So that’s it? Six thousand years of human history and all we have to show for it is a fucking wall? Built by fucking Chinamen?”
by dave prescott
Arnie ‘Tyke’ Tyler was in his 18th-floor office, gazing out across Houston. The elevated view befitted a man of his status—not only a Vet (WW2, of course, not Vietnam), but a director of America’s space programme.
This was his favourite place to think. The city stretched in every direction. He knew that the desert was out there somewhere, but from here he could imagine human industry and activity unbounded. It was a fine time to be alive. A fine time to be an American. His countrymen were in space and, boy, it felt good. Turned out there was a right way to run the world.
A noise at the door. Arnie made his way over to his desk, admiring his reflection in the window—still trim, even now—before taking a seat.
“Come,” he said. A young man entered the office, holding a folder. He seemed agitated, but Arnie found that he had that effect on people. Arnie made his visitor wait a little longer.
“What is it?” said Arnie, finally.
“Sir, the photographs are in. I think you should see them.”
The man walked across to Arnie’s desk. His hands were shaking as he opened the folder and put a series of photographs in front of Arnie.
“At ease, man, for God’s sake,” said Arnie. “What is this?”
“Sir, they are pictures of the Earth, taken from Apollo 17.”
Arnie lined the photos up in front of him.
“Some of the boys think these pictures will change the world, Sir. They think they’re incredible.”
After a while Arnie sat back in his chair. He rubbed a hand across his mouth. He leaned forward to look at the photos again, then stared at his visitor.
“What’s your name, son?”
“I don’t understand, Brockhurst. Where the hell is everything?”
“All I can see is ocean, cloud and land. Where the hell are all the people? Where are the cities and towns? Where are the highways, the skyscrapers, the factories, the banks? Where are the boats and planes? Where are the railways? Where’s the Statue of Liberty? Where the hell is the Statue of Liberty? Where is everything?”
Brockhurst did not answer. He was still shaking.
“Calm down, dammit!”
“Sir, you can’t see any of those things, it’s too high up. Well, apart from this one thing.” Brockhurst pointed to a blurred line on one of the photographs. “We think that’s the Great Wall of China.”
Arnie looked at the photos again.
“So that’s it? Six thousand years of human history and all we have to show for it is a fucking wall? Built by fucking Chinamen?”
“Shut the hell up, private! Your superior is talking to you! We must bury these pictures, no one must see them, do you understand? Where are the bridges and dams? Where are all the cars? These are no good, destroy them, take some proper pictures where you can actually see what’s going on, these are no good?”
While he was shouting Arnie had grabbed the photos and torn them up, throwing the pieces at Brockhurst.
“No good! No good!” shouted Arnie. “Where’s the Empire State Building? Where’s the White House? No good! No good!”
Arnie picked up his desk and turned on its side with a smash, and Brockhurst backed away, turned, and ran out of the room, while Arnie screamed, a man, somehow alive on the earth, a roaring fleck of meat.
(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)
Dave Prescott lives with his wife Billie in Herefordshire, UK. His stories have appeared in Eclectica, Southern Ocean Review, Blue Mag, and Seventh Quark Magazine. He writes with Alex Keegan’s Boot Camp.