Zai Lockheart felt slightly claustrophobic on her motherâ€™s porch despite the open, rolling wilderness of the Martian countryside that surrounded her. The house was a pre-fab jobâ€”â€œmy aluminum boxâ€ her mother called itâ€”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 couldnâ€™t sleep inside the house; the image of the house tumbling down the mountainside sprang to life every time Zai closed her eyes.
â€œThey have a legend up here, you know.â€ Zai was startled by her motherâ€™s voice behind her. â€œThey 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, â€˜I am a Martian!â€™ And if God believes you, youâ€™ll live in these mountains in happiness and peace, until the end of your days.â€
â€œAnd? If God doesnâ€™t believe you?â€
â€œSmiting. Lightning. Fire from heaven. That sort of thing.â€
â€œWell, it is a beautiful country-side. I can see why Godâ€™d be so picky about whoâ€™d get it.â€ Zai stood up and stretched. She had her fatherâ€™s height, and as such towered over her mother, despite them both being in bare feet. â€œI miss the old house, Mama.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t seem to miss it when you moved out,â€ Zaiâ€™s mother gave her a sly grin. â€œIt 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.â€
â€œI just have trouble picturing you living anywhere but home.â€
â€œAnd I have trouble picturing you without a scabbed knee and pigtails. But look at you now.â€ Zaiâ€™s mother turned away from her, and placed her hands on her hips. â€œWatch that sun come up. Paints the whole world red. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll ever get tired of that.â€
â€œMom, why did you move here?â€
â€œBecause,â€ her mother said, not looking back. â€œI am a Martain.â€
â€œI donâ€™t believe you.â€
â€œThatâ€™s nice, dear,â€ Zaiâ€™s mother said patting Zaiâ€™s hand as she shuffled back in the house. â€œBut youâ€™re not the one I have to convince.â€
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 termsâ€”neutral ground, a military escort, and standard contact proceedingsâ€”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 notâ€”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 Earthâ€™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 fearâ€”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.
Julius Bright wasnâ€™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 wouldnâ€™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 didnâ€™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 didnâ€™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 Iâ€™ve been very happy there. When I look back on the faux bohemian that I was, Iâ€™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.
â€œTim! Itâ€™s been years!â€ he said, throwing his hands dramatically up in the air. I didnâ€™t think he actually remembered me, I assume he played back his stored memory files. â€œI needed to talk to someone who could talk to the business side of things.â€ He said, leading me inside. â€œBut also someone who understood design, like you do.â€
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.
â€œWhat is one of the biggest problems the world of design faces?â€ He asked, leading me down a dark corridor.
I shrugged. â€œConsumer fatigue?â€
â€œOh Tim, you joker. No. The problem is with models, and the problem with models is their transience.â€ We came to a black curtained room with a long walkway. Julius leaped on the walkway and began to strut with long, angry steps. â€œA woman is only beautiful from fourteen to seventeen.â€ He paused and rested his silver cane against his lips. â€œMaybe seventeen is a bit old, but you see what I mean. Anyway, after that, she begins to rot. Theyâ€™ve got such a short shelf life; itâ€™s hard to build a career for them. They are flashes, beautiful lights that go out in an instant.â€ He hung his head. â€œThere are other issues too, young girls arenâ€™t very dependable, and the smart ones donâ€™t really have their heart in it, they always leave to become engineers or something. Terrible losses, really.â€
Julius opened his arms wide, smiling gaily. â€œBut 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 wonâ€™t get caught in scandals, unless you want them too, of course, and they can be relied upon. Theyâ€™ll never leave to go to school, or eat too much, or die. â€œ
I was about to ask what kind of girl would have all these features, but before I could speak, he began his monologue again.
â€œI know, the digital girl failed miserably years ago. The animated girl was fun and perfect, but she wasnâ€™t real, and people like things they can touch, or pretend they could touch.â€
â€œNow, now I can give you the flesh. Weâ€™ve grown the flesh based on the best girls in their prime. Weâ€™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.â€ 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. â€œHere is our innocent.â€ He pointed to the other end of the walkway â€œHere 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. Weâ€™ve been mixing them with models on the runway already, sneaking them in shows and no one has been the wiser. They arenâ€™t girls though, make no mistake.â€ Julian leaned in close; conspiratorially â€œThey are better.â€
Stretching his thin arms, Xytherzuk slipped into his council chair, the last of nine to be seated before the chamber of balance. The high-council glared down upon the little grey being staring up with black eyes that were nervous and begged for mercy. A being in robes stood at the table and looked down to the little one standing beneath the eyes of the council.
