I throw on my trenchcoat and remember that I’ve always hated this place. Sometimes the sky seems to leak pus and bile, but that’s only before you realize it’s worse than that. It’s the smoke, clogging up the troposphere like a bad case of constipation for God. It’s kind of funny, thinking of what God would look like if He were constipated, keeling over on the toilet and swearing his mouth off. I wonder if God can take his own name in vain.
But I look out the window up at the asshole of the Divine and I realize it’s a stupid thought because there’s no God so why bother trying to make an observation about it? I mean, you can’t know things about things that don’t exist, like ghosts. You can have discourse about ghosts, properties that we understand ghosts would probably have if they were real, but there are no actual ghost properties because they’re not real, so I guess I’ll never know what God would look like if He was constipated because He just, isn’t. And it makes me think about what else just isn’t.
People used to talk about ghosts like they were real. They really thought they might be. No one had ever seen one, though, even when they said they did. I never understood that. Fucking idiots pretending they saw something when they didn’t. For fun? Give me a fucking break. Was it really that boring back then? Well, now, that I can believe. And I don’t think much has changed either.
It’s almost sunset, which isn’t saying much since we can’t see more than a few hundred yards in any direction off the Bombast. The tint of gray is a little lighter, I guess, so there’s a wristwatch for you. My bathroom is on the starboard side back towards the stern. I call it my bathroom because there’s no way in hell when they thought up the word “apartment” they had anything resembling this tragedy in mind. I’m on the thirtieth floor, right where the sequestration is at its strongest, so every day when I wake up I get this nice shit-frost on my fiberglass window because the fucking toxic air goes from gas to solid when it gets caught on a surface for too long. So don’t say I don’t do my part to help mitigate climate change because I scrape climate change off my fucking window every morning and flush it down the toilet. Hey, at least my bathroom has a bathroom.
I head out towards the nearest railing to look out over the edge and see, well, nothing. That’s the thing about this place - we haven’t seen anything but this ship since we got here. The way the gray surrounds you all the time, distorting your perception of time and annihilating your perception of space, it makes you feel lost, like we’re sailing through purgatory. I can see how it’d be eye-opening if you got to go back down to the Surface at the end of the day, but it just makes us all fucking nuts.
The worst part about the shit-stained sky is that it’s closer than it was back when people still talked about ghosts like they were real. All thanks to fucking Aeropolis. This public works initiative from some insanely rich private sector megacock conglomerate called Windsor. I always thought public works should be public-generated, but who would listen to me, right? They decided the planet’s Surface wasn’t big enough to hold all ten billion of us on it. Figured it’d cave in or something. Yeah, sure, it was a problem, but their solution was just as bad: make the effective Surface taller. Bring us up two and a half miles, just beneath the operational ceiling for commercial airliners. Right to the place, in fact, where three centuries of carbon emissions were sitting around playing with their dicks, waiting for someone to come along so they could choke them.
The blueprints showed these big fucking skyscrapers towering over the clouds like floating obelisks, with huge propellers to keep them airborne. They promised we wouldn’t miss the Surface, that we’d all live like kings up here.
Except, whoops, they forgot to mention that the air was fucking unbreathable. Thing about stuff like, say, hydrochlorofluorocarbons is that even if you can’t see them they’re definitely fucking real. People don’t talk about ghosts anymore, but they talk about HCFCs, and if you ask me that’s ten times fucking scarier. The first load of saps who came up here mostly choked to death as soon as they stepped into the de-pressurized zone. I guess a few got away with lung cancer.
The glimmer of hope is just fucking everywhere in this place, I tell ya.
So they ditched the skyscraper idea, let us stay on the transports for a few months while they reworked it. Those transports were nice. I coulda lived there. Shit, if Windsor had started up an airlines instead we might not be in this shithole, and I might’ve hated them a little less. Anyway, they send up these huge flying junks, big enough to hold a million people each but made of the cheapest materials that can still float, and they tell us it’s a temporary solution to our living situation, and the real habitats will be sent up as soon as they can get them done. And of course we’re on a contract to live here so no one’s gonna go back down no matter how much they complain about it.
