Excerpt for The Sky Turned Blue by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





The Sky Turned Blue

Evolution of Thievery

Ella Theodore Bakov



Copyright 2018 by Agnieszka Baczkowska-Maśluszczak

Smashwords Edition


Smashwords Edition, License Notes


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Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.







Look and remember. Look upon this sky;
Look deep and deep into the sea clean air,
The unconfined, the terminus of prayer.
Speak now and speak into the hallowed dome.
What do you hear? What does the sky reply?
The heavens are taken: this is not your home.”


Travelogue for Exiles”
Karl Shapiro












TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface



PREFACE


Jonas sweated heavily inside the bulky suit. He wasn’t used to working in a fully armored overall and oxygen mask. He moved his feet carefully. The air today was clear, he could see the street roofs stretching to the horizon. He was nervous. The airtight, plastic street roofs were slightly arched. If he slipped, he’d slide down the small slope to the wall of the building and Don would have to throw him a rope and pull him up. That would make them lose time. He was new on the job so he’d probably never hear the end of it. He held the lance tighter, and turned the music up using the screen on his sleeve. He particularly liked music from the twentieth century.

Smokin...” he sang along. Don tapped his tank. It was their signal. The equipment was ready. The two men started to work.

Yeah. Nice and smooth,” said Jonas spraying the conserving agent all over the battered plastic surface. They moved backwards carefully, making sure that the whole roof was covered from side to side. The job never really ended. In three months, after they’ve covered all the city’s roofs, they’ll have to go back and start again. Jonas looked up at the dark orange sky overcast with black clouds.

“Smoke’s high up today!” he said. One of the copters passed over their heads almost grazing their helmets.

Watch out!” Don warned him and they ducked. Small copters were flying in great numbers over the sealed city. They replaced all individual vehicles. That way, the air inside the city was kept clean. The air outside was poison.

The men reached an intersection. Jonas looked down, through the layer of blurry plastic. A line of postal drones moved under his feet, right below the street roof. The drones transported everything from regular packages to large mechanical parts and human organs. Beneath the drone traffic, people of the city hurried in the busy bustle of everyday life. He took a step back. The roof on the intersection looked different. He turned the music down and knelt down. The plastic surface was covered with a delicate net of cracks, as if it had been contaminated by some kind of poisonous venom. The arabesque web stretched as far as the eye could see.

“Don, look at this,” he touched the cracked surface with his hand. The other man turned around and glanced at the roof.

“Shit. Don’t touch it.”

”Why not?” Jonas looked up.

We don’t want the whole thing to fall down, do we now?” Don smiled grimly. “We need to go back and report this.


TWENTY ONE ELEVEN


Somewhere else in Smoke City, in a secret conference room, a meeting was taking place. Fifteen of the most important players, who controlled the air, food, water and waste, sat at a long wooden table. It had been carved out of the last tree killed by the dense, acid fog that now made up the atmosphere. The host of the evening stood up.

“All of human history has led up to this point. The end of mankind,” Berthold Blut, the oldest and the guttiest developer in Smoke City, spoke with his hands behind his back and his chin high up. The men around the table were silent.

Don’t be a pussy Berthold,” said Kurosawa, an obese Asiano man. The room erupted with laughter, echoing against the glass walls. Three sides of the room were encased in a marine aquarium. The fourth wall, the one with the door, was cast out of solid steel.

“You think I’m scared? No. I’m evaluating options,” Berthold replied calmly.

Yours or ours?” Someone else asked.

“Everyone’s. Here, in this room,” he replied.

“Why won’t you tell us what you’re thinking then?” Kurosawa asked.

“It’s not my habit to tell others what I’m thinking,” Berthold said and the men laughed again.

If you can’t resist it, you just need to go with it, make the best of it,” said Artie, a slender man with fake suntan and an overload of gold jewelry.

“The collapse is inevitable, now. We’ve gathered samples,” another man said.

“Good,” Berthold said flatly.

The roofs will fall apart and the smoke will penetrate the city,” Kurosawa said.

“We only need to be worried about ourselves and our families. Our bunker is complete along with all life support systems,” Berthold said.

“People will die, Berthold,” one of the men said.

“Think of it as evolution,” he replied.

“Twenty five million people dying, how is that evolution?” the man asked.

Berthold got lost in thought for a minute. He was one of the few white people left in the city, but his parents weren’t white. Like all people now, their genetic make up was a mosaic. In a society with no distinct ethnicities, every time a child was conceived the genetic mosaic randomly rearranged itself, and once in a while, a white child was born. Berthold’s mother had a Greek, Indonesian and Caucasian ancestry, whereas his father was of African, Mexican, Chinese and also Caucasian descent. Berthold had white hair and unnaturally pale skin, unlike all the other men in the room. Unlike all other people in the city.

Maybe need to correct myself,” he said. “It is not the end of mankind, it is the end of mankind as we know it. Now, we will have a chance to create a better, carefully selected society.” He took a sip of whisky from a green crystal glass.

It’s been thirty years since we’ve completely sealed the city,” he said, “and now, in twenty one eleven, we can enjoy fresh air and uncontaminated water inside its walls. Better air and better water than people had a hundred years ago.” Berthold sounded almost ecstatic.

Men around the table nodded and gave approving grunts. They all knew each other well. They were a great example that men were never free of sentiment in their decision making. Male fondness of each other, created by oceans of alcohol, drugs, sharing of mistresses and atrocious secrets, cemented these coalitions in power for decades. But when it came to real big money, an alliance could disappear overnight.

“I think we can all agree, that this deadly pollution, and all that it brought us, has been good for us,” Berthold went on. He turned to a small statue of a golden calf, displayed on the wall behind him.

“Most important of all, it has been good for the economy.” The last word, echoed against the walls, as Berthold stared at an imaginary point somewhere beyond the luxury of the room.

