Longer than usual since my last post. I’m off of work for a week and spent a handful of days in New Hampshire, primarily hiking. After not hiking for a few years–very light hiking, that is–I’m gradually trying to get myself back into my old hiking shape. Hopefully I’ll be doing at least one sizeable hike a month, so that in a year’s time I’ll be able to hike what I want, when I want.
Not that I’m in poor shape, but I detest the feeling of not being able to immediately accomplish a physical act such as hiking a mountain. Thus, it is time to focus on that goal once again. I had planned to blog in NH but found myself exhausted at the end of each day. That, and I forgot my computer.
Thanks for reading.
The voice silences. I wait for it to continue, open my eyes and look at Ara when it never does.
“That’s all,” she says. “And I don’t know why. Maybe my grandmother didn’t want to record the rest. Maybe it was lost with so much else in Sealandia, when my parents died and took their secrets with them. At least she was right, in some ways. Kortena changed everything, though never in the way she presumed or wanted. We’re worse off than ever. Are you going to say anything?”
“I don’t know what to say,” I say, and even that sounds wrong. “We didn’t build Kortena like everyone claims? I thought it came from a bunch of scientist people, that someone made it for us. To help us.”
“No one on Earth3 developed Kortena. We may have altered and updated it, I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t come from us. I doubt we have any control over it. More likely, Kortena updates and changes herself. She evolves. There’s only one thing I know of that inhibits the connection. Two things, actually. One is being out here, away from any networks and near the origin point, whatever that is. And the other is whale song. For some reason it messes up the frequency…and I’ve been directing whale songs at you for quite some time now. Don’t be mad. Please.”
“What?” I ask, maybe shout. It’s hard to tell in the confines of the ship. “I thought I was going crazy and you’ve been doing it? Why didn’t you tell me? Why…everything?”
“I needed to see if you could survive without Kortena in a perfect state. If anyone could, including myself. If we’ve become too attached and accustomed to her in our lives, controlling our lives. Don’t you see the affect it has on us, Trevian? You’ve barely functioned these past few days, like you’re sick. But it’s not just you. It’s everyone. We’re all sick. I needed to know that I could safely show you this. I know my grandparents couldn’t have predicted this future, but I wish they never found this city and Kortena.”
“It comes from aliens,” I say, because that’s all I can think. “Alien technology, and now it’s inside our heads. Just like the movies! Alien technology that failed sups bad, since their city’s on the bottom of the ocean now. Aliens like on the shows, all gray and green. Or maybe squid-people lived down here. That explains the underwater.”
“But not the ruin of the city,” Ara says. “And I wouldn’t call it alien, even though it is…I guess. That word has far too many connotations.”
“But it is alien,” I say, poking the side of my head. “Why did you show me this? What am I supposed to do now? Just, like…what? Live and stuff? Like everything’s all swill and I’m the swillest and you’re the swillest even though we’re the only ones who know where Kortena came from and what it is or isn’t? Can’t we tell someone else and…I don’t know. Do something?”
“Like what?” Ara asks. “Freak everyone out so they start stabbing themselves in the head, trying to dig Kortena out? The government would deny the truth, and I certainly can’t bring everyone down here to prove my claims. Even if I somehow did, there’s no actual proof. Just what my grandparents and parents left, and there’s so little of it and nothing all that provable. The government could deny it. And maybe it’s better that no one knows. Kortena hasn’t hurt anyone. Not intentionally. And the world is likely doomed with or without her.”
We sit there for a long time, Ara next to me and me next to her and the water surrounding us and the ship, and I keep thinking how a single crack and we’d drown and die, and then I keep thinking about Kortena, how she’s not even from Earth3, not made here, and that means Earth3 isn’t even the name of the planet. Someone else named it another name long ago. Long enough for their city to sink to the bottom of the ocean, but not long enough for their AI to stop working. No, not their AI. Maybe once, but not now.
“Do you think we’re in danger?” I finally ask.
