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art by Void lon iXaarii

This is a science fiction story about the day after tomorrow

Pat Stansberry teaches English at Cuyahoga Community College, which means he gets to spend a lot of his time grading papers. In no way does he resent professors who give online auto-scoring multiple-choice exams, finishing their midterms for five classes in the time it takes him to unravel a particularly confused introductory paragraph. He doesn't resent them at all. Between working on comma splices and sentence fragments, he finds time to do a little writing. His plays have been performed at The Ingenuity Festival and the Eight by Eight Festival of Short Plays. His writing has appeared in Pivot Magazine, Whiskey Island Magazine, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Strange Horizons, and the Potomac.
This is a science fiction story about the day after tomorrow.
No aliens will arrive on Earth to enlighten or enslave us. There will be no traveler from the future warning of impending Armageddon. No shadowy government agency will reveal unheard of technologies, a secret new space plane or spy drone or stealth ship. Absolutely nothing of that sort will occur.
Some other things will not happen:
A megalomaniacal technology tycoon will not try to conquer the planet. There would be no money in running it.
No messiah will come to raise the world from squalor, greed, and hate. He, she, or it has had plenty of time to act, and more than enough provocation.
A theoretical physicist will not, for five short seconds, comprehend the unified structure of the universe. Afterward he will not wonder if it had been a true epiphany or merely a brief euphoric state brought on by exhaustion. The universe might be beautiful and elegant, but it is not that simple.
Here's what will happen.
Dai Sato will return to Japan for the first time in sixty-eight years, having left in fear and shame shortly after the war. It was in Geneva where he watched newsreels of General Tojo's trial, of American troops strutting through Tokyo, debasing the memory of his father and cousins and uncles who died on Pacific islands. Yet the day after tomorrow he will stand at Shibuya crossing, the busiest intersection in all the world, and be spellbound by the power of this new and vital Tokyo. His countrymen have achieved greatness once more. But the pink-haired emo girl will catch in his throat, as will the immense Starbucks sign in horrid American green.
Gotina Covas will tell her six-year-old son Naldo about his dad, about the war, about how some dads don't come home and those who do never make it all the way back. She won't believe that Naldo understands how a piece of you can be forever broken, but Naldo will think back to winter, to those kids who stole his hat and gloves, think of how he ran and hid between two dumpsters--cowered he would have called it, had he the word--and he'll cast a knowing look that will alarm her. She'll touch his cheek and smile.
And at dusk, Aliajwad Khzaieer will leave her Kabul home to gather land mines left over from one of the many invaders of her homeland. She will come upon a mine that is still live, but it will not explode and she will not be maimed or killed. She knows quite a lot about handling explosives. She will sell the mines to a group of Afghan insurgents who will use them to kill Cpls. Derrick Feynman and Penelope Homes, USMC.
Will these things ultimately coalesce into some world-changing pattern, lead to a woman or man who will save or savage the world? Nobody knows that yet. Remember, this is a science fiction story about the day after tomorrow.
And does it matter that these are all stories of war, so often fodder for our science-fiction visions of the future? Perhaps, but other things will happen, things less science-fictional, more mundane:
Gloria and Kathy Benet will learn about Facebook and Instagram and inform their friends in the retirement community of Beech Oaks, Indiana, where computers are as ubiquitous as walkers. The Benet sisters will at last find themselves in the 21st century future they imagined as children, children of the 50s immersed in rockets and atoms and eternal hope. And fifty years after abandoning playgrounds and front stoops, they will find themselves once again connected with family and childhood friends, someone always there to read a boast or a complaint--more complaints now than they remember from those long-ago front stoops--and the two Beech Oaks retirees will weep with a joy only the once-abandoned can feel.
This joy will not last. This is not a future of life-extension and immortality, and these women are old.
Bill and Frank Stanislaw will close Stanislaw Brothers' Deli, twenty-two years on the corner of Forbes and Smithfield in downtown Pittsburgh. Frank's kids are off on their own and his wife, Ellen, has called in the markers. Time for leisure and travel, Ellen had told him, cruise brochure in hand. Bill could buy Frank out, but without his brother's lightning hands he'd never keep up with the lunch rush. After locking up, Bill and Frank will stand outside the deli, staring wordlessly for half an hour. At 6:33pm, when they walk away from Stanislaw Brothers' Deli for the last time, Bill and Frank will, almost simultaneously, get down to the business of hating Ellen.
And at 11: 55pm, in a suburban Little Rock bungalow, Booker Oatman, old at fifty, will collapse onto his daughter's bed. The sheet and covers are black, like the dress they'll have just buried her in, like his life would be from then until the end. The iPhone he'll hold is white, like her mother's wedding dress in her closet, like the blobs on Twyla's CAT scans,. Tiny pictures will scroll on its screen, fish-eye shots, the camera at arms-length: Twyla and Maurice grinning, Braxton High School behind them; Twyla in her bedroom, the boy's thumb tip obscuring half of the terror on her face; Twyla next to Booker in the hospital waiting room, hope in her eyes but, undeniable now with digital proof, doom in his own. If he could ever again catch Twyla and Maurice lovemaking in her bed, he would not rage like a defending father. He would embrace the both of them. It's right that she got to hold hands with a sweetheart, right that she was hugged and kissed, right--and this is hard for a father to admit--right that she had felt a man inside her body before that body failed her so completely. No miracle cure for Twyla, no revivification, no cloned body, no transference of mind and soul into a machine. This is just the day after tomorrow and dead is dead is dead is dead.
Perhaps Booker and Maurice will bond over Twyla's death, an almost-son slipping into the daughter's place, but this is not the far future and people are only people and, often as not, death drives us as far apart as we can go. Booker and Maurice might just as well never see each other again.
Or maybe Booker will discover Facebook on Twyla's computer, build a virtual family with Gloria and Kathy of Beech Oaks, find relief in their age and wisdom. It might happen. Anything is possible, isn't it? Isn't it?
No.
For Booker and Gloria and Naldo and Dai, most things will remain stubbornly unpossible. This isn't a utopian future, is no future at all. This is a science fiction story about the day after tomorrow.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 22nd, 2014


I wanted to create a science fiction story that might be neither science fiction nor a story. I'm not sure why. Maybe I wanted to explore the line between the day after tomorrow and what we think of as The Future (pardon my caps). Maybe I wanted to examine science fiction tropes right where they rub against mainstream fiction. Maybe I just wanted to poke science fiction with a stick to see what would happen. That's dangerous stuff. Science fiction has a mean bite.

- Pat Stansberry

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