Short Story | ‘We Won’t Be Right Back’ by Davian Aw, Illustration by Jessica Wilson
“The migration of the future is migration to the future!” the advertising slogans cheerfully ran, assaulting people from bright and colourful holo-posters, blaring from radios and televisions, and finding a variety of innovative ways to annoy folks who just wanted the advertisements on their animated newspapers to get themselves over and done with.
“Fed up with the world?” the advertisements pressed on. “Sick of life in the twenty-first century? Yearning for an adventure far out in the distant, unexplored reaches of the space-time continuum? Now, for the reasonable sum of a hundred million dollars, you can have all that and more! Why wait? Come on right down to the Kenselton Cryonics Research Institute for an exclusive one-way trip into the year 3000!”
Yes, this was the migration of the future. No more senseless country-hopping in a world where, thanks to technology, any country of your choice could be brought up for scrutiny on your computer screen, or experienced practically first-hand in a virtual reality room in your neighbourhood VR travel station. There was no point in moving to another country, where in all likelihood you would spend life much the same way you currently did: sitting at a desk and gazing at your computer screen, and computer screens look pretty much the same no matter where on the planet you are.
But the future: that was different. The future was the true unknown, filled with dreams and wondrous escapades. The future was hope, the future was new beginnings, new discoveries, new technologies, new possibilities, new everything. Flying cars in mass production, teleportation anywhere, fun with aliens from far-flung galaxies, robots that catered to your every need. Faster computers! Interstellar travel! Body-swapping! Body-unswapping!
“Just imagine,” the advertisements gushed. “Close your eyes on one world and re-open them on another. Spend half your life in one millennium, and the other half of your life in the next. Gain the benefits of immortality without its consequences! Suspended animation: no longer just a thing for the terminally ill.”
And have no fear, the fine print assured, for most of that lot had been successfully reawakened and cured. Sure, several had not survived the trip, some because of faulty equipment, others because they had already been dead before they had started, and one guy because his visiting great-grandson had wondered what would happen if he pressed the pretty red button on the suspended animation chamber. But those were isolated incidents and would probably never happen again. Equipment was checked on a regular basis, staff members had been taught how to recognise dead patients, and suspended animation chambers now had a much duller colour scheme. Failure was inconceivable.
So the richest people of planet Earth flocked to the Kenselton Cryonics Research Institute for their one-way trip to the future, dragging along and generously paying for any friends and family they could convince to come along. They climbed into their coffin-like containers, the lids of several dozen suspended animation chambers closing shut with hisses of depressurised air. Gas blew at their faces. They fell into dreamless sleeps.
Then the lids were opened again, and the richest people of planet Earth looked out onto neither the clean sterile environment of the institute nor a shining city of the future, but a barren landscape that stretched out into the horizon.
“Is this… the future?” a quivering voice asked. “What… what happened here? Some sort of nuclear war that wiped out all life?”
The sound of thunder shook the sky, and as one the travellers raised their eyes to the heavens.
The sky above was a picture of cold beauty, pinpoints of lights flickering in the blackness where the cloud cover broke. But below… below, the land was dry and featureless and silent and empty.
Their new home. The new land they had migrated to.
“Aliens,” someone suggested suddenly, her voice ringing out in the still air. “There musthave been an invasion of some sort! They might have been looking for new resources, came to Earth, disintegrated all the humans with their ray guns, or took them as food or something…”
She licked her lips. The fellow standing next to her noticed and edged nervously away.
“No,” a young man said through gritted teeth, angrily surveying the dead landscape. “This can’t be it. I didn’t pay for this. This isn’t what they showed us in the ads! I want my money back!”
Similar sentiments filled the air.
“Surely they don’t expect us to live here!” another voice whined. “This… this place… it’s dead, there’s nothing here, nothing!”
The complaints came hard and fast with no one to answer to them, and the silent land was silent no more.
‘BREAKING NEWS!’ declared the news boards around the world. ‘FUTURE TRAVEL REVEALED AS SCAM!’.
A few kilometres away from the newly awakened travellers, several television studio executives cheerily raised their glasses of expensive alcoholic drinks in a toast to themselves. Screens and speakers lining the wall displayed the transmissions from hidden cameras and microphones, all trained on the group of people ranting at the barren landscape of the future they believed they were in.
A guy in a suit entered. “They’re mobbing the building,” he said. “Turn the screens on. It’ll distract them.”
An angry mob was at the door, assaulting the building with blunt instruments and shouts of protest. But then the screens flashed on: bright, gigantic, shiny displays; and despite themselves, the mob quietened, staring, and stepped back to watch.
As all around the globe, millions of other twenty-first century citizens sat with eyes fixated on their own television screens, excitedly awaiting the antics of the rich and famous in what was soon agreed, by many, to be the greatest reality television series ever.
Illustration by: Jessica Wilson