The residence of Senator Salient Point sat neatly on stratosphere 180 in the Statement, which, in purely numerical terms was the exact centre.
Any higher and you were running with classes at various stages of sublimation; lower, and you were crawling back into the mire of human origin. The Senator was too intelligent to allow himself into the former and had worked too hard to be comfortable in the latter: he preferred to stay as close to the central governing structure as possible, where it was still agreeable to temporarily shift up and down when necessary.
As an expression of time, the Statement had functioned rather well. It had kept the order of existence in a tolerable balance and the delicate string – that linked the span of time from the beginnings to the interminable future -taut. When it was discovered however that this future was indeed not as interminable as once thought, those in the lower stratospheres began to rebel. Angry at being forced to provide resources for this acceleration of the species into oblivion, they wanted to bring an end to the entire system, cut the string so to say and live out their lives in their very own expressions. Naturally, the higher stratospheres would not hear anything of it. They depended on their lower cousins for the material, the food and the energy to supply their upwards voyage. So war broke out and the lines of supply were threatened in both directions, the government cracked down, inter-stratospheric curfews were imposed and the privileged and powerful did the only thing they could in times of violence and desperation: they partied.
All of Senator Salient Point’s dinner parties had been hailed as legendary. They were famous for their decadence and networking opportunities as well their progressive political outcomes. For anyone with an interest in the future of the Statement and indeed the future of the whole timeline, attendance was mandatory. The Senator’s residence had been re-engineered for the occasion to resemble an Incan stone temple. Moss and lichen had been imported especially from stratosphere 101 and purposefully arranged on the stone to lend the impression of ancient entropy. This pleased the guests extremely and they sighed in wonder as they entered the courtyard, past towering buttressed trees and genuflecting idols and into the great hall. The hall’s entrance was a colossal arch of optic crystal which moved and re-shaped itself according to the person walking through it. As Prime Minister, Tenable Democracy, bounced under the pulsating archway it mutated into a writhing mass of snakes. “How life imitates art!” he cried and the courtyard resounded with laughter. Coats were checked, drinks were served and last-minute washroom breaks were afforded so that everyone had the chance to relax and prepare for the night of feasting that lay ahead of them. The usual representatives of the new order socialites were present, all with strategically exposed surfaces of multi-textured flesh. Like a set of golden scales Mayor Carnival Preacher stood in the centre of the room prodding the eunuchs with his enhanced arms. The Librarians – they were fond of this name – were also present having had ported all the way down from stratosphere 300; they flashed here and there attempting to contribute to as many discussions as simultaneously possible. Naturally the main topic of conversation was the speculation of what the Senator would be announcing. Could he be retiring? Would he finally challenge his brother, Transient Point, for the presidency? Silky Thoroughfare, director of the Charitable Tolerance Foundation and Senator Point’s first wife, put it forward that her former husband had had enough of the Statement and intended to withdraw permanently to a palliative retirement colony to participate in “naturist death rituals” or some “other inanity”. The Prime Minister disagreed:
“Salient Point is too clever for that, my dear,” he said while inhaling one of the pre-dinner steamshots. “When I hired him, I knew he was different. Just like his father. And I say, such a fantastically astute politician of those cognitive abilities and argumentative skills would never put his intellect out to pasture, particularly during such times. Do you know it was once said by one of his opponents that, debating against him was like having your brain eaten from the inside out by a thousand tiny piranhas?”
“I still have perfect recollection of Salient’s talents, Prime Minister. Although, as far as I am concerned I would substitute ‘brain’ with a more suitable organ. He had an incredibly imaginative sexual repertoire, you know.”
“Oh, you dare!” The Prime Minister’s breasts wobbled as he shook his head. “I am certain you also taught him a thing or two, Ms Thoroughfare. But seriously now, I firmly believe he is going to tell us how we can end this awful conflict. The rations are coming through in trickles and if I don’t get a new supply of plasma soon, I might have to shed a great deal more than my corpulent charm!”
“Please don’t, Prime Minister,” Silky said. “We would miss you. Our foundation is working on some enhancement projects in the agricultural stratospheres, which, if successful, could mean a steady supply of food and minerals. Things will get better.”
“Better? They want to silence the entire Statement! Keep us trapped in a futile state of static subsistence. Who knows what would happen to us?” The Prime Minister shuffled closer. “Do you want to hear a secret? I have heard from a reliable source that the good Senator has been head-hunted by a certain planetary neighbour to help reform their financial systems. Miracles upon us, what a disaster that would be! Just how they might convince him I would love to know. Do you think that is something he might do, Ms Thoroughfare?”
