…a goodly number of us dreamers are going to ruefully reflect that it was entirely possible for humanity to establish off-planet settlements following the Apollo program. Settlements that likely could have been self-sustaining by now because in the alternate reality where humankind put as much effort and resources and brains as possible behind establishing populations outside this fragile egg basket we call Earth, the early ones could have been in orbit and on the moon in the 1980s.
There could have been nearly 40 years to chase the kinks out of the recycling loops and life support and hydroponics. To build solar power plants all over the darn place up there and drag a water-ice comet into Earth orbit if we couldn’t find enough to fling up to orbital colonies from Luna with mass drivers.
40 years to send more and more people up and for people to start being born up there.
40 years to establish a reservoir of human beings and our technological knowledge out of range of Kim Jong-Un and Kim Jong-Trump (brothers of another ego-rage-spiritual mother) and their shoe-on-podium nuclear chest-beating.
…or at least that may be an upside of an ever-more-connected world. The “Internet of Things” future will have to ponder if that and other pluses offset living in a world where any of your belongings might rob you.
In a WiFi saturated world, it may be more than your phone or local news weather report that warns you of imminent weather threats like hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard, and so forth.
Your refrigerator and thermostat and eyeglasses and bathroom mirror and shoes and – who knows by 30 years from now – the earbuds that semi-permanently reside in your earlobe piercings will keep you updated.
Linked to the hyperlocal weather reports aggregated not just from satellites and airports and weather stations, but from sensors integral to the solar and wind power arrays that feed electricity into every building’s batteries, your belongings will keep you appraised of the weather and what it means to you.
“Close the windows,” your windows will say, possibly via your microwave, showerhead, or belt buckle. If your house is posh enough, they’ll say, “shall we close?” and they’ll do it themselves without orders if rain starts coming in to threaten the carpeting.
“Dude! We need to get out of Dodge right now!” your car (set to “casual” mode, obviously) will exclaim as deadly weather ramps up nearby. Your shoes will wail at you to head for the car, or for the curb where a self-driving Unter can collect you – if only you acknowledge you’ll be there to be picked up for evacuation.
But what if you don’t?
“Acknowledge,” the hall light prompts as you stagger by to find a place to collapse. “Acknowledge,” your thrift store sneaks beg, hearing you, from their home tucked in under the front of your second hand couch. “Acknowledge?” your front door asks querulously, but there’s no answer.
Your snores rise from the couch where you slump, utterly zonked. Maybe you’ve hit the sauce too hard, or been at the recreational drugs, or whatever you’ve been prescribed was just too much for you today. After all, you’ve been preparing for a storm and worrying all day.
And maybe your shirt notices that you’re not waking up and the state of emergency created by the weather allows the Unter car to send in a helper bot to bypass your door lock and carry you out to safety. The Unter takes you smoothly away from the danger despite widespread service outages – it’s not dependent on a centrally coordinated net by able to function as cleanly as a fish in a school…
…to take you to a designated shelter through a flood of traffic far more dense and swift than any human driver could navigate.
And you wake in a high school gymnasium shelter thirty miles away, confused.
But your wristband wearable can tell you what happened. And you’re alive.
My God, what a nanny state hell! you say to yourself as you finish reading the above, horrified that the humans of the future might be so helpless and coddled. Hopefully not because you’re a goddamn eugenicist, but surely some of you are. Regardless…
…let me tell you how helpless you really are, roughly from near past to distant. You may be able to contradict a couple statements below. Maybe. But how many? And as a way of life, not a hobby? Are you sure? Read on.
You save your children and yourself from death, pain, infliction of disability, and long-term malaise with medicines and vaccines, most of which were unknown a mere century ago. There’s a fair chance that you, reading this right now, would not be alive without them. I wouldn’t.
You don’t know how to ride, feed, or otherwise care for horses and their harness, because you ride around in automobiles.
You can’t organize a household based on the relatively difficult and time consuming weekly or monthly or seasonal (depending on your distance from civilization) grocery runs. Nor do you know how to keep the things people used to buy from spoilage. Could you buy one cheese wheel per season and keep it good so you could enjoy the last bite three months later? No. You buy a brick of cheese from the store and devour it two days later. Or if you forget it, you find it with a bit of mold and past the expiration date and chuck it straight in the trash.
You buy your food in supermarkets. You don’t know how to dry, salt, pickle, ferment, or can your own food to sustain you through the year. Nor do you know how to store those foods correctly.
You don’t know how to set a bone, stitch shut a wound, or birth a baby.
You can’t make your own clothes from bolts of cloth, needle, and thread.
You don’t know how to spin thread and yarn from cotton and wool or hemp or whatever fiber is local to you.
You don’t know how to winnow chaff, parch grain, grind it by hand, and bake it into bread in your own wood or dung fired hearth.
You don’t know how to bring ten children into the world and bury five of them before their fifth birthday without going mad.
You can’t accept life as a serf, slave, or even vassal – which, historically speaking, the vast majority of people were. You, like everyone else today, assume you’d be some sort of noble because you’re so damned smart. Well, smart wasn’t worth anything if you were born to raise beets. Except maybe getting your smart, restless ass killed.
You don’t know how to build a hut from scratch, or make and keep clean a packed earth floor.