Oh, but the original surface isn’t empty. Far from it. There are still about three billion people living down there The poor ones who couldn’t afford the contract. The stubborn ones who thought life would be better in an endless desert than up into the heavens. And, fuck me sideways, those guys were right. They should down there laughing at us right now, because they should be hearing about the tiny living spaces and the rationing and the crime rates, which can be fucking ridiculous depending on which junk you’re on. But they don’t hear about that, because Windsor’s got the media in their pocket, and you can’t travel freely between the Surface and the junks for some horseshit reason about the cost of fuel and the dangers of moving along the pressure gradient too often. So I’m sure they hear rumors about the hell we’re living up here, but who would believe that a bunch of ships in the sky could be anything less than fucking paradise? Anyway, if they do know what it’s like up here they sure as shit can’t do anything about it. I wonder if they would if they could. You know, I probably wouldn’t. We probably look like seven billion airborne assholes.
I lean on the railing and look to my sides. There are only a few dozen people here today. That’s surprising. Staring out over the edge is a big pastime on the Bombast. If it sounds macabre, that’s because it is. There’s nothing else to do but sit in your room and pray for some catastrophe to make the day go by faster. A lurch in the ship, a murder, an exploded tranq lab like they have on the port side every so often. Anything is welcome, and when nothing comes, we go to the rails.
They make us wear these filtered mouthpieces with tubes that feed up into our nasal tract. They’re uncomfortable as all hell but we need them so we don’t choke on the first gulp of infernal fart we’d take. In fact, even though it feels cleaner than air on the Surface, it’s about thirty times as toxic, because that air ain’t making itself, and every breath fucks up our life expectancies that much more. They still haven’t done anything about the air itself; figure that with the mouthpieces there’s no point in spending money on the source of the problem. Kinda like if we could fix the social structure so no one had to steal shit or kill their neighbors but instead we decided it was cheaper to lock ‘em all up, and fuck-all to the casualties. That would just be ludicrous, wouldn’t it?
So I wedge a cigar into the mouthpiece, which is dangerous because it barely fits and it’d just take a tiny leak of air from the outside to turn my lungs into prison gruel, but I need this fucking cigar. I never smoked before I came up here. I only started because the air we get here just tastes so fucking clean and it makes me fucking sick. It’s stupid to think this air is anything but poison just because it doesn’t taste like car muffler. And to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cigar was better for me, because you don’t inhale it, and at least cigar smoke doesn’t pretend it’s good for you. I realize that I don’t have anything to cut the tip with so I have to hold my breath, take out the mouthpiece, and chew on the end until it comes off pretty uncleanly, then clamp back down on the mouthpiece before this pair of prunes I call lungs becomes a pair of raisins. I try to cough but the mouthpiece just makes me gag, and I start to dry-heave over the edge of the junk, and it’s funny because it’s like I’m seasick and I’m on a boat and ha ha. But I don’t have enough air to laugh so I just choke until the fit subsides.
And as I finally straighten back out and fumble for my lighter, I tell myself that I was right. Today’s the day.
My story before the Bombast isn’t much of a story to tell, and it’s certainly not a story everybody here hasn’t heard a thousand times before. Aeropolis sounded like a good deal; the Surface was going through menopause and most of us were on our last leg of work as our respective factories rapidly depleted their supplies of what-have-you. It’s not that we were poor, it’s that we were on the brink of stagnation, and fuck us if we were gonna get poor. That was the mentality, at least. So the only way out was up. We signed those contracts without hesitation, grinning while we did it, like it was a steal. Like all they said was “Sign here for sex forever.” We really thought it was gonna work out.
We went up in the shuttles. I remember I knew three guys on mine, all from my factory. We weren’t close when we departed the Surface, but on the transports - big zeppelin things, a couple thousand people apiece - you had to get close to someone once you docked, or else you’d go nuts. Sad thing is, your sanity would’ve done better if you’d stayed on the shuttle, instead of getting out onto the Bombast.
Mothers grip the rail with one hand and stick their fingers in their children’s mouths with the other. Kids are likely to try to spit out their mouthpieces, and then you’ve got a dead kid. Infants are worse. The mortality rate is astounding, not because moms are negligent but because you just can’t feed a baby and keep it breathing at the same time. I watch one woman rocking her baby over the railing. It looks pretty fucking dangerous but no one complains. No one can blame her.
