There was a man who built a whale out of wood. He built it in the middle of a field out in the dry country, where nobody bothered him but birds and a couple of farm cats. The whale was white, and it took two years to build. He made it out of planks from old barns, which he stole in the night. He didn’t steal them from anyone who’d miss them. Most people were gone. There were a lot of things falling down.
“We could have taken George’s courier ship and arrived in a quarter of the time.” “No, we couldn’t,” Harry said, scowling at Marlowe, who knew very well they shouldn’t be here at all, much less aboard her brother’s ship. But he seemed to enjoy mentioning her brother George and reminding Harry of the impropriety of it all. It was a long-running joke, and she let him have his fun. Marlowe just smiled.
I have written a thousand letters to her in my head. Part of me is always writing to her, while I sit in front of the dusty yellow windows in the coffee shops on Market Street, or roll sticky cinnamon dough on my cold granite counter, or stand in the smooth gray sand at the very edge of the sea. I never wrote to her while she was alive, not even at the end, when letters might have comforted us both.
Memories. Nauseous snatches of infinity trickling in, thumbing into my forehead, pinning me to this flower-smelling bed. My fractured thoughts are bursting away with the cannon-shot split of glaciers, broken towers that knife into a sea of amnesia. In all of the forgetting, there is this one constant thing. Her name is Sarah. I will always remember that.
Mei dreamed of a new Earth. She took her telescope onto the balcony of her North Philadelphia apartment and pointed it east, at the sky above the Trenton Strait, hoping for a clear view of Mars. Tonight the light pollution from Jersey Island wasn’t as bad as usual, and she was able to make out the ice caps and dark shadow of Syrtis Major.
You have a civilization! It doesn’t matter which one — let’s say it’s modern Western civilization. It’s got fast food and sporting events, which is all you really need. Western technology gives you great military power — you have fantastic unstoppable tanks, and heat-seeking missiles to keep you safe. It’s a good place to start.
I don’t remember her birth. My dream baby, the baby I have in my dreams, the one who crashed into my head one night and took roost. She is a day old, a week old, a year old, eight years old, three weeks old, a day old. She has fine blond hair, except when she has tight black curls. Once she had cornrows that lengthened every time I looked away. “Her hair grows faster than I can cut it,” I said to my dream family.
Sometimes the Eavesdropper remembered being a mother. She would stare at the single empty life-sac and think about the man who should have been lying there in cold sleep, the man who had once been the boy she’d held in her arms. At other moments she was convinced that she had done no such thing, that motherhood had never happened to her, that all she had ever been was what she was now.
Lao Sun lived on the seventeenth floor facing the open street, nothing between him and the sky. If he woke in the morning to darkness, it was the smog’s doing for sure. Through the murky air outside the window, he had to squint to see the tall buildings silhouetted against the yellow-gray background like a sandy-colored relief print. The cars on the road all had their highbeams on and their horns blaring, crammed one against the other at the intersection into one big mess.
The bell for the last task of the night started chiming before I got to my station. I had the office to myself, and a mug of espresso. It was time to start tracking zombies. I took the mug of espresso from the beverage table, and zigzagged through the darkened cube farm toward the one strip of floor still lit for third shift staff, only me. Zombies are orphan Internet services. They wander aimlessly, trying to execute some programmed task.