It had been 2,300 years since humanity had reached perfection.
That was it. There was no corrupt government. There was no elimination of the individual. There was no rigid rulebook or crippling sameness. It was perfection in unity and diversity, perfection in the very definition of the word. It was perfection and that was it.
There were flying cars. There was no pollution. There were space stations on the moon. There were no aliens. There was peace. There was no war. People had just decided some 2,300 years ago to start thinking logically.
And that was it.
Trudy McGary didn’t think it was strange when people went around wearing slick suits of adaptable metal or helmets for anti-gravity safety or translucent rose goggles that shaded the eyes and plugged the ears. She didn’t think it was strange for the exact same reason that YOU don’t think it’s strange when men ties long strands of fabric around their necks in gangly bows or when women drag sharp edges of their legs to rid them of dead material protruding from follicles. That was simply what it was, and that was it.
Like anyone who had been born in the last 2,300 years, Trudy drove flying cars and didn’t cause pollution, she went to the moon and didn’t witness aliens, she was at peace and didn’t go to war.
There was an endless amount of possibilities for every second of every minute of every day. No one had to work anymore, since contrary to coming from farms like in the olden days, people had decided food should come from stores instead. And, unlike in the Imperfect Times when water sometimes got dirty and poisoned, people took it upon themselves to decree that it should always be clean, just because. And since the prices of everything had changed from being expensive to being free, everyone could spend every day doing whatever they wanted.
Trudy spent this day playing sports.
The game was tennis, and that was it, except that the gravity was turned off so you had to swim through the air to send the ball floating lazily over a net that wasn’t there, since there would be no point because the ball could go in literally any direction from the 5th dimension on out.
Her tennis partner was named Petey Tiller, and he wore a fashionable pair of rose-tinted goggles that shaded the eyes and plugged the ears. These goggles were a fad that had begun around 2,300 years ago, and Trudy had spent her whole life looking to buy a pair of her own and being unable to find them.
“Maybe you have a problem with your eyesight.” Petey had suggested. “Maybe you can’t find them in any store because you need something to help your vision? Why don’t you get a pair of goggles like mine? They help ME see!”
So Trudy looked, but she couldn’t find one anywhere.
It was maybe Trudy’s poor eyesight that made her so bad at playing tennis. She’d lost to Petey Tiller, who was a perfect tennis player, 2,304 times, and that was it.
“It’s forty-love, love.” Petey said. “Game point.”
“Game point.” Trudy murmured. She wriggled through the gravity-less air towards the ball. Anti-gravity didn’t make you float, it made you stay. It you went on the floor, you were on the floor. If you went in the air, you were in the air. You were where you went, and that was it.
Trudy went squirming through the air like an earthworm through molasses instead of earth, not difficult, just sticky. She clamped her glove around the lounging tennis ball and hammered it madly with her racket.
It burst through the air like a spaceship through molasses instead of space, that is to say, extremely quickly, because even the stickiest molasses is no match for a thousand tons of fire and rocket fuel. Trudy was a terrible tennis player, but she had a h.ell of an arm.
“Aw, Trudy, this is a new one!” Petey moaned. “Look at it! It went right into the air vent!”
Indeed, it had gone right into the air vent, and was clattering at that very moment through the shaft, among puffs of violet anti-gravity gasses, and gradually peeking its way towards the realm of gravity.
“Hold on, we can still finish the game.” Said Trudy. She wormed through the air towards the vent. “I’ll get it.”
“Well, hold on!” Petey squiggled after her. “You can’t just go shimmying around through the vent!”
But it was too late; she had already gone shimmying around through the vent and had disappeared.
“Well, for goodness sakes!” Petey groaned. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you can get it by yourself without my chivalry, is there?”
Trudy was too deep in the air vent to answer, so Petey took the inevitable silence to mean no, there was no chance she could get it by herself without his chivalry, and he shimmied on in after her.
Petey caught up with Trudy a while down the shaft. So far down, in fact, that down was actually a concept. They had shimmied out of the anti-gravity tennis room and were no longer suspended in molasses. They braced their arms and legs against the narrow walls to keep from pitching face-first into whatever there was at the bottom of the tunnel.
“I don’t see the ball, Trudy, we should go back.” Petey whined.
“I know it’s down here.” Trudy said, her face hard-set in the shadows. “I heard it hit the bottom.”
