Letters from Utopia

by RJ Astruc and Andy Astruc

 

Letters from Utopia:

A Collection of Correspondences from the Best Places in the Galaxy.

No, Really.

 

The Air is Full of Robots

Attention: William Sandgood

Greetings humanoid William, this is a communication from humanoid Dale Sandgood. He wishes to express his positive emotions towards his current situation. Dale is comfortable and has appropriate rations. He has no desire to leave the collective.

Okay, okay. You got me. Just messing with you of course. Hello from Float 42-6! Hoping you are doing well down on the ground. Is mum okay? She was pretty upset when I left, but I guess that was some time ago. It’s hard to keep track of time while my robot butler is bringing me constant supplies of ice cream and vodka.

Oh yeah, it’s pretty amazing up here all around. I know people were skeptical of all this AI mumbo jumbo, yelling about the machines taking over and destroying all of humanity. Turns out that super-intelligent, self-replicating intelligences don’t really care about fleshy humans. We have nothing they want, it would be like us deciding we wanted to wipe out kittens.

My offer is still on the table, you can come and join me any time you like. This morning I got up and felt really sick, so I took a shuttle to the machinist surgery and got a quick cure before lunch. And when I say lunch, I mean classy, gourmet shit that is cooked to binary perfection.

Gotta run now, though. Big date. Have you ever been with a woman that has full 360 degree movement?

Yours,

Dale

 

It’s All Legal Here, Man

Dear Mrs Holloway,

This is Robert Frederickson. I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to be in your Year 9 history classes. You called me a problem student, and once – when you thought I wasn’t listening – a “waste-of-space slacker”.

Surely you remember that time you busted me smoking dope behind the toilet block with my friends and I said you were a tool of the capitalist machine who didn’t understand the nascent dimensions I was crossing with my mind fries. And you told me that fantasy is nice, but back in the real world I was going to the principal’s office.

Well guess what? My reality found a place a million times better than your stupid school.

Yes, once I dropped out I bought a ticket to Stonicka 9, or as the FASCIST CONTROLLERS call it, Stoner 9. A man needs to be among free thinkers and radical people to truly expand the mind, unchained from the ants of society.

On arrival my friends and I dropped into the nearest milk bar and purchased a bucketful of acid, dropped it like it was hot, and kicked off the most insane bender this side of Heaven itself. I danced with the gods, discussed the philosophical flaws in Brave New World with Aldous Huxley and buzzed the skyscrapers in a chocolate biplane.

Anyway, it all ended on the wrong side of a gutter. Apparently it happens to all the newbies, we go temporarily batshit and try to shove everything up our nose at once. I guess that confirms all your worst little conservative nightmare scenarios.

BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE.

After being granted the freedom to test my limits like a FREE AGENT, I eventually got used to the idea of drugs. The thrill of the new and the forbidden was replaced with responsible moderation. Not that you would understand that idea, up there in your oppressive tower of rules and regulations. Don’t misunderstand though, I still ride a god damn unicorn through the pudding galaxy, I just do it on the weekends.

What, you haven’t flown on a mythical horse? Shame.

People often think it must be a cluster of chaos over here, people stealing TVs from shop windows and plugging them into their veins. Crime is almost a non-issue, because people would rather get high. And the streets are the cleanest in this arm of the Milky Way because of all the speed freaks. You can even pay them in speed.

The crux of my note, Mrs Holloway, is that despite your efforts to crush my fantasy, I discovered the fantastic. I found my place in the world, and while you waste away slowly and carefully I will be licking the music and chasing bubbles.

High and Goodbye,

Bobby

 

All the Same to Me

Salutations, Mr Carstairs!

It has come to our attention that your travel publication, Galactic Path, recently reviewed our planetoid Virgilus-B. I am writing to take issue in particular with your assertion that V-B is “the most insidious of all horrors, like being waterboarded with beige paint”.

True, to the casual observer our culture may seem quite odd. As your reviewer noted, almost a century ago our top scientists and politicians devised a way to stabilise DNA and eliminate genetic abnormalities. As a result, our society has no gender and no racial differences. Before this breakthrough our world was on the verge of tearing itself apart, with violent civil wars and hate crimes creating a rather terrible general atmosphere. Tourism was well down.

