Dear Next, You’ve seen the original picture. If you’re anything like me, you know it by heart. The image that came out of the first (and at the time of this writing, only) discovered white hole was a flower. It was gray and pixelated, but it was beautiful. When it was finished, I was invited to the vault to view the flower. Not because I was anyone important. I mean, I had millions of followers on social media, my content regularly went viral, and I had written a dozen best-selling books. But to the scientific community, I was a personality. An influencer. Not serious. Not like Yxa.
“This is a disaster!” “What?” “This is an absolute disaster!” “Did you say something?” Jessica Martin closed her laptop and put her head in her hands. Her old friend Todd, who was in her big bean chair in the corner, watching a movie on his phone, took out his earbuds. “What is it, dude? It’s not working?” “Oh, it’s working,” she said. She stared angrily at her invention, which stood in the middle of her room, the size and shape of a refrigerator. It was, in fact, her family’s old refrigerator, which she had stripped down and rebuilt. “It is working, Todd. It’s working perfectly. That is the problem.”
Nobody noticed the first few. They walked. One by one, in the beginning. Isolated instances. On every continent, mid-meal, mid-shower, mid-work, mid-fuck, right out the door of a pulled-up car in the middle of a freeway—ordinary people turned their backs on their ordinary lives and walked. They walked, shedding their hair in clumps along the way, sloughing their skin in translucent sheets to reveal pale grey beneath. On bleeding feet they walked down highways and lanes and trails, unerringly taking the path of least resistance to the nearest coast. They crossed the sand. The sea cooled their aching calves. Still, they walked.
Dear Geneertech Employee #__________: Hello! We’re glad that you’re considering serving as the host of a Geneertech Corporation Daydreamer by Proxy. We know that this is not an easy decision to make. This document will provide answers to some of the questions asked frequently by prospective hosts. Over one hundred twenty Geneertech employees have chosen to host Daydreamers in the past three years, and all of them have gone on to have remarkably productive careers within the company. Seventy-three percent of hosts have received one or more promotions within two years of hosting.
The Exhibit of You is the central attraction of an institution you could call a museum, in a population center you could call a city, beloved by creatures who you could call people. We know that this is annoying sentence structure. If you cannot penetrate it, you might as well stop now. We will not think less of you. It is a necessary sentence structure because the museum is the accomplishment of beings wholly alien to your sensibilities, whose advanced civilization does not resemble our own in any manner that allows direct transfer of operative terms like “museum” or “city.”
Hark, ye traveller who wanders from the west, to the tragic tale of O-Rashad: Once, the city of O-Rashad stood beautiful above the steppelands, her towers clad in careful alloys, her neon banners streaming plasticine in the steppe-winds, her elevators reaching up into the darkness of the sky. O-Rashad, the city of banners! O-Rashad, whose delicate elevators knew no equal! Mighty were her walls and mightier still her citizens. On the streets of O-Rashad were the people of a hundred nations, in her markets the goods of ten thousand worlds. Even travelers from the furthest nebulae, even aliens in their encounter suits, came to bow before the greatness of the Princess of Cities.
Wallace Englund, captain of the United Space Fleet vessel Caroline, stared out his private office window at the only view he’d had for nearly four years—outer space, in all its dull glory—and wondered why he couldn’t get a decent cheeseburger. Behind him were the last three attempts at a burger made by the ship’s food replicator. The first looked okay until Wallace bit into it and discovered a soft, gelatinous interior that still tasted like a cheeseburger but whose texture made it impossible to ingest. The second was visibly worse: the left side of the burger looked like brown gravy, and not in a good way.
Usually, Nathan felt his cares lift a little as he turned the car onto Yuculta Crescent. Today, he had to resist an urge to drive past, even just go home. Nathan passed parked RVs and sports cars as he looked for an empty spot. As he walked back to a modest ochre house, he heard voices: teenagers talking about trading items in some online-game world. Nathan hesitated again. I could still go back to the car, let Grace find out from somebody else. The temptation was almost overwhelming.
Gordon noted another entry in her portfolio of regrets. She regretted being reckless early in her career and ending up in med armor so young. She regretted leaving Samela, almost as much as she regretted meeting Samela. Regretted letting Sam steal her ship. And now, she regretted answering that want ad for a shipmate. Her suit suggested a mild pain reliever for the oncoming headache, which she accepted with a blink of her right eye. A whiff of medicinal vapor escaped her collar.
Like their battleship, Maddox was born for war. They emerged from the nursery with one purpose alone: to expand the Consortium’s borders, a bloody mission that had lasted generations, and would last generations to come. Any civilian raised in the Consortium would know a few things about Maddox: That Maddox goes into battle unafraid. That they believe the Consortium’s cause is a just one. And that they are blindingly in love with their ship. Like all captains, Maddox raised Olivia—that was what they named their ship, a soft name for a dangerous thing—from a seed.