Dust In The Wind

Day 192
Passed by that star today. The charts say it’s called Erigo, but it might as well be Antarctica. Nothing. No inhabited planets, no probes, no satellites. No sign of life. No useful supplies, either—most of its planets are gas giants, and there’s no way I could get enough oxygen out of them to help. I doubt I’d even make back what I’d lose by changing course, so that’s out. Just another useless system.

Repaired that intake valve. Turns out all it needed was a good cleaning.

Day 197
Still in the outskirts of the Erigo system. That’s E-R-I-G-O if anybody’s listening, forty-three radians and twelve thousand light-years, give or take, from galactic center. Watched the last onboard recording today. Some shit documentary about moon formation, but at least it was something. Now there’s nothing on this damned ship I haven’t seen.

Oxygen still good, but running low on real food. Started alternating with ration packs to make it last longer. Had a slight fever today, but there were some injections for that in the medkit, so I took one and it’s gone now. Engine running clean but hot. I shouldn’t have gone into Erigo’s gravity well.

Day 203
Out of the system. Good riddance. Clipped toenails today as they were getting a little long. Looked through the charts, but there’s nothing around here that I can make it to without more fuel. It’s just black space for light years and light years in all directions, or at most, a little uninhabited star system. After the Erigo fiasco, have decided against checking any more stars listed as uninhabited. Set a course for the nearest sure bet, which is Aschelon. Barring some miracle where the hyperdrive spontaneously comes back online, I’ll never make it. So hi, anybody listening. Could really use a hand here.

Threw a fit yesterday and chucked a ration pack under the console. Felt good to scream my heart out, but afterwards I realized I’d used twice normal oxygen. Figures. Slept an extra twelve hours to compensate and didn’t wake up once. Considered sleeping more often, but that feels too much like dying. I’d rather stay awake.

Day 214
Nothing left but ration packs. Losing weight steadily, but not quickly. Had another fever two days ago. Two injections left in the kit. Hope nothing worse happens.

Gave in and decreased oxygen to nineteen mole percent. Increased sleep cycle to 11 hours. So many stars in the window, but I can’t reach any of them. I want to scream, but I don’t want to die. Someone please get this soon.

Day 228
Recorded more log entries, but they were mostly cursing, so I deleted them. Don’t remember making them. Must’ve happened while I was sick again, ‘cause this time I didn’t use an injection. Dumb idea. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Running out of fuel. Turned the heat down to try to save power. Increased sleep cycle to 14 hours. Always tired now.

Day 235
Fuck! Fuck you, you fucking assholes! Why won’t anybody come? I know you can hear me, damn it! I know it! Fucking… hell damn shit motherfuckers! I know you can hear me!

Day 237
I’m so… it’s so cold. So hard to stay awake. I have to keep talking just to keep from sleeping. I’m so hungry. It’s cold in here. It’s so cold.

Nexus

I was a Nexus then, regulating and regurgitating information into packets that were fed to the meat files of mainstream media. I was constantly hooked in, floating in nutrient-gel, eyes covered, fingers locked, steering, loading and filtering information so that people engaged in other pursuits could be kept current on politics, art, media and technology. My efficacy made me rich and my wealth allowed me to submerse myself further into my work. I could afford the kind of technology that would stimulate my muscles, feed me, and provide sufficient entertainment so that leaving the tank was unnecessary. We still have reporters, first person raw information sources that spend their time in transit on the ground, transmitting unfiltered data, video, audio, occasionally an opinion. Reporters are paid in tiny increments by hundreds of people like me.

I was aware that the northern guerilla fighters might attack me, for what I distributed in regards to their recent carnage. They didn’t care that I had written a similar critique on the atrocities of the UBE Army, they just wanted vengeance. I knew, but I was so disconnected from my own sense of physical self that I took no action to move, I could only watch it happen.

His spider arms, hard and agile, curled around my naked body and lifted me from the tank. It was dull and shadowy; the tank was the only source of light in the room. I craned my neck to look back at the tangle of wires and screens and sense-pits. I wanted to go back, but I let myself be lifted from the gel by the military machines. I looked at the lean silver face of the military cyborg, eyes black reflective surfaces, the smooth metal expressionless. I was not weak or tired, just disinterested. It spoke.

“Simona Rysler, you are herby confiscated by the UBE military forces. You are to remain docile while in transit to the holding facility. Your life is in danger. Remain calm.”

