They did it. They finally did it. The numbers tipped and there it was- Valentine Speed Dating was making a profit. The last year had been months of a teeter-tottering, skin-of-their-teeth profit margin.
Samuel laughed and stood up from his chair, he kissed Molly on the lips.
But it wasn't them, really. It was Aster. Molly promised to tell Aster as soon as she got home. He'd stayed home that day, sick.
Samuel stepped out to get a breath of fresh air and stretch his legs. The chilly air nipped at his skin, and he wouldn't be surprised if it would snow that week. A little farther down the lot, Dr. Moscowitz leaned against the brick facade of his optometry practice. He smoked a cigarette with slow, easy movements, like he had all the time in the world. Samuel stuffed his hands in his pockets, and meandered back toward the office door, but it was too late. The guy had seen him.
Samuel stifled a groan. It wasn't that the Doctor wasn't a nice guy, but he was really nosy. His wife had died a few years earlier, and afterwards he'd channeled his energy into two things: his practice, and the detail of other people's lives.
Samuel regarded the ground as Dr. Moscowitz approached, and looked up with appropriate surprise when he got close enough.
"I haven't seen you in a while," the Doctor said, taking a puff and smiling warmly. "What have you been up to? Molly's okay? And that friend of hers, in the wheelchair?"
"What can I say? All great." Samuel regarded the older man. He couldn't be more than sixty. Samuel kept suggesting that they invite him to sign up for a speed dating event, but Molly always shot him down, saying that that would be 'insensitive.' But it had been, what, five years? When was he going to move on already?
"That boy wasn't doing so well a while ago," the Doctor said, shaking his head somberly. "I'm glad you two have taken him in, whatever his situation. It's real good of you."
Samuel took a step of the left so he wasn't downwind of the smoke. "How do you know Aster?"
"I gave Molly a lot of equipment for him," Dr. Moskowitz said. "Things from my wife that I was going to sell, but never got around to it."
"Oh," Samuel said, struck for a moment. "I didn't know your wife was a… paraplegic."
"Quadrepledgic, actually." The Doctor looked Samuel straight in the eye, which was unnervong. "I've still got her electric wheelchair and the Hoyer lift. I don't think Aster needs any of that, thankfully."
"Well, actually, he seems to be getting worse." Samuel lowered his voice when he said this.
"Oh? Do you know what he has?"
"Not really." Samuel squinted, trying to remember if Molly had mentioned anything. "He's really vague about the whole thing."
Dr. Moskowitz took a step closer to him. "If I were you, I'd keep a close eye on that man," he said. "There's something a bit off about him."
Samuel snorted. "Aster? I'm not worried about him. I mean, he's in a…" he trailed off. Dr. Moskowitz raised an eyebrow.
Samuel cleared his throat. "I'll keep it in mind."
When she came out of the brought-together reverie Aster had put her in, Cassia was curled up in a fetal position, head in, arms squeezing herself tightly. She untangled herself, slowly, leaves falling off her shoulders. She blinked at the hazy light spilling over from a nearby lamp.
Aster watched her calmly, his legs branched out in front of him, his back resting against the tree.
She staggered to her feet, still dizzy. She still almost didn't believe that Aster had been conscious the entire time she'd visited.
"You lied to me?" She said.
Aster sighed. "Sit down. Please. I just… I just wanted you to understand."
Cassia strode a few places away. Whatever Aster had been feeling in that memory still lingered, and overlayed with her own fury. She felt… violated. Her privacy had been violated.
"All this time you kept that to yourself?" She said. She didn't face him, and instead addressed the street across the park lawn. "You never thought to ask if maybe, just maybe, you misinterpreted what I said?"
She heard a grunt as Aster climbed into his wheelchair. "I heard 'why did I end up with this?' Not much room for interpretation."
"I can't believe this. I can't believe you've felt this way for months and never said anything."
Leaves crunched as he rolled up beside her. "This isn't about my feelings, Cassia. I just… I don't want you to be with someone you don't want. You were forced into this."
