K’dackis was slivercaster, scout and herder of wildfeeds, piping when needed, but always in pursuit of the genuine driveway effect. She was constantly sisbertized by the right or the wrong people, surfing the waves of condemnation and approval as she launched onto her next coffee-spitter. She was queen of the third screen. Grey as I was, by comparison I might as well have been egocasting. K’dackis swallowed muffin-chokers whole, and spit ’em back out at lightning speed; because of this, she was the darling of screenagers everywhere.
I have been told my obsession with K’dackis is nothing but anus-envy, that any fool could create irritainment with a notebook dump on a feed and garnish it with a middle finger. This was true to some extent, but I’m no beat-sweetener with his head up his ass. K’dackis’s appeal went beyond mere hathos and anger. She was a half-step away from a placeshift, and when that happened all of us in the Outerrnet would feel very, very insecure about our place in our chosen professions.
Obviously, a fleshmeet was required, and not just podhacking her playlist, either. I had to interview her. Took some cajoling; my editor is a NIMBY when it comes alt-media, partly due to the pessimal state of modern info, partly due to how close he is to sundowning. But the man’s watch contains feedlets and bytebits, same as mine, so I had some elbowroom.
“I’ll authorize this,” he said. “But you better put some pants on the copy before it reaches my desk. I ain’t paying you to take a duvet day.”
Strangely enough, K’dackis consented to an interview. She had read my grey, and gave me a webrarian’s approval of a go ahead. I suppose I should have expected something unusual out of her, but doing the interview in a dumpster came as a headsmack.
“You gotta be a mongo hunter is this world, get your hands dirty, get in the scene.” K’dackis looked strangely cheery amongst the garbage. Her clothes carried no badge item, just ergomorphic shirt and pants. “What we throw away says the most about us, dig? What’s in your trash this morning?”
I found myself lost; she might as well been speaking MiÃ©villeese.
“Listen, you didn’t come here to quiz me on my hairdo. You’re no thumbsucker, your grey speaks for that. But you’re in a bathwater situation. Think about the language we use. What’s the first thing we toss aside? Curse words, old relics of medieval speak. But what’s the primary we utter when we glom a muffin -choker? It’s all a goddamn circle, Cochise. When was the last time you let out a good old curse for the scream of it?!?'”
I hemmed and hawed, but I didn’t have an answer. The interview, such as it was, went this way; K’dackis was playing at being a knowledge angel, sure, but it was fascinating, abrasive and exactly what was wrong with the state of grey.
Naturally, my editor wouldn’t print a word a word of it..
“Primary, this contains language, which we do not print. Our grey is clear of such things and we are proud of that,” he espoused. “Secondly, what is the point of this?”
“We’re lost in the words. It’s mindblindness, pure and simple. We’re not even communicating anymore, we’re just speaking.”
“Manure. There’s a medieval word for you and your bloghopper. Shit. Excrement. Crap, detritus, garbage, junk, offal, refuse, remains, rubbish, trash, waste. We are in the business of words, mister. YOU are in the business of words.”
“I thought I was in the business of news.”
“Keep this up, and you won’t be. Do I make myself clear? Or am I using too many words?”
K’dackis was slivercaster, which means she played to, at best, a small audience. She could play to the screenagers, and have her outrage displayed on their phones and watches, gathering evidence from feeds and stray bytes. But she and her ideas weren’t news, even if they were to us in the news business.
I found myself going through my grey, pieces that had once won awards, had garnered acclaim. I was told that my grey spoke for me. I couldn’t slivercast, couldn’t ride the wildfeeds, and I wasn’t going to be a third screen darling anytime soon.
But I did remember what makes me curse.
All through college, the three of us were best friends. When we graduated in ’18, Bob and I joined the Galactic Defense Force and got shipped off to the Sirius Sector, but Dmitri’s calling was Postdoctoral research, studying Xenobiology in the Vega system. We tried to keep in touch, but you know how those things work. It’s bad enough to write letters when you aren’t in the Force, and all that moving around really kills the motivation.
Anyways, I think it was Bob’s idea to drop in on Dmitri during our extended leave. Old time’s sake and all, he said, and I wasn’t going to argue. It would be nice to see the guy, so we rented a shuttle and picked up a couple cases of Sirian slurry and warped over to the coordinates we had from his last letter.