â€œEth, we have watched your experiment for seven cycles of the star system. Your efforts to weed out this humanoid evolution by pigment have failed.â€ The being sat slowly as the others began to whisper amongst themselves. The small being known as Eth spoke up.
â€œNo! It is not too late high-councilmen! Let me explain! Their prejudice growsâ€¦ it will eat at them and destroy them.â€ A loud boom shakes the sound within the room to a halt.
A smaller grey being leans forward. â€œThey are inspired by the colors you have given them. This virus of yours has caused them to see their world with shades and hues. Yet it has also caused them to expand!â€
Eth whimpered and in his squeaky voice tried to make due with his case, â€œThey have racism, high-council. And they have prejudice against colors that do not match. Given time this will cause more war and more hatred.â€
â€œWe are done with waiting, Eth. Already our scouts are identified by their grey skin. Could your virus not have given us a better sensory projection than a mottled grey? And of the skiesâ€¦ you made the skies look as such and they have ventured forth to go beyond it. This, we cannot allow. We are cutting the experiment.â€
In truth, Eth never really wanted to argue much with the council. He knew his experiment was doomed to failure from the beginning and yet somehow hoped everything would work out. As he was escorted back to his chamber he thought of the reactions of pigment to the human race and how it had blossomed into more than he could have imagined.
Imagination, it seemed to Eth, was something missing from more than just the humans. He sat within his chamber cell and waited for the guards to leave. Underneath his pillow he slipped a hand to retrieve his hidden vice. A small booklet colored with an amber hue rested in his three-fingered hand. He pulled it open to reveal a slew of what was known to the humans as photographs.
Sitting back against the wall, his small body heaved with a long, drawn-out sigh. They would remove the color from the world, but the virus remained within him. Plucking a photo from the group he looked at the vision of his grey form coated in paint and behind him a smearing of color across a brick wall in a dilapidated city block. Eth sighed and smiled. The colors were his to enjoy.
Terina fumbled in her pocket for her pill box, a present from her mother. If you had to live with such an unfortunate disease, Mama had told her bluntly, you might as well have something nice and unobtrusive to hide the necessary medication. Terina had needed a pill then, too, letting her six-year-old bangs hide the shame in her eyes. Thirty years later, she no longer had the benefit of the curtain of hair, but the enameled pill box was a good focus for her gaze. Terina popped out one of the small blue spheres and tucked it under her tongue, letting her body dissolve the medicine as she tried to pay attention to the feed in front of her.
Bodies. Dead bodies, everywhere, laid out across a bloody plain that nearly made Terina sick when she had to look at it. She swallowed bile and willed the pill to dissolve faster, sneaking a glance at her fellow commanding officers, all arrayed around the readout in stolid contemplation.
â€œLooks like the blast points were precise,â€ one of the men observed, pointing out charred circles on the readout with his stylus. â€œThey maximized human casualties rather than structural damage.â€
â€œThat makes sense,â€ a blue-eyed woman replied. â€œThatâ€™s one of the few plants that isnâ€™t automated. Without its workers, production will be halved at best. They did their research.â€ She shook her head in detached admiration. â€œIntelligent terrorists.â€
â€œLieutenant Carreas?â€ the colonel asked, turning to Terina for her opinion. She jumped a little before she got a hold of herself.
â€œWeâ€™ll have to write to the families,â€ she said softly, then immediately regretted it when six pairs of incredulous eyes turned towards her. Terina shrank back and crunched the pill between her teeth; anything to get it to dissolve faster and restore her composure.
â€œLetâ€™s focus on the situation at hand, Carreas,â€ the colonel suggested, and his disapproval was clear. Terina swallowed the pill. She could finally feel the medication beginning to take effect, detaching her from the weakness of outdated emotional reaction.
