Like Everyone Else
I wake up sometime later. It could be a few hours. Maybe an entire day. I’m still alone, and there’s tons of messages in my network, waiting to be read. I know they’re not commercials or anything from Kortena. Those are always videos, to see and experience so you get the whole wham and whoa out of it. These are messages, written in a way that makes me read them. It’s seems like a lot of work…reading words instead of hearing them, but they’re from Ara so I can at least try. Only because I’m swill on her and she’d know if I didn’t read them. There’s a lot of messages, so I lean against the whale and get comfortable.
Hey, Trevian. Are you there?
I guess not. I was hoping to talk, but it’s okay.
I guess you’re out doing something. This is Sealandia, after all. It gets boring when you’ve lived here your entire life. When you’ve seen everything. I’ll talk to you later.
Are you there? Just figured you’d hear me by now. But it’s okay. You’re probably busy, and it’s your vacation.
I hope I don’t sound crazy. Or clingy. I’m not. Well, I’m not clingy.
I probably sound clingy. I’m sorry. I’m really not.
I hope you’re having a great night.
That message sounded really stupid after I sent it and I tried to delete it but couldn’t. I guess because it’s already saved on your network. Still, it’s a dumb feature, not being able to delete mistakes. Not that it was a mistake or I didn’t mean it. It just sounds…useless? Desperate. I hope you’re having a great night…who says that? Definitely desperate, the sort of thing you say just to say something, and I hate when people talk for the sake of it, even though I’m doing that right now. I suppose I’m lonely. I get that way, especially when I’m surrounded by tons of people, and I always feel surrounded in Sealandia. Maybe because no one knows it like I do. I’d like to show you another ride, if you’re willing. It’s closed down now. Actually, it was never opened. Almost. Sealandia doesn’t bring in the revenue like it once did. Just enough to stay afloat. Get it? Ha. It wasn’t funny, I know, but hopefully you laughed and hopefully you’ll want to see the ride with me. I haven’t shown it to anyone, and everyone else who worked on it is gone now, up to Earth3.
Have you ever thought you were different from everyone else, or at least not exactly like them? Like your mind thinks in ways that aren’t normal, or maybe not right, and maybe you aren’t right? I know I’m not like most other people, Trevian. I think Sealandia’s to blame, and my parents. They were scientists and figured out the science behind this entire place. I guess that’s what scientists do. It was their science and their idea, and neither one of them much liked Kortena. Oh, they used her, had her in their heads, but only because the law demands it. They tried to ignore Kortena, but of course that’s not completely possible. That must be why I tend to stray from Kortena , try to drown her out with, well, anything. I’ve discovered a rather effective way, via whale songs and the frequencies of such songs. That, and other things. Maybe I’ll share it with you. And I think being this far underwater helps, away from the main network stations and hubs and satellites and all that jazz. Sometimes I wish I was like everyone else, enjoying the simple pleasantries and eager to shop and buy and consume and watch and do mostly nothing. I’m not saying that this is what you and your friends do. Just that it’s the norm of the majority, but I don’t think it’s the norm for you. I could tell right away—I’m usually good at that. Seeing what other people don’t see. I could tell you heard what others do not, and maybe I heard it, too. Maybe that’s why we were randomly on the same vessel. Or maybe it wasn’t so random. Anyway, it’s time for me to stop sounding crazy and leave you alone. I’d write you a novel, but I won’t.
It’s a lot to read and by the end of it my head hurts. It’s probably the most words I’ve ever read on my own, and I read most of them more than once just to make sure I wasn’t confused and understood Ara. Strangely, I do, more than I think I should since I never felt alone until recently, until I got on the ship to sail under the ocean and started hearing the piano music and whale songs and Kortena got all errgged and nothing’s like it was before. These are all things I should tell her in person rather than through messages, since I’m not good at messaging like she is. It’s just too many words.
Hi. Sorry. I fell asleep again, but it was one of those Kortena sleeps, filled with dreams that weren’t dreams, and I never dreamed before now. I’d like to see that ride and not be so alone. I’d like to be with you.
Ara’s responds almost immediately.
Meet me on the far eastern side of Sealandia, past the no entry signs. You can enter.
Kortena keeps flashing an image at me, silent and soundless and never changing. I’m walking across Sealandia. The picture flashes at me every few steps, stays there until I force it away. Then it returns. Space—the stars and planets sort of space, the space you could apparently see from Earth and Earth2.
