You remember when Billy first went into space, donâ€™t you? First time one of those crazy rockets of his went off with him in it. First time he sent up the big rocket, not those little ones with the sensors made of old cell-phones and other garbage. Chuck always said heâ€™d send up Chairman Meow, or Mr. Catkins, or Daisyâ€™s kitten Cindy next, but he didnâ€™t. Billy went up immediately, soon as he knew as he could.
You hear what Daisy said? She was just in here, you just missed her. Billy calls her now and then. Only one from round here, â€˜spect. She told me Billy says the Jupiter colony wasnâ€™t gonna work by the end of next year. Called it the biggest failure of his life.
Daisyâ€™s doinâ€™ well. Says her VDâ€™s cleared up clear as day, and she gonna get back to work. That boy of hers is gettinâ€™ tall. She made a joke about how someone needs to market a daycare for prostitutes. Thatâ€™s Daisy for you. Always got a sense of humor.
She made some joke about Billy; canâ€™t remember what it was.
Remember how Chuck broke Billyâ€™s arm soon as he came down? Billy told everyone it was from re-entry, but a bunch of us saw him crawl out of that craft using both arms after landing. You saw it was Chuck, didnâ€™t you? Slammed Billy up against the wall, kicked him in the stomach, spat in his face. We all did a bit of that, but Chuck broke Billyâ€™s arm, make no mistake.
You seen Chuck recently? He looks good. Heâ€™s serious about quitting this time. Ever since that last binge, heâ€™s been serious. You know, the one he pawned his prosthetic leg to finance. You said heâ€™d be clean after losing that leg in that car accident, but he proved you wrong, eh? But heâ€™s serious now, he said so.
Still hard to believe Billy went, ainâ€™t it? Even after we all saw him, saw that rocket made of junk and debris took off into the sky? No one thought it would, despite what Billy told us about super-dense material and reverse-gravity fields an all that other hoodoo heâ€™d spout. But there it went, rocketing into the sky, out of Filt Street, out of Sporboro, out of the goddamn state and country and world.
Anyways, hereâ€™s the usual; youâ€™re still one of the best customers here, even after what happened to your throat. It’s amazing you can get enemas to work like that for you. Bottoms up! Ha! See you next week! The wine’ll be restocked!
What was that joke about Billy…
The aroma of cooked vegetables filled Lebaâ€™s nostrils as she finished mixing the oils for the final touches of her dinner. All the guests had been waiting to taste her delicious mixture of carrots and lettuce with roots and peppers as spices. In fact, the whole of the community adored Leba for her talents at making their normal everyday meals into something exquisite.
Though, even as Leba prepared the courses, her sister Enias watched and listened as their guests of honor eagerly awaited her sistersâ€™ well-prepared meal. They laughed and smiled as they readied themselved for the feast they were about to receive and many even went so far as to ignore Enias for the time being until their meals were to be served.
Jealously was a trait that indicated the annual shot wasnâ€™t working and even though she knew this, Enias kept the idea from public. She had thought that the guests must have known, since they spent so much time around the two. If they knew, she mused, it must not be wrong.
Enias began to wonder why they had to eat with tongs. Every edge of the tongs perfectly sculpted to be as dull as could be, and yet she wondered what tool could be used to supplement them. The very idea that larger portions had to be torn by hand boggled her mind.
The sour sister sat watching the guests and the table lay out like a large slab of marble with its pretty silk dressings, and she began to wonder if there would ever be something else to consume, something else to appease their honored guests. Perhaps in the back of her mind, Enias wanted to be her sister this night. Though now she was getting impatient as time was going by and there was no response from the kitchen.
As the laughing and the carousing of their guests went on, Enias became agitated and impatient. She stood, excusing herself and made for the kitchen where she would politely remind her favored sister of the importance of pleasing their guests with punctuality and good offerings. She entered through the swinging doors to find her sister kneeling over what looked to be a broken tong. Her left hand gripped her right wrist as she looked on in sorrow and horror at the crimson fluid dripping down her finger.
Looking upon the scene, Eniasâ€™ eyes were transfixed upon the very wound inflicted by the shattered wood of the tongs. Her sister was holding back tears and all Enias could think of was the something trying to unleash itself from the back of her mind. She could not define it and yet it pushed harder, trying to break free as the blood flowed. Suddenly it all broke free, and Enias knew what her and her honored guests had been missing all along. She would impress them this night.
I loved you John, I want you to understand that.
The Core wasnâ€™t wrong to match us as marriage candidates; it just didnâ€™t understand who you were really, the physical you. When we spoke and wrote and sent all those mad pictures over the Core – that was some other John. You used to write to me like a mad lover. You told me you would carry me though fire. You treated me like a partner, you told me you would always have my back, and that you could always trust me to have yours. I had compatibility with seventy-eight men over the Core, but none of them wrote like you, none of them sent the kind of beautiful pictures you did, or the songs you composed, or the mad videos you hacked together for me. No one was like you. Thatâ€™s why I married you John, you were singular.
