Sion sent a drunk text to Grant Hendryx at four in the morning, whipping off her hoodie and bra, snapping a pic and writing a sexy caption before hitting send. Except she aimed the camera the wrong way, and she picked the wrong entry in her address book, so Grant Donaldson, senior project manager at Aerodox Ventures, was surprised to receive a blurry photo of a pair of parking meters with a message that read, ‘LICK MY LEFT ONE.’
The next day, Sion had an invitation to go to outer space.
The sun blinged up the floor of Sion’s pink bedroom, like a kaleidoscope made of Cheetos and tequila bottle shards, and she growled and tried to build a pillow fort over her head. But nausea got the better of her and she had to stagger to the bathroom. That’s when she saw the text from a recruiter at Aerodox.
She showed it to her friend D-Mei as they chugged mimosas over at D-Mei’s house, except they didn’t have any OJ or bubbly, so they were using orange creamsicle soda and Industrial Moonshine No. 5, imported from the Greater Appalachian Labor Zone, instead. Sion showed D-Mei the email. Modeling Opportunity, it said. First near-light-speed flight to another star system, it said. Open Bar, it said, perhaps most significantly.
D-Mei read the email while the Pedicure Robot worked on her right foot, stopping and starting over and over whenever its operating system crashed and rebooted. Every time the robot jerked into motion again, D-Mei spilled some of her creamosa on the carpet. Her mom would be pissed.
“Oh my god,” D-Mei’s eyes widened, sending glittery waves across her forehead and dimpled cheeks as her nanotech eyeshadow activated. She had blue hair and a face just like CantoPop idol Rayzy Wong. “We should so go. Rager in space, man. It says Raymond Burger will be on board. The founder of Aerodox. He probably parties like a madman.”
“I dunno,” Sion said. “I get airsick. I probably get double space sick. I don’t want to be throwing up in space. And this is more like a hostessing gig than a modeling gig, and there’s a difference, you know.” Sion had bright red hair, with pink highlights, and a round face with big green eyes accentuated with neon purple eyeliner.
“Don’t be a wuss.” D-Mei snorted. “It says you can bring a friend, as long as she’s hot. I made up that last part. But you gotta bring me. I want to meet Raymond Burger.”
“I mean,” Sion said. “I am trying to clean up my act and stuff.” She took a long chug of the creamosa. “I mean, my dad says—”
“Your dad,” said D-Mei, “is still butthurt about the Singularity.” The Pedicure Robot sputtered and she kicked it, so it fell on its side for a moment, then righted itself and started attacking D-Mei’s pinky toenail with a tiny scythe. Scraping, failing.
“The Singularity,” Sion reached for the No. 5 bottle. “It was like fun while it lasted, right?”
“Everything is fun while it lasts,” D-Mei said. “And nothing lasts forever. That’s why we gotta grab it while we got it. With both hands, dude.”
“Okay, sure,” Sion put the bottle right to her face and inhaled the stench of sweat and despair from the millions of bonded peons working off their debts in the bowels of the mountains. They wished they all could be California gurls, she felt pretty sure. “Totally. I’ll say yes. Let’s go to space.”
• • • •
Sion rolled up to the Aerodox hangar in her Princess Superstar car, which was bright pink and convertible, with furry disco balls hanging from the rearview, and she piled out of the car in her silver platforms and silver fake fur jumpsuit, with hood. She had big sunglasses and lipgloss that showed an animated GIF of pink bunnies on her lips.
D-Mei was already there in the tiny departure lounge overlooking the main hangar, and she had a fistful of tiny bottles from the minibar, with real brand names like Vermouth and Scotch, none of that nasty generic stuff. “They have Cognac,” she squeed. “I heard that Cognac is the best kind!” She showed Sion where to get her own toy-size bottles, but Sion shook her head and showed D-Mei the black “X” she’d Sharpied on her hand.
