Saturday night, 2149, heading for 10 p.m., and where the hell was this guy, what was keeping him? The Dead Parrot Bar had long since made the transition from raucous to mayhem, and Sable was not comfortable sitting here, girl alone. She felt like a crime scene waiting to happen.
She kept remembering that really horrible movie Fang made her watch, just before she broke up with him, Blonde at Bay, the one in which the blonde girl is out alone, innocently drinking her way through a suite of tequila cocktails, when, without warning, all the guys in the bar -- and there are a lot of them, too many to count -- turn on her. And then -- well, do guys really have this disgusting stuff in their imaginations? And, if they do, how do they live with themselves?
They were playing that stupid song again, Cat in a Bathtub, she was so tired of that idiot lyricspiel, all the stuff about the ecstasies of scratching wet wallpaper and the sneezing caused by the soap bubbles getting up its nose. Cats! What did cats ever do for you? Ever hear of a cat buying a girl a saucer of caviar and a glass of sparkling white? No, of course not. Horrible, useless animals, and they really smelt, especially after you sprayed them with that stinky air freshener, which was what her mother always did.
The door to the Dead Parrot Bar crashed open and a gaggle of Argives spilt inside, all giggling drunk, yeah, raucous back-slapping Argives, marines from Port Hoolip and Yokosuka, off the leash and ready for brawl time. Usually, you could live in Omblock for months on end without being reminded that an army of occupation is in possession of it, that the Relsh Strasborg troops are squatting on your land and they're not going home, no, your home is their home, because their sacred mission is to rule the world, to make sure they always own nine-tenths of the hamburgers.
But the Dead Parrot Bar was at Dilskartha, almost within spitting distance of Yokosuka, and so you got these marines with their buffed bodies and their gerky haircuts, off the base and so drunk they can't remember being sober, and you get reminded of the things they do that get them in the newspapers, like that time just last month, girl wakes up, fourteen-year-old girl, there's something in her bed and it's not her teddy bear. No, it's one of these marines, and he's naked.
And afterwards, when the base commander, General Flattop, when he apologizes in public, sort of, does this very weak sorry, he makes that horrible remark about Conflux girls being happy the marines are here on Conflux, because, hey, Conflux girls are prostitutes at heart, right?
Guy doesn't get it, doesn't understand a girl doesn't want to be gorilla-stomped, doesn't understand that it's time the rulers of the universe packed up and went home, time to stop treating Omblock like one big thermonuke aircraft carrier, we don't want to be your bomb base, no, and we don't feel privileged to be the cleaners of your foreskins.
Xenophobia was not a standard emotion for Sable, but, then, she didn't often rub shoulders with foreigners. And she was in a really filthy mood, feeling bruised, a kind of battered wife feeling, she wasn't even married yet, but the universe had foregrounded itself, had taken on the battering husband role.
"I hate drunks," said Sable.
And went up to the bar and bought herself a bottle of vodka. And bought, too, a bar of Girlthin Munchyummy, that pineapple-flavored stuff which melts in your mouth just like chocolate, but which contains zero calories. Like vodka. Screw beer, beer is fattening. Vodka is a girl's best friend.
Later, when the bottle was no longer full, a man sat down across from Sable at the itty bitty two-person table Sable had taken in the boyfriend-girlfriend section. Not an Argive, no. Someone older, unhealthier, flab which couldn't find its way to the gymnasium, Binge Man having a day out from his comic strip.
"Hippopotamus?" he said.
The oldest of the chat-up lines. Also, the shortest. Men like it because it's so easy to remember, even when they're really, really drunk. But, despite what men think, girls don't like that approach. They want something girlflossy, subtle, not this blunt Kongman Ravisher my penis likes your boobies approach.
Better be careful here. The Argives in the bar were a riot waiting to happen. Try something subtle. Don't start out by simply smashing the bottle right in his face. Be a Conflux girl, not a Balimo bitch.
"Am I going to have to smash this bottle right in the middle of your watermelon face, or are you going to be a gentleman and do it yourself?"
Having delivered herself of that line, Sable was pleased with her grown-up sophistication and self-control. Yeah, she was handling this very well, almost as if she was one of those, what do you call them? Got a word for it somewhere. A woman! Yes, that's right, that's the missing word. Almost as if she was not a girl but a woman. Almost.
