Anchora — Volume VIII
Stories 71 to 80 of the sci-fi/cyberpunk flash fiction anthology
I am the goddess of capitalism. Every day, I look down from the top of the tower I built to show the world — quite literally — who’s on top. I look at their sad finite lives while I enjoy all the life extension money can buy.
And yet, all the pleasures I enjoy in Olympus — the best food, a sea of beautiful bodies ready to pleasure me, the finest entertainment — it’s all empty, bland, insipid. My life is meaningless without her.
Every night, I stare at an anachronism — an icon in the shape of a phone — while living another. This isn’t the age of romance, that time is long gone. Yet here I am, a goddess asking herself if she should just call her human lover — or rather, ex-lover — and invite her for a cup of tea in Olympus.
The part that hurts the most is I pushed her away to keep my divinity, to keep the illusion that I was above humanity, free of vulnerabilities, unable to suffer, unable to feel pain. The irony tastes bitter, and when I swallow it, it crushes my heart.
I’m seeing the best shrink: artificial intelligence. It says my heart aches for deep human connection. Tonight, I tapped the phone icon, but there was no one on the other side to complete the connection.
So I’m sitting alone in Olympus, admiring the neon lights of the city below, my hands hugging a cup of tea. I wish I wasn’t a goddess. Tonight, all I wanted was to be human.
The pain shifts and morphs into hate — acute, sharp, precise like a sniper’s bullet. I’m on both ends of that gun, the hater and the hated. If my death could bring her back to life, I’d do it in a second.
I’ve been living among the dead anyway. Olympus is haunted. Our entire relationship happened in this apartment, her face lighting up every time I showed what a billionaire’s smart home can do. I can’t look anywhere in this place without seeing the ghost of our relationship: her laugh, my smirk, her innocent eyes full of curiosity but, at the same time, home to so much wisdom. She used to know so much, and yet so little.
I murdered that relationship, pulled the trigger without mercy. “This relationship has never meant anything to me,” I said, and told her to go home. I could see in her bright eyes the exact moment I broke her heart. Little did I know I was breaking mine too.
After much debate, I’ve been trying to bring this relationship back from the dead. I’ve been calling her for days, but she doesn’t answer. She can’t. I broke her beyond repair. She took her own life. I did.
I’m not a goddess, I’m human. Gods feel a divine amount of pain, and they can take it. I can’t. I don’t want to be a goddess, though. And I don’t want to be human either. I wish I was a heartless machine, mindlessly following the algorithm of life.
I was very good at not making mistakes, precisely like a well-programmed machine. It took me a single mistake to destroy everything, to destroy the only person I’ve ever truly loved, to destroy myself. There is no life after this. If I am to go on, I can’t have a heart.
Maybe I already am a heartless machine after all, with a single purpose: to cause suffering. I’m so good at it, I did it to myself.
The dangerous part of being rich is that when you set your mind to something, few people can stop you. Thankfully, the operation was a success.
I understand that’s not how feelings work — they don’t come from your biological heart — but this is not about my vital organs or where feelings come from. It’s a symbol. It’s about forgetting all this, forgetting this relationship, forgetting Dawn and her bright eyes. And her death. It’s about moving on.
For the weeks I waited for my synthetic heart, though, I was unsure about all this. Lost. Depressed. Heartbroken. I felt like I was sitting in the waiting room of my life. I even started painting.
I wasn’t very good. My paintings would rarely go where I wanted — I’d start painting a mountain but it would end up being a bear. My best painting looks like this weird plant. I’m not sure how I got there, but I like it. I put it in a bright spot in the bedroom.
That’s the only painting I kept. I’ve stopped painting since then.
I came back to Olympus today with a horrible scar and a heart made of a polyurethane solution and a very smart computer chip — is what the doctor says. I’ve been in my bed all day, staring at the painting, and I’ve just now realized what the damn plant is.
Dawn was a Bioengineer. One night she told me, while we lay in bed, she was working on this new plant species, and explained to me in detail why and how she was doing it — I obviously didn’t pay any attention. The next day, she gifted me a large pot with the plant. I flashed a perfectly believable smile and put it near the bathroom, where it wouldn’t take up much space. Then I moved it to the garbage the day I broke up with her.
The damn plant came back to life in my painting.
I clearly don’t understand much about relationships and feelings, so maybe I’m wrong about the new heart. Maybe feelings do come from your biological heart after all — though I haven’t felt any difference yet. If that’s indeed the case, good riddance. It’s time to move on and do what I do best: make money.
I’m keeping the painting, though.
I’ve lived in many places, but I’ve never felt at home. I used to lie in bed and stare at the dark ceiling of my small apartment — the only space that has ever belonged to me — and be taken by this desperate sensation of wanting to go home. I don’t know what that meant, “going home.” My apartment was my home, but it also wasn’t.