"I was not!" Cassia put her hands on her hips. "When I said what I said, I meant 'Why do you have to be disabled?' Because I like you! Doesn't mean I have to like the disability!"
Aster rubbed his forehead. "It… There… There is no disability. There is no separation. It's all me. The same system that lets me have thoughts in my head, lets me walk and talk."
"But… You were able to think, even when you couldn't move a thing."
"The technicians said that if I'd given it another few weeks, that would have gone as well. I would be brain dead, if you can even apply such a term to a thing like me."
Cassia didn't know what to say to that. She reached down and took Aster's hand, lowering herself to her knees. "Please let me operate, Aster. I can't let you just… degenerate like that."
Aster shifted to face her. "And if it doesn't work?"
"We'll finish up whatever we can and go home, that's all. And I still…" She swallowed. "I still want you, in any form."
Aster looked away. The shadows were long and blue on his face, and she couldn't see his expression, but she could tell he didn't believe her. "You don't have to say that, Cassia."
She stood up and took both hands. "Let's have sex," she blurted. "Right now."
Aster scoffed. He twisted to look up at her. "Right now?"
"Yes. Well- As soon as we get back to Molly's house."
Aster just kept looking like he was trying to figure her out. "Okay," he said finally.
"And then I'm operating," Cassia said, following after him towards the sidewalk.
Aster didn't answer. But he didn't say no.
He seemed even more doubtful when they were in the bedroom. Molly wasn't home yet, which was a plus. They were both seated on his bed, and Cassia's shirt was already on the floor. The incandescent light up on the ceiling was switched off, but Aster had left one of the bedside lamps on.
"I don't know if I'm able to do this," he said, opening the buttons on his shirt, revealing a smooth, mostly bare chest. He was covered in small nerves that pulsed like a heartbeat, colorless unless you caught them in the light, where they glowed eel blue. He had a patch of blond hair between his nipples, and then a trail of hairs snaking up from his pants, up to his navel. Cassia felt her insides stirring. She stood up to pull down her pants.
"Your penis works, right?" She unclipped her weather-proof panties, but kept her hand on the clasp, not dropping them just yet.
"Yes, mostly." Aster balled up his shirt and tossed it over the side of the bed.
"That's good enough." Cassia didn't like this, this leisurely undressing and chatting. But Aster seemed to be stalling.
"What if I…" He unzipped his pants, then looked up at her.
He cringed, leaning back to scoot them down. "What if I urinate on you?"
Cassia stared at what was covering his genitals. In all her research on the Early Twenty-first Century, she'd never seen men's underwear like that. "Oh," she said. Reclipping her panties, she sat down to help him tug the stiff canvas pants down his calves. "Can't you just… pee before we do anything?"
The pants came off. Aster was now lying on the bed in only the white diaper. His legs were hairy, but thinner than she'd remembered. His feet flopped to the sides awkwardly. "That's not how this works," he said curtly.
Cassia wanted to trace his body with her lips. But Aster was looking very un-ready for that sort of thing. "How about you drink a lot," she said, "And then we'll make out, and you'll tell me when you've peed?"
Aster sighed. Cassia went to fetch two glasses of water, which Aster drank down in three gulps each. When he finished, she stood in front of the bed, in his direct line of view. Her last remaining item of clothing dropped to the wooden floor. The hairs on her arms stood up like she was cold. Aster propped himself up on his elbows, and when she climbed on top of him he grasped her and pulled her close, kissing her with months of pent up waiting, waiting for this. Her breasts pressed against his warm, firm chest, and her legs tangled with his motionless ones. She was burning up between her legs, wanting just to get that crinkly thing off of him so she could touch his penis, have it inside her.
Aster's lips were moving down her face to her neck, her cheekbones, until he was sucking at her breasts. She moaned, writhing on top of him, pecking and pecking at his face and hair until she could take it no longer. Aster pulled her thighs close, and she scooted forward. She balled up the covers and stuffed them under her back. He kissed the insides of her thighs and she died of ecstacy, his beard brushing against her skin, and then his tongue flicked up and in. He went up and down, hands running all down her hips, and when she came she didn't realize the primal noise were coming from her.
