The Eternal Program

Text MERCY FERRARS
Lektorat LARA HELENA
fOTOs COTTONBRO

Part One

1

Three years ago, I was stand­ing on top of the Empire State Build­ing in New York, gaz­ing at the city I had want­ed to see all my life as it loomed before me. By this time, my mem­o­ry had begun to fade. I need­ed dis­tance from the ground. Maybe clos­er to the sky I would be able to remem­ber how it felt to dig my hands into soil. Per­haps even more press­ing was the ques­tion of what it was like to have once had some­thing to lose.

On the 102nd floor ter­race of the build­ing, I felt like a god­dess look­ing down into the world that bowed at my feet, stretch­ing far beyond my imag­i­na­tion. Full of sto­ries, lives and souls, but I was blind. A library full of hearts and I was illit­er­ate. I stood there like a queen and yet I could­n’t remem­ber my sister’s face. Instead, there was a dark unde­fined stain over her beau­ti­ful fea­tures. And every day she fad­ed a lit­tle more from my memory. 

“Norea.” Out of the cor­ner of my eye, I noticed some­one watch­ing me. They slow­ly stepped clos­er, care­ful­ly, gen­tly plac­ing a hand on my shoul­der. “Nori.”

I looked at them silently. 

“Nori, it’s time for you to return. In five days, they’ll turn off the logout func­tion. Only dead will they let you leave Eter­nal then. Nori, I beg you.” 

But I shook my head. There was noth­ing for me on the oth­er side that was still worth going back. I took their hand from my shoulder.

‘Xhro­mae, take me away from here. Loc-Moscow.’
‘Yes, Ven­om.’
No soon­er did they real­ize I had van­ished into thin air.

2

The puz­zle is that the world can now be any­thing you want, hand­craft­ed to match your favourite aes­thet­ic. Tai­lored to the sto­ry you’ve been telling your­self since the old world began to die. And you’re like the oth­er lone play­ers, lost in a world of pix­els and dig­its. Abun­dant in dig­i­tal dreams. With the rul­ing pow­er of a god in your hands, you now find your­self over­bur­dened to the point of paralysis. 

The world I have cre­at­ed for myself is full of bright neon lights puls­ing against a black night sky. Gigan­tic LED screens have replaced the moon. They show ves­tiges of the old world, its dig­i­tal lega­cy. Some­times I sit awake all night on a rooftop above Berlin, watch­ing com­mer­cials flick­er on these screens. Drone footage of green coun­tries once meant to entice humankind to trav­el more. But no one flies any­more. And if they do, they can pow­er a plane with their imag­i­na­tion or grow wings of their own. Life can be what­ev­er you want it to be now. We’re all just dream­ing in isolation. 

Berlin had become the cen­ter­piece of my fab­ri­ca­tion. I’ve lived here for so long before Eter­nal, I had become a tree and Berlin was my mil­len­ni­al soil. This is where the threads came togeth­er after I returned from Tokyo and Moscow, after my past caught up with me in New York. In Berlin’s ruins, the world came full cir­cle. For the umpteenth time it lay before me wast­ed. I hoped that its resilience would rub off on me. 

When I decid­ed to stay in Berlin, I bare­ly remem­bered fur­ther than the trips I had tak­en in recent years, cling­ing to those few mem­o­ries as if they were the only sub­stance to sus­tain my life. But Earth is gone, and the Eter­nal Pro­gram has become our new home. A sec­ond chance for human­i­ty, a push into the dig­i­tal fron­tier. Here, we were all mag­i­cal kings and queens who could pre­tend they weren’t griev­ing. A stam­pede into hedo­nism and intox­i­ca­tion. Oh brave new world, that has such peo­ple in it.

3

These thoughts cross my mind as I sit on a rooftop that I often vis­it late at night. It’s far away from the par­ty­go­ers down in the streets. Of course, I could opt to just silence their roar­ing laugh­ter, but I like hear­ing their voic­es, stream­ing like white noise through the air. An illu­sion of life. Besides, some of them were avatars like mine that I net­worked with. The only pil­lars on which my world rests. 

I watch the sound­less com­mer­cials repeat on the screens, between the aban­doned sky­scrap­ers and the bombed but squat­ted res­i­den­tial tow­ers. My hair and skin are glow­ing from the light of the magen­ta street lamps. Some of my screens are bro­ken, glitch­ing, stuck on a sin­gle let­ter or a face frozen in time. I think there is a cer­tain beau­ty in dis­tur­bance. A place in between. Between what? Between end­less worlds, I suppose. 