As usual, Dmitri was extremely enthusiastic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because of our visit. Apparently, the Bugus whogivesacrapus (I don’t remember the actual name, but I think I’m pretty close) was just hours away from the beginning of its mating cycle. This bug only mates one night in the 377-day year (poor bastards), and tonight was the night (lucky bastards). Dmitri had to leave immediately, but he told us to make ourselves at home, and he said he’d be back in time for supper the next day. After a quick hug and another apology, he disappeared into the woods with his sample pack.
For Dmitri, “home” was a five-room hut in the middle of a dense forest. It was primitive but livable, like something out of an old documentary. We cracked open the slurry and started a campfire in a pit out back, but when we reached the end of the first case, we realized we were pretty hungry. Of course, we hadn’t brought anything to eat, and when we searched Steve’s home we couldn’t figure out what was food and what was research.
We weren’t going to let that stop us. We were soldiers. Armed men trained in the art of survival. Despite the case of slurry, it only took us a couple minutes of tromping through the forest before we bagged a large, flightless bird with our phasers. One thing was certain: if people lived on this planet, they’d never go hungry. The thing must have weighed fifty kilos. While Bob prepared the “bird,” I constructed a spit and support over the fire. Three hours later, we were deep into our second case of slurry and feasting on roasted alien meat.
You know, during my years in the force, I’ve learned that there is one sure constant in the universe: extraterrestrial meat always tastes like chicken. There’s a scale of chicken, too. Good chicken, bad chicken. This was most definitely the former. In fact, it was so good that Bob and I tossed around the idea of bringing a couple back for the other guys in the Force. It took a few hours and a few more rounds of slurry, but eventually, we smothered the fire and called it a well-fed, well-drank night.
The next morning, we carved up the excess meat and hauled the bird carcass deep into the woods for the scavengers (Another constant: all life bearing planets have scavengers.) True to his word, Dmitri returned at about 1600 hours, and the reunion got into full swing. Bob and I shared our tales of adventure and interstellar conquests (complete with body measurements and, if we remembered them, names) while we sat by the campfire, eating leftovers and drinking the last of the slurry. Later, Dmitri chimed in with his boring stories of the indigenous flora and fauna of Vega-4. Scientists lead such wasted lives. We let him ramble for a few minutes, maybe an hour. It’s tough to tell when you’re half-asleep, but when he started telling us about his paper on the development of Vegan Civilization, we stopped him right there. “Whoa, hold on. Civilization?” Bob said. “Are you telling us this planet has intelligent life?”
“Absolutely,” replied Dmitri. “Although the Vegans are less technologically advanced than us, they are probably more advanced, socially. In fact, I’m living with a Vegan. This is the home of Meleagris Prime. He’s an “elder” here. I’ve been studying under him for the last three years. He’s a fascinating individual. Man, can that guy tell a funny story.” He held out his hand, palm down, approximately one meter above the ground. “He’s only about this tall. I can’t believe you haven’t met him yet. He’s usually home. Let me see if I can find him.” Dmitri jumped up and headed toward the hut. “You guys will love him. But be prepared, he’s not humanoid. He looks like a really fat turkey.”
There is nothing to burn. Modern life is plasticine, cheap and mutable and easily manufactured. Wooden furniture is the stuff of history textbooks and Better Homes and Gardens pinups, the pictures affixed to smooth synthetic walls with reused sticky-tack. Pinup is a misnomer; pins have no purchase in plastic.
The poor live in dingy cubes of space stacked on top of each other like ice cube trays, twelve stories high even in the slums. Oil is a thing of the past, hoarded by the elite and unheard of by the ordinary. Coal is a fiction in the lower city, a dream that children are chided for to protect them from the inevitable disappointment. There is nothing to burn. Even the telephone poles are polyurethane. Snow is praised as an insulator in the country, building up over low, squat houses and keeping their residents alive for as long as they’ve stockpiled food, but here in the city there is no such thing as snow. The heat of humanity melts it before it ever hits the ground.
