“Have you ever read Narnia?” Alma asked, her gold irises glimmering sullenly under the ambient lighting. Alma was already intelligent, intimidatingly so, the contacts just focused that intelligence, distilled it. We were sprawled on the floor of her spaceship playing chess. “Checkmate.” I shook my head, grimacing over the board as I tried to find where I’d gone wrong. The chessboard was wooden, an antique. It stood out, warm and holy, against the burnished grey of the spaceship floor.
“I haven’t.” I started to arrange the pieces again, determined to beat her this time.
“Have you ever been to Narnia?” Alma repeated, raising her eyebrows.
“What are you getting at?”
“I know someone, on La-Hem, a portal weaver.” Her clear gold eyes were clouded with passion. I moved a pawn forward.
“No.” I shook my head. “No. no. no. It’s illegal. Really illegal.”
“It’s not like we’ve not done illegal stuff before. Remember those FaaTeeMaa seeds we took back on Nashequen. Is there really that much of a difference between hacking your own consciousness and hacking the fabric of reality?”
I reached over the chessboard, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “The difference is that drugs can only mess up your own head, a portal can mess up the whole universe.”
“They’re careful,” Alma begged. I walked over to the wide windows. Pressing my palms against the plexiglass, I gazed out at the tangle of lights and fluorescent markers that made up the space-port.
Alma glared at the trap she’d gotten her queen into, then joined me. “Aren’t you tired of this endless sea of stars, of planets all following the same universal laws? Aren’t you fed up with physics, with contemplating some abstract God?” She kicked the window. “Come on there are infinite parallel universes and we can get to them! Wouldn’t you like to enter a world created by a Christian apologist and hug Aslan?”
“I already told you. I haven’t read Narnia. I haven’t read the bible either. I was more into ancient Hindi literature at university. I did my thesis comparing the Bogogo’s cyclical conception of time to that of early Indo-European cultures on Earth.” I rambled, hoping to steer the conversation into less volatile territory.
The ship beeped, then vibrated, indicating that it was ready to make the jump. An automated voice spoke through the speakers. “Teleporting to the La-Hem system in twenty, nineteen…”
“Come on.” I steered Alma back towards our game. “Forget about it. We’ll get dressed up. Go out on the town. There is a restaurant on La-Hem that is supposed to be fabulous. They specialize in importing spices from across the galaxy. I guarantee we can find you something in this universe you’ve never tried for. Who knows? You may even find God.” I grinned. “Good curry always leads to spiritual experiences.”
“… Two, one, Teleporting now.” It was strange how I couldn’t feel anything as the ship plunged through the veil of space-time and into the dimensionless reality beyond. “Welcome to the La-Hem system.”
We walked to our bedroom. After rummaging through my closet, I found a bright, little silky orange dress and slipped it over my head. I grabbed my makeup tray, dipping my fingers into a pot of gold powder which I brushed across my eyelids. It was a pale imitation of Alma’s contacts, but it made me feel a bit more shimmery.
Alma threw on a pair of high-waisted linen shorts, wrapping her breasts in a patterned scarf. I pecked her cheek, then started towards the transport. We were silent as we zoomed into La-hem’s thick atmosphere. It was a sweaty moon, humid and dark. Holding Alma’s hand, I exited the transport, stepping out into the uncomfortably light gravity. We had landed in the moon’s main settlement. Because hardly any sunlight made it through the atmosphere, the inhabitants of La-Hem were obliged to create their own light. They did so spectacularly. The buildings were built mostly from plexiglass, but their frames were luminescent. The city’s three-dimensional outline glowed through the hazy, omnipresent dusk.
“Still up for dinner?” I asked.
The food was good, the restaurant intimate. We kissed and touched each other’s breasts and tried flavors we had never tasted before. But I could see, through her gold contacts, that Alma was not satisfied. After we left the bistro, she slowly pulled me deeper into the city. “Can’t we just go talk to them? If nothing else I’m sure they would be a fascinating conversationalist, a multi-dimensional conversationalist.”
I caved. “Fine. But I’m not participating in an illegal, untested practice that could tear the fabric of reality and land us in prison for the rest of our lives.”
Alma led me down a set of steps and into a nightclub. We pushed our way through the loud music and dancing bodies. In the back corner of the room was a discrete thumbpad hidden behind a bouquet of pungent flowers. The pad scanned Alma’s finger and a door materialized. We slipped through, the entryway disappearing quickly behind us.
We had entered what appeared to be the hallway of an underground office space: slick, claustrophobic, and boring. Alma scanned the numbers on the doors, pulling me towards the one marked six. Her hand trembled as she twisted the knob.
“Hello.” The nerve conglomerates under the humanoid’s translucent skin flashed to a complex rhythm as they addressed us. “Oh, humans!” They smiled. “Are you looking for Narnia?” They gestured towards one of several rooms that branched off from the lobby we were standing in. I craned my neck. Behind a corner, I could see an old-fashioned human wardrobe that seemed as if it’d been plucked from the aging days of the British Empire. The portal weaver looked embarrassed. “Forgive my theatrics. I’m quite fond of alien literature.”
Entranced, Alma walked towards the room, then hesitated. I shook my head. She sighed, opened the doors of the wardrobe, and didn’t look back.