When we got out, one of my acquaintances immediately ran off to the port side with a girl he’d met on the shuttle. We never heard from him again, which isn’t surprising because the port side is where all the bad shit goes down. I don’t know how they manage it, but they make tranq there. Nasty drug, turns your brain into snails, but I guess it’s as valid a solution as any. That’s one of the saving graces of these junks - no one judges you for even the most heinous atrocities you bring yourself to commit because we’re all just time bombs, just boxes of tinder waiting for the smoke to catch us. I wish we’d all blow up at the same time. Blow this motherfucker up. Maybe we should all be taking tranq. Most of them end up tearing out their mouthpieces anyway.
As for the other two, we got apartments on the starboard side towards the stern. It wasn’t bad for a while, but the shuttles kept showing up and apartments started getting more and more cramped. Eventually the Bombast reached its capacity for occupancy, but that didn’t stop them from coming. Imagine that, just getting here and being told that you have to live on the street. I felt bad for those people, initially, but the fuckers kept going through my mail and that was almost enough to dissipate my empathy. Then one of my old coworkers got stabbed in the alley outside his apartment, and that’s when Ike, the last guy, told me he couldn’t live here anymore. So I told him we should look to trade for a place back towards the stern because two suites here were worth about as much as one there, and so we found this place.
But Ike, fucking Ike was never good under pressure, and I started finding bags of tranq lying around because when you’re on tranq you don’t really give a shit who finds out. And then one day I come out of our bathroom and a lady from downstairs starts apologizing, except it doesn’t sound very genuine because Ike was not very well-liked when he was on tranq, and I ask her what the hell she’s on about, and she says everyone saw Ike throw himself off the fucking side.
Ike wasn’t the only one, either. Just one of the first. Pretty soon everyone and their mother was fucking hopping over the railings or tearing out their mouthpieces like it was fucking fashionable. For a while we were getting about fifty a day. They’ve still only cut it down to twelve or so. Anyway, once again, no one could really blame them.
The cigar isn’t expensive. It tastes like a mixture of tar and asshole. Well, of course it’s got tar in it. Don’t know where the asshole comes from. It might just be the taste of my own spit. The point is, it’s not a good cigar, and I fucking love it. It’s filthy and it weighs my tongue down with its filth. I take in a good mouthful, enough that I have to puff out my cheeks, and then release it. The mouthpiece makes it hard to adjust the cigar over and over again so I look like a grade-A dumbass trying to smoke the damn thing, but I don’t care. Fight smoke with smoke. The carton warns that it contains carcinogens. That gives me a chuckle. My existence is carcinogenic.
The thing about Ike was, he made it look appealing. He went out in style, and style is something in which we’re seriously lacking here on the Bombast. Drug-addled, mouth-foaming, and soaring like an ICBM ready to vaporize the world. I didn’t see it, but I could imagine it. In my head, Ike had a pair of wings he’d fashioned from a few lengths of wire he’d procured from the dumpster outside our apartment, wearing a big patched jacket with no pants, and shouting about the apocalypse and the armageddon we’d committed against ourselves when we’d signed those fucking contracts. He said that Aeropolis had set out to prevent the end of the world and only managed to prolong its torment, taking what should’ve been a quick death of dehydration and turning it into a long process of bleeding out, bleeding out our minds and our courtesy and our fucking humanity, and then rolling around in the puddle of it, trying so hard to choke on our tongues but our tongues had already been cut out because we could not cry for help. We were here above the tallest mountain top where even the best fucking yodeler wouldn’t be able to call for help. We’d proven that the world was flat and that we could fall off the edge if we just aimed up. And then he ripped out his mouthpiece and fell backwards like a goddamn comet.
Then she told me Ike actually fell over the edge when he leaned too far forward because the fucking tranq threw off his sense of balance. He probably wasn’t even planning on killing himself. In other words, the martyr I was hoping him to be was nothing more than a fucking junkie idiot who went overboard. That’s all you were, Ike.
I take in one really long drag to get the last of it out. It occurs to me I’ve been standing here for a long fucking time so I’d better get to it. I look around at the twenty people staring out forlornly into that lethal mist and you know, I should feel really bad but my natural response is disgust. I wanna ask them what the fuck they’re doing with themselves, why they’re submitting to this shit. Why you’d stand there and look at literally nothing. But then, what else can they do? That’s really the question on this fucking boat. What else can you do?
