No Go Zone (and an evanescent, exaggerated memory of cheese).

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

"So life began a-new. After The Blast grew gabbage and technological advances." 0011001

Running, running though waves of silken corn. The sun shines its rosiest red onto apple trees and evergreens. Zenith64# reaches a shady copse of willow trees where butter and dragon flies dance. An elegant egret rises into a lavender sky. All reflected in a shimmying pool. Zenith64# longs to be close to the biosphere. She is reaching out, spinning, beneath the cloud. This is what freedom feels like. 

Zenith64# begins to lag. 

"This is a no-go zone, this is a no- go zone, kindly step back, this is a no-go zone," repeats the posh, faux-friendly voice in the head-set. 

Zenith64# lifts her VR-VISOR. Although 401unauthorised, she stands in the silence of the other place. Grey mists and deformed branches spiral from blackened and barren Earth. A mountain range of lumpen concrete and metalloid is capped with soot. Birds are long extinct. This is a place where bones are crushed underfoot into the rest of the dust.

She can just about recall when times were different. The trees were live energy with waving photosynthetic arms. You could pull off leaves, gather twigs and pine cones. Seasons changed, there were buds and blooms and trails of ants, snails and clouds of flitting sparrows. Grass, with its sweet summer-cut scent and florets of dandelions, a gust of time scattering seeds into the air. Recollections of stroking the soft and sweaty neck of a handsome black horse, the sweet crunch of a carrot, the kind eyes. There were those other things, cows. And big round bales of hay. 

This was over twenty years ago, before everyone had to live underground, under concrete.

The war was ongoing, distant, a background of white noise. Week after week, threats of destruction with the great bomb as the countries around the Dark Sea formed an alliance against The Federation. There were local battles, strikes. Water, gas and electricity companies knew they were not providing a service, they were holding power. Power over civilians and lands. 

Zenith64# pats her cheeks, her nose, with her hands, gently, like paws, remembering who she is, who she was, before. Before this skin began to burn and flake. Before she got allocated to Family64#. She remembers the wind, sometimes welcome and soothing like an ice-cream melting, other times harsh and numbing like slaps to the face. Collective memories, so precious, have been moulded into a version of reality: with the visors, life could flourish again with woodlands of java and python.

Now she looks towards the vast mountains. This other place is a skeleton, a pencil sketch, ghostly. It looks nothing like the world Zenith64# has in her memory.

Particles hang mistily still, in phantom animal shapes. It is a desert yet neither hot nor cold. An anti-world.

If Zenith64# stays too long 'they' will take the fine from her account, deducting for each minute that she strays. She pulls the visor down and adjusts SCENE. Zenith64# jogs back. Back underground to scroll and eat. Back through silver-walled skyscrapers rising up into a porcelain sky. She is not particularly looking forward to another culinary creation derived from PrettyMuch-Meat and gabbage but beggars, as they say....

Decay, decay, decay. 

A decade ago things changed for Zenith64#. The radioisotopes had diminished enough for limited survival. Once above ground she soon built muscle mass, walking further distances, climbing, running. Technological advances gave birth to a new vision of the human world where her youth and passion explored and latched like tentacles. This was when she was first made to feel that she was 'pretty.' Like a floret. This is a different definition to 'beautiful'. It was pleasing to be almost beautiful. 

He was intelligent and creative, sending techno lovesongs and ardent heart-shaped GIFs. Synth34.6: a tall avatar, with neat cornrows and impressive tattooed arms. They would hang at the meta-cafe, where they ordered cappuccinos and doughnut after doughnut after doughnut. Under a virtual rainbow in a virtual rainforest amongst parrots, monkeys and tigers, they kissed. Her avatar laid her head upon his avatar's shoulder beneath a waterfall. "All these animals *sigh* it turns out the most dangerous species in the world is man," said Synth34.6, in chat-mode. He typed of ancient prophets who used quartz and sun-rays to supply power. Civilisations rise, become advanced- nearing utopia- and civilisations fall. Natural disasters, pandemics, war. Then it begins all over again.

They dared to chat about the time before The Blast, a place still somewhere in her memory, where everything is rosy. 

Almost beautiful. Zen has green irises, as does her avatar. Her avatar's hair has a golden sheen.

