As the fog of oblivion filled Robert’s vision, he could feel the fishing boat tumbling farther down into the unnatural whirlpool. It was as if a massive hole in the ocean floor had opened up like some great drain stopper, and now all of the world’s water was pouring down into the planet. Robert was falling and suddenly found himself floating in that great infinite inkwell of in-between. Apart from existence.
The darkness was not so complete this time, stars peppered the abyss from great distances, speckling and sparkling from afar. Focusing on them, Robert felt as if he was being drawn in. They twinkled and beckoned pleasantly. He found one, pulsing alone among the millions, and his vision was focused on it. He could not look away, and he had no eyelids with which to blink. It pulsed louder, brighter. He felt warmth emanating from it, a strong sense of comfort, safety, and a dash of happiness. But those feelings passed onto an aftertaste that was a deep sense of… hopelessness? Exhaustion laced with defiance? Both. Waves of emotion washed over Robert’s mind, and he felt a strong connection.
He tried to stare into the light, which was not any closer but pulsed more and more and faster and brighter and faster and then he was sitting on a steel park bench, the sun above pulsing with warmth. Almost throbbing. A cosmic heartbeat comforting him.
The skyscrapers towered all around him, covered in shining glass and chrome. They looked differently than any he had seen before. Some sides were straight, others sloped up to make a curved edge. Many of the buildings were connected by several bridges, and on top of the bridges trees grew tall and leafy. As he looked around, he noticed every building’s top in view had veritable forests growing from their roofs. Many buildings had large vines growing up the side, making this strange landscape seem as if the civilization had collapsed, and nature was claiming what was rightfully hers. Robert stared in wonder and fear, searching for familiarity. The architecture was completely foreign, and as he stared more and more it became familiar. The way the trees curled around corners, and climbed with the steel. Flowing naturally through concrete tubes cut into the sides, guiding their growth. Nature seemed in control of this world.
The streets were bustling, people wore business suits cut differently than Robert was used to. They looked cool and crisp though, hip. He was looking around in awe and listening to birds chirp triumphant as he noticed each person had a red tie, and wore gray suits. One group wore blue ties. Robert looked down at his own clothes, and noticed he fit right in. The place around him was remarkably clean, no trash on the ground or any stains on the street. The familiar cleanliness of a civilization with pride. Robert felt a warmth in his chest swelling up.
Vehicles that he had never seen quietly swooped around the streets, and he noticed that they hovered slightly above the ground, rising and falling with the terrain. Robert had never seen anything like this before, but inside he felt strangely acquainted. Staring at one hover-car, he moved his eyes over its smooth blue frame, shaped like a teardrop. He felt confused, as he knew that this was all wrong, but how could it be? He had lived near this city his whole life. His wife worked here too, at one of the schools. As he thought about the civilization he found himself in, he grew more familiar with it. He had a job here, and he was late to work.
Robert stood up quickly and straightened his red tie. This was the Port District, and he had to make it to the office in time to catch the ride to Persephone. He hailed a cab, and felt the familiar dip in the hovering as he sat inside.
“To the Main Port, please.”
The cabbie nodded and smiled and merged into the traffic with the nearly identical hover-cars. The styles were all the same, save for the colors. Robert remembered how thankful he was for the efficiency of it all. The cars used hyper-solar panels, the technology that made the Second Industrial Revolution possible. There was no longer any need for mining fossil fuels, but the rare-earth minerals used in cities and machines were nearly gone. Lucky for Robert, he worked for the United Earth Mining Consortium, which specialized in mining near-Earth asteroids for the metals used in every aspect of society. A extremely lucrative business and a near monopoly that was subsidized by the United Earth Republic. Robert was lucky enough to snag a sales representative job and earn the red tie just in time for the mining boom of the last 20 years. His wife taught at the local private academy, and they lived a picturesque life in a home with a view of Millennium City, where the great Port District in this hemisphere was. On a clear night, they could see the twinkling of Persephone in the sky, hovering in geosynchronous orbit high over the Port.
The Port District was filled with Consortium employees with their red ties. Color-coded ties for job sectors, color coded cars for different services. All moving cogs in the wonderful machine of Terran society. As he passed through a service industry bloc, he saw how drab a gray suit was without a tie. He almost pitied them, but then the grand vista of the Port came into view.
From far off, the Port’s elevator seemed like a strange line dividing the sky in half before disappearing into the clouds. Up close, the sheer immensity could begin to be appreciated. Like a child looking up at a theme park ride, Robert strained at the cab’s window to discover how high up he could see. The Great Elevator stretched up higher than his eyes could strain. He knew that Persephone was up there, nearby the orbital station connected to the elevator that acted as a counterweight and allowed it to stay in place. Truly a marvel of modern engineering, Robert could not help but feel proud to be a part of a civilization that had conquered such heights. Both he and Linda would share that awe sometimes, each sipping their nightcaps and staring up at Persephone and the other orbital stations that twinkled with the stars. He never noticed, but she always held his hand a little tighter when they looked up together.
After paying the cabbie, Robert made his way through the military checkpoint. He never understood why, in such a peaceful time, they still felt the need to strip everyone down and comb them over. It wasn’t even degrading to him anymore, but just a hassle. And no matter how many times he saw the same soldiers, they never got any nicer. Humorless as they always were, Robert still tried to make them laugh.
“Geez, you aren’t even going to take me out on a date first?”
Awkward silence, save for the sounds of the metal detector and the shuffling of boots. Robert was irritated at being even later than he already was, but he buried it deep down. He didn’t want to cause a scene with the soldiers. They always pointed their rifles at the crowds and at who they were searching, and Robert remembered his first time and how mortified he was to stare down a half dozen barrels. He nearly pissed himself. But now, it was just business as usual. The cost of security. They treated everyone as if each was about to detonate a thermal charge at the first opportunity, even though terrorism hadn’t been an issue for some time. After Unification, and when the orbital stations finally began producing food and water for everyone, times got more peaceful. Sure there were whispers of workers on Earth and in Orbit that were treated unfairly and exploited, but those were just rumors. No concrete evidence, and certainly no terrorism came of them.
Finally the soldiers finished their duty, and he slipped clumsily back into the gray suit and red tie. Catching a quick glance into a mirror as he walked by to make sure he looked dapper, he made his way into the large sphere that was the vestibule of the Great Elevator. Shockingly white on the outside, he always wondered how they kept it so clean. Crowds meandered through the concourse as a monotone voice spoke about travel times and departures.
“The next run will begin at 2100. The next run will begin at 2100.”
A man at the bar nearby laughed louder than he needed to. A mother tried to comfort her child across the hall. The miniature human stood crying in the middle of what appeared to be their entire family’s belongings, clutching an over-sized stuffed bear. Robert stood as the crowd moved around him, and his legs would not move. He had no need to, and he felt unnatural. Out of place. An observer. Like he did not belong, even though he had been here countless times before.
He stood there, alone and isolated among the sea of faces that swirled and twisted around him. Countless conversations blended together in one unearthly chorus, and Robert felt confused for a moment that seemed to be a universe of its own.