© 2009, Patrick Hester. All Rights Reserved
Tales from The New Universe: Solar City
“Welcome to Solar City” says the card in large, bright blue letters. It depicts your classic suburban dream complete with a row of large houses each with neatly trimmed yards and white picket fences all lined up nice and proper the way they can only ever manage in a piece of cheesy art. Each home has a large tree in the yard with a swing made of rope and wood hanging from an extra thick branch that just happens to be the perfect length and height for such a thing, as if it were grown for that purpose and that purpose alone. The sky above is blue and pristine, utterly devoid of clouds and the bright yellow and orange sun with its pointed halo has a smile on its face and sunglasses shading its eyes.
The whole thing makes you want to be there, want to live on that street, have barbecues with the neighbors on cool summer nights when the air feels crisp and the fireflies compete with the local stars to see which can be the better source of amusement and delight for all the little kids you’ll have with your plump wife in the frilly apron and the perfect hair that falls just below her shoulders. It’s all a dream concocted by some corporate stooge who lives in a shimmering glass fortress with an iron skeleton billions of miles away on the edge of an ancient city that can’t even remember what a tree looks like or how grass feels on a cool night between naked toes weary of their cotton and leather day prisons.
The reverse of the card shows a name and an address, neither of which are located in Solar City. Just another wide-eyed dreamer come to make their fortune and thrive in the Utopian splendor of the new frontier, a suburban paradise where work is easy to come by, the pay’s great and there’s two women to every man so your chances of getting laid are spectacular. A genetically engineered chicken in every pot and a house for everyone willing to put in some extra effort, roll up their sleeves and help build a community in the farthest reaches of the universe where such things are not commonplace.
The card doesn’t mention the hundred and thirty degree days because this rock is too close to the sun and the terraforming is still underway, or the fact that water is an expensive commodity and there isn’t enough to keep the average person hydrated let alone to waste on watering a lawn. It doesn’t show you that the jobs are all in the mines where at least it’s cooler by ten degrees if you don’t mind your lungs filling with dust and burning from the gasses or the back breaking labor because the company is too cheap to pay for anything other than hand tools and dynamite and ‘worker safety’ is a myth whispered about in the dead of night like sweet nothings in the ear of your lover. Or how, if you’re a woman, most likely you’ll be spending the majority of your time flat on your back with your legs in the air because the company knows that men who get laid are less likely to revolt and rise up to kill their corporate masters for treating them like a disposable commodity.
The sky isn’t even blue here; it’s a hazy red when it isn’t covered in dark clouds from the great machines pumping gasses into the atmosphere in an attempt to make it all the barest of habitable environments for the human animals thrust upon its surface like so much kindling tossed into the fire. The whole thing is a lie, a cosmic joke, the endless cosmic joke, perpetuated on every fresh faced virgin stumbling straight off the transport with their eyes still full of the wonder and excitement at the thrill of new adventure and the prospect of a better life. None expected what they received, none were ready for it, ready for the kind stranger who offered to guide them or show them a place to stay til they got on their feet or simply said ‘hello’ to them in passing. They didn’t know that he or she intended to murder them; steal that wonder and excitement from them along with their very life while leaving them to bake in the sweltering heat of an unforgiving sun on a god forsaken hellhole.
Nothing else was taken, just their lives; as if that weren’t enough. They still had what little money they’d begged, borrowed or stole for the trip out to the rim; pittance really, and hardly enough to buy a meal here, let alone start a life. Each still had a suitcase or a satchel or a duffel full of their worldly possessions clutched in their hands or lying nearby, wholly untouched and undisturbed, not that they would’ve been worth much, but here, anything that is worth something is worth stealing if it means the difference between eating and not eating. No sign of rape, no sign of anything at all on the bodies except for the smashed in skull, always from behind, always looking like someone lost a fight with a burning rage and pounded the poor soul to death like a miner pounds on a rock until it yields the treasure locked within or crumbles to useless dust carted out like so much offal.
Then there’s the card. The little postcard, four and a quarter by five and a quarter, sold in the giftshop out at the port and a hundred others exactly like it spread out all across the galaxy like cookie-cuttered boxes that could be inserted into prime real estate without any fuss. Printed by the Company in mass quantities, impossible to trace and always right there where we can see it, never a speck of blood or gore or anything on it, not even genetic material that the sniffers could sniff out and track. Addressed to the victim but printed not hand written with no return address and a counterfeit payment barcode that somehow, never, ever raised any flags with anybody when it was scanned by the geniuses at the postal service. Placed for us to find right there in the open. Taunting us. Daring us. Saying ‘look at what I’ve done’.
Seventeen so far. All virgins to this place, to this hell we have to call home because not a one of us can afford to escape it. We eat, we sleep, we fuck – someone else if we can afford it; we find dead bodies on the row. Rinse and repeat with genetically engineered meatloaf on Thursdays. None of them are the same, except they are virgins; different ages, different sexes, colors, height, weight – all seemingly random and all across the board without any pattern. Left for dead. Left for me to find. Left for me to clean up. One after another. An endless, nightmarish stream of broken dreams and bodies baking in the sun.
My job is to find out who’s responsible, bring them to justice, make hell safe again for the virgins, keep the flow of workers to the mines consistent and steady. A Company man through and through, as if I ever had a choice. Yay for me.
Yeah. Like the card says, “Welcome to Solar City”.