THE POWER OF SCIENCE FICTION
hy fiction? Glad you asked. We live
in uncertain times. One of this publication’s most important jobs is to see the big trends, spot important business models, and chronicle landmark innovations that show us where we’re going. But right now, that is hard to do. In this rapidly changing, aggressively agitated moment, it’s very difficult to discern what the future holds. So we decided to consider things a little more obliquely. Sometimes to get a clearer sense of reality, you have to take some time to dream. To this end, we reached out to a number of our favorite fiction authors and gave them a simple mission: Pick a plausible innovation or change in the world and spin out a near-term scenario. Don’t stick to the current moment. See where your mind goes. Imagine. Have fun.
That’s not to say the stories themselves are all about fun. Many are quite dystopic. N. K. Jemisin—whose novel The Fifth Season won the 2016 Hugo award—spins a cautionary tale about resource depletion and interplanetary relations. The duo that goes by the pen name James S. A. Corey, creators of The Expanse, imagines a world with a universal basic income—and what we are left wanting. Charles Yu, who writes for HBO’s Westworld, examines what life will be like when machines can read our thoughts. Etgar Keret, the celebrated Israeli fiction author, writes about … well, just read it. And in his refreshing “review,” Glen David Gold, the author of Carter Beats the Devil, shows us what we will have to endure in the movie theater someday in the future. Science fiction has a robust history of inspiring real innovation. Submarines,
robots, and cell phones were all envisioned first in novels, plays, and movies. Thinking up all sorts of different futures, embracing our fears and our dreams, is part of the process of building a better tomorrow. Ultimately, the goal of this first edition of 2017—our first-ever issue dedicated entirely to fiction—is to give you, the reader, something that helps you let your own mind wander. Think about what is possible, what is plausible, what is terrifying, what is hopeful. That said, we still want you to have fun. Because after 2016? Well, you deserve it.
EDITOR IN CHIEF
SCOTT DADICH @ S DAD ICH
T R A N S F O R M AT I O N S
PORTRAIT: STANLEY CHOW
BY ANUJ SHRESTHA 1/2
K N OW YO U R E N E M Y
C E L E B R AT I N G 5 0 Y E A R S O F THE FOREVER WAR.
IT KNOW THINKIN IT KNOW
FA N TA S T I C TA L E S FROM AN U N C E RTA I N FUTURE
M AT T G A L L A G H E R
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I N T E R P L A N E TA R Y R E L AT I O N S
TOMORROW IS COMING, W H E T H E R W E L I K E I T O R N O T. H E R E ’ S A S N E A K P R E V I E W.
ONLINE EXTRAS: WANT MORE SCI-FI? READ FOUR BONUS STORIES AT WIRED.COM/FICTION-2017. Cover by Christoph Niemann. E n d p a p e r p a t t e r n s b y O v e r l a p O n e A n o t h e r. T i t l e t y p o g r a p h y b y Ty p e S u p p l y. S p o t i l l u s t r a t i o n s b y J o e M c Ke n d r y.
S T O C H A S T I C FA N C Y
A MARTIAN GOES HUNTING FOR THE RED PLANET’S PA S T—A N D H I S O W N .
A THERAPIST FOR ROBOTS, A F O C U S G R O U P, AND THE QUEST FOR LOVE.
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C H A R L I E JA N E A N D E R S
I N T E R P L A N E TA R Y R E L AT I O N S
F A M I LY
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P r i n c e s s 7 5 M o to r Ya c h t
E X P E R I E N C E T H E E X C E P T I O N A LÂ® P R I N C E S S YA C H T S . C O M
O N LY T H R O U G H D E A T H WILL YOU FIND Y O U R T R U E I D E N T I T Y.
I T K N O W S W H AT YO U ’ R E THINKING STOP THINKING IT KNOWS.
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“I HAVE A PIECE OF HISTORICAL WRITING IN MY HAND. THANK YOU.” Cara Cobb via email
Re: “Frontiers” “Though I have always enjoyed and learned from each issue of W I R E D, competition for my time has—as with most everyone— increased in the past few years, and I had decided to let my subscription lapse. Then I read the Frontiers issue. How could I stop subscribing to a magazine that conceived and created such an informative, thought-provoking, and inspiring issue? I have resubscribed.” Scribner Messenger via email
From Bill Gates and Serena Williams to Christopher Nolan and J.J. Abrams, we’ve had some amazing guest editors over the years—but none we were more honored to work with than President Barack Obama. Like us, he’s fascinated by science and technology and wants to see people change the world. Plus, the man loves Star Trek. Under the guidance of Obama and his staff, we pursued stories about medicine, space, climate change, cybersecurity, AI, and much more. And many of you responded with smart, critical, wide-ranging thoughts— the most letters we’ve received all year. Keep ’em coming.
“The very inspiring editorial by President Obama made my heart swell with pride at the developments made by America in particular, and the world in general, in the fields of science and technology. This is what America is known for and will continue to be known for. America always believed in breaching frontiers, and Obama’s editorial underlines that. I will preserve this issue.” Manoj Swami via email
“It’s great that Obama is optimistic, but he hasn’t had to participate in the jobless recovery. I managed to stay employed until last November, when my luck ran out. The issue was interesting and well written, but Obama is still ignoring things. And you guys can’t see it either.” Fred Bosick via email “Wow, gonna miss having a president who can talk so thoughtfully about technology.” Philip van Allen (@philvanallen) on Twitter “Obama’s interview with Joi Ito rekindled the fire in my belly about my career and what I want to do with it.” Desiree García (@thedezzie) on Twitter
T R A N S F O R M AT I O N S
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON/MAGNUM PHOTOS
BY ANUJ SHRESTHA 2/2
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“Play my ‘Sweet Lullabies’ playlist.” “Add diapers to my shopping list.”
“How much protein is in six ounces of milk?”
“How do you make a baby laugh?”
Happy baby by you. Help by
How Do Today’s Futurists Imagine Tomorrow’s World? Great minds do so much more than think alike – they think big and think far. We’ve tapped some of the world’s brightest futurists to learn what’s in store for humankind in 50 years. In collaboration with Arconic’s sharpest engineering minds we highlight how materials science and advanced manufacturing will get us there. EfeÊZk`fe Gi\[`Zk`fej \ogcfi\j \oXZkcp _fn fli Z`k`\j# _fd\j# Xe[ transportation – both across town and across the universe – will transform Xe[ Ëfli`j_% While the future may be bright, it’s also still unwritten. For a look at how engineering innovations are reshaping what’s possible, be sure to visit EfeÊZk`fe Gi\[`Zk`fej Xk wired.com.
THIS PROGRAM IS PRODUCED BY WIRED BRAND LAB IN COLLABORATION WITH ARCONIC, INC. COPYRIGHT © 2016 ARCONIC
ADVE RT IS E M E NT
From Arconic, a technology, engineering, and advanced manufacturing leader:
Chairman and CEO of Arconic. Arconic is a global technology, engineering and advanced manufacturing leader for major markets including aerospace and automotive.
Global aerospace technologist, Arconic; engineer and mastermind behind various aerospace inventions, including fasteners that guide lightning through wings.
Chief materials scientist, Arconic; advanced materials scientist, intelligent manufacturing leader, and inventor of breakthroughs enabling lighter, safer vehicles.
Advanced manufacturing metallurgist, Arconic; holder of 11 US patents; leader of X jZ`\ek`ÊZ k\Xd jgXee`e^ advanced manufacturing, materials, and titanium.
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ANNE LISE KJAER
Cofounder, senior maverick at WIRED; author of The Inevitable and What Technology Wants.
Founder of the Time to Think Future Trends Conferences as well as Kjaer Global, a Londonbased trend management and ideas agency for global corporations.
Former neuroscientist; technology writer; author of A History of the Future in 100 Objects; CEO and founder f] J`o kf JkXik# X Êke\jj ^Xd\ app development company in London.
Executive director, founder, and senior futurist at think tank DaVinci Institute, based in Colorado; former engineer at IBM.
PROD UC E D BY
E N V IS ION E D BY
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
U L I S E S FA R I N A S
THE SCI-FI ISSUE 11
FA N TA S T I C STORIES
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
C E L E B R AT I N G 5 0 Y E A R S
OF THE FOREVER WAR.
A STORY BY
M AT T G A L L A G H E R
M AT T G A L L A G H E R KNOW YOUR ENEMY
night, after whatever patriotic black-tie gala we’d played props at, he could be found at the hotel bar, trying to extract existential meaning from a banana colada. It was an odd drink of choice for such a serious man, but only once did he respond to our interrogations about it. “It pleases the nerve fibers,” he said, all baritone to his voice, before disappearing into the chilled yellow muck again. We were in New Tulsa, debriefing after a grueling dinner with a bunch of white-haired solar energy execs. We’d been on the road for months, and morale had gone the way of the glacier. I ordered a round for the table, and we toasted to the hustle. Heroes of the nation, peddling war bonds by day, drinking like froufrous by night. Our drill instructors would not have been proud. Maybe it wasn’t New Tulsa. Maybe it’d been in Charlotte after the fund-raiser with the nanofinance douchebags. Anyhow. There were 11 of us on the bond drive, 12 if you included the JüngerBot. The Forever War had just entered its sixth decade, and our politicians didn’t pretend they were going to end it anymore, even during elections. They couldn’t. We’d tried everything: nation-building, nation-destroying, sending terrorists and their families to the Mars penal colony, sending the insurgent Young Siberians to actual Siberia. Nothing had worked. We were at war because we always had been. We were at war because we always would be. We were at war because we were at war. The government decided to celebrate the Forever War’s golden anniversary with loud, shiny bombast. We were part of that bombast. AMERICA’S HEROES, TOGETHER AT LAST, went the tagline. We were like a roving variety act, but without name recognition or singing or sex appeal. Without anything, really.
No one drank more than the scientist. Every
Just pasts wiped clean with the antiseptic of narrative. So we stood there and smiled and waved while other people told our stories to the crowds. The crowds cheered. We waved again. After the coladas, I settled the tab and excused myself. The younger vets’ night was just beginning, but mine was nearing its end. In the queue for the teleporter to the rooms, a man about my age waited behind me. He wore a rumpled dress shirt and an overlong tie and a goatee on the brink of coherence. He was looking everywhere but my hoverchair. People with legs always do that. It reminds me of the way some men used to try very hard not to look at my cleavage when I was younger. The effort just underlines the fixation. “Thank you,” he said. “For what you did.” “Thank you for your support,” I said, a response as hollow as it was practiced. He must’ve been at the event earlier. “Can—can I tell you something?” “Sure,” I said. Women in military uniforms have this effect on men in dress shirts, for some reason. “If you’d like to.” “I wanted to be a recon marine when I was a kid.” He said it like it was a church confession, something hidden away in the lost fissures of his soul for decades. “Did the recon workout at the gym for years,” he continued. “Stupid, I know.” I nodded, both because it was stupid and because I knew. “You’re a bona fide hero.” The man’s segue was as graceful as a startled dog, but it was late. “That scientist, though. He’s killing people. And not just the enemy.” I thought about the man’s words. They were true enough. “So what would you do?” I asked. “If you were him.” “Me?” The man stroked his goatee. “I wouldn’t even know.” “Pragmatically,” I said. “You’re the scientist. You live in this country. The war’s happening. You can maybe end it or not. Either way, people die. What do you do?” “I—I object to the question. And to the idea. I’m not him.” The man’s voice had a quiver to it now. Not an angry quiver, either. A frightened one. “I was just saying—I don’t think it’s right. That’s all.” “OK,” I said. “ ’Night.” It was my turn at the teleporter. I got in and went to my room. I didn’t begrudge the man his opting out. We all had in some way. Even us. Especially us.
▹ ■ ◃
The Federals had found me at my sister’s, on the porch, scrolling through a holopad article about the rabid lemur that’d killed Justin Bieber Jr. “furious george howls with delight!” read the headline. It’s always spooky when sons die the same way their fathers did. The past grasps us all, eventually. Even Biebers. I was on my seventh year of an indefinite visit, still sleeping in a bare guest room. A potted flower or framed picture would have felt like marks of permanence, somehow. I’d been living in increments since high school and wasn’t about to stop just because I couldn’t figure out what to do with the rest of my life. They—well, we—lived at the top of a windy hill in a suburb of a suburb, wedged between a stand of wild honeysuckle and a pond shaped like a swollen nose. It was green and quiet. The kind of place where big flags hung from porches with humility. I taught painting at the community center and took my nieces to soccer practice and spent my Saturday nights at the one townie bar that served rosé. The life didn’t make me happy or anything, but it could have. Maybe should have. There were three of them. They all wore jeans and plaid shirts of varying blandness. I’d have expected suits and black sunglasses, but the decaying effects of after-empire were reaching and vast. “Chief Warrant Officer Valerie Speer?” one said. Well, asked. I didn’t look my part, either. Female vets tend to cut a certain mold. A liter-sized pixie in a gardening hat wasn’t it. They told me about the bond drive. About how it would inspire patriotism again in the hearts and minds of the people. About how it would get everyday citizens invested in the wars again. (Like they ever were. I knew the history.) About how the government needed the money, how 50 years of blowing up things in strange, faraway places had taken its toll on the budget, especially since the geothermal uprising in Blue Russia began eating away at Uncle Sam’s foreign trade. About how the bond drive needed a woman on it, because they had an old guy, a blexican, a mexipino, and a robot, and showing that heroes were as diverse as the country mattered. I laughed. “A woman.” I danced my metal fingers through the air. In the right light my prosthetics could look like flesh. We weren’t in it. “That’s why you need me.”
That made the two men in jeans and plaid look down at the ground, but the woman Fed just stared at me. “You’re Valerie Speer,” she said. The tone in her voice sounded so earnest it snapped. “Do you know what you mean to my generation of women? I joined the agency because of you.” She was lying about that, I was almost sure. But she’d appealed to my pride. I danced my fingers through the air again and took in all the green, all the quiet. Seven years here. Seven years that had made me soft. Did people my age go on adventures anymore? I asked about financial compensation. ▹ ■ ◃
Here’s the thing about being labeled a war hero:
You either love it or hate it. There’s little space for mixed feelings. Take the scientist. Invented a drone mosquito that gives people the runs, sold it to the military, and stopped the Arabican conflict practically overnight. You can’t fire a rifle when you’re crapping out your brains. But some of the mosquitoes weren’t as precise as billed. During strafes, they bit enemies and civilians alike. Which wouldn’t have mattered much had we been fighting in the developed world. We weren’t, though. Outbreaks of dysentery and super-cholera followed, and the last UN estimate I saw numbered deaths in the tens of thousands. The scientist had ended a war all with his mind. Yet the only thing he wanted in the world was to return to his lab, to his anonymity, and forget any of it ever happened. The JüngerBot seemed to resent the attention for other reasons. It didn’t know what to make of
THE BOND DRIVE NEEDED A WOMAN O N I T. T H E Y A L R E A D Y H A D A N O L D G U Y, A B L E X I CA N, A MEXIPINO, A N D A R O B O T.
M AT T G A L L A G H E R
who wanted to see the view from his hotel balcony. “Beats going back to Pueblo and coaching CrossFit,” he’d say, before unleashing that smile of full, fluoride shine. God, he could charm the magic underwear off a Mormon. Would try, at least. Dizzy and the younger vets on the bond drive were all privateers—mercenaries if you’re the protesting, virtual-petition type. WarriorCorps and Foreign Legion Inc. and Armed Humanitarianism Limited and the like. I was hybrid: part contractor but also part national military, before that went extinct during the Whig Revolt of ’36. Only Emo Carlos was old enough to have been GI from beginning to end. He’d earned the Silver Star in the Iraq war. Well, the Iraq war before the last one. Maybe it was three Iraq wars ago. Anyhow. We asked Emo Carlos about it over sushi, after a parade in Cleveland. “Jumped on a grenade at a checkpoint,” he said, setting down his chopsticks with a shrug. “Didn’t go off.” We hollered and banged the table just because we could. It’d been a couple decades since anything but a bot had been close enough to a grenade to do anything like that. Even the JüngerBot expressed its admiration. “Defective?” I asked. Emo Carlos nodded. “One in a million, they said.” “What happened then?” Dizzy asked. The creases in Emo Carlos’ forehead folded into one another like papier-mâché. He usually never talked about anything but drumming for his oldman punk band. They’d served together back in the day and were known across the greater Rochester area as the Infidels. Geriatric humor. “Stood up,” he said. “Dusted off. Looked down. Realized I’d pissed myself.” We hollered and banged the table all over again. An elderly couple came over to us later. They’d overheard our conversation and wanted to say thank you. They said they had two grandsons in privateer training.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY
people, and truth be told, people didn’t know what to make of it. They could handle robots, had been dealing with them all their lives. Even the roughand-tumble behavior of a regular InfantryBot could be explained away. But an elite InfantryBot 5000 upgraded with the transcendental courage and philosophical musings of decorated German World War I soldier Ernst Jünger? That caused some issues. “The anarch wages his own wars,” the JüngerBot said at a fund-raiser to a journalist who’d asked if it missed battle. “Even when marching in rank and file.” Before a boxing prizefight, the JüngerBot felt it necessary to remind the crowd what was what. “Trench fighting is the bloodiest, wildest, most brutal of all,” it said to 70,000 drunk revelers in Vegas. “Of all the war’s exciting moments, none is so powerful as the meeting of two storm troop leaders between narrow trench walls. There’s no mercy there, no going back. The blood speaks from a shrill cry of recognition that tears itself from one’s breast like a nightmare.” And then there were the children. It told a 10-year old with a JüngerBot poster on his wall that killing an adversary would be a finer tribute. And when a bank president’s little girl pointed to us and asked if we were heroes, the JüngerBot objected as only it could: “Heroes’ deeds and heroes’ graves,” it said. “Old and new you here may see. How the Empire was created. How the Empire was preserved.” It paused. “We sought the death of heroes. There is no lovelier death in the world.” The little girl’s face paled to glass as her father led her away. We all laughed about it, no one harder or longer than Dizzy. Dizzy was a walking, talking argument for breeding the remaining cis-males out of the gene pool, if only he hadn’t been so pretty. Drone pilots. They think they’re so starfish because they can laser insurrectionists dead from space. And Dizzy was an ace. He adored every minute of the bond drive, the attention, the parties, the hoverfloat rides, the certain type of female patriot
H E ’ D E A R N E D T H E S I LV E R S TA R I N T H E I R A Q WA R . W E L L , T H E I R A Q
WA S T H R E E I R A Q WA R S A G O .