“Ven­om?”, he sud­den­ly comes in through the implant. It’s not like I didn’t already expect him. His voice is the colour of gold­en Octo­ber sun­shine. Warm and sooth­ing. I smirk. “Hey, Ams­ter­dam”, I answer. Names are use­less here. Fake worlds do not require real names. We are all prod­ucts of our envi­ron­ment. And our envi­ron­ment is a prod­uct of us. Our user names are cho­sen once and nev­er again, when you enter the Eter­nal Pro­gram. With a bit of luck, you choose a good one. Unfor­tu­nate­ly I bor­rowed mine from the last movie I had seen offline. 

4

I had asked him to take me to Berlin and he fol­lowed suit. He is the only real thing. When I feel his skin, I know there’s no way he’s a dig­i­tal soul. We met at a rave in Moscow. It’s rare to meet oth­er avatars, except for the ones in your net­work. In worlds that are con­di­tioned by sheer mag­ic, where noth­ing is left to chance, sur­pris­es send us into ecsta­sy. He was not part of my world, he was from the out­side. So beau­ti­ful that it exceeds my imag­i­na­tion. And I was seized by a hunger, a long­ing for some­thing real. I want­ed him so much, but we danced around each oth­er from a dis­tance, uncer­tain, alarmed. 

The explo­sive cock­tail of attrac­tion, strange­ness and famil­iar­i­ty brought us both back to the club the next day. In the late after­noon in the Octo­ber rain I chose a hid­ing place on an over­hang of an aban­doned apart­ment build­ing. Masked to unrec­og­niz­abil­i­ty, bow and arrow ready to take him out on the spot, intent on pro­tect­ing my cre­ation. But I found him walk­ing down the street, hands in pock­ets, hum­ming Par­ti­cles. When I heard him hum the song, it trig­gered a dis­tant mem­o­ry that had trou­ble real­ly com­ing into my mind. But it want­ed to be felt. Sud­den­ly, he halt­ed mid-step. As if I had hit him with an arrow, he stopped abrupt­ly and looked up. Direct­ly at me — his emer­ald eyes pierced my mask, my up-armored tech wear, my heart. And he beck­oned to me. I can’t remem­ber ever lov­ing any­one before him. 

The months that fol­lowed we spent mov­ing from one aban­doned build­ing to anoth­er, shar­ing the few bits and pieces of our lives pri­or to Eter­nal. I was griev­ing the mem­o­ries I had lost, but he remem­bered that he had been in Lon­don when he final­ly went online per­ma­nent­ly. He remem­bered his moth­er, a bak­er, and that he had been a pas­sion­ate painter. He also recalled that he used to be an ath­lete ear­ly in his life, until he had got­ten into an acci­dent and was par­a­lyzed from the waist down.
Eter­nal gave me so many sec­ond chances to live”, he said, “to catch up on every­thing I’ve been miss­ing.”
“Aside from the fact that it also was our only shot at any life”, I had respond­ed.
“You’re the only life I’d ever want”, he’d respond every time we had that conversation. 

5

“Where are you?”, Ams­ter­dam asks, his voice rich with excite­ment. It is 3AM and he is like­ly in a club in for­mer East Berlin. Neo-Berlin is equal­ly dam­aged wher­ev­er you walk. 

“On 104–5.” 

“Come dance with me”, he flirts. I hear a ping and see a video call come in through my implant. I nod and there he is, his face glow­ing from the night’s sweet poi­sons. Hedo­nism, that’s what it’s all about in this new world. Hap­pi­ness has become the imper­a­tive. We already died once when we left our old lives behind, we chose to make this new one a beau­ti­ful one.

‘Xhro­mae, loc 110–65, The Empress please.’ 

Xhro­mae over­writes my roof with the Empress club and with anoth­er ping I’m next to Ams­ter­dam at the bar. 

“I’m already here,” I smile. He leans in to kiss me, and his locks fall into my face. I feel his warm, dark skin buzz against mine as the crowd gets lost in the music. We chase hedo­nism because it makes us feel end­less, to live for­ev­er, to be true to our lives. We were the only peo­ple in a room full of dig­i­tal copies, and we let it go to our heads. This world is real­ly ours, and there’s no rush like it. 

