Riktor ducked beneath a broken beam in the house and kept his live porta-mic on at his side. The satchel strapped around his left shoulder hugged him tightly.
“This is Rik Vance with Underground Union reporting to you from housing project 56.” He heard the groans coming from down the hallway and the din of unstoppable chatter coming from a floor above him. His eyes widened as he looked through two dark doorways at his side, waiting for an attack.
“It’s what I like to call the house of blues. You’ll understand in a second. Ladies and gentlemen the world is becoming wool to pull over your eyes, and it’s all thanks to Pharmceude Industries. I’m here at housing project 56 because this is where the products of a test gone horribly wrong were put to be forgotten. Like the crack houses of the 20th century, this place represents broken down souls, lost in addiction to what can only be described as popularity.”
The reporter glanced around a corner, noting a few individuals whimpering , curled up in make-shift beds of insulation foam and broken doorways. He winced and started to assess the situation in his mind, tapping the pistol he had at his side to make sure it was there. “Most of the underground kids listening know what I’m talking about. It’s not new, it’s just been put back on the market for those who can afford it. It’s called Notion, folks… and it may sound like a miracle, but if you could see what I see now, you’d know it was only paved with good intentions.”
A man glanced up, his eyes sunken in. He reached out for Riktor from afar before collapsing into sleep. Noises soon came from the stairs and two individuals, looking just as sunken as the man but dressed to go out, came down chatting up a storm. Riktor turned and looked at them in horror and sadness but nodded to them both as they passed him. “It was developed for those with social anxiety and Attention Deficit Disorder. What it became was escape, and this escape digs the hole deeper than you know. Notion is a blue biogel once known as Tetroglichen on the market a decade ago.” Riktor glanced back to the man who had passed out and walked over him, kneeling down to put a nutrient pill in his hand.
“Ask your children what it does, and if they tell you the details, then they are probably on it.” He sighed and stood back up, wiping his hands off and going towards the stairway. “Everyone wants to be popular, everyone wants to be the one running all the conversations. Notion blue can give that to you for a precious few hours.”
As he came to the top of the stairs, Riktor heard the noise of talking begin to rise, and he closed his eyes, knowing it would only get worse. “Save your kids. Save yourselves. You’re never too unpopular to work your way up, you’re never out of all the loops. For God’s sake, don’t take the easy way out.” He stepped onto the landing and saw three doorways where the noise was pouring out of and stepped towards one of them slowly.
“I was a Notioner once. I can remember every word spoken was as good as the first time you kiss, the first time you have sex and I wanted more. The need to have the person next to me speak almost as much as it was good to hear myself speak. I am ashamed I used to be like this.” There he stood before a room of individuals all talking, all smiling, all staring intently at the othersâ€™ lips in anticipation. Riktor took a step inside and the conversations continued without a foreseeable end.
“This is what you do when you think you’re a loser. It’s what you do when you think that no one will like you unless you’re like them. Drugs were once an indirect way of being social. Notion makes it as direct as a meteor crashing on your city.” He began to take pictures with his wrist-camera, watching as one had stopped talking and began to wander off outside the room. Riktor followed, watching the young girl cradle herself in her arms and slump against the wall. She was on the verge of tears by the time he came close.
“Your children can make friends like you did when you were young. Don’t watch them fall into blue, don’t let them be fake. Don’t ever let them be fake. Vik Out.” he knelt down and took her hand, but she pulled it back, and looked to him with large blue eyes. Her words were shaken but came out clear.
“Do… do you have blue?”
Riktor frowned and turned away, unable to watch. “No,” he said quietly.
She turned her gaze away and whispered back, “Then I don’t want to talk to you.”
Two weeks ago Forsythia moved into a new apartment in a beautiful old high-rise. Everything there was antique, from the dark wood paneling to the rich carpeting. It was a far cry from the decaying 20th century-style cinderblock tower that Forsythia used to live in. There were multiple elevators, each shiny brass. Ever since she moved in, the elevator on the far right had an “out of order” sign hung in front of it between red velvet ropes. Today the sign was gone, so Forsythia got in.