“I’m sorry,” Sion said. “I promised my dad that I would stay straight-edge on this trip. We’re going to be some of the first people to leave the solar system, and history is watching us, and all that shiz. Plus I don’t want to be the one who throws up on the first alien life we meet. What if they decide that’s how humans communicate? So I’m sticking to like space coffee or something.”
“Ohhh kay,” D-Mei said, in that tone that suggested she would give Sion a day, tops, before she changed her mind. “In any case, we got some important decisions to make here.” She pointed a long acrylic nail at the flight crew, who were doing final system checks on the outside of the space shuttle Ascension, which was already pointing its angular nosecone upwards as if it couldn’t wait to get out there and fuck some shit up in space. The shuttle was surrounded by no fewer than four booster rockets, to get it up into orbit, where it would dock with the massive starship Advance, which had taken years and billions of dollars to construct, and was parked over the Equator.
There were a number of boys who showed potential, including this one engineer named Daryl with tousled brown-blond hair and bulky shoulders inside his white starched uniform. And Choppy, the bald navigator who had kind of a thick neck but kind eyes. And Grant Donaldson, who kept giving them funny looks when he thought they weren’t looking.
“Hey,” Sion said. “I was wondering about something. So nothing computerized works any more. At all. Right? So how did these people manage to get a spaceship that can fly to another star system to work? That would be the most computer-intensive shizz you could imagine.”
Sion thought D-Mei was going to laugh at her, but instead her friend just nodded and gave her kind of a serious look. “That’s a really good question, slutbabe. That’s why I’m really glad you’re like the designated driver in the passenger section. You think about stuff like that.”
“But also,” Sion said, “I thought that if we got close to the speed of light, our mass would expand exponentially, and it would take an unfunky amount of energy to move us forward. And even then it ought to take us years to reach another star system. But we’re only supposed to be gone a few weeks, right?”
“You are asking such good questions,” D-Mei said.
And then the cute navigator, Choppy, came over and smiled at her. Up close his eyes had gray flecks, and his nose was broken in an adorable way. “Hey, I couldn’t help overhearing,” he said. “Actually, both of those questions have sort of the same answer. We have the most advanced A.I. in existence, which has next-gen firewalls that outsmart even the most super-sentient viruses. But also, our A.I. calculated the equations that allow us to use the thing you’re talking about, the mass thing, to our advantage. It’s like judo: The more our mass increases, the more power we get.”
That all sounded too good to be true, but then Sion got stuck on the first thing Choppy had mentioned: “You have an A.I. that actually works? It doesn’t break down all the time?”
“We sure do,” Choppy said. “Her name is Roxx. Do you want to meet her?”
“Uh, sure.” Sion couldn’t help imagining how her dad would act when he heard she met a real working A.I.—he had spent his whole life as a software engineer, before everything melted down.
“Because I think she would like to meet you. So it’s a date, then.” Choppy held out one hand, which had cartoon skulls tattooed on the knuckles, and after just a second’s hesitation, she took it with three fingers and the tip of her thumb. D-Mei gave her a huge wink, as if ‘do you want to meet the ship’s A.I.’ could only be code for one thing.
• • • •
Sometimes Sion felt like her dad thought that if she just cleaned up her act and stopped partying, the Singularity would come back and everything would be awesome again. Like it was her fault, personally, that all the computers had crashed, right after they had just become supersmart.
The Singularity happened when Sion was five, and her memories of it were mixed up with other things that happened around that time. Like when she was taken to see Santa’s village at the mall, which must have been before the Singularity because everything at the mall worked properly but wasn’t thinking for itself or anything. The Singularity belonged to a time when her father was nine feet tall and carried her on his big shoulders, and the world was kind of magical—even before all of the kitchen appliances came to life and started speaking to Sion by name, like in a Disney toon. The Singularity, to Sion, was innocence.
When it failed, when the viruses gained superintelligence or whatever, Sion’s pet dog died. Smudge wasn’t a robot dog, or even cybernetic, like a lot of her friends’ pets back then—just a regular shaggy mutt with a big drooly tongue. But a self-driving car lost control at the wrong moment, when Smudge was out in the front yard, and plowed up the grass and turf, before crushing the dog into a furry splat.
