Optopia Issue #4 (Fall/Winter 2021)

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Issue 4 | Fall / Winter 2021

YOU CAN FIND A SCREEN READER-ACCESSIBLE VERSION AT bit.ly/issue4accessible. LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT When we talk about the environment, we cannot ignore the fact that we are living on land that does not belong to us, land that was forcibly taken by white settlers who then committed genocide on the tribes who once lived there. It can be easy for solarpunk and other environmental activism to fall into familiar colonizer pathways of thought and ideas and we want to push back against that. Our staff is scattered across the U.S. and we acknowledge the people whose land we live on. The Piscataway Conoy tribe, who can be found at piscatawaytribe.org. The St. Croix Chippewa, who can be found at stcroixojibwe-nsn.gov. The Kiikaapoi, or Kickapoo, who can be found at www.ktik-nsn.gov. The Kaskaskia people, who are now part of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, and can be found at peoriatribe.com. The Osage nation, who can be found at osagenation-nsn.gov. The Ochethi Sakowin confederacy, who can be found at sdpb.org/learn/nativeamerican/oceti. The Tsalaguwetiyi or Eastern Cherokee, who can be found at ebci.com/. The Uchee, or Yuchi, tribe, whose Savannah River Band can be found at srbeucheetribe.org. The Muscogee, or Creek Confederacy, who can be found at muscogeenation.com. The Shawnee tribe, who can be found at shawnee-nsn.gov. The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, who consisted of the Mohawk (mbq-tmt.org), the Cayuga (cayuganation-nsn.gov), the Seneca (sni.org), the Oneida (oneidaindiannation.com), the Onondaga (onondaganation.org), and the Tuscarora (tuscaroras.com). We used native-land.ca to find out whose land we live on.

OPTOPIA STAFF EDITORS: Rosie Albrecht, Jeremy Baker, Meira Datiya, Rifka Handelman, Krystal Washington STAFF ARTISTS/WRITERS: Meira Datiya LAYOUT DIRECTOR: Rifka Handelman


op•to•pi•a (noun): A place in between a utopia and a dystopia. Not a perfect world, but an achievable one—the best possible world we can create given the circumstances.

so•lar•punk (noun): An aesthetic, science fiction, and social justice movement centered around the environment, nature, and a hope for a sustainable future.





Land Acknowledgment




The Old Space Elevator / Matthew Kressel


Sunset Rising / Christopher P. Garghan


Birth / Fabrice Poussin


Waiting / Fabrice Poussin


Sunset Rising cont.


Like Your Eyes / Fabrice Poussin


At Rest / Efflam Mercier


Jeff Bezos’ Pockets / Julie Martin


Okarina Part 2 / Pillule Kosmik


City of Future Grandchildren / Mik Tulumello


Quellamunga Chapter 2, the University (excerpt) / Clint Pereira


Fwish: Dandelion Flying Squirrel / Mili Fay


Lessons From a Food Court / Seven Sunflower


[static] The Friendship Garden / Olive Pile


Home / Zoe Badini


For What We Will / Seven Sunflower


Wings / Mplossart


Drifting / Christopher R. Muscato


SolarPunk City / David Markiwsky




Connect with Optopia


Introducing the Mushroom Issue 5






Vladimir Zavodovski read the numbers on the base computers again, shook his bearded face and smacked the top of the delicate instrument. They couldn’t be right. They made no sense. He switched the scanner off and on again, ran a full diagnostic and tested it against a range of known materials. When he introduced Sample 281 to the scanner again, it took a few seconds, but the numbers repeated themselves precisely. “Dermo,” he swore softly to himself. With a sigh, he pushed his chair back and began donning layers. Coats, gloves, heavy boots. By the time he was ready to brave the outside, the already large man resembled a bright red bear. He pushed the door open and stepped out into the blinding brilliance of the midday sun reflecting off the infinite Antarctic ice. Vladimir took a moment for his eyes to adjust, then stomped purposefully towards the main building. Vostok Station had been in use since the height of the cold war and every generation of explorers had added new structures to the ramshackle village Vladimir called home. The original wooden structures sat crumbling and decaying next to the stilted glass and timber labs built at the turn of the century, Vladimir was headed to the newest creation, a 3D-printed polymer dome


assembled for his own team’s explorations. Glaciologist Yana Leskova waved to him as he passed, but Vladimr didn’t see her. His mind was fully occupied with the monumental discovery the scanner’s results represented. He charged into the new building without bothering to stop to strip off the warm gear and marched straight to the Station commander’s office. “Alexei!” he barked as he burst into the little room. Commander Alexei Visokoi turned to see his materials scientist red in the face and sweating under the heavy gear. “We’ve discovered something…incredible.” Vladimir cleared the Commander’s cluttered desk and laid a tablet festooned with data upon it. “This was Sample 281, retrieved from scrapings of Lake Vostok’s walls.” “This is the sample which messed with the drone’s electronics half-way up the borehole?” Vladimir nodded. “I’ve discovered why. This mineral acts like a battery. It stores incredible amounts of energy. When agitated, it releases it as electromagnetic radiation.” Vladimir ran a hand through his beard. “If I’m right, there could be tonnes of this stuff down there—it’s probably what is keeping the lake liquid.”

“As I understand it, the water is kept liquid by the pressure of three miles of ice on top of it?” Alexei countered. It was a simple enough explanation, and one predicted as early as the nineteenth century—a lake of liquid water three miles under a sheet of ice at Earth’s coldest point through pressure alone. It didn’t take exotic new matter to explain. “I think that is why the material carries so much energy.” Vladimir hypothesised. “It has been sat building energy for fifteen million years.” “This is incredible. Congratulations, Zavodovski, they’ll probably name this after you—” Vladimir cut him off with an urgent shake of his shaggy head. “No, you don’t understand the implications. 281 is immensely valuable—it makes oil obsolete and will make the possessors of it a global energy giant. When Moscow learns of this, they will send mining teams to extract it, they will drill more boreholes, they will contaminate the lake, and they will kill the delicate and unique ecosystem down there. In a few years, Lake Vostok will be just one more polluted, expended mine.” Alexei paused and listened to the Antarctic wind rattling the frame of Vostok Station. They had all agreed to spend up to six months at a time in the most remote place on Earth because they were drawn to the majesty and mystery of a unique island of life amongst lifelessness, a world buried deeper than the alps in solid ice. The idea of letting the politicians and plutocrats destroy that was unthinkable. “Let me speak to the others. We need a Station meeting.”

By the time that everyone could get away from their experiments and work, the weather had turned. A howling wind from the east scoured the base, lifting loose snow and ice into a stinging fog which rattled the walls and left alien sculptures in drifts before they were washed away by another gust, as though removed by an invisible and temperamental artist. They were all privately relieved when the inner door shut for the last time and a redfaced Masha Kolotnytska sat heavily at the table. The thermometer had dropped below sixty degrees and even a short exposure could be dangerous. “Apologies,” she said. “There was a problem with the nutrient feed which couldn’t wait.” Alexei waved Masha’s apology aside as unnecessary and dove straight into a precis of the situation, handing over to Vladimir to explain the technical details. The team sat in silence as he explained its energy retention and release properties. Leskova objected briefly when he explained his hypothesis that it was 281 keeping Vostok Lake liquid, but the debate was interrupted by an increasingly frustrated Station Commander: “Glaciology isn’t the issue here.” He held up a hand to interrupt the inevitable interruption. “The issue is what we’re going to do about Gazprom trashing the lake.” “We could delete the records,” shrugged Sergey, the station mechanic. “Bury the sample in the snow somewhere and pretend we found nothing, or fabricate the data. Pretend that sample 281 was just boring mud.” The entire table of scientists winced at the idea of fabricating data, even for a positive cause, but Masha shook her head.