"Had an argument with your boyfriend?" said the man.
In response, Sable produced her Girlscream rape alarm and placed it on the table in front of her.
"Scamper," said Sable. "Or we enter the realm of consequences."
The man rose heavily, coughed, then trundled off. And Sable took another hit of the vodka.
Vodka will only take you so far, and it ended up that Sable wanted to go further, and, since her grip on reality was pretty blurred by then, she saw no reason why she should stop herself. So she went ahead and did it.
Shortly after Sable started doing a line of cocaine at the itty bitty boyfriend-girlfriend table she had commandeered, flashlights started to go off, the target of these flashlights being her. People, if they had them, were hauling out their digital cameras and taking snapshots. If they didn't have digicams then they used the cameras built into their mobile phones, though the Dead Parrot Bar was too dark to get optimal flash-free photos. Sable, she had become a tourist attraction. Conflux girls? Everything you have heard is true.
"Can we have a moment?" said a man.
The voice was solid, authoritative. A gun holster voice. Sable looked up and saw two cops in front of her. One of these cops had spoken to her, though she was not sure which one. They did not seem happy. Why? Was something wrong with her bright blonde face? No, probably not. Probably they were going to be tiresome about the coke, yeah, try the how would you like twenty years in a concrete box thing. Well, screw you, you killjoy fascists, why don't you go deal to the real world, street kids doing real crimes?
"You want to start, or shall we?" said one of the cops.
"I'll start," said Sable. "I have a prescription for this. Was in a car crash, all my teeth are loose, hurt like hell."
And she pulled out, first, some photo ID -- her driver's license and her credit card, they were sure to hassle her for photo ID -- and then the prescription. This document, certifying that the bearer had been prescribed medical cocaine, bore the stamp of Seward Burroughs, dentist. Including his phone numbers -- clinic, home and cellphone. One of the cops pulled out his own cellphone and managed to get through to Seward at his home number.
"Are you Seward Burroughs? Yes? Uh, you ever prescribe cocaine? Yeah ... Conflux Constabulary. Me? Heinrich Himmler, Diamorphine Taskforce. Yeah. So, you ever prescribe cocaine to a Conflux kid? Girl kid, blonde, big boobies. Does that talk to your telephone? Hang on ... here we are. Tauranga. No, I said Tauranga. That's T-A-U-R-A-N-G-A. Yeah, Sable Tauranga. Check your records, please. No, I can hold."
There was a long, long pause, the kind of pause appropriate for a dentist rummaging around in his client records, maybe using special software to access his office computer remotely. Sable sat there trying to count her heartbeats, a trick she had learnt from that life coach, what was her name, the woman with the tank full of cute turtles, the woman she had interviewed ... when? Must have been last year.
"Thank you," said the cop.
And the call was done. What now? Was Sable going to get an apology? Or was she going to get twenty years in a concrete box, with no time out for hairdresser visits?
"Legit, it seems," said the cop who had made the phone call.
And with that they were gone, no apology, no, of course not, they were the fascist enforcers of the fascist state, catch you having a little fun and they'll smash your knuckles for you, they'll trash your face. Don't do anything about real crime, spend their time hassling innocent girls who are being kept waiting in dangerous bars.
A dab of cocaine was still left on the table, so Sable licked her finger, wiped up the cocaine and sucked it. Good. The bright point of the evening was that she now had a client-provider relationship with Seward Burroughs of Nirvana Orgasms, a rather eccentric name for a dental clinic, when you thought about it, probably not the best place to go if you wanted that fashion trend gold tooth you were thinking of.
Seward had become her dentist. That was the outcome of the call the cop had made. She was now one of his patients, obviously. He'd confirmed that to the cops by phone. And, if she was one of his patients, it followed that, logically, he could renew her prescription. For a price. She would have to thank Ibrahim for introducing them, too. Or, well ... maybe, on second thoughts, thanking Ibrahim wouldn't be such a good idea.
"Police brutality," muttered Sable to herself, returning to her grievance with the cops.
Same old story. Innocent girl in a bar, doing nothing wrong, just taking her prescription medicine, and, next thing, these gunbelt fascists, mind rapists with a badge, they're all over her, hassling her, no cause for that, aiming to bust her just because she's a girl, men, they all hate girls, isn't that the sorry secret truth?
