I pull away from Kortena, switch off the network, its adds and programs, all the things it wants me to see and do and experience. I don’t want pills. Well, I do, but not those pills, and I’m not even sure what Kortena’s trying to tell me. I could use the dictionary for the words I don’t know, the sentences too long and confusing. But that’s a lot of work.
Someone probably wrote something about ignorance once, and it was probably real swill insightful, so I should listen to it, whatever it is, and learn. Instead, I sit up and look around the ship.
There’s about thirty seats. Maybe forty. I’m not very good at guessing or counting and I don’t like numbers in general. I only recognize four people. The rest are strangers. Sophie. I guess she’s my friend when she isn’t a bitch. She’s usually a bitch. But only because it’s one of those things that all the swill people do, so you really can’t blame her for being better than other people and acting like the bitch everyone wants her to be. It helps that she’s beautiful. Long red hair—she doesn’t change her hair as often as most people—like lava flowing down her back. Thankfully, it’s not real lava, so her hair isn’t burning her skin off and melting her spine, ruining her beauty. And pale skin—white like a ghost, but a sexy ghost, like a horror movie ghost girl who sleeps with a guy but only until he realizes he’s banging a ghost and then he freaks out moments before the ghost girl rips out his heart or chops off his junk because he’s a cheating jerk and she’s enacting vengeance for a living girl she doesn’t know but wants to help anyway. Since the dude totally tried to bang a ghost. Sophie is that sort of beautiful, but in a less dead sort of way. Still pale, though, veins visible beneath her skin like a magical spider wove an icy web inside of her. A beautiful ghost spider.
It’s strange, the five of us sitting apart even though we—other than me—planned this together. At least I assume Thade planned it with Bruno. They’re best friends, and Sophie always hangs with Milinda even if they hate each other. And me, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not sure where I am other than on a ship in the center of some ocean, sinking toward Sealandia.
Just a dive away!
A voice. First I think it’s Kortena, but the calming tone is missing. The intercom, I realize without opening my eyes.
“We will arrive at Sealandia in three short hours. In the meantime, please enjoy the scenery.”
I groan. Everyone else seems excited by three additional hours of this hell. The scenery is darkness, black and seamless, a world without light or structure, and that’s with my eyes open rather than shut. Shut, at least there’s twinkling lights and whatever else you see when you shut your eyes too tightly. A sea of stars to lose yourself within.
I’m falling asleep. I hear singing and I don’t know if it’s me or Kortena or someone on the ship or another clip or add or commercial or movie or book or something that Kortena wants to show me before I miss my chance at a deal or what’s new, what’s swill what’s good, and it’s good to know what’s good that way you’ll impress everyone and be the swillest cowboy.
Cowboys are in right now. Everyone’s wearing chaps and carrying lassos and talking about dust.
The singing doesn’t sound like Kortena’s voice, but I’m half asleep. Disoriented. Drained. Annoyed. Someone keeps tapping the back of my chair, not at all in cadence with the singing. A sad song, almost too soft to hear, like a whisper that wants to be heard but fears the consequences, knows it may make the bad even worse. I’m pretty sure it’s a whale. A singing whale. Humpbacks.
I’m dreaming, I think, stuck in orbit between awake and not awake.
When I try to focus on the words, truly hear them, I fall asleep.
But the song keeps playing.
And the whales keep singing.
It all blends together.
Imagine, eating a cake, knowing it was prepared by the most beautiful specimen of humankind you have ever glimpsed. Her long, elegant fingers trail through the buttercream frosting, tickle the sugary roses, stroke the lettering—happy birthday or anniversary or adoption or congratulations on surviving that hornet nest even though you’re allergic and are now quite swollen—so sensually that you question if you should make love to the cake rather than consume it. Or lick each of her fingers clean, no matter where they have been before or after the frosting. Or let the cake consume you, as she would consume you.
She cooks your heart into a cake and frosts it over.
The knife plunges in, through both cake and heart.
Tune in next week for more Bakery Erotica.
On next week’s episode: how to glaze his doughnut.
And now, another poem from the Enjambment Gang. This one, listeners, is titled “Being Nowhere and Everywhere, or are We Just Asleep?