They moved back to their upper bodies afterwards, and Cassia explored his pecs and nipples and chest with her tongue. Aster was licking her shoulder when he stopped, his fingers still gripping her hips. His lips parted and a small breath came out, and Cassia clambered back. Aster sat up, and pushed his legs apart. He closed his eyes, letting out a deep bresth. He didn't ask her to leave so she didn't, and surprised herself by the fact that she was sitting next to her mate as he urinated into an incontinence device, and she was still turned on, still wanted him.
"I should clean up," he said, his voice husky from all their kissing.
"Should I turn around?"
He raised an eyebrow. "I need to do this in the bathroom."
"I can't wait that long." Her purple-pink nipples were sticking straight out, and she was feeling sticky.
Aster was propped up upon his elbows. His cheeks were pink beneath his sparse blond beard. "Cassia, I… I don't know if this is going to work."
"It's okay," she said quietly, putting one knee on the bed, then the other. She leaned down and put her tongue in his mouth, kissing him hard, falling onto him again, biting his lip, so he'd know she wanted him. She really did. He rolled her off gently. "Really, I need to get cleaned up. You can just… turn around."
"Fine." She swung her feet onto the floor, and went to stand by the door, her head down. She heard the crinkling of a plastic bag, and a tearing sound. When she turned around, he was naked.
There were no wires on his balls or penis. He'd once explained that he was just as sensitive as anyone else in that area, but that all the nerves were inside. It was all messed up, he'd said, but at least everything works the same.
Now she was actually seeing it. Last time they'd had sex it had been totally dark, and she'd felt his dick big and thick between her fingers and then in her vagina. But now she actually saw it. It was nice, but it was limp.
"So… what works?" She said, climbing on top of him.
"I can get erect, but it's not so reliable." Aster looked up at her sheepishly. "I got hard earlier, though, right before I…"
Cassia smirked. "I can handle this." She ran her hands over his chest, dancing her fingers all the way down, until she reached his penis, which was inches from her pubic hair. She touched it gently. "Can you feel that?"
Aster nodded, eyes wide open.
She began to rub, slowly and then vigorously. Aster was breathing hard, and her insides grew slick. His penis grew stiff, and she moved up and soon she was inside him, moving up and down. He moaned, and she panted, and the moment came when he fell over the edge, losing control as he ejaculated inside her, jerking and thrashing as he orgasmed. Cassia screamed. Euphoria blossomed from her clitoris, spreading to every part, growing stronger with the up and down, up and down. His sweat was sharp and pungent. The bed was drenched. His nerves were going haywire, hissing and pulsing, blue flashes travelling down his body. She went up and down and up and down, and his hands travelled her body, cupping her breasts.
When they finished, Cassia didn't want to leave go of him, wanted to feel his beating heart against hers as long as she could. But Aster was worried he'd pee again, so she helped him transfer and waiting under the covers after her turn in the bathroom. She lay on her back, and just watched the ceiling, a stupid grin on her face.
They were both spent, afterwards. "Don't fall asleep," Cassia whispered when he was back in bed, her body pressed against his under the sheet. Aster's arm was slung across her stomach. His eyes were half-lidded.
"I didn't think…" he exhaled, his eyelids fluttered.
"Don't fall asleep," Cassia whispered, burying her nose and mouth in the masculine scent of his hair.
"I didn't think it could be so good.” His thumb stroked the patch of skin under her belly.
"And I want you to operate tonight."
"Are you sure?"
Aster turned his head on the pillow. His dark eyes were sleepy and the creases underneath were achingly sexy. "If I die, who will you have such great sex with?"
She found his hand under the blanket. "Aster, really."
"Yes, really," he said, massaging her fingers. "You're my mate. You studied my body for months. You know what you're doing."
