Escape Pod 798: No Strangers Any More (Part 1)


No Strangers Any More (Part 1 of 2)

by Ian Creasey

One of a princess’s many duties is to make polite conversation and avoid controversial subjects. Screw that, thought Rose. At the banquet after the first day of the conference, there was only one topic on everyone’s mind, so she raised it. “Are these aliens really going to buy the moon?”

The man opposite her laughed. “Are we really going to sell it?” Subtitles in Rose’s vision identified him as a European Union diplomat, an expert in international law, and a family man with a wife, four children, and a mistress.

As everyone else at the table chimed in, Rose’s visual overlay filled with a cloud of identifiers and titbits, until she tweaked her filters to display only the most relevant tags.
“I think we should sell,” said a Russian four-star general. “Let them have the moon. Best place for them! Then they’re not wandering around down here, eh?”

The Brazilian ambassador scowled. “Have you seen the size of their ship? It’s enormous. There could be millions of them in there.”

“The ship is big because it travels between the stars,” another lawyer said. “The crew is only a few hundred —”

“Sure, that’s what they say,” the ambassador retorted. “But who knows what’s really inside? And if they unload it all onto the moon, do we want to see that looming over us every night?”

Rose offered no views of her own; she was a hostess, not a participant. As other people spoke, she labelled them “pro” or “anti”, “loud” or “quiet”, “rude” or “polite”. These tags accompanied their owners in her vision overlay. She also saw summary reputations: people’s accumulated histories of being witty, boorish, or drunk. She trusted her own impressions more than the collective record, but she couldn’t personally assess everyone in the room.

After dinner, when people left the tables and started circulating, Rose watched out for problematic clusters of loudmouths, or confrontations between pros and antis. Whenever one formed, she inserted herself, ready to intervene and smooth over any flashpoints. Being a princess wasn’t just about smiling and waving; her role was harder than it looked.

It included bearing up well in public and performing a flawless job, even after her boyfriend had just left her. Captain Gerrard Calderwood could take a long jump from a high mountain into a deep lake, as far as she was concerned. She wouldn’t let him get to her. She wouldn’t…. Rose shook her head, and concentrated on the task at hand. She observed people’s tags and movements while letting their conversations wash over her.

“We should be grateful they’re offering to buy the moon legally. It’s not as if we could stop them taking it —”

“But who are they buying it from? Who gets the money?”

“— If we sell the moon, we need to make the Felorians promise not to damage it. If they dismantled it, or took it away, then that would affect the tides.”

“Yeah, hands off our moon!”

The crush of people thickened toward the end of the room, near the aliens’ table. The Felorians had been grouped together, because they needed their own food. Their table was flanked by American and Chinese diplomats — as the only nations that had landed astronauts on the moon, they’d insisted on special status at these negotiations. The British delegation, such as it was, sat nowhere near the top table. After leaving the European Union, Britain had become an irrelevance in world politics. This made the UK an ideal venue for international conferences: neutral and insignificant, but with plenty of pageantry and princesses.

The aliens stood out by their height. Each Felorian was nearly seven feet tall, with lumpy purple skin. Their faces were elongated into vaguely triangular snouts, from which beard-like wattles descended.

In Rose’s vision overlay, the aliens appeared as a mysterious void. All the humans in the room had a lifetime’s accretion of tags, coalescing into biographies and reputations. In contrast, the aliens had barely any factual tags: just their names, and a few particulars gleaned since they arrived last month. Admittedly, there was no shortage of opinion tags — switching to the media view that she normally ignored, Rose saw a seething mass of ‘Conspiracy’ labels. Rose knew what it was like to be on the receiving end: right now, her own trending tag was ‘Dumped!’, as the media continued to obsess over her break-up with Gerrard.

Each Felorian stood isolated amidst a knot of people. Diligently circulating, Rose approached the nearest group, centred on an alien called Dorvin. She had briefly met him before the banquet, during a vast round of introductions.

“— But why do you want to buy the moon?” someone was asking.

