Kna’n is synonymous with pleasure. As night falls on Yairko, its largest metropolis, the Great Orgy begins. Girls dressed in sheer black skirts, with golden coin belts jangling at their hips, chase the fleeing sunlight down the street. They shout to one another, and their laughs slice through the evening haze. The gold gleams like a fresh cut. A tall young man, maybe nineteen years old, pulls off his shirt. His chestnut hair gets tousled as he tugs his head out, and it looks soft as the dusk. He reaches into his back pocket and draws out a crystal flask that glitters sharp against the dimming light.
Pop! The youth holds the marble stopper in his hand. He has uncorked the bottle, and now he pours its contents—some sort of oil—onto his chest. A powerful scent, akin to the woody sweetness of myrrh, seeps through the air, curling into the twilight, dizzying the senses. He tosses the now empty flask to the ground and it smashes into sparkling fragments. It could have been a windowpane of glass. Doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Other men walk past him, some also shirtless, others stripped down completely. The shards are strewn across the pavement, shattered, beautiful.
Booming bass notes make even the stones jump. FUCK ME, I’M FREE! The green and electric blue bubble letters spray-painted on the side of a building shudder with each blow. All the people can feel the asphalt beating against their feet, in time with their own drumming hearts. Music blasts from every club that lines every street. There are no restaurants, because everyone is running on their night nutpacs. Inside the Lascivious Cat, a silk woman’s voice whispers sex; next door, dubstep pulses warp the foggy interior of Club High-Ho. Men and women grip each other in primal dance, outside against brick walls, inside on stained couches, anywhere they want. No one cares. Sometimes other people will join.
These celebrations continue until the early hours. But too soon Waset creeps up from behind the horizon, and its fingers grasp futilely at the dark, trying to make the night stay. As the unwelcome light burns through the city, everyone scatters with the shadows back to hollow apartments. A girl with flushed cheeks and tired blue eyes takes a morning nutpac and her work clothes from the closet. She stares at herself in the mirror, and rubs a smudge of lipstick from her temple with her thumb. Then she replaces her bangles with a pencil skirt. Sucking the brown liquid through straws, she and other partygoers find energy in their nutrient smoothie. Her eyes sparkle once more, shattered glass. Yairkoans emerge from their flats, like so many zombies, to go to work.
In the daytime, you would never guess that Kna’n was a paradise for the flesh. The people are so efficient, so focused on getting their jobs done. Stockbrokers shout into the phone or hit their keyboards like a game of whack-a-mole, trying to accumulate gold whichever way they can. Mine managers watch the display screens that show dripping tunnels, while their birch-haired employees murmur commands to robots whose sensors blip as they seek out diamond deposits. Food workers silently stare at the conveyer belts that move nutpac—short for Nutrition Package™—cups along; machines squirt each container with nutrients, assembling morning, noon, and night concoctions of the thick sludge. Everyone works hard and fast because they understand that their nights wouldn’t be possible if the city should fail to operate smoothly during the day.
The government makes sure of this. It keeps Kna’n polished as an eggshell.
It keeps all its citizens beautiful and thin. Nutpacs are key to its success. Every individual is entitled to three nutpacs a day. The nutritional content of each nutpac corresponds to the subject’s proper weight range, as calculated by Kna’n’s top doctors, based on height, bone structure, and various other factors. Unfortunately it’s not a perfect system—once in a while a boy’s stomach begins to curve into a crescent moon, or a girl’s face softens like butter. They normally turn themselves in right away for treatment, to be entrusted to an exercise asylum until they are fit to be seen in public again. If no one has reported the fat gain and it expands to shocking proportions, the offender is quietly removed to the FER for immediate slenderizing surgery. These procedures must be upheld, for the good of Kna’n. After all, a great part of its charm is the Kna’nites themselves: a beautiful, thin people.