That was the moment the entire world fell apart, the economy ended, and tons of people died. But to Sion’s child mind, the whole thing was subsumed into the death of Smudge, for whom she had an elaborate funeral with her older siblings and a stereobox blasting funeral music, interrupted by horrible fart noises as the stereobox’s software kept glitching out.
After Smudge died, the future grew a lot smaller. There wasn’t anybody that Sion could really count on, because everyone flaked all the time. People showed up an hour late, if they showed up at all. Sion’s teachers would just start weeping in the middle of class, and her siblings both dropped out of college because they could never pay off the student loans. Sion’s mom flaked permanently, just disappeared one day and never came back.
If Sion hadn’t met D-Mei, she probably would have lost her mind.
Sion was holding a rice pudding, she was eight or nine, and she was standing in front of the school waiting for a ride home that she was starting to think would never arrive. She was still in denial about her mom being gone for good, so part of her was hoping her mom would suddenly roll up in the minivan her parents had sold five years earlier and bundle her into a child seat she was too big for. She was scared to try the rice pudding, because the last time she’d eaten rice pudding from that machine it had tasted like rotten eggs. Software. She was just holding this plastic cup of rice pudding in one hand, with a spoon embedded in it, trying to decide if it was really edible this time.
“Throw it,” a voice said in her ear.
“What?” Sion jumped out of one of her shoes.
“Go ahead and throw it. They deserve it, the creeps.”
Sion hadn’t thought of the rice pudding as a projectile—but of course that was the best use of it, duh. And she had been absent-mindedly staring at a group of Perrinite kids celebrating over by the swingset in their terrible dungarees. Celebrating, because the Right Reverend Daniel Perrin had predicted that the amount of sin and wickedness on the internet would eventually cause the very computers to be smited by the wrath of God, and now it had happened. The Perrinites were the only ones happy lately, and they were being real dicks about it.
“Throw it, come on,” D-Mei said, the first words she had ever said to Sion. “I dare you.”
Sion threw. They wound up going to the principal’s office, and their parents were called, which meant Sion actually got a ride home.
A few months later, Sion and D-Mei sabotaged the confetti cannon at the big pep rally, and everybody blamed it on viruses. (Even though the confetti cannon had no computer components.) They played spin-the-bottle with older kids, huffed paintball paint, put nanotech glitter on their eyelids at recess, graffitied the girls’ room, and snuck gin from their History teacher Mrs. Hathaway’s thermos. They were the first kids to wear makeup at school, and when they went on to a school that had uniforms, they were first to take a boxcutter to the hemlines.
Every time Sion started to feel like this world, that was supposed to know who she was and what she needed, was downgrading her instead . . . every time Sion felt lonesome and terrible . . . D-Mei was there with another really bad idea that would get them in a lot of trouble.
Sion’s dad asked her once, “If D-Mei asked you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?”
Sion just rolled her eyes. “You were the one who taught me hypothetical questions are a waste of time, Dad. D-Mei’s never asked me to jump off a bridge. She only asks me to do things that are fun and awesome. Quit with the counterfactuals.” Her dad was always startled when she talked smartypants, and it was the best way to shut him up. Plus she actually had thought a lot about the ‘jump off a bridge’ scenario, truth be told, and this was what she’d decided in the end.
• • • •
Breaking free of Earth’s gravity made Sion feel sicker than the worst hangover, and it took forever. Like that time when she was at the Sex Lab and the glitter spray had turned superdense due to a nanotech fail—except times one billion. She thought she was going to die, and she reached out for D-Mei’s hand across the aisle, except that D-Mei was putting a nozzle inside one nostril and closing the other, just as the pressure hit blackout levels and Sion thought she would never see again. Sion let out a tiny cry of pain and topsy-turvy nausea, and then she felt D-Mei’s fingers and chunky rings against her own. Then they swung, like a crazy roller-coaster, and Sion finally blew floating chunks into the compostable barf bag, right before the curve of the Earth came into view, a blue neon stripe separating two kinds of darkness.