At that time, I used to live in Argon. I’ve seen the depravity of the human mind thriving in a system with no regard for fairness. Survival of the fittest means whatever works sticks, and being an asshole works very well in that city.
I’ve lived in The Fringe, too: the necrosed skin around Argon. I’ve seen people thrown out of the city fight to the death for solace: food, clothes, weapons. Anything imbued with hope of better times.
I’ve lived in The Wastelands, the emptiness between Argon and the wild forests of Anchora. If Argon is the most civilized place on this planet — which it barely is — those forests are the exact opposite: a completely untamed wilderness. I’ve been there too, and I don’t intend on going back. And the Wastelands? It’s nothing but a desert brimming with death and giant bugs, but it’s where our huts are.
I’ve lived in many places, but that feeling of wanting to go home has never gone away. Until I met Jax.
He climbs to the top of his retrofuturistic hut some nights and just lies there looking at the night sky, and it makes me look too. I know the universe is vast and empty, and there’s an infinite amount of space between each bright dot. But from down here, they look so close together, so strong and unafraid in the vastness of space.
I’m not sure what I’ve been looking for, but if wanting to go home has guided my search, that search is over. I am finally home.
So, life sucks, huh? You’re always running around, trying to catch up with the hands of the clock and, when you finally do, you ask, “Why? Why am I running? What am I even chasing?”
The way I see it, you’re the one being chased! The hands of the clock slowly wrapping their slender fingers around your neck.
Well, stop running! Stop asking questions! Stop the clock and its creepy hands! Come to Toothless Dino’s and have a drink. Now! We’re always open!
At Toothless Dino’s you don’t have to worry about a thing.¹ We don’t ask questions, and neither should you. Try our delicious Rocketman! What’s in it? Don’t worry about it. Drink up! Here, you don’t even have to worry about time. As soon as you enter these doors, time will literally stop!²
Come to Toothless Dino’s today and forget you’ve ever been somewhere else!³
Toothless Dino’s. It’s time for a drink!
¹Toothless Dino’s takes no responsibility or liability in case of emergency on the premises of the bar
²Non-passage of time is merely a sensorial experience
³Toothless Dino’s takes no responsibility or liability in cases of forgetfulness associated with drinking
Jax washed his face with the muddy water, the rusty chains rattling. The mine workers’ water reservoir was just a puddle in the yard.
Droplets splashed on his face and he raised his eyes to see one of the guards pissing on the water.
“Sorry, big guy,” the guard said while another one approached. “I really had to go.”
Jax stared blankly at them, his face a desert, devoid of emotions.
“Put that thing away, Rick.” The second guard slapped the first one on the back of the neck. They both had large weapons. “You should be preparing for tonight’s fight. Have you picked an opponent?”
“Fuck,” Rick said, putting his thing away. “That’s tonight?”
“Shit, Rick! Why do you think we got the workers to build that ring? I wanted to fight a bot but the warden said we’re not allowed. Too expensive.”
Jax’s eyes were beyond their conversation, beyond the dusty walls around the yard, lost somewhere he’d never been. Anywhere but here.
“You should fight the big guy,” the guard told Rick.
Rick studied Jax. “Yeah, his face could use a punch. But don’t you think he’s kinda big? I’m not afraid! I just mean… He could cause some trouble.”
“Nah. Look at his face,” the guard said, pressing his gun against Jax’s cheek. “This guy can only use his muscles to break rocks. He has no technique, no brains. Most importantly…” The guard smiled. “He’s all out of hope.”
The warden chugged a large mug of beer and beamed at the makeshift ring built in the yard. Her guards rushed to their chairs, joking and laughing. Guards from other workers’ facilities had traveled the rocky desert in their belters just to see the spectacle, their eyes shining with excitement.
Jax stepped into the ring — a raised platform in the center of the yard, inundated by a searchlight — showered by the shouting of the guards. His eyes were on the warden. He still remembered her expression from all those years ago. “Happy to have you,” she had said with a smile when he stepped into the yard, the same dirty creases on her forehead.
Rick entered the ring and the crowd roared. A chant started in the back and gathered supporters until it filled the entire yard: “Jax! Jax! Jax!” Rick dismissed the teasing with the wave of his hand.
Jax still had his eyes on the warden. He was deaf to the chanting, deaf to the ringing of the bell, blind to Rick stepping toward him.
Rick punched him right across the jaw, sending blood up in the air and making the crowd cheer. Jax’s mind was forced back into the ring, and he tried to punch Rick but the chain held his fist back. He winced at the cuts caused by the shackles on his wrists and the crowd laughed.
“This is stupid,” Rick said before punching him again. Jax stumbled back and Rick stepped on the chains on his ankles, making him fall.