It’s not easy, being here.
But it’s probably worse, being there.
Because here and there
aren’t so swill.
But they’re better than being nowhere
when nowhere isn’t anywhere.
Or are we just asleep?
Or are we simply sleeping?
Waiting to wake,
to be somewhere again.
I wake, startled, sweating, shivering, all sorts of thoughts thinking through my head, a lot more thoughts than I’m used to. Usually I like thinking about one thing. Otherwise life gets too confusing and scary and everything smashes together. If Kortena wants to show me an add, then I focus on the add, like shoes or golf pens or these belts that don’t have buckles so they just hang around your waist all limp and dead-like, if belts were alive. But belts, they’re just plastic or leather or something, and what’s the point if they’re not holding anything up?
I’m awake, still on the ship. Everyone’s staring at me. Usually I like to avoid notice. I lean on walls and lounge in shadows and try to stand behind tall people, or fat people, or tall and fat people. They’re the best. I’m not shy or anything. I just don’t like to be seen, like I’m endangered. Like I’m one of those small gray bears and I’m laxing in a tree, sprawled out, real nifty, grinning and chewing on leaves. I’m around people, and they’re around me, but I’m just watching. Watching, because they can’t see me, because just existing is more than enough. And chewing on leaves.
But now I’m not a small gray bear. I’m a guy, sort of tall, not too muscular but not all bones like Thade, and there’s no tree to hide in. No leaves. Just a ship filled with strangers and there’s nowhere to run.
“That was weird, Trev.” Milinda’s turned around in her seat, staring at me, pale green eyes wider than usual and outlined with black shadows. At some point Sophie sat beside her. Unreadable, as always. A book without words. All books, I guess. No one wants to read words when Kortena reads for us, when she can talk in so many voices and make books a lot more interesting than they really are, back when books were only words and everyone got too bored to read them.
“Insane,” Sophie mutters, her eyes shut. She’s watching something through Kortena. “Totally, sups, insane. You said all sorts of stuff and other junk, like a…I don’t know, a nonsense talker. Baking cakes or something, but real wordy and deep. So not swill. Really, Trev? You know cakes are entirely errgged now. You can’t be beautiful and be a cake at the same time. You’ll get fat and no one will want to frost you. Now, can we end your insane talk and start laxing? That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? That’s why you begged us to visit Sealandia.”
I want to scream that the idea was never mine. Instead, it’s “Insanity can also denote brilliance of many varieties. Wonder. Furthermore, insanity is one of the realest emotions, nearest to our fundamental truths. Beauty in its truest form.” The words come from Kortena instead of me, filling my head and leaving my mouth before I can stop them. It’s even stranger when I don’t know what the words mean, what I said.
Milinda and Sophie glance at each other and roll their eyes. “What?”
“I…don’t know? All this pressure must be messing with my network. You know, from the water.” I shake my head, pretend Kortena is loose and bouncing in my brain. Maybe she is. “My thoughts feel totally whoa, way errgged, like Kortena’s crashing into a wall and everything’s getting all…what’s that egg? You know, the egg, with the yolk? The shell. And it’s all crushed.”
“Over-easy?” Sophie says, eyes still shut. “Your thoughts are overly easy? You are thinking a lot. Benedict? He was someone. An egg, I think. But a really old egg, like before Earth2. Benedict Egg, and he betrayed the other eggs? No, that was totally Earth1, so sups long ago, but he was definitely an egg.”
Kortena suggests scrambled. “Scrambled, yeah, my thoughts are scrambled like that egg. There’s the egg, and it’s whole, the shell and stuff, and then it cracks and oozes ooze out, and then it’s scrambled even more. My head feels really heavy.”
“Scrambled Benedict,” Sophie says. “Of course.”
“You’re cooking your thoughts?” Milinda asks. “I don’t get it, Trev. I’m not getting you. Why are you talking about eggs? And cakes? Are you hungry? I have a protein block, Wow It’s Protein!, in my purse if you…”
“Never mind,” I say. “I’ll find a Network Booth when we arrive. I need some caching, quick.”