He pulls me onto the dance floor, my heart­beat sync­ing with the beats that chase each oth­er faster and faster. He opens his hands in a reveal­ing ges­ture. On his palm are two pink pills. As anoth­er sweet poi­son runs down our throats, we kiss where magen­ta and pur­ple com­bine to cre­ate unspeak­able colors. 

The cheeks glow red and Xhro­mae makes sure that my body is suf­fi­cient­ly intox­i­cat­ed. Until I will tell her to stop. Drugs don’t do any­thing to us here unless we decide to. There are no hang­overs because the cock­tails we pour into our­selves don’t exist out­side our zeros and ones. Some things, some expe­ri­ences, can’t be simulated. 

6

The bartender’s image flick­ers and dis­ap­pears again and again, caught between blur and gener­ic code as he per­fects our drinks into liq­uid art. His move­ments are monot­o­nous, as are his words. Predictable. 

“Enjoy your evening,” he says, wink­ing at us for the fifth time since I’ve arrived. Anoth­er flick­er, this time his face con­torts for a sec­ond too long. His smile dims into a gri­mace as he mantri­cal­ly repeats his last word. Then, sud­den­ly, all the pix­els stay in place. “Enjoy your evening,” he repeats mechan­i­cal­ly, accom­pa­nied by a dig­i­tal smile. When he turns to the next per­son, he looks two-dimen­sion­al. He doesn’t exist for them, after all. He’s just back­ground noise. 

7

Ping. Incom­ing call. I nod once. 

“Kon­nichi­wa” says a famil­iar voice. 

I tap my tem­ples twice to acti­vate lan­guage selec­tion and choose Japanese. 

“Atlas!” 

“I’m in town, girl. Get me to where you are and out of this car.” Ping. I open Atlas’ attached file. It’s a pho­to of a super­speed­er which bor­rows its aero­dy­nam­ic design more from a space­ship than a Volkswagen. 

“That is impres­sive. Lis­ten, we’re at the Empress. I’ll ping you the address.”

“Gotcha.” Some­one taps on my shoul­der and their touch feels like only an avatar’s touch could feel. Filled with phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal rich­ness. I turn around and there she waits, still unsure how to style hers for my Neo-Berlin set­ting. Her hair changes through all the colours of the rain­bow, her make­up snaps through the spec­trum from cyborg assas­sin to endzeit god­dess. Even­tu­al­ly it set­tles on a long sharp graph­ic eye­lin­er, pink space buns and black tech club wear. 

“Phew” she says, “this many choic­es some­times make you not want to choose at all.” 

Part Two

1

When he and I returned to Berlin all this time ago, Ams­ter­dam took me to the one hun­dred and thir­teenth floor of a semi-aban­doned build­ing, per­fo­rat­ed but bul­let­proof. All around us build­ings tow­ered into the sky, less than half as high as ours. Their facades were cov­ered with pre-war dec­o­ra­tions. Stuc­co, old wood­en doors lay­ered in graf­fi­ti and posters show­cas­ing a social life that had since van­ished and been replaced by a rogue copy. Walls cov­ered with what was once impor­tant, angry mes­sages to igno­rant politi­cians, hiber­nat­ing words once voiced by invis­i­ble pro­tag­o­nists; arte­facts of past dreams. In their midst rose our res­i­den­tial tow­er like it was reach­ing for the sun. It had sur­vived two wars and was left with bul­let wounds per­fo­rat­ing its body. Inside the build­ing was a high-speed ele­va­tor that con­nect­ed the first three floors to ours — the only ones that were inhabited.


emPFOHLENE ARTIKEL

Wer Wenn Nicht Wir

Schon heute ver­mark­ten wir uns um anzukom­men. Wir hal­ten unsere hard facts bere­it, um jed­erzeit das beste Bild von uns zu zeich­nen. Das schön­ste Leben, das ger­ade noch so unter “Wahrheit” durchge­ht. In diesem Sinne besucht der zukun­ftsweisende Pro­tag­o­nist unseres Gas­tau­tors eine beson­dere Agen­tur, die nicht nur Lebensläufe aufpoliert.