â€œYes, sir.â€ Straightening, Terina examined the readouts again, this time more easily able to ignore the mangled bodies at the crime scene. â€œThis looks like Redox residue,â€ she said at last, circling a blackened piece of ground with her own stylus in order to enlarge it. â€œIt must have been the Xiang rebels. No other group has access to that kind of technology.â€ The rest of the lieutenants nodded and murmured their agreement. Terina knew that all of them thought her more than a little flighty due to her condition, but they still showed a grudging respect for her skills as an analyst and tactician, provided she remembered to take her medication.
â€œGood work, Carreas.â€ The colonel nodded sharply and turned his gaze to the blue-eyed woman. â€œLieutenant Holmes, you will lead the dispatch team. Flush out the rebels; if theyâ€™re Xiang, they should still be in the area. Make sure theyâ€™re caught promptly. We canâ€™t afford any more production delays.â€ The woman saluted smartly and turned to go, with the rest of the commanding officers following a step afterwards, as soon as the colonel gave the signal of dismissal. Terina hung behind.
As the rest of the lieutenants filed out of the briefing room, Terina traced the images on the screen with her finger, swallowing a lump in her throat. She knew she wasnâ€™t supposed to think about the families. She wasnâ€™t supposed to feel any of this. She wasnâ€™t supposed to feel anything at all.
Turning quickly, Terina hurried to catch up with the rest of the group before she was missed. The slight blur of her vision was something she had learned to accept. Once the medication took full effect, it would be gone.
On Saturn’s ring plasma knives were illegal and as such, costly. Tangerine remembered Big Slab used to wear one around his neck, but she had never seen him use it. But this was Earth, and Earth was said to be civilized, unlike those settlements on Saturn’s rings. Which meant that when these girls from Tangerineâ€™s school brought out knives and threatened to cut her, they were plasma, not steel.
“Here’s how it lays out, Ringer,”said the tall girl, clearly the leader. Her holographic nails illuminated the delicate controls on her knife handle. “We don’t like you, and we don’t need your kind at this school. So we’re gonna do you a favor, and give you a reason to go on back to your smelly little rings.”
Tangerine’s mother had insisted on the move. She didn’t think Big Slab and the other members of The Titans were proper role-models for a young girl. Tangerine had tried to explain to her that you couldn’t be safer than the protÃ©gÃ© of the leader of the toughest gang in the ‘rings, but her mother wouldn’t hear of it.
“Saturn swallows its children whole,” she would say, shaking her head. And that would be the end of it. “Saturn swallows its children whole.”
So instead of the warm tutelage of Big Slab, Sally Gone, Dingo and all the rest, Tangerine was in the parking lot of a convenience store of civilized Earth with five girls discussing how many pieces they were going to slice her up.
“Don’t you worry too much about it, Ringer. Tell you what, if you don’t struggle, we may even leave you that pretty face of yours.” The tall girl kept adjusting the magnetic field of her knife, making the blade longer or shorter or wider or thinner. Playing with it.
Tangerine remembered Big Slab talking about those who treat weapons as toys. She remembered what he said about how to deal with those people. For the first time since leaving Saturn’s rings, Tangerine smiled.
“I really like your nails,” Tangerine said. “All that light. They must make finding your boyfriend’s tiny penis really easy.”
The tall girl came in quickly. Tangerine dodged the strike with ease, and caught the girls wrist. In one fluid motion, she turned off the knife, and depressed one of the control dials so hard it snapped. Tangerine pushed the girl away, closed her eyes and placed her arms in front of her face.
The tall girl charged again, raising her knife high above her head, her hologramed thumb switching it back on. But fell to her knees immediately when her knife exploded in her hand, the ignited plasma expanding outward without the magnetic field Tangerine had broken. The rest of the girl-gang temporarily blinded, Tangerine wasted no time hauling the tall girl up by her hair.
“I’m a daughter of Saturn,” Tangerine whispered in the tall girl’s ear. “I think you know what that means, now.” Tangerine let go of the tall girl’s hair, and watched as she crumpled on the asphalt.
Tangerine adjusted her school uniform, and calmly walked out of the parking lot, back into civilized Earth