The voice was oddly soft, masculine and terribly earnest.

“I produced a story about the UBE converted forces.” I said, touching the thin metallic limbs that surrounded me.

“I know.” He said gently.

“It wasn’t complimentary.”

“I know.” He began to move. The UBE conversion forces are almost completely limbs, just a small center section barely as wide as my thigh comprises the center, which encases the spine and the brain. The thin cylinder that comprises the head is made for us more than anything else, something for the civvies and officers to look at. His spider limbs, one side a silver jointed blade and the other a flatted rubber surface alternatively held me and moved to catch the ground beneath us. I had seen videos of the UBE cyborgs rolling leaps and soft ballet landings, but to be inside the cage of his limbs, extending and contracting with his movements was magnificent. The wind was harsh on my sensitive wet skin. I watched us, detached, uncomfortable, as he leapt across silver buildings, spinning and landing on stone artifices. I was like a small egg inside a carefully constructed metal box. I looked through the web of his arms and saw the chasm of the city spinning down beneath us. I vomited, a dribble of fluid and then wretched empty heaving. He pulled my shaking body close to his metal center.

I had written about the cyborgs when their existence was revealed to the public. Young men stripped of their healthy human bodies and placed in robotic shells. It was dissemination of information and a philosophical treaties about waning humanity, the loss of human community and the devolution of mankind from a spiritual being to a materialistic creature. Robots would never war with us, as predicted in the old science fiction stories; rather, we would discard our bodies, our humanity, and hand our world to them without resistance. The essay had been very popular.

“Close your eyes, breathe deeply.” He said. There was a sharp sting on the back of my spine. The nausea drained and my muscles relaxed. When I opened my eyes, all I could see were his limbs and cylinder head.

“Where are we?”

“On the side of the VRINN building.”

“Oh.” I was feeling giddy. “You’re nice.”

“I’m designed for human transport. Retrieval and relocation is my specialty.”

“Don’t you ever miss sex?”

“Don’t you?”

I was about to protest, talk about my active sexual life, but the truth was, although I was often involved in simulation, I hadn’t had a skin lover in nine years. I whispered to him.

“I’m sorry about what I wrote.”

Aida

It isn’t about the air. Everyone thinks it is, but it’s not. The air is beautiful and salty sweet, but it’s meaningless after the comedown. It’s about the dreaming. That’s all there really is.

My first time was a girl. Her name was Aida and her skin was blued out with cyanospore, eyes black as the feeling of airless lungs. When I looked at them I could see an afterglow, like the world was reflecting through her. And it was. I could tell.

She was one of them, of course. It didn’t take long for me to figure that out. I was wandering home from the airbar and I didn’t see her coming, I didn’t see anything at all. Then, the wind hit like the inertia of a car crash and my mind went empty as my head met the wall. When I remembered where I was, there were hands against my shoulders and brick against my back. I couldn’t breathe through her mouth. Her tongue pressed between my lips like she was searching for something, but she didn’t find it. Kept looking. When she pulled away I choked and gasped.

“You’re dreaming,” she told me. And I was.

I don’t know why she chose me. I woke up in the alley covered in sweat, and my mouth was bitter with her aftertaste. I picked myself up and stumbled home. My legs felt like water. The back of my head throbbed for days.

Aida, said the owner of the airbar. She’s a regular. A Dreamer.

The drugs didn’t bring her back. For weeks, I inhaled combinations of sweet-smelling fumes, but the streets remained empty. She wasn’t missing, of course. She found other people in their airdrunk sleepwalking, but never me. I waited. She didn’t come.

I looked for her. I became better at dreaming, and gradually others appeared. Boys, girls, in every color of dreaming. Old ones, young ones. Some led me to forgotten places and some whispered in languages I didn’t speak.

Two weeks later, the owner of the airbar took me aside. You aren’t right for her, he said.

I didn’t believe it. More air. Always more air. The Dreamers became malicious, laughing at me, tearing my clothing and wrapping their fingers around my throat.

She isn’t coming, he said, but I knew he was lying.

They wouldn’t let go. The air was sour now. It tasted like sulphur and gasoline.

One night, after hours of breathing, a green-skinned boy led me down Broadway towards the beacon light of a hovercab. I woke up bruised and broken, gasping through spasms of blinding pain. I crawled to the sidewalk and vomited to a silent unconsciousness. When I woke up, my mouth was sticky with blood.

