Type
Fiction

Noplace

Message Received 21/06/2051:

MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY. Immediate evacuation requested, sanctuary and aid requested. MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY.

Reply Sent 30/06/2051:

Attn: Noplace, mayday received. Parliament is discussing your situation, expect decision within six months. Please tender more information on your situation to assist with Parliament’s decision. Please state the nature of the emergency.

Message Received 01/07/2051:

MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY …

Reply Sent: 15/07/2052:

Mayday received, repeat, mayday received. Parliament is discussing your situation and request for rescue.

Bobby searched his home. This had been his life for more days than he could imagine being able to count. The lights were always bright, too bright, he could not find a dimmer command, the off switch, anything to change the intensity of the lights. He had no idea if such a control existed, though he imagined it should. The lights were on all night, all day, every moment he was awake, full bright, blue white, painful and blinding. To get to sleep he had taken to blindfolding himself and then pulling a thick pillowcase over his head. The layers of cloth, stifling and warm, tight and a little frightening, brought the only darkness he could properly remember.

Night was in the stories he had read as a child but he had never seen it. Only the light, the tunnels and the light, and the ghosts.

A ghost moved in blank-faced silence past him. He ignored it. Not what he was searching for, no good to him. He continued his search. A door did what it was supposed to do. There were ghosts in that room too, silent, white and glossy, ignoring him, doing whatever it was that ghosts do. He moved through to the next room, where there was a meal on a table. Not a meal; a feast, a buffet. He did not remember the last time he had eaten. He was hungry, so he must not have eaten that day. He sat down to eat.

The food was great, it was always great. Much better than the food from his books, from the stories he read for company. In those books people were often hungry, people searched for food; not him, his favourite things were always here for him to eat. If there was something new on the table one day and he liked it, there would be some there every day until he got bored with it. Then it would just disappear.

He ate. There was far more food than he could ever eat, enough for a banquet, enough for an army. When he could eat no more he stood up from the table and walked away to keep searching. He left the mess. He knew from experience the ghosts would take care of it. The ghosts took care of everything.

Bobby woke with breath-stealing suddenness in the library. He could not remember what fear had woken him. The library felt safe. He had moved there some time ago, there was plenty of space and he was closer to his books. He had lived there only a few days when a bed appeared between the shelves, white sheets, no blanket. The library, the entire labyrinth he called home, was kept at the precise temperature his body wanted. He never felt cold, never felt hot, only knew of heat and cold from books, from the adventures of explorers.

His father had brought him here. His father had taught him to read in the library. Not just on the computer, which had teaching apps. Bobby learned on real books, printed on paper, in the library. That was what the library meant to him, more than a place of books, real books, it was the place his memories of his father resided. Those memories were all he had left of him.

Huckleberry Finn, The Hobbit then later Atlas Shrugged. Those are the books he learned to read from. Later on he read his father’s favourites, Nietzsche, Machiavelli, but found them harder, he despaired he would never be as smart as his father. He looked at the last book on the shelf, a precious thing, his father’s book, the one he had written before Bobby was born: The Place of Man in the Modern World. Bobby had tried to read it. Although the words, the sentences, all made sense, he could not understand the concepts. He hoped one day he would be smart enough. There was nobody else here to read it; if he never understood the book, his father’s ideas would die.

He had come to the conclusion he was the last man in the world.

Bobby was sitting in the Command Centre, on one of the chairs that swivelled. He knew it was the Command Centre because it was written above the door in the same glowing writing that identified all the rooms in his world. The lights were flashing as always, a starfield of green LEDs, a couple of amber lights scattered among them. If he ignored the lights, if he looked between them, they were shining through a wall of glass. There might be more lights there, invisible, dark, lights only in potential.

Only one light was red. It was above a button, and above the light was the word ‘transmitting’. When he had found that room, years ago, he had gravitated to the red light, but he could not yet read that word, did not understand it when he sounded it out. It took him some time to work out what the word meant. He looked it up in the dictionary in the library. He still didn’t know what signal it could be sending out to the cosmos.

It had become a ritual, every day, well not every day but he intended it so, he would enter that room, check the lights, make sure none of them had changed. He did not know what it would mean if a green light went amber or a light disappeared or a new light appeared. He did not know what he would do if it happened. Nevertheless, he checked his lights every day that he remembered.