Ara looks at me like I asked a stupid question. “Of course I do, but I wouldn’t solely blame Kortena. We should blame ourselves first, then maybe the robot inside of our brains. But you want to know if I think we’re in danger because of Kortena, because we didn’t make her. I don’t think so. Humankind has a chip inside its brains. An AI that we didn’t build. If Kortena wanted to do something, she could have. I don’t think we should fear her. And I think I showed you this for selfish reasons. I don’t want to be alone, Trevian, and I’ve been alone for so long. Alone with what I know. Alone with me trying to think of ways to change the future. Alone with me watching everyone ignoring the world around them and each other, all in favor of Kortena. I didn’t want to accept it by myself. I wanted to make it easier for me. I figured, I don’t know, that you could help, that we could be alone together.”
I don’t know what to say. Instead, I stare out of the ship’s window, onto the dead city and the live fish way deep down here and wonder how they’re alive, how anything’s still alive, if I’m actually alive. I am, I think, since I feel my chest move and hear my breath and feel Ara staring at me. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to help,” I say. “I’m like everyone else. I’m not good at things, anything, and I use Kortena for everything. But I’ll try. What do we do?”
“I don’t know,” Ara says, which doesn’t sound like a great plan. “Maybe we get everyone to use Kortena less. Or try to talk to each other. Those seem like simple things.”
“Nothing is simple when you’ve never done it,” I say. “I guess I can try with my friends. Milinda may be into it. She’s into a bunch of stuff that no one likes, other than the people who love everything other people hate, which is actually a sups bunch of people. But she hates a lot of stuff, so she may like this. Thade and Bruno…I think they’re lost. Sups deep in the trees. And Sophie, she won’t listen to me. I think she’s still all gaga kiss-face about me. She wasn’t until we got to Sealandia, but she is now. But I’ll try. I’ll be…there’s a word for it, and I’d know it if I could use Kortena, but I can’t out here. Like…sneaky, tricky, but in a way they won’t see. Like I’m a magician.”
“Subtle?” Ara asks.
“Yeah, subtle. I’ll be that. A subtle magician. I can’t just tell them the truth. They won’t believe it. No one would unless they’re here, seeing this like I’m seeing it, and even then it’s hard for me to believe.”
“It would make a great thrill ride,” Ara says. “Journey to the bottom of the ocean, beyond the dome, to see the alien city of Kortena’s birth! See why the chip inside your brain is made from aliens!” She frowns. “It sounds a bit too frightening. Too real. I don’t want to terrify the world. I just want people to know. No, I want them to understand. Knowing the truth isn’t enough.”
“True,” I say. “I know the truth and have no idea what to do with it. And now that I know, no more whale songs?”
“No more whale songs,” Ara says, smiling and taking my hand, leaning against me as we stare at the drowned world. “Only the whale songs you want to hear. They’re part of you now, Trevian. Part of us.”
Wham! Smash! These are exciting sounds for you to hear. With the newest Kortena app, you can replace words you don’t like, the boring old boring words, with exciting noises and words that you find real swill. Powwy! Banandango! Kowkowpowpow! And many more exciting words and phrases. Be trendy! Be swill! Hear only the words you want to hear. That way your friends and family won’t bore you to death and make you dead. Because no one likes a boring dead guy. Buy smash! today save bambamboom before gaaarrrrhhhhhhh runs out and freeeeeeedooooooommmmm!!!!
Further electrical storms…the northern part of the north place, a hemisphere? It’s experiencing many power failures and blackouts. That’s sort of what happens when the NewSun shines too bright and burns stuff away, the ozone stuff, and the bright lightning shoots right in and burns everything to ash. Precautions are being taken, such as…well the president says to wear sups sunscreen, since electricity can’t burn through sunscreen. That’s why it’s called sunscreen, and there’s no point of freaking out and screaming when sunscreen solves mostly every problem. Just remember to sunscreen the tops of your feet. Electricity is always strongest in your feet…power surges continue to surge, cities blinking in and out, in and out, in and out, like the stars we saw before the pollution got too much. Speaking of pollution, wear your facemasks outside today, folks. There’s bound to be another smog wave. The president says not to wear sunscreen to combat the smog, because he’s not sure if there’s electricity in smog. It’s best to be safe, he says.
