Authors: Paul Di Filippo
Tags: #holocaust, #disaster, #sci-fi, #the stand, #nuclear war
Copyright © 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Paul Di Filippo
Published by Wildside Press LLC
Who persists through all calamities,
And to my Mother,
Who never stops trying.
These stories have been previously published as follows:
“Life in the Anthropocene” was originally published in
The Mammoth Book of Apocalypse Science Fiction
, ed. by Mike Ashley, Robinson Publishing, 2010. Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Paul Di Filippo.
“Clouds and Cold Fires” was originally published in
Live Without a Net
, ed. by Lou Anders, Roc Books, 2003. Copyright © 2003, 2011 by Paul Di Filippo.
“Waves and Smart Magma” was originally published in
The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction
, ed. by Mike Ashley, Robinson Publishing, 2009. Copyright © 2009, 2011 by Paul Di Filippo.
“FarmEarth” was originally published in
Welcome to the Greenhouse
, ed. by Gordon Van Gelder, OR Books, 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Paul Di Filippo.
“Escape from New Austin” was originally published in
Jigsaw Nation: Science Fiction Stories of Secession
, ed. by Edward J. McFadden III and E. Sedia, Wilder Publications, 2006. Copyright © 2006, 2011 by Paul Di Filippo.
“Femaville 29” was originally published in
Salon Fantastique: Fifteen Original Tales of Fantasy
, ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Running Press, 2006. Copyright © 2006, 2011 by Paul Di Filippo.
Life goes on.
Along with the sentence “This too shall pass,” the line above is simultaneously the most pessimistic formulation of the way the universe works, and the most optimistic one. On the one hand, “Life goes on” indicates that we are capable of picking ourselves up after any tragedy and continuing with some kind of meaningful and useful existence, no matter how damaged we might be from our experiences. There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true. On the other hand, “Life goes on” does seem in our blackest hours to imply one dreary, torturous day after another, with no surcease till death, and an uncaring response from a heartless creation.
I tend, in my writings and personal life, to favor the upbeat interpretation of the motto. We can recover from anything short of death, finding hope and victory and love in the ruins. That’s the message these stories are meant to convey, beneath what I hope are some surface thrills and excitement and neat ideas.
As the Buddhists tell us, life is continuously collapsing from one millisecond to the next. That’s just the nature of creation. Stability and consistency are illusions. All is a froth of chaotic activity below the Planck level. The universe is like a human being walking: managing to move forward through a series of barely averted falls.
So please take heart by also recalling the words of some western sages, Steely Dan: “Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend/Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again/When the demon is at your door/In the morning it won’t be there no more/Any major dude will tell you.”
—Paul Di Filippo
Providence, Rhode Island
11 July 2011
LIFE IN THE ANTHROPOCENE
Solar Girdle Emergency
Aurobindo Bandjalang got the emergency twing through his vib on the morning of August 8, 2121, while still at home in his expansive bachelor’s digs. At 1LDK, his living space was three times larger than most unmarried individuals enjoyed, but his high-status job as a Power Jockey for New Perthpatna earned him extra perks.
While a short-lived infinitesimal flock of beard clippers grazed his face, A.B. had been showering and vibbing the weather feed for Reboot City Twelve: the more formal name for New Perthpatna.
Sharing his shower stall but untouched by the water, beautiful weather idol Midori Mimosa delivered the feed.
“Sunrise occurred this morning at three-oh-two AM. Max temp projected to be a comfortable, shirtsleeves thirty degrees by noon. Sunset at ten-twenty-nine PM this evening. Cee-oh-two at four-hundred-and-fifty parts per million, a significant drop from levels at this time last year. Good work, Rebooters!”
The new tweet/twinge/ping interrupted both the weather and A.B.’s ablutions. His vision grayed out for a few milliseconds as if a sheet of smoked glass had been slid in front of his MEMS contacts, and both his left palm and the sole of his left foot itched: Attention Demand 5.
