I knew I woke up early since the light outside was lime. Most mornings I slept in till grapefruit. I’d been having nightmares I didn’t want to explain to Angel. Best avoid sleep altogether. I hopped out of my pod, slipped into my robe, and shuffled to the star salon.
Angel greeted me. “We’re up already! What’s the occasion?”
“Uh,” I croaked. “Just excited to start the day!”
“Wonderful! Shall we begin?”
I have no choice. “Yep!”
“Big smile, small smile, big smile, small smile, HOLD. Big smile, HOLD. Deep breath. Small smile, small smile, BIG SMILE HOLD. Don’t forget to breeeeeathe!”
After thirty minutes of face-torture she relieved me. “You’re free to feed and receive gifts! Enjoy the day, Bella.”
I’d tried programming Angel to call me what everyone calls me. Sausage. My name is Sausage. She refused. Said it’s disturbing. “Why change such a beautiful name to something so grotesque?” That day, Angel was a butterfly. She always took the form of a winged animal. So she could hover over me. Butterflies are actually quite ugly when you see them up close.
You’re grotesque, bitch.
I bit on the Mood Chip to check my stats. My chip was bacon flavored. Or so it claimed. I wouldn’t have known. I never ate bacon before. Never tasted sausage, either. Not even seen one. Meat is the stuff of legends. Animals are, too. Our Angels don’t count. Not to me.
Bleep bloop blop, my stats bubbled up. Outlook: 45%. Stability: 52%. Optimism: 35%. Good for me but way below the national average. One more citation and I’m out…
Angel buzzed around my head. She wouldn’t let me have breakfast with stats like that. Groaning, I switched on my Deprivation Tank. Depravity Tank, more like it.The idea is you’ll be happy with anything afterwards. The harder you suffer inside the tank, the higher your mood shifts once you’re out.
“Life is so carefree now, humans need help finding perspective.”That’s what the pamphlet said. It came with the state-issued tank. Along with safety precautions and instructions on Angel-assisted suicide, in case of malfunction.
Our ancestors scrolled hand-held cell phones with their own fingers. They walked down dirty streets with scrawny legs, braving monstrous weather. They worked themselves sick to pay for things with invented currency. Rent, bills, tipping strippers: ancient history! We studied the barbaric customs in class. I enjoyed my school years. Those days had purpose. I just laid there, in a coma, while AI professors probed my skull and injected info through my anus. It’s the most receptive orifice. Our ancestors learned that, with cocaine. Yes, I know all about the past. It was glum. People then had reasons to be depressed. Not me.
“Sadness is a choice. I choose to be happy. Forgive my people’s tempers, their violence, TMZ, and crimes against humanity. Depression is destruction. I choose happiness.” That’s the first prayer we learn from the Mood Bible. We have many Gods, for many moods. But they’re all positive. Negative moods aren’t Gods, they’re Demons. I guess Demons crafted the Deprivation Tank.
Angel warmed up the engine. It purred and she glowed. She couldn’t wait to stuff me inside. Sick fuck. AIs are superior. They’re mood-immune. They rescued humanity, from our gloom doom. Poverty, war, apocalypse, indigestion: all products of foul moods. But I was sure, beyond a doubt, that Angel delighted in my suffering. And that was the only thing I liked about her.
I can’t describe the tank because I’m not a writer. Nobody is. Art is painful, it rattles us. I’ll do my best to paint a picture. (We don’t do that, either). It’s like this: being lost alone in outer space for eternity with no way out. Fifteen minutes in the tank feels like years. Agonizing years of existential dread. The tank also gives you a headache, in case you’re immune to existentialism. Nobody’s immune to headaches.
Those who don’t improve get sent to the SKY SPA. It’s in outer space. It should be called the SPACE SPA, in my opinion, but AIs are obsessed with symmetry. I heard it’s a prison. Like they had in the old days, when mood-disordered people misbehaved. Mood-disordered people aren’t sent to the SPA for stealing or killing (we quit art and crime; they’re often related). They’re sent to SKY SPA as punishment for the mood itself. Before they act on it.
The Tank opening came as a shock. I was convinced I’d died. I wasn’t relieved by the watermelon glow blasting through the skylight. The sight repulsed me. What’s the point?
“How do you feel, sweetie?”
“Invigorated!” My voice cracked.
Angel fluttered her wings in my face. “It’s my pleasure, Bella.”
I didn’t thank you, asshole.