Today’s programming is canceled since the writers didn’t know what to write or how the words should be arranged to form a story. It’s hard work, the writers claim, writing stories and making the words sound good and right and not contrived or like they’re trying to impress you, so they decided to give up instead, because writing is very hard work. So is reading things, which is my job, but you don’t see me quitting. Anyway, because no one knows what to write or how to write it, here’s some pictures of various stones, or rocks as some people call them. There’s even a few boulders, and a song about a boulder. The writers didn’t write the song. A machine that writes most musical songs and the best flowing words wrote the song. Writing songs is also very hard work, and machines do it better than people. But not stories. Probably because music has a lot more numbers and machines think with numbers and people think with thoughts, so it all makes a lot more sense that way than the other way or another way.
Vodka Spitting Dolphins
“Are you alright, Trevian?”
I open my eyes even though I think they’ve been open all this time. I’m sitting on the ground outside the abandoned aquarium museum place. I remember getting out of the ship and back onto dry land. Though I guess the ocean was never wet. At least the part that I touched, or didn’t touch. I remember walking up the stairs and through a few hallways, but the memories stop there. Other than voices speaking without words and music playing, more individual notes than a song. The piano and the whales.
“I’m okay,” I say when I remember that Ara asked me a question.
“Are you sure? You stumbled and almost fell and you haven’t said anything for quite awhile.”
“Maybe the whales were interfering with Kortena. They do that, you said.”
“The whale songs, but they don’t disorient you that much, and we’re nowhere near the whales.”
I shrug. “It’s nothing new. Just Kortena messing up like she’s done since the beginning. It was more than just you, I think.”
Ara helps me to my feet. I’m dizzy but don’t want to tell her; she already looks too worried. “Maybe Kortena is trying to tell you something but she doesn’t know how. Or you don’t know how to listen. Or we’re both crazy and your network’s errgged. Anyway, what’s our plan? Do you think any of your friends will listen? Or believe?”
I shake my head. “No, not really. But trying may be better than sitting on the bottom of the ocean.”
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe…” Ara smacks herself on the forehead. “Wait, what day is it?”
“I have no idea,” I say. “I don’t even know what day we left for Sealandia or how many days I’ve been here. Actually, I don’t even know the month.” I could check Kortena, but I don’t. My head hurts and eyes sting, like I haven’t slept in days, and maybe I haven’t. Not real sleep. Instead of waiting for the piano music, I ask Kortena to play some in the background, soft and gentle as if played by the wind. If there was wind in Sealandia, but it’s not called the Windiest Place on Earth3. The music is nice, real swill, even if it’s not the haunting melody I’ve become so used to.
Ara smacks her forehead again, softer this time. “I’m an idiot. It’s the first. I don’t know where the week’s gone, but today’s the first.”
“Oh,” I say. “Should I know what that means?”
“I guess not, but I should. It’s Sealandia’s anniversary and the day of the parade. I mean, I don’t do anything in particular with it, since no one knows I’m the heir to Sealandia, but I should at least know the day. Your friends won’t listen today, Trevian. No one will. It’s the biggest day of the year for Sealandia. A giant party, probably the reason you came here even if you don’t remember.”
Usually a party sounds good, with balloons and music, but mostly just balloons. I really like balloons and the way they float. And food. But right now a party sounds errgged, like there’s no reason to celebrate and nothing to feel swill over. Other than balloons. Celebrating after you learn there’s an alien inside your brain doesn’t make a lot of sense. Not that Kortena’s an alien, not really, but she’s a lot more foreign than I ever thought. Having a robot AI thing inside your brain is normal as long as other people made it, but it gets weird when strangers made it. Strangers from a strange land. Not any of the Earths. Whatever this planet was once called.
“Yeah,” I say. “They’ll probably be decached and partying and real up’d instead of down’d and not wanting to hear the truth. Not that I know how to explain any of it. So, what now?”
“I guess we join the party and figure things out when everyone’s ready to listen. So…in a few days, after the drunkenness and hangovers go away. You’ll see.”
I do see.
After we leave the abandoned museum and cross the empty space, back through the fence and into the popular part of Sealandia, I see pretty quickly. It’s still early—early for Sealandia. There’s not many people in the streets, and those who are look tired and groggy and are eating hand-waffles with syrup and butter trapped in the middle so your mouth gets sticky but not your hands. The waffles once had orange juice in the middle too, but that didn’t go over so well. Apparently it’s hard to fill waffles with orange juice and still have them taste good instead of soggy.
