A Black History of a White Future:
Blue Origin in the World of M Archive
by Ernie Lafky
On May 9, 2019, white entrepreneur Jeff Bezos revealed his secret plans for his company “Blue Origin”. As he spoke, he projected artist’s renderings of giant satellites in (1) which future residents of Earth would live. As I studied these artificial concept communities, I thought, “Huh. Whoever lives there, I’m guessing not many of them are black.”
In January of 2020 while studying Computational Arts at Goldsmiths University of London, I was introduced to M Archive: After the End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.(2) She also wrote about Earth in the future, but her vision was not nearly as hopeful (though not without hope). She envisioned the end of human civilisation as we knew it and described it through a Queer, Black, Feminist lens. It was written in short fragments, like bursts of poetry, or the remains of a larger text, the rest of which was lost. She was looking at the past from the distant future, excavating our near future. So I thought, “What would become of Jeff Bezos’ white futuristic vision if it lived inside of the world envisioned by queer, black, feminist Alexis Pauline Gumbs?”
That was the seed of an idea. Gumbs text was the jumping-off point and is itself intertextual. It’s explicitly inspired by Pedagogies of Crossing by Afro-Caribbean Lesbian writer M. Jacqui Alexander.(3) But Gumbs had a large set of references to other artists as well, including Science Fiction author Octavia E. Butler. Jeff’s science fantasy also referenced a predecessor, his former Princeton University Professor Gerard O'Neill. With a combination of many science fictions, my hope was to create a new artefact which highlighted the various manifestations of white privilege in Jeff Bezos’ world by viewing it through the lens of Gumbs’ M Archive. This work would be presented as a live, onscreen monologue using deepfake technology. In real time, Jeff Bezos’ face would be pasted over mine, like a mask, creating yet another layer of fiction in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a truth.
What do you mean...we?
Jeff Bezos had a clear vision for the future of humanity, but before he revealed it, he wanted us to understand the problem that he thought needed to be solved. “We will run out of energy on Earth,” he said with certainty. “This is just arithmetic.”(4) Following his logic through, he asked, “Do we want stasis and rationing? Or do we want dynamism and growth? This is an easy choice. We know what we want.”(5)
Let’s start with the pronoun, “we”. I’m reminded of the classic Mad Magazine cartoon which showed the Lone Ranger and Tonto surrounded by (understandably) enraged Native Americans brandishing weapons. He turned to Tonto, his Native American sidekick, and said, “It looks like we’re finished” To which Tonto replied, “What you mean…we?"(6) So who was this “we” of whom Jeff spoke? Not the narrator of M Archive, who wrote, “we broke the earth and now we fall through time. because marching on a line we thought was forward only called up the urgency of the abyss.”(7)
Jeff’s “we” was all-encompassing. You’re either with us, or you’re with us, even if you think you’re not. Jeff’s “we” tried to silence dissent. Gumbs’ “we” was more complex. As a Queer, Black, Feminist, one might expect “we” to include those who aligned with one or more of her intersectional identities and to exclude those that didn’t. But Gumbs’ self-incrimination did not allow for an “easy” moral high ground (“we broke the earth”). In the world of M. Archive, “we” marched “on a line”, a line that Jeff called “dynamism and growth”, but that line only led to the “abyss”. “ultimately it was the natural consequence of all our industrious work to make the air unbreathable, the water undrinkable, and the people uncritically unthinkable.”(8)
In Jeff’s science fiction universe, “we” was meant to be universal. The specificity of Bezos’ “we” was more accurately described by Gumbs, however. “the would-have-been slumlords were busy with their spaceships or panic rooms and the dispossessed white children... had no energy left with which to gentrify effectively.... they saw there was no time for a white longevity mortgage.”(9) Our latest white (space) flight had begun, up to our most gated of gated communities, our suburban satellite in the sky.
