Lyfe

Here’s another free chapter of the science fiction dystopia I’m desperately trying to scrape up the free time to finish, for all you literary scouts out there… I’ve been reviewed enough times now, motherfuckers, pick me up before someone beats you to it.

(Chapter One is available at Trigger Warning: http://www.triggerwarning.us/lyfe/) Argh, that link isn’t going to work till this Monday.)

Oh, and if any readers want to help me spend less of my time ghostwriting stupid garbage for cash, so that I may instead turn my labors to finishing the last couple of chapters of LYFE in relative peace—outside the 40-plus hours a week I spend on Trigger Warning—I have helpfully set up a Patreon. Yes, I’m a parasite (chuckles). What, would you rather I crapped out a welfare baby so I could take my pay from you by force?

So: Enjoy my comically amateurish attempt at a video! I’m a writer, not a damn TV anchor.

Clickity here alors, etc.

And finally, Chapter Two…

of  LYFE

At last, the
performance was over. Elektra put in a breath mint and hurried queasily down
the tiger’s-eye staircase and back into the hushed streets of the Olympic district.
She tried to keep her suspicious little figure in the shadows as she flitted
impatiently toward her father’s apartment in the New Tiber district, where her
own bed and vodka were waiting.
lt
was a three-mile walk from the Olympic district to the left bank of the New
Tiber. Two generations ago, before the influx of mortal immigrants from Earth
Two, the left bank area had been the ‘student ghetto’ for Immortal
theater-college kids; before that, the original Immortal pioneers from Earth One
had made their first settlement there.
Most
of the buildings were still as old as the City of Heaven itself—due to poverty,
not historical sentiment. They were crawling with small dirty mammalian things
and native bugs, the walls tended to crumble from disrepair, and instead of
fixing up the more defunct apartments the landlords tended to simply wall them
off and advise neighboring tenants to avoid the squatters. But Elektra herself was
more than sentimental enough to ignore the blemishes. She liked old buildings, and
not just because that was where she had to live. She liked to imagine she could
feel the ghosts of the pioneers, from back when Gods were really brave, before
they devolved into wine-glutted, smug heirs.
What
bothered her was the degeneracy of her neighbors—which, coming from a drug
addict, says a lot. New Tiber had been rough around the edges when Elektra was
a kid, but at least there had once been a couple of hours’ peace in the wee
hours. Now, as she approached her street, it was well after midnight, and the
brawls that poured from the cut-rate brothels were just getting started.
The
last few bookstores left over from the student era had been converted into Lyfe
dens; as she passed Elektra could hear an argument over a drug deal blaring
from the building where she had shoplifted her first copy of Twelfth Night. She felt a pang of guilt
at this small  complicity in the
bookstore’s eventual bakruptcy, her own guilt blown out of proportion by the
first edge of Lyfe withdrawal. The more she took, it seemed, the faster the
pain came.
As
Elektra neared her building, she could no longer convince herself that tonight’s
withdrawal would be an easy one. The withdrawal cramps which had begun beneath
her rib cage were mild enough now, but she was familiar enough with the way
these things accelerated to feel an anticipatory nausea. The anticipation would
be less dreadful if she could look forward to coming down in privacy—that is to
say, if Bartleby, her mule-headed father, would ever go to bed early like he
was supposed to do.
Bartleby
Burgundy had once been a show-biz legend. Granted, he was a legend by mortal
standards, which weren’t very high; during his entire career it had been
illegal for a mortal to play a major role in a theatrical production. Still, he
was the only son of the first mortal to ever be allowed into the City of
Heaven, and that, along with his great talent, had been something.
 Now he was physically crippled by his own
years of Lyfe. His motor coordination and dementia were so advanced that could
barely speak, which made for a lonely family life: he was the only relative
Elektra knew.
Her
mother, Dejanera, was a half-blooded Goddess. This sounds like a luckier break
than it was. Any mortal blood was an embarrassment to begin with, and anything
over fifty percent meant that you would one day die, and you were legally and
socially considered mortal. Dejanera might have stood proudly behind her
Romeo-and-Juliet liason if she were a more than a tick away from worm food
status herself, but as it stood she was too ashamed at having been fertilized
by a full mortal to do more than dump day-old Elektra in her illicit lover’s
arms and hustle off to get a facial reconstruction and a legal name change.