The technology innovations, new workplaces in the oxygen and water systems, hydroponic food production, advanced temporal clothing, all of this wouldn’t have happened if the earth was habitable. Not only have we survived, we are doing better than ever!” He concluded. The men clapped.

“Still, another, big step lays ahead of us. A step we have to take. And we have to remember one thing: one man’s loss is another man’s gain,” he said.

Beatrice woke up to the sound of her father’s favorite line, mortified. She had been sleeping in a giant armchair, unnoticed by the gathering. The chair faced the gigantic marine aquarium, which made up the walls of the conference room. Berthold had that armchair custom made. It was about three times the size of an ordinary chair and covered in a bottle green, thick fur. She liked to sneak into the room, as it stood empty most of the time, except for that one night in the month. She must have dozed off a couple of hours before, listening to music on her headphones and observing the sea dragons mate. The female had laid a batch of small, bright pink eggs, and that’s the last thing Beatrice remembered. She shivered in her thin white dress, and hugged her muscular dark legs. Like all people in the city, she was multiethnic. She had a feline, rather big nose and plump lips, round as a button. She was twenty five years old, had an athletic body the color of milk and coffee, big hands and broad shoulders. Her moss green eyes had a hypnotizing effect on most men, but she never used it to her advantage. Blond, curly hair surrounded her beautiful face like a lion’s mane. She was the opposite of her father, in every possible way.

The aquarium was dark as all lights were shut off, to mimic the night. She could see the men around the table clearly reflected in the glass, their faces lit up by the lamps in the back. She was invisible to them though. Her mind sped up, thinking of ways to get out of the conference room unnoticed.

„Jump,” a voice in her head said.


ZACHARY'S TRIP


Gray snow was falling on the solid roofs of Smoke City. Black clouds hung over the steel roofs, like ripening, rotten fruit. The city resembled a black irregular egg, with buildings sticking to each other and all windows sealed. The streets, covered with plastic roofs, protected the breathable air and produced artificial sunlight.

The airtight silver-white egg of the copter, supported by five propellers, flew over the windowless towers, carrying a single passenger. It pierced a black cloud of smoke, and came out smoothly on the other side. Zachary observed the City through the haze for a moment. He combed his black, shiny hair with his hand and adjusted the glasses sitting on his long, protruding nose. The weather forecast was on, displayed on the small screen in the machine.

“It’s very cloudy today, so chance of rain, chance of snow, chance of, well, anything! You know the weather, it’s unpredictable. Ha ha ha ha ha!” the weatherman laughed for a bit too long.“But surely we won’t be seeing any deadly good weather today, so those of you who dread the sun can walk around the City safely. Remember, it’s always totally safe to be out, even in a deadly good weather, all thanks to Plastech Inc. So, next time you buy some water in that permanent shiny bottle, just remember, that all we really need... is plastic,” the weatherman laughed and turned to the anchorwoman. Zachary turned the screen off irritated. His long agile fingers dismounted the plastic cover of the automated steering system. Copters had a small touchscreen which allowed to choose the destination point. That was all that the passengers could do as far as navigation went, but Zachary was no ordinary passenger. He plugged in his custom tablet, and went into the system. His gray eyes scanned the wall of code. He typed the commands quickly. The flying machine immediately turned around and headed east over the chaotic cluster of huddled buildings, streets covered with plastic, and landing platforms, perched on long, concrete columns. The windowless city, Smoke City was just waking up. A tall tower lit up pink through the cracks – the hydroponic plantation began it’s solar day. Copters were automated and their flights coordinated by a central AI in real time. In addition to that copters communicated with each other. The black residue of the dark snow stained the buildings. It covered the curved windshield. Zachary put his forehead against the glass, and sighed. There wasn’t any need of wipers, with the copter flying automatically.

From 2063, the city has been rising to the sky, gradually covering the space over the streets. “Build up, we need to build up” the developers said. When the Third World War ended, the radioactive residue stayed in the air for a year. There was no sunlight form the thirtieth floor down, The tall buildings had obscured the sky completely. The poorest lived in small rooms underground, with no running water. The air in the streets was thick with industrial fumes and post war fallout. It had gotten thicker and thicker everyday.

Humans at that time, were wretched, pale and diseased. Children were born disfigured. Many developed kidney malfunction due to chronic, moderate hypoxia. Lead gradually replaced calcium in the bones making them weak and brittle. They weren’t happy times. As more and more people became depressed from lack of sunlight, the city funded sunscreens to install in every home. It imitated the light spectrum of the sun and offered some relief to the most sensitive individuals. A sunscreen gave more light then a window, even in the tallest of the buildings. It was then, the city started sealing off the windows and the streets. Smoke was getting everywhere, so the Mayor implemented a central ventilation system. The atmosphere wasn’t recovering though.

Nobody used windows anymore. Not a lot of people even had windows. It was advised by the Health Council, to seal them completely. they had found out, that using sunlamps indoors provided more light than glass windows in a dense urban setting. Now all apartments had lamps which imitated sunlight, and an additional UV lamp in the bathroom. This way, people enjoyed more sunlight, than those who lived in cities at the beginning of the century. People who missed a window view, could simply get a live image from the projector. It was cheaper to build a skyscraper with metal windows. The Health Council formulations were published supiciously quickly around the time the first glassless skyscraper was close to completion. The construction site was regularly invaded by groups of protesting ecologists. Naturally, it made no difference. More and more black buildings were raised. They build them wall to wall, some developers even used existing buildings to construct new bulidings of their own, clasping the three remaining walls with steel. These were called "parasites". Building like this, saved huge amounts of money. Someone came up with an idea to build in between buildings above the streets. The City Council was pressed to pass a law allowing to construct habitable structures unattached to land, and offer a substantial change in the taxation. In 2063, a building was defined as a structure, that can either be attached or unattached to the ground. For the developers it was a start of a new era. Windowless buildings, built side by side, meant limitless opportunities. Developers were granted huge benefits. After the bill was passed everyone went wild with ideas, to exploit this architectural Eldorado as much as possible. The city went up and more and more aparments were attatched to existing buildings. It now looked and felt like a large termite nest. Black walls rose up in compilation of towers, ball shaped condos, slanted rooftops with sun batteries. The visual effect was insignificant, with no windows, and a dense atmosphere, no one ever got to see what became of the city. It's like we're living underground Zachary thought. People have gotten used to it, and humanity once again found a way to survive in tough, unnurturing conditions, only in this historical time period, these conditions were self inflicted.

