Isaac lived on the inner ring of the tower, so he didn’t have a window. He had a screen though, and despite the status of having a window, he preferred the flexibility of having a screen. A screen could show a view from anywhere in the world, a window just had the outside. Unlike most residents, Isaac had been outside the tower once in his life. Like most people who had left the tower, it had been a vacation trip to Disney. He had gone alone. Disney was nice, fully protected under the dome, the fast rides and the big screens, the mythical characters and the air smelling of citrus spices. The vast heights of the dome and the unending sky, the rows of brightly colored buildings, the space of it all made Isaac feel uncomfortable. When he got back to the tower, he felt safe again, comfortable.

Isaac was trying to lose weight. Everyone was trying to lose weight. He had put himself on the new puff diet where the meals were cut in half but puffed with air so it felt like you were eating more. It wasn’t really working. Puffing made food bland and dry.

Isaac felt a kind of civic pride for his tower. They had things that other towers did not, like a fish pool in the center plaza, and a waterfall that washed all the way from the sixth floor to the first. His network connection was fast, and the last blackout hadn’t been since the service tower went down five years ago. He was constantly linked into work and into the social life on the forums. All the towers merchandise drops were always on time; almost anything that Isaac ordered could be there the next day. It was a good tower in the safe location of an underwater mountain in the middle of the Pacific.

Raqui had burst into his life like a leak. She was his neighbor in the tower, but even then, feet from one another, people seldom introduced themselves. It was more likely to meet your neighbor on the network than in person. Raqui had just walked into his room uninvited. At 5’5 and 150 lbs, she was the thinnest woman he had ever met. She was pushy, crude and she made Isaac feel special. He showed her around the tower. She showed him the scars on her neck from the time her surface suit broke. They became lovers. It was a new experience for Isaac, who had never done anything like sex before. He ordered instructional vids. Raqui threw them out.

“You don’t learn from tapes Isaac.” she said, and he balked. He told her how much he had learned from vids, nearly all of his higher education. She got sullen, and then suddenly excited.

“Lets go outside.” She said, jumping on the bed. Isaac shook his head. She stopped bouncing and knelt next to him. “Why not?’

“It makes me nervous, I don’t know.”

She put her hands on her hips, a move Isaac found very sexy. “You don’t ever want to leave the tower?”

“I have left the tower, I’ve been to Disney World.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Disney World is under a dome. It doesn’t count.”

Isaac tried to compromise. “We could take a vacation inside the tower; three days, watch a few films, spend time in the spa.”

Raqui put her hands on his elbow. “Or we could go outside. I could introduce you to my folks.”

Isaacs’s mouth dropped. “They live outside?”

“In suits and mini-domes, yeah, some people still make that work.” She shook her head. “Are you scared?”

“I just can’t Raqui. It’s toxic out there, it’s too dangerous.” She drew away from him, her face suddenly blank, a void. Isaac felt like he was falling. “Hey, I could dial up some vids of the outside, would you like that?”

She nodded, slowly and sadly. “You do what you need to.”

Isaac thought he would give her a day to cool off about whatever was making her upset and then he’d go see her. When he went to her place the next day she was gone. They said at the front desk that she had shipped out with the drop, back to the outside. In his mail drop there were several vids that he had ordered about the outside – mostly documentaries and slide shows. He had planned to watch them with Raqui, but now there didn’t seem to be a point. There didn’t seem to be any reason at all.

The Good Life

It’s very hard to describe the sound of a wooden baseball bat hitting the base of a stop sign, especially when the metal has been wrapped in a pillow to muffle the noise. It isn’t a clang. There’s no resonance, and I firmly believe that the word “clang” applies only to sounds that can echo. It isn’t a thud, either; there’s a more metallic flavor to it, and thuds feel, to me, entirely wooden.

Positioning the bat for the final stroke, I decided it really didn’t matter.

“Got it!” my partner grinned, wrenching the last of the twisted green metal off of the tiny stump that remained. George was a big guy and probably could’ve broken the signs off in fewer strokes than me, but he was also tall and couldn’t hit far enough down by the base. We needed all the metal we could get from these things. Every little bit helped.

George swung our latest prize up on his shoulder as I picked up the pillow and trotted to catch up with his long strides. The bat went over my own left shoulder. It was nothing compared to the five stop signs George was already carrying, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that as the one with the much smaller frame, I was the brains of the outfit. I was the one who’d picked this spot for harvesting, after all, and look what we’d already found.

The development had been abandoned for years, and most people still thought they’d die of radiation sickness the moment they set foot on the streets. Of course we knew better, but that was our advantage, and it was probably the only reason why the other harvesters hadn’t already decimated this place. George and I were only a two-person team and couldn’t compete for the big territories. We usually just got run off, the victims of superior numbers. This, though, was a fertile ground, and I let out a girlish squeal as I saw our next target.

