There is a constant low indecipherable hum that you feel throughout your body and time on Anderas by a mega terraforming generator a few miles below the city powered by robots—robots that do the menial tasks of terraforming in order to survive in that type of environment. There are large industrial sized superstructures that litter the moon including four terraforming units on Titan with hundreds of thousands of robots—this doesn’t include the agra-biodomes that grow the nutrients in the form of algae we eat. The hum from the generators isn’t harmful or bothersome—it’s quite nice, like the hum of a hummingbird, the purr of a cat, the whisper of wind through the trees, the crashing of waves against rocks. I equate it with nature—it’s soothing. I figure that’s the point; some type of bioacoustics that facilitate the terraforming and aid its somewhat human inhabitants since there are no animal ones.
Wynne touches my fingers running her smooth tip over my perfectly manicured indigo-colored fingernails. I feel the question coming and intercept it before she delivers: “I wanted matching nails.” She looks at her own fingernails and they turn the same color of indigo blue as mine. A spark of fascination flashes in her eyes. I laugh at her enjoyment. “It’s the little things, right?” I ask eager to expand on her elation no matter how minimal. “Or black matte?” My fingernails shift and I see another micro smile. A slight widening of her eyes indicates she noticed the tattoos. I tell Q to release my sleeves and they shift and merge into the rest of the suit exposing my arms. She traces her finger over each symbol. Her skin, soft and cool, and it’s the first time I think about body temperature. I recognize what I hadn’t earlier: our body temps are cooler here. Q displays information on body temps along with some history on why our bodies are cooler now. My eyes scan the info: metabolism, longevity, appetite, etcetera.
YAWN, ALRIGHTY THEN, MOVING ON—ABOUT THOSE TATTOOS…
“Why?” She asks.
I chuckle. “Because I can?” She looks at me for elaboration. “I’ve always wanted tattoos. Never did get around to it. Too poor most of the time. Last night, between books, I started playing with the nanites.”
She deciphers the Chinese symbols: “Compassion, empathy, authenticity, and honesty?”
“A reminder to always act, or in some cases react, with compassion and empathy, authentically and honestly. So incredibly difficult at times, and sometimes not so hard. As cliché as they may be, they’re to honor my best friend in high school: a Muslim Chinese-Indonesian exchange student named Jie. She changed my life and how I saw the world.”
“And the … ouroboros?”
I laugh. “I thought it appropriate.”
“In what way?”
“Why do you think?”
Whilst I was reading last night, in between those virtual pages, I dispersed my musings on what I could possibly accomplish in this timeline that would fit into my hedonistic philosophy of life. Besides catching up on all my favorite books, television shows, movies—anything art related—and creating connections to dispassionate aliens by sharing my awkward past, what else can I do? It came to me: tattoos. You laugh—Q did—but I’m serious. Black Chinese symbols on the inside of my left arm to honor Jie and a bright blood red and emerald green ouroboros on the inside of my right arm. Like I said: it’s the little things; little things and an indulgence so easily affordable to some, but to me, it was always a luxury and privilege I could never manage. Priorities; needs must. I always wanted an ode to Jie and now seems more fitting than ever. So, last night I stood naked in front of my nanite reflection and Q and the nanites used my body as a canvas. From flowers and vines to butterflies and dragonflies and birds in flight across my chest and stomach, to the dragon across my back in honor of two of my favorite literary heroines, to the Himalayan cats with their tails wrapped around and curling up my legs, and colors—so many colors, I played and laughed and loved it all. Composing the nanite art was remarkable. The vibrancy of the colors more so. I couldn’t decide if I was the artist or the nanites were. It was an amazing experience. Q even found it fascinating.
She looks at the ouroboros. “I would have to research this. The colors are … extraordinary.” Wynne seems almost in awe.
“That’s because the only colors on Anderas are all pastels—white, grey, blue, orange and pink. Even the orange is pale. What happened to the blood reds and the obnoxious purples and emerald greens?”
“Death and rebirth?”
I laugh. “‘I live, I die, I live again,’” I quote. “That and an ode to Gillian Anderson’s Scully.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Subverting the narrative. Tis my goal in life. Or lives, rather.” Wynne looks lost. “Pop culture references.”