Before the “seal” there was no sunlight in the city. There was no clean air. The air was heavy with smog. People wouldn't open windows anymore, in fear of poisoning. It was always dark. The air worsened, day by day. In 2051, the smog went up 605% and set the highest record. First they covered the Solitude Plaza. The area was small, so drones had built the roof overnight, sealing the plaza with airlocks on each street. Life on the plaza flourished, shops were opened again, and people could walk freely even when the sky was suffocating the rest of the city. Gradually, little by little, all streets were sealed. Windows in old buildings, became a problem and a health hazard, so they had been sealed with plastic, permanently. All roof exits, except those on copter landing platforms, had been sealed shut. And now, no one could get out of the city. Everyone’s life relied on the artificial sunlight, central ventilation and the hydroponic food supply.

The cheapest rooms were located deep underground. There were ninety eight subzero levels in total and some said there was also a ninety ninth. Skyscrapers had been adapted as hydroponic plantations, with a variety of fruit and vegetables. Some were merged with fish farms. Their pink glow could be seen from the air, on a smoke clear day. Vegetables were transported with elevators, to underground parlors and exclusive restaurants overground. All space both overground and underground was owned by the city. The rent was calculated by air-cubes. Everyone got used to living inside the gigantic plastic egg, even if it made them suffer form constant anxiety and claustrophobia.

Zachary felt a surge of heat in his chest as the copter flew over the last sealed building. He’s never gone so far out before, and he was about to go even further. He kept his eyes on the barren landscape, counting rocks to calm his mind. The sickly orange sun was covered by a smoky haze. He looked at the yellow moss which covered the ground. There were no trees and no animals as far as he could see. The area started to look familiar to the photo he had found online. Zachary prepared himself. He had put together some items that would enable him to survive outside the city. He put on a long decorative raincoat and thick gloves. He also had a big hat and sunglasses. Now he had to find a giant white boulder. He spotted it right away. And a small human figure waving to to him from the ground. It was him, the man with all the answers. He stood by the rock, unshielded from the sun, with no mask or suit, happy as a baby.


SMEARI


Mayor Joaquin Vasquez was a man of a towering posture, with healthy brown skin, fleshy lips and a massive nose. He barely needed any sleep, so at six o’clock sharp he was already in his office. He observed the Chief Technologist, Asterios Novak and his assistant Paolo, as they finished introducing all the advantages of the new city drone.

“Is it really necessary?” The mayor asked and his facial features melted into an expression of utter misery as he looked at the round metallic object, hovering in his office. He was ninety six years old, looked and felt no more than fifty, but now he resembled a little boy who’s been told to eat his veggies. The mental calculator in the back of his mind, weighed the numbers: thousands of saved credits against the potential flood of complaints and lawsuits against the city.

“The study results leave no questions,” Asterios Novak replied gently.

“No questions,” his assistant nodded.

“It reduces the damage of drones by sixty percent,”Novak said.

“Hmmm. Sixty percent?” the mayor was impressed, “That’s a lot.” He looked the shiny drone suspiciously. He hadn’t seen it in action yet. He bent his fleshy mouth downward and raised his eyebrows.

“This program will reduce the costs of replacement and maintenance by five hundred and sixty seven thousand credits a year,” Novak said gesturing as he spat out the numbers.

“Mhm,” Vasquez nodded, thinking intensely. “Fine. That does it. Do it.” He slapped the desk with his hand, and got up from his chair. He raised his finger and turned to the men.

“Just ah, explain to me again, why does this make such a big difference? Why does this even work? What’s the catch here, really?” he asked.

“All animals and many humans have an instinctive aggressive response to all kinds of robots. Machines trigger their natural defense reaction,” said Paolo, the assistant. He pointed to his tablet depicting a video of a man, crushing a drone to pieces with something that looked like a corroded metal pipe.

“In a closed artificial environment, like the city, violence rises. Yet every nonhuman individual, even a drone or robot also participates in the city’s social life. City drones resemble humans mimicking their lifelike aspects, such as movement and simple communication. Still, they lack other things that are natural to advanced life forms,” Asterios explained.

“The instinct of self preservation and the feeling of pain or fear that regulates it,” Paolo said.

“Which then leads to a fight or flight response,” Asterios Novak continued.

“No program can replace it.”

“Can’t you just make it look, you know, cute?” The mayor asked.

“Cuteness is tricky,” Asterios said.

“Ah, I remembered something. Just don’t get upset,” the assistant interrupted.

“Me? I never get upset,” said the mayor with false frivolity. Everyone who worked with him knew, that on the inside he was perpetually upset.

“We’ve recently found out, that apart from occasional acts of vandalism, there are also people who intentionally track down and destroy city drones,” Paolo confessed.

“What? Why would anyone do that? That’s criminal.” The mayor raised his eyebrows.

“It’s precisely the reason why we developed Smeari,” Asterios Novak said.

“Drones are unlikable because of their lack of personality. When a person is angry, they will consider the drone angry too. If a person is anxious, they will think the drone is threatening. And so on,” Paolo explained.

“Most people in this city are either angry or anxious,” the mayor murmured.

“The drones need to have an ‘edge’ to survive on the streets. A personality,” Novak said.

“If a person feels inferior he will consider the drone superior. And if robots don’t feel any pain, why not have a swing at them with an elegant piece of pipe?” the assistant said.

“And so the problem escalates,” Novak said, “but what annoys people the most, is their robotic indifference.”