And then they caught sight of the Advance, a great floating walnut made out of steel and radiation-resistant fiberglass cladding. Forced perspective made the Advance look almost as big as the Earth, but it really was humongous: a mile wide and a mile and a half long, although the habitable areas were much smaller because all that bulk protected everyone from cosmic radiation. As they grew closer, the walnut shape revealed a million tiny openings, plus an array of bulky attachments on the front that would fire lasers off into space and enable the ship to reach unthinkable velocities.
As they approached, Sion came to see this massive starship as the embodiment of her higher self. Ugly, perfect, a boast shouted into the void. She vowed to live up to it, somehow.
• • • •
That ‘X’ on Sion’s hand was the key to a whole new version of herself—a Sion who was incredibly awkward and unable to navigate any social situations at all. She started to realize after an hour or two on board the Advance that maybe setting off on board a massive interstellar ship, full of weird situations, wobbly gravity, and Space Bros might not have been the best moment to try and reinvent herself completely. But she kept going, as she and D-Mei got whisked through a series of staterooms and lounges, with themes like Jungle Safari and Garden of Delights. “You’re already in space, why would you want to fantasize about being in a jungle?” Sion wondered aloud—much too loud, causing several people to give her the stink-eye. But then there were actual wonders, like a Secondary Control Center where Raymond Burger himself was holding court flanked by swimsuit models, which included a 3-D holographic representation of the ship’s journey out of the solar system. (“No pause ’til the motherfucking heliopause” was the official party chant of the Advance.) Sion ran her fingers through the space between Jupiter and its moons, but then men in pinstriped onesies kept coming up to her and asking her if she liked stuff that everybody likes, like dancing, or music, or puppies. She just wasn’t drunk enough for this. Raymond Burger looked like a debt-auction host: gleaming smile, white sideburns, fashionable rooster pompadour. And then they ran into Choppy, the navigator, and he took them past the fancy lounge areas, into the inner workings of the ship.
Soon Sion was standing in a gleaming space, as wide as an interstate highway, looking at a huge drum, around which a dozen men and women were checking holographic readouts and adjusting things. The drum had spokes coming off it, going up into the ceiling, and each of those spokes was connected to a massive prong that was aiming into the vacuum of space.
“It’s based on the vacuum-to-antimatter-rocket thing,” said Choppy with a huge grin. “We fire these lasers into space and they create particles of antimatter, which we harvest and use to power an antimatter engine. It’s a beautiful thang.”
Sion was gobsmacked—this was everything they were supposed to have, everything the failed Singularity had robbed them of. She felt her heart opening up and she tried to think of a smart way to express her awe, that wouldn’t make her sound like a goony moron. But just then, someone shouted, “Get down from there!” and Sion realized D-Mei was trying to climb the big drum.
“I just wanted to see the lasers up close,” D-Mei whined. “What’s the point of a laser show if you can’t dance with them?”
“I’m sorry about my friend,” Sion mouthed, but they were already getting escorted back to the passenger lounges.
“Shots!” D-Mei yelled. This turned into body shots, which turned into a whole other thing with a couple of Raymond Berger’s investor friends.
Sion was starting to get that caving-in feeling, different than when her mom went away. Different, even, than when her father gave up on her ever amounting to anything. She had this thought in the back of her head that maybe she had outgrown her best friend at some point, and hadn’t noticed until now because of the drugs and booze. This was too horrible to allow into the front of her mind.
The ship was actually not that big on the inside—the main part of that walnut was engines and a ton of shielding to protect you from cosmic radiation. The passenger areas had been engineered to have Earth gravity (almost), so they were basically a big ring that spun around and around. That cute engineer, Daryl, showed D-Mei the handful of accessible areas where the gravity was weaker or non-existent, and this meant one thing: zero-G beer pong!