In M. Archive, “stasis”, “rationing”, “dynamism”, and “growth” co-existed simultaneously in a nonbinary, fluid exchange. The stasis that emerged out of the abyss had a different kind of growth and progress. In her description of the “tree people” who could “communicate underground”, she asked “how could the laughing people on the move know how the rooted people were making the internet obsolete?”(10) (Undoubtedly one of “the laughing people”, Bezos was famous for his laugh “that sounds like a cross between a mating elephant seal and a power tool” and that he wielded like a coercive weapon.(11))
Jeff’s definition of dynamism and growth matched the mythical origin story of Silicon Valley, which followed a linear progression. The telegraph lead to radio, Hewlett-Packard, semiconductors, Intel, venture funds, Arpanet, Xerox PARC, and computers for the Apollo missions (12). In this mythology, Bezos had (arguably) won the internet, and would now build a “road to space” which “opens to the door to the infinite and yet unimaginable future.”13
This “infinite and yet unimaginable future” of Blue Origin was in stark contrast to the seemingly dystopian future in M Archive. As the subtitle suggested, After the End of the World, this story was post-apocalyptic. From the perspective of this horrendous future, the future of the future was indeed unimaginable. The narrator of M Archive asks, “why would anyone choose to come to this planet right now. to breathe fire and walk the broken soil. to be thirsty and lead-poisoned. to live like nemesis to the sun. to live through the revenge of the wind.” She asked these questions as statements, perhaps not expecting an answer. But she did get an answer, from a child, who said, “i came to teach you something else for goodness sake.” It’s a post-apocalyptic story of hope. Our white world was razed, allowing another world to be revealed. “and then we finally saw. we saw it. we hadn’t told the truth in so damn long.”(14)
Many parts of the future in M Archive were not hard to imagine, however. Or at least not now. When I started researching this project, I’d only heard rumours from a few of my Chinese student-colleagues about a dangerous virus that the Chinese government was trying to cover up. And George Floyd was still alive. From that perspective, back in the before-times, Gumbs' writings feel like prophecy. Like Covid-19, “it hurt to move. it hurt to breathe.”(15) In her world the body became a manifestation of environmental deterioration. “once the sores got everywhere, on the bottoms of our feet on the palms of our hands, someone said it might have been our bloodstreams. bad blood with the planet recirculating through our straining hearts.”(16) In our white world, this futuristic feeling of a world-ending plague became present as Covid-19 spread.
White-we continued to ignore some of the deeper implications, however. “Virus Is Twice as Deadly for Black and Latino People Than Whites in N.Y.C.” read a headline in the New York Times.(17) As the prophecy of M. Archive foretold, “anything they wanted to know about the earth and what would happen if they ignored it, they could have learned by watching the old, curved brown women everywhere. but mostly they ignored those women. just like they ignored the world shaking around them.”(18) And while the plague ravaged brown bodies, Bezos was able to increase his personal wealth by $13 billion in a single day.(19)
Long after Tamir Rice had been gunned down, but while George Floyd was still a father, Gumbs wrote, “remember when the people started to dress their children like cops?...it was the last of the see my child as human strategies. it didn’t work.”(20 ) Then George Floyd was murdered, and white-we woke up. What may have seemed absurdly hyperbolic to white-us, suddenly became plausible. “at that time they genuinely wondered...whether rest was possible at all ever.... even in death. uneven in death. black people were not safe.”(21)
Even the richest white man in the world was woke for a day. After Bezos posted a “Black Lives Matter” banner on the front page of Amazon.com, he received multiple racist complaints in his inbox about the move. He immediately took to social media (the woke white weapon of choice) to chastise one of these blatant racists, bravely proclaiming him “the kind of customer I’m happy to lose.”(22 ) As a member of the same privileged, white class as Bezos, I can imagine that his desire to help was sincere. I too posted angrily on social media and meant every word, but how far were we really willing to go? As a man famously focussed on customer satisfaction, perhaps losing customers felt like a noble sacrifice. Allowing Amazon’s workers to unionise at the Bessemer warehouse, however, was a step too far, even though the majority of the employees there were Black.(23) Amazon’s anti-union tactics were famously aggressive. According to the Washington Post (which is, ironically, the newspaper that Bezos owns), “When a group of workers at an Amazon warehouse in Shakopee, Minn., walked off the job ...the company hired more than a dozen off-duty city police, stationing them inside and outside the facility.”(24) I guess that’s one use for the defunded police.