Süß wie Mojadensaft

Sek­tor C. Wer auch immer diese Par­ty gab, ließ sie sich etwas kosten. Dafür war die Ein­rich­tung per­fekt: Lea bewun­derte das bläulich schim­mernde Glas, hin­ter der die Feiern­den sich bewegten. Die meis­ten tru­gen Oceanwave. 

Glaskörper

Über die Kry­onik und das Men­sch­sein: “Glaskör­p­er” erschien 2018 in der Kurzgeschicht­en­samm­lung “Von Men­schen” der Autorin Iris Anto­nia Kogler. 


Thin grass grew gen­tly in the wall in the stair­way. Life caressed our ruin in sto­ic denial of the city’s wreck­age. Our res­i­den­tial tow­er was to the north­east. In the far dis­tance lay Berlin’s for­mer tele­vi­sion tow­er — or a per­fect repli­ca of it. Like a light in the dark­ness, it was the only build­ing unaf­fect­ed by the war. A sym­bol of resis­tance. Our apart­ment was kept in post-war Neo-Berlin min­i­mal­ism, the mahogany bar the only excep­tion: it was stocked to the rim with expen­sive bot­tles of sweet, for­get­ful poi­son. Stand­ing on my bal­cony, the only one at 280 meters above the city, I often felt remind­ed of that moment on the Empire State Build­ing. But I could bare­ly grasp the mem­o­ry. I felt that I had for­got­ten some­thing — some­one — but in my mind only the here and now existed. 

In the here and now, Ams­ter­dam and Atlas sit on a pre-war era sofa and talk about Amsterdam’s paint­ing. Their dynam­ic was mutu­al­ly tol­er­at­ing in an odd way. Atlas was obsessed with hang­ing an orig­i­nal in her man­sion. Ams­ter­dam didn’t like Atlas very much. And Atlas didn’t care so long as he had what she want­ed. His work was embed­ded in a larg­er con­ver­sa­tion around new art and old artists. Atlas likes to hear her­self talk, and Ams­ter­dam just keeps nod­ding. Even­tu­al­ly, their con­ver­sa­tion peters out. Ams­ter­dam looks hope­ful­ly at me, but I don’t quite know how to join in. For the most part in this world we didn’t talk much to the peo­ple around us. Every­one had devel­oped a pen­chant for phi­los­o­phy these days, but we fought our thoughts out with our­selves, in silence. Some run from them. It was too painful to admit to each oth­er that we had decid­ed to stay here per­ma­nent­ly. After a moment of polite wait­ing, Atlas sets her wine glass aside and announces that, unfor­tu­nate­ly, it was time for her to go. “The nights here are unique,” she says as she hugs me good­bye. “But the days are unbearable.”

2

“Atlas,” Ams­ter­dam sud­den­ly inter­rupts her. “What’s your real name, anyway?”

Atlas seems unset­tled. Ams­ter­dam had bro­ken an unspeak­able code. No mat­ter how well we knew each oth­er here, we remained anony­mous to each oth­er. I don’t even know Atlas’s offline name. Or Amsterdam’s. 

How real is a love tied to dig­i­tal anonymity?

I brush the thought aside vio­lent­ly.
“Um,” she hes­i­tates. “I… gosh, I haven’t used it in ages. I… I don’t think I’m sure anymore.” 

“Atlas,” I say soft­ly, touch­ing her shoul­der. “It’s okay, I’m sure Ams­ter­dam can live with­out know­ing your real name.” 

“I wish I could answer you though,” she says, turn­ing to face him. For a moment the room was full of sin­cer­i­ty and regret. “I can’t remem­ber. Do you remem­ber yours, then?” 

Ams­ter­dam nods. “I got it tat­tooed after I for­got my mother’s face. Even if every­thing else dis­ap­pears.… replaced by… this, here, what­ev­er this is, I don’t want to for­get what she once called me.”

“But you’re hap­py here, right?” asks Atlas.

“Are you?” replies Ams­ter­dam, lean­ing in the door­way and ges­tur­ing toward the city. “All this, all our worlds, our sto­ries, our mem­o­ries, who can tell us if it all ever hap­pened? Whether we are not dream­ing or hal­lu­ci­nat­ing? Whether I’ll wake up tomor­row and Ven­om was but a thought. Why does one real­i­ty have more right to exist than the oth­er? Why can’t I remem­ber what my moth­er looked like?”

“Love,” I say soft­ly as I grab his hand. 

