A Lithe Frame — I Can Hear You

-4-

A Lithe Frame

I eventually fall asleep. I don’t know when, but I must be asleep since I’m not on the ship anymore. Maybe I’m still underwater, if you can be underwater in a dream, but it’s not the sort of underwater where you can’t breathe. More like when they give you those masks that turn water into air, and air is a lot easier to breathe than water.

Underwater, between thick glass walls on the bottom of the ocean, and the walls keep the water on the other side, where coral, red and purple and blue brighter than everything else, a florescent blue way too sups bright that’s errgging me real hard, creates a seafloor garden for the fish to dance within.

A room filled with hundreds of bottles, and the bottles, like the coral outside, are all too bright, filled with colored liquids and vapors that make you real up’d if you drink and inhale enough. Sophie, she likes getting up’d off vapors. She says they make her less fat. I like the regular old stuff, the liquids, but now that I’m surrounded by hundreds of bottles, it doesn’t seem so swill. Too much of anything makes it less good, or bad.

There’s a dolphin outside the glass. I don’t think dolphins swim in the deep ocean, but I also don’t know much about dolphins. This one is waving at me with his flapper and saying eeeee eeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Like it’s trying to tell me something, but I don’t speak dolphin or know what eeeeeeeeeeee means. I didn’t even know that dolphins could speak.

The place, we call them up’d stores but officially they’re Euphorias, is empty apart from me and a girl who’s standing with her back toward me. I don’t know what to call her frame, so Kortena suggests lithe. It seems like a fitting word. Lithe. I’ve never heard it before, but Kortena suggests many words I’ve never heard. It’s supposed to increase our vocabulary, our usage of words, but who knows if it actually works. I don’t hear many of us using big words like, I don’t know, just a lot of big words that I don’t hear.

So, she’s lithe, hair jet black. But only for a moment, before red brightens the tips. Not just tips, but red streaks. Then jet black. Lighter black. Burnt sienna, whatever that is. Crimson, which, I guess, is red. But mostly her hair remains black like the ocean beyond the glass and beyond the light directly beyond the glass, to where light can’t shine because the water’s so heavy and thick.

She’s browsing the wine. I don’t know much about wine other than that women drink a lot of it.

I know I’m dreaming because the dolphin speaks to me in words I understand. But its dolphin mouth isn’t moving.

Embrace opportunity, young dweller of the hazing spirits. Life grants such few true chances at happiness, most of which we toss away like a leaf in the breeze. A leaf in the breeze. Tumbling. Soaring. Dancing. What will you do when you are old and gray, your chances robbed by time, time and time again? Old and gray and filled with regret, like an endlessly spinning top.

I stare at the dolphin. It stares back at me big white dolphin eyes.

Eeeeeeeeeee. Eeeeeeeeeeeee! Old and gray! Eeeeeeeeeeeee!

“I don’t know,” I tell the dolphin. And the girl, she must think I’m already up’d for talking to a dolphin, but she doesn’t seem to hear. Browsing the wines, touching the bottles, whites to reds and back again.

You journeyed to Sealandia for a reason, to speak to the dolphins and hear their infinite wisdom. Do not dissuade yourself from such opportunity. It was your idea, after all. You just don’t know why.

“I don’t even like water, dolphin. And it wasn’t my idea.”

The piano song, the one from the ship and the non-dream world, plays from somewhere unseen. The haunting melody, sadness and hope converging, melting together just as dream and reality melts together, me and the dolphin as I start eeeeeeeeeeeeeing and the dolphin speaks in human words and eeeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeee! And the lithe girl with the black hair starts laughing, a rich laughter that folds into the musical notes, the piano, and the piano’s laughter echoes through the Euphorias and her voice sings piano notes. The most beautiful music. And it all blends together.

In recent news, the electrical storms have only worsened on Earth3. Apparently some conductors and other things that conduct electrical electricity, they short-circuited from the NewSun, or something. It looks like, well, our reports say that maybe there was a solar flare that caused electricity to get super errgged and ka-blam, a lot of bad shit happened and now we’re watching the sun and the currents and the electricity real close.

Scientist claim that the depleting ozone of Earth3 is to blame, and…

Two giant squid men you could defeat. But four? That’s nearly double the giant squid men, and you know how much you hate the number four. Almost as much as you hate five, or six, or any number greater than six.

Jazzy ponders, shakes his head. “You’re right, Grande, I do hate numbers greater than four, and especially greater than six. But the squid men cannot be left to their own devices. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. But we’ll need supplies.”

“The harpoon guns?”

Jazzy stares into the distance. “The harpoon guns, Grande. You know how much I hate those demonic devices after I accidentally impaled that child at his birthday party.”

“You mean your son?”