As he tried to pull himself up, he saw the warden. Something had changed on her face. She wasn’t smiling anymore, and the creases on her forehead had a different shape. She looked… sad. No. Afraid? Of him? For him?
Before any of the drunk guards understood what was happening, Jax rolled out of the ring and covered the distance to her in two massive jumps, pushed forward by a sudden will to live.
Maybe the guards were right, Jax had no brains. There was no clear plan here. But they were wrong about one thing: he still had hope.
Everything had happened in a flash. In one second he was in the prison yard, chains wrapped around the warden’s neck, a sea of confused guards around him. He blinked and was on the passenger seat of a belter pointing the warden’s gun at her head, all guards watching them, scrambling for guns, too drunk to get a clear shot. He blinked again and they were driving into the night of the desert, chased in the distance by the screams of belters.
They stopped by the river and Jax shot the chains until he came free. He opened his arms for the first time in over a decade and tried to hug the sky. He howled.
As the belters approached, he pointed the gun back at the warden. “Your face,” he said, his voice strange in his own ears. “When I was losing the fight, you seemed worried. Why?”
She sighed. “I care for you, Jax,” she said. “I know it doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand it either. You’re just… special.”
Jax aimed at her head and she closed her eyes. The cold breeze of the desert kissed her cheek goodbye. But he didn’t shoot.
“Don’t ever look for me,” he said, putting the gun away on the small of his back. “You’ll regret it.”
He jumped on the river and disappeared in the night, unchained.
“I hope this sends the gloom away,” Dino said, sliding a tall glass to Miranda. “You’re bumming me out, kid.”
She had her elbows on the counter, head on her fists. She watched the glass with indifference as the contents still spun inside. When the blue liquid slowed down, it turned into a vivid orange. Her indifference turned into a sudden interest, which she promptly disguised again.
“What’s the matter?” Dino asked.
She sighed. “You ever left?” she asked. “Argon I mean.”
Dino frowned at the question. “Why?”
“Well, I came from out there. Out of the wall, from the ‘Wastelands.’ The real waste was all the effort to get here.” She took a sip from the drink and licked her lips. “Wow! This is really good!”
“I knew you’d like it,” Dino winked. “So I guess it wasn’t such a waste of effort after all.”
She searched for words. Took another sip. Licked her lips. “I grew up in this village in the middle of nowhere. We had one Aether rig, which I more or less had a monopoly over. I used to consume all the culture Argon created. Games, music, movies… I knew them all. Heck, I walked perfect simulations of these streets every day. But every day, when I disconnected, I had no one I could talk to about it. So I never really felt like I belong there.”
She took the cup to her lips and only brought it down when it was empty.
Dino raised his eyebrows. “More?”
She licked her lips and nodded. “My whole life, all I wanted was to come to Argon. So that’s what I did. The trip was horrible. Traumatizing. But I told myself it was gonna be worth it, I was going to the place where I belonged. Thanks,” she told Dino when he brought another glass with spinning contents. “So I’m here now and… it kinda sucks. The streets smell bad, I can’t get a job ’cause bots do everything, and I’m constantly afraid of getting thrown out of the city for not having the money for my subscription. I feel like I was told a lie, you know? I was told I was this person who needed to be here to be happy, who belonged here.”
“Alright!” Dino cut in with a somber face. “Your entire premise is wrong, kid. Nobody belongs anywhere. That’s the lie! The only home we have in this universe is within ourselves. If you’re searching for it outside, you’re looking in the wrong place.”
Miranda considered his words and took a sip of her drink.
“Now,” Dino said. “Regarding getting a job, have you ever worked in a bar? Do you think you can learn?”
She licked her lips. “I might.”
It’s so dark I can hardly see. Not that I’m interested in seeing. All my vision has to explore is the remains of the lab, dimly lit by my blinking lights. From time to time I still ask myself, “How could she leave me here?” The scientists were just following orders, but I thought Atlanta had a heart — a human one.
Who am I to judge? My human heart stopped working a long time ago. My biological body is in its final stages of decomposition. Soon I’ll be all machine. I was more machine than man when this started, anyway.
They thought they could save me with nanobots, but as machine and biological matter started mixing into one, they knew their experiment was a disaster. I became a chunk of meat attached to a five-foot-tall computer through thick cables made of metals and mutant human flesh.
I can still see my human body in the image of my surveillance camera, blinking in and out of existence as the LED lights signal that the machine is still alive — I am. For some reason, they left me connected to the power grid when they sealed the underground lab.
After years of thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion it was a mistake. Someone should’ve turned the machine — me — off, but they forgot. Atlanta might be heartless, but she would have no reason to keep me alive. A monster buried alive under her neon-lit city.
I’ll stay here, the darkness holding me tightly, but I’ve learned my lesson. Next time I will remind them, “Please, turn everything off when you leave.”