You can’t form a phalanx or ply a sling.
You can’t ride a chariot nor craft a balanced wheel from pieces of wood.
You don’t know the best way to dig edible roots with a pointed stick.
You can’t till and plant a field with a wooden plow, or a hoe, or an adze.
You don’t even know how to save seed for next season’s planting, nor how to figure out how much seed you need to plant your acre.
You don’t know how to rotate crops. You don’t know how long to leave a field fallow. You may not even know what the hell “fallow” means or why it’s a concept.
You don’t know how to slay aurochs and bears with a spear.
You can’t cure hides with brains and piss, nor chew them soft, nor scrape them properly, nor stitch the finished product into decently-fitting boots and cloaks.
You don’t know how to layer for the weather without space-age insulation, processed wools, and garments involving stretchy artificial materials.
You don’t know how to carry embers all day so you can make a fire without having to fool with a bow and drill or flint and pyrite or something.
You can’t tell what kind of animal you’re stalking by looking at its poop.
You don’t know how to stalk an animal, so that last point wouldn’t do you much good if you did know.
You can’t catch a fish with just a length of gut, a bone, and a worm.
You don’t know how to make iron from scratch. Or bronze. Or how to pound native copper into a usable tool. Or knap a knife or spearpoint from stone. You don’t even know how to pick a good stone to knap, the right stone for a striker, and knock off flakes without cutting your fingers open or smashing them.
You don’t know how to cut down a tree with a rock.
Once you’ve cut it down, you don’t know how to make it into a canoe.
You don’t know how to live your entire life on foot, outdoors, in the weather, as a nomad, without even the knowledge of letters or numbers greater than you can count on your fingers.
Maybe you think you do, and it would be an adventure. Well, you don’t. And adventures are awful things that happen to other people that you enjoy listening to when you’re warm and safe.
The “the people have grown soft” of yesterday is today’s “we can get along just fine as we are, thanks.”
Unless we get all obsessive about how great the past was. In which case we may get what we wish for, warts and all.
This was posted to my Patreon a week before it appeared here. If you like what I do, help me do it more by contributing!
I posted this story about a year ago, before I started putting the stories on images.
I like the story being on the image much better. It looks better. Somehow it makes the story feel better. And you can easily save and share this image anywhere you want if you like. You couldn’t do that before.
If you do decide to save and share the image, I’d recommend clicking on it to expand it first. Hopefully WordPress will be nice and give you the full size which is somewhere around 2000 pixels wide.
As for the 13 word story itself, I leave you to ponder the potential of robots, androids, AI-what-have-yous as force multipliers for small numbers of humans, even a single human.
Or, if you’re into visions of Terminatoresque futures, for themselves.
Of course, there are a host of reasons why a scenario like this is highly improbable. The safeguards we devise will expand and improve along with the technology to create autonomous war machines. However, determined humans have a way of finding a way to bring their dreams to life.
Even if those dreams are nightmares.
I’ve been posting a piece of microfiction each month for Patreon patrons (a whole buck a month is the minimum pledge to see them) since March. This month’s offering is a vignette about a young man fishing in a place that makes the familiar Earth seem very alien indeed. It’s about hope and death and life and duty, and maybe a few other things, too. While a vignette isn’t quite a story of its own, this one sketches the edges of at least three big stories for your — and maybe my, in future works — imagination to work on.
You should read it. I think it’s worth seeing.
A short vignette, about 1300 words.
A vignette is not a story, but is a scene. In this scene, a very old man sits in his study and contemplates his end. It is an end he has brought on himself, out of frustration and discontent. And it is an end he is determined to share… with everyone else in the entire world.
I’d explain more, but this vignette is FREE on Smashwords (
and will be elsewhere in a few days, nevermind, it’s been distributed. You can find it on iTunes, Google Play Books, B&N, and even Kobo now).
You don’t even need to download an ebook file to read it on Smashwords — or enter a method of payment, or create a login. Click “online reader” on the Smashwords page, and read it like a webpage. It works fine, I’ve read a few ebooks there that way.
Thanks for reading!
Somehow, they restrained themselves until their children traveled among the stars.
I remember the Cold War, going to school in a designated nuclear shelter, the uneasy jokes about getting nuked, Reagan joking about nuking the Russians, ha-ha, ho-ho, we’re all going to die so let’s yuk it up black humor style.
But somehow we managed not to unleash the nasty nuke genie. And we still manage today. After seeing the horrors two bombs wrought on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we’ve managed to resist the temptation and continue to kill each other by less wholesale means, keep the torture and shooting and dronestriking down to a dull subnuclear roar.
When the day comes (I say when and not if out of hope that we’ll actually manage it, we self-sabotaging humans) that humanity has significant settlements off earth, I wonder if the gloves will come off. Once there are a million people on Mars, or in asteroid habitats, or on the far side of Luna, or on a planet around another star (should be be lucky enough to stumble into some sci-fi method of faster than light travel), will it sink in, that nuking each other now will not doom the human race?
Will that be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, that allows some politician to finally reason, hey, letting the nukes out isn’t such a big deal, even if we wipe life off the planet our descendants will live on, humanity will survive?
It’s a dark cold night, and my imagination is playing nasty games with me. I hope when you read this it’s sunny, and I’m wrong.