A.B.’s boss, Jeetu Kissoon, replaced Midori Mimosa under the sparsely downfalling water: a dismaying and disinvigorating substitution. But A.B.’s virt-in-body operating system allowed for no squelching of twings tagged AD4 and up. Departmental policy.
Kissoon grinned and said, “Scrub faster, A.B. We need you here yesterday. I’ve got news of face-to-face magnitude.”
“What’s the basic quench?”
“Power transmission from the French farms is down by one percent. Sat photos show some kind of strange dust accumulation on a portion of the collectors. The on-site kybes can’t respond to the stuff with any positive remediation. Where’s it from, why now, and how do we stop it? We’ve got to send a human team down there, and you’re heading it.”
Busy listening intently to the bad news, A.B. had neglected to rinse properly. Now the water from the low-flow showerhead ceased, its legally mandated interval over. He’d get no more from that particular spigot till the evening. Kissoon disappeared from A.B.’s augmented reality, chuckling.
A.B. cursed with mild vehemence and stepped out of the stall. He had to use a sponge at the sink to finish rinsing, and then he had no sink water left for brushing his teeth. Such a hygienic practice was extremely old-fashioned, given self-replenishing colonies of germ-policing mouth microbes, but A.B. relished the fresh taste of toothpaste and the sense of righteous manual self-improvement. Something of a twentieth-century recreationist, Aurobindo. But not this morning.
Outside A.B.’s 1LDK: his home corridor, part of a well-planned, spacious, senses-delighting labyrinth featuring several public spaces, constituting the one-hundred-and-fiftieth floor of his urbmon.
His urbmon, affectionately dubbed “The Big Stink”: one of over a hundred colossal, densely situated high-rise habitats that amalgamated into New Perthpatna.
New Perthpatna: one of over a hundred such Reboot Cities sited across the habitable zone of Earth, about twenty-five percent of the planet’s landmass, collectively home to nine billion souls.
A.B. immediately ran into one of those half-million souls of The Big Stink: Zulqamain Safranski.
Zulqamain Safranski was the last person A.B. wanted to see.
Six months ago, A.B. had logged an ASBO against the man.
Safranski was a parkour. Harmless hobby—if conducted in the approved sports areas of the urbmon. But Safranski blithely parkour’d his ass all over the common spaces, often bumping into or startling people as he ricocheted from ledge to bench. After a bruising encounter with the aggressive urban bounder, A.B. had filed his protest, attaching AD tags to already filed but overlooked video footage of the offenses. Not altogether improbably, A.B.’s complaint had been the one to tip the scales against Safranski, sending him via police trundlebug to the nearest Sin Bin, for a punitively educational stay.
But now, all too undeniably, Safranski was back in New Perthpatna, and instantly in A.B.’s chance-met (?) face.
The buff, choleric, but laughably diminutive fellow glared at A.B., then said, spraying spittle upward, “You just better watch your ass night and day, Bang-a-gong, or you might find yourself doing a
from the roof without really meaning to.”
A.B. tapped his ear and, implicity, his implanted vib audio pickup. “Threats go from your lips to the ears of the wrathful Ekh Dagina—and to the ASBO Squad as well.”
Safranski glared with wild-eyed malice at A.B., then stalked off, his planar butt muscles, outlined beneath the tight fabric of his mango-colored plugsuit, somehow conveying further ire by their natural contortions.
A.B. smiled. Amazing how often people still forgot the panopticon nature of life nowadays, even after a century of increasing immersion in and extension of null-privacy. Familiarity bred forgetfulness. But it was best to always recall, at least subliminally, that everyone heard and saw everything equally these days. Just part of the Reboot Charter, allowing a society to function in which people could feel universally violated, universally empowered.
At the elevator banks closest to home, A.B. rode up to the two-hundred-and-first floor, home to the assigned space for the urbmon’s Power Administration Corps. Past the big active mural depicting drowned Perth, fishes swimming round the BHP Tower. Tags in the air led him to the workpod that Jeetu Kissoon had chosen for the time being.