Winter is the new population control, and the means of survival serve a double purpose. There is nothing to burn, so they burn their own, the stiff frozen twists of the unfortunate packed into thermoset stoves and lit with the dried dead fur of a squirrel or mouse. The vinyl clothing is carefully cut away before lighting the inferno, melted down by the heat of its previous owner and reused for the survivors. Bodies never rot. They are too valuable to be left so long.
Thick black smoke spews from the dingy acrylic chimneys, blanketing the slums in a charnel haze. Poor workers plod through the streets with heads down, trying not to breathe in their brethren. There is nothing to burn. They no longer notice the smell.
No one saw the meteor coming. It was faster than any meteor yet recorded. It didn’t so much as break the speed of light as it did beat its face in, set it on fire and sleep with its girlfriend. No one saw it coming when it smashed into what once was the Pacific Ocean, and a century later, not a single person survived.
They came from the corners of the globe, dressed to kill in their own odd ways. Mankind forgot ancient myths and made up their own legends. Fathers passed it onto sons and mothers would nurse their daughters on what it was to be what they were. It was a chance to start over for the parents after the meteor crashed down, but no one could have guessed it would end like this.
If you could call America a desert at that point, then it was safe to say you’d lost the idea of what humidity really meant. From the east came the heavy shoulder pads, the pronounced foreheads counting every ridge as a badge of honor despite their origin as radiation-induced bone growths. The tribe gathered shrapnel from wreckages and sharpened the pieces into their own homebrewed mix of jagged death.
These deformed figures all stood tall and bulky and they had no question as to why they were here today. Each one carried a weapon, and each one knew how to use it.
The other tribe came from the west. These shadowy figures began as shadows on the horizon, looking far healthier than the mutated easterners. Their humans faces were still intact and they dressed in nothing but free-flowing cloth that became a robe wrapped snugly around their figures. Each of these men and women also had a weapon of destruction latched neatly onto their belts. Though at first glance these weapons seemed like nothing but bludgeoning tools, there was a distinctly scientific look to them that held more back than it presented. Each of these “weapons” had at least one button on it looking as if they had been crafted from gutted scientific laboratories in the west. Silicon Valley might have been to blame.
Within sight of each other, they stood in a single row facing their opponents for control over the aftermath of the apocalypse. This was no longer America to them. For each it held a different, unpronounceable name with no Latin origin to be found.
With deformed sharp teeth and darkened, rigid skin, the easterners raised their oddly shaped metal weapons in unison and cried out, “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam!”
Robed and without emotion, without fear, the westerners slowly removed the small metal cylinders from their belts. The man in the center stared at the angry mob before him and spoke in a soft, elegant tone: “There must be balance.” Behind him, the other members of the tribe pressed the buttons on their devices and thin rods of light burst from the cylinders, ready and waiting to be used.
The words had been said and on this day the ultimate showdown began.
It was a week before opening night and Bub was still flubbing his lines.
â€œI donâ€™t understand,â€ said Bub, â€œWhy canâ€™t I have a feed? Why do we have to memorize our lines?â€
â€œYou have to memorize your lines,â€ said Daven, clenching his hands into fists â€œbecause that is the way actors in the old days did things.
â€œBut no one will know!â€ complained Bub. â€œNo one will know that I donâ€™t have a feed inside my head! I could download the entire script and have it running behind my eyes. Iâ€™ve done it that way for every other performance Iâ€™ve ever been in. I did that at Cambridge!â€
â€œWell, this is not Cambridge.â€ said Daven.
Bub threw up his hands dramatically. â€œDavan, I understand what you are going for here. I mean, the cloth costumes, that makes sense, and the painted sets look very rustic, very historical. I get the feel you want, but I donâ€™t understand why it matters what is going on in my head!â€
Daven climbed up onto the stage. â€œIt matters because Iâ€™ll know Bub, and more importantly, you will know. You will know that this performance isnâ€™t authentic to the old twentieth century style of acting. The only way it can be authentic is if you struggle just like they struggled, learn just like they learned. Now, get over your cheap self and take it from the top.â€
Bub sighed. Daven was a method man, and you could never argue with one of them. â€œNow is the winter of our discontentâ€ he said. â€œMade glorious summer by this sun of York. . .â€