Listen to the Whales
The vampire thing plays in my head as everyone stands in line to leave the ship. I’ve seen the show before, or maybe I’ve heard of it. A reverse hostage idea about a vampire captured by love. I’ve never paid it much attention, even though Milinda and Sophie are swill over it. Sometimes they dress up like vampires, all black and broody and bite everyone and themselves. Blood gets everywhere because they bite so hard and it sticks to us and Sophie gets teeth-mark bruises, which I guess is hot. Even if they’re her own teeth-marks. Which maybe is even hotter? I’d prefer if they were Milinda’s but she’s not so swill into vamping other girls.
I’ve told Kortena I dislike the show, but sometimes she doesn’t listen too well. It’s a popular show, these vampires. Most vampire things are popular even if vampires are from sups long ago, before Kortena, before any machines. So I’m supposed to like the show. Supposed to watch it. I try. Instead, I just hate it. When everyone’s talking about vampires and drinking bottles of blood and stabbing each other with these lame retractable stakes, I just stare and pretend to laugh and sometimes splatter my face with blood to look cool. Kortena knows I should fit in, so she’s just trying to help.
“Who was that?” Thade asks, nudging me. “Real swill looking girl, Trev? Do you know her from somewhere? Did you meet her here? What’s her name? What does she smell like? Blossoms?”
“Yeah,” I say, nodding, staring ahead, listening to Kortena more than Thade. An old man filled with regret. An old man filled with regret. It all blends together. I don’t know what she’s talking about. Lately, that’s true more than not. I really need to visit a Network Booth to fix a lot of what’s wrong. An old man filled with regret. Spinning. Spinning. Spinning even when he stand stills. The world remains a blur. Listen to the whales.
“Yeah? What the fuck does yeah mean? I asked you like, what? A hundred questions? What do you mean, yeah?”
“Just yeah,” I say. “Yeah, and yeah. And she has a name.”
“Well? What is it then? A girl like that, I bet she has a real sexy name. Like Nancy. Tabby. Aphro.”
I shake my head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Thade complains, is still complaining as I leave the ship, smashing my head on the metal thing.
The Songs of Sealandia
Sealandia is, I guess, really underwater-like. It isn’t like a city with streets and tall buildings and malls and stuff beneath the ground. At least not yet. There’s no cars at the bottom of the ocean, and so far there’s nothing much more than glass tunnels and tubes that keep the water from coming in. The glass must be really thick and strong, since the entire ocean sits on the other side.
It’s sort of terrifying, knowing so much water can suddenly come rushing in. But Sealandia’s been around a long time and nothing horrible has happened. A few leaks, a flood or two, and there’s hatches and doors and safety procedures that stop the entire place from crashing down. At least that’s what Kortena tells me as we walk down the tunnels in one big group, which I hate since I feel like a tourist and I hate being a tourist. I try to blend in, like I belong, like I’ve visited Sealandia many times before, or I live here and now I’m returning from a long, exotic trip to Earth3, which is never exotic.
Everyone’s talking about water, how swill and awe it is. Fish and stuff, just fish I guess, swim outside the glass. A lot of fish. They must like the tunnel lights. So do I, since we’re not walking in the dark, which would totally errgg most of us, and more lights illuminate the water outside the tunnels, spotlights searching through the night, only the water is the night and it’s never day. And night is forever and always. The fish seem to like their big dome home.
Ara is gone, vanished into Sealandia, like she’s done this before and knows the way. Maybe she has. Other than her name, I don’t know anything about her. And her Network ID. In some ways, that’s more personal than her name. It’s not something you just share with everyone.
“You’re not swill over this.” Sophie’s staring at me, like she always does when she talks to you, like she wants to make you feel uncomfortable. Her long red hair looks darker in the lights of the tunnel. “You’re totally errgged right now, Trev. So anti. We’re finally here, just like you wanted, and you’re totally errgged. And that’s errgging me. You don’t even care about the parade.”
