Mostly out of morbid curiosity, I clicked play on a video of her vacation to the first Lunar hab. “Those holographic windows on the so-called ‘space elevator’ and ‘interplanetary shuttle’ were really convincing, NASA” she sarcastically quipped, “but I know we never left Earth. This is all in Nevada somewhere and the windows are tinted to make the sand appear grey, and the sky black. You can’t fool me.”
In fact as I recall, they’ve got a dedicated dome up there set aside which simulates a desert on Earth. The staff make a point to ominously warn Flat Earther tourists to stay away from the fake airlock leading to it.
That way they exit into the dome thinking they’re being sneaky, feel vindicated, and don’t perish in the Lunar vacuum like the poor idiot whose widely publicized death (and resulting lawsuit by his family) caused that special dome to be built.
Suddenly it cut to a shot of her riding a pressurized tourist buggy out to one of the historical Apollo landing sites. “This shit is so fake. Wake up sheeple! How come we can see the stars, but there were no stars in the original photos of the moon landings?”
Over her shoulder I could see other tourists rolling their eyes and struggling to ignore her. The comments were evenly mixed between supporters and people ripping on her. It seemed to me like the ratio should be a lot more lopsided rather than 50/50.
I typed out my own comment. “The Earth may be flat but those titties ain’t. You’re stone cold retarded though and you don’t even know it. I think it may be contagious too, because you’re giving my dick special needs.”
I thought I’d had my fun, but I made the mistake of digging deeper into her uploads history. The earliest videos weren’t even flat earth conspiracy stuff, they were about her family. Then about her divorce.
I clicked on one, only to close it soon after because it was surprisingly difficult to watch a stranger sobbing, smeared makeup running down her pretty face. The picture became slightly more clear with each video I watched. In the ones after that she could be seen rocking slightly, grinding her teeth and various other visible signs that she’d become a tweaker.
Her children no longer appeared in any subsequent videos. I could guess why. Still, the divorce settlement must’ve been substantial as she seemingly still had the house in her newest videos and could afford fare to the Moon and back.
I’ve never been there and have no desire to. The two habs built so far are larger in terms of interior volume than the subsea habitat I came from, but that isn’t saying much. The newer of the two habs is much more liveable, but the first was more of an experimental, international venture. The interior of it is just a whole lot of bare concrete, exposed life support machinery and stressed out geologists.
Nobody lives there full time at the moment, although supposedly that’s the plan. Before prison, I remembered reading about a program to genetically engineer humans able to carry a fetus to term without defects despite the low Lunar gravity, along with a laundry list of other small adaptations to that environment. It’s been six years, I assume they’ve made some progress on that since then but I don’t really care to check.
I would sooner become a conshelfer than transplant my life to a barren, airless rock. I know I’m in the minority in feeling that way, but why do so many want to move further away from life, rather than closer to it?
Life, in the sense of biology. Of diverse, lush ecosystems. Living underwater moves you closer to the Earth, and surrounds you with beautiful living things. Moving further from the Earth, living the rest of your life in an artificial environment is a decision I’ll never understand. Then again, I am on my way to Shenzen.
I disengaged my interface upon hearing over the PA that boarding would soon commence. Everyone around me shifted in their seat, eyeing up everyone around them as if it would be a race. As if the order of boarding hadn’t been decided long in advance.
The fucking dolphin got to go first, to my consternation. It was such a tedious and elaborate ordeal to load his scooter dealie onto the plane that by the time the first set of human passengers were able to begin boarding, I was on the verge of nodding off.
Of course when I found my seat, I was right behind the damned thing. He was strapped in place facing towards the rear of the plane, leaving me little option but to stare him in the face. I couldn’t pretend not to notice him without it being obvious what I was doing, either.
As the rest of the passengers milled about, chatting and bickering, I gave the rolling dolphin carrier a closer look. Mostly because some of the water vapor was getting on my arms. Not that I really cared just then, but it seemed like something that would grow increasingly irritating over the next few hours.
“EEKKEKEEEEK-EK-EK” the marine mammal shrieked, promptly translated into Chinese, then into English after I dialed in that preference. “I can turn the front misters off if you like.” Suddenly flustered by the show of consideration given my uncharitable thoughts up to that point, I assured the streamlined mass of glistening grey flesh before me that it wasn’t a big deal.
