AJ Fitzwater is part of WORD Christchurch 2020 Spring Festival
With its face to the black and ass to the blue, orbital scaffolding repurposed for the next generation ship, the Gilman was a thing of impossible ugly beauty.
As she pushed herself along the access to the Amp, Surl examined the home she would die in—the hill she died upon—from all angles in her Mind’s Eye. Built from the scraps of Earth’s toilet—abandoned orbital stations and bankrupted colony ships—the Gilman, like The Collective, favoured function over form. No suboptimal shapes here because of weird genital obsessions. The universe would get them lumps and all.
And now she was the one to become the face of history. She’d prefer to be part of a band, but only one person could play the blue Razor Stratocaster keyed to the ignition core.
G murmured constant updates in her ear: solar flare update, East Bay crew sound off, all systems nominal, viewership numbers. Cross crew and technical chatter overwhelmed Surl’s Mind’s Eye, and she filtered harshly until only G’s voice and a scroll of basic stats remained.
A number hit her visual: six hundred million watching and ticking. Surl didn’t give a shit. She would have done it for six if it helped those six discover there was a better way than waiting out the endless water wars.
“Looking good,” G murmured on an insulated channel.
Surl grabbed a glimpse from the bee drones orbiting her. G had styled her with white hair, white lips, white eyeshadow, cutting black winged eyeliner. Dramatic against her ebony skin. “That’s not what matters.”
“You bet your shitting arse it does.” G liked the taste of swearing better than her execution. “We gotta skunk that sham peace treaty signing.”
G had a point. The megacorps had stolen the date to pretend the water wars were over and control the propaganda: the Collective were throwing a tantrum and turning their back on Earth.
The Collective would stay if they could, but there was no reversing the man- made extinction-level event of global warming. Didn’t matter it had been the megacorps and super power military with their petty pale grievances who had turned the planet into a rubbish tip. No amount of money could save their arses once global temperatures went critical, on thermometers and borders.
The Collective had been the ones to look for other solutions. Beyond the neglected dream of Mars. Out there. In the Great Unknown.
Gravity kicked in as Surl reached the Amp’s hatch. Compared to the pulsar fusion engines beyond the thick shield plating, the ignition core and redundancy engineering terminal was a small cavity, easy enough to spin up and synch life support for a work crew. Or the performance of a lifetime.
The hatch cycled, her mag boots loosened their grip, and she pushed into the room. A sense of home enveloped Surl.
She’d only been in the Amp once before on a work rotation. Then it had been a mass of metal ribs threaded with gently pulsing neural pathways. Preoccupied with gaining her electrical certification, she had sweated over making sure she didn’t fuck up rather than marvel at what many hands had built.
Now, she flipped back her helmet visor to taste test the oxygenation and temperature. Her Mind’s Eye gave her the stats, but she needed to feel the room to make sure the Razor would perform at optimum, not break a string from the cold or easily go out of tune.
She pulled off a glove and circled the room, running her fingers across graffiti etched into the panelling: Be Queer, Do Crime; Riots, Not Diets; Nazis Fuck Off. Sigils for every guild and commune. She found hers, the mark for Sisters, Not Just Cisters, the symbol holding all genders together, and etched her stylized S beside it with a laser cutter from her tool belt.
Blinking rapidly through the feeds, Surl found exactly what she expected at the treaty summit. A SPCM—the Collective acronym for Stale, Pale, Crusty Male—making a lectern thumping speech about how trans humanism was the work of the devil.
A tail-bone deep throb from the waiting engines allowed Surl to sink her attention deep into her body as she hooked up the Razor to the Amp’s terminal.
While her heart beat in her throat, it was more from anticipation than nerves. Her body and mind responded well now to the fluctuation pressures of space life. She couldn’t feel the latest injection of nanos working to strengthen her bone density—that’s not how it worked—but the years of nano therapy had expanded her here, curved and carved her there, given her the gender she always knew she was. The bastards planet-side hated the Collective for breaking the power structure of gender and becoming whatever and whoever the fuck they needed.
She was still experimenting with body mods, finding the right fit, but she knew she would always keep her ample flesh as tribute, fuck-you, pleasure, persistence. It had been discovered fat was a good insulation for the organs in micro-g, helped sustain a body against a variety of challenges and hard knocks. It was an adventure in speculation to theorize what the generations would bring to a ship body, an adventure the planet-locked had legislated hard against.
She had kept her black skin as love, magic, a thread to a history that would not be made invisible. This was a new crossing of the great divide, but this time undertaken with joy, with the power in her hands. She had a life time to go, to test, to push, to discover and change.
They were leaving for safety, survival. Her body was a tool for liberation, not the for exploitation by the kyriarchy.
“Five minutes,” called G.