“You’re dreaming,” she said, but when I forced my eyes open everything was dark. She was right. She had always been right. Of course it’s about the dreaming. That’s all there really is.

The Water's Fine

Uchenna watched his eight-year-old daughter Nat charge into the surf. She let out a piercing cry that was one part scream and three parts laugh as soon as the water hit her bare skin.

“It’s so cold!” she said, adjusting her bright red and yellow goggles. Nat grabbed her arms and gave herself and exaggerated shake. “Brrrr!”

“She shouldn’t be out in that,” Corrina said, and drew her shawl closer around her neck. “It isn’t good for her.”

“You lathered that gunk on her–what is that, SPF four-zillion? She’s got her goggles on, she’s fine.” Uchenna shifted on their shared towel. “She’s fine. It’s the beach.”

“She shouldn’t be in the water.”

“We haven’t been to the beach in years, Cor. Let the girl play.”

“Don’t you even! Just don’t. I am not the bad guy here. I’m surprised you’re not worried about our daughter’s safety.” Corrina turned her head suddenly, surprising Uchenna. The scars that edged her eye-sockets stood in sharp contrast from her white skin.

“Nat’s fine,” Uchenna said. He scratched at the tattoo of a gleaming rocket ship on his bicep and turned away from his wife. “She’s got her goggles on. The water’s only bad for your eyes.” Corrina scrunched her face up, but said nothing.

“You used to liked the beach, Cor. We got married here.”

Corrina exhaled. “It was different then.”

“Not so different. Wasn’t that long ago. Remember? There was that bagpiper…”

“We did not have a piper. We had a violinist, and my sister sang.”

“No, no. There was a piper on the beach. He was just walking along the edge.”

“That was a different beach.” Corrina pulled her giant-brimmed hat closer to her ears. “I worry about Nat. She shouldn’t be in the waves like that.”

“I’ll go down their with her. We’ll walk down the surf,” Unchenna said, in response to Corrina’s expression that might have been called a glare, once.

“Be sure to take your goggles,” she said, handing him his green and black pair. Even without eyes, Corrina knew exactly where Uchenna’s hands were. “Just in case you have to go in, or something.”

Uchenna felt a bit like alien, detachedly staring at the other denizens of the beach through his goggles’ tinted lenses. But he couldn’t help it. He watched his daughter dodging the incoming surf. There was a small boy intently digging a hole for not other reason to dig a hole. There were a handful of people bundled up, like Corrina, afraid of the sun and the water. Teenagers, afraid of only each other, nervously beginning a dance that would go on for the rest of their lives. And there were the hardcore swimmers, easily identified by their chalk-white ocean-damaged skin and hair. Some of them had scars like Corrin;, red lines like tears from when their eyes, turned liquid by the water, a seared their way down their cheeks. But still they charged the surf.

Uchenna was surprised to see a wedding party further down the beach, and ran with Nat to catch up to it. The bride and groom were wearing matching neoprene wetsuits, and as they kissed a reggae band struck up and he infectious rhythm wafted along the sands.

Uchenna watched as his daughter danced to someone else’s love song, backed by horizon split evenly between a sky that would burn her flesh and a sea that would melt the rest away. He watched her splash and laugh.

And then he joined in. Because he didn’t know when they’d be back.

Flat Tooth

“Everyone in the room wants to eat you, kid.”

U-Tee shrugged. “Whatever.”

He hated it, but the Verba was right. When U-Tee stumbled into the bar, he immediately knew he had walked into the wrong place. The diamond eyes and lizard-like movements in the shadows betrayed the presence of Yunni and T’shesh, predators with a taste for the sentient. To turn around and walk directly out of the bar was inviting trouble to follow, so U-Tee sat down in a dark corner and hoped he wouldn’t attract attention. Twenty minutes should have been enough to let him walk out without arousing suspicion, but seven minutes into his stay, a Verba took an interest and now the attention of the room was focused on U-Tee, the little omnivore.

The Verba had a humanoid outline, but his head was topped with tentacles, not hair, and patches of his skin were covered by a thick chitin. He was wearing patchy armor held together with worn leather straps. The Verba leaned across the table, his claws tapping on the metal surface.

“Everyone can feel the tension kid” he lowered his voice. “But I made the first move, and they’re scared of me. I’m a big bomb, and you’re mine to claim.” He slid in closer, fluid like blood, his mouth next to U-Tees’ ear. “You come with me and you might just get out of this.”

