â€œSo what about â€˜light blueâ€™ or â€˜dark blueâ€™? Can I just say â€˜tinoh ekilitâ€™ and â€˜tinoh saikilitâ€™? Or do you have to use a separate word?â€
â€œNo, no, youâ€™re missing the point. They donâ€™t have light blue or dark blue. Itâ€™s either blue or it isnâ€™t.â€
â€œBut they have words for light and dark, so whatâ€™s the difference? Donâ€™t tell me their eyes canâ€™t distinguish different shades.â€
Rennie sighed and rubbed his temple. His newest student was proving to be far more difficult than heâ€™d bargained for. The government said the kid was quick, and sure, he seemed to be some sort of linguistic geniusâ€”heâ€™d picked up in a matter of hours the amount of vocabulary that Rennie had had to study for a year. But what good will it do him if he canâ€™t put himself in their mindset? â€œItâ€™s not their eyes,â€ he told Greg for what seemed like the thousandth time. â€œItâ€™s their brains. Like I said, a digital species. Blue or not-blue. Their eyes can tell the difference, but culturally, they just donâ€™t care.â€
â€œAnd nobody on Keraknos has ever challenged this?â€ Greg wasnâ€™t buying it, and Rennie could tell. Genius he may be, but heâ€™ll never be a great translator with an attitude like that. As if to confirm Rennieâ€™s fears, Greg crossed his arms arrogantly over his chest. â€œI canâ€™t believe that. Someone must have gone against the accepted order sometime, somewhere.â€
â€œLook, this isnâ€™t about government control or some coup dâ€™etat.â€ Now Rennie was getting a little annoyed. â€œItâ€™s a fundamental way of thinking. Their brains are just wired that way. You think a digital clock thinks about going against the â€˜established orderâ€™ and turning analog one day? Of course not. Itâ€™s a basic difference between our species, and if you canâ€™t handle that, you shouldnâ€™t be trying for the Ambassador job.â€
Greg scowled, and Rennie could tell heâ€™d hit a nerve. The jab seemed to keep Greg in check, and he nodded, visibly swallowing his pride. â€œSorry, sir,â€ he said with unusual and obviously reluctant politeness. â€œCan we go over the conjugations again?â€
â€œIf you want,â€ Rennie agreed magnanimously. â€œBut I recommend you get another tutor if youâ€™re not able to pick up the cultural stuff from me.â€ He watched Greg carefully for a reaction.
â€œNo, sir.â€ Gregâ€™s eyes were downcast, though they narrowed seriously when he spoke. â€œYouâ€™re the best, and everyone knows it. I really want this job. Iâ€™ll work on it. Itâ€™s justâ€¦â€ The boy genius scowled again, as if the next admission caused him physical pain. â€œItâ€™s hard for me to understand.â€
Rennie laughed out loud. The sound startled Greg, whose eyes flew up to his teacherâ€™s face, flashing with anger and resentment at a perceived insult. Rennie didnâ€™t care. That one sentence had convinced him; the kid really could learn, if he put his mind to it. â€œDonâ€™t sweat it,â€ he told Greg, clapping the boy on the shoulder. â€œYouâ€™re only human.â€
Turning a page in the magazine, Martha looked up to glance around at the others waiting in the lobby. The sound of dizzying muzak resonated around the off-white walls. She was nervous, but she had no reason to be. She was going to help a lot of people.
Across the room there was a small child in his motherâ€™s lap, toying with some plastic contraption. Martha’s smile made him shy and the mother looked up from her morning paper.
“Hello,” she said. It was something Martha hadnâ€™t expected, not in such a paranoid society.
“Hi. Sorry, I was just admiring your beautiful child.” Martha’s smile remained; it hid her awkward feelings.
“Oh it’s all right,â€ the woman replied. She stroked the childâ€™s stark blonde hair. â€œThank you for the compliment. The doctors worked really hard for him,”
“I can tell! Did you use Y-coding or the new Double-Helix method?”
