Sugar and Spice

“It’s not that you’re boring,” John protested, even though it was. He hated conversations like this, and they always seemed to happen to him. This was his third uncomfortable breakup in as many months.

“Then what is it?” Lila demanded, her pout twitching on the edge between anger and tears. John sighed. He’d seen this one before.

“I just, well, I’ve got other things to worry about in my life, you know?” John turned his head away and fiddled with the miniature joystick on his day planner. He’d had a portable version of Exatz World IV custom-installed so that he could play it while waiting for the train to work. Lila slapped his hand away.

“You mean like that game? Don’t touch that thing when you’re around me, Jonathan! I mean it!” Lila’s eyes were sparking and her pout increased, screwing up her face in a most unattractive manner. “Is that what this is all about? Did you meet some girl online? Are you cheating on me?”

“No!” John protested in exasperation. “You can’t cheat on somebody with a video game, damn it! They just have much better writers than whoever came up with your life.”

“What do you mean, writers?” Lila was aghast. “John, this is real life. There are no writers! There is no script! Get your head out of the clouds!”

“I’m sick of real life, okay?” John snapped, sitting up from his customary slouch and glaring at Lila. “Nothing changes! All the girls are the same, all the places are the same, all the stuff that happens is boring and predictable. It’s all sugar and no spice. There’s no… no… conflict! No heroism! You can’t be a man in real life!”

“John, you are really starting to scare me. Are you even listening to yourself?” Lila stared at John as if he’d grown two heads. “That ‘sugar’ is called peace! The world finally gets itself into some sense of order and you’re complaining?” She threw up her hands in disgust. “You are the most disrespectful man I’ve ever known. What would your father say if he could hear you now?”

“At least my father was a man!” John snapped. “He got to fight for what he believed in. He had a hero’s death.”

“What he believed in was a peaceful world for his son. You’re disgraceful.”

“Get out of here!” John grabbed a cushion from the couch behind him and threw it angrily in Lila’s direction. He had had enough. Everything she said was exactly what he’d predicted. It was a good thing this wasn’t a script, because John would have marched right up to the writers and given them a piece of his mind.

Lila gritted her teeth and clenched her fists. “Your father would be ashamed of you,” she said, voice trembling, then turned on her heel and slammed the door behind her. John sighed. In all honesty, he was relieved that she was gone.

Turning to his console, John sank back into his comfortable, slouched position with a groan of contentment. It only took a single keystroke to call up the world of heroes and villains, of struggles and escapes and creativity. It was easier than breathing to slough off the peace that his father had fought for in the war to end all wars. As he fitted his goggles over his eyes, John prepared to lose himself in an earlier time.

The Creation

The curtain went down.

The heat death of the universe played out in one last resounding note, the final dénouement to the performance.

“Well.” The young one emoted wildly, sending sparks of light and beauty bouncing off its consciousness. “What did you think?”

The Eldest did not comment but turned its presence to another, a middle aged being by the count of their people. They had all always been there, but their consciousness sparked in and out, sometimes sleeping, sometimes dying and reborn. The middle-aged consciousness had a voice like the whirls of a sucking black hole.

“Very enthusiastic.” It intoned “but not very heavy. The piece was shorter than I expected and the sentients were concentrated in that one area, which was quite an odd choice. Personally, I found the lack of activity in the wider cosmos to be quite dull. The stars, the cosmic dust, these seemed unremarkable, lacking in chemical drama.”

“Well, yes.” The young one admitted, “I’ve never been very good at all of that cosmic art. I’m really interested in what all of you thought of the sentients, that’s where I put most of my energy. What did you think of the sentients?”

“Oh, they were quite dramatic.” Chimed one that had just woken from a long death. “I only saw the end, but it was very magical.”

“I thought it was a little too over the top.” Said the middle aged one. “A bit much for my taste. I’d like to see you do something less fanciful, more meaningful next time.”

The young ones glee swirled around him like a solar wind. “Oh! Oh! Then there will be a next time?” it asked, focusing on the Eldest. “Eldest, I have such plans. Could I please try again?”

“Yes, youngest. You shall do it again. This time, let us see more of what you can do with these sentient beings, but always remember, my youngest, never neglect the stars.”

Fair-weather Friend

We finally did it. For centuries philosophers both of science and religion wondered how much it would take to push ourselves to the brink. They hypothesized and prayed to what end man would come if they kept pushing the limits. All of the wars fought, the corruption broadcast and the sin rampant in environment and in our everyday lives could never have awoken us to the simple truth that we had been sliding down this inverted mountain since the day an ape chose a stick over its bare hands.

They wanted to know what would happen if we continued along our ways. Today they got their answer.