“I’m fine,” I say. “Everything is fine.”
“Everything is not fine! You know that when everything’s fine, everything’s the furthest from fine, like mega unfine, and you saying it’s fine won’t just make it fine, you know?”
“I know. You’re right. I’ve got a lot to think about.”
“That’s why we have Kortena, Trev, so we don’t have to do all the hard thinking ourselves. We can have fun and do Sealandia things. I bet there’s dolphins. You like dolphins, don’t you?”
“Sure.” Maybe I do. I’ve never met a dolphin. “But I really like humpback whales. Maybe that’s why I suggested we come here, even though I didn’t and you guys must have been entirely decached to think so. But the humpback whales will make life better. As long as they sing.”
Sophie stares. Squints her green eyes. “Whales,” she mutters. “Whales don’t sing. They’re whales. If you want singing, ask Kortena.”
I feel dizzy when I shake my head. “I don’t think she would answer. Kortena’s playing this piano and whale music and won’t stop. Even now, behind everything else, behind you and me and the commercials and info and words, there’s music.”
Sophie’s eyes widen. “Oh my god, Trev. No wonder you’ve been so errgged. You have to get that checked or you could meltdown. That’s serious. Sups serious. You can’t run around Sealandia if Kortena is totally fucked. Then you’ll be totally fucked. And who wants some stupid piano playing all the time? Find a booth.”
I nod, refrain from telling Sophie that I prefer the song to silence or some random something about something else. But Kortena’s the one playing the song. Or some malfunction deep inside Kortena, but does that make a difference? Sometimes I think I should know more about Kortena, since she’s inside my brain and all, helping me but also confusing me a lot of the time. But I enjoy the song, almost feel like it was written just for me, part of me as much as the chip in my brain or my thoughts about Ara.
A girl I just met, who I don’t really know, who I’ll likely never know unless she really wants to network with me, and she’s in my mind like she’s a chip herself. It feels weird. Different. Not entirely right.
“Trev?” Sophie asks. Her voice sounds far away until I push the music deeper into my brain, where I can just barely hear it. Faintly, like a song that’s trying to resonate deep below the ocean, which sort of fits since I’m sups deep below the ocean. “You look totally desynced right now. Are you? When you did do it? On the ship? No, that’s not even possible.”
“I didn’t. I’m not. I’m totally fine. I’m just, you know, tired. It was a long ship ride.”
“And you slept most of it.”
“Were you watching me sleep?”
Sophie makes a face like I asked her a sups personal question, like something about her underwear. “Of course I wasn’t watching you. Why would I watch you? But I know what you look like when you’re sleeping. Your eyes shut and you breathe, but it’s visible breathing, deep, in and out. It’s like you forget that we’ve slept in the same bed.”
My turn to look like Sophie went too personal, and maybe she did, bringing up the past like that. No one likes the past and all that ancient stuff, even when it’s not so ancient. That’s why no one cares about the past anymore. It already happened, so it means less and can’t teach you anything. I think they used to teach us about the past, until everyone realized it was a waste of time and the future was where everything will happen. The future was real great, even if it hasn’t already happened yet.
“I didn’t forget,” I say. But sometimes I do. Sometimes it’s hard to remember everything, especially what was never important. Of course I wouldn’t say that to Sophie. I’ve seen her cry. It isn’t attractive, which is sad since Sophie’s usually really attractive.
“Sure. Whatever.” She flips her hair, which changed its color to a pale green, and hurries away, to the front of group near Milinda and the others. I’m at the back, alone, real sick of walking and looking at the darkness outside the tubes. There’s not much to see and I hope all of Sealandia isn’t so boring. Otherwise everyone will hate me even when this was never my idea.