When we bought this house on the floating islands, I thought I was about to enter a dream. I was going to be living with the most amazing man on the pacific islands in a planned community. We dreamed up a thousand adventures for when we got here, do you remember?
I told myself a lot of excuses when we moved in together. You were adjusting, it was a new place, and it would take a while for you to find your feet. You were rude because you were nervous. The drugs were just your way of making yourself comfortable, the way you yelled was just your passion. You said you would carry me though hell, but you couldnâ€™t love me enough to clean your clothes or rub my shoulders when I was tired.
After a while, I began to feel as if I had been tricked. I invented odd fantasies, that someone else had written those words, had sent those videos. I was being played on a trick, a terrible lie. Perhaps it was a program designed at seduction that you had bought; perhaps you bought me for the price of a cruel hack.
You asked me why I haven’t been bringing you meals, why I haven’t set the dials to clean the house, why I haven’t been talking to you. I thought you were a big liar, that I was wrapped in a lie, and I wanted you to suffer for what you have done. But that’s not the person I want to be. I don’t want to live as a bitter woman, angry about the life I keep choosing to trap myself in. I have to go away.
You are not the person I love, you are some strange, twisted imitator, some dreamer who dreams himself better than he is. You are so good at this that you fooled the Core, with all it’s wonderful psych tests and profiles. You fooled me too. You might even be fooling yourself.
I have to leave you. I cannot stay with the John who lives in that house; he is not the man that the Core matched me with.
When you become the man in those messages, find me.
Science has become the new standard of belief. It became the boundaries of thought and idea. I helped it grow to that, I helped to smite imagination and faith. Isnâ€™t it strange that I call upon you now?
When we completed the humane genome it was called a genius. I bore medals that weighed on me heavier than any pressure ever had of completing the sequence. Still, I persisted and sought to copy everything we were. It began in an egg and a sample, and it was complete. One child became two children became hundreds of children became thousands upon thousands.
Perfection is the word many would use to tell the stories of the population becoming less flawed and more like it should have been all along. I did that, and even then the medals outweighed my guilt. It didnâ€™t stop me, however, and I sought to perfectly secure the world of the past in nothing but a tube of glass. Already, science was becoming a crutch for everyone as the imperfect died of disease while the processed thrived.
It was I who brought back the extinct ones, and even then I started to forget where they came from in the first place. My mind was so transfixed upon finding more out about ourselves that I had misplaced the idea of the unseen. Instead, I saw the prehistoric fly again and the tribes of Australiaâ€™s natives walk again. The Croatian tribes were born to sterile labs and I watched them grow to become perfect like the others.
I gained perfection. I extended my life by altering my own code so that my work could live on. Others found this, and they too came to cease aging and continue on as if nothing had been different from the day they stopped growing older. I killed off the very idea of dying men. I made the human race happy, and I also made them empty.
They tore down their instruments of war and pollution and they cheered me still. They venerated me in books until they were also burned into nothing. The books came first and the churches came next. The symbols were gone; the texts were ash. I admit it all. I killed you, and I am so very sorry.
They will not allow this in public any longer, so here I am on my knees and my hands clenched together crying out for God. Even inside here, it is not safe. Weâ€™ve become two hundred and seven now and we are without you. Faithless and lost despite what everyone else believes.
There will be no more children, now that we all live forever. There will be no one to think differently or learn anew. I started out with a test tube and placed you inside of it to suffocate you. We never meant for this to happen, we just wanted to perfect ourselves. Things werenâ€™t so simple and I want you to come back. Iâ€™m praying for you now and hope that you forgive me for doing it. Please come back so that you can forgive me. Please.
Harun did not think she was being unreasonable. The passenger obviously felt she was, but what did she know? Nothing, Harun concluded. Nothing that was worth anything anywhere but planet-side.
â€œLook,â€ Harun said. â€œYou cannot take this much luggage. There is not much space on the ship, and that isnâ€™t going to change any on the station. You cannot bring all of this.â€ Harun gave the variety of suitcases and valises spread out on the shiny plastic customs table a disdainful wave. Harun had already emptied them all, and was slightly disgusted at the auspicious wealth of the contents. Metal eating utensils, glass picture frames, paper books.
The waste was rampant.
â€œIâ€™m not leaving my things behind,â€ the passenger said. She had a slight accent and a queer way of motioning with her chin to make a point. Neither of these things did anything to raise Harunâ€™s opinion of her.
â€œThen youâ€™re staying,â€ Harun said, folding her arms across her polyester uniform.
The passenger scanned the items on the table, fingering a few of them. She let out a diminutive sigh, and seemed to grow smaller in the hard plastic chair. â€œWhat can I take?â€ she asked.
Harun gathered up most of the passengerâ€™s clothes, a business-like scowl concealing her delight and wonder at the softness of the some of them. Not all of the clothes fit into the passengerâ€™s smallest bag, so Harun left out some of the more delicate articles.