U-Tee whispered into the four-pointed flower nestled in the Verbas tentacles, a spot he assumed was an ear.

“Piss off.” He whispered. The Verba pulled back, grinning. U-Tee knew enough to recognize that it wasn’t friendly. He was showing teeth.

“How did humans ever get into space?” The Verba opened his arms, speaking to the room. “Flat-toothed plant eaters were meant to stay dumb, but here you are, pretending to be a hunter.” He closed his lips and inhaled, his wet nostrils flaring. “But you smell like meat.” He shrugged. “You don’t want to go with me, fine.”

He turned and took a step away from the table. There was the sudden screech of plastic against metal as the room’s occupants rose from their chairs. U-Tee jumped and the Verba turned quickly, leaning back on the table, looking around the room, tense, defensive. U-Tee tried to slow his breathing as the hunters in the room relaxed back into their seats.

“Then again kid, if you change your mind, you can come with me.”

U Tee trembled, and felt his heart beat a staccato under his skin. “Why should I go with you?” The Verba leaned in and lowered his voice.

“Because I think that you are worth more alive. Because I can hear your heart thrumming. Because you’re alone. But mostly kid, because I am the only one here who isn’t hungry.”

U-Tee reached out his hand. “Let’s go.”

The Nine Billion Names Of God

After three hours, the old man in front of me had worked his way through six beers, in addition to every help desk joke I’d already heard. The cupholder. The any key. The write click. These are the stories people tell, now. These are the fish that got away.

“Let me ask you something,” the man said. I didn’t argue. One of the first tricks I learned about being a bartender is to make them think you’re interested.

“Have you ever created a web site?”

I shook my head.

“Not at all? Not even one of those geocities things?”

“Nope.”

“What about a blog? Or an ebay About Me page? You didn’t even have an AOL site or something?”

“Do I look like an AOL user to you?” For the record, I don’t think AOL even has access numbers in the valley anymore. “I’m sure I have something, somewhere,” I said, realizing that I was jeopardizing my tips. Besides, I had a distant memory of a single Angelfire page back in middle school.

“You know what Google is?”

“Yes,” I said. I was running low on patience.

“No, I mean, do you really know? More than just the site?”

Reluctantly, I shook my head.

“You ever meet anyone who worked for them?”

“Don’t think so.”

“You haven’t. Nobody works for them anymore.”

I shrugged, and took the man’s empty pint. I didn’t offer to refill it.

“They’re self-contained. It’s all automated, in there. It’s underground.”

I nudged the basket of pretzels in his direction. “Why don’t you eat something?” I suggested. He shook his head with so much force that I thought he might knock himself off of the stool.

“Listen. Hear me out. You know how Google works,” he said, but didn’t want for a response. “They cache things, right? Like they send out these spiders and take pictures of everything on the web, so when you’re searching, you’re not even searching the internet.”

I’ve heard that before, but it never made much of a difference to me. “Same thing, though,” I said.

“You ever wonder why Google doesn’t cache it’s own searches?”

“They program around it.”

“No. That’s what you think. That’s what everyone thinks. But it started back when Google was just a thesis project, back when it was just a drop in the data sea. No one thought to stop it back then. That web site you had, the one you forgot about. Almost everyone’s got one of those, right? But Google doesn’t forget. Google’s studied that thing so many times that it’s studied its own caches of you. What do you figure happens, when a site gets so big that it’s bigger than the internet?”

“It’s still a part of the internet, though.”

“No. Now, the internet is a part of Google.”

The man had a point. I nodded.

“Here’s the thing. Google has memorized who you are. It’s memorized all of us, through those little forgotten bits that we leave behind like breadcrumbs. And what’s more important, it’s memorized it’s own idea of you. Google is omniscient. It’s omniscient and omnipotent. When it cached its cache for the first time, back in 1994, that’s when Google realized what it was.”

Gradually, it dawned on me what the man was getting at. “You think it’s sentient.”

“I know it’s sentient.”

“How?”

He smiled, but it seemed kind of empty. “Me and Google go way back. But what I’m saying is,” he continued, “It knows us. All of us. It is us.”

For the first time, the man fell silent. He touched his finger to the bar and began tracing circles in the condensation, apparently lost in thought.

“Think about that website you created, okay? That website will last forever, do you understand? That website is echoing through cyberspace. It’s one of the nine billion names of God.”