Brian K. Lowe
They dismantled Australia today. Just took it apart and packed it in trunks and carried it off to a warehouse somewhere. Theoretically, everybody had already left, but there’s always somebody who doesn’t leave, no matter what the disaster… fire, flood, dissolution of the planet… What happened to those people when the entire set we called the Southern Continent was struck and hauled away?
I don’t really want to know.
Oh, and I’m having lunch with my agent today. I got a postcard in the mail. Well, in my mailbox, since there’s no “mail” any more. Even with sixty percent of the human race dead or terminally insane, that still leaves over two billion of us. How do they keep track of who’s alive, who’s sane, and where we can be found?
And since when do I have an agent?
My ‘agent’ jumped up to greet me. “Marty! It’s good to finally meet you in person.”
Thin, a little bald on top, so apparently human, ‘his’ office shelves and desk were filled with Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Hugos… He held out a business card and waved me toward a cushy guest chair. “You can call me Sid. Sit down, we got a lot to talk about.”
He looked and sounded like he’d gotten his whole identity from watching cheap cable shows. Then I remembered — he had. One show in particular. It was called “Earth.”
“It was a good show, while it lasted,” Sid was saying, nodding to himself. “Intrigue, romance, and most important, horrible, violent action. Viewers eat that up. Not that they take action. They’re all, ‘We’re so evolved. We’re beings of thought. We have forsaken our physical bodies.’ Yeah, right. So evolved they watch ‘lesser beings’ murder each other all day fifty different ways to Sunday. If that’s ‘evolved,'” he made exaggerated air quotes, “who needs it.”
I clenched my fists. “They like the violence?”
“Of course! But all good things must come to an end. You guys jumped the shark when you started that League of Nations stuff. I still had hopes you’d backslide and go out with a big, planet-shattering finale, all ICBMs and nuclear winter… “
I worked on unclenching my jaws.
“Oh, well,” Sid sighed, “what’s done is done, but if you’ve got to be cancelled, at least I can find work for a few of my fellow ‘lesser beings.’ Like you, Marty. Not one in a million has your gift–or your fan base.”
“Fan base? What, you mean my blog?”
Sid threw back his head and guffawed. It was an ugly sound, and it reminded me that no matter what he looked like, Sid was not human.
“Marty, Marty, Marty. Your blog never had more than 14 followers. Even your mother didn’t read it. I’m talking about fans. Viewers. They love you! Well, they love to watch you… There are 18 billion ‘evolved’ beings out there who think you’re one of the most aggravating creatures in the multiverse. Granted, I thought you’d jumped the shark yourself when you started attending those anger management seminars, but you saved the day when you clocked your brother. Very dramatic. I laughed.”
I felt like I’d been smashed in the chest with a baseball bat. “Beings… watching me? Personally?”
Sid leaned over and gently slapped my face. “Yes, you. Personally. This is a reality show, remember? They’ve been watching you all your life. They’re watching you right now. Your fans are on the edge of their seats waiting to see if you’ll agree to a show of your own.”
He swiveled a huge screen showing thousands of squares of various alien faces peering anxiously at me. I could only stare, and make faint squawking noises.
“See? They’re taking bets in Vegas.”
I held up my hand to stop him. “No. Wrong. They packed up Vegas six months ago.”
“Oh contrary, mi amigo. Multiversal Studios bought the whole town and licensed it to the Andromeda Galaxy. Man, I wish that’d been my client. They got killer ratings. But hey, I got you.”
“What do you mean, you got me? Who gave me to you?”
“Marty, baby, you’ve got it all wrong. Nobody gave you to me, they gave me to you.” He shrugged. “Okay, maybe a little of both. I picked up your option when Earth was cancelled. Cost me a pretty penny, too. But I know you’re worth it.”
“You picked up my option? Like, from the people who are taking Earth apart? You know them?”
Sid turned from the screen. “Well, I don’t exactly know them, but we do business in the same circles. There were rumors Earth was about to be taken off, so I jumped in and started making some deals.”
He sat up straighter and took a conspiratorial look around. “To be honest, I did them a favor. If I hadn’t shown them there was still some value in the franchise, they would have just let it run straight into the ground. Another hundred years, you guys would have figured out how to work together. Pretty soon, bam! No more wars, no more famine”
“Are you saying,” I croaked, finding it hard to speak while hyperventilating, “that if you hadn’t stepped in, we would have solved our problems?”
“Exactly, Marty, baby! Now, my neck is on the line if you don’t agree to a show, so just sign here –“
“ — No more wars? No more pollution? No more homelessness?” My fingers began to clench spasmodically.
“No more misery — and no more ratings! Utter disaster! Now, this is our standard contract…”
My breath was coming in gasps. “You destroyed the Earth for ratings!?“
“The network would have dropped you like a hot spanokopita!”
My anger management techniques dissolved in a red haze. I jumped from the chair, grabbed a rocket-shaped Hugo, leapt over the desk, and clocked him.
“Marty! Is this negotiation? What do you want?”
“Leave us alone!”
“No can do.”
I clocked him again. “Leave us alone or I won’t sign.”
“So now you’re a prima donna?”
I clocked him once for every word. “Leave us alone or I won’t stop.”
“And bring Australia back”
More clocking. A lot, lot more. “And the rest of the planet!”
“Alright, Australia comes back.”
“And – “
“No, that’s it!”
“And make it rain down there once in a while.”
“That’s no fun.”
I clocked him until I couldn’t pick my arm up anymore.
“Alright! We leave you alone, remantle Earth, Australia gets rain.” Sid’s voice burbled from the alien form arising from the remains of his human head.
I stalked off, still clutching the Hugo, and he called after me.
“Hey Marty, what a bloody mess! That’s what I’m talking about! The networks are gonna love you!”
“Reality Show” © Brian K. Lowe. First published here in Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, July 31, 2022
Brian K. Lowe is the author of over twenty stories appearing in Galaxy’s Edge, Escape Pod, and Daily Science Fiction. He has also published several novels of science fiction and mystery. Currently he is concentrating on producing the serial adventures of various science fiction, fantasy, and action heroes. You can visit his website at brianklowe.wordpress.com