“Or decaching,” Thade says, face between the chair and the other chair, like he’s trying to squeeze his skull through. “We could decache, get up’d before we pet all the whales and shit. I’d trip so hard from petting a whale decached. We could even sing together.” He’s stroking the seat, I guess how you’d pet a whale, all smooth and calm so it doesn’t bite you.
“No one is decaching,” Sophie says, but she always says this before she decaches, so we know that’s her plan and that she’s already zooming through Kortena, searching for the nearest coldzone in Sealandia. If it’s anything like Earth3, then there’s lots of coldzones and people will decache like they never want to come back and maybe I’ll join them and maybe I won’t, but I probably won’t.
Decaching on Earth3 is just okay. There’s never much to do so sometimes it’s decache or just feel like you’re decached, but bored, and the real thing is always better. It’s like you’re not even on Earth3, but some place better, a place that matters, like the center of the universe. But I don’t know why anyone would spend so many credits just to visit Sealandia and decache. It seems like a waste, even if my parents did put a ton of credits into my account before I left. Still, I rather waste credits on better things.
“Yeah, me either,” I say. “There’s no point to that stuff if we’re here. Don’t you want to, I don’t know, remember and not forget Sealandia?”
“There’s always a point,” Bruno says, and I can tell by the way he’s staring, his eyes glazed over and numbers passing through the whites, the tiniest numbers that you have to look real hard to see, that he’s already scanning for coldzones and searching Kortena for rumors of them in Sealandia, or doing something that isn’t here. Bruno’s never here.
The ocean must make me real sleepy, because somehow I fall asleep again, in the middle of Bruno talking, but its okay since he doesn’t say too much anyway. My friends, and maybe me, we talk a lot. The thing is, I’m unsure if we ever actually say anything. Or if any of us listen to each other, or ourselves, or anyone. Sometimes I think Kortena is the only one talking. And listening.
I wake up for a moment and I tell myself to fall back asleep, since time moves faster when you’re sleeping. I begin to shut my eyes, stop when I see bright lights and florescent tubing and illuminated domes and big, flashy signs flashing in the the ocean. It’s one of those moments when nothing looks real, a watery dream, when everything is just…wham! And you’re like…shit, I just got whammed so hard by the realness of it all, even though it doesn’t seem real. But it is. You have to remind yourself of that or you’ll forget, and there’s so many lights that you can’t look at them all or tell one from another.
Sealandia, Just a Dive Away is lit in big huge, fluorescent green letters that light the ocean. The Wettest Place on Earth3! The seafloor isn’t visible, but it must be close with all the domes rising up and tubes crossing and crissing in every direction, like an endless castle for really big hamsters. Neon signs—Disappear Here. Don’t Forget to Ask Kortena About Our Latest Features and Updates. Another The Wettest Place on Earth3! Observe the Dolphin. Pet his Timid Skull. Merge here! Just a Short Time Until the Anniversary Parade!—fill the ocean with too much color, like it’s a fake tie-dye ocean, like all these colors shouldn’t exist so far from where the NewSun shines. But maybe the bottom of the ocean was always a bright and colorful place so the signs just add to what was instead of what wasn’t or what shouldn’t be. I don’t know much about the ocean. There’s things living in it that can’t live other places, like on land or in the sky or somewhere where water isn’t. Dolphins and whales and other fish with things called fins and gills.
The colors are new and fun, flashing and dancing, like holiday lights blinking in and out. We must have passed into one of the domes already, because fish swim around the ship and tubes and signs, attracted to the lights. Fish can’t swim in the normal ocean. It’s poison, so the fish can’t drink the water to breathe. That’s how fish breathe, with their lungs drinking the water. But the dome’s a safe place for them, the waters of Sealandia clean and clear. Even though I didn’t ask, Kortena’s going nuts inside my head, telling me about the fish and the signs and what to do when I’m finally inside Sealandia instead of on this stupid ship. Apparently there’s some really swill shopping stores and all sorts of water attractions, casinos and hotels and buffets where everything’s seafood, which seems sort of odd since I thought we were supposed to pet and observe the sea animals. There’s roller-coasters and lasers—at least there’s lasers—and too much stuff to remember or want to remember. I just really want to pet a whale.
