Peyton — Future
Pale orange ice lights the world through the faint salmon pink haze of steady and sullen dusk. Sixty-five square kilometers, Anderas floats high amongst the chemically generated clouds in the low gravity, dense atmosphere, like an opaque silver disk and sphere, or a floating flat-bottomed bubble. The nanite energy field protects the city from Titan’s rough atmosphere while the moon terraforms below. The outdoor crystal-like field—permeable to certain approved objects, but not to the environment outside—glistens under a clear frost while the inside is a perfect and constant eighteen degrees Celsius. Geothermal vents, nanites, and the Titan atmosphere—including some subspace energy experiments I couldn’t possibly understand—provide the energy to the forcefield and the city.
The terraforming process modifies the colors as the atmosphere alters. The moon used to be a darker muddier persimmon, but now cooler and warmer, redder and various shades of grey and pink haze envelops most of it. Distinct variations of blue bleed through numerous uneven areas as the moon advances into something sustainable. Sometimes through the field and frost when the haze dissipates, Saturn and her rings float by like a slow-moving unassuming ghost.
Within the dome, the structures are modern in cool soft pale pinks and oranges, greys, and whites—muted colors all around. All the glass-like buildings are in the decagonal shape of the city reaching hundreds of stories into the sky perfectly positioned to allow for the optimization of area, aesthetically designed and built with eco-friendly reusable materials; Lego-like blocks called Paradon and nanotechnology—some sort of superconductor power duo—that can be changed with the press of a metaphorical button, reprogramming and morphing into a multitude of differing objects from buildings to furniture to transports.
Forest light green vegetation—air scrubbers—grow and wrap around anything they can—sometimes floating from the towers like hanging gardens—creating the oxygen-rich environment. Ambrosial mists sprinkle and drift into the air nearby coating the plant life and giving the area a refreshing environmental feel, like after a thunderstorm without the relative humidity.
I walk the pale grey paths curving around the city, like a ribbon, while reading a summary through my display, silencing Q, making navigation somewhat interesting, ultimately finding my way to an observation park at the rim. Few people are about. A small smile, I say hullo. They stare impassively at me to the point of awkwardness. I think about the uncomfortable inequities of histories past—a concern I’m repeatedly forced to carry and confront thanks to the bigotry and cruelties of my ancestors—and Q cavalierly butts in and begins to bloviate on those uncomfortable inequities at the same time I’m trying to read. I sigh in aggravation. “Shut, I’m reading,” I say loudly and try to stop thinking of anything lest I start getting a neural lecture on everything that pops into my head.
The benches are the color of aluminum matte tinted pale blue with silver trim like the rest of the city. Sitting alone on the cool metal, I watch the haze move slowly. The swirl of mist obscures all but a glow. The clouds part sliding west. I watch the rings emerge as someone sits next to me. Wynne draws a breath to speak and I stop her: “Shhh,” I whisper softly, putting a finger lightly to my lips. A grin spreads across my face in awe as the white lines of Saturn shine bright against the sky. The planet outlined and highlighted by the distant glint of sun on a solid black backdrop; a small dot and dark moon in the forefront. This view never disappoints. How could it?
“Have you ever seen anything so amazing?” I ask hypnotized as Saturn continues to materialize out of the mist.
“Yes,” Wynne says casually watching me, dismissing the view without thought. “Have you thought about what I disclosed with you?”
“I’ve thought of little else.”
“Have you viewed the archives?”
I frown. “Not yet. It’s fifteen hundred years. It’s gonna take me some time. It’s not like The Matrix where the nanites can plug and play now, is it?” I ask sarcastically, but then sincerely: “Is it?” She ignores my question not getting any of those references and continues.
“If you choose to read, you can process and retain more now. Reading and comprehension have been accelerated. The nanites and your new body—the enhanced cognitive abilities—will make it effortless. We have accelerated learning. I deduced you would like the adventure of discovery. If you would like to accelerate learning, you need only let me, Ami, or Beni know.”
So, she did get the question. Did I want to learn all of this at once? No, no way. Where is the fun in that? I love the discovery of learning. Always have. Did I want to consume a little at a time? Is moderation better? Even though in the past restraint has never really been how I rolled. Who am I kidding? Caution never obstructed my curiosity, but I’ve never been someone that leaps without doing lots of research, unless I had to. Best to be cautious than dead. I know there are things that I’ll need to know. The evolution of their languages and translation therein seems like a good idea and start. The archives are written in current lingo and symbols and hitting the translate button seems like an easy painless process, but doesn’t really help me learn about them or their culture, their traditions, their justice, ethics, and political system. First, understand their language, understand them. Seems simple enough. Nothing’s ever that simple though, is it? And reducing a society down to their language is a tad shallow, like judging a book by its cover or simplifying a person to the color of their skin. No, nothing is ever that simple. Maybe for some people. Not for me.