SEARCH EARTH, HISTORY, EARLY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. DOCUMENTARY OF EVENTS BY DECADE ON SCREEN.
All I need is some popcorn with butter. My metamess complies and constructs something in the way of algae protein-like popcorn that looks and tastes adequate and I begin my journey into the dreaded past. I recall the long days of sitting in front of Twitter and Tweetdeck watching the world burn and the empire fall.
I feel the nausea before the documentaries even start.
Two hours and two docs spanning two decades later, I’ve had enough. I’m sick with grief. The popcorn quickly forgotten. It’s like bingeing a horrifyingly real dystopia with no happily ever after. Not that there’s ever a happily ever after.
Joyous moments are few and far between—progress is nonexistent. The xenophobic rhetoric explodes into a chasm of decline and fascism; a worldwide white male supremacist movement—another Christian crusade. Scientists and their scientific evidence relegated to little more than fictional opinions manufactured by pundits dismissing the so-called passion of god and government. Even as the evidence evolved around those that question scientific facts. Authoritarianism run amok by white male extremists paving the way to totalitarianism. Democracy and free speech eroded as journalists jailed and the normalization of people of color being imprisoned and gunned down in the streets by police increased hundredfold; no due process; judge, jury, and executioners in the guise of justice at the hands of the boys in blue; persecution instead of protection. Immigrants interned. Protests escalated to battles and battles to wars. The madness didn’t stop after my exit. The erosion of democracy went on and on across the world.
I feel the acidic bile coating my insides and the pressure in my head like a germ—an invader gnawing at my hope and happiness.
THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS, NOT WITH A BANG BUT A WHIMPER.
A sigh—a deep breath to expel the fickle monster from my body. The bile heaves. I throw my hand over my mouth hoping to stop it before it comes, failing miserably, as it explodes sending vomit squirting out in all directions: my hair, my body, my clothes, the furniture, the floor—a messy spew anywhere and everywhere luckily with little smell thanks to that boring algae. It disappears as soon as it lands. The biomatter nanite recyclers dematerialize all biomatter to the facility that encases it. Any skin cells, body excretions, anything biologically related, gets salvaged and recycled to be used again in regenerations of appendages and organs and bodies—like me, for example. I really try not to think about it. It’s efficient, but gross. I’m not even going into how we use the potty. These suits do everything.
I had enough of dystopian literature before I left being that I’d been living at the inception of one. I certainly didn’t want to watch the ultimate one—the one to end all dystopias; the real one. Then again, dystopias littered every corner and time on Earth and weren’t relegated to just the generalized so-called big one. Dystopias depended on who, where, and what time you lived. History was filled with ugly dystopias.
To be fair, I’m only twenty years into my fifteen-hundred-year era. Twenty years is enough. I had forty-five years prior and saw the pattern long ago. That and I’m already depressed because I found out they’ve made the humanities—art, music, and literature obsolete here.
The awful taste of tragedy remains. And yet, here we’ve survived.
Do I have hope? Not really. I keep reaching for it though. Even now, here. If I keep telling myself this, perhaps I’ll believe it?
Equivocation and denial of what was transpiring when I left my time was never something I was guilty of. I saw what was happening. Many did. Many others refused to see what was taking place right in front of their eyes. Or they didn’t really care—didn’t believe it. There were many that preferred the white male rule of law where women, Black and Indigenous people, people of color, gay, and transgender, Muslims et al—anyone that wasn’t white, straight, male, rich and Christian—were not considered their equal. We were the subservient and weaker species, they said. A lot of white people liked their money and protection and power more than their capacity for compassion, empathy, equality and justice; humanism—those egalitarian values that launch progress—was that dreaded word for people that didn’t like change.
Even now the fierceness of my disgust and anger radiates through me like fire. The apathy and hatred infuriate me. I’ve never had that kind of hate—or indifference—in my heart and it’s hard for me to empathize with those who do.
MONOAMINE LEVELS IRREGULAR. ADJUSTING.
Q displays my biosigns regulating my internals to a medically healthy acceptance level. Apparently, I’m too sad.
