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Saturday Storytime: The Sounds of Old Earth

The 2013 Nebula nominees are out! I’ve only featured one of these stories here previously, as I usually try to find stories by authors I haven’t already featured. I have no excuse for having missed this story by Matthew Kressel, however. It generated a good bit of buzz when it came out in January, and with good reason.

Earth has grown quiet since everyone’s shipped off to the new one. I walk New Paltz’s empty streets with an ox-mask tight about my face. An acidic rain mists my body, and a thick fog obscures the vac-sealed storefronts. Last week they hauled the Pyramids of Giza to New Earth. The week before, Stonehenge. The week before that, Versailles and a good chunk of the Great Wall. But the minor landmarks are too expensive to move, the NEU says, and so New Paltz’s Huguenot Street, seven centuries old, will remain here, to be sliced to pieces in a few months when the planetary lasers begin to cut the Earth apart.

I pump nano into my bloodstream to alleviate my creeping osteoarthritis and nod to a few fellow holdouts. We take our strolls through these dusty streets at ten every morning, our little act of rebellion against the mandatory evacuation orders. I wave hello to Marta, ninety-six, in her stylishly pink ox-mask. I shake hands with Dr. Wu, who performed the op to insert my cranial when I was a boy. I smile at Cordelia, one hundred and thirty-three, as she trots by on her quad servo-legs. All of us have lived in New Paltz our entire lives and all of us plan to die here.

Someone laughs behind me, a sound I haven’t heard in a long time. A group of teenage boys and girls ride ancient turbocycles over the cracked pavement toward me. They skid to a halt and their eager, flushed faces take me in. None wear ox-masks, which is against the law. I like them already.

“Hey shinhun!” a boy says. “Do you know where the frogs are?”

Before I can answer, an attractive girl with a techplant on her cheek blows a dreadlock of green hair from her eyes and says, “We heard some wankuzidi has an old house where he keeps a gose-load of frogs.” A boy pops a wheelie and another takes a hit of braino from an orange inhaler. A third puffs a cigalectric and exhales fluorescent smoke.

“Behind my house I have a pond with a few frogs still alive,” I say.

“Xin!” she exclaims. “How ’bout you ride with us? I’m Lin.”

These kids are as high as orbitals, but it’s not as if I have much left to lose. “Abner,” I say.

And just like that I’m hanging on to her waist as we speed toward my house over broken roads no ground vehicle has used in decades. The wind in my face feels exhilarating.

Keep reading.

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