So… what am I working on at the moment? Well, it’s tentatively called Shifting Reality, it’s social/hard SF, it involves… see the picture? Geckoes! And descendants of Indonesians. In space. And Indonesian food. And spying, and war, and an army of cloned people. The Ari mentioned here is Ari Suleiman Rudiyanto from the short story The Rebelliousness of Trassi Udang (which is free on Amazon), and there will be mentions of Charlotte from Charlotte’s Army. The story also involves Jas Grimshaw from Poor Man’s Travel.
And just because I can and because I’m annoying, here is a snippet:
Melati wormed herself between the wall and the table. Not with her back to the door so as not to invite the bad spirits. Not that men wanted her anyway, but it kept Grandma happy. She nodded at the see-through container that still stood in front of Ari. “What have you got in there?”
“Nephew has an entire zoo in there,” Grandma muttered.
“This?” Ari held the container up so that Melati could see its contents: a tokay gecko, grey and orange spotted, with round-padded feet, bulgy eyes, a pointed snout and a long tail.
“What are you collecting those for? The whole station is full of them.” They lived in the nooks and crannies, the ducts, and, dangerously, in the insulated tubes that held the electric wiring. Because it was warm.
She added rice to her bowl and scooped up a glob with her fingers. “Do StatOp have a collection drive again?” Last time Ari had made a lot of money catching the critters, for which StatOp paid by number, as long as they were dead.
“Nah, no more eradication drives.” Ari twirled the container around so that the critter came to hang upside-down on the plastic, waving its rubbery-looking grey and orange-spotted tail as it did so. “See how it doesn’t fall?”
“Uh-uh,” Melati said while eating the rice from her fingers.
“And these crazy things are everywhere and, no matter how much poison StatOp uses, and no matter the hermetic seals, they always find a way in?”
“Mmmm.” This time Melati had her mouth full.
“Well, I had an idea,” said Ari and he puffed out his chest. “I figured we’d make use of these annoying things.”
“We tried that. They taste like shit,” Uncle commented, his back to the kitchen, stirring in the wok.
“Is it possible to think about something other than food, Uncle?”
Melati asked, “Well, if they taste like shit and there’s no collection drive, how are they useful?”
“We’ll make them valuable.”
Another big belly laugh. “That’s impossible. Not even someone who bullshits out of his arse as much as you do can trick anyone into buying a gecko, Ari. The things are everywhere. Like barang-barang: invisible, everywhere and impossible to kill.”
“Grandson’s new scheme is to sell ground tokay poop to New Hyderabad as the best and most exclusive new coffee.”
Everyone laughed, except Ari.
“We tried that, too,” Uncle said.
Ari’s face twitched. He twirled the container and the animal inside tried to keep its balance. “The tokay get into places through really small gaps, and that would make them really good for snooping on people. Stick a small camera to their back, and send them into the room and record what was going on. People would pay lots for that, especially the rumak owners. Uncle would be interested.”
Uncle turned from the stove and gave him a wide-eyed look, and then started laughing. “Me? There are much better ways of finding out the neighbour’s recipes.”
“Uncle, I’m not talking about the damn cooking. What about the creditors?”
Uncle stopped laughing. Creditors was always a sore point. Merchants, crime bosses, some local, some not. They never kept their promises; they raised interest without notice; they tried to fudge the accounts. Most of them were too busy gambling and hiding their money. They were also dangerous people, and some were members of extortion rings, the ones the tier 1 enforcers didn’t care about, as long as they stayed in the B-sector. Uncle sighed. “Ari, please do us a favour and do something safe.”
“Like mining?” Ari said, with a flick of his head, and batting of his kohl-rimmed eyes.
Uncle sighed again.
“Admit it, Uncle, it’s not a bad idea.”
“It’s just that…” Uncle rolled his eyes at the ceiling and spread his hands.
Grandma said, “Uncle’s too soft, young Nephew. He should take you out the back and cane you over your naked buttocks. Mess with creditors and it’s going to be a fast-track into jail. Not for them, but for you. God knows you’ve come close enough already, huh?” She scraped her knife on the cutting board louder than she needed. “Maybe it’s time to come and help Uncle here, and stay away from those…” She didn’t say the word sekong, and Melati had never heard her use it, but everyone else said it, and everyone knew what she meant. And anyway, Grandma and Ari had that many disagreements about the way he dressed and what that meant and who his friends were, and it was not as if they would ever resolve that discussion. Ari _was_ sekong, like so many of the young men of the barang-barang. Melati had seen him often enough in the passages around the malampaks, drinking and talking and flirting with other men.
In the silence that followed, Ari flicked his kohl-lined eyebrows and raked his hair behind his ear in a clear gesture of provocation. His nails were painted pink.
He picked up the container again. “I don’t care what you think. Nobody appreciates my ideas anyway.”
“I’m interested,” Melati said. “How would it work?”