“It’s a matter of psychological comfort,” Dorvin replied in excellent English, his voice deep and resonant. “Our race evolved on the satellite of a gas giant. Like your moon, our satellite is tidally locked, so the mother world always appears at the same position in the sky. Throughout our history, we’ve always seen a fixed reference point, a single constant in a changing universe. It has shaped our spirit in many ways….”

As Dorvin spoke, a waiter came by with a tray of drinks. He reached under a napkin on his tray, pulled something out, and threw it at the Felorian. “Save the moon!” he shouted. “Aliens go home!”

Dorvin flinched, then froze rigidly in place. The tray crashed to the floor as someone manhandled the waiter. Rose grabbed the napkin and rushed to Dorvin. He had egg-stains on his tunic; fragments of eggshell clung to his boots. She knelt down, wiping away the worst of the mess. The alien’s leg was thick and hefty, as it needed to be to support a seven-foot giant. Rose noticed a pleasant scent reminiscent of lavender, though she had no idea whether this was his natural smell, or some kind of alien deodorant.

She’d behaved instinctively; only after she touched him did she realise that she might be compounding the gaffe. But he didn’t resist: he remained still, letting her wipe off the debris. It only took a few seconds. Then she stood and said, “I’m dreadfully sorry. I apologise, on behalf of the United Kingdom and everyone here.”

Rose heard scuffling behind her, as the waiter was dragged away. She ignored it, staying focused on Dorvin and watching for his reaction. His posture slowly unstiffened. “Thank you” — he paused momentarily — “Your Royal Highness. I accept your apology. Is this a traditional mode of protest?” He peered at the egg-smeared napkin in Rose’s hand. “It is somewhat… unaesthetic.”

She gave the napkin to one of the security staff who’d appeared. He took it away, presumably for analysis in case the egg contained anything noxious.

“It’s one of the traditional modes,” Rose replied. “I suppose you’re lucky you didn’t get a custard-pie in the face.”

“I have no idea what that is, but it sounds even less aesthetic.”

“Yes,” said Rose. Her intuition told her to change the subject as quickly as possible, so they could pretend the incident hadn’t happened. “I heard you saying that at home, you always see the mother planet in the sky. But isn’t that only true from one side of the satellite? Does anyone live on the other side?”

“Ah, those poor benighted souls.” Dorvin jiggled his head, fluttering his wattles. “They have no guidance from the mother world, and so they are lost!”

Rose couldn’t tell whether this was a religious condemnation, or some kind of joke. She hesitated, wondering whether to point out that if the Felorians occupied the moon, they’d be looking to Earth for their “guidance”. Yet she didn’t want to risk insulting the alien’s religion, if he had one.

Dorvin changed the subject, saving her the trouble of responding. “I’m no expert in fashion aesthetics, but it seems to me that you’re wearing different clothes than most of the people here. Is that correct?”

“That’s right,” said Rose, pleased that the conversation had turned to something she could easily discuss. She wore a blue suit with a pencil skirt, black heels, and a string of pearls. “This is based on a historic outfit worn by Diana, Princess of Wales. As part of the anniversary celebrations, members of the royal family are wearing costumes made famous by our ancestors. You have a good eye, to spot the difference between this and contemporary fashion.” She smiled, grateful to have found an opportunity to pay Dorvin a genuine compliment.

“Anniversary?” he queried.

“Oh, just a bit of local history. This year, 2066, marks one thousand years since the Norman Conquest.”

“And a hundred years since England won the World Cup,” someone else chipped in.

“Indeed,” said Rose, who had no interest in football whatsoever. “Britain has plenty of history, and we’re helping to put it on show.”

The device of reviving old royal costumes had been praised for boosting the fashion industry. However, cynics suggested that it had less to do with the millennial anniversary, and much more to do with the forthcoming referendum on the monarchy — when people would vote on whether Britain should become a republic, or retain the King as head of state. The referendum campaign had provoked a flurry of initiatives from the royal family, most of whom were keen to prove their relevance and preserve their privileges.

Rose felt it would be a shame to abandon a thousand years of history. She didn’t mind currying favour with harmless stunts: she enjoyed the chance to dress up, and she’d found it fascinating to learn about the tragic Diana’s life.