“I’m scared,” Ams­ter­dam con­fess­es. “Afraid that one day I’ll end up like that bar­tender, flick­er­ing in and out of exis­tence. Like all the oth­er mis­er­able fake char­ac­ters in this world, stuff­ing it with­out enliven­ing it. Who’s to say the same thing won’t hap­pen to me someday?”

Atlas taps ner­vous­ly with her feet, before she mur­murs, “I think whether it’s real or not, we decide. Maybe we’re just play­ing a game, but who’s to say what’s real. Hold­ing a stone feels the same here as it did in the old world. But maybe it’s pre­sump­tu­ous to demand that all worlds can exist at once. And so we may have to choose one, slow­ly push­ing the oth­ers out of our mem­o­ry. But what hap­pi­ness is brought by an exis­tence that lan­guish­es in the past?”
For a moment we stare at Atlas, who has nev­er spo­ken such words before. Atlas lives for the light­ness, the weight­less­ness. In a world where hedo­nism is the imper­a­tive, peo­ple do not wal­low in sad­ness in front of each oth­er. Sud­den­ly, the moment feels very inti­mate. Ams­ter­dam looks at me before tak­ing my hand and embrac­ing Atlas with the other. 

“I’ve already lost so much, and I don’t want to have to let go of more,” he con­fess­es, the truth buried in our hair. 

“Hey,” I say, lift­ing my head and lock­ing my eyes with his. “I’ll always be here. Whether it’s Berlin or Moscow, Eter­nal or any­where else.” I look back at Atlas. “I’d find you in every world.” 

Word­less­ly, he leans his fore­head against mine, and I seek my way to his lips, warm and soft. When we turn around after a while, Atlas is gone.

3

In the old world, wait­ing defined the expe­ri­ence of every­day life. I had so often wished I could arrive some­place with a snap of my fin­gers. Nat­u­ral­ly, pub­lic trans­porta­tion has become obso­lete in Neo-Berlin. Atlas’ avatar can trans­form into any shell faster than the eyes can fol­low, and we can be any­where we want in an impulse as del­i­cate and silent as the flap of a butterfly’s wing. Not by a snap of the fin­gers, but by a sin­gle thought. In the new world, we are every­where and nowhere. No more waiting.

Occa­sion­al­ly, I like to pre­tend that trans­porta­tion is still nec­es­sary. I used to love late-night train rides. Or pass­ing the time in a car on the high­way. The rough sea that makes my hair stand on end on slow ships pitch­ing and toss­ing towards oth­er coun­tries. The world that sub­mits to my gaze from an air­plane win­dow. The rush of antic­i­pa­tion that can only be felt in the hours of wait­ing. It’s even as if wait­ing some­times gives things more weight. 

Both Ams­ter­dam and I hunt for the old-world won­ders that have become a rar­i­ty in Eter­nal. Old-school mag­ic in a fab­ri­cat­ed real­i­ty. I can cre­ate worlds and fill them with com­pan­ions, but I can­not sim­u­late mean­ing­ful­ness. We are a mir­a­cle to each oth­er. Love almost always tran­scends reality. 

We are the only pas­sen­gers on the train, which glides silent­ly through burned-out apart­ment build­ings. Lumi­nes­cent holo­grams are squirm­ing toward an invis­i­ble eye, and neon signs flick­er more poor­ly than they should. I sit across from Ams­ter­dam, whose face is cap­tured by the many colours pass­ing us by, by light and dark reflect­ing on his skin. 

Who are you? Would I ever have known you in the old world?
Com­mand to run a prob­a­bil­i­ty analy­sis?, Xhro­mae chimes in. With a chuck­le I tell her that some things bor­row their mag­ic from the unknown.

“But my god. You’re the most beau­ti­ful crea­ture I’ve ever seen. 

Your v‑shaped face, your long locks. Pierc­ing green eyes. Your lumi­nous skin. It smells of earth and light deodor­ant. On your neck it blends with my favorite perfume.

I’ve always been on my own. Wan­der­ing the world and shar­ing brief moments with oth­er play­ers. I nev­er thought I would meet some­one in Eter­nal, of all places, who would move me so deeply. 

I won­der what you think about when you see me. 

Would she love me if she knew the real me? Would she stay with me even if I weren’t who I am now? 

But the truth is that I would feel your absence in any world. You would be an incur­able wound wher­ev­er I go. My mad­ness. My escape. My truth.

