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Tag: sci-fi


Humans evolved to reproduce, not to be happy. Only with the advent of consciousness did we decide we needed to be happy. Consciousness, therefore, may have been a mistake.

Pilar Arreba, Ph.D.

I got into the program at the age of thirty-two. I’d been on and off public assistance, had just lost my job (again), and needed a way to pay my rent. I met the criteria: I’d never taken prescription drugs and I was officially, medically, definitely depressed. The doctor said so. I was in her pristine white exam room when she said so, with those pristine white teeth, like the pristine white porcelain of a freshly bleached toilet bowl.

I didn’t hate her though. I hated myself. Or is that too much of a cliché? Depressives can be as sentimental as anyone. Maybe more so. I hated myself. I didn’t want to die though. I was too lazy for that. I just didn’t want the one thing I feared more than death: living with my mother.

The program let me avoid that. The only problem was, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing there. I ate. (When I could.) I slept. (When I could.) I kept a diary, but only because one of the therapists suggested it, for my own use. They weren’t even going to look at it. This is what I wrote on my first night:

“Sometimes it feels like I’m dying. Not from an illness, not physically. Just dissolving. From the outside in. Fading away. I wouldn’t be surprised if my hand passed through a wall one day. I have become insubstantial. I affect nothing. I drift.”

Sentimental, like I said. Depressives are a ridiculous lot. Or maybe we’re prophets, or a diverse collection of Cassandras. Except we don’t speak the truth, just the truth as we know it.

They didn’t give us any drugs. There was no TV. I could get a signal on my phone, but I didn’t have anyone to call. I mean, except my mother, but I didn’t. She knew I was there. She didn’t need to know anything else. It was a sort of sleep-away camp for depressives. Except we didn’t stay, or not all of us. Not the whole time. We disappeared, one by one. When you fell too deep, you’d get removed. Moved into the second phase of the program. There were thirty-eight of us to start. A week in we were down to thirty. Three weeks it was twenty-five. Six weeks it was just me and my roommate.

I didn’t know if that was a coincidence. Maybe depressives are better at holding onto one another, using each other as flotation devices. Six weeks and two days and my roommate went down. Her name was Pearl — yeah, it’s that old fashioned. She said she was German and Chinese, but all I knew was that she had too much hair and never rinsed out the sink after she brushed her teeth.

I’d been talking to her for three hours, or really just listening. Or sitting there. I never knew what to say to other depressives. She told me she was in the hole, and what can I say to that? I’ve been there. I know what it looks like, down to the color of the walls, the shape of the furniture. But I still couldn’t look at her as the nurse took her pulse and tapped a handheld. It was as if Pearl were confessing to the enemy.

I didn’t have to go with her, but I did. I didn’t want to admit that I was scared, so I didn’t.

The place was in a basement. They called it a sub-floor, as if that made a difference. It was 11:30 at night and everything smelled like steel. I didn’t even know steel had a smell. Floodlights picked out a lozenge-shaped pool, like a big white trough, covered by an oily film. Tubes on jointed arms hung over it and a purple light blinked on and off, so slowly I was never sure if any of the machines were actually working.

There were no doctors, only a pair of nurses and three technicians wearing shorts underneath their lab coats, as if they’d been called away from a tennis match. One of them rubbed his fingers together in a familiar gesture, over and over, the way my mother always did. He was probably dying for a cigarette.

No one said a word to me. Not even Pearl, though one of the nurses tried to get her to answer a few questions. Are you in pain, he’d asked, and I wanted to laugh. I think sometimes if I punctured my wrist, the blood would bleed out black, like tar. I didn’t know Pearl very well, but I’d guess it was the same for her.

She didn’t even struggle as they lowered her into the vat. I want to say I would have, but I can’t. The tubes moved on their jointed arms, connecting one by one to hidden valves, and the steel smell got worse and the whole room seemed to drop ten degrees. I shivered and sweated at the same time. I could hardly see her now, between the hips and shoulders of the technicians and nurses. Just her feet, sticking up like some absurd fruit above the silvery sheen of the liquid.

I looked away when the lid went on. It slid into place over the top of the trough and sealed without a noise, without even the hiss of air to reassure me she could still breathe. The purple light went off and on like it always did, but it was joined now by a whole row of lights I hadn’t seen before, coming to life one by one. I stayed until a nurse told me Pearl was okay, that she was in a deep sleep. Induced coma. The product of technological progress, the hibernation state that would cure depression.

I left the next morning. Not into the basement, into a taxi. I went home. I packed my things and had my mom pick me up. I won’t repeat what she said. My old room was still intact, save for the sewing machine and the exercise bike and a half-dozen baskets of folded laundry.

I heard from Pearl six months later. She sent me a text. She was doing great, she said. She was going back to school. She’d never felt better in her life, and she wanted to meet up, was I free?

I was working part-time at a hotel. I was still living with my mother. I had good days and bad days, though mostly bad. I was still mostly invisible. I couldn’t think of a way to say no.

So I didn’t say anything at all.

