What will tomorrow bring? Utopia, dystopia, a muddled, uncertain middle ground. There's room here for near future semi-realistic explanations and beyond the beyond post-singularity nightmares. Let's see what develops.
Every year, a few more kids from my elementary school vanish from people's memories. Today, we've arranged our desks in a circle and Mrs. Witherspoon is explaining that Tracy Peters has gone to a better place.
Tracy was struck by a car while riding her bike. She will be remembered until our next dose of Pathway. Then, only I'll remember her. "Which is more important, books or people?"
The question was posed in jest, but over the years I had come increasingly to believe that if the librarian's veins were opened, ink would flow from them rather than blood. Even so, I did not expect him to answer as he did. I saw the court through Athena Washington's eyes. I felt a quiver in her lungs with each intake of breath. Her muscles ached for rest, but training and adrenaline kept them going. Her palms sweated as she bounced the ball.
The score was 101-99, with the Blue Birds trailing. Audrey Winters rummaged through the fridge. "Honey? We're out of lunchmeat! Can you go kill us a neighbor?"
Ron Winters set down his newspaper and groaned. "The rate we go through food around here!" Pay attention. This may be my only chance to communicate with you. Read carefully, and think--really think--about what I'm saying. Please.
You believe you are in front of a primitive computer, reading text on its screen. You believe you are safe at home or at work, and likely in good health. You believe the year is 2011 AD. As Hevsen tied the new ladder together outside the workshop, his knot slipped on one rung, sliding over a tiny bulge in the wood. No big deal. No one who'd grown up in that city of ladders and clock towers would ever fall because of a loose rung. He finished the rest and secured it to the workshop doorway with a solid modified double hitch that wouldn't slip in a hundred years. Then he climbed down to his waiting spider, fired up the engine, and drove down the city's webs to enjoy the evening.
Six months later, his uncle Shaln was climbing with a box of bolts and gears and other hardware balanced in his arms. When the rung slipped, he lost control of the box, only righting it after a single nut had slid out the box's handle and fallen into the city below. Shaln himself had been in no danger. He quickly forgot the episode as he brought the hardware inside and set to work on his latest commission, a palm-sized butterfly that beat its wings in time to the ticking of the second hand in its tiny clock. Stacie Mitchell moved as fast as her pregnant lady waddle would allow, determined to keep up with Geraldine and the woman's twelve-year-old daughter, Anne. Stacie had a not-so-sneaking suspicion that Geraldine was pushing her this hard on purpose. It would certainly be in keeping with the homeowner association's motto: no sacrifice is too great to see your child's potential fulfilled. Geraldine made a point of showing off her sacrifice, sporting a gaudily beaded eye patch over the eye she had given up to "make my little Anne here the best she can be."
Geraldine stopped in front of a Victorian-style home--creamy beige with trim of robin's egg blue. "This is where the Hendersons live. Charming, don't you think?" After two days of space travel, I briefly considered suicide. It seemed the only way to save myself from Kael's crappy rations. The crappiest kind, the white pouches with token descriptions like "MEAT" and "VEGETABLE" stamped across the front in bold, black letters.
"Almost there," Kael said as he looked out into space from the driver's seat. I could hear the excitement in my brother's voice, see it in his eyes that danced as if the pinprick stars and sweeping darkness he saw now was unlike any other patch of infinite space. The birds are all screwed up this morning, and for a minute I'm distracted by a swirling flock of swallows that climbs and dives around and around in a crazy loop outside the window. Then I shake my head and say to Njoki again, "I don't want you leaving the house after school."
She gives me her scornful look and folds her arms. "I'm sixteen, mama." Clarke stood on the dunes, watching the party coalesce on the beach. Over the horizon, and the grey swell of the ocean, lay Africa. Beyond their borders. Outside. Lands of suffering. A knot formed in his stomach just at the thought. He shifted his focus, tried to relax, and scanned the crowd for the familiar gait of his brother, longing to catch a glimpse of his face, but from a distance he couldn't quite resolve the features of the crowd. The wind blew hard off the sea, flicking his hair around his eyes and making the task more difficult. The exhibits, consumer products whose trails constituted art, stood on pedestals on the beach, the crowds floating between them.
"You've not really entered into the spirit of things, have you?" Asza child, you can change your color as often as you'd like. If you fancy pink, you take the pink pill. The pretty girls always choose pink. For Independence Day, most of us take the green pill. It's the only time we have green skin. It doesn't wear well, uneven around the knees and ankles, but it's how we celebrate. Chromos is a free country, but it's not without its rules and regulations. For starters, upon turning twelve we're directed to pick a color for life. If you select pink skin, you will have pink skin, forever. There's no changing our minds after that--something to do with melatonin levels and increased cancer risks.
"I'm afraid there's something wrong with your daughter, Your Lordship," the physician said.
The lord's chair squeaked as he shifted. He cleared his throat and ground his teeth together. He didn't ask the obvious. He didn't say anything at all. The first thing you need to understand about gel, is that there is no reason, at this point, to assume it is in any way harmful. Certainly, if you were to slip in it, fall and injure yourself, that would be bad. So tread carefully. Avoid stepping in gel especially; it is the slipperiest new substance. Gloop is a bit thicker, it has a sort of syrupy, marshmallow-like texture, at least as compared to gloop, but nevertheless--tread carefully. The same applies to gunk, gack, gludge, fludge, and frunk, but we do not have space here to address these relatively rarer varieties of new substance. If necessary, a supplement to this document will be created later. The present document will, from this point forward, confine itself to gel and gloop.