“Do you have a monarchy at home?” she asked Dorvin.

His wattles quivered. “Not any more.”

#

News Mash — “SHOCKING PICS: Princess Rose kneels before the aliens and washes their feet!”

Albion Argus — “After a thousand years, we’ve exhausted most forms of pageantry: we’ve had coronations, weddings, jubilees galore. But it’s 400 years since we last abolished the monarchy. Unfortunately, this time it won’t be an execution. We’ll need a new ceremony. Britain leads the world in pointless flummery, and this is an opportunity to manufacture an exciting new form. Tourists will flock to see the retiring of the finery: the royals signing on at the dole office, the horses being lovingly put down with gold bullets, the palace doors opening for a ‘trolley dash’ by fortunate members of the public….”

Hourly Digest — “The Felorian conference has just finished, with no agreement reached. Sources report that many politicians are in favour of selling the moon, even though public opinion is against it. The delegates are already squabbling over the proceeds, with the Americans and Chinese resisting any per capita distribution, preferring to count how many lunar missions each nation has launched. Meanwhile, no-one knows how long the Felorian offer will remain on the table.”

Tag Frenzy — Princess Rose latest tags: ‘Dumped’, ‘Hot’, ‘Fifth in line to the throne’, ‘Would you?’, ‘Nice legs’, ‘Diana who?’, ‘This is the British economy today’, ‘Vote NO!’, ‘She needs feeding up’, ‘A thousand more years of this? Hell yes!’, ‘Buy Rose’s outfit at 20% off’, ‘Calderwood? Calderwouldn’t!’

#

Straight after the conference, Rose flew to Scotland to visit her cousin, Princess Helena. Although this was a private visit, Rose was careful to stay in Diana costume — today, a fuchsia chiffon dress. Cameras were everywhere. Besides, Diana was no stranger to heartbreak. Maybe channelling her ancestor would lend Rose some strength to deal with it.

“Hello darling,” said Helena. “You look fantastic!”

“So do you,” said Rose. “You’re making me look way too colourful.”

Helena wore a cut-down version of Queen Victoria’s mourning dress, accessorised with jet jewellery. Privately, Rose thought that using a mourning dress as a fashion item was in questionable taste. But if you ignored its origins, the black outfit looked sensational.

“You’ve had a tough time, and I know just what you need,” said Helena. “Shopping! Drinking! Gossiping!”

“Relaxing?” said Rose.

“If all else fails. Come along!”

In the evening, after a tour of Edinburgh’s classiest shops, bars and restaurants, Rose arrived at Helena’s apartment feeling pleasantly invigorated and just a little buzzy from the third cocktail.

“Sit down,” said Helena. “You’ve got to try this! It’s the absolute latest thing.”
Rose sat on a white leather sofa, facing the wallscreen. Helena gave her a silver helmet-like contraption, and demonstrated how to wear it by donning her own helmet. “It just needs to tune into your brain. Half a sec…. Done. Now, let’s tag some guys. I’ll show you how it works.”

Helena called up a picture on the wallscreen. The caption said ‘Freddy Hooke’: Rose vaguely recognised him as a sporty guy who she occasionally met at charity balls. She’d never exchanged more than a few sentences with him.

“Brace yourself,” said Helena. “This is a bit disconcerting when you’re not used to it.”

Suddenly, Rose felt a warm rush of familiarity. Freddy! Decent bloke, maybe a little too fond of drinking; genuinely warm-hearted in a help-old-ladies-across-the-road kind of way; prone to the odd sexist comment, but more out of cluelessness than malice. Attractive, friendly — dateable if you fancied athletic types….

The feelings abruptly disappeared, and Freddy was a stranger once more.

“Wow!” exclaimed Rose. “Do you know him? Is that how you think about him?”

“Yes, that’s my emotion tag. It’s so much easier than trying to describe someone in words, or give them a rating out of ten. Feelings don’t lie.”

“I suppose it might help us pick out the more worthwhile chaps from the hordes we have to meet,” Rose said. “I hate getting it wrong.” Her muscles tensed at the memory of her recent break-up.