“Many people have already developed robophobia: a fear of robots,” the assistant added.

“And this, Mr. Mayor is the reason why Smeari is so effective,” Asterios Novak concluded.

“Alright. You know what, it will be best if you just show me,” the mayor said.

“Are you sure?” Paolo asked, looking at Novak hesitantly.

“Yeah yeah, go on.” The mayor gestured invitingly. The Chief Technologist looked at his assistant and shrugged.


JUMP


Beatrice sat curled in the chair, listening closely. She felt it’d be better to just stay put and wait for the men to leave. Presently she was discovering, that her father had a side she didn’t really know much about. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“There's always money to made in a crisis. You just need to be clever. Prices of water, energy and food will rise. People will stock things up. This strategy is very effective. It's good for the economy,” Berthold said. He looked at the faces of his fellows, roughened by greed and softened by luxury. Some of them looked old, others had artificially reversed their biological age. None of them had implants, they were cautious in an old fashioned way. They all had one thing in common – they always wanted more.

“We, the manipulants, understand the world better then anyone else, the nature of it, its rules, and its true needs. We shall inherit it, gain complete power, and we will build an even more efficient society. And all of that will happen, when we buy the overground from the city,” Berthold continued his speech.

“How is that going to work?” Kurosawa did not seem convinced at all.

“Once the roofs and domes perish, once the streets and buildings are penetrated by the smoke, the whole city will be useless. People will die or flee to the underground. When that happens, I will give the mayor an offer. A good, reasonable offer.” Berthold smiled. It was obvious to everyone in the room, that the offer will neither be good nor reasonable.

“This is all really really precious. I'd like to finally get some space of my own, I'm tired of paying rent. With the five production halls I send a goddamn wheelbarrow of gold to the City Hall every month,” Artie, the man with the fake suntan exclaimed, gesturing vividly. The men around the table, gave out empathetic sighs. They all had big bills to pay.

“But there's one thing that I'd really like to know. How did you get all the roofs to start to fall apart?” Artie asked.

“I had struck a silent deal with my friend. Many years ago,” Berthold replied with a smug smile. He was old. His muscles were sagging under his loose skin. He thought it didn’t matter, these were just appearances. What really bothered him, was his automatic robotic heart, that required constant fueling up. In spite of this, he didn’t mind constantly wearing it out, creating false drama and excitement. He took a deep breath.

“Unfortunately there has been a breach of trust in our circle. The mayor, already knows of our plan,” he said. The room became cloaked in heavy silence.

“Well that can only mean one thing. We have a rat!” one of the men spoke gravely.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions. Maybe someone’s been spying on us, maybe we’ve been infiltrated by nanodrones. We don’t know that,” Berthold said calmingly. Naturally he had been lying about the leak. This was his typical game, that he loved to play. Setting people against each other, and seeing what would happen. Now after planting the terrifying news, he defended the other side of the argument, as if he didn’t care about convincing anybody.

“With your security? We’re sitting in a fucking aquarium for crying out loud,” Artie said.

“We can’t go through with the plan now! We’ll be sabotaged,” another man said and stood up.

“The mayor doesn’t know anything.” someone else said, but was immediately silenced. Beatrice curled up in the chair. There would be trouble if they discovered her.

“JUMP!” A voice in her head said. The men behind her became louder, arguing with one another. Kurosawa was the loudest.

“Cheng always looked like a rat to me. You always just sit there, not saying anything. Are you even human?” The obese Asiano got up and walked over to a small man sitting in the corner of the room. The man didn’t move. The big man had Japanese roots, and the old dislike for the Chinese still echoed in the depths of his neurons, even though his genotype was fifty percent Ashkenazi and his family had been living in Smoke City for five generations.

“JUMP.” The command in Bea’s head kept repeating. She closed her eyes, wanting to disappear. Berthold put his hand on the big man’s shoulder.

“All you need to know about politicians is that they all steal. The democrats, the republicans, the socialists, the communists... they are all just regular thieves. Why? Because the state is a goose that lays solid gold eggs, all you need to do is go grab them. Politics is about money. It’s more about money than business is about money. And if it’s everybody’s money it’s nobody’s money.”

“What are you saying?” Kurosawa asked.

“I'll handle the mayor,” Berthold said with lazy confidence.

“JUMP,”said the voice to Beatrice again. Behind her back, Kurosawa wasn't satisfied.

“We still better find out who the traitor is. Why is this tank so dark?” he asked.

“It's on a Caribbean day cycle,” Berthold said. Kurosawa turned to Mr. Cheng and suddenly leaped towards him. He shrieked, but Kurosawa immediately closed his hands around the man’s throat. With his subtle posture, Mr. Cheng had no chance against the attacker. He struggled and kicked him helplessly, and finally folded his limbs as if all life escaped from his body. Kurosawa grabbed him by the crotch and neck, and grunting heavily, threw him into the aquarium, right beside Bea's chair. Sweat rolled down his oily face. Beatrice froze. The men were silent, some with shock, some with approving cynicism. Berthold didn't say a word.

“Turn the light on,” Kurosawa ordered. There was a mirror behind the glass tank Beatrice was facing. If the aquarium was lit, they would notice her reflection immediately. She was calm though.

"JUMP. JUMP. JUMP."

Someone finally turned the light on and the aquarium lit up. Among pieces of shattered coral and clouds of blood, Mr. Cheng’s body floated with his eyes and mouth wide open. A tiny, disoriented fish, swam into his mouth and back out again. Kurokawa grinned and nodded his head. Beatrice met his gaze for a split of a second. He looked at Berthold, who nodded with approval, unaware of his daughter’s presence.

"JUMP!"

Beatrice vanished into thin air. When Kurosawa turned to the chair, it was already empty.


THE CHIEF



-So are you like, their leader?-

-I've never asked anything of them. I never ordered them to do anything.

-So you're not their leader?

-A true leader has only one duty. To lead people to their freedom.”