Grass grows under gel, and while it does die under gloop, this is most likely due to gloop's property of opacity, which ranges from roughly 88-94%. Grass, due to the nature of photosynthesis, requires sunlight, which it cannot get when covered in gloop. My older sister, Carol, is selfish. When we were little she'd always make everyone late, hog the bathroom, and take the biggest piece of cake. This time she took the whole selfish cake, announcing she's pregnant. She didn't even ask first or discuss it with us, and we had to decide who in our family her baby would replace after the fact.
We were in the kitchen finishing dinner. It was just me, Carol, and Ma; what was left of us. Because Carol's a coward as well as selfish she had blurted it out while Ma's back was turned. Ma stood silent at the sink. She has a way of holding a moment, making it linger, and squeezing every last Planck second out of it so that you almost forget to breathe. "Who's it gonna be, then?" she asked Carol in the voice she uses when she's trying to control her anger. "Someone from his family?" Ella hit the brake as she reached a stop sign, and turned her head to check traffic. No cars were coming, but a man sat in front of an old bus shelter on the corner across the street. He'd had his head tilted back against dirty plastic, and raised it to look at her. From the passenger seat, her sister Carmen gasped.
"God, Ella. He's a mutie!" Don't get me wrong. They came in peace, bringing it in their multiple six-fingered hands. But looking back, we should have known better.
When it was Abigail's birthday, I bought her a full bottle of the good stuff. It was a blue glass bottle, of a tepid color, with the yellow stuff full to the top inside. I wrapped it in red paper to mask the gentle yellow glow.
She didn't notice at first, it was just another present amongst the several odd shapes sitting on the table. We didn't even open presents until later. First she was woken up by her favorite song echoing down the hallways. The stone walls were letting the vocals bounce around as the overhead bulbs slowly flicked on one by one. The rest of the family groggily awoke, grandfather complaining about the vocals. But they all made their way out of bed, some of them stumbling over wires as they made their way to the central keyboard where I was pulling up the video. All of the screens in the house came alive with dancing animals, letting Abigail dance her way down the hallway. Five Angels sat around the outdoor table with its tall glasses of agave nectar, each with its aloe spear. It was a four-sided table, and Angel Jerome was the loser of the unconscious display of precedence, being stuck in a bulky armed chair that would not scoot into his allotted bit of corner table. He tried to look as though he didn't mind, though he was shorter (and slighter) than the rest, and had to lean past Angel displays of bronze-muscled arms and diamond-gold wings to get his drink.
He thought holding onto his drink might give him confidence, but the iced drink was wet in the heat, and it left an uncomfortable stain on his upper thigh. Bethany Chow is shimmering in the cafeteria like the disco ball they borrow from the seventies for every stupid school dance. Her hair is shifting through a dozen shades of black and brown, a dozen patterns of highlights and lowlights, and her eyes are changing shape so fast she seems to be constantly winking. She's only changing height slightly these days, so people must have figured out how tall she is. She's really settling into her shimmer. If I guess right, she'll be shimmering the rest of her life. She'll never be without admirers, and lots of them, to think about her and remember her and shape her.
One of her adoring lunch buddies glances over her shoulder at me, and I feel my thighs expand. The seams of my jeans dig into my skin. I have to get out of here. I leave my lunch tray where it is, grab my backpack by the straps, and bolt. You are dead. Not literally dead, no, but you might as well be. You don't smile; you don't frown. You don't laugh or sob. But the thing is, nobody does anymore.
Three years ago, the world died. There was no warning. No one submitted a memo. One morning, everyone woke up and nobody was scared. Nobody was angry or hurt or happy or sad. Nobody felt anything but cold logic. They love the chess clock; it practically screams sophistication and nation-states. I put it down on the bulkhead, where it will look especially incongruous; polished maple and brass on top of carbon fiber dyed an obnoxious shade of blue.
"45 mins, rite?," she texts to my phone. "Rents paid 4 45 mins." Rob was feeding the dog when Ashley came home from the rebellion. It took less than a second for the front door to recognize her and slide open, but it still wasn't fast enough. She kicked the jam with a muffled curse and stalked into the room, five and a half feet of wiry, dirt-smudged outrage.
RL-147 was on her like an excited puppy. "Welcome home, Mistress Ashley. Would you like me to--" The first time, we stayed together for fifty years. The divorce was my doing. I fell apart a few months after we received our permanent extensions, at a hotel on Nassau, the same one where we'd taken our honeymoon. We were sitting side by side on a balcony, basking in the sun and the moist, salt tinged air.
"We're truly forever now," I said, fixing my gaze on the hazy blue horizon and not his face. "What if this isn't right? What if there's another woman out there who'd make you happier?" Every night before I hit the bars, I push the mattress off my bed and pick out one of the expensive watches. In my house, under the mattress is the safest hiding spot. I select a watch, like I do every Friday night, and put it on. Real leather wallets keep the watches company; I choose one of those and shove money inside. Without the mattress, my bed looks like a snake-lover's garden: silvery serpentine watches crawl over brown rock-like wallets. I replace the mattress.
Every time I head out, I think: Luna City is beautiful at night. It's the same every night, but it's beautiful. Faint music stirs the night and trickles through the sheer curtains into Leah's room. She looks up from her book when the street outside explodes into sound. Heart pounding, she pushes up the open window to watch a wild dazzle of zebra-like dancers.