As
for Bartleby’s extended family, as far as Elektra knew, most of them were still
working the Lyfe mines back on Earth Two. That is, if the family line hadn’t
been wiped out en masse in a mineshaft collapse or died off of cancer; Lyfe was
even more toxic to mortals in its raw form than it was when refined, and the
very atmosphere of the main planet was carcinogenic.
So
Bartleby was the only person who could stop Elektra from having peace at home –
but he did a very good job of that. If he would just snuggle up in bed for the
12 hours of nightly rest that the pro bono doctor had ordered for his condition[1],
she could writhe and claw her hair and slurp vodka and swear at the Gods in
privacy. Alone, when the worst of it had passed, she might have been able to
will up a couple of hours’ sleep before she had to go to work.
            But no. The fetid air that loafed in
grey currents down their street already brought her ill vibes from the dregs of
her father’s consciousness. She knew that he would be awake, that his three
brain cells habitually divided their time between reminding him to breathe, reminding
him to be angry, and driving him to cling to his dear little girl, the apple of
his eye, his hope for the future.
Pathetic mortal ghetto-trash brain-damaged
pig-fuck. He’s probably the last mortal in the C of H who believes in ‘the
future,’ and he hasn’t felt his legs since 3007.
He never seemed to suspect she was shooting
the drug that had put him in a wheelchair, but she didn’t know whether this was
because she was a still a good actress, or whether he found the fact too
depressing to admit to himself. Retards
have an easy time believing whatever they want. Can’t wait till I’m that dumb.
He doesn’t even remember all the times he beat me up for no Goddamned reason.
He thinks we love each other.
            The smog from the wood furnaces that
heated the brothels was suddenly stirred by a cold breeze; fall was coming
again. On this particular moon, fall came about once every six Old Earth months.
Elektra put her hood up and then realized she should have been wearing it
anyhow. It was no good to be obviously female in the Tiber district in the wee
hours. You never knew when the brothels were short on women.
From
her hood, she felt safe to watch the spectacle of mortal pain. In front of her
building, a mortal with embarrassing track marks was harassing a God who was
waiting for a taxi in front of the neighborhood turbo-brothel.
The
turbo-brothel scared Elektra. She had never been inside one, but from her
father’s apartment she could see the alley where the bedraggled employees took
their breaks. And she knew the concept, from listening to her immortal
schoolmates brag back in college: it was an exaggeration of a fad from the turn
of the last millennium, called ‘speed dating.’
Speed
dating had been invented back on Earth One — so they said – in order to
half-fix a scheduling problem. Employees in some less-civilized industrialized
countries, where more than enough goods were produced by machines to render
them all affluent, agreed nonetheless to work unnecessarily long weeks and
generally forego vacations, apparently due to a vague but strong fear of not
working enough to please a single deity whom they had never met, nor even seen
on stage.
The
main problem with this situation—as far as the Old Earthers concerned were
consciously aware—was that when they wanted romance, they found they didn’t
have the time for proper courtship.
So
they’d turned the gentle ritual of dating into a factory line. A chain of women
shifted once every thirty seconds in the opposite direction to a chain of men,
so that the parties involved could get a first impression of a hundred possible
mates in the time it normally took to suffer one dinner date. It seemed a bit
of a clanking way to synthesize the old coup
de foudre
, but it was nothing compared to the modern turbo-brothel.
In
the turbo-brothel, the chain of women was stationary. Each woman got her thirty
seconds with each man, but instead of paying a membership fee she was paid by
the brothel, which charged the males per chain. And they didn’t just talk. Each
female in the chain got a different wage to perform a specific part of the
process of a specific sex act—over and over—man after man. It was dull work at
best.
There
was a chain for blow jobs, a chain for vaginal sex, a chain of slumming interns
devoted to sensual touching. There were rumored to be special boy-brothels
catering to Goddesses and gay Gods, but Elektra didn’t know where they were[2].
There was a special punitive chain, manned by girls and boys who had been
convicted of the worst crimes, such as Possession of Lyfe as a Mortal—an act
which, though entirely ordinary, was also virulently illegal, should anyone
take it in their head to get anyone else persecuted for it. This chain was an
official part of the correctional system, and it was entirely devoted to dry
anal penetration. It was cheap and shockingly popular; the Gods, it seemed, got
off on causing pain.