In your article you claim making everyone look the same is boring, that our culture is “too nice” – which seems akin to stating your shoes are “too comfortable” – and we never get passionate about anything. I say that if your staff had spent enough time here they would have seen our Friday night football contest.

Recently Team Red has been going rather well, but Team Yellow beat them soundly last week. The whole arena was cheering and shouting about the exact location of a small ball. People were beating the absolute cuss out of one another, and three actually died later. Small children were calling old ladies ‘redlovers’ and hurling empty bottles at their heads. Citizens were making love to strangers in the stands simply because their shirt colours matched.

I assure you that as much passion, bigotry, anger and arbitrary choosing of sides as you could ask for was on show. The difference between your society and ours, Mr Carstairs, is that we leave all our pointless bickering and violence for pointless activities.

Oh. Wait.

Yours,

Tobias 890-AMP

 

Resignation from the Rat Race

Attn: Board of Globe Dynetrics

I am writing to tender my resignation as Chief Executive Officer of Globe Dynetrics Ltd, effective immediately.

I would also request that any future correspondence be sent to the Life Compound in Freeman Forest, and addressed not to Janet Langstrom, but to Jade Moonfire, Keeper of the Leaves.

Yes, originally I had intended merely a short stay in the rehabilitation compound, but having been here for some weeks I have discovered a more simple existence. I have run through the fields as naked as a wild horse, I have spent hours listening to the subtle peaks and valleys of a birdsong, I have eaten a pinecone, and it was actually delicious.

Truthfully, it will be difficult to give up the comforts of the modern world. I will miss knowing which celebrity is better at dancing and how the local sports team will be moving a ball around again on Saturday. I’ll miss putting up with bland packaged food for the sake of minor convenience and repressing the blunted dread that in another 10 years it might have given me terminal cancer.

It is with deep regret I leave my current position as the puppet figurehead of a corporation which manufactures the tiny screws other companies use to attach metal plates to completely superfluous pieces of modern luxury. Sadly, I will now be forced to spend my day playing an acoustic guitar, dancing with my shoes off and taking long naps. I’ll be passing up the pure excitement of driving to work in a machine capable of going 200 kilometres per hour but moving slower than walking speed, the rapture of sitting inside a square box staring at a clock, and the joy of trying to find an outfit that makes me uncomfortable enough to be stylish, but doesn’t make people secretly call me an officious slut.

Right now I’m wearing an over-sized poncho and pants made of delicious grass.

So this is it then, the end of my death and the beginning of my life. I wish you all the best in your endeavours to screw the world at right angles. And to my successor I offer some wisdom: Get out of this fucking job and go eat some berries.

Sincerest Regards,

 

Keeper of the Leaves

Women, Women Everywhere

Hi Dad,

Just thought I’d check in after we parted on bad terms.

I know you thought it was a bad idea to volunteer to be the only man in a society run by women.

So.

I was right, you were wrong, it’s amazing.

Bye!

Max

 

Eyes on the Prize

Melody,

Hi! It’s been so long since we talked! You must have had the baby by now, so congratulations and all that. I bet she or he is lovely. And I bet you’ve already got that super figure back too, you bitch. Ha ha.

How is David doing? Did he get the job? And have you decided what to do about the shop? Any good gossip floating around?

Oh my gosh, I sound so nosey, don’t I? It must be living in this place, constantly surrounded by cameras and people watching everything we do. I’m sorry I haven’t written any sooner, I know you’ve probably been worrying. I admit I was so scared originally moving in here, the military watching and controlling everything we do. It sounded like a nightmare!

I’ll admit, I spent so much time hiding in my room eating pre-packed snacks. Then I thought they might be watching me and recording that, and then what if they were recording me acting weird! I even showered with my clothes on for ages and ages, and I could still feel the cameras zooming on my naughty bits.

My darling, darling husband noticed I was struggling, bless his heart, and asked one of his privates to come speak to me. So anyway, this private when she shows up is a scary looking woman. Built like a jeep, but very well manicured and put together like she knows her stuff. I am super intimidated. She sits down and smiles gently.

And then she lets out a massive fart.

I know, right?

I squirm a little and have no idea what to say, but I know I’m staring. She keeps smiling and explains to me that my reaction is totally normal, that everyone who comes here freaks out at the start. It’s like that old Big Brother show, where they’re all shy at first then by week three they start skinny-dipping and finger-fucking at the dinner table.

