frontcover250We rarely joined strangers in realspace for entertainment.  But everyone made an exception for the Starshow.

Thousands of us glided into the cold arena.  Earth sky expanded above, black with glittering stars.  I hovered to admire it.  Nothing like the stills on the soothing channels.  This was real, past the terraplastic shells and beyond the poisonous air.  I’d been Inside for months–ever since the last Starshow.  Being Outside stirred something primal in me.  I stored the image in my visual files for later.

Next to me, Shaylia–my second foster-spouse–gasped as she looked overhead.  She broadcast a joyful icon.  “Welcome to the Starshow,” I told her.

She clapped her hands and kissed me on the mouth.  She’d lit her hair green for the occasion and worn her new rubbershoes.  “This is the prooliest,” she declared.

She pinged her v-friends with pictures.  I took her hand and laced my fingers with hers.  “We should bring your cousinettes next time.  They’d love it.”  She flashed her approval.  I sent myself a reminder, then scanned the announcements.

TD was the director-pilot tonight.  I’d never seen his work.  Most pilots performed with the stars as mere background, but TD considered them essential to the show.  Plus, he used real images instead of abstractions.  That’s why he only performed for one home-cube of Earth at a time.  The Martian colonists had a different viewpoint; they saw the stars at the wrong angle.  TD was talented, but he’d never make it big in the colonies.

We found a good spot near the center.  We tossed down our discs and flopped into them as they unfolded.  Soothing heat wrapped my back and sitpoint, balancing the chill on my face.  I handed Shaylia two infraview domes.  She squinted at the clear plastic.  “How do I do it?”

I put them over her eyes.  The domes expanded, adjusted, and adhered.  “Gronk!” she exclaimed.  She sighed happily, sank into her disc, and relaxed.

I attached my domes.  Shaylia and everyone around me disappeared as the software filtered out their body heat.  Overhead, the stars shone green with heat from millions of years ago.  I settled into my disc and ignored the ads.  Soon the pure, unmistakable silence of broken connections filled my mind.  I was alone for the first time in weeks.  The title–Human Journey–glowed in front of me, then faded.

The Starshow began.

Green heat blossomed in the night sky, forming swirls and spirals.  I knew it was nuclear reactions in nearspace, planned and controlled by the pilot.  But from here it looked like billowing fog.  TD created reactive chains, altering the temperature to give the illusion of motion.  Bright shapes flitted through the dull fog–like small organisms in the primordial mist, I realized.

I wanted to interact with the show; my instinct was to reach forward and shape the pictures.  But the Starshow was no ordinary metafilm with sound and smell.  The Starshow existed beyond all our reaches.

TD switched to sharp curves that dispersed the fog.  Lines sprung from the curves and twisted into a misshapen creature.  A monkey, which shed lines and shifted into a slumped, primitive human.

The human evolved, walking through an ever-shifting landscape of forests and deserts.  Cities rose and fell around him; animals appeared, vanished, reappeared.  His back straightened and his forehead swelled.  Silicon chips appeared in his hands and disappeared into his head.  A flat line marked the ceiling as he moved Inside, away from the ruined atmosphere.  I appreciated the pilot’s skill and wondered what Shaylia was thinking.  But in the Starshow, everyone was alone for the experience.

A green-outlined rocket burst from the human’s forehead.  It blasted toward the Andromeda Galaxy, leaving thin smoke in its wake.  The rocket vanished into the distance.  All other lines went dark.  I stared at the faint green smudge of the galaxy, over two million light-years away.

All the accomplishments of the human race–and still we’d found no one else out there.  No one.  I felt entirely disconnected from the universe.

We glided back Inside to the conditioned air and familiar perfumes.  Around me, everyone broadcast their opinions and remixes.  Normally I silenced this noise, but today I listened.  I let a thousand viewpoints vibrate through me like a sonic shower.  I still felt alone.

Next to me, Shaylia bounced in her rubbershoes.  “Wouldn’t it be gronk,” she exclaimed, “if they added some actors?”


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