Sol lived with her guardians on a lake of ice. Every day she would strap on skates and push her way across a mile wide lake to her school, which was inside a giant crystal dome. All the children on her ice world were guarded by slim solemn men and women who watched each other as fiercely as they watched the children.
Today was eighth day, Shipfall, when the white ships would land from the sky and bring food, supplies and teachers with new stories and games. Many students had one or more teachers just for them, and each student learned different things. Sol was the only one who seemed to get a taste of everything. She didn’t have nearly as work as Lussurioso, the small boy with gold skin, nor did she have as much freedom as slender WanWen, who ran around the compound like a wild child.
She stuck her hands in her pockets and felt for the paper note that Lussurioso had slipped her. All it said was: Second floor bathroom, Shipfall. She didn’t know how Lussurioso was going to meet her, since kids weren’t allowed in the bathrooms together. Still, her curiosity got the best of her, and she wanted to know what Lussurioso had to tell her. Lussurioso thought of the best strategies in the games they played. Although he wasn’t athletic, everyone always wanted him on their team.
The guards waited outside while she went into the bathroom. She ran some warm water over her stiff hands and watched the door. She should have known better. A ceiling tile moved, and she jumped.
“Lussurioso?” she whispered.
The ceiling tile was pulled away, to reveal the golden face of Lussurioso.
“Sol. We have to talk.”
She dried her hands on her coat. “Sure. Where are your guardians?”
Lussurioso smirked. “I ditched them. They are waiting outside the bathroom in the next hall. I’ve been taking long bathroom breaks for a while now, reading books while in there, trying to build up their tolerance so they wouldn’t suspect anything when we had this meeting.”
Sol’s eyes went wide. “You’ve been planning for this?”
“For months, yes.” Lussurioso swung his legs down from the ceiling tile, on to an outcropping in the wall. He leaped, landing silently on the stone floor.
“Whoa! I didn’t know you could move like that! Why don’t you do that kind of stuff in the games?”
Lussurioso shrugged. Standing next to Sol, he only came up to her armpit. “I think you’ll find Sol, that sometimes it’s best to hide some of your abilities.”
“What do you want to talk to me about?”
“About you, and me, and why we are here. Why we don’t see our parents and why we play all these games.”
“We’re being educated.”
“Yes. We are. But I get to read more than you, and most children aren’t taught like this. Most children live with their families, they are not sent away to ice worlds.”
“Our parents want us to have the best education, and this is the best school.”
“You really believe all that? Listen to me; you have the right to know this. Sol, you are the heir to the Empire. You are the future Empress of the Known Worlds.”
Sol’s stomach twisted, like she had eaten something bad. “Are you playing a game with me Lussurioso?”
“No Sol. I’m beyond games now. It’s time that you knew, because something has happened to your mother, the Empress, and we will be moving out soon.”
“What?” Sol said, a little loudly. There was a knock on the door that made them both jump.
“Are you alright in there?” asked her female guardian.
“Yeah, just girl stuff!” called Sol. Lussurioso rolled his eyes.
Sol whispered at him furiously. “How do you know this?”
Lussurioso pulled her to the far side of the bathroom as far from the door at they could get. “I guessed when I was eight. The guards were stupid. They told me everything I needed, even when they didn’t say a thing, even when they lied. Especially when they lied. Then, this year, I hacked the system, and what I knew was confirmed.”
“If you knew all this, why didn’t you tell me earlier!”
“Because it’s dangerous to know things. Don’t worry Sol. I love you, I would never betray you, but the world out there is dangerous right now.”
Sol stepped back, stunned. “You love me?”
He took her hand. “Of course I love you Sol. They made me to love you. All the children here are your court. When you go to become Empress, they will come with you and be your advisors and your lovers and your family. Every Empress comes with a court. Most of the kids don’t know it yet, but you are our reason for being. We were all designed for our place by genetic engineers, birthed for this purpose. I was designed to be your military advisor, WanWen was made to be your lover, we are all your court.”
“You are my court?”
“Sol, next to me you are the smartest person on this world. You know this is true.”
“I knew something was going on, I just didn’t know it was this.”
Lussurioso smiled at her, a rare, genuine smile that didn’t come from beating someone in strategy or tricking an adversary. “Don’t worry Sol. You won’t face this alone. I’ll always be with you. All of us will. We will face the worlds together.”
It started at the SureSave on Fourth Avenue. Andy had been standing in line for nearly ten minutes, sweltering in the August heat that poured through the open doorway, before he dropped his basket onto the counter. Hair dye, promising 100% gray coverage. Baking-soda-infused toothpaste. A package of Freedom Day cards which should have been mailed two days ago. The clerk, a bored high-school kid whoâ€™d obviously never heard of the complexion pill, swiped his products and asked for proof of credit. Andy pressed his palm against the plastic panel, and the register shrieked.
The kid stared. Andy stared. The customers stared. The manager stared, then asked Andy to step aside. Andy did. The police arrived seven minutes later.
