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News & Features » October 2018 » “Cranky Chariots” by Pamela Booker

“Cranky Chariots” by Pamela Booker

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, a harrowing visit to the New Republica, where the poor and elderly are non-citizens and “alternative facts” rule.

Cranky Chariots
by Pamela Booker

I waved my hand across a bank of monitors that precisely registered my status and identity. Hidden cavities that were not visible to the scan caches were quickly inspected in the Screener Cell.

“You are free to discover your reality,” declared the disembodied voice, signaling for me to cross the threshold.

Old people smell and death punched me in the face as soon as I entered the Inhabitants Sector vestibule, the unit that reproduced the most strident, offensive odors for visceral authenticity and emotive consciousness.

Uncle “Man,” my dad’s oldest living brother, was moved to the Hemisphere of the Evolving (HOE) this past summer with a startling swiftness that contradicted the Council of the Aged’s usual incompetence.  He was also moved without our knowledge. His Social Management & Wellness Technician informed the family that it would be “challenging” to petition his release, in part because his citizenship status was changed and the social stigmas effectively lodged against him as from the “species that manifested despair and anxiety for the young.” These heightened, age-phobic, supremacist campaigns began during the era of the 45th presidency and exacted countless reigns of socialized terror across the Hemispheres. Nearly forty years later, we were still recovering.

Discarded elders lined the corridor. Many remained fully limbed. Yet few were limber in their living. Grizzly breaths fled their lungs in a series of atonal exhales, coughs, and moans in the figures of craggy men with whiskey and regret in their bloodstreams and women—former wives and presidential candidates who’d expected too much from an immature society—drooled on each other’s shoulders. Sunrises had long departed their flattened, red-streaked eyes. I tried not to stare. Or flinch. A pall hovered, and I hadn’t yet reached the elevators. In this whir of steely wheelchairs, a sea of cranky chariots, the stench of longstanding illness and a disposition worse than death seduced me.

Keep tempo.

Keep tempo.

Keep tempo.

A hallway time unit mimicked ordinary periods of life to an unhurried audience. Keep tempo. The cadence reminded me of the “instructive prayers” that ancient Elders chanted in past millennia, and something a popular philosopher in the mid-twentieth century lamented poetically: “For me the sound of time is not sad,” he wrote. I’d have recited one of those prayers if I could remember any.

With the demise of most of our paper collections in the early 2020’s, all time units were fundamentally reset to honor what has been called “the end of History.” Not only were we living in the era of fractured national identity, but our very notions of history, its progress and mining, were non-existent. So, too, was compassion. Traditional measurements of time used in chronologies and linearities—distance, birthdays, and deaths—were long ago disbanded. In the era of the New Republica Constituents, we capably shifted and bent time and History, and therefore Truth, in exchange for “alternative facts” and social compliance. And, with a defining caveat—that all elderly, sick, and undocumented populations, and even gender non-conforming people who’d continued to express themselves with unrestrained “identities”—would be required to amend their citizenship. Others included folks without jobs or complex skills required by a world that relied more on technology and less on physical laborers. The argument became—what is functional and valuable? The answer was time and youth, and the elders in this vestibule lacked both.

Healthy longevity used to be considered an aspirational trait until people started managing it too aggressively with “age-positive” beliefs and remedies. Yoga and green-tea drinking. All of which discouraged the New Republica Constituents division from restoring financial instruments such as Social Security and medical care. With the surpluses of past budgets depleted by ongoing manufactured wars, they successfully obliterated any chance of recovery or fiscal support to later generations like my own, “the millennials,” many of whom were devoted Reality-TV Party members. But even we were creeping up on middle-age and pissed about caring for elders who seemed to perpetually under-earn and spend. Over time, our sentiments gave way to a particularly rancid disease known as malcontentia.

“We ‘bout to be ass out!” is what my uncle’s generation realized, though probably too late. How sad for them as innovators of hip-hop, social media, and mindfulness practices, who’d championed “cloud” systems and cultivated “digital friends.” Foolishly, they thought millennials loved that shit. In the end, we simply learned how to master their systems and then discard them. 


PAMELA BOOKER is an Interdisciplinary Writing Artist, Educator, and Urban Eco-Activist. An author of sundry performance and literary stories, her recent publications include Symmetry in the Charlie Brown Christmas, (Anthropology of Consciousness, 2017) and Seens From the Unexpectedness of Love, featured in the acclaimed Blacktino Queer Performance Anthology (Duke University Press 2016). An excerpt from her impending novel Fierce! Remains, was selected for the legacy collection Answering Joseph Beam’s Call and a Lambda Literary Awards Finalist (Vintage Entity 2015). She currently teaches writing in programs at NYU, the Harlem Children’s Zone, and is former Core Faculty at Goddard College. 


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Oct 12, 2018

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , ,