Friday, 30 November 2007

Nostalgia Trip #6: THE DRAW

Publisher Richard Freeborn's OCEANS OF THE MIND ran quarterly themes, and the theme for its Winter 2001 issue happened to be British Authors. Thus more by an accident of geography than anything else, The Draw found itself dwarfed by fiction from heavyweights Brian Stableford, Brian Aldiss and John Brunner, whose novels adorn my shelves, and rounded off by non-fiction articles from Paul Kincaid and Gregory Benford. Quite a trip. Hopefully OCEANS will publish again one day soon.

Jimmy had plenty of time to tell me all about Ganymede during the long journey from Earth to Jupiter. Anything could be had for a price, he said. Available pleasures ranged from a cheap socket buzz to Direct Neural Stimuli, a process declared illegal by the UN because of the risk of the brain's pleasure center being left in a state of permanent orgasm. Jimmy had been everywhere and knew everything. This was my first time off Earth, although I'd worked on the Antarctic Skyhook and the Nagasaki Orbital. Jimmy sort of took me under his wing, treating me like a kid brother.

I wanted to experience it all as soon as our Company transport grounded, but Jimmy suggested we visit the spaceport bar, have a quiet drink and obtain first-hand information from the locals. "Ganymede is just like every other port," he said. "There are some places you'd want to avoid. Stick with me and you'll be okay."

We cycled through Customs and entered the Dome, the transparent, kilometer-high spiderweb that shields the colony more effectively than plasteel. Jimmy had to stop and come back for me and pull me inside. You've seen the simulations, but nothing prepares you for seeing Jupiter live. Big, bright, beautiful.

The spaceport bar turned out to be a chrome/neon dive with its fair share of tired-looking hookers and drunks, the latter mostly spacemen who'd waited too long for their next berth and got immersed in Ganymede's sub-culture. It was early evening local time so the place wasn't busy yet, but the barman told us that just before midnight you couldn't get in the door. Floating plates advertised live entertainment later, symbiotic twins from some Outspace colony I'd never heard of. The barman promised we wouldn't be disappointed. Jimmy was unconvinced, but he said we'd at least stay to see their act.

A girl sat down on my knee and put her arms around my neck but the barman shooed her away, telling her to come back later. I was none too pleased but the barman, Olee, explained that finding company on Ganymede would be the least of our problems. He even hinted that the symbiotic twins might be available for the right price after the show. When he told us what that price was likely to be, I couldn't help but smile. Apparently heaven could be purchased cheap on Ganymede.

Our first drinks were on the house and we toasted our new friend Olee, who told us about some of the famous bordellos of Ganymede. According to Olee the native Ganny women, descended from the first genofixed colonists, were the most talented lovers in the entire Solar System. I snorted my derision but Olee called one of his regulars over, a spaceman by the name of Buddy who'd missed his ship six months ago and had been living in the bar ever since. Buddy happily confirmed everything Olee said about the Ganny women was true, but also warned us not to overlook the Ganny men, who were equally gifted. Trying not to choke, I bought Buddy a drink. The spaceman wandered back to his corner, to nod in time with the music and enjoy the rest of his miserable existence, the poor sap.

Ganymede moved into Jupiter's shadow and the bar became more crowded, but Jimmy and me were in the right place and had plenty of room. Olee checked on us every so often to see we were okay. The same girl came back to sit on my knee and introduced herself. Her name was Kitty and she told me she was the daughter of a space princess and a pirate warlord. I didn't have the bad manners to ask her why the daughter of a space princess was working in a spaceport bar. Her good friend Dolores made friends with Jimmy. I watched as Dolores nibbled his ear lobe, then whispered something that made him laugh. She suddenly looked up at me, eyes wide open, and I knew that she and Kitty were immersed in a well-practiced act, their sole intention to extract UN credits from our pockets, but that didn't matter because Jimmy liked Dolores and I liked Kitty, who was working her tongue around inside my ear, her breath warm and friendly.

The music changed and the symbiotic twins swung down from somewhere above to take up position on the floating stage. I just sat there, open-mouthed and barely able to comprehend what I was seeing, and what I was feeling. Waves of telepathic pleasure washed over me, leaving my mind reeling and my hands trembling. When their act finally ended and their twitching bodies were removed by trained medical staff, Dolores whispered into Jimmy's ear, pointing at me. I turned scarlet with embarrassment and we all laughed together. Olee brought us some more drinks and asked if we'd enjoyed the entertainment. His smile said he already knew the answer.

The music was loud, the drink intoxicating, the company perfect. The night couldn't possibly get any better, I thought. But it all came to an end abruptly when the cyborg walked into the bar looking for a fight.

[End of Excerpt]

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