Flash Fic: Dublex Orb™


Inhabisphere™

Inhabisphere™ – 100 years ago

Of course I’ve had roommates before. Down on Earth™, I mean. Not up here in the Thermosphere™. But the new policy makes double-occupancy mandatory. It’ll be good to have someone to talk to and interact with. Maybe even touch like once a year or something.

It’s ridiculous and kinda pathetic. 1.2 trillion of us crammed into such a small space, yet we all live completely disconnected lives.

All realms of our Inhabisphere™ are overcapacity. Down on Earth™, the thousand-story skyscrapers are packed so tightly over every acre that they’re pretty much a single, sprawling building. The Tunnelands™ have already burrowed farther than they safely can. Even the Sealands™ are filled now: the ghettos on the seafloor and down in the trenches, the upscale topside floaters. In the Skylands™, only two narrow causeways remain undeveloped.

The Housing Council™ started the Thermosphere Development Program© out of desperation. They launched the Duplex Orbs™, like the one I live in, through the northern port of the Skylands™ a year ago. That’s when a billion of us moved up here to orbit like secluded satellite moons. The Resource Restrictions Act© forbids us from visiting one another.

So we basically live in floating prison cells.

The last two ports through the Skylands™ close tomorrow. They’ll be sealed shut to gain the last bit of atmospheric real estate remaining. After that, we won’t be able to directly trade with the Groundlands™ anymore. Tariffs are gonna skyrocket.

My last shipment from the surface will be here any minute. This month’s visit is a bit different than all the rest. Twice as much Oxygen®, twice as many rations. All because my Duplex™ is about to house twice as many people.

Dania seemed cool enough during our minute-long v-Chat®. Kinda quiet and distracted maybe, but I’m hoping she’ll open up once she gets here. She’s a Digi-Designer® like me, so we at least have that in common. If she’ll unplug long enough to give me three minutes of face time a day, I’ll be happy. Five minutes would be even better, but I’m trying to be realistic.

The supply taxi just docked. The recycled Oxygen™ is already pumping into the tanks. Why am I so nervous? There goes the bay door. The rations are loaded. Oh Gods™, the airlock. I think I’m gonna throw up. The first flesh-and-blood person I’ve seen in over a year. The stranger I’ll spend the rest of my life with.

The warning horn blares. The door swooshes open.

Dania stares at the PodPad® in her hands.

“Hi,” I say.

Her left eye twitches a little. That might be a sign that she heard me.

“Which way?” she asks.

“Your room’s on the right,” I answer.

Without looking up, she expertly navigates the furniture in the common area. She places her palm on the KeyPad® and steps inside her room.

I move towards her. “I thought we might interact for a bit.”

She stops, but doesn’t turn. “I’ve been De-egged®.”

“What?” I stare at the soft skin on the back of her neck. “No. Not like that kind of interaction.”

Her PodPad® monopolizes her attention. “What kind then?” she asks.

“You know, talking, eating rations together.” My mouth is so dry. “Maybe even playing a game?”

“I’m busy,” she answers.

Then her door swooshes closed between us.

***

That was six months ago. I haven’t seen Dania since. I’ve stumbled across her username in the forums, so I know she’s still alive. Sometimes, I press my ear to her door, but I’ve never heard a thing.

It’s sad, really. We’re now up to 1.4 trillion people in the Inhabisphere™, and I haven’t seen one in half a year. Haven’t touched one in almost two. There’s no way I’m the only one who’s lonely. There must be others tucked away somewhere in our stuffed-full world.

I keep hoping Dania will accidentally come out of her room, that she’ll forget she has a roommate in the Duplex Orb™ and will stumble into the common area by mistake. Or that she’ll suddenly get the urge to unplug and interact.

Just sixty seconds, once a month. That’s all I need.

There’s a new plan to add more Duplex Orbs™, to link them airlock-to-airlock so they form a massive sphere encircling Earth™. Maybe my new neighbors will want to hang out. But I’m not holding my recycled-air Breath™.

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I Want Mermaids To Be Real


MERMAIDS

Some friends and I spent part of our Memorial Day Weekend learning about Mermaids. Well, let me clarify. We didn’t dive into the Mariana Trench armed with sonar, harpoons, nets, and DNA-mapping equipment. (Although, that would have been insanely cool!) We watched a pair of sci-fi shows on Animal Planet:  Mermaids: The Body Found and The New Evidence.