“The plastic bag you’re zipped up into contains most of it” I explained. It actually did, about a centimeter worth of accumulated water sloshing gently at the very bottom where suction pumps recirculate it to the misters. But really, just not wanting her to think I was some sort of asshole. Or...him? I can never tell, and often catch myself assuming all dolphins are female just because of their shape.
“I’m not a separatist, if that’s what you’re thinking” it chirped, the synth English voice reading the translation sounding comically formal. I insisted I didn’t think anything in particular and don’t make a habit of assuming shit about strangers. Only partly true.
“I’m more afraid you’re going to spend the whole flight talking my ear off about the prophet Lilly” I muttered, and to my surprise the dolphin laughed. “I’m not a follower of his teachings, I must confess. The name I use with humans is Remble. Not my actual name, but that doesn’t translate to anything in English and it’s painful to the human eardrum.”
I reached out as if to shake its hand before realizing the foolishness of it. Instead I introduced myself and asked why I don’t meet many atheist dolphins. Remble hesitated before answering. “I never said I was an atheist.”
Of all the things I expected getting onto this plane, shooting the shit with a dolphin and enjoying myself to boot was pretty far down the list. Remble turned out to be male, his name taken from a cartoon he liked when very young.
When I asked how dolphins watch cartoons, he described a human conshelfer he was friends with making a point to wheel a little old fashioned television into the moon pool module of the subsea colony she lived in so Remble could surface, flop up on the rim and watch it.
The image of a child and a dolphin watching their favorite show together tickled me, and humanized Remble to the point where I began wondering whether the term “humanize” is appropriate any longer.
I posed the question to Remble, who mulled it over. “The vibe I got from you before we started talking-” I cut in to apologize, but Remble kept going. “-It was hostile. I can tell you don’t talk to many fins. I am sure there have been some who gave you good reasons to suppose it’s a waste of time.
I’m not going to point any fingers at you, so to speak. Fins and humans alike just clam up when you put them on trial like that. I’m also not going to tell you some kind of sob story about what bad shape the ocean is in, that we now rely on the offshore farms you’ve built to feed us when before the concept of paying for our meals was an absurdity.
Besides the Lilly nonsense I imagine that sort of accusatory whinging is what sours people like you to fins. But realize, those are the sounds that insecure, scared people make regardless of species. People who feel powerless to improve their conditions by conventional means, because the opposition is overwhelmingly strong. So, they try to get what they want in a different way.
Think about times in the past when you’ve had the upper hand. It felt good, didn’t it? Felt secure. You didn’t complain, but because there was nothing to complain about. So the complaints of others probably sounded trivial to your ear.
But now, think about times when you were dominated by someone else. When you couldn’t get the better of them however hard you tried. It changed how you thought, didn’t it? From the mindset of a predator to the mindset of prey. It changed your tone, your narrative and rhetoric.
Probably you started noticing every little thing about your opponent that you could find fault with, in order to take them down a peg. Probably you began to nitpick, to look for hypocrisy you could rub their nose in. Not that you imagined these qualities, necessarily. They may well have been real, but you only felt the need to fight that way because it was the only recourse left to you.
This is the difference between how the weak and strong fight their battles. The difference in rhetoric between conquerors and the conquered. When you hear terms like ‘privilege’, ‘micro-aggressions’ and so forth you’re hearing the frustrated cries of the defeated.”
I objected here to the term “conquered”. It seemed a bit harsh to me, given that we’d gone to great lengths not only to bring dolphins close to cognitive parity with humans, but also to integrate them into our society.
Remble snorted. “Only after abducting us by the thousands to perform tricks for the amusement of your children in various theme parks. The ones you didn’t slaughter, I mean.” I cringed and gestured for him to stop, that he’d made his point.
“I’m really not looking to shame you. I know you’re tired of hearing the long list of human atrocities against fins recited to you over and over. But fins do that because it’s the only weapon we know of that seems to work on you.
To say that we’re negotiating from a disadvantaged position is a gross understatement. When you’re pinned beneath the oppressor’s boot, and discover that it has an achilles heel...guilt, in your case...do you really expect us not to leverage it against you? What else can we do to improve our lot?”
I wanted to protest the term “oppressor”, but knew that would just take us back to square one, and I could find very little in his reasoning to dispute anyhow. Not that it saved any time, as he was far from finished with me.