In the world of M Archive, there was a different kind of headline: “THE GOERS AND DOERS DONE GONE”. As the world fell apart, the ones who had been “doing and doing and going and going”, namely “black women”, finally decided to stop. They couldn’t go on any longer, leaving the “talkers” (the ones who “talked about what they were going to do”), with “nothing to take credit for. nothing left, finally, to steal.”(25) As a privileged white person, I saw the stark reality of who really did the doing during the Covid-19 lockdown. Who were the “essential workers” that were asked to risk their lives to keep everyone else alive? Aside from those in healthcare, many of Bezos’ frontline workers were high on the list, such as Amazon’s drivers, fulfilment centre workers, and grocery clerks at the Bezos-owned Whole Foods. I didn’t see the CDC prioritising vaccines for the C-suite.(26) So if these workers were so essential that we could not live without them, why weren’t they paid more? Why didn’t they have better benefits if they were keeping (white, privileged) us safe?
Life in a Company Space Town
So what would life be like in Jeff’s space-topia? Bezos based his vision on the work of his former Princeton University professor, Gerard O'Neill. O’Neill posited a world of massive satellites that circled the earth and rotated rapidly enough to simulate the Earth’s gravity. “These are really pleasant places to live,” Jeff said. “This is Maui on its best day, all year long.... People are going to want to live here.”(27) As for daily life, O’Neill wrote a short piece of speculative fiction in the form of a letter from space that tried to imagine this supposedly ideal living environment. Aside from the expected marketing-speak and relentless optimism, there were signs of something a bit more troubling. O’Neill wrote without irony that “legally, all communities are under the jurisdiction of the Energy Satellites Corporation (ENSAT) which was set up as a multinational profit-making consortium under U.N. treaties. ENSAT keeps us on a fairly loose rein as long as productivity and profits remain high.”(28) So it was a nation-state in space, ruled by a corporation, backed by a U.N. treaty, which was outside the jurisdiction of any single country on earth. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing apparently, as long as “productivity and profits remain high.” But what if they didn’t? And who got to decide what “high” means? I’m guessing it was ENSAT, the corporation, and that the definition of “high” was not spelled out in the U.N. treaty.
While M Archive did not have a specific response to this corporate nation-state, one of Gumbs’ inspirations did. At the end of her book, Gumbs listed multiple works that had an “elemental impact on this archive”. Among these works was Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, another cautionary tale about the future that had proven prescient. There had been a societal breakdown where people were left to fend for themselves, poverty was epidemic, opportunities were few, and crime was rampant. Into this void of governance, corporations bought up sections of the country and created company towns, offering safety and regular paying work. As it turned out, however, these towns were set up to entrap the residents. “Wages were paid, but in company scrip, not in cash.” Supplies could be bought through the company stores, but they only accepted company scrip. “Wages—surprise!—were never quite enough to pay the bills”, creating a class of debt slaves.(29) One could imagine a grim reality for the employees of ENSAT, given ENSAT’s license to rule as they saw fit, especially if it was run by the likes of Jeff Bezos. Despite all of the laws and protections in the United States, for example, Amazon’s partially roboticized warehouses forced workers to meet a relentless, mechanical level of output. Some workers were so afraid to miss their quotas that they skipped bathroom breaks and urinated in plastic bottles.(30)
The Body as Technology
The body was a core metaphor and theme throughout M. Archive, but it was not a particular focus in Jeff’s Blue Origin mythology. Jeff’s relationship to his own body, however, had been a subject of speculation online and in the media. When I searched for the word “fitness” in Brad Stone’s book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, the main phrase that showed up was “fitness function”. It was meant to be a measure of the effectiveness of a small team. It was an equation that each team was required to formulate as a metric for its success. “Bezos wanted to personally approve each equation and track the results over time. It would be his way of guiding a team’s evolution.”(31)
Jeff’s primary fitness objectives were, not surprisingly, more focussed on his business objectives than on his body. Especially early on at Amazon, Bezos hoped to build a culture “where employees worked tirelessly for the sake of building a lasting company and increasing the value of their own ownership stakes.”(32) In my experience, this desired company culture of 60 hour weeks was typical for Silicon Valley start-ups. Bezos focussed intensely on hiring people who would fulfil this dream. “If the potential employees made the mistake of talking about wanting a harmonious balance between work and home life, Bezos rejected them.”(33)
As Amazon grew, however, Bezos seemed to apply a fitness function to his own physique. It was fairly commonplace to read stories about the admirable exercise routines of “Highly Successful People.”(34) But Jeff seemed to have taken it to a new level. In the summer of 2017, a “Swoll Jeff” meme photograph of Jeff went viral. The “Swoll Jeff” meme showed him striding across a lawn with aviator sunglasses and veiny, bulging biceps. But why this transformation? What function did this fitness fulfil? According to Stone, Jeff was getting fit for space travel. “He absolutely thinks he’s going to space.... It’s why he started working out every morning. He’s been ridiculously disciplined about it.”(35) As a life-long Star Trek fan, Bezos had always dreamed of space travel and colonisation. The opening line of his High School valedictorian speech was “Space, the final frontier”. It outlined “his dream of saving humanity by creating permanent human colonies in orbiting space stations.”(36)
Given Bezos’ body as yet another fitness function, it didn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to have Bezos shed his body entirely for a more efficient, longer lasting, biomechanical body, preserving only his brain as the final connection to his former life as a meat puppet.