The day’s early, but there’s already a big plastic dolphin gliding down the middle of the street. The dolphin’s on a moving cart, spinning round and round while spitting a reddish liquid out of its dolphin mouth. The liquid arches far, like a rainbow, and people open their mouths and the liquid goes inside. Usually a dolphin spitting into your mouth would be weird, but now no one seems to mind, like it’s just one of those things.
“It’s called Dolphin Juice,” Ara says. “It’s basically watermelon vodka, but salty like the ocean, like how a dolphin would taste if you licked it, but with watermelon.”
“That makes sense.”
“It’s highly intoxicating and is probably illegal, but the laws down here…well, they don’t really exist, other than the big ones, and a dolphin spitting into your mouth to get you drunk isn’t a big one.”
“What time is it supposed to be?”
Ara shrugs. “I haven’t cared about the time in years. Besides, even if it’s morning, watermelon can be a breakfast fruit.” Ara shakes her head as the dolphin spits everywhere, all over people and the ground. “This will take forever to clean up, like it does every year. You’d think I would have canceled it by now, a giant party that does more harm than good. Destruction and drunkenness, and of course sex. So much sex, with dolphin masks and flippers and dolphin noises so identities remain anonymous. Eeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeee,” Ara says, loud and shrill, then blushes and smooths out her dress. “But Sealandia needs the credits, and this is the busiest time of year, by far. Canceling the festivities would be financial suicide.”
“Why not just get rid of the giant dolphins spraying vodka into everyone’s mouth? It has horrible aim.”
“It’s not worth the effort,” Ara says. “And it’s far from the worst problem. You’ll see, once today really gets swinging. Come on. Let’s go find your friends before the day’s an entire waste.”
No One Listens
I’m pretty sure today and the days to come will be entire wastes. We make our way to the hotel, mostly with Ara’s guidance. She knows every street and corner, every shortcut, every inch of Sealandia. Makes sense since she owns it. And I barely remember any of it, can barely recall what hotel we stayed at and have to ask the desk lady where what room I’m staying in.
The room is a mess. I don’t know how many days have passed since I was last here. It looks like a week though I know it wasn’t. The guts of the giant stuffed whale that Thade bought me decorate the room like big flakes of fluffy snow. Thade’s half inside the cut open belly of the stuffed whale, half outside, his legs laying on the floor while the rest of him is lost within. So much for taking the present home. Bruno’s missing, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s buried somewhere in the trash and belongings. Or he’s inside the whale. The shower’s running, and with Milinda sitting on the bed, it must mean Sophie’s in the bathroom. Kortena’s telling me that I should take a shower since it’s been a few days. She’s right, but it’s hard to find time when it feels like your mind’s exploding.
Milinda’s eyebrows arch when she see’s me and Ara standing in the doorway. Her hair is a brighter red than I ever remember it, like it’s lit up with tiny light bulbs, and her eyebrows are red too. Her skin is pale, like she hasn’t seen the sun in a long time. I guess that’s true for everyone in Sealandia. Maybe that’s why some fish creatures are so pale.
“Aren’t you that girl from the ship that I thought Trev was so swill on but he said he wasn’t, or feigned ignorance or something, and now it’s so obvious that he’s swill?” Milinda narrows her eyes and stares. “Yes, it’s you. I remember because you were all like…sitting there with gaga eyes over Trev. I can always tell when someone has gaga eyes. It’s the way they blink.”
“Oh.” Ara blushes and doesn’t know what to do with her hands. Finally, she puts them at her sides and enters the room, sits on the end of the nearest bed as I shut the door, pushing whale guts out of the way. Thade’s snoring inside the whale. “Yes, that’s me. I’m Ara.”
Milinda nods and smirks and shuts her eyes. “I planned to sex up Trev real swill, to piss off Sophie since she’s a total bitch and is errgging out everyone. I mean, we’ve been gaga before but never to errgg Sophie, so this time it would have been sups better. Bruno got so off’d by her that I haven’t seen him in a day, said he was going to get decached and play with the seahorses. I don’t know what a seahorse is, but I know that horses can’t swim. Anyway, I guess my plans with Trev are off now. I didn’t really want to pretend gaga over him, but I would have. Sophie will still be errgged, maybe even more since you’re not me and I’m not you, and you’re something new and pretty and obviously swill, so it all works out as long as Sophie hates herself and everything else. Who are you, anyway?”
