Allen was watching news of the nearest shooting when he decided he needed a tattoo to cover his neck. He had one over his heart, and one on each eyelid. His forehead and cheeks were covered, and enough of his lungs that he might live if he got lucky. He didn’t have the money to ink his back or chest, but he had saved enough for the neck, where more and more people were getting shot these days, he explained to his wife. “More and more people are not getting shot in the neck,” she said, lighting a joint, her eyes narrowing to slits as she dragged.
If you had a warp drive, it would be easy. The mathematics are strange the way ley lines are strange, invisible yet divinable. You’ve pulled your way up sterner mountains, fingertip by fingertip. You’ve already compensated for stellar motion, spacetime curvature, hyperspatial congruences. You’ve scratched out hundreds of equations in cold blue hyacinth ink and piled them away in the knitted stocking under your bed, where only Berenice would think to look. Equations that would tell you exactly where to slice a hole between worlds, if only you had the right knife.
I was working the squirt station on the breakfast shift at Peevs Burgers when I learned that my best friend’s life was over. The squirt guns were connected by hoses to tanks, each tank containing a different slew formula. Orders appeared in lime-green letters on my screen, and I squirted accordingly. Two Sausage Peev Sandwiches took two squirts from the sausage slew gun. An order of Waffle Peev Sticks was three small dabs of waffle slew. The slew warmed and hardened on the congealer table, and because I’d paid attention during the twenty-minute training course and applied myself, I knew just when the slew was ready.
In the beginning, we are one, and we are ignorance. Our skin is chaffed tender from the womb-sac and the exit ring. Out, we writhe blindly in the grit that cuts our softness until the dryness of the air hardens us. Slowly, receptors awaken. Muted colors curve across the night, outlining the glistening ribs of the drop chamber arcing over us like planetary rings. Instinctually, we grope through the hard stillness. Our tac-pads draw against lines of unmoving flesh, cold like a memory of interstellar vacuum. A dome of skin radiates faint warmth.
Ayo lost all sense of time: The white roaring was her world, the avalanche was her only orientation, and every heartbeat came as a surprise. When the world stopped moving, it was like being born to a new reality. Slowly, she came back to herself, and the world turned to sense again. She was on her back. At an angle—steep. Most of her view up was obscured by glacier, luminous with reflected Saturnlight. The black sky beyond it was a ribbon, whereas before it had been a wide plane.
That first autumn it felt as if the whole world had been made for them—which, of course, it had. They walked down the avenue of oaks that reached above their heads like Gothic arches, red leaves drifting lazily down to collect at their feet. Ashwin was pleased as anything and couldn’t say enough about the designers, how it was worth spending more sometimes, how you got what you paid for. Everything was just as he’d imagined it: roseate light, unseasonal butterflies, crisp air with a faint waft of frost in it. To Jade, the place was beautiful without having any special charm.
I know what they say. They say she was a pioneer. They say she helped millions of people live a normal life. They say she created the next stage of evolution for humanity. I need you to understand how wrong that is. To understand what she is: a killer. She’s destroying people’s minds, molding them into her image of what the human brain should be. And none of them complain afterward, because of course they wouldn’t. Their brains are made to be happy—and so they are. She’s washing out the human species into mindless automatons.
All I wanted to do, at the end of the day, was make sure Larry had a nice birthday. I know, I know: Nobody likes Larry. But honestly? I’ve always felt like the fellas down in Dissident Thought Suppression get kind of a bad rap, you know what I mean? Okay, so Larry isn’t the smiliest face around the water cooler, but geez Louise—if you spent all your time scissoring open other folks’ mail in search of words or phrases indicative of anti-Party thought patterns, would you be Little Miss Sally Gumdrops?
The day of the execution was the first and only time I’d ever been in a prison. It was a lot bigger than I expected it to be. There was more light in it, too. I thought it would be a dark place with screaming inmates yelling at me as I passed through. But that’s not how it was at all. Everyone fell silent when they saw me. My path opened like Moses parting the Red Sea as people moved out of my way. There were guards on every side of me as I walked through the prison. They guided my way to the death house in the backyard.
“Ever consider killing yourself?” the gecko said. “It’ll save you one hundred percent on your car insurance.” I was alone, but not. I tried to step on the creature, but my foot wasn’t there. I clenched my teeth, which felt like water. Alleyah’s Southie accent crackled a reminder of radio. “Tracey, are you paralucid yet? Need another poke of DMT?” I was back in high school—or somebody’s high school. The classrooms were vintage Sears catalogs and a spruce tree that grew sideways—not in a directional sense but just with a profound association with the concept of sideways. I climbed the tree and then fell.