WA R B E F O R E T H E L A S T O N E . M A Y B E I T
“I know our thanks is a small thing,” the husband said. He and his wife looked so cute in their nice old-people clothes, khakis and sweaters and thickrimmed glasses. They looked like other people’s grandparents always look. “But sometimes it’s all those of us here can offer.” The wife nodded. “We’re all involved,” she said. “We believe that. As taxpayers, as citizens, that’s how it is. We’re with you.” We thanked them for thanking us and they left the restaurant. “What did she mean, ‘We’re all involved?’” Dizzy asked. “No they’re not.” There were echoes of agreement and discussion over what the old woman had meant, and not just about the word involved. Also about the word we. “Yo,” Emo Carlos said. The table hushed. “They’re from my time. When wars had ends. When citizens tried to keep up. America used to be young. That’s what she meant.” “Then say that,” Dizzy said. “Taxes? Who the fuck cares.” Emo Carlos shook his head again. He was trying to clear himself of frustrations, either with himself or with us. Then he pointed at me. “Sent her to the damn moon. Supposed to save us all, putting the wars up there. Preserve the land and resources, eliminate civilian deaths. Be tidy and simple. That was the plan.” “And no one ever went back,” Dizzy said. “The game changed.” “Well.” Emo Carlos laughed. “Military lesson numero uno, son,” he said. “No plan survives first contact.” The rest of us laughed along with the old wisdom. Everyone but the scientist, who sat off by himself in the corner. He looked up at us with something between sadness and fury. It was hard to decide which. “Tidy and simple,” he said. “I like that.” ▹ ■ ◃
When my nieces turn 12 and gain access to Free-
domNet, they will find these three paragraphs about their aunt, etched into the digital histories forever and ever: Valerie Jade Speer (born May 2, 2011) was a chief warrant officer (air) and attack pilot in the United States Army and later the privateer organization Star Spangled Security. She was awarded the Star of Valor in 2042 for her actions during the Battle on the Moon, of which she was the only survivor.
Deployed to the moon as part of the NATO coalition during the South Seas dispute, Speer flew a Flying Yeager fusion helocraft during the battle, destroying five Chinese Federation space-helos and two Young Siberian cosmo-planes. Struck by an enemy dwarf ballistic, Speer crash-landed into the Titius Crater. She was thus sheltered from the surprise thermonuclear strike carried out by the Young Siberians that killed all other combatants and blew the hole in the moon now known as Putin’s Smile. Initially presumed dead, Speer was found during NATO recovery operations two days after the end of the battle. She lost three limbs, suffered burns over much of her body, and survived over 90 surgeries. President Natasha Obama said Speer’s life and story are “a testament to the American spirit” at her Star of Valor ceremony at the White House. Words can be funny beasts. “Her actions” suggest some sort of agency, even control. “Destroy” is such a clean term for such messiness. “Struck by” defied my memory of it. Same with “crash-landed.” Less so with “lost.” And “suffered.” “Testament.” As if enduring were a choice. I did what anyone would have. There are no atheists in moon craters. And there are no fatalists in survivor wards of one. I was thinking about that ward as I zipped up my suitcase in my sister’s guest room for the bond drive. Thinking about the long stills of quiet during the nights. Thinking about being called the Burn by nurses who thought I couldn’t hear them. Thinking about the full-thickness graft done without anesthesia. “You sure about this, Val?” My sister stood in the doorway. Her posture betrayed opposition. She was four years older and had always asked me questions that she already had answers for. “You have options.” She’d said the same years prior, before I’d left for the moon. “I am,” I said both times, even though I wasn’t both times. I’d always found power and resolve in ambiguity, though. Most people weren’t like that. My sister, for one. “You’ve done more than your share,” she continued, moving to the bed and putting her arm around my shoulder. “So much more.” I leaned my head into her and tried to hold in some of the familial warmth. I’d miss it, I knew. Only sisters and nieces hug people like me. “I don’t think it’s right.” I smiled at that. “It’s not,” I said. “But. If not me, then who?” Even going can be its own form of opting out. I
Matt Gallagher is the author of the novel Youngblood and the Iraq memoir Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War.
M AT T G A L L A G H E R KNOW YOUR ENEMY
began to realize just how different the younger vets were. It wasn’t just that they were privateers, either, or that they called enemy combatants “pixels” as an insult. Dizzy and his crew, they crowed about their service. Owned their superiority, then basked in it. Do soldiers think they’re better than citizens? Of course. It has nothing to do with what did or didn’t happen in their service, either. It has to do with the very idea of joining up. America’s been at war since before most of us were born. We joined because we wanted to go. We’d been told we were special from day one of boot camp, doing something the rest of our nation couldn’t. Or worse, wouldn’t. Too fat. Too selfish. Too lazy. Which made the realization after we got out that citizens think we’re beneath them all the more shocking. If they’re fat, selfish, and lazy, then what’s worse than that? We weren’t supposed to say any of that, though. My generation didn’t, at least. We were taught that part of our service was staying quiet about it. To rise above, because that’s what Jesus and George Washington and Beyoncé would’ve wanted. That’s what I did. Or tried to, at least. Let the citizenry think what it wants, went the logic. All part of being a republic. Maybe we had it wrong, though. I wondered about that the night the protester confronted us. We were in Washington for a gala. Normally we were ushered in through side or back doors for events, but the organizers of this one had us walking in on a red carpet, through a galaxy of flashing lights and holographic cameras. “Finally,” Dizzy said, pausing to adjust his bow tie and lick his front teeth. “The treatment we deserve.” Why the protester chose the JüngerBot to creampie, I’ll never know. By the time the uproar had reached my ears and I’d floated around in my chair, the JüngerBot had the young man by the throat.
Somewhere between Omaha and Tesla City, I
▹ ■ ◃
“Request order to eliminate home-front enemy,” it said, which was funny, and then not. We got the young man free of the JüngerBot’s prongs. He was reed-thin and had thick brown curls with eyes as dark and mad as the moon. I didn’t know what to think about him or his pie. People didn’t protest war in person anymore. It wasn’t sane behavior. “You’re not heroes,” he said. His words were shaky. It’s never easy coming face to face with people you’ve demonized. Or cockpit to cockpit. “You’re tools of empire. Fuck you. Fuck all of you.” The cameras along the walkway started popping off like mortars. We all just stood there, waiting out his tirade, because we were there to be seen and applauded, nothing else. His anger dazed me, and the others too. Not Dizzy, though. “Get bent, joker,” Dizzy said, crossing his arms for the cameras. “War is bad? No shit. But it won’t go away just ’cause we want it to. Last month, two battalions from the same base got deployed. One goes to Kurd Mountain, saves those families from the horde. The other goes to Blue Russia, blows up some insurrectionists. One’s a humanitarian mission. The other’s combat. Both require destruction.” I’d never heard Dizzy speak with eloquence and passion before. He was good, and he knew it. He pressed on. “This JüngerBot is a goddamn national treasure. I don’t know what brought you here tonight, and I don’t give a single fuck. We went so you don’t have to. Suck my hero balls.” The arrogance. The entitlement. The narrowness of thought. I loved it all, and I wasn’t the only one. The red carpet exploded with applause. Dizzy even took a bow. But the acclaim wasn’t universal. After the protester had been escorted away and we’d gone inside for the gala, the scientist found Dizzy. “Don’t do that again,” he said. He loomed over the younger man like an angry parent. “That guy is not your enemy. Neither is anyone else you’ve met on this stupid tour.” “He ain’t a friend.” Dizzy was trying to sound unbothered, and he leaned back in his chair and put his feet on the table. “So what is he?” “Only idiots speak in absolutes,” the scientist said. Dizzy changed tactics. “You know what he probC O N T I N U E D O N PA G E 0 9 0 ably thinks about
didn’t know that the first time. But I did the second. The last night in the guest room, as I tossed and turned in bed, I thought about that. Then I thought about the survivor ward again. And the long stills of quiet during the nights. And being called the Burn. And the graft.
EXPLORE SCIENCE FROM
A NEW ANGLE
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I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
▲▼▲ A STORY BY
Tomas wrenches the wheel hard left, his Crabber’s eight balanced wheels grinding beneath as the flexsteel grabs Martian shale. “Five minutes,” says a voice in his headset. It’s Julie, already fading. He’s too far from the station. “I’m three away.” “Are you sure—” “Are you kidding?” he shouts back into the comms. Tomas winces. He did not mean to be short. But he knows this terrain. Knows every inch of the path. Endless months of preparation, computations, arguments, planning. He has to be right. ▲▼▲
Five years old. Old enough to understand death, not old enough to accept it. Old enough to be frightened of infinity, not old enough to be inspired by it. “Why why WHY can’t he come back?” His father rubs the back of his own neck, a tic Tomas would come to know—not anger, frustration. His father stumbled into this. A harmless news item, an innocent question about Mars, and boom, tears. Endless tears. But how to calm Tomas now? “He, ah, he had a job to do. And he did it very well, but we didn’t, um, think of a way to bring him back …” “It’s not fair he’s ALLLOOONE.” The wail of absolute injustice. Racking sobs. ▲▼▲
A MARTIAN GOES HUNTING FOR THE RED PLANET’S PA S T—A N D H I S OWN.
The Crabber sails over a dune, comes down hard. An alarm blares. Tomas sheared a hose somewhere. Typical Mars tech. Shiny and new, sent from Earth, torn to shreds by the Martian storms. The Martians joke about it. “Mars beats you up,” they mutter every night in the repair bays. “Nothing built on soft green Earth can cut it on Mars.” Well, except for the First Martian. ▲▼▲
His father’s hand on Tomas’ head, stroking his hair. “I talked to some friends and asked them about Him. And one of them explained that
WHEN TERRAFORMING WHIPPED UP THE SANDSTORMS, THEY LOST THE FIRST’S SIGNAL. BURIED, TUMBLED, SHIFTED.
When they ask, he gives all the right answers. “Exploration. Science. The betterment of humankind.” He knows what they want to hear before they send someone into space. Why? Why take a one-way trip to a red rock in the darkness? And most of him believes the answers even as he gives them. He is a man now. He’s left childish things behind. Tomas is going for all the right reasons. But that night before he leaves, when his father hugs him … “This is my fault. Filling your head with silly stories.” “Dad, I have a degree in biophysics. I’ve been training for this since college. I want to go—” “Find Him?” Tomas’ father rubs the back of his neck. Dry hands now, spotted neck. “That’s all you talked about, for years.” “Years before my voice cracked. But sure,” Tomas says. “That’s why I’m going. To chase Him.” He pauses. What do you say? What do you say the last time you’ll look your father in the face, in person? “I’ll write, every week. Get bandwidth when I can.” His father hands him something. Two wedding bands on a thin chain. “Take these to Mars, Tomas,” his father says,
JOHN ROGERS FIRST
Tomas looks up at the wall of red thundering toward him. Sandstorm. A monstrous side effect of the primitive terraforming. Billions of tons of Martian soil in motion. If Tomas gets caught in that, it’ll be bad. But if he loses the First again, they’ll never find Him. This is how they lost the First. They all landed, years ago, at Sagan Station, far from where the First was resting. Always meant to go find Him. But when the terraforming whipped up the sandstorms, they lost His signal. Then found, then lost. Buried, tumbled, shifted, buried again over years. And the First’s signal faded over time. Tomas became concerned. Then obsessed. Plotted with others—there were others—who cared. Tracked vectors, computed possibilities. Realized with dread that the next sandstorm would be the
one to finally bury the signal forever. Tomas would not let that happen. He would not. Ping. His eyes snap back to his screens. There. The signal. A call that once reached out across the stars and now can only weakly croak for help. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping ping ping pingpingping— drowned out by the roar of the sand, the deafening crash of glaciers calving and of avalanches and of collapsing mine shafts, all somehow moving, racing, slamming into him. His visibility drops to dead zero. But the ping. The call. The First Martian is here. Tomas is out of the Crabber, groping forward. His suit shreds around him. Alarm bells, hissing decompression, his glass face mask scrubbed white in an instant— he doesn’t care. Distantly he hears Julie screaming his name. He knows this is madness, this doesn’t make sense, but he keeps going, stretching outward, feeling— —there. A hard edge. Tomas brings up his rivet gun, fires through the metal. Just in time. The dune shifts in the storm, already trying to tear the First away. But the rivet line goes taut. Tomas grabs onto the line too, both he and the First clinging to the anchor of the Crabber. He closes his eyes, digs in. No. They will not lose the First again.
he’s waiting for us. That’s why he can’t come back.” Tomas squints, suspicious. He is wary of adult excuses. He’s caught his parents softening the world, and he’ll have none of it. “He’s waiting? For who?” “For all of us.” His father relaxes. He knows his son’s voice. He knows this is the still after the storm. “He’s like … Wall-E. Getting the planet ready for us. People can’t go live there. They will be stuck down here on Earth forever, if not for him.” “When are we going?” Tomas asks. Already impatient. Testing. “I want us to go now.” “Well, I don’t think I’ll ever get to go,” his father says. “But I bet you will.”
joy and pride overcoming the fear. “Take me and Mama to Mars.” ▲▼▲
Tomas wakes to the sound of Julie’s voice in his earpiece. “We’ve got tone, good tone. Nobody can believe you did it.” He shifts, regolith pouring off him. Begins to dig with his hands. There are tools in the Crabber. He doesn’t care. “How angry is the commander?” Julie laughs. Snort-laughs. God, he loves her. “She’s not mad at all. This is … having an effect on people. A weird effect.” A pause. “We’re coming.” Tomas almost doesn’t answer. His tongue is swollen. His eyes filling. Red dust fine as baby powder flows away in rivulets, and the Panoramic Camera is free. The weird, headlike apparatus atop the gangly neck. Tomas digs faster. “Who’s coming?” “Everybody.” ▲▼▲
They home in on the Crabber’s signal. To a one, unbidden, they park or land or glide to a halt some distance away. Then they walk to where Tomas is digging. Pilgrims. No one helps him dig, but that makes sense somehow. They just watch from a few meters away. Even Julie. He clears the solar panels. His hands trace drilling cables covered, he remembers, with steel from fallen icons of Earth. For some reason they all laugh when he reveals the wheels. All the comms are open, but no one’s speaking. He dimly registers Halima, singing softly. As he plugs his tablet into the instrument panel, Tomas startles at the sound in his comms. Dozens of people gasping so loudly—he turns around for just a second. Julie was right. Everyone is here. Sagan Station must be empty. All the Martians have come. All the Martians have come to see the First Martian. Tomas’ fingers, fat in thick gloves, trace symbols on the tablet. Lights awaken. Gears whir. The camera head pivots. Tomas knows it’s not really looking at them, but for one second that’s what they all see. The First Martian wakes up and looks at all the other Martians. As if to say, “About time.” People are crying now. Their secret is out, one
that some of them didn’t even know they carried. This moment, even undreamed, was some small part of what drove them to fly into the black, to become Martians, to lift humanity into infinity … … Some tiny part of them was just chasing Opportunity. Tomas lays the tablet on the rover’s body. The diagnostic is up and running. Batteries are recharging, software updates loading. All the technical bits of the job are done. He reaches into a sealed container in his waist pack. Places his gift to Opportunity around its neck. Opportunity’s camera head swivels. Two wedding bands hanging on a chain sway gently beneath it. Exhausted, Tomas trudges back to Julie. ▲▼▲
S o m e a r g u e they should put the First in a museum. But hotter heads, led by Tomas, prevail. They replace the batteries, repair the tires, upgrade the solar panels to nanotech photosynthesizers. They don’t kick the computers up by too much, just enough to run a virtual interface and make sure the First Martian can call the other Martians for help, if needed. Then they turn Opportunity loose to roam across Mars—forever. The rover will never be lost again. It becomes tradition to assign new techs the job of keeping tabs on Opportunity. Eventually, Martians come to think it’s good luck for newcomers to make a pilgrimage, sometime in their first month, to wherever Opportunity happens to be exploring. No matter the assignment, that leave is always granted. Each pilgrim, each new Martian, gently taps Opportunity twice and moves on. Often people swear the elderly probe turns to look at them when they do so. Ridiculous story, of course. But no one ever laughs. !
Editor’s Note: Once upon a time a magazine editor asked Twitter what to do with a 5-year-old who was despondent over a Mars rover that could never come home. John Rogers responded: “Hang on a minute.” A couple of hours later, he sent this. Thanks, John. —A DA M R O G E R S , D E P U T Y E D I TO R
John Rogers is a television writer who created Leverage and is developing a sequel series to Magnum, P.I.
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
A T H E R A P I S T F O R R O B O T S , A N I N F I N I T E F O C U S G R O U P, AND THE QUEST FOR LOVE.