Surl blinked at the Mind’s Eye feed of the warmup band performing in the biosphere of the ship. Spit and sweat flung everywhere as Gilman crew moshed, the life support scrubbers working overtime.
The emptiness of the Amp pressed in around Surl. “It feels like I’m playing to nobody,” she said as she checked the housing for the power, neural feedback, and pulsar resonance cables in the belly of the Razor.
“Those numbers watching the feed ain’t nobody,” G said. “Though we’re being beat out by the peace treaty summit.”
“Peace my ass. Just because that dirtbag Mezok is there kissing hands and shaking babies, making it look like he’s the saviour of the space race.” Surl strummed E to the C to the G to the D, and it thrummed deliciously behind her ear and in her cochlear implant. “Screw this. I need an audience.”
“But you said-“
“I know what I said, but I don’t feel right playing this like a wankfest solo.”
“And that’s why you were chosen for the job. How many do you want?”
“Mmm. Enough that would make The Riot seem cozy.”
“Fuck yeah. I’m gonna miss that place.”
“Fucking bastards, burning it down.”
Avatars from planet-side viewers began popping up on augment, their depth and overlap a good representation of a crowd. Surl pushed the augment out to the limits of her Mind’s Eye, trying to fill the space around her. Without the smell of sweat and blood soaked into old wood it would have to be enough.
The clamour to be part of the audience or have a holo-sticker on Surl’s guitar pushed viewership numbers—witnesses—way up. The wankers at peace treaty spin central would be shitting bricks now.
“Two minutes,” G said.
Lights popped on, centred on the dais, and Surl glared. “Oh, fuck off with that stadium shit.”
The lights toned down.
Against safety protocols, Surl discarded her helmet and gloves, and unclipped the top of her pressure suit. She wanted to rock. Hells, if there was explosive decompression or the engines blew (they wouldn’t, they shouldn’t) may as well go out with a heck of a fireworks show.
A heaviness washed over Surl as she slung the Razor into position. Everything ached. The weight of the world, of history, of the work put into the Gilman, put survival. The weight of the people they had to leave behind, but hopefully would follow by their example. Fuck the world, and those trillionaire misers, selling spots on their hypothetical ships when the Collective welcomed for free any and all willing to work, sacrifice, negotiate. And all meant all—it didn’t matter if you were elderly, a child, sick or disabled. You brought diverse genetics, heart, soul, community, with you.
Surl fingered the opening chords of the Ignition Suite, composed by a consensus by of bands on board. She’d practised until her fingers had bled. She wasn’t the best guitarist in history, but that wasn’t the point.
It was about heart.
And a voice.
The shout of one, channelling many.
“Switch to Ignition Core is a Go. In ten, nine, eight…”
Surl clicked her heels so her mag boots held her lightly in place. Fingers upon the frets, she stared down the beady eyes of the bee drones into the souls of the bastards carving up the scraps of the world.
“…five, four, three…”
Her hand went up as a signal. The “audience” raised their arms and thrashed in expectation.
“…one. We are live!”
Silver fingernails flashing, her hand struck the strings like lightning. The first chords manifested along the pulsar resonance, twining and folding as the neural feedback built up to soluble acoustic levels ripe for ignition.
The hum from the fusion engines pitched down, and an ecstatic grin slashed across Surl’s face as the resonance circled her body and took up residence in her crotch.
The crowd heaved.
Surl closed her eyes and imagined just another night at The Riot, the crowd swaying like grass, with the grass. Some transitions were sloppy as her fingers slipped from nervous tension, but so long as she hit the three peak chords with exact timing, the fusion resonance would do its thing.
Her left fingers ached up and down the Razor’s neck, right hand strumming fast, slow, fast, wailing the song of bad endings, revolution, new beginnings.
The first peak chord of the suite fired beneath her fingers.
Was that frequency shivering her flesh correct? Were the engines supposed to sound like that? She hadn’t paid much attention in the engineering component of learning the suite. There was only one shot at igniting the Gilman’s engines.
The crowd roared and moshed. Was that G screaming in ecstasy or agony?
She bashed the second peak chord, worked the runs. The frequency of the engines was so low now she only felt them through her bones, which threatened to shiver apart.
She worked the Razor harder, faster, wanting more, wailing up and down the octaves, the strings a banshee.
The third peak chord.
With chords folding into walls of sound, music and fusion combined to sing towards the void.
“Pulsar fusion frequencies met! We have ignition!” shrieked G.
In the background, on all feeds, the noise of a thousand thunderstorms.
Sweat dripping down her face, eyes half lidded in ecstasy, Surl held the frets of the Razor in a sustained power chord, a joyful shriek full of rage and fear and ecstasy.
She lifted her free hand in a middle finger salute towards Earth.
And Earth, in its ignorance and love and hope, saluted back in kind.
Previously Published in Capricious Magazine, issue 12, 2019
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