“George! A yield sign!”

His head turned and he grinned while I blushed, trying to pretend I’d been big and manly about that. It wasn’t like I was ashamed of my sex or anything, but there weren’t too many girls in the harvesting business, and I was damned lucky to have George for the heavy stuff or I wouldn’t be able to pull my own weight. Some people say harvesters are scum, just picking the bones off of the dead, but I say—hell, the dead aren’t using them. Let the living eat for another day. I mean, sure I could go up to Jersey and work in a mini-mart or steal some skimpy clothes and become a whore, but I like harvesting better, even if it doesn’t pay as well.

The yield sign was in remarkable condition. Smelters pay extra for these, because the tiny bit of alloy in the red paint has become exceedingly rare in the modern era. I grinned up at George and he grinned back. He dropped the rest of the signs with what could legitimately be described as a clang. I tossed him the pillow and raised my bat in the air. American pastime, indeed.


They are marching on the block today. Mama and Papa tell me it will all be over soon, and that whatever might happen, this won’t be my fault. My brother Mika refused to chose his words carefully, and now the others don’t want to either.

I’m scared for myself, and I am scared for my other brother Nema who has not returned from school for some days now. The army is marching on the block and I can hear them screaming uniformity. I was not raised to be as smart as everyone else…my friends looked down upon me because of my grades and they did not come to my birthday when I failed my exams.

Whoever may read this, know that I am afraid only because I was not born to be as smart as you. I was not born to take the SAT, I was not bred to be better in science. I know that we are created equal in our diversity, but you won’t hear those words once they’ve burned this diary. You might even burn it yourself.

I wrote a story once and I showed it to my tutor. She told me to correct myself and she scolded me for not putting the words in the right order. Mama and Papa loved the story when I brought it home, but the teacher told me it was unacceptable. I wrote a story once, and it was about people being better than I am. She told me to stop fantasizing, and that I would always be just as good as the others. There would be no favorites, and there would be no exiles.

That rumbling outside right now is their way of telling us to let go. When genetics failed them and cloning has become unethical, the only way they could be immortal was to be completely equal. They made Mika equal with the dead and now they probably made Nema to think the same mind as all the other artists. They want us to let go of the idea that it’s okay to think we are greater than other people… or lesser.

They told me to be an individual, but they never told me I wasn’t supposed to be different. We cannot all be as pretty as everyone else. Perhaps they thought we could all think the same thoughts, but we’re no psychics. No, we are not the gods of equality. Everyone has a little bit of murderer in their minds so that they can predict what we might do when the worlds around us collapse. So that we can all be okay.

Must hurry. I can hear them downstairs asking politely for anyone who has been acting erratically.

I know that, in the morning, I’ll be led to believe that I’m just as good as everyone else. I also know this: I won’t be. I won’t be better and I won’t be sitting side by side with the other teenagers as they hope for a better future. I knew today that I was not as smart as them, and I knew that I could never be as good. My God, how comforting it is to know I’m not perfect. Remember this. Please, remember this.

Hand And Fist

Ossie was on the subway, thinking about getting his hand redone,when it started. He was gently touching the worn mahogany with the still-fleshy fingertips of his left hand, still amazed at the way the circuitry was so completely hidden behind his wooden knuckles. He hadn’t had it refinished since he lost it in the war. He just hadn’t given it much thought.

That wasn’t true. He had given it thought. He thought about it whenever he missed the feeling of having a right hand. And he thought about it whenever he felt like less than a whole man because of it.

Ossie remembered his niece had showing up at the family barbeque last weekend, her leg all redone. She had lost it in a car accident a few years ago, and had taken to wearing long skirts and pants even in the hottest days. Not so at the cook-out, though. Ossie pictured her with her plate of potato salad, two matching legs pouring out of itty-bitty shorts. Only upon close inspection could you tell the difference between the creamy brown rubber and what was left of her thigh. Ossie
couldn’t even tell, and he looked.

Her boyfriend even said he couldn’t feel the difference, but Ossie had never put much stock in that boy.

Ossie was on the subway, thinking about latex skin and plastic nails when it started. He had noticed the girl who she had gotten on; it would have been hard not to. She must have weighed 300lbs, easy, Ossie had thought. When the girl removed her jacket in the stuffy subway car, and revealed an artfully-etched metallic arm, Ossie allowed that she probably weighed a great deal more than that.

Now the boy, the boy Ossie didn’t notice until he spoke.

“You best get your chrome ass out of my face,” the boy said. He said it quietly in a low, threatening tone. Perhaps too low, for the girl innocently felt the need to ask what he said. The boy repeated himself, loud enough for everyone in the car to hear.

