“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.
All this happened a long time ago, in the summer when Blackboard Jungle ruled the screen, “Rock Around the Clock” shot up the charts, and Hal March asked the first $64,000 Question. That was the year our friend the atom lit up the streetlights of Arco, Idaho, the world’s first atomic city. Reddy Kilowatt had slain Bert the Turtle, who’d been telling us to duck and cover for years.
How to tell your boyfriend you are in love with a robot: 1) Tell him, “I may possibly be in love with a robot,” because absolutes are difficult for biological brains to process. He won’t be jealous. 2) Ask him what he thinks of a hypothetical situation in which you found someone who might not be human but is still valuable and right for you. (Your so-called romantic relationship is as fake as you are.) 3) Don’t tell him anything.
Kayn knew he was being rejected by the orgynism for almost a full year before it fully expelled him. He could easily live a million years past this humiliation and never understand what he had done to deserve such a rejection from the collective that had loved him so well, for so long. He had been one of the orgynism’s founders, the man who had provided its organizing principles and solicited the first participants.
Wine-dark sea? No, the water was black as tar when the Kestrel crashed into it. The storm came up so suddenly, they might have hit a wall. It proved too massive for the airship to try to fly around, or over—it could only ascend so high, and the storm reached higher. They stayed aloft as long they could with a torn bladder and damaged engine, searching for some spit of sand to alight on. The lightning seemed to flash green around them.