“It’s not working,” Tsayaba says. She shakes her head in disgust. “Kai!” “Just wait,” Ouma says, adjusting her scarf with shivering hands. “Yi hankali. Give it a minute.” It’s a cold, dusty day—harmattan season is so unpredictable now, even with the weather drones they balloon up from Zinder and Niamey. The sky is choked gray, so full of dust that the sun is a smeary yellow blob that makes Ouma think of a lemon candy.
Attached, please find your personal company-issued Breathing Apparatus, for immediate use within all corporate campus unfiltered air locations! This includes all outdoor locations, such as: the parking lots; the parking garage; the smoker’s hut; the paths between the buildings; the shuttlebus waiting area; the tennis court; and the corporate golf course.
“At least when I tell the fucking machine I don’t want pickles, it remembers that I don’t want pickles. Now, what goes on behind the counter is another story. They hire people who can barely read. But at least I’m trusting my order to something intelligent.” The man was talking into his phone, but the four people working in the kitchen could hear him. POS141 could hear him, too. All three of them had heard versions of this speech every day since the ordering kiosks had been installed. Quickly and quietly, the staff made his food. It was hot, fresh, safe, and contained no pickles.
I only met Mr. Compton once, but he was easy: fifty years old, twice divorced, thin black hair with gray roots, expensive off-the-rack suit, office shoes with rubber soles, an expensive gold watch on one wrist and an expensive smartwatch on the other, sunglasses inside, a smile on the outside. He told me that he loved “hot jazz.” He told me that he had never truly been in love. He told me that his favorite film was Breathless. These were all lies, but lies are much more revealing than the truth. Truth is molded by the real; lies are shaped like our souls. So I could see Mr. Compton very clearly
The best way to hide a red mouth is to know exactly when your gums start to bleed. If you check your teeth every so often with a quick swipe of the tongue, and you get a bit of that saltiness, you’ll learn to take a swig from a canteen and rinse before anyone else notices. The weeps are a little harder. Most of us wear tinted goggles when we ride at the barrier. They keep solar glare low, of course, but they also let you feel when your tear ducts leak, because the blood collects at the bottom of the rims. That and a dark handkerchief, and you can clean yourself up as needed, no problem.
She sank to the ground on a world without name. We were far from home, farther than we had ever gone, maybe farther than anyone had ever gone. It was so far away, or at least so strange for some undefinable local cause, that we could have filled volumes with all the alterations in the way things worked; in the ways that light worked, in the way that time worked, in the way that mass worked. We spoke of bringing back word to the learned of my world and hers. We talked of making our names.
Olive feared she might vomit which would be a really dumb and dangerous thing to do since her mouth was sealed off (along with the rest of her skin) against the vacuum of space. Basically, her insides had nowhere to go. She swallowed hard. Only little kids got space sick and she wasn’t a little kid, she was fourteen. As soon as the hatch had opened and she went rushing out into the empty, Olive’s skin crystalized—just like it was supposed to.
The world was ending, but Royal Parker still had to go through the motions of a job interview. He knew as soon as he sat down across from the manager—in his ridiculous red-and-white striped shirt and paper hat—that he wasn’t getting the job. Despite the assurances from the Liberation Investment Support Cooperative, the corporate entity controlling the state’s infrastructure, jobs were scarce. He hated that even part of him wanted this person’s approval.
Rivera had been weaving dreamscapes at Ibsen Spa for twelve hours when a new videolog came in, a back-of-the-neck buzz. Two blinks opened the message: Urgent work, it said, followed by a telephone number. Rivera had been about to go home, but this message changed everything. Finally, after a whole year gone: a new job. Here at Ibsen Spa, the work was easy, with no risk of being stuck in the vicious aftermath of mind-manipulation; but neither did the Spa offer any chance of exercising skill or talent.
If time can stop, this is how it feels. 01:32:03 PLSS WARNING: Abnormal temperature detected in EMU. Yunuen was born to be trapped in this moment. She has been looking at the same alert in her helmet’s heads-up display for a perpetual instant that has become her whole existence. One billion kilometers away from home, she lies in the purgatory that is the red glow of this warning message. In front of her eyes, these petrified uppercase letters have lost all their meaning. Time does not exist anymore.