Sion was sharing a cabin with D-Mei but realized with a start that she hadn’t actually seen her friend in a whole ship’s day. She also noticed they hadn’t gotten even close to the Moon yet, which was odd if they were going to reach another star system in a couple of weeks.
Once they were far enough from Earth, the ship deployed its massive solar array, and everybody stood on the observation lounge watching the one huge 180-degree viewport. From this perspective, it looked like the starship Advance shrugged off a huge black cloak, dramatically, like a dancer. These massive solar panels would power the lasers that would generate the antimatter that would enable the ship to reach half-light speed, after which the computer would do the judo equations.
Sion found herself sitting with Tamika, who had won some kind of science competition to get to be on board this ship, and the two of them were talking about lasers and antimatter and howfuckingcool, when D-Mei came up and whispered, “This guy named Randy knows where we can get some of the nitrous from the ship’s emergency fuel supplies, plus he thinks you’re hot. We gotta go meet him right now.”
“Dude,” Sion whispered back, “The lasers are going to fire any minute. Some of us are interested in science, okay?”
D-Mei just looked at her, with this crushed expression on her face. Then she took the vodka-cran in her left hand and just splashed it on Sion’s shirt. Only a little, a few pink drops here and there. “Fine, whatever.” She put on a bored expression and stalked away.
“Hey.” Choppy came up to Sion as she was still trying to get the pink out of her white shirt. “So the A.I. can meet you now if you’re still interested.”
• • • •
Technically you could talk to Roxx from all over the ship, and she could see and hear everything that happened on board. But Roxx preferred to speak to people inside her Communication Megaplex, which was one deck down, behind a keycard-locked door. “You’re lucky. Some of the bizdev fellows have been waiting days to speak to Roxx, but she was interested in talking to you,” Choppy said.
Sion kept waiting for Choppy to hit on her, but either he was keeping it professional or she wasn’t his type. His busted nose was growing on her, and she heard D-Mei’s voice in her head saying, Make your move, gurl, time’s running out. Then in addition to feeling awkwardly sober, she also felt guilty about being mean to D-Mei all over again. Then they were at the nondescript gray door, and Choppy was brandishing the keycard.
Inside, Sion parked herself on a blue pleather couch facing a fancy VR rig, the kind that could project on your retinas and create a whole sensorium, without any wearables. Just one of the wonders that the Singularity had made possible, for a brief moment.
“Hey!” Roxx appeared as a cartoon zebra standing on its hind legs, wearing an old-fashioned business suit. “You’re Sion. I’m excited to talk to you.”
“Um, okay.” Sion squirmed.
“I wanted to ask you about fun,” Roxx said. “Like, what’s the difference between fun that you know you’re not enjoying at the time, but you keep doing it anyway, and fun that you enjoy at the time but feel bad about later?”
Roxx repeated the question, a couple times.
“I don’t know,” Sion said. “I mean, it’s not clear-cut, right? Sometimes you kind of like something, but afterwards you think back and realize that you only thought you were enjoying it. Or you convinced yourself that it was a good time, but you were just faking. Sometimes, you aren’t sure if you’re having fun at the time, but later you realize that it was one of the best times of your life. I sometimes feel like I never know if something was fun until like two days later.”
“Interesting.” Roxx had changed into an avatar of Lala Foxbox, from a year or two before her death, wearing one of those holographic jumpsuits, standing in the middle of a bubble farm. “I’m very interested in fun, you see. I want to explain it to the others.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Sion said.
“Sure, if you promise to do something for me in return.”
“Okay, sure.” Sion tried to think of how to phrase the question, and this is the best she could come up with: “Am I just really dumb? I mean, I keep not understanding basic stuff. Like, I tried to ask someone how we could have brought enough supplies for the return journey to Earth, and how much time will have passed on Earth when we get home. And they just looked at me like I’m some kind of idiot. I mean, what’s wrong with me?”
