A handsome boy delivered glasses of chilled water to our table, singing out, “Hydration!” as he slid one in front of each of us. They were always lovely, the ones who served our food and smiled as they took our coats.
I watched him walk away as Marc sighed heavily.
“You do look feverish,” Hassa said, concerned. “You’re sweating.”
“You should notify medical,” Elda added.
“Yes, I think …” Marc paused, putting a hand to his forehead. “I think I’ll go there now.” He lurched to his feet and left, bumping into our handler as he passed her. She looked shaken but managed to get our meal on the table in the right order. Her long hair was brushed straight and bound behind her head with a black bow. I thought about my own hair, cropped close to my head, the way it had been for years. Data processor chic; we all wore it this way.
“He’s gone to medical,” I said when I realized she was still standing at our table, Marc’s food on her tray, a lost look on her face. “You can take that back to the kitchen.” She smiled then, brightly, and retreated.
Mid-shift break never feels as if it’s long enough.
I settled into my couch, removing the cover from my data jack and slipping the transfer cable inside. The world fell away, and my real life came back into focus.
As I was unpacking the last file for the day, a vid with partial frame loss, a message flashed: my Architect advising me that I was needed on the University project. Marc’s project. I put the vid aside and sent her a reply, questioning.
“We have two processors out with illness,” she answered back. “Is anything in your queue a priority?”
“No, I’m clear to transfer,” I thought back at her, and she changed my queue with a quick “Thank you.” File attached. Info for the University. I put it aside for the next day, cleaned up my video, and placed it with the rest of its mates.
I wish I could say that I had some premonition of what was coming, but I slept dreamlessly and woke up refreshed. We have pills for that.
My cyber-Mythos story, “CL3ANS3”, is now available as part of the Eldritch Chrome anthology, out from Chaosium. This is one of two stories I sold to the same pair of editors in early 2012 (the other, “No Hand To Turn The Key”, is a clockpunk/Mythos mashup I wrote in January 2011, which will appear in Steampunk Cthulhu. I don’t have a release date for it but it should be out sometime this year).
I love getting to use Lovecraft’s universe and monsters to make something new, without the racism, misogyny, or Protestant morality endemic to his writing. Sex, especially, seeps into my Mythos tales – I can’t seem to stop making them naughty and exciting in a way poor old Lovecraft would certainly not approve of. “CL3ANS3” is definite dirty; it’s meant to be wrong, the kind of sexy that makes you want to scrub off your thoughts after you have them. It’s been long enough since I put the words down that I think I’m a better writer now, but this story was fun to write. I hope it’s still fun to read, in a creepy sort of way.
Taking out the bad parts of Lovecraft isn’t enough, though, and I tried to go further. The narrator of this story is as featureless as possible, without identifiable race or gender, to allow all readers to find a little of themselves in this character. In this future, anyone can be tempted by the darkness seeping in. I’d like to think the Elder Gods, should they ever come for us, wouldn’t discriminate at all.