After a long and tumultuous expansion, the universe began to contract. The speed with which it had cast itself out was finally overpowered by the inward gravitational pull of its own suspended matter, and so the stars and planets paused like weary travelers before beginning to drift the long way back toward one another. They drew together in great clumps, colliding with such force that they collapsed into black holes. Thus, all of creation devoured itself and was compressed down to a region of incredible heat and density.
It starts with light. Then heat. A slow bleed through of memory. Catchment, containment. A white-hot agony coursing through every nerve, building to a sizzling hum—and then it happens. Change of state. And what comes out the other side is something new. The woman held up the card. “What color do you see?”
“You remember your grandmother,” they’d said to Sofia when she was seven, and she’d looked up and said, “Not this one.” Her parents always told it smiling, like it was clever of her to have noticed Grandmother had changed; who could have told the difference, they asked each other, and her grandfather nodded his familiar amazement, and in the corner the machine that wasn’t her grandmother looked back and forth with a smile.
Tonight he is intensely aware of the city: its ancient stones, the flat-roofed brick houses, threads of clotheslines, wet, bright colors waving like pennants, neem tree-lined roads choked with traffic. There’s a bus going over the bridge under which he has chosen to sleep. The night smells of jasmine, and stale urine, and the dust of the cricket field on the other side of the road. A man is lighting a bidi near him: face lean, half in shadow, and he thinks he sees himself.
Terrorist. That’s what they call me, but I am something worse: both successful traitor and failed saboteur. I want to die, for all of this to be over. For my last request, I asked to have paper and pen to write my last will and testament. They won’t let me have it, forcing me to use the mindsynch. Damned Traveler tech. Maybe they’re scared I’ll ram the pen up my nose, scribble on my brain, and cheat the hangman.
Wilson woke in bed, back to back with his husband, as warm morning sunlight crept around the room and settled on his face like a lazy cat. He tried to stay asleep, tried to block it out by nestling deeper under the covers, but it was no use. Now that he was awake, Unity would pop up the time and temperature in midair before him, and offer news updates and messages. The news would be filled with his name and today’s ceremony, and he’d heard enough about that for the last week.
Dear Fox, Hey. It’s Sahra. I’m tagging you from center M691, Black Hawk, South Dakota. It’s night and the lights are on in the center. It’s run by an old white guy with a hanging lip—he’s talking to my mom at the counter. Mom’s okay. We’ve barely mentioned you since we left the old group in the valley, just a few weeks after you disappeared. She said your name once, when I found one of your old slates covered with equations. “Well,” she said. “That was Fox.”
Skaters in black practice outfits swerved around Shelly. Her music was playing over the PA system. She had right of way. A scattering of figure skating fans sat in the rink’s hard, blue, plastic seats. Even to a practice session, some had brought their flags. Her mom sat near the boards and waved her US flag as though if only it had shook more fiercely last night, Shelly would have landed her triple Lutz-triple toe jump combination in the short program.
The bodies floating on the streets look fuller than Johnnyboy feels. They are pink and bloated, like the click-flash tourists who once inhaled the spirits of their cities. No one talks about the drownings, but Johnnyboy’s father sometimes puts his hands together and whispers to the newly baptized. The water carries sound much faster, he says, this is why no one has secrets any more. The tide brings in so many things: keyboards, used condoms, crucifixes, textbooks. The tide is how Johnnyboy finds a name—a faded basketball jersey, the number seven, Johnnyboy in purple lettering.
Year 1: I come into the world wet and squalling and ordinary, born of heterosexual bio-parents. Year 2: A flat photo shows me on my first birthday with a shock of red hair, wide green eyes, and an expression of distaste at the sticky white frosting on my fingers. My mother stands on one side looking not at all Jewish; my Goan, lapsed-Catholic father stands on the other.