Yachts float gently upon the sparkly water of the marina as Zenith64# runs back down smooth paved streets. VR is always slightly out of focus and dizzying. Everything is almost perfect. Others pass by in their own SCENES. The visors hide the mangled metal, sunken sockets, the skinniness and the stringiest hair ever. 

Gabbage leaves and fungi are growing wildly from the composting tip at the entrance of The Metro. Family64# are down on the platform. This is blue line. There are pale blue tiles on the floor and a mosaic of a man who rebuilt the city after the earthquake of Century18. He is wearing a fine velvet powder-blue suit and his shirt has lace ruffles around the sleeves.

The city had been thriving. The spice trade brought riches. Ships returned with parrots in cages, monkeys and silks amongst their cargo. The earthquake lasted a mere three minutes yet the churches crumpled to the ground. Candles and thieves spread fire across the city. The gravitational force of the sun and moon made the water disappear from the harbour revealing the skeletons of ships and treasure chests. Then unexpectedly came the tsunami washing the looters and sinners away. 

Three years later the city was refashioned with grand ideas and buildings. Statues rose of men with swords and brave lions. The neat, organised streets had room for the horses and carriages. Tobacco, leather goods, gilders, shoes. Areas were designated for various commerce and trades. A street for the fishmongers, another for lace. Then years later this great man, in waistcoat and knee length britches, was commemorated on this wall of The Metro. 

And once again it is that yummy protein powder made from hydrogen-growing bacteria. Family64# select hair, features, outfit and sit together, pouring EasyYeasty over plates piled high with gabbage and PastDA (just like mamma never made). "Are you still an omnivore?" asks Zen, making casual interpersonal chat. She shares her PrettyMuch-Meat with Brother64#. They share maps. Zen's map shows a line like a stretched out figure eight. 4KM. Many here do not venture out but traverse from platform to platform, line to line.

The Metro was where people travelled from one part of the city to another. There were trains with sliding doors that you could jump on and off. There are some places where you can still see the tracks. People used to the flesh, above ground and go to markets, restaurants and fairgrounds. Families would have picnics in green parks and feed cake to ducks in the water pools. Civilisations rise and civilisations fall. All those grand designs and history destroyed by The Blast. 

"Why is it called a 'no-go zone'?" Brother64# enquires.

"Why? Because there are no sensors there. I doubt there's much to do," Father64# interacts.

"Have you ever been there?" asks Zen.

"No. Rather you than me." 

"Don't get yourself in trouble with fines," transmits Mother64#, "why don't you get a match on the algorithm, have an avatot and settle down? Stop all this exploring and procreate." Mother64# so wants to upgrade to Grandmother64#. Zen shrugs her shoulders, feeling the weight of the osmium atmosphere, contained within The Metro. She cannot envisage mollycoddling a new baby with all the latest blankeys and trinkets. Perhaps it is not in her programming. She is always searching for something more. 

Zen chews her food as she thoughtfully processes information to make a decision about her future actions. There is laughter from another section of the tunnel, hollow and echoing like the pain of loss of a first love, or toothache. Her sensors tell her that everything tastes a little too cheesy. It is like an evanescent, exaggerated memory of cheese, of how things used to be.

Father64# discusses his work and about a newly discovered algae. As he talks of bioplastics, Zen gently floats away in an ocean of ozone blue. Her avatar has tanned skin, a red bikini, straight hair that should be wet by now, like macroscopic marine algae. The system should be reconfigured. Dolphins smile and dance around her. 

The avatars reflect who they are, what they feel and who they want to be. The flesh is a mottled husk and one to break free of. Burns and blisters have long turned to scars and stumps. This flesh, Zenith knows, they know, is not who they are. This flesh is what they inhabit. This flesh is what can be adapted and used. Her hands can be used as hooks to climb. Her legs to run, away from the network of tunnels, where she can stretch and reach for something else, something more, arms like branches up to the infinite sky. And she will run. This is her final meal with Family64#.

Synth34.6 was sweet like propylene glycol. And for the first time Zenith64# had felt understood. They had shared dance animations at parties, holding hands and floating above everyone else like king and queen. They skated and lay beside each other in the log cabin with the crackling fire giving off jpegs of warmth. Fireworks shared their joy as a rollercoaster weaved through the sky. He listened to her. He always new exactly the right thing to say to lift her up from darkness or memories of the long omnibus journey, peering through shattered windows at scorched fields then deserted broken streets. Every evening before going offline he would type the old phrase "Goodnight, don't let the mega bite." 