She leans out to better see the midnight flash dance--striped figures twirling through light-beam shadows on wet streets. Around them, joy splashes, changing the smell of rain-soaked asphalt to the washed air of a summer-sweet thunderstorm. Communion thrums, passionate. Dancers spin in a nimbus of electric delight. Most of Noma's study friends were growing their own boys with the new Vampire, Werewolf, or Wizard Seed kits. Her best friend Celestine invited Noma to the grow room in her family compartment to take a look at a half-grown vamp.
"I specified the golden hair and dark eyebrows," Celeste said, "but he opened his eyes for the first time yesterday, and they're this weird greenish color. I ordered sky blue. Skies were blue, right?" Dry air settled quietly over an open expanse of sand, rustling furls and eddies into small, invisible tide pools. Some swept against the base of the Elevator, perhaps a bit hopelessly. The Elevator did not mind, for it had stood, eclipsing an ever-moving band of desert, for centuries, and would continue to do so for centuries more. Its paint, once so proudly kept, was weathered. Dull. Rust had found a permanent home in the neglected, resilient metal.
The age of the Elevator did not ward curiosity. Dozens of lucky and wealthy were brought to its shadow every year, eager, anxious. Some thought they knew what to expect, others arrived readily content. And what they faced no one, save few who had ridden the Elevator, could tell. Thank you for your query. Violating the laws of physics in that way was quite enterprising, and we feel you deserve a reply.
Just don't do it again. Joshua Hemmings and Beverly Amherst climbed up and up and up. They had spent weeks devising a plan to avoid the elders who would have kept them from venturing to the surface. In a thousand years, a lot could change. Whatever catastrophes had occurred in the past would have healed by now, the surface returning to its pristine, life-filled abundance. A new Eden awaited.
Their entire population had moved underground over a thousand years before. Thanks to a steady degradation of their technological assets, due to a lack of production facilities and spare parts, it only took a few hundred years to forget their past, forget the surface, and forget where they came from. All they had were the few books they discovered in their library, a rare resource in light of the digitization of all knowledge into a wonderfully handy and portable, but ultimately irreparable, technology. Though he would stand on overpasses and watch the sleek inhuman cars whirring past on the interstate underneath and wonder if there was a place on this earth more alone than surrounded by the tens of millions, the billions, of us, I was always with him.
Long before he was born, I was with him. I walked to the patch of bare earth at the edge of the grounds and began the slow, fluid movements of the Yang long form, my body remembering its one hundred and eight precise actions, each flowing into the next. The full cycle takes nearly twenty minutes. I have no recollection of where or how I learned them; that memory is lost, probably forever, but the movements are there, distilled into my muscles, grounding and calming me with their eternal flow of form and emptiness, echoing the blue-black ocean crashing into the tumbled seawall far below.
The view is good, even seen through a twelve-foot fence. "Overkill for a rest home," I explained to the rocks and spray below, "even a rest home for incorrigibles like me." Six months before her sixteenth birthday, my sister started training for her road test. She was more serious about it than most--morning runs, afternoon swims, evenings spent at the roller-rink or racquetball court. Karlee would surely run her mile in under seven minutes.
Mom was thrilled, but Dad was nervous. "If she comes in under seven, she'll be cleared to drive any car on the road," Dad said. "Think about it. Do you really want Karlee cleared for a sports car?" I wish it would rain.
I mean, it does rain, obviously. Every Tuesday at midnight, every Friday at noon. It's not a bad arrangement. Everybody's asleep on Tuesday, and ducking inside for an early lunch on a Friday is never a bad thing. On the way out of the gig, I stop at the merchandise stall to get a t-shirt. I find one in my size and pull out my wallet, then hesitate. It looks good quality, but the color--almost exactly the same blue as a scanner booth--puts me off. I read somewhere that they call that shade "Spectral Indigo," and ever since then it's given me a slight case of the creeps.
I put the shirt back and join Casey outside. Most of the crowd is heading for the station, and conversation buzzes around us. Everyone's smiling, looking like they enjoyed themselves. Well, nearly everyone. Ava palmed the pod open and started to unbuckle her baby from the auto. As she pulled the straps around the tiny shoulders she reached around and flicked the switch. Her baby opened his eyes and smiled at her. Her heart skipped a beat and she couldn't help but gaze back adoringly. Would she ever get used to seeing his lips curve that way?
The beautiful moment suddenly fragmented. You stand in line outside the Federal Mandate building, shuffling towards the religious loyalty checkpoint. It is a gray day, but then, it seems like that's the only kind of day anymore. Between the regular smog and all the smoke from Vancouver, a constant shield of clouds hangs heavy in the sky, moisture clumped onto smoke particles.
The guards, four men in white and gold uniforms, look bored. They usher everyone through the loyalty checkpoint quickly. Your heart always pounds when you wait in this line. There haven't been many executions in Spokane, but they have a lot in Seattle, and ever since your mother, it's no surprise that you can't get through one of these without some flutters. As a responsible parent, you've chosen only a safe, beneficial slate of genetic modifications for your children. But once they go away to school, they face a bewildering variety of changes in their friends and classmates. How will you know which of their peers are acceptable for them to have visiting your home? Here are eight ways for you to help them tell a safe modification from a dangerous mutation.
1. Get to know the parents. Your children's friends' parents are your best source of information, even if they don't realize it. Do they brag about little Lindy or seem unusually invested in Stevie's accomplishments? It's exactly that sort of parent who will cross the line when it's time to make selections at the genebank. Does their background seem a lot different from the other parents in your area? There may be a reason why something seems off to you. Trust your instincts! Chloe lay on the table in the doctor's office, wearing a paper sheet over her legs and one of those weird gowns that opened in the back. She didn't want to be pregnant, but she didn't want to need an abortion. She couldn't help thinking about David--it had to be David--and what amazing genes he must have. He'd talked like a character out of a fast-paced TV show, everything clever, insightful, and... much too articulate. They'd argued corporate law for hours, until she'd shouted at him in a flurry of frustration that she was done arguing, and he should leave her alone. Instead, he'd kissed her. God, he was handsome, too.