“She just said,” I say. “Her name is Ara.”
“That’s fine, but who is she? Like…just a girl? No offense, Trev, but you don’t usually go out and meet people. You usually brood and sulk and do that thing you do and stick with the four of us, because you hate change and are probably afraid of it, but what do I know?”
“I do those things?” I ask. “She’s…”
“I’m vacationing here, but I came alone since none of my friends like whales.”
I glance at Ara, wondering why she’s lying.
“Great,” Milinda says. “Trev loves whales. They’re basically all he talked about to drag us here, but I suppose it’s okay that we came. Bruno loves it, but he won’t remember a single thing. Sophie’s being Sophie, so she hates it. Surprise. And Thade…did you know there’s a giant dolphin that shoots vodka down your throat? Thade found it right away and kept following the dolphin even though he hasn’t slept since we got here. Then he came up back up here and started screaming about how every secret hides inside of the whales and he ripped a hole in the big stuffed one, then he puked on Sophie and fell asleep inside the whale. That’s why she’s in the shower, and because she’s Sophie. Her hair’s a different color and it’s entirely anti. The new episode of Teen Heart Lane changed everything for hair, I guess. I don’t know, and I only half listen to Sophie, else I’d probably stab her. What was I talking about?”
“Listen, Milinda, there’s something you should know about Kortena and…”
“And I doubt she wants to hear right now, when the parade and everything else will begin soon,” Ara interrupts.
“That, and I already know about Kortena,” Milinda says. “Everyone does. There’s supposed to be a big update tonight. Forever long, so at least an hour when we won’t have Kortena. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do for an hour, like it’s easy or something. I guess I can stare at the wall. Or sleep. But how am I supposed to sleep without Kortena? She plays all my music and noise so I don’t hear the noise of the world. I hate the sounds that the world makes.”
“That’s not what I…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Ara interrupts again and glares at me real hard.
“Plus I probably wouldn’t care,” Milinda says, shrugging and picking at her nails; they’re long and blue and have waves on them. “I don’t care about most things, and really I’m just concerned about how I’m supposed to survive without Kortena for an hour. They didn’t even give us time to mentally prep or anything. Hey, are you two like one of those things now? Sup gaga? Because you look like one of those things. The language of your bodies. Your body language. Trev’s a hard one. Girls are always like oh Trev, let’s date and do stuff to each other you’re so handsome and funny hahahah listen to me laugh I’m a moron and laugh annoyingly loud to beg for attention but at least I’m pretty and slutty I don’t care if we just met just put it anywhere and I’ll smile and moan, but he never seems to care. I mean, he dated Sophie, but that’s only because she’s always all about sex and that stuff and is really weird about it, with masks and lotions. That’s why I wanted to hurt her feelings and break what’s left of her stupid heart. She’s slept with three of my boyfriends, and I only slept with Trev, and we’re somehow still besties. According to her. According to me, I don’t have any friends. Just Trev, and mostly because he’s a good listener and everyone else only cares about themselves. Me included, I guess.” Milinda stares at her nails as she talks, like she doesn’t care who’s listening as long as it’s someone. “Usually I stop talking because I realize no one’s listening. I’m not sure I like when people listen. I’m not used to it and it makes me talk too much.”
“I like her,” Ara says.
Milinda makes a face and lays down on the bed. “No one likes anyone. Not really. Unless you know that person, and we don’t know each other. What am I even saying? Maybe my Kortena is like Trev’s and not working right. You guys should probably leave before Sophie gets out of the shower. She’s…”
The bathroom door opens and Sophie’s standing in the steamy doorway, wet and naked and glistening like a sexy, fit dolphin. Her hair is white like snow and extensions long, down past her butt, which is also naked. “Oh. Hello, Trev. Is this your new girlfriend?” She’s talking like she’s not sups naked, like the shower isn’t still running and steam isn’t coming out of the bathroom and coiling around her like a horny snake.
Sophie smiles at Ara. Ara doesn’t smile back. Probably because one girl is naked and the other is not. “He never could talk when I was naked. Gets too flustered. Has you seen you naked yet? I bet he has. He’s been gone basically since we arrived, and this trip was all his plan. Originally to win me back, to find romance in the Wettest Place on Earth3.”
