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Simon of Space
A novel from Chester Burton 'Cheeseburger' Brown
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Simon of Space, an original novel by Cheeseburger Brown, photo-illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 25
I HATE MOONDAYS


I awoke in a new place, but did not regret the inconsistency. Before I opened my eyes I dreamed half sleeping of Jia's scent on the pillow beside me. When I looked all I could see was the play of shadows from leaf-dappled light swaying on the white ceiling above the bed.

Jia said, "Goodmorning, dear."

I rolled over but she was not there. Instead she was standing over the bed dressed in a yellow wrap, her braids done up in a new elaborate set of rings atop her head. She was smiling and holding a cup of steaming tea.

I sat up and accepted the tea. "Goodmorning, and thank you."

We kissed briefly. "You'd best get a move on, Simon. Omar is downstairs, ready to escort you."

"Escort me? Where?" I rubbed my eyes and sipped my tea.

"It's Moonday, dear," chuckled Jia, touching my cheek. "You've got to go to work."

"To work?" I echoed, like an idiot.

"Well, of course, dear. Everyone's been very worried about you, and therefore worried about Fellcorp. It's really quite urgent that you put in an appearance as soon as possible."

"Um, okay," I agreed, uncertain. I looked around for my robes.

"I've already picked out a suit for you, a very nice cut from Reneti."

My face fell. "A suit?"

"Don't worry darling, it'll all be over in a few hours and then tonight you and I can go to the ball at Blighton's. It'll be marvellous, you'll see!" She patted my knees reassuringly, gestured to pile of folded fabric on a chair, and then swept out of the master bedroom.

A lizard scampered across the bed. "Oh, boy," I muttered.

Throughout the orb-flight into Padirac I pulled and shimmied against my clinging apparel, fighting the urge to tear the wretched layers from my body while hooting like a little person. Omar seemed to find my discomfort amusing. "Going to fire your tailor, sir?" he joked.

"I'll get used to it," I murmured bravely, scratching the inside of my thigh with a grimace.

We landed among stone sculptures with hideous visages, standing in frozen guard over the rooftop of a high skyscraper. As soon as the shield cracked off a fierce, crisp wind washed in at us. Omar led me briskly between two sets of hedges cut into the shape of swans and into the mouth of a lift, and I admit that I found it difficult to keep up with him due to the aching along the insides of my legs where I had pushed them together to keep my balance atop the horse yesterday. With a scowl I limped into the lift beside Omar. The doors yawned closed after us. "Fellcorp executive offices," rumbled Omar.

"Plates, please," said the lift. Omar already had his plate out, and he tapped it against a contact on the wall. I did the same. "Omar Palmellinbacchutourtanjard, Nestor S. Fell: welcome to Fellcorp," pronounced the lift, followed by a smooth acceleration downward.

The doors split again to reveal a grandiose, sun-splashed lobby two stories high, men and women in suits hurrying back and forth and up and down the stairs, popping in and out of the mouths of corridors around the upper level balcony, squeezing past Omar into the lift and looking at me with expressions of shocked recognition. I heard my name whispered all around me as the frenetic motion slowed.

By the time we had crossed halfway to the round glass desk at reception every eye in the room was trying to skim over me nonchalantly. People who had been taking the stairs two at a time suddenly found a reason to linger on the landing, holding a plate out vaguely to a co-worker who wasn't looking. "It's Nestor Fell!"

The plump girl at the reception desk smiled warmly, rocking back on her heels with an anxious energy as we stopped at the desk and Omar placed his giant hands upon the counter. "Fellcorp Security, miss -- I'm here to take Mr. Fell for his nine thirty with Mr. Olorio."

"Great," squeaked the girl, her dimples colouring. "Mr. Olorio's left word that you're to go right on in, sir, Mr. Fell."

"Thank you, miss," I said, and she smiled as she looked down to hide behind her hair.

The crowd parted in a polite wave of "Goodmorning, Mr. Fell," as Omar saw me up the stairs and onto the second tier. We moved briskly down a branching corridor where we were met with more shocked glances, finally stopping before a wide door being opened by a slender gentleman with skin so black it was almost purple. With a pompous air he declared that Mr. Olorio would see us right away.

