They are not awake.
They have been asleep for days, years. They lie sprawled across train platforms, clutching cellphones, notebooks, and mp3 players. Their hearts barely beat, drowsy with decreased metabolism. Their fingernails have grown long, curling under. They are pristine white from lack of use.
Dr. Sarah Rosencrantz had not expected this result.
Now, bored and alone in a city of sleep, Sarah walked down empty streets where the streetlights changed indifferently with an echoing thud. She no longer bleached her hair. In the summer, she often went without clothing, her skin gleaming white as she stood on Wall Street, knee-deep in a sea of business-suited bodies that inhaled and exhaled like the tide.
She continued her research, though she wasn’t sure why.
The generators continued to run. Water continued to flow. Everything was computerized, fueled by reserves that would last a hundred years. Worst-case scenario, they had said, pointing at color-coded maps as they stockpiled.
In a grocery store, a woman slept in the produce aisle, her hand folded around the blackened pit of a peach.
Trees continued to grow, and, unpruned, they arched over the sidewalks, nudging cement with timid roots. Sarah pondered, sometimes, what would happen when she died, when everyone died. The machines would remain awake, grumbling, until they too ran empty and the power ceased.
I95, streetlights blinking off one by one over the rusted carcasses of automobiles.
This war will destroy everyone, she had said when summoned to testify before the UN. She had meant to stop it. But not like this.
â€œOh my God. Peter, you didnâ€™t.â€
Peter smirked at his wifeâ€™s gaping stare. â€œYou bet I did,â€ he told her smugly. â€œNothingâ€™s too good for our anniversary.â€
â€œIt looks fabulous.â€ Beatriceâ€™s eyes shone as she ran a finger over the plastic wrap, feeling the smooth depression her movement caused. She giggled a little. â€œBut I donâ€™t even know how to cook synmeat. What are we going to do with it? Look at it?â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry,â€ Peter reassured her. â€œThe guy who sold it to me told me how to do it.â€ His smile increased its girth; he couldnâ€™t hide the secret any longer. â€œAnd itâ€™s not synmeat.â€
Beatrice looked at him oddly. â€œThen what is it?â€
Beatrice gasped, eyes wide now with horror. â€œPeterâ€¦ you could get arrested for that!â€ she hissed, grabbing the mushy package from him and glancing wildly around the room as if PETA enforcers were going to burst through the walls at any moment. â€œI didnâ€™t even know you could get real meat anymore!â€
â€œHoney, calm down.â€ Peter frowned. Heâ€™d expected his wife to be pleased. â€œA guy at the office tipped me off. I swear itâ€™s untraceable. Just look at it! Real beef! This might be the only chance we have in our lives to get some.â€
Beatrice seemed unconvinced. â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€¦ isnâ€™t it sort ofâ€¦ barbaric?â€
â€œDarling. Stop believing all the crap the government tells us. People were meant to eat real meat. Itâ€™s the way we were made. If we ate like this every day, we wouldnâ€™t have to get protein injections anymore, thatâ€™s for sure!â€ Peter was getting more upset. â€œCome on, I went through a lot to get this, okay? Itâ€™s our anniversary, and the thing is already dead. We might as well make the most of it.â€
Beatrice agreed in the interest of matrimonial bliss. She watched nervously as Peter cooked the beef, searing it as heâ€™d been instructed, and worried about whether their neighbors would pick up on the smell. Peter eventually made her set the table to keep her from getting in the way.
At last the meal was served, and Peter bit into it with gusto. Beatrice followed suit more hesitantly and both chewed for a few moments in silence.
â€œItâ€™s sort ofâ€¦ stringy,â€ Peter said at last, swallowing a bite with some difficulty. His expression of joy had faded into an uncomfortable frown. â€œYou can really tell itâ€™s, ah, real.â€
â€œMmmâ€¦ yes, you can.â€ Beatrice swallowed her own forkful with an expression of bliss. She opened her eyes as the rich taste settled into her senses and looked at her husband with an expression of true love and devotion. â€œThis is the best present youâ€™ve ever given me.â€
Her hands were starting to look like lobster claws. She said she wasnâ€™t going to go all the way, and wiggled the smaller claw to show it was still opposable. She said she liked the little teeth, though, and squeezed my arm too hard. She laughed at the little indentions in my arm. She almost fell off her chair.
The cappuccino machine hissed behind her. She liked coming to this place because it still had one of the old cappuccino machines. It was a relic, now. But things used to be built to last, and so this hunk of brass and copper still spewed out caffeine and foamed milk. She liked it because it was shiny and noisy. She used to do an impersonation of the machine, bouncing on the bed, hissing and squealing.
We donâ€™t sleep together anymore. Not since she rolled over on me and I caught the business end of one of her new back-spines. I still have the scar.
She started tapping her claws on her forehead. The clack of chitin on chitin made me feel visibly uncomfortable, and she saw that. She stopped, and reached out with her claws at me. I didnâ€™t want to recoil, but I did anyway.