But, no, she didn't want a baby, even a brilliant and handsome one. She wouldn't let a few squishy, hormone-inspired feelings derail the rest of her life. Joseph has an appointment with a brain scanner. On the appointed day, he trims his hair, as well as the nails on his hands and his toes. He wears new underwear. Freshly pressed pants and shirt. Casual but decent shoes. He aims to look ordinary but needs to be clean. He aims to look highly functional, like he would never be bug crazy.
"Gee. Avoid looking dysfunctional!" his little voice says, laughing at him. "Never look like you hear voices." She found him in the middle of an abandoned trash dump, rummaging through discarded radiator coils and old engine parts. For a while she simply watched him, picking slowly through the junk, examining a piece of something before tossing it over his shoulder. His left arm hung useless at his side, though based on the lack of compensatory dexterity with his right, it hadn't been that way for long.
He was a consumer-grade model--that much she could see from where she stood. No bells and whistles, then. It would explain his being here, digging through the garbage for spare parts. He was without clothing, which wasn't a problem, of course, but it did indicate he'd lost at least some of his Human CV programming. His skin was brown, though the color was faded and somewhat mottled in places. Black, neatly trimmed polycarbonate hair covered most of his head. Slowly she moved closer, until she could make out the manufacturing code tattooed onto his back. Radon Systems, Model 2552. Personal Assistant, non-specific. Beneath it, the company motto: We Live to Serve. Seven minutes until the numbers unveiled.
Danny slouched on a park bench and let the cold sleet sting his face. Tears tickled down the creases of his nose, and he tasted the salt on his lips. He knew he should be stronger; he knew he should be a lot of things. Myles strolled over to my table in the lunchroom and said he'd die for me, just like that. I didn't know how to answer him or if I'd heard right.
"What did you say?" I had to crane my neck back to meet his eyes. All these months we'd worked in the same carbon-fiber recycling plant and I'd never noticed how tall he was. I'm not sure I'd paid much attention to him at all until that moment. I knew something wasn't right the morning I heard my mother crying in the bathroom. The thin walls of our seventieth-floor apartment did little to muffle the noise, and it sounded wrong enough to make me pause, mid-stretch. I'd never known her to cry before, not even when it had come time for her parents to be Decommissioned.
"Nesta?" I heard my father mutter. "What is it?" Ugh. I crumple the paper and toss it onto the pile on the floor. I've been trying to write a poem based on late twentieth-century tabloid headlines, but I can't get the tone. And I have a dance piece due in a week I need to get to work on, a tricky bit of classical ballet on the rise and fall of antibiotics.
I close my notebook and reach out to my sister, who sits in front of me in our sloppy, comfortable den. She murmurs and folds back into my lap without looking up from her reading, and I ruffle my hands through her thick hair. The church across the street looks busy for a Thursday. People shuffle in and out. I count the cars as they drag along the wet streets of town. The steam from the pavement and car exhausts rise and blend seamlessly into the morning mist.
I sit at a little table outside a cafe, patiently waiting for the waitress to come back and freshen my cup of coffee. I took a few pills earlier and now find myself fumbling with the empty pill bottle. The pills available now are nothing less than amazing. Depression, anxiety? Curable, with a single pill. Cancer? Depending on the type and severity, anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen pills and you're good to go. "You'll be jealous of your own life!" said the vid-board. I kicked another can as I walked down the cramped street, snorting at the vacuous smiles and cheap promises of the blaring advert. Only the Uppers had anything worth being jealous of--the rest of us were left tending jealousy itself. My job packing boxes had kept my head off the pavement, but the roof that kept the rain off my head couldn't keep the grime out of my lungs.
Beyond the nineteenth floor, past the fog and amongst the Uppers, the air was cleaner. Life was cleaner: the smiles were genuine and the food was real. But packing boxes wouldn't get you past the fourth floor, and the fourth floor might as well have been the pavement. I ignored the lights of the vid-board and focused on something more tangible. You know where you are with an empty can. "Thanks for that report, Joan. I'm sure Jack and Jackie will find a good home."
[Lower-Third Caption: Fade out, "Furry Friends Forever;" Fade in, "BREAKING NEWS: Crisis on Titan"] Jane counted them again to make sure: twelve.
Twelve signatures on the back panel, most jerky with haste, a couple deliberate and firm, one with a little flower above the i, for god's sake. The pen in her hand ready to add the thirteenth. On Centuri Primus, it's said one has only to set foot onto the planet to feel God's embrace. Ask a question, get His answer, think of a friend you once knew and you're talking to, feeling, their presence. Other planets have different protocols, but each has been linked into the Wholeness. Except Earth. The universe is alight with God's glow, yet we remain in a darkness of our own stubborn design.
I live in the shantytown surrounding the space elevator warehouse complex, a hundred thousand people fighting tooth and nail for day labor, shelter, food, and water. Nearly all of us want to leave. You can see the longing in our eyes when a car ascends through the elevator tower. You can hear it in the sudden hush. "What'll it be?" asked the man at the reception desk. "An apocalyptic death for two? Poison perhaps? Or maybe you'd prefer to have us decide? It makes no difference in the price."
"I'm not sure," said Eddie, staring at the discreet badge over the man's left pocket: Leo Verini, Psychologist.
