I look into the mirror and try to see what another human would see. My beard is months old, scraggly and dirty, my balding head covered with wisps of gray. I take out the scissors and start to clean it up. Thoughts of other people, being with other people, force their way to the surface, and I push them back. If I think about them too much, I’ll get too excited.
After two hours I feel I’ve done everything I can for my appearance. I’ve used up the last of my soap to scrub my body. I’ve shaved off most of my hair, but left some of my beard, trimmed neatly as I can get it. There’s nothing to be done for my clothing, c’est la vie. My clothes look like hell.
One of my employers contacts me, informing me that we’ll be docking the spaceship in 45 minutes. The words come through the speakers in a crisp Midwest accent, but that’s just the AI’s translation. My employers (captors, prison guards, whatever) can’t even speak. The blindys communicate through pheromones, see with sound. I think. There’s no video, of course. Nothing here for my convenience.
I was a kid when the blindys came. They razed the Earth, and then built their own cities everywhere. Honestly I don’t know exactly what happened. Nobody does. It was so fast, and with the infrastructure down people could barely communicate beyond their immediate neighbors. One day we were the only life in the universe, and then three months later, human civilization was just a shitsmear.
With the blindys came the spay. There’s probably a scientific name for it, if there are any scientists left. We don’t know if it was a natural pathogen or engineered, but it came with the blindys and now we’re infertile. All of us? God only knows.
I hear the normally silent ship docking. The sound is jarring and terribly exciting. As I walk out through the tiny door (blindys are small, and I have a hunch from bending over all the time), I smell people.
It’s only body odour, perfume, and whatever else, but I shamelessly burst into tears. The blindys around me don’t notice or care. I stop walking and cry for a few minutes while the blindys silently maneuver around me, sending out puffs of chemicals into the air, gossiping, making plans. I wipe the tears off my face and try to compose myself. I’ve only got three hours here. I make tracks.
The first person I see is a young girl. There are actually still children! She looks like she’s 5 or something. A beautiful, perfect 5-year old girl. I pick her up and embrace her immediately. She smiles at me, tugs my beard. Her crooked teeth are perfect too. Her mom appears, smiling warmly. “Hi,’’ she says.
I put the child down and nod. I can’t even speak, I just nod, dumbly, my eyes welling up with tears again. A smile! Deep in my heart, I know what a smile means, a hug, a word. It resonates with my brain, soul, genes. The blindys don’t even have faces. Bastards.
I walk into what appears to be a makeshift dance club, and there have to be two hundred people in there. The Beatles are blasting over an old stereo system. There’s no new music. Never will be. People are dying out and the market is just not there. I buy a beer (another disappearing commodity), spending more of my precious money, and watch the dance floor. Everyone’s screaming along with the music, You say it’s your birthday. It’s my birthday too, yeah. Jumping up and down with the beat. I’m overcome and put the beer down with my shaking hand.
A woman approaches me, throws her arms around me and plants a wet, beery kiss on my cheek. She says hello in some language I don’t understand. That’s fine. At least it’s speech. Tonight we don’t need long chats. She’s a little younger than me; she looks about 46. She tugs my hand and we go out onto the dance floor. Nobody here is a good dancer. Nobody gets any practice anymore. The blindys have nothing like music. In terms of art, they compose what might be generously described as poems out of chemical scents, accompanied by subtle antennae motion. It’s about as interesting to a human as watching a dishwasher in a room where somebody farted.
We dance the song though, her touch electrifying me. She speaks to me, and I don’t get it. After the song she moves on. I unsteadily make my way to my beer. A man in his 20s says cheers and we clink glasses and drink. He’s all smiles. Very few of us interact with human beings on a daily basis. The only thing the blindys really need us for is for color vision. They have these bioengineered gardens that produce foods and medicines and shit, and their echolocation can’t tell the different colors, which turn out to be important for optimizing the garden’s output. Millions of years of human evolution, thousands of years of culture—science, art, religion. All they need us for is color vision. The absurdity can drive you crazy if you get thinking about it at night.
I think they’re working on automating color vision in their machines. After they get this working it will be cheaper and humans will have no utility whatever. Then we’ll be gone just like sweet iced tea and Disneyland. I know it can happen. They’ve done this to other systems, I’m fairly sure. Well, I heard it from someone who was very convinced. The blindys aren’t all that forthcoming about themselves. About anything.
But the blindys see there is some money to be made throwing these parties once in a while, so we can spend all the money we’ve saved over the months, distinguishing green from yellow-green and brown from blood-red. Right back into their bank accounts or whatever the hell they have. And in two hours I’ll be back on that ship for another few months, letting my beard grow.
A fight breaks out between two guys. Probably over some girl. I take a swig of my beer and watch the fight play out. They’re yelling, throwing punches. It’s so human. So beautiful.
Jim Davies is an associate professor at the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he is director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory.