“Welcome to Float Isolation Therapy, an intensive twelve-day experience. You will become one with the stars. During your time in your personalized FIT pod, we encourage you to explore the deepest recesses of your mind.” Bei Bei floated in mid-air and felt the strain in her lower back, but she didn’t care. The picture had to be perfect. The lighting in the egg-shaped pod was excellent.
From where she lay on her back, on the grass of the Presidio in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge with all its painted trusses strung from tower to tower seemed most like a red haired boy running along a jetty. She tried, objectively, to see it as they might. A span or a wing. It connected two land masses; of course it would be seen as connective. But there was no ‘of course.’ However they perceived the thing—anchored and cabled and suspended; material hung from more material—would not be objective.
Everybody gather round the bus, now! Thank you please. Sir, beg you, don’t try to pick the trumpet flowers. You might cause damage. Yes, sir; me know say you paid for an all-inclusive tropical vacation here on the little nipple of mountain top that is all left of my country, but trust me. Some things you don’t want all-included. Not since the sea uprise and change everything. Things like trumpet flower bushes.
You never expect to meet one of the refugees. You aren’t a scientist or a politician, you’re a middle school history teacher. The story of the refugees from a destroyed parallel Earth—security camera footage of dozens of bedraggled people appearing through a shimmering section of air not far from Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado—should fade into the background of your life like every other major news story and tragedy, present but mostly forgotten.
Try to picture the scene, Cybil, the same way I did when I got the call. Christmas Eve; two cops standing in a stinking motel room. Blood on bare white sheets, and a broken syringe, and a man. My brother. Whatever sounds he made, that got the neighbors to call the cops, they’re done now. The overdose is over. He hasn’t died. He won’t, tonight. He’s sick, crying, begging—probably wishing he had died, now that two cops are standing over him.
The cardboard sign read, “HOPELESS, ME AND MY SISTER NEED MONEY FOR SHUTTLE BACK TO VENUS.” The word “hopeless” should have been “homeless” but because Vida couldn’t write in Hangul, she dictated the words to Menino instead. She blamed the mix-up on her outdated translator, which began acting up ever since she arrived in Seoul. “People will get it,” Menino argued as the escalator descended to the first level of Chungmuro Metro Station.
The day the dMods shut down Skeleton Caves, Esko put on her VR goggles and slipped into the Whukai space colony’s main chatroom to figure out what was going on. All the Whukains who made their living off the popular Terran MMORPG, d’Artagnan, had the same idea. Beside her, on top of her, avatars logged in—an absolute pandemonium of photorealistic, 8-bit, anime animals and humanoids and everything in between.
Finch pried himself out of the autocab midway down Jasper Avenue, where Carnivor gastro-bistro, the city’s most exclusive new eatery, skulked between concrete high-rises. He’d read up on the restaurant’s architecture when he and Blake first started planning the heist, so he knew it was a collaboration between a Bolivian artist and a decaying engineering AI, and that the swooping ridges of the façade, together with its calcium-spike stalactites, were meant to evoke the maw of an animal.
Thomas’s first encounter with the alien was terrifying. It happened in his bedroom. Thom was attempting to get to sleep at the time, after a long Friday night that had extended into early Saturday morning. Alcohol was involved, and a little pot, but nothing natively hallucinogenic, not unless someone slipped him something. Nothing that could explain the appearance of someone who wasn’t supposed to be there.
“It’s not a real baby,” Jain says flatly. “And we should kill it.” Another sunless morning in the Waste. She and Stromile have woken up to a gift: a canister of pepto-pink fluid with an infant inside it. The tiny figure is chubby and squirmy and perfect, and it’s only now that Stromile finally takes his eyes off the thing. “Kill it?” he echoes, rubbing his finger in the hollow of his collarbone. “You serious?” “Serious, yeah.” Jain nods her head at the canister. “This is them fucking with us, babe.”