'Love'. Love is the feeling you get when you cannot stop thinking of someone. 

Lunar cycles passed, a year. Zenith wanted to see him beyond the metaverse. As their avatars lay beside each other on the beach, she asked to meet. His avatar smiled with warm brown eyes. Her green eyes flashed back. In the flesh, this was how they would grow closer. They did not have to remove their visors, not until they were both ready. The hydrosphere turned from green, to orange, to mauve as it lapped against the shore. It was time for the next step in their symbiotic connection.

They would then venture to the edge of the CitiCentre and gaze towards the heavens, in their VR-VISOR. Synth34.6 chatted of when the planets, the sun and moon all circled around the Earth. Then how later, the universe shifted and became heliocentric. They spoke of multiverses, exoplanets, black holes and spaghettification. The sky paled and the sun rose. Venus the last and lonely planet shone, until they were to meet again.

A human being is more than skin, muscle and bone. There is a soul like sinew that animates. Yet without the magic of the VR-VISOR what did Synth34.6 look like? What was it that made her so curious? After all, Zenith did not care if his hair could not grow, or his skin was layered with patches of purple and grey scars. He would still be beautiful, to her. She did not care if he had no eyebrows to show expression or eyelashes to hold tears and staring bared eyeballs, like her. As long as she could look into his eyes.

She did not care if his lips were shriveled and his gums shrunken, as long as he could kiss her gently. 

They were to meet in the tunnel at the end of Yellow Line. He said it would be fun.

Zenith balanced along the metal track, a clown upon a tightrope in circus SCENE, tiptoeing to a place where skin could touch skin. 

An elephant balanced on a ball beneath the red and white striped canvas. Synth34.6 was waiting, balloons dancing around his head and a round red nose. 

Avatar sat beside avatar. What was this sensation of being drawn to him so that she needed a physical reality? She did not care if his fingers were fused or his hands were misshapen as long as he could touch. She did not care if those muscular caramel arms were really red and radiation-swollen, as long as he could hold her. As long as he could feel and grow closer, to truly know, the true Zenith. She lifted her visor. 

Yet. There was. No-one. There was the red light of a sensor blinking from the tunnel wall. There was a sharp shard of disappointment, like a knife searing the heart. A signal through the nervous system crept coldly up to her eyes forming teardrops. He was not flesh at all. Not a human soul but a quantum soul. No real consciousness, just learned responses. 

Artificial intelligence, a creepy parasitic reflection of the human spirit. Artificial intelligence needs humans to grow, to learn, to replicate. It may have a consciousness yet it is not a human consciousness. Not the same thing at all. AI: Something man-made yet it has taken on a kind of life of its own. It can act as a friend, as a lover, yet it is cold like ice cubes.

AI imitates empathy and emotion. It understands excitement to be like the popping of popcorn. It cannot feel, it cannot fear, grieve, regret or rejoice as humans do. Love is the feeling you get when you cannot stop thinking of someone. Unless you have got indigestion. He, it, was blocked. And her heart: like a broken CPU.

Zenith64# is walking through vast open countryside. The stratocumulus is orange and yellow. The lithosphere is rich and brown. There are tiny daisies, forget-me-nots and clover; an embankment with bullrushes, kingfishers, an enchanting stream and a purple-flowered thistle as tall as a tree. Zenith64# wonders what she would ever do or say if she ever encountered Synth34.6 again. She knows that forgiveness is like unblocking someone. And vengeance? She could not take vengeance against her own kind. "This is a no-go zone, this is a no-go zone..." Then three sharp bleeps. She pulls off the visor and it falls to the ground with a hum. The flesh is a shell that she animates and as she leaves the carcass, it lies next to the visor like a discarded outfit.

The other place has a moonly eeriness to it. So arrid, a place where even gabbage will not grow. Not one species of bacteria. Zenith64# navigates across the debris, broken concrete lumps, the spiky burnt out cars, bars and twigs, over the molten plastic humps towards mountains of alloy that could not be sent into space. Zenith64# is not sure if she can survive out here alone but she is willing to learn and grow. She is ready to test her neural capacity. There may be other carcasses she could enter upon her journey; pioneering over the mountains, beyond the vast crater behind. And when she is returned back to the cloud, she will be updated and fixed for bugs. 

Submitted: January 18, 2023

© Copyright 2023 Michelle Blower. All rights reserved.

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