“One of his more idealistic persona, if he has saved any of them, would have taken it on – sure. But not today. I imagine the only reason he would take up such an offer would be for the opportunity to go Skado hunting.”
“Yes, I’ve heard he has become fond of extreme sports. Most interesting.”
Silky smelled her glazed hand and then offered it to the Prime Minister. “It’s new, from Des Pantalons,” she said. The Prime Minister raised an eyebrow, bowed and then licked the skin from the tip of her middle finger right up to the wrist. “What do you think?”
“Exquistely divine! Are you hoping to win him back, my dear? For I must say you are playing at it like a sorceress at the height of her craft. Oh, Carnival! There he is, over there! You there, Preacher! You really must preview this wonderful delight.” Tenable stood on the tips of his toes, still holding Silky’s hand and waving at the mayor, who fluttered towards them with his long arms outstretched.
“Oh my, look who the miracles have dragged up to us this fine evening! Ms Silky Thoroughfare, all the way from the lower stratospheres just to visit us. Oh my you so look ravishing, like a golden fur seal on heat, nothing like the miserable and starving lot we are. How is it that you are still in one piece so early in the evening?”
“You should really visit us sometime if you can get past the blockades. Down there we have all the food we need and it flows freely up until about 150. Enhancements on the other hand, are pretty thin on the ground. When can we expect more?”
The Mayor sighed and wrapped his arms twice around his body. “Without supplies from below, production remains stagnant, you should be aware of this. If Senator Point doesn’t step in and silence the worst of the rebel stratospheres from the Statement, then we are all doomed I’m afraid. Our timeline is at stake. Now, allow me just one tiny preview, my eyes have had their fill but I cannot resist.”
“Oh, why not,” Silky said and raised her hand to the Mayor’s lips. The Mayor closed his eyes and took a long and powerful breath which he held. The corrugated torso pulsated as his lungs chewed through the scent and only after a minute did he swallow.
“Ah, Des Pantalons?”
The Prime Minister nodded eagerly. “Ms Thoroughfare and I were just musing over the expected announcement tonight. Have you heard anything down your way about what the old fool could be up to, Carnival? Tell me he’s not joining the reds.”
“What?!” The Mayor almost dropped Silky’s hand in protest. “What rot! Who told you that nonsense? I demand to know!”
“This stays between us, but I was having lunch with Senator Credulant and she mentioned that they might need a little work on the financial side of things and were willing to pay in planetary proportions for the assistance of, well, of one of us. And tell me, esteemed Mayor, although it would be a terrible loss to our cause, who is better qualified than our Senator?”
“You listened to that chin waggling bore? Credulant has had more enhancements than are psychologically good for her. She’s so infatuated with moving up the Statement I’m surprised she’s still capable of forming a rational idea. The reds! The entire colony is a joke without a punchline, let alone a timeline. Are they still stuck in 160? I can assure you, they’re beyond economic salvation. And besides, even if this gossip were in any way true, we would know it already. One doesn’t just keep interplanetary migration a secret – particularly in our ranks. Think of the downgrades the poor man would have to go through! Not to mention the principle itself. No, out of the question. Isn’t that right, Ms Thoroughfare?”
“There you have it, Prime Minister. I wouldn’t go around spreading that type of gossip this evening, it might get you all into hot water. I sincerely hope he will announce a challenge. We, who have to deal with the real problems of the Statement, have been waiting for eons.”
“Something is going on. You know there has never been a feast. And such a feast,” the Prime Minister held out his hand in demonstration, “in any Point residence without there being a vitally interesting premise, has there? The last occasion, it was the free trade deal with the naturists – splendid lot of good that did us – then there was the divorce party, excuse me my dear, but it was indeed a capital occasion. What else could it be this time? He hasn’t gone and married again without telling one of us has he?”
“Twenty-three was his limit. That’s what he told me at any rate,” Silky said and knocked back another steam bowl just as a low gong echoed throughout the hall and the lanterns dimmed in unison.
“I think we’re about to find out, Tenable. I’ll see you during dinner. Save a dollop of that fun for me.” The Mayor said and put his arm around a passing eunuch. They floated away together into the crowd.
A spotlight shone from a source on the floor to a narrow, metal promontory that was extending itself over the heads of the guests. Waves began to splash against the high walls and holographic fish were now darting in schools between the heads of the guests. Senator Salient Point strode out on the platform wearing a coat of translucent film which frothed about him like boiling water. He threw his arms high and the fish, seeming to sense this, darted towards a single point above the Senator’s head where they met with a spectacular clap and disappeared. The crowd, already in a steamy state of inebriation, cheered and whistled and threw their bowls into the air.
