ARACHNE.1.28.18.SMLL

“Arachne”, My First Published Story, Published in OMNI Magazine, Newly Revised
The flier levitates from a vermilion funnel and hovers. Stiff chatoyant wings, monocoque fuselage, compound visual apparatus. The flier skims over the variegated planetscape, seeking another spore source. Olfactory sensors switch on. The desired stimuli are detected; another spore source is located.
Down the flier dips. But the descent is disrupted for a moment by atmospheric turbulence. The flier’s fine landing gear is swept against a translucent aerial line, as strong as steel and sticky with glue. A beating wing tangles in more lines. The flier writhes.
The trapper hulks at the edge of the net. Stalked eyebuds swivel, pedipalps tense. At the tug of the flier’s struggler, the trapper scuttles down a suspended line, eight appendages gripping the spacerope with acrobatic agility. The trapper spits an arc of glue over the flier’s wings, guides the fiber around the flier’s slim waist. A pair of black slicers dripping with goo snap around the flier’s neck.
*   *   *
Carly Quester struggles out of the swoon. Blackout smears across the crisp white cube of her telelink like a splash of ash rain down a window. It’s happened again. Her system crashes for a monstrous second, she plunges into deep, black nothing. Then, inexplicably, she’s in link again, hanging like a child on a spinning swing to a vertiginous interface with the Venue.
Panic snaps at her. How many seconds lost this time?
“We will now hear Martino v. Quik Slip Microship, Inc.,” announces the Arbiter. Edges of his telelink gleam like razor blades. His presence in the Venue, a massive face draped in black, towers like an Easter Island godhead into the upper perimeter of telespace. The perimeter is a flat, gray cloudbank.
“On what theory does Quik Slip Microchip counterclaim to quiet title when Rosa Martino has been titleholder to the Wordsport Glossary for thirty-five years? Mediator for defendant? Ms. Quester?”
Carly hears her name—muffled, tinny—through the neckjack. Her answer jams in her throat. Weird, she shouldn’t feel her body in link. For an eerie second she feels like she’s inside the telelink, sweating and heaving inside the airless, computer-constructed telespace itself. Her body, hunched over the terminal in her windowless cubicle at Ava & Rice, wrapped up in a web of wires, mutters a curse.
But her presence in the Venue is struck dumb.
Gleeful static from the two scruffy solos representing the plaintiff, Martino. Carly can hear them ripple with excitement, killers closing in on their prey.
Of course, they’re on contingency, and old lady Martino probably couldn’t even scare up the filing fees. One of them, a weaselly hack, shrugs at the whirring seconds on the chronograph and says, “Not defaulting on your crooked counterclaim, are ya, hotshot?”
“Mediator for defense? The mediator from Ava & Rice? Ms. Quester?” thunders the Arbiter. “You have thirty seconds to log in your counterclaim.”
Telelinks of the jury, two rows of red-veined, glassy eyes floating across the purple right perimeter of the Venue, glance doubtfully at each other. The silvery pupils dart to and fro.
Gritty bile bites at the base of Carly’s throat. A peculiar ache throbs in her jaw, thrusts icy fingers into her neck. She tries audio again, but her presence in the Venue is still silent.
“Huh, hotshot?” goads the solo. His telelink has the sloppy look and gravelly sound cheap equipment produces. But for a second, he manages to hot-wire an I-only access into her telelink.
“You ball-breakers from the big firms, with your prime link. You think you’re so tough. Watch out, hotshot. I’m going to eat you alive this time, hotshot.”
The big board across the back perimeter of the Venue hums and clicks. Gaudy liquid crystal projections in each division indicate the moment. In Stats, the luminous red Beijing dial registers another three hundred thousand births. Chik-chik-chik-chik! Ten seconds later on Docket—bing!—the eminent mediation firm of Ava & Rice registers as defense for Pop Pharmaceutical against the Chinese women who claim they took glucose, instead of birth control pills. In Trade, bids for rice futures soar. On News, reports of fifteen suicides of corn investors are filed.
“In ten seconds your client will have defaulted, Ms. Quester, and I will cite you for contempt of this Venue—obstructing the speedy dispensation of justice,” says the Arbiter.
“I’m sorry, Your Honor, request a recess,” Carly says finally. Audio feeds back with an earsplitting whine.
Her telelink suddenly oscillates crazily, sharp white edges flipping black-white-purple-white, like her terminal’s shorting out. It’s all she can do to keep logged in. Metallic tickle–pain of electrical shock gooses her body to raise a limp hand and refocus the projection.
“On what grounds?” demands the Arbiter.
“I’m—I’m sick.”
Jagged flash; the Arbiter’s gavel cracks; telespace vibrates. “Mediation recessed until next week, this same time. Ms. Quester, you will approach the bench.”
As Carly approaches, the solo zooms in with one last I-only. “Hey hotshot, hotshot,” he says in a cushy vibe. “You new, right? A word to the wise, hotshot. The Arbiter, he hates to wait. Got a reputation for the fastest Venue in town. He disposes sixty mediations an hour sometimes. You hold him up, hotshot, you in trouble. Better talk fast, better have a rap. I’ll see you in the Venue, hotshot.”
The solo logs off, extinguishing the smeary bulb of his presence in telespace.
Fully in link at last, Carly slips and slides up to the Arbiter’s quarters. No privacy in the gleaming metal construct of telespace; no shadowed corner, no hidden booth behind which to hide her humiliation. All the blank eyes stare at her.