A STORY BY
C H A R L I E JA N E ANDERS
C H A R L I E JA N E A N D E R S STOCHASTIC FANCY
This question pops up on the KloudsKape, and my first thought is: How did they know? I’m in the middle of a downward spiral, almost crying as I choke down my lysine-dopamine smoothie and hunch over the teak bar at the Zyme Shack. As with all these questions, I don’t even have to ponder before I answer with an eyeblink—it’s lonesome, of course. Something about the way you have to purse your lips for a nonexistent kiss at the end of the word, the extra weight of that second syllable—the word lonesome is definitely more miserable. I should know. Soon I’ve answered a dozen other questions in the retinal sensorium, about everything from Koffee Kop™ to a local bike-lane ordinance, each of them just a sparkly ball rolling around the edges of my vision. But the lonely/lonesome question has set me off, deeper into the hole of despair I was already in. I will remain unloved until I die unmourned. You can take a thousand hot showers and people will still smell the lonesome on you. The questions keep on, as addictive as any game: What’s the ideal temperature for hot chocolate, expressed as a percentage of the melting point of cocoa butter? Should fast-food restaurants offer one kind of mustard or two? How satisfied are you (1–10) with federal regulation of molecular supplements? The KloudsKape interface weighs almost nothing, but the chrome spider suddenly feels heavy on the back of my head, and I’m getting a sore neck. My faux angora sweater is a thatch of prickles. The dim yellow lighting and stained cement walls at the Zyme Shack make it feel like a bomb shelter for yuppies. All around me couples laugh and share ergcake: two spoons, one plate. I am such a loser. I should just go home, except I would do the same there that I do here: sit and answer poll questions, watching my score creep up.
“Which word feels sadder: lonely or lonesome?”
Then a ball rolls up with one of the Politics and Policy questions, and I shake my head to get rid of it. I have no idea how to answer that one, and it sounds like something actually quite serious. I’m not an expert on everything—I work as a grief counselor for robots, for god’s sake. I finish my lysine-dope shake and signal for another one, and immediately there are questions about how satisfied I was (1–5) with my server, Barry. Plus should tariffs for synthetic walnuts go up 0.37 percent? Should we bring back Chico and the Man? Stirrup pants, yes or no? It’s democracy, you know? And it’s how I get all my points. Gotta participate to make it precipitate. The question comes back, the one I didn’t want to answer. This time the ball is growing hands and feet, like it’s starting to hatch. I still don’t want to answer it; I don’t even understand it. I shake my head again. The question goes away. When was the last time someone else touched my skin with intent? Anything more than a casual handshake, even. I can’t remember. I live alone, in a cubbyblock, and I work in a wired shell, four by five. People who aren’t in the industry don’t even realize grief is the main emotion that robots can feel. Robots are hyperaware of both death and obsolescence. Inconsolable. I’m left with no emotional resources at the end of the day. A ribbon of text and images bursts upward out of the bottom-left corner of my vision. It’s the newsfount, splashing a story about the Great Midwestern Drought, which 65 percent of the public wants the government to do something about. But 68 percent of the public also believes the Great Midwestern Drought is a hoax. I dismiss the article, it’s too depressing. That P&P question is back—I still don’t want to answer it. I answer some others, about consumer privacy and bird conservation. But it keeps bobbing up, dancing around so I can barely see my surroundings. “What concentration of neurotoxins (percentage) is acceptable when gas is used to disperse antigenetic-discrimination protesters?” I shake my head. I don’t know. I can’t answer. Sometimes I think I should have accepted that offer to become part of the Unconventional Romantic Arrangement. I would have been around people all the damn time: the assortment of hairs in the shower drain, the endless fights over what movie or show to Soak. Basically the opposite problem from loneliness. You always want what you don’t have. I’ve finished my second lysine-dope smoothie and can’t even pretend to nurse the dregs anymore. Nothing to do but go back to the cubby and Soak a
romcom until I pass out. I signal for my check and answer more questions. “When you purchased the infra-matic spoon set, how satisfied were you (1–10) with the DNA-sensing spork function?” When the question about neurotoxins comes back, it’s accompanied by an info box. There is a very desirable person here in this very restaurant, someone who fits my dating profile in every possible detail. And he has already answered this same question. Maybe if he and I share the same opinions about the use of neurotoxic gases on protesters, we can be matched. More questions about household products and government infrastructure spending. I blink through them. Then this: “How many pillows (1–5) do you have on your bed, and how many of them (1–5) have been warmed above room temperature in the past year?” Then the KloudsKape lets me know that the attractive, romantically compatible man is checking me out right now. He is looking at my profile. He’s within 100 feet of my location. But I will never know, never meet him, unless I answer the neurotoxin question. I scan the room, trying to look casual. The waiter, who is not an attractive man or within my dating parameters, thinks I want another lysine-dope, and I end up ordering one just to get him to go away. There are about 20 people sitting at tables or the teak bar at the Zyme Shack, and a dozen of them appear to be men. Of those, maybe seven or eight could be my type. None of them seem to be looking at me. The attractive, romantically compatible man is waiting for me, the KloudsKape says. He is lonely or lonesome, whichever sounds sadder, and he too knows the unbearable chasm between desire and communication, the starving awareness that the only thing anybody values you for is your opinion on random topics. The long rainy nights—how high a concentration of smart-fungus nanospores in rainwater is too much?—the solo meals in restaurants—is it lonelier to be alone at home, or in a crowd?—all of the existential misery of the overpopulated sensorium. I think I may have spotted the romantically compatible man. He’s sitting in the corner, and he sneaks a glance in my direction. He’s showstoppingly good-looking, with exactly the shape of sideburns I like and one of those noses that’s almost like the front of an airplane. He has cuff links and a half-loosened
tie. He’s a bot, right? He’s got to be a bot. I squint and he seems to flicker, just the way a virtual artifact would. Definitely a bot. Right? At last I unscrew the temporal nodes of the KloudsKape and peel it off the sides of my head, to settle it one way or the other. He’s still sitting there, staring at some virtual blob of his own. The restaurant looks emptier and sadder without the KloudsKape on, just walls and tables and distracted people. I put the KloudsKape back on, and the question about neurotoxins is back. Its arms and legs are fully grown, and it’s doing jumping jacks. I’m not a chemist—if the question was about how to help a robot process the death of an insect or the explosion of a sun hundreds of light-years away, I would have a meaningful answer. But screw it. The romantically compatible man is getting up from his chair. I answer the neurotoxin question, more or less at random. I pick a number that sounds plausible. Immediately the dating profile comes up for the man with the perfect sideburns. He’s ideal—all the same movies, books, political opinions. We’re like 98 percent, which is unheard-of. This is it. I’ve found my soul mate. He looks up at me and smiles. I feel my whole heart open up. Soon, he and I sit together at the teak bar, neither of us able to move or speak. We only need about five minutes to list all the things that we agree on. Oh yes, I hate that too. Do you do that thing? I do that thing too. Oh, I love that show. You love that show too? I love it. My faux angora sweater is twice as itchy. The questions still bubble in my peripheral vision. The romantically compatible man smiles and mumbles something about corgis. Yes, I love corgis too. We both love corgis. Aren’t corgis great? I want to scream. The newsfount splashes another story: The police have begun gassing protesters in the park. A glimpse of hand-lettered signs and anoxic, choke-eyed faces. Up close the man’s sideburns are the wrong shape after all. I start to make excuses to get away. I have to get up early. Robots are grieving. We exchange contact info, and I sign up for his Kloudburst. Then I’m hurrying out into the night, where the rain has left tiny spatters of purple and white blooms all over the sidewalk, glowing with a faint phosphorescence. They keep me company all the way home. !
charlie jane anders (@charliejane) is the author of All the Birds in the Sky. Her story “Six Months, Three Days” won a Hugo Award, and her novel Choir Boy won a Lambda Literary Award. She hosts the Writers With Drinks reading series in San Francisco.
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
A STORY BY
O N LY T H R O U G H D E A T H W I L L Y O U L E A R N Y O U R T R U E I D E N T I T Y. translated by Sondra Silverston
thing to himself, and the meadow with the sad cow staring at him was the closest thing to a secret that A. could have. Another reason, just as important, was that he didn’t really like Goodman, and hiding the existence of the strange dream from him seemed to be a small but fitting act of revenge.
A. had a recurring dream. He dreamed it almost every night, but in the morning, when Goodman or one of the instructors woke him and asked if he remembered what he had dreamed, he was always quick to say no. That wasn’t because the dream was scary or embarrassing, it was just a stupid dream in which he was standing on the top of a grassy hill beside an easel, painting the pastoral landscape in water colors. The landscape in the dream was breathtaking, and since A. had come to the institution as a baby, the grassy hill was probably an imaginary place he had created or a real place he had seen in a picture or short film in one of his classes. The only thing that kept the dream from being completely pleasant was a huge cow with human eyes that was always grazing right next to A.’s easel. There was something infuriating about that cow: the spittle dripping from its mouth, the sad look it gave A., and the black spots on its back, which looked less like spots and more like a map of the world. Every time A. had that dream, it aroused the same feelings in him—calm that turned into frustration that turned into anger that immediately turned into compassion. He never touched the cow in the dream, never, but he always wanted to. He remembered himself searching for a stone or some other weapon, he remembered himself wanting to kill the cow, but in the end, he always took pity on it. He never managed to finish the painting he was working on in the dream. He always woke up too soon, panting and sweating, unable to fall asleep again. He didn’t tell anyone about the dream. He wanted there to be one thing in the world that was his alone. With all those prying instructors around him and the cameras placed in every corner of the institution, it was almost impossible for an orphan to keep some-
Why, of all the people in the world, did A. hate the man who helped him in his life more than anyone else? Why did A. wish that bad things would happen to the person who took him under his wing after his parents had abandoned him and had devoted his life to helping him and others who suffered the same fate? The answer was easy: If there’s one thing in the world more annoying than being dependent on someone, it’s when that someone constantly reminds you that you are dependent on him. And Goodman was exactly that sort of person—insulting, controlling, and patronizing. Every word he said, every gesture he made, carried a clear message: Your fate is in my hands, and without me, you all would have died a long time ago. The orphans in the institution spoke different languages and had little communication with each other, but they shared one essential biographical fact—all of them had been abandoned in the delivery room by their parents when they learned that their newborns had a disease. A genetic disease with a long Latin name. But they all called it “elderness” because it caused all the babies born with it to age 10 times faster than ordinary people. The disease also enabled them to develop and learn much more quickly than ordinary people. As a result, at the age of 2, A. had already mastered math, history, and physics at the high school level, knew many classical music pieces by heart, and his paintings and drawings were so adept that, according to Goodman, they could be exhibited in galleries and museums in the outside world. But, as with all diseases, the advantages paled beside the disadvantages. The orphans knew that most of them would not reach the age of 10, that they would die from illnesses related to old age—cancer, stroke, a variety of heart problems— that their biological clocks would persist in ticking at an insane speed until their worn-out hearts ceased to pump. Over the years, the orphans heard their instructors tell them over and over again the same sad stories of their infancy, stories related with the same indifferent tone they used when reading them
fairy tales before bed, how their mothers knew at the moment of their birth that their terrible death was racing toward them. And so they chose to abandon them. What parent wanted to bond with a newborn that arrived, like a carton of milk, with such a close expiration date? At holiday meals, when he drank a bit, Goodman liked to tell the orphans how, as a young obstetrician, he first met a mother who had abandoned her elderness-afflicted baby, how he had adopted him and within three years had taught him everything that any other child required at least a dozen years to learn. His tone always emotional, Goodman described how that child had developed right before his eyes at an insane speed reminiscent of the way a plant in time-lapse photography grows, sprouting, developing, blossoming, and withering, all in less than a minute. And, Goodman said, at the same time and at an equally rapid pace, his plan was developing to help all those abandoned babies left alone to face the enormous challenges their disease posed. The institution that Goodman founded in Switzerland took in those sick, unwanted children and designed an individual curriculum for each one aimed at preparing them as quickly as possible to go out into the world where they could live their terrifyingly brief lives independently. Every time he told his story, Goodman reached the end with tears in his eyes, and the orphans would jump to their feet, applauding and cheering, and A. stood up and applauded too, but no sound emerged from his mouth. Before they went out into the world, the orphans were required by Goodman to pass a Life Skills exam. Given once a month, the exam was geared to the particular curriculum of each orphan, and those who received a perfect score went on to a personal interview. According to the rumors, Goodman asked especially difficult questions at the interview, attacked, insulted, and sometimes even struck the interviewees. But if you managed to survive, you could walk out of the institution armed with an identity card, a letter of recommendation that detailed your skills, 1,000 Swiss francs, and a train ticket to a nearby city.
A. wanted more than anything to leave the institution. More than he wanted to kiss a woman, or hear a divine concerto performed by angels, or paint a perfect painting, he yearned to pass that exam and the interview that followed it and live out
his remaining brief life on a grassy hill, under blue skies, among normal people and not only rapidly aging children and their instructors. A. failed the monthly Life Skills exam 19 times. During that period, he saw many other orphans leave the institution, some younger than he was and some not half as smart or determined as he was. But he promised N. that he would pass the next exam in April. N. also studied painting, which meant that he saw her almost every day, but since A.’s first language was German and N.’s was French, communication between them was somewhat limited. That, however, didn’t prevent A. from giving her a small gift every day: an origami seagull he made and painted for her, a real flower he stole from a vase in the dining hall, a drawing of a winged creature that resembled N. soaring above a towering barbed-wire fence. N. insisted on calling A. by the name she made up for him, Antoine, and he called her Nadia, after a sad, agile Romanian gymnast he once saw in an old black-and-white film clip. According to the rules of the institution, the orphans were given full names with matching documents only on the day they left the institution. Until then, it was absolutely forbidden to call them by any name or nickname but the identifying letter they were assigned the day they arrived. A. knew that when he and Nadia left the institution, they would receive different names, and the entire world would call them by those new names. But for him, she would always be Nadia.
THE SECRET DONOR
The agreement between A. and Nadia was simple. It was more a wish than an agreement—they promised each other that they would do everything in their power to pass the exam and the interview, and when they went out into the world, they would live the rest of their lives together. The institution was funded entirely by donations, and each of the orphans had a personal, secret donor. It was the personal donor who determined the orphan’s identifying letter, their future name, their curriculum, and the destination on the train ticket they would receive the day they left the institution. Since Nadia was a French speaker and A. spoke German, they assumed that their train tickets would send them to different cities in Switzerland, so they agreed on a plan: The first one to reach the train station would carve the name of the city they were traveling to on the northernmost bench they found. Then,
ETGAR KERET A.
The time allotted for the written exam was four hours. A. had finished previous exams at the very last minute, and twice he’d had to hand them in without answering all the questions. But this time he
THE APRIL EXAM
finished 25 minutes before the time was up and put down his pen. The instructor asked him if he wanted to hand in his exam, but A. declined. Too much was at stake. He reread his answers painstakingly, corrected punctuation mistakes, and rewrote words he was afraid he hadn’t written clearly enough. When time was up, he knew that he was handing in a perfect exam. And sure enough, among the seven orphans who took the April exam, only he and Nadia went on to the interview. He saw her as she walked out of her interview with Goodman. She couldn’t tell him anything because her personal instructor was right beside her, but her glowing face told him everything. Now all A. had to do was pass the interview with Goodman and they would both be out of there. Which of them would reach the train station first? Which would be the one to carve their destination on the bench? But would there even be a bench? A. was suddenly filled with anxiety. His dream had been not only to leave the institution, but to leave it and live with Nadia. What if, because of some tiny hole in their plan, they missed each other? After all, they wouldn’t know each other’s new names; if neither of them managed to leave the name of the city they were traveling to at some agreed upon place, they might never meet again. “What are you thinking about?” Goodman asked. “My life. The future waiting for me outside,” A. whispered, and immediately added obsequiously, “and how much I owe this institution, especially you, for bringing me to this moment.” “You sound as if you’ve finished your business here and you’re already waving a white handkerchief at me from the train window,” Goodman said, twisting his face into an ugly smile. “As someone who failed the exam 19 times, that’s a bit arrogant on your part, don’t you think?” “This time, I passed,” A. stammered. “I’m sure of it.” “You’re sure of it,” Goodman interrupted, “but I, unfortunately, am a bit less sure.” “This time, all the answers were correct,” A. persisted. “Ah,” Goodman hissed, “I don’t doubt that either. But an exam is not judged only by the right answers written on the page. Concealed behind the factual answer is intention and character, and with regard to those, I’m afraid you still have much work left to do.” A. stood there, stunned. He searched his feverish brain for an irrefutable claim that would make Goodman change his mind, but the only thing that came out of his mouth was “I hate you.” “That’s fine,” Goodman said, nodding, and immediately pressed the intercom button and asked for
when they reached that city, they would go to the main entrance of the central train station at exactly 7 every morning until they were reunited. But first of all, they both had to pass the exam. Nadia’s secret donor wanted her to be a doctor; that was absolutely clear from her personal curriculum. She had failed the anatomy section of her last exam, but this time, she promised A,. she would come prepared. The future that A.’s secret donor wished for him was a bit less clear. Along with his art classes, A.’s personal curriculum placed special emphasis on social and verbal skills. Among other things, he learned to debate and write carefully reasoned essays. Did A.’s donor want him to grow up to be a leading artist in his field? An art teacher? An essayist? Possibly. In any case, he apparently wanted A. to grow the kind of thick, wild beard suitable to a bohemian, because unlike the other orphans, A. had never received shaving gear, and when he once tried to raise the subject with Goodman, Goodman put an end to the matter with a curt suggestion that A. focus on the upcoming exam instead of “wasting time on nonsense.” A., for his part, believed that the donor wanted him to grow a beard because he himself had one. Once, he saw Goodman through the gym window talking with an old man who had a long white beard. A. was running laps around the gym and could clearly see Goodman pointing at him and the old man watching him intently and nodding. What could make that old man invest so much of his money on the education of an abandoned child? Kindness? Generosity? The desire to atone for terrible things he had done in his life? And why had he chosen to support a genetically damaged child and not, say, a child prodigy who, with his help, might develop his extraordinary talents and advance all of mankind? A. wondered if he would do something similar for a sick child if he himself were healthy and rich. Who knows. Maybe there was an alternative universe in which A. was the one standing next to Goodman and pointing at a child, maybe even at Nadia, describing her development, her hobbies, her chances of passing the exam and living the rest of her life in the wild, unprotected world that surrounded them.