Sable was starting to feel a little sniffly -- vodka tended to have that effect on her -- and was nearing waterfall point (crybaby blubber time) when the man she had been waiting for ever since the first of the rainforests started growing, that man, he finally turned up.
"Where the hell have you been?" said Sable.
"Tespetty," said Beria, taking the seat across from her. "The President wanted to talk to me."
"Olive Valise?" said Sable. "It's Saturday! She doesn't work weekends."
"Boss life is not a bowl of oysters," said Beria, taking the neck of the vodka bottle in two fingers and rocking the bottle this way and that, invading her space, doing the spatial transgression thing that the radfems talk about, yeah, it's true, next thing he'll be pulling down panties, shoving in his sausage.
"You want to pull down my panties and shove in your sausage, don't you?" said Sable.
That was a no-brainer. Men were men, and Sable had figured out that Beria wasn't gay.
"When you're talking to your father, you'll keep a clean tongue in your mouth," said Beria, going disciplinarian, the authoritarian in him showing.
Yeah, showing big, iron pumped. Not like he ever tried to hide it. But there was more muscle to his voice now than there had been before, when she had been speaking with him on the phone. He reminded her of Morkin Sped on the day when Morkin wound himself up so tight he ended up losing control totally, with the result being that an ambulance collected Sable and took her from school to hospital with a broken rib, for which she got morphine, which is not the kick you might expect, just made her a bit woozy, weren't you supposed to get neat hallucinations and stuff?
"Are you listening to me?" said Beria.
"Oh, piss off," said Sable.
She wanted more vodka. She wanted to do another line of cocaine. She wanted Jo, Josephine Triumph, her bestest friend, but Jo was on her honeymoon, off in Imperial Yam with that banker guy she'd married, banks, who the hell would marry a bank, is a bank cuddly? Anyway, they were off in Imperial Yam, her and him and his big bazooka that Jo was always laughing about, he was so proud of his big bazooka, and that was amusing, men are always one level more basic than you think, and they had tickets to one of those virgin sacrifice things, the stone pyramid, the beating heart, the whole deal, might bring her back a souvenir, something blood-dipped.
"Does the life of a vodka whore come naturally to you, or do you have to work at it?" said Beria.
"Oh, piss off," said Sable, for the second time. "I'm not your whore."
"No," said Beria. "You're my daughter, I'm your father, and I'm not having you carrying on like this, getting bugger drunk in trash bars."
"Trash bars!" said Sable. "You venued us here! I'm here because you told me."
"When you talk to your father," said Beria, "you will speak with respect."
"Shove your daughter fantasy into your condom wallet and take it up to Mango for a workout," said Sable. "Girls up there will play daughterbaby. For a price."
In response, Beria slapped her.
"You hit me," said Sable, wonderingly, fingering her face.
"I did not hit you," said Beria. "I wouldn't beat up my daughter. That's a slap, that's all. A father's loving discipline."
"Look, will you lay off the father-daughter crap?" said Sable. "At least until they declare pervert hour, you know, free drinks all round and a condom handout."
By way of reaction, Beria picked up Sable's vodka bottle, took a big hit, put the bottle down on the table, then belched. A real hippopotamus belch.
"Something you should see," said Beria.
And produced a folded photocopy which he unfolded and placed on the table in front of her. Sable picked it up, squinted. A bit blurry, this. All the little letters scattering like jumbly ants. Vodka is funny stuff. It looks so clear, but it's so difficult to see through.
"You're too drunk to find the toilet paper, aren't you?" said Beria, taking back the photocopied document. "Let me explain. There was a session in the Family Court this morning, fortunately they work Saturdays. You weren't represented. Your doctor produced a certificate of mental incompetency in your name and the judge let things go ahead without you."
"What things?" said Sable.
"Your parents were there," said Beria. "They formally disowned you, goodbye family ties, and, to cut a long story short, I adopted you, and you are now my daughter."
Joke, right? Her parents wouldn't disown her. Would they?
"Present for you," said Beria, pulling out a cellphone, a girlpink Boydialer. "To replace the one you went and lost. If you don't believe me, call the people who used to be your parents."
"Don't have the number," said Sable.
"No problem," said Beria. "I do."