Bobby woke filled with an energetic loneliness, with the uncontrollable urge to find someone to talk to, anyone to talk to. He dove out of his bed in the library and stalked out the door, barely dodged a ghost that was passing in the corridor. The ghost made the strange sounds that ghosts make. He did not run up the corridor, that would use too much energy, he walked up the corridor with that swinging walk that would carry him through corridors all day.

It was some time before he found a door he thought he had never passed through before. Not that he could remember. There was no name marked over it, so he had no clue where it might lead. It could go anywhere. It opened when he laid his hand on the touch-plate. He remembered when he was younger there being doors he was not allowed to open, doors that would buzz mournfully when he placed his finger on the plate. It had been some time since a door had not opened for him.

He entered a corridor like any other, threw his leg before him and followed, moving at a loping walk that ate up the few metres to the next hatch too quickly. He opened that door too, revealing another corridor that went left and right from where he stood. His excitement rose. He had two choices. Either way could lead to something he had never seen before.

He turned right, giddy with the excitement of a new corridor. A ghost floated towards him, slipped past him, continued up the corridor. Except for avoiding him, it showed no sign it had noticed Bobby, no sign it cared. Bobby didn’t care either.

The corridor was long and straight, without junctions or doors. It felt like he was walking for a very long time. Finally he saw a door in the distance, tried to act calm and not to run towards it. Soon he was close enough to read the sign above the door:

WOMEN’S QUARTERS

Touching the pad, he was surprised when the door opened. In the past there had been doors that refused to open, but not for a while. He wondered if there were any doors left in his world that would not open when he touched the plates. Excited, he entered the room beyond the door. It was a dining room, a living room, a common room. There were tables, chairs, armchairs and couches, rugs on the floor and art on the walls. It was a terrible, disgusting mess.

There was rotten food on the tables, so ancient it had ceased to smell, had become mummified in the still, dry air. There were papers and books scattered, blankets had fallen off the couches and were in tangled messes across the floor. Clothes lay in heaps.

He wondered why the ghosts had not cleaned it up.

There was paper on the walls, hand-written signs, in what looked like thick, oily crayon. The paper must have run out, because someone had written on the walls themselves.

‘We’ve been tricked, Noplace is no Utopia,’ read one messy scrawl. ‘There is only one way to end this,’ read another. Most of the scrawls were illegible, all of them covered in dust. Bobby walked slowly around the room, fondling soiled dishes, picking up books then discarding them, feeling the weirdly soft fabric of the abandoned clothes. Girls’ stories, girls’ clothes.

Bobby had read about women. He had a vague memory of what must have been his mother. He had read enough to know that everybody needed a mother, that there was no other way to be born. He remembered mostly men. The men had talked lovingly about their mothers and sometimes longingly about other women in a way that made him feel uncomfortable. There was really only one use for women, they had said.

There were open doors on every side of the room. The first one he chose led to a bathroom, gargantuan in size, but boring. It was even filthier than the common room. The next he entered looked like a barracks: eight beds, each with an empty glass on the table beside it, each with a low, thin lump under the stained covers and a round shape covered with stretched leather on the pillow.

It took him a while to understand these were skulls.

He ran to the next room.

It was the same there.

He ran to the next barracks.

Same.

Death.

Death.

Same.

Death.

He ran from the Women’s Quarters, sprinted down the corridor, nearly colliding with a ghost coming the other way. Ran all the way back to the library. Dove into his bed, covered his head. Forced himself not to wail.

Morning, he decided not to get out of bed, stayed buried there, cocooned within the safety of his covers. If he was the last man in the world he could do whatever he wanted forever. He pulled out his favourite book, The Hobbit, to read. He imagined himself to be one of the Dwarves, out on an adventure with all the other Dwarves. It was not a girls’ book. There were not really any girls in it.

His father had approved of that book, such an adventure and no distractions, whatever that meant.

He soon grew bored of laying in his bed, so he rolled out and went looking for food. He found the table in the middle of the dining hall laid out with some of his favourite things. He no longer felt strange sitting there at a huge table all alone. Far better than being with those dead things in the Women’s Quarters.

The discovery was too gruesome to think about but he could not help himself. He remembered having a mother, although he could not remember what she looked like. He could only remember feeling safe and warm when she was around, before he never saw her again, before he was forbidden. Maybe his mother was one of those corpses in the Women’s Quarters. He felt sick and stopped eating.