We stepped past him into a corner office. Tall windows dominated two walls, looking out upon the metropolis of Padirac, but the view was dominated by the large silhouette of a man with his hands clasped behind his back, watching the traffic fly by. The door clicked closed behind me. I turned around to see that Omar had gone, and when I turned back the man was facing me.

"Do sit down," he said, his voice light for someone so large. He emerged from behind his desk and took one of two high-backed leather chairs, indicating the second for me.

I sat down. Before I could speak he pinned me with his nearly invisible, slit-like eyes and flashed me a wide, toothy smile. "My name is Yatti Olorio," he continued in a funny, sing-song way. "I'm the chief financial officer and the acting chief of operations for this company and I've been your best friend for ten years." He put forward a thick, peachy hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you..."

"Simon," I said, taking his hand and shaking it firmly. "My name is Simon. And you're the first person from my past to acknowledge my independence from the man you have known."

He chuckled and passed his stubby fingers over his few wisps of hair. "History is mutable, my friend, and so am I. If you feel like a man named Simon now, who am I to dissuade you? I have confidence that the things that have made you my friend and ally this past decade will not have changed." He sniffed thoughtfully. "...Much."

Though I have tried through my life to be open minded about the people I meet, I will admit to you now that I fought a physical kind of revulsion as I smiled back at my apparent friend, Yatti Olorio. Can a man smell bad without stinking? There was something about his dimpling double chin, his enthusiastic hand gestures as he spoke in his ginger, lilting way -- something that made me lose my appetite.

"Naturally," he continued airily, "the board had elected to keep your amnesia mum until that Mile fool started turning up in all the feeds. Now we have an office dedicated to sorting out the malarkey, issuing lawsuits, syndicating correcting statements, that sort of thing. To that end I'd like you to consent to recording a brief message to the corporation, for morale."

"Okay," I said. "Say, we're not going to sue Mr. Mile, are we?"

"Mr. Swinny will give you your script," said Olorio, clearing his throat. "In answer to your question, no, Mr. Mile is impoverished and we have no interest in acquiring his assets -- particularly," he added with a raised eyebrow, "as Fellcorp seems to have purchased the lion's share of what little there is."

"Ah yes," I replied, nodding. After a pause I asked, "What's a lion?"

Olorio sniffed. "Big cat. Now --"

"Like a tiger?"

"Um, yes," he conceded with a frown. "Now Simon, the next order of business will be your education. I've lined up a top notch team of the finest tutors to come to your home to offer you a crash course in...well, everything. You can't very well run Fellcorp on a few month's life experience, now can you?"

"I suppose not," I admitted.

He ticked off the points on his stubby fingers: "Interstellar and Intrastellar Economics, Business and Finance, Chemical Rhetoric, Bioevological Calculus, History of Medicine --"

"Hold on," I begged, holding up a hand. "Please, can we start with the basics?"

"Principles of Management?"

"No," I shook my head. "No, not at all. I mean like what does this corporation do?" I gazed at Olorio, imploring him for clarity.

Olorio blinked, and his eyes quivered as if he were going to cry. Then he burst out laughing, holding his shaking stomach and leaning back in his chair, which creaked ominously. "Ho ho ha! Has nobody thought to tell you anything? By fire!"

I waited patiently.

"My friend, Simon -- Fellcorp is the galaxy's largest producer and distributor of pharmaceuticals. You ask me what business we're in? We're in the business of saving lives." He held my eye levelly for a moment, every trace of his humour gone. "Research and development," he orated, again using his fingers as markers, "testing and compliance, packaging and shipping -- we're a stem to stern enterprise, from theory to patient."

I turned my head at his gesture and for the first time took in some of the holographs hung along the walls between the tall windows: white hospitals, pills in soft-focus, people who looked like animated corpses shaking hands with Olorio. "We make medicine?"

"That's right," Olorio confirmed liltingly. "Over eighty percent of the victims affected by the Kamari Horror are medicated by our products, including our newest family of anti-psychotics, designed from the start to address Horror-specific symptomologies."

"Is that a fact?"