“Ms. Quester, you are hereby cited under Rule Two of the Code of Civil Procedure for obstruction of the speedy dispensation of justice. You are suspended from this Venue for thirty days.”
Thirty days. Thirty days suspended from the Venue could cost Carly her first job, a great job, with the prosperous mediation firm of Ava & Rice. How many other bright, qualified applicants did she beat out for this job? Three thousand? How many other bright, qualified applicants would vie for her position if she lost it? Ten thousand?
Her presence in the Venue sparkles with bright panic. “I’m permitted to show reasonable cause under Rule Two, Your Honor.”
“Proceed.”
“I blacked out for a second, I’ve not been well . . .”
“If the mediator cannot prepare the mediation you extend, you re-petition, you re-calendar, you notify the Venue, Ms. Quester, in advance. Dismissed.”
“But, Your Honor, I had no warning. I just went down for a second, no warning at all. I’ve not been well, it’s true, but not so bad as to keep me out of the Venue. Your Honor, I had no warning, please believe me.”
The Arbiter’s eyeball zooms in on her flickering link for a close-up. His glittering pupil pulses with his plain doubt. “You’re not been well but not so bad, but your system went down. All of a sudden! Oh, yes! You young wires, holding up my Venue with your lame excuses. I know why link fails most of the time. I should cite you for abuse of altering substances, too.”
Carly’s teeth begin to chatter; a puddle of urine floods her plastic seat. Then a fouler, hotter wash of shame. During her first link fifteen years ago, her ten-year-old body had disgraced her like this, in the presence of two hundred other link-prep students. She feels her body stress out at the memory of her juvenile dishonor. Her presence in the Venue vacillates.
“I’m not on drugs, Your Honor. I’m ill, I tell you, it’s something insidious striking without warning. It could be cancer or radiation poisoning.”
“Or the flu? Or a hangover? Or the disposal ate your brief?”
The Venue quivers with pitiless laughter from scores of unseen throats. The spectacle of a peer’s downfall is cause for rejoicing.
“Your Honor, request permission to enter medical documentation to establish reasonable cause.”
“Oh, very well, you’re new. Permission granted, Ms. Quester. Submit your documentation before your next mediation date. This Venue will now hear Sing Tao Development v. Homeowners’ Association of Death Valley. Issue is breach of warranty under federal standards governing the relocation of low-income housing into public parkland. Mediation for the defense?”
A team from Ava & Rice logs into the Venue with a brilliantly constructed defense. A silver spiral twirls across telespace, frosty tail ejecting wisps of pale yellow sophisms into its own blue-lipped devouring mouth. Standards met under the extraordinary circumstances of the relocation or standards not applicable under the extraordinary circumstances of the relocation; thus, in either case, no breach. Mediation for plaintiff withdraws the complaint in two seconds. Screams of outrage and despair whistle through the public telespace. Someone logs in a whimpering five-year-old child dying of third-degree sunburns. The Arbiter’s gavel booms like doom. Dismissed! In one second the homeowners’ association files suit against its former mediator. Teep! On Docket, Ava & Rice registers as new mediation in the malpractice suit brought by the Homeowners’ Association of Death Valley.
Carly logs out of telespace.
And links out into a heap of flesh and ooze, sprawled in her windowless cubicle at Ava & Rice. Blown it, she’s blown the mediation bad. Every first-year mediator’s nightmare come true. Carly rips the neckjack out, spills half a bottle of denatured alcohol into the needle-thin aperture. Grimaces as a tincture of pure alcohol bursts into her brain’s blood. Messy, careless—shit! Get too much of that old evil backrub up your linkslit—bang!—you’re dead, grunt. Happens every now and again around the firm, someone just drops dead.
She swabs herself off as best she can and flees her dim cubicle, link still flickering with fluorescent green light. Jogs down the endless corridor of cubicles, working off panic with sheer locomotion.
The mediation firm of Ava & Rice boasts five hundred partners, three thousand associates, one thousand secretaries, five hundred clerk-messengers, and ten thousand terminals interfaced with a mammoth sengine, all installed in a forty-story building downtown.
At every open door, the limp body of a mediator is wired up to a terminal. Some are as wasted as junkies, rolled-back eyes between precipitous skull bones. Some are bloated with the sloth, raw lips crusty with food solutions piped down their throats.
Everyone’s got a different handle on practicing mediation, but the basics are the same. Time is of the essence. When in doubt, dispute. When in the Venue, win. The volume of mediation is astronomical. Planning for the future becomes obsolete overnight. Catastrophe strikes with regularity. Billions of bucks are to be made, and you’d better grab them before someone else does.
How many bright, qualified applicants would vie for Carly’s position when the personnel committee finds out about her failure in the Venue? Fifteen thousand?
*   *   *
For the rest of “Arachne,” (the story is 9,000+ words) please join my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206 and support me while I recover from the Attack. I’ve got lots of goodies for you there with more on the way. I’ve just posted “Arachne”, my FIRST story published in OMNI magazine, the premiere fiction venue at the time. Upcoming in a few days, a blog about how I got my first story published in OMNI, inspiration, influences, and research, plus the October Writing Tip, how to expand a novelette into a novel.
Donate from your PayPal account to lisasmason@aol.com. Even a tiny tip will help!
Visit me at www.lisamason.com for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, worldwide links, covers, reviews, interviews, blogs, round-tables, adorable cat pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, and more!

Advertisements