The shows were pitched as “real” and “true story” and all that. But shows like this, which detail proof of Atlantis, Bigfoot, or extraterrestrial life, are always more entertainment and conjecture than science. The Mermaids shows were no exceptions. The “evidence” and videos regarding mermaids were obviously fake. The ‘candid’ experts were obviously scripted. Underneath it all, three things still shone through as redeeming:

  1. Entertainment value – The CGI was top-notch. The mini-movie threaded throughout did an excellent job of bringing these Mermaids to life. In addition, there was actual story. Although these creatures never spoke, they were cast as possessing human emotions. Two scenes stand out: one in which a mother gives live, underwater birth, and another where a merman slices his own chest—thus sacrificing himself—to save the rest of the pod from a vicious Megalodon. Very human actions.
  2. Novel information – By “novel”, I mean “new to me”, not fodder for a manuscript. (Although, I’m not one to rule out the possibility…) I am a huge, geeky fan of both science and learning ALL THE NEW THINGS. I had never heard of the “Aquatic Ape Theory, so that part of the programs was intriguing. The Aquatic Ape Theory is the idea that during the transition from the last common ancestor we shared with apes to hominid, humans went through an aquatic stage. This stage is believed to have resulted in “aquatic ape-like” creatures (i.e. mermaids), which may possibly still exist. Check out more on this theory here: http://press.discovery.com/ekits/monster-week-mermaids/aquatic-ape.html
  3. Eco-Propaganda – In my opinion, the beauty of these two shows is that they are genius pieces of eco-propaganda. The real point is not mermaids at all, but a protest against the Navy’s use/testing of sonar-as-weapons. Mass-beachings of whales and other sea creatures, supposedly caused by government activities, is the underlying point. The mermaids angle was a tool—the hook used to grab viewers’ attention. The true intention was to raise awareness about man-caused damage being done to marine mammals. What better way to garner a mass-audience than to wrap that issue within a story which sparks the collective imagination? Genius, if you ask me. Apparently the bait-and-switch angle worked, because millions of viewers watched 3 hours’ worth…

Throughout the shows, a lot of “Bullshit! That’s so fake!” and “Really? Look at that! So.stupid.” echoed through the loft. Still, I found the programs both interesting and entertaining. Also, I drew parallels the whole time of how one part truth—braided with two parts imagination—can create an engaging, appealing story. If handled properly, one kernel of plausible truth can spark the suspension of disbelief, and allow us bi-pedal humans to dream of other worlds and other creatures, which are very much like ourselves. No matter the setting or characters, all great stories show humans either as we are, or as we could be.

There is an Encore Presentation Wednesday May 29th at 8:00 PM Eastern. My friends might disagree with me, but I highly recommend it. Simply watch the shows with the understanding that they are 1 part Science, and 2 parts Science Fiction.

For the record, I want to believe in Mermaids.

Excerpt: FREEBORN


Image

Movement ripped Katia out of her imaginings. A man in a baggy shirt passed her bench. Even though the day was cool, large patches of sweat darkened his armpits. He couldn’t hold his head still. He kept checking over his shoulder. Frightened. Infected.

“You see him, Katia?”

“Yeah. He’s got to be a mark.”

“I agree. You ready to snag him?”

“I am.”

“Be careful.”

Katia stood, leaning on her cane. She broke into a quick hobble to close the gap between them. The infected man glanced back at her. Picked up his pace. Forget the cane! Just get to him before he reaches the scanner.

Katia stood upright, and shifted her weight to take off in a sprint. Adam yelled in her head, “Katia, abort! Candystripers!”

A pair of figures flashed past her. They corralled the man an instant later. He tried to run, but one of the assassins landed a roundhouse kick to his gut, slamming the man to the concrete.

“Stay down, parasite!”

“Haha! Look at him. All infected and bleeding from the mouth.”

The man writhed on the cement. Clutching his belly. Gasping.

“Pl—please,” he begged between inhales. “Don’t k—kill me.”

“Katia! Get out of there!”

But she couldn’t move. She was transfixed. Had to watch. Stay within earshot.

The Candystripers circled the man.

“Let’s see,” said one of the assassins. “I’m gonna bet he’s…eight days infected.”

“No way!” said the other. “More than that. A lot more. I’m gonna go with fourteen days.”

“You’re hyped up on Ambrosia! No way he’s been hiding for that long.” He kicked the man in the ribs. “Have you, parasite?”

“I’ll bet you fifty debits. Whoever’s closest without going over: wins.”

“You got it, chump! Check him.”

The high-bidder pulled out a portable detector. The low-bidder lifted the man’s shirt with the toe of his shoe. His partner slammed the needle into the man’s stomach. A moan. A red light.

A holo-screen projected into the air. The high-bidder read off the stats. “Felix-2190. Crop 03. Infected. Sixteen days. Ha! I told you!”

“Lucky guess,” said the loser. He pointed his gun. Fired two quick shots. One to the man’s infected gut. One to his head.

“Adam?”

“Yeah?”

“I can’t wait until those assholes get infected.”

***