I zone away from the broadcasts, quiet them down, try to focus on what’s important. Only, here, I don’t know what’s important and what isn’t. The lights fill my eyes, blink in and out.
“This will be sups,” Thade says. “You knew, Trev. You knew, and I knew you knew, that this place would be the sups. You always have the best ideas. Thanks for this. I hope the anniversary parade is as good as you say.”
Someone agrees—Milinda, I think—and pats me on the shoulder like I did a great thing instead of complained about how much this place will suck and how I didn’t want to go and how no one cares about fish, how this was never my idea and I don’t remember anything about a parade.
The fish thing is true, at least. No one cares about fish. No one cares about animals, and I’m pretty sure fish are animals.
The intercom blares again, the woman’s voice high-pitched and annoying, like she’s trying to hold her breath and speak at the same time. “We will soon land and attach to the air lock. However, please expect, uhm, one of those things, a delay, a minor delay of one to two hours, or maybe more. These things take time, and this is definitely one of those things. An electrical surge surged through here, the visiting centers and hotels, recently. You know how those things are on Earth3. Electrical storms. All that. Anyway, in the meantime we’ll play some whale songs. Or you can listen to Kortena. You’ll probably choose Kortena.”
The voice silences and the whale songs begin, deep and bellowing and filled with emotion. Whale emotion. I’m not great with emotions, whale or otherwise. I don’t really understand them, and Kortena tries to keep me away from emotions. Or at least I tell her to. Emotions are bad for your heart. Maybe your brain. Either way, it’s best to leave emotions to the actors, who have a lot of it, even if it’s fake since they’re actors. Otherwise they’d likely be dead. That’s what emotions do.
I think I prefer whale emotions.
A long time ago people were a lot more emotional and it led to a huge bunch of unfortunate things—wars, murders, a lot of fire, other sups bad things. This stuff still happens, but it’s not as frequent or noticeable. Nowadays most people are linked to Kortena, and she helps keep everyone safe and happy and not ruled by emotions and our own thoughts. She’s swill. I don’t remember life before Kortena, since everyone gets her when they’re really young, like a baby or a newborn, and Kortena, she grows with our brains and matures with us, so it’s like we’re never alone, like she’s always part of us and always will be. I’m sure I was sups less happy before her, before she helped me control my emotions. Thankfully I don’t remember.
We still get sups excited for stuff, and mad at other things, and anti and errgged, and, you know, some people enjoy the company of other people and transfer credits to show that they really like each other and call each other husband and wife and get unioned, but it’s not like before, long ago in the darker times, when people were all gaga for each other and there was love.
And there was love.
I shudder. Not because I’m afraid of love or hate it or even understand it. But because I’ve heard this line before and I don’t know where. Maybe on a billboard. Likely an add or broadcast from Kortena. The commercials pass so quickly you can’t tell where one begins and another ends, but usually that doesn’t matter. Usually no one remembers. Just long enough to buy whatever’s being sold. A new hat, another bundle of reusable tissues and toilet paper, clothes since styles change so often, stuff that seems cool but isn’t once you see it. But at least it’s swill when you bought it.
And there was love.
“What did you say, Trev? Love?” Sophie asks, which is sups weird since Sophie and I dated really long ago, at least a few months back. It didn’t end well. She was all love this love and great yeah love I’m totally gonna do it to you the swillest love I hope you liked it I did it tasted sort of weird and now my back hurts but it feels good, and I was all I don’t know. I just don’t know. I really just don’t know. I’m tired. So that didn’t end well. We haven’t talked about it since, like it never happened. Ignoring problems is the best way to make them go away.
“No, I don’t think so. I was trying not to remember something. A song? No, an add, I think.”
“I don’t know. A love potion, maybe.”
Sophie’s eyes narrow. “Why is Kortena suggesting you buy love potions? Who are you seeing now? It isn’t Becca, is it? I hate Becca.”
“I’m not seeing anyone, and I don’t think Kortena is suggesting anything. If she is, I don’t know why. Who’s Becca?”