It totally makes sense, I mean if I’m the government (if you can imagine that, ha ha) then I don’t care if you’re going to the movies or how big your boobs are. They only care if we’re actually breaking the law. I think I’m safe on that count for now!

So I’m slowly beginning to relax. I have normal, human showers now, and zero crime is not a bad situation at all. If the worst thing I have to worry about in life is that someone sees me pick my nose, I’m crazy fine with that.

Your Best Friend,

Lucille

 

Come to Planet Cokaygne, We’re Open

Sunny,

Yes, I did get your letters. No, I don’t want to hear about your new life. We got divorced so that you could take your mental instability and personal choices as far away from me as possible. There was a time when I wanted to be the doting wife who sits at home hearing about your day, and it was before you decided to shave your head and live with a bunch of silly wankers in dresses on the Moon.

I did actually take your advice about spiritual revelations however, darling, although it didn’t involve me becoming a monk. I’ve been on a one-woman, galaxy-wide trip to search for a soul (and I must say, thank goodness your little cult insisted you leave me all your worldly possessions, because I traded them for some awesome shit).

There’s really been too much happening to little old me to go into in detail. I’ve surfed in the whirlpools of Aquas, ridden giant furlak beasts across the desert plains of Muriburi and played space-pong with celebrities in the asteroid belt around the Yin Star. I gambled away all my money in the casinos on Satellite-777, then won it all back by flashing my breasts to a mining company executive.

Eventually, I stumbled upon Cokaygne. Yes, the Pleasure Planet. The one with the ads they had to pull off the broadcast wire.

I don’t think it’s really up your alley, dearest pumpkin squash. Instead of starving yourself and praying for unearthly guidance, it’s endless parties, grapes and hot, steamy fucking. (Can I say ‘fucking’? Are you even allowed to read all these dirty words?)

I’ve discovered my utopia too, honey lumps, and it’s eating cream-filled mud cake in a hot bath while half-naked men fan me with banana leaves. I’m sure you can appreciate that simple pleasures are best.

You limp cock.

Shanti

The Spider Will Die

By Bird Marathe

The spider’s web catches rain. The spider’s web holds the rain in beads. A branch falls. The spider’s web and the branch catch each other. The web twists and the branch spins around itself. The spider spins threads around the branch. The branch escapes the web and falls. The rain spins out from the web and falls in droplets. The web collapses and falls against wet bark.

The dusk pins shadows over the spider. The spider climbs. It spins a thread and the wind takes it. It spins a thread and the wind takes it. It spins a thread and the wind takes it. The wind spins the spider from the bark. The spider falls. Below are stones and fallen shadows.

Under the stones the spider settles among dying moss. A bead of rain drips through stones and onto the spider. There is a coldness around the spider now. There comes nothing to the spider. The spider will die. There comes

A scarab beetle, dun-hued pilgrim flown
From antique Egypt. It had rolled its faith
Into the sun at sunrise, lost its way
Above the books of changing sand by noon.
The wind made tatters of its fairy wings.
It crawled into the dirt of woods at dusk.

The scarab beetle will die. The spider crawls atop the scarab beetle’s abdomen. The scarab beetle extends its broken wings. The spider arranges its body around the scarab beetle’s head. The spider’s fangs fall down into the head of the scarab beetle. Poison arranges itself in the scarab beetle’s body. The scarab beetle’s insides come to sunlight and warm rain. The spider drinks from the carapace of the scarab beetle until it is empty.


The spider crawls from the dying moss, across the stones, up the wet bark. There is no rain in the night, and it climbs quickly. There is a strong branch for an anchor line, so it spins from the branch back to the bark. The line waves in the wind, holds. The spider spins anchors until the web does not wave. The spider spins a frame around the anchor lines, framing the black and yellow sky. It crosses its web with sticking spirals that can catch things in the night. The spider empties itself into the web, the web growing full, the spider growing hungry. Bits of starlight stick to the spirals. The spider waits. There comes

A bat, a cloistered monk who slept among
Its fellow monks by day, their feet all bound
Unto the cliffs that held the mass of Heaven
Above the stone. Their cowled heads would stretch
Toward the earth that warned them in its heat
Of fire beneath, until the grace of night.