Transcript of the negotiations with the indigenous people of South America on the 9th of May, 2025


The Chief was looking into the distance with mild bewilderment, his mouth open in a half smile, his eyes brisk in a typical chief-kind-of-stare. He looked as if he was contemplating some exciting mystery. With his sneakers firm on the ground, he looked as if he was grown into the plain, a human tree, immovable. Zachary stood next to him, feeling too white for this situation. He felt like an intruder, and painfully ignorant. He was cloaked in a long coat made of thick fabric. He had sunglasses, a straw hat and an umbrella. He wore a makeshift mask made of several layers of lady stockings. He just improvised; there were no protective suits available in shops. No one ever needed them. No one ever traveled to the outside. There was nothing here.

The copter was standing some distance away. Zachary felt vulnerable, exposed to the lethal, orange sunlight. He tried to compose himself and be as peaceful and serene as the Chief, but his tall, uncoordinated body wobbled in the wind.

“So, you want to know about the future?” The chief asked.

“Yes. Well, the general picture really, ten years from now?”

“If you want to know the future, you must first look into the past,” the Chief said.

Zachary looked at the yellow moss at his feet.

“What part of the past should I look into exactly?”

“The general picture,” the man answered and smiled charmingly.

“Like what, colonization, industrial revolution?”

“I will come straight to the point because you seem like an intelligent young man. Some people think that this land was taken from us. But the land never left its place. So how could it have been taken? No man on this Earth has the power to take the land from its place!” the Chief exclaimed raising his hands in the air. Zachary felt a gust of wind, and wrapped himself tighter with his coat.

“Well, that's one way of saying...”

“But other things were taken from the land. Not from us. The land,” the Chief interrupted him.

“Well, yes, the resources you mean?” Zachary asked.

“The resources. And what is the most powerful resource of this land?” The Chief raised his chin and put his hands behind his back. Zachary hesitated. He didn't expect a quiz. He never liked history lessons.

“The fertile soil? The air? Gold maybe?”

“The most powerful resource,” the Chief pressured.

“I don't know. What is it?”

“The dream.”

Clearly the Chief was about to convey something out of the ordinary. Zachary hoped he would get some answers quickly so he could get out of here.

“I don't follow. People have dreams, I agree, but land doesn’t dream. It’s not a person,” Zachary said, perplexed.

“Every land dreams. Every land has it's own dream. The people who live in the land use that dream, to achieve greatness. The dream of this land used to be very powerful, but has been wasted on folly. When you close your eyes, you will feel the land dream, and then you can take that dream wherever you like. That is the power of this land. It is its most powerful resource,” the Chief said with his hands stretched out, fluttering his fingers, feeling the air.

“How do you know that? How do you know that land is not a person?”

“Because it has no consciousness.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well.. It doesn’t communicate, it cannot talk.”

“Yes it can. Of course it can. It does communicate. It is you, who doesn’t know how to listen,” the Chief said gently. Zachary looked around, not knowing how to respond. The Chief went on, “the dream of a land is the space above it, the space, the opportunity. Every object in the universe has to have space around it. It is the thing that defines it really, its mute brother, the apple bite. And every land is different and so the space above it is also different. There is dense space and light space, there is quick space and slow space. And in addition to that, in the space, the land dreams. If the dream is strong and vast, people who inhabit it, can achieve a lot. If the dream is weak and constricted, people in the land can do very little. The dream defines what they can and cannot do. And the land dreams it. Do you understand?”

“Look, I don't know what you're talking about, I need this information. I need to know if the Earth will still be in the same place in the galaxy in ten years. That's all,” Zachary said irritated.

“Why do you need to know this, young man?” the Chief smiled at him again. Zachary was worn out by now. Whom would this guy tell anyway, he thought.

“I need to know this so that we can attempt a quantum jump. If we jump and land in the middle of space, we will die. There, you know everything now.” Zachary instantly felt deflated.

“Look, if for some reason you can't tell me it's OK. I won't bother you.” He turned to the copter.

“I will help you. But to do what you are planning to do, you need something else than you think.”

“Will the Earth be in the same place when we jump?” Zachary asked. The chief stared into the sky. Not like he could see anything through the blanket of gray and black fumes.

“Our ancestors walked among the stars,” he said.

“Really?” Zachary asked, and thought that he couldn’t possibly have meant space travel.

“Grand travelers. Take a look,” he took out a parchment, with a drawing on it. A human figure enclosed in circles among shapes, that looked like stars.

“Well, we are building a machine. Very technologically advanced, quantum capsule.”

“You don’t need a machine. Find the one with the Wakan power.”

“What’s a Wakan?” he asked looking around again. The barren landscape gave Zachary the creeps. He could not understand, how the Chief remained intact with the sunlight beaming down on him or how he was breathing in the hazy, dusty air. He shook his head. He was now almost certain that the Chief would not give him a straight answer. The Chief however, still had something to say.

“You need to find the lost brother. You need to find the one with the Wakan power. He will hear things speak from miles away. He will heal his brothers. He will travel to the skies and when he does, you will be able to travel with him. Without the magic shield or the help of any other artifacts. He is your dream. He is your apple bite. The handless seer.”

“How do I find him?”

“Find.. Goldilocks.”

At this point, Zachary knew, he’d made the trip for nothing.

“Thank you Mr. Chief.” He said politely.

“Just call me Chief.”

“Alright. Do you need a lift or something?”

“Hah! In that thing? Absolutely not,” said the Chief and smiled.

Zachary looked at the copter. It was this year’s model. There was a large choice of machines on the copter pad that morning and he managed to find one that didn’t even have a scratch on it. There was nothing wrong with it. He turned back to say goodbye and found no one in sight.

“Chief?”