“Floor twenty please.” she said as the brass doors were closing.
“Take the stairs!” screeched the elevator.
Forsythia jumped, gasping. The voice had come from the lacquered ceiling. The elevators only other occupant, an elderly woman named Stacy, patted the Forsythia’s shoulder affectionately.
“Don’t worry about it, honey. That’s just Robbie.”
“The elevator. He’s just mad because he’s dead.”
Forsythia put her hand on her chest and tried to calm her breathing. “Oh, I thought most elevators don’t have personalities.”
Stacy nodded. “Oh, they don’t. This one doesn’t either. Robbie is inside the elevator.” She winked knowingly.
The elevator stopped. It was the third floor. “GET OFF!” screamed the elevator “TAKE THE CRAPPING STAIRS!” The lights indicating the floor blinked wildly.
Stacy folded her arms in front of her chest and frowned. “Robbie! You will close that door and take this nice young lady to her floor.” The door closed slowly, stopping a few times in childish protest. The old lady smiled, wrinkles bunching around her eyes. “Sorry about Robbie dear, he’s upset because he died in this elevator.”
“My God!” said Forsythia. “How did it happen?”
“The antigravity failed ““ it was in the old days, when we thought the whole thing was foolproof. The only thing Robbie had time to do before the crash was upload his circuit memory into the elevators processor.” She patted the faux wood paneling affectionately. “Poor dear. He won’t even pay attention when we tell him that there haven’t been any stairs for the past fourteen years. I don’t imagine he wants to think about it.”
“Think about what?”
“A world without stairs.”
The elevator doors opened reluctantly. “Hasn’t anyone ever tried to get him out of there?” Forsythia asked, stepping into the hallway.
“Oh my, yes, we’ve tried to convince him to let us put him on the worldwide system but he won’t go.” Stacy smiled, lifting a hundred wrinkles upward. “I think he likes it in here.”
Her hair is wet and stringy with amniogel and the tips of her fingers are wrinkled. She is thrashing around as much as the restraints will let her, choking and vomiting the pink nutrient liquid. This one is well-preserved. The centuries have left her untouched.
Her small breasts are quivering with each gasp and tears are leaving clear trails across her goo-covered cheeks. The choking turns to sobbing and screaming, but the rebirth chamber is soundproofed for privacy. Down the hallway, dozens of people are waking just like her, thrown violently against the wall of the present. I chose this one, Jennifer six three nine, because she was the most beautiful. They pay well for the pretty ones.
Her neurons are finding their ancient paths and she is remembering who she is. I can tell by the shrieks, which are beginning to separate into syllables. I readjust the microphone to better catch the terror in her voice. They pay well for the terror.
During my training as a technician, I was required to undergo rebirth. I remember the feel of the chamber’s metal grate against my naked back, and the slow stickiness of the gel rising to meet me. My wrists and ankles were bound with foam restraints to keep me from hurting myself during the shock, but I didn’t think I’d fight it. I was wrong. I closed my mouth against the liquid but it leaked through my nose and trickled down the back of my throat. I couldn’t swallow it all. When I coughed it up my lungs replenished themselves with a mixture of air and soupy pink, and though my brain understood it my body knew, beyond logic, that I was drowning. My back arched and my arms fought against the unyielding restraints. I choked with such force that I could feel the muscles in my chest strain under the tension until something clicked in my mind. Something went quiet. The last air bubbles drifted lazily through the goo and I understood that I was powerless, that no amount of fighting could save me. I inhaled as deeply as I could. My lungs filled with endless warmth.
For an unknown amount of time I drifted through a space between sleep and awareness. The low current of energy through the chamber stimulates REM sleep, but I wouldn’t remain there long enough to go under. The rebirth started with an electric hum and the feeling of suction through the grate at my back. It was worse than drowning. It was drowning in reverse.
