Welcome to your future.
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The walls of my room pulse with Turkish ouds, soft bassline from a Tijuana garage, and Gregorian wails. Latest from Ç1Q, my favorite band. Of course my room knows it, and at the Palma de Baís, it even has access to the pirate tracks from the legendary Gastown Sessions. 'Rare' is not the word. 8 Feather and Rafiq Angeles took Ç1Q's first release (arguably the most listened-to album of the past fifteen years) and battled each other with it, remix for remix, in front of a live audience in Gastown, Vancouver. Ç1Q's stuff is normally like scented oil poured over silk. Kind of music that starts baby booms. At Gastown, they inverted it, turned it into godclash: what was in the Lord's ears when He razed Sodom. I thought data sieves at the venue meant no recordings made it out alive. Somehow, though, my room plays it, at a volume that accents my foul mood without exacerbating it. My elevated blood pressure, eye movement, personal kinetics, and listening history give the room just enough information to strike such a vital balance.
I'm reminded, very acutely, how little I like this sort of thing. Being under a microscope. Dissected without a single cut.
And I find myself desperately missing Chicago.
Wandering aimlessly along the green belts of Englewood. The great glass ziggurat of Kennedy King University, where I spent my latter days cultivating this (almost) useless mobile journalism degree. Countless midnights at the Tibetan food kiosks of Archer Avenue, served warm pockets of momo with volcanic, greasy red sauce on my way home from the artists' lounges of Bridgeport. Whisper of the Orange's Line's maglev trains sweeping past, kiss of ghostwind as it twisted into the night, snakelike and graceful.
But mostly, the Appleville Quiet Zone. Lone concrete tower, sanctuary from the continuous avalanche of a world where a song listened to on your way to work is logged in the depths of the nebulous Network, alongside your love of lung-scorching Central Asian cuisine and snarky Lebanese newsfeeds, odd collection of vintage '40s footwear, and baffling predilection for 20th century rap music. All there, always updating. Only private in the sense that you don't know who else is looking at it. Your tiny vein of personal data, mined endlessly by faceless, nameless things, scattered across the globe, feeding on the minutiae of daily life. Masticating the delicate ephemera of your life with great insectoid jaws and expelling it out over vast, intersecting planes of data, picked through by shit-merchants, sold to the highest bidder.
All so the Palma de Baía can play back the music I lost my virginity to, in the witching hours of that sweatless, fog-breathed Gastown night.
Now, as then, Appleville was the only place that felt real. Substantial. Single telephone per floor. Voice-only, hardwired into Chicagoland with copper-and-spit. Newsfeeds replaced with passive content. An actual hard library, where I read Upton Sinclair for the first time in print. Analog music, on antique standalone machines. An oasis of silence in a world of endless, low-intensity chatter. All right there, on W. 24th Place, just under the Dan Ryan. In retrospect, my nineteen months there was a gift. To live in such blessed antiquity...
And all because Chicago is the holy land: unique as a city that cherishes cloistral peace almost as much as the wild howl of its own progress. A place where tranquility is sown with the practiced hand of a Zen gardener, in Quiet Zones just like Appleville. Or Dalton. Markham. Bronzeville. The Low End. Modern day ashrams in the financial capital of North America. Such peace I'd never known...nor have I since.
And I compare it now to Oakland, where the night screams with attack drones, and the hills crash with artillery thunder. From Chicago to Toronto is a two hour trip by SonicRail. Here, it takes just as long to travel from Jack London Square to San Antonio Park, because the old 880 Freeway has been bombed to its component molecules by so many overlapping armies. Federal Unionists. The 321st Nevada Counter-Insurgent Insurgents (U.S. Volunteer Irregulars). The Alameda Independence Army. The Northern Aztlan Front. The New-New Wobblies. White Power Militias (Orthodox and Reform). The Golden Bear Unity Party. The Party For the Dignity of Angeleno Refugees. All of them mixing in the flats of East Oakland, trading shots with Prime Minister Pivens's choice assortment of heartless eye-gougers and ear-pullers. A fellow mobile journalist made note the other day that the Republic of Northern California proudly advertises itself as a nation without POW camps.
That is because the NoCal army is no longer taking prisoners.
In order for Prime Minister Pivens to give Los Angeles' expatriate war criminals respite without embargo or censure, he must provide the Hague at least an illusion of respectability. He is crafting that illusion with ashes of the dead and the blood of dissidents.