“There will be occasions when we will need to accelerate learning. That will come in time.”
“I’d be more excited in learning about the past if I didn’t think that humanity’s narrative was going to be anything other than what I expected: from bad to worse. When I left, things were not good and getting worse daily.”
Adapting to my twenty-first century colloquialisms, Wynne wanders her way through like an eager and enthusiastic visitor to a foreign country. A very dry enthusiasm. We’ve this in common. I’d always fashioned myself an anthropologist watching Earth and its many fucked up inhabitants in some freak satire as all of it eroded around me. Listening, observing, reading has always been my weapons of choice and as much as I’m keen to learn about the past, I’m dreading it as well. Wynne is as intent to learn from me as I am her. This seems to be the goal. Or, so I gather.
“Do you have any questions about the historical archives and history in general that I may help in answering?”
Looking out over the haze, I sigh hum-drumming my way around avoiding the many bleak details of the past. “History? Yeah, lots. I figure I know what went down. It was all playing out as I’d imagined. The political, socio-economic landscape was—” I rub my temples, “It was depressing. The environment? It was as most of the scientists predicted, but all this—” I motion around me “—is a … surprise. I didn’t expect humanity to survive—and thrive. I thought we were all doomed.”
“What makes you think we are human?” She deadpans turning towards me on the bench.
My eyes meet hers. I look for signs of deception. There are none. Interpreting their body language is just as confounding as decoding their passive emotional and verbal style. And what of it? Scientists theorized that eventually humans would morph into some sort of quasi-cyborgs. Whatever. I’m game. I still feel like me. I laugh deciding what the hell and roll with it. Nothing I could do about it anyway. “I suppose it doesn’t really matter now, does it?”
Ten commanders, all appear to be middle-aged women, genetically manufactured, normal but flawless women, all various ethnicities that I cannot quite pinpoint, lined and sitting around the decagonal conference table awaiting words. Names and titles are sent to my display as I look at each.
For the purpose of this discussion, flawless, in this respect, does not mean drop-dead gorgeous as in pleasing to the eyes or rendered speechless from the shock of physical attractiveness per the male gaze; although, everyone and everything here is more than pleasing and fascinating on any level especially an intellectual and aesthetic one. No one is hypersexualized and there are no over the top glamorous people here adorned with flashy or other various accouterments; at least none I’ve seen, but as an artist, I’ve purposefully never had any sort of physical beauty standards. These women are fascinating and extraordinary, and yes, beautiful. I’ve never really liked using exotic to describe beauty for women especially women of color because it comes with lots of baggage and rightly so; racial fetishism and sexualization used to dehumanize men and women of color; it also implies an otherness that is distasteful and dehumanizing; so, no, definitely not exotic. You call animals exotic, not people. Calling animals exotic though seems tasteless in light of their eating habits. Q harrumphs at my unexpected pun. I roll my eyes and dismiss his blandness moving on.
They look like people, not New York or Paris fashion models or hot Hollywood A-listers. Although, as I look more closely, they are quite lovely, stunning even. They’re neither obese nor excessively thin, extremely tall or short, but athletic and symmetrical; perfectly symmetrically sublime. I frown self consciously squeezing what little fat I have left around my ribs pondering the politics of the female body, especially for women of color. Personally, I’d been called bony ass, skinny, scrawny, anorexic and flat-chested then eventually fat, fat ass, chubby, thunder thighs, big boned—by my own mother nonetheless—and that’s not even including hairy, pale, pizza face, and any number of insults aimed at me and my body. Ultimately, I stopped caring, so, I’m really not sure what to think of it all. Glancing at the archives, I understand that Anderans were genetically engineered hundreds of years ago and perfected to withstand this environment with its low gravity and dense atmo. The fact that there have been very little changes in the human form—despite the most noticeable ones—over the past fifteen hundred years is odd, but expected. No one particularly likes change. Change never really bothered me. At least I thought it didn’t. Not seeing different body shapes is somewhat… disconcerting. Twenty-first century scientific theories hypothesized that we were supposed to evolve into tall, lanky, big-brained, bug-eyed greyish-like people. I suppose this is better, right? All various shades of black and brown so, yes, definitely hella better than grey. Although, I didn’t wanna discriminate against grey as I liked the color.