IN SPACE


Beatrice awoke floating in the middle of space, clothed in nothing, but her thin white dress. The cold penetrated her with a million of burning and freezing needles. Her muscles tensed up in panic. She saw a vast blackness and millions of white, shiny stars all around her. Her blond curly hair floated in space and the blueish starlight made her brown skin look green. She reached desperately for something to hold on to. She felt the hot rush of adrenaline in her arms and legs, she opened her mouth to scream but could only produce a choking sound, expelling the last breath of air into the void. She curled up and tightened her lips and eyes. Saliva started boiling on her tongue.

“JUMP! “

Immediately, she was back in her sunscreen lit bedroom, in her parents’ apartment. The intelligent bed started to vibrate and massage her gently in response to movement, in order to supply the most pleasure. It was warm and safe. She took a loud, wheezing breath, bent her burned body backwards and gave out a bloodcurdling, animal scream.

Down the hall, everyone had left the conference room except for Berthold and Kurosawa. The aquarium vibrated lightly, the scream echoing in the water.

“Did you hear something?” Kurosawa asked and turned his head.

“No.” Berthold was making a call for someone to come and clean up the body.

“Sorry about the...” Kurosawa pointed at the body in the aquarium, “...thing.” He said congenially.

“It’s alright. Obviously, it had to be done,” Berthold said.

“OK. Listen, I believe I saw your daughter.”

“You believe? That means, you don’t know.”

“I’ not sure. I believe I have.”

You know what it means, when people say they believe? It means that they’re not sure. People say I believe in God. What are they’re really saying? They’re saying I don’t know God. I’m not sure of God. All those who say they believe are not really close to God. If they were, they wouldn’t bother believing. If they were, they wouldn’t even bother with convincing others, that they believe. If you can talk to God, you don’t need other people to confirm your religious piety. You know?”

“Do you talk to God, Berthold?”

“Nah, he bored the crap out of me.”

“Berthold, I know what you’re doing, you’re changing the subject. Stop.” Kurosawa held his hands together, squinting.

“You’re not gonna let it go, are you?” Berthold smiled.

“No. I saw her. And then she disappeared. You know what that means.”

“Do I?”

“She’s a traveler,” Kurosawa whispered.

“We can’t really be sure.”

“This is a serious problem. We don’t know how much she heard.”

“Relax. She’s got no one to guide her. She’ll just think she’s had vivid dreams. This won’t go anywhere.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, of course I’m sure.”

“What if she becomes a threat?”

“Then, I’ll take care of it.”

A beautiful, tall, dark skinned woman cracked the secret door and looked inside, looking about the room with a wild stare. She fixed her eyes on Berthold.

“Yes?” Berthold asked.

“It’s Beatrice,” she whispered, “something happened.”


WE HAVE STORMS IN THE CITY


Zachary looked around, but he could not see the old man anywhere. A sudden wave of panic overcame him, when he realized how unnatural it was for a man to disappear in the middle of a vast field. Without looking, he felt the sky turning dark. He looked up and saw clouds condensing out of nowhere. He felt another wave of panic and his knees grew soft. Stumbling, he ran to the copter. He pressed the button, and squeezed himself in while the door continued to open slowly. He hammered the button on the inside, but the door had to open completely before it could be closed. The smoke gathered all around, the air fuzzy with tension. He put on the dust mask he had prepared for an occasion like this.

“Come on! Stupid machine,” he muttered, choosing commands on his compad with his other hand. The door finally closed and the copter rose up, against the gathering storm, clouds black and dense, illuminated with an occasional thunder. Zachary held on to his chair and looked back as he flew away from the danger. The clouds were still gaining volume. It seems like they started to move in his direction. There was an incoming call on his compad. The implant in his temple vibrated. He hit it with his index finger. A face appeared on the screen.

“Hey David.” He said.

“How is everything?”

“Normal,” Zachary lied, hoping the lie will become true.

“Are you coming back? What did he say?”

“To find a lost brother. To look for Goldilocks.”

“As in?”

“I have no idea.”

“Goldilocks in terms of astrophysics would mean the optimal position and size of a planet for sustaining carbon based life. Is that what he meant?”

“He didn’t say. Just to find Goldilocks.”

Find Goldilocks? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know,” Zachary sighed.

“Maybe what he meant was, that we should find the proper distance. But the proper distance to what? Maybe it’s something else. What else did he say?” David was excited.

Zachary was distracted. He looked back. The storm was gaining momentum, and it didn’t look like it was going to change direction.

“The handless seer. The apple bite.”

“Handless. Hands like hands on the clock? Maybe a clock without hands? Electronic clock. Is everything OK? You look tense,” David babbled.

“There’s a storm coming,” Zachary said with a worried face.

“From where?”

“Right behind me.”

“Shit. Get out of there!”

“What do you think I’m doing?” Zachary looked around the cabin of the copter in hopes of finding some secret lever to make it go faster.

“Do you have extra shields?” David asked.

“No, this is a city copter. It’s not built for long journeys.” Zachary tapped on the compad ferociously, trying to speed up the copter. The massive clouds behind, fell down to earth level and the wind picked up dust from the ground. It looked like a sandstorm now. Zachary could see a thick line appear in the distance, connecting the sky and the ground, a tornado following the storm.

“Shit, it’s a fucking tornado! I didn’t know there were tornadoes out here!” Zachary looked around in panic, as the copter’s engines reached maximum power, humming hoarsely.

“We have storms in the city.”

“They are nothing compared to those out on these plains. In the city you can reach any platform within fifteen minutes. It’s standard procedure.”

The raging smoke reached the copter, as it crossed over the littered outskirts of the city. The smoke swallowed the back propeller. It screeched, jamming in the dust and other particles.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” Zachary only had enough time to say these words, before the copter disappeared in the black cloud of the storm.

“Zach-” The compad went mute.

The propellers of the copter jammed in the dust. The machine plummeted down, and crushed on the roof of a building, as the storm carried on, dispersing the raging clouds against the buildings. The copter’s engine exploded. Orange, insect like, emergency drones immediately appeared in the distance, crawling out of the nearest drone dock. They rose in the air and hurried to the crash site.


