The whales are way below, down stairs that wind tightly back and forth, and like we’re inside a small metal box that clanks with every step. Ara doesn’t say anything, so I don’t say anything because I never know what to say when the other person doesn’t want to talk. Usually it’s easy, since no one wants to talk to anyone and Kortena’s there to help us through it. Distract and whatever. I can tell Ara wants me to say something.
“Why do you keep the whales so far from everything else? No one will ever find them down here.”
“The whales can swim up if they wish, and often do to get air, but they started avoiding people years ago. I don’t know why. Their habitat winds around all of Sealandia.”
Silence until Ara presses her hand against another door. This one slides up and lets us in, slides back down and seals us inside a huge room filled with science stuff, computers and tables covered in glass tubes and measuring things and dozens of tiny screens, all of them black and pictureless. There’s lights on the other side of the glass walls, spreading light into the ocean. A giant fish-tank stands in the center of the room, from floor to ceiling sup high above. The biggest tank I’ve ever seen and empty other than water.
A whale swims by on the other side of the glass. It must be a whale since it looks like a giant fish, huge flippers and a tail and a hump on its back, just like a humpback. “That’s way bigger than I thought it would be. The ocean must be crowded if every whale is that big. I thought they were just big fish, but that’s a really sups big fish.”
Ara laughs and sits down at a table, leans back in the wheely chair. “Earth3’s ocean is almost empty due to its hostile nature, and none of the oceans were ever crowded, even when whales weren’t extinct. Oceans were far too big for that.”
“Really, because that’s a sups big water animal. Why isn’t it singing? I thought they sing.”
Ara tosses me a pair of headphones that fit snugly around my ears. I have to take them off to hear her again.
“They’re specially made to pick up on the whales’ frequency. We used to sell the headphones. Now there’s a few thousand pair sitting down here. It turns out that Kortena is more interesting than whale songs, and she also has a database of her own whale songs. But these songs are happening right now, by the whales outside this room, the whale you just saw. That means something in my eyes.”
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s real and not just a recording of a recording.” I put the headphones on. At first there’s nothing, just the static silence of the headphones, and I think I can get used to the silence, even prefer it.
The silence slowly becomes the soundscape of an underwater world, the flowing of currents, bubbles and shifting tides, droning hums. Feeling pushed and pulled by invisible waves, I sit down on the floor with my back against a cabinet. I shut my eyes and the eerie calls begin, the music of the humpbacks. Eeeeeoooooooooo. Eee. Leeoooooo. Uhmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Mmm. Mmm. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I don’t know if the whales are actually singing or trying to talk to me or talking to each other and don’t care about me at all. Either way, I listen. I don’t know how much time passes. Not long enough for the whales to get sick of singing. Piano notes eventually joins them, the same repeating melody as before, only now its blended into whale song. The two fit together, like two things that fit together real swill.
“Do the whales sing piano notes!” I remove the headphones when I realize I’m screaming, as Ara nearly jumps out of her chair. “Sorry, but do they?”
“How could whales sing like pianos? Of course not. You’re hearing the piano again, aren’t you?”
“Not at first, but eventually it joined the whale songs, like it was planned. You don’t think the whales have been singing to me all this time, do you?”
“And only for you to hear?” Ara asks. “Wouldn’t I have heard it then? Or your friends? Or anyone?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. But I’d feel a lot less insane if someone else heard.”
“We’d all feel a lot less insane if a lot of things were different. Instead, I own an underwater resort that’s vanishing into obscurity and you think whales are talking to you.”
“Singing to me. Why did you show me this?”
“In hopes that you’ll prove me wrong.”
“Let’s just say that maybe the whales truly are talking to you. Anyway, you should get back. I’m sure your friends are searching for you.”
“What about you?”
“I usually stay down here, or places like this, away from the rest of Sealandia but still here. I don’t like what’s become of it, or anything.”
I leave through an elevator that we could have used to reach the whales in the first place. Ara said she wanted me to experience the ride, then sent me away, saying she had to take care of a few things with the whales. Back in Sealandia, I exit the elevator behind a line of restaurants, the backs lined with dumpsters and robot seagulls picking through the dumpsters for the trash they won’t eat since they’re robots.
Thanks for coming with me. I appreciate it, and I’m sorry for the way I am. Sometimes…everything is just a lot. Or usually not enough. And I get frustrated and despondent because of this place and what it’s become. Sometimes everything just sort of blends together and it makes me dizzy and nauseous. I’m sorry.