“We can’t. All data is immediately backed up via satellite link to Progress Base, then back to Moscow.” “We could destroy the drill and fill in the borehole. It took two years to drill the current hole.” “Only because we were trying to avoid contamination.” Leskova retorted, “If you wanted, you could drill a bigger hole in a couple of months.” An argument erupted along the length of the table. After a while, Alexei started to notice that there was a common theme to every argument, every objection; nobody was trying to defend the idea of mining. “I think there’s something that we’re forgetting,” interrupted Masha, leaning forward on the table. “This lake isn’t the only ecosystem under threat. We’ve got wars erupting over dwindling oil supplies, nations choking under a fog of coal soot, leaking gas supplies poisoning drinking water; 281 could make all of those sources obsolete. We’ve been looking for a clean, reliable replacement for fossil fuels for the best part of a century, and we’re standing on top of it. Can we really defend letting the planet burn for the sake of one lake? Isn’t it a cost worth paying?” The table was silent. At the end of the table, Vladimir slowly shook his head, but he said nothing. Masha continued, “We don’t have to destroy the lake. If we’re careful it could be extracted with very little damage.” “We don’t know that,” Yana Leskova objected. “We don’t know enough about the lifeforms down there. We don’t know how easy 281 will be to extract. That’s why we’re here, to explore a unique and precious ecosystem. Scientists have been exploring this place for more than fifty years and we still 10

haven’t found the answers—can you really imagine Gazprom or Rosneft carefully waiting fifty years until they decide to start drilling? And anyway, we’ve got alternatives already. It makes no sense to destroy this place when we don’t even need to.” Masha rolled her eyes and sat back in her chair with her arms crossed as the conversation resumed. Alexei sat back and stared out of the window into the middle distance but didn’t see the swirls and whirls of the snow and ice. Eventually, without looking away from the rectangle of grey light, he spoke and silenced the table. “Kolotnytska,” he said. “Remind me how much food the aeroponics farm can produce.” “Well, erm, it depends on what we decided to grow and how good we got with waste recycling.” “Could it last the Antarctic winter?” “Well, I… suppose.” “Zavodovski,” Alexei began, “Could we extract enough 281 to power the base, without damaging the lake?” A slow wave of realisation washed across the table as they began to understand the purpose of the Commander’s questions. Vladimir scratched his beard and nodded slowly. “I think so. Even a little amount of 281 holds enormous power. Sergey, we could investigate maybe re-building Boiler five between us.” “Could you do it before the Winter Extraction?” Sergey sucked his teeth and crossed his arms, before nodding slowly. “It’ll be tight, but… we will see…”

A hand rose from the end of the table and Masha leaned forward. “I’m sorry, but can I just clarify what I think we’re all suggesting here? Are we planning on staying through the Antarctic winter?” She laughed. “Need I remind people that the average temperature in June is minus sixty degrees Celsius? No sunlight for four months, no way of bringing in additional supplies. We can’t be serious, surely?” The table avoided looking at one another’s eyes, until Alexei stood up and walked to the window. Ten years in the Russian army had prepared him to make tough decisions, but nothing had prepared him for the mental challenge of even considering mutiny. Unconsciously, he rubbed at an old bullet wound which always flared up when he felt stressed. “If we allow ourselves to be rotated out at the next extraction, we will lose our ability to do anything about what happens to this lake. We can file all the official protests we like, but we know they’ll be ignored. This ecosystem needs guardians, and we’re the only ones who can do it. “But we all have lives waiting for us back in the real world. Wives, husbands, children, friends, comrades. If we decide to do this…” He took a breath to steady himself. “If we do this, then there’s a very good chance that we’ll never see them again. Take time, think about this, hard. If we decide to do this, then it has to be unanimous, I won’t countenance subjecting anybody to a life sentence at the end of the world against their will. “We’ll meet here again after dinner and vote.” “I don’t need time. I’m staying,” Vladimir declared, slapping his callused hands on

the table. Alexei shot him a look and spoke directly to him. “We’ll decide after dinner.”

There was a strange mood in the afternoon following the meeting. Conversations were held in hushed whispers; people rushed hither and yon across the snow without meeting one another’s gaze. One question imposed itself upon each of them, about each of them. Which way will you vote? Although nothing was said, some common conclusions seemed to abound: Alexei would vote to stay, or else why suggest it? Sergey and Masha were toss-ups. The engineer had no love for the base or their research—he was a jobbing engineer who enjoyed the money, and Masha had two young children waiting for her in Petersburg. The pall of suspicion lingered like the flakes of drifting snow meandering about the edges of the labs, lifting and moving from place to place, but never settling, never coming to rest. Vladimir stood out on the glacier, watching the sun languidly setting, turning the endless field of snow and ice into a golden kaleidoscope. The temperature was dropping by the second, but Vladimir didn’t care. Watching the sunset was a ritual he allowed himself whenever the weather and his work allowed it, and when the sun actually made the effort to set at all. “You know, I don’t know how you stand it,” said a muffled voice behind him, “I try to get my work done and get inside as quickly as possible. You’re out here, come what may.”


“It reminds me of why I am here,” he said, not turning away from the brilliant sun. “Cut off from friends and family, in a place where nothing lives except three miles beneath the ice. I enjoy the empty skies, without the buzzing of planes or the braying of seabirds. This is a place worth protecting.” Sergey pulled a cigarette from inside one of the many layers of coats and furs and skilfully brought it to his chapped and frozen lips. He drew a lighter from another hidden pocket and lit up, sending a plume of tobacco smoke swirling into the frigid air. “Just tell me one thing, Doctor,” he said, one of the few of the crew who bothered to stand by titles and positions. “Does Masha have a point? If we mined this stuff, 281, could we use it instead of burning coal? Instead of burning oil? We’re planning on using it to keep the lights on here, why shouldn’t the rest of the world have it?” “When you have an old tractor and something breaks in the engine, do you tear apart a historic, vintage model to cannibalise it for parts?” replied Vladimir. “This place is the precious, vintage car. There’s nowhere else like it in the world.” “It might depend,” replied Sergey, “whether it was a choice between fixing my old tractor or spending the rest of my life protecting the old car.” He stubbed the cigarette out in the snow and slipped the butt into his pocket. He nodded to Vladimir and turned to leave him to his nightly ritual. As the crunching of Sergey’s boots on the ice faded, the sun slipped beneath the horizon. For the first time since he arrived, Vladimir did not stay to watch the play of colours at twilight.


The dining room was in the oldest inhabited part of the base, and for the twelve inhabitants of Vostok Base, the atmosphere was as chilly as the draught blowing in from the leaky windows. Spoons and forks scraped across tin bowls and plates, pushing food around as much as actually eating it. Eventually, the room went silent as a spoon was thrown hard into an empty bowl of borscht. All eyes turned to Masha Kolotnytska. “What are we doing here, pretending to eat soup? We have a decision to make. Let’s just get on with it. I say we simply give people the choice to stay or leave. If there’s any division, we sit and discuss until we come to a decision.” There was a murmur of general agreement from the rest of the base staff. “All those in favour of staying here over the darkness of winter, committing ourselves to treason against our country, and dooming us to never—” “Masha!” “—say ‘aye,’” she finished with a frown. The room erupted in a resounding chorus of ‘ayes’ so quickly that it was impossible to see who had remained silent. “Those opposed?” Every eye was on Masha as every pair of lips in the building remained closed. Nobody said a word, until Commander Alexei stood up and addressed her directly. “What about you, Kolotnytska?” he asked. “As I said, nobody should feel forced to be here against their will.” Masha bit her lip, and drummed her fingers on the chipped Formica table, as though considering her response. After a painful amount of time, she slowly shook her head.

“I’m sorry, I just think that there’s so much more that the world could do with 281. We don’t have the right to decide for the whole planet.” “Don’t have the right?” Vladimir stood up amid a clatter of bowls and cutlery. “We have sacrificed years of our lives into understanding this place. There are whole species of life down there which do not exist anywhere else on Earth, an unspoilt island cut of from the rest of evolution for three million years. What right do we have to condemn them to extinction? This isn’t about the environment, it’s about you wanting to go back to your comfortable life back in Moscow!” The temperature of the room suddenly plummeted as though all the windows had been thrown open to let in the Antarctic cold. Masha glowered across the table at the bear of a man whose hands were splayed across the surface. She leaned across until their noses were almost touching. “How dare you,” she growled, her voice trembling with a barely restrained rage. With measured precision, she removed the thin glove covering her right hand and held up the scarred and calloused digits in front of them, her little finger a stump above the first knuckle. “This is what I’ve given for this place. Frostbite means I can barely feel in any of my fingertips, and yet I chose to come back here, so you have no right to say that I just want a comfortable life! I’ve made my choice.” With that, she spun around and marched out of the dining room, leaving everybody in the room staring at the spot where she had been and the visibly stunned Vladimir. The room was silent until Alexei stood up with a scrape of his chair.

“I’ll speak to her,” he said, resisting the urge to glare at Vladimir as he left the room. Alexei knew where she’d have gone. It was the place she went whenever the stresses of life at the bottom of the world threatened to overwhelm her. After donning outdoor gear, he trudged across the little base which was their world to a squat half-cylinder which had accumulated drifts of snow taller than him. As soon as he opened the door, he felt a rush of hot, humid air which turned the frost which had already begun to accumulate on his face melt into rivulets which dripped uncomfortably down his shirt. He stripped off his outdoor clothes as quickly as possible and pushed his way through the plastic flaps into the aeroponics farm. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. Everything in the world outside this room was either the blue, white, and grey of the Antarctic glacier, or else the institutional, artificial colours of the base. Here bright green leaves fell like curtains from the roof to the floor, living clusters of roots hung in the open air, suckling nutrients out of the fine mist which clouded the space. Rich, thick scents filled Alexei’s nose, the sweet siren call of fresh fruits and vegetables, the earthy notes of the mist, and a kaleidoscope of spices. Masha was in the middle of this unlikely jungle, aggressively pruning some vine-like plants tumbling from somewhere near the ceiling. “Masha.” “I’ve made my choice. Unless you’re here to help trim these trailing edges, I suggest that you leave me alone,” she snapped. “Zavodovski was out of line,” said Alexei, picking up a brush beside the door and collecting the loose debris from Masha’s cuttings into a neat pile. story continues on page 16






continued from page 13 “I don’t need you to tell me that.” “Of course not, but we still have to make a decision, and we don’t have long to—“ “I’ve made my decision,” retorted Masha. “You said the decision has to be unanimous and I voted against it. It’s over. Done.” “I’m not here to tell you to change your vote, or even to forgive Zavodovski, but I saw the indecision in your eyes when you voted to stay. I heard the hesitation,” said Alexei. “I just want you to be sure. Tell me that you’re convinced by this and I’ll walk away, no more questions asked.” Masha climbed down off the stepladder and shoved the clippers into a tool belt around her waist as she marched up to Alexei with fire in her eyes. “I’m...” She paused, her finger raised and ready to punctuate her decision, but it held there, quivering. After a moment, she lowered it again. “All right, fine, but I want an apology from Vladimir.” They returned to find the room in the middle of a heated argument. Sergey had taken Masha’s place as dissenter and was holding forth about the miracles that could be done with 281 in the hands of the engineers of the world. “—think about it, batteries which no longer rely on rare-earth minerals, instant power to places after a natural disaster without the need for complex infrastructure. Masha was right—we can’t just dismiss the potential for this material to be used for good.” “But it won’t be,” argued an increasingly frustrated Yana Leskova. “In the hands of the oil and gas companies it will just be exploited as ruthlessly as fossil fuels were. In a few years, no progress will be made and a delicate and beautiful ecosystem will be destroyed forever.” 16

