“Now that’s an advance in technology,” Jonah declared, nodding across the table at his host. “Space food that doesn’t suck.” It didn’t, though he had to eat with his eyes closed to avoid the sickly pallor of the sweet-smelling slurry he was shoveling into his mouth.
“I’d like to say that it only meets the bare minimum of contemporary standards of freeze-drying, but I’d be lying. The future isn’t that strange, I’m afraid.”
“Heh. I should figure not. There are rules of the universe to be upheld, after all. So, you haven’t introduced yourself. You should know I’m Jonah by now.”
“What do you do?” the man asked in his monotone.
“Me? I’m unemployed. The boss and I don’t talk much anymore. We had a falling out.”
“Since you asked, my name’s Pygmalion. I’m an artist, or so I’d like to think.”
“Nice view you got out of that window. Come here for inspiration?”
“Spacescapes are overdone. Why should I spend my time in a genre where my pieces will be drowned in the seas of crap produced each year? In any event, I prefer work that is a bit more…topical for human beings, something that draws you to it, seduces you,” he said disinterestedly.
“You do portraits? I’d have you immortalize me in a heroic pose, but I think my days of playing Adonis are over.”
“No. I don’t use models. Why copy nature? Art is about creation, after all. I don’t want to parrot back everything made, I want to make something of my own, if you get my meaning.”
“I think I do.”
The man’s tidy brown hair was parted to one side of his well-proportioned face, the face that framed his medium-brown (if somewhat sunken) eyes between his unremarkable nose and his light brow and those pale lips on the pale skin that was drawn tight over his skull and stained by the light to a putrid greenish gray.
“I am here to be alone with my art,” he explained after a few odd seconds of silence. “But I don’t mind you staying until you adjusted. Honestly I barely noticed you once I picked you out of the access tunnel. I heard the thud, in case you were wondering. You were in shock because your heart, atrophied from the equivalent of three month’s life in weightlessness, couldn’t handle the sudden increase in ‘gravity’ once you started getting pulled down by the centrifugal motion of the station. I don’t mind you being here, as long as you stay in this part of the station and don’t bother me when I’m working. And that’s most of the time.”
“I see. I suppose I’ll be off in a few days. I mean a hundred hours or so.”
“I call them days too. No reason to make things out here weirder than they are already. And with that, I’m going to bed. You should probably go back to your cabin, since the ‘crash’ from your adrenaline shot should be kicking in,” he said, swallowing a yawn.
The station was strewn with debris from Pygmalion’s various projects, from those empty paint tubes that littered the floor and tripped Jonah’s feet to a few half-finished semi-abstract studies of the female form carefully, precariously placed atop shelves and end tables. The objects cast twisted shadows on the wall as the feeble light passed through them. That sculpture looked pleasant enough, but it projected a black outline of someone’s agony, a nonsensical jumble of limbs writhing, grasping out in sick positions. A few canvases stared back at Jonah with their hungry, subhuman stare, while the others simply looked across the room to the void of the gray bulkhead on the other side. Wedged into one corner a delicate skeleton hung from its unseen armature, absurdly upright, as if it would dance. Jonah sat down on the floor.
Damned weak heart. The art supplies he sat on started to prick him and the skeleton seemed to relax into a more natural pose. It was dark here, and the hormones had worn off and he didn’t know what was in those jars but it was not wholesome. Still, he could find his way back to bed. He’d just have to use the urine tube in his spacesuit. Something black moved just beyond the edge of his vision like a strangely voluptuous apparition.
It floated quickly out of sight, down a corridor. Jonah sat still, then shakily rose to his feet and followed it through the darkness. Music struggled through the silent air. It was a baroque melody, civilized and orderly, even warm and peaceful.
“You look marvelous tonight, my dear. Would you like to dance? Perhaps some sherry?” Pygmalion’s muffled voice inquired through the wall. “No? Then I suppose we might as well get to business,” he cackled warmly.
Jonah slid down the wall into a crouch. There was a small shuffle of footsteps and a few mournful exhalations of desire in the next room. A low, almost feminine moan rattled through the thin partition, mingling sensuously with Pachebel.
The subtle heaves of a chuckle contorted their way through Jonah as he realized that he blushed at the noisy lovemaking in the next room. Slowly, very slowly he crept to his feat, climbing into the waiting darkness of his consciousness.
A distinctly high soprano of a croaking climactic scream pierced his numb skull, tripping his precarious balance up, throwing him up right on top of a sculpture, splintered crackling plaster against the dimly chime-like resonance of the metallic floor.
Jonah scrambled, ape-like, across half-finished half-smashed masterpieces until he could close the door tightly behind him and black out right into his bed.
Copyright 2004 Will Knight
To be continued...