When my lungs had rid themselves of the last of the amniogel, the restraints released with a metallic click and I sat up, my arms wrapped around the burning muscles in my stomach. Everything was so cold. I was impossibly naked and impossibly cold.
“It’s not so bad, is it?” my technician asked. It took him hours to offer me a robe, and I buried my face in the towel as I struggled to fight off the tears. “Don’t forget what it feels like,” he continued. “They’re not coming up from six minutes ago. They’re coming up from centuries.”
When I opened my eyes, I saw him leaning against the control panel, his arms folded across his broad chest. There was a bulge in the crotch of his jumpsuit. I pulled the robe tighter around my shoulders and focused on the feeling of air in my lungs.
“Get dressed,” he said, and left for the bathroom.
I didn’t forget. You don’t forget something like that.
Her back is against the grate of the chamber and Jennifer six three nine is almost done fighting. Her breathing is soft but ragged. I throw the switch for the clinical lamp over the chamber and she recoils, eyes clenching shut and arms straining against the restraints as she tries to protect her face from the light. I put away my equipment and the foam bars over her wrists and ankles retract with a click.
She draws her hands across her eyes to wipe away the tears and goo. When she opens them, they’re blue. I wish I had kept the camera going. No one has blue eyes anymore.
After a long pause, I hand her a terrycloth robe. “Welcome to the twenty fourth century, Jennifer,” I say with practiced warmth. She smiles weakly and pulls the white fabric tightly around her naked form.
Kadence smiled, looking over the vast rolling hills of sun soaked wheat. Her hair waved in the wind and the world seemed to pause to give her innocent beauty notice. Palestine approached from behind with soft footsteps, coming to watch the same glorious picture.
“It’s… without comprehension.” Kadence couldn’t stop herself from grinning wider. She stared out over the world, built over billions of years of evolution. Palestine put his hand on her shoulder, his tall figure dwarfing hers even as she stood on tiptoe to see over the waves of wheat in the horizon. His mouth moved to speak but at the last moment he let her perfect words sustain. He smiled, brushing fingers through her hair. It wasn’t the scene that made the mood so divine. It was everything leading up to that moment.
“I thought you’d like to hear the announcement before they shut off the Net, but this is much more peaceful.” Palestine tilted his head while she cradled herself against his chest. The world had become perfect.
“No,” she said. “I wanted to be here, the world has finally finished its journey. There’s no need to go back to the city now, Palestine. We should celebrate here, the celebration of ten years ago. A decade since the day they stopped all war.”
Palestine nodded and happily continued her recounting of events, “When they found a cure for all ailments.”
Kadence raised her head up, her hand resting at the base of his neck, her sea-green eyes transfixed and adoring. “When everyone took down their flags, and the world became one nation.” She paused and then let out a whisper, “When the hunger, and anger ceased to be.”
His voice was soft in the calm breeze, “When the religions closed their churches, their temples, all their doors. When God was one and the people became the same underneath him. Nothing more.” A tear slipped over Kadencesâ€™ cheek at his words. Her warm body pulsed, a perfect heartbeat of serenity. No stress, no hesitation about the world around her, she was as peaceful as the first moments of sleep.
Palestineâ€™s chest rose with a sigh under her cheek. Something was stirring in them, a flame so bright that it was overpowering. Their hearts, their very souls became as warm as the heat of the sun. Palestine cupped her chin, tilting her head back. He looked into Kadenceâ€™s wet eyes, her tears falling onto the soil beneath them.
“Today is the last day,â€ he said. â€œThey have disbanded all organizations, and they have told us to prepare.”
“What have they said, Palestine?â€ She looked up, her eyes curious. His expression was a mixture of emotion. He stroked her cheek lightly with the edge of his thumb. She closed her eyes in response, nodding gently. “Then it is done.”