“What if it wasn’t down to the energy companies to decide?” said Alexei as he and Masha walked through the door. “What if we could get a message out to the right kind of pressure groups and NGOs before we handed over the lake? Let the people of the world make the decision whether to extract responsibly or leave it under the ice?” “How?” retorted Yana. “All our communication is vetted by Progress station before it goes back directly to Moscow. They won’t release the information.” There was quiet for a moment as the room full of engineers and scientists considered the problem. “Not entirely,” mused Sergey, rubbing his chin in consideration. “The only time that we connect to anything other than Progress is when planes come to land. They are linked to an independent satellite connection.” “If we could piggyback on their signal,” Yana added, coming to the same realisation as Sergey, “we could get the message out before the plane landed. Then Russia couldn’t operate down here in secret, there would be international scrutiny, environmental monitoring…” “That would still involve us staying over winter,” noted Alexei. “If we let a mining team get here before the world realises what we’ve sent them, then it would be for nothing.” “How about it Masha? Maybe there is a third way after all?” Masha was quiet as she considered the proposal. Eventually, she began to slowly nod. “All right, if we can make that work, then I’m in,” she said, prompting a shocked gasp from around the table. “My lads are old enough now that they will understand

why I’ve had to stay. My husband is responsible, he’ll look after them.” Tears budded in the corner of her eyes, but she wiped them away as though they personally offended her. Alexei held his tongue for a moment, apparently on the verge of asking her something, but he saw the sincerity in her eyes and decided against it. “All right, we’ve voted, now let’s see whether we can make this work.” In a matter of minutes, the fog-like sense of unease had lifted and suddenly the room was filled with chatter and laughter as they broke away into sub-groups to try to solve the many different problems that the long night faced them with. Heat and electricity would be the first priorities, getting a working 281 reactor up and running was a priority before the solar petals were folded away, and the emergency fuel ran out. Sergey and Vladimir broke away with some of the technicians to solve that problem. Their food supplies were supplemented by an experimental aeroponics farm, where racks upon racks of plants hung closely to one another, their exposed roots suckling on the nutrient-rich mist sprayed into the air by carefully regulated machines. The challenge for Masha and her small team was working out how to reduce their already slim diets and stretch the plants further than any designer had intended for the project. Yana Leskova and Alexei agreed to work on the most important part of their long-term survival, and the success of their little rebellion—Public Relations. It was vitally important that they were able to get the news of their resistance past the Great Russian Firewall out to concerned pressure groups and sympathetic nations.

The conversations went on deep into the night, and deep into the base’s vodka reserves. Despite everything, there was a sense of something like carnival, a giddy euphoria which came with the utter abandonment of the structures and frameworks which had so long defined all their lives. By the early morning, most of the base had simply fallen asleep on the chairs, floors, and sofas occupying the old dining room and the only conversations going on were being conducted in low, urgent whispers as technical minutiae were thrashed out by competing experts. Alexei regarded the base with a sense of quiet pride. Any one of the bodies passed out and snoring around him could have decided that they didn’t share his passion for the lake, but instead, they had rallied around not him, but the ideals he shared. He fell asleep with a smile on his face. Over the next few hours bodies began to stir. Alexei woke with a headache the likes of which he hadn’t experienced since his army days. Groaning and clutching his head, he noticed a flashing light on one of the computer monitors ringing the mess hall. At once, he felt his hangover drop away and a wave of sobriety washed over him. A transmission relayed through Progress Station, demanding a response. Progress was Russia’s main link to Vostok, providing support where necessary, routing all communications to and from the Motherland, and generally keeping an eye on their most remote stations. He stumbled through the room, waking up Sergey and Yana. “We missed our scheduled report,” he said as they tried to wake themselves up. “We need a convincing message to send back.


we’re not ready to resist if they decide to send a relief team in. Perhaps we can say that the equipment was malfunctioning, or that poor weather blocked our transmissions?” Sergey shook his head. “All our equipment sends out an hourly status update automatically, they’ll know that there was nothing wrong with the systems, and there are enough satellite feeds to know that there wasn’t enough bad weather to stop any transmissions.” Alexei rubbed his temples, how to explain that they had been out of touch for more than twelve hours without drawing suspicion? He looked around the room at the mass of slumbering bodies and the bottles of empty vodka distributed liberally around the room. He smiled. “Are you a religious man, Sergey?” he asked, picking up one of the glass bottles. The engineer shrugged. “Because yesterday happened to be my Name-Day. The feast of Saint Alexis.” “Obviously we’d want to celebrate that,” added Yana, catching on. “We… perhaps got a little carried away,” suggested Sergey, glancing around the room. Between them, they composed a message back to Progress explaining and apologising for their inappropriate behaviour, with Alexei taking the blame and promising that nothing like it would ever happen again, so long as he was in command of the station. A few minutes later, a terse response was issued back from Progress:


Commander Visokoi, A full and complete report of the incident is expected from you and your Senior Staff no later than 1700 MSK. This incident has been noted in your permanent record and any disciplinary consequences to you or your team will be made clear following an official investigation upon your repatriation to Moscow. Regards, Cmdr Yu. A. Zemsky Progress Station “Forgive me if I don’t tremble in my boots at the potential consequences,” joked Yana. “At least, not for this; I’m sure it will pale against my conviction for treason.” “Maybe,” said Alexei, “but we’ll all need to submit a report, and get the stories to line up.” “Breakfast first,” replied Sergey. As the base woke up, one groggy, hungover researcher at a time, they were nursed back to life by Alexei and Yana, who informed them of the message from Progress and gave them each a handwritten script to base their reports on. “I know it seems like none of this matters,” Alexei said to each of them, “but until we get this base self-sufficient, Progress can’t know that there’s anything happening out of the ordinary, do you understand?” Days sped by as the sun spent less and less time in the sky. By mid-April it appeared above the horizon for less than three hours a day. The whole base was feeling the pressure of fundamentally changing their living conditions, with Masha insisting that the entirety of the modern dome be converted into

a greatly expanded aeroponics farm ‘just to make ends meet.’ The mood was further fractured by Sergey’s deadpan announcement that the converted generators would only be enough to keep the old building heated to not much above freezing. “This is crazy!” complained a few of the research assistants. “The old building was obsolete twenty years ago. How is it supposed to keep us alive over winter, especially with half the heating turned off?” “We can survive in coats and jackets.” Sergey shrugged. “But the plants will need to stay alive will die if they’re not cared for.” The argument extended all the way to Alexei’s new office, a cubicle in the old building. “We can’t afford to take chances with the food,” he explained. “Sure, we have rations to cover us for an emergency winter-over, but we have to view them as emergency rations only once the plants start producing enough for us to get by—” “Why are you still in charge?” one of them, a young assistant called Yuri asked, with his arms folded across his chest. “We’re not part of Russia any more, this isn’t a Russian base. Why should we take orders from a Russian commander?” The room went silent as the grave, not even the wind dared to rattle the windows. Alexei turned away from his keyboard and approached the young man, who took a step back whilst trying to maintain his demeanour—a difficult feat as the ex-soldier towered over him. “You’re right,” he said. There was a pause. “It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to myself; we’re creating a new society here. It isn’t right to assume we can simply strug-