The bat flits through trees, its hands raised and pressed against the air in flight, or prayer, or both. It follows a moth that spins away from the spider’s web. The bat spins with the moth but its hand and the web catch each other. The bat will die.

The bat claps its free hand against the air as the web shudders against its bulk. An anchor loosens from its moorings such that the web sighs out, and the bat’s free hand claps into the web, and both the bat’s hands are clapped around itself. The spider spins spirals around the bat’s feet, around its hands, around its neck. The bat becomes still, save the expansion and collapse of its breath, save its lolled tongue and searching eyes which point, in this moment, skyward. The spider’s fangs fall into the bat’s nose. Clouds shift such that the bat’s eyes catch bits of starlight before shutting. The spider drinks.


Before the dawn, the spider drapes anchors down in fine and waving rows from the branches of the tree to the stones below. The spider crosses the anchors with sticking thread, and the last of the starlight is caught inside the spider’s curtains. Behind its folds of web, the spider waits. There comes

A boy, a thin-faced waif who failed to heed
When mother warned him not to test the woods,
When father fell his switch upon the hands
That tempted tomes of fancy, pages full
Of vermin’s thoughts and deeds. The boy had fled
From home in search of glamours of the Fae.

The boy kneels before the curtains of the web of the spider.

“Fairies, please let me through your door through realms,” says the boy. “I won’t break your codes or share your secrets. I am your servant.”

Songbirds sing in the woods. The first light warms the backs of the boy’s hands even as he presses his palms against the cool and mossy stone. A wind parts the veil.

“Thank you,” says the boy, creeping beneath a curtain of web.

Inside the curtains, the remnants of the starlight swirl about the boy.

“It’s beautiful here,” he says. “Fairies, will you talk with me?”

The spider is still. The boy will die.

“I’m so tired,” he says. “I’ve been running all night.” He rests his head against the moss. “Maybe if I sleep, you’ll talk to me in my dreams?”

As the boy slumbers, the spider moves. It spins the curtains about the boy’s shoes. It runs threads to tangled locks of hair.

“Catch me,” murmurs the boy in his sleep. “Let’s fly.”

The spider spins and tightens strings until the boy rises up towards branches. The spider crawls along his cheek, across his lips, over his chin. It rests on the center of his throat. Its fangs fall.

The boy’s mouth opens. Nothing escapes it. The spider drinks until the boy is empty.


The spider anchors one edge of the woods to the other. The eastern trees bow west, and the west to the east. Hillocks become cathedrals of viscid fiber, trunks are cocooned into grey-white minarets. Songbirds are silenced when the canopy is choked. Burrowing mammals retreat into the earth as the noonday sun disappears above the twisting mass of filaments. There comes

A one-tusked elephant, a herdless bull,
A veteran of lions, drought, of bands
Of hungry men. His doom is borne atop
His sun-scarred shoulders: to remember yet
The flesh and time-lost songs of all his kin
Until his treading takes him to their bones.

The elephant crashes through the woods. His feet break stone and mill the soil beneath; his tusk stretches and severs the spider’s cloaking gauze. Coils of anchoring threads constrict about his knees, so the elephant heaves forward until he uproots the trees that bind them. When the elephant trumpets, he blasts holes into the web of the canopy from which sunlight drips down, from which topaz birds and scarlet butterflies escape.

The spider lands atop the elephant’s back. Its fangs fall onto the elephant, but find his skin too thick. The spider climbs back into its web.

Somewhere through the shroud of torments is the grave of the elephant’s tribe. He cannot see past the threads that gum his eyes, but he keeps his nose tucked beneath his chin, and he can smell some moss-covered familiarity in the coming. His muscles burn as the web begins to slow him. He rushes despite himself. The elephant stamps against a rope of fibers and slips, falling sidelong against a bed of thread. He shakes the bulk of his head, struggles to right himself, falls back again. The woods shake; ground cracks beneath him. And past the crook of broken tree trunks, in the rubble that radiates from him: a tusk, a femur, a splintered rib, the lingering milky scent of his mate upon them.

The spider slips down its web, lands among the elephant bones. It waits.