GOODMAN TOOK A GUN AND A KNIFE FROM HIS BAG AND OFFERED THEM BOTH TO THE OLD MAN. “ I D I D N ’ T K N O W W H I C H Y O U P R E F E R R E D .”
A.’s personal instructor to come and take him back to his room. “It’s good that you hate me. That’s part of your development. I don’t do what I do to be loved.” “I hate you,” A. repeated, feeling the rage rise inside him, “you might think you’re a good person, but you’re arrogant and evil. Every night before I go to sleep, I close my eyes and imagine myself getting up in the morning and finding out that you’re dead.” “That’s perfectly all right,” Goodman said. “The punishments I give you, the hatred you have for me, they are all part of the process that is supposed to prepare you for a greater purpose. And affection for me or gratitude are not part of that purpose.”
It took four security guards to pull A. off Goodman. After the short, violent struggle with them, A. came away with a black eye, a huge bruise on his forehead, and two broken fingers on his left hand, but not only that. He also came away with a security guard’s identification tag, which he managed to tear off as they fought and hide in his pocket without anyone noticing. That night, A. pretended to be asleep, and at 1 in the morning he climbed silently out of bed. With the stolen tag, he knew, he could get out of the wing where the orphans were housed. West of that wing was the guest wing, which the orphans were forbidden to enter, and past that was the exit gate. A. had never walked through that gate, but he was sure the security guard’s identification tag would open it for him. And if it didn’t, he would climb over it, dig under it, or pass right through it—he would do anything he needed to get out of there. A. proceeded along the corridor that led to the guest wing and, using the identification tag, opened the heavy iron door. This wing was where the secret donors stayed when they came on their periodical visits for updates on their protégés’ progress. A. had always pictured this wing as a sort of luxury hotel
with a huge dining hall and hanging chandeliers, but now it looked completely different. Its main corridor resembled a corridor in an office building, and every door along it led to a room that looked like a stage set: One looked like a military bunker; another like an elementary school classroom; and the third had a fancy swimming pool with a naked corpse floating in the middle of it. A., who lit his way with an old flashlight he found in the room designed to be a bunker, focused the light on the corpse’s face. It looked like a pulpy mass of flesh and blood now, but A. recognized it immediately: He jumped into the water and embraced Nadia’s naked corpse. He was crushed. Devastated. Completely destroyed. This escape was supposed to take him outside to the better life he wanted more than anything, but now that desire had been snuffed out all at once. Without Nadia at his side, he had no desire for anything anymore. He heard someone flush a toilet and raised his head. A short, skinny redheaded man in a bathing suit came out of the men’s dressing room. He saw A. and immediately began to shout in French. In seconds, the room filled with security guards. The redhead told them something in a hoarse voice and pointed to A. and the corpse. The guards jumped into the water and tried to separate A. and Nadia, but A. refused to let her go. His last memory was of the strong smell of the chlorine and blood in Nadia’s hair, and then darkness.
ANGER AND VIRTUES
A. woke up tied to a chair. He was in the first room he’d seen in the guest wing, the dusty military bunker where he found the flashlight. Goodman was standing beside him. “Someone killed N.,” he said in a choked voice. “I know,” Goodman said, nodding. “I think it was a redheaded man, short …” A. groaned. “It’s OK,” Goodman said. “She belonged to him.”
The old man with the beard gave A. a scrutinizing look. “You can move closer to him, Mr. Klein,” Goodman said. “He’s tied up, he can’t hurt you.” “I must admit that he really looks like him,” the old man whispered in a shaky voice. “He doesn’t look like him,” Goodman corrected. “He is him. One hundred percent Adolf Hitler. Not just the body, but also the mind: the same knowledge, the same temperament, the same talents. I want to show you something.” Goodman took a small tablet out of his bag and placed it in front of the old man. A. couldn’t see the screen, but he could hear his own voice coming from the computer. He heard himself scream at Goodman that he hated him and wished he would die. “Did you see?” Goodman said proudly. “Did you watch his hand movements? Now look at this.” A. suddenly heard his own voice saying things he had never said, speaking about an invicible Germany that would kneel before no one. Goodman stopped the film. “See?” he said to the old man. “They’re exactly the same. We took his mind, tabula rasa, and poured everything into it. We’ve been preparing him for this day from the minute he took his first breath.” Goodman took a gun and a knife from his bag and offered them both to the old man. “I didn’t know which you preferred,” he said, and shrugged. “Do whatever you want to him. I will wait right outside.”
TA B U L A R A S A
Etgar Keret’s books have been published in more than 40 languages, and the film he codirected with Shira Geffen, Jellyfish, won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or award. He is also a regular contributor to This American Life.
The old man pointed the gun at A.’s forehead. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment,” he said. “Shoot,” A. urged him, “get it over with. You’ll be doing us both a favor.” “This is not how it’s supposed to be,” the old man said angrily. He was confused. His hand began to shake. “You should ask me why I hate you, you should cry, you should beg for my forgiveness and only then will I ... You’re Hitler, a cunning devil even now, in your last moments, trying to play tricks.” “I’m Antoine,” A. whispered and closed his eyes. He pictured Nadia and himself on the top of that grassy hill, standing in front of matching easels, painting a sunset. The metallic click of a gun being cocked sounded so far away now. !
T A B U L A AR. A S A
THE FINAL SOLUTION
“How can you say it’s OK?” A. wailed. “She was murdered by a crazy sadist! You have to call the police!” “In order to be murdered, you first have to be a person,” Goodman said in a didactic tone, “and N. wasn’t a person.” “How dare you say that? N. was a wonderful person, a good woman.” “N. was a clone. She was a clone of Natalie Loreaux, the wife of the man who ordered her— Philippe, the short man you saw.” A. opened his mouth to speak, but air refused to enter his lungs. The room spun, and if he hadn’t been tied to his chair, he would certainly have fallen. “You have nothing to worry about,” Goodman said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “The real Natalie Loreaux is still alive and waiting impatiently for her husband, Philippe, to come back from his short business trip to Switzerland. Now that Philippe has vented his anger on her clone, she will welcome back a much calmer and more loving husband. I can only assume that when Philippe gets home, he’ll appreciate Natalie’s virtues a great deal more, and you and I both know that she has quite a few of those.” “But he killed her,” A. mumbled. “No,” Goodman corrected. “He destroyed a clone.” “She was a person,” A. insisted. “She looked like a person,” Goodman corrected him again, “just as you look like a person.” “I am a person,” A. shrieked, “I was born with elderness and was abandoned by my …” But the disdainful look in Goodman’s eyes kept him from completing his sentence. “Am I a clone too?” A. asked, tears in his eyes. “Was I ordered by someone close to me who hates me?” “No,” Goodman said with a smile, “with you, it’s a bit more complicated.” “Complicated?” A. mumbled, and Goodman took a small mirror out of his pocket and held it in front of A.’s face. In the mirror, A. could see, along with the black eye and some dried blood under his left eyebrow, that his thick beard had been completely shaved off, leaving only a really small mustache under his nose, and his hair was combed to the side in a strange and ugly way. Now, as he looked into the mirror, A. saw for the first time that he was wearing a brown army uniform. “Your name, my dear A., is Adolf,” Goodman said, “and your owner will be here any minute now.”
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I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
A STORY BY
IT KNOWS W H AT YO U ’ R E T H I N K I N G STOP THINKING IT KNOWS.
Lately this feeling or maybe it’s a thought what’s the difference great another thing to think about add it to the list. Hard. To feel. Sure about anything it’s in the CUPBOARD. NEXT TO THE MOUTHWASH. Can she not hear me why can’t she hear me DID YOU FIND IT? This thought-feeling or whatever can’t quite grasp it yet but has something to do with IT’S IN THE CUPBOARD is she messing with me? The CUPBOARD, next to the MOUTHWASH she’s messing with me NO, HONEY, SORRY, TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE THIS THING? SURE I CAN PACK THE LUNCHES TODAY why can’t she just pack the lunches today why do you have to do everything? Allison needs her CLARINET TODAY OK just WAIT A MINUTE OK TRYING to use THE THING. From THE COMPANY, YES. OK, is this even working says it’s working doesn’t feel like it. Plug this in here and that thing goes there supposed to see a flashing green light and … nothing HUH OK maybe the other port. This kind of thing never. The first completely hands-free, direct interface for such and such oh duh you’re a dumdum that’s why. It’s not even on. Where’s the switch is that it this PIECE OF CRAP doesn’t even— [flicks switch] ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
WELCOME TO SUBTEXT® PLEASE WAIT WHILE WE SYNC WITH YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------BEGIN SESSION TRANSCRIPT:
5 >> SUBTEXT® >> 7:22 AM > > Oh shit it’s working? It’s working you just thought that and that’s the thing you thought there
it is, on the screen WHOA hmm that’s a weird font you hate that font you didn’t even realize you hated that font until you saw that you hated that font. Now you can see yourself realizing that in real time how much you hate that font which makes you sort of hate it … less? That’s how your brain works you don’t care about what you think but sometimes you do care but only if you know what you think and this way you see what you think about something and no way. Yes way. No way. But you do. But did you? You don’t know. This is weird this is scary this is weird and a little scary. > Maybe you should change the interface so you don’t have to read your thoughts unless you want to— > DROP-DOWN MENU. OPTIONS. VIEW THOUGHT FEED. ONLY WHEN REFRESHED
> Only When Refreshed. So you have CRAP > CRAPCRAPCRAP YOU’RE LATE FOR WORK CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP.
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 7:55 AM
> You’re always late you’re not good enough they’re going to fire you everyone hates you. They’re going to fire you because everyone hates you and because everyone hates you after you’re fired they’re going to have a party. A hate party to celebrate their collective shared passion of having hate for you. You’re even more late now they’re probably all at work already talking about you having coffee and talking about you and flirting with each other over coffee and sipping coffee while savoring the taste in their mouths the taste of hate for you. > You know what who cares who cares if you’re late you’re underpaid. You’re like 20 percent underpaid this is you time you should take off your pants and just lie here until you feel like getting back up go ahead, take ’em off. That was the garage door the garage door means Grace and kids off to school you’re alone you can take the pants off and see what happens from there you’re going to die. We’re all going to die someday. Wait a minute this is self-sabotage that’s what you’re doing. Now you really are going to be late you’re going to get fired you’re going to get fired the day you were planning to quit. > Today’s the day what are you doing you’re supposed to quit today? You’re going to die someday. Take off your pants. Go to work. Quit your job. You’ll crash and burn. No you won’t. > Maybe you shouldn’t be thinking about all this what if this stuff is discoverable? What if employers have a right to see this stuff? SubText is still in beta oh shit oh shit oh shit you can’t scrub it. It’s probably going directly to someone in product dev who’s mining the data you idiot. You moron. Wait no maybe it’s OK maybe they can’t use this against you all kinds of ethical and legal reasons. Calm down you’re a lawyer you’re not a very good one but hey.
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 8:01 AM > > Coffee tastes good you appreciate the opportunity blah blah blah you are so grateful for the
ist no you’re not yes you are but way less racist than they are you’re definitely sexist.
opportunity been such a tremendous growth experience coffee so good. > They never appreciated you also they might be a little bit racist you’re probably a little bit rac-
> Even though you don’t want to be you shouldn’t look at her that way don’t do it it’s traffic it’s dangerous coffee tastes good even bad coffee is good. You’re a cheater. You’ve always been a cheater. You’re not a good person. You’re going to mess it up. Pop-Tart would be good with this Pop-Tarts are so good. > INTERNAL MEMO TO SELF > To-do list > Review new slides for branding and internal messaging. > Approve customer service scripts. > Stop checking out other women so much. > > That’s bad > Come on dude > Stop. Stop.
That’s not really that bad Work sleep eat die This is not helpful
In the grand scheme Stop
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 8:37 AM > > Don’t think and drive dangerous try the radio classical admit it: You have no idea you don’t know
anything about classical music or jazz oh come on who are you trying to impress? Jazz. As if just NPR OK NPR fighting continues for another day, with insurgents intensifying attacks on an already ravaged part of the city. What fighting where over there that’s far admit you’re never going over there you’re not going to learn that second language if you just had more time you could learn that second language you could be a better oh here is an email Meeting Request: 4:30 All-Hands. All-hands at end of day. Hmm. You figure you know what that means. And now, look: Google Alert. Rumors, swirling. As they do. Your company on the block. Fighting continues for another day, with insurgents intensifying attacks on an already ravaged part of the city. The news on a loop or is it maybe this is another day another ravaged city turn off the radio silence is terrifying admit it you’re terrified no don’t. Push it back down down into the pit of your stomach let it stay there where it lives. ------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 10:14 AM > > PING Ooh, that’s a good little spurt of serotonin. INCOMING MESSAGE Someone in the outside world is thinking of you look at the name don’t look at the name you have to pee look at it. > It’s her. > Drinks tonight? > Are you really seeing this did you just will that to happen? Of all the people in the company the one you’ve been imagining drinks with oh, hey oh hi oh, funny running into you here. And then, just like that. PING Oh that feels good maybe this is going to be a good day maybe this is going to be the best day of all time maybe this is how it starts and it just keeps going on from here up and up and up because why? Because why not? Why not you, why not now?
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 10:16 AM > > Not because of her no, not that you’re not really going to do anything of course of course not.
She’s young too young a little too cool for you. It’s more like you’re married you idiot you love your wife this is harmless this is everything. You’re dumb. You’re human. You’re dumb. You have
5 to pee again this is bad you should probably see a urologist about this or there was a commercial for the medicine for this you are now a guy who just has to pee every hour. More rumors bidders circling a couple of strategics some interest from private equity. The hell. Of course. Nothing by accident. Today’s the day. Could be getting a nice payday. Options vested. Could also be getting the ax. Why not just wait? Will that feel different? The big jewel of the sale. The company’s new SubText® product, now believed to be in beta testing. > SUBTEXT®: STRIVING TO BE THE INDUSTRY THOUGHT LEADER FOR ALL YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS NEEDS. > Some of the tech, ethical, legal, and business issues it would raise … > “Maria, imagine if you could see a text of your own subconscious … the possibilities for mone-
tization, capturing value there …” > What if your feed gets hacked how do you know it hasn’t already what if Grace saw this? Or the kids? They would know who their dad is they would know they do already they don’t need the feed to know they can see it. Don’t you want to be the person they think you are?
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 1:17 PM > > Do people have sex in elevators or is that only on cable? What is this song this song is terrible you hate this song also you kind of like this song. Sex. Sex. Sex. This song is making you think about sex. You need to get out of this elevator. > Mental note: Call IT to see if they can erase history. Sexy sex stuff. > PING . INCOMING MESSAGE.
> SUBTEXT®: WE KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. EVEN IF YOU DON’T.
INTERNAL COMPANY MEMORANDUM PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL > Blah blah blah. The commitment we made. Our mission and values. Driving value for stakeholders. That’s why today. > Is the day you need to change your life you walk in there don’t chicken out don’t freak out don’t do the thing you always do which is think too much. You’re overthinking. You know you are. Meeting at 4:30. All-hands. In the stadium. This is the big one end of day, all-hands, big room. > The plan was never to stay this long. You’re better than this you’re lucky you’re no good you’re better than this no you’re not. You’re a cheater you’re going to mess it up mess what up all of it your job your marriage the kids you’re going to hell so you might as well cheat anyway. Cheater. You’re not such a bad guy.
RE: POTENTIAL STRATEGIC TRANSACTION
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 2:02 PM
> Well why not I’m a contributing member of society work is work. These are cutting-edge issues who’s saying that where did that come from? > The ultimate frontier not to know what we know privacy from ourselves privacy from knowing too much about ourselves. Actions versus thoughts. > PING PING PING Emails go deep in the brain. Maybe take off your shoes ah now your socks a little meditation. Maybe go pee. Pee and then meditate then maybe yogurt. Phone. Customer service. Crap. Customer service scripts need legal review now the guy’s calling for his legal review. Let it go to voicemail. Find an empty office on four and take your laptop up there. On the day you die. If you die. When you die. On the day you die, is this what you wanted to have spent your life doing?
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 2:19 PM > > CUSTOMER SERVICE SCRIPTS (FOR LEGAL REVIEW) > > Thank you for calling MemoRE,® maker of the world’s first cloud storage app for your offsite mental capacity needs. Now with a touchless interface. And coming soon, our newest product, SubText.® Your customer service representative will assist you shortly. We appreciate your patience. MemoRE®: Your thoughts are our business. > > Thank you for calling MemoRE,® my name is ____________, how can I help you today? > Help me. Something’s wrong. I need help. > Great, I can help with that. First, I just need some info to better serve you today. May I have your name, please? > I don’t have a name. > Great. And in case we get disconnected, can I have the best phone number to reach you at? > It’s in my head. The call is coming from inside my head. > And what are we thinking today? [Pause for response.] Excellent, we can help you with that. > I don’t think you understand. Something is in there. Someone. > I’m sorry you feel that way. Your feeling has been noted and will be sent to the company. Does that sound helpful? > That someone is me. I can’t get myself out of here. > Great. Thanks for calling MemoRE.®
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 4:21 PM > > Templates for the subconscious. Problems with the product. Customer service. Hello, yes, my subconscious is betraying me. This is what you went to law school for? Brownies. You smell brownies. SOMEONE IS MAKING POPCORN. WHO EATS POPCORN AT 4:21 IN THE AFTERNOON? WHY IS SOMEONE ALWAYS MAKING POPCORN? Tomorrow is payday. Is this what you went to law school for? > You used to make fun of people like you actually you still do you just don’t realize you’re one of the people you make fun of. It’s the good-enough-job problem: good enough job that pays well enough but has turned you into someone you don’t like all that much.
