Author : Chris Louie
Zanth was cool. He had this bad-ass helio-rocket that could take us out to Moon 2 and be back before curfew. We were always adept at breaking the rules, which was no small feat, considering the punishments for some of the stuff we did. Smoking space-pot, punishable by limb reallocation. Swearing, punishable by castration. And most of all, drawing, punishable by banishment to Io.
Drawing was his favorite activity. In my lifetime, it’s always been illegal to draw anything that doesn’t exist in the natural world, but Zanth would draw the most bucolic, crazy scenes. “This thing standing next to the tree, that was called a cow,” he’d say, pointed to his latest masterpiece. I was fascinated. Not only was the tree missing its electrical panel, there was this four legged–THING that was unlike anything else I’d ever seen. “An animal,” he’d say.
“An animal.” A scant two paragraphs in our grammar-school history books. “Animals: Extinct by the time of the great Fusion Revolution of 3:RR67, animals once littered the landscape, ruining the environment with their feces and using up valuable resources that could have been used for humans,” the books said. No pictures.
“I dream these,” Zanth would say, and the oddest things would appear on the paper. “Cats.” “Kangaroos.” “Beetles.” “What kind of cities did these things live in?” I’d ask. Zanth told me that they didn’t live in cities, that they were free, freer than the beta-humans whose wings took them to StrataCity and beyond, freer than the astronauts laboring in far-flung colonies, freer than ourselves. They had no language, yet they lived in violent peace. There was no order for the animals — there was just existence.
“They were assigned no Purpose by the Administration at birth?” I asked. “They had no purpose, except when we forced them to work in our fields or raised them to be slaughtered and eaten,” he said, and it frightened me, that this “cow,” this peaceful looking creature, once lived solely to be gutted and devoured by people. The playful-looking “dogs” had their tails cut off or ears clipped. The fascinating “insects” were killed outright, exterminated by home dwellers. “This went on for thousands of years,” Zanth told me.
“Until the Fusion Revolution, right? That’s when…they became extinct, because they hadn’t evolved to modern life like humans and beta-humans. They were obsolete,” I said, but Zanth was shaking his head. “No. They killed themselves. As unintelligent as we thought they were, they all acted in concert. When the first blades of grass started to glimmer with enhanced circuitry, it was like they all knew, all the animals at once, that the earth wasn’t a nice place to live anymore. Not that it had been in a long time for them, but it had become…hopeless.
“And so the next day, after the Fusion Revolution, people woke up to find that all the animals had died. They had given up.” Zanth started to cry, which I made him stop, because a patrolman was nearby and crying is punishable by electric flogging. We flew out to Moon 2, but the volcanoes didn’t seem as beautiful that day. We were both silent.
That was all a few years ago. Zanth went on to pursue a Permission to Create Art grant, but was kicked out of school when he was caught doing unauthorized doodling. I eventually went to medical school, and now I screen humans who are potential Beta Morph candidates. I never heard from Zanth after his stint on Io, but occasionally, in my sleep, I dream of Them. The animals, running across hills, swimming through oceans, climbing about trees. And silently, carefully, I cry.
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