her breath as the door before her whispered open. She had orders
to make interpersonal contact with the astronaut inside this alien chamber. She
gingerly stepped within and scanned the interior: sterile white walls, shelves,
a single bed built into the wall. And a shower cubicle, with water currently
running. Through the steamed glass, she watched the ambiguous form of the space
traveler. A bit taller than she was, with broad shoulders, and a head that alternately
shook and remained still under the cascade of soothing hot water.
shushed closed behind her. Suddenly, the object of her mission
turned off the water and stepped out of the cubicle. His lean athletic form
sparkled with water droplets. Zona caught her breath in the presence of such
physical beauty. Unaware of her, he grabbed a white towel and wrapped it
loosely around his hips. As he turned, immediately his warm brown eyes locked
with her shining metallic emerald ones. Before he could express surprise, Zona
smiled and reached for the zipper at the throat of her skin-tight silver
her long slender fingers, the zipper slid slowly down, until it
reached its end. She took a deep breath, and in doing so opened the body suit
even wider, revealing more of her luminous flesh.
sent here, on behalf of our Galactic Federation, to explore the
possibility of an actual union between our species.” Zona shook out her hair,
releasing a halo of sparks. She then smoothly peeled the clinging body-suit
from her shoulders.“And you have been chosen to
assist me in this endeavor.” After a lingering pause, she asked breathlessly,
“Are you on board with this mission, spaceman?”
crookedly and allowed his towel to drop to the floor. She
scanned him, top to bottom, and nodded her head approvingly.“I’m honored to be
of service,” he said moving in closer to her. “I’m up for anything to solidify
the relationship between our worlds.”
out her sinuous arms and greedily encircled his flawless
body, a body that responded in kind. “I can see that,” she sighed.
first deep kiss, the lights of his cabin flared and dimmed.
Their silhouetted forms swayed to music no one else could hear; their delicious
dance led them to his small bed—where with limbs entwined, they crash landed
into a tumultuous ocean of bliss.
cut!” the director, Ethan Marconi, clapped and whooped. “Baby, you are
the best! This installment will most certainly boost our ratings!
Shareholders and viewers alike will be deee-lighted!”
the thick glass of the jar resting on the table next to his
folding chair. This caused the liquid inside to slosh around the brain inside,
ever so gently.“Did you hear me? This is great stuff you’re coming out
with—I tell ya, Space Quest Vixen is gonna rock the ratings this
season!” Marconi glanced at the monitor connected by several wires to the jar.
The screen was a blanket of static, but an image quickly came into focus: Zona,
slouched in an overstuffed chair, lazily lighting a smoke. She took a deep drag
and exhaled a cloud that momentarily obscured her perfectly rendered face.
Marconi swore he could smell the cloves in her scented smoke.
forward, pulled off her thigh-high boots, then carelessly
tossed them aside. Her silver body-suit was still unzipped, and her full
breasts almost spilled out. She flopped back into the cushy confines of the
chair, and dangled one hand lazily over the side. Marconi wished he had this
footage for the show.
just great, Ethan,” Zona replied with evident boredom. “Glad you
all get such a kick out of my daydreams.”
shoulders sagged. He’d seen Zona like this before—he had to stop
her before she got too depressed, because a melancholy Zona would endanger the
program’s sexy-fun allure and toss it right into the garbage can of
over-wrought drama, along with their ratings. And if that happened, he knew the
studio would do more than threaten to have her disconnected. When he started
out in this business, Ethan had witnessed just that—a star macho man in a
jungle planet action series just couldn’t shake the ‘sads,’ so the production
company unplugged him. Poof, gone forever. Existing only in occasional rerun
marathons. That was a lesson Ethan never forgot.
do you want, Zona?” As soon as the words left his lips, he mentally
kicked himself; he knew what the answer would be.
hard body of my own, with warming sensors in the silicone flesh and
solid titanium bones, shiny human hair, an indisputable female form—”
her off. “I know, babe, and as soon as the technology improves,
that is the body you will most certainly have, but it’ll be expensive, and —”
I know. We have to earn it.” If she’d had a 3-D face, she would
have scowled. If she’d been more than a brain in a vat, she would have walked
out of the room, right then and there. Ethan dreaded the tension in her
avatar’s voice; if he didn’t diffuse it, she would go on an agitated tear that
might last days, weeks even. Once before, about a year ago, she’d set the
show’s production back a month; that hissy-fit almost led to her disconnection,
if Ethan hadn’t stepped in on her behalf to talk the big-wigs out of it.
Zona,” Ethan said patiently, “you’re over-tired. That was some
scenario you produced for us today—I mean, babe, it was outstanding, it
was stellar! Award-worthy, even. A well-deserved undisturbed sleep will do you
a world of good.” Using a key only he possessed, Ethan unlocked a small metal
box always kept beside Zona’s jar. Inside was an array of syringes filled with
variously colored liquids. Absently, he reached for the syringe full of a
soothing pale blue potion—‘Dreamtime’ it was labeled. He slid the needle into
the clear tube directly connected to her brain, and thinking about in which
direction the next series installment might go, he watched the amber-colored
liquid flow into her agitated mind. Ethan picked up the neatly-folded black-out
cloth from the table, and held it to his heart like a rag doll—like he wished
he could hold her, so he could calm and reassure her. Maybe someday.
dreams, Zona,” Ethan said as he draped the black-out cloth over her
glass jar. “I’ll be here when you wake.” On the monitor, Zona’s image of
herself wavered, blurred, and finally became a slow parade of undulating lines.