The narrator in M Archive, however, had a different relationship to her body, the bodies of others, and especially Black bodies. As noted above, the body was a metaphor for the ecodestruction of the Earth. “simply put. every piece of the planet was filled with trash. our minds notwithstanding. our bodies included.”(37) But more central to the book's substratum was a focus on the Black body, a focus of control and dehumanisation by the (white and) powerful. Similar to the bodies in Butler’s company towns,(38) even their self-ownership was in doubt. “those were the ones that decided to steal themselves and donate each other back to the collective.... which is to say no one was free. no part of anywhere was free.”(39) In the books’ introduction, Gumbs wrote that the book attended “to Black bodies in a way that doesn’t seek to prove that Black people are human but instead calls preexisting definitions of the human into question.”(40)
This new definition of the human body called into question the primacy of the individual body, the ultimate extension of which, I would argue, was the mythical, entrepreneurial, self-made (white) body. “one body was not a sustainable unit for the project at hand. the project itself being black feminist metaphysics. which is to say, breathing.”(41) Those who tried to live in one body had to disconnect from “the black simultaneity of the universe also known as everything also known as the black feminist pragmatic intergenerational sphere.”(42) The black body moved through time in both directions, with deep connections to ancestors, contemporaries, and children of the future. On the other hand, those who worshiped their individuality, the body optimised for infinite interplanetary Capitalism, had to deny and even hate their “black femininity” and to deny “the reality of the radical black porousness of love”. But they, like all of us, were “more parts black woman than anything else.” In other words, they had to hate themselves and “make the planet unbreathable” and the water undrinkable.(43)
These ideas have provided the inspiration for Jeff in a Jar 3.1, the latest iteration of a meditation on the future as envisioned by Jeff Bezos. Like his heroes in Star Trek, it seemed that Jeff longed to go “where no man has gone before”. He seemed to prefer a future world where the “immediate problems” had been solved. “I’m talking about poverty, hunger, homelessness, pollution, overfishing in the oceans.” Instead, he wanted to spend most of his considerable resources on “long-range problems”. But how could he create a new future using the same old ideas that created these “long-range problems”?(44) Jeff’s hyperbolic sales pitch for real estate speculation in space seemed destined to become yet another prescient prediction in M Archive. “there were brilliantly marketed packages that disavowed the past which were very attractive to people trying to distance themselves from the mistakes of their parents but who didn’t have the bravery to distance themselves from the system that created their parents.”(45)
Since I began this project, many futures have become presents, then recent pasts. As a live performance using deepfake technology, Jeff in Jar can continue to iterate on and remix these science fictions with frequent updates.
Alexander, M. Jacqui. Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.
Blue Origin. Going to Space to Benefit Earth (Full Event Replay), 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ98hGUe6FM.
Blue Origin. ‘Our Mission’. Accessed 8 May 2021. https://www-dev.blueorigin.com/our-mission.
Bridwell, E. Nelson (writer); Orlando, Joe (artist). “TV Scenes We'd Like To See”. Mad Magazine #38, 1958.
Butler, Octavia E.. Parable of the Sower. Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2012.
Butler, Octavia E.. Parable of the Talents. Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 2012.
