They sealed Emily’s room three days after the accident, trapping puzzle games and animatronic bears behind the white hydraulic door. Her parents did not want to see the small proofs: things like names doodled on digipaper, the I’s topped by pixellated hearts. A week later they shut down the biofield to save energy and the house’s mainframe showed the room turn cold, its window displays no longer marking the difference between imagined night and day.
The cards and flowers dwindled off after a few weeks, but Emily’s parents waited months before disposing of the everblooms. The white and green plants, caught in photosynthetic stasis, did not shadow the evolution of grief. “Who’s getting married?” the mother of one of Thomas’s school friends asked when picking up her son. Her question was met by lingering silence until Thomas told her, “They’re my sister’s. She’s dead.”
That night, the organic material was recycled, and for days, every meal tasted of chlorophyll.
The forms arrived eighteen months later, stating in cold, efficient terms that the period of sanctioned mourning was over and it was time to consider the population stability of the community. It was a matter of duty, and only the mattress made sound.
Thomas watched his mother swell. Against all odds, pregnancy had improved her mood; she now spent days smiling, one hand resting over the growing bulge. “We need to renovate the room,” his father said.
“Emily’s room?” Thomas asked.
“It’s just a room,” he said, his tone flat. “Rooms don’t belong to anyone.”
At night, Thomas stood before the mainframe, trying to guess the password his parents had set. Her birthday, no. The day of the accident, no. Nothing. He pressed his hand against the sense panel and the mainframe grew warm.
Password accepted, the display read, although Thomas had typed nothing.
The door to the room opened with ease, just like the door of every other room in the house. The lights were dimmed for night, as Emily had always been terrified of the dark, and he noticed the scent of a recent biosweep, killing the bacteria that might have harmed the young girl. It took Thomas several moments to realize that the biofield had never been lowered, despite what the mainframe had claimed.
On the opposite wall, the constellations of Earth hung in the frame of the window display and Thomas moved closer, scanning the well-mapped ocean that his parents had chosen as his sister’s view. At the edge the dark and textured expanse, the horizon showed the faintest signs of dawn: darkest purple blending into the night sky like a bruise.
The Annual Garden Party was called such more out of tradition than anything else; there was no vegetation to be found, only green crystal ferns and porcelain roses. However, appearances and traditions had to be respected and kept up. It was commented on that the way the artificial sunlight glinted off the facets and glaze was, in humble opinions that would never be expressed if the whole effect wasn’t just so breathtaking, better than the original.
Byron hated it. Cecelia could see he hated it, but she brushed it off as concern for his younger sister, Bunny, as she continually tottered dangerously close to the ferns, her immense platform sandals and limited coordination not helping the matter any.
“Bunny,” Byron called, and the girl ambled over to the table he and Cecelia shared. “Look, here. I brought your tiara. Why don’t you go pose in it away from the ferns?”
“Oooooo! Shiny!” Bunny’s jewelry clattered noisily as she half-ran, half-fell away from the tables.
“She’s a beautiful girl, your sister,” Cecelia said. Byron only looked sad.
“She’s a beautiful girl with Holstein-Gottorp’s Disorder. I’m just glad she’s still young enough for the pageant circuit. When that goes, I’m not sure what she’s going to have.”
“It’s wonderful the way you care for her. You’ll make an excellent father.”
“Cecelia, we’ve talked about this.” Byron nervously ran his fingers over the gold tabletop. “You know I love you, but my sister has Holstein-Gottorp’s, and, well, with our combined inheritence, there’s a good chance any children we have could end up a…”
“BRIETARD!!!” Some smaller children were yelling at Bunny, throwing chocolates at her ample cleavage. She ran away from them, crying, and hid under a table. Byron looked pale.
“Byron, baby.” Cecelia took his hands, their multitude of rings clacking as they came together. “Even if we have brietarded children, we’ll make it work.”
“You don’t understand. Yesterday, my sister was asked to introduce herself, and she said ‘What? Like, with words?’ I can’t live with that.”
“So then we’ll give it up,” Cecelia said. “All of it. Maybe we even…I don’t know, get jobs or something.”
Byron looked aghast. “Are you mad?” He turned to watch his sister, once again tottering toward the glimmering fake plants. “Can’t we just do something sensible like adopt one of those strange little alien refugees? Something sane like that.”
Even in the heart of the city, Rene is in the open places. His feet splash in streams, not gutters, and his ears feel the whistle of the wind and not the cry of sirens. Past the dumpsters and yakatori stands, Rene smells green grass and the air right before a storm. He can hear his brother’s laughter, and the thunder of a thousand wild horses running with him.