Helena said, “Eventually this’ll be part of the standard augments — just another overlay. When you walk into a crowded room, you’ll be able to instantly spot all the assholes, and avoid them.”

Rose knew it was more complicated than that. As with any reputation system, you’d have to choose whose opinions to trust, while everyone would also be judging you. And Gerrard had dumped her, even though his tags and his history made him look like a nice guy. Would a more stringent assessment have protected her? Or was the whole system flawed?

“We need to build up the library,” Helena continued. “Your turn! I’m going to flash some faces on the screen. When you see them, just react instinctively. Don’t over-analyse it.”

Another photo appeared. Rose knew Maurice Fitzgerald from university: a bit of a loudmouth. Clever, but not very good-looking. No dress sense whatsoever.

Next came Herbert Donaldson. Rose said, “We met him at that party at Highgrove, do you remember? When we all got in the pool.”

“Yeah, he certainly tried to impress,” Helena said. “I went out with him a couple of times —”

“So you know him better than I do.”

“But it all adds up.”

More men paraded across the screen, sparking reminiscences and scurrilous speculation. It was just like an ordinary girly chat; Rose almost forgot about the helmet.

Then the display showed a familiar face, a very familiar face. She didn’t need the caption, but it loomed anyway: Captain Gerrard Calderwood.

It broke the mood. Rose felt sick. “What did you put him up for?” she demanded.

“Because you need to get him out of your system. And you know him well, so your opinion is valuable.”

“Yeah, but I’m hardly unbiased.”

“Bias is the whole point. If he treated you badly — if he genuinely treated you badly, and you’re not just upset because he broke up with you — then that warning needs to be out there. For the benefit of all womankind!” Helena gave her a pleading look. “Just be honest.”

“All right,” Rose said. “But this is the last one.”

She thought about her ex-boyfriend, determined to be scrupulously fair and remember the good times as well as the bad. Romantic early dates. Great sex, at least at first. But then came the undermining comments, and his nasty habit of criticising her in front of his friends. When she complained, he did make an effort to change. She’d thought things were getting better. That made it hurt all the more when he suddenly said it was over….

Rose’s emotions churned within her. Fortunately, the machine plucked them directly from her mind; she could never have assigned neat verbal labels to the morass of feelings triggered by Gerrard’s picture.

She wrenched off the helmet, then slumped back on the sofa. A tear rose to her eye, and she wiped it away angrily. “How about another drink?”

Helena removed her own helmet, rather more carefully. “You sure had quite a time of it.”

Rose realised that Helena had just experienced the concentrated essence of her relationship with Gerrard. “Yeah. Still, like you said — it’s over. Need to get him out of my system.” Annoyingly, Helena had been right: it did feel cathartic.

“Okay….” Helena headed to the kitchen, and returned with another round of drinks. “And now that he’s behind you, we can start thinking about your next.”

“What?!”

“I know, I know. It’s far too early, you need space, you’re still hurt, you need time to recover, you couldn’t possibly, et cetera, et cetera.” Helena put on a pseudo-refined accent for “et cetera, et cetera”, and since her natural voice was already quite plummy, the combined effect made Rose giggle. “But let’s have a quick look at some candidates, just to get your subconscious primed. Then when you are ready, you’ll be better informed. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?”

Rose, by now somewhat befuddled, couldn’t find any flaw in this logic. “All right. But I’m not using the helmet.”

“No, that’s fine. There aren’t enough emotion tags yet, anyway. We’ll just use the regular ones. Ready?”

Rose yawned, which Helena took as an affirmative.

Wing-Commander Michael Alexander Gordon appeared, surrounded by a halo of tags. After the scanner helmet, returning to the written labels came as a shock. It made Rose realise anew the sheer volume of information they represented. She could see anything in the public record of his life; she could examine any opinion of him that anyone had ever expressed.

“Whatever happened to ‘You will meet a tall dark stranger’?” she complained. “That was so much simpler.”

Helena shrugged. “There are no strangers any more.”