And my mind keeps wandering back to Chicago. To Appleville. Where I slept at night wrapped in the sweet impenetrable cold of anonymity. Ignorance. Perfect disconnectedness. Back in it now, tangled at the center of a burning web, (perhaps not surprisingly) threaded of all the weird, bad moments I'd sought to escape in Chicago; tied together to create this poor, weary author, eking out his literary pittance to a mixed soundtrack of Californian massacre and Ç1Q's remixed ouds. And I sadly recall this web has always been, and I always at its center.
And I wonder for the first time if I will ever enjoy the blessed silence of Chicago again.
Or if that silence ends here.
“Soup again?” Tim slouched in his chair as he tossed his stained cap onto the sideboard. He’d just come in off the fishing boat and the smell of the sea was strong on him.
“Not anymore!” Karen Kaczmerak stood up from the table, knocking her chair to the floor, and seized both her bowl and Tim’s. Walking to the back door, she kicked it open – squeaking on its old hinges – and dumped their supper into the refuse bin.
“Jesus, don’t be like that. I was hungry.”
“Could’ve surprised me. You cook tomorrow.” Karen dropped the bowls into the sink as she passed through the kitchen marching for the bedroom at the far end of the trailer. Wiping his sleeve across his face, Tim got up from the table and went after Karen, his long strides closing the gap down the narrow hall.
“Will you come back here? What the hell’s wrong?” Tim caught his girlfriend just as she stepped into the bedroom.
Karen didn’t even look back. “Fuck off.”
“No!” Tim grabbed Karen by her right shoulder.
“Ow!” Karen pulled her arm away.
Tim’s eyes widened. “What happened to your arm?”
“It hurts, dipshit.”
Tim, stuck between anger and confusion, kicked the wall. “Fucking aye! What the Hell’d I do?”
“If you don’t know, I can’t help,” said Karen as she backed into their bedroom sliding the door out from its recess in the wall.
“What can I do so you aren’t so fuckin’ mad?”
“You could start by listening, but I’m not sure that’s even possible.” Karen slammed the door shut and turned the lock. Tim paced in a tiny circle for half a minute before pounding his fist against the bedroom door. Waiting for a response, he stomped back up the hallway when none was forthcoming.
Tim Suffolk first laid eyes on Karen in the local diner. She arrived in South Harbor in the early evening, slim and young; the way her blond hair fell around her shoulders sent a shudder through Tim’s midsection. The fact that she had reciprocated his furtive looks that night was a surprise. Though by no means an ugly man, Tim knew his receding hairline and weary face were not generally appealing to the fairer sex. They’d ended up getting dessert together, and when Tim discovered Karen was alone with nowhere to stay, he was more than willing to put her up for the night.
That night stretched into weeks, and for the most part, Tim had been nothing but happy. But recently Karen had changed. She didn’t smile like she had at first, and she seemed restless. Tim had tried to infiltrate her stern façade, but no explanations had been shared. So, Tim just went about his normal business hoping it would work itself out.
The digital clock read 1:43 am. Outside, the chime of the buoy helped bring Tim out of his slumber. He rubbed at his neck, stiff from falling asleep in the recliner. Slivers of moonlight slit the blinds, giving form to the shadows. There were soft footsteps in the kitchen. Turning, he watched Karen go to the fridge and pull out the pitcher of water. Lifting it to her lips, she took a long swallow and then returned it to its shelf. Closing the door, she walked back down the hall without giving him a look.
Tim strained to hear the lock click in the door as Karen shut it, but the only sound that came was that of the mattress springs yielding as she lay back down. With little deliberation, Tim got up from the chair and walked down the hallway himself, trying not to make a sound as he entered the bedroom.
His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he could see Karen lying on her side turned away from where he stood in the doorway. She gave no indication she knew he was there. He pulled the covers back and slid in next to her.
Adjusting the sheets so that they fell over his back, Tim lay there waiting for Karen to say something.
But she remained silent.
Tim watched as two minutes passed on the clock, and then deemed it safe to move closer. Nudging up against Karen, he draped one arm over her shoulder and she jumped, biting back the pain before taking Tim’s hand and moving his arm down to her waist.
“Shit. Sorry,” whispered Tim, afraid of breaking the silence encompassing them.
“It’s okay,” said Karen. “I’m sorry for earlier.
“I’ve just been uneasy.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Tim as he propped himself up on his other arm.
“Thinking about home . . . Dad . . . what he did . . . to me . . . to Cedric.” Karen started to cry into her pillow. Tim tried to roll her over, but Karen refused, pushing his hand away.
For a long minute Tim stared down at Karen wondering what she’d gone through and what he could do to get her to stop crying. Finally, he laid his head on Karen’s pillow and whispered into her ear, “Tell me about it.
To be continued . . .