Text by: Sally McKay
The tourist was disoriented. The inter-planet commuter shuttles used a free fall system that always made him dizzy. The station was busy. People jostled and announcements crackled. He looked around and tried to act like he was part of the crowd.
There was a large transit map on the wall, a tangle of coloured lines that swam before his eyes. There was a yellow arrow labelled "You are here." Now at least he was located as a point on a line. This space station, on the purple line, was just a hub so he would need to go somewhere else before he could start exploring. He scanned the map. It didn't matter what district he chose, at first glance every population planet in the system was pretty much the same. Then tourist noticed a red line, extending out towards the edge of the map. There was a station marked "ZOO." Could that really mean what it said?
The tourist zipped along the purple line in a silvery pod. There was a window but the optic blur of transit speed made it hard to pick out details. He yawned. The pod would wake him up for his transfer to the red line.
Eventually the pod slowed and dipped down into a station. This hub station was smaller, and there were fewer people around. His transfer to the red line was clearly marked with a big red stripe, but the platform was almost empty. The tourist waited. He was hungry, so he ate one of his pre-packed nut bars. He felt strange. The tourist was used to being surrounded by bustling busy people. Finally a small group of pods pulled up, all of them empty. The tourist got into one and punched the button for "ZOO." He was very curious, and a bit excited. A zoo was a very old-fashioned feature from back in the trophy days. The tourist understood trophies. He was a collector himself who belonged in the past, and he was addicted to unique experiences, rare in the modern world, which he gathered and hoarded as memory souvenirs.
The pod moved more slowly on the red line. Sometimes he could glimpse structures and the subtransit mechanicals churning away below. The tourist closed his eyes and called up mental storage. He flipped through his souvenirs, revisiting the tiny No-License where he had paid an old lady six hundred units for an ounce of liquid whiskey that nearly knocked him out, and that little bit of shoreline, tucked between extractors and refiners, where he had thrown things into the water and heard them splash. Of course he had been to plenty of retro-tainment shows with their old-world delight inductions, but for some reason he preferred snooping around the system on his own.
Finally the pod dropped to a stop. The station was completely silent. Somewhere there was water dripping. His footsteps echoed. Outside was a street with low buildings and cracks in the pavement. There was hardly any superstructure, and there was nobody in sight. He could actually see the sky, a pale grey slate way up above. Normally he'd expect a local shuttle, but the place seemed completely deserted. In fact, the district looked like it had been abandoned a long time ago.
The tourist walked. Soon he saw an arrow saying "ZOO." He walked some more. Suddenly the tourist stopped and gasped. At his feet, poking out of the pavement was a green stem — a plant. He bent down and stared. It was a thin stalk with a roundish leaf. He had heard of plants growing on their own but had never seen one. The tourist snapped a memory souvenir. That alone was worth the trip.
He continued along the empty streets until finally he came to a big grey gate with the word ZOO on it. It was closed. He pushed but nothing happened. There were high walls extending in both directions. He walked along to the right. Suddenly he heard a loud raspy croak. The tourist looked up. A black creature sat on the wall. It had a beady eye and a beak and wings. A real bird! The tourist took a memory snap and then they stared at each other, the tourist holding his breath. Eventually the black bird blinked and flew away. The tourist noticed that there was a small gap in the wall, low to the ground. He bent over and crawled through.
The tourist almost yelled in shock, and he almost crawled back through the hole. But instead he stood up and stared. There were plants everywhere. Beneath his feet was a bed of little leaves extended like a carpet. All around his head was rustling green foliage. There were thorns and even some white and yellow flowers. There could be all kinds of poisons here. He was surrounded by brambles and bushes, but there was a way to walk forward, a path, and he took it. He came to an opening with more cracked pavement. There were structures — concrete walls and metal grills. Vines grew up over everything. The air smelled heavy and rich.
Zoos were for animals. But these cages were empty. The tourist became afraid. If a bird could fly free on its own, animals could be wandering around too. The tourist had never seen a real animal. Suddenly there was a loud chittering, like a tool hammering into metal. A small furry creature sat on a branch nearby, clucking and jabbering at him. Was it dangerous? He took a memory snap of the animal, and then went a little further into the opening. He wanted to collect as many souvenirs from this place as he could get. The squirrel watched him.
The new silence seemed ominous, and full of potential noise. The tourist imagined that there were animals all around, staring and breathing in the bushes.
Then there was a loud grunt. The tourist spun around and behind him was a gigantic beast. It had shiny black fur and huge paws with claws as big as screwdrivers. The animal stood up on its rear legs and roared; showing a long snout with huge wet teeth. The tourist had been to retro-tainment about bears and he knew enough to turn and run back down the path. The bear crashed along behind him, huffing and snarling. As the tourist squeezed through the wall he felt a tug on his leg. He yelped and rolled forward, pulling himself out onto the empty street. The bear could not fit through the hole.
The tourist panted. One of his shoes was missing and he had a scratch on his ankle. The bear was snorting and shuffling inside. His heart pumping, his chest heaving, the tourist knew that he needed to collect a trophy. He did not have a souvenir of the bear. He took a step back toward the hole, then another. The animal was quiet now. Was it still there? The tourist bent down, and slowly stuck his head through the gap. The bear was waiting for him. The tourist snapped one last memory souvenir, a visual for the storage collection, of flashing claws and teeth and fur.
Sally McKay is a writer, curator, and artist working in performance, video, and web-based digital art. She is engaged in a long-term project about perception, science, and wilderness which includes a multi-media project about neutrinos, "The Trouble With Oscillation," presented at the Sudbury Art Gallery, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Subtle Technologies Symposium in Toronto, and online at www.sallymckay.ca/oscillation. Sally was co-owner/editor of the Toronto art magazine Lola.
Crystal Mowry is an artist currently based in Guelph, Ontario. She received an AOCAD from the Ontario College of Art and Design and an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. Her recent exhibitions include Quantal Strife (curated by Sally McKay), and collaborations with Panya Clark Espinal (as Liminal Solutions) for the Manchester Letherium Ideas Competition exhibited at Cornerhouse Gallery (Manchester, UK) and “The Terrarium Project” at Harbourfront Centre (Toronto) in 2006. Her work examines wonder, scale, and knowledge in fictitious versions of tourist-destination landscapes.