces it with another torso, as though it were an x-ray pinned to an x-ray reader, the same torso but this one bears a carved P running its length instead of the 2 that he was before.
“This…,” he says, and his voice fails him.
Sand devours the coast; the polychromatic skyline is awash with crabs; a roof crashes into a ship; egrets bleep sheep with their beaks; Valli’s Cave is brimful of rodents; the bunch of Priceless live underground; a long strip of land vanishes out of sight; the kid balances a cart at the tip of her finger. His memory fades. “Andy, you’re
bleeding through your ears.” A figure in spacesuit knocks on the coffer.
“Are you awake, Andy?” The figure drags down the coffer, pins it to the contraption built on the surface of the moon. No sooner it is secured than the coffer, suspended by a single cable, goes adrift midair. Andy comes to. “Someone le me out.”
“The payment must be made by yourself or by someone else from the inside.”
“Is there someone outside?”
“Yes, this is Ann, and I’m here to get you out.” She brandishes what looks like an electric saw, brings it to the coffer, runs it. It runs berserk, cuts through the wood, cuts him through his hip.
“You’re to pay…in 5’vs, not 2’s. Invalid co…”
Andy grows hard of breathing; his voice fails; he grows cold; his muscles twitch. His face becomes a site of extreme expressions and the light bleeps
out of his eyes. “Wake him up.” The SG||TD Skan slides away just as the CRD drone glides down, places its hands over his chest, one two, resuscitates.
“Not a vegan, yet clean-lunged and clean-veined — a first, one-of-a-kind failure. It would take months and months of prepping and each nanosecond would cost, cost massively in ones,” says the woman in her purple apron. “You’ve survived, Mr Andy, but you could not withstand the transformation.”
Andy, lying on his back, surveys his bare chest. I was a 2, now, what, I’m a 1?, he thinks, his eyes glistening. “Dr Annie, is it?,” he says mawkishly.
“Ouch! You’re a bit tipsy. Call me Ann, An-bleeping-drew.”
His breathing becomes rapid as he eyes something sharp on the stretcher by his foot. The drone is eyeing him. He jumps, misplaces the first stab, but with the next he blinds the drone. He drags the weight that he is toward the doctor with the strength that is left in him, scissor in one hand, lancet in another.
“Undo it,” he tells her, scissor on her apron.
She undoes her apron, her back to him, drops her violet kurti. Ashoka’s Pillar etched the length of her back, she drops her brassiere facing him, a 2 runs the length of her torso. A knock on the door.
“Le me make a pair of us outa me.” He carves with the lancet, the entire length of his torso, a near-perfect 3. Teeth bared, his face a site
of extreme expressions. Rubina and Anand stumble into the TT, “Is he all…right?”
She shushes them. She takes their faces out, replaces them; she does the same to their torsi. She takes her face out, replaces it with Andy’s face; she does the same to her torso. He slips into her as she slips in and out of him.
“Wake her up.”
The drone glides down, places its hands over her chest, three four, resuscitates. She comes to, sees shifting hues against grey background.
“You’re a 5 now, Ms Annie,” the doctor says. “The transformation would’ve been easier had you had three or more concrete personalities. If we keep branching out like this, splitting like atoms, as it were, the deeper your subconscious gets the subatomic it gets. Damn the Auro-Magda Incident.”
“We’re just a pair…each,” Annie speaks, still getting out of her slumber, “and he could at times get too…what’s the word?” Lying on her back, she surveys her chest, in disbelief.
“Say what – ostentatious?”
“That’s a Pricey, peeled chickenish, but…yes.” She leaves a sigh of immense relief.
“That must make quite an exciting live-in, miss.” Dr Melvin tilts his neck away from her, taps his temple. “Employer, Ms Sumathi, coming in.”
“Superb, Ms Annie.”
“To the moon to bury you go soon, to be stationed at our station five full earth years along with ten other recruits. Upon return you’ll be a qualified 10, this time long before you will have become, again, an Invalid.”
“Over to the Resources, now.”
“Superb, Ms Annie.”
“You will earn, for simply being, five an hour seven days a week, the incentive of space burial duty, again, being five an hour seven days a week, paid leisure being every other day. Look, no everyday up there. Accommodation, psych care and food on the house, of course.”
“Now you can retire to your pod for sufficient rest. If you need any assistance, just tap away. Tomorrow, the zero gravity training will commence.”
Annie walks out of the transformation theatre as Andy slips
in and out of her. A rocket ship takes off from the Tiruchendur Sea Station. There is moon and its craters. In one corner, positively automated, ravenous palm squirrels run amok, as the cabinets go adrift suspended only by single cables, and climb the cables.
“Le me ou,” she cries.
“Le me ou,” they cry.
Andy slips out of Annie as she drops to her knees. He sidles up to her, grabs her by her wrist, tugs, and slips her inside him. Famished, she thirsts for a drink, very much. He orders one at the suave station bar. She is so wasted there is barely any verve to keep Rubina going but by god can Andy cope. It costs to keep going like this; costs to be sane. Her hand reaches for his deltoid. “Wake up,” he whispers. Anand will have to wait, like Rubina.
“On the house, mister.”
“Food and all.”
Pretty please, he thinks. “Make it, then, two…please.”
The wall of glass brings to view intermittent low tide rising and spinning signboards forbidding wholesale drone or manned fishing in the vicinity.
“Oh, yes. BEAKs.”
When Annie and Andy are done, Rubina and Anand will cater for themselves. They do not appreciate the concept of charity.