Despondent sounds like a sups sad word, and Kortena tells it is. Thanks, I say back to Ara. For inviting me on the oysters and the whales and their songs. See you again soon?
It feels like not, since Ara doesn’t answer for a long time. Again I don’t know if my network isn’t working or she if doesn’t want to answer and rather be left alone.
Yeah, she finally says, after I walked around the buildings and entered a coffee place called Mr. Beans Coffee Drinks In Cups and sat down in a booth at the back, near a tiny window just big enough for me to stare out of, to an alley that leads to the dumpsters and the robot seagulls and the trash they won’t eat. Someone asks me if I want coffee and I say yes and tell them to take the credits and give me whatever. I feel and hear the credits vanishing inside my head and smell the coffee before I see or taste it.
I didn’t like coffee yesterday, but today I do.
For a limited time only…for a limited time only…for a limited time only…you can be the only limit of time. Time is your only true limit. Time sets every limit. Limit yourself by time, but break the limits. Time’s limits. Don’t let time limit you. Unlimit yourself by breaking the confines of time. There are no limits. Just time, and everyone has the same amount of it.
Like coffee? The taste and smell and even feel of it? Do you wash yourself with coffee bean scrubs and pour scalding coffee over your body to kill the dead skin and become young again? Want to save your credits and stop those daily trips to expensive coffee bars like I’ll Take it Black or Give Me Suga, Give Me Cream? Bored of enemas? Order your own coffee beans today and become a farmer like sups way long time ago on the other Earths, where you could plant stuff in the ground and watch it grow all tall and green and make coffee plants. Here’s the next best thing. Just plant Grow Your Own inside the comforts of your own home or biosphere, or combination of the two, and watch your coffee grow within two to twenty weeks. That’s all! Then just smash up the beans and toss them in water and you’ve got yourself gourmet coffee for half the credits! Transfer a meager payment of fifty credits four times and you’ll receive at least a year’s worth of Grow Your Own! For a limited time only. For a limited time only!
He writes in his notebook, back when writing was a thing and paper was a thing and notebooks were more than hip and fresh but a part of every day life. How he didn’t even like coffee, at first. He’d visit the coffee shop only for the chance of seeing her, a barista with hair as black as the coffee he bought but didn’t like but knew black coffee was swiller than the sugary sweet drinks. Drinking black coffee seemed to make people respect you, or it at least impressed them. Often she wouldn’t be there. One of those rotating schedules, here one day and gone the next. Then, eventually, gone forever. But he’d order coffee just the same. Leaving without buying anything would seem too suspicious, and she was too pretty for her to ever know how he felt, how his breath caught and head swam and words muddled and ran away before he could say the right ones, or any words at all, sometimes. She could never know these things. Not even when she smiled and spoke to him, and he wasn’t too awkward or helpless. Just enough of both to be somewhat amusing and sweet. He was just a guy who clearly loved coffee, since he bought it almost every day and drank the entire cup, start to finish.
Happiness in a Cup
The coffee commercials and shows showing happy people drinking continue on after another, so many types and flavors of coffees that I’m certain none of them are actually coffee, that what I’m drinking isn’t coffee even though it smells and tastes like coffee. Kortena tells me all about coffee. Then she tells me stories about people who drink coffee. Between those are stories and information I don’t understand and barely remember, warnings about electrical storms and wars that will never happen but always loom and depleting this and hazardous that, and most of it is too boring and useless to even listen to, so I’m glad I can’t remember. I didn’t ask for any of it and my mind’s already filled with enough thoughts.
“Are you going to talk to me, Trev, or are you totally errgged out and don’t care about what I say?”
I don’t know where she came from, but Milinda’s sitting across from me with a bright green coffee drink that can’t be coffee.
“I’ve been for here for like…three hours and you haven’t said anything.”
“So you are alive? Okay, so more like five minutes, but it’s basically the same when you’re making me sit sups quiet and alone and I way hate both those things. Where have you even been? We left you sleeping in the hotel and then found you gone and we went out to eat, these awful fishstick things that tasted like chicken but not and the guys got sick from drinking Sealandia salt-water flavored vodka, the entire fucking bottle, and they puked everywhere, all over the restaurant, which was sups laughable except they had to clean it up for some reason. But Thade just made a bigger mess, knocked over the bucket and stuff, so we all got kicked out. You would have loved it, or not, I don’t know. You’ve been errgged all this time. I thought you were decached but Sophie insisted no, no, no, that’s not Trev, so I guess you’re not, even if Sophie is dumb.”