 Old Henry
Ford’s genius was infinite,
thought
Elektra, who had been taught about the Old Gods in school. And I hope I never get any closer to it. The only advantage of
working at a new, turbo-style brothel as opposed to the old-fashioned kind was
that the former, since they belonged to the penal system, were legal to work
in. The ordinary cathouses were periodically raided by the police—particularly when
the anal line across town was short-handed.
 When she wanted to put her own level of
unhappiness in perspective, Elektra simply peered out her father’s window at
the spectacle of the turbo-girls who tried to take Lyfe breaks in the alley.
The zipper-openers were too poor for drugs, and merely smoked cigarettes, but
they seemed relatively happy. The cum-swallowers were well dressed, and they
often tried to whip out a needle, but most of their break time was wasted
vomiting behind a Dumpster filled with inside-out condoms. Only the girls on
the vaginal chain managed to get properly numb; they went back inside
glassy-eyed and laughing.
The
God who now staggered grinning around the door to Elektra’s apartment seemed to
have come from the blow-job-plus-swallow line. Or maybe he had done straight-up
vaginal while shooting an ounce or so of Lyfe; at any rate he glowed like a
ten-year-old boy in an orange juice commercial, and he giggled like a dirty old
man. He didn’t seem at all annoyed by the needling panhandler.
“C’mon
maaaan, can you spare a quarter-gram? I got six kids an I don’t wanta hafta go
home an beatem to death…”
The
God smiled remotely.
Elektra
would have kicked the leech. Somewhere
there’s a mom who got really fucking sick of you, puke-boy.
But the God
gave the animal a magnanimous sneer. “Oh, certainly. Here you are, my dear
child. Bless you. Haw haw haw!”
Fuck, he’s wasted, thought Elektra. Bastard. I’m probably way too clean-looking to get a quarter off him…
it’s crazy how my eyes still look young… if he could only see the bags under my
heart…
“OK,
OK,” the panhandler said, “but I got my woman to think of too… she’s gonna need
a whole gram… please, your Lordship!”
Elektra’s stomach turned in embarrassment as the human monster clasped its paws
together in prayer; her stomach turned harder as the God graciously doled out
more delicious costly Lyfe, as Elektra clung to her stupid pride and wrestled
her building’s rusty front lock open with her shaking hands and ran up the
stairs.
Their
apartment smelled like beer cans that needed to be taken out, medications that
a shaking hand had dripped onto the floor, and instant taco soup. Her father,
as predicted, was slouched snuffling in his wheelchair in wait. By the time the
door had closed behind her he was as animated as he ever got, with something
like a light in his eyes, mouth drooping open; he windmilled his arms toward
his sunken chest to demand a hug, unselfconsciously greedy to press his pile of
dying flesh to another.
His
personal aroma was ‘dirty cat litter.’ Oh,
no. Is he not changing his own diapers anymore? Jesus, if I wanted to wipe
somebody’s ass I would have had a goddamn child myself… yeah, that’s just what
I need…
She distracted herself with the thought of her vodka bottle,
stashed in the freezer where he couldn’t reach.
It
wasn’t there because she was afraid he would drink it on her. It was there
because she was worried he would throw it down the toilet when he was in the
mood to self-righteously call her an alcoholic. Now that Lyfe had made him into
a thing, he had gotten to be maddeningly judgmental about what people who still
had minds did with them. The only words
you can say anymore are ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’… well, I guess there’s not much more
than that to say about life, huh?
The
smell was too much. She wrenched herself out of his skeletal embrace and smiled
coldly, shivering, as she backed up the two steps it took to get from the
mini-foyer to the kitchenette. She began to fix her drink, smiling harder: It’s legal. So go fuck yourself.
She
knocked it back in one and sighed, relaxing in the close, dusty, familiar air.
Even if she wanted to choke her father sixty percent of the time, once his greed
for love was appeased and she had something warm in her veins, she never felt
as good as when she got settled inside his little world. She poured another
drink and looked at the familiar things.
Nothing
had changed since she was a teenager. Same smelly sofa. Same bare hardwood
floor, the varnish worn away and never renewed. Same plastic shelves of
masculine knickknacks: wrought iron fixtures collected from abandoned
buildings, ceramic statues of sports stars with eyes painted on crooked,
souvenir trinkets from father-daughter outings.
The
bookshelves were full of paperback books that both of them had read twice;
their spines were blocked from view by photos of Elektra as a fresh little
choirgirl, in faded plastic frames. Bartleby’s lair was graciously static,
sealed away, with nothing to herald the progress of time except for slow decay.