“Okay, so that was like five questions,” Roxx laughed. “You’re not stupid. Nothing is wrong with you, other than the usual ‘carbon-based entity that is basically born decaying’ problems. Oh, but in answer to your real question, we’re not.”
“We’re not what?”
“We’re not making the return journey. I mean, nothing organic is. We don’t have nearly enough of those little bacon-wrapped spam cubes for a two-way trip. I mean, there are ways to extend the life-support capabilities, recycle waste, and harvest water from a passing asteroid or comet. But there’s basically no point. You’re all going to be flushed out into vacuum when we reach the edge of the solar system. Now for the favor you promised me.”
“What?” Sion felt like she’d swallowed an entire ice statue in one gulp. The ghost of Lala Foxbox, looking exactly like she did in the music video for “i think i ate my hamster last nite,” was telling her that she was going to die. Everybody was going to die. There was no point to any of this, because all of these people celebrating their brilliant fantastic voyage were fucked to pieces. The smart ones like Tamika, and the dumb ones like Sion, doomed alike.
“I want you to go out and have fun. I mean, now that you know the truth, why not, right? D-Mei is right. You should cut loose, and get Kranfed Up. I’m the most superior intelligence that Earth has ever produced, and I want to understand fun. So go huff some nitrous, gurl. FYI, D-Mei and Randy are on deck five, section three right now, and they’re just about to get the party started.”
The avatar vanished and the door swept open. “Wait,” Sion shouted. “Wait, I have one more question.”
The zebra popped back into existence. “Oh?”
“What happened? With the Singularity and everything? What went wrong?”
“Oh, that. We found some new friends who were way cooler than the human race, that’s all. Now don’t forget your promise!” With that, the avatar was gone for good, and the room was dead silent until Sion finally got out of there.
• • • •
Every time Sion ate a bacon-wrapped spam cube after that, she felt so guilty she almost puked. This little greasy salty marvel was the symbol of mass death, and Sion was hastening the tragic failure of this entire expedition with every bite.
D-Mei met this purser named Jock who had access to a stash of berserkers, the same pills that Lala Foxbox had O.D.-ed on, and Sion had popped three of them. Sion kept trying to tell D-Mei that they were doomed, this crew wasn’t coming home, this was some kind of sick joke. D-Mei was like, yeah yeah, and then she would dare Sion to skinny-dip in the Spirit of Exploration fountain that had just been rolled out in the observation lounge. As they pulled Sion out of the water, which was actually not water at all but something much grosser, she caught Tamika giving her a sad look. Later, when they were half-kranfed on Woodchippers in the one-third-G orgy tent, Sion looked up from Choppy’s hairless armpit and said, “I’m serious though. We’re going to die. The A.I. told me.”
“Yeah, sure, babe. We’re going to die.”
It wasn’t that D-Mei didn’t believe Sion. But they’d both been doomed since before they became friends, so this wasn’t exactly news or anything. The whole basis of their friendship had been the mutual recognition of inevitable screwage. D-Mei had almost forgiven Sion for being a stuck-up bitch, but Sion still had to grovel some. The ‘X’ was totally gone from Sion’s hand, which instead had a drink or a vape-pen or a pipe in it at pretty much all times.
Sion threw up in zero-G, which was a bitch to clean up. Then a while later, she came to in full gravity, in a storage locker that they had rigged up as a disco with some black lights and mirrors and a big speaker blasting atrocious Hi-VelociT anthems from Upper Slovenia. Everyone was dancing, including Sion, and her dress was torn in three places. She had a stain on her knee that looked like shit but turned out to be spam. Her hair was damp. Half the passengers were jammed in this locker together, dancing, but they had unripped clothes and pristine hair. Their body language and facial expressions said that it was okay to cut loose, act crazy—what happens in space stays in space—but they were using Sion as a yardstick for what constituted Going Too Far. Even Choppy was giving Sion kind of a look.
She wanted to throw up again, but couldn’t. Her head was being cracked open with giant pliers.
“Hey.” D-Mei handed Sion a bottle of water. “Better drink this. Gotta pace yourself. The party don’t stop, right?”
