Read by Sean Hebert
I didn’t know her, but it seemed like I did. There was something in the way she tilted her head to one side that felt familiar to me. I smiled spontaneously from behind my mask and she smiled back from across the aisle. How had she seen me smile?
That’s where it began. We were underground. I was speeding to the last stop but began to wonder if I should disembark earlier. Our exchange of smiles had made me uncomfortable. Though I looked everywhere but her direction, I could tell that her stare was locked on me.
The train stopped.
I should have stayed home. I didn’t have to go out, ever, unless I wanted to. I worked for a conglomerate that monitored my availability constantly but allowed 20 non-sleep hours away from my home-work-station per week. I could order anything I needed in; food, water, movies, sex. Anything but air, and I wanted a breeze. I couldn't open my window. Too many people had jumped to their death, so all buildings were now airtight; except for the first three floors, but those floors were reserved for commerce. You could jump from those windows too I suppose, but you wouldn’t die. You’d land on a pillow of a crowd. I suppose you might get trampled to death, but if you were going to kill yourself, there’d be better ways. Anyway, I wanted to look out a window and see something other than another window so I got on the train to the last stop which exited onto a tiny park on a dirty coastline. I liked that park.
She walked over and slid down into the seat next to mine. She smelled fresh like the air freshener they piped into our rooms to mark the passing of seasons.
“Why don’t you talk to me?” I heard her ask, just above a whisper.
“I don’t know you,” I replied quite simply.
“Are you sick?”
“No, I’m just protecting myself.”
Truth be told, I liked wearing the mask. I felt hidden by it. We were all practically anonymous. The next tangible goal after anonymous was to become unseen.
We wore grey.
We were pale.
But, she seemed pink.
“You smiled at me,” she said.
“Do I know you?"
“In a way.”
“In what way?”
“In a familiar way. I was constructed from your memories and desires.”
It’s not something you expect to hear on the underground, or above the ground, for that matter. I wanted to laugh at her creativity. I wanted to applaud her for attempting to stimulate some sense of fun. But, I had forgotten how to do these things. I could only stare forward at someone staring back at me blankly. Then it occurred to me. I could stare into these blank faces around me, blank like mine, or I could stare into pink.
“I like how you think,” she said lightly.
“What’s your name?”
When she replied ‘Pink’ I felt my stomach tighten into a tiny knot. My stomach, everyone’s stomach, was tiny, and always in a knot from hunger, but this was another feeling. Something I’d never experienced. Was it excitement?
“You’ve read about it.”
“Excitement,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“So, you’re reading my mind?”
“I am your mind, in a way. Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“Yes, that’s why you were picked.”
“Picked for what?”
“Many will leave today and you are one, if you chose.”
“You’re crazy.” I said, because I could think of nothing else.
“Then so are you,” she replied.
The train screeched to a stop.
It was the last stop.
It was my stop.
We exited the train silently with many others, shuffling slowly, our heads down, arms at our sides, filing single file onto the escalators, down long halls and through turnstiles. Orders not to eat, run, litter, push or stop echoed repeatedly in four languages over a speaker system.
All the while, she stayed at my side. All the while I smelled pink.
“Its flowers,” she said.
I smiled again.
I had seen pictures of flowers in online museums. I would sometimes close my eyes and wonder what they might smell like.
We passed through the last turnstiles and walked outside into the pungent sea air that felt cool and sticky against my skin. There was a concrete circular plaza with a monument of our planet’s first spacecraft in the center of the park. I liked it there. From the edges you could stand on tippy toes and see past the chain link fences onto a sheet of grey water that stretched out then dropped off into nowhere. Deep within, I wanted to drop off into nowhere.
“Roses?” I asked.
“Of all colors,” she answered.
“Yes, that’s why they disappeared. Like so many things. We were so afraid of thorns that we allowed the flowers to be taken away. Order has replaced beauty, numbness has replaced pain.”
Her words angered me. “I think I’ve had enough of your company, if you do not mind.” I said over my shoulder as I walked away.
“We are repopulating Earth,” she called after me.
I stopped, turned around, and stared into her eyes. Earth was a place mentioned in school books only. It had been a terrible place; seething with hate, greed, discourse, pain and wars.
“We’re repopulating it and you’ve been chosen.”
I looked away in disbelief.
“You are smiling again.”
“What would I do on Earth?”
“You’d be a pioneer.”
“What does that mean, a pioneer?”
“You’d make a way. You’d build teams and consensus. You’d make things happen. Those who have been chosen, that’s what they do.”
I turned from her again and walked quickly towards the plaza. I wanted to see water. I wanted to see off into the distance. When I got there, the plaza was teeming with people, as usual, but oddly and to my surprise, everyone there was paired into unique units of two.
“What’s going on?” I screamed and reached for her shoulders. I wanted to shake them, to knock sense into her or someone, but my hands passed through her body like air.
“They’ve all been chosen,’ she said. “I will accompany you, if you chose to go. If you chose not to go, I’ll disappear. I’m a hologram. Ok? I have all the information you need, should you decide to go.”
I ripped off my mask and put my hand up to my nose. The smell was wonderful and it filled my senses.
“That is earth you smell, dirt, flowers, fresh air. It can be yours.” Suddenly, a blast of wind and a loud whirling noise descended upon us through the dense smog. “You can plant flowers,” she shouted above the whirling sound. “You can have gardens. You can have fresh water. You can have a blue sky!”
Bewildered, I watched as a stairway miraculously appeared from above.
“Will you go?” she asked.
Instead of answering, I got in line with hundreds of others. She, smelling of pink and flowers, stood beside me.
That’s how it began.
That was our Genesis.
Two by two we climbed those stairs; aliens bound for Earth.