Indigo kept an eye on Staley throughout the evening, as if he were a parent minding a child who might wander off into some sort of mischief if left unattended. Thankfully, Staley was mostly sedated. He ate little of the fare of sweet, pork-like meats and organically grown vegetables which were extravagances in comparison to the tofu cubes and synthetic broths for which they were accustomed. Staley didn’t imbibe either. He merely sat, slouching in his booth, sinking further and deeper into himself as the party bosses blathered on about how their munificence had saved this and saved that. Staley’s eyes grew dull revealing to Indigo a mind that was once again a hundred million kilometers away. Indigo knew exactly where Staley was.
“So Indigo,” blurted out one of the town bureaucrats, interrupting Indigo’s observations. This particular provincial boss spoke with such a blatant lisp that Indigo found it difficult to even take her seriously. She had a long, beakish nose giving her face a stork-like appearance. When she spoke, her words vented from a nubby-toothed mouth which opened and closed at irregular angles as her lower jaw swished side to side. Her words hissed with flicks of her undulating, toad-like tongue. But it wasn’t her displeasing aesthetics that repulsed Indigo so much as it was the way she cocked her head back when talking so that when she spoke she could pompously gaze down the ridge of her stork nose, aiming her flaring, cavernous nostrils at whomever she was speaking too. Indigo expected his dislike of her to bring on another bout of nausea so he summoned his powers of self control and switched his ungreen thoughts off.
Ms. Stork-Nose was the Hegeltown Ceremonial Village Manager. Her unflattering eugenics meant that she was almost certainly born into an undermen crèche but had somehow caught the attention of the elites and was placed on a political track. Indigo speculated that she was probably a top-producing snitch during her prepubescent years. Undermen snitches were always nurtured and pulled up the rungs of the bureaucratic ladder by Overman masters. There was no doubt in Indigo’s mind that beneath her disadvantaged looks, crew cut hair, and otherwise troll-like appearance, there lurked a soulless machine of efficient, tactical, sociopathic ruthlessness. No undermen serf ever got so far as Ceremonial Village Manager by being anything less.
“Tell me about Mars,” she asked, with one half of her bushy unibrow raised and nostrils aflare.
“What would you like to know, Ms. Manager?”
“Tell me what it felt like… what was the thought you had when you took your first steps on Mars?”
Indigo paused for a moment in contemplation, biting back on a sigh, then he looked to Staley before answering. “I’m afraid it’s indescribable with words,” he feigned.
She over-smiled, exposing her mouthful of yellow nubs.
Indigo smiled back knowing that she could glean nothing from his contrived expression.
“I’m certain it is indescribable,” she replied, head tilted back so that she could stare down her pointy beak at him. “I can’t help but think that it must be like the feeling I get every time I get a commendation from the Central Office.”
“Hmm. I wonder,” Indigo replied.
“You and I,” she continued, “we work so hard for the republic. We endured and suffered for so long. Then finally, our goal is achieved and we are recognized. Isn’t it invigorating to be recognized by the elites? It means everything to people like you and I to be appreciated for our patriotic efforts.”
Indigo felt her forced kinship crude but this crudeness was expected behavior of all undermen, regardless of profession or status. He tried to be social. “Do you have to travel much for work? You know, back to the capital and such?”
“Unfortunately, my work takes me away from my home for most of the year. When I’m here, I so yearn to be back home tending my orchids and caring for my virtual pets. But I suppose that’s the price one pays for advancement.”
“Oh, so you don’t actually live here?” Indigo asked, trying to correct his mind and fix the internal ungreenness that was building and bringing on the nausea.
“Here? In this Brownsville?” she snorted. “I was assigned to Hegeltown. Let me tell you something,” she continued in a whisper, “there are probably a million other places I’d rather be than this Gaia-forsaken valley, but you have to pay your dues in order to advance. Know what I mean?”
“Of course,” answered Indigo. “I hope things work out for you.”
“I know they will, Indigo. The Overman takes care of those who are loyal. They are great the benefactors… if you are willing to pay your dues.”
Indigo took a gulp of Arcadian wine… or was it Cascadian wine. He could never tell the difference. He needed to work on that discernment as it was a social handicap that could not be concealed once higher degree was finally achieved.
“Tell me more about Mars,” she asked.
…But Staley, to the shock of them all, pushed into the center of the gathering before Indigo could answer. “You want to know about Mars?” he exclaimed. “I’ll tell you trogs all about Mars…”
“Staley…” Indigo cautioned, but Staley pushed him aside.
“Mars is a cold, ruthless, spiritless place,” he blurted out in a tone that was building to a roar. “It’s completely unforgiving. The Martian sun is a dull orange blot, far, far, far away. It gives no heat,” he continued, as he stretched his arm out as far as it could be extended with the blackened nail of his index finger representing the distant, receding sun. “It warms nothing but wispy little dust devils. You’d think it was as benign as a diode light, but that dull orb will kill you just the same. There’s no magnetic field or ozone layer on Mars, so that dull, cold little blot’ll cook you dead.” Staley swung his black fingertip around to just beyond the tip of the Village Manager’s upturned nose and then down towards her throat and her gulping Adam’s apple, then down along her sternum and down, following the line of her neck-to-crotch zipper. Down. Down. Down. “It’ll rip your DNA apart just like if unzipping this pantsuit.” Ms. Manager’s half-raised bushy unibrow flattened into her scowling face. “Mars is a horrible, barren place for humans. There’s nothing there for us. There’s only dust and death and some useless microbes that we probably put there in the first place. There’s nothing worth risking the lives of…”
“Oh come on, Staley,” interrupted another bureaucrat who was the Village Manager of Social Cohesion and smiled a lot with a rack full of horse teeth. “Don’t be so grim. You’re one of Gaiastan’s greatest heroes. Take some joy in your accomplishment. Your mission is one of the greatest achievements in all of human history… perhaps second only to the Undustrial Revolution.”