"Not to worry, sir. Here we all have more than one role--from the chef to the chambermaids." He smiled reassuringly. "Still, I understand your restlessness."
"My restlessness?" repeated Eddie.
"A moment ago you began drumming your fingers, which could imply impatience--but it seems clear to me that you are uneasy."
"What would have happened if I'd begun biting my nails?" asked Eddie curiously.
"I'd have recommended the manicurist on the second floor," answered Verini with a laugh. Someone at the party says we're lucky to get such good seats and someone tells them to shut up.
The rock is almost as big as the Moon now, bright white in the sky, surrounded by stars. They're all out, because we're as far from the cities as possible. Too much light in the city, even though the power got drained to launch the Arks at Mars. Lots of burning buildings, burning cars, burning people. Lots of cults and militias, playing at priest and soldier with just days until the end. The black town car glided quietly through the midnight campus, past manicured lawns and empty parking lots, up to a cluster of tall, dark office buildings. The driver hopped out and opened Murdoch's door for him, letting in the cold night air. On the other side, Black let himself out and stretched.
A security guard opened the door to the dimly lit lobby and murmured news of their arrival into his lapel. Another stood by the elevator. "He's waiting for you upstairs, sir," the guard said, and he pushed the elevator button. Murdoch looked the man over while they waited. He wore a crisp black suit, black tie, and mirrored sunglasses, though it was the dead of night. Murdoch studied his reflection in the guard's silver lenses, tightening the Windsor knot in his own tie. The man stared ahead like a department store mannequin. There was a banging on the service door behind me, and I fumbled for my shotgun.
Laughter grated. "First time, kid?" Leaning on the door was a smirking soldier in body armor, shotgun hanging in one hand. It was Big Ben, head of security for the ground floor. Ben was a hardened veteran, but even he seemed on edge. The smile on his scarred face didn't touch his cold eyes. Sophomore Megan Carroll marched into my office five minutes early. She carried a bulging backpack that threatened to consume her slight frame but that she pretended wasn't heavy. Her shoulder-length blond hair was perfect; she somehow escaped having the bedraggled look everyone else had when they came in from this nasty New England cold.
And here I was, the school counselor, with a beehive of nerves in my stomach. I did everything you asked me to.
When the leaders of the Three Remaining Nations League came over for coffee and trade agreements, I was the one who put the rat poison in their creamer, making sure to spoon in the exact proportion that you wrote down in your grandmother's recipe card file. I sewed the medals on that jacket you like to wear in your daily address. I even canceled my trip to Boise where I was to guest judge the yearly gladiatorial fights. Because I knew how much you wanted to blow up Boise, but you'd never do it if I were there. LYSCom is recruiting on your campus. You're one of two dozen students sweating in a seminar room, agonizing over an application form.
Working with those less fortunate you spy on the forms of the people near you. After the third knock, the door finally opened a crack. Jaren saw a scaled hand wrap around the door and a pair of narrow yellow eyes peek out suspiciously. "I've been waiting," his serpentine voice beckoned. He opened the door and led Jaren inside.
Jaren sighed, "We are sorry for the delay, sir. There are hundreds of construction projects going on around the city right now and most are in need of our services." Uncertainty is an eye shifting a fraction of an inch. It's a word that comes a second too late. Uncertainty is blood in the water; linger too long and out come the sharks. When voters look into your eyes and they see uncertainty you fill them with conviction. They become certain that you are weak, certain you are vulnerable, certain they're not giving you their vote.
Your finger is suspended over the key, held at bay by three little words. Every time the café door opened, allowing in a cool draft, the woman at the table next to Maggie turned blue. Then after the door closed, melted back to a warm red.
She leaned across the cafe aisle toward Maggie. "Thermodynamic body sleeve," she explained. "It's the latest." She glanced at Maggie's cotton shirt and jeans, smiled stiffly, and turned back to her companion. The car idled in the driveway. On the dashboard, the navbox waited patiently, its screen lit with a list of common destinations. There was a keypad for typing in a whole address, but it was easier just to narrow down from the pre-set options.
Oren tapped the navbox. "Evantown," it said in its computerized voice, precisely calculated to provide maximum reassurance and instill a calm and focused attitude in the driver. "Sunset Grove," it added in response to his next selections, and then "Four one nine." Oren selected Guide Me, and when the navbox told him, "Turn left," he did. The connoisseurs milled and mingled from one end of the long, thin room to the other. There were seven different tasting stations set just far enough apart to allow conversation between tables. A nostalgic, almost retrospective feel had been chosen for the night's theme: soft Plutonian cotton covered the walls and examples of the local system's ancient and primitive arts were strategically positioned to take attention from the servers as they poured. Here a rudimentary portrait with smears of actual pigment long dried atop a canvas square; there an open leather binding, its fan of pages each stained with line after line of tiny archaic symbol; even a maze of brass tubing, bent into the most intricate and seemingly unnecessary swirl of what had once been considered a sort of music maker.
The crowd, of course, many of whom found themselves in the backwoods of the Old Earth system for the first time, adored these authentic details. Anything to remind them of their superiority, whether over their past or present peers, was to be considered in the most suitable taste. Michael sat at his desk staring at his computer, casually clicking through the puzzle on the screen. The garish colors filling his gaze flashed and reorganized as he finished the level. A small, unsatisfied smile briefly crossed his lips as his score blinked and grew. Twelve points for completing the puzzle, and three points for speed. He spared the leaderboard a glance before setting into the next level. He was 123rd out of 400 at the company, three below where he started today. An exasperated sigh escaped him as he reoriented on the newest level. He would probably be even lower by the time he left work. His heart wasn't in it today. Four months ago he had set the company record, neatly capping off a six-month winning streak. It was downhill from there, though. Last month he scored third place.