Cassia smiled and pecked his nose. "I'm glad you've made an informed decision."
Molly went over to Samuel's apartment that night.
It wasn't like it used to be. Sometimes, they'd hardly get through the door before Samuel pushed Molly up against the wall, kissing her before they could get their coats off. This time, though, Samuel wanted to 'talk.' He wanted her to come sit down in kitchen while he heated up last night's stir-fry. He made small talk while the microwave hummed. Like they were on a first date.
"You know, everyone is hung up on Trump, but he's honest." Samuel rooted around the pantry, taking out a bottle of soy sauce and of teriyaki sauce. "He's not politically correct because he isn't scared to say whatever the fuck he wants. Maybe that's what people want in a president. Especially after-"
"You wanted to discuss something?" Molly interrupted, folding her legs under the table, tucking her hair renetlessly behind her ears. She was on edge, antsy for some reason.
The microwave beeped. Samuel retrieved the steaming glass bowl and set it down on an oven mitt on the table. "I did, actually." He opened a drawer to get forks, while Molly ladled out two portions.
"This is really good, by the way," Molly said, trying to cover for her nervousness. Samuel smiled briefly and sat down opposite her.
"So, I've been thinking about the whole living situation, with you and Aster, and his girlfriend."
"Yes?" Molly said sharply, holding a chunk of broccoli aloft.
Samuel mixed his food. "I just don't think it's such a good idea anymore. For a while it was. But now it's like you're always mad at him, and it's stressing you."
It was all true, but still. "They can't leave," Molly said, spearing a bit of chicken. "They don't have anywhere to go. Apparently they were just passing through Buffalo, and I… sort of convinced them to stay. Because of the business."
Samuel chortled. "Right. Look, why can't they live someplace else? I know Aster doesn't want to be paid, but if you make him leave you can get him to take the money and find somewhere cheap to rent."
"You're going to make me kick them out?"
"I'm not going to make you do anything." He pushed around his vegetables, not touching them. "I just… I want things to go back to the way they were. Before I messed up. I should never have accused you of sleeping with him, and I just want to fix that. Admit it, something has come between us since Aster showed up."
Again, he was right. "When did you change your mind about me and Aster?" Molly said. Her bowl was halfway empty, and Samuel hadn't even started. "I was under the impression that you were still hung up on that."
"Oh, come on, Mol." Samuel's tone was getting progressively more platative, a sign that he felt under attack. "I trust you. And plus, Aster is…soft. You don't usually go for guys like that."
"You don't know that."
"So you did fuck him?"
Samuel looked up at the ceiling, exasperated. "They could move in here, if they want. I just want you to be able to relax."
"You have stairs."
"The back door doesn't. Talk to them tomorrow morning? Please?"
Tomorrow morning? Molly shoveled up the last stray ribbons of fried onion. That meant she'd be staying the night.
It was only their first date. She wasn't ready yet.
So far, Aster and Cassia had experienced two types of bringing-together. The first was the most evasive, where you experience the person's immediate surroundings in real time. The second kind was more distant, where you experience a memory that belongs to the other person.
For the surgery, Cassia wanted to experience the first kind again. "So I can get a better feel for what's wrong," she said. "Before I go in."
"Absolutely not." Aster had just come back from the shower. He was lying on his stomach, arms tucked under his chin, bare except for undergarments and a towel draped over his backside. "It's too evasive. And it shocked both of our bodies when we last did it, so probably not the best thing to do before you start picking into my brain."
Cassia sat cross-legged beside him, her Q-band already at hand. "I know, but if I can feel what you feel, I might be better at fixing the problem."
"You could rewatch that memory of when I was completely paralyzed."
"No, thank you."
Aster shifted, moving his head up onto the pillow. "I guess you can start, then."
Cassia nodded, even though he couldn't see. Her heart was pounding, but her hands were still, and she was razor-focused. It was time to start.