An intercom chimed. "Your ten o'clock is here, Mr. Olorio."

"Early? Damn it. Alright." He stood up. "Simon, we have a lot more to talk about but we have a full day. First I need you to go with Mr. Swinny here," he pointed as the door to the corridor opened and a little person with greying hair and an adorable little brown suit stepped in; "and he'll help you take care of that corporate message we discussed. Then Omar will bring you to the boardroom for a report from the department heads. Very good?"

"Er," I said.

"Splendid!" he pronounced, sweeping out the door past Mr. Swinny and disappearing. I heard him greet someone jovially outside the office.

Mr. Swinny raised his long arms and flexed his fingers in a meaningful way, tapping one hand to the side of his mouth. He waited expectantly. "I'm sorry," I said, standing up. "I can't sign." I made the sign for I understand and then shook my head vigourously no.

Mr. Swimmy frowned, his thick lips pursed over his large teeth. He seemed to decide something, and then pointed to me and gestured broadly at a second doorway leading from Olorio's office. Then he put his fingers in his palm and made them walk like little legs.

"Oooh!" I exclaimed. "Alright, I'm with you. Let's go."

The little person distinctly rolled his brown eyes at me as he turned around and began huffing out the door, his knuckles on the rug. I walked after him. We passed through the same corridor I had come down with Omar, and then entered a set of swinging double doors into a windowless studio.

A dais stood surrounded by a mesh of filaments, flashing consoles manned by busy people around the periphery. A portly fellow with yellowish skin trotted over and introduced himself as Neffer Shing. "It's a real honor to finally meet you in person, Mr. Fell. I've been handling your recordings for years, of course. Tap your plate here to grab the text of your speech, won't you? Thank you. Please, step up onto the dais, sir."

I allowed the cheerful fellow to position me on the round platform as I glanced down at the text that had appeared on the transparent face of my data-plate. "This is what I'm supposed to say?"

"Yessir," said Shing, nodding courteously to Mr. Swinny who glowered in the corner, picking something out of the hair on his wrist. Shing called to one of the technicians to make it a "bust shot" so no one could see the plate in my hand. "Mr. Fell," he called, "Mr. Olorio felt it may make things easier if you watched one of your previous messages to the company."

I nodded, and he pointed to a clear space at the end of the room. I appeared there a moment later, dressed neatly in a grey suit, my hair longer and styled differently. The holographic me cleared his throat. "Ladies and gentlemen of Fellcorp, Goodmorning. As you know by now the ratification of the Kissock Relief Accord has opened up a new markets for us at Cassiopeia, a momentous opportunity for all of our divisions..."

It was strange to see myself -- so serious, so knowledgeable, so firm. My speech was crisp and hard-edged, unapologetic and succinct. When all was said and done I felt like I had been lectured by Dr. Pent. I glanced down at the text again. "Okay, I think I have it." I cleared my throat.

A bank of lights illuminated, and I squinted. Shing orchestrated his technicians and then pointed to me with a silent nod.

I cleared my throat again, and felt suddenly somewhat unsteady. I mastered myself with an effort and began: "Ladies and gentlemen of Fellcorp, Goodmorning. As you can see, rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated, pause for laughter...oh," I stopped, flushing. "Sorry."

"No worries Mr. Fell, we'll edit that out -- just keep going," called Shing.

"Ahem. It is true that I suffered a minor accident while abroad, but the efficient professionals at Fellcorp's own Samundra General Hospital were there to see me through to health. I would like to take a moment to commend the work of the entire staff at Samundra General, particularly Dr. Pol Rettikitan in whose care I mended. Good show, everyone. You do Fellcorp proud.

"I would like to assure all of you that I am back at the helm of Fellcorp, steering the galaxy to a healthier tomorrow. While my colleague and friend Mr. Yatti Olorio will continue as interim chief of operations and chairman of the board until my recovery is complete, I want you to understand that I have in him only the utmost confidence. Treat his word as you would mine.

"What happened to me at Aino makes me living proof of what we've always known here at Fellcorp: we -- save -- lives. Thank you." I blinked and looked up.