One phone call later, Sable, too shell-shocked to start crying, was escorted out of the Dead Parrot Bar by this secret policeman guy who -- unbelievable, God in a pumpkin! -- was her father. Five minutes after they exited the bar, a limo pulled in to the side of the road. Beria opened the door for Sable and she got in. First time in her life a man had ever opened a door for her. Hold it, Conflux girl! This isn't romance novel territory! This is the Bad Pervert, okay? Got his daughter fantasy, now he's living it in the flesh.
"Where is Ibrahim?" said Beria, as the limo pulled into the traffic.
A motorbike throttled by, close, boy at the handlebars, wild girl with long black hair riding pillion, and the wild girl slapped the limo's window as she went past, big world-licking grin on her face, wish I was her, motorbike free, lunatic ride then risk sex with no condoms, gamble your lottery, casino your life. Way to go, girl.
"I asked you a question," said Beria. "Where is Ibrahim?"
"I told you," said Sable. "I told you. On the phone. I told you everything."
"Ibrahim has disappeared," said Beria. "He's vanished from Zisperhaven."
"Check the taxi cabs," said Sable. "Do the TV thing, you know, the ferry security tapes."
"He's a traveler," said Beria. "You knew that? You didn't know it? Never mind. We're here."
"This where you live?" said Sable, peering out.
They had pulled up outside a really dubious business frontage, a place called Bitchwork Bodymarks, sign in red neon doing that on-off flickering neon sign thing, probably making bug-zapping-type noises, too, only you couldn't hear it, sealed in the limo like this.
"Okay," said Beria. "Out."
And the door opened to the world of noise, big garbage trucks going down the street, three of them, following each other, nose to tail. It was late, and normal life in the city was tapering off. The garbage hours were starting.
"You're going to get me tattooed?" said Sable, starting to feel sober enough to get alarmed.
"No," said Beria. "Branded."
"You're kidding," said Sable.
Twenty minutes later, as red hot iron seared into the delicate girl flesh of her inner thigh, she realized that he wasn't. As her meat sizzled, as agony strove for hegemony, Sable heard herself screaming. Distantly, she was reminded of that tormented teddy bear in that idiot TV show, couldn't remember the name of it, the Parkes Pilkem thing, elite lives and all that, the one in which teddy had to have an operation without the benefit of anesthetic.
"While you've got her here, I could do the usual clippings and piercings."
"Thanks for the offer, but not this time. Maybe next time. Depends how she behaves herself."
Men's voices, talking over her, like she was meat at the supermarket meat counter, like she was Insect Eater, the woman in that movie, what was the name of it, the one that was almost a porn flick but not quite, Veils Ripped From Innocent Interiors, that was it.
They got back in the car, and started off, slowly. A blue sedan overtook them, kids packed inside, a young woman clinging to the roof rack, yahooing at them, drunk no doubt, and somewhere down the track she'll be someone's mother and she'll be shocked at her daughter's behavior, and where's my mother, how could you do this to me? Mom!
Crying, wet with pain and vodka, skewered by abandonment, Sable lost track of time and place, and made no effort to resist when she was cuffed and hooded. When the hood came off, she was standing barefoot on the carpet -- somehow her shoes had gotten lost -- in a darkened apartment which smelt of fried onions. View out into the night. One of those trash garbage places, huge, spread out like the cemetery of the hellgods, place a blaze of security lights, nobody looking in through the windows to see what was going on.
What was going on was that dad was demanding her clothes, was taking them, and now she was naked, never knew the true meaning of naked until now, never had a clue.
And what now? Dad rapes me?
Dad put her in her girl cage and went off and left her, he had work to do, something about an ongoing emergency, men and their work crap, take themselves so seriously, and so here she was, her penthouse cage nightmare, only this wasn't the penthouse, no, this was the low-rent ride, the trashtown version, the sex with second-hand condoms version, and what in the name of the bosoms of God is that? What the hell!
What it was -- a pig, that's what it was. A huge pig. A sow, a monstrous sow, snuffling at the bars of the cage, which, fortunately, were high quality steel, and pig-proof.
Okay. Question answered. It's a pig, that's what it is. Next question: does this cage have a toilet?
Sable, my girl, just what in the name of donuts have you gone and gotten yourself into this time?