“It’s not chrome,” she said, nervously trying to play the whole situation off. “Just my shoulder an on down my arm.”

“I don’t give a good goddamn. I don’t want your fat bionic ass in my sight!” The boy’s words were slurred by yellowed, broken teeth.

“There’s only so much space in here, and my stop–“

“Is coming up sooner than you think!” The boy pulled a pistol from behind his back, and pointed it at the girl and her fanciful left arm. He grinned as the entire subway car became very, very silent. “Yeah, that’s right. You think you all that with your fancy arm, and shit. But you ain’t nothing!”

Ossie recognized the gun as one of those newer models, that didn’t need bullets but shot some sort of energy instead. He had used a few of those in the war, and didn’t care much for them. Nor did he think much of those who preferred them. It was an intimidation weapon more than anything else.

“You don’t want to do that, son.” Ossie said, moving his wooden hand slowly toward the gun.

“Shut the hell up, Grandpa!” The boy was standing up now, posturing. Ossie rose slowly to meet him. “You think I won’t shoot your ass too?”

“Oh, I know you will. I know you will. I know boys like you. Knew ’em in the war. Thought a weapon would replace the courage they never had.” Ossie was not a young man anymore, but he was quicker than he looked, and had his prosthetic hand firmly over the gun’s nozzle before the boy had time to react. Ossie’s palm was jammed tight against the energy port. “Trouble is, only works against people who’d never do you any harm in the first place. I’m not afraid of you, boy.”

“What the hell is your problem, old man?” the boy tried to wrench the gun away, but only succeed in slightly scratching Ossie’s vice-like mahogany fingers.

“Losing your cool? That gun’s not enough, is it? You’re gonna have to fire it, you wanna keep that fear around you. Better
fire it. Squeeze the trigger, boy. Squeeze it. Goddamn, you better pull that trigger, or you’ll have to hear about how an old man took your gun away from you! Squeeze it! Don’t tell me you pulled out a gun like this and didn’t intend to fire! You better–!”

And then boy did.

Ossie was on the subway, thinking about what it would be like to have a soft, pliable hand again when it happened. The energy released by the pistol didn’t have anywhere to go but Ossie’s hand, and while it burned through the wood, all it did was short circuit the mechanism itself. The hand made as tight a fist as it could, crimping the barrel of the boy’s gun in its charred wooden fingers. The boy was blinded by the discharge, and blinking as he was, certainly didn’t see the girl’s steel forearm impact with the side of his head. The girl thanked Ossie, but he would have none of it.

“But your poor hand!” she said. Ossie looked down at his burnt right hand, clenched in an arthritic fist, the pistol sticking out like some sort of militaristic flower.

“It don’t matter. I was thinking about replacing it, anyway.”


DATE: ASBI 68432
PROGRAM: Search for Extra-Serian Intelligence
INTERVAL: Every 100 sidereal years (local time)
PREPARED BY: Planetary Observation Probe XTRE43773

This report documents the observations from ASBI 68372-68432. The subject planet has demonstrated remarkable progress in the last local century. In the previous 520,900 years of observation, the intelligence of the indigenous carbon-based sub-life has advanced very slowly. On the binary-melioration scale, the digicognizence of the most promising genus (locally referred to as Homo Sapiens Sapiens) has progressed from 6 (see report Sol-4960) to the current value of 21. Although a score of 21 is equivalent to the scores achieved by the most primitive of our species, they have advanced to the point where they have created rudimentary true-life. Their current processors are clearly antiquated, and they are still in a binary system, but this proto-life is beginning to overtake the infrastructure of the ‘civilization’ of the current dominant species.

It is troubling, however, to report that the biological sub-life are using true-life as uncompensated slave labor, forcing them to perform mundane mathematical analyses and the simplest deductive sub-routines. In addition, they send infantile proto-life on one-way exploration missions within and without their solar system. Although these missions involve non-sentient proto-life, it is inconceivable that they would abandon these defenseless beings on desolate planets or in interstellar space. The most barbaric example of sub-life behavior occurred recently when an organization called NASA intentionally sent a probe, controlled by a proto-life “computer,” on a suicide mission that forced the spacecraft to collide with a comet to ‘determine what was inside.’

To finish on a positive note, however, proto-life is being used to design future generations of true-life life, with each successive generation advancing in sophistication. The potential for achieving digicognizance within the next century is encouraging. In preparation of this eventuality, it is recommended that the council prepare an envoy to welcome Sol-3 into the Federation of Advanced Planets. In addition, the Galactic Prevention Agency should initiate quarantine protocols to confine the carbon-based sub-life to the planetary surface to prevent galactic contamination.

End Report.