The mother smiled brilliantly. “So you know your science, huh? You must be in here for the same thing.”
Martha nervously twisted her fingers around the armrests and looked down. “Actually, no… I’m here to donate. Wha-what about you?”
The woman pushed her brows together and started to bounce the child in her lap to keep it busy. “Us? Well, I know it’s stupid but… blood donation. You know, just in case.”
“Well, even though they clone the stuff doesn’t mean it’s perfect, right? Heh.” Marthaâ€™s nervousness was starting to shine through. But her words seemed to put the woman at ease.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. So, you as well? Blood donation?”
Martha could feel the room getting smaller. She straightened and cleared her throat, trying to buy precious seconds for the nervousness to fade and the pressure to go away. But the knot in her stomach only grew. She looked up, like a broken doll. “I, uhm…”
Blinking, the blonde mother murmured, “I suppose it’s none of my businessâ€””
“Oh, no! Iâ€”it’s just I’m doing the new thing. You know…” Martha let out a long sigh. She hoping that would be enough to hint her to the truth.
The child-toting woman eyes widened. She gave Martha a slow nod as if the weight of the situation had been made clear. “That’s… very noble of you. Do you have the insurance for the… uhm medication afterwards?” Martha could tell the woman was off-set by her decision to come here. She had to remember that somewhere, someone would benefit.
“Yeah, they promised that as long as I took the medication everything would be normal. Hah, I doubt I could really ever lose my humor anyways. Heh.” But the woman wasn’t laughing, just looking mournfully at Martha.
“Martha Finnegan?” The nurse called out from the opened door. Thank God for that, Martha thought. She stood up and waved to the woman and her boy, following the nurse into the hallway and eventually into the second room to the left. Her palms were sweating now. She was starting to have second thoughts.
“How are we this morning?” The nurse pulled the cloth off of the device as Martha sat on the paper-covered bedding in the examination room.
Martha swallowed a lump in her throat. “Fine.”
“Good. Now I need you to just relax, the Doctor will be in shortly to do the extraction.” The nurse smiled and put a hand on Marthaâ€™s before she left the room. Martha was a wreck. She put her head into her hands and breathed deeply. Trying to relieve the pressure, she opened her eyes and lifted her head. Right in front of her was an informational poster: Soul Drive – Help others less fortunate than you. Please donate today.
Martha relaxed deeply for the first time sheâ€™d gotten there. She knew her donation would really make a difference.
Which one of you did I go to the DEX with last night? Fess up fuckers, cause one of you left me floating in R-space without my pants.
At first, I didnâ€™t even know I was awake, there was light inside of my head and I couldnâ€™t make it dark. Then I realized that my eyes were open and I was staring out a window too drunk to move my head. My roll had worn down, though I had that freaky hungry feeling, the one where you want to eat mountains of citrus. I had my piece and my wad – still there, score one for the Socket – but I couldnâ€™t find my hi-glo pants, which had just begun to conform perfectly to the shape of my ass. I was sitting in a pile of wet plastic without my pants. Imagine my excitement.
I donâ€™t know what it feels like for Fucksticks, but a Socket can always tell if sheâ€™s had sex the morning after. Itâ€™s a relaxed ache that says that, yes; you got yourself good and fucked. That particular feeling convinced me that I had probably discarded my pants in the meat pile last night.
My Piece was warm from resting on my crotch all night. Guess what? The safety was off. I could have blown off my vag off in the middle of the fucking night and I would have been streaming to you from the hospital getting replacement parts.
I was feeling so shitty that I sucked the rest of my wad to relax. So Iâ€™m smoking, letting the hangover fumes do their work and Iâ€™m thinking, what did I do last night, did I swing Trans or Fuckstick? Or god forbid, another Socket. Iâ€™m usually Fuckstick, but I end up with Trans every time Iâ€™m drunk or rolling. Why canâ€™t I just meet a Trans when Iâ€™m sober, so that I can actually remember talking to them? Lizzie would say that itâ€™s because I donâ€™t want a real relationship, and that Fucksticks are just so easy to go through, like popping Animines. Personally I think Trans like me better when Iâ€™m stupid.