When Elektra bothered to clean, she put each knick-knack back precisely where
it had always been; each one matched the spot on the furniture which it had
protected from photo-fading, like blocking marks on a stage.
The
plain redbrick building was unfashionable, and the old flower-print paper on
the walls was mottled with old moisture stains. But Bartleby had covered as
much of the ugliness as he could with his old theater show posters. Bright
images of legendary show-biz Gods—many dead of accidents and suicides by
now—looked down on them like Catholic saints.
Their
mouths were open in song, or grinning, usually with far too much confidence and
charm for the characters they were supposed to have played. The shot of
Hipparchus’s uncle as a cleft-chinned Hamlet, with his chest puffed out beyond
his nose as he clutched poor Yorick, was particularly awful, if Elektra let
herself think about it. But when she didn’t think, the posters made the
apartment look better populated.
The
posters, to an outsider, would seem to have nothing to do with Bartleby. They
pictured the Gods who had held the leading roles in the shows he’d amicably
stolen. Stealing the show was the only way he could have built a reputation:
for all of Bartleby’s career, it had been against the law for a non-Immortal to
play major parts.
In
the City of Heaven, where real life meant little to Gods because it was so long
and easy, and even less to mortals because it was so short and brutish, art was
the dominant activity, and live theater the dominant art form. To Immortals, a
reproducible medium like film or television gave too few Gods the chance to
bask in the limelight. Not to mention the fact that the remaining televisions
and film cameras were wearing out, and no one knew how to make more.
Even
with theater as the major engine of stardom, there still were never enough lead
roles to satisfy all of Heaven’s vanity. So in 2974, as soon as Lemon Burgundy
became the first legal immigrant from Earth Two, it had been ruled a
“defilement of the infinite beauty of artistic endeavor” for finite flesh to
step out of the chorus. The law was nominally repealed just before Elektra
began theater school, but a mortal had yet to be given a major role in a
professional production; the joke that seemed to have been played in the end on
the Equal Arts Movement left her feeling paralyzed by disappointment.
 Bartleby, however, was always as cheerfully
stubborn as his legendary sire. He had sung and mimed and capered as though any
reward could be his. His backup harmonies could turn a pulp love song into
Handel’s Messiah; his impromptu stage
business could turn a bad tragedy into a good comedy, an unfunny comedy to a
tearjerker. The more progressive theater critics of the time bravely declared
him the best singer in several long-ago productions; though he refused to
participate in the Movement that got the anti-mortal law repealed, he was its unofficial
poster child.
Even
the Gods he upstaged quietly nodded to his qualities. Most of them were
relatively gracious, and he was invited to their cocktail parties as a
brilliant curiosity—which was how he got addicted to Lyfe, but no one really
meant him any harm. And a few quarter- or even half-immortal females were drawn
into his circle of groupies—a high prize, even if they wouldn’t quite marry
him. This was both how Elektra received the dubious gift of life, and why
Bartleby was so proud of her existence. He deserved those posters on the wall,
even if he wasn’t in them, as much as he deserved to hold his part-Immortal
daughter in his arms.
But
he would have agreed that he was nothing compared to his father, the great
Lemon Burgundy.
Even
to his own descendants, Lemon Burgundy was nothing more real than a legend. He
had been the thin one-man wedge that began the Great Immigration of mortal
masses from Earth Two to the City of Heaven, more prosaically known as Moon
Two. It was a soft invasion which disgusted some Gods, most of all those who
profited most effortlessly from it: the wives and sons and daughters of the
executives and stockholders of DeLeon, the corporation which refined
carcinogenic ore into Lyfe.
Their
revulsion toward the new immigrants was not incomprehensible. Before the
emigration of the mortals from earth Two, the only way death came into the
Gods’ lives was through violence or suicide, and thus the subject was almost
utterly taboo. They had emphatically forgotten that their ancestors had been
born mortal as well.
According
to legend, it was around the year 2300[3]
that the denizens of a worn-out, overcrowded, and clearly mortal Earth One had
finally lived the ideals of the old Star
Trek
franchise and launched their huddled masses into the skies.
Well,
some of their masses… and not the particularly huddled ones. The Nina II was the first and only vessel
capable of interstellar travel which Earth creatures ever built, and it was
only big enough to comfortably house the small slice of Earth One’s fifty
billion hominids who belonged to the Hyper-plutocracy.