I was what you would call a believer in nothing. Nihilism wasn’t my game it was the mark of atheism that took me by its reigns. Being an atheist wasn’t my problem. Not thinking that there was something right in front of us that we’d all been missing that was. When I woke up today I didn’t question why things were different I just knew that they were.

Even when I walked outside I knew that something was missing more than the obvious and I felt cold and dim. The news yesterday had announced how many had died from the nuclear affair in the east and how many more had been killed in the name of having the almighty on ones side. Truly, I never thought that our time would be the last straw.

Everyone did the same thing upon waking up. Hell, I did it too. We all checked our clocks, we looked at the date and we tried to come to grips that we weren’t crazy. No, I knew it was more than just a lost point in our daily lives that was gone. I stepped outside and I didn’t have a shadow anymore. No one had shadows anymore.

The news didn’t come on today and I knew it was because they felt the same as I did. You wake up; you expect it to be there to greet you. It was right in front of us and we had it right a long time ago but science made it like unto a fairy tale.

All of us woke up today and found that the sun was gone. It didn’t explode and it didn’t fizz out. It left. The warmth that was lost was more than just from the heat the rays gave us. We felt empty inside, we felt cold in a way that not even electric heaters turned on high could fix. The wars might stop, they might not. Something gave up on us today and it left because we were beyond hope. I have to wake up tomorrow knowing I am hopeless; knowing this world is lost.

I woke up today and walked outside to a world with no sun and no warmth. I looked on the ground and saw that I had no shadow. No one had shadows anymore. We were the shadows now.

Martian Bluff

Zai Lockheart felt slightly claustrophobic on her mother’s porch despite the open, rolling wilderness of the Martian countryside that surrounded her. The house was a pre-fab job—“my aluminum box” her mother called it—and it felt cheap and flimsy compared to the monument of stone and wood Zai had grown up in back on Earth. Zai was sitting on the lacquered-metal porch because she couldn’t sleep inside the house; the image of the house tumbling down the mountainside sprang to life every time Zai closed her eyes.

“They have a legend up here, you know.” Zai was startled by her mother’s voice behind her. “They say, before you can live up here on the mountains, you have to go to the highest bluff you can find, and shout, loud as you can, ‘I am a Martian!’ And if God believes you, you’ll live in these mountains in happiness and peace, until the end of your days.”

“And? If God doesn’t believe you?”

“Smiting. Lightning. Fire from heaven. That sort of thing.”

“Well, it is a beautiful country-side. I can see why God’d be so picky about who’d get it.” Zai stood up and stretched. She had her father’s height, and as such towered over her mother, despite them both being in bare feet. “I miss the old house, Mama.”

“Didn’t seem to miss it when you moved out,” Zai’s mother gave her a sly grin. “It was too big. Too big for an old woman without a family. I could have kept it, and you still would have only visited on holidays.”

“I just have trouble picturing you living anywhere but home.”

“And I have trouble picturing you without a scabbed knee and pigtails. But look at you now.” Zai’s mother turned away from her, and placed her hands on her hips. “Watch that sun come up. Paints the whole world red. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that.”

“Mom, why did you move here?”

“Because,” her mother said, not looking back. “I am a Martain.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s nice, dear,” Zai’s mother said patting Zai’s hand as she shuffled back in the house. “But you’re not the one I have to convince.”

Diplomatic Relations

TO: Major-General Peter Wixtreed
FROM: Colonel Todd Fuller
RE: Continuing contact with Species #7652-28D

As suggested, sir, we pressed for visual contact and after some time the diplomatic envoys gave in, though not without a good deal of trepidation. They seem uncomfortable dealing with military personnel, so I reduced our contact with the envoys to a minimum and instead allowed the ambassador to speak to them directly. Her conversations seemed to persuade the envoys and put them more at ease, and when they at last capitulated, they extended the condition that she be the one to make such contact, alone. It took three hours more to get them agree to our terms—neutral ground, a military escort, and standard contact proceedings—but their affection for the ambassador was, I believe, the strongest motivator for their acquiescence.

The meeting took place on Elaxron, an inhabitable but as yet undeveloped planet in the near vicinity, and I commanded the troops in attendance. We were universally shocked at the sight of what the envoys had been hiding from us. The men had speculated when off-duty that we were encountering intelligent slime monsters or other creatures of legend, but none of us had expected simians. They have altered and evolved, of course, but the creatures we are meeting with are monkeys. I admit I was aghast. The ambassador was the only one who seemed unaffected, possibly due to her diplomatic training. My men and I retained composure, of course, but I intercepted more than one startled look before cowing the men back into military discipline.

