Nobody visits the surface of the earth anymore and this, according to Flicker, whose real name is Elizabeth Watson, and who, when she talks, blends contemporary bubble slang with what she claims is a vintage kind of swearing, is not just a problem but an opportunity. A money-making opportunity.
“Back when I was a kid,” she tells me, “it was badass totally the shitty thing to do, going down to the surface. It was dangerous and exciting.”
“There’s—I don’t know. It’s lost its hunt,” she says. “It’s legal, now, and regulated. There are those boots you have to wear and they’re ugly and huge and those suits you have to rent that are too expensive, and have you been in one? They smell like sweat and puke and who knows what else. And rappelling sounds like way more fun than it ever is. The whole thing has been drained of all romance. I mean, for a while, they tried billing it as a family place to visit, with museums and tours, but, I mean, even families could tell that shit wasn’t cool.” Then she smiles. “But don’t you worry. I know a way to bring it all back.”
Ten years ago, when she was still Elizabeth Watson, Flicker dropped out of school to open the retro nuclear-winter-themed club, End of Times, which she marketed with the slogan, Go out dancing.
“This friend of mine, this totally vintage found-object artist, had been hauling up band from the surface—mannequins and ceiling fans and coffee machines and goddamn—and creating these shitty towers and intricate miniature mazes with it all, but he had a lot of band left over and I told him about my dance club idea and he gave me some of that extra fuck he had and helped me haul up a bunch of other band. We found this old dentist’s chair and he helped me turn it into a fog fucking machine. Who doesn’t love a fog fucking machine? And we found this shitty beautiful mirror, like a real mirror, but at one point, during fallout maybe, it had fallen onto something, or someone, and had melted and molded into the shape of whatever and then, you know, after a while the whatever had disintegrated, but the mirror was still there. That mirror was shitty amazing. My friend wanted to keep it for himself but I was like, fucking no way, that goddamn is mine. Then, you know, after we got all this shitty contraband up and installed, we opened the club, and we had hired those kids to dress up like Korean refugees for opening night, and people went bananas over it.” She smiles and sighs. “We pulled in so much goddamn acid.”
End of Times, though, closed within the month after Agents raided the space and confiscated the surface contraband.
“People were getting sick, apparently,” she tells me. “I don’t know. I was in that club every night and I’m goddamn fine.”
For a while after she left End of Times, Flicker bounced from one project to another. She helped produce the Living Cube, a giant cube based on the Rubik’s Cube, but using people who had been skin-dyed to match the color squares from the old toy and who were moved around by competing teams. She managed the touring installation, Homeless, for almost a year. But time and time again, no matter what project she began or took control of, she couldn’t stop thinking of the surface.
“I just missed it,” she says. “I mean, I have so many shitty memories from high school of sneaking out of the house and jumping off the platform, back when we rigged up our own chutes, none of this rappelling fuck, and you get down there and everything is so foreign. It’s all shitty and like nothing else.”
So when she first heard about the discovery of the Echo, she knew she’d found her way back to all of that.
“Do you even know what it does, the Echo?” she asks me, and I have to admit to her that, while I’ve read the reports and studies, I do not know what the Echo does. “That’s the whole point, fuck. Nobody knows what it does. People just know what it is.”
In truth, researchers aren’t sure what it is, either, or, rather, what the consequences are of what it is. According to studies, the Echo is an atmospheric disturbance—or more accurately, a clearance—that materializes for ten to fifteen minute intervals. While the surface is rich with various chemical and atmospheric disturbances, what separates the Echo from these other disturbances are its radiation levels, which are lower than radiation levels taken anywhere else on the planet or in the upper atmosphere, including within the Bubble, but even more compelling is the fact that highly-radiated objects passed through the Echo become themselves radiation-clean.
Flicker’s idea, then, as she explained it to me, is to run semi-legal couple tours down to the surface and to the Echo for sex sessions.
Why sex sessions, I ask her.
She laughs. “Sex sells.” Then, “But really people can do whatever the shit they want to in the Echo. I mean. Drink a glass of water or just sit around naked for fifteen minutes and then when it disappears and you’re exposed all you do is wait for it to come back and clean yourself off.”
I wonder aloud if sex in the Echo might be tricky. According to the reports, it’s a small space, for one, and also, ten minutes isn’t very long.
She raises her eyebrows at me and offers a mocking smile. “Really? You think you’ll need more than ten minutes?”
Story by Manuel Gonzales
Photo by Emily Raw