She used to tickle me. She used to run her fingertips down my face. She used rub my stomach for good luck. I looked at the way the track lighting glinted off her enhanced brow-bumps and sickly noticed how similar it was to the glint off the cappuccino machine.
â€œThings used to be built to last,â€ I mumbled. She heard me anyway. Small tears slid down her face. They were falling much to fast, not having pores to slow their descent. I reached out to wipe her tears away, an instinctual motion. She was still soft around the eyes. They were still her eyes.
That’s when I knew things would be okay.
No one really found out how. In 2009 there were no more than twenty super-powered heroes trying their best to save the world, spread out thin as they were. They were always so busy. The Blaster stayed in the US, fighting off organized crime, while Sister Scion dug into corruption of Scotland Yard. They barely had time for talking, let alone anything or anyone else. It was said that most of them had never met, but…what can be said? There’s something very sexy about superpowers.
“Kade, honey? Are you coming to bed? I’m wearing that new slip-on you bought me.” A soft, sultry voice slinked downstairs to the man in boxers illuminated by the computer screenâ€™s eerie blue glow.
“Oh, you know I will! Just have to finish this…” Click. Kade, otherwise known as The Blaster, sat up and smirked. He placed his hands behind his head as he imagined the fun the two of them would have tonight. Nothing was more passionate than a relationship between two super-humans; Time Magazine had said so.
Kade hurried upstairs, his mischievous grin wide. Sister Scion was in for a whole different shade of trouble tonight. He kicked down the door to the bedroom and it crashed to the floor with a loud bang, leaving him posing in what remained of the frame. “The Blaster is here! Have no fear!”
“Cheesy as ever, Mr. Blaster.â€ The woman in bed was fair-skinned, with long black hair tied behind her in a ponytail. Sister Scion slender figure, usually encased in a silver and black outfit, was now laced up in black and red, hugging her succulent curves to the pleasure of her lover. â€œGet over here and let me show you some moves.”
Kade sprang towards the bed while trying clumsily to tug away his remaining clothes. “And what moves are those?”
“The kind that don’t involve you accidentally blasting a hole in Yankee Stadium, genius. You need to watch where you point your arms while you’re-”
“Yeah, I get the hint. So uh… you ready to get into… formation?”
Scion rolled her eyes and reached over, grabbing her male companion by the back of the neck and tugging him into a heated kiss. It was a spark, then strong, and then as she pulled back suddenly, it faded. “Mm… going to make me fly?”
“Well, you can do that yourself, sweetie. I was speaking more about mundane positions.”
She blinked, “Wow, that’s new. You mean… no…flying, or space-sex?”
He shook his head, staring her down, “Nope, I heard that normal people do it in missionary. It’s where you lay down on your back and…” He waggled both eyebrows at her in suggestion.
She bit her lip, “I don’t know, Kade, sounds kind of… well, boring. Can’t we do the one where we have it while falling from the atmosphere?”
“Oh, come on! It’ll be different. It’ll be like… like we were teenagers or something.” His eyes pleaded as his body edged closer, that superhero physique pressing up against her warm skin.
“Errrr… okay fine. But I swear, Kade, if you put a hole in our house I’m gonna kill you!” Her eyes narrowed as she pulled him on top of her. Kade reached over and turned the lights off.
There was rustling and in the dark, Kade whispered, “You know, maybe if you’re up for it, we can invite Femme Fire next time…” It was promptly followed by the loud slap.
“Kade! That was not what I meant when I said she was hot!”
Passed by that star today. The charts say itâ€™s called Erigo, but it might as well be Antarctica. Nothing. No inhabited planets, no probes, no satellites. No sign of life. No useful supplies, eitherâ€”most of its planets are gas giants, and thereâ€™s no way I could get enough oxygen out of them to help. I doubt Iâ€™d even make back what Iâ€™d lose by changing course, so thatâ€™s out. Just another useless system.
Repaired that intake valve. Turns out all it needed was a good cleaning.
Still in the outskirts of the Erigo system. Thatâ€™s E-R-I-G-O if anybodyâ€™s listening, forty-three radians and twelve thousand light-years, give or take, from galactic center. Watched the last onboard recording today. Some shit documentary about moon formation, but at least it was something. Now thereâ€™s nothing on this damned ship I havenâ€™t seen.
Oxygen still good, but running low on real food. Started alternating with ration packs to make it last longer. Had a slight fever today, but there were some injections for that in the medkit, so I took one and itâ€™s gone now. Engine running clean but hot. I shouldnâ€™t have gone into Erigoâ€™s gravity well.
Out of the system. Good riddance. Clipped toenails today as they were getting a little long. Looked through the charts, but thereâ€™s nothing around here that I can make it to without more fuel. Itâ€™s just black space for light years and light years in all directions, or at most, a little uninhabited star system. After the Erigo fiasco, have decided against checking any more stars listed as uninhabited. Set a course for the nearest sure bet, which is Aschelon. Barring some miracle where the hyperdrive spontaneously comes back online, Iâ€™ll never make it. So hi, anybody listening. Could really use a hand here.