gle on like we did in the past. Deciding what the society looks like isn’t up to me—it’s up to everyone, and in a society where we fully depend on one another and decisions have to be unanimous if they’re going to hold, we can’t have command hierarchies.” Yuri appeared emboldened by this and stepped up his comments. “In that case, I say that we ignore this rule to keep the temperature so uncomfortably low,” he announced. “Why should we take orders from a technician?” shrugged Sergey. “Perhaps we should put it to a vote?” “We can’t just take a vote every time a decision needs to be made!” Yuri protested. “All right, so who takes the decisions if it isn’t me, and you don’t want a vote?” The technician glanced around him, conscious that the rest of the room was staring at him but the young man from Novosibirsk refused to back down. Instead he jutted out his chin and took a step towards Alexei, who stood with his arms relaxed and folded across a chest wider than Yuri’s shoulders. “We should elect a new leader—a President,” he declared. “Someone who is accountable to us and can be kicked out if we don’t like them.” “So replacing one Commander with another?” Masha quipped. “Look, there are only twelve of us here. We shouldn’t need complicated elections for presidents or referendums every time we need to make a decision. The fact is, we need the food, we can’t get the food without converting the new building, and we can’t spare the power to the new aeroponics systems without sacrificing something. Why don’t you tell us what your solution would be?” Alexei cut across them before a full-scale


argument we’re not ready could to erupt, resist physically if they decide standing to send a relief between them. team “Yuri’s in. right Perhaps that we can’t can say afthat the ford to second-guess equipment was every malfunctioning, decision with or thatelection, an poor weather but we also blocked can’t our put transmisthe powsions?” er of decision in one man or woman,” he explained. Sergey shook “We’rehisallhead. professionals here— we’ve “Allall our gotequipment specialities sends whichout make an hourus fit ly status into one or update two sub-teams. automatically, I suggest they’llthat know we thatthose let there teams was nothing make their wrongown withdecisions the systems, andthemselves between there are enough and come satellite together feeds to know that discuss and there then wasn’t decide enough through bad weather consento stop sus when any there’s transmissions.” a decision which affects all of Alexei us.” rubbed his temples, how to explain that “The they temperature had been out in of thetouch living for quarters more than twelve affects all of us,” hours Yuri without pouted, drawing knowing suspithat cion?lost he’d Hethe looked initiative. around the room at the mass Later of that slumbering night, a short bodies meeting and the was bottles held of empty where a decision vodka distributed was made liberally to adopt around the the room. new system of organisation and to keep the cabins He smiled. at ten degrees Celsius and monitor over“Are the you first few a religious weeks man, of winter. Sergey?” Yuri did he asked, not object. picking up one of the glass bottles. The engineer shrugged. “Because yesterday By happened the end of to April, be my theName-Day. new communiThe feast ty wasofready. Saint Alexis.” Sample 281 generators were already “Obviously pickingwe’d up the want slack to celebrate as solar powthat,” added er dropped Yana,off. catching The new on. aeroponics plants were “We… starting perhaps to sprout, got a little and carried the base away,” had suggested been cleared Sergey, of snow, glancing with around the excess the room. shunted into windbreaks to protect anyoneBetween outside from them, the they worst composed of the Antarctic a message back winter. Theto sun Progress now barely explaining rose above and apolthe ogising and horizon for the theirendless inappropriate night threatened behaviour, to with Alexei engulf themtaking all. the blame and promising that Then nothing thelike message it would that everthey happen hadagain, been so long as arrived expecting he wasfrom in command Progress.ofYana the staretion. A few viewed the message, minutes later, nodded, a terse andresponse sounded wasbase’s the issuedfire back alarm from twice, Progress: a signal that they had adopted for the revelation of important base-wide news. The twelve inhabitants of


the base crowded Commander Visokoi,into the old Common Room, A fulljackets and complete still donned reportagainst of the incident the chill is expected in the cabins.from you and your Senior Staff no “They’re later than coming 1700 MSK. to collect Thisus,” incident said Yana has been in a matter-of-fact noted in your tone. permanent “This record is our and last any disciplinary chance to back out consequences and go back to to our you old or your teamyou lives—but will should be made know clear thatfollowing includedan in official the inventory investigation for the resupply upon your flight repatriation is a minto Moscow.drilling rig.” ing-grade Regards, The base was silent, for many of the less enthusiastic Cmdr Yu. A. members Zemskyof the community, this was Progress the news Station that they were dreading, confirmation that their government fully intended “Forgive to exploitme theif Ilake. don’tNobody tremblevolunteered in my boots at the to back potential down. consequences,” joked Yana. “At least, “All right notthen,” for this; saidI’m Alexei, sure “if it will we’re pale all against my decided, weconviction know what forwe treason.” have to do, and we “Maybe,” know thatsaid we have Alexei,very “butlittle we’ll time all to need do to so it, submit let’s aget report, busy!” and get the stories to line up.” With a cheer of agreement, the base darted “Breakfast to vehicles first,” replied or back Sergey. into the base, As the to ready base carry woke outup, their oneplan. groggy, Sergey hungovand er researcher Masha led teams at ain time, ploughs theyand were bulldozers nursed back to carve to life up the by Alexei shimmering and Yana, snow who and ice informedwas which them supposed of the message to be the from plane’s Progress runand gave way, digging them deep eachfurrows a handwritten into the script surface to base to make their a landing reports on. impossible. Theoretically, it was “I know possible it seems for like a plane noneon of this skids matters,” to risk Alexei said landing anywhere to each of onthem, the vast “but glacier until wetopget this base ping the lake, self-sufficient, but without Progress confirmation can’t know from that ground, the there’s anything it would be happening impossible outtoofguarthe ordinary, antee avoiding do youcrevasses, understand?” ice boulders, or any of the multitude of invisible hazards this unforgiving Days sped land bycould as thethrow sun spent up against less and the less timeThe unwary. in the community sky. By mid-April had decided it appeared that a above pilot expecting the horizon a standard for less milk thanrun three resupply hours a day. The mission was whole unlikely base towas takefeeling the chance. the pressure Meanwhile, of fundamentally Alexei and changing Yana prepared their living the conditions, with Masha communications dish and insisting pre-loaded that thetheir entirety of theofmodern statement resistance dometobe the converted world. For into a

short a greatly period, expanded the aircraft aeroponics wouldfarm be ‘just out to of make ends contact with Progress meet.’ The base mood as they wascrossed further fractured from the Progress by Sergey’s to Vostok deadpan communication. announceItment was that a painfully the converted short window, generators and one would that only be would beenough closed faster to keep thanthe usual old once building the heated crew of to thenot aircraft muchrealised above freezing. what they were doing. “This is crazy!” complained a few of the research The clock assistants. ticked“The downold and building the aircraft was obsolete twenty appeared on their years RADAR ago.screens How is as it supthe posed to keep community scurried us alive to complete over winter, theirespework cially in time. with half the heating turned off?” “We At ten can o’clock survive they in coats received and their jackets.” first Sergey shrugged. message from the “But aircraft the hurtling plants will towards need to stay “Vostok them. alive will Base, die if they’re Vostoknot Base, cared this for.”is The argument flight ПРЗ-091. extended Please confirm all the message way to Alexreei’s newOver.” ceived. office, a cubicle in the old building. “We “ПРЗ-091, can’t afford this istoVostok take chances Base, receiving with the food,” you loud he and explained. clear. Over.” “Sure, we have rations to “Good cover us to hear for an from emergency you, Vostok. winter-over, Requestbut confirmation ing we have to of view good them landing as emergency conditions rations at target. only Over.” once the plants start producing enough “Good for uslanding to get by—” conditions confirmed, ПРЗ-091. “WhyYou’re are you good stilltoinland. charge?” Over,” one reportof them, ed Alexei a young as theassistant sound ofcalled ploughs Yuri churning asked, withthe up hisice arms rattled folded theacross windows. his chest. “We’re not“Confirmed, part of Russia Vostok. any more, Switching this isn’t to Vostok a Russian base. comm. system Why should in T-minus we take twelve orders minutes. from a Russian commander?” Over.” The Theroom radiowent was silent switched as the off grave, and Alexnot even ei leaned the wind backdared in histoseat, rattle breathing the windows. out Alexei turned heavily to try and away chase fromaway his keyboard the butterflies and approached swarming in his the gut. young He man, felt a who hand took on his a step backand shoulder whilst looked trying over to to maintain see Yana his givdemeanour—a ing him a nervous difficult smile. feat as the ex-soldier towered “It’s allover right, him. Alexei,” she reassured him. “We’re “You’re doing right,” the he right said. thing.” Twelve There was minutes a pause. later, a light on the dizzying“It’s communications something I’vearray givenlitaup, lot confirming of thought to myself; that they we’re were now creating in full a new connection society here. with It isn’t rightsatellite ПРЗ-091’s to assume uplink. weBiting can simply his lip,strugAlex-