I wanted to be what Ike wasn’t. This whole place reeked of futility, enough that it even pervaded our mechanical nostrils and offended our barren tongues. They brought us up slowly and kept us there, and maybe they weren’t evil but they were fucking stupid. I wanted to make the choice to leave with fucking godspeed. I saw the people who followed Ike’s suit and sent themselves into freefall and goddamn I was so jealous of that. So one day I went out to the dumpster outside the apartment and looked for some wire.
I flick the expended cigar over the edge and grab the rail. Whatever doubt I had is gone now because I’m thinking about Ike and how he got away with something fucking incredible just by being his dumbass self, and that would’ve never fucking happened if I hadn’t suggested that we switch apartments so in a way I’m partially to blame but hey, this must be what redemption means.
So I begin to raise my leg over to the outside of the rail and, no shit, my fucking leg won’t go up because I have this wire wing-like contraption I’ve built and it’s got prongs that hook up to my shoe, and that’s when I ask myself something along the lines of ummm, why the fuck did I make this thing again? Then I reach down to release the fucker from my shoe and that’s when I notice that the lady with the baby is now a lot taller because she’s standing on the railing holding the baby over her head like she’s offering it up for sacrifice, and I say “Hey, what the fuck are you doing, lady?” And she takes one look at me with this... this face, without any feeling in it, like hers is the face of this whole goddamn boat, if you wanna go all deep and shit, and then she shifts her weight forward and she and her baby are gone.
This really fucks me up, naturally, because I’ve seen a lot of people go over since Ike but I’ve never seen someone take a fucking kid with them, Jesus Christ. So for the moment I forget about the fact that I was about to do the exact same thing as she did and I sort of... well, I guess I break down or something, because suddenly I’m back on the inside of the rail and I’m on my knees shouting and crying, and people around me are staring at me - I can just feel them staring at me - and I bet they’re all thinking “Well, is he gonna fucking do it?” because we’re all so goddamn jaded here. And I wanna say “Fuck you people” and storm back into my apartment to live a really happy, fulfilling fucking life, but I know that’s impossible so instead I just do the first thing. I say “Fuck you people!” and bite down hard on my mouthpiece. My carton of cigars falls out of my pocket and they spill all over the ground. And now the Bombast is a cigar, and I wanna cut its head off and light the tip and suck in all its fucking smoke.
And that must be when it really hits me. I suddenly think about this boat and the people on it, how I’ve just assumed it’s this, you know, this evil fucking place, but if there’s no God then I don’t think there’s evil, right? So maybe there are just circumstances, and maybe we can’t always change those circumstances because of physical laws, but then I think gravity’s real and here I am suspended two and a half miles above the Surface. So maybe all it takes is us. We need to prove that ghosts aren’t real. We need to save ourselves from the dying Surface. And maybe sometimes we need to build an Aeropolis or two, and maybe sometimes we need to tear it back down. And if we don’t, we might find out the truth about God, if He’s been behind the scenes the whole time, pulling the strings, laughing at the ebb and flow of our carcinogenic existence, and every once in a while, you know, getting constipated. Or maybe not. Maybe God is still the hoax I thought He was, like Ike ended up being a hoax. I mean, those are just the properties He would probably have if He were real. So what fucking properties do I have? Because I’m certainly not a fucking hypothetical situations. It takes me to turn discourse about into observations about me.
In fact, I can storm back to my apartment and live a good fucking life, but it’s gonna take something else, something we’ve lost here on our floating fortress. So I storm back, for now, and I guess I must be disappointing a lot of people, but whatever, fuck them. I throw off the trenchcoat, disengage this ridiculous wing thing I built for some odd reason, find a pencil and paper.
I start to plan. I start to think about a way to fix the Bombast, to fix all of Aeropolis. I start to write stuff down, create something crazy, maybe something that’ll just get me thrown overboard by force. That’s fine. I’m doing something. I’m not going over the fucking edge, not yet.
I’m doing my thinking when I feel something warm on my left hand. I look over at it and it’s bright, like there’s a light shining on it. But there’s no goddamn light in my bathroom, so I look up at the window. And you’re not gonna believe this, but there’s a corner of the sun shining in, beating back the clogging if only for this single moment, and the whole length of the Bombast, maybe even the entire fleet of Aeropolis.
I smile, you know, because God must’ve taken one hell of a laxative.