The elephant cannot stand. He extends his trunk toward the bones, bellows, shakes his head. His tusk tears grooves into the worm-filled loam. The trunk grazes the rib, sniffs it, wraps it tight. He twists his trunk back so that he may plainly see the rib. The spider rides with the bone. The elephant exhales, the wind of his breath waving the web. He is ready to die.

The spider crawls up the elephant’s trunk and across his face to the thin skin by his eye. The elephant regards the spider as the spider’s fangs fall into him. The spider drinks.


The spider catches the wind that blows through this forest primeval and spins its web across lone and level sands, among the misty mountains cold, past wine-dark seas and back. The spider frames its web with the edges of the world, and the lips of the world curl up as the web tightens. In day and night the web catches all the light of Heaven. The spider sits in the center of its web. It watches starlight as it falls.

The spider spins up

and up

and up

and up

and up

and up

and up

                                         until it reaches the dome of the sky, sets eight legs upon the canvas of the firmament. It casts anchors among the stars, ties one to the next. It cocoons the moon and sucks the sun dry. The sky heaves and shudders. A star falls. The sky around the missing star rips slow and wetly. Out of the tear pours all the rain of Heaven, and then an endless light, and with the light a vagrant angel, who snags her wings upon the spider’s thread. Out pour all the hosts of Heaven in one great phalanx, their swords aflame, cleaving thread and severing spool, their chorus rocking the remaining stars in their foundations. But the spider spins faster; catches two stars for every star lost, catches angels by the flock, whose chorus comes to screams, whose swords fall earthward. The spider drinks of each of them. The spider is lightning hot. Through the rip in the sky comes a shine, still.

For a time, the spider waits.

Silence.

The spider crawls into Heaven. There comes

The God of storms, of locust winds, of trees,
The God of man and his creations, God
Of gods, The God of gaps, The God of all
That’s born or dies or kills, The God of sand,
The God of light and shadow, He who made
The Earth, and sky, and time, and spiderlings.

With eyes shut, He utters His voice.

Little spider.

The spider crawls up the unfathomable leg of God.

Where

The spider crawls up His ceaseless chest.

Were

The spider spins its web around and around His infinite neck.

You

The spider jumps away, spinning its web still, and drops down,

and down,

back through the tear in the sky,

and down,

and down,

When

and down,

and down,

I

and down,

                            back to its web on the surface of the Earth. The noose pulls tight, and God is decapitated. His head crashes through the tear in the sky and the sky and the Heaven above it unravel in their entirety. His head breaks the spine of the Earth. The web unspins to nothing. The land detonates.

Laid

The spider is thrown by the explosion of the land, catches itself on the beard of God. The spider crawls into His mouth, spins thread around His tongue and around each divine tooth. The spider drops from His lips. The tongue is severed. Each tooth is wrested free, is followed by a storm of blood.

God is silenced, now. He will die. The spider arranges itself atop His nose.

Through nothing, the spider and the head of God drift.

The eyes of God open, and regard the spider. The eyes have a terrible light. And then, shadow.

There is a coldness around the spider. The spider will die. But first, it burrows through the pupil of His open eye, into His brain. The spider drinks. In the skull of God, it lays a clutch of eggs.

The spider waits.

XVI and Deek Escape in the Night

by R.J. Astruc

They camp near the place Deek killed the vagrant. XVI finds an old tarpaulin amongst the urban detritus that litters the building site, and strings it up using a coil of cabling and the struts of an old airship. It won’t keep out the wind but it’ll keep out the rain, and also maybe hide them from the security scanners that patrol the skies. Not bad, XVI thinks. Not bad for a shelter made out of the shit that other people don’t want.

When the shelter is up she crawls underneath it and curls her thin body against Deek’s flabby warmth. He still smells like blood and sweat and dead-things.

“This ain’t gonna be for long, boi,” she says. “Jus’ til things die down.”

Deek nods and touches his heavy fists against his forehead. XVI doesn’t shudder. But maybe, she thinks, maybe I should.

Sometimes she looks at him and sees a weapon.


In the darkness of that first night she touches his soft belly, his wide hips. Touches him with love. Remembering that without him she wouldn’t have the money: ninety five credits from the suit’s wallet, and another sixteen from the vagrant.

Remembering that without him she’d never have been able to elude the psychics working on the compound’s outer gates, or the scanners that monitor the gates of the undercity.