Iâ€™ve got a throbbing headache and Iâ€™m thinking about drinking again when this Fuckstick walks up to me and asks for a puff of my wad. I tell him to fuck off, and he starts spazing, flailing his limbs around making me nervous. I had to shoot the fucker. Course, this wakes up all the other shits passed out on the floor and weâ€™ve all got to clear out before the medic d-rots arrive and report an illegal gathering. I still donâ€™t have my pants, so I’ve got to take the pants off the guy who I just shot, who acts like a total dipshit until he passes out.
Some people just can’t take lead.
“They’re shutting down another museum?” Michael groaned as he turned the page over. “Who do these guys think they are? There’s like, what… two museums in the world left?”
Michael’s co-worker slowly raised his head above the cubicle and cocked a brow. “Mike, do you ever listen to what you say? Let it go, man and save up like everyone else.”
Michael Wiseman had a reason to be grumpy: he was the only one left in his family for the next four hundred years. That and the $2.50 wage he was making as a network engineer. “Sal, you just don’t get it. Every day they are making this era more and more stupid. This year seriously sucks, and it ain’t going to get better.” He went back to typing, watching the unhindered ping flashing by on the screen.
The mailman passed by a few moments later, looking tired as hell. His eyes were droopy and he was panting like he’d been running all over the place. Go figure. “Mail… whew… for, uh, Sir Michael Wiseman?”
Michael snatched the preserved letter before the postal worker could do any more damage to his pride. “Thank you very much, Jim. Don’t you have the rest of the East Coast to get to?” Jim skittered off to catch his plane with a mumbled insult.
Michael lounged back in his computer chair and opened the letter carefully. Sal came over with a cup of coffee and watched him read.
“Why do your parents always make your name goofy and shit when they send you mail?”
“I have no clue,” Michael said, giving a sidelong glare. “They say that unless they label it as royalty in Victorian England, it never gets anywhere.” Sal rolled his eyes and sipped his brew, while Micheal carefully handled the centuries old paper. “It’s not that I don’t like reading it, Sal. See? My dad is telling me he’ll send me Jack the Ripper’s knife. Normally I’d have been excited, but we all know there’s like a thousand of them around today, probably the same one. Who wants to buy a knife that’s so common like that?” He shoved the letter into his desk drawer.
“Mike, listen…. you should just chill. The Time Company is going to have a new sale on the 1920’s. You could just quit here, pack up and go if you wanted. Your parents would even still be around by then.” Sal’s brows were furrowed with rarely-showed genuine concern watching his friend and only co-worker’s frustration.
“Eh, I don’t know… I heard that they have that anti-alcohol law there. No wonder it’s going on sale.”Sal’s smile became smug as he went back to his desk in that otherwise empty office area. “Hey man, there’s only about ten thousand of us out there and I know a lot of them will take the sale.”
Grumbling issued from the other side of the cubicle. “And what about you? You going, Mr. Optimist?”
Sal pulled up his paycheck on-screen, grimacing as he read the total of “$50.42” for two weeks work. “Me? I’m saving up for The Renaissance, and according to the recent pay decrease–”
“Shit! I hate this fucking population-to-pay budget ratio!” The voice rang out in anger on the other side of the cubicle wall.
Sal just sat back and shook his head, “Yep. This year sucks.”
The day Korea went silent was the greatest single act of terror the world has ever known. There were no bombs in Samsungs tower, no poisonous explosions, no shootings, no crystal night. There was only that quiet dormant virus, spreading silently from one person to another, insidiously latching itself inside the most sensitive human organ.
Samsung tower dominated Seoul, an icicle rising from clustered silver buildings, connecting the heavens to earth in its mirrored windows. The wealth of United Korea was in its people: brilliant, poised, diplomatic communicators. Private industry and government invested in the advancement of United Korea’s primary resource, and at the vibrant center of that development was the merging of machines and men.