For certainly they are beautiful and thin! Young too—when a Kna’nite’s body starts to deteriorate, the aging man or woman is simply issued a final nutpac that has been laced with poison. It’s better that way, because once sex becomes difficult, how much pleasure can a person really get out of life?
Kna’nite women don’t even have to worry about pregnancy, about enduring the pain of childbirth or marring their taut skin with stretch marks. They undergo an operation to remove their wombs as soon as their menses begin. Babies are instead conceived in birthing labs. The dimly lit rooms contain lines of capsules that hold fragile embryos suspended like coral in amber elixir. Birthers maintain strict surveillance over the rows; they also select the genes that should come together in a handsome child. Teak pigmentation and ebony ringlets for this one, silver-flecked irises of violet for that one. When the embryos have developed into infants capable of living outside their matrix, they are placed in child-rearing institutes where they remain until they reach sexual maturity. If a baby possesses any defects (often eyes that aren’t bright enough), it is disposed of in a humane manner—injected with the lethal toxin, and incinerated.
Free even from the fear of becoming pregnant, this youthful people are an untethered race. Girls float beside sticky bars like shiny red balloons, and sleek boys snake along in their wake. They form no attachments. You can wrap yourself into a stranger all night long—music thrumming through your veins, incense stale against your teeth, carpet gritty on your fingertips— and then leave in the morning without a single glance back. All citizens of Kna’n are free.
They are free to go skyscraper-jumping, free to go car-chasing. Groups of children, with their rearers drifting behind them, frequent the porn museums. Occasionally some Yairkoans even opt out of a night’s revelry to watch a play, many of which were brought centuries before by their ancestors. Often you can hear a Kna’nite quoting Shakespeare, ‘If music be the throes of sex, play on…’
But no one leaves Yairko. The countryside, they say, is nothing but a wasteland, a wilderness. Should you venture out there, you would only come back with welts on your arms and splotches on your face. If you came back at all, that is—apparently vicious creatures are just waiting outside the metropolis, ready to tear into even the most flawless oaken flesh without hesitation.
So all the Kna’nites stay within the city. Every night the elven figures flit downtown towards the streets paved with lounges. A naked man stares at the glowing sign for the Steam Pavilion; it sizzles with electricity. Other slim forms waver in front of Coy Tease, knocked back by the thudding sound waves. The gleaming hoops and oiled bodies drift towards more midnight encounters, already rehearsed for the next primal dance. But before they hurry away from their lonely flats, they drink their night nutpacs, which will supply their bodies with the exact number of calories they need for the night. They hold their breath, slurp up the mud, and go.
Beyond the city limits, where no one ever goes, grows a verdant wood. Somewhere within, the bramble vines and peaty smell of decaying logs clear away to reveal a glade. Long blades of grass break through the wrinkled paper leaves that carpet the ground. Trees surround the clearing. They bow towards the others across the space, and their outstretched tendrils intertwine like lovers into a translucent canopy. Light filters through it, gilding everything with ethereal gold.
In the center of the glade, there is a tree. Its ancient trunk is tightly flexed, cords bulging with lifeblood. Plump fruits hang from its branches, almost hidden among the foliage. The lips of a Yairkoan girl are far more polished than the fruits’ blushing skins, and if a youth’s glistening chest be smooth, then these are rough with knots. Yet what an aroma—the fragrance hovers in the air, warm—soft as the faint shaking of the leaves. No one knows of the tree’s existence, but there it stands, threatening the very foundation of Kna’n.
If a Kna’nite should somehow find her way into these woods, she could reach up, and tug a fruit from the lowest bough—and taste. She might for the first time enjoy eating; she might feel growing inside of her a strange appetite, not in the loins but in the gut. She might see a vision of families that break bread around a table, that laugh together over bright dishes, that know Shakespeare really said ‘the food of love’. So the tree continues to wait—mysterious and old, new and familiar—just waiting for someone to come and see that it is good. A wind stirs through the waxy leaves. The scent of the fruit wafts all around the empty glade.
Image: Apple Light by Austin Valley