Glowing writing appeared on the table. He did not remember this happening before.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOBBY

PLEASE ATTEND THE COMMAND CENTRE AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE

Startled, he jumped from his seat, knocking it skittering across the floor. He ran to the Command Centre, consumed with curiosity, frightened as well but wanting to know what there was to fear. Ghosts scattered from his headlong charge, in their haste making clanking and whirring noises.

Reaching the Command Centre, he placed his palm on the access plate. It let him in. There was another plate, glassy, the shape of his father’s tablet computer. It was glowing bright, the words ‘PLACE PALM HERE’ bold in the middle of the screen. He placed his palm on it. It was cold, like all the other screens.

At first, nothing happened.

The lights grew brighter in the Command Centre. A screen flickered awake on one wall, as wide as he was tall.

INITIALISING …

BOBBY FREEMAN TAKING COMMAND OF FACILITY

LEAVING MAINTENANCE MODE, RETURNING TO FULL OPERATIONS

All around him screens flickered on, fading out the glowing lights. He had not noticed there were screens between all the lights. No, that was wrong. The lights were in the screens, were produced by the screens, they faded as the screens came on with controls and menus, like his tablet computer, like the computers in the library, but huge. None of the controls or the icons made sense. He could not work out what to do with any of them, except one. There was a message icon flashing on one screen, his name below it. Reaching out, he touched the icon with his finger.

‘Bobby,’ his father’s voice, a voice he could barely remember, flowed out of hidden speakers. ‘The other men did not want me to leave this message, they would only allow me to do it if it was held until you were eighteen years old. Your mother, all the women, they killed themselves all in one night. Some of them were smart, for women, and they must have worked out a way to synthesise a poison from the few materials, cosmetics and so on, they would have had access to.

‘We thought we would be okay without the women at first. We sealed off the Women’s Quarters and tried to forget about them. We were wrong. Many of the men, my friends, although they say they want a world where women can no longer manipulate us, cannot live without sex. They want women in their lives, women they can control. One of the men committed suicide when the women were all found dead.

‘Six of us, me and the five youngest and strongest, are leaving on a mission, taking the ship that brought us here. We are going to find women and bring them back. It’s a dangerous mission and I might not return. The other men will look after you, our robot servants will make sure you are happy and healthy. Our utopia “Noplace” must survive.’

The message ended, leaving Bobby no wiser.

30/08/2054:

Attn Noplace:- Parliament has deliberated on your request for rescue and evacuation. The decision has been made. You are a criminal colony, your attempts to kidnap women from other colonies and from Earth has been considered and your actions condemned. The fact that we have had no contact with the women of your colony has been considered. Parliament has made the decision to take no action in response to your MAYDAY at this time. You are considered to be a danger to Earth. Your misogynistic ideology is too dangerous. You have been charged with treason and attempted kidnapping in absentia and a sentence has been determined. You are exiled to that hell of your own creation.

01/04/2053:

MESSAGE LOOP:- MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY Women of Noplace have committed mass-suicide, many of the men soon followed, colony has fallen below psychologically sustainable population, mass depression has set in. MAYDAY MAYDAY. There is a little boy here. MAYDAY … [message repeats]

Scout Report [First Survey/Salvage Mission to ‘Noplace’ 17/12/2076]:- Settlement appears to be abandoned. Seems from outside to be intact enough to salvage or potentially repopulate. Sign above entrance airlock ‘NO PLACE For Men In the Modern World,’ yuck. What look like corpses are scattered around, possibly they walked out of the airlock without suits. Theory that the colony collapsed due to sociological issues seems most likely at this moment.

Lights are still on in the station, it’s still transmitting that mayday loop but continues to not respond to hails. Requesting permission to suit up and attempt to penetrate the airlock.

Archivists Note [Noplace]: The founders of the colony called ‘Noplace’ were well educated and were perhaps aware that the correct translation of the word Utopia in Thomas Moore’s book of the same name is not ‘good place’ but rather ‘No Place’ or a place that does not, perhaps should not exist.

 

 

 

 

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Claire G Coleman is a Wirlomin Noongar woman whose ancestral country is in the South Coast of Western Australia. Her debut novel Terra Nullius, written while travelling in a caravan, won a Black&Write! Fellowship and has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize and an Aurealis Award.

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