Not really, of course. The zombie plague had been wiped out years ago, thank goodness. No, what she was witnessing now was a whole other kind of zombie plague.
People around her were glued to their Mackpads, iTablets and BrainShares that they didn’t pay attention to the world around them anymore. She saw it all the time on the transit: people reading the newest novel on their ReadaLot, listening to the newest album on their wrist players, checking out the latest news feeds on their Callers. Everyone was so busy staring at tiny little screens that they had stopped paying attention to the world around them.
Kimberlee didn’t use any of the new fangled gadgets, she didn’t need them. If she wanted to travel to another world, she opened a book or created a piece of art. Of course, no one read paper books any longer, which was a shame. One of the most pleasurable scents she could imagine was the smell of a second hand bookshop filled with old books, their musty stories just waiting to be discovered.
She was considered avant garde in artist circles, too, still painting on canvasses and creating things with clay or marble or glass. She had to pay dearly for these items, of course. Paper was scarce and was worth a fortune, unless you knew where to look. Thankfully, she did.
Getting off the transit, she watched the cars zoom away from her, riding on air. She lost herself in the crowd of people. No one could report her whereabouts if no one saw her. The key to getting to the black market was to lose yourself, become invisible.
Taking the routes filled with the most people, she slipped through the transit station filled with its tracks of sleek, silent cars and lost herself in the crowd. She worked her way towards the hallways she knew were there. They led to the back of the station.
Most people didn’t know that the new transit station was actually built on the bones of the old one and that one on the carcass of the one before. Underneath the station was a nest of hallways and rooms that held riches, if you knew how to get there.
Making her way towards the hallways, looking behind her to make sure she wasn’t spotted, Kimberlee found the hallway she knew so well. It was marked with a symbol that few would notice unless they were shown, otherwise it would blend completely into the smooth silver floors. At the entrance to the hallway, the letters SM were carved into the floor. She wasn’t sure what they had used to carve the letters as this new material was supposed to be indestructible. The whole transit station was made from it.
She turned and walked a little further and saw the other marking, another SM. Most would only see a dead end. Kimberlee knew better. This marking was in the centre of the wall instead of on the floor. Walking up to the marking, she pressed it with her finger. It slid into the wall and lit up, a soft blue colour. The wall slid back just enough to let her slide through.
When the wall panel closed behind her, the hallway she was in lit up with soft white light. She could see stone walls and breathed a sigh of relief. She was home. Making her way along the stone hallway, she found the staircase leading down into the nest of still more hallways. This was the entrance to the black market.
Kimberlee made her way down the stairs with ease, having been here many times before. It had actually become a second home of sorts to her. She had friends here that she would never see above ground, even though they worked and traveled in the same circles. It just wasn’t done. However, down here, there was freedom.
As she went through the winding maze of hallways, she reflected on what human nature had become. When was the last time that people had looked up, looked around them and noticed something other than what was right in front of them?
She needed to do something to get people to stop, even for just a moment, to actually experience something, to engage. Not with their Mackpads or iTablets but with each other. She wanted to do something, anything, that would touch people; something that would give them an experience, something they would remember beyond pixels and dots on a screen.
Kimberlee heard voices and soft music and passed into the actual black market. The lighting had changed, this time painting the walls with little lights that looked like stars. She waved to people she recognized and made her way through to see Scribbler Moon.
Scribbler Moon’s real name had been Shirley Jefferson once upon a time. Now, she was only Scribbler Moon, Madame of the Arts at the black market. The black market sold anything you could want or wish for but Moon was the only one that sold art supplies.
“Art isn’t dead.” She said. “Music is art, writing is art and art is art itself.” She told Kimberlee this when she had first found her way to the market for the first time when a man she was seeing brought her to the market on one of their dates. That relationship had fizzled, but she had gained something from it. She had gained knowledge of the black market and had gained a friend in Moon.
The black market was hers, but she let others sell or trade their wares. “After all,” she had said, “You can’t survive on art alone. You need to eat as well. Remember that, little bird.”
Moon’s face brightened when she saw Kimberlee. She was a plump woman with an open smile, kind green eyes and a laugh that sounded like a foghorn. “Little Bird!” She said. “What brings you here? You already got a shipment from me this week. I hope those pigments were to your liking?”
Nodding, Kimberlee gave Moon a big hug. “Yes, they were wonderful. Worth every penny.”
“Then why are you back so soon? You can’t need more canvasses, paints or brushes? I’ve sold you so much already.”
“No no, it’s nothing like that.” She huffed out a breath. “I want to do something, anything to get people to look and pay attention. I want them to see.”
Moon looked her up and down and nodded, as if she saw something. She turned to her husband, Clay who worked with metals and made different kinds of sculptures . “Watch the fort, will you love?”
She wrapped an arm around Kimberlee. “Come on, we’re going to go have a drink.”
“Oh, it’s too early in the day for me.”
“I don’t mean wine or spirits, I meant tea. I just made a new batch, this one out of lavender. The tea brings calmness and focus. You’ll love it.”