Kissoon looked good for ninety-seven years old: he could have passed for A.B.’s slightly older brother, but not his father. Coffee-bean skin, snowy temples, laugh lines cut deep, only slightly counterbalanced by somber eyes.
When Kissoon had been born, all the old cities still existed, and many, many animals other than goats and chickens flourished. Kissoon had seen the cities abandoned, and the Big Biota Crash, as well as the whole Reboot. Hard for young A.B. to conceive. The man was a walking history lesson. A.B. tried to honor that.
But Kissoon’s next actions soon evoked a yawp of disrespectful protest from the younger man.
“Here are the two other Jocks I’ve assigned to accompany you.”
Interactive dossiers hung before A.B.’s gaze. He two-fingered through them swiftly, growing more stunned by the second. Finally he burst out: “You’re giving me a furry and a keek as helpers?”
“Tigerishka and Gershon Thales. They’re the best available. Live with them, and fix this glitch.”
Kissoon stabbed A.B. with a piercing stare, and A.B. realized this meatspace proximity had been demanded precisly to convey the intensity of Kissoon’s next words.
“Without power, we’re doomed.”
Jet-assisted flight was globally interdicted. Not enough resources left to support regular commercial or recreational aviation. No military anywhere with a need to muster its own air force. Jet engines too harmful to a stressed atmosphere.
And besides, why travel?
Everywhere was the same. Vib served fine for most needs.
The habitable zone of Earth consisted of those lands—both historically familiar and newly disclosed from beneath vanished icepack—above the 45
parallel north, and below the 45
parallel south. The rest of the Earth’s landmass had been decertified or drowned: sand or surf.
The immemorial ecosystems of the remaining climactically tolerable territories had been devastated by Greenhouse change, then, ultimately and purposefully, wiped clean. Die-offs, migratory invaders, a fast-forward churn culminating in an engineered ecosphere. The new conditions supported no animals larger than mice, and only a monoculture of GM plants.
Giant aggressive hissing cockroaches, of course, still thrived.
A portion of humanity’s reduced domain hosted forests specially designed for maximum carbon uptake and sequestration. These fast-growing, long-lived hybrid trees blended the genomes of eucalyptus, loblolly pine and poplar, and had been dubbed “eulollypops.”
The bulk of the rest of the land was devoted to the crops necessary and sufficient to feed nine billion people: mainly quinoa, kale and soy, fertilized by human wastes. Sugarbeet plantations provided feedstock for bio-polymer production.
And then, on their compact footprints, the hundred-plus Reboot Cities, ringed by small but efficient goat and chicken farms.
Not a world conducive to sightseeing Grand Tours.
On each continent, a simple network of maglev trains, deliberately held to a sparse schedule, linked the Reboot Cities (except for the Sin Bins, which were sanitarily excluded from easy access to the network). Slow but luxurious aerostats serviced officials and businessmen. Travel between continents occurred on SkySail-equipped water ships. All travel was predicated on state-certified need.
And when anyone had to deviate from standard routes—such as a trio of Power Jockeys following the superconducting transmission lines south to France—they employed a trundlebug.
Peugeot had designed the first trundlebugs over a century ago, the Ozones. Picture a large rolling drum fashioned of electrochromic biopoly, featuring slight catenaries in the lines of its body from end to end. A barrel-shaped compartment suspended between two enormous wheels large as the cabin itself. Solid-state battery packs channeled power to separate electric motors. A curving door spanned the entire width of the vehicle, sliding upward.
Inside, three seats in a row, the center one commanding the failsafe manual controls. Storage behind the seats.
And in those seats:
Aurobindo Bandjalang working the joystick with primitive recreationist glee and vigor, rather than vibbing the trundlebug.
Tigerishka on his right and Gershon Thales on his left.