ei clicked gle on like‘send’ we didand in the they past. crossed Deciding the point what theno of society return. looks In an likeinstant, isn’t updata to me—it’s streamed up to everyone, from Vostok’sand dishes in a society to the where incoming we fully airdepend craft andon outone to the another global and satellite decisions network, have to be unanimous connecting with ifcharities, they’re going NGOs, to hold, and enwe can’t have command vironmental groups around hierarchies.” the world. In London, Yuri appeared New York,emboldened Delhi, Beijing, byMoscow, this and stepped and a dozen up hisother comments. places;“Inthe thatdata case,about I say that we ignore Sample 281 flooded this rule into to servers keep thealong temperawith tureofficial the so uncomfortably statement they low,”had he spent announced. weeks preparing, “Why should individual we take messages orders from to the a techrenician?” shrugged searchers’ friends and Sergey. families, “Perhaps and a plea we should for the put people it to a ofvote?” the world to join them in their“We protection can’t just of the takelake. a vote every time a decision “Comeneeds in, Vostok, to bewe’re made!” receiving Yuri protested. a large “All right, data packet so who fromtakes your the comm decisions dishes,if itisisn’t evme, and you erything okay? don’t Over,” want a vote?” suspicious voice crackled The technician from theglanced other end around of the him,radio. conscious checked Alexei that the rest the of screen: the room the upload was staring was at him only 24% butcomplete. the young man from Novosibirsk refused “This to is Vostok,” back down. replied Instead Alexei,he filling jutted for out his time as chin the progress and tookbar a step crept towards forwardAlexei, painwho slowly. fully stood with If they his didn’t arms relaxed get theirand message folded across out to the a chest world, wider all their thanpreparation Yuri’s shoulders. would be for “Wenought. should The electgovernment a new leader—a wouldPressimident,” ply send he an declared. armed “Someone response towho take is the accountable base by force. to us and “It’s can just be been kicked a long out iftime we don’t like since we them.” talked to anyone from home. The guys “So arereplacing just eagerone to get Commander messageswith to their another?” Masha families. Over.” quipped. “Look, there are only“Vostok, twelve we’re of us going here. We to need shouldn’t you toneed halt complicated elections transmission. It’s overwhelming for presidents our or satelreferendums lite link. Weevery promise timeyour we guys needwill to be make able a decision. to talk as The longfact as they is, wewant need when the food, they get we can’t to back getProgress. the foodOver.” without converting the new 68%. building, and we can’t spare the power “I to know the new it’s not aeroponics normal procedure, systems without but I sacrificing my promised something. crew that Why they don’t could yousend tell us a what your solution message off as soon wouldasbe?” we connected. There’s Alexeibeen cut across big news. them Over.” before a full-scale


we’re “Big not news? ready Please to resist clarify,ifVostok. they decide Over.” to send 71%.a relief team in. Perhaps we can say that “Two theofequipment our researchers was malfunctioning, have gotten enor that poor gaged. Over.” weather Alexei blocked lied. our transmissions?” “Send our congratulations, Vostok, but we insist Sergey that the shook uplink his head. is cut off immediately. Over.” “All our equipment sends out an hourly 82%. status update automatically, they’ll know that “I understand, there was nothing ПРЗ-091. wrong Cutting withtransmisthe systems,now. sion and there Over.”are enough satellite feeds to know 86%.that there wasn’t enough bad weather toAlexei stop any andtransmissions.” Yana watched in tense silence as Alexei the barrubbed inchedhis itstemples, way towards how to 100%. explain that “Still they receiving, had been Vostok. out ofWe’re touchcutting for more the than twelve uplink from our hours end.without Over.” drawing suspicion? 98%.He looked around the room at the mass “Please of slumbering repeat. Over,” bodies a desperate and the bottles Alexei of empty vodka distributed liberally around squeaked. the 99%. room. “Data He smiled. stream has been terminated, Vostok.” 100%. “Are you a religious man, Sergey?” he asked, Alexeipicking collapsed up one backofinto the his glass seat, bottles. relief The engineer washing over him. shrugged. As he “Because sat back against yesterdaychair, the happened an alientosound be my wormed Name-Day. its way The into feastedge the of Saint of his Alexis.” hearing, he frowned, trying to place “Obviously it. A high-pitched we’d want to whirring celebratesound, that,” added Yana, warbling in the catching wind. He on.sat bolt upright. “Vostok “We… perhaps to ПРЗ-091, got arunway little carried is notaway,” clear suggested for landing. Repeat, Sergey, runway glancing is not around clear the for room. please abort descent. Over.” landing, “Understood, Between them, Vostok, they pulling composed up now. a What messagehell the back is going to Progress on down explaining there?” and apologising “We know for their that you’re inappropriate arriving tobehaviour, mine the with Alexei material wetaking discovered, the blame Sample and promising 281. We that nothing can’t allow that liketo it would happen,” everYana happen said,again, leanso long ing into as thehe microphone. was in command “Until this of the lakestais tion. A few minutes designated a protected later,site a terse of scientific response inwas issued terest, we will back notfrom permit Progress: any landing of any national or private aircraft. Lake Vostok is protected.”


Commander There was aVisokoi, pause at the other end of the A full and complete reportscreen of the showed incident microphone, but the RADAR is expected from you andtoyour Senior Staff the aircraft banking hard the east. no“You’re later than 1700the MSK. incident“You has insane,” pilotThis exclaimed. been survive noted inout your permanent and can’t here through record the winter. any disciplinary consequences you or Why don’t you come on-board to and we’ll your team made clear following discuss thiswill withbethe powers-that-be backan at official investigation upon your repatriation Progress?” to“We Moscow. can’t do that,” said Alexei, a confident Regards, smile on his face.“We’re ready for the winter Cmdr A. Zemsky and the Yu. whole world knows about us and Progress what we’veStation discovered down here. Take our message back to Progress and tell them if I don’t tremble in my boots that“Forgive we lookme forward to their reply.” atWith the potential consequences,” joked Yana. a flick of his wrist, he turned off the ra“At and least, not for this; Yana I’m sure will pale dio walked beside out toit watch the against glint my conviction for treason.” distant of navigation lights vanish over said knowing Alexei, “but need the “Maybe,” setting sun, thatwe’ll theyallwould to submit a report, and the get the to line see neither again until endstories of winter. up.” Until then, there would be the challenge “Breakfast first,” replied of their new life ahead. AsSergey. the stars began As the baseinwoke up, one groggy, to appear the ice-cold sky likehungovbrilliant er researcher at a time, they were nursed fireflies, Alexei felt a sense of liberation and back to lifehebyhadn’t Alexei Yana,Whatever who incommunity feltand in years. formed themheofknew the message Progress they faced, that the from community of and gave them each a handwritten script to Lake Vostok would face it with him, together. base their reports on. “I know it seems like none of this matters,” Alexei said to each of them, “but until we get this base self-sufficient, Progress can’t know that there’s anything happening out of the ordinary, do you understand?” Days sped by as the sun spent less and less time in the sky. By mid-April it appeared above the horizon for less than three hours a day. The whole base was feeling the pressure of fundamentally changing their living conditions, with Masha insisting that the entirety of the modern dome be converted into




His dream-come-true adventure, was paid for by you and me, a jaunt to the Kármán line— that hazy border between Earth’s atmosphere and space. For the excursion, he wangled a bespoke jumpsuit, cobalt blue, glossy sheen, with an unflattering squidgy feel. Not a pressurized suit, nothing to keep him from expanding into vacuous space. He took selfies wearing a cowboy hat and Amelia Earhart’s goggles— a talisman to accompany the flight. Imagine her revenant eyes rolling, lenses reflecting the Earthrise. Some astronauts report feelings of awe, a cognitive shift looking at our planet from deep space. He landed after an 11 minute joyride, a significant jerk. To commemorate his one small step Space Cowboy shouted, “Best Day Ever!” Imagine the giant leaps for mankind if his pockets turned inside out as he fell back to Earth, his amassed fortune streaming like moonlight, like starlight, falling where it could do the most good, as smooth and quick as same-day shipping, on our beautiful, fragile, climate stressed planet.




You can read part 1 of this comic in Issue #3.

COLOR KEY: Aquillutaq



Cosmic Intelligence Alright, alright, alright! You convinced me. I’ll take a walk in your aquarium. I’d really like to see real fish making bubbles. Y-yes very well... I still have adjustments to make. She turned to her invisible keyboard. When you get under the main sea globe, stay there for a few minutes...listen to the siren song...the crushed beings... So you speak in riddles now? They compressed you in the seabed! Surely there is one of those pain-relieving meditation rooms here, in this huge pleasure park. Maybe you should go there when you leave.


The silence of Aquillutaq, who was apparently too busy making three-dimensional scenery appear and change, caused Mizuha to stir. There was a foreboding intermission, feverish apprehension—Aquillutaq’s heart was racing and she could not understand why. The discussion was closed. She walked out of the room with her friend’s grateful words in her head. While walking in the tube this transit, on one of the treadmills, Mizuha’s brain had embarked on a race full of analysis and interpretation. Face frozen in visible concern, brow furrowed, Aquillutaq paid no attention to the other hallway users who, when they saw her, quickly turned away in awe, meticulously making sure not to show any sign of dismay at the few moving cameras aimed at their faces. A singing voice uttered health instructions and vocal announcements, without this in any way interfering in Mizuha’s line of thoughts. I didn’t dream it was Aquillutaq speaking to me. It really is completely as unusual—it was unexpected... or far too expected.


