The Wanderer

This month, Popular Science is publishing 10 original short stories from the future

I stop jogging, come closer, and lean in to look. The body is dressed in soil-smudged white, and its feet are bare. There’s no ID band, no tourist badge, and no visible way to signal for security, medics, or an undertaker. Criminal? Nomad? Both are unlikely. The frame is too healthy, the face free of scars.

The body—the person—opens her eyes and creaks: “Good day. Where am I? Have I gone wandering again?” I stumble back a step. “Holy —! I thought you were dead!” She sits up. “I wouldn’t be so uncivil!” There’s age in her eyes, and that wicked glint that belongs only to those too young or too old to give a damn. “Are you well?” I ask. She grins. “As well as I want to be, but sometimes I just want to run away. Know the feeling? Out of reach of i-eyes and e-ears, beyond the locators that pin us to a map of support networks and contented, obedient citizenship.”

“Who are you?” I ask. “A sleepwalker,” she says. “I strip myself of tech before I go to bed, and let my dreams do the rest.” Dew-damp and barefoot in the middle of a vast wilderness park, she looks happy and stupidly proud. Then wistfulness softens her smile. “I wanted to be alone and lost for only a little while.” She looks up, distracted by a buzz, and continues sadly, “Before I’m found.”

A dragonfