::SO-COMMAND\TEMPLAR-NAVCOM-INFO: All systems functioning within normal parameters:: Peacekeeping missions were always the most difficult assignment for Lieutenant Macia Branson. Not that she longed for the combat which had been much of her duty in the Service of the Order, but the reality was that it was still war conditions, only with the setting lowered to a slow broil.
Times were strange, and those who survived the collapse had a jarring mixtape of skills. Plumbers were holy men, exorcising the encampments of the demons of human waste. They brought forth, stored and dispensed the holiest sacrament of all, clean water. Warriors emerged from the strangest of places, sex workers commanded respect and were offered it gladly.
“The point is not to make an exact replica of the Teheran embassy compound.” Exasperated, Ivan Venutshenko grabbed his hair in one hand and pulled up. “It’s the spirit of the place that we want to invoke here.” “This has the spirit of our storage warehouse, if you ask me.” “This is our storage warehouse, John. We make all our movies here.”
You ask how my brother died on the moon that day, but that’s the wrong question. Ask instead what he spelled with his bootprints when we first stepped down from the platform. Ask instead the one song he listened to, the whole flight there. Ask why he wanted me there instead of Jess, his wife. It’s because we used to pretend the backyard at night was the moon. That we were astronauts. That gravity was different.
“It doesn’t hurt, Gram,” Renata says. My sixteen-year-old daughter pulls up her t-shirt sleeve to show her bare arm, the skin summer brown and the muscle swelling slightly into smooth biceps, flawless. “I had it done when I was little and see, you can’t even tell.” My mother is sitting in the little examining room at the assisted living complex. Everything is white and hospital-like but there’s no examining couch.
His name was Two-Tongued Jeremy; he was a monitor lizard with a forked tongue, thick glasses, and a wild, wagging smile meant to convince children that learning could be fun, too. He came highly rated. He updated automatically. When our promising children propped their tablets against their stacks of textbooks, their glazy angelic eyes took on that ferocious determination we liked to see in ourselves.
We have a kid now and another on the way and—the idea is, the hope is—that we are, at least in a technical sense, adults. We’d always assumed we would know more, would have accomplished more, by the time we got to this point, assumed we would have turned into different people, better people. That was the idea. That was the hope. Looking back over our shoulders, we can see the track stretching out behind us, an unbroken line from where we got on to where we are now. The voice of the American ride says: Please keep your attention focused in a sideways direction.
NASA died two hundred and three nautical miles above the planet Mars. It died when Daniel Chen, the last surviving crew member of Pilgrim 2, ran out of breathable atmosphere. At that point, Chen pulled himself close to the nearest camera lens. Even though NASA was not sharing the feed, hackers inevitably populated it across the internet. Millions witnessed Chen’s death. He was a beloved figure, a brilliant scientist as well as a twenty-first-century Will Rogers dispensing wisdom and humor on the talk show and lecture circuit, in books and web TV specials.
We were getting coffee, which we used to do all the time, when Tierney told me she was thinking of having it done. “Really?” I asked, half-laughing—I didn’t think she was serious. “Why?” “What do you mean, why?” Tierney looked annoyed. “Do I need a reason? Why did you get your tattoo?” I’d hurt her feelings. I hadn’t meant to. As I tried to think of what to say I followed the line of her eyes to a woman who’d just walked in and was ordering a latte. Her face was merely a suggestion, like a Cycladic head or a more abstract Brâncuși.
The woman began as an idea, as so many women do. She couldn’t be entirely beautiful, because that would stretch credibility too far. She couldn’t be ugly, either, though. A face with just enough lines that on a man it would be called rugged or handsome; but let’s put a little makeup on to smooth the edges, hmm? For clothing, a pantsuit, and sometimes a skirt. Recognizable brands made invisible through smart cuts and conservative hemlines. And let’s make sure that she smiles. A little razzle-dazzle.