I remember when I first moved back to Terra Surface I had nothing much to do for a year. I spent a lot of time with K and O.
There is a strip of dug earth along the city edge, like a beach but not. It is new sand, a mass of it laid down by machine. Pits of gravel and the like. Stored along the stretch are a number of portable pre-fab houses. They appear overnight and stay sometimes a week, sometimes longer, then they disappear.
One time we found a key to one of the mobile houses left in the door. On the inside was an octagonal room, surrounded by counter on most sides. It was cheaply made and reminded me of something built for a headquarters at a construction site. It had obviously been deposited by crane some time throughout the night. Sometimes they would be there in the evening and be gone by morning. This one had stayed. Inside we found various screws and nails lying around as well as an empty carton of chocolate milk and the packaging from a bought lunch. Me and K and L made a habit of hanging out in the mobile to pass the long summer nights. It seemed to be part of some research station. We dredged up various things from within the cupboard and rooms.
“Check this out,” K said.
He was going through a lower cupboard crawling right in like a carpenter, and had pulled out some booty magazines.
“Space booty, the best kind. What a score.”
I read the cover.
There was a chick from a finely drawn cartoon in a spacesuit with fins around the edges of her shorts and bare hips and ankles sitting on a rocket that was meant to signify a space dump (or booster bus, as the STC is fond of calling them)
He opened it to a random page. “Why are there so many jets in our skies?”, read one of the articles. It looked like it had been printed from an rs feed.
One time we went out to The Barrens in a group after a night of drunken wandering. We got to the mobile in the middle of the night and there was a flatscreen hanging against the door outside from a chain.
“WTF.” I said, spinning in a dramatic slow motion to face the group.
We were there with LEDs and blankets, and a packload full of booze, mix, and pitas and humus. K was with O and I was with L, but L was already half cut and ready to crash. I had said we could come out here and watch the stars.
“This is your place?” Said L, raising her eyebrow so inquisitively that it caused a slow drunken convulsion that nearly made her lose her balance and fall over backwards.
“The door is open” I had shut her out and was talking only to K.
K went up and looked in.
“The lights are off. Let’s see whats going on.” And he pushed through the open door and the hanging flatscreen tv and its chain. L sighed.
K came back a moment later.
“Enter, if you dare,” He stood framed in the doorway, “K-Lite’s palace of mystical wonder…”
We watched him blankly.
“… wondrous looooooove.” He looked at us with flared nostrils, and flashed the lightswitch on and off with his hidden hand for dramatic effect.
We dragged the whole flatscreen with chain and all inside and put it on the outer ledge that ran all the way around the octagonal perimeter and served as counter some place and seating in other.
There was a remote that operated the old flatscreen. We were tinkering with it, to our surprise it functioned and reverted to last playing when we turned it on. It regurgitated a recording: It was a grainy black and white log feed of a recording inside the octagnal mobile we were in. It looked more like a research station in the video, and was operated by a youngish couple sitting at one of the counters. The point of view was recording the couple as if from a camera mounted in an upper corner of the room, like a security camera. By some freak chance we were all sitting, looking at the screen, in the exact place where the man and woman in the video was sitting, looking at an ancient antique tube monitor. It was disconcerting, and I inadvertently looked up to where the camera would have been, half expecting to see it’s single glass eye staring back at me, but if it had ever been there there was no trace now.
There was a countdown going on in the corner of the recording – The couple was watching raptly on the old tube screen, what looked like a meteor, or a ship screaming through the sky – burning up and screaming through the sky. The video was real time capture, there was a datestamp in the corner but it was just spooling down hours, it hit 70:00:00 and counted down real-time. The couple was in a state of anxiety. We watched for a while but couldn’t figure out how to track the reel – we couldn’t figure out how to fast-forward to find what the countdown was about or what happened when it reached zero, so we just left it running for a while.
K and O were having an impromptu dance party in the middle of the empty room, but I still couldn’t take my eyes off the recording. The man and woman had their backs to the camera, watching the tube, and occasionally got up and left the frame, but I couldn’t catch a glimpse of their faces.
L said: “Turn it off. It gives me the creeps.”
When we left I put everything back to the way it was, and hung the screen back out on the door the where we found it.
The next week we came back to check out the reel again, but the flatscreen wasn’t hanging on the door anymore. We found it stashed inside in one of the cupboards under the counter. We felt weird now, knowing that the mobile wasn’t abandoned, that someone had been coming and going from it just as we had. I walked gingerly around the inside careful not to disturb anything, then I was looking out the window absently and I blinked as I saw movement outside.
“What?” said K.
“Check it out,” Not far off we saw a mother and her kid. It spooked us to see anyone in this area, nobody was supposed to enter the barrens and we’d never seen anybody within a mile.
“People live here?” I watched them through the window
“They put more houses up along the strip, did you notice?”
“Yah, and theres a park there now. Look there’s swings and everything.
“K, promise to come back and finish watching the vid to the end with me.”
K was with a new girl, and after sneaking out of the prefab we sat in a playground in the mild summer night.
“K, what are you going to do when your tenure is up?”
He kicked around in the sand.
“Probably the same damn thing. You know, hanging out in the mobile, grow myself a beard, spend cold evenings in the drunk tank. Then probly just move into the mobile full time and, uh defend it with an ak47 in a drunken rage until the cops cut me down with ap rounds.”
“Sounds bleak” I lold.
He turned to L, “You’d be down, right?”
“Oh gross” she said, “leave me out of your sick fantasies”
“Im gonna be a military seargent” I said, “And we’ll probably meet again when I order you to abandon the mobile in the name of, uh, The Law”
K fell off the tire swing with L in his lap into the sand of the playground. I laughed but I was still thinking about the couple and the countdown and the word ‘contact’ kept flashing around in my head.