Deek might be her brother, but XVI isn’t sure. The tests have messed up her memory. He doesn’t look like her brother, though, with his wide plain face, his mouth like compressed and rubbery sausages.

He weeps in his sleep.

XVI doesn’t know if that’s good or bad. XVI doesn’t know if it means anything at all.


Later the security scanners do a sweep. XVI, half-awake, sees the spotlight racing across the rubble toward their shelter… and then across the shelter itself and on.

No pause, she thinks. They won’t be coming back.


The next day they walk. Deek’s eyes are glassyblank and she has to guide him through the undercity crowds, her hands directing his hips. The scanners pass above, and every time XVI hears their familiar whirr she goes stiff and silent. A reflex: she’s expecting the worst. But can the scanners really see them? she wonders. Or rather, see the absence of them, the great psychic black spot that is Deek and his fractured mind?

She buys Deek lunch in a su-su shop: two bowls of protein-rich soup. She’s read somewhere that’s what astronauts eat in space.

“What’d they do to you, baby?” she asks, holding his hand across the table. “Why’re you like this?”

Deek struggles. “They put a light in my head.”

He picks at the scar that circles his temples. He makes XVI think of the lab-dogs and lab-cats she once saw in the compound’s animal testing section. Mad little fuckers, all of them, mouth-frothing, biting their own feet. Artificially-engineered prions chewing tunnels through their brain meat. XVI remembers saying: They ought to be put out of their misery.

XVI notices that the woman on the table next to them has a nose bleed.

She says, pulling him to his feet, “You ‘member me, yeah, Deek? We grew up same place, you’n’me.”

“Same mom,” says Deek uncertainly. Then: “She sold us.”

“Ev’rybody got to eat, boi. Mebbe she figured the compound was a better bet than that shithole in Cheapside.”


He vomits twice in the next hour. Once outside a railway station. The second time by the glass frontage of a posh cafe. People inside stare and point, horrified. Their expensive dinners?honeyed new-fruits, organic meat, imported protein?are left untouched, pushed aside.

“Baby, baby,” XVI says, riding the wave of Deek’s lurching shoulders. “Baby, it’s okay…”

But that’s a lie: nothing is okay, everything is wrong. She can feel the sickness in him building. She moves to kiss him but then Deek puts his fist through the cafe window and screams words that aren’t words at all… and then there’s a black spot in XVI’s memory… and then they’re running and XVI remembers blood, not where it came from or what happened to produce it, just the colour, livid and brilliant and terrible.

“Fifteen inches of snow in Klondike,” says Deek, panting beside her. “Closures on highways 4, 7 and 29. Rug up if you plan to go out.”

It takes XVI a few minutes to realise that he’s picking up satellite broadcasts.

“Oh Deek,” she says, almost fondly.

She’s already decided that she’s going to have to ditch him. He’s insane. He’s a liability.

He could get them both killed.


She leaves him in west Cheapside. She finds him shelter: a filthy grey honeycomb of a derelict skyrise, its north-facing facade fallen to rubble, only the internal walls remaining like a little girl’s dollhouse. She tells him: wait, and he does, in the dust and dirt like a dog, a mad lab-dog.


The next day XVI finds work. Slave labour wages, doing slave labour. She loses three fingernails on a threshing machine and cries out in pain each time. By the time the day’s done her knuckles feel warped and out of joint, and her eyes won’t focus right. She’s walking home before she realises she doesn’t have a home to walk to.

In a seedy undercity bar she gets drunk and listens to the localgods brag about theft and brutality. Thugs, all of them, skinny and tattooed and strung-out. The way they swagger makes XVI think of the ungainly movements of children’s puppets. They drink cheap beer and talk loudly about ‘big takes’ and ‘fuckin’ the man’ and ‘blowin’ brains’. They complain about security systems: the scanners and the psychics.

They talk about how they’d heard some scientist types were working on a psychic blocker. A psychic blocker for your mind. A way to get around the scanners forever. A way to live under the radar for real. But that’s probably science fiction, they tell each other.

Science fuckin’ fiction.

XVI checks her pockets.

She’s got forty-five credits left.

She thinks: Maybe out here I do need a weapon.


Deek’s waiting for her when she comes back.

He’s dirty and lab-dog crazy, but he still smiles when she takes his hand.