Of course the puzzle was more than just a dumb game. Michael worked for the logistics division of one of the farming conglomerates that fed most of Europe. A rather complicated job was repackaged as a set of scored puzzles by an algorithm and given to 400 people in cube farms around the world. The conglomerate provided him with food, a small apartment, and entertainment credit proportional to his ranking. The hurricane lamp we hung overhead shed a bright and unforgiving glare over the entire garage. My shaking hands made the light shimmer on the scalpel.
"Just do it," Jamie ordered through gritted teeth. His Regulator was curbing the worst of his fear, but the exposed back of his neck gleamed with sweat. "For God's sakes, just do it, just cut it out!" Her: passing through to new horizons, slumming my station's crowded bar. Me: just off a line-cook shift, eating my free meal. Her teeth flashed, her eyes gleamed, her dress sparkled. I smelled of fish and spice. "Each desired other," she said later. The bar's glass and mirrors wove a net of her and caught me, young and fresh.
After years in bright layers of space and fame, my simple tastes bit her wants. Wouldn't let go. We downed shots of 100-year Scotch, her tab; split a bottle of lunar ice wine, mine. Then a quiet kiss all tongue and rasp and oh god you dazzling thing. She demanded a private table beyond my pay grade. Got it. Ordered salted olives over garlic-lime station krill. Let me taste her tasting it. Fingers. Lips. Each sampled other. Time narrowed to one now. Once upon a time, people used to fly about in Air-O-Planes. One day the people driving the Air-O-Plane fell asleep, and it crashed into a mountain. Everyone died.
When my great-great-grandma was young, people worked in places called "factories." They built things with their hands. But their hands were always getting caught in the machines and the machines were dirty and stupid and made everyone sick. Lots of people died. It was sad. Have you ever played that game--exquisite corpse--where someone draws a head, a second person adds a torso, and the last person draws the legs? Well, I took an art class at the community college and one of our assignments was like that. We were supposed to draw half a self-portrait and then pass the art to someone else. There'd be two faces, done in two different styles, neatly separated by a vertical line down the middle.
Faces are hard to draw, so I put the assignment off as long as possible. The night before the half-self-portrait was due, I had a little whiskey. Possibly a lot of whiskey. It didn't make me a better artist, but it did help me care less about my mistakes. I finished my side of the artwork at 11:45pm, which left me no prayer of getting anyone to draw the other half. Being somewhat less than sober, I had a brilliant idea: I made a new email account, wrote the address and password on a slip of paper, and sealed it in an envelope labeled "open in 2025." Hers was a life of spoons. Their size, their shape, their ability to measure sugar. Maela lined them up in neat rows in front of the plain white ceramic cereal bowl filled with plain white porridge.
Indecision tugged at her like the coy beckoning of a distant lover's finger, tempting her towards one spoon over the other. The one with the deep oval head would scoop up great gobs of breakfast, but wasn't very good for scraping out the thin white lines that formed as the scraps of mush cooled and hardened. The one with the steep slope would help with that, but everything seeped over and dripped out of the shallow sides. And she could only choose one. One every morning. That was her promise to herself.
What will tomorrow bring? Utopia, dystopia, a muddled, uncertain middle ground. There's room here for near future semi-realistic explanations and beyond the beyond post-singularity nightmares. Let's see what develops.
by Dustin Adams
Published on Jun 11, 2013
by Edoardo Albert
Published on Aug 5, 2011
by S. R. Algernon
Published on Dec 12, 2013
by Matthew F Amati
Tours of the Pillars of Creation will end at 11:00 AM.
Published on Sep 29, 2016
by Matthew F Amati
Published on Mar 22, 2017
by William Arthur
Published on May 30, 2011
by Daniel Ausema
Published on Jun 27, 2011
by Alec Austin
T minus three and a half years:
In two weeks, Karl Hoestler will graduate from the Akademie Der Zeitreise with an Untersturmführer's commission in Temporal Operations. Karl does not know this yet. At the moment, he stands fidgeting in the chill white hall outside a classroom door, listening to the low voices of his thesis examiners percolate through the gap separating the door from the hallway's polymer tiles. He is afraid of what they might be saying about him and the work he has done, but when they go silent, his fear only intensifies. In that silence, it seems that his future has been determined, its pattern fixed and written in time by the old men in the classroom, these instructors to whom he has entrusted his fate.
Published on Sep 23, 2011
by Barbara A. Barnett
Published on Oct 8, 2013
by James Beamon
Published on Jan 5, 2012
by M. Bennardo
Published on Aug 14, 2012
by Hannah C Bialic
"2% originality." The robotic voice clanged out through the headphones as a thin receipt printed out of the wall. The boy frowned heavily, pulled the headset off, and then hung it hurriedly behind him. He jumped out of the seat, and rushed towards the exit, his cheeks flaming with embarrassment. The receipt drifted to the ground unclaimed. The students still waiting in line shuffled nervously.
Published on Nov 11, 2015
by James Bloomer
Published on Aug 2, 2011
by Jacqueline Lee Bridges
Published on Jan 27, 2016
by Sue Burke
The man had deep worry lines between his eyebrows, although he was only in his twenties. When he woke up after a restless sleep, he immediately looked at the window. Mid-afternoon sun shone through cracks in the blinds. He checked his bedside clock: 5:51 a.m. The clocks were still wrong . . . and in sudden panic, he reached out for his wife. Yes, she was still there, still safe beside him, or as safe as she could be. She lay with her back toward him, her shoulders bare and beautiful.