Spare me the details. Damn safeties. And to think, that squid man was merely a normal squid. Dead. To be served as an appetizer. Alas, collateral damage will always be part of our tragedy, and you know a squid’s only weakness.”

“A harpoon.”

Jazzy grimaces. Spits. “A harpoon. Scimitar of the ocean.”

Occasionally, poetry slips through the cracks, into mind and soul, space and time, all, eventually, frozen. Glacial, as glaciers will someday melt, as we will someday melt. Not our physical existences. But our souls. Our hearts. Our minds. Our defenses that we work so hard to build, fortify, then preserve in a desperate attempt to preserve ourselves. Often from ourselves.

We attempt to avoid pain and fear, emotions that supposedly destroy us, but, in actuality, grant beauty and self, reason and meaning. Without balance, or at least a means to create balance, we lose ourselves to the mundane and obvious, the good side to every story, the blessing to every curse.

Our stories fade. And so we fade.

Do not allow yourself to fade. They will silence us as they have time and time before, but silence does not beget a loss of purpose or reason. Remember, and hope.

Believe. In the end, this is all we can do.

Blueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Eaaoooooeooooooooooooooooooooo. Awwwwwoooooooooooo. Uhmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Uhhhhhhmmmmm. Beaaaoooooooooo.

-5-

I Can Hear You

I wake in the middle of the whale song. Although the music has silenced, I still hear it. Piano and whale. Every note. Every single note, like the song is forever frozen in my memory. I’m trying to focus, but can’t.

There’s too much. Of everything.

Kortena isn’t helping. I’m too far underwater, too deep for the broadcasts to make sense. All that jazz about poetry. Poetry may be swill, romantic with love and touching, but the language confuses me. It’s trying to tell me things that I’ll never understand, that I probably shouldn’t understand.

But I like the squid-people thing. I like when humans are still human but also something else, like a goat or a lion. But my head hurts from everything coming at once.

“Are you alright, Trev? You look totally decached, which I know can’t be a thing since you’ve been sitting here this whole time. You missed the lights and stuff outside. Blinking, off and on and off again. A lot of colors. You were asleep again.” Milinda stares at me, bats her eyes, sighs like I’m supposed to say something.

“Yeah, I’ve been tired. The pressure, I think.”

She sighs like she’s impatient at me. She probably is, since she always is, especially when I don’t know why. “Pressure to do that? It’s not like anyone is asking you to do anything. It’s Sophie, isn’t it? You’re worried about her trying to get back with you. But this is Sealandia, Trev. No one’s going to sex you up underwater. I’ve tried and just doesn’t work. The water gets in the way.”

“I was talking about pressure, pressure. Like, you know, water.”

Milinda blushes real red, like she’s painted her face with a rose. “Oh. Yeah, that’s what I meant too. Like, Sophie is all, oh god, the pressure’s so heavy, and she’s probably going to ask you to try to lift the water and all, since it’s so heavy, and that’s what I was talking about. The heaviness of the water, and how it’s heavy.”

“Oh. Yeah. I figured. “

Milinda sort of dances where she’s standing, one foot then another foot, then the other foot. “I’m going to sit back down now. On the other side of the ship. Until we unboard. Should be soon. You slept for like three hours.”

I nod despite the surprise. It didn’t feel like three hours. A few minutes at most, not long enough to dream more than a single dream. Maybe dolphins talk real slowly. Maybe I stared at the lithe frame girl for a long time, even though I never saw the front of her, the most important parts, like her face and eyes.

“Your girlfriend seems nice. Is she?”

The question surprises me. I thought I was alone at the back of the ship. More so, I don’t recognize the voice and usually strangers don’t talk to each other. It’s just something we don’t do. When we’re alone, there’s always Kortena, and she’s usually better than a real person.

The girl’s maybe my age. Maybe a few years younger, but definitely not older. Sup dark hair, straight and long, like down her spine long, and tan skin that’s almost the shade of the seats beneath us. Her green eyes sparkle brightly, like she submerged her head in a bucket of emerald shards and kept her eyes open the entire time. Her eyes dance, filled with energy, like the electrical storms outside the ship and on Earth3 and the NewSun. Miniature solar flares that blast out at me, stealing my breath, stealing my focus. It’s hard to answer. I don’t know if I can, if I remember how to speak. If I’ve ever spoke before. The solar flare’s really ruining things.

“So…yes?” she asks, laughing softly, smiling. “Or no? There’s only two answers. Lucky for you.”

“No,” I finally say, not knowing how long it takes me to answer. “I mean, she’s just a friend. Milinda. We came to Sealandia to see the humpback whales. To hear them, mostly. Their songs. Well, that’s why I came. At least I think it is. I don’t know about them. The humpbacks.”