Is it because of me that she ended up letting go? It was something really strong. She must have lived through an episode that was traumatic...traumatic they say. Before? Earlier in the depths of my memories? No, she never spoke to me with that confused oddity. Even her voice, her intontontation, it was a younger version of what I know about her. Like a child, about six years old. All her mental barriers, her efforts to be correct and to avoid any conflict, it disappeared within a few words. Does it scare me? It scares me! Anyway, I should just get out of here. Why listen to her and go explore a prison of visual ecstasy? I already have my own stories to settle. You are heading once again to things that it is better not to stir too much, my darling. In your case, going to see the wonders of nature is not necessarily beneficial. I remind you that the best for you is to dream of it from afar. I remember seeing a bird of shimmering blue one day landing near me on the floating platform of the Sotom Arine station... I may remind you how this bird ended up after it was spotted by a helicopter.

to be continued... 28

Despite her cerebral peregrinations she continued on her way to her friend’s advice. The carpet unrolling the deposit in a luxuriant orchard, lit by a multitude of microscopic diodes with luminous intensity, covering the transparent walls of this soft artificial forest. She followed the alleys crisscrossing among the food plants, on the lookout for directional indications to access the reservoir of marine fauna.



Seamus popped a couple figs in his mouth he’d swiped from the kitchen and built up the courage to approach the green copper gates the size of three Alabasters. Dizzie was there. And Kira, too. She was one of Dizzie’s friends and was named a prodigy mandolin player, good enough to be the next Jumoke Andre one day. Or at least that’s what Dizzie told him. She was a pillar of a woman. Her parents used to be merchants from Thah Thadi until they left for political reasons. If Seamus didn’t know any better, he’d say Kira was Dizzie’s bodyguard, but it was more like the other way around. But maybe when someone is that big, they don’t need to bark much. Now, talking to Dizzie, she looked concerned. “…as long as we get to practice before the concert,” Kira said. Dizzie clapped her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. It’s us. It’s you!” Kira grumbled. “And it’s you!” Dizzie screamed at Seamus approaching. Her smile looked like a dog 30

showing its teeth. “Welcome to the University!” Then she started posing and making fireworks noises. “I’ve been here before,” Seamus muttered. “Yeah, but you haven’t been here with us.” “I can’t believe I’m skipping school for this.” Dizzie scoffed and flipped her orange hair over her shoulder. “Music doesn’t want to follow the rules, Seamus. Music wants to be free. Right, Kira?” Kira sighed. “Music has so many rules, Diz. You just used the wrong formula to get to the right answer.” “Which proves my point. Music doesn’t actually care about the rules.” “So…” Seamus grabbed his arm, looked around, and then at the dirt. “Why are we here exactly?” Dizzie threw her finger back and forth between her and Kira. “We are going to walk to the music hall and practice. You are going to spend this time figuring out what you want to study at this fine establishment rather than learning whatever boring crap you

were going to learn at First School.” “We were going over the Union Wars.” “Exactly. History. That’s weak.” Dizzie said, then stiffened. “Uh, unless you want to be a historian.” She nudged Kira with her elbow and mumbled, “See? I’m supportive.” Kira sighed. “Here are the open gates,” she said, starting the tour. “They used to keep people like us out. We fought a war. Now they’re open.” “See, Seamus?” Kira announced. “You don’t have to be in school to learn about the Union Wars. We can teach you!” Seamus nodded, marched behind them, and kept his eyes low. Dizzie made a show of being a tour guide, but Seamus wasn’t listening very well. He was too busy watching the fish in the brook or the snails on the leaves. At one point, he stopped at an ant hill to watch the ants go about their work, gently stepping out of each other’s way to carry dirt out grain by grain and to carry food back in bit by bit. Visible from every part of the campus was an enormous bell tower, covered in glistening tile mosaic. The shells and stones that were taken from the coastal city-state of Thah Thadi. Dizzie danced around, pointing at the manmade brook at the edge of the gardens. “There’s the brook where the Noble woman drowned herself. And there’s the tree where the Bloody Five were hanged!” Seamus felt his stomach churn. He definitely didn’t want to learn history his entire life. Every part of this city was a war memorial. And while he grew up not being bothered by the Nobles who died—they were the bad guys, after all—it did upset him to think about all the innocent people who died as a result of the wars. Families that were torn apart. People who were driven out of their homes.

Dizzie continued the tour. Inside, the Council made their offices and fulfilled their government duties. Maybe it was his mother’s influence, but Seamus found it interesting how a lot of the art and architecture inside was taken from different cultures. The Nobles used to have a network where they received goods and services acquired by other Nobles. Of course, these were all goods stolen from the sweat and blood of their people, but Seamus thought it was neat all the same. Gardens wreathed the bell tower and lined the pathways to the philosophy wing. The greatest philosophers and theologians in Quellamunga taught within a domeshaped canopy with a giant Elder Tree growing from the center. This architecture was entirely Quellamungan-made. Perhaps the Noble architects wanted to assert that deep thinking was the domain of Quellamungan culture. It was disgusting to think that the Nobles had any pride in this nation when the ancestors of the people had been shaping fruit trees and deepvines since the first man decided to shape the earth, even before agriculture itself. Seamus learned this in First School when they saw an illustration of the largest tree in Old North Marca. It was an enormous Elder Tree but what must have been generations of people had formed its young stalk into a roof over the village. There is only debris there now after an invasion from the Pallatians. Deep underground is where the architects and mathematicians hold their classes. Pallatian marble was important from the mountains to create the hallways and rooms below. All oil lamps have been measured out precisely to get lighting directly on each work table. Many of the rooms have lanterns hanging from the ceilings like potted plants.


He once read a story about how the red and blue ants fought each other because they were enemies, but they story never said why they had to be enemies. Maybe it was just because they were different. Maybe there wasn’t enough food to go around. Or were they just born to hate each other and that’s that? Seamus knew the gods made the world by accident and there was no real plan behind anything, but he still wondered what made creatures hurt each other. “Seamus, are you listening?” Dizzie barked. “Sorry. I was thinking about ants.” “Ants aren’t going to get you closer to your Life Path, bro.” Kira frowned thoughtfully. “Unless he wants to research insects.” “Ooh! Yeah? Is that it?” Dizzie raised her eyebrows expectantly at Seamus. “Maybe,” Seamus said. “I don’t really know.” Dizzie groaned. “Come on, Seamus. You only have a few days before Passage. Why haven’t you figured out what you want yet?” It wasn’t that he was interested in nature. It was more like he was interested in the connections between living things. He had heard that the fish in that brook had been placed in there without any kind of ecosystem. So, the caretakers at the University have to keep throwing little rainfish in there. For some reason, the smaller rainfish never persist, so they keep having to outsource them from somewhere else. They were going to let them all die off, but his dad arranged to import the fish into the brook as part of a trade agreement with Nyamego. So now they have this contant influx of useless, dying fish. Usually, Seamus would feel sad for them, but it was just so absurd and beyond the small scope of his own life and experiences that he just felt empty.


“Uh, Dizzie? Um…” He waited for Dizzie to talk over him or tell him to shut up, and maybe she would have if Kira wasn’t standing there. “Dad is from Pallos, so… Why did the Council give him permission to leave?” There were few times in her life that Dizzie looked concerned and the shift from raw energy to melancholy was always jarring for Seamus. “Why do you ask?” Even her voice sounded weirdly formal and polite. “I just thought… that’s an option for me, maybe. I could propose to… go somewhere else.” Dizzie spun on her heel, the fire in her eyes again. “You want to leave, too. Is that it?” She bit her lip, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Seamus almost wanted her to yell more, to hit him or berate him. But this time, she just turned away, defeated. “Let’s go to the music hall. We need to practice for our concert.” Seamus tried to follow her, but she was stomping away fast as her feet could go without moving into a jog. Kira stayed behind with Seamus and kept pace with him in silence. And then there was the music hall. It was supposed to be a masterpiece of Quellamungan wood shaping techniques applied to Munin lumber. He’d never been inside since there was usually a concert going on whenever his school visited. They didn’t trust a group of kids not to make noise when entering, which was probably for the best. As Dizzie was no longer playing the tour guide, she marched inside ahead of them. “You know, Seamus,” Kira said, not meeting his eyes. Kira never said more than a few words at a time, so this was new to him. “I don’t know much about your family, but I do know that your parents are a special case. Your mom has a lot of influence. I think

if it weren’t for her, your dad would probably be…” “Be what?” “…not a diplomat.” “Pathless?” She nodded. “A soldier, probably. Fighting the Pallatians.” Seamus was glad he wasn’t doing that. As abruptly as it began, the conversation ended. While Seamus had so much more to ask, he was too nervous to continue the conversation. Still, he appreciated that Kira would take the time to notice and walk with a kid. Almost an adult, but still. He kind of hated Dizzie for going ahead of him like that when it’s so easy for Kira to be nice. But she’s always like that. She’s always charging ahead, so she probably doesn’t even know how it feels to get left behind. Maybe that’s how big sisters are. When they entered the Music Hall, Dizzie was already running on the stage and clapping. The wood inside bent around the ceiling like a ribcage. Seamus wasn’t sure he understood how it worked, but he’d heard Dizzie talking about it before. The different parts are built in a way that bounce the sounds around and direct it at the audience. The temperature affects the sound, too, so they have to adjust their schedules accordingly. Generally, large choruses perform in the winter, bands in the spring and fall, and poets in the summer. There are exceptions. Dizzie said that the possibilities to distort sound are limited only by the hall’s availabilities. But when Seamus had asked why she wanted to distort the sounds, she simply said, “You just don’t get it.” He didn’t get it. That’s why he had asked. “Can you hear the acoustics, Seamus? Pretty amazing, right? Maybe you could use this for something. I don’t know. You could do boring lectures in here or something. I’m being supportive!”