I feel the monster disappearing into a pirouette of nirvana, elevation, and a shade of curative optimism.
WELL THEN, WOO-FUCKING-HOO.
Five minutes later, I’m at Wynne’s door. It opens before I ring with the usual illusory swish of sound and salute. She sits mutely cross legged in the center of the dimly lit hollow flat.
Dark but for a dusty glimmer, in a majesty of presentation, the Milky Way looms large on the tall display of windows replacing the view overlooking the city. Pale pinks to raging reds and extraordinary blues flare across a black backdrop and dusty ivory clusters float delicately as a meteor streaks athwart slowly surrendering en masse. I stand small and mesmerized in a wide-eyed open-mouthed trance as I watch the creeping ensemble flourish in front of me.
I walk forward and sit next to Wynne mirroring her pose.
“Lovely,” she says, a hint of reverence lurking in her tone.
I glance at her. Her sedate expression unchanged. Her body language rigid with wonder and a sort of serene vulnerability.
I nod. “Yes, yes, it is.”
We sit sentry over the solar system in reticence till Wynne speaks.
“This is from 1970 Common Era—your origin year.”
“Is this in the archives?”
“It is now,” she says not looking at me. “This is present-day and locally.”
The display changes. Colonies litter throughout and every time I eye one, details drop in my display; from Mars to the Belt, humans have migrated across the galaxy; the breadth of the shift massive; the galaxy has expanded and the universe, a little smaller.
“What’s interstellar travel like?”
“Do you travel often?”
“To other planets? Other species?”
“Homo sapiens Saturnians? Homo sapiens Martians? Homo sapien subspecies? Like that?”
She tilts her head glancing at me arching a quizzical brow then back.
“There are no other alien species in this galaxy?”
“Do you travel outside this galaxy?” I glance at her.
“Yes. Regularly. We have expanded beyond this galaxy.”
“Exciting. Where are your spaceships?”
She looks directly at me in what I can only assume as suspicion. “Why do you want to know this?”
My grin widens. “I wanna see a spaceship. I’m a twenty-first century girl that’s never even been close enough to touch a space shuttle. So, yeah, I wanna see a thirty-sixth century spaceship.”
Not saying anything, she turns back toward the live image.
“So, what are the other humans like now? Is their advancement significant? Like yours? I imagine some are still—” I stop myself from saying primitive wondering if that could be in any way considered offensive or insensitive.
She remains quiet. My mind makes a wild leap.
“You do associate with other planets? Societies? Cultures?” I look at her, a dawning awareness sweeping over me. “Do you socialize with any other planets besides the Saturn colonies? Are there treaties? Alliances? Like the United Federation of Planets?”
The silence is loud.
A confusion settles between my brows and I rub the crevice unconsciously attempting to iron out the clutter forming in my brain. I turn my body towards her, sitting cross legged still, bringing my hands together in a pyramid of thought. I try to think of how to approach the subject delicately, which has never really been how I rolled.
“Ummm—have you been isolated out here … for a reason?” I hesitate to say segregated given what it implies, then again, doesn’t it apply?
Her taciturn side-eye confirms this and Q’s unending rapid flashing of historical information tells me the data is here and readily available to view, read, and explore when I’m ready. I don’t want to watch it, I want her to share it with me.
So, I ask.
“In my experience—in history, segregation is not something people do to themselves, but is something done to them. Is that what happened?”
I sigh and turn back towards the screen. I’m not sure what to do—what to say, how to proceed. Does she have trust issues too? Historical evidence reasonably justifies her lack of trust and I can’t say I blame them. Is there something larger going on that I’m unaware other than the obvious?
Connections with people are few. I struggle to relate to people in general even while feeling an enormous amount of empathy and compassion for them, and a lot of times, I simply don’t like them. Yes, call me misanthropic, which is paradoxical and confusing as hell.
Wynne is different. I do feel a connection—a developing connection, a friendship. As oddly as it may sound, our attraction seems intellectual; a curiosity that emanates from the innate longings of divergence from those others—the conformers; those conventional people that find us out of place. I hesitate to make our relationship more fragile by forcing something not given freely.
No, never, ever that.