“The room’s getting hot,” Milinda says. “Can you at least close the bathroom door if you plan to stand there naked? I don’t think it will change anything. They’re like a thing now, sups gaga, and you and Trev were never a good thing, not like them. Just a physical thing, since I don’t think you understand anything else. Not that most guys mind. Especially all of my boyfriends. Besides, Ara is swill.”
Sophie glares at Milinda, who doesn’t bother to look up from the bed. She rips a sheet off the bed and wraps it around herself, moisture quickly seeping through.
“We’re going to wait for the parade and the other stuff,” I say. “Outside. Not in here. Outside in the hall. Away from the shower. And the steam. And the sheet. Outside. If you guys want to meet up when you’re not naked and angry and whatever else you are.”
Thade mumbles something from inside the giant stuff whale. It moves slightly and is still again.
“Wonderful,” Sophie says, smiling. “I knew you wouldn’t miss the parade after you went on and on about it.”
“I never knew there was a parade until a few hours ago.”
“You told us all about it,” Milinda says. “How none of us would want to miss it and we had to visit Sealandia to see the whales and the parade. We’ll come once Sophie is less naked. Unless one of my boyfriends suddenly appears. Then I’m sure she’ll stay naked and pounce on him like Thade did the stuffed whale.”
“How are you so petty? It was only five times, and you gave me permission at least once.”
“How are you so slutty and want everything inside of you, you…”
Screaming starts and Sophie rips off her sheet dress and throws it at Milinda as I usher Ara out of the door and into the hallway. Screams follow us outside. “Don’t touch me when you’re naked!”
“Sorry about that. Usually my friends aren’t so horrible. Well, that may not be true, but usually they’re better than that.”
“Vacations can bring out the worst of people,” Ara says, voice a lot calmer than her face looks. “It’s an excuse to act crazy and do anything, since it’s all forgotten when you return home. Speaking of home, have you been paying attention to the news?”
“The news. About Earth3.”
“Oh. Sometimes. When Kortena makes me listen and before I can stop her.”
“No one’s been able to come here or leave the past few days,” Ara says as if I should have known this, as if it’s a big deal. “Doesn’t that concern you?”
“I don’t know. I guess so, but we’re not supposed to leave anytime soon. anyway. Electrical storms always come and go. It’s part of Earth3. Hey, maybe that’s what happened to the city on the bottom of the ocean.”
“Maybe,” Ara says. “But the storms are definitely something that we’ve made worse.”
“I guess. Should we go to the parade and stuff?”
“And stuff,” Ara says, sighing but taking my hand and leading me down the hall, back outside and to the stuff that’s out there.
Ting. Ting. Ting. Ting.
Bop. Bop. Bop.
We hope you enjoyed the sounds of “What if a Non-Musical Robot Wrote Music”.
Two women dance, nearly nude, smiley-face pasties over their nipples and privates. They dance slowly, then erratically. Never erotically, for there is nothing erotic about this act despite their lack of clothing and auras of lust. One women wears a bird mask, blue and plastic and beak bright orange and bulbous. Her arms moves as a bird’s arms would move, if birds had arms instead of wings. A terrifying image, but she is not terrifying, the beautiful naked bird woman who speeds up when the music speeds up and slows down when the music slows down and dances, dances, as if the music will never end. The other woman wears the mask of an ancient reptile, green and stoic, filled with wisdom and caution. They dance together and apart, apart and together, as if hearing separate songs that occasionally meld and become one, so that the women can become one woman. It is unknown as to why they dance, but they seem to be running from something, or dancing toward something, or simply attempting to survive the cruelty and madness that the world has become.
With fires raging out of control, officials have officially declared it unsafe to be outside, especially if you plan on breathing. Inhaling smoke can be very bad for your lungs. Your lungs need normal air, not smokey air, so be careful and try to breathe the good air and not fill your lungs with smoke. It may seem easy, since all air looks the same, so here a few tips to help guide you.
avoid black air, or gray air, what is also called smoke
don’t approach fires. Instead, run away from fire. This could prove difficult since fires are swill and everyone wants to experience them
wear a breathing mask
find somewhere to buy a breathing mask and then let us know where you bought it. We don’t even know what they are
put the fires out to make the air better to breathe