The technicians all stood up and joined Mr. Shing in applauding me exuberantly, their faces pinioned in expressions of fixed rapture. I found it discomfiting, as if I were the object of some kind of joke that was over my head. I smiled awkwardly, and then bowed out of respect for their display. When I straightened they continued to clap, which made me feel even more embarrassed.

"Um," I said, and they all stopped.

"That was really special," Shing said, motioning me off the dais. "To record a Nestor Fell message in our very own studio!" He paused, then added thoughtfully, "My kids might even respect me."

"This isn't where the recordings are normally made?"

"Oh, no, sir, you're a very busy man -- always on the move, Mr. Fell." Shing smiled broadly and sort of bounced in place. "I guess I should let you go now, sir. I just wanted to say how great it's been."

It was all too much. I was starting to feel very ridiculous.

"Uh," I said, shaking his hand quickly. "Thank you very much for everything, Mr. Shing."

Mr. Swinny headed for the doors, casting an eye back at me impatiently. He pointed to me, pointed to the exit, and then made the little walking motion in his palm again. I obediently followed the grey-haired little person out into the maze of corridors. We took a lift down two floors and then met Omar. Mr. Swinny seemed quite relieved to release his charge, and skipped away with his hands fluttering before him. "Hey!" Omar growled. "Where do you get off calling Mr. Fell stupid?"

Mr. Swinny turned back, eyes wide in alarm, and then he hurried to disappear around a bend in the corridor. Omar turned back to me and apologized for the ape's rudeness.

"Language barriers can be frustrating," I pointed out.

"How's it coming with the Soshi, sir?"

"Well," I said, noncommitally.

While it was true that since yesterday my store of Soshi had increased exponentially, unfortunately due to the nature of my lessons almost none of what I had learned could be uttered in mixed company. My specialized education had left me in the unusual position of being able to confidently pronounce the Soshi word for labia majora but leaving me utterly unequipped to say hello.

Omar marched me into a large, oval boardroom filled by men and women (and a few more little people) in suits, rigid smiles affixed to their faces as they expressed their delight in my return. As I shook hands with them in turn it became increasingly clear that most of them had never met me in person before.

Somebody asked me for something called an "autograph" and then Yatti Olorio swept out of the crowd and put his chunky arm around me, steering me over to the head of a great oval table and introducing me to a high-backed chair that looked like a kind of leather throne. "How are you making out?" he whispered into my ear with uncomfortably hot breath.

"It's all a bit much, actually," I whispered back.

"Splendid," he said, eyes elsewhere.

And then I endured hour upon hour of presentations from nervous ninnies in shining, fine-cut fabrics who prattled and mumbled and quoted, pointing to holographic bar charts and pie graphs that appeared in miniature displayed on our plates, or narrating over recorded imagery of our laboratories, production facilities and distribution centres. The whole thing finally wrapped up with a lurid recording of front line employees in starched white uniforms bearing the corporate crest smiling and waving while shouting, "I believe in Fellcorp!" over an anthem that I think I recognized from the background of a nature documentary about crocodiles.

The lights came back up and I was applauded again for some reason.

I realized they were all looking at me expectantly so I stood up. "Well," I said, "I can certainly see that everything has been in good hands." Then I winced as this was met with another roar of clapping.

Olorio stood up beside me. "I can feel the syngery in this room," he claimed, "and it excites me." More applause. "Thank you everyone for giving Mr. Fell your time today."

The boardroom began to empty. I looked around for Omar but it was the diminutive Mr. Swinny who caught my elbow, gesturing at the door. I followed him wordlessly outside, back into the lift, and down another hall. At a tall mahogany door he wiggled his fingers at me meaningfully and then stalked off. "So, I'm to wait in here, am I?" I called, but he only grunted in reply.

The door bore a line of polished metal lettering: Nestor S. Fell, President.

I opened it and stepped inside a wide corner office, much like Olorio's but finished in panelling of a rich, auburn wood. I wandered into the middle of the carpet, taking in the expansive but uncluttered desk, the holographs on the wall, the bits of sculpture and pottery sitting on inset pedestals in the panelling.…

Feeling suddenly drained I walked over behind the desk and collapsed with a gratified sigh into the high-backed, soft chair, my limp arms hanging over the padded rests. I closed my eyes and let out a long exhale, using my feet to pulled the wheeled chair in closer to the desk.