I figure she wants me to find out on my own and for good reason; Black and Indigenous women and women of color were tired of telling privileged apathetic white women the inequities they suffered with little or no response over a millenia ago. Hoping it would’ve changed, doesn’t make it so; that history lesson I learned again and again.
So, I change the conversation. For now.
“How do you … feel?”
She turns towards me.
I look at her, keeping my face neutral. “When you look at all this,” I throw out a hand waving towards the display. “How do you feel?”
“Like your previous question, I have no concise answer for you. The complexities far outweigh any words I can relay at this moment. It would be more beneficial if you discovered your interpretations unassisted and we discuss them afterward, yes?”
I nod understanding. Deciding not to push that conversation and to let her ponder all my questions a bit more while I do more research, I move on to another looking back at the display.
“My monoamine levels are always adjusting. I was genetically predisposed to lower and erratic levels prior. Why didn’t you fix it before my imprint? And I use the term fix loosely,” I say chuckling attempting to lighten the mood.
She takes a moment to respond. “I did on numerous attempts. The bodies and transmits were not … acceptable and were recycled.”
The vacillation I sense in her is puzzling. Something lurked half-hidden behind it. “So, you had to create me as I was?”
“I corrected many of your genetic anomalies. You were predisposed to several archaic afflictions including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and menopause. The Earthly climate change and pollution of the Anthropocene Era initiated extensive genetic mutation in you and your ancestors after the industrial revolution.” She reflects for a moment. “I continue to improve upon this project and … other projects. I was … unsure if the initial experiments would prove successful. The consistency of failures led me to deduce that higher levels were an underlying cause. I adjusted and was successful, having decided the nanites could modify any complications. Is there a problem?”
An open mouth, along with a breathy burst of air and raised eyebrows, move me right passed my afflictions. I smell an elaborate falsehood and continue rolling with it. “How would I know?”
“The nanite human evolution has been successful for over a millennia. Hundreds of years of experiments have resolved any complications that arose from biological abnormalities or … programming errors. There were many … regresses. Eventually, the technology progressed and prospered.”
“Did it really?” I mumble under my breath. Q flashes a headline and a figure causing me to choke on air staggered by the numbers. “7 billion deaths in the A.I. wars?! Regresses is an understatement.”
“That is a cumulative figure over a fifteen hundred year period.”
The nausea returns. I think I like it better not knowing. I shove history aside and return to the present and my own self-interest. “But now you’ve thrown a fucked up human into the mix—an outlier. What will happen?”
Wynne, unsmiling, looks at me searching my face for something. “Are you being … deceptive?” She asks sincerely.
I laugh. “No, I’m being honest.”
“Then why are you smiling?”
“Because what you call biological abnormalities is me and barring my bad credit and inability to motivate sometimes and my afflictions—which I thank you very much for fixing—I like me. As I am—flaws, mediocrity, and all. Self-compassion. It took me a long time to appreciate and embrace that concept.”
“Yes?” She seems pleased with this.
“Me being an outlier cannot be a shock to you. You’re a smart person, Wynne. You know what aberrations do and—” I stop talking reaching a revelation. “You knew, didn’t you? You brought me in as a mutant on purpose.” She says nothing. “If I figured it out, you know the others have. They have, haven’t they?”
She turns back towards the display. “The commanders, directors, mentors, and all Anderans and Saturnians are aware and have been from inception. The project is advancing towards the objective.”
“What’s the objective?”
“In the unknown there exists the unquantifiable …” Her words fade softly into a silence not bothering or unwilling to finish that sentence.
“Mysteries of the universe? Ennui? You were bored? I’m your puzzle?” I sigh. There’s the adventurer, agitator, and rebel I connect with. “You’re searching for more questions to ask,” I add matter-of-factly.
Ultimately, I doubt it’s all about me, but more abstract and existential.
“Scientific achievements have no guide.”
“Wow.” The weight of that sentence takes my breath and I’m left rattled with more questions than answers.
I smother a smile. I like it.
“Does this bother you?”
I look out over the galaxy, a small smile tweaking my lips. “It’s the least I can do.”
And I wonder what fun we’ll have next.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins