Author: Craig Finlay
You’ve kept a list of firsts ever since you were six and learned you were the first generation of humans to be born on a generational space ship. You knew this earlier, but for some reason six is when it clicked, what first really meant. While reading a book about Leif Erikson you looked at the cold, miserable-looking men in their little open-topped boat battling through the North Atlantic and realized you’d be in a book someday too. So you started keeping lists of firsts, for posterity.
They were mostly mundane. You couldn’t tell the difference between the historically important and the personally important so you just recorded everything. Sorting it out would be a job for historians. First goal scored in soccer. First A on a math test. First time you saw a dead body. First time your fingers crested a girl’s hip and found their way down that eternally mysterious landscape you’d been obsessing over for years. First prayer and, several minutes later, first time a prayer wasn’t answered. First kill.
You were on the weekly trip to the greenhouse with Mom and Dad and Stella holding your hand the whole way as you skipped 10 meters at a time through the light gravity of the inner ring. It was warmer there, drawing heat from the power core. Perfect for plants and the misting sprays hung so long in the light gravity you didn’t need to pretend like you’d ever seen a cloud.
The odd way things impose when you’re too damn small to use the world correctly. Not just the adults and the air you could see but the banks of ferns and the ever-novel soil that held them. You’d taste it, quickly. And every time knew you missed it somehow, despite never having had it, never having walked on Earth.
And really, that was it. The knowing of it all. What Stella told you. That we’d never leave the ship. That we were born to fly the ship and we would die, too. We’d teach our children the ways and workings. Let them fly into the orbit of some other sun. Your parents were so angry when you asked them about death and children and Stella promised to never ever tell you a secret again you little twerp.
So it seemed fine, you found a tree frog in the greenhouse that clung to the underside of a hemp tree leaf. There were very few but you found one. Low, where you could see just fine. Uncle Mack said you could be a Southerner, not a Yankee yet. As if such had meaning still.
And it clung to glass when you placed it there. And to your hand when they told you to put it back, clung green and still. You managed it into your hands. It seemed fine that you squeezed tighter and tried one great leap to get out but your hands closed too quickly. And fine too when you returned it limp to the leaves.
Stella was right and she had a way of saying something that was self-evidently true and somehow make it seem profound. But you had nothing to say to Mom and Dad and Uncle Mack when they asked you again and again about the frog and why you squeezed it until it went limp and laid it back on the leaf. Staring then, just staring and not saying anything, at the same knot of grain on the tabletop Mom’s heirloom, real wood. Staring and hoping you could bore into the rings of the knot and make a hole big enough to climb in, just you and a frog that still breathes and clings, and finally make an escape. Later, you wrote it in your journal – the first thing you killed. Small frog, April 5, 2127.
They didn’t ask you if you ever wanted to be a part of this trip, of course – how could they? Who has the luxury of being asked permission before they’re born? And everyone finds themselves in odd atmospheres now and then, something that felt fine, because they’re moving through it for the first time, too. There’s no damn reason for it, no greater take.
Not when you’re six.
Six is such a goddamned mystery.
The following week you ate your first pickle, and recorded that it was yucky.
Author: Marvin Thiele
It was 2050 and the clocks were striking thirteen. Technological addiction was widespread. Everyone sat on their couch, headset on, enjoying artificial utopia.
VR was about five years old, and everyone was already bending over backward for it. The simulations, you see, weren’t fixed, like paintings, books, or movies. In VR, one could alter anything with a mere mental command. Think, and ye shall receive.
Daily life had been eradicated, kaputt gemacht. With the advent of automation, entire grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, and inter-continental highways were now in the hands of robots.
There were no jobs. The government sent out money and that was that. People ordered take-out, took a dump, and went back into the VR, back to those fake, titillating women perpetually pleading for sex…
Tough world to be an artist. We floundered about on the surface of a bottomless ocean waiting to drown.
The Musee du l’Ouvre had closed. MoMa too. People weren’t showing up anymore. No one cared about the Mona Lisa or the Starry Night. There was nothing interesting about a still image—a non-digital one—constructed by a flawed human being.
With all this over my head, I got perpetually drunk and sad.
One night, out of frustration, I drew a stick man. I put a rope around his neck and hung him from the ceiling fixture. I crossed out his eyes and wrote on his shirt: Art is Dead.
I placed the “piece” on the Internet for one hundred million dollars, as a statement, as my fundamental critique of the world.
A week passed, and I was called by an unknown man. He expressed an interest in my sketch. As we neared the end of our conversation I had to know,
“Because it’s the least I could do,” he said.
“Why is it the least you could do?”
“Because I made VR. I programmed everything. I spent years interviewing test groups, refining the technology, getting it just right, dispensing with every error. I’m responsible for the state of things. I know that all the museums have closed, that all the movie theaters are empty, that all the symphonies have disbanded. I know just as well as you do about the way art has slipped off everyone’s mind, how it has disappeared surreptitiously down winding streets and lightless alleyways. But, please! Accept this as my apology. No, as my eulogy.”
“You are the Devil,” I said. “I think you’ve ruined the world.”
A day later, I walked to the store, and I did indeed mail off the drawing. In the evening, I went into my room and sat on my bed, congratulating myself. I looked at my bank account and the one hundred million dollars.
It was my first sale.
Yet, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get the happy mood to last and just ended up crying in a long cathartic fashion.
I thought about the past. I thought about how people used to work to survive, how they used to live in a way that would let them keep living, how it was never about getting there but about the going.
I figured it was as good a time as any. I fastened the rope and took a black marker to draw some crosses over my eyes. I kicked the chair out at just the right angle so that I could look identical to my drawing.
On my ragged white shirt, in giant black marker, read the words:
Art is Dead
And that, I thought, should do.
