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art by Jonathan Westbrook

Objects in Space

Alex Livingston writes interactive fiction, stage plays, and other oddities. If you like, you can stop by about.me/alexlivingston for more information.
To read the Dear John letter, I had to throw something away. To free up some memory in my apartment. As I slapped one of my bedside lamps into Recycle, I wondered if breaking up had been easier when people had physical bodies. Before we all uploaded ourselves. Before the Simulation's inviolable objects-per-owned-volume policy forced you to get rid of a thing you loved each time you wanted something new.
But I didn't want anything new. I only wanted to know why David had left me.
An attachment unfolded in front of me when I opened the message: a brass dragonfly, its wings glittering with scores of tiny translucent polygons. Just the sort of thing he knew I would like. Would add to my collection. But where did I get the room for it? The sculpture flew out of my hand, dodging the delicate mobiles and draperies hanging from my ceiling as it flitted over to the corner where David's workbench had been a minute before. I hadn't seen it disappear.
David's message was short. "I need space." Too short for the time we had given each other. Rude.
I didn't waste the memory on tears, as good as it would have felt to have the little wet gems resolve in my eyes and work their way down my standard-issue face's low texture cheeks. The red circle already hovered over my door, the Simulation's simple notice that I was approaching my memory limit again. But I couldn't throw away any more of my collection. I had already dropped too many of my favorites into Recycle to make room for David's pieces: snowflakes, articulated dolls, a beaded curtain. "Deaccessioning," he had called it. Bastard.
I tried to crumple the letter up and toss it into Recycle, to destroy and cast away David's final words to me. But crumpled paper has too many surfaces, and the red circle over my door blinked as soon as I tried. The simulated paper might as well have been steel.
I knew where he had gone. David wasn't going to deaccession me without telling me why, no matter how it might look to his new "friend". The wealthy one, who had shown such interest in his talent.
A cheap teleport dropped me right in front of the warehouse, the place his friend was letting him borrow. I prepared myself for the embarrassing scene I would have to make to get him to open the door, but the security icon turned green as I approached. Someone had granted me access.
A single desk-light glowed in the center of the massive empty room. David sat at his workbench, a new, complicated haircut flopping down around his face as he hunched over some project.
He straightened up and looked at me as I approached, but I didn't see whatever emotion was in his eyes. I couldn't look away from the miniature tree sitting in the light in front of him. A bonsai tree. Each leaf fully rendered. Dozens of crooks and bends in the branches. A bed of the smallest pebbles I had ever seen. High-resolution textures over all of it.
This single piece already had more polygons than most of my collection combined. More than I could provide for him, even if I put everything I owned in Recycle. And he had just begun.
I walked out of the warehouse without a word. David's message had been true--he just needed some space.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 16th, 2012


I keep stuff. Too much stuff. Paper scraps, round pieces of metal, incomplete decks of cards, PC husks, broken game controllers. This tendency plagues me in the digital worlds as well, where space is often literally at a premium.

- Alex Livingston

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