She laughs like I’ve said something extremely funny. But really she’s laughing because I sound like an idiot. Thoughts are jumbled, words ranting, focus gone. Her eyes are dancing with me but I don’t know the steps. I fall. Slip. Fall again. I’m not a very good dancer. I can’t even stand. I don’t know any of the motions or paths to travel. I’m fairly certain I’ve never danced in my life and now is not the best time to start. Oddly, now’s the only time I’ve ever wanted to dance.

“Humpbacks?” she asks. “There’s a few in down here, in the depressurized tanks of course. They don’t swim in such deep water. Makes you wonder how they got the whales down here, doesn’t it?”

I nod. “I think it does, yes. Bigger ships, maybe.”

“That would have to be a very big ship. I think they were born here, that someone brought the gene structures from Earth2. My name is Ara, by the way. Yours is Trev? Trevor? I heard the girl. Milinda? She said your name…I hope you don’t mind. I hear many things.”

“I don’t,” I say, perhaps too quickly, too eagerly. “Trevian, actually.”

Her eyebrows—the most sensual, sexy eyebrows I have ever seen, and I’ve never had a thing for eyebrows—arch. Those eyebrows. Arching. “Trevian? So your name is as odd as mine.”

“I’m named after a soda.”

“A soda?”

“Yeah, like the fizzy kind with all the fizz. One of those energy sodas that made everyone sups swill, really sups, but truly you weren’t so swill. Just drugged, almost decached I guess, and sick since people died from it, but this was a long time ago. My parents drank a lot of it, somehow without dying. So to thank their luck they named me Trevian, the Turmeric Explosion in a Can. The soda was outlawed so no one’s heard of it.”

“That’s very interesting. Let me check Kortena real quick to learn more. I won’t be gone long.”

I nod, sort of weirded out, not knowing why she’s telling me that she’s checking Kortena. No one tells each other. We just do. One moment we’re there and the next we’re with Kortena and no one makes a fuss. Sometimes we never come back. Well, we do, but not for hours later. It’s how things are, how we function. Like breathing and whatever else we do. Look at things, I guess, or smell smells through our nose. No one says, hey, I’m going to breathe now. But I won’t be breathing long. I’m seeing now! Kortena is a lot like breathing, but more important. Maybe Ara’s not used to being around other people. Maybe she only knows Kortena.

Ara laughs. Like rain on a sunny day. Unexpected, startling at first, but beautiful in its short-lived suddenness. Her eyes are shut, as if she couldn’t see Kortena with her eyes open. She has really good eyelids, really attractive—the sort you can stare at while she’s sleeping without feeling too creepy. Really smooth eyelids. Tan. Maybe she tans her eyelids.

Her eyes open, gleaming green pools gazing for a moment before darting away. “What a weird soda, and from like thirty years ago. I guess that explains all of the chemicals in it. How old are you?”

“Twenty.”

Another nod, black bangs falling before her eyes. She brushes them away. Smiles and smirks. “That lines up with the period in which Trevian reached the pinnacle of its popularity. It makes sense. So…you’re named after a soda. It must have been very good soda. Despite the poison.”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I think it was addicting more than anything else. It had a lot of drugs in it, and not the good kind.”

“It’s a quirky story. Charming, really, other than the hundreds of death.” Ara laughs. “Soda. But I choose to dismiss the origins of your name, if that’s alright. I like your name. Trevian. It sounds like a battle angel. Perhaps you’re here to save us.”

“A what?” I almost ask Kortena then decide against it.

“Nothing, just me thinking out loud. It’s a good name, soda or not.”

“Everyone just calls me Trev.”

“That’s fine, but I won’t. I’m calling you Trevian. Trev is too easy and isn’t you at all. You aren’t a Trev. You’re a Trevian.”

It’s an odd statement to make me happy, yet it does. Kortena suddenly begins to tell me about the latest trends, these plastic ducks that strap onto your shoulders and don’t stop quaking unless you give them plastic bread, and how I should buy these ducks for everyone I care about—Quack quack quack your way into her heart!—when I terminate the commercial.

“Are you okay? You look confused.”

“These ducks,” I begin. “Kortena makes them sound swill but sometimes the commercials errgg me out. Like when you’re trying to talk to someone, focus on that person, and then there’s a bunch of ducks in your head and they’re all quacking and flapping their arms and your shoulders are covered in ducks.”

“Wings. Ducks have wings.”

“Yeah, wings too. Flapping their wings, asking me to buy them. Where do I even buy plastic bread? It’s hard to hear anything above the quaking.”

“Stay current,” Ara mocks, rolling her eyes. “Stay swill and sups cool for all your friends.” Her voice, almost perfectly mimicking Kortena, is frightening, like maybe Kortena’s more human than any of us thought, or maybe Ara is whatever Kortena is. An AI computer machine. Ara must read my mind because she says, “I’ve been practicing the stock voice that comes with Kortena,” in a sups serious tone.

