I walked down the corridor being very careful not to trip on any of the old junk left along the way. I was especially careful about some aliens lying on the floor. There were stretched arms and legs. Some with their throats cut, others totally drunk, still stuttering, twisted and tangled in many arms and legs, some undistinguishable from the others.
The surrounding walls were circular and should be approximately 4 meters in diameter. They had openings here and there, corridors that led to unknown places and which extension was difficult to calculate due to the obscurity they led to after a few meters.
Some unfriendly looks followed me, coming from beings still not totally numb. There were many of them, of all species, of all races and physical shapes.
After about ten meters dodging from obstacles, I found myself against a watertight door, hermetically closed. I analyzed it trying to find out how to open it, when, in an instant, it buzzed and detached from the metal wall, sliding noisily until it was totally open. On the other side, two aliens about two meters high held to each other, shaky, trying to leave.
I gave them passage.
I moved forward and the door closed in another metal buzz, embedding itself to the wall in such a way it seemed to be digging slowly through it. It was a mess. There were plexiglass tables, a round counter from which some of the waiters slid carrying multicolored bottles. Aliens walked around coming and going, some quarreled, others cursed each other, and one of them was openly displaying a long sword, of narrow and apparently very sharp blade. He shook it angrily; ready to cut parts of anyone daring to face him out.
The opposite side of that wide room caught my attention. There was no wall, but a wide opening from where the wilderness of the space could be seen. Sitting with a glass in front of him, totally alien to any disturbance, there was Luis Calife. He was immersed in contemplation. I came closer to him, dribbling some contenders and sat in front of him, equally fascinated by the view.
Besides a myriad of distant suns, one, a little closer left a tail behind it, as if it was a comet. Near it, a black hole sucked him with all strength, voraciously draining its energy.
“Isn’t it amazing?” Calife muttered, not taking his eyes away from the scene.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I like it. Love it. There couldn’t be a better place for this interview,” he said, turning to me and drinking a little of what he had in his glass.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“It’s an old orbital station. When it reached the end of its lifetime, it was considered junk and thrown away into space. It wandered away until it was found by space pirates. They took it and made some necessary repairs. It ended up as a big warehouse for stolen cargo and smuggling. Ah, and they set up this bar. A good bar. It has weird comers but also has a wonderful view.”
“And a yet shorter lifetime, I assume,” I said pointing to the black hole with my chin.
“It gravitates around the hole, very near to the event horizon. It’s a difficult place to board and not everyone has the guts for that. So, it’s an almost inexpugnable pirate coven. But one day… It shall dive. And along with everyone in here.
A helpful waiter left a glass on the table. I hadn’t ordered and wasn’t planning on drinking anything, but a single look from Calife was enough to make me understand I should accept the drink with no further questioning.
“Nictinian beer. A compound of ingredients you don’t want to know, that’s for sure. But it has a very pleasant taste and alcoholic strength of 60%.
I observed the bubbling liquid of rather reddish color. I tried a small sip and felt, besides the alcohol that made my papillae burn, a light raspberry flavor. My eyes went red almost immediately, what made Calife let a fun laugh out.
“Is that the famous quantic watch?” He asked, looking at the mechanism in my wrist.
“The one and only,” I answered, taking my hand instinctively to it.
“It brought us to a scenery I know like the back of my hand.”
“Better this way,” I replied “, it gives us the impression that someone is in charge of the situation”.
“What are the questions? This beer has the exceptional gift of knocking down the most resistant of the drunkards. If we take too long, soon, we won’t be even able to stand.”
“Your work is praised, but there are critics – not few – that accuse you of accommodate eternally in the adventures of your female heroes, when you could diversify your approaches and themes. What is your view on that?”
One more sip, another long look at the spectacle offered by the Black hole and then Calife sighed.
“Look, the only book I wanted to write is called Angela between two worlds that hasn’t yet been published. The others came as a consequence of this one to abide by the contracts with the publishers. As to exploring other themes, I have done that in a bunch of short-stories, that are being released in this collection The best of SF edited by Causo. Anyone can check it out there.
Screams broke out behind us. Someone drew a gun; there were threats and only one shot. A body fell violently on the floor. The shooter went down to it and kicked it a couple of times. Then he sat again. He put down his gun carelessly in a worn holster and silenced, immersed in some drink other than the nictinian beer.
“How has the reception for the Patterns of Contact Trilogy been in the market? What’s the perspective on the release of Angela?” I asked when I got my voice back. (tirei o acento circunflexo de Angela.
“I was against the re-publishing of Patterns of Contact. The public of this kind of book is so small that I preferred to invest everything in an unreleased book. But Causo, who organizes the editions by Devir, insisted on republishing Patterns, and the unpublished book only after it. As a result, there is almost one year the book has been released and it still didn’t bring me a minimum wage in copyrights. To have this insignificant result, I would have preferred to do only Angela between two worlds. Now let’s see, if Angela comes out this year, it will have been worthy. Things would be much better if the editors ever heard the author’s opinions. “
“Is Calife better known for being Arthur’s Clarke motivator, or for his literary production? How did the relation with Clarke help him as a writer?”
He even tried to answer, but someone drunk sat with us by the table. He looked at us with despise and released his tongue, making it vibrate between his lips. Then he pointed at me and signaled in order to make me stand. I didn’t understand anything. Calife, with no ceremony, stood up and gave him a vigorous biff in the face. He spun on the chair he was sitting on and fell inert. The event provoked half a second of silence and then the uproar was back to its normal.
“A cotlerish. They are bullies by nature,” Calife said.
“What did he want from me?” I asked, worriedly.