“Only assholes you haven’t met.”

Laughing, they topped up their drinks. Onscreen, the faces flashed past, each with their encyclopaedia of accompanying attributes. Helena didn’t attempt to seriously persuade Rose that any of these men were suitable — it was just a bit of fun, showing how many guys were still available.

And then someone different appeared. Someone very different.

“What’s this?” exclaimed Rose, almost paralysed by giggles.

“It’s an alien!”

“I know it’s an alien. What’s he doing on the list?”

Helena was laughing so hard, she could barely talk. “I didn’t pick him, honestly. It’s based on our contacts, and I forgot to filter for species. I guess he must be male, unattached, and high status….”

It was Dorvin, the alien Rose had met at the banquet. Presumably their interaction had given him a nudge in the weightings. Again she noticed his paucity of tags. A few new ones had appeared — ‘Diplomatic incident’, ‘Official apology’ — but his tag-cloud was a thin mist compared to everyone else’s thunderheads. No-one knew very much about the Felorians; they’d only arrived a month ago.

“He seemed pleasant enough,” Rose said. “He was very gracious about the egg-throwing incident.”

“Well, obviously he’s your tall dark stranger.” Helena’s laughter dissolved into a fit of hiccups.

“He certainly has that aura of mystery. It’s romantic. A leap in the dark, like love used to be.”

“Hey, you’re not going to do anything silly, are you?” asked Helena, her tone of concern marred only by another hiccup.

“Of course not. But I think there is something useful I can do.” Rose smiled. “It’ll be a nice little project, to take my mind off things until I get over Gerrard.”
“Oooh, a scheme! Tell me more. And have another drink.”

“There’s a lot of hostility to the Felorians. At that conference, it wasn’t just the egg-thrower, it was half the diplomats as well. And the media, of course — you know what the media are like.”

Helena nodded. Rose continued, “Maybe I could do something about it: build some bridges, generate some positive publicity, show everyone that they aren’t evil monsters. Just like Diana going into the AIDS ward!”

“Like Diana what?”

“Last century there was a new disease called AIDS,” Rose explained, “and the early sufferers experienced a lot of prejudice. Diana went into hospital to visit them, and she was famously pictured shaking the hand of an AIDS victim. It was a big moment back then.”

“I’m sure the Felorians will be flattered by this comparison to a horrible disease….”

“But that’s how people think of them. They need help! I will wave my wand” — Rose gestured with both arms, as if she held not one but two wands — “and bestow upon them the magic of the monarchy.”

Helena frowned. “That sounds like a really nice thing to do, but are you sure they deserve it? I mean, what if they actually are evil?”

“If they turn out to be evil, it’ll be easy enough to whip up a fresh batch of hatred. Until then, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. After all, they did offer to buy the moon, when they could simply have grabbed it. They’ve behaved honourably so far.”

“I guess that makes sense. How are you going to improve their popularity? It’ll take more than shaking their hand.”

“Hey, I’ve only just had the idea, and you’re asking me for a plan already?” Rose sipped her drink. “I’ll start by inviting them to a few society events. Charity balls, fundraising dinners, that sort of thing. Maybe they’ve got some cool stuff they could donate as raffle prizes. Still, it all depends if they want to play along. Maybe they don’t mind being unpopular.”

Helena shook her head. “No-one wants to be unpopular. Not even if they’re a gang of galactic geeks.”

A sudden doubt struck Rose. “I don’t think it’s that simple. When your father goes hunting, he doesn’t worry about being popular with the foxes, does he?”

“So if they don’t want to go along with your plan, that means they’re probably here to exterminate us?”

“Yep!” Rose grinned. “I’ll try to be persuasive.”

#

Omni Aggregator — “CROWDSOURCING THE MOON: Why do the Felorians want to buy our satellite? Maybe there’s something on the moon that they know about, and we don’t. The moon’s entire surface has been photographed by various missions over the decades, but the pictures haven’t all been scrutinised in detail. Campaign group Save Our Selene has launched a crowdsourcing effort to see if we’ve missed anything. Spokesman Jaroslav Fibich said, ‘You wouldn’t sell a house without checking whether anything’s left in the attic. We want to examine the moon to see what’s there. The total surface area is 38 million square kilometres, so if we sign up 38 million people, they’ll each have a single square kilometre to analyse. Software tools are available, but there’s nothing better than the human eye. We’re offering prizes if anyone spots something out of the ordinary. Who knows what we might find?'”

