You can almost feel the neon street lights behind you, teasing you with a wild night back where the city is still alive, but your eyes stay focused ahead, on the dark strip: the abandoned sprawl that lies on the way to the new shore.
You’re ready to get away from downtown because lately, it seems like you can’t even hear your own thoughts anymore. Maybe when you get there you’ll figure out who or what is blocking you from listening to your inner voice. But then again, maybe not.
All around you, sand and silt infiltrates the parking lots and the ground floors of otherwise sound buildings, stale bogs. The fine mud sticks to the soles of your shoes, suctioning the pull of each step.
Pools of water interrupt your path. It’s difficult to tell for certain, but they might be releasing faint light. Your eyes are only human, anyway. As you get closer to the shore, whatever hints of brightness you think you might be seeing in the puddles is drowned out by the brilliant intensity you’re here to witness, the view that can wipe everything away, the glowing surf.
The edge is quieter than you remember. Liquids fill the nooks and dips of the land without noise and in no rush. Then, folding over, they recede. In some places the broth mixes its colors, though they somehow resist becoming a dark, dull tar. In another place, a vibrating stream of pink forms a ribbon through electric yellow goop, refusing to assimilate.
The surf seems to both suffer from and be invigorated by a uniform phosphorescence. Likely the remnants of some tritium disaster from not too long ago, not too far away. The countless other isotopes saturating the gulf remain unseen, but you are well aware that the radiation has left real marks on the DNA of the creatures that cling to life below the surface.
A small crab rolls into an old soup can, neon markings on its belly like alien glyphs, its arms seeking something in an uncoordinated way. It’s choking on a thin, glitter-purple sheath of synthetic bacteria. You remember reading in the logs about these bacteria, designed illegally in some basement of the city a decade ago. A desperate bid to help clean up some of the mess. Not exactly a shame, maybe something worse.
Trash floats between broken parking blocks and twisted railing and many items keep their form. You recognize the outlines of beer bottles, a soccer ball and a refrigerator door. All of them painted over in bright streaks of color.
A newspaper leaf clings to your boot. It’s an antique. The surf works its best magic on paper, fortifying the cellulose with heavy metals and keeping the text and images preserved. It’s a bleeding page advertisement, pristine except for the color. A woman holding a toothbrush smiles up at you with lime green lips, a shock of tangerine hair and electric blue skin.
You realize how shallow your breaths have been up to this point and let the salty breeze enter your lungs with the rapidity its been asking for.
What would your father think of all this? If he were still around.
And that’s it. You feel you have your thoughts back. You exhale and advance into the glowing surf.
Now you’re ankle-deep and you bend over to scoop up a conch shell that’s the size of your fist. You push your hair aside and put it up to your ear.
No hollow wind, no airy breath of the sea. Silence. Almost like a glitch…
You use a keychain LED to help you to see inside of the conch shell. There’s a wire… something that you might be able to jack into your system.
You pad the outside of your vest with your palm, hoping you’re carrying the right adapter. The last time you jacked into an unknown drive, you fried the adapter and your scanner was left wide open to hackers. You told yourself you’d learned your lesson. But did you really come all the way out here to stop taking risks?
You locate the right adapter under a mess of tangled wires and batteries in your pocket, still in its second-hand plastic bubble re-packaging. You bust it free and use it to plug into the conch shell.
A semi-transparent holographic window is projected from inside the conch. The slow, thick waves behind it begin to appear almost volatile through the image. The screen displays jumbled characters in a garbled list that doesn’t obey clean columns or rows. It could be the remnants of a menu from a corrupted or maybe encrypted memory.
The garbled menu disappears. Shit.
You check the adapter– it’s not obviously burnt. Still, you hate how you’re always taking unnecessary risks for what… a random seashell?
The projection starts once again. Text blazes forth, scrolling on its own, as though consumed by some need to be seen:
There are no electronic secrets… A PLANET SPILLING OVER WITH MUTANTS… Eventually the desires introduced by virtual reality spilled over into real life… We were once stars, but are no longer… Relationships through small electronic boxes… A dead species walking, sipping Coca Cola through red-striped straws… Welcome, traveler. Your alternate timeline begins now!… Debes luchar por el planeta del que vienes… Don’t you love that sensation before the gravity bubble pops?… BETTER WORLDS THAN THIS… All of the things you ever texted. All of the things you ever took a picture of… If you find this in the glowing surf, keep decrypting. Especially if a moon is out… IT’S OK TO FORGET THIS MOMENT, SOMEBODY’S ALREADY RECORDED IT… There’s nothing wrong with just sitting around waiting for a rich robot to marry me… Right now, on many other planets, creatures are breathing… METELE MAS DATA… When the melancholy hits, I can always talk to the navigation console… MOSTLY EMPTY SPACE… Some future… Death doesn’t give life meaning— living long enough to reach the diamond mists that orbit Andromeda’s HD 13931 gives life meaning… Remember when all of this wasn’t a simulation?… If you cross paths with a spontaneous wormhole, listen very closely— you may hear your future regrets calling out to you… IMMORTAL ON THE INTERNET, UNFORTUNATELY… Stay on comfortable planets as long as you dare… On the subway, people smiled at their phones in the last days of a living Earth… There is always Mars… Read this again to time travel… Nobody will see the future… WORSE WORLDS THAN THIS…
The screen flickers and the menu emerges again. This time it’s in human-readable characters.