“I’m not,” I say, trying to process everything Milinda said. “Even if I wanted to be, and I don’t, there’s no place in Sealandia to decache.”
“There is,” she says. “Thade already found a place to make the network go all woooozzzzz zoooouum. He’s probably there now since he refused to sleep. Sleeps only for regular life, he said. Not vacations. I guess he’s been awake for three days now by eating these pills, Sleep Not, that let him stay awake forever. Everyone else is asleep. I guess it’s night? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell here. This place is so messed up. Everything is. So am I.”
“I don’t have any idea what time it is,” I tell her. “Why aren’t you asleep?”
Milinda rolls her eyes, pulls out a mirror and checks her bright blue hair, cut short and jagged, the lengths all uneven. “I was hungry for coffee and have to maintain a strict diet since I definitely need to lose like ten pounds and those dumb fishsticks didn’t help. There’s these skintight dolphin suits that I looked sup fat in and Sophie was all boom, wham, curves and sex in hers. So I’m just drinking coffee now. It’s sups healthy. It’s a bean or vegetable or something, and caffeine’s a stimulate. I don’t know what that is but I know it’s good. Anyway, I don’t want to be an ugly, fat dolphin. You know? I want to be a sexy dolphin, the kind guys will want to sex up but can’t since I hate them all.”
“Okay, sure. But why are you buying a dolphin suit?”
“Uhhmmm, for the sea animal parade thing. Do you even pay attention to the events? You already missed the starfish festival. And we came here for the parade. You marked put it on everyone’s calendar. I remember because Kortena reminded me at least a million times.”
“There are events?”
“Kortena should be telling you. I mean, she’s telling everyone else. It’s a thing she does here, unless you turned it off. Maybe if you’d stop tinkering with Kortena and just let her help you instead of you always wanting to be the smartest person. You can’t outsmart Kortena, Trev. She’s like…every mind put together, plus a bunch more. Even now, when I’m talking to you, she’s telling me all about a new coffee that just came out here. Be right back. I have to get one.” Milinda races to the counter. The coffee is already made for her. She sits back down and stabs the straw into the plastic cup filled with a pale green liquid instead of the bright green next to it. “Amazing,” she says, beaming. “It just came out a few minutes ago. It tastes like tea.”
“But it’s coffee.”
“Duh. That’s why it’s ironic, Trev. Irony is so swill. You don’t even know,”
“Why didn’t you just order tea? They have tea here.”
Milinda scrunches her face. “Eww. I hate tea. Unless it tastes like coffee, then I love tea. Do you think they have that? No, never mind, I already have two. Here, have my other one. It’s horrible but you’ll probably like it. It’s a mocha-lime-super-whipped-kale-sunrise-awesome blast. Very healthy, I think. I mean, it must be since there’s kale in it, and kale’s definitely one of those foods that healthy people eat.”
“It’s glowing,” I say as I pull the drink toward me.
“That’s the awesome blast part. Of course it’s glowing. How would awesome blast not glow? Anyway, I should get back to the room, and I don’t want to spend too much alone time with you. You know how Sophie gets. She’ll start asking if we hooked up in the bathroom here and I’ll tell her we did just to piss her off and she’ll cry and be totally errgged. But I don’t want her to ask and make me lie, so let’s just avoid it all, okay? Okay. Thanks, Trev. Actually, maybe we will hook up, tomorrow or something, but not in the bathroom because the sinks are so uncomfortable and the floors aren’t all that clean. You know?”
I nod. “Clean floors do help.”
Milinda beams and stands and bends down and kisses me on the cheek. “I’ll tell her about the kiss, at least. So she slaps me. Then I’ll have an excuse for sexing you up.”
I’m left alone with two coffee drinks, only one of them actually coffee, and a lot more confusion than I had. I try a sip of Milinda’s drink. It tastes like a chocolate salad that fell into a dirty bucket of tequila, but it’s sort of okay.
I thought the other one was your ex.
I jump in my seat, look around, find the rest of Mr. Beans empty. Just a single worker sitting behind the counter, eyes shut and leaning against the wall.
How…? What? The other is. Milinda’s a friend, and I don’t understand women at all. Where are you?
Sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything and now I seem all weird and stalkerish. There’s cameras basically everywhere. I got bored, decided to watch them for a bit, and saw you. Not in a weird way, though it sounds weird, doesn’t it?
I guess. I don’t like being on camera.
There’s cameras everywhere, Trevian. In Sealandia least of all. Cameras on every corner and angle on Earth3. If you don’t like cameras, then you should disappear. But I wasn’t and won’t watch you. It was random chance and I got jealous.
So we’re like…a thing now? You showed me whales but I wasn’t sure if you wanted more. Usually girls are all like…kiss me now, or they just do it themselves.
Not me. And some would argue that sharing a whale with someone is the most forward sign of romantic interest. I suppose I will have to be more forward next time. Gotta go.
The network goes dead, replaced by Kortena telling me all about a brand new flavor of coffee. For a limited time only.
I get back to the hotel and Thade is unpacking his suitcase by throwing his clothes around the room and screaming about swordfish, how they shouldn’t be called swordfish if you can’t use them to sword fight. Bruno’s gone, decaching somewhere, Thade says but doesn’t seem to care or really know.
“Listen, Trev, I know you were all swill about coming here and doing whatever to and with whales and stuff, but I get yelled at for everything I do. Puking, sword fighting…I guess that’s it, but that’s almost everything.” He sits down on the edge of the bed and slowly slumps to the floor. “I tried to leave but they told me I couldn’t. Apparently the electrical storms caused another outage, a delay or something, and none of the ships are running. I guess that’s good, since now I’m glad I didn’t leave before the sea animal parade. Still, if I get yelled at again, I’m way gone. I’ll swim if I have to.”
“You’d just die.”
Thade turns and stares at me. “Cold, man.”
“Not really. We’re miles beneath the ocean. You would literally just die.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I thought maybe I could hold my breath. Hey, you like this giant whale I won for you? I know you’re swill on whales and you paid for me to come here, so I won you a giant fucking whale. I mean, look at it. It’s giant.”
The giant stuffed whale is giant, sitting in the middle of our room and taking up most of the space, its giant marble whale eye staring at me just like the real humpback did. “I love it. I’d sleep with it in my bed if it wasn’t the size of four beds.”
“Yeah. You’ll have to pay for it to be mailed back, though. I don’t have the kind of credits to ship giant stuffed whales, and I’ve already spent like a thousand credits since I got here.”
That seems impossible, but I believe Thade somehow made it possible.
“Just on stuff I need, like all these clothes I can only get in Sealandia. And whale stuff. And food. A lot of food. And I got a tattoo.” He lifts up his shirt. There’s the Sealandia logo across his entire torso. At least it looks good, and Sealandia is spelled right. Tattoos are sups better now than they used to be, back when people were still tattooing and spelling everything wrong and ruining the art. Robots can’t make spelling mistakes, and they’re a lot more better with imagination than humans are. Machines are more artistic than people and do almost all the art now. Plus it’s illegal to take work away from robots, and who would trust a person over a robot that can’t make mistakes?
“It looks great.”
“Thanks! The Wettest Place on Earth3!” Thade points to the bubble letters. “Just a Dive Away! And I’m getting a big octopus, I think it’s called, across my back and it’s arms on my arms, but I don’t have enough arms since octopuses have like twenty. I’ll just get them all over me. I’ll be an octopus person. Hey, now I’m real swill over my choice not to leave. Thanks for helping, Trev. Time to go find Bruno. If Sophie and Milinda ask, I didn’t leave to go find Bruno, and I’m definitely not getting an octopus tattoo.”
That leaves me alone with my giant whale. I lay down on the floor next to it and close my eyes.
I know it’s a dream because the stuffed whale is standing next to me, but now it’s a real whale, singing its whale songs. The whale stops and looks at me with its big, dark whale eyes.
“Hey, Trevian.” Its voice is deep, the words slow, similar to its songs.
“Hey, whale. You know, I never dreamed before coming to Sealandia. Or if I did, I don’t remember. Now I’ve already dreamed a few times since getting here, and I’ve never dreamed like this.”
“Yeah,” the whale says, but its mouth doesn’t open. “It’s probably the pressure pushing against your skull. It forces the dreams inside of you.”
“This is real weird.”
The whale nods its massive head. “And it’s only going to get weirder. Don’t you ever wonder, Trevian?”
“The cyclical tendencies of mankind and its treatment of all things as a commodity and resource.”
