Monday, August 25, 2008

“The Voyage Out” by Gwyneth Jones excerpt from Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures anthology edited by Lynne Jamneck

This excerpt from The Voyage Out by Gwyneth Jones is from the anthology Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures by Lynne Jamneck. Lynne is a South African born writer. Her short fiction has appeared in various markets including H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Jabberwocky Magazine, Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly, Spicy Slipstream Stories, and So Fey: Queer Faery Fictions. She is currently working towards a Masters in English Literature at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and writing her first speculative novel.

Periphery - Erotic Lesbian Futures (Anthology)
Publisher: Lethe Press (February 14, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1590211014


"The Voyage Out" by Gwyneth Jones

The Kuiper Belt station had been planned as the hub of an international deep space city. Later, after that project had been abandoned and before the Buonarotti Device became practicable for mass exits like this one, it’d been an R&R resort for asteroid miners. They’d dock their little rocket ships and party, escaping from utter solitude to get crazy drunk and murder each other, according to the legends. I thought of those old no-hopers as I followed the guidance lights to my first orientation session; but there was no sign of them, no scars, no graffiti on the drab walls of endless curving corridors. There was only the pervasive hum of the Buonarotti torus, like the engines of a vast majestic passenger liner forging through the abyss. The sound—gentle on the edge of hearing—made me shudder. It was warming up, of course.

In a large bare saloon, prisoners in tan overalls were shuffling past a booth where a figure in medical-looking uniform questioned them and let them by. A circle of chairs, smoothly fixed to the floor or maybe extruded from it, completed the impression of a dayroom in a mental hospital. I joined the line. I didn’t speak to anyone and nobody spoke to me, but the girl with the cinnamon braids was there. I noticed her. My turn came. The woman behind the desk, whom I immediately christened Big Nurse, checked off my name and asked me to take the armband that lay on the counter. “It’s good to know we have a doctor on the team,” she said.

I had qualified as a surgeon but it was years since I’d practiced, other than as a volunteer ‘barefoot’ GP in Community Clinics for the underclass. I looked at the armband that said ‘captain’ and wondered how it had got there, untouched by human hand. Waldoes, robot servitors. . . It was disorienting to be reminded of the clunky, mechanical devices around here; the ones I was not allowed to see.
“Where are you in the real world?” I asked, trying to reclaim my dignity. I knew they had ways of dealing with the time-lapse, they could fake almost natural dialogue. “Where is the Panhandle run from these days? Xichang? Or Houston? I’d just like to know what kind of treatment to expect, bad or worse.”

“No,” said Big Nurse, answering a different question. “I am a bot.” She looked me in the eye, with the distant kindness of a stranger to human concerns. “I am in the information system, nowhere else. There is no treatment, no punishment here, Ruth Norman. That’s over.”

I glanced covertly at my companions, the ones already hovering around the day-room chairs. I’d been in prison before; I’d been in reform camp before. I knew what could happen to a middle-class woman, in jail for the unimpressive ‘crime’ of protesting the loss of our civil liberties. The animal habit of self-preservation won out. I slipped the band over the sleeve of my overalls. Immediately a tablet appeared, in the same place on the counter. It was solid when I picked it up.


I quickly discovered that, of the fourteen people in the circle (there were eighteen names listed on my tablet, the missing four never turned up), less than half had opted to stay awake. I tried to convince the dream-deprived that I had not been responsible for the mix-up. I asked them all to answer to their names. They complied, surprisingly willing to accept my authority—for the moment.

“Hill…de…” said the girl with the cinnamon braids, struggling with a tongue too thick for her mouth: a sigh and a guttural duh, like the voice of a child’s teddy bear, picked up and shaken after long neglect. The braids had not been renewed, fuzzy strands were escaping. Veterans of prison-life glanced at each other uneasily. Nobody commented. There was another woman who didn’t speak at all, so lacking in response you wondered how she’d found her way to the dayroom.

We were nine women, four men and one female-identifying male transsexual (to give the Sista her prison-system designation). The details on my tablet were meagre: names, ages, ethnic/national grouping, not much else. Mrs Miqal Rohan was Iranian and wore strict hejabi dress, but spoke perfect, icy English. ‘Bimbam’ was European English, rail thin, and haunted by some addiction that made her chew frantically at the inside of her cheek. The other native Englishwoman, a Caribbean ethnic calling herself Servalan (Angela Morrison, forty three), looked as if she’d been institutionalised all her life. I had no information about their crimes. But as I entered nicknames, and read the qualifications or professions, I saw a pattern emerging, and I didn’t like it. Such useful people! How did you all come to this pass? By what strange accidents did you all earn mandatory death sentences or life-without-parole? Will the serial killers, the drug cartel gangsters, and the re-offending child rapists please identify yourselves?

I kept quiet, and waited to hear what anyone else would say.

The youngest of the men (Koffi, Nigerian; self-declared ‘business entrepreneur’) asked, diffidently, “Does anyone know how long this lasts?”

“There’s no way of knowing” said Carpazian, who was apparently Russian, despite the name; a slim and sallow thirty-something, still elegant in the overalls. “The Panhandle is a prison system. It can drug us and deceive us without limit.”

The man who’d given his handle as Drummer raised heavy eyes and spoke, sonorous as a prophet, from out of a full black beard. “We will be ordered to the transit chamber as we were ordered to this room; or drugged and carried by robots in our sleep. We will lie down in the Buonarotti capsules, and a code-self, the complex pattern of each human body and soul, will be split into two like a cell dividing. The copies will be sent flying around the torus, at half-light speed. You will collide with yourself and cease utterly to exist at these co-ordinates of space-time. The body and soul in the capsule will be annihilated, and know GOD no longer.’

"But then we wake up on another planet?” pleaded Servalan, unexpectedly shy and sweet from that coarsened mask.


The prophet resumed staring at the floor.

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