She held the back of his neck still with one hand. With the other, she turned on her laser and brought up 3D imaging of Aster's brainstem from her stored memories, so when she ran the light beam over it, she felt its shape in her mind. Bundles of nerves laid across his spinal cord, inside and out, overlayed with the 3D image in her mind.
The first thing she did, and actually the first thing that Aster had taught her to do, was temporarily switch off the pain receptors in his brain. He'd be numb for a few hours, and drowsy, too. No one knew why he was affected with those specific side effects. His body had been studied by biologists and engineers his entire life, and they still understood only the very basics.
The problem definitely came from the top of the brainstem, but she traveled down the spinal cord just to be certain. Everything was in the right place, no breaks or bending. She traveled back up again. By now she was as if inside him, inhabiting a neuron that zipped down pathways at breakneck speed. Everything was smooth and silky. She redid the route again, checking artificial blood vessels, muscle volume, as she dared venture closer to that ominous gray matter above.
She jerked suddenly. Somewhere, neurons were being cut off, bouncing away, not reaching their destination. Her attention was brought back to the macro world. She switched the intensity of her laser, and holding his neck still, she aimed the piercing light.
I'm standing with my hands behind my back on a moving platform, moving across the wall of the gallery. A row of fifty-six giant platters juts out of the wall, each neatly labeled with the student's name and code. A miniature, ancient city sits on each one, scenes from my classes brought to life. For the past half-hour, I've been trying to grade the city models, from the Urban Chaos assignment that I gave out last month.
You can easily tell who plagiarized from an older sibling's city grid: the shingled rooftops are just bumpy, and details on park statues are blurred, sure signs that the replicate was just scanned and copied. I've seen at least three of these miniature cities before.
There are some impressive ones, though. A lot of students do Historical New York during 9/11, planes ramming into the first of the twin towers, smoke and falling debris suspended frozen in the air. It's amazing what a printer can do nowadays. Some students have done LA or Tokyo in their ruinous states, which is borderline cheating. I wanted a representation of an overpopulated, polluted city, not a wasteland. Printing out rubble and bombed, half-eaten buildings is easy.
On the walkway outside the gallery, I hear a rowdy group of students. They sound excited, but people keep shushing, like there's a big secret that they just can't contain. Someone giggles, muffling the sound in her robe.
I bend my knees, and the platform lowers me to the ground. I can see a few red faces peeking through the archway and I'm this close- this close- to failing somebody. You would think that it would take more to make me snappy, but it's twelve-thirty on a Friday night. Don't those kids ever sleep? Just last week I was up here when a stampede of blindfolded juniors rushed through the conference gardens. Apparently they were having a geolocation scavenger hunt, navigating with only their Q-bands' sense of the Earth's magnetic fields. And to think I was one of them a half-decade ago.
The platform docks with a click and I clip my way over to the arched door. The stars are all out tonight, and the walkways are lit red, so when you look over Rhodium you see how everything is connected, red pipes stretched between buildings, sometimes forming a ring of four or five, sometimes an open circuit. Maglev trains chug silently underneath the paths, even at this hour. One of them passes beneath us, slowing with a hiss, and a gaggle of students gush out of the hole in the path, running up those stairs like there's a concert going on.
Hands on my hips so they know that Professor Cassia is not pleased, I scan the crowd for the focal point.
I hear about it before I see it.
"Cassia Miami!" Eucalyptus, a guy from one of my History classes, seems to have appeared out of nowhere. He almost forgets to add the respectful intonation to my name. Panting, he points to a spot further down on the walkway, where the path dips, leading to a lower floor in the Student Center building.
"What?" I snap.
"It's your…" he can barely get the words out. "It's your… your mate, he's here!"