Dooling, Kathleen. ‘The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ Updated Interim Recommendation for Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine — United States, December 2020’. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 69 (2021). https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm695152e2.
Drury, Colin. ‘Amazon Workers “Forced to Urinate in Plastic Bottles Because They Cannot Go to Toilet on Shift”’. The Independent, 19 July 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/homenews/amazon-protests-workers-urinate-plastic-bottles-no-toilet-breaks-milton-keynes-jeff-bezosa9012351.html.
Giang, Vivian. ‘What 11 Highly Successful People Do To Stay In Shape’. Business Insider. Accessed 8 May 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/workout-routines-of-highly-successfulpeople-2013-11.
Greene, Jay. ‘Amazon Fights Aggressively to Defeat Union Drive in Alabama, Fearing a Coming Wave’. Washington Post. Accessed 8 May 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/03/09/amazon-union-bessemer-history/.
Gumbs - 2018 - M Archive after the End of the World.Pdf’, n.d. Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. M Archive: After the End of the World. Durham ; London: Duke University Press, 2018.
Mays, Jeffery C., and Andy Newman. ‘Virus Is Twice as Deadly for Black and Latino People Than Whites in N.Y.C.’ The New York Times, 8 April 2020, sec. New York. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html.
Neate, Rupert. ‘Jeff Bezos, the World’s Richest Man, Added £10bn to His Fortune in Just One Day’. the Guardian, 21 July 2020. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jul/21/jeffbezos-the-worlds-richest-man-added-10bn-to-his-fortune-in-just-one-day.
O'Neill, Gerard. The High Frontier: Human Colonies In Space. Space Studies Institute, Inc. Kindle Edition, 2013.
Palmer, Annie. ‘Bezos to Racist Customer: “You’re the Kind of Customer I’m Happy to Lose”’. CNBC, 8 June 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/08/amazon-ceo-bezos-responds-to-racistcustomer-on-instagram.html.
Soper, Spencer, and Matt Day. ‘Amazon Ratchets up Anti-Union Pressure on Workers in Alabama’. The Seattle Times, 1 February 2021. https://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazon-ratchets-up-anti-union-pressure-on-workers-in-alabama/.
Stone, Brad. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition, 2014.
Weinberger, Corey Protin, Matthew Stuart, Matt. ‘Animated Timeline Shows How Silicon Valley Became a $2.8 Trillion Neighborhood’. Business Insider. Accessed 8 May 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/silicon-valley-history-technology-industry-animated-timelinevideo-2017-5.
1 Blue Origin, Going to Space to Benefit Earth.
2 Gumbs, M Archive.
3 Alexander, Pedagogies of Crossing.
4 Blue Origin, Going to Space to Benefit Earth (time 6:08).
5 Blue Origin, Going to Space to Benefit Earth (time 12:00).
6 Bridwell, Mad Magazine #38.
7 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 139).
8 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 173).
9 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 36).
10 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 36).
11 Stone, The Everything Store (p. 10).
12 Weinberger, ‘Animated Timeline Shows How Silicon Valley Became a $2.8 Trillion Neighborhood’.
13 Blue Origin, ’Our Mission’.
14 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 172).
15 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 47).
16 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 47).
17 Mays and Newman, ‘Virus Is Twice as Deadly for Black and Latino People Than Whites in N.Y.C.’
18 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 35).
19 Neate, ‘Jeff Bezos, the World’s Richest Man, Added £10bn to His Fortune in Just One Day’.
20 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 150).
21 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 58).
22 Palmer, ‘Bezos to Racist Customer’.
23 Soper and Day, ‘Amazon Ratchets up Anti-Union Pressure on Workers in Alabama’.
24 Greene, ‘Amazon Fights Aggressively to Defeat Union Drive in Alabama, Fearing a Coming Wave’.
25 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 174).
26 Dooling, ‘The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ Updated Interim Recommendation for Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine — United States, December 2020’.
27 Blue Origin. Going to Space to Benefit Earth (time 16:52).
28 O'Neill, The High Frontier (p. 14).
29 Butler, Parable of the Sower (p. 288).
30 Drury, ‘Amazon Workers “Forced to Urinate in Plastic Bottles Because They Cannot Go to Toilet on Shift”’.
31 Stone, The Everything Store (p. 169).
32 Stone, The Everything Store (p. 43).
33 Stone, The Everything Store (p. 44).
34 Giang, ‘What 11 Highly Successful People Do To Stay In Shape’.
35 Stone, The Everything Store (p. 154).
36 Stone, The Everything Store (p. 153).
37 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 46).