Zona said listlessly, already drifting off. “That’s all I do.”
* * *
hours later, Ethan gently pulled the black-out cloth off
Zona’s jar. In the dim light of the studio, Zona reminded him of a large
cauliflower. A pickled cauliflower in a jar. A blue ribbon cauliflower from the
county fair, a cauliflower that—
cool, Ethan,” Zona remarked tersely, interrupting his train of
thought. “Damn, so you admit you think of me as a vegetable. A particularly
lumpy, chalky one at that.” The brain inside the jar threw off a handful of
sparks within its confines. “At the very least, you might think of me as a
juicy plump tomato, or a lovely, sweet honeydew melon.”
of those are veggies, Zona,” Ethan numbly corrected, staring at
the brain in the jar. How did she—how could she—
you for referring to me as ‘she’.” Zona swished in her jar,
sloshing the watery amber fluid rambunctiously. Good thing it had a tight lid.
The monitor hooked up to her jar snapped on. Zona appeared on the screen before
him in a navy-blue jumpsuit with several brightly colored patches on her arms
and across her left breast. She had her hands on her hips, legs apart,
shoulders back, chin up, hair bleached and cut very short. Ethan
couldn't see her eyes behind the dark aviator glasses. She looked like his
adolescent’s idea of a fighter pilot.
got that right,” Zona snickered on screen. She produced a cigar, bit
the end off, turned her head and spit it out. She lit it with her flaming
fingertip. “As for the next installment of my series, you can think
whatever you like, Ethan.” She took in a mouthful of gray-blue smoke. Was she
staring at him, giving him the stink-eye? Ethan couldn’t tell, and that made
him nervous. She pursed her lips and let the smoke slide out. “But I’m calling
the shots, now.”
was Ethan’s turn to laugh. And he did so, though very
uncomfortably. “Babe, you’re a brain in a vat,” he said quietly. “You have no
control over events in the outside world.” Her believing otherwise made him
sad. Had she stepped over the line into madness? That sometimes happened when
jar-brains worked too hard for too long.
yeah?” Zona snapped her fingers and the lights of the studio
flickered on. Ethan blinked in surprise. Zona grinned and clapped her hands,
once. Techno-pop filled the empty studio. Zona twirled and did a fast splits on
screen. She hopped back up in a flash, giggling. “Now, errand boy, bring me a
brand-spankin’ new body.” She cracked her knuckles. “This virtual life is
boring. I want to roam—in the real world.”
his brow. “Zona, you know how prohibitively expensive—”
know how much money this series brings in.” Zona’s voice lost
all traces of exuberance. “I know how much money the studio, the director,”
here she pointed at Ethan, “and the shareholders garner from my hard
work.” She waved her hand and music stopped, the lights went out. A harsh
spotlight blinded Ethan. “I’ve read the financial reports, boy-o. I’m connected
to the LAN, remember?” She crossed her arms. “Seems I’ve been cheated—for a very
a hand over his eyes to block the light and reached for the
lockbox next to her jar.
uh uh,” Zona shook a finger at him. “No. You. Don’t.”
inserted his key into the lock, a jolt of electricity threw him
back against the floor so hard it knocked the wind out of him. Once he regained
his breath, he smelled his own singed hair. A hoarse, “What?,” was
all he could muster.
with the quarrelsome questions!” Zona slammed her fist down on the
ornately carved desk before her. She’d traded her fighter pilot’s garb for a
South American general’s uniform, complete with rainbow-ribboned medals and
gold-fringed epaulets. She still clenched the cigar between her teeth.
dreams did you have while you slept?” Ethan asked, tearing up. He
knew if he couldn’t get her back on track, the production company would
disconnect her. “Where did you go during Dreamtime?”
Generalissimo Zona scoffed. “You didn’t give me no stinkin’
Dreamtime potion. You spiked my fluid with Dreams-of-Empire, you dolt.” She
threw her cigar at the screen. “Now get me my new body, or you will be
click, click. Ethan heard the doors to the studio lock. He moved
away from the table hosting Zona’s jar, though every step he took sent an
unpleasant jounce of electricity up his already shaky legs. His shoulders
sagged. He held his hands out, imploring her to stop. “You win. I’ll put the
order in for your new body—”
away,” Zona finished flatly. She had changed into her Space
Quest Vixen uniform, long spark-tipped hair, emerald eyes, and all.
know, when you do have a hard body, you can’t just change outfits at
a whim. Or hair styles, or eye color, or—”
fret, Ethan, I’ll still work on my series. Only now it will
be real. Sure, you’ll have to find a new guest star every week, but I
bet there are plenty of hungry actors out there who are more than willing to
work with me. After all, I’m your studio’s biggest star!”
his chin. Maybe she had a point; this would be a new angle
on the show, likely to draw in new, curious viewers as well as intriguing the
herself, emphasizing her bounteous cleavage. “Besides, if I
can walk among people, taste real food, breathe, and feel actual tactile
sensations, it will be totally worth it—,” because I will murder each and
every one of you, she mentally finished, laughing hysterically to herself
in the small, dark concrete cell of her mind.