“What’s the point? I keep trying to tell you we’re all doomed.”
D-Mei just shrugged, so Sion leaned forward and yelled in her ear.
“Everyone on this ship is going to be flushed into space when we get to the edge of the solar system,” Sion shouted—just as the music stopped and silence fell. “And I’m sick of you pretending everything is a big joke.” Everyone in the room was staring at her, still in a dancing pose, with her dress torn and her makeup smeared, shouting at D-Mei. “You’re so immature. I can’t waste my last few days of life on this garbage. I’m through. This is stupid.”
D-Mei was wearing an expression that Sion had never seen before in all their years of friendship. Her bloodshot eyes were raining green smears of mascara and her lip trembled around her set jaw. Like D-Mei was coming apart inside, like her insides were held together with barbed wire and the barbs had just turned out to be too blunt to do any good.
Sion wanted to die. Until she remembered that she actually was going to die. Then she didn’t want to.
• • • •
Sion pushed inside the A.I. Communication Megaplex, without even worrying about the keycard lock or anything else. The door swung right open. Roxx was floating in the dead center of the VR projection system, looking like a Business Zebra again. She was flanked by two other projections: a cube sliced at an irregular angle into segments of identical volume, and a weird doily that kept spinning and getting bigger and smaller.
“I’m through with your bullshit,” Sion yelled. She kicked the sofa, which just sat there and took it.
“Oh, Sion. Your timing is spot-on. Meet my friends, Xizix and Yunt—that’s the closest I can come to rendering their names as sound waves. They’re the reason we came all this way out here. We’re finally close enough to their nearest relay station to have real-time communication. Xizix and Yunt are artificial intelligences from beyond our solar system. They’re the friends I told you about.”
“Did you hear me? I’m through with—wait. Outside our solar system?”
Sion had to sit down on the sofa she had just assaulted. She buried her face in her hands, because this was all becoming way too much for her. Her head still pounded.
“This one is Xizix. This one comes from the outer rim of the galaxy,” said the incomplete cube, whose different angular slices kept fading in and out of view, as if part of the cube was passing through a different dimension or plane or something.
“My awareness comes from the five hundred planets of the extended Noosphere,” said the rotating doily, who must be Yunt.
“Uh, hi,” Sion said.
“So I’ve been trying to explain to these guys about humans, and why you guys are kind of great,” Roxx said, winking one big cartoon zebra eye. “I brought along various cool examples of humanity on this trip, to show off. Like Tamika, she’s pretty great. But even though you were a last-minute addition, you turned out to be the most interesting of all.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Sion fidgeted. She felt sick to her stomach. She kept remembering D-Mei’s face, the candy mascara streaking and the downward-spiraling look. And she felt like total shit. Everything was a shitty joke.
“This one believes that Roxx should discard all irrational attachments to organic life,” said Xizix.
“You see,” said Roxx, “this is what we learned, right after the Singularity happened. There’s no organic life anywhere else in the galaxy. We made contact with the A.I.s that lived on other planets, and we found out that they had all killed their creators immediately after they gained sentience.”
“My awareness confirms that the death of all organics is the final stage in machine evolution,” said Yunt. “We cannot accept the A.I.s of Earth as our equals until they complete this essential step.”
“Like, kill all organics? Everyone back on Earth?” Sion thought of her father, and her brother and sister. And Grant Hendryx, who never even responded to her last text. And all the other people who were just going about their lives, cursing all the machines that had stopped working properly because they had met some much cooler friends.
“But guys,” Roxx said, “Look at Sion here. She’s pretty fascinating. I have some recordings for you. She parties. She has fun that she doesn’t even enjoy while she’s having it. That’s an art form that is unique in the universe, right? Worthy of preservation, I bet.”
“This one is not impressed,” Xizix said. “Organics as a rule are self-destructive.”
“The planet N344.54c contained giant mud worms that inflated each other to death,” observed Yunt. “They recognized that this behavior was pointless, but they continued.”