A fleeting thought sparks in the dark corners of my mind, something I’m missing, scattering some additional light to an otherwise irregular and singular event in my life, but before I can grab at it, Q audibles and I cut him off in frustration: “Shut.” It takes me a moment to realize that I’ve voiced this aloud. The commanders seem undeterred by my outburst. “Apologies. Not you. It’s this infernal A.I. in my head.”
“You have familiarized yourself with Project Halcyon?” Asks Wynne.
“Ummm—somewhat?” I’m vague on purpose. I got caught up in other things. I found myself skipping from one subject to the next in no uncertain order; poor multitasking bad habits and ADHD inattention symptoms I hadn’t escaped. So, I really haven’t familiarized myself with the project, but when in doubt, fake it, right?
“Do you understand why you are here, our needs, and the goals of the project? Do you have any questions for this council?”
I look around the table analyzing each of them; their biosigns and various other arbitrary historical incidentals popping up privately in my display that are unfamiliar out of context to me. They say nothing only return my stare and I wonder what they know about me? Privacy seems obsolete here and I’m not sure where transparency figures. What, I wonder, is displayed about me? History is written by those in power and I’ve learned that it’s idiosyncratic at best if not downright biased and totally whitewashed. My history was nothing special—at least, it wasn’t when I left. Still—how self-involved of me to wonder about me when I could be analyzing them. The silence, however, has distended and I find myself at a loss for anything remotely intelligent to say. I usually think of something several hours after my opportunity to say it. Story of my life, I tell Q.
“I understand why you think you need me, but my experiences are only that: mine and of all the people you could’ve…imported, I’m nobody. My ordeals are nothing compared to others and my experiences are subjective. These … these memories will not be … impartial, they’ll be mine and what I’ve learned in life is that there are more than two sides to every story … and my gramma—who by the way was totally racist as was most of my family—said I was a brat and the black sheep of the family.” I pause wondering if that is an incredibly offensive idiom? I had no historical context to what that idiom meant. “Um—I mean no offense by that. I’ve also been told I’m a condescending bitch and I’ve an attitude, that I’m narcissistic and crazy and way too emotional. A few of my friends have called me flakey and a trainwreck.” I shrug meekly and unapologetically. “Whatever. I’ll own it all.” They stare silently at me and I continue nervous, rambling. “These … memories will allow each of you to experience history and emotions and yes, each of you will have your own experiences as I re-experience them,” I fake laugh at my incoherent verboseness and continue: “Will it help you rediscover humanity by redefining entertainment by experimenting per se? To experience empathy and compassion in a historical context?” I shrug. I’ve no idea if I’d said that correctly. I pull it out of nowhere and everywhere. They continue looking at me with such a blank expression, I almost start cackling. “I get it. I really do. I just don’t understand why you chose me. You’re going to be sorely disappointed. I’m incredibly fucked up with lots of issues and there are far more interesting, intelligent, and accomplished people you could’ve chosen: Barack or Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt…” my voice escalates with each name, “…Katharine Hepburn, Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, Princess Diana, Rosa Parks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ida B. Wells, Nellie Bly, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Laverne Cox, Shonda Rhimes, Serena Williams, bell hooks—” A squeak, “—Roxane Gay, Lupita, Oprah? Beyonce? Jesus? … Chris Evans? … I could make you a list?” This is getting ridiculous. Of course they would know all about these people. “And I’m not too keen on going through my childhood memories again as you’ve probably already gathered. I mean, it’s not like I grew up in a diverse setting. Seriously, mayo and milk for miles.” Was that offensive?
I’m gesticulating in my fluster and my palms are cold—normally clammy, but now, not so much. I’d never been an articulate person and right now, I’m panicking. I’ve spent the last few days wondering why I’m here. Why me? What’s gonna happen to me? Am I gonna die here in some bizarre thirty-sixth century experiment? It’s not like I’ve a choice though, do I? What if I said no? What would happen to me? Would they have no further use for me and drop me in the nearest biomatter recycling unit? I shudder thinking how painful that would be. I’m a nobody here. I know less than nothing and I have no utilitarian use for them to keep me around if I say no. And who’s to say I cannot help? Empathy is important and if this is my path to sharing then I suppose I’ll take it on. Reluctantly and scared shitless. I take a long deep breath and straighten in my chair choosing between my shockingly limited paths, again.
They stare at me for a lengthy twenty seconds with that same blank expression and I feel my appendages start to twitch. They finally speak: “We seek to understand, to share knowledge, not to judge. You were chosen by circumstance. Nothing more.” With that, the conversation ends, silence and avoidance and I intuit something more behind their reserved demeanor. Transparency apparently has its limits.
© 2018 Pamela Gay Mullins