This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “Wantaviewer.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook from Smashwords or Amazon. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
It was first published at Strange Horizons in September 2002, was named an Honorable Mention story in the Year’s Best Science Fiction vol. 20, and then it was reprinted in my SF novel The Wannoshay Cycle.
“Everyone seems to be expecting some kind of interstellar war, and while waiting for the fewmets to hit the fan, take out their apprehensions on the Wannoshay still trying to comprehend this bewildering world they are refugees on. The choices here are realistic, the consequences logical, and the story heartbreaking.” — SF Site
Alissa Trang couldn’t keep herself away from the Winnipeg slum. She called in sick for her evening shift behind the counter at CanTechWorld once again and hitched a ride up Highway 3 into the city. For the entire ride from Sanford to Winnipeg, she kept her mouth clamped shut to keep from screaming at the old man driving the antique Saab to go faster. Faster. Everything was too slow for her when Ally wasn’t using Blur. She would’ve borrowed her housemate’s car, but she didn’t trust herself to drive after a visit to Jenae’s in the bad part of the city.
Ally nearly leaped out of the car as soon as it stopped at the intersection of Portage and Maryland. She muttered a quick thanks to the elderly driver. Ally knew he didn’t want to be caught in this part of the city, but she also knew he’d take her wherever she wanted if she let her skirt ride up higher on her legs, even if they were covered in black tights. The second the old car sped off, Ally power-walked down the empty street, adjusting the fingernail-sized rectangle of her lapel camera. She smiled, knowing she’d gotten some great footage of the old fart checking her out while he gripped the wheel.
As she hurried along the streets, Ally kept her vinyl coat zipped up tight and wished she had her butterfly knife with her, but her housemate had borrowed it last week and lost it. To reassure herself, she touched the handful of explosive caplets of Mace in one coat pocket and checked that she had all five mini-DVDs in her other pocket next to her recorder.
Her coat rustling with each step, Ally hurried down Sargent Avenue and entered the rundown neighborhood. Boarded-up restaurants and businesses stared at her from below dark apartment windows, empty places that had simply given up in the past few years. Jenae, her Blur dealer and occasional friend, lived above an abandoned bakery at the heart of the neighborhood, and she had told Ally that the aliens were coming to the city to live. Armed with her Mace pills and her lapel camera, Ally forced down her growing impulse to simply sprint like a madwoman down the street to her supplier’s home. She calmed herself by thinking about how good it would feel to get a pink capsule of Blur in her, along with a couple more to take back home to help get through the next day or two. With some Blur, Ally felt like she could face down a dirt-eating, seven-foot-tall alien if she had to.
Now that, Ally thought, checking her lapel camera, would make a great flick.
Ever since the priest in Illinois had somehow managed to get inside one of the ships last week, the Netstreams had been going crazy with a new wave of reports about the aliens. Ally, normally content to surf the Netstreams for the latest films to download to her wallscreen or to use it to chat with friends around the world, suddenly was able to slow down long enough to watch the reports. She hadn’t paid much attention back in November, when the first ship had landed less than fifteen kilometers north of Sanford. The town had enjoyed celebrity status for a brief time as flocks of ‘stream reporters filled the streets and jammed up the roads before the news of the other ships overshadowed Sanford’s fame. The reporters had disappeared as fast as they’d arrived, heading south to the American cities or east to the sites in Ontario.
From the broken trees and torn-up earth that Ally had seen at the landing site, the ship that was now hidden under a massive canvas tent hadn’t landed so much as dropped to the frozen earth and skidded to a rest half a mile later. Zipping her jacket tight to her chin, Ally shuddered as she thought about the Netstream reports she’d heard about the aliens. According to the priest and the U.S. operatives who had gone into the ship, the aliens could communicate with humans on a very basic level, using gestures and bits and pieces of English, but they would only talk to someone who was somehow affiliated with spirituality. The aliens supposedly told the priest that they were called Wannoshay, and most people immediately shortened the name to Wanta, though almost all of Ally’s customers called them Wannoshits.
Above the abandoned Winnipeg bakery, winded after rushing through the strangely-deserted neighborhood, Ally stood outside a closed apartment door in shock. Jenae wasn’t in. Or at least she wasn’t opening her door, something Jenae was prone to do if she was high or if the mood simply struck her not to answer. Ally pounded on the dented, triple-locked door for another minute or two until she heard movement inside. She stopped, not wanting to piss off Jenae’s neighbor upstairs. Milt was no one to mess with, especially at night, when he was cooking up Blur and God-only-knew what else in his apartment laboratory.
Ally flicked off the tiny camera attached to the lapel of her vinyl jacket and gripped the cold metal of the doorframe, contemplating banging her head on the door until someone answered. The door popped open just as Ally was about to try it. It was Jenae. Without a word she pulled Ally inside. Jenae’s usually pale face was flushed red, and Ally counted two facial tics before Jenae closed the door behind them. The thin young woman was shivering as she strode across the floor to the couch, every movement exaggerated and too fast. Jenae was whacked on Blur. Ally fought off a wave of intense jealousy and need.
Taking Blur was like a combination of the best, most addictive aspects of every other drug Ally Trang had ever taken. In fact, Ally liked everything about Blur, especially the way the drug lived up to its name by making the rest of the world turn to so much fuzz while she zipped through the simplest of tasks at warp speed. Even peeling an orange became a race of the most dexterous fingers this side of the Red River.
The only things she didn’t like about Blur was coming down from it—”flashing”—and the way the world crept in on her while she was sober, pressing down on her with its mundane weight and distracting her to no end. And tonight Jenae had Blur in her apartment, and as a result, tonight Jenae was Ally’s hero. Ally already had her money card out.
“What’s new up here?” Ally asked, pocketing a dozen pink capsules, thirty-five dollars apiece. Jenae returned Ally’s card to her along with a receipt from her handheld reader. There goes most of my paycheck, Ally thought with a wince.
“Cops. We-got-‘em-everywhere,” Jenae said, her words running into one another as she rocked back and forth on the dirty carpet of her apartment.
Ally swallowed a pink capsule and grimaced, the drug burning all the way down. “No way. They finally figure out Milt’s operation upstairs?” She grinned, already feeling her pulse pick up. Finally. Finally.
“Nah,” Jenae said. “Putting-up-a-presence. Getting-ready-for-the-Wannoshit-invasion, y’know.”
Ally gave a mock-serious nod. “Oh, that’s all. I thought we had something serious to worry about. But an invasion—shit. Nothing to worry ‘bout.”
They laughed, Jenae louder than Ally, and then Jenae passed out. Her heels rattled on the floor as she trembled and quivered on her back. The first time she’d seen this, Ally had panicked, thinking Jenae was having some kind of seizure, but she now knew better. She looked across the filthy apartment with its broken wallscreen and scarred furniture at Jenae’s skinny, trembling body, and waited for the drug to kick in. Jenae was on her own; Ally just wanted to get her Blur and go out into the chilly air of the neighborhood to get some more footage. There was always something good to see around here.
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Check out my SF novel The Wannoshay Cycle, in hardcover, trade paperback, or ebook for more of the “Wantas” and the humans who come to meet them after this story takes place…