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 4:31 PM > > All-hands should have bagels org meetings have bagels so all-hands should have bagels. > SUBTEXT® ALLOWS FOR RECURSIVE SELF-IMPROVEMENT. > TURN ON THOUGHT EDITOR FOR MORE DETAILS. > SEND FEEDBACK TO US. HELPING US COLLECT DATA WILL HELP US IMPROVE THE PRODUCT. > Work-life balance what does that mean what is Work what is Life what is Balance? This is what
you’re thinking about? If MemoRE gets swallowed up they’ll keep half the lawyers you’re definitely in the top half definitely probably if you’re not is that so bad? You could be on a beach you can take Grace and the kids tropical drink sand mind-eraser Grace will love you again. She loves you
5 now. Severance one week per year is that the rule you should know you draft the agreements. TURN ON SELF-IMPROVEMENT? Huh no thanks you don’t need to improve you’re just fine as is keep telling yourself that buddy keep it up and see where you end up. LAST TIME: ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T WANT TO TURN ON SELF-IMPROVEMENT? > Sure, why not, go for it I could go for some improvement. Can’t get worse.
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 4:55 PM > > The CEO is kind of hot. > SELF-IMPROVER: YOU CAN DO BETTER! > The CEO is talking. You should listen. > The CEO is a human being with her own mind from which you can learn many things. Stop objectifying her and listen, asshole. > … levers that will drive growth. Human capital … > That means layoffs. You’ll be fine Grace will be fine the kids won’t go hungry. You’re safe. Safe. You always will be you aimed for the fat part of the green and you hit it and this is why. You’ve given up things too you know. Just so you don’t forget. > Drinks tonight drinks tonight stop thinking about it stop right now you’re about to learn your professional future and you’re thinking about a flirty coworker. > [TEXT BACK] Drinks sounds interesting. If this meeting would ever get started … > FUCK WHY DID YOU DO THAT you’ve given up dreams you deserve a little pleasure oh God why would you do that you moron three dots means she’s typing what is wrong with you erase delete it erase erase too late. > Winky emoji. Score. What is WRONG WITH YOU. STOP THIS NOW. YOU ARE MARRIED. > Self-improvement needs some improvement. You seem like the same old guy.
> YOU CAN DO BETTER!
> SELF-IMPROVEMENT IS WORKING! WE PROMISE! MORE ITERATIONS REQUIRED.
>> SUBTEXT® >> 5:03 PM > > Check the news fighting continues in a war-torn country. Rescue efforts to locate a child. Oh
God oh God just awful don’t flick through the photos don’t do it during the all-hands. > [BROWSE PHOTOS]
mercials songs in the car in the garage just sometimes when Grace and the kids are all asleep and you kiss them and you take the dog for a pee walk and you look at the moon and think of the sleepyheads and you feel … gratitude. Genuinely overwhelmed because you don’t deserve any of it and now you are flicking through photos and losing it a little here and what is wrong with you you love them. You actually love them. > Donate there 200 that’s a lot of money that’s why you work here. Because you can do that sort of thing. Sports. Sports sports sports. Is the CEO still talking about how much this organization means to her she is still talking we get it OK we get it. Whoever sticks around gets options cashed out but also has to clean up the mess. You don’t want to clean up these messes. Definitely not messes made by someone else but also. > Some of these messes are your messes. > Some of these messes will show everyone what a fraud you are.
> Goddammit now you’re crying ever since you became a dad, you’ve become a crybaby. Com-
IBM and annd its its loggo, o ibm.com and Wat W tson son on ar a e trad trad radema emarks ema rks of In Inter te na ter nattion ioo al Bu Bus usine neesss Mac M hinnes Cor Co pp.,, re regis gister terred e inn man m y jjurirsdi d cti c onss wo ct w rld r dwid w e. See wi S cu Se c rrent list at ibm.com/tr / adeemar ma k. Other Oth er pro p duc ductt and a ser s vice name m s migh me ight ght be trad trad radema ema em marks off IB I M or othe herr comp comp mpani n es. es ©I ©Inte nte t rna r tio tional nal Bu B sin i ess s Ma Machi chi h nes n Co Corp. rp 20 2 16. 16 Elmo mo © 201 20 6 Sesame Workshop.
What’s Watson working on today?
Between ages two and five, a chiild learns more— and mo m re r rapidly—than anyy time in life. Working with IBM Watson, Sesame Street is helping make the most of each child d’ss potential. They ey’rre he h lping to personalize learning, allowin ng each child to be taught based on th t eir learning style, ab a ilityy and need ds. Thanks, Elmo. This is cog o niti t ve edu d cation. ibm.com/outthink k
W en everything thinks, you can outthink. Wh
5 > Get out get out now while you can clean exit. On a beach. Grace and the kids. You’re not a lawyer. You’re something else. You’re not good at this. You’re always so hard on yourself. You’re good at something. You are. You just have to remember what.
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 5:05 PM > ANNOUNCEMENT: Spin-off. SubText will be its own company. Email from your boss. You’re coming with him to SpinCo. And a title bump. Congrats. Let’s talk later. > EMAIL FROM HR: Welcome to SpinCo. We are proud to offer you the enclosed compensation package for your new position. Blah blah entrusted with the task and responsibility and privilege of carrying this company forward. There will be unprecedented challenges in the months and years ahead. A new frontier in our customer interface. But we believe you’re up to the task. > INCOMING MESSAGE Her again. > Heard about your promotion. Now we have an excuse to celebrate :)
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 5:11 PM >
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 6:09 PM >
> Meeting wrapping up here she comes she’s going to ask about drinks. Oh God oh God you should do it you should have sex with her just once do it. > Or duck away and hide in this bathroom stall okeydoke that works too. > Call Grace call her now you idiot call her or text her not text. CALL HER. > Hi sweetie. Just thinking of you. Love you. Was thinking—let’s take a trip soon. With the kids, or without. With! OK. All of us. I don’t know. No, nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong. OK, love you. Spaghetti sounds good. See you tonight. > Today was a day. > See you soon.
> Driving home is nice because you can take off your shoes. > > Things you did today: > Reviewed customer service script. Checked emails. Flirted with her. Donated $200 to wartorn country. > Things you did not do today: > Learn a foreign language. Learn anything about world or US history. Do any good for anyone. Learn how to code. Learn anything about your chosen profession. > Things you might do tomorrow: > Quit your job. Finally.
Charles Yu is the author of Sorry Please Thank You and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. He is a writer for the television show Westworld.
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I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
PAU L L AC O L L E Y
A STORY BY
JA M E S S. A. COREY
WHO IS HÃ‰CTOR P R I M A?
I came from a city that had known want, but also wealth. Poverty, but also comfort. The richest sections of my home were indistinguishable from the high-income districts of Milan and Paris. Even our slums had pavement on the roads and water in the taps. Sagrado was rising to that level now. The streets were too narrow for cars. The traffic that passed between the thick-stuccoed buildings consisted of people on foot or riding bicycles. Stray dogs watched from the alleyways. The streetlights were built from repurposed emergency solar lamps, bright yellow plastic shaped like downwardfacing daisies. Cables hung over the rooftops, piping power from the day’s wind and sunlight stored in hundreds of batteries to homes and clubs, public kitchens and mud-floored dance halls. Drones hummed overhead, carrying glowing advertisements built from recycled medical tablets. In the doorways and on the corners, children and women held platters, stepping out whenever someone came close. I have the best flan you’ve ever tasted. Bean chowder; just try it and you’ll never want anything else. Baklava. Curried egg. Always cheap ingredients. Rarely fish. Never meat. Music filled the air like birdsong. Some live, the musicians sweating over printfab guitars and hammering on drums made from pottery and plastic. Some recorded but remixed, manipulated, remade with the personality of whoever had speakers loud enough to drown out their neighbors. One club had a child of no more than 6 standing at the door with a false, practiced grin, grabbing at people’s hands and tugging at them
JA M E S S. A . C O R E Y
How to describe Sagrado at night?
THE HUNGER AFTER YOU’RE FED
My host’s expression went cool. He was a middleaged man with a wide face and shoulders and pale stubble on his cheeks and chin that held the promise of a lush beard. In the four hours I’d spent in his home since the evacuated rail from Nové Město had deposited me in Sagrado, he’d been nothing but jovial and expansive. His warmth and his pleasure in having a guest had lulled me into feeling safe. I had overplayed my hand. “Who?” he asked. “I think he’s a writer my sister likes,” I said, motioning vaguely. “She said he was in this part of the country somewhere. But I may have that wrong.” “She is mistaken. Héctor Prima is a pen name. There are rumors that he lives here, but they’re not true. No one knows who really writes his essays. He could be anyone.” “That’s interesting. Is he good?” As if I had not read everything Prima had put on the web. As if I had not read thousands of both analyses of his work and speculations on who he might be. As if I were not, in a sense, a hunter. A stalker. I was driven by an enthusiasm I couldn’t explain, except that when I read his words, I recognized the world he described and my own unhappiness in it. Reading Prima felt like being seen. “He has a following. Strange people. We see them now and again,” my host said with a shrug. “We have a great number of writers and artists, you know. We’re a very vibrant place, now that the money’s come.” “It’s why I’m here,” I said with a smile, and the warmth was back in his eyes. “We have rumba bands. Many, many rumba bands. There was a fight three years ago, when two different bands scheduled concerts on the same day. The police had to come in. You heard about that, maybe?”
“Does Héctor Prima live around here?”
“I think I did,” I lied. “We are very passionate about our music here,” my host said, nodding to himself and watching me to see how I would react. Whether there was a glimmer of interest in my eyes. It was no different in Nové Město. I knew what he wanted. “Do you play in a band?” I asked. If he had been pleasant and jovial before, now he became incandescent. “A bit. Only a little. I sing, you know. Here, we’ve just put together a new album. Let me play it for you, yes?” “I’d like that,” I said. It was the price of my hunt. I wanted something, and I would accept a great many things I didn’t want in order to get it. I listened and smiled until evening, and then I went out.
to come in. The scars of poverty were everywhere, but few of the wounds. A man in filthy pants and the paper shirt that relief workers hand out sat with his back against a yellow wall, his jaw working in silent but passionate conversation with himself. Another ran down the street shouting after a woman that he hadn’t meant to spend it all and that there would be more next week and why was she so angry when there was going to be more next week? An old woman swept the street outside her little bodega while the ads in her windows painted her face with blue and pink and blue again. Basic income had come to Sagrado five years before, freeing it from want but not, it seemed, from wanting. I stopped to ask the old woman if I was going the right way and showed her the map on my cell. “I am looking for Julia Paraiis.” She made a sour face but pointed me down a side street even narrower than the main thoroughfare. “Five down, blue building. Third floor.” I followed her directions, wondering whether it had been wise for me to come so far unaccompanied. But when I knocked at the door on the third floor of the blue building, the woman who answered looked like the one I’d seen on the net. “What?” she said. “We talked on the forum,” I said. “You’ve come about Héctor?” she said. In answer, I held out my hand, the roll of cash in my palm like an apple. She plucked it from me, her eyes softening. “You’ve been saving,” she said. “It’s everything I have.” “You have more coming,” she said dismissively. “I’ll call for you the day after tomorrow.” And like that, it was done. She closed the door, I walked away, turning back toward the street, and my room, and the hope that this time I would find him. We were a community of a sort. The hunters after Héctor. There were more theories of who and where he was than I could count. I’d looked for him in Rome and Nice. Évora. I’d worked cleaning out brambles and hauling contaminated gravel from an old power plant for extra money to fund my dream of sitting across from the man, of telling him how much his words meant to me. Of breathing the same air. Sagrado had always been one of the possibilities, but never the most likely. I had shared neither my growing suspicions of it nor my searches outside the community on the forums. Nor my discovery of
DRONES HUMMED OVERHEAD, CARRYING GLOWING ADVERTISEMENTS B U I LT F R O M R E C Y C L E D M E D I C A L TA B L E T S .
a woman who claimed she could arrange my introduction, if I was ready to pay for it. My host had described my quarters as a studio, but it was less than that: an adobe shed that shared one wall with the house proper and was just large enough for a cot. It was clean, painted a bright and cheerful pink. A sprig of rosemary tied with a white ribbon hung on the wall as a decoration, and it gave the small space a pleasant scent. The pillow was flat. The blanket, rough. If I wanted to use the bathroom or shower, I had to go to the main house and risk another hour or two of my host’s rumba. The sounds of voices and guitars—and once, a man’s enraged shout—mixed with songs of crickets and cicadas. I opened my book, its screen my only light. When I stopped with the heroin—this was, God, 30 years ago—I expected the aches, the illness, the craving deep as bones. Everyone knows how that comes. You anticipate it. Brace against it. Get ready. The thing I didn’t look for was how empty I felt when I was clean. Everyone, always, we are looking for our lives to have meaning. What did the one man say? The Jew? “Those with a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’” I think that’s right. When I was a junkie, I had my why. Always my why was to get more junk, and I endured terrors for it. This age, this generation, traded its demons for the void. When I was young we were poor, and we are poor again now but differently. When I was young we were afraid to starve, to be without medicines or homes, and the teeth of it gave us meaning. Now we fear being less important than our neighbors. We lost our junkie’s need, and we don’t
WE EXCHANGED THE RAGGED SUSTENANCE I NEEDED FOR THE ILLUSION THEY NEEDED: T H AT S O M E O N E C A R E D W H AT T H E Y D I D.
JA M E S S. A . C O R E Y THE HUNGER AFTER YOU’RE FED
The deaths of some extreme alpinists dominated the midmorning news cycle. Images of the mountain range they had been climbing appeared on the newsfeeds like blossoms in springtime, overlaid with swaths of color to track their intended path through the area with the most landslides. A woman whose father died on the mountain—darkhaired and fighting back tears as she stood before the cameras—spoke the customary phrases. Climbing meant everything to him. He died doing what he loved. I curled under the rough blanket, listening to the sounds of Sagrado’s streets and feeling the same uncomfortable mix of schadenfreude and envy that usually traveled in the wake of these optional tragedies. The romance of death by adventure. I faced a less newsworthy ordeal. Three long weeks stretched out before the next disbursement, leaving a gap of 14 days with nowhere to sleep, no ticket back to my flat in Nové Město, no way to buy
I let my eyes drift closed.
my own food, and only water from public fountains. I knew tricks, of course. Ever since the rolls began, poor had meant poor management. Not everyone possessed the skills to shepherd their allotment all the way to the next one. The temptation to buy a cigar or a steak in the first days after the money came translated itself into missed meals and fasting in the long, brutal last days before the next payment, and sympathy came thin on the ground. The ancient lie that the blame for poverty belonged wholly to the poor had changed to truth now. Experience had taught me that the need to be more important than our neighbors could be exploited to sustain someone through the thinnest times. If I was careful. I strolled through the evening streets much as before, accepting the offered tidbits only here and there. Every third one. Or less. I smiled and nodded to the men and girls that haunted the little restaurants and family kitchens, encouraging but not too encouraging. And never grateful. We exchanged the ragged sustenance I needed for the illusion they needed: that someone cared what they did. Will feed for applause. If I didn’t convince them I was enjoying their rice cake or stew more than whatever their neighbors were offering up, my end of our unspoken bargain failed. And that led quickly to the samples shifting out of my reach. Everyone wanted to feel desired. No one cared about someone who came only out of need. And so, like a con artist, I pretended not to need. Pretended to appreciate what they gave me. It thrilled me. I could have been safe in Nové Město with food enough, water enough, warmth enough. Instead, I lived by my wits and savored the suspense, the metalsharp taste of not knowing how I would survive. Of the moment just before the revelation. This Julia Paraiis who claimed to have the information I sought could as easily be a grifter preying on my credulity. Or I might leave Sagrado with a secret. An experience I’d been searching for over the course of years. The dead alpinists, the people offering food on the corners, the bands coaxing us all to come dance to their music, my host and his awful rumba, and me. All of us struggled against the same void, and Héctor Prima sang our longing like a siren. I passed one day and then the next, each hour feeling longer than the one before. And more charged with promise. With the lengthening evening of the second day, my anticipation stuttered, shifted, and
know what to put in its place. So we make art or food or music or sport and scream for someone to notice us. We invent new gods and cajole each other into worshipping. All the vapid things that the wealthy did—the surgeries and the fashions and pretension—we understand them now. We are doing all the same things, but not as well, because we have less and we’re still new at it. This? It’s the emptiness of our time, and the only thing worse is everything that came before it.
