When Mark got to Julie Munoz’s house on the last day ever, he pressed the doorbell even though he heard shouting inside. Julie opened the door, and past her he saw her health nut sister Marta systematically devouring a box of chocolate doughnuts while It’s a Wonderful Life played on the 48″ flat screen: the man who had been shouting, he realized, was Jimmy Stewart. The cat, which Mark was pretty sure wasn’t supposed to go outside, shot past Julie’s legs and into the street. Julie didn’t stop it.
“Hey Mark,” said Julie. “You want your book back? I didn’t get a chance to read it.”
“No. So listen …”
Julie waited, glanced over her shoulder at Jimmy Stewart, then turned back and watched Mark, still waiting. From behind her, Jimmy Stewart shouted “Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to jail!”
“Julie, I’m in love with you.”
Julie stiffened, crossing her arms over her chest. “You came out here to tell me that?”
“I know it’s sudden, but with the meteor –”
“You think that gives you the right to come over here and claim me?”
“Hey, I’m not claiming anything–”
“I know you like me. I knew you liked me the first time you tutored me, when you couldn’t take your eyes off my chest. You’re not exactly subtle. Not even for a guy.”
“I didn’t–” he said, but the rest of the sentence, if he told it truthfully, would have to be … think you saw me doing that.
“Why don’t you go stay with your family or something?” she said. “God, I can’t believe you.”
“Julie, I’m not kidding. I love you. I never felt this way about anyone before!”
“Shut up! Just shut up! I want to go watch Jimmy Stewart. I hate it that I have to live at the end of everything!”
She slammed the door in his face. Mark took a step back, feeling sick. What was wrong with him? Why did he think declaring his love to Julie Munoz would make anything better? His only consolation, he thought as he slunk back to his car, was that he wouldn’t have to face her on Tuesday for tutoring.
That night, the killer comet came within a few thousand miles of Earth. Contrary to every prediction, it shot by into the night, leaving humanity demoralized, dumbfounded, and faced with another glorious day.
He decides a baby is the answer. The baby is plaster and lathe over cracked brick, a rickety, newborn bridge, a pair of handcuffs. The baby, he thinks. The baby.
She drinks nothing but seltzer. She swallows the air. He urges steak on her, potatoes and meatloaf, pineapple upside-down cake and caramel apples. Sticky things, heavy things. “Eat,” he says. He clutches at her hand. She shakes her head at him and drifts away from the dinner table. His forehead crumples and his shoulders tumble down. She grows larger and lighter.
He wishes she were happy. Instead, she is buoyant, giddy and strange. She doesn’t lumber the way other pregnant women do. She steps lightly, floats up the stairs. She never trips; she glides. She sleeps on her back now, her stomach straining up toward the ceiling fan, the sky light. It could break through the glass and drag her soaring through the sky, arms and legs dangling and limp, her enormous belly taking her away. He sleeps downstairs on the couch and wonders if she’ll be there in the morning.
When she goes into labor, she begins to laugh. She holds her belly and doubles over. Her laughter fills up the living room, bursts like bubbles in his ears. She laughs through delivery, and he sits in the corner, grim. The baby comes quickly, and when they spread her out naked for weighing on the cold scale, she bounces up and wafts through the sterile air of the hospital room. The baby glances off the corner of the room and glides across the face of the overhead lights. She casts a tiny shadow.
“I’ll get a step stool,” one nurse says, backing out of the room. The doctor sits on the floor. On the labor table, emptied out and hollow, she laughs. He stands and watches his child rotating slowly under the air vent, far above his head.
She will not let him touch their baby. She holds the baby in the crook of her arm. She holds her by the heel. She sits and looks at her floating above. She puts on her housecoat and goes out into the yard. She ignores him. She ignores the neighbors lining their driveways and yards. Clutching the baby’s heel, holding tight, she lifts up on to her tiptoes and reaches upwards, waiting for a strong enough gust of wind.
Alex D M’s story “Snowdrops” appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet no. 22, and “Two Coins” is in Electric Velocipede 15/16.
I have to start with some ancient history.
It began with medicine, of course. Our lives were extended from an average of 25 standard years to 50, 60, then a hundred, and then several hundred. Gradually, we stopped taking chances. Laws were passed to prevent activities society deemed dangerous. Then those too young to reproduce were forbidden all sorts of behaviors once typical of childhood. Remember rollerskates? I loved them once… The laws weren’t the most insidious change. Soon we voluntarily stopped sliding down slopes, swimming in water, and eventually even going outdoors. Nanotechnology accelerated the process. You might think that replacing the human body with self replicating machines would have reversed our growing obsession with safety and preservation of our lives. After all, if you broke your neck skiing and you were a nanoman or nanowoman healing was a cinch. But we had already gone too far. We now had the potential to live for millennia. The old joke
Q: Do nanofolks live thousands of times as long as biological people?
A: Yes, but it doesn’t feel like it.
wasn’t funny anymore. It was true. People began obsessively calculating probabilities and avoiding anything whose probability was greater than this or greater than that. Soon, anything whose probability was measurable at all. Giving up pets was hard. I almost still miss my last cat. He was affectionate in a self-centered way, but when he died I could not risk replacing him. Finally, even sex became too dangerous. Progeny were all engendered in vitro. After a while, no one bothered with that. The drive to propagate had been replaced with the drive to prolong the self.
And that’s why I’m contacting you now. I’m sitting here, inside my personal event horizon, having a radical thought. If I’m NOT the only one left, and I might be, maybe I should go out into the universe and try to find some other people. It’s time for a new research program, one that I’m sure we can all get behind. See, we need to find a way out of this universe fast, before entropy snuffs it out. Because our black holes won’t last forever. When they evaporate we will be gone. And I’m not ready. I’ve hardly had time to live!