I look up. The crowd doesn't part, there isn't any hushed silence or dramatic music. I push through the crowd, and there he is. Aster looks so ordered that I want to touch him to see if he's real. His hair is whiter than his vest, and he has a dark, slender leaf dividing his forehead in two, reaching down to just between his brows. It's something Astragalus dwellers do when they leave home, so they should remember their roots. Aster looks a little lost, but there at least five students talking to him, ten more hanging back a little, and everyone else is keeping their distance but following his every move. He's grinning and politely answering questions, but I know he hates being around so many people. I grab his hand before we even make eye contact, and we maneuver smoothly through the crowd, as if we're taking a fast-paced stroll.
We speed-walk back toward the way he came, practically running down the ramp, straight into the fifty-third floor lobby of the Student Center. Someone yells, "Robot man!" It's yelled with reverence, with awe, and the crowd is still following us and calling their friends to come, too, so we run straight across the grassy floor onto the next walkway, leading the Research building, I think, and red lights flash around us and I see a pressure elevator and I say, "This way," tugging on his hand, and we cram into the life-sized glass cylinder that's attached to the side of the building. I'm already putting City Carpet as the destination in my Q-band.
The glass slides shut, closing us in, and all noise ceases. I touch my Q-band to the wall. The elevator is really meant for one, so it's gonna be hard to breathe. Aster's side is pressed against mine. "Where are we-" he's cut off as the walkway drops beneath us and we're shot down the tube in our little cylinder. Our hair gets in our eyes and mouths, and for a second my breath is taken away with the pressure.
When we stop three seconds later, we're on the desert floor. I catch Aster's arm as he stumbles out of the elevator and the cylinder hurtles back up. "Quswàk, I need to vomit," he groans. "And I think someone kissed my neck earlier."
I laugh and stand on my toes to kiss his cheek. "Welcome back to Rhodium, Aster."
"Always a pleasure," he says. "You know I love this place."
"You hate it."
"True," Aster says. "But at least there's one good thing in it for me. Professor."
I bunch up my robe, holding it against my body. "Oh, stop."
He shrugs, giving me the smallest of smiles. I'm glad he can't tell how apprehensive I am when he visits. Somehow the selection process gave me the smartest man on the continent, me, a history nerd from the desert. And the fact that he hides away in that tiny town of his just makes him more lucrative to everyone. He's like the secret everyone knows about. And he's my mate.
I've still got his arm, so I lead him to a swing further down the sand-swept path. The city's activity starts at least five stories up, and all you've got down here are sprawling black foundations, shrubs peeking through the support beams. Rhodium's underbelly is lit with ugly orange lights, bright enough to see faintly into the distance, dark enough that it feels like night. A bad design choice, if you ask me. I know from popular culture (my students) that the City Carpet is considered seedy for a mate outing. But Aster doesn't know that. I think he's just glad to have escaped the mob.
"How are you feeling?" I ask, once we've settled down. The swing hangs from a pole as thick as an elephant that is welded between two blocky foundations.
"Not much different," he says, putting an arm around my shoulder. "Still getting my balance back, but otherwise, I'm fine."
"That's good," I say. I've never been sick, so I can't really empathise much. But for someone who was unconscious for four days, and basically motionless for weeks before, Aster seems okay.
"So, I had no idea you were coming," I say, lacing my fingers with his. He seems restless, but maybe that's just from the elevator. Makes him queasy every time.
"I wanted to surprise you," he admits. "Just tap you on the shoulder and say hello. I forgot what a big deal I am around here." His fingers fold over mine, a firm clamp, and I'm starting to notice how robotic his movements are. Maybe he isn't doing as good as he claims.
"This is academia," I say. "What do you expect? But who cares, right? It's just us now." My voice drops on the last word. I lean forward, grazing his cheek with my lips. To my surprise, he pulls away.
"Actually, I came for a reason," he says, dropping my hand and turning to face forward. "A reason aside from seeing you, of course. The Uni asked me to accompany you for your mission. Did you know about that?"
"Shhh!" I swing my head around, but no one is nearby. "Sorry, just... The mission is not going to reach the public, for now."
He raises an eyebrow. "It's not like just anyone can travel back. Aren't there only five people with the genes for it?"
"Six, actually. Counting Croton. And you."