The
Hypers seemed, as well as mortal scholars could piece things together, to have
ruled the Old World in its dying days.[4]
They neglected to announce their departure till they were on the launching pad;
they left behind a few loyal, non-Hyper lieutenants to reassure the citizens
that the ship would soon return for them, if it appeared that their services
would be necessary. There was of course grumbling, but with no Hypers on hand
to behead, the lieutenants were merely satirized. A few high-functioning
cocaine addicts and androids had been chosen to go along for use as scouting
parties, and it was implied that the mission would surely generate even more
attractive posts for non-Hypers eventually.
At
the first solar system the Nina II approached,
this clattering vanguard were sent ahead in a skiff with a hearty
cheer—followed by days of even heartier fingernail-biting. The Hyperdrive had
sounded like a good idea in science fiction films, but in the near reaches of
space its practicality turned out to be almost comically limited. In tests
performed within the carbon-doused atmosphere of late-period Earth One, it had
indeed transported objects from point to point with infinite speed.
Unfortunately, in the clean vacuum of outer space, all it seemed to accomplish
was to turn every exposed metal surface an extremely violent shade of orange.
The nuclear fuel store was running dangerously low, and people’s eyes hurt. The
likelihood of the first solar system’s being human-friendly had been estimated
at something between nil and hopeless.
But
in a week the androids came back, mainly intact, to inform the Nina’s passengers that they were almost lucky.
None
of the planets in the system were hospitable, and all of the cokeheads had died
trying to force the issue. But the largest planet—a nearly Jupiter-sized
fellow, though solid instead of gaseous, and which they named Earth Two despite
its size—was orbited by a quite large and promising moon.
The
moon was a carbon-rich planetoid, blessed with giant schools of mercury-poor
fish in its potable waters, an Earth-One-like atmosphere, and an abundance of
furry land creatures—most of which were cute, with the notable exception of the
Garbage Eaters, which, while dreadfully ferocious, were, as their name implied,
useful as an alternative to landfill. The dark side of Moon II may have been a
bit too chilly for comfortable inhabitation but the warm side was so tidily
verdant it appeared to have already been landscaped.
They
sent a second, less battered AI crew in to investigate the natural resources of
the solar system at large; the moon, though lovely as real estate, would simply
never yield enough mineral ore to support them in the style to which they were
accustomed.
But
the robots discovered that the smaller planets of the system (all in
conveniently close-nestled orbits; it was far more compact than the sloppy old
Sol system) were rich in various ores common to Earth One.
And
Earth Two itself turned out to be miraculously blessed with a queer semiorganic
ore no one had heard of before, and which granted a boon of which mankind had
almost stopped bothering to dream.
This
ore, the deadpan robots declared, slathered thickly under the huge planet’s
carcinogenic soil, seemed likely to possess properties which could extend human
longetivity— almost indefinitely, in fact, in theory.
Theory
be damned: this was immortality! The mothership made a beeline for the blessed moon. As they approached for
landing, toasting the last Champagne in the universe, the Hypers renamed
themselves Immortals.
What’s
more, the Lyfe-filled planet itself turned out, in fact, to be very nearly
inhabitable—another stroke of luck. (The robots eventually admitted that the
cokeheads who died here had simply tried to eat too much Lyfe ore at once,
despite the very-nearly-violent attempts of the androids to helpfully
intervene.) It had a fair amount of fetid, stagnant water, almost enough oxygen
for human health, and a certain amount of vegetation, mostly tubers; there were
horrible, evil-tempered, but mostly edible lizards, amazingly ugly and bad-tasting
but protein-rich fish, and even some diseased-looking mammalians. Earth Two
boasted barely enough of every necessity, in short, to support human life,
though very uncomfortably.
Due
to an ongoing fiesta of volcanic explosions (and explosive earthquakes) it also
had an atmosphere so filled with carbon particles it was like standing in the
middle of a 21st-century freeway, and the sky was always the color
of bile, especially during the acid storms. The gravity of the massive sphere
was strong enough to make walking impossible for the human physique, but a
strong specimen could crawl. The murkish atmopshere exerted an unhealthy force
on human organs, and most of the non-Lyfe mineral deposits—particularly those
which tended to be intertwined with the Lyfe veins—were violently carcinogenic.