“Heed Kortena’s advice or pay the price.” I finish the mantra. We stare at each other. Nervously laugh. Look away. “My impression isn’t as good as yours.”

“Well, you’re male and Kortena is female, or supposed to be. Her voice is feminine, at least. Or pay the price,” she again mimics.

The ship’s voice, who may or may not be a real woman, blasts through the chamber. “Dear passengers, we will soon board off the ship, or deboard, whichever one it is. So get all your stuff ready and don’t forget any of that stuff, so you’ll have it when you’re not on the ship, which is probably pretty soon. That will be good. Like in a few minutes. Watch your head. The metal thing hurts. And remember to enjoy Sealandia! The Wettest Place on Earth3!”

“Just a Dive Away!” much of the ship replies.

“Or pay the price,” Ara again mimics, but this time it isn’t so funny. She shakes her head, looks embarrassed, and begins again. “We’re leaving soon. I…ugh, where are you staying in Sealandia? Maybe we can run into each other? Maybe on purpose?”

This sounds real swill but I try to play it cool. “Yeah, sure, cool. What’s your Network ID? Mine’s MS8611119. I don’t think you’ll need the route numbers.”

5111989ST And suddenly her voice is inside my head, so clear and crisp it’s like her thoughts are my thoughts, or our thoughts. Is this weird? I know people don’t usually talk through their Networks. This is Kortena Land. Talk. I want to hear you. It’s like our thoughts are the same. Almost.

I just had the same thought. It’s not weird. Almost not.

I can hear you. “I can hear you,” she says, softly, with her real voice. “I can hear you very well. Very.”

We sit there in silence, awkwardly content. Or maybe it’s not awkward, us sitting in the back of the ship. It’s awkward that we’re so content, very much alright with the silence and not errgged out by it. At least I’m not errgged. Maybe Ara is, but she doesn’t seem like it. Her feet swing like she’s dancing while sitting, like she’s listening to a really good song. Maybe she is. If so, I’d like to know what song: the words and meaning, the poetry.

“Please get off the ship,” the voice says. “And have a swill time.”

“So I’ll see you again?” Ara asks. “I’m sorry. Is it weird that I want to see you again? I know we just met, and this is Sealandia. There’s a ton to do down here. Seeing some random girl from the back of the ship probably isn’t at the top of your list. But I don’t meet a lot of people that I want to meet.”

“It’s not weird,” I say. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t feel weird. “And I didn’t even want to come here. Everyone says it was my idea, but if it was, then why don’t I remember? But I’m glad I came. I’m glad I’m here. You’ll see me again.”

“Okay,” she says, real swill. “Okay.” She drops her purse. Picks it up. Drops it again. “Okay. Good. So I’m going to leave the ship first as to further avoid making a fool of myself. Chat me whenever you want. Or maybe I’ll chat you. One of us will chat the other?”

“One of us will chat the other,” I say.

She blushes. I’m unsure why. I guess her face is hot.

“Good. I’ll be leaving now.” She jumps up and rushes toward the door. With a huuuussshhh it slides open. She looks back. Smiles. Stares. Before she vanishes.

And we stand

In fields of green

Of moments broken

And forgotten dreams.

And I, with words alone

Cannot remember to forget

Her leavings, words unspoken.

And I, drowned with regret.

The vampire lunges forward, seizing the distressed woman by the shoulders and pulling her close. Closer. So close. Far too close!

Didn’t you know, dear one, that once you enter the manor, you can never leave? The chateau has forever been haunted, and do you know by what?”

The woman gasps, shrieks, slaps at the towering, cloaked man. “By you, I presume?” she asks. “You are the infamous vampire, aren’t you?”

The vampire is taken aback, dark eyes mistrusting, perhaps even injured. “Ah, then you’ve heard of me?”

You live in a palatial manor high above our humble town. Ominous clouds incessantly surround your home and ravens flock, cawing madly. It’s rather impossible not to hear of you. That, and the bloodcurdling shrieks that echo each and every night. I mean, we aren’t deaf. There’s also a sign at the bottom of the hill with an arrow pointing up. And a picture of you. It lights up.”

Yes!” the Lord of Chateau St. Elle screams. “My victims. The victims that I kill! With my teeth, for I am a vampire! Wait. If you know all of this, why are you here?”

Isn’t it obvious?”

Well, no. Not in the least.”

To this the woman bats her eyelashes, flips her long blond hair, purses her full red lips, thrusts her heaving breasts. “Every soul, even those that are supposedly nonexistent, can be tamed. By love.”

The vampire frowns. “A soulless monster is…”

No different from anyone else,” she says. “And just as vulnerable to love. Now, are you ready to be loved?”

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