Threw a fit yesterday and chucked a ration pack under the console. Felt good to scream my heart out, but afterwards I realized Iâ€™d used twice normal oxygen. Figures. Slept an extra twelve hours to compensate and didnâ€™t wake up once. Considered sleeping more often, but that feels too much like dying. Iâ€™d rather stay awake.
Nothing left but ration packs. Losing weight steadily, but not quickly. Had another fever two days ago. Two injections left in the kit. Hope nothing worse happens.
Gave in and decreased oxygen to nineteen mole percent. Increased sleep cycle to 11 hours. So many stars in the window, but I canâ€™t reach any of them. I want to scream, but I donâ€™t want to die. Someone please get this soon.
Recorded more log entries, but they were mostly cursing, so I deleted them. Donâ€™t remember making them. Mustâ€™ve happened while I was sick again, â€˜cause this time I didnâ€™t use an injection. Dumb idea. Kids, donâ€™t try this at home.
Running out of fuel. Turned the heat down to try to save power. Increased sleep cycle to 14 hours. Always tired now.
Fuck! Fuck you, you fucking assholes! Why wonâ€™t anybody come? I know you can hear me, damn it! I know it! Fuckingâ€¦ hell damn shit motherfuckers! I know you can hear me!
Iâ€™m soâ€¦ itâ€™s so cold. So hard to stay awake. I have to keep talking just to keep from sleeping. Iâ€™m so hungry. Itâ€™s cold in here. Itâ€™s so cold.
I was a Nexus then, regulating and regurgitating information into packets that were fed to the meat files of mainstream media. I was constantly hooked in, floating in nutrient-gel, eyes covered, fingers locked, steering, loading and filtering information so that people engaged in other pursuits could be kept current on politics, art, media and technology. My efficacy made me rich and my wealth allowed me to submerse myself further into my work. I could afford the kind of technology that would stimulate my muscles, feed me, and provide sufficient entertainment so that leaving the tank was unnecessary. We still have reporters, first person raw information sources that spend their time in transit on the ground, transmitting unfiltered data, video, audio, occasionally an opinion. Reporters are paid in tiny increments by hundreds of people like me.
I was aware that the northern guerilla fighters might attack me, for what I distributed in regards to their recent carnage. They didn’t care that I had written a similar critique on the atrocities of the UBE Army, they just wanted vengeance. I knew, but I was so disconnected from my own sense of physical self that I took no action to move, I could only watch it happen.
His spider arms, hard and agile, curled around my naked body and lifted me from the tank. It was dull and shadowy; the tank was the only source of light in the room. I craned my neck to look back at the tangle of wires and screens and sense-pits. I wanted to go back, but I let myself be lifted from the gel by the military machines. I looked at the lean silver face of the military cyborg, eyes black reflective surfaces, the smooth metal expressionless. I was not weak or tired, just disinterested. It spoke.
“Simona Rysler, you are herby confiscated by the UBE military forces. You are to remain docile while in transit to the holding facility. Your life is in danger. Remain calm.”
The voice was oddly soft, masculine and terribly earnest.
“I produced a story about the UBE converted forces.” I said, touching the thin metallic limbs that surrounded me.
“I know.” He said gently.
“It wasn’t complimentary.”
“I know.” He began to move. The UBE conversion forces are almost completely limbs, just a small center section barely as wide as my thigh comprises the center, which encases the spine and the brain. The thin cylinder that comprises the head is made for us more than anything else, something for the civvies and officers to look at. His spider limbs, one side a silver jointed blade and the other a flatted rubber surface alternatively held me and moved to catch the ground beneath us. I had seen videos of the UBE cyborgs rolling leaps and soft ballet landings, but to be inside the cage of his limbs, extending and contracting with his movements was magnificent. The wind was harsh on my sensitive wet skin. I watched us, detached, uncomfortable, as he leapt across silver buildings, spinning and landing on stone artifices. I was like a small egg inside a carefully constructed metal box. I looked through the web of his arms and saw the chasm of the city spinning down beneath us. I vomited, a dribble of fluid and then wretched empty heaving. He pulled my shaking body close to his metal center.
I had written about the cyborgs when their existence was revealed to the public. Young men stripped of their healthy human bodies and placed in robotic shells. It was dissemination of information and a philosophical treaties about waning humanity, the loss of human community and the devolution of mankind from a spiritual being to a materialistic creature. Robots would never war with us, as predicted in the old science fiction stories; rather, we would discard our bodies, our humanity, and hand our world to them without resistance. The essay had been very popular.
“Close your eyes, breathe deeply.” He said. There was a sharp sting on the back of my spine. The nausea drained and my muscles relaxed. When I opened my eyes, all I could see were his limbs and cylinder head.
“Where are we?”
“On the side of the VRINN building.”
“Oh.” I was feeling giddy. “You’re nice.”
“I’m designed for human transport. Retrieval and relocation is my specialty.”
“Don’t you ever miss sex?”
I was about to protest, talk about my active sexual life, but the truth was, although I was often involved in simulation, I hadn’t had a skin lover in nine years. I whispered to him.
“I’m sorry about what I wrote.”