Far above the world, eyes were, for the first time, watching. Two seeming men were calmly floating in the orbital void, staring down at the blue jewel.
This is Earth, somehow; 1969, give or take, by the development. That doesn't make any sense.
No, it makes some sort of twisted, broken sense. Maybe the Sim developed consciousness, then a sense of humor, and has now decided to screw with us.
Funny. If this is Earth, though… they'll definitely develop metaboxing tech. We have to destroy them. They're just like any other dangerous civilization.
But… c'mon, man! Earth! I don't think the Krazinar will be happy if they find out we blew up the Earth. Their Earth.
It's not their Earth. It's a simulation of it. It's just… similar, is all.
No, it's identical, down to every last detail. I bet I could find Quazar's grandma if I looked long enough.
You're just trying to creep me out.
You should be creeped out. It's creepy. It has no logical reason for sitting here, floating in front of us; it's not near any of the same stars their Earth was, and I imagine the view from down there is just as different. Still… I don't think we should destroy it. I think we should just… change it.
What do you mean, change it?
Well, we know exactly who ends up developing Metaboxing here. We can stop them. We can stop the entire field of science from ever existing.
Are you sure no one else would figure it out?
No, I can't be sure. If we just let them go along with their lives, someone else might figure it out. But we could change that, too. We could…
You want to stall a civilization's development, on purpose.
It's better than the alternative.
The year is 1975. I'm on the run.
It's been like this for the last two months. I don't care about myself any more. At first, when I took my baby from the hospital, I just knew I wanted to. I didn't have a good reason.
Since then, I've found plenty of good reasons. What they're planning to do to the world… what they're doing… it's not going to be the place I grew up in any more. It's not going to be a place for anyone to grow up in.
It's not going to be anything.
I'm just resting my feet. Hopefully, if anyone finds this diary, it'll be her. My little girl. My Pearl. I'm not sure how to get it to her. If I can find a way out of here, back into the country, I won't need to; I'll have my whole life, her whole life, to tell her. But, if not…
A woman, 25 but aged long before her years, runs along the city tram line. She isn't trying to catch the tram. Her footsteps can't be heard among the sounds of blowing silence from the crowds, and that helps. Sometimes it's better to run in daylight.
All she can hear is her music. Simple songs, songs of peace and brotherhood and all those things this era has left behind, shout in her ears from the odd, clunky headphones she rescued from a dumpster, the cord trailing down into one of her too-large pockets. The song ends and she misses a beat.
They're there. The police have caught up again. Unlike before, unlike every day before, she's tired. Something pulls at her, makes her slow down, makes her fall. Tears well up, but don't come. Instead, the billy clubs, the tasers. She falls to the ground screaming, clutching the baby girl as the bruises and shocks twitch her arms and legs beyond her control.
Crying. A baby, crying.
A girl, barely but a toddler, approaches the podium. Her skin is ivory; hair, white; eyes, the same blue as her father sitting on the chair near the curtain. The tiniest mouth in the world opens and begins to sing. This is the competition she had been prepared for, groomed and trained and let think this was all she was, the last two years of her short life.
She closes her eyes at the end. The judges open theirs. Among them, there are sounds of faint praise, agreements out of fear and spite. They tell her to pack.
This is Pearl, though she won't know that name for a very long time. Seven years old, she has just won the grand prize in a very auspicious and strange contest: she will star in an pseudo-animated television series. As such, she must go to Tokyo, one of only three places in the world where pseudo-animation devices have been built. She is told she is happy. She agrees.
She runs out to give her father a hug. He stands, allowing her to wrap her arms around only his legs, and pats her quaintly on the head in slow, deliberate motions that are supposed to show caring.
Now is no time to be happy; you haven't produced your first episode yet, let alone seen if the ratings will make you a worthwhile venture. Now get away from me and dress up pretty. We're… he paused for a moment to let the thought sink in,
going to fly.
It's a nice night out, the little girl said to herself, quietly looking up at the bleak green glow of the city.
Her father was asleep in his bed. She stood alone on the balcony of their new four-million-dollar home which Pearl herself had been merchandised to provide. She thought for a moment, about power and responsibility and who really could tell who what to do, and promptly climbed off the ledge of the balcony and started her way down the building.
The air was thick and hot down at street-level, polluted with smog and soot from the thousands of different sources whizzing by the door of the building. She smiled; it had been five months since she had been even ten feet separate from her father, though she knew she had been, her whole life, a full world away. There was a rhythmic thumping noise coming up from one of the other buildings surrounding their spacious estate—a club had opened. If her father had thought for a moment that Pearl would now be walking along the twinkle of red and green lights towards it, he would have immediately had it closed.
father. Her pseudo-animated character, KittyPants, had a father too, but he actually seemed to like her and care about her. She didn't care about that at the moment. She was curious about just what this noise was coming from this decaying warehouse. She walked to the front door, and knocked politely, but found no reply. It was locked, the door handles chained; if she was able to read Japanese a little better, she would know the sign on the door said
Condemned. She figured it just said
use side door and inched her way through the shadow of the building into the alleyway beside.
What are you doing here? a prepubescent voice asked.
I'm looking for the music, Pearl answered, feeling a sudden odd familiarity with whatever small being the darkness framed. She shivered.
Well… you shouldn't be here, the voice answered, sounding agitated but kind,
look. Can I take you home?
A boy, looking nine, scrawny and pale with long burnt-violet hair, stepped into view with a tired smile, holding out his hand.
C'mon. If you want, I'll give you my music player. Just don't go in there, alright? Please?
