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.
The afternoon sun angled across the scarred wood counter despite the bamboo shade Elise had lowered. She grimaced and picked up the steel chef’s knife, trying to keep the reflection in the blade angled away so it wouldn’t trigger a hallucination.
In one of the Better Homes and Gardens her mother had sent her from the States, Elise had seen an advertisement for carbon fiber knives. They were a beautiful matte black, without reflections.
Nell was skinny and wan. Her hair was brown, darkening to black, and her eyes were brown and sad. Henry did not understand why he loved her, for he had always considered himself a shallow man when it came down to it, with a head turned by shallow beauty and flashy teeth and eyes. Nell was a calm, dark pool. She was also probably the greatest artist of her generation.
George was about to declare his undying love for Annabell when the front of the train station fell over. Ross, the actor playing George, yelped and dashed away, his army cap flying off. Arlene — Annabell — merely put her hands on her hips and glared at the offending backdrop, a piece of dressed-up plywood that looked very much like the front of a train station, until it collapsed and revealed the braces behind it.
Hinahon didn’t belong in that hotel. On that Monday, she should have been at her apartment on East Bradford Street preparing to meet Natalie at a cozy restaurant downtown. It was their two year anniversary, and she was expected in a few hours.
Madeleine remembers being a different person. It strikes her when she’s driving, threading her way through farmland, homesteads, facing down the mountains around which the road winds. She remembers being thrilled at the thought of travel, of the self she would discover over the hills and far away. She remembers laughing with friends, looking forward to things, to a future.
“Paris? Paris is ruined for me, alas. It has become a haven for Americans — or should I say a heaven? When good Americans die, perhaps they really do go to Paris. That would explain the flood.” “What about the others, Mr. Holland? The ones who aren’t good?” “Ah. Have you not heard? I thought that was common knowledge. When bad Americans die, they go to America.”
“System Error ahead. Please turn around,” the Concierge’s voice speaks over the metallic growl of my dirt bike. I rev the throttle and lean into the warm wind. My seat bounces as mud ricochets up around me. Ahead, knobby limbs and crisp leaves dissolve into broken pixels. The SimGrid mutes as the soft voice fills the space between my ears, again. “System Error ahead. Please turn around.”