“Tell me,” Staley asked, “why is that awful place so important to you? There’s nothing up there. The mission was a waste of lives and quadrillions of dianars. It’s all a racket for the rocket builder’s guild.”
The Manager of Social Cohesion continued, “You need to think of the symbolism of it all, Staley.” His beady, glassy little eyes lifted upwards to the heavens, longingly. “Colonizing new worlds is mankind’s spiritual destiny. It is our natural progression. It’s Gaia’s grand plan, a key part of the Paradigm. It’s why Gaia rose humans up from the apes.”
“But then humans turned their back on Gaia with their materialism,” added Ms. Manager.
“Yes,” continued the Manager of Social Cohesion. “Humanity poisoned the planet so Gaia gave us Gaianism. Gaianism perfected humanity so that we could achieve her destiny and spawn the next world…”
“There ain’t nothing on that rusty ball worth sending seven crews to their deaths over,” Staley replied, wobbling a little and beginning to tremble.
“Easy there,” Indigo advised. “He must have had too much to drink,” he offered, hoping that the bureaucrats were too busy talking about themselves to notice Staley hadn’t touched more than a few sips of water. The last thing he wanted was for an outburst of this type to be documented in Staley’s personnel file. It would be guilt by association for Indigo. “Perhaps the fatigue of the last leg of our trip is wearing him thin. We were in the middle of the Dehumanized Zone not five hours ago.”
“He does appear to be wearing thin,” observed another bureaucrat. “Too many opiates, perhaps?”
“I am worn thin,” Staley replied, “but it’s not due to opiates.”
“Looks like your heroic friend is in need of some detoxification,” observed the horse toothed Manager of Social Cohesion.
“Please forgive us,” Indigo begged. “We should be…”
“You know, taking the needle is illegal for undermen,” interrupted Ms. Manager.
“I’m not an undermen,” answered Staley.
“But you are currently subject to undermen jurisdiction. Your little vice may create unnecessary hassle for you, not to mention reflect badly on the republic.”
“What’s your point?” Staley asked.
Taken aback, the Manager of Social Cohesion tried another approach. “Perhaps the heroic Mr. Staley might consider the wire, instead. It’s perfectly legal, here, so long as you have a prescription. It won’t draw any attention and it has no side effects.”
“Maybe the ‘side effects’ are exactly what I’m looking for,” Staley answered.
“What has happened to you? You have a patriotic duty to keep yourself well. You’re a hero of the Republic,” advised Ms. Manager as she gazed down her pointy nose once more, flaring her nostrils.
Nausea compelled Indigo to intervene and he helped Staley back down into his seat. “What’s wrong with you, Staley?” he asked in a whisper while the bureaucrats shrugged their shoulders and schemed and whispered at one another. “You shouldn’t antagonize these people. They demand respect. You don’t want any trouble, do you?”
“I’m not afraid of suckling pigs.”
“Well, you should be. They are administrators and administrators are the law. They can make life miserable for you, for us. Keep it under control. Your language could get you a censure.”
“I’m not afraid of any censure, either.”
“Now you’re just being obstinate. What is it with you, tonight? Maybe you should get some rest. ”
“I’ll get all the rest I need soon enough,” Staley quipped.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Staley was in no mood to answer further. He pushed himself up from his chair, brushed off Indigo’s hold, and with a tremor, moved in the manner of a frail, wobbly, old man out of the hall and upstairs to his room.
Indigo sat alone at the table looking sheepish. He was fully ill again. He scanned the crowd of corpulent undermen bureaucrats toasting their glasses and licking the juices from their fat fingers. Apparently, and thankfully, they had already moved on from the topic of Staley’s outburst.
Indigo quietly observed them for the remainder of the evening. The males of the administrator and patrician class did not wear the customary purple, proletarian Mao tunics. They instead wore black, long sleeve tunics with silken liners. They had long, pointy mustaches and wiry white beards that hung down to their chests. Their faces were pasty white. Their hair was thin and gray. Their postures were slumped. Their faces sagged with droopy jowls and puffy eyes. They laughed too loud, exposing their false teeth… long ago eroded by the contrabands of sugar and opium, commodities illegal to possess and or use by the fellow undermen they ruled over. The prohibition they enforced on the masses just meant there was more available for them.
As he watched them, Indigo’s mind drifted back to Mars and the Astarte and the crew of seven…
The ship was drifting along. Stars rained in the portal windows as the space can spun. He could see Athena, Athena with the shimmering, chestnut hair, bangs playfully curled into lazy wisps just above her brow. Athena with her pale blue eyes… windows to her soul, colored with the hue of a cloudless summer noon. Athena, the mischievous one, constantly making a mockery of the pompous Captain Cain whom no one loved. Athena the maternal one, the one who nursed poor Captain Cain once he succumbed to the terminal, radiation illness and dimentia, tenderly dabbing the sweat from his fevered brow and wiping the black blood that oozed from his joints. Athena the desired one, her body suit of picotetrafluoroethylene was at least one size too tight for her firm curvaciousness. Athena the tormenting one, desired by all but beholden to none. Athena the one who loved to be loved and who loved all in return, just enough to make them desire her all the more. They all loved her.
Indigo poured three glasses of Arcadian wine and downed them in succession. Or was it Cascadian wine? It didn’t matter soon enough.
 Brownsville: a derogatory term used to describe far flung undermen villages that lack civilized amenities.
 The Undustrial Revolution: The 100 year period of government imposed austerity designed to drastically curb human consumption via raw material and energy rationing.
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