A planet shrouded in shadows, only its edges visible, sups bright red, almost white, and then the dark, starry space surrounding it. The space itself, the cosmos, Kortena suggests, is shades of blues and greens, and there’s a flying shadow at the center of it, a giant shadow bird. A dove, Kortena suggests, breathing a trail of fiery stars. Pieces of its wings are made of fire, and none of it makes a bit of sense. It’s beautiful, but haunting. Destruction and creation, and it reminds me of the piano song and whale songs, beautiful and haunting. I’m clueless to all of it, but it must be important if Kortena forces the image at me. Or maybe she’s not working right, and I’m losing myself if I’m losing her. Kortena is part of us. We need her. But now, when she’s doing all of this to me, the images and sounds and falling asleep and not remembering things, I begin to doubt if Kortena actually needs me.
The dove breathes fire.
The nearby planet will melt within its flames.
Another planet consumed.
It all blends together.
Echoes of the Past
I reach far side of Sealandia, the deserted part, past a line of vacant hotels, across a field that must be used for events, the tables and gazebos empty, and beneath a bunch of billboards and signs that say no entry, restricted design space, disappear here, in front of a long gray building, its front a wall of glass covered in painted whales. The door to the building also says no entry, which, according to Ara, means I should enter.
I’m here, I tell her, standing in the entrance hall. The walls are empty fish tanks, see-through since there’s no fish. No water either. Just plastic plants and corals and colorful pebbles piled high. I can’t tell if the place is abandoned or never finished, and I guess it doesn’t matter. The building must be big enough for thousands of sea animals, the halls stretching far and curving out of view. Maybe no one could find living creatures for the tanks. Maybe they escaped and are crawling around now, though probably not since the creatures breathe water.
“Hi, Trevian. I’m glad you could find it.”
Ara smiles on the other side of the hall, past rows of empty tanks. A few are broken, glass shining on the tiled floor. She looks sups different than last time. Better, too, though she’s never looked bad. Yellow fish swim across her dark blue sundress, the straps thin like fingers and her shoulders like a lady’s shoulders, but firmer, like maybe she picks up a lot of suitcases and puts them back down in other places. Or anything that’s heavy, I guess. Fish tanks. Her emerald eyes almost glow, lips dark red, hair streaked with sea-blue instead of red like last time. This isn’t the new swill trend, since I didn’t see any girls with streaks on the way here, but Ara’s doing it anyway. Most of the girls were wearing dead fishes in their hair, so I’m glad Ara doesn’t care about what’s swill. I like whales but I’m not so swill over dead fish.
“It wasn’t hard to find,” I say. “This is a huge building.”
“It is. Too big, since nothing ever came of it and we ran out of credits for expansion. Sorry about all those messages, by the way. Nights can be hard when only whales company you, and they’re not very good for conversation. Singing, yes, but not talking. Sometimes, the more people I meet, the lonelier I get. Not that it’s your fault, but everyone else just feels so empty. Your friends don’t mind me taking you away from them?”
“I doubt they’ll notice. Thade’s getting decached with Bruno, I think. Bruno’s always getting messed up like that. And Sophie’s fighting with Milinda about things that haven’t happened and likely never will. That’s all they ever do. Fight and make up and fight and make up and laugh about how silly they were and then call each other bitches and fight some more. Usually it’s over Kortena, a new trend that both of them want to be the first to find. Or they’re wearing the same color shirt and things really get crazy.”
“What about you?”
“I don’t care what color shirts they’re wearing. There was that craze when no one wore shirts. I guess I cared then.”
Ara frowns. “No, I mean you don’t do any of those things?”
“I’ve decached a few times. It’s okay, but you forget a lot. Like what day it is and what happened the previous day, and it always leaves you sick, like your brain needs to puke but can’t. It messes with Kortena, the wiring or something, and that doesn’t seem safe. And sure, I care about the things people are supposed to care about, what Kortena wants us to care about. Otherwise there would be nothing to care about and everyone would be…there’s a word for it. Ambivalent? It’s hard to find the time for all of it. There’s so much to experience through Kortena, so many things I’m missing out right now, and now, and now, and you’re even missing out when you’re with Kortena, since she can’t show you everything at once. But then, with her, you’re missing out on all this.” I spread my arms out.”It’s hard, like which one is more important? Which one is better? What will you make you happier?”
“I think that’s a question many people ask themselves,” Ara says. “Or should. But they likely don’t, since the majority have already decided.”
“Because Kortena tells us how to be happier and what helps,” I say. “She has meters for all that, so we don’t have to ask ourselves. I’ve been thinking too much lately, and the more thinking, the less happy I am. Not unhappy, either. But…there’s a word for this, too. Wow, there’s a lot of words when you try to find them. You know, I never talked about myself until recently, or talked like this. I’m not sure I like it. I don’t even like thinking these thoughts, since I don’t know what they mean or if they’re even mine.”