Awake in a Room with a Giant Stuff Whale
I get bored of walking. Most people do. So I let Kortena entertain me with a movie about a talking bus, but that’s also lame after the first few minutes of the bus talking and talking but never saying anything. So I start drifting, like how I imagine whales drift out there in the black, the water and sea and all that. Weightless. Blind. Just floating, letting the currents carry them away. I must have done the same, let some sort of current steal me away, because I find myself alone in what must be the hotel room without any idea of how I got here. Walked. Or rode a whale, if that’s a thing in Sealandia. I hope it is. Either way, I’m alone and I don’t know what I missed.
Even Kortena waits silently. Usually she keeps me current with trends and sales while I’m asleep, so I wake to a long list of things I can’t afford to miss, things I have to buy because I can’t not not buy them and be the same me that everyone already knows and get bored of. Even me. There’s none of that now. Maybe the ads can’t reach Sealandia. We’re too deep, away from everything else, where shipping would be too expensive. Even the music’s gone. Part of me misses it.
I’m on the floor, in that narrow gap between the bed and the wall, with a blanket covering most of me and a bunch of shirts piled beneath my head as a pillow. The lights are off, so I guess it could be night if there was a night in Sealandia. But there isn’t. Creating the NewSun4.5—we just called it NewSun since numbers are hard to remember, other than Earth3—was hard enough, but tugging it down into the ocean? Instead, people are always awake in Sealandia, the stores always open. It’s whatever time you want it to be. At least that’s what Kortena tells me. The dolphins never sleep so why should you!
In that regard, Sealandia is a lot like Kortena. Never sleeping. Always there, waiting to be explored. But one’s inside my head and the other isn’t. Here, you can pet the fish and embrace the majesty of the whale.
My friends must have ditched me, their belongings strewn across the room as I sit up and tell the light to turn on, but be gradual and cool about it so the brightness doesn’t scorch my eyes. A hotel room, three doors leading to other rooms and an enormous stuffed whale in the center of the room, stretching from wall to wall and almost touching the ceiling. It’s too big to fit through any of the doors. Probably too big for the hallways. A humpback, so that’s sups swill. Stuffed so it can’t sing its humpback songs, but still pretty neat and maybe the size of a real whale. I tell Kortena to take a picture since it’s one of those things you’d hate to forget. Or what if the whale swims away and no one believes me, or someone…takes it? Someone must have bought it—likely Bruno since his parents invented a Kortena upgrade and he’s got endless credits and could fill the room with stuffed whales. So, like one more.
I didn’t really care about Kortena acting strangely on the ship. I like the music and Kortena always overloads me with things I should experience, so that’s nothing new, but losing track of time and place and waking up on a hotel floor concerns me. It’s not like I’m decached or drunk or anything other than confused and feeling like my head’s filled with everyone’s thoughts but my own.
Hey? Ara? I wait for awhile, listening to the Network. Nothing. Can you hear me? I don’t know why I reach out to her. Maybe because my friends would think it’s weird if I tried for them. We never think at each other, and Sophie would accuse me of spying on her even though I can’t see or hear or sense anything. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I wait for awhile. I stare at the stuffed humpback, now thinking it must be a baby whale. But I’ve never seen a baby anything. I wait and Ara doesn’t answer me. Maybe she’s sleeping. Maybe she turned her connection off. I’m pretty sure that’s possible. Maybe she hears me but doesn’t want to respond. Not yet. Especially when I reached out to her so soon, like a freak or something. Not so swill, Trev. Not so swill at all.
I’m heading to a Network Booth if you ever want to meet. I’ll be at…well one of them. I don’t know where they are. Or where I am.
Thinking to empty space feels strange, like you’re crazy or talking to yourself with the hopes that someone’s listening and cares enough to respond. I’ve never done this before—thought at someone. I don’t know if the messages gets stored, if you can read them later, if it’s like how the voice messages through Kortena works, where we can talk aloud and Kortena records our voice and sends it for other people to hear. Recording a voice seems a lot easier than recording thoughts, so who knows.
I wave goodbye to the whale.