Kimberlee let herself be led past the crowds looking at all manner of things: old televisions instead of BrainRays, old record players instead of SongTiles, old DVDs instead of HoloT’s. Everything that was lost and forgotten ended up here. Kimberlee loved the fact that, though the world had moved on, the people within it still searched for pieces of their past.
Moon led her through another warren of hallways to her private offices. “I love the hustle and bustle,” Moon said, “but sometimes, a little quiet does me good. Here, take a seat and I’ll put the tea on.”
Taking a seat in a plush armchair, Kimberlee let out a breath and relaxed. Moon’s private office was like something out of another time: armchairs that sat by a fireplace, art hung on the walls. If she didn’t know better, she would swear she was in an old parlour instead of underneath the very city itself.
The only thing that didn’t fit was the fire. It was electric, trees having gone by the wayside long ago. Kimberlee pointed to the fires electric flames dancing merrily in the grate. “Do you miss it?” She said. “Real fire, I mean?”
Moon turned towards her with two earthenware mugs filled with steaming liquid. “Oh, I miss lots of things, little bird. But I remember them, so that keeps them alive.” She set the cups of fragrant tea on a small table and sat down beside her. “Now tell me what has you in such a state.”
“I don’t know, Moon. I’m just at wits end, I guess.”
“Not so, if you were at wits end, you wouldn’t be here. If you were at wits end, you would be sitting in your own space, looking at the walls. Believe me, I know. Instead, you’re here, in my company, having tea. You aren’t at your wits end, you needed comfort and an ear, so spill.”
Warmth ran through Kimberlee, and not just from the tea cup she was holding. “How is it you know me so well?”
Moon gave a soft chuckle. “Oh, all artists know each other. We know what drives us and we wear our hearts on our sleeve. So spill it already and don’t keep an old woman in suspense. What’s bothering you?”
Kimberlee let out a breath and took a while to gather her words. When she did, her voice was calm. “I just don’t know anymore, Moon. People don’t look around them, they don’t look up. Everyone spends so much time staring at their Mackpads, iTablets and BrainShares or they’re using their ReadaLot or wrist units. I miss paper, Moon. I miss holding something that you could engage with.”
Moon took a sip of her own tea and gave Kimberlee a level look. “Well, they’re letting their brain tell a story, aren’t they, when they read? Is that not engaging?”
“Not when they would rather do that than talk to the person next to them. Have you ever watched people on the transit glides? They’re all staring down at their laps or their wrists or what they’re holding in their hand. Everyone is so quiet and no one notices anything outside of their own little bubble.”
“Well, then you’ll have to do something to make them pay attention.” Moon said, pointing at her. “You’ll have to make them look up.”
“I’ve tried Moon! I’ve done instillation pieces, sculptures, murals. I’ve even tried graffiti art.”
Moon gave her a sharp look. “If you had been seen, you would have gone to prison. You know that.”
“I know, but I had to try something. No one paid attention though and within a week, the entire series was covered up as if it never was.”
“Pah!” Scribbler Moon said. “Graffitti art was so last century, Little Bird. Plus you know the buildings repaint and clean themselves every week. Why do something that won’t last?”
Letting out another sigh, Kimberlee set her tea down. “Is this all there is now? Are we a society built around machines? Are we zombies or human beings?”
Moon gave her another sage look. “You need to do something grander. Something bigger.”
“Yes, but what?”
“I have an idea.”
Moon took her deeper through the warren of tunnels and stopped at a wooden door that was in the stone wall. The knock echoed around them like footsteps. Kimberlee waited nervously beside Moon who turned and put an arm around her.
“Calm yourself Little Bird. It’s nothing terrible, just a new idea that I’ve been working on. Alistair is working on how to get it done and just figured it out this morning.”
At the mention of his name, Alistair opened the door. He saw Kimberlee and smiled, running a hand through his tussled hair. “Sorry, I was in the back. Come on in. He held the door open for Moon and Kimberlee and closed it behind them, then threw the latch. “Can’t be too careful. What can I do for you?”
“I brought Little Bird here to see our newest project. I want to show her how it works.”
Alistair’s eyes widened. “You’re sure?”
“Course I’m sure. I want her piece to be the first of its kind.”
Alistair nodded and smiled at Kimberlee. He led them further into the small site of rooms and opened another door. Kimberlee let out a gasp. The entire room was white, pristine white, even brighter given the dark stone in the black market.
She walked into the room and saw several computers all hooked up together. There was a large piece of what looked like glass set up on an easel. There were wires running from it to the bay of computers.
“What is this?” Kimberlee said.
“It’s my mother’s new studio. She was tired of painting with pigments and wanted to try something else.”
“What will this paint with?” She motioned at the pane of glass on the easel.”
“The stars themselves.” Moon said softly.
Alistair let out a soft laugh. “Always more dramatic than she needs to be, huh?” He said to Kimberlee. “In simple terms, this makes holograms using lasers. Mom can draw anything and, using lasers, we can create moving images on any surface in the sky.”
