Author : M.S. Smith
The sun sinks in the west like a heart as I row towards the city of lights.
I do not know what the city is called. I have been rowing for so long that names have become vulgar sounds, meaningless and wild; not just the names of places, but also my own. Each droplet of water that passes over my oar is as easily identifiable as a person, and the voice of the water is the call of a multitude, giving and taking names. But I cannot recognize what the water says. I can only understand how it feels, and that it has something I lack.
As I come closer to the city, my world brightens. My watch flares to life, letting me know that it has detected a wireless signal. The sun succumbs to the turn of the world and is replaced not by stars, but by a vast blanket of artificial light, dotted by the shimmering streaks of orbital craft re-entering the atmosphere. I navigate around a tangle of soda cans, old toys, and plastic wrap which has hung itself around the rim of a drainage pipe, and begin to row more vigorously as I approach what looks to be a canal. I am wrong. It is not a canal, but another natural stream. Its banks are gentle and its flows quickly. I am swept inwards, towards the city, and I pass through a gated community. A couple enjoying drinks on their deck notice me and stare. I wave at them, but they do not wave back.
There is a bend in the stream, and then I am out of the community, floating between a factory and a highway. There is a surprising absence of sound; all the cars are new, electric models, made by brands like Audi and Lexus, and they make no noise except for their tires, which whistle like breeze whipping through trees. The highway bridges over me, and I find myself in an older part of town, where the buildings are close together and made of brick. The stream suddenly reaches a man-made U-turn, redirected by the force of concrete. Rapids spring before me, and as I wrestle them I find they are not caused by rocks, or even concrete ruins, but by old appliances, refrigerators the size of a man, washers and dryers as hard as boulders. I become wet from the rapids, and the objects in my path have sharp, unexpected edges, but my clothing repels water like wax and protects my limbs from sharp edges like armor.
Eventually, the water calms, and I enter a fog of dense chemicals that I cannot identify by smell, but which do not seem to harm me. A pier emerges from this mist, and the eyes of a small robotic creature glow at me from the pier’s edge. I row up to it, and it offers, in its awkward, mechanical voice, to tie my canoe up to the pier. There are no other boats in sight, and no evidence any other vessel has ever docked here, but I accept its offer. My watch notifies me that ten dollars have been deducted from my bank account.
I get out of my canoe and stand up on the pier. The first solid object I’ve stood on since nightfall. I ask the robot to watch my canoe for me, but it does not respond. I’m not worried about the canoe. No one would know what to do with it. I walk off the pier, up a small embankment, and suddenly I am in the city of lights. An advertisement flashes at me from a wall across the street. I still refuse to acknowledge my name, but I do not need to. I will soon be given one.