Author: Gerard Mulligan
As she requested, he had retrieved the red blanket from the bed upstairs and thrown it over her feet as she lay stretched out on the sofa. She had murmured thanks and was soon falling asleep with her hands instinctively covering her stomach. He waited, hovering over her, for anything else she might need. Only when she actually began to snore gently, did he pull away and drift over to the table to sit and read the paper. God, he thought, glancing through the black headlines, this world was a total mess. War, war, and more war blotted every page. They only finished one when they had started another.
After a few minutes, he had had enough of the paper. He took up the coffee and looked out the window onto the street five stories down. A light rain fell outside. Four months to go before the baby was born. They were getting there. Four months was a long time though. Behind him, on the wall by the door, the clock ticked. In three hours, he had to be at work. He hated working nights. He knew that he would probably not get to sit down again until well after midnight. Still, the rent and bills had to be paid. And it would be worth it. This was a good home. A fresh home. They had arrived just in time though, another few years and the place would have gone to hell. Still, for the moment, everything was still reasonably good. It could be all brought back. As he had been told during his introduction, there was no ‘irreversible damage’ yet. They had time to fix everything. Once they had the right people in place.
Their child would be among the first. Yes, some of the early stacks had been here for nearly twenty years now. Some were already preparing to leave their birth homes and head out to take the positions to mold this new home. However, everyone knew the first stacks rarely ever rose to prominence. They did the ground-breaking work, prepared the way as such, but it was the stacks that came after which really reaped the rewards. There was endless debate about why that was. He reckoned it was because simply by then there was enough of them, after forty years or so, to forge the links around the entire planet needed for good governance. The first stack was too spread out on too many continents to really connect up. That was why he had waited until volunteering to come here. By the time their child was leaving school, there would be plenty of them in government and civil roles so finding a suitable position would be much easier.
The clock ticked on. He had to get up. He needed to get the uniform ready, shower, and pack some food for the night ahead. No matter where he went, he always had to work. So many planets, so many jobs. All the same no matter where it was. Work was work. Maybe soon, he might have to think about giving it up and settling down. He still fondly remembered the first planet. What a place. Days that went on forever and water as clear as the air itself. That was a good planet. And more-or-less colonized by now. They were already thinking of giving it a ‘Settled’ designation. Maybe then, in twenty or so years, when the child was reared, he would give it some more thought. But until then, he had to work. He stood, leaving her sleeping peacefully, and went to get ready.
Author: Brian Maycock
Peter’s hand was cold as she led him down to the beach. She was unsettled so wanted to talk but they had run out of conversation weeks ago.
Peter can talk on more than two hundred topics. She had read that somewhere. But she had not focused on the blurb as she had entered her details. She had been wishing she could have afforded more than the basic model. Still, she had thought, you have to begin somewhere.
Peter stumbled. The path down to the beach – a generous term for a narrow patch of pebbles and seaweed – was littered with empty beer bottles, fast food wrappers and, this morning, a pair of abandoned trainers.
She gripped his hand tighter and wondered if coming here had been a mistake.
They had made love on this beach on their first night together. The only things missing for her from realising this particular dream had been a full moon and the feel of sand on her skin.
Not long after this the problems with battery life developed and having to keep Peter plugged in became a real passion killer.
“Let’s sit here.” She brought him to a flat rock onto which they could both just fit, and rested her head on his shoulder. He still released the pheromones she had chosen during set up overnight, and she enjoyed the remains of the latest lingering batch for a moment.
It was a cloudy day with rain threatening, and they were alone apart from an old couple who sat on striped deckchairs and stared out over the sea.
She sat up, wrapped her arms across her chest and told Peter, “I want you to walk into the water and keep going.”
“You are breaking up with me?” he asked after a pause to run through the possibilities.
She had made the decision days ago but had been putting it off. You see adverts online, you see them in charity shops or simply abandoned and left to fend for themselves on the streets, which of course they cannot do.
She did not want that. She wanted it to be romantic.
“Take your clothes off,” she said.
As he undressed, she ran a finger down the line of his back. “It says here you’re bio-degradable.”
His clothes were not. She would take them to the charity shop, along with the rest of his things. It was time for a fresh start.
“Goodbye Peter,” she said.
He looked at her. “I can’t swim.”
He began walking towards the water.
Once upon a time, some people thought that the A.I.s would become the dominant force but like other technologies as soon as the sheen wore off they became disposable.
Peter was all but invisible to the man and woman sitting on their deckchairs. Neither commented as he was enveloped by the grey water.
She was already back on the path. She hesitated over the discarded trainers but decided to leave them. They were too dirty for the charity shop.
Author: Oisin Hurley
Nailah stopped to catch her breath in the shadow at the base of the pyramid. One time her ancestors would have been buried here, surrounded by items they could bring to the afterlife. They had food from the chill lands to the north arrayed around their death masks, gifts of silken clothing from the rulers of the teeming societies to the east laid at their anointed feet. How far had they fallen from that gilded age? The sorrow for the descent of her people from rulers to rabble haunted her, weighed down the days of wearying work forced upon them by the invaders of their lands. That was why she had rebelled, damaged the collection of machine suits, and stolen this one. It rested quietly around her, mute but for low fans that followed her own breathing. A small green bar at the edge of her vision meant many days of reserve in the batteries. She would fly south like an arrow to the peopled lands. She would escape this dry hell where the invader folk lived, avoiding the moisture of the forests.
A small cascade of sand and pebbles from the ancient stone at her back hissed in her enhanced hearing. Distracted from her thoughts, she felt a low, rolling rumble — an armoured remote approaching. She could outrun its pursuit. She fed power to the leg motors of the suit and ran toward a horizon of dunes, silver-lit by the crescent moon.