â€œThis,â€ she said, holding up the bag. â€œThis is all you can take. The rest will have to be recycled. Things like this, though, I donâ€™t know what weâ€™re going to do with.â€ Harun picked up a doll from the table. Its painted face was done up in a coy pout, and its body was garbed in an elegant kimono. Harun was slightly repulsed by it, a feeling that intensified when it occurred to her that the doll wasnâ€™t clothed in polysatin, but real silk. â€œThe clothes we can recycle, possibly. But the bodyâ€¦.the body is made of clayâ€”â€
â€œPorcelain,â€ the passenger and her chin interjected. â€œSuki is made of porcelain.â€
â€œItâ€™s clay,â€ Harun said. â€œThis isnâ€™t even furnace kindling.â€ She was about to toss it back on the table in disgust, but the passenger yanked it out of her hands. Harun held back an unprofessional smirk as the passenger cradled the doll like a baby.
â€œThen let me take her,â€ the passenger said. â€œPlease, let me take her. You said yourself, sheâ€™s of no use here. Let me take her.â€
Harun hung her head. The people never understood. It was like talking to children. â€œItâ€™s not just a matter of use. Itâ€™s also a matter of space. That thing is clay and silk and paint. It will be of no use to you on the ship, no use to you on the station, and I can guarantee you will not make it to the colonies with it, because itâ€™s going to take up space you need for important things. And as you can see, thereâ€™s no room in your bag.â€
The passenger looked at the doll she was cradling, then at what Harun had designated as her only luggage. Setting the doll down and giving the lacquered head a reassuring pat, the passenger turned her attention to the small bag. She removed a wool jacket from the bag, rubbed the soft material up against her face, and then carefully placed the doll inside the bag. She raised her head to meet Harunâ€™s eyes.
â€œNow,â€ she said. â€œI am ready to go.â€
â€œYouâ€™re making a mistake,â€ Harun said. â€œThat jacketâ€™s made of fine woolâ€”â€
â€œAnd Suki is made of fine clay,â€ the passenger said.
Harun watched the passenger take her small bag toward the loading port. She started at the elements of the passengerâ€™s luggage. The overhead light glinted off the metal and glass in a way that was not entirely replicated by the plastic table underneath.
â€œWait,â€ Harun said. The passenger turned. â€œWear the jacket. Wear it as you board. Itâ€™ll be hot, but you can take it off as soon as they seal the doors.â€
The passengerâ€™s tight, pale face brightened. â€œThank you,â€ she said.
â€œSkin and bones thing like you, going into space,â€ Harun said. â€œYouâ€™re going to need all the help you can get, with what youâ€™re made of.â€
â€œThis is a disaster,â€ said Herman Goodrich. His magnetic chair glided away from the table and bobbed gently as he threw his excessive weight into it, then it obediently slid back into place. Goodrich wiped a glaze of sweat from his forehead and reached for a donut before opening his console. Around the conference table, the other members of the Department of Media Relations waited for their leader to continue, but he did not. Instead, Goodrich focused his attention on the document projected into the air before him. The silence was palpable.
â€œSir?â€ Dugan, the second-year intern, was the only one with the courage to break it. Goodrich looked up crossly.
â€œDid I give you permission to speak?â€ he snapped.
â€œThen donâ€™t. Have we suppressed the medical report?â€ Goodrich continued. The question was directed to Kimley, who nodded. â€œAnd the manâ€™s family?â€
â€œBribed,â€ Kimley said, â€œBut the ER footage is still on the net. We canâ€™t cover up the shooting itself.â€
â€œWould anyone care to explain to me why the Prime Ministerâ€™s ray gun was set to lethal?â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t, sir,â€ said Kimley. â€œThe man had a pacemaker. It malfunctioned at the livestock-stun setting.â€
Goodrich nodded. â€œA true hunting accident,â€ he said with some relief.
â€œCNN wants to interview the victim,â€ Kimley continued.
â€œWell, tell them heâ€™s recovering. Itâ€™ll blow over.â€
â€œSir,â€ said Dugan, again interrupting.
â€œI told you-â€œ
â€œSir, an interview might help us in this situation.â€
â€œYou know how the Prime Minister is with interviews.â€
â€œI mean with the victim.â€
â€œThe victimâ€™s dead, Dugan,â€ Kimley said.
â€œThey donâ€™t know that. Iâ€™ve been researching the automated decoys that the Secret Service uses during the Prime Ministerâ€™s transports, and-â€œ
â€œYou want CNN to interview a decoy?â€
â€œIt would only take a couple of hours to make a cast of the victimâ€™s face, and we have the Prime Ministerâ€™s phone logs for voice modulation. Weâ€™d be controlling every response.â€
Herman Goodrich considered this, frowning slightly.
â€œItâ€™s not a bad idea,â€ Kimley said after a pause.
â€œFine,â€ said Goodrich as he pushed the magnetic chair from the table. â€œSet it up. I want a test video in five hours.â€
As she pneumatic door slid shut behind the department head, Kimley smiled at Dugan. â€œYouâ€™re going to be good at this,â€ he said.