I some­times think I wouldn’t have been ready to love you in the old world. I wouldn’t have known how to make myself vul­ner­a­ble when we went to war, against our­selves and against the plan­et. There was a pain in me so deep and inevitable that I would have sim­ply refused to open the door to you.” 

I pro­claim the truth to my world and it echoes back. 

4

He tears his gaze away from my cyber­punk city, and looks at me. Takes my hands and turns my stom­ach upside down. 

“Ven­om.”

“Ams­ter­dam.”

“I can’t help but think that we should share our real names.” 

I lean back, rest­ing a leg on his. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any oth­er name would smell as sweet.”

“Shake­speare,” he adds.

I nod and give him a wary look. “I under­stand your long­ing for some­thing sol­id, some­thing that was and some­thing that will last. A con­stant in a frag­ile world.”

He nods, look­ing down at his fingers. 

“My love.” I bend for­ward and take his face in my hands. “Noth­ing will remain the same. But my name is Norea.”

His eyes light up, and he con­tin­ues, “I am K-”; but before he can fin­ish the sen­tence, his image flick­ers and with­in sec­onds he is gone. So is the sil­ver train around me — one minute I’m there, the next I’m stand­ing on a rooftop at sun­rise, won­der­ing what sud­den­ly hap­pened. While pan­ic builds walls around my flut­ter­ing heart, the sky vibrates and the clouds break, an ener­gy field opens up in the atmos­phere. And then every­thing goes dark. 

5

I wake up because of a glar­ing light and a stab­bing pain that dri­ves through my body. As if some­one had rammed a knife through me, over and over again. My head feels like it’s going to explode. My eyes are hav­ing trou­ble open­ing at all. My feet and hands feel stiff. 

All of a sud­den, noise breaks over me, and some­one snaps me out of my paral­y­sis. They shine a light into my pupils. 

“Norea! Damn it, wake up!” 

My breath­ing shal­low, I gasp for air and feel myself chok­ing. As I try to say some­thing, a cough­ing fit seizes me. 

“Norea!” I see faces hov­er­ing above me, in white neo­prene suits, their eyes hid­den by face shields. 

“I…what… what the hell?” Anoth­er cough­ing fit tears through me. Some­one straight­ens me up. I look around, but at the first move­ment, a cut­ting pain dri­ves through my head again. Aston­ished, I hold my head and feel a ban­dage. Pan­ic digs into my bones. 

6

The next thing I remem­ber is some­one plac­ing me in a white, clin­i­cal hall in front of a full plate of food. Tense­ly, three strangers look at me as I recov­er con­scious­ness. Around me, peo­ple eat in rev­er­ent silence. Some cast glances in my direction. 

“Please, eat some­thing,” one of the women begs me. 

After a few days on wob­bly legs filled with ran­dom faint­ing spells, I am final­ly sta­ble enough to learn what has hap­pened. I have already fig­ured out that I am no longer in Eter­nal. The first thing I tried to do after wak­ing up was access Xhro­mae, but there was only silence on the oth­er side. I tried to ping Ams­ter­dam but heard only the echo of my own frus­tra­tion. I felt many things — pan­ic, irri­ta­tion, and the loom­ing dread of hav­ing lost an entire world. I under­stood before they told me. They had cut my world out of my head. 

7

Their words sank into inco­her­ent bab­ble. They want­ed to free the last sur­vivors from the prison they had cre­at­ed for them­selves. A gold­en cage is just a cage in the end, they said. We didn’t want to spend our lives in a sim­u­la­tion. They thought they were doing a good thing. Res­cued those of us who had not logged out. Used the excuse that Eter­nal had had a seri­ous pro­gram­ming error — we could have end­ed up brain dead. The deep pain in my head was from the surgery where my implant was cut out. And Xhro­mae with it, who had been my clos­est ally for so many years. 

“Ams­ter­dam?”, I asked. But they just shook their heads. They hadn’t heard of any Amsterdam.

My body had spent five years in deep sleep. I could bare­ly walk on my own. My stom­ach was cramp­ing from remov­ing the feed­ing tube that had nour­ished me. A long scar now dec­o­rat­ed it. Every­thing inside me ached, but noth­ing was as impor­tant as him. 

8

Ten days after my painful awak­en­ing, they tell me that sur­vivors can sign up for an ori­en­ta­tion day. I ask them where we are. 