A tense silence reigned.
Tigerishka exuded a bored professionalism only slightly belied by a gently twitching tailtip and alertly cocked tufted ears. Her tigrine pelt poked out from the edges of her plugsuit, pretty furred face and graceful neck the largest bare expanse.
A.B. thought she smelled like a sexy stuffed toy. Disturbing.
She turned her slit-pupiled eyes away from the monotonous racing landscape for a while to gnaw delicately with sharp teeth at a wayward cuticle around one claw.
Furries chose to express non-inheritable parts of the genome of various extinct species within their own bodies, as a simultaneous expiation of guilt and celebration of lost diversity. Although the Vaults at Reboot City Twenty-nine (formerly Svalbard, Norway) safely held samples of all the vanished species that had been foolish enough to compete with humanity during this Anthropocene Age, their non-human genomes awaiting some far-off day of re-instantiation, that sterile custody did not sit well with some. The furries wanted other species to walk the earth again, if only by partial proxy.
In contrast to Tigerishka’s stolid boredom, Gershon Thales manifested a frenetic desire to maximize demands on his attention. Judging by the swallow-flight motions of his hands, he had half a dozen virtual windows open, upon what landscapes of information A.B. could only conjecture. (He had tried vibbing into Gershon’s eyes, but had encountered a pirate privacy wall. Hard to build team camaraderie with that barrier in place, but A.B. had chosen not to call out the man on the matter just yet.)
No doubt Gershon was hanging out on keek fora. The keeks loved to indulge in endless talk.
Originally calling themselves the “punctuated equilibriumists,” the cult had swiftly shortened their awkward name to the “punk eeks,” and then to the “keeks.”
The keeks believed that after a long period of stasis, the human species had reached one of those pivotal Darwinian climacterics that would launch the race along exciting if unpredictable new vectors. What everyone else viewed as a grand tragedy—implacable and deadly climate change leading to the Big Biota Crash—they interpreted as a useful kick in humanity’s collective pants. They discussed a thousand, thousand schemes intended to further this leap, most of them just so much mad vaporware.
A.B. clucked his tongue softly as he drove. Such were the assistants he had been handed, to solve a crisis of unknown magnitude.
Tigerishka suddenly spoke, her voice a velvet growl. “Can’t you push this bug any faster? The cabin’s starting to stink like simians already.”
New Perthpatna occupied the site that had once hosted the Russian city of Arkhangelsk, torn down during the Reboot. The closest malfunctioning solar collectors in what had once been France loomed 2,800 kilometers distant. Mission transit time: an estimated thirty-six hours, including overnight rest.
“No, I can’t. As it is, we’re going to have to camp at least eight hours for the batteries recharge. The faster I push us, the more power we expend, and the longer we’ll have to sit idle. It’s a calculated tradeoff. Look at the math.”
A.B. vibbed Tigerishka a presentation. She studied it, then growled in frustration.
“I need to run! I can’t sit cooped up in a smelly can like this for hours at a stretch! At home, I hit the track every hour.”
A.B. wanted to say,
I’m not the one who stuck those big-cat codons in you, so don’t yell at me!
But instead he notched up the cabin’s HVAC and chose a polite response. “Right now, all I can do is save your nose some grief. We’ll stop for lunch, and you can get some exercise then. Can’t you vib out like old Gershon there?”
Gerson Thales stopped his air haptics to glare at A.B. His lugubrious voice resembled wet cement plopping from a trough. “What’s that comment supposed to imply? That I’m wasting my time? Well, I’m not. I’m engaged in posthuman dialectics at Saltation Central. Very stimulating. You two should try to expand your minds in a similar fashion.”
Tigerishka hissed. A.B. ran an app that counted to ten for him using gently breaking waves to time the calming sequence.
“As mission leader, I don’t really care how anyone passes the travel time. Just so long as you all perform when it matters. Now how about letting me enjoy the drive.”