Published on Oct 13, 2010
by Katie H Camp
Published on Feb 21, 2011
by Michael Canfield
Published on May 10, 2011
by Aline Carriere
Published on Sep 7, 2015
by K.S. Clay
Published on Apr 23, 2012
by Jedd Cole
Published on May 27, 2015
by Zack Conley
Published on Jan 9, 2017
by Tina Connolly
Published on Jun 7, 2012
by Amanda C. Davis
Published on Oct 12, 2012
by Austin DeMarco
Published on Jan 4, 2016
by John Mile Deisinger
Published on Feb 24, 2015
by Evan Dicken
Published on Apr 19, 2013
by S.B. Divya
Published on Jun 9, 2014
by Karl El-Koura
Published on Mar 5, 2014
by Jane Elliott
***Editor's Note: Adult language, adult story*** I always knew that I wanted to try it at least once. It was one of those things everyone talked about like it was all spec and grand and kitsch, and I was at the GameHead with Maressa and Gen and Hole and Jex, and it all felt suddenly juvenile. Like, life was for doing things, maybe, and we were just running around this padded room chasing half wolf-people with chainsaws, and I was so completely bored of it all, you know?
Published on Feb 7, 2014
by Ronald D Ferguson
I clenched my eyelids, and my memories trickled in. John Ashley. Twenty-three years old. Terminal cancer. Crying parents. Cryogenic storage. The first cold moment. The last brief hope: they would awaken me when they had the cure.
Published on Jun 21, 2011
by Stefanie Freele
There were only three pieces left to the storm-pizza, fourteen mouths to feed, and at least a hundred empty beer bottles when the guard raided the celebration. Davin, the son of the Captain, hosted the event, which made at least me laugh; his father's boys arresting his own boy. He tried to explain to them, but they're just kids with machine guns and a limited understanding of English. Someone in the compound called about a party; they were here to break it up. My dad is The Captain! Last we heard of him, Idiots, my father-- yelling as they body-strapped him, stuffed him into an aircar and rose. I erased the calling history off my wrist-correspondent and innocently mentioned to two of the guard in their language--once again thankful for my sordid roots--He wanted a nice party, just a small one. I said this as if he was an innocent teenager, wanting to slightly fight the rule: no social gatherings over the amount of three without guard present. It was his body-birthday, but I don't know his name, I mused aloud, lying, lying, lying--I'm so good at it. After all I was just someone walking by this column, not enjoying the entertainment.
Published on Feb 6, 2014
by Ralph Gamelli
Annette, who had grown more upset with each occurrence, looked at him solemnly across the table. You called out my name again, she thought to him, the coffee cup in her hand trembling perceptibly. Who should I call for help if not my own wife? he thought back.
Published on Sep 22, 2010
by Damien Walters Grintalis
Saturday: Mia held her wrist up to the security panel outside the pharmaceutical club and waited while her identification and prescription were verified. A light on the panel flashed twice. The airlock doors opened. She closed her eyes as the doors slid shut behind her and the airwash kicked on, stripping the pollutants from her skin and clothing. It finished with a high-pitched beep and a rush of cool air. She tugged off her breathing mask. Another door opened, revealing a small, dark lobby and a guard with shoulders nearly the width of her apartment's front door.
Published on Oct 26, 2012
by Michael Guillebeau
“Three thousand habitable planets in the known universe, and I'm stuck on the only one without solitude,” Ricky the kidder said.
Published on Oct 6, 2010
by Lee Hallison
Published on Feb 5, 2013
by Kate Heartfield
Nov. 4, 2016 Lily Abello thought she would lose her ability to speak in April, just as everyone else she knew did.
Published on Jan 28, 2015
by Karen Heuler
Dear Space Mama, I joined an exploratory company about ten years ago, and have been traveling ever since. Lately, I met a being on Celsia 9 who exists midway between a corporeal and non-corporeal state. That is, he/she/it (undetermined) feels more like liquid than solid and is somewhat permeable. We don't really speak directly, instead doing a kind of mime of what we want. It's a slow and interesting process. Since this is a new contact, there is no handbook on what any of this means, but I have been feeling more and more like staying on this planet rather than continuing to explore. Oddly enough, all my crewmates feel the same way and we have wondered if there might be more to this attraction than we're aware of. What do you think?
Published on Oct 1, 2013
by Andrew Peter Hickey
1) Upload Glitches Remember these? Back in 2052, when people were first starting to upload themselves, you'd get glitches in the process. These days, of course, malformed data is a fashion statement, and people deliberately disable their checksums in order to produce that cool stuttery effect, but back then it happened by accident!
Published on Nov 17, 2015
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Published on Feb 14, 2011
by Erik M Igoe
Published on Apr 15, 2011
by Alexander Jablokov
Published on Nov 6, 2012
by Thomas F Jolly
Published on Mar 3, 2011
by KJ Kabza
***Editor's Note: Disturbing. For adult readers.***
"Never forget, ladies, how lucky you are," says Miss Reeper all the time. "You could have died in an alley from plague or starvation, or grown up to become disgusting harlots. But The Harkish Crown, in its wisdom and mercy, has lifted you out of the gutters and has given you a great destiny instead. The least you can do is repay its kindness. So pay attention."
Published on Jul 11, 2013
by Rahul Kanakia
***Editor's Note: Disturbing, and a smattering of adult language***
The refugees drove west in a creaking convoy. Most of the cars were almost out of fuel. Many were on the verge of breaking down. The shoulders of the highway were littered with stopped and wrecked cars.