“Not your thoughts?” Ara asks. “If not yours, then whose?”
“Kortena’s? Her thoughts are my thoughts and my thoughts are her thoughts. Anyway, can you show me that ride? That’s why I came here, and to see you. Definitely not to talk about this. Me.”
Ara purses her lips all pouty and sad but nods anyway. “You’re very strange, Trevian. But in a good way. Perhaps my messages got you thinking last night.. It’s okay to think, you know.”
“Maybe. And maybe this is what happens when your parents name you after a soda and you plan a vacation to Sealandia but don’t remember any of the planning, with friends that maybe aren’t friends, and one of them is your ex, which makes everything even more errgged, and Kortena keeps telling you to stop and listen, stop and listen, but not with words. With music and silence. And maybe it’s not even Kortena that’s telling me, but something else. I don’t know. All of that can make someone feel very strange.”
“Mmmm,” Ara says, and I don’t know what that means. She motions for me to follow, turns and begins down the hall. “We’ll figure it out. Anyway, this place was supposed to be the shining star of Sealandia, but you can see how that turned out. A giant aquarium and museum, and the center of it all, dolphins. An exhibit to themselves. We had such grand plans.”
“A series of misfortunate events. For one, dolphins can’t be replicated with the cell structures or whatever it was we brought from Earth2, sups before my time. We tried, spent a lot of credits since dolphins are so swill, but we failed. Then we built this building too big. The oceans of Earth3 are a lot more dead than we had ever guessed. They’re basically empty apart from some deep sea fish, which says very poor things for our longevity. Really, it was the lack of dolphins. People would have come to Sealandia to see dolphins. At least originally. They came for whales and fish. They came for almost anything, but dolphins would have been great. A hit. But that failed, and everything else just sort of followed. Now we make enough credits just to survive. Actually, that’s a lie. Sealandia only makes enough credits to keep the lights on. I don’t actually make anything, and no one would ever buy this place, knowing what I know. But at least I can’t see Sealandia ever being shut down. It would cost too much, and I’m not costing Earth3 anything down here, where there’s only darkness and endless space.”
“You make nothing?” I ask. Still walking, now into an arena with a giant, empty pool. A home for the dolphins. The surrounding bleachers are as empty as the pool, our steps and voices echoing off the stone and plastic. I look over the guardrails, into the deep pool. Trash and junk. Sealandia merchandise and another giant stuffed whale.
“Between maintenance and wages and everything else, nothing.”
“What about your parents?”
“I told you. They’re gone. Dead.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. That’s not the sort of thing I should forget.”
Ara shrugs like it doesn’t bother her but I can tell it does. “They couldn’t come to grips with their failure and wasting millions of inherited credits. They created the wettest place on Earth3, but they got almost nothing from it, and they never saw their dreams achieved. They did it for the animals more than themselves, but it turns out Earth3 isn’t hospitable to life. Any life.”
“So what happened to them?”
“Sharks ate them.”
“Just kidding,” Ara says, not smiling.
I sigh in relief. Being eaten by anything sounds horrible.
“It was actually a double suicide. They left me a note and entered the airlock outside Sealandia and opened the outer hatch and were swept away, into the ocean. They drowned, though I assume, and hope, that the deep sea pressure immediately collapsed their lungs and killed them. That’s far better and quicker than drowning. Then their bodies floated away, into the dark. At least that part is sort of poetic and romantic. I like to believe they were holding hands, drifting into death. The final embrace of lovers with dreams.” Ara turns to me, eyes glistening. Looks away. Her hand moves to her face. “Leaving a twelve year old in charge of Sealandia wasn’t the best idea, but I managed. Eventually. I had investors and I don’t think anyone actually knows that my parents are dead. Or cares. So I managed. Mostly alone. This massive coffin of a building will never see completion, and I owe a great deal of credits to people I’ve never met, but here I am. Still in Sealandia and no one has ever came to check on me or this place. As if everything’s been forgotten.”
I just stand there, not knowing what to say, if I should say anything.
“Yeah,” Ara says. “It’s not something you really have to respond to. I’m just sharing. I thought you should know if you actually want to spend time with me, truly get to know me. I dislike secrets.”
“Because of…what this is? Whatever we have.”
“Mostly that,” Ara says. “I don’t want to be gaga over you while lying. That’s not me, and I hope it’s not you. Plus, it’s sort of an impossible story to hide. All that, and I think something bad’s going to happen.”