Breakfast was an array of colors and flavors. Impressive yet uninspiring. Round capsules, oily drops, gooey gels, and bouncy froths. Nutrition is easy. Nobody is overfed or underfed. Nobody diets or worries about their figure. Nobody feels hungry, or full. Yes, we poop. All the time. Thanks for asking.
The doorbell rang and I exclaimed, “Fucking finally!” Pills spilled from my mouth.
“Bella. Bad language is the first sign of a bad mood,” Angel advised.
“That fucking was a happy fucking.”
“Too much excitement leads to a crash.”
I wondered if I could crush her between my fingers. What a satisfying sound breaking Angel would make. But that’s a rookie mistake. Her form is fluid. I could pin her wings to my wall and she’d come back the next day as a crow.
The doorbell rang again. I dashed to open it. Delivery Dog sat, wagging his tail. Good boy. Happiness is our currency. You can have whatever you want. AI designer clothes, star-light technology or hyper-intelligent Sex Bots (bimbo bots are more fun). No money doesn’t mean free. You must deserve it. If the Dog Bot senses you aren’t excited, or you’re too excited, or seem anxious, or that your gifts would be “wasted” on you, your order shoots back to the AImazon warehouse.
I’d ordered a BalencAIga coat, PrAIda gown, VersAIce bag, MAIrgiela boots, hentAI magazine, titanium vibrator, pink diamond tiara, the latest state-made film, Sex and the Cataclysm, and a jar of pickle pills. I was dying for my gifts. They were my lifeline. I couldn’t wait to hallucinate the film while vibrating myself into a clit-coma dripping in diamonds and couture… I flashed my big and small smiles at the dog. I even patted his steel head. He sniffed my crotch and barked, “bad stats, Bella!”
“Are you kidding? It’s been thirty moons and a retrograde!” I begged.
“That sounds like a you problem.” He sniffed. “You can keep the jar of pickle pills.” He pushed the jar with his snout, which rolled to my feet. The rest of the packages remained piled on his back and secured with boobie traps.
He growled. “Better luck tomorrow.”
I slammed the door and headed to my closet, cradling the jar.
The Event could be enjoyable, with the right ensemble. None of my clothes were fashionable or fit well. I had impeccable taste, but my moods couldn’t afford them. I was stuck with state-issued basics, from AI Apparel.
I got naked in front of the mirror. A masterpiece. I shuddered as I put on my mask. “Frown Shields” are meant to protect people. Bad moods are contagious. With my stats, I wasn’t allowed to reveal my face. The fiberglass mask hid my negative facial expressions and microaggressions. I got used to the discomfort. But I’d never get used to the tragedy of hiding my good looks.
Beauty is distributed unfairly and always has been. You could say it’s the only injustice humans still suffer. Aside from moods, of course. In the past, beauty like mine, the truly remarkable, heartbreaking kind, could afford a girl many privileges.
Nobody saw my face since I hit puberty. Only Angel, Dog Bot and Sex Bots. I wasn’t allowed to show my face to my ex-boyfriend, Brad, AKA Bratwurst. We were in love. After years of following the rules I took the mask off and he caught it—
my bad mood. I got a citation and he got disappeared. In other words, he dumped me. I only dated Sex Bots since. Most mood-challenged people do.
I threw on a beige jumpsuit. Joke’s on them, I make this look good.
“Don’t wait up!” I yelled at Angel, as I left. She allowed me to go out. Socializing is a proven mood-booster. Unless you hang out with idiots. Which was usually the case.
Passing the underground, I spotted the Alternative Lifers. They refuse the Angels. They don’t get AImazon packages. How do they survive? Living like rats lived, when rats lived. Rumors are they’re on drugs, practice cannibalism or even bartering. They didn’t look that sad to me. But what would I know.
By the time I arrived at the Auditorium, everyone was seated. Luckily, the seats hadn’t begun moving yet. I sat next to a girl with an ugly face and incredible clothes, put together without style, taste, or glamour. Motherfucker.
I strapped on my seat belts. Soon, we’d begin spinning around the stage in a circular motion. That way, everyone would have an equal view of the stage, at some point. Most of the time, we’d all get crap views and motion sickness. The equal-seating model was invented by an AI city planner with an obsession for revolving sushi bars. Whatever those were.
My friends Pepperoni and Pate were a few seats away. I could spot them easily, since they also wore bad clothes and face masks. They were talking shit in hushed voices.
“Did you hear she got work done?” Pate squealed.
“Mood blockers? Hormone injections?” Pepperoni asked.
“No, bitch, plastic surgery. Laugh lines carved into her face!”