“There’s a bottom?” gulped Petey.
“Everything must have a bottom.” Trudy answered. “Just like every day must have a night and every person must have a mother.”
Only, in the perfect world, lamps kept the day going all through the night, and babies were grown perfectly in labs, with no mother at all. Just a test tube and that was it. So Trudy and Petey began to wonder if the shaft really did have a bottom at all.
“This is it. I’m going to fall.”
“Then we’ll see if there’s an end to this tunnel. If there is, then we’ll fall into the bottom and find the ball. And if there isn’t, then there will be nothing for us to hit and we won’t get hurt. We win either way!”
Before Trudy could argue, Petey compressed his limbs and dropped into her. Gravity pushed his fashionable goggles into the back of her head, and the both of them down the shaft.
There WAS a bottom to the air-less vent, and they hit it, and , of course, it hurt. They landed in a liquid patch of muck, which got in Trudy’s eyes and made her wish more than ever that she had a pair of rose-tinted goggles of her own.
“Well,” Petey demanded, slinging mud off his pink lenses, “Where are we?”
“I don’t know.” Trudy mumbled. “Let me find that ball.”
She plodded off, leaving mucky footprints behind her for Petey to follow.
The shaft opened up into a field unlike any other Trudy had ever seen. It was imperfect, but that was not it. It was also filthy, and crowded, and smelly, and utterly foreign.
A look of realization came over Petey’s face. “Haven’t you ever been here before?” He smiled, and lifted up his goggles to peek lenseless at the scene. He sometimes began to believe that Trudy knew everything, since she knew so much that he did not. He had trouble differentiating between the things that only smart people knew—like that, even in the presence of test tubes and lamps, every child DOES have a mother and every day DOES have a night and every fall DOES have a bottom—and things that no one knew, like how in the world there could exist a place so filthy and crowded and smelly and utterly foreign.
There were people everywhere, strange people, with wet faces. There was water on the foreheads and water in the eyes.
“What is this place?” Trudy asked. The wet-eyes people marched in timeless circles around a splintered wheel, longer in diameter than a flying saucer. They were the ugliest humans she had ever seen, with skin that hung in curtains off their faces and sharp, hungry teeth that couldn’t be contained by their lips. Their arms were made of bone and papery flesh, and that was it. Not a single one wore a pair of fashionable rose-tinted goggles that shielded the eyes and plugged the ears.
Their sharp-edged wheel turned a smaller wheel, which turned a smaller one, which move a crank on a big metal canister labeled “DI 9FFTR731 Anti-Gravity Gasses”. Puffs of violet air were coughed out of the machine and into the shaft.
Similar wheels went on for miles, turning cranks connecting to wheezing and sputtering canisters of all sizes. Some oozed glues, some smoked gasses, some bled waters, some vomited food. Each one was manipulated by the same cast of sallow, bony creatures.
“What IS this place?” Trudy whispered again. “And those—people? Are they LIVING down here? What are they turning all those wheels for?”
Petey began to laugh, and suctioned his goggles back over his eyes. “I can’t believe it!” he snorted. “This really IS your first time! You really ARE a naïve little girl AND a horrible tennis player!”
“Where are we?” demanded Trudy. “We’re got to help these—er—humans!”
Petey shook his head and clucked his tongue. “Here.” He flicked a switch on the wall and a pair of rose-tinted goggles popped out of a hidden window. They were very fashionable. “Put these on. They help.”
Trudy took the goggles in revered silence. After years of searching, they’d been here all along? She slid them over her head sacredly. The rose-tinted lenses shielded her eyes and the straps plodded her ears and everything became rosy and clear. Those baggy animals, those starving people, those splintered wheels—she couldn’t see any of them. She could believe, if she really wanted to, that they had never been there at all. And who in the world wouldn’t want to do that? She couldn’t hear the creaking of see their wet faces; she heard fuzz and saw pink. She glanced over at Petey.
“See?” he smiled. “All better.”
Trudy retrieved the tennis ball from the empty field and made her way back over to the shaft with her brand new goggles suctioned fashionably over her eyes. The two were lifted back through the tunnel to the tennis room by coughs of anti-gravity gasses. The sweet violet clouds came from perfect oval canisters that were not attached to wheels that were not attached to larger wheels that were not attached the largest wheels that were not turned by the dirtiest and saddest humans that no one had never seen, and that was it.