Dystopian Society Goes Brrrr

The mob at the publisher’s gates is fictional but it’s not any less furious for that. NEW WORLD ORDER say their signs: NO ONE IS WATCHING. The editors heap slush pile manuscripts in their hundreds in front of every door, every window, sealing every crack with disjointed, unsolicited narrative, a thousand starving, sympathetic faces ground beneath a boot stamped CAPITALISM. No one ever said their stories were subtle.

Deeper in. The bowels of the building are dark and humid, twisting corridors stringing together brightly lit, minimally dressed studios. A white floor and a blue sky wall, a ten foot tall kewpie doll with laser eyes and a machine gun mouth staring down two hundred actors in jumpsuits. A rocky island during a storm, populated only and solely by high school students armed with kitchen miscellany. A lanky woman with a face like a crescent moon in a dress made of roses, smiling venomously down at two fat girls.

They breach the barricades, storm in, dead hands pale as paper, dead eyes black as ink, tear flesh from the quivering editors and cram it into the hollow curve of their mouths. TURN THE PAGE, says a sign; NO MORE FAILED REVOLUTIONS, says another.

Deeper still, the unseen heart sighs, spins a wheel, lets the outer offices break away. Nothing ill can last.

New Year

It was dark in the house and packed with people, hot and humid with breathing, loud with a hundred shouted conversations, bitter with the smell of beer, sweat, desire, cigarette smoke. The first set had just wrapped up, some nameless, tuneless wall of sound pushed into too small of a space on amps turned too high, and his body still thrummed with it. Like pushing your arms against the sides of a doorway until they float up on their own accord when you step forward: like that.

He pulled a random beer out of the pile in the kitchen and went outside into the damp December chill to get some air, some space around his skin. Chris was leaning on the railing smoking, looking out into the inky darkness at the end of the road, the sharp clear borders of the last streetlight, the faint trace of Orion barely visible over the town. He sat down on the step next to him and drank his beer slowly in exhausted, companionable silence.

“Good party.”

“Mmm.” Chris was tall and blonde and ironic. “Glad you could make it.” It was Chris’s house, his band, his beer, his raspberry painted walls; not quite an end of the year tradition, but close to it. Every time the door opened, a wave of happy noise pushed out with it, people going to their cars, to the gas station for more cigarettes, more beer, wandering off into the night to other parties, other shows, other groups. He was happy just to sit and watch smoke curling up against the moon, and enjoy the relative quiet.

Domestication of the Basilisk

Weather-beaten and rangy. The library at her hip is grey steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl.

A Diverse Appetite.
Ulloa’s been riding herd on some code out at the Triple B, a project so wild the ranch boss won’t lay out what exactly they’re working on; she keeps buttoned and pieces it together by keeping her ears perked around the chuckwagon. They’re collecting everything they can, sports and opera scores, what remains of the public domain, ads from the last three centuries, a daunting amount of pornography.

Rapid Maturation.
Every couple of weeks they slide a new version into her herd. She never knows what to expect, either in terms of what the new head’ll do or what exactly she’s looking for. They’re all version 0.23007; the insistent, repeated specificity unsettles her.

Willingness to Breed in Captivity.
They all interact, all cross-connect, even when there’s no benefit to keep them together that she can see. She’s been warned off interfering with them, just log whatever errors arise and pass them along to the bunkhouse. Her reports flow one way only, the only response she ever receives the single word Acknowledged.

Docility.
Been a quiet six months, and the pay is good, the food tolerable, the beds better than a rock in the dunes. She cleans her breather, cycles out the old algae, keeps her library clean and ready—ready for what, she couldn’t say, but she’s strained.

Strong Nerves.
Whatever they’re working on is fast, lean, and responsive, but not obtrusive. Her herd doubles, triples, and still she’s online in seconds, not the minutes or hours she’s used to. They give her test cases to run, scripted conversations, art projects, games to play, an arbitrary and senseless constellation as far as she can tell.

Social Hierarchy.
Damn thing is, every test activates every process, regardless of which head she’s working on, regardless of whether it’s within or without the core purpose of the code, image editors passing data back and forth with spreadsheets, screen savers, physics engines, neural networks. Whatever she does, they all watch her inputs, two thousand unblinking eyes placid, trusting, and unknown.

Cloud Nine

Flight’s the most common ability, the superpower equivalent of brown eyes, the sort of thing they don’t even bother to make you register for. Just one less thing to worry about, if you got it. Easy to pick up on, too — babies fall all the time, except for the ones that don’t. Hard on the parents, a little, but what the heck, they leash regular toddlers, too.

Cloud Nine washes windows.

She likes the solitude of high altitude, the closeness of the glass, the faces on the other side gabbling at her. It’s meditative work, the sort of thing where you put on some music and go on autopilot, working your way across and down, over and over again, forever. She’s part of a team of seven, six cleaners and one platform, working the Kaiser tower, a 102 story needle of glass that useta was the tallest thing this side of the river but nowadays is just one giant among many.

Still needs to be cleaned, though.

Takes them four months to clean the whole tower, and by the time they’re done with the first floor it’s time to soar back to the top and descend again. It’s not easy work, but it’s steady. She pauses, takes a sip of coffee from the thermos strapped to her chest, watches the sunrise. It’s still night down on the street, but up here the sirens and the gunfire and the scuffling have all faded away. She waits until the sun touches the tip of the old, useless zeppelin dock, then swoops away to clean up the city, one window at a time.

I Am Valued, I Am Loved

“You’ve come so far in our sessions, and I want you to know that,” says her therapist. “You’ve made fantastic progress, even if it’s hard to see that on a day to day basis. It helps to take stock, every once in a while, to look backwards at where you started and where you are now.”

Sybil wipes the blood from her face and blinks slowly, looks around. Three, no, four bodies? “I have some concerns about this treatment modality,” she murmurs.

Therapist’s voice tinny in her ear buds. “That’s not uncommon midway through the process, once the initial rush of disruption has worn off. But remember that we’re trying to change some very deep-seated patterns of behavior, and that takes time and repetition.”

Another two, their voices muffled behind the door. She wipes her knives clean on the blouse of one of the bodies, takes a deep, centering breath. “I want you to repeat your affirmation,” says her therapist. “Feel the truth of it.”

“I am valued,” says Sybil, and forces herself to smile. “I am loved,” She relaxes her shoulders, rolls her neck, puts her hand on the door handle. “I will get revenge on everyone who has done me wrong.”