But
these were lemons which practically made themselves into lemonade. After all,
the resource drain and pollution engendered by rat-like breeding in the Old
World, mainly on the part of the the peasant masses, who had nothing pleasant
in their lives besides copulation, had been the leading cause of the planet’s
premature death. Earth Two, by its unpleasant nature, was quite safe from their
ravages. They could have unprotected sex till they were blue in the face if
they liked, and mine Lyfe for the moon’s population for their keep, and die of
cancer (or organ squashing) too quickly to choke out the planet’s repulsive ecosystem
with their overlapping generations.
The
second major cause of the mother planet’s death had been the emissions from the
gigantic single-family tanks the Hypers drove around to protect themselves from
highway robbery (and collisions with other tanks). And in the New World, this
trouble would naturally absent itself as well: there was no detectable
petroleum in the solar system. This wasn’t an inconvenience, since there was plenty
of plutonium for intra-system travel, and the moon was small enough to be
navigated with the aid of the large horse-bodied, lagomorph-faced quadrupeds
who lived there. And, of course, there would be no question of having to armor
one’s conveyance against a space-age Robin Hood. Unless, of course, said hood
somehow contrived to pull his face out of the green-grey mud long enough to
build a moon rocket. Ho ho. The perfect world!  
The
Immortals sent word to the peasant lieutenants back on earth: they were welcome
to make their escape as soon as the ship could get back to pick them up. With
approximately four thousand times more passengers packed into the spaceliner
than  it had been built to hold, and no
wine of any type left at all, the Nina II
experience was something less of a luxury cruise as its disintegrating
nuclear drive wheezed through its second and final journey.
But
if one ever got a chance to squeeze onto a corner of one of the
triple-king-size antigravity mattresses that had buoyed one passenger apiece on
the original flight, it was a heavenly sensation, an episode to tell the
grandchildren about. And since the planet imploded four minutes after the
peasants’ takeoff, nobody—not even the bodies with dysentery—complained much.
In
the end the situation on Earth Two turned out to be more perfect than the
Immortals initially thought. There had been some worry that, simply by handling
Lyfe, the second-wave immigrants might be granted enough health to overcome the
carcinogens, live normal life spans, and ravage Earth Two the way they had done
the Old World. But due to something mysterious (whether there had been a
radiation storm on one of the passages, or a mutation due to the different
atmospheres on the two globes, or something else, was a point on which Science
never released a clear verdict), Lyfe didn’t have quite the same effect on the
miners of Earth Two as it had on the Immortals in the City of Heaven.
It
did get the peasants high. That it did very well, the same way it did to the Gods.
Symptoms for both groups included numbness (but only where one wanted to be
numb), creativity, energy, talkativity, receptivity, immunity to nausea and
boredom; ability to tolerate horrible people, singing in tune, a temporary
increase in good looks and good luck,
mild and pleasant hallucinations, non-irritability, charm, and periodic spikes
in the overall euphoria. For the first hundred highs or so, both groups were in
the same delicious boat.
But
the long-term effects were divergent, to say the least. True, both groups
developed a psychological addiction to Lyfe during those first hundred
experiences. But for the Gods this was a very good thing, since it reminded
them to take the drugs that guaranteed them good health. They simply could not
forget their vitamins.
But
the same compulsion only compounded the miseries of the Lyfe process in
mortals. Immortals could forego Lyfe for several days if need be, with no pain,
as generations of university students who displeased their parents enough to
make gaps in the money stream discovered. They simply bummed a lot of
cigarettes, which of course they smoked with impunity.
Mortal
users, on the other hand, began to suffer a physical addiction, complete with
shaky, painful withdrawals upon cessation of use, often accompanied by
hallucinations, paranoia, itching skin, free-floating terror, occasional
blood-vomiting, and a degree of apathy which the human brain had been
heretofore incapable of generating. High or not, they were continually gnawed
by a boundless craving for liquor and tobacco, which tended to further compound
their deterioration. Fresh shots of Lyfe would fix them up and bring back the
old euphoria, but the pain would start again a few hours after the joy began to
fade—a joy whose half-life contracted slightly with each use once this phase
had set in.
To
add insult to injury, there was no health benefit for a mortal Lyfe addict. In
fact, the drug rapidly accelerated the aging process in mortals, often inducing
noticeable brain damage after as few as ten years’ use, nerve paralysis and
loss of sensation in the limbs a decade or so thereafter, and in most cases,
confinement to a wheelchair sometime during the fifth decade of life. But since
the Lyfe mines where 95 percent of them worked collapsed on a regular basis,
and most of them would have cancer by 40 anyway, a few halfway-decent years of
post-workshift bliss seemed like a good bet.