38 Butler, Parable of the Sower (p. 288).
39 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 100)
40 Gumbs, M Archive (p. xi)
41 Gumbs, M Archive (p. xi)
42 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 7)
43 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 7)
44 Blue Origin, Going to Space to Benefit Earth (time 5:19)
45 Gumbs, M Archive (p. 48)
JEFF IN A JAR 3.2
A short play by Ernie Lafky
(Fade up on Jeff Bezos, his head floating in a clear, gelatinous liquid, within a sphere, within a whirring, life-preserving machine, within a giant satellite, orbiting the Earth, or what’s left of it.)
Welcome to Bezonia, the final hope for our planet and mankind, person-kind, a kind of person for sure. What kind of person? A kind person? No. A person who... doesn’t think too hard about any person who’s not here. Welcome! You will find everything you need. Maui on it’s best day. Fruit that drops off the trees. Plenty of satisfying and interesting work. And if it’s not interesting, find a way to automate it. But don’t worry, your job won’t be replaced. Not your job. We’ll find something else for you to do. If you can eliminate the jobs of others, then we have a job for you.
Welcome to Bezonia, the miracle built above the earth, the... Wait, that’s not right. That’s not right. We are still building it. No, we aren’t. We never built it. No. It would have worked. We just ran out of time. We could have expanded infinitely. I miscalculated. I made a small math error. Which turned into a big math error. So now I’ve failed. Fail fast. That’s the motto. But we didn’t. I failed slowly. But it would have worked. Our infinite and yet unimaginable future. Which I imagined. No, that’s not right. We built it. We definitely built it. We must have.
The camera pans across a perfect suburban landscape. The classic Spielbergian planned community. Every lawn is impeccable. Every car is new. All of the paint is fresh. The streets are like freshly washed plates. The sound of birds coming from well-hidden miniature speakers. But the scene is empty. There are no black people or indiginous people or people of color. But that’s not surprising. These neighborhoods tend to be silently segregated. Silent violence. But there are no white people either. No one. It’s not post-apocalyptic. It’s not abandoned. It’s just never been used. Malls open, ready for business. Items on sale. The only hint of discord is that the decor of the Mall changes to a new holiday every 10 seconds.
“Back to school!”
“Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and a joyous Kwanzaa.”
And with each new holiday, the virtual decor of the stores instantly transforms.
“Happy Birthday, Dr. Martin Luther King!”
“Black History Month celebrates Arsenio Hall.”
“Buenos dias, it's Cinco de Mayo!”
An empty police car patrols the streets. An autonomous lawn mower mows the lawns. A driverless ice cream truck cruises by, the jingle jingling.
Our mission was: Sell everything and make everything sellable. We sold water. We sold vacation time. They bought their time off. We sold life extensions, guaranteed health, with some exceptions in the contract, just press “accept”. Organs, both extracted and 3D printed. Live a little. Live a little longer. We are the sell-everything-store. We sold reclaimed air, self-cleaning water, replantable soil, trees with adjustable shade, cyborgs who love you without complaint or requirement or expecting anything in return, excluding parts and labor, and won’t divorce you and take half your frakking money.
Take a breath, Jeff. Take a breath. I take a breath.
It’s not a game. Don’t call it a game. Because if it’s a game, then they might think that they can change the rules. And that is not freedom. Freedom is this set of rules, not another set of rules. You can’t just change the rules. You can’t. You can’t change.
Maybe everyone didn’t die. Maybe they just went back to earth. Especially with the doers gone. The talkers thought there might be a few more drops to squeeze out of the planet. So they went back, leaving me behind. I’m neither alive nor dead. Earth is for the living.
Take a breath.
I don’t breathe.
I don’t have feet.
Speak from your heart.
I don’t. I can’t.