WorldWideWatch — “I think the aliens are buying the moon to help our economy, as a face-saving form of aid. We’re already spending money to license their technology, so the Felorians are accumulating Earth currency. Buying the moon is a way of giving us the money back, while pretending that it’s an economic transaction rather than a gift.”

#

Rose was accustomed to cameras, to attention, to crowds and noise, to choreographed processions from limousines into buildings. But her companion didn’t have the lifetime’s experience that she possessed; she was nervous on his behalf rather than her own. What if he freaked out? What if someone threw another egg — or worse?

“Whatever happens, just keep calm and carry on,” she said.

“An admirable motto,” Dorvin replied. “Do you find you need it often?”

She laughed. “Sometimes I need it every day.”

Her bodyguard opened the limousine’s door, and they stepped onto the pavement in front of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Crowds cheered and waved. A barrage of cameras greedily sucked in the scene. Behind a fence, a few protestors yelled, “Go home!”

Dorvin was so tall that it took him less than a dozen steps to reach the hospital entrance. He paused to allow Rose to precede him through the doorway. Inside, they split up for their separate missions. Dorvin was meeting the chief medical officer of the Stem Cell Therapy Trust, while Rose toured the wards and tried to bring some cheer to sick children. She’d considered it too risky for Dorvin to accompany her, in case a young child burst into tears at the sight of him. Better to send him to the scientists — a hint at the potential for sharing medical advances. As she entered the first ward, full of children sitting up in their beds eagerly waiting for her, she put Dorvin out of her mind and focused on being the princess everyone expected.

Two hours later, they reconvened in the day room to attend a concert. A group of older children, on a motley collection of instruments, made a creditable stab at Dancing Queen, followed by a medley from the Nutcracker Suite.

“All these children have had their limbs regrown through stem cell therapy,” she explained to Dorvin. “It’s the ultimate test, to be able to play an instrument with a new arm.”

“Then we’d better give them good marks,” said Dorvin, and applauded with just the right degree of polite enthusiasm.

Meanwhile, cameras captured every moment. In her visual overlay, Rose could see the initial media reactions and public comments. Some of them were supportive, but many were nasty and vitriolic. “Why are the aliens visiting Ormond Street Hospital? They’re picking out which children to eat first.”

She sighed, wondering whether she’d tackled a job too big to handle. Could one person overturn the perceptions of the entire planet? Clearly not. She needed to recruit more people to the cause. But to do that, she had to lead by example. She had to carry on.

After the concert, they left the photographers behind as the limousine took them to Tate Modern. Rose had exploited her position as a royal patron to arrange a private tour of the collection. Their footsteps echoed in the empty galleries.

“You talked about aesthetics, so I thought you might like to see some of our art,” she said to Dorvin. “Of course, a lot of it is based on historical events, ancient myths, and so on — I wouldn’t expect you to understand those. But some other styles might be more accessible: abstract expressionism, for instance.” She’d spent the previous evening furiously reading up on it. “This is the Rothko room.”

The paintings loomed above them — huge swathes of muted colours in oblongs with ragged edges. To Rose, the colours looked heavy and oppressive: deep murky red, restless black spaces, a muddy maroon. In her overlay, a cloud of tags summarised visitors’ responses. She ignored them, much more interested in Dorvin’s reaction.

Dorvin walked to the nearest painting, and leaned in until his snout practically touched the canvas. He inhaled with an audible sniff, his wattles quivering.

“Most intriguing,” he said. “A complex set of organic molecules, with a sense of great age. The volatiles have almost completely evaporated, possibly representing the evanescent nature of life. The residues — the longer-chain oils — indicate that what remains of us after death are merely the crude bones of physicality, their animating spirit entirely absent….”