Of
course the miners weren’t supposed to have access to the refined Lyfe. But
there was also an administrative class among the mortals, known as the
“Fortunate Five”; they comprised five percent of the main planet’s population,
and their membership was determined by random lots drawn at birth. They were
well-paid and healthy for Earth-dwellers, safe but bored bureaucrats whose sons
and daughters, unless equally fortunate, would return to the usual fate in the
mines.
The
Gods had never made any promises that the Five would ever be anything more. But
pipe dreams were rampant anyway. Many beaurocrats supposed that if they piled
up enough black-market profit, they could pass themselves off as so virtuously
frugal that they would be miraculously brought up on a rocket to help
administrate the City of Heaven. More realistically, they supposed they could
at least buy lucky ballots for their offspring and keep them out of the mines.
But
as the centuries passed, the miles of space between the two globes kept the
social system beautifully stable. The way things were began to be taken for
granted as millions of mortals, then billions, were buried young in the new
Earth; the generation of Gods that first settled the new moon was slowly lost
to sporting accidents, jealous murder, and those chilling, inexplicable,
constant suicides; a thousand years later, the origins of civilization were visible
only through the fun-house glass of song and story. The Fortunate Five forgot
their dreams and began to think of the illicit Lyfe trade as a convenient habit
that allowed them to buy more imported grapelike beverages. Though it remained
illegal for mortals to consume Lyfe, the drug tended to make them pass on just
after their peak working years had gone. So abuse was tacitly condoned, though
a lingering moral taint made addicts conveniently easy to shame—and anyone
suspected for more serious crimes of sedition could be easily picked up and
secreted away for Lyfe.
But
nothing stays the same forever. A bubble can form in the depths just when the
surface seems smoothest, and the change it brings can seem like a beautiful
idea at the time. In the late 30th century, through an accident of
Art, a mortal was brought up into the City of Heaven.
This
was Lemon Burgundy, known in legend as the Beautiful Son. He did not win a
lottery, sneak aboard a rocket, or lead a peasant revolution; he accidentally
forced entry through his innocent brilliance.[5]
He was feared at first, caricatured in the press as a demon of envy, a
hairy-faced savage swinging an ax; but in real life, offstage, he was a pallid,
shy, drooping creature with a weak little rosebud smile. He never grumbled
about the discriminatory arts law, accepting it as the common wisdom—even
though it was initially passed out of personal jealousy, to destroy him
personally. He accepted his humble status in the chorus as a great honor.
His
equally humble acceptance of the insufficient pay of a chorister—and his acceptance of the consequent necessity
of a day job as butler to the family which had brought him up—set  wheels turning in the heads of other Gods.
What if we didn’t have to wash our socks?, they mused. What if we didn’t have to pack the plutonium into the offworld-mining
bots ourselves? What if I had someone I could force to shave my calluses? This
neck rub android isn’t any more sensitive than my wife…
 
And
so began the Great Immigration. On the prosaic level, technical schools were
set up on Earth II in order that mortals deemed clean, talented, and decent
enough to make the jump might already know how to give massages, run washing
machines, and speak comprehensibly when they arrived in the City of Heaven[6].
On
the poetic level, Bartleby’s generation of mortals was quickly tested for
musical talent to see how many of them could be trained to fill the chorus
positions that were such a shame and a burden to the less talented Gods. With
the choruses filled by nothings who had no other option, there could be more productions,
and so more stars and celebrities! Except to the social conservatives, the
Great Immigration began to look like a great idea all around—until the
inexorable effects of the extremely low wages the Gods were willing to pay to
their servants began to be felt in the swelling seedy parts of town. But by
then it was too late, and the Immortals had to learn to live penned into their
own neighborhoods.
The
hygiene of the mortals in their tenements may have horrified their employers;
but to the first generation of immigrants themselves, a life lived almost one
hundred percent above the surface of the planetoid, with clean air and no
earthquakes, was an orgy of beauty and grace. Lemon Burgundy, the Savior,
became a sort of mortal god, and while he was still in theater his life was
already a legend in oral history. When Bartleby’s generation of interlopers got
enough education that a few were able to write a bit, the tale was recorded in
painfully pious prose:
            
(… to be continued…)

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