She screamed that last part and closed her eyes, taking in the echo. Her nostrils flared, like she was savoring the sound through her other senses. Smelling the sound. Tasting the sound. He was jealous of her passion, that she could feel so strongly about everything and he didn’t seem to be able to. It was like he was broken. “Take a seat. Kira, get up here. Seamus needs to hear Sadie’s story.” Kira unstrapped the mandolin from off her back and started tuning it. “The first one?” “Yeah, of course the first one!” Kira shrugged. She didn’t seem to know why Dizzie wanted this so badly, but she was also, like Dizzie, very passionate about music. But where Dizzie was enamored with the aesthetics, Kira was interested mainly in technical ability. Seamus was about to sit down, but Dizzie stopped him. “No, no. The front row is for weirdos and suckers. Stay in the center but a few rows back.” “Unless you have the hots for the lead singer,” Kira added. Dizzie nodded knowingly. “Yeah. Unless that.” Seamus thought about responding but decided against it. He really didn’t want to know. When he had sat down a few rows back, Dizzie gave him the thumbs up. “Ready, Kira?” “It’s a little out-of-tune.” “Appropriate.” “Yeah. Appropriate.” Dizzie cleared her throat and projected out to the audience of one. “Thank you for coming out here today. We’re starting our practice tonight with a little story from our band member who is no longer with us. This is the story that Sadie wrote.”





like a cherry-stone or peachpit my aching stomach told me early this was doomed: the squatted shopping mall our paddock of photovoltaic cells squinting up and that water fountain, once an oasis for shoppers – a hydroponic monolith that almost fed us all : lessons in a another living ‘til the bulldozers came and kicked us up, made us birds in the wind to find new homes



Zucchini seeds waited to be planted in the soft earth as Crow anxiously waited for a cigarette. Starting a community garden with his best friends was a dream come true, but he had no idea he would have to work continuously without even a break to smoke. It was a bit ironic that he destroyed his lungs in the same breath that he used to heal the earth, but self-destruction and hyperempathy was the name of his game. Rae was hard at work at the gate, letting folks in to help out with the planting operations. A red and grey flannel shirt was tied around her waist, and her dark hair was tied back and out of her eyes. A straw hat protected her eyes from the sun and its powerful rays. Greyson was walking each row, watering every crop as needed to ensure a healthy field of vegetables. Their attire was simple, a black sports bra holding their chest in place while a pair of cut-off shorts covered their upper thighs. They finished the job eagerly and enthusiastically, coming over to give their baby brother—Crow was less than a year younger than them—a hug and a break from his hard work. Blue sat in their stickerbombed wheelchair overseeing the operations and supervising when necessary. They had been offered the day to rest by the others, but they were excited to see the garden’s opening, and happily tagged along to help however they could—they had been working the entrance earlier in the day, before Rae took over with her fiery spirit and charismatic energy. At the end of the day, they had an ex36

pansive garden planted with love, care, and about twenty pairs of hands. Rae had invited some friends from the local Green Anarchists to help out— they were rather friendly, and incredibly helpful with the planning. A couple folks from the community had stopped by to work in the morning; how they had found out about the garden was still unknown, but the quartet of friends chose not to question their appearance. They retired to the adjacent home, a cozy little house that they had made their own far away from the pressures of family, school, or capitalist labor. Rae began cooking a hearty supper with tender lamb, fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market, and jasmine-lime rice as the others rested. Her energy was unmatchable amongst the four; incredibly, she managed to take care of herself better than the others despite her relentless work ethic. Crow settled into the bathtub after having a cigarette on the front porch. The tub was built perfectly to accommodate his body, short and squishy was the way he liked his proportions despite the dysphoric feelings that sometimes stemmed from his anatomy. Greyson was much skinnier than their brother, having only recently begun recovering from a yearslong pattern of disordered eating; Rae’s cooking was a major boost to their confidence, and they’d begun loving their body, much to the delight of their housemates. Blue was somewhere in between the two, just an inch or two taller than Greyson and Crow; Rae towered over all of them at

5’10”, her frame indicating a past interest in athletics — she had grown up playing on select boys’ basketball teams before realizing she did not fit in with her masculinity-driven, cisgender peers. Rae had only recently begun the process of transitioning; her first day on hormones was the same day that Crow got his first shot of testosterone, and in fact they’d gone to see the same specialist at the Gender Center just a couple blocks down the street. The future was fucking awesome. The demise of capitalism meant they no longer had to waste away at pointless jobs and could instead support themselves with the universal basic income provided to them, along with the small income generated from outside sources—Greyson and Crow had followed each other into sex work, which was now decriminalized and fully legal for consenting adults. Greyson found that posting their body on the internet was a neat way to get compliments on their appearance, something that had a positive effect on their fragile self-esteem and body image. Crow was slightly more successful at selling his content, though he seemed to think his sibling was having more fun with it for a variety of reasons. Blue helped wash dishes after supper, hand-treating each plate and utensil with care (and soapy water) as they would treat a friend or their beloved partner. They went to sleep cuddling Crow most nights, at least when their chronic pain wasn’t making it impossible to rest; the lovers alternated between big and little spoon on a regular basis. Greyson and Rae were in their own rooms at night, dreaming up new ways they could spend their lives helping others in their community and beyond. Rae was taking the year off post-graduation, in fact they all were, but she still intended to go to college to study… something, probably either social work or library science; she wanted to become a librarian and a counselor simultaneously, and that dream was perhaps more possible than it had ever been before, thanks to the sharp rise in people investing in and pursuing their passions. This was the new way of life, a revolution the ancestors and generations before them had only ever dreamed of putting into action. They were happy. 37





six acres of forest five of which go untended like an open barn, rewild; a moss-eaten fence. but there’s one acre, you can see through the window here, you can almost smell the garlic under, between, the apple trees. our floormates weeded those guilds of comfrey and clover all last week - just for crabgrass; we leave the dandelions to fix the poor old soil. tomorrow, hell. i’ve got nothing else to do while i wait for the next allotment of work: fixing irrigation, checking weather vanes. so yes, i might go back, wander and weed or sleep in a tree, but mainly sit open to life like a garlic flower.



our apartments are old, creaking argonauts whose lord lost the fleece long ago, and outside is all ours.



________________________________ Standard Interstellar Date: 213.42587.51 It’s important to note that I’m okay. For now. They say it was a decision that the captains made together. The storm was bad, far worse than anyone could have predicted. They knew we would take damage. But they decided they could try to concentrate that damage, focus it, I guess. And now we’re drifting. Life support systems are still functioning, but we’ve lost the ability to travel at warp. The captains chose to sacrifice those systems to the insatiable hunger of the storm, to boost shields when the solar particle event was detected rather than try and outrun it. They saved our lives, but now we’re drifting. And still many light years away from the colony. ________________________________ SID: 213.42588.24 I suspect my parents always knew they


would immigrate to the colonies, and that’s why they named me Xochitl. Flower. My name was something beautiful from Earth they could bring with them. An artifact. A treasure. I have some memories of blue skies and solid ground, but most of my memories were made here on the cruiser. The entire journey was supposed to take 13 years with the new warp drive. It’s been 26 days since the solar storm and we still haven’t restored the engines. We’re still drifting. ________________________________ SID: 213.42588.43 They’re trying to keep us in our routines, school, chores, all that. I think it’s supposed to make us feel safe. Like we won’t notice the adults and captains arguing. The captains linked the cruisers during the storm, and they’re still circled, but not many people go between ships anymore. We have plenty of rations, but the word “for now” is getting tossed around a lot. I’ve got a presentation

for school next week on family ancestry that I have to work on too. Huzzah for routines. ________________________________ SID: 213.42589.00 The ships are completely sealed off from each other. The captains lost control. There were mutinies. We haven’t left our deck in a week. Passengers want the propulsion systems fixed, they want to start moving, but instead the captains tried to cannibalize even more of the engines to increase life support. There’s been shouting, and loud noises. I heard that one of the ships is on fire. I get the frustration. But we’re going to tear ourselves apart. ________________________________ SID: 213.42589.07 Things have started to calm down, a little. I think people are finally coming to terms with the fact that the engines aren’t going to be fixed, so we are going to have to focus on surviving until someone comes looking for the convoy. We were scheduled for a supply rendezvous in two years, our last before the final stretch to the colony, so when we miss that someone will notice. But we got blown off course by the storm and we’ve been drifting who-knows-what direction ever since, so it will take them time to find us. We will have to survive until then. It’s a grim reality but one that we’ve been forced to accept. Or at the least, that we are in the process of accepting. ________________________________ SID: 213.42589.11 The ships’ councils have decided to keep the cruisers linked so we don’t drift apart,