GREAT JOB, BOYS


The mayor rummaged through the closet. He reached his hand to the back and pulled out an expandable police baton. Asterios Novak was tapping on his compad and Paolo checked the controls on the drone.

“Alright then. I’ve switched it to auto control. On the streets, the central computer steers them, making decisions based on the thermal and verbal analysis of humans, provided by the drone’s camera. This drone will make its own decisions,” said Paolo. He snapped his fingers. The drone bobbed in the air several times, it’s lights flickered and turned red.

“Smiri mode is on,” he confirmed.

“Try to attack him,” Asterios Novak said to the Mayor. Vasquez assumed a position with his legs wide apart. He felt constricted by his suit, but all his clothes were made extra wide, to accommodate his massive frame. Vasquez used to be a boxer, he still had it in his back. He swung the baton at the drone. The drone dodged and went back to its original position.

“Is that all you got you rotten, human sausage?” the machine spoke in a mean voice, bobbing in the air.

“The vocabulary is designed to avoid using swearwords,” Paolo explained hastily.

“We’ve also improved the avoidance speed and movement prediction protocols,” Asterios said. The mayor had a go at it again, this time from the side. The drone went up this time.

“You decomposing piece of garbage! The agents are on their way to arrest your flat, human ass,” the drone yelled.

This time the mayor aimed at the drone from the bottom. The machine barely got away and the baton chipped a small piece of composite from one of the drones protruding sensors.

“Go on, you sweaty meatball,” said the drone sarcastically, “you pathetic, wet eyed, lump of carbon! I want to see your face when you pay that five hundred credits for damaging city property.”

The mayor put the baton down slowly, looking at the two man with his eyes wide open.

“I don’t feel like hitting it anymore,” he said surprised, opening his arms, “you people are geniuses!” He hugged the Chief Technologist and his assistant with passion.

“Thank you Mr. Mayor. We are trying our best,” Asterios said.

“I think that… when it said the thing about the credits, that’s when I just felt like I wanted to stop.” The mayor was overcome with awe. The destruction of city drones had been a major problem since day one.

“Tests have shown that the monetary argument works very well with humans,” Asterios Novak nodded.

“When delivered properly of course,” Paolo added.

“Great job, boys, great job,” the mayor shook their hands.


THE TANK


Beatrice awoke, soaked in a tank full of warm repair-gel. The air smelt like ozone, hospital ozone. She touched the silicon strap that supported her head in the tank. She looked down, her body was only covered with an intimate patch and was continuously shivering. Pink and brown burns covered the left side of her body. She felt nothing, when she touched them. She checked her body, wriggling around in the gel. Apart from the burns, she seemed to be fine. She touched her head. Someone had made her hair into neat cornrows, to keep her locks from getting tangled in the gel. She looked around. The hospital room was white and dimly lit. She looked around. The sunscreen was turned off. There was a hybrid cannabis plant with large red flowers in the corner. Opposite of her was another tank, just like the one she was in. It contained a burned torso with no legs, also suspended in clear gel. The head with no lips was smouldered, a breathing mask was mounted on his lip-less mouth, that displaying two rows of white teeth. The man had only one arm, the other one had been severed off. Three large machines connected to him with a multitude of transparent tubes, kept the remainders of the man alive. One of the machines was pumping red fluid. His gray eyes were blinking every couple of seconds, but otherwise he seemed to be devoid of consciousness.

“Hey, roasted dude, you awake?” she said with a hoarse voice, “Hey crispy! Hey! Can you hear me?” The torso gave no answer. “What happened to you man? Someone’s taken you for a marshmallow?” Beatrice was talking to herself. She felt helpless.

Zachary felt no pain. He had been put in a drug induced coma but due to some error, remained conscious. He couldn’t move or speak. He could not even control his own breathing. He tried to blink on his own but failed. Blinking was regulated by the machines that steered all of his body processes. Every three seconds to the millisecond, preventing his eyes from drying out and his muscles from sagging. It was a standard neural program, controlling all basic life functions.

Beatrice pulled herself up and skillfully climbed out of the tank. She fell heavily on her feet, slipping in the gel dripping from her body. The alarms in the tank went off, beeping and flashing red light. She came up to him slowly, shivering, wet feet lapping.

“Blink twice if you can hear me,” she whispered to his ear. He wanted to move, he wanted to move desperately, but couldn’t. Beatrice waited, focused patiently on his face. He couldn’t move to take a closer look at her. Her face was a blur in the corner of his eye. Everything he saw was a blur. He imagined the warmth of her body that he couldn’t now feel because of the drugs. In his mind though, he felt it, soothing and intoxicating.

„Blink!” he ordered himself in his mind. Naturally he could forget about moving any muscle in his body. She looked at him, straight into his eyes. She didn’t know what had happened to him, but she a feeling of certainty overcame her, that it had something to do with the atmosphere that sometimes interfered with communication and caused copter accidents. Zachary’s body blinked. Just once.

“Smoke got you huh?” she said and went back into her tank. Beatrice realized she was going to have to stay put for some time. The last time she'd visited a hospital as a child. Now she noticed her mother behind the glass door, talking to a doctor. She opened the door gently and came into the room. Irina Blut was fifty years old but she looked no more than thirty. The only thing that revealed her age was a feminine, cautious elegance about her. Her skin was smooth and brown like her daughter's but her hair was dark, with streaks of copper and gold. She was dressed in layers of transparent foggy fabric and grapes of luminescent jewelery. Bea opened her mouth to speak but her mother stopped her.

“Oh, honey, don't speak, you'll ruin your throat!” she said and sat down on a levichair, “Nobody knows what happened. The doctors said you could have died. You father had the air filters checked but they're working just fine.” Beatrice closed her bloodshot eyes. She didn't feel her body now, they must have given her strong painkillers.

“I’m fine. But for a moment I thought I was dead,” she said.

“No, no, no, don’t say things like that,” her mother protested.