â€œWhereâ€™s your proof?â€ they asked him, and he offered his palm to their handheld reader. The reader shrieked. Andy was brought to the station. â€œI have plenty of credit!â€ Andy argued, but the officer merely lifted an eyebrow. He recited his work history to deaf ears.
The problem wasnâ€™t a lack of credit, as Andy had expected, but an excess of credit.
Herman Sylle was his name, and he was wanted for falsification of funds. Nine million dollars, to be exact. â€œIâ€™m not Herman Sylle,â€ Andy argued, but as the police pointed out, the records couldnâ€™t lie. His handprint matched up. His DNA matched up. The police database was completely secure, and there was no chance that anyone could have tampered with it.
â€œIf people canâ€™t tamper with the database, how do people falsify funds?â€ Andy asked. It was the wrong question, and it wasnâ€™t deserving of an answer. He was assigned a case number and put in prison to await his trial.
â€œDo you have anyone who can verify your identity?â€ his attorney asked him, but Andy was a freelance web designer, working from home for clients all over the world. It was rare for him to meet a client face to face, and when contacted, none of the clients could recall details about his appearance. Heâ€™d never married, and heâ€™d been the only child of a couple that went into retirement-stasis at the age of 60. The law forbid the subpoena of retired citizens. â€œConvenient,â€ his attorney said. He tried to log into his records to find the contact information of the few friends he kept, but his proof was locked out of the account. When the police tried, they found the files empty.
When I was a little girl, my mother would tell me stories of the time before the dome, when she ran wild outside. She told me about how she had been always hungry and tired, because she couldn’t find food. And that there were lots of dangers, like fast moving spheres that could knock someone dead, and men that roamed around, looking for women to hurt.
She told me that one of those wandering men had done something terrible to her, and she became so sad that she decided to die. She walked until she found a river, and she threw herself into the freezing water. She passed out from the cold and the water, and when she woke up, she was inside the dome, and the pink singing gas was there, and it gave her food and comfortable blankets and then I came along and she said she was happy. My mother doesn’t remember much of her own parents. She just said that outside the dome she was hungry, and things were terrible.
I believed her, and I wanted to stay in the dome, but even if I didn’t I didn’t see any way to get out.
One day there was a special treat, real fruit right there in the dome. Mamma said we should eat it before it went rotten. After Mamma and I ate it all, we got dizzy and fell asleep, right on top of each other, both of us still holding those sweet fruits.
When I woke up, I was in a different dome and my Mamma wasn’t there. I was so scared that I hid under blankets for two days. I searched under every surface, in every bucket and blanket, but Mamma was gone, or rather, since I was in a different place, I was gone. Maybe Mamma was still in the old dome.
The singing gas that came was purple. When it came, food appeared, but I didn’t like to let it touch me like the pink gas used to. It smelled funny and I missed my Mamma. The purple gas was there every day at first, and then every few days, till eventually it would be a long time before it came around, and I would be really hungry.
I slept most of the time. I didn’t have much to do back then.
Then, one day, a woman showed up on the other side of my dome. Her hands had calluses on them, and her face was burnt red from the sun. She looked hard and scary and looking at her made me want to jump on her, or have her jump on me.
She called out to me, and I came. I didn’t know as many words as I do now. My Mamma taught me some, but I was taken from her early, you got to understand, so I didn’t know what I know now.
She called to me and she had a device that made a part of my dome just disappear, the wall just vanished. She told me to come past the dome wall, but I was scared.
I told her there were men out there, bad men who might hurt me and make me with a baby and with a baby and no food, what was I going to do?
That’s when she told me that I was a man, and I couldn’t be with child.
You are laughing now, but it was only me and my Mamma for so long. I knew we were different from each other, but I didn’t know how other people might be different from each other. My Mamma hated men so much for what they did to her, but she loved me. I couldn’t imagine that I was like anyone that would hurt my Mamma.
The hard woman explained it all to me, about the invasion and the people being taken away to live in domes and about how this was our planet and we were going to take it back. She told me how we needed to give up comfort if we were going to get what belongs to us. I believe that now, I really do, but back then, I went with her because she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She still is.
In 2198 Earth Standard Time, Jonas Fox, a pilot for the Interstellar Defense Crew, spotted a few pirates off the southern hem of the moon. He got on the radio to contact his fighters, who then zoomed in to show them once and for all who was boss. The IDC fleet had recently been equipped with a new kind of battle cruiser, one that would prove to the rebels hiding out in crater bases on the moon that the government was still in control.
Jonas flew in and called the order over radio: “Fire!” The red-hot blasts of laser shot and obliterated many of the pirate’s vessels before they finally surrendered. In the debriefing, Jonas would admit that there were civilian casualties and a single shot had missed.
The Grenthax called Porious V home. Pollution had run rampant, however, and the Alactid race was well on its way to being choked out. Children were dying of the upper-atmosphere smog, and the and ships were forbidden to leave because of the heavy storms of acid mist. Then, one day, a flash of red light appeared and with heat and precision cut a hole in the clouds above in the atmosphere and allowed a moment of escape and hope for the Alactid race. All of them gathered around their ships, gave one another hugs and set off to find a planet suitable for their continued existence.