grew darker. I lay on my rented cot, afraid to sleep in case I missed Julia Paraiis or some agent of hers. No one came. I woke on the morning of the third day caught between embarrassment and regret. I told myself that she might still come, and I tried not to feel my humiliation. I managed for almost an hour before it bloomed into rage. As I marched down the street from my host’s house, I felt the eyes of Sagrado watching me. The stranger who had been haunting them for the past few days, with no apparent agenda, now alive with outrage. Suspicions welled up in half-recognized faces. The old woman at the bodega crossed her scarred arms and shook her head at me. A girl who had offered me a sample of her father’s bean soup the night before skipped along after me, laughing at my distress. What I meant to them was changing. It would lead to hunger later, but the idea of later had abandoned me. I went back to the blue building. Her door looked shabbier in the daylight and in my state of mind. Scratches and streaks of orange paint that I hadn’t noticed before seemed obvious now. I knocked first, shouted her name. Noises came— footsteps, the creak of a board, voices—maybe from the other side of the door, maybe from the other apartments. Then I pounded, putting my shoulder into it and bruising my knuckles. I didn’t recognize the man who opened the door. He stared at me, his jaw set, his eyes hard. White button-down shirt with stains in the armpits. “Where’s Julia?” I said. “Gone,” the man said. “You should go too.” “Are you Héctor Prima?” It landed. A flinch in the man’s eyes, like he’d suffered a little electric shock. “There’s no Héctor here. You should go.” He tried to close the door, but I pushed in. My voice shook and I couldn’t say whether with fear or excitement. “When is she coming back?” He shoved me but to no effect. “I tracked Prima here. To this town. Julia said she knew him. Said she’d make the introduction if I paid her. Well, I paid her. Now I want the introduction.” “No Héctor Prima.” “I will go to every fucking person in this town and tell them what happened. I will stay outside your door for weeks. Months. As long as it takes.” The man looked down, stepped back. The room on the other side of the door looked as small as my own flat. As worn and sweat-limp. I looked around
for some sign of her, but found nothing. The man refused to meet my eyes, and his breath grew ragged as I looked through his rooms, or else hers. “Where is she?” “Gone,” he said. “When will she be back?” I heard the rage in my own voice, and it sounded like whining. “She won’t.” “Why not?” Now he looked at me straight on, eye to eye. “Because she brought you here. I kicked her out. She took your money with her. She took my money too. You can’t talk about Héctor Prima around here. If you do … if you do, it all stops.” I sat on his couch. It squeaked and wheezed under me. “Are you him?” “No,” the man said, then heaved a sigh. He sat on the floor, his back against the wall. With his knees up, his arms wrapped around them, he looked fragile. “But I write down what … he says. I don’t tell. And if it comes out I was doing it, he’ll stop talking to me.” “I don’t understand,” I said, even though I almost did. The man shook his head. “Was a few years ago. The rolls had just opened, and everybody was getting used to getting payments. Starting to think maybe it would last, you know? Like it wouldn’t go away. Everybody happy, right? Because we all got money now. Only this one old dog says it’s all bullshit, or kind of. I didn’t understand, and then later I started to. Made a point of hanging out, listening. Talking with, you know? And then … started writing it down. Posting it. Made up a name.” “Héctor Prima.” He nodded. “Was because it said something. Only then it got where people read it. A lot of people. Eight hundred thousand views when I put one up, and then 8 million the next, yeah? And some of them are like you. I got scared. I told Julia about it, and she figured she could sell me out.” “To someone like me,” I said. “If it gets back what I’m doing, won’t be any Héctor Prima, because there won’t be any more talking. So you can’t tell anyone.” “Will you introduce me?” I asked. But I already knew the answer. The man and I sat together in silence for a time. I felt a kinship between us, a shared heroism that outranked right or wrong. He and I both shouted against an overpowering emptiness that most people didn’t recognize. He’d lifted a betrayal of trust and privacy to the level of art. I had committed to
A L L B U L L S H I T.”
my enthusiasm for the work past the point of being a stalker. We transgressed together, each dependent upon the other for the sense that something in our lives mattered. We were not well, but at least we were sick in company. I sniffed back my tears and stood. His eyes tracked me as I walked to the blue door, opened it. “Have you ever heard of the hedonic treadmill?” I asked. “What?” “Look it up. Maybe mention it to him. I was going to talk to him about it,” I said. And then, stepping out to the hallway, “Keep up the good work.” At the intersection I stopped and sat on the curb. The girl who had skipped along behind me was in the mouth of an alleyway with three other children. They were playing a game with stones and a length of twine. The old woman swept the dust of her shop into the street. The late-morning sun turned the roofs of the town silver and too bright to look at for long. I couldn’t bring myself to believe how little time had passed. An hour—less than an hour—and a lifetime. The story of my life had reached an inflection point here at the roadside in a little town far from my home. I had spent years tracking Héctor Prima, and I would never seek him out again. I would be homeless until the next disbursement came, and then I’d be hungry until I made up the cost of my train ticket home. I would suffer, but I would suffer
JJAAMMEESS SS. . A . C O R E Y
O L D D O G S AY S I T ’ S
♦ ♦ A bicycle hummed down the street, the chain
clacking as it passed me. The old woman’s broom hissed against the pavement. Music played somewhere close, the bass outreaching all the other sounds. And I sat and held something precious in my hands. Something more fragile than I had guessed when I came to Sagrado. I had chosen not to break it, and as much as it had meant to me when I came, it meant more to me now. I’d come to find Héctor Prima, and I would leave without hope of coming back or guiding my fellow hunters down the track to find him. And I wondered: When I got home, what would I do instead? I must have made a noise, because the old woman stopped and stared at me. She lifted her chin in rough greeting. “You all right, cousin?” “Fine,” I said. And then, “A little hungry.” She shrugged and went back to sweeping. “At least you know it.” !
James S. A. Corey is the pen name of fantasy authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. They both live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The second season of their Syfy series, The Expanse, premieres in February.
THE HUNGER AFTER YOU’RE FED
O N LY T H I S O N E
Children still starve. When I was young we starved from poverty. Now we starve from having parents who spend their allotment on drink or drugs or pretty clothes that make them seem to have more than they do. Bad parents. Bad luck. Bad ideas. Money only ever fixes the troubles that money can fix. All the others stay on. Yes, yes, yes, we suffer less. We suffer differently. But we still suffer over smaller things, and it distracts us. We begin to forget how precious butter and bread are. How desperate we once were to have them. Spices that meant something deep to my mother or me? In a generation they’ll only be tastes. They won’t mean anything more than their moment against the tongue. We should nourish our children not just with food but with what food means. What it used to mean. We should cherish the memories of our poverty. Ghosts and bones are made to remind us to take joy in not being dead yet.
A L L G O T M O N E Y N O W.
RIGHT? BECAUSE WE
“ E V E R Y B O D Y H A P P Y,
for a reason, so the prospect wasn’t so bad. I took out my book, turned up the contrast against the brightness of the day, and opened my folder of Prima’s work, skimming over the words without taking them in until a passage caught my eye.
PHOTO: GAGE SKIDMORE
TO THE TECHNOLOGY COMMUNITY:
Your threat model just changed. Incoming President Donald Trump made campaign promises that, if carried out, threaten the free web and the rights of millions of people. He has praised attempts to undermine digital security, supported mass surveillance, and threatened net neutrality. He promised to identify and deport millions of your friends and neighbors, track people based on their religious beliefs, and suppress freedom of the press. And he wants to use your servers to do it. Today, we are calling on the technology community to unite with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in securing our networks against this threat. ENCRYPT: Use HTTPS and end-to-end encryption for every user transaction, communication, and activity by default. DELETE: Scrub your logs. You cannot be made to surrender data you do not have. REVEAL: If you get a government request to monitor users or censor speech, tell the world. RESIST: Fight for user rights in court, on Capitol Hill, and beyond. When you stand with users, weâ€™ll stand with you. EFF has fought for the rights of technology creators and users for 26 years, through four different presidential administrations. As a nonpartisan nonprofit, we combine litigation, activism, and software development to defend civil liberties in the digital world.
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;@ ou] 7;=;m7 v;uv
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
A STORY BY
N. K. J E M I S I N T O T R A D E W I T H A L I E N S , Y O U M U S T A D A P T. T H E Y C E R T A I N LY W I L L .
CogNet init: Paul SRINIVASAN Recip: Thandiwe SOLOMON
Datime: 2126.96.36.199:45 [OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
Thandi, the commission votes Tuesday. The team’s disappearance isn’t the key issue, but I don’t like how they’re rushing this. Help me out here, OK? Off the record. THREAD REPLY FROM THANDIWE SOLOMON
THREAD REPLY FROM PAUL SRINIVASAN
THREAD REPLY FROM THANDIWE SOLOMON
THREAD REPLY FROM PAUL SRINIVASAN
THREAD REPLY FROM THANDIWE SOLOMON
So tell me how that “billable hours” thing works for you lawyers. Because I might, I don’t know, actually have a job of my own. Please! [.] What do you want? Dinner? Vacation? Hours of mind-bending sex? Because I would do that for you, Thandi. No sacrifice is too great. You already told me you let your Spermicept patch expire. Stay the hell away from me. What CONCEPTUAL happened to Wei’s personal logs? EMBED WITH CAPTION: MAN Gremlins? The lag is pretty severe for this BOWING WITH mission—two years. Not enough black holes for HANDS PRESSED TOGETHER a better relay, or something like that. I’ll see if I can find them. So, they ate her, right? They totally ate her. No. I don’t think they ate her.
7 Recall transcript, WEI Aihua Meeting with local Influential 1
Datime 2188.8.131.52:10 [OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
T H E E VA LUATO R S
“So what would you like to know, evaluator?” “Tell me more of your people, Loves China.” WEI CAPTION: “If you don’t mind, would you call me Aihua, please?” HERE I ATTEMPT TO SPEAK IN MANKA C. “Oh? Your assistant mentioned that your names sometimes have meaning.” THE MANKA WORD FOR ADAPTATION “Yes, but … [.] That doesn’t mean we like those meanings.” TRANSLATES POORLY. “Ah. Please forgive, Aihua. Your language still confuses.” ITS MEANING IS MORE LIKE … SUBMISSION? “I’m amazed by your facility with my language, actually.” FITNESS? “We learned from First Contact team.” LAUGHTER “Yes, but we’ve had just as much time to learn your language, and … well. [.] We am still terrible/poor at adaptation.” [.] “It is true, you do not adapt quick as we. But that is expected. You are not evaluators.” “Ah, yes. Since you mentioned that, if I may ask—what exactly is your role? I’ve asked Hashish, the nurturer who’s been showing me around, but it was … unclear.” “I am evaluator.” “But what does that mean? What do you evaluate?” SILENCE RATCHETING SOUND. WEI FOR 2.5 CAPTION: MANKA LAUGHTER. “Everything. People. World.” SECONDS THANKFULLY HE RETURNS THE “For what purpose?” CONVERSATION TO ENGLISH. [.] “I do not understand, Aihua.” “On my world, people evaluate … processes, performances. For the purpose of improving them.” “Yes. Improvement. Adaptation. Same with us.” “I … see?” RECALL BLUR. WEI CAPTION: “You do not.” LOCAL DELICACY, UNPRONOUNCEABLE “Sorry, I—” “It takes time for people so different to adapt. You do well. No need for fear.” “Thank you. Ouch!” “The shells of [.] are sharp. You are injured? Shall I summon humans?” “No, I’m fine, it’ll stop in a minute. Could you give me something to—yes, thank you. Most of your biologicals are harmless to us, and vice versa. I just hate that I’m bleeding on this lovely cloth.” “It is unimportant. More?” “Yes, please, it’s delicious. You’re an excellent cook.”
N. K. JEMISIN
[ALL SENSORY RECALL EXCEPT AUDITORY SUPPRESSED TO AID LIGHTSTREAMING.]
[AUDITORY RECALL ENDS. SEE GUSTATORY RECALL, 2184.108.40.206:15, FOR CONTINUATION.]
Team Clog of TE Mission, Dar-Mankana Post by WEI Aihua—Public
My first professor in sapio told me never to “Earthropomorphize” xenospecies, but the first thing that leapt into my mind when I saw them was that the Manka look like upright cheetahs (cheetae?). Males and females are indistinguishable to my eyes, lean and deep-chested, while nurturers, the third sex, are noticeably more muscular and squarely built. I pride myself in that my subconscious at least selected a predatory Earth analogue, which should keep me from relaxing my guard too much.
[OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
It’s just “cheetahs.” And you have three PhDs? None of them are in linguistics, OK? Shut up.
COMMENT FROM WANG COMMENT FROM WEI
Team Clog of TE Mission—Dar-Mankana Post by WEI Aihua—Teamlock
[OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
I could KILL Rafkind and the whole First Contact team! What Neanderthal decided to tell the Manka about Christianity? This is exactly why the UC banned Americans from TE teams. Fortunately, the district potentate seemed more amused than anything else by the idea of one man’s death absolving the wrongs of a whole species. “Just one?” Cute. Now I’m wondering what else FC screwed up.
FC Report Detail p. 67: Cultural Notes
[OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!] [AUDITORY EMBED WITH CAPTION: MANKA LOVE SONG? RECALLERS: MULTIPLE; PUBLIC PERFORMANCE.]
My love sings behind me And touches the nape of my neck I do not look around My heart flutters fast with fear.
FC Report Detail p. 224: Cultural Notes Recall by First Contact Team Member John RAFKIND
[OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!] [AUDITORY EMBED WITH CAPTION: OBSERVED CLASS 2 DECEPTIVE IDEATION.]
RATCHETING SOUND. RAFKIND CAPTION: I THINK THAT WAS A LAUGH?
“Whoa.” “Whoa?” “Apologies. A colloquialism.” “Ah. We must learn more of your world so that we may adapt to these colloquialisms.” “That would certainly be possible after Trade Establishment, Hashish.” “Why did you express a colloquialism, John?” “Uh, well … the male Manka walking by with that group of children. For some reason, when he looked at me, I got the cree—er, I felt uneasy.” “That was an evaluator.” “An evaluator of what?” [.] “Many things, at many times. For now, those children.” “Were all six of those the evaluator’s children?” “There were three children, John.” “Three? I didn’t get a good look, but I’m sure I saw more.” “There were three children.” [RECALL ENDS.]
7 Team Clog of TE Mission—Dar-Mankana Post by Angela WHETON—Public
[ALL SENSORY RECALL EXCEPT AUDITORY SUPPRESSED TO AID LIGHTSTREAMING.]
SERIES OF HARSH EXHALATIONS. WEI CAPTION: THE EVALUATOR APPEARS TO BE EMULATING HUMAN LAUGHTER.
“Forgive me for staring, evaluator. It’s just that you look so different.” “I have striven greatly to adapt since we last met. Does my appearance please you?” “I don’t really know what to make of it. You look …” VISUAL OVERRIDE EMBED WITH WEI CAPTION: THE “More like you.” EVALUATOR’S FACE. NOTE THE SHORTENING OF THE MUZZLE AND REPOSITIONING OF THE EARS, AT “ … Yes.” SIDES OF THE HEAD RATHER THAN THE TOP. “This disturbs you.” “Surprises me, evaluator. On my planet there are creatures that can change their coloration to blend in with the environment, but … [.] ” “It has been difficult, yes. Your people are strangely configured. Even more strange, inside.” “How do you …” “Your blood’s taste is most intriguing. [.] I have no intention of eating you, Aihua.” [.] “Uh, sorry. On my world … well. Our entertainment is full of scary creatures that want to gobble us down.” “Entertainment? But your people are apex predators, are you not?” “I suppose we are. Huh. Maybe that’s why the idea of being preyed upon doesn’t really scare us.” [.] “Yes, no need for fear! Tell me, Aihua. Why do you not have children?” “What?” “Why do you—” “Sorry, I heard. The question just—it’s not something my people usually ask in casual conversation.” “I shall remember and adapt. For now, will you answer?” “Well, we have a problem with overpopulation and its effects: crowding, homelessness, starvation, worse. We’re correcting now, but the problem took a long time to develop, so it will take a long time to resolve.” “And in the meantime, your people must simply suffer?” “Unfortunately, yes. It helps that we’ve formed the Trade Network with other sapient species. That increases the resources available on my planet.” “But with greater resources, your numbers will continue to grow. There’s nothing to make you stop.” “We have our own sapience, which tells us that such growth is unsustainable. Because of this,
T H E E VA LUATO R S
Datime 2220.127.116.11:10 [OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
Recall transcript, WEI Aihua Meeting with local Influential 2
VISUAL OVERRIDE EMBED WITH CAPTION: LONG, ORDERLY ROWS OF SEVERAL HUNDRED CLEAN, POLISHED BONES, ORGANIZED BY TYPE.
Did some extra scans of the southeast main continent today. Those palladium deposits … Have you guys seen the stock prices since the CogNet-Pallenergy merger? My God, I might actually get out of student loan debt before I die. Also noticed an unusual concentration of calcium in several deposits around the city. Hector went with one of the locals to check out a nearby site and was shown an open-pit grave. [.] Each pit is several hundred feet deep, bones layered with dirt. Local called bones “the price paid.” Ritual? Tag for sapiology review. Oh—Hector has asked me to note for the official team log his hypothesis that the burial pits are “f__ing creepy.” So noted.
N. K. JEMISIN
[OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
only some of my people choose to reproduce. I’m one of the ones who chose not to.” SIGH “I see. But if sustainable growth was possible?” “Maybe I’d have a child. Probably. But it isn’t possible, so no kids for me. [.] Now. Not to change the subject, but I’ve brought some delicacies from my own world to share …” “Good. I am most interested in consuming some of your world’s delights. And if I may say, Aihua, the shine of your hair is very fine today.” [RECALL ENDS.]
US NATIONAL EXOPLANETARY SURVEY—MEMORANDUM Levl: Official Prio: Medium Init: Salim GILBERTO, FC Team Biological Surveyor Datime: 2201.11.13.03:00 [OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
Esteemed Survey members, colleagues, and friends: You will see from my FC report that Dar-Mankana is home to a plethora of species—substantially more than our own, which has yet to recover from the advent of the Anthropocene. But a mere 2 million years ago, Dar-Mankana hosted three times more species than at present. What could trigger such a holocaust? Evidence suggests an intrusion in several key food webs: a polyphagous predator which ate its way through tertiary and secondary consumers with such abandon that it likely caused its own extinction. “Superpredators” may be pop-science clickbait, but Dar-Mankana could represent our closest brush with one of these evolutionary bogeymen. The lingering damage is still discernible: a relative dearth of megafauna, skewed predator-to-prey ratios, insufficient biomass all around for the energy that this planet produces. Further pre-TE study is strongly recommended.
FC Report Excerpt, p. 530: Xenological notes
[OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!] [SOME DATA LOSS HAS OCCURRED; RECOMPILATION POSSIBLE IN APPROXIMATELY 127 DAYS.] [.] contrast to Dr. Gilberto’s assertions.