Kimberlee was astounded. “How do you plan to do that? Surely you don’t have any lasers at hand?”
“No, but think about it this way: how many satellite’s did NASA send out over the years? The first safelight was launched in 1957 and, while the majority of them fell to Earth eventually, most of them are still circling the globe and there are hundreds, thousands by now, sitting defunct. Why not use them to our advantage?”
“How are you going to create art using lasers? Lasers can’t paint in the sky.” Kimberlee said.
“No, not just lasers. We’ll use the lasers to create what we need, something more lasting than just flashes of light or pencil on the paper. We’re using the lasers to create holograms.”
There was a moment of silence at this statement. Finally, Kimberlee spoke: “Show me.”
Moon went over to the easel. “Well, you paint on here, using the stylus. It will go on the glass like paint and the computers do the rest.” She picked up a small console and handed it to Kimberlee. “Here was our test run. It’s on Champ de Mars in Paris France.”
Kimberlee looked at the small screen and her breath was taken away. She was looking at the Eiffel Tower, surrounded by rubble and debris. Paris had become a wasteland. No one lived there now, so there was no one to see this marvel. “This is impossible. The Eiffel Tower came down during the revolution of 2100. It shouldn’t exist.”
Alistair shrugged. “And it still doesn’t, not really. It’s just a hologram, made with lasers and stardust.” He smiled when he saw her amazement. “We just wanted to see what it could do.”
She touched the picture wondering for a moment if the Tower would disappear the moment she pressed her finger to the screen. Kimberlee was speechless for a moment, wondering what she would create if given the chance. Finally, she asked: “Why the Eiffel Tower?”
Moon sighed. “Well, it was so sad. When all the monuments the world over went down. I always loved the Eiffel Tower the most, Clay took us there in 2065 when we got married. I always loved how it sparkled over Paris.”
She took the console away from Kimberlee and put it back on the table and took Kimberlee’s hands in her own. “So now the question remains, Little Bird. You talk about wanting people to look up, to see the world around them. What will you create? What will your canvas be?”
Kimberlee took a few days to think about what she wanted to do. How could she get people to look up? How could she get people to see what was round them instead of just inside their own little bubble?
She went to her window to look out at the night. The stars shone bright and she wondered how many people still wished on them. The moon shone above her like a white beacon in the sky…
The idea came to her, an image that filled her head fully formed. When it did, she wondered why it had taken so long. She only hoped that she could translate the image in her head into laser beams and holograms.
All she could do was try.
She took the transit glide to the black market and made her way through to Scribbler Moon’s stall. When she saw Kimberlee, she looked her up and down. She must have seen something in her face because she nodded and made her way over.
“So. You’ve decided? You know what you are going to do?”
“Come on then, times a wasting.”
It took Kimberlee another day and a half to paint her image and bring it to life on the glass canvass. Alistair had actually rigged up a large MackTablet screen but he had been right: it was as if she were really painting.
“But what about the other part? What about the words she’ll say?”
Moon laughed. “Why we’ll use the stars of course. Here, use this, text what you want her to say. We’ll do the rest.”
“It’ll go live tonight?”
“Yes, Little Bird. You’ll be famous the world over, the artist of the very first holographic sky art. I think it’s beautiful, your best work, and I should know as I’ve seen it all.”
“Just go up top in an hour. It’ll be dark by then and it will be completely visible. It’s going to be gorgeous.”
Kimberlee hugged both of them. “Let’s hope this works.”
Alistair laughed. “If this doesn’t get people to look up, nothing will.”
Kimberlee went back into the black market and looked around for an hour, getting herself a cup of tea from a merchant. Making her way back into the main station, she took her tea outside, stared up at the moon and waited.
As if it were being painted by an unseen hand, the first lines began to appear along the surface of the moon. Kimberlee knew it was really her hand that had painted this, and that the holograms were really being recreated from her brush strokes.
Soon, the profile of a woman’s face was visible. Her eyes were wide open and she was gazing forward. Around her, people started to notice what was being painted before their very eyes. A woman stopped walking and looked up in wonder. She turned to Kimberlee.
“Have you ever seen anything like this? What do you think it is?”
Shaking her head, Kimberlee said “I don’t know.”
The woman in the moon had long hair that seemed to be fluttering in a breeze. She opened her mouth and the stars themselves seemed to float from her mouth, forming words beyond the moon. Now everyone was looking up into the sky, waiting to see what would happen next.
When the stars formed themselves, you could hear a hush run through the air. The station, normally a hub of noise and movement, was silent. Thousands of people looked up into the sky and read what the moon had to say.
They read: “I wish…”
Seeing the people looking up, looking at each other, with not one person looking zombie like at their tablet or wrist console, Kimberlee knew that her wish had been granted.
She knew that it would take time, that nothing changes over night, but it was a beginning, the start of a new cycle and seeing all those faces filled with wonder gave her hope.
That was enough for now.