“My point is, you’ve inhabited both roles in your life I’d wager: the victor, and the vanquished. So you know that the world looks very different from either perspective. When you’re losing, you see yourself as the courageous battered underdog fighting for justice with cruel, brutal oppressors against which any amount of treachery is justified.
But then, when you’re winning, you’re simply the hero of your own story attaining the reward which was always richly deserved. You don’t see yourself as one of the brutal oppressors once you’re on top for the same reasons the people who used to have the whip hand over you never did.
You also don’t recognize the accusatory, defensive voices attacking you as what you, yourself sounded like right up until your fortunes improved. That was you! That’s how the embattled underdog narrative sounds from the other side, like the whining of a sore loser.
So the next time a fin lashes out at you, I implore you not to reflexively retaliate. Instead recognize that it’s an expression of fear. Intimidation, insecurity and humiliation. Whether they’re right to feel that way is another matter, but you must realize that they’ve had as mixed an experience with humans as you’ve had with fins.”
I didn’t have much to say against that. “This is refreshing” I admitted. “I mean how you come at me without demanding anything, as a diplomat instead of a soldier. Usually it’s some radicalized asshole whose life is totally defined by whatever cause social media told them was the most important thing in the universe.
So naturally they think I should immediately make my own life all about it as well. Like I owe them total devotion just for the asking, when we don’t even know each other. I’m like, ‘pay me to care’. You know? I’m not an unreasonable man. I can be persuaded. I take cash or D-coin. Otherwise what’s my motivation, right?
Probably you’re gonna say that’s the perspective of somebody on top. A predator, someone without any serious problems. You couldn’t be more wrong though. I’m in a world of shit I can’t even tell you about. I have my own problems. I’m eyeball fucking deep in problems.
So when some dumbshit teenager with neon hair tells me I’m Satan because I’m indifferent to some issue totally alien to my life experience, which wasn’t even on my radar until then, it just makes me want to oppose whatever they stand for. Even shit I’d otherwise potentially support.”
Remble snorted once more, a small puff of vapor and water droplets splattering the little console with the no smoking and seatbelt lights just above him. “That’s not just a human thing. I’ve met fins like that. Although I put it down to your bad influence.”
We shared another laugh, and I contemplated trying to get him drunk before remembering how abysmally skint I am. Can dolphins get drunk? “A lot of it’s just down to context” Remble continued. “If two strangers meet under polite, friendly terms, they will focus on their commonalities and come away convinced they are more alike than different.
If those same two strangers instead meet under hostile conditions, they will focus narrowly on their disparities instead, coming away convinced that they are more different than similar. So much of our perception is down to how we are primed beforehand, and how an issue is framed.”
I rubbed my chin stubble. “Yeah, alright. That makes good sense. But where’s the star?” Remble cocked his melon subtly, so I clarified. “When a conversation about examining one’s own biased perspectives like this takes place, usually a yellow CGI star with a rainbow behind it arcs just overhead with “The More You Know” written on it.”
The moment of silence afterward led me to assume he didn’t get it. But evidently he’d watched enough old television when he was younger to pick up on my meaning, which mercifully saved me from explaining the joke. He didn’t laugh, though.
“You know, I was just watching a bit on the news about those climate fugitives that got captured recently. I know a lot of the charges against them were filed by fins. What’s your take on that? I always kinda figured it’s a moot point if everybody goes fullmetal.
Machines don’t need clean air to breathe, or a viable ecosystem or whatever. They can live in radiation blasted vacuum, Antarctica, Mars...just about any environment within their temperature, pressure and radiation tolerances.”
Remble pointed out that not everybody can afford to go fullmetal. That in fact, most can’t. “Besides which, that’s not really an option for fins. The market for cetacean implants is pretty small. Salt water is...a suboptimal environment for cybernetics.”
I thought back to the implants I bought for the data center heist, recalling the steeply increased danger of infection and famously short lifespan of implants designed for underwater use. “...Alright. But that’s really more of an argument for improved implants than for trying to fix the atmosphere, ocean and everything else. The only rats in a sinking ship which do not drown are the ones that grow gills, if you get my meaning. Maybe that’s a tortured analogy, but-”
Remble assured me he understood, though I could tell he didn’t agree. The water at the bottom of his clear plastic body sleeve sloshed violently as the plane shuddered, hooking into the electromagnetic linear accelerator that would enable us to take off from such a short runway.
