That’s two straight weeks of these! I may need to take a break from them, since they’re taking longer and longer, but I definitely plan to come back.
“You have to put more pressure on it than that,” Benjamin took the cheese grater away from me and showed me, as though the amount of pressure were something I could see.
I let him grate away, until he had filled the bowl with soft stone shavings. The strange rocks that had come in the kit were a dull gray-green split easily, and produced a strangely greasy aroma. They looked much too solid to grate like the instructions said, and were certainly much harder than any cheese I had ever cooked with, but – with enough pressure – gave way easily enough.
The rock was all that came in the kit, but the formula required milk and salt too, for which I had to go out to the store. Excitement, which had faded while Benjamin and I had been stuck reading instructions and setting up and trying to get the food ready, hit me again while on the road. Hit hard. The fact of what my cousin and I were undertaking was so novel, and I could still not quite believe we were really doing it.
(I pulled out my phone once I had parked and typed down the note, “so novel -> sonovel.”)
It was hard to concentrate at the store, I found that I wanted to blurt to everyone what I was doing there, what I needed the milk and salt for. But I would have to settle for the smug sense of grandeur. None of these people knew what an interesting, important story they were butting up against.
When I got back, we mixed the ingredients together. The result looked like cereal made from linoleum scrapings.
“It said the milk should be getting sour,” Benjamin noted. “This is fresh.”
“They don’t sell sour milk at the store,” I defended myself.
We brought the bowl down to the basement. It was cluttered with old paintings and sculptures I’d had to pull out and shove wherever there was room, to fit the containment unit. Some of them meant a lot to me – hence why I had never sold them (or much of anything) – but I wasn’t very concerned with them now.
In the light, the containment unit had looked like a movie prop. Big, resistant polymer plates forming planes and angles that made it not quite rectangular, seamed and bisected; a look predicted by movies and comic books that had never caught on in the real world. Which, in turn, meant that it would always continue to look futuristic. The shipper’s logo had been scratched off, because this was no front-alley deal.
Down here, it looked massive and foreboding. Or would have, if it weren’t shoved in between a shelf of disused board games and boxes of my old stuffed animals.
Benjamin had set up the connection by which we would manage its climate control, air chemical balance, and so on, while I was getting the shiftporter into place and plotting out a care plan and schedule. In time we would both have to learn the other’s role, to be safe. He unlocked the unit by bluetooth with his phone. A resounding chunk as something big and metal withdrew to allow the hatch to open. I set the bowl down in front of it.
“Are you ready?” he asked me.
“Are you ready?” I asked him.
He hit the button to open the unit. It required a biometric scan.
The front hatch, which covered only the bottom third of the surface we faced, groaned with the voice of powerful twin servo motors, one twisting an arm to lift a heavy steel plate out of the way from either side, and slid open.
Benjamin, who had been trying to seem businesslike and unmoved all this time, was breathing hard.
What emerged first was a hand, feeling the unfinished concrete floor where the yellowish light illuminated it outside the containment unit. Its fingers gripped the lip of the hatch, and our new charge appeared. Dull and lava-red, needle fangs, black marble eyes. The tip of a batlike wing just visible. A goatlike hoof.
I could not have told, because of those featureless eyes, if it looked at us, but either way it snatched the bowl and retreated back inside. In the long, long journey it had had to reach us, the dark unit was its one familiar comfort.
“Evolution is a bizarre thing,” Benjamin observed. “What should we name him? Mephistopheles? Beelzebub? Bill, for short.”
“Sonovel,” I said.
Benjamin furrowed his brow and started to complain that that wasn’t a name. I smiled and showed him my phone, on which was the receipt for several shirts, hats, and tags with the name on it. He looked away.