The Astounding Life of Penny Wu by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

The Astounding Life of Penny Wu

by D.A. Xiaolin Spires


Penny Wu hails from the ISS. No, that’s not entirely true. Scratch that. She did once hail from the ISS, where she was born, but now she drifts in space, her eversuit recycling her waste and returning it to her as oxygen and food. Moisture and nutrients conserved. She could live like this forever. The suit zaps her muscles, exercising them. It keeps her alive, telling her when to sleep, when to wake up and alerts her of danger. There’s not much danger here in the wide expanse of infinite darkness and even if the suit beeps, she can’t do really much about it, seeing that her propulsion’s broken.

So, she drifts. Yet, she doesn’t want to call herself a drifter. It sounds too much like a vagabond. Like she lost control of her suit and is now coasting. Which is what she’s doing—the frayed parts of the tethers skimming the void behind her like a tail, attest to that. So, is that what she wants her bio to say? That she did once hail from the ISS, born and raised in a lab, like a chicken? That she was out with the suit when the meteorites hit?

She shakes her head. It feels stiff, like everything else in her body, even if it’s maintained by the caretaker suit. Did once hail. Did once make a life for herself on that station. No, she doesn’t want to say that. She doesn’t like the past tense. It makes her feel like she’s an artifact, a faraway object, kept behind glass for peering at. Even if her face is perpetually behind the dome glass of her space suit. Even if there’s no one to read this bio for her memoir. Even if this recording she’s talking into just careens along with her, into the abyss. Even if all of the ISS is gone now, struck by those tenacious bits of stupid, impassive rock that finds survival to be a zero sum game and that they need to take out all competition, even organic intelligence.

She likes to give the meteorites agency. She likes to give everything and everyone agency, most of all, herself.

Yes, yes, she is in control of her life, her bio. She will make what she wants of it. But, how does she fit her whole life into one hundred words? And does merely evoking her residence mean anything at all? They wanted it in writing—does talking into this microphone even count as writing? And who cares anyway? They’re probably gone. She doesn’t know for sure, but one look at the destruction she was flying away from and—her heart aches thinking about it again.

This is her chance at finishing her memoir. She has written all the entries, careful, day after day, the collection of her exhibition-like existence. They found a nice holopic of her for the cover. One without tubes and needles and prying appendages. One that leaves out all the camera drones floating about her, capturing her every move. All that’s left is to write the bio, sign it and it’s off to the cyberwave press. Maybe they’ll be able to find her again, that they’re alive and thinking of her, ready to capture her like a giant claw and finally append that bit that seals her being into her nearly-finished piece of work. Her own monograph of herself. Her magnum opus. Her pièce de résistance.

The bio. My bio, she thinks. My bio for my book. It’s the garnish to the pièce de résistance. The most important garnish, the one that makes the entirety of the aesthetic composition come together. Her stamp of being the creator. Maybe she still will be published, to be memorialized in hyperink. But, maybe they published it anyway, that they wrenched control from her hands, from her lips making the recording. Maybe they took over her life, wrote a blurb about how she spent her days wandering the ISS halls, floating along, exercising, breathing, tending to the garden. How she had no specialized skills unlike everybody else but was the experiment herself.

She’s sick of being the one subjected. She at once craves and yearns to be the object of attention, her life to be held in the hands and read (because isn’t that what she was always made to do, fulfilling her life prophecy of being always under scrutiny?) and at once sick of not being able to control the terms of that. The words keep flowing from her mouth. If you saw me from afar, she mutters, if you were some omniscient being watching me from the haze that is this blackness of space (like the billions of eyes upon her in constant surveillance and observation, she thinks wryly), you’d just see my mouth moving, talking, talking—as if the sound of her voice inside her suit would give her legitimacy. Of bringing her identity and a sense of being. She has lost a lot of that now—that sense of existence, even if her existence has always been a joke, a show pony, a metaphor for the future and any other kind of symbolic thing that doesn’t really exist. Except in the abstract, except in secondary layers of meaning for humanity, or for mankind.

Derivative. She is a derivative of life, not made of it. She laughs. If they only saw her now, drifting, drifting. Stop using that word. I’m not a drifter. But, she is. She just courses along, hoping, waiting that she is making one giant arc, that she’ll orbit back home. Home, she laughs. But, maybe. Maybe she will. And the one hundred words she commands, that tells people who she is, will make it back to her people, as distanced as she is from them, physically and emotionally—that she will still take the reins on her life and curate it for them to see.

Penny Wu is a fierce astronaut who maintains command of her suit, she lies. Penny is the daughter of stem cells, no, Penny is the culmination of human existence, a brand for the future. She enjoys cooking with food packets, sniffing flowers at the conservatory and playing air soccer. Like any other ISS resident, she likes a good drink, which means she likes to pitch globules of juice in the air and chomp onto it, while being careful not to ‘spill,’ aka turning the larger globule into smaller floating orbs of liquid. She’s especially good at drinking that way. Sometimes, she just likes to stare out the window and hope for the view of passing cosmic objects, which comes quite rarely, the singular activity she can still partake in now. She champions equal opportunity, advocates hope above all and cares about the fate of her people. This is her first publication.

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