“I think I was in... space.”

“What? When?”

“Then. When this happened.”

“What are you talking about? You were at home.”

“I don't know how it happened, but I saw the stars. It was freezing cold. I was there.”

“That’s impossible, you would have died instantly.”

“No, not instantly. It would have taken at least thirty seconds. I was there for maybe five.”

“I'm sure you were hallucinating. The doctors said it could have been some sort of chemical leak. Anyway, don't think about it now. Oh baby, you'll be alright. They said a week or two and you can go back home.

“I'm moving out.”

“Oh,” her mother touched her decorated chest, “Beatrice, don't think about such things right now.”

“I love you mom,” Beatrice turned her head to her mother.

“I love you too sweetie,” she replied weepingly.

“But I'm moving out.”

“Your father will not like this idea.” Irina sighed.

“How can you be with him? Do you even know what he is capable of?”

“Your father works hard to support us.”

“You don’t know, you don’t know anything. He has ties to.. things you wouldn’t want to know about.” And she probably didn’t, Bea thought.

“Honey, you can say what you want, but be respectful of your father. I know you are in shock now. Please, just rest, and when you get better we...”

“He is going to kill everyone,” Beatrice interrupted her.

“Honey, that’s insane, what are you talking about?”

“You have to get me out of here. I’m not safe,” Beatrice said, feeling a sudden surge of panic. The nurse came in, and her mother got up from the levichair. The chair retreated into a dent in the wall.

“Time to sleep,” the nurse said.

“I have to go honey. You need to rest now,” Irina Blut said, brushing the golden strands of hair from her face.

“Mom...”

“Yes sweetie?”

“I love you. But you are one gutless bitch.” Beatrice said bitterly.

“I know,” Irina replied calmly, “I think she needs a navigator,” she whispered to the nurse. The nurse nodded. She came up to the tank.

“You have to go all in for the night, Beatrice,” she said.

The nurse took the oxygen mask from behind the tank and helped put it over Bea’s face. She closed her eyes and sank in the tank. Moving her muscular legs, her foot touched the wall of the tank. Suddenly, she sensed it got somehow glued to the wall as if by a multitude of tiny suckers. She opened her eyes, shocked. She just had time to think “My feet feel weird” before the nurse pressed a button on the screen and put her to sleep.

And then, there were dreams. She was standing on a green field, a green like she’s never seen before. It was bright, illuminated by a yellow sun. Yellow sun, she gasped. She saw the sun once, on a day when the smoke was thin, flying over the city in a copter. It had a dirty orange glow that made her sick to her stomach. Oh yes, let there be a green field, she thought. There don’t have to be flowers.. Just juicy, healthy, green grass. Grass had died out in 2065. Throughout history, grass was so obvious. It had always been there, taken for granted. Now there was just acid moss, growing all over the dry plains.

In her dream the grass was back, although she had never seen any in her life. Curling up her toes she felt the prickling blades. She lay down on the springy green, rolled over and smelled it, warm from the sun, damp, earthy with a sharp hint of watermelon. Suddenly she heard the sound of a drum, growing louder and louder. She stood up and looked around, grass marks on her cheek, pieces of it stuck to her clothing. She noticed a figure of a man there, in the distance but she couldn’t see his face. The dream landscape seemed to bend as the drumming got louder. A thunder cracked up above and an enormous, black, solid cloud came rolling over the field, obscuring the light.

“Hey, get out! Get out of here!” Beatrice screamed to warn the man, who stood motionlessly as the cloud grew larger in the sky. It rolled down and swallowed the figure, and all went black. Beatrice screamed again. She awoke suddenly and opened her eyes in the tank. Through the transparent wall, she could see the burned man being wheeled out of her room, wheels of his tank clicking like a drum in her dream. She emerged from the tank and took off the mask and wiped her head and eyes with her hands. She looked at them, there were hot pink areas where new skin formed in little granules. The regeneration was going well, she should be out of here soon, she thought. But she had to know now, maybe the dream was true, maybe the sky was blue.

“Show me the sky” She said toward the screen on the wall.

The sunscreen lit up with a sound of wind chimes, in a beautiful azzaro blue, lined with an occasional cirrus cloud. Bea looked at the screen stunned, blue light reflecting in her eyes and laughed.

“It’s true,” she said to herself.

“The show is brought to you by Skylight Generator. Sponsored by Quickdry, your fastest temporal towel. It just disappears!” a soft, sweet voice from the screen reported.

“Oh,” Beatrice held on to the brim of the tank, taking in the disillusionment.

“Show me the real sky. Outside!” She said sharply. The voice control had always been a mess. The screen dimmed and then lit up again only a lot darker then before. It displayed a barren surface with a heap of what seemed to be the remainders of deteriorated vehicles in the lower right corner of the screen. This was the barren landscape outside the city. A precipitating fuzziness falling from the dark gray sky blurred the image. The lower left corner displayed the date and time. 9:53 March 15th 2111. She felt cheated.

“JUMP,” a voice in her head said. She ignored it and switched the news channel.

“The city maintenance crew discovered a strange pattern on the roofs. At this point, it’s uncertain whether the pattern is man made,” the anchorwoman said.

“Hey, maybe it’s an artistic installation?” her partner said merrily. Beatrice looked around the empty room. She was safe inside the airtight building, but if the shields fall apart, the seals on the windows of the older buildings will do the same and people will start to die. And why? Because her father and his little gang of old men decided so. The nurse came in.

“Good morning. You have a visitor,” she said.

“Who is it?”

“It’s your father.”

“Great,” Beatrice said. She swam to the brim of the tank and leaned on it. She touched her cornrows, they were still covered with gel from the night, but were tight and neat.

Berthold walked into the room. He was wearing a navy tennis jacket and slim, silver pants. The white hair on his head was brushed aside. He looked as if he had been artificially aged. The truth was, he was an old man, with the vigor and egotism of a five year old.


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