Published on Jun 7, 2013
by Rahul Kanakia
Razabad is a city of white stone and straight lines. This wasn't always true: for a time, migrants tried to put up wavy shanties in empty lots and build huts of corrugated tin that leaned against the stone pylons of underpasses. They tried to live inside cement cylinders and within the few feet of space between the side of the tunnel and the side of the train. But the spider picked their tiny nests apart and tucked everything back into its proper place. The spider is the only thing in Razabad that is allowed to be curvy and jagged.
Published on May 13, 2016
by Rahul Kanakia
Published on Aug 10, 2012
by Sarah Kanning
Published on Dec 14, 2012
by KJ Kabza
Published on Aug 13, 2015
by Michelle Ann King
Published on Nov 4, 2013
by Michelle Ann King
Published on Aug 19, 2016
by Michelle Knowlden
"You have no heart." Surrounded by politicos at the governor's party, the poet with fishhook eyes glared at me. I did not remember her. Had I been a patron? A critic? An enemy?
Published on May 19, 2016
by Stacey Danielle Lepper
Published on Apr 5, 2012
by Greg Leunig
Published on Jun 28, 2012
by Chris Limb
Em wakes to darkness. She thumbs the switch beside her bed but nothing happens. Not again. Her credit's run out overnight. In theory this means she'll have to do some work today to get the electricity back on, but in the meantime daylight will have to do. She flings the thin duvet aside, crawls to the end of her bed and cranks the handle to open the shutters on the exterior window.
Published on Jan 8, 2015
by Marissa Kristine Lingen
Published on Sep 7, 2011
by Mary E. Lowd
Published on Feb 19, 2015
by Steven Mathes
Published on Jul 19, 2013
by Lynette Mejia
Published on Mar 1, 2013
by Timothy Moore
Published on May 22, 2012
by Jaime Lee Moyer
Published on Dec 31, 2010
by Sinead O'Hart
Published on Oct 21, 2013
by K. S. O'Neill
Published on May 23, 2013
by Pontius Paiva
Published on Feb 29, 2016
by Edward Palmer
Published on Mar 14, 2016
by Trina Marie Phillips
Published on Dec 9, 2016
Published on Oct 17, 2013
by Chen Qiufan (translated by Ken Liu)
Let there be light, Mimi thought. She was the leader of the waste people--the despised, possession-less, barely human workers fit only to pick through the electronic wasteland walled off from civilization to extract what could be reused, each bit of rare earth metal more precious than the sum of their lives.
Published on Mar 8, 2016
by Cat Rambo
Published on Jul 12, 2013
by Stephen V. Ramey
Published on Jun 20, 2011
by Mike Resnick & Sabina Theo
Published on Aug 6, 2012
by Peter Roberts
(excerpts from a business & services directory last updated 2 April 2187 11:47:31.01523)
Published on Jul 2, 2015
by Art Robinson
Published on Feb 16, 2017
by Michael Adam Robson
Published on Dec 4, 2012
by Michael Adam Robson
Published on Jun 15, 2016
by Robert Lowell Russell
***This story features nudity and violence. It is intended for adult readers.***
Published on Jul 28, 2011
by Mark Sarney
Published on Apr 18, 2011
by Erica L. Satifka
Published on Feb 3, 2015
by E. Saxey
Published on Sep 2, 2014
by Erik B. Scott
Published on Jan 17, 2013
by Marge Simon
In an overcrowded world, a high bar on reproduction was enforced. The odds were high, but after seven years came notification that we would be allowed one hemaphrodite offspring.
Published on Oct 14, 2010
by Benjamin J. Sonnek
...so what do you think of that? The six other girls at the table began moving their heads, the individual thoughts blending into a river: It's crazy! Why would she do that--he's kind of a--don't forget about her last--how could they--does that mean he's available?
Published on Sep 20, 2016
by Douglas Sterling
Published on Sep 17, 2012
by Karin Terebessy
Published on Nov 7, 2014
by Lavie Tidhar
***Editor's Note: This is an adult story, featuring adult sexual situations and language***
Youssou dreamed that he was flying. There was no gravity in that place. Dimensions stretched and shifted. A ring in space, kilometers long, spinning. Only the center remained free of gravity. Youssou floated, and his lover floated with him, short and stocky with pale skin. They were both naked, dancing, Youssou clumsy, used to the pull of gravity on his body, his lover more graceful, economical movements, used to this incredible confusing freedom, pale Asian skin against Youssou's tall gangly darkness. Their dance intensified, arousal coursing through Youssou's blood, a shared music passing between their nodes, entwined, the Conversation fading around them, that incessant chatter of network traffic, they moved uncoordinated, the time-lag between them making this mating ritual a challenge, so that they made moves anticipating the other's response across the chasm of space.
Published on Feb 22, 2013
by Lavie Tidhar
Published on May 8, 2012
by Sean Vivier
Report: Waves of drought and flood threaten harvest, may cause nationwide famine. Wow. Who could have possibly seen that coming? (/sarcasm)
Published on Jun 1, 2015
by Liz A. Vogel
Published on Jun 2, 2014
by Derek Ivan Webster
Published on Jan 27, 2012
by E.E. Wesley
Published on Mar 13, 2017
by Sarah White
Published on Oct 12, 2015
by Fran Wilde
Published on Jun 3, 2014
by Sean Williams
Published on Mar 9, 2015
by Caroline M. Yoachim
Published on Aug 23, 2016
by Joseph Zieja
Published on Aug 15, 2011