Aster makes a face like he's tasting something unpleasant, his forehead creasing, his eyes slits. "Anyway, I told them that it would be a terrible idea, for me to come. I just thought I'd give you the heads up."
I go a little numb, and I just stare at him. I can't believe what I'm hearing.
"It's strange that they considered me in the first place," he continues, talking faster. "Think of what could go wrong. The idea is insane."
I stand up, and the swing creaks. "Don't say that. I think we would… work well together. It might be nice."
The night is warm, and he comes up behind me and wraps his arms around me and it feels even warmer. "You saw what can happen to me," he says softly. "You saw me three weeks ago. What if that happens on the mission?"
I push his hands away, whirling to face him. "How do you know that I... Saw you?"
He folds his arms. "My brother Albanius told me. Why?"
I wave that away. "It's an easy case," I insist. "Records show that Croton set up a genetics lab under a purchase building, a 'strip mah.' He's going to try- well, he tried- to warn people about the dangers of biomedical research and genetics. We don't think he got very far, so it's not a big operation."
He shakes his head. Even in the harsh tangerine light, I can't help but notice how flawless his skin is, how the proportions of his straight nose and slanted eyes are perfect. Would he be this way if he wasn't built of artificial nerves? Would he be the same person?
"What would you do with me if I turned into a lump?" He says. "You're not going to want to take care of me."
"You won't. I won't have to." I fold my arms like his. I have an idea. "I'll learn how to fix you. I'll... I'll add it to my training regimen, and I'll learn everything there is to know about your body. We'll be prepared."
"I can't do it by myself. Or with anyone else."
That stops him short. He stares at me, open-mouthed. I've just admitted a flaw. A weakness. I need him.
He doesn't gloat, just takes me and hugs me and whispers, "Okay."
Suddenly I think back to Astragalus, him on the bed, eyes closed, chest rising and falling. I can't push the image away. Instead I bury my head deeper into his chest, and I know it's all going to be alright.
Reckless Behavior: a Guide to the Early Twenty-first Century
Chapter Fifteen: Consumerism
…looking back at this time in history, we often envoke in ourselves sentiments of disgust, amusement, or plain pity for the people of this time period. This is not just because of the irresponsible use of resources or the celebrity culture, or because of the unequal distribution of wealth: it is due to all these things. Consumerism, in a word, is an infectious disease of the time, affecting everyone through relentless advertising and a Culture of Things. This leads us to our first subtopic.
In America, malls, strip malls, and supercenters are at the foray of…
Aster woke up, acutely aware of the soft mattress breath him, the toasty air and mild scent of detergent. Immediately, a beautiful sense of calm filled his every fiber, and it was a wonderful earth, a day filled with so many possibilities that he felt drunk, thinking of what could be accomplished.
He lifted his head. He was in the early Twenty-first century. He smiled, his head buzzing, and went back to sleep.
The next time he awoke, the sun was in his eyes. He raised his head. It was silent in the room, aside for a bird outside who must have mixed up the seasons. She cheeped hopelessly, and no one answered.
Aster tried to sit up. He tried to gather the strength from his back to do it. He lifted each shoulder, doing it in steps, but couldn't seem to haul himself up. Something about last night gnawed at him. Under the blanket, his arms were rigid at his sides. He tried, panicked, to lift himself, over and over until after five minutes his head cleared. He stopped.
He heard footsteps and was filled with an inexplicable fear. The door opened slowly with a whine, followed by quick and nervous knocking.
"Cassia?" He said.
Molly peeked her head thought the door. "Oh my god, you're awake! Are you okay? You were sweating like crazy before and talking to yourself." She let herself in, shutting the door behind her. She held out a cup of water, which Aster didn't take.
"Where's Cassia?" He said hoarsely, the panic in him rising, threatening to crack his voice.
Molly set down the water, and flung open the curtains, causing Aster to turn his head away from the blinding light. "I don't know," she said. "Haven't seen her since this morning. She's gone."
∆∆ To be continued…