“Something bad?” My voice is sups shriller than I wanted, echoing in the arena like a dolphin’s voice would echo.
Ara turns out of the arena, down a long and narrow hall, into where a line would have begun if people were here for the ride that was never finished.
“I have this feeling, you know? Have you ever had a bad feeling? Or a good feeling? Any feeling that you just couldn’t shake?”
I nod. “There was this game that got huge when we were kids. From game show called Jelly and Friends, from a kid’s show. You shoved as many gummy people as possible in your mouth and ate them all before your opponent did. I hated it from the start, had this feeling that someone was going to choke and die. Then someone choked and died on the show and the news zoomed across Kortena, how accidents happen and gummies are good for us. Full of vitamins. Then my friend died in his basement and got real blue in the face, as blue as the gummies he choked on. We stopped playing after that, after we watched him die. And the show vanished after a few more people died. From the start, I knew it was bad. Even with the vitamins.”
“That’s how I’ve felt about the electrical storms that delayed our ship.”
“But they’ve been part of Earth3 since the beginning. They’re natural. Part of the NewSun.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous. Water is natural and still drowned my parents. But you’re probably right. That’s partly why I like you. You’re far more positive than I am. Still, it’s a feeling in my gut, and those don’t go away easily.”
“Maybe some medicine. We can check Kortena for…”
“Not that type of feeling.”
“If it’s a woman thing…”
Ara sighs and laughs at the same time. “Maybe you’ll be more like me when you see this ride.” She pauses. “Maybe that’s not a good thing. I like you the way you are, and one is more than enough of me. Balance is always needed.”
Opening in little under a year, which is…more months than one, and probably less than ten. So that’s a lot of days, and that’s when Sealandia plans to finally open. Hailing itself as “The Wettest Place on Earth3”, Sealandia is an aquamusment park destined to captivate and thrill. You can learn about sea-life and even poke some of them. You can watch whales, which we cleverly named “whale looking at”. But Sealandia is more than just that! It’s other stuff, too. Like a place that aims to help Earth3 repopulate many animal species, like whales and dolphins and other swimming things. Fish, probably. Located approximately…some number of miles beneath the ocean’s surface, in an otherwise lightless world, a trench, Sealandia will be like another world altogether, a world filled with sea creatures and life you won’t find elsewhere. And you’ll be inside of a big dome! So that’s really swill. Most people never go inside domes, unless they’re sick or something. And don’t worry about the dome cracking and all the water coming in to drown you and your family. Scientists made the dome, so it’s sups safe. Safer than you’d be without a dome. Visit “The Wettest Place on Earth3”, even if it’s not wet since you’ll be inside a dome and not drowning.
Fragments of the old world fell into the far older. Fragments became chunks of land, and chunks of land became everything, until all was lost beneath the waves. It wasn’t expected, but it wasn’t unexpected, either. Such things happen. Fleeting life. Natural destruction. Unnatural. Self-inflicted, as in Earth and Earth2, when too much becomes too much. Like most other things, destruction is cyclical, but such trends tend to go unnoticed due to the great passing of time between events. A smart man once said that history repeats itself. Since then, many others have repeated those words, often exactly, sometimes with slight alterations to the phrasing, but the truth remains the same. History repeats itself, even if that history has not only been long forgotten, but never remembered. Remembrance proves difficult with an utter lack of survivors.
Perhaps these discoveries, made hundreds of years earlier, would have dissuaded the space explorers, insisted they search elsewhere, avoid the dark omens and evidence that something, at some time, clearly went wrong. Very wrong. But history repeats itself. However, that doesn’t mean anyone learns from the past. Most simply trudge onward, into fire and brimstone and electrical storms, and burn as a result. Or drown. Or die in a plenitude of various other ways and forms.
Perhaps, if they knew.
But they didn’t.
The whales sing and watch, warn of things to come. Eeoooooooooo. Weeaaaaa. Eee. Ee. Eeoroowwwwoooooooooooooo. They were never native to the toxic waters of Earth3, only made more toxic by polluted civilization, but whales sense the truth just the same, feel the reverberations from deep below, so deep below. Eooooeee. Even through the domes, and the domes within the domes, the whales feel and know and try to warn. But no one understands whale song. For all that Kortena knows, she cannot sing the song of whales.
Eeoooooooooooo. Eeeeooeoeeeeeee. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Eeeeeeaooooooo. Eaaoooooooooooo. Bleaaaaa. Blaaaeeee. Eeooo.
A single piano note, again and again and again. Minor in tone, reminiscent to the note of a whale song.
Nothing’s wrong with Kortena, Trevian. Listen to the whales sing and all will be right.