Missives from the Future: 2099 (Tegan Elizabeth Webb)
I’m making Gran a bee for her birthday. I’m making it out of aluminum can scraps and bits of broken plastic and glass. I’m almost finished, it’s not perfect but it’s pretty close to perfect, and I think she will love it. Last year I forgot her birthday altogether, so this year I’m making up for it.
This time last year I was still pretty sad about Mum not staying with us. I’ve lived in this house on this small patch of high ground with Gran for almost two years now, which means it’s been just over two years since the bacteria that’s bad for humans broke out, and one and half years since the bacteria that’s bad for AI became a thing. They’re both kind of like the strain that started breaking down shipwrecks in the early 2020’s, except one eats flesh and one eats this certain type of synthetic material that most AIs are made of nowl. Both turn their food into oxygen though, which is good I guess, we need more of that. We need more oxygen and more trees and more bees to help all the plants that have died off grow back. When I’d got here Gran only just started planting the bee garden.
Gran’s sitting in our bee garden listening to her favourite band again. Mum used to play them all the time around our old house, but she always had the Notes app open on her iPad when she did, waiting to hear something new even though we’d listened to those songs so many times. I asked Gran once if we could listen to something else, but she said we don’t have anything else to listen to, she told me again that this was all she and other Gran and mum could bail out of the house that got hit by the hurricane. She said it with sadness, and I felt kind of bad for asking, but I don’t know, that was all before I was born. She’s shown me pictures of the Beatles, and of actual beetles, but I’ve never seen either in real life. There are certain types of flowers that we can’t grow because there aren’t any bees, or beetles, or worms where we live now.
This morning Gran showed me some more photos of my other grandma on an iPad with a cracked screen. Gran kept it even though everyone stopped using it, and that was a good thing too, because it meant she still had something when everything new started to crash. They were close up photos of their faces, in front of neon signs, in front of mountains, in front of a supermarket. The last time I saw a supermarket was the last time I saw my other Grandmother. Those two things aren’t connected, they just happen to have happened on the same day. They look happy, though.
“I know Mum loved the Beatles because other Gran loved the Beatles, but why did other Gran like them so much?” Gran just shrugs her shoulders and said, “other Gran liked old things.”
“Is that why she loved you?” I asked.
“Cheeky,” she said, but she was smiling. “No, other Gran was very sentimental. I think the music reminded her of her mum.”
I snorted, because there really is no one more sentimental than this Gran. She has a piece of every place that means something to her attached to her body somehow, either on the outside or the inside. Gran’s sentimentality is the reason she’s not affected by the bacteria; she didn’t get the free upgrade because she was afraid they’d take out all the bits that weren’t her.
“It’s a good thing I care about things like that,” she always says when I tease her about it, “it’s why I’m still here.”
When I was really little, Gran and I used to play this game where we would pretend bolts were seeds and plant them in the ground. In the morning I’d look out my window and be so surprised and kind of freaked out that metal flowers had sprung up overnight. It took until I was almost ten to realise that Gran had been building the flowers herself in the shed, and then burying them in the ground where we’d planted the seeds the day before. I was so mad at her for making me almost believe that metal plants could grow from metal pieces, I only forgave her when she promised me she’d show me how to make one.
Now we build flowers together, we plant them in the soil where real flowers won’t grow. The first flower I made was a daisy, I called it Red Daisy because while I was making it I cut my fingers up on the petals. Daisies are harder than they look because all the petals have to be the same size. My favourite flowers to make are peonies because they have so many petals you can’t really put one in the wrong place.
Gran doesn’t know anything about the bee, though. I have to get up extra early, and sneak out to the shed, like she did when I was little and I didn’t know the difference between organic and inorganic matter.
I’m using whatever scrap metal I can find to build it, mostly because it’s all we’ve got left, but also because I don’t want the bee to look too much like a bee. The body is mostly aluminum scraps from a bunch of old soft drink cans we found buried in one of the garden beds, and the plastic I’m using for the wings is from a broken bucket we used to use for fertilizer. I’m worried that if it looks too much like a bee she might mistake it for a real bee, and then I’d have to figure out what real bees actually do. I know they built hives and pollinate flowers and make honey and stuff, but I’ve never seen a bee in real life, I don’t know how to mimic bee movements. And I know that if Gran sees what she thinks is a real bee, and then finds out that it is a fake bee, she’ll crumble, but it’ll be worse than all those new AI getting eaten up from the inside out because it’ll just be her heart. If I were with mum I would just look up a video of bees flying on the iPad. But there’s no reception out here. That’s why mum isn’t out here with us. She’s in the city, still, sailing her boat between signal towers, trying to get us out of here, because Mum and Gran are different that way. Mum is always trying to figure out how to get us off this dying planet, but Gran thinks we need to stick around and clean up our mess. I don’t know which I go yet, maybe a bit of both? I don’t want to leave the bee garden, and everything that Gran and I have built behind, but every day it’s getting harder to breath.
I hope she’s still coming back for Gran’s birthday, though.
This story was written by Tegan Elizabeth Webb.