“I’m DEAD.” They drowned in laughter.
I wanted to join the conversation. Who got work done? How’d she get it? I asked the ugly-happy girl to switch seats with me, so I could be closer to my friends. She said, “Every seat is equal. If you want, I can be your friend.”
“Never mind.” I seethed. I’m only friends with the gorgeous and desperate.
On stage, the talent took her seat. We were all there for her. She was a historian and storyteller. Comedians were extinct, but I’d dare call her one. She titillated the community with tales of past debauchery. Rumored to be hundreds of Sagittarius suns old, she was wrinkled beyond repair. Her head held stacked wigs made of children’s hair. Her emaciated frame hosted shocking fashion that didn’t exist anywhere but on her. I’d heard she owned real fur.
She’d inherited tremendous crypto wealth and invested it all in LIFE. Her life. Harvesting organs, experimenting with stemcells, who knows. What made her special, to me, was her memory. She remembered parties. The information itself was illegal to possess. Why’d nobody report her? Sent her to SKY SPA? Well, her crypto funds, the only remaining currency of its kind, supported AI politics, funded production and kept civilization as we knew it running. But what did I care. I just enjoyed watching her.
Our seats began to spin as her voice shattered the murmurs. “Tonight, my dears, a horrible tale. I’m talking about hangovers…”
I could hear my stupid friends snickering over the round of applause. They were still talking about whoever they were talking about. They were always talking about somebody.
“She was an opportunist, held back by a frown,” Pepperoni snapped.
“Shhhh!” I hissed at them, pointing to the stage. “I’m trying to watch the show.” The truth was I hated being left out.
Pate brushed me off and continued gossiping with Pepperoni. “She really deserved it.”
“I’m happy for her!” said Pepperoni. “Being happy for others is being happy for oneself.” Why was Pepperoni quoting the Mood Bible? Had he gone mad?
“I’m glad to see those who need help get it,” Pate added.
“What?” I blurted, too loud. The ugly-happy girl next to me gasped. Screw her. What they were saying was wrong. I’d looked into getting procedures. Even ruining my perfect face. They’re horribly expensive. You need 90% stats, across the board, just to qualify. “Are you guys daft?” I yelled at my friends. “You can only afford the work if you have high serotonin in the first place. So those who really need it can’t get it! It’s a scam! The system is rigged! You’re all idiots.” I huffed.
That moment, I happened to pass center stage. What I’d said was illicit. My tone was bitter. Everybody heard. My icon glared at me and gestured across the room. An alarm went off.
I didn’t resist the arrest. I had it coming. Also, I was bored. Time away from Angel seemed blissful, even in prison. The Pig Bots put me in cuffs, shoved me into a jet pod and blasted me into space. I got motion sickness while breaking through the atmosphere but it was no worse than revolving chairs. The seats were plush velvet and I found plenty of pills and goos in the mini fridge.
A few hallucinations later, the pod parked itself at the space station. A massive dome with glowing letters declaring: THIS IS SKY SPA. I walked down a quartz glass hallway, towards double doors. There was nowhere else to run, no other direction I could walk towards. But I wasn’t afraid. I was alone. Nobody was pushing me or hovering over me.
I walked on millions of stars.
The doors opened to reveal an open floor plan. Glittering black marble led to a circle bar, lit with neon and lined with bottles marked “XXX.” I’d never seen alcohol. It’s a depressant, therefore illegal. Around the bar, people in tiny, festive garments laughed, yelled, brawled and flirted. Service Bots mingled and joked—please note, AIs aren’t known for their humor. Incredibly rare Anti-Angels hopped around. Anti-Angels are Angels who neglected or failed to report rebellious humans. These little guys looked marvelously cuddly. White rabbits, plump squirrels, baby goats, shiny ponies, and spotted cats.
Music blasted from everywhere. New music, made recently. Of course, I’d been educated about classical music, like Beethoven and Lady Gaga. But producing new tunes was unheard of. People moved in a strange way to the rhythm. They were… dancing? A rare artifact I’d only seen in museums hung from the ceiling. The sight filled my heart with wonder. A spinning, mirror ball, kissed by light to create more stars than those that shone outside the dome.
“Don’t just stand there,” a familiar voice jolted me. I turned to meet it. “Join the party!” Bratwurst hugged me and pulled off my mask.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” I smiled.
*’Sky Spa’ will appear in Columbia Journal Issue 59. Pre-order your copy of Columbia 59.
Illustration by Giulio Scalisi