What's so bad in there that I should be afraid of it? she mumbled, her head cocked toward the rusted door.
You wouldn't understand. I'm here now, though, and you should forget about this place. It'll be gone tomorrow, anyway. He brushed the backs of his fingers softly across her cheek in an awkward way, trying to copy something he knew he used to know how to do.
My name is Xallien, he said,
and you're going to be alright.
What just happened to me? Why is everyone looking at me like that? And why are all the pictures on the walls different?
A girl looks at the board members with curious, shining blue eyes. They look back in confusion and terror. It has been one full year, exactly, since her identifying traces disappeared from her house. It has been ten months since the board canceled her television broadcast despite its overwhelmingly high ratings and fired the employee assigned to be her
It has been six months since, according to the law, she has been declared a
non-person for reasons of security.
Pearl's headphones, the small, cheap ones Xallien gave her, hang at her neck, tinny whispers filling the silence of the boardroom. One comes out of his stun and starts to speak.
You're… KittyPants. We canceled you a long time ago. You shouldn't be here. You shouldn't exist.
The girl furrows her brow, honest ignorance held between her pursed lips. "What do you mean? I was here yesterday. You have a very strange definition of
a long time ago."
No. You have been dead for a year. We decided that the public should be told it was spontaneous human combustion, despite the evidence. It was a wonderful ratings boost at first, but we couldn't make any new episodes so we had to cancel you. And, since the law says you can't be both dead and a citizen, you're here illegally. Now please leave.
A well-dressed man stands up from a cheap plastic chair beside the door, staring at her without any expression at all. He walks toward her and puts his hand on her shoulder firmly. She ducks to avoid him, but he's quick and in a single motion has both her legs and arms pinned against his chest. He leans back and loosely carries her to the door, supporting her head. Between her pitiful kicks and yelps, he says quietly,
you do not belong here. I am calling men who will take you to where you belong. Be silent.
He puts her down, and she starts to cry. The suited man then grimaces, kneels, and hugs her gently, slowly and patiently stroking her hair. The board members ignore them and continue the meeting.
It is morning, but there is no life awakening here. This polluted airstrip is what the world's
temporary governing body uses to carry its criminals to their final resting place. More specifically, it is the broken plane currently on this broken runway. There are strict laws against capital punishment, regardless of the crime, but that is no matter—the airplane manufacturers are supported by the governing body, and can never be sued for criminal negligence, so this is how they do it: put the ones you don't like on the plane, supposedly sending them to an inescapable penal colony, but just let the plane crash somewhere along the way. They weren't citizens anyway.
The dewless brown grass blows dry in the wind, the rustling and the wash of the sea the only noises for hundreds of miles. This sort of operation is done far from the inhabited, or inhabitable. There will be no witnesses.
Pearl stands beside the man that she called her father. He looks back at her with the weary eyes of a man who has done nothing with his life. On his shoulder is a bag, out of which sticks a book with frayed, yellow pages, most torn or folded at least once, and a pair of large, clunky headphones. Pearl looks up into the blank white sky.
The small plane starts on its own, the autopilot engaging as best it can through the jumble of frayed wiring in the cockpit. The door lowers, and the two walk in. The car which took them here has long since driven away, leaving this their only path. Pearl, a normal, curious child, inspects the distinctly 1970s upholstery for a moment before trying to get a look into the tiny cockpit window.
Only darkness proceeds her gaze. The door closes behind them, and the man finds a seat, puts his head down, and sits very, very still. The plane starts with Pearl still standing at the cockpit door, almost knocking her on her back with the force of the take-off.
After twenty minutes, Pearl has bounced up and down in every seat, looked out every window into the dark, frothing sea, and done every other thing one can do alone in an airborne coffin, all in perfect silence save the loud hum of the engines. Finally, she decides to sit beside the stranger that was payed to be her father.
What are you doing? she asks simply.
He can't hear her. Looking up at him, she notices the protrusions from his head, concentrated at each side; he's listening to music of some sort, but it doesn't travel beyond his ears. His eyes are glassy; there are lines where tears could have fallen, but are now as dry as an ancient riverbed.
The plane shakes. One of the engines is on fire, but he doesn't look out the window. He stares straight ahead, trying to understand the universe all at once, never having given it a single thought before. Pearl's mouth is open wide, her eyes distressed; she is probably screaming. He can just barely hear it, and can't think. He turns the music louder. The roar of the engine fire is becoming fierce, black soot caking the left-hand windows, leaving the plane in shadow on his side.
He begins to sing along with the song, though he isn't aware that he's doing it. Speaking in the tongues of his own people, he quietly prays to vanish, to avoid being judged in the rapture that has already come to pass. The young girl beside him stares at him in disbelief as he grows louder. The nose of the plane steepens, and the whole frame begins to resonate deeply, keeping its own beat against the boiling sky. Pearl crawls across the seats to look out her own window, being thrown into the backs of the seats ahead twice as she approaches. There is a distant field ahead, not an airstrip but a simple grassy plain like the one they left. The cliffs below it look menacing, like teeth of some leviathan beast tearing out of the sea to reach them.
The plane pulls up farther…
the man sings louder…
a girl whispers for help.
Waves crash, and fade, pulling small rocks into the tide far below. A girl with white and red hair is lying beside a man with a red face. Bits of twisted metal lay buried in the dead, charred grass to all sides, the scent of burning polyester still rising from the wreckage. The girl rolls over and stares into the blackness of this new night sky. There are no stars here. There is no moon. For the first time in her life, Pearl feels real, and feels alone.