July 11, 2015

Spider Silk

Her name was Spider Silk.

I never met her myself, of course. She was a ghost, one of those transient spirits who alights for only a moment in the mortal realm — or at least the platform known as Mortis. Eleven-hundred colonists, devotees of an abstemious lifestyle, with a negative birth rate and a predilection for going to bed early. It wasn’t really called Mortis, of course. It never really had a name, just a registration number, one that was forgotten after we lost contact with the overworlds.

But we never forgot Spider Silk.

She came with a growth wave, an influx of outsiders looking for work or enlightenment, or both. We didn’t have sisters and brothers then, only task-mates and task-masters, and Spider Silk had so many she knew no strangers until she reached Mortis. “These are your new people,” one of them said to her. But she saw only raw faces, unsheltered by familiar expressions, and turned away. She wouldn’t work with them and spent her leisure hours alone. Even those who’d known her before now found her strange.

Spider Silk retreated. She went into that twilight place of the mind and soul that knows no solace — also the outer scaffolding of the platform. She nested there, it’s said. She brought with her what a solitary person might need to survive and drew around herself what scraps and flotsam she’d gathered along the way, from her long-ago home and the detritus of the orbiting platform. She lived there alone and cast adrift what she called her ‘messages of the heart,’ tiny orbs of light that flickered in the darkness of space, following the invisible trail of the platform, only to wink out again in a day or two. They signified nothing, as her life signified nothing, and so she paid them no mind.

But they didn’t go unnoticed. For in the overworlds, which were then still the fruit and bloom of our people, there were watchers, and they picked up her colored lights on their instruments. Much was made of them: interpretations, extrapolations, diagrammatical mathematical algorithms, and a brilliant new philosophy that waxed and waned in a matter of hours. Ships were launched, robotic investigative probes, long-range first-contact transmission repeaters. “We’ve found them,” they said. “Those whom we have so long loved and too soon lost.” They mourned and celebrated, and told each other stories, and found and lost hope, until at last a signal was returned.

“We do not know you,” Spider Silk said. “You are lost to us.”

And so Mortis was forgotten. And generations rose and fell, and Spider Silk perished as all mortals perish, and we live on in the echo of a connection never made. The overworlds fell silent. We know this, all of this, only by the absence of a message. Words that never came. For if they had, we would have found joy and a reunion of souls across the galaxy.

This is the story we tell. It’s the only one we know.

July 22, 2015


I met a girl with lips like bubble gum, pink and puffy. I wanted to kiss them, but she wasn’t real. She was a Wash-Rite Girl, those full lips moving only in sync with the canned instructions on the machine. “Not too much soap,” she said and didn’t say. “Not too much water,” she said, though there wasn’t any water. Just soda grit, like beach sand. Soft and white. Powdered water.

I was on leave. Seven days, local. Sleepless nights every four hours, round and round a beetling orange sun. I didn’t know the girl had a name. She wasn’t real, but they called her Hum. Her body was flawless, like an enameled tooth, but her voxbox had been punctured by an errant clothes-hook and it lent a deep throb to her voice. “Not tuuuu much water,” she tried to say. “Not tuuuu much soap.”

I liked the sound of it. I stayed after my laundry came out of her machine. I paid for a hot fold and a scent like corroded iron, some local specialty. It cost me a day’s wages, but I heard her voice twice more, watched those lips move in their prerecorded paths, new words I’d never seen them shape before. “Pleeease pre-pay,” they said (or was it “Please look away.”). They said “Don’t look at me.” They said “Come back,” or “Wait for me.”

I spent seven months underwater. Local. I don’t know how to do the conversion anymore. We forget, sometimes. It’s in my record anyhow. I don’t even need to know how old I am. Sometimes I forget that too. I’m a certified 150-BB, which means I can operate a cell-crane in full darkness, without backup, and can be alone for super-extended hours. My compensation is 2nd tier, but I have no home — permanent transient status — and the forced leave gets tedious. After seven months I had laundry to do.

Hum didn’t wait for me. She was gone when I surfaced. The Wash-Rite was gone. The A-block that housed it, too. A reorg had come through, efficiently smoothing away what could be better accomplished elsewhere. The ocean would be pumped out next. The new gravity inverters had already made my job obsolete. It was another new age, a political transition that transcended politics. That’s what they said in the office as they cut the link-line in my sub-dermal. You’re free to go, they said.

I went to find Hum.

It was the voice I was looking for, not the girl. She never existed. She was pink lips and a few lines of an algorithm initiated at the turn of the century. Too much soap in a world without soap. Too much water in a world without water. Only the voice remained. Haunting my sleepless hours, whispering down the severed end of the link-line, a ghost throbbing along my own vocal cords, as if without Hum herself they would speak through me.

I was decertified. I took a job at a reconciliation depot, reprogramming data-miners who were no longer needed. Some became terminals, happily coaxing wave fields into visual media. Others were terminal, and ended their unhappy lives in a medium of chlora-gel and dissolvent. Hum wasn’t one of these, and I never heard her voice in their voices. I never heard it again.

July 15, 2015

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