The crater is small—less than half the size of Earth’s Chicxulub crater, which is widely believed to have triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs. While certainly large enough to cause catastrophic local damage, this cannot explain the mass extinction. Core samples from the ocean floor reveal an abundance of palladium and [.]
Team Clog of TE Mission—Dar-Mankana Post by Hector PRINCIPE—Teamlock
[OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
Sorry if this is fuzzy. Can’t sleep. Theory time! Why aren’t there more Manka? They’re ripe for Sagan’s “technological adolescence.” We’ve seen this on so many planets that it’s practically a law of nature; they should be bursting at
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
the seams, same as us. But the Manka are precisely the right population size for their society’s resources. Nobody’s hungry. No idle youth. Plenty for all. So. Unobserved social controls? The Kama Rhythm Method Sutra? Histocompatibility crisis? COMMENT FROM WEI COMMENT FROM PRINCIPE COMMENT FROM WHETON
COMMENT FROM WANG
Maybe they’ve already been through the tech teens. Gilberto’s extinction? Two million years ago was tech infancy. Or pre-partum: The Manka precursors probably weren’t even tool-users. Off topic but you know what I keep thinking about? (Can’t sleep either.) The architecture. Four spires on every important building. Four lobes to every artistic motif. They got six fingers. Three sexes. WTF is with the veneration of four? What’s their math? Base-8. Pain in the ass; had to recalculate all the potential royalties in my report. But yeah, another variation on four. Shit, I can’t do theory at oh dark thirty. Sleep, you apes.
CogNet init: Thandiwe SOLOMON Recip: WU Li Bai Transl: English-Cantonese
Respectful greetings, Dr. Wu. My name is Thandiwe Solomon, with the Extrasolar Sapience department of Rhodes University. I was intrigued by your position paper in The Journal for the Study of Applied Sapiology. As someone who’s been in the field and seen how easy it is to make mistakes, I agree wholeheartedly with your recommendation for a minimum 10-year survey between First Contact and Trade Establishment. Sir, it is my understanding that you were Wei Aihua’s mentor during her postdoctorate. Have you been briefed on her latest mission? THREAD REPLY FROM WU LI BAI
THREAD REPLY FROM THANDIWE SOLOMON THREAD REPLY FROM WU LI BAI THREAD REPLY FROM THANDIWE SOLOMON
Indeed I have, Dr. Solomon—and so must you have been, if you’re asking me. I imagine your UC clearance is still active? It is, sir. Though in the interest of full disclosure, my level is only Secret. I shall tailor my responses accordingly. What is your question? Was Dr. Wei lonely?
LAUGHTER. WEI CAPTION: THE EVALUATOR’S Recall transcript, WEI Aihua LAUGHTER SOUNDS Meeting with local Influential 5 Datime 218.104.22.168:30 ENTIRELY HUMAN NOW. [OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!] NOTICEABLE [ALL SENSORY RECALL EXCEPT AUDITORY SUPPRESSED TO AID LIGHTSTREAMING.] ACCENT REDUCTION TOO.
“And then the old man said, ‘Why is it always the scholars?’” [.] [.] “The tales of your people are so amusing.” “My grandmother will be pleased to hear that.”
CogNet init: Hector PRINCIPE Recip: Angela WHETON Priority: URGENT
Datime: 2204.1.31.04:00 [OPTIMIZED BY COGNET!]
Angela. [.] Angela. Damn it, wake the fuck up! And pass this on to Aihua. Oh God, please pass this on to Aihua. OK. Clear thoughts. OK. I went back to the burial site. Something’s been bothering me. This time I realized what it was. Most of the bones are small. Children’s bones. Theory time. Let’s say your species is threatened by an enemy so insidious that all the usual survival techniques are useless against it. It’s an enemy that can camouflage itself enough to get really close during hunting. Maybe it can fool you even up close. What if only specializing a full-time protector for the weakest members of your species, a nurturer, gives your people any hope of survival against an enemy like that? And what if even that doesn’t stop it? What if, in the end, you can’t beat them, so you join them? Aihua said the evaluator’s appearance was changing. I’m guessing evaluators replace the male or female in reproduction—not all the time, just enough to perpetuate themselves. They’re not really male or female, though, because they’re fucking shapeshifters! Real Manka males and females are like us. The nurturers raise—and guard—the offspring until they’re old enough to show their real potential. Guess what happens then? They go to the evaluators. Some of the children, the healthiest and the most adaptable, get to live. Only them, though. The rest—along with maybe the old, the sick—are the price the Manka pay for their prosperity. Gilberto’s superpredators, Angela. Aihua’s been having dinner with one every night for the past week.
T H E E VA LUATO R S
[SENSORY RECALL RETAINED PER URGENT PROTOCOL. ADDITIONAL LIGHTSTREAM LAG +185 DAYS.]
“Grandmother?” “Female parent of my parent. [.] She may be dead by the time I get back. I don’t know whether to hope for that or not.” “Oh?” “I’ve been gone five years. She has cancer—a disease, untreatable in her case. That means a slow, painful death. My parents are taking care of her, but …” “Your people have only males and females. These take on the nurturer role?” “Well, it’s not quite as binary as that, but ... When necessary, yes.” “And no one fulfills the evaluator role? Your poor grandmother.” “Well, I’m not sure— [.] Oh my God.” “Are you praying?” “No, just—that was surprise. You’re another sex. Like male, like female, like the nurturers. The FC team got it completely wrong. Four sexes, not three!” “Yes, those humans were very slow to adapt to Dar-Mankana. You are much more fit and clever.” “Evaluator, I must confer with my people. But … ah … may I return to speak with you again tomorrow?” “That would give me great pleasure, Aihua.”
N. K. JEMISIN
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7 PANet init: Paul SRINIVASAN Recip: Thandiwe SOLOMON
THREAD REPLY: THANDIWE SOLOMON
THREAD REPLY: PAUL SRINIVASAN THREAD REPLY: THANDIWE SOLOMON
UC TRADE ESTABLISHMENT COMMISSION Excerpt, Letter to the leaders of Dar-Mankana Datime: 222.214.171.124:45 [LIGHTSTREAM-OPTIMIZED BY UCNET]
The United Communities of Earth also extend their heartfelt gratitude to the people of DarMankana for their care of Dr. Wei in her days as the sole survivor of the TE ship explosion. Despite her eventual death in childbirth, your people’s valiant efforts to save her and her baby are to be commended. An endowed trust fund has been established in the name of Dr. Wei, Specialist Principe, and the entire TE team. The child born from their mission shall be welcomed home, loved, and honored as the heir to a heroic legacy. In peace and hope, we look forward to our mutual future of prosperity.
N. K. Jemisin’s speculative fiction has been nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. The first book in her Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season, won the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The Stone Sky, the third book in the series, comes out this August.
T H E E VA LUATO R S
THREAD REPLY: PAUL SRINIVASAN
THREAD REPLY: THANDIWE SOLOMON
THREAD REPLY: PAUL SRINIVASAN
Are you kidding me? Did the UC pay attention to anything else in the damned dossier? Do they realize Wei Aihua probably isn’t dead? It’s been three years since the TE ship blew up. Where’s she been all this time, if she’s still alive? I don’t know, but three years is plenty of time for Stockholm syndrome to set in. Especially if her captors become more and more human, and sympathetic, and attractive— No. They’re a different species, Thandi. The Manka are a different species. The evaluators are whatever the hell they want to be. Human, if they want to be! You have to ask UC Command to quarantine Dar-Mankana. If there were any survivors of the TE team, that would strand them. Yes. Especially if there are survivors.
THREAD REPLY: THANDIWE SOLOMON
N. K. JEMISIN
Ow. Public access streaming hurts my brain, literally. Anyway, that buddy of mine who works for CogNet-Pallenergy? Found out Wei Aihua’s personal logs did get lightstreamed. Somebody ordered them deleted. Same person also slapped a bunch of restrictions on the TE SurveySat maps that Angela Wheton sent back. I can’t get through the restrictions, but I would guess they reveal the extent and location of those palladium deposits she mentioned. That’s why approval is being fast-tracked—UC’s getting a lot of pressure from Big Fusion.
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THESE MEMORIES ARE MADE TO LAST FOREVER.
practice at age 12, “Esteban says that the Lifebrarian is like that little black box they have on airplanes, so that people know how I die. Is that true?” “No!” Liliana gasped out. “Of course not, honey.” She reached out for Sumi, but her daughter was already at the counter making herself a sandwich, as if what she had just asked didn’t bother her at all. “It’s so people know how you live, sweetheart,” Hideyoshi said, looking up from the news. “And I told you before, nobody has to see your recall feed unless you want them to.”
“Mami,” Sumi said, coming home from equestrian
The Lifebrarian was installed just after Sumi’s first birthday. Her grandparents insisted on paying for it. They insisted on the whole thing. Liliana was reluctant; she wanted her daughter to have the kind of life she still thought of as normal. “It will probably affect the way her brain evolves,” she argued to Hideyoshi. “Imagine if you never had to remember anything.” Hideyoshi didn’t feel as strongly about it. A lot of people were having it done for their kids at that point. “She doesn’t have to ever use the recall function if she doesn’t want to.” “And she’s so young to have surgery.” Liliana’s voice sounded as if she was pleading, and Sumi, too young to understand if not too young for surgery, looked up from her building blocks, eyes huge. It was one of the last moments in her life that would not be recorded, and as soon as Sumi’s short-lived consciousness of it melted away, it was gone forever. “It’s minimally invasive,” Hideyoshi reminded his wife. “There’s barely any scar, and she’s only under anesthesia for an hour.” He didn’t want to go up against Liliana’s parents on this question. Besides, he could already see that Sumi’s childhood was going by too fast for him. Everyone talked about the operation like it was something you did for your kids, to arm them with the best bodyware for a highly competitive future. But Hideyoshi knew he wanted Sumi to have a Lifebrarian for purely selfish reasons. There was the immediate draw of being able to upload her feed at the end of the day and watch the world from her perspective, but overarching that was the reassuring thought that her quickly passing childhood would be stored somewhere, safe and sound and in high definition.
They disagreed again on when to tell her about it. Liliana wanted to wait as long as possible. “So she doesn’t become self-conscious,” she said. Hideyoshi agreed that they should wait until she was old enough to understand but also wanted to give her time to get used to the idea while she was still a child. “Can you imagine explaining this to her when she’s a teenager and predisposed to be pissed off about anything we do?” Like so many parenting decisions, this one was removed from their hands. When she was 6 years old, Sumi came home from school with the question “What’s a Vidacorder?” “Who mentioned that?” Liliana asked, looking up quickly from the vegetables she was chopping with Rosario, the cook. “Beni says he has one,” Sumi told her, sitting herself at the table. “And then Isa said she has one too, but Beni said it wasn’t true.” “Ah.” Liliana wiped her hand on her jeans and jotted a quick memo on her phone to remind herself which parents she could compare notes with. “Do I have one?” Offered the choice of prevarication, obfuscation, or truth, Liliana took refuge in one-upmanship. “You have a Lifebrarian, which is the same thing but better.” She closed her eyes briefly, pausing her chopping; she could imagine the look Rosario was giving her without having to see it. At least it stopped Sumi’s questions for 10 seconds while she thought about that. “How is it better?” she asked finally. “Oh, higher resolution, better sound quality, easier uploading.” “Good,” said Sumi.
THE BLACK BOX
Sumi considered this as she fished out a pickle, using her fingers as usual. “How will they know if I want them to, if I’m dead?” Liliana pressed her fingers to her temple. “I told you, you don’t have to wait till you’re dead,” Hideyoshi said. “You can recall any time you want. It’s just that your mother and I think it’s better you wait till you’re out of school before you start using that function.” “But what if I were dead?” Sumi went on. “What would happen to it?” “You just have to make a note of who you want to be able to see it, if anyone,” Liliana said, trying to show that it didn’t bother her. “Legally, no one else can look.” The sandwich took priority. “I want you to be the one to look,” Sumi said when it was gone. Her voice was aimed at a point between her parents, who exchanged a smile. “We already have that right, as your parents,” Liliana said, thinking this was comforting. “You don’t have to worry about it at all until you’re 21.” Sumi was silent then, but over the next nine years writing them out of her recorder-will was one of her most frequent threats. ♦
“No!” Sumi shouted, slamming her door. She
couldn’t help crying, and she imagined the Lifebrarian videofeed blurring. She threw herself onto her bed, squeezed her eyes shut, and thought of nothing as hard as she could. Black, black, black, like the screen after the movie ends in the split second before the ads start up again. Nothing, nothing, nothing. She flipped over onto her back, her eyes still runny. It was a childish superstition, this belief that if she blanked out her mind hard enough and long enough it would erase what had just happened from the recorder if not from her life. Sometimes she would even try to make a deal with the Lifebrarian, as if it were a person. As if it were God. “If you delete what just happened,” she would mutter under her breath, “I’ll talk all my thoughts out loud for a full day.” Sumi knew that the recorder didn’t care if she was good or bad. When she tried to bargain with it, more of herself was all she could think to offer. It was all a silly way of thinking, a leftover from when she was small and believed the Lifebrarian was an actual person, sitting inside her skull, wielding
an old-fashioned video camera. At 16 she could be smarter than that. What she should really do was start thinking as blandly as possible before bad things happened, as soon as she started feeling cranky or evil, and make her life totally boring so that whoever watched it would fast-forward and maybe miss the bad stuff. If only she could know when bad things were about to happen. ♦
Sumi was hoping for a loophole. Surely the Lifebrarian didn’t record while she was using recall, right? Four days earlier she had used the recall function to relive her first truly complete sexual experience, which had taken place two days before that, and since then she had replayed it so many times that anyone watching the repeats would know she was a nympho. Why would the recorder waste memory rerecording what it already had? Of course there was memory to spare in that sliver-thin chip next to her skull. Enough for four extended lifetimes, her dad had told her once. That idea gave her the creeps, the thought of it recording blankness for years and decades and centuries, nothing after nothing, more nothing than any human being could ever watch in its entirety. But that wouldn’t happen; there was some sort of trigger to cut recording when her heart stopped pumping. She didn’t want to think about that either. ♦
Sumi is 44 and 25,000 feet above Johannesburg when she decides to get the black box upgrade for her Lifebrarian. There’s not even any turbulence, but landings always make her nervous, and she starts to think about what will happen if they crash. The black box protective casing will make accessing the recall function a little more complicated, but Sumi doesn’t use recall much anyway. She doesn’t have time to be mooning over memories. Maybe when the kids are grown and she’s retired she’ll want to look back more, but then she can have it adjusted again, and the technology will probably have improved too. Besides, her wife has her own recorder, and both kids have the latest versions: smaller, faster, and complete with real-time brain scans. If she ever wants to remember a moment, it’s almost certain to have other witnesses who can do the recall themselves.
Unless she dies while alone on a business trip, like right now. For anyone to know what happens in that case, she needs her recorder to be protected from fire, massive trauma, or water immersion for up to six months, as they say in the vidpitch. They also make it sound like it’s something you do for your family, because after all, you won’t be around to watch the replay. But Sumi wonders about that. Is it really that different for your wife or children if the last contact they have with you is when you say “I love you” before hanging up the phone or if they can see the end of your life right up to the blunt trauma of your last moment? Either way there’s an end, and grief. No, she thinks, the black box is for her, so that she will know in that second of consciousness before she goes that someone will be able to see exactly what happened to her. If she dies violently. If not, well, it won’t make any difference. The black box upgrade is just a precaution, like life insurance. Hopefully she won’t need it, but it’s good to have in case she does. The upgrade is a simple operation, minimally invasive. They don’t even need anesthesia for it; Sumi just sits in a comfortable chair watching vids while they do it. Kind of like being on a plane, she thinks at one point, but they’ve asked her to try to relax and use her own brain as little as possible, so she concentrates on the vids. It’s not that she doesn’t intend to tell her wife, Kara, but one day after another it just doesn’t happen. The
AS IF IT WERE GOD.
As it turns out, Sumi does die violently, some 12 years later. However, an estimated 14,000 other people die in the same earthquake. There are tent cities, there are aftershocks, there are rapidly dug mass graves. There is no time to delve into anyone’s last moments. Not even rich people’s. For the 10th anniversary memorial, a committee of family and survivors does gather (meaning exhume, for the most part) what recorders can be salvaged. Sumi’s is displayed, tastefully, along with the others, but it is inert: a sliver of dead circuitry centered in a glass case. Some of the newer models survived the long wait and are played on endless loops in the experience rooms, but the older hardware of Sumi’s Lifebrarian has long since been corrupted. !
Malka Older is a writer, an international development and humanitarian consultant, and a PhD candidate studying governance and disasters. Her science fiction political thriller Infomocracy was released in 2016, and the sequel, Null States, will be published in September 2017.
THE BLACK BOX
AS IF IT WERE A PERSON.
WITH THE LIFEBRARIAN,
TRY TO MAKE A DEAL
SOMETIMES SHE WOULD
operation was so easy that Sumi almost forgot about it herself once it was over. There is no scar for anyone to ask about, and every time she opens her mouth to bring it up the subject just seems out of place. She can imagine Kara’s face as she makes the morbid connection between the upgrade and what it’s meant for. She sees Kara trying to hide her worry while the kids ask loud, insensitive questions about what it is, about why they don’t have one, sees her pressing her palm to her forehead. There’s just no need. It almost comes up a couple of times when there are questions about the past: at Lili’s school film, at a fund-raiser after a hurricane hits in the north, at a work seminar. But each time Sumi pretends to fumble with something else or be distracted for a moment, and each time someone else does recall and finds the answer first. It’s really not that hard to do recall with the black box, just a little awkward in a way that people might notice. The few, the very few times when she personally wants to remember a time, a place, she also resists. This is what it was like to live before, she tells herself; this is how my grandparents lived their whole lives. She’s glad she got the upgrade, even if she never really has to use it. Even if her loved ones never really have to use it. If she dies quietly in her bed, they’ll never even have to know she had it done. And if she dies violently, well, they’ll know exactly how.