“Itâ€™s done. It will start once more, ages from now, without us.” His words were lost to Kadence. She could barely make out his lips moving. In that field on that day, they died with the rest of the world. Trees fell to dust, insects became smoke, and even the smallest virus was brought to oblivion. Everything living and existing ceased to be.
Except for one, deep within the now-still lifeless ocean. It began once more.
When Ren won the global lottery he thought his handheld had been hacked. He knew his chances of winning were small but he bought his tickets daily just like everyone else. The ads said that you paid for the excitement of playing and Ren knew it was true. As soon as he got the news Ren called a lawyer, spending half his weekly salary on the privilege of a consultation. Together they learned that his ticket was authentic. He had won.
Solicitations poured in, begging him to spend his winnings. His mother insisted that he buy practical things like high citizenship, a house on The Green and a Platinum Transportation Pass. He could have all of that now, and for the rest of his life he could live like a retired man. The fortune would buy him a sweet life.
Working in the cube, all Ren could scrape together was just enough for the middle-low lifestyle and to pay his ever present debts. He was mainstream; everything about him was completely the same as the man in the next cube, common job, apartment and debts. Winning the lottery was a sign; this was his chance to escape from monotony. Ren knew he could not let the worldsâ€™ logic dictate to him what he should do with his fortune. The universe was giving Ren a genie in a magic bottle, and his wish wouldnâ€™t be wasted.
Ren contracted the right people. The alteration would not be impossible, but it would take a team of experts to tailor his body to his specific desires. He bleached his golden olive skin and tinted his eyes a deep black. These were the easy modifications, but Ren wanted a full body conversion, a permanent change in his genetic code. He wanted to be like the characters in the novels he read as a child, like the movies that scared and allured him. He wanted his life to have that dark color.
The whole process took two years while a team of experts reinvented his genetic code. The cost used up not only the lottery money, but his personal savings as well. Surgeries and radiation treatments were painful and the viral changes, which carried the code of his wish through his whole body, had him vomiting and shitting at all hours. He nearly died.
Ren knew, when it all started, that he couldnâ€™t go back to his old job, which required that he work in daylight hours. It took a long time to find work he was suited for, long enough that he had to take out a high interest loan just to keep drinking. Finally, Ren found work as a night watchman at a high security living complex on The Green. It was a place where the wealthy went to live in actual two story houses. He spent his nights in a room filled with monitors, his eyes glued to flickering screens.
In the morning, Ren would go back to the place he slept in the janitorial closet. His boss was letting him stay there until he got on his feet again. The light from his eyes turned the black room grey. Ren spent his time reading romantic novels and watching horror movies on a small cracked screen. The hunger was just as he asked for, persistent, gnawing. He laughed and shivered in his bleached white skin. Ren had what he wanted, he was a living nightmare.
We are using your ankles, he said.
She sat in the cold plastic chair, watching the scientist twirl the vial of her blood.
Only my ankles?
You have strong ankles. They hold your feet well. He put the tube in a plastic holder. The top of the tube was red and black swirled. She wondered why doctors did not use solid-colored stoppers. She looked at her blood. Outside of her, it seemed different, darker and emptier like oil.
Soon it would be cold, but that would be okay.
Are you familiar with the human genome project? The doctor asked.
That was years ago.
Yes, but advances have been made.
We have isolated the genes that produce your ankles. They will go into her. She will have strong ankles as well.
Her signature, trailing above the printed lines, felt separate from her like her blood. How many signatures were there, she wondered? Did they take one thing from each person they included, or were some people better, worth more parts?
Iâ€™m glad to help, she said, and stared downwards to the point where her leg met her foot. It did not seem special. She would have taken other things, other parts. But that did not matter. She was a secretary, not a doctor. He knew better anyway, she was certain.
Your country thanks you, he said. Humanity thanks you.
She did not move. Her blood was almost room temperature. She thought of centrifuges. She looked at her hands, but they were flawed and dirty. The joints were too thick, the wrists were not strong. This was fine. She looked at them anyway, and thought of filing papers.
You can go now, he said. We have what we need.