My knees bumped into something that squeaked, "Oh!"

Startled, I pushed the chair back quickly, flattening myself against the back of the chair in order to see beneath the wooden lip of the desk. The round-faced red-haired girl from the reception desk was down there on her hands and knees, looking up at me with wide eyes. "Goodness me!" I yelped. "I'm terribly sorry!"

She smacked her head on the underside of the desk and winced. "Oh Mr. Fell!" she cried. "I'm so sorry!"

"Did you -- did you drop something under there?"

She grimaced ruefully as she rubbed her head and started to crawl out between my legs. "Um, oh -- yes, I must have," she muttered.

"I'm sorry!" I repeated, pushing the chair back against the windows and moving my knees to one side. I took her hand and helped her to her feet. "Did you find it?"

"I just thought that you --" she started, and then laughed nervously as she stood up. "No, I don't think so. Oh, well. It was only...a...nothing important."

I ducked my head beneath the desk helpfully. "I don't see anything down here."

"Can I offer you a back massage?" she asked, putting her fingers to my neck and applying pressure to my most tense ropes of muscle.

"Ah, no thank you," I replied, smacking the crown of my head on the lip of the desk in my haste to straighten. I turned around quickly and the poor girl lost her balance, tumbling over the back of my chair and ending up on the floor, her legs splayed across my chest and her skirt falling up over her pelvis. "I'm sorry!" I cried, averting my eyes from her pink underwear.

When I helped her to her feet her face had become the same shade of pink. "Omigod please don't fire me," she implored, her eyes welling with tears.

"What?" I said, and she fled the office.

I stood there watching the open door for a long moment, winded and bemused. I walked over to push the door shut, noticing for the first time the sculpture of a proud, dangerous-looking bird on a pillar in the back corner of the office. I cannot explain why, but it filled me with a sense of familiarity and dread. A film of sweat broke out across my brow as I quivered there, transfixed by the lifeless eyes of the stone bird.

It was like a colourless version of the bird that had awoken me with its eerily human screams that morning weeks ago on Samundra. Now as then the bird seemed to have a meaning I could not quite grasp...

But it made me afraid.

The door opened and Omar appeared. "Ready to go home, Mr. Fell?"

"Yes!"

During the orb ride back to the estate Omar apologized for making me wait, explaining that he had been obliged to deal with a security situation in the street-level lobby. "Some crazy woman was trying to force her way in to see you," he said. "Don't look too shocked, Mr. Fell -- it was bound to happen. With Mr. Olorio's strategic leaks of your message this morning I'm sure all of Maja knows you're back by now."

"What did she want?" I asked, watching a horse-farm pass beneath us, great quadrupeds massing like ants along the fields.

Omar shrugged. "Man, who can say? She probably wanted to propose to you." He chuckled. "Some women will go to crazy lengths to get near a famous man they think they have some kind of connection with, for whatever reason."

Jia was there to greet me in the hall. "Dear, you look exhausted!" she said soothingly, taking my jacket. "And after only half a day! Can I have some lunch fixed for you?"

"I think I'd like to lie down for a while, actually."

She nodded primly. "Quite right, dear. You'll want to be in top form for Blighton's ball tonight. You did remember, didn't you?"

She put me to bed with a cup of hot drink she claimed would help me rest. She whistled at the windows in a curious way and they opacified, fading the room into a somber gloom. Jia sat on the edge of the bed and kissed my forehead.

"Thank you, Jia," I murmured.

"Is there anything I can get you?"

"Yes," I said, nodding sleepily. "My diary. Will you fetch my diary? It's in the pouch of yesterday's robes."

She passed it to me and then slipped out. I lay back on the bed and stared at the dim ceiling, the little plastic bauble clutched in my right hand. I thumbed the contact and began to dictate the events of the day so far: a day that had overloaded me with information, filled me with questions, cowed me into a kind of paralyzed submission...

I hesitate to wonder: what next?


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