“We’re in the colony,” a nurse says as she changes my ban­dages. She oper­ates a few but­tons at the end of the room, and the cityscape behind my win­dows dis­ap­pears. Instead, we look out onto red sand­stones that sur­round us like a fortress.

I look at her. “Colony?”

“You don’t remember?”

“No… I don’t remem­ber any­thing,” I say, aghast.

“We are humanity’s first Mar­t­ian colony.” She low­ers her head deject­ed­ly. Her hands shake a lit­tle as she gath­ers the gauze. “Well — we’re what’s left of human­i­ty. In the cli­mate war, every­one fought every­one else, after all. To reduce the habi­tat and keep human­i­ty qui­et, to give them space to work through their trau­ma, we hooked them up to the Eter­nal pro­gram, which has been devel­oped for quite some time. Most returned when news made the rounds that the pro­gram was life-threat­en­ing.” She con­tin­ues to turn her head away from me as she stares at her med staff transpon­der. “I… am inter­est­ed. What makes you give up life to live in a vir­tu­al reality?”

I shrug my shoul­ders. “I had noth­ing left here. There, I had every­thing. It was all with­in reach. I was God. Who wouldn’t want to stay?” A few sec­onds pass. “A Mars colony?”, I repeat. “We’re on Mars?
“It’s kind of not a big deal any­more. We’ve been here for so long. You knew, once. You came here with us.”

9

On ori­en­ta­tion day, I keep an eye out for him. I don’t even know your name, Amsterdam. 

The lec­ture hall is burst­ing at the seams. I duck to the back row and try to keep my thoughts in check. 

Time pass­es. It doesn’t mat­ter to her if count­less worlds have been wiped out. She is in no hur­ry. After one hun­dred and thir­teen days, I find myself in a library on a Tues­day morn­ing, look­ing for an old edi­tion of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juli­et

I take it home with me, to the ‘life cell’ — as they call it — that has been assigned to me. I par­tic­i­pate in social activ­i­ties. I laugh with oth­ers. I’m catch­ing up on five years of expe­ri­ence on Mars. Feel its sur­face. Go to Mars dances. Learn how to gar­den in spe­cial green­hous­es. Some­times I sit on the high­est roof in the city. Just below the dome. Think­ing of him. Of Neo-Berlin. Of Atlas. Worlds come into being, worlds die. It’s just the way it is. 

One night I open it. Romeo and Juli­et. A post­card falls out. A mini oil paint­ing of blur­ry neon lights. Large screens glow­ing in place of the moon. And a sil­hou­ette crouch­ing on a rooftop with a bow and arrow. I turn it around. It is signed with a sim­ple “A”. And a time loca­tor stamp. I scan the code with my phone, and it points towards a train sta­tion on the out­skirts of town. I pack my things and go. 

10

You could be here every night, or none, or some. So much time has passed since you sat here and drew my post­card. I walk toward the bench that stands at the end of the track. Above me, the dome gen­tly illu­mi­nates the night. The sta­tion is bathed in salmon-col­ored mist. 

Lost in thought, I lis­ten to the sounds of the night, silent and com­plex before me, filled with sto­ries and silence. No train leaves until morn­ing, towards the land­ing place. Sud­den­ly, anoth­er sound blends into the sym­pho­ny of lab­o­ra­to­ry-bred birds and flick­er­ing lamps. Wheels dri­ving almost inaudi­bly over foliage. I look up, and a per­son is com­ing toward me. He is sit­ting in a wheel­chair. His long locks lie in his lap. He stops in front of me, unsus­pect­ing. He asks me for direc­tions. He rais­es his arm to remove his shield from his face. A piece of skin becomes vis­i­ble for a moment. 

Kio.

There are no words for the feel­ing that shoots through my heart and stom­ach. It’s as if every­thing is sink­ing into me. In a sea of infin­i­ty. Affec­tion. Famil­iar­i­ty. Amsterdam. 

You are so beau­ti­ful, in the evening glow of this very real world.


“The Eter­nal Pro­gram” talks sim­u­lat­ed vir­tu­al real­i­ty and mars coloni­sa­tion alike. For more such sto­ries and books, vis­it www.mer­cy­fer­rars.de.

Kommentar verfassen

0 Kommentare
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
ARTS & CULTURE MAGAZINE
Cookie Consent mit Real Cookie Banner