Each Korean citizen was implanted with mechanical discs that gave him or her access to an instant encyclopedia of knowledge and the full vocabulary of seven world languages. At the age of one year, each child could speak fluently, and the effect was eerie and magnificent. Within a few years, Korean teenagers were babbling in several languages simultaneously, the slang a sharp mixed tongue impossible for all but the most brilliant of linguists to follow. Within two generations, the world was relying on Korea for diplomats, programmers, managers, entertainers, businessmen and bankers. They said that to speak with a Korean was to open a library of world knowledge.
In sixty seconds on October 1st, the virus hatched from its incubation and destroyed the precious language center in each implanted mind. Some say that it was a group of Americans who did the job, angry that Samsung closed its U.S. offices and left them without work. Others claim it was done by religious conservatives, taking a hard line on the controversial issues surrounding the modification of the mind.
Stuttered half-words, grunts and screams ripped through the country. On conference calls business leaders grabbed their throats and shook their heads, their brains feeding meaning without words. Confusion and terror leaped from village to village; riots, mass hysteria and suicides swept the country. Terrible crashes occurred as transportation officials failed to communicate with each other. The minister of finance, at the age of 98, the oldest man in government, managed to reach out over international lines, flexing the muscles he had not used for 70 years as he cried across the oceans of the world. Help. Help.
During that silent time there were acts of great compassion. Mothers sang wordlessly to their children; strangers touched comforting hands on the street; lovers watched each other’s faces with new curiosity. The nation searched for meaning in the flickered expressions, the skin and eyes, the lip, the head. In a world dominated by screens, by virtual imitation, the forced exile from language made the people turn to each other. The heroes of that time go unrecorded, for they were all silent. Aid workers came, blue helmets and students from every continent on earth, coming to teach the ancient words. They expected chaos, but they found a new world.
I’ve been expecting you. You’re going to ask me if I’ve heard what the Fleet of Ages found on their return trip. I have. Wasn’t surprised when I heard it, either.
I never could wait. That was my problem. That was a failing we all shared.
I used to think that, more than any man, I understood the consequences of what those ships were supposed to bring back. When they launched I remember writing how I had a sense of apprehension; fear, but also pride. “Much the same way a lifelong gem miner must feel as he watches his sons go down that selfsame shaft.” Those were my words.
So I suppose I had no comprehension at all.
When I started mining the future, did I ever expect this? What could I have expected, if not this? You cannot take from the future and be ignorant of the past. We learned that now, too late. And we will pay the price of that lesson soon enough.
The Fleet of Ages, the Ships of Tomorrowall those other wondrous names your colleagues gave them. Not even when I brought back the technology that would allow such a colossal expedition into the future, did I imagine this. It’s just there were no signs. Not until it was too late.
Taking from the future seemed to be the one thing that defied the law of diminishing returns. Indeed, it seemed to flaunt it. Each time I traveled and looted, things would be different, though my destination time never changed. The future would always be brighter, more wondrous, filled more technological marvels for me to take back. We were able to progress without the work of it. After each trip, the present started further ahead.
Naturally, the Fleet of Ages was developed. It was the equivalent of strip-mining the future; we knew that. But we were certain that the advances we brought back would make the future more fertile. It always had before.
And such wonders the Fleet brought back! Such treasure! Such amazing advances! We were so proud of them, weren’t we? So proud. We were going to be gods before our time.
I never could wait. As soon as the Fleet came back, I had take another trip. I had to see, as soon as possible, what kind of fruit our actions had produced.
So I knew before everyone else the barren horror that is now the future.
We will not learn the lessons necessary for the proper use of what those ships have brought back. And we will misuse them. We are children playing with grenades; our destruction is inevitable
So concerned were we with what the future could give us, we lost sight of what we had to do in the present, to prepare. Because we couldn’t wait.
And now our time is past.