Shelia Ruye told him it wouldn’t last, and when Rene reaches the docks, he hacks and he wheezes and the real world slithers back in into his frame of vision. Shelia Ruye told him that Reservation was the best, like no dose he ever had, that Rez took your fondest memory and gave it back. Didn’t last long, though, and to Rene the city looked small and crumpled and dirty and his brother was still in the ground. Rene tried to vomit food he hadn’t eaten, and made sense of the city best he could. Because making sense of the city was the only way to get away from it, only way he could find more Rez.
Rene runs to the heart of the city in order to run back out of it again, with enough Rez pounding in his ears and his eyes to make it past the docks, past the city. His brother’s laughter will hold him up and wild horses will carry him across the moonlit water.
He sees this as surely as he sees the wide open places and the cramped dank alleys. And Rene knows that to stay in one, he has to leave the other.
By federal law, I am required to inform you that by stepping outside of these doors, you are releasing the federal government from liability for your safety. Although I have never lost a person on one of my guided tours of the Outside, I have seen people maimed and kidnapped. People have died when taking these kinds of trips, and itâ€™s important for all of you to be educated about the dangers that exist Outside.
I see many young new faces today, so I think it would benefit us to review some of the safety standards for an Outside Tour.
For the first time since the Great War radiation and air pollution levels are within acceptable limits for human tolerance. However, we still recommend that you keep your air filters on your face and your suit zipped over your head. Experienced Outside travelers enjoy removing their protection for limited periods of time, but until you know your own limits, I donâ€™t recommend doing this. I have had individuals who were unprepared for unfiltered air become very ill. Many of you may have medical conditions that you are unaware of because you have been breathing filtered medicated air since birth and the adjustment from this air to the Outside air may be uncomfortable.
Remember, even with the filter, you will not be getting the regular medications that the government provides indoors. Unless you have purchased daily pills to compensate, which are openly available over the Net, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal. Some people report feeling very tired, some people report high energy and anxiety. Most people experience feelings of nausea, which pass after a day or so. Please be aware of your own needs. If you begin to feel ill, please report to a group leader.
The buddy system is imperative to this trip. Keep your buddy in sight and touching distance in all times. Watch your buddy carefully for signs of physical or mental illness. You are responsible for each other. Team leaders on my tour are highly trained professionals with hundreds of tours under their belts. They can protect you and keep you safe, but only if you follow the simple rules that I will set out for you.
Rule one, donâ€™t touch anyone. There are no real people on the Outside, only monsters and people so far deformed it ainâ€™t worth calling them people anymore. Although most of these individuals are quite harmless, some of them are tricksters in the worst way, and will try to get you close so that they may inflict violence upon you.
Rule two, donâ€™t eat anything you find Outside.
Remember that what we consume here on the inside and what is grown on the Outside are very different. We cannot anticipate your bodyâ€™s reaction to anything you consume on the Outside. Fruit of the Outside may be the greatest taste that you have ever had, but there have been cases where people have been driven mad, or died, from consuming the food out here. Do so only at your own peril.
Rule three, do not give handouts.
At select points during the tour you may see group leaders trading with individuals on the Outside. Do not attempt to do this yourself, as individuals Outside can be highly unstable, and may be able to use even the simplest of tools or food to fashion weapons. You may see some terrible things on the Outside, but leave your sympathy here in this room.
Obey these rules and your group leaders and you will see some of the most magnificent sights of your life, and you will be challenged beyond anything youâ€™ve done before. Everyone have their packs ready? Are your suits zipped? Check your filters?
Alright. Open the door, we are going Outside.
The stranger had come full of bizarre smells and even odder forms of payment, and while Hikari wrinkled her nose at the collection of coins and seeds, it was technically money. So she tucked the coins away, placed the seeds in some soft earth so they could blossom properly, and offered the stranger coffee.
“No, thanks,” he said, his eyes glued to the window and the hangar beyond yet. “Is that a monkey?”
“Say ’bout eighty percent of him, yes,” Hikari said, her ears twitching. There was something about this man she wasn’t sure she liked. Though she had to admit, now that she had gotten over its exotic nature, she couldn’t get enough of his smell. “It’s not just a clever name.”
“And he’s going to be working on my ship?”
“If he likes the look of you. ” Hikari allowed a sly smile to play across her muzzle. “Wouldn’t sweat it, I haven’t seen him turn down a pregnancy once. He’ll probably go at it all night. ”
“All night, but how could..well, if that’s what it takes…” The man slumped on the couch, and ran his hand through his hair. He had lots of hair, long black curls. Hikari liked his hair.