“Welcome! Welcome, my guests and friends!” The Senator’s warm voice filled the hall. “Miracles of thanks to all of you for coming and don’t you all look indescribably scrumptious! I just know that we are going to have vat-loads of fun this evening, despite the current turmoil in the timeline. Before we get the proceedings underway, I would like to say a few words and explain the grounds for the festivities. Tonight will be our last dinner party together.” The hum of murmuring filled the hall. “Let me first allay your fears and dispel the Mars rumour: I am not, as some may have reported, leaving, even if the Skado population does need some culling. No, I will stay in the Statement where I belong but I will be advancing a new policy, one that I hope will secure peace and provide a better deal for all of us.”
The Senator let his arms fall. He scanned the crowd and, when his eyes found Silky’s, he smiled. “In times of peace and war,” he continued louder “after all the unforgiving judgements of the universe and even those of our own evolutionary inheritances, we’ve managed to overcome every challenge. Each time we’ve worked together to keep our line true and strong, always moving forward, forever expanding our timeline. We called it the Statement, the all-embracing progress. But this progress has come at a cost: we are moving away from our origins at such a rate that we have lost sight of what we really are. And now that this expansion has hit the ceiling, despite our efforts, there is now no option to escape the reality of our condition through sublimation. That is why I wish to propose something radical, something never considered. The solution, like many naturists believe, is not to break the timeline and separate the stratospheres; nor is it, as our brothers and sisters on higher planes like to suggest, to remove the problem children and hope that things will simply re-balance. Both these propositions are not sustainable and will only bring more chaos. My policy is simple: to unite the stratospheres. To give a new form to the Statement, to activate a knot in the timeline, create a new zero and with any luck, a new infinity. It won’t be easy, I know, but when we eschew the morals on which we based everything so long ago, the morals of community and survival, which helped us become a powerful and credible civilization, then we have lost ourselves and will eventually hit the wall.”
“Impossible!” Someone cried.
“He will destroy us all! Just like his brother tried to,” said another.
“Have you a better solution?” The Prime Minister shouted back. “Without the lower belt we will starve to death and without the higher we’ll all devolve back into slime. The timeline must be looped!”
The crowd started arguing among themselves. Bowls hit the stone floor, some threatend to leave and there was a tremendous scuffle between the Librarians, who had resumed their normal (and incredibly fast) mode of talking.
“Friends! Friends!” Senator Point lowered himself to the floor and removed his coat. He touched the shoulders of the guests who were around him. “Let us not forget why we are here. We are here to celebrate the possibility of peace, to dine with each other for the last time and to honour our friends and colleagues who courageously fight every day so that we may do so.” The hall became silent. “If you permit me one last indulgence before we enter the dining hall, I would like to invite my first love, my former wife and still the most marvelous woman in the Statement to join me for the first breaking of bread. Ms Silky Thoroughfare, if you will?”
The crowd parted as Silky stepped hesitantly towards the Senator. All eyes were pinned to her now, the woman from the lower stratospheres, who had once won over the second most powerful, but the most dominant male in the Statement. She pressed against his body and felt the scent of charred oak and broiling meat mingling with her own. “Why are you doing this really Salient? What are you trying to prove?”
“Prove? Nothing. I plan to bring past and future together, Silky, not win some bet. Think about it: if it works, we will be able to unite the enlightened beings with the planet of the 10s and the cradle of our race. We’ll achieve everything we have always strived after in one manoeuvre.”
“And if it fails?”
“I’m yet to spend sufficient time in the upper stratospheres to even begin to cerebrate the consequences of failure. It would probably be something like death I suppose.”
“You have finally become insane. What would your brother say?”
“He would thank me. Now, give me your breast, my love. I cannot resist you any longer.” Silky turned to face the guests, leaned backwards against the Senator’s torso and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Don’t take too much. I promised Tenable I would save him some for dessert.”
“Don’t worry, soon there’ll be enough for everyone,” Senator Point said and then leaned into the white breast of his ex-wife and bit deeply into the synthetic flesh. He moaned as she released the pheromones into his mouth. “Hmm, do I detect sea salt?”
“The sea. I am like the sea, unfathomable and vivacious,” Silky purred.
“I think I will just save you for myself”
“Not if I take you first.”
The lights dimmed and amidst cheers and moans the guests turned on each other. The dinner party had commenced and everything, past, present and future, just for the time being, was going to be alright.