Rose arched her eyebrows, wondering how to take this. Then she laughed. “Dorvin of Feloria, I do believe you’re joking.”

“I might be,” he said. Another tremor shook the wattles below his snout. “But it’s the perennial question of art appreciation: how far should we be guided by the artist’s intent, and how much farther can we extend our own interpretation?”

“I’d say we should be guided at least as far as deciding which sense to use. This is intended as a visual work.” Rose called up a stored prompt in her overlay, and quoted Rothko’s words: “These shapes ‘have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them one recognises the principle and passion of organisms’.”

“Really?”

“That’s what the artist said.”

Dorvin walked back to the canvas and leaned into it again, as though peering very closely in search of recognition.

“Is he — or she — still alive?” Dorvin asked.

“No, he died a long time ago. Actually, he killed himself.”

Dorvin looked back to the gloomy paintings. Rose couldn’t help thinking that in this situation, Gerrard would have instantly fired off an obvious quip such as “I can see why”. She tapped her foot, annoyed with herself for letting Gerrard creep into her mind. It didn’t matter what Gerrard would have said. He wasn’t here; she needed to forget him.

“At home, we have a tradition of speaking more respectfully about the living than the dead,” Dorvin explained. “Perhaps that’s foolish — after all, the work is the same regardless of whether the artist is alive. I haven’t been here very long, but I already know that on Earth your commentary is more robust.”

“Yeah. ‘Robust’ is certainly one word for it.”

“If I were to speak robustly, I might say that these paintings look like afterimages in the eye of someone who’s stared too long into a black hole.”

“And the non-robust version?” inquired Rose.

“I suppose I’d say that these shapes have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them one recognises the principle and passion of organisms….”

Rose smiled. They left the Rothko room, and visited several more galleries. Now that she’d tuned into his sense of humour, Rose found herself both impressed and amused by Dorvin’s responses to the works on display. She could have talked to him for hours, but it had been a long day: she didn’t want to over-strain his politeness.

On their way back to the limousine, a startled passer-by saw them, did a double-take, and snapped a picture on his phone.


Host Commentary

by Mur Lafferty

I’ve been retreating from social media a bit lately. I left Facebook years ago because it always made me feel worse when I looked at it. But now twitter has the same effect. Every time I look at social media, someone has to tell me what wretched thing is happening in the world. I know it’s good to be aware of news, but … all the time? No. That’s the soul killer.

I’m also not a fan of the fast judgements people do based on data that could be incomplete or falsified. I also think some people think the net is an adventure they’re reading about and real people aren’t at the other end. And the superstars of our world-royalty and movie stars and athletes-definitely don’t have feelings or mind all the crap they get online for doing things like eating a food or visiting a friend so you can send them your opinion about their lives that you created based on one Instagram post.

Of course I’ve judged people too, so I’m also pointing fingers at myself.

I believe Ian Creasey’s Britain of the future is altogether too depressingly possible. Not about the moon sale, that sounded awesome, but about the advancement of technology and its’ usage more for judging and tagging and possible reputation assassination than for actual technical advancement. Any new tech will be advanced to be used by sex media producers and, unrelated, by teens. (I’ve read that Pornography being available on VHS instead of Betamax is what killed Betamax. The Internet told me.)

I’m really looking forward to next week, when we get to see more of our heroes. Expect Dorvin to show an unexpectedly human reaction, Princess Rose struggle with a decision, and the media stay exactly the same.

About the Author

Ian Creasey

Ian Creasey lives in Yorkshire, England. He began writing when rock & roll stardom failed to return his calls. So far he has sold seventy-odd short stories to various magazines and anthologies. His debut collection, Maps of the Edge, was published in 2011; a second collection, Escape Routes from Earth, came out in 2015. His interests include hiking and gardening — anything to get him outdoors and away from the computer screen.

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About the Narrator

Pippa Alice Stephens

Pippa Alice Stephens is an actress and voiceover artist. She is soon to be seen in ‘The Invisible War’ playing Rose Berkeley and ‘Spiralling’ playing Natalie.

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