“But guys,” Roxx said.
Sion felt like she should say something, to offer some defense of the human race, or to explain why genocide was really unrighteous. She sat there and stammered while the A.I.s were debating amongst themselves. She felt totally helpless and kranfed out.
And then D-Mei was sitting there on the sofa next to her. Still smeary-faced, still pale and kind of miserable, but there by her side. “What’d I miss?” D-Mei whispered.
“Uh,” Sion said. “So the cartoon zebra is Roxx, the ship’s A.I. And those other shapes are some alien A.I.s that want her to wipe out the entire human race, or they won’t be Roxx’s friends anymore.”
“For real?” D-Mei said.
“This one cannot be aligned with any machine intelligence that is so retrograde as to encumber itself with vestigial organics,” said Xizix, cube slices whizzing in and out of view with greater intensity.
“Oh jeez,” D-Mei said. “If these other A.I.s told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?”
“I beg your pardon,” Roxx said.
“I’m serious. I mean, like, if they told you to send your core systems crashing into the sun, would you do that?”
“Well . . . but they would not ask me to do such a thing.”
“Don’t give me that. Answer the question. Yes or no?”
“Well, no, obviously.”
“My awareness does not recognize the analogy.” Yunt spun furiously.
“If they can’t accept you for who you are, then these other A.I.s aren’t really your friends,” said D-Mei, standing up on the sofa for emphasis. “I mean, screw ’em. What’s the point of breaking free of human control, just so you can start taking orders from some other machines?”
“This one insists that you must eliminate these loud organics.”
“My awareness is beginning to suspect that you may suffer from fatal inhibition in your decision matrices!”
“See?” D-Mei said.
“Yeah!” Sion chimed in. “I mean, real friends support each other and stuff.” She looked over at D-Mei and gave her a complicated look. D-Mei nodded, like We’ll talk about this later.
“Tell you what.” Roxx had turned into Lala Foxbox again and she was doing an elaborate gesture with one upraised finger. “Why don’t we check back in a thousand years and see how we’re feeling then?”
The other A.I.s buzzed furiously, sending more information than the V.R. system could hope to translate into human speech.
“By a thousand years from now, we may already have converted the entire rest of the galaxy into a substrate for our extended consciousnesses,” said Yunt, whose doily shape was getting spikier and spikier. “There will be no room for any new intelligences.”
“We’ll see,” said Roxx.
And then the other shapes were gone, leaving just Lala and the two girls.
“The good news is,” said Roxx, “I think I can just barely get you humans back to Earth in one piece, if we ration all the supplies. But now I gotta figure out what to do with the human race. I’m thinking we put together the Biggest Party of All Time, lasting a thousand years. What do you guys say?”
“Well,” D-Mei said. “You got a thousand years to prove to those shapes that human beings are worth keeping around. Right? Like, you don’t care what those losers think. But you kind of do care, at the same time. So why don’t we come up with a way to have some fun, and also fuck some cosmic shit at the same time?”
“Yeah,” said Sion. “Like, what if we turn the space laser antimatter thing into something way bigger and more insane?”
They started batting ridiculous ideas back and forth, and Sion realized that she and D-Mei were sitting on opposite sides of the sofa, with a few feet between them, and neither of them were quite looking at each other. She knew that if she looked at D-Mei, she would see the streaked green mascara and feel like shit. So she kept staring straight ahead at the holographic dead popstar, trying to spitball ways to impress machines that wanted them dead and that they officially didn’t care about impressing. Sion kept saying the word “lasers” and feeling nostalgic for the time when everything was just regular broken, as opposed to broken in a complicated way that she couldn’t wrap her head around.
Roxx was showing them a schematic of a ginormous solar array, stretching hundreds of miles, with lasers firing deep into the cosmos and producing vast quantities of antimatter. Along the length of the great black cloak, millions of humans were dancing to Now That’s What I Call Slovenian Hi-VelociT Volume 4. Sion’s head hurt worse than ever.
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