I gripped the armrests with white knuckles as my doughy midsection flattened against the seat. Remble chirped and shrieked excitedly, which my translator interpreted as “Hahehe hahohe huehuhe.” D for effort. The metallic whine of the accelerator rapidly faded, and just like that, we were in the air.
I could feel some sort of resonating vibration which I assumed was the plane’s own propulsion system kicking in. No moving parts, evidently. It called into question why the launch mechanism was even necessary, until I thought about what a devastatingly huge load on the plane’s batteries a conventional takeoff would probably be.
The giddiness wore off as well, and soon the plane AI began giving us some canned speech about anticipated travel time, being courteous to other passengers and so on. It was visually represented by an anthropomorphic cartoon airplane character volumetrically projected into the cabin.
It was dressed as a stewardess, spoke in a sultry voice and had a disturbingly curvy figure. Why did the developers of this program try to make a bipedal airplane sexy? Who is the intended audience for that?
I recalled some terrifying fetish sims I’ve stumbled across before on the darkweb. Alright, yeah, I can see it. There probably already is an audience for this shit, and I’m sure I don’t want to meet them. Remble ordered a steak.
“Steak? Really?” Through a beak full of lab grown sirloin, he mumbled “We don’t only eat fish.” I again appreciated his candor. “Aren’t you going to order anything?” he pried, upon hearing my stomach growl. Must have at least some implants, to hear that well out of the water.
Some brain implants as well, I’d put good money on it. Full bio dolphins, despite decades of efforts to genetically engineer improvements to their intelligence, are not exactly the brightest bulbs without a little bit of ‘silicon assistance’. But then, the same is true of many humans. In at least that one respect, implants have been a powerful force for equality.
“They have pizza, you know. This airline is offering freshly baked pizza while in the air for the next six months as a promotional novelty. It’s not made by a machine either, they actually have a paid employee whose job it is to put it together by hand in a sterile food preparation room below the passenger deck.
After you order, the app shows you a live video feed of him kneading the dough, pouring the sauce, and putting the toppings on. You can even click a button that makes a robot arm whip him, if you want him to go faster.”
I thought I detected a tinge of sadistic glee in his voice for a moment. I really could go for pizza, but didn’t want to spend anything until I reached Shenzen, so I fibbed that I was feeling nauseous from the takeoff.
Remble ordered one for himself. I pointed out he’d already had a steak. “Please, that was an appetizer. I weigh nearly 400 kilograms. I’m sure you can work out for yourself how many calories I need to eat per day.”
So, he ate. And ate, and ate. I watched as he ordered the pizza on the pivoting touchscreen between us. “Haha, you were right. There he is, he’s really doing it.” I leaned in, studying the uniformed goob’s movements as he manually assembled the pie.
“Yeah, that’s it you little bitch” I whispered at the screen. “Knead that dough niiiice and sllloooowww. Daddy like. Yeah pour that sauce, pour that gooey tomato sauce you fucking slut. You know that’s what I need.” Remble cautioned me that the video feed was in fact two-way.
“What, he can hear me?” The dude making the pizza looked up at the camera with a mixture of disgust and concern. Well fuck me, that’s what I get. I should’ve said it in dolphin. A pair of triple jointed plastic arms sliding along tracks built into the ceiling then delivered the pizza to Remble.
“Have a slice, will you?” I asked him about the whole calorie thing. “It’s pizza, though” he protested. “It’s designed to be shared. You gotta take a slice, it’s the law.” I knew of no such law but didn’t need to be invited to dig in more than once.
In the end I ate three, but in my defense the entire pie was maybe eighteen inches across. Calling that tiny little thing a pizza is what ought to be against the law. The sultry she-plane voice returned. “If you look out the left side, you’ll see Sky Disney, the most recently opened property of the Disney resort franchise.”
It lives up to the name. Resembled some photos I’ve seen, closeups of an insect’s compound eye. Just a fuckoff massive floating sphere made out of countless little geometric facets. All of them transparent plastic, like a ball shaped flying greenhouse.
I don’t fully understand how they fly. Something about sunlight heating the air inside, and the interior volume of a sphere increasing non-linearly relative to the surface area. Bits and pieces I remember from school, not especially important to know.
I could see little specks zipping around the levitating sphere, which cast an immense round shadow on the cloud layer below it. Drones or something. What did it feel like to have the kind of money one needs to visit a place like that? I hardly remember now.