“Not from you. The challenge was for me. He just wanted you to beat it. Look, Tibor, things here are solved by the fist or worse, as you must have noticed. Then, if someone comes closer to you and you feel that there are second intentions, attack him with no second thoughts. The faster the better.”
“I will try to remember that,” I whispered.
“I think I still am the guy that inspired Clarke on writing 2010. Apart from friendship, I guess I learned how to write SF by reading Clarke’s books. I ended up understanding more of his universe than he himself. When 2010 was released I realized he had made a mistake on his description of the Discovery. I know that ship as the back of my hand. I talked to him and Clarke sent an urgent message to Peter Hyams, who was shooting the film in Hollywood, saying that Calife had found a mistake in the description of the ship. Hyams corrected it in the film. This correspondence of him with the director, mentioning me, was out in the book The Odyssey File by Ballantine Books. There’s one thing I can assure you of, if I was there, Bowman would have disarmed the cognitive ring that made Hal a psycho with half a dozen words. And Frank wouldn’t have died.’
We were silent for a while. It’s not like our silence would make any difference in the noise of the saloon. We looked out, through what seemed to be glass, but wasn’t. Calife seemed to understand my curiosity and put his finger closer to the void, creating several concentric waves which broadened lightly before they disappeared.
“Pure energy. It is an energy shield. It seems mellifluous, capable of being beat by a little more strength. But not even a shot of a quantic pulse weapon would be able to open a hole in this shield. On the other hand, it is undone impressively fast once its metal frame is destroyed. Paradoxical, isn’t it? Why such a strong energy shield if the metal structure of this station is as fragile as an egg?”
“Why keep a logistical center like this, storing swag and booties, if the end is so imminent?’ I asked, reinforcing Calife’s questioning and referring, obviously, to the black hole.
“How do you see the literary market at the moment? What are your thoughts on the fandom”’
“People keep saying that Brazilian SF is invisible; actually, all Brazilian literature is invisible. People only read religion and self-help books. Even the foreign SF books are only published if they turn into films. I translated Asimov’s I Robot for Ediouro, as fast as it can be done, because they made a film that only used Asimov’s book title. Brazilian culture nowadays is audiovisual. If it doesn’t become a game or a film, the book is ignored. The fandom is what maintains SF alive in Brazil. If there weren’t the fanzines, the conventions and meetings, everything would be lost. They do a priceless job.”
“Back to the first question, Calife, in these two recent selections – The best Brazilian Science Fiction short-stories -, are your stories recent? Because the criticism towards your work are not about your prior productions, but about the recent ones. They say you only write stories about Angela Duncan and other beauties and that you gave up venturing elsewhere, bringing new and surprising narratives to the readers. They complain about your passivity in establishing yourself in a single argument and not trying other slopes. “
Calife frowned. He looked at me irritably, grabbed his half full glass, drank the rest of the nictinian beer in one single gulp, stood up not taking his eyes away from me and in a fast and unexpected move, threw it over my head. It splintered into the face of an armed guy looming over me, in a promptly repelled trial of attack.
That was it. The skies fell down, the walls narrowed, hackles went up and everything happened in such a fast sequence I can barely describe what happened.
I was grabbed by the shoulder and thrown a few meters away. I fell on a table that, even firmly attached to the floor, had one of its legs broken and fell, dropping me onto the dirty greasy ground. Sticky aliens clang into a furious fight. I stood up under a pelt of blows, all given against me and those nearer. I saw Calife spin a two headed little man over his shoulders and throw him against a big guy, which although one headed, had four arms that were so thick they looked like sequoia trunks. I took a water blue bottle and brandished it frantically from one side to the other. It broke against the face of a waiter trying to get it back as if it was something sacred and precious. I was hit in my back, in the back of my neck and in my waist. Kicks or punches, I couldn’t be sure. I unleashed a cross punch and almost broke my hand in a bony shell that was the head of a nasty fellow that blasphemed and laughed at the same time he punched systematically the chest of another cotlerish.
The fight would have lasted much longer wasn’t it for the sudden appearance of a gorgeous perfectly built woman. Precise blows of a natural artist in martial arts and soon everyone was lying on the ground, except for me and Calife that flaunted some bruising, torn clothes and meaningless expressions.
The woman came closer to me and caressed my face softly.
“You’re an interesting man. But it’s not you we are looking for now. Perhaps another time.”
“Angela…” Calife muttered trying to put himself back together.
“Dear,” she replied, holding him in a more than affectionate hug, “Let’s leave this place. We’re throwing this carcass into the black hole and it’s better to be far.”
Calife turned to me. He had a vivid expression that showed both satisfaction and pride.
“I have no need of your watch to get out of here now. Angela Duncan will take care of me from now on.”
I saw them leaving. A little before the door closed, he turned to me and gave his last answer.
“The two tales released in The best Brazilian science fiction short stories are one from the 80’s and other from the 90’s. The one in the Gastronomia Phantástica (Fantastic Gastronomy – Draco – 2010) was written three years ago and I wrote the one in Imaginários (Imaginary – Draco – 2008). I have a series of novelettes Children of Medea about the colonization of a planet by tube babies raised by robots, that is still unpublished as well as other stories. I have a story about a terrorist attack in a Brazil of the future for a selection to be published by Devir. They asked me to improve it. One day, who knows. Then, don’t piss me off with this kind of demand. I write what I imagine; for people who don’t like it, read Causo, you, Gerson, Braulio. There are so many writers available, why do I have to write for all tastes? If only I made good money out of it for God sake!
Then, after disembosoming, he was smiling again. Angela Duncan held him on the waist, and carried him with her. I still could hear her say she would take good care of him.
All by myself, having a set of destruction around me and imagining that soon the orbital station would be finally diving into the black hole, I pushed the button on my quantic watch. I went back home to heal my wounds.