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.
Thank you. Now shut the fuck up. I know you’re comedians, but we’re here to honor our own, so I swear to God if I hear one more tinkling glass I’ll shove it so far up your ass you’ll be able to toast after you finish your drink. That’s better. Now where was I? Oh yeah, we’re a classy fucking group, and this is our distinguished fucking hall. So, what can I say about Billy Grainger? Not a whole lot. He’s a fucking chemist. Ted called me and was like, “We’d like you to give an induction speech at the Hall of Fame ceremony, but it’s a posthumous award.”
We met on Mars. You had been there for two years already; I was fresh out of rehabilitation. We already knew about each other, had read each other’s files. You were an expert in highly optimized tolerance. I had seen your picture, but I had never realized you were handsome until I saw you in person. You weren’t clean-shaven, but neither did you have a beard. This is supposed to be the mark of a man who makes a good boyfriend but a bad husband.
It took twice as long to get to the third deck from the first as it did to get to the first deck from the fifth. Alice was quite certain there was no mechanism in existence capable of adding fractional decks to the ship, and so was chalking this up to another aspect of the ongoing computer malfunction. She supposed a way to validate this was to ask that the elevator stop at, say, deck two-and-five-sixteenths, but she also didn’t want to encourage the computer’s departures from reality any more than necessary.
Things began to go badly for the crew of the USFS Erwin around the time Dr. Marchere’s coffee mug spontaneously reassembled itself. Dr. Louis Marchere was not, at that moment, conducting some manner of experiment. Well, he was, only not on entropy and the nature of time. He was running several other tests, of the kind that make perfect sense on a scientific vessel such as the Erwin. About half of them were biological in nature, concerning how small samples of cellular material react to certain deep-space factors.
You’re hurrying along a muddy path, part of a jostling crowd. The commotion around you compels you to scramble to keep up. As your eyes adjust to the dim light of early dawn, you see everyone is laden down with possessions: a baby wrapped tightly against the chest of its mother; a bulging bed sheet filled with clothing ballooning over the back of a middle-aged man; a washbasin filled with lychees and breadfruit cradled in the arms of an eight-year-old girl.