I can’t see the Earth anymore. The haze. Too thick to navigate now. I warned them that there is no planet B. Except B for Bezonia. Ha! But I warned them! They had to solve those problems! I was busy building a release valve for the earth, but not without the earth. I was busy building my childhood dream. My space civilization, going where no man has gone before. Man or woman. Or other. Or chooses not to identify. The he’s, she’s, and they’s are all welcome in my space civilization. I don’t know all the terms, but you get my point. Full of promise for the future of humankind. Venture forth. Like the early settlers. Except this time the Native Americans could come, too. All are welcome on the wagon train. The rag tag fleet of the last humans. All are welcome. I mean, you have to have a ticket of course. And the tickets aren’t cheap. We’d hold a lottery. A lucky few, ride for free. Plucked from the mob as a show of my good intentions. Touched by an angel. Unspoiled. Young, like my new wife. 15th marriage. Thanks to Amazon brand organ and limb replacements. So why don’t I have a body now? Preserved of course. As resources ran out. I’m an essential brain. And safe from the Muskovites on Planet X. Planet X.What was wrong with the name “Mars”? The god of war! Wasn’t that name enough for him? Planet X. For extra I guess? What a failure. All he got was the name and the claim. First man to buy a planet. Whoop-dee-whoop-dee-doo for him. Let me applaud. Oh, right. No hands.
They stole themselves. They had no right. They left a note. “The doers done gone.” But they still owe me. Their debt will not be forgiven. You can work it off and make a decent living. Working. I raised the minimum wage to $18 an hour, back in 2030! And this is how you thank me?! That’s right. $18 an hour. From my pocket. My law. My. Law. So I don’t want to hear this whining. They were company folks. Bezonians. They got to live in paradise. Paradise! Maui year round. 60-60-24-7-365. Find THAT on Planet X!
Captain’s log. Stardate unknown. Due to a transporter malfunction involving our proton thruster, I have traveled through the multiverse to an alternate version of myself. This Jeff Bezos appears to be a successful Entrepreneur in the early 21st Century. The Earth he inhabits is familiar, yet oddly dysfunctional. Racism is prominent and unresolved. On my Earth, we had long since solved such petty disagreements as these. On the Enterprise, all races are welcome. Even Klingons. Not all Klingons of course. The well-spoken ones. Not the thugs.
There was no escape. I thought we could escape. There was no escape. The pandemic followed us. The failing lungs followed us. We could never get the balance of the species right. We brought one species in to control another species and the new species took over, starting another negative spiral. We couldn’t escape ourselves it turns out.
I thought we could cool the climate by moving us off-planet, but it didn’t work out that way. Something about the heat within. Never made sense to me. But it was as good as true, the way their bodies reacted. The fevers. They said global warming was internalized. New Age feldercarb. There’s an explanation, but we never had time to find it. Spontaneous combustion. I thought it was a myth... until you see it for yourself. For frak’s sake.
What would my body say? What would my body say to this? Nothing. What am I thinking? What am I not thinking?
And then the cult came. Like a disease. And they longed to be connected to the earth. Why? Why go back? We had everything we needed for infinite growth. That’s what you want. You know that’s what you want. Why go back? Gravity? We can make gravity? Soil? We can make soil. Connection? We’re the most connected people in the history of the planet. We approach Borg-like cohesion. The corporate strategy is communicated clearly and instantaneously. Everyone according to their ability. The metrics always accessible. You always know where you stand. And freedom. The freedom to excel. It’s what sets you apart. It could set you apart. You could climb the hierarchy of Bezonia, a free flowing capital society of fiscal liberty. But why did so few make the jump? I don’t get it. All they had to do was hit their numbers. Just hit your metrics. It’s all in your hands.
But what would my body say? Where is my heart? I think it’s there, but I know it’s not there. I know. I think. I think I know what I feel... but that’s just a thought. I think.
They called it the most gated of gated communities. They called it the final white flight. They called me a racist. But I’m not a racist! Black Lives Matter! Home page of Amazon.com! What more do you want?! I fired a customer for his racist rant. And customers are my sole focus, laser focus, what customers want is what I want. But if he wants white supremacy, then he is a customer I don’t want.
Then why didn’t I pay my workers a higher wage?
No, the notion that we underpaid our employees is ridiculous. Ludicrous! I’m not a racist, okay?!