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I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
A STORY BY
J AY R U B E N D AY R I T
WHEN WE WERE YOUNG, BEFORE THE TIDES ROSE UP A N D T H E P O W E R W E N T O U T.
J AY R U B E N D AY R I T HOLD DEAR THE LAMPLIGHT
power plant officially cut electricity to two hours a day. We’d already been through years of brownouts, of flickering lights, blinking monitors, older ag drones without artificial neural networks rebooting in their stations and randomly launching to spray the fields again or overfeed the chickens. So when Public Works & Electric issued a message to all our devices telling us about its irregular hours of operation, no one was surprised. The message was full of obfuscating language, but anyone with a tide chart could spot the correlation. Anyone driving down the causeway to the airport, past the power plant, could see through its chain-link fence the turbines standing silent, tense as raised shoulders; the grounds swamped in seawater, the ebbing tide dragging out an iridescent Rorschach of petroleum. A year before, the garbage dump had had to be relocated, a comparatively easier undertaking, after disposable diapers and plastic bottles began washing ashore on what was left of Ant Atoll, which had already lost its status as the premier diving destination for the Chinese. The imminent blackouts stirred little protest from a population accustomed to making do. Aging water pipes had given rise to improvised cisterns situated at the eaves of every house. Unreliable supply chains necessitated that we all have competence in maintaining our equipment. Mother Necessity knows how to weld with a zip tie, patch with duct tape, and repurpose a soda can. Our father took Jojo and me, along with a box of winged beans, bitter melon, and a dozen eggs, over to Bauer’s Hardware. He and Friedrich Bauer had been tennis buddies before the tractor accident.
The year Jojo and I started eighth grade, the
Back then the hospital was even less equipped to handle emergencies, and Friedrich died before he could be medevaced to Guam. The produce was for Yessica, who had taken over the hardware store. In return, she discounted the Coleman lantern and three bags of charcoal, throwing in a 10-pack of Diamond Strike matches for free. She marveled at how tall Jojo and I had grown but confessed she still couldn’t tell us apart. Our father placed his hand on my brother’s shoulder. “Joseph here is interested in civil engineering. Alejandro, medicine,” he said, as if we’d come up with these ideas on our own. “They’ll be going to Central Pacific next year.” Yessica’s smile couldn’t mask the flutter of melancholy in her eyes. Friedrich had graduated from there. Anyone from Micronesia who went to Hawaii for school attended Central Pacific High School. Its boarding program had gained a reputation for welcoming students from other islands like the Marshalls and Pingelap, lower-lying atolls that had all but disappeared. When the Office of Insular Affairs renewed the Compact of Free Association for the second time, the penultimate wave of Micronesians arrived in Hawaii, seeking access to better education, jobs, and health care, especially for the blood-borne cancers and autoimmune disorders that were still persistent three generations after nuclear testing. With that influx into Hawaii came a resurgence of housing and job discrimination, racial tension, and violence. We’d heard that the faculty at Central Pacific encouraged empathy between Hawaiians and Micronesians, highlighting cultural commonalities like celestial navigation and traditional dances. But the fact that there wasn’t a lot of bullying, we knew, had more to do with safety in numbers. A few friends who were home for the summer had reassured Jojo and me we’d be OK, because we were Filipinos who sounded American. With our straight hair and lighter skin, we could pass. Still, we were told to learn how to block a punch. Better yet, learn how to throw one. Jojo and I practiced in our bedroom, aiming for the shoulder, where the sleeves of our T-shirts concealed the bruises that might betray to our parents how we were preparing for high school. After returning from the hardware store, Jojo and I helped our mother empty the refrigerator, defrost the freezer, and scrape the barbecue grill. She marinated all the meat in soy sauce, calamansi juice, and garlic. Our father threw pork chops and steaks on the grill, but we all felt decadent eating so much red meat. And our mother worried about gout, to which
Filipinos were predisposed. She rattled off the names of five of our uncles back in Pampanga as evidence. So we gave the excess thawed meat to our neighbors. The house down the road was owned by the hospital and, over the years, was home to a string of American doctors offsetting their excessive student loans by practicing in underserved countries. Dr. Westlake and Dr. Phan, two female residents who enjoyed throwing cocktail parties, happily accepted the food. Up the road, the McGuires, who were from New Zealand, insisted our generosity was too much. They eventually relented, because our mother refused to take no for an answer. They had a son our age, Derek, whose company Jojo and I didn’t particularly enjoy. Whenever there was electricity, he’d run through the break in the gardenia hedge that separated our properties and challenge us to new games his parents let him download freely. He knew our cross-platform visors were a generation older and glitchier, that invariably we’d lose. “I win, again!” Derek would cheer behind his visor. Jojo and I would remove ours and exchange glances, consoled in knowing an only child needs to feel good about something. Surely our parents found the rationed power supply inconvenient: driving to the fish market every day, cooking rice over an open flame, taking the clothes off the line so they wouldn’t reek of lighter fluid. But Jojo and I recall the blackouts fondly. We remember our whole neighborhood, just a scattering of houses along a gravel road, smelling of barbecued chicken and fish. We remember eating grilled corn and eggplant with bagoong. We remember Auntie Betina arriving for dinner with a Folger’s coffee can of chocolate chip cookies she’d somehow managed to bake in the brief window of electricity that day. We remember pink sunsets stretching across the sky, families in their backyards, laughter carried by the breeze in the waning sunlight. We remember the Coleman lantern, how its mantle, little more than an ashen net the shape of an infant’s sock, cast a steady light against the back of the house. Our shadows, sharp as paper cutouts, slid across the wall as we helped ourselves to seconds.
We took leisurely family walks after dinner. “An evening constitutional,” as our father called it, evoking an era when people said things like that. No porch lights to mark our path, not even the bluish glow of our devices, which we stowed to conserve battery power while the networks were down. The moon illuminated the road well enough. We stopped to talk to other people strolling after dinner, mostly Filipinos who lived in the neighborhood. The men crossed their arms atop full bellies, discussing local politics and the precarious economy. The women gossiped about recent expats from the Philippines— who was single, who wasn’t but acted as if they were. Back home, by the light of the Coleman, our father, who could not be bothered with fiction, read biographies. Our mother read pulpy detective novels. Since the blackouts, she and her friends had started a book exchange that quickly extended beyond the Filipinas to the Americans, the Australians, even the Japanese. Jojo picked up The Serrano Trilogy again, which he’d attempted to read several times in the past but had always abandoned for his visor and its less challenging entertainment. Never much of a reader myself, I opted to flip through National Geographic, unfolding maps of faraway places, studying borders that would have to be redrawn sooner than any of us expected. Before our predicament was overshadowed by the mass evacuations of Shanghai, Amsterdam, and America’s coastal cities to higher ground; before the famine conflicts spilled over from Africa to the Middle East; before Micronesia’s depleted population eventually triggered its economic collapse and the expats, our parents included, retreated to inner regions of their own countries; before all those major catastrophes, we had the blackout years. Now I hold dear the lamplight and the rustle of paper at our fingertips, our parents reading passages aloud, being together in the darkness. That first year, Jojo and I came to believe we could easily live without electricity. But we were children and our beliefs unrealistic, like the plan to relocate the power plant before it and everything else succumbed to the sea. !
Jay Ruben Dayrit (@jaydayhey) is WIRED’s editorial operations manager. His fiction has appeared in Sycamore Review, Minnesota Review, Santa Clara Review, and What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the Future. He is a recipient of the Headlands Center for the Arts’ Artist-in-Residence Grant and the SFAC Individual Artists Grant.
I L LU S T R AT I O N BY
A STORY BY
G L E N D AV I D G O L D
THE CURRENT ENTERTAINMENTS
, ASSAUT SUR L UNIVERS Review of the thriller from Raymond Lemoin
OPPOSITE PAGE: @ DÉBUT ART. © KILIAN ENG; SPOT ILLUSTRATIONS BY 520 DESIGN
e open our eyes as a weld-
er’s mask descends, and we are thinking of a countdown. Down to what, we don’t know, but the pungent brimstone smell triggers a subterranean childhood fear of open flames while we are thinking, “10 … 9 … 8 …”—and the tension is unbearable. We can feel our heartbeat almost choking off our admittedly extremely witty thoughts. It turns out we’re robbing a bank. We don’t actually know how to do it. And then, as with all artistic endeavors, we do it anyway. Pity the poor bank robber who, having achieved his share of loot, finds that the love of his father is still locked away in the impregnable vault of his father’s not-so-paternal heart. Such is the premise of past master Raymond Lemoin’s new verité, Assaut sur l’Univers (Assault on the Universe), whose title suggests both infinite struggle and
inevitable outcome. It also suggests a dollop of ego as powerful as a drill that can pierce steel. When verité made its debut, audiences reacted with a different panic than did the witnesses to the Lumières’ first on-film train pulling into the first on-bedsheet station in 1895. That panic was not so much one of bourgeois horror as of adrenaline. Nonetheless, we still pity those antique crowds for believing they were actually in contact with Gare de La Ciotat. The poor souls were reacting to what only one sense was telling them. The addition of sound in the 1920s proved to be, in careful hands, an extension of the diegetic effect—immersion in the narrative. Verité, of course, brings closure to diegesis by placing the audience directly into the consciousness of the protagonist. We are allowed for the first time an
all-access pass to all the senses as well as all the perceptions, prejudices, and narrative ticker tape that make up a worldview. In other words, in lesser hands verité is exactly what a gentle soul like Eckhart Tolle wishes we would just forever silence. I’m afraid his first assault would have to be against Assaut sur l’Univers, and he might have to take a number. For Lemoin has been called a genius, and there are two ways to appear a genius: One is to be a genius and hope people notice. The other is to show contempt, which people will mistake for genius. Lemoin has made his choice. It’s a pity (there’s that word again), because the form itself leans otherwise, favoring compassion. Back when verités were still only a few seconds long, feeling Kanye West simply scratch his wrist, bust with pleasure at
G L E N D AV I D G O L D
labeled as a 1996 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises Blanc de Noirs, and yet I could tell the taste was the vastly inferior Roederer Estate NV. This wasn’t naïveté on the character’s part but the artist assuming the audience wouldn’t know the telltale pucker of domestic Pinot. Contempt? Or was the prop master Rudy Kurniawan? The last 10 minutes of delirium, post-shotgun-blast, consists of Lemoin misremembering quotations from existentialist philosophers (his repeated mangling of Boris Vian is particularly vivid) followed by a call for artists to unite under the tricolor. It’s absurd and not intentionally so: Assaut sur l’Univers, though the title would suggest otherwise, was filmed in LA’s Canoga Park, the hometown of Raymond Lemoin, who is not French. In Elevator to the Gallows, Louis Malle was able to put us in the psyches of two lovers on the lam, using just two senses. Lemoin is unable to make us care about the affair one man has with himself, not even with all five senses and the narrative avalanche that is human consciousness. The sorrow I feel at his failure is exceeded only by, yes, the pity. He should take solace in the artistic ideals of the republic to which he wishes he belonged: liberté, égalité, verité. !
A S S A U T S U R L’ U N I V E R S
wizardry that allows us to experience the sickly, swamped feeling of a few betrayals, the rising anger of vengeance, the (spoiler alert) shotgun blast that may or may not end our story. But I found myself proceeding with impatience. When verité was developed, its proponents went so far as to argue it would end war. For if you didn’t just walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins but instead wore the whole outfit, wouldn’t this be the soul of empathy? If you actually thought another’s thoughts, wouldn’t you finally throw off 300 years of Enlightenment and genuinely know another person? Of course, the ugly flip side of knowing a person is, well, knowing a person. The division between hating the art and hating the artist has dissolved. I return from his verité to tell you this truth: Lemoin turns out to be a vapid, hollow, despicable, sordid, corrupt, monumentally boneheaded selfadmirer. This is a man who thinks “I am a genius” when he manages to find a good parking space. If you are still unconvinced about his reprehensible nature, let me just say that Lemoin is distracted during the heist itself by thoughts of how handsome he will look in the security footage. He smells of Paco Rabanne in a way we’re supposed to enjoy. In celebration of victory, his gang sabers a bottle
This review was generated by newyorkerator v7.2, a Condé Nast Entertainment intelligenceaggregation product. Accessing The New Yorker’s content inventory confirms your agreement to the Federal Terms of Service.
Glen David Gold is the author of Carter Beats the Devil and Sunnyside. He is currently writing a memoir.
seeing a butterfly, and then repeat the word “truffle” to himself a couple of times left us in double awe: the thrill of experiencing another person’s thoughts multiplied a thousandfold by realizing—and here comes the bourgeois horror—that Kanye actually is a genius. Lemoin, however, is on a hunt far murkier than one for truffles. It is a tricky thing with verité, for we should lose ourselves in our protagonist’s sensorium and forget that what we’re seeing is actually a studio creation, meticulously planned and executed. In his earlier, more fanciful works (who can forget Lemoin’s Prufrock sur la Plage, where he played a timid insurance adjuster among mermaids?), artifice worked in his favor. But now, trousers no longer rolled, Lemoin aims to make a statement about family. To ensure we don’t miss his intentions, Assaut features, in various bit parts, Lemoin’s own mother and brother, even the family dog. The canine Lemoin comes off the best, as she is a compellingly alert Malinois whose fur feels as soft as velvet. Jerome Lemoin, the artist’s father, plays bank robber père and comes off less well when he announces, “I think I’ll kick this dog for no reason. Or rather for the same reason I’m not fond of you.” One might say this feels wooden. Were such dialog exchanged between Geppetto and his son, we would call it on the nose. The overall production is fine enough, with the usual technical
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you?” he asked. “What all these people say when they think we can’t hear? I had a woman tell me she didn’t think we were ‘whole human beings.’ Fuck her, and fuck that protester. Fuck all of them.” I wondered what the answers were to Dizzy’s question—what did people say about us? When they thought about us at all. Beyond the pomp and ceremony of the bond drive, we weren’t anything, I thought. Just ciphers with stories people believed in, or didn’t believe in, even before they heard them. “So. What.” The scientist’s voice turned to iron as he responded to Dizzy. “That’s the job. We have consequences.” Dizzy opened his mouth, but the scientist cut him off. “You did. You did when you didn’t have to. That’s enough. It has to be.” Then he stormed off, presumably for the hotel bar. The scientist opted out that night. The rest of us did too, by doing the job. We stood there and smiled and waved while other people told our stories to the crowds. The crowds cheered. We waved again. We walked back to the hotel as a group after the gala. We stopped in a park with green lawns and a marble fountain and joked about the protester, laughed about the scientist. The scientist had been right, but so what? What did being right have to do with anything? Dizzy had regained whatever force it was that sustained him and began chatting up a pair of young women who considered themselves patriots. I watched it all and thought about the ward and then my sister’s home. The JüngerBot came up beside me. “You handled that pie well,” I told it. It didn’t say anything, so I continued. “Waiting for an order, I mean.” “Here is our kingdom, the best of monarchies, the best republic,” the JüngerBot said. “Here is our garden, our happiness.” What a random thing to say, I thought. Even for a robot. But later, after considering it more, I decided otherwise. !
> You’re a cheater. You’ve always been a cheater. You’re going to mess it up. Mess what up? All of it. Your job, your marriage. The kids. All of it. You’re going to hell. So you might as well cheat anyway. Cheater. You’re always so hard on yourself. You’re good at something. You are. You just have to find it. There was one game Little League game you in right field sun in your eyes your brother’s glove falling off your hand it was too big and then a deep fly ball and you stuck out your hand and everyone kind of gasped like uh-oh and then you closed your eyes and braced for the worst and then everyone was silent and you opened your eyes waiting for the worst and you looked at the ground and couldn’t find the ball and there it was in your glove.
Everything’s going to be OK; the Wrinkle in Time series, as read to a 7-year-old; I still believe in the goodness of the internet; at least the election’s over; we’re totally going to close this issue on time ... really, this time we mean it; it’s not too late for me to become an international best-selling rock star; The Vegetarian, by Han Kang; the clock is five minutes fast, so I’m not late; ghost stories from my apartment, featuring resident poltergeist Rosa; life is a highway, and I’m gonna ride it all night long ... zzzzz ... ; that leak in the garage isn’t that big of a deal; the fable about the ant and the grasshopper (though, unfortunately, the grasshopper mentality often wins out); just one more level; steampunk bot battles in Western Immoren; seriously, people, everything’s going to be OK. WIRED is a registered trademark of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. Copyright ©2017 Condé Nast. All rights reserved. Printed in the USA. Volume 25, No. 1. WIRED (ISSN 1059–1028) is published monthly by Condé Nast, which is a division of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. Editorial office: 520 Third Street, Ste. 305, San Francisco, CA 94107-1815. Principal office: Condé Nast, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007. S. I. Newhouse, Jr., Chairman Emeritus; Robert A. Sauerberg, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer; David E. Geithner, Chief Financial Officer; James M. Norton, Chief Business Officer and President of Revenue. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. Canada Post Publications Mail Agreement No. 40644503. Canadian Goods and Services Tax Registration No. 123242885 RT0001. POSTMASTER:
------------->> SUBTEXT® >> 7:00 PM > > WE’D LOVE TO HEAR WHAT YOU THINK OF SUBTEXT®! > Limits of technology.
> The last and maybe most sacred frontier.
> Who we are. What we want. The space between thought and action. > The space inside of a thought. > Go home to Grace end of the day see her smiling face. You don’t know anything you don’t know anything except for this feeling and that’s working for now. > ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO END YOUR SESSION? > Yes.
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