but still sealed off. Everyone should focus on their own people, their own systems. It will be better that way, they say. ________________________________ SID: 213.42591.28 Our ship has completed most of its rebuilding. We scrapped all the dead engine stuff, repurposed them for water reclamation, air. Our ship was carrying a lot of the agricultural equipment for the colony so we built some terraces for gardens, started growing our own food. It’s prettier here now with all the greenery. Space has been so sterile. It’s worth all the extra work that goes into it just to have some life aboard the ship, something growing. Just because we’re traveling through the empty void of space, doesn’t mean our ship should look like that too. After all, life is still Earth’s greatest export. ________________________________ SID: 213.42592.49 The crops we have aren’t providing a wide enough range of nutrients we need, and the other rations are now dwindling. There’s also talk of water shortage, panels and cables overheating, and stress on the ship’s power grid. Every day, more problems. I wonder how the other ships are doing. We don’t hear from them much. We just circle each other, rotating in a silent dance through the inky black nothingness, waltzing bleakly to nowhere. ________________________________ SID: 213.42592.52 A while ago, I did a school project on family history. My ancestors from a very long time ago lived in a city on a lake and I learned


about this type of farming they did called chinampas. I know I’m only in my second level of engineering, but I ran the numbers. ________________________________ SID: 213.42593.08 The systems are getting overwhelmed. There are new glitches every day, threatening a cascade of failures. We can’t keep cycling all the water we need and running all our extra support systems for this level of self-sufficiency. It’s too much. I’ve heard rumors that the other ships are having similar problems. Some people are saying it’s time to break off from the convoy, that it’s hurting our systems to still be linked to theirs. ________________________________ SID: 213.42593.11 About half the ship wants to break away. Other cruisers are saying the same thing. They finally reopened more communications channels, just to argue about dismembering the convoy. It won’t help, we’ll just be back in the same situation soon but this time drifting alone. We need other solutions. I think I have one. Nobody’s going to listen though. ________________________________ SID: 213.42593.12 They can’t do this. The councils are meeting this week to vote on breaking the convoy. Systems are failing across all the ships, and everyone has different problems. Some have too much water and not enough food, others the wrong types of food, some too little water and too much power. How can they not see the solution? I have to do something. I have to.


________________________________ SID: 213.42593.15 They laughed when I told them. Flood the corridors linking the ships? They thought I was crazy. They all laughed. Except one person, one person who held off laughing long enough to ask me to explain. That’s when I told them about chinampas. ________________________________ SID: 213.42597.18 The solution wasn’t breaking the convoy apart. The solution was breaking the barriers between the ships, breaking the isolation we imposed on ourselves. We were literally stuck together, revolving around each other as we drifted through space, and yet each ship acted like it was alone. My name was something from Earth my parents could hold onto, even if they knew we’d never return to the planet. I think we were treating our fuel the same way. The engines haven’t fired since the storm, and yet in all this time we never made use of the hydrogen in the fuel cells, or the reserves, or the fuel we were carrying in cargo for the colony. We were just holding onto it like a security blanket, like it would somehow protect us from the darkness. But what if we freed that hydrogen from the mausoleum of our engines? You just need two hydrogens, one oxygen, and a bit of heat. It’s a pretty simple process, really. The controlled flooding has been a success, and I’ve been named junior project manager (underneath the professional engineers). Most corridors and major halls of the ship are now shallow floodplains, distributing water widely enough that we can inte-

grate a massive hydroponics system into the life support. Floating gardens provide fruit and vegetables that provide more oxygen, and the flow of the water acts as a natural coolant to help keep the ships’ systems from overheating. One of the ships had fish spawn frozen in cryo in their hull, so we started breeding them in the new canals and floodplains and now we have aquaculture. Another ship had insects in their manifest, pollinators that the terraformed planets need, and we’ve bred lots of insects very quickly to increase our crop productivity. Many of the insects also serve as an additional source of protein, which is far better from the paste we were eating on the ship before. The best part is the little boats that take you from compartment to compartment, guided by a rower with a long pole. They’re super cute. So are the raised community spaces we built on stilts over the canals. I don’t know if we’ll ever be rescued. I don’t know if we’ll ever travel at warp speed again, ever arrive at our intended destination, and I don’t know if I want to. Humanity traveled to space and built colony after colony the same way: strip one planet bare of resources and populate another. Each colony looks out for itself, each city spinning around the others on that same planet, drifting through the cosmos in self-imposed and totally unnecessary isolation. At least here, we’re really in this together. Every ship, working in harmony with the others. We may be drifting, but we’re no longer lost.




This piece was originally created as a representation of a solarpunk city for Utopia, a neo-futuristic tabletop role-playing game (utopiarpg.com) 47

CONTRIBUTORS Mik Tulumello (cover art) believes that together we can build the community of our dreams for the future of all of our children and the Earth they are inextricably linked to. She is on Instagram @windweaver1. Matthew Kressel is a writer, coder, and artist. He is a multiple Nebula, World Fantasy, and Eugie Award finalist, and the creator of the Moksha submissions system. His fiction has been translated into a dozen languages, and he is the co-host of the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series in New York City. Find him on Twitter at @mattkressel, on Patreon at https://patreon.com/mattkressel, or on his website https://matthewkressel.net. Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and many other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review as well as other publications. Efflam Mercier is a digital sculptor and painter from Penn-ar-Bed, Brittany, currently working in Los Angeles. Efflam has worked in film and games for 7 years with work ranging from VFX in X-Men and The Last Duel to visual development for League of Legends, and Valorant. However fun coming up with fictional worlds might be, their heart has always been deeply concerned for this world. To this end, the intent of their project, Ecocide Inc, is to use satire and allegory to relentlessly chip away at the “social licence to operate” of oil companies and inform the public of the dangers of fossil fuel corruption. Julie Martin lives near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. You can find her poetry at sphinxmothrising.blogspot.com/. Pillule Kosmik is the creator of Imaginarium Cosmozine which you can find by searching its title on Facebook. Clint Pereira has a Masters in English from Cal State Northridge. He only knows how to write and nothing else. Mili Fay, a classically trained animator, created Mili Fay Art (2011) to advocate for inclusion, free quality education, and environmental sustainability. Find out more about her projects at https://artofmili.ca. Seven Sunflower teaches english, writes for a science nonprofit, and volunteers for several labor organizations. you can read more of seven sunflower’s poetry in Fire: Art and Style zine. Olive Pile (they/them, it/its) is a queer, trans, disabled, autistic writer and poet who loves hockey (just, all of it), college football overtime rules, their partners, and shamelessly plug48

ging its social media, which is @powerfultulips on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. They don’t have a website yet, but they probably should invest in making one sometime when they actually have an amount of money that’s more than four dollars. Zoe Badini is an Italian artist who loves bringing stories to life and creating immersive worlds. You can find her on Twitter @ZoeBadini and her portfolio at https://artstation.com/zoebadini. Mplossart always loved drawing and started going to art afternoon activities when she was 5 years old. Since then she never really did put down the pen for long. After school she gave digital art a try but soon realized that her passion lies with traditional art and thus, her latest passion is watercolor art. Recently, she finally decided to turn her passion into her main profession through her Etsy print shop. She draws inspiration from her love for nature and what beauty it gifts us as well as portrait photography. This connection represents the peace and joy being in beautiful and preferably untouched nature gifts her. You can find her at linktr.ee/mplossart Christopher R. Muscato is an adjunct professor and writer from Colorado, as well as the former writer-in-residence for the High Plains Library District. He has published over a dozen short stories and is very excited to be working with Optopia. Find him on Twitter at @ ChrisRMuscato. David Markiwsky is an artist, writer and game designer in Edmonton, Canada. You can find him on twitter @DavidMarkiwsky.

Unsplash photographers in this issue pg. 2 @martino_pietropoli pg. 6 @weirick pg. 8 @sickle pg. 25 @sneakyhead pg. 29 @rendermouse pg. 30 @jackyoung pg. 34 @lauraadaiphoto

pg. 35 @goldensson pg. 36 @danielcgold pg. 38 @krystalblackphoto pg. 40 @sandyandreopoulos pg. 42 @randomlies pg. 48 @castaneyra back cover @mattseymour 49

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OPTOPIA ZINE SUBMIT YOUR WORK! You can submit your solarpunk art, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction writing to bit.ly/submitToOptopia for a chance to be published! Submissions are rolling, so you can submit at any point, and if accepted, your piece will be in an issue in the near future. See the next page for info on our next themed issues.


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Chanterelle, shiitake, greyling, morel, and so much more! We at Optopia are delighted to announce that our fifth issue will be themed: all about mushrooms! Mushrooms are a cool part of solarpunk: relatively easy to grow, absolutely delicious, and have a lot of potential for future technology and restoring the environment. Also, they’re just really freakin’ cool.

Chanterelle illustration by Meira Datiya

If you’ve got art, photos, poems, fiction, essays, or anything else about mushrooms, go ahead and submit it at bit.ly/submitToOptopia!




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