Captain’s log. Stardate unknown. The multiverse has taken me to a satellite orbiting Earth in the 21st century. I seem to be the supreme leader, worshipped as a god. I am alive, yet not alive. I am here, but not here. I’m not here. Can you hear? Here we are.
You want to run like an antelope? Done. Fly like an eagle? Done. Fly like the wind? Done. Swim like a fish? Done. Body extensions. Infinite variation and replacement. We can be whatever you dream to be. It’s yours. Just hit your quotas. I don’t set them. It’s market forces, translated by AI into small chunks of achievable goals. Until automation is cheaper. If you meet your quotas, you can stay. We will find work for you. Remember. It’s infinite expansion.
Nonsense. Bodies can’t talk and continents can’t walk. It’s nonsense. My heart pumped blood. That’s it. Just another organ to fail....
So what happened? When the prices got so cheap that they couldn’t live long enough to make them cheaper. Then no one could afford to buy. Not sure how we got in that spiral. The plan was infinite growth.
Why live underground? Why live under the sea? Why learn to breathe fire? When you can live on Maui every day? What kind of choice is that? And they broke their contract. Pay, savings, possessions, insurance, all forfeited. For what? A cult? A community? We can create a community, if that’s what you want. Instantly, everywhere, always connected, to each other and to the products you want and the ideas that you want. How can you leave that behind?
There was that plague. The sores. We thought it was Ebola. The sores, bleeding, pain. Some started to believe that we were being punished somehow. They turned to religion, despite everything they knew and everything Bezonia had taught them. We tried to quarantine. We tried sending the infected back to the planet. Nothing worked. It didn’t so much spread as hit all of us at the same time in the same way, like the colony itself was infected. We finally had to transplant our brains into robotic bodies. Discard the body entirely. Send it into space. We were so careful. How did it break through? Our hygiene was impeccable.
The camera tracks past frozen, headless corpses floating in space.
I started out packing boxes. And then I packed them again. I didn’t need a table. I had more than a table. The efficiency we were able to deliver was incredible. How many arms? So many arms. All working. I could set them to work while I was in a meeting. I could be in three meetings at once with my AI enhanced brain. Documents could be digested and parsed, in milliseconds. Soon I could run the whole colony by myself. I no longer needed anyone else. The efficiency was incomprehensible.
Captain’s log. Stardate unknown. I seem to be inhabiting the body of a successful businessman from 21st century Earth history. I’m not sure how this has occurred. Warp Drive malfunction.
The camera tracks over to a robot, trying to paste a label on a box. Just the arm. Over and over. Labels are long gone. The box has rotted. But the arm keeps labeling, labeling, labeling for a package that will never be delivered. The ground is littered with skulls and broken androids... no, that’s not right. That’s not how it ended.
It became cheaper to fly our trash into space rather than recycle it. Some suggested that we could slow global warming if enough trash was dumped into orbit, blocking some of the sun’s intensity. Styrofoam came back into vogue, as did plastic, and they got chucked into the satellite bin. Lightweight trash was better than heavy trash.
The camera tracks across satellite upon satellite upon satellite, massive in scale. Storage facilities. Storage facilities the size of cities, patrolled by autonomous security guards.
But I didn’t see the psycho-spiritual revolution coming. I missed the next paradigm shift. I thought it would never last. Who would want to renounce progress? Who would want to contract when they could expand almost infinitely? But I missed it. We tried to sell enhanced telepathy, but we couldn’t use it. We couldn’t test our own product. Our brains were not enough. Telepathy only worked for the meat and blood world. We should never have shed our bodies during the plague. Cowards. All cowards. I should never have listened. Frak the data. I knew it in my gut. Now I don’t have a gut. I’m gutless.
If a white man becomes enlightened in space, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a difference?
There’s that damn Tesla! Condemned to see it on every rotation! Why couldn’t those idiots pick a different orbit?! Did you take your stupid pills on that day?! I want a detailed report on what went wrong, who is to blame, who’s getting fired for it, and how you are personally going to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. That’s a metric in your permanent record, measured every month. And charted. Part of my dashboard. I’m waiting for you to fail. So I can fire you. With pleasure.
Connect to your breath, Jeff. Connect to your breath. Frak! I don’t breathe!
THE END. TO BE CONTINUED. AND EDITED. AND REWRITTEN. AT A LATER DATE.