In the cold depths of space there was a rock with nothing to ignite the fertility of creation within it. A forgotten stone that none had ever set foot upon floated in space without orbit, without cause. Along came a red beam of light, searing the ground, inflaming the gases surrounding the rock and sparking a process that in billions of years would yield life.
A race that was young, just gaining intellect somewhere along the various stars and spots of existence was silenced one day. All that was left were the asteroids and rocks singed by light.
Somewhere in the Fzda Zz, the SsC and the WdE were in pursuit of escaping 3fsli, innocent individuals trying to eek out their own existence away from the DqWWvX. Massive ships these were, looming over the single small craft. In their darkest hour, along came a blast from the depths of space, ripping through the SsC, causing the WdE to pause and lose track of their prey. The 3fsli rejoiced and wondered who had saved them.
It was now 45.23 of the Ninth Era of humanity. Earth swarmed with technology and served as an artificial base for projects concerning the fully renovated Solas Solar System. Ships flew in and out as people had driven cars so many trillions of years before. There was a solid peace amongst the people of Earth and humanborn.
Cortia Dek Fox was flying a routine mission to transport supplies to Lunar base 111.05. She was sipping energy ka when she saw a flash off the side of her visor-hud. Before she could react, it was too late. The ship was obliterated and there was nothing left from which to determine the cause. Com-signals went wild with emergency broadcasts. Most had seen a red beam and humans everywhere would wonder where the fuck it came from.
Sanjay Patelov was busy. Now, he was busy using his new telescope to focus in on the jiggly parts of the female joggers in Time Square, but he felt justified. Patelov & Murkin was a new publisher, but six of the New York Times current ten best-sellers proudly had that “P&M” emblazoned on their spines. It was a great deal of pressure, and Sanjay felt justified with a little peeping-tom-foolery from his sixty-sixth floor office window.
Which is why he was more than a little irritated when Clarence, his secretary, buzzed in.
“Message from Jermont McGuilligotty, sir.”
Shit, Sanjay thought. Talking with him is like talking to a brick wall possessed by E. M. Forster. And yet, the man’s books might as well have had wheels bolted on, they moved so fast… “What’s he want now?”
“He wants his latest novel removed from the site. He says he has no intention of giving away his work for free.”
Sanjy put the telescope away. He was no longer in the mood. “I imagine he believes you still have to cut the pages of magazines before you read them, as well. Nothing doing. No one’s going to buy the book if they can’t read it online. They’ll think we’re hiding the content, that it’s crap. The book stays.”
“He says he’s going to take it to a Print On Demand outfit if that’s the case. He says he already has a new ending and cover art.”
Sanjay stared out onto the New York skyline. He remembered, briefly, how it looked when he first came to the city. How the buildings towered above him. And now, they seemed so approachable. “Let him do it. If he wants to Lulu his novel, so be it. But keep our version up. And advertise that we have the original ending. He’s got to learn, you can’t sell anything anymore without giving it away for free.”
An old bottle with a key in it, attached to a box kite by a simple string. It was illogical to think it might have worked, but no one wanted to question a man of such intellectual stature. Perhaps it began as a joke, but to Yoma, there was nothing funny about that day. In a hundred years they’d come up with some other crack-pot means to power everything and people will believe in it, for a while at least.
He had been caught in traffic on the way to his wedding. The groom would be horrendously late, and Yoma knew that it would be the last straw in his fiancÃ©’s eyes. Traffic wasn’t really traffic that day. It was a stockpile of metal that had ceased to work, and all the lights supposedly running traffic had also seemed to lose their ability to function.
It hadn’t hit most of the people, who sat in their cars and tried to honk their horns. Some of them stared at the blank screens of their cellphones, and others turned the dials of their radio to find a spectrum of silence. Yoma left his car and walked down the street in his tux, downtrodden and defeated because he didn’t see this coming. He prided himself on being head professor of experimental sciences at Tesla University, a position that had helped him woo his lovely girlfriend.
Today was the day that all the equations dropped out, all the jargon became jarble, and every last one of the batteries in this world turned into a box of lies. Coils, turbines, and generators were as useful as wheels without hamsters.
Yoma continued on his path, watching the screens downtown display darkness. He mused to himself about buying stock in candle companies before nightfall.
Yuma stopped when he came across a particularly confused child who held a device once capable of producing games. The boy kept hitting it against a lamp-post while his parents tried desperately to restart their car.
“Stupid toy!” he yelled as he slammed it against the post, then tried to restart the machine with its power button. Yoma smirked and squatted beside him.
“What are you doing that for?” he asked.
“It won’t work! It’s broken!” With that reply, the boy ceased trying and stood with a frown on his face and frustration in his eyes.
Again, Yoma smirked, shaking his head as he rose to his feet. “Did you really believe that hitting it would make it work again? Why would you believe a silly thing like that?” Yoma began along his way again, shaking his head and madly smiling, whispering to himself, “Kite and Keyâ€¦ what a crock.”