“This your first time, hon?”
“Yeah. That obvious? Caught me a bit by surprise. Checking the cargo hold and finding…I didn’t think she was that kind of ship, you know. I probably left her too long at port. Back at Sumter there was this whole gang of Plesocopuses that were up to no good, bet it was one of those…”
“Oh, hush,” Hikari said. She leaned forward toward the man and played a bit with the shoulder strap of her tiny shirt. “That ship of yours ain’t hussy. And you can trust me, I know the type. Back when I was kitten on Osiron, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting some bastard swizzleskid or tamerind. You fellas forget how much of your ship is flesh and blood, forget that a girl’s got needs.” She walked over to him, her hips swaying in time with her tail.
“I imagine she does, at that….”
“She was just doing what came natural.” Hikari slinked onto the couch next to the man and stared at him, black slits narrowing in deep green eyes. “You two came from Sumter? Long ways. Not surprised you turned down the coffee. Reckon I could find other ways to help you relax. ” Hikari snuggled up close, and gave a soft purr as he stroked the soft mottled fur down her back.
“Well, if the monkey’s gonna be at it all night…”
Liberty ate her lunch alone. It wasnâ€™t that she was shy; back at home in the national park where she grew up, she had been very outgoing. In the city, under the press of glistening buildings and cars speeding through the sky, advertisements wailing and the press of people, sensation zappers shooting through you from ads, spreading the taste of chocolate or burger or the scent of perfumes Liberty needed time to recoup. Liberty took quiet lunches to collect her thoughts before going back out into the crowing sensations.
The little Martian restaurant close to campus always seemed crowded but somehow there always seemed to be a table when she came in. Then Liberty realized that the Martians were seating her before other people, preferential treatment for a regular. They always smiled at her when she came in, and she always left them a big tip on her credit line.
Once, on a slow day, she asked for a dish they didnâ€™t have on the menu. Most Earth people didnâ€™t like it; it was a pickled root that was engineered on Mars, and cooked in a spicy curry.
Liberty had been to Mars once, after the war. She was only ten years old then, but she had family on Mars. Her grandmother had gone through the genetic treatment before the war to become fully Martian. When her father and her mother had stepped off the ship onto the alien world, six Martians were waiting for them. They were the tallest people that Liberty had ever seen, they looked like they had all been stretched by giant hands. Their skin was red and orange in swirls that bled into each other, and each one of them had giant eyes with a thin clear eyelid that slid over quick, and a thick outer eyelid that looked tough and callused, even on the children. Back then, all the Martians looked alike to her, but her mom had known her grandmother right away, and they touched each otherâ€™s faces and embraced, and all the weirdness of standing in front of people they didnâ€™t know seemed to disappear. In those few months Liberty was free from school, and spent all her time running around the red Martian caves with her grandmothers children, and eating the Martian curried root. Her father had said that the war happened because the Martians didnâ€™t want to be human anymore, and by being there, Liberty was showing them what they were missing. When Liberty was older, she learned more about the war, and a lot of what her father told her was shattered.
Once, when she was eating her lunch, a couple at the table beside her started to argue with their waiter.
â€œBring me the tab in Chinese!â€ demanded the purple haired woman. â€œ I canâ€™t read it in Martian, I want it in Chinese.â€ she said, her voice like a car horn. The man with her, with matching puffy purple hair muttered something about Martians, and how they aught to learn the three basic languages if they wanted to live here.
â€œThe menu is in Chinese.â€ said their waiter helplessly holding out the menu pad to them. â€œYou can read the price there if you think we are cheating you.â€
â€œI need to enter the data values of calorie consumption and fiscal consumption into my data bank.â€ She exposed her left breast, which had a counter of calories and her exposed credit line in moving ink on her flesh. The waiter looked away. Tattoos of any kind were forbidden in Martian culture.
â€œCanâ€™t any of you write in Chinese? Or can you only write in your make-believe language?â€ screeched the woman.
Liberty stood up and grabbed the data pad out of the waiterâ€™s hands. â€œI can translate Martian.” she said, and she wrote the words into Chinese on the tab and threw it on the table. â€œThere. Now I think you should pay the man.â€ The woman with the purple hair paid the bill and left in a hurry. They did not leave a tip.
â€œHow did you learn to read Martian?â€ asked the waiter.
Liberty picked up her bags. â€œWhen I was a child, I used to be a Martian too.â€