Though I would have expected these creatures to fear us, they do not—or at least, not in the way I would think. It soon became clear that they had indeed evolved from the monkeys of our own world, sent out in experimental rockets and presumed dead centuries ago, during Earth’s first forays into spaceflight. Rather than looking upon our scientists as cruel experimenters, however, they view humans as a sort of father race. Their devotion is really quite touching. Their fear of being seen, it was revealed, was due to embarrassment rather than fear—they had not expected to encounter our species, which is only a legend in their society, for many more years.

After this revelation, I allowed my men to stand down and permitted the ambassador to meet with the simians alone as they desired. This discovery is an historic one, General, and I hope it is not out of line to say that I am proud to be a part of it. It has been rather quiet here since the ambassador left for her secluded meeting; I believe the men all appreciate the gravity and awe of this situation and have made themselves scarce.

With respect, I await your next dispatch.

COL. FULLER

The Holy Brand

Julius Bright wasn’t a designer, though he was often mistaken for one. Julius was the man who made designers, who launched and crushed careers. He had owned magazines, was the heir to an incredible fortune, a net star, an idol.

Twelve years ago, Julius Bright told me that I wouldn’t have any future as a designer. He did it in the nicest possible way. After a show he pulled me aside and told me that I had flair but no talent and that he didn’t want to say anything in front of the press because I was such a nice boy but if I continued to pursue this path eventually he would have to say something and he didn’t want me to work so hard without much to show for it.

So I quit, just because Julius told me too. I went into the business side of design, and I’ve been very happy there. When I look back on the faux bohemian that I was, I’m glad Julius pulled me aside.

Twelve years later, we met again, and this time he was the one with something to prove.

He met me outside an ugly warehouse on the edge of the city, little silver spheres swirling around his head. The Paparazzi-bots, taking pictures. It seemed like an odd place for Julius to meet me, not at all the stylish places I imagined him frequenting. He was dressed in a shining striped pink and yellow waistcoat.

“Tim! It’s been years!” he said, throwing his hands dramatically up in the air. I didn’t think he actually remembered me, I assume he played back his stored memory files. “I needed to talk to someone who could talk to the business side of things.” He said, leading me inside. “But also someone who understood design, like you do.”

I had no idea why he called me here, or what he needed from me. Sure, I loved design and could talk to businessmen, but I had a hard time believing that Julius Bright would have a hard time getting business to buy anything. His smile showed glittering teeth.

“What is one of the biggest problems the world of design faces?” He asked, leading me down a dark corridor.

I shrugged. “Consumer fatigue?”

“Oh Tim, you joker. No. The problem is with models, and the problem with models is their transience.” We came to a black curtained room with a long walkway. Julius leaped on the walkway and began to strut with long, angry steps. “A woman is only beautiful from fourteen to seventeen.” He paused and rested his silver cane against his lips. “Maybe seventeen is a bit old, but you see what I mean. Anyway, after that, she begins to rot. They’ve got such a short shelf life; it’s hard to build a career for them. They are flashes, beautiful lights that go out in an instant.” He hung his head. “There are other issues too, young girls aren’t very dependable, and the smart ones don’t really have their heart in it, they always leave to become engineers or something. Terrible losses, really.”

Julius opened his arms wide, smiling gaily. “But now we have options. Now we will have the ability to lengthen the career of a model. We can make perfect girls that will not change, girls we can control. They won’t get caught in scandals, unless you want them too, of course, and they can be relied upon. They’ll never leave to go to school, or eat too much, or die. “

I was about to ask what kind of girl would have all these features, but before I could speak, he began his monologue again.

“I know, the digital girl failed miserably years ago. The animated girl was fun and perfect, but she wasn’t real, and people like things they can touch, or pretend they could touch.”

“Now, now I can give you the flesh. We’ve grown the flesh based on the best girls in their prime. We’ve grown it and preserved it, a perfect plastic replica. You want tall? Her legs can be lengthened. You want longer hair? We can grow it in seconds.

And most importantly, we can brand them.” Julius clapped his hands, and sleek, slender, impossibly tall women, all naked, emerged from behind the black curtain and marched down the walkway, Dark hair, light hair, short, tall, milky white, coal black. Julius laughed and grabbed one on her shoulders. She lithely stepped close to him. “Here is our innocent.” He pointed to the other end of the walkway “Here is our counter culture heroine. Here is the slut. Here is the sleek lesbian, here is the exotic tropical. We can make them last, attach them to products based on image, and design for and around them. No more transience. What we have here is complete flexibility.

They are warm. Their eyes are wet. They will strut, smile and pose. They are fully programmable. We’ve been mixing them with models on the runway already, sneaking them in shows and no one has been the wiser. They aren’t girls though, make no mistake.” Julian leaned in close; conspiratorially “They are better.”