“What are you planning?” Eyes narrower. She’s like a fierce, frozen queen about to stab me with her icicle.
“To sleep. I was planning to sleep.”
“Sleep? Who are you sleeping with! Is this why you wanted to come to Sealandia? To make me fall in love with you?”
“I didn’t…” I stop. It’s no good. I can’t convince anyone. “No, that’s not why. I wanted to observe the dolphins and sing with whales. I love…whale things.”
“Whale things,” she murmurs, nodding, eyes still narrow. “Keep it that way. I’m watching you, Trev. Don’t think of this as some grand adventure with candles and chocolate sauce. You can’t seduce me with a starfish again.” Sophie huffs and turns away.
I’m tired, I remember, but I won’t sleep soundly here, surrounded by strangers and Sophie, who wants to kill me even though I rather be errgged a dozen times before giving her another starfish. It was a fad. You’d give a girl a starfish and they’d rip off some of the legs and candies would fall out. You could pay extra to have messages written on the candies, sweet things like your face is really swill and I’d like to frisk you, but the writing was tiny and difficult to read and the girl would squint and squint and have to ask what it said, and then you’d have to tell her aloud, and it never sounded as swill or suave as it did in your head or on the candies. I don’t remember what I wrote on Sophie’s starfish candies, but she must have liked it since we both were big butterfly eyes for weeks.
I move to the back of the ship, away from Sophie, away from everyone. No one likes to sit at the back. All the windows are further up, and everyone’s crowding around those windows, like Sealandia’s about to suddenly vanish.
I don’t know why I’m so tired, why I keep drifting in and out. It must be the darkness, the surrounding darkness, and how much of everything exists out there. And the pressure, the water on top of my head. It’s just…it’s a lot. Too much if I really think about it. Which is another reason why we have Kortena. When thinking becomes too hard, too much, when emotions grow too heavy, Kortena makes them go away by filling our thoughts with happier things. I don’t know how people survived when emotions controlled them instead of them controlling their emotions, before Kortena.
People never question the past or how any of it worked and didn’t work. Neither do I. Well, usually I don’t, but right now I’m acting entirely anti and thinking way too hard when I should be sleeping or asking Kortena to play some relaxing music.
Everyone’s talking real loud, about Sealandia and what they’ll do and the electrical storm and how being stranded on this ship feels like a mystery movie. There’s nothing mysterious about it. It sucks sup much. So I turn up the music, loud enough to make everything else too quiet to hear.
Just me, Kortena, and a peaceful song, a soft song. The volume isn’t soft—it’s loud enough to drown out the other noise—but the sounds, the notes and stuff, they’re soft, like petting a kitten. Piano, I think. I don’t know instruments too well, but I know the piano makes a lot of tingting dahdahdah bruuuumm deeeeemmm sounds.
I know Kortena wants to help—I feel her poking at my brain, trying to relay facts and information—but right now I just want to be alone. Away from everyone else. Away from the people who will surround me in Sealandia. Even away from Kortena, but I know the last one can’t happen and it wouldn’t be good for me anyway. I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t try to exist without Kortena. But sometimes it’s nice to sit and think yeah, I’m alone. All alone.
Kortena wants me to turn down the music, to learn about the fun things to see and do in Sealandia, to experience before the experience. Instead, I tell her to leave me alone and turn up the music, really let it surround me, or maybe I go inside of it, hide, so that it feels like the music’s inside of me, me inside of it, and everything else is just filler. You know, the stuff you don’t need. You only need the music.
The music gets louder, deafening but not the painful kind of deafening. More like a peaceful deafening, and you’re okay if it’s last thing you ever hear. This music, this piano, and its haunting melody, a ghost composer, a spirit, or maybe you’re that spirit, and you’re watching yourself play a sad, sad song. But a hopeful song, too. I don’t usually listen to piano, or any music without words, since most music has a bunch of words that repeat a bunch of times, stuff from Toxic Orange and Great Great Sounds and other machines that write the best melodies and harmonies, better than regular people can write. The process involves a lot of math and science that chooses all the right words and when to say them, how to say them and, maybe, why to say them?