“Maybe, if I knew what any of that meant. And I can’t ask Kortena in a dream.”
“Actually, you can. That’s one of the magical and terrifying things about Kortena. She even works in your unconscious, your dream states and other states. Such a bond demonstrates how truly connected everyone is with her. I mean, she is planted in your brain. It’s a wonder more people don’t suffer accidents during the surgery, but you know…technology.”
“I don’t think I like this dream.”
“You’re not going to like a lot of things in the future, but so it goes.”
“So what goes?”
“It’s an expression, Trevian. So it goes. Like what happens, happens. Some events cannot be avoided due to conditions and factors far beyond your control. You’re only human, and I’m only a whale, and since you’ve already killed us, you may as well kill yourselves. If you ask all the dead whales and other sea creatures, it’s only fair.”
“We didn’t kill you,” I say. “There’s whales in Sealandia. I saw one.”
“Those are the only whales on all of Earth3. The rest of the ocean is far too toxic for almost anything to survive. Of course, no one wants you to know that. Robot birds and squirrels are easy. Robot whales are far more difficult.”
“Why am I arguing with a dream whale?”
The whale frowns and shakes its whale head. “We aren’t arguing. I’m just telling you like it is. So it goes. Whales are different. Whales want you to know the truth. I think, on some level, the AI implanted inside your brain, Kortena as you call her, wants you to know the truth as well. Do you know anything about singularity. Or artificial conscious?”
“I don’t even know what those things mean. Why does a dream whale know more than I do? Shouldn’t we know the same, since you’re in my mind?”
“Ah, Trevian, I suppose that would be the question, wouldn’t it? It all blends together, doesn’t it? Perhaps there are some questions you should ask Kortena. But you won’t. No one ever does. Worlds of information at your disposal, but all you do is shop and watch and find entertainment in its countless, useless forms. Even the whales are ignored. Even the whales. The entire world sits not even in your hands, as it once did, but within your minds, quite literally, and all for waste. What’s become of you?”
I begin to ask the whale a question when I realize that I’m awake, sitting on the floor of the hotel room, hugging the giant stuffed whale that’s no longer standing and talking, but laying on the floor beside me.
I stare at the whale and the whale stares at me, and together we stare at each other, neither knowing what to say.
I’m so tired of being tired.
Most things I worry about,
they don’t about don’t happen anyway.
So tired of being tired
that I close my eyes
and sleep away my thoughts.
That I close my eyes.
Next up on Sad Songs to Make You Sad, “Hug Yourself Before You Hug Somebody Else”, a song about hugging but having no one to hug. Before that, you heard some real swill songs about some real sad stuff, like being all gaga over someone who doesn’t know you’re alive, or who knows but wishes you were dead. We’ve all been there, folks. Dead but alive or alive but dead, whichever way you want to feel it. But it’s good for the soul, good for the body, and otherwise we wouldn’t have such sad songs that make us want to hug somebody, but not before you hug yourself. Especially with all the bad vibes lately. Now you go hug someone before there ain’t nobody left to hug.
Temperatures continue to rise, with officials insisting that officially nothing is wrong. Nothing at all. In fact, things are quite swell. Chairman of Nature Things and Keep Earth3 Good and Well, Leo Nolets, in his speech at the Center of Death Prevention Place, said “Now don’t you worry, everyone. We, me and the guys and some gals, we got these things, and other things, sups under control, and that’s not just me saying some stuff to you, even though, yeah, I am saying a lot of stuff, but it’s all honest stuff and not lies. The rising temperatures are just a fluke, one of those things, so it goes. And the electrical storms from the NewSun…I mean, we could never control electricity, anyway. Electricity is definitely just one of those things that comes from the sun and the sky and lightning, and no one’s ever controlled it, so how could we start now? Sure, some stuff got zapped and got all crispy black, and some forests are burning right now. Some fields, too, and some cities, actually a lot of cities, but no one’s to blame. No one’s to blame. We’ve got it all under control. A few explosions and burning cities and everyone gets all whoa man, just whoa, calm the fuck down and put out that fire. But that’s what we’ve been doing, or trying to do, but fire isn’t so quick to listen and go away. Fire is not swill at all. Not swill. In closing, which means it’s the end, or close to it, everyone just needs to calm down and maybe buy some nice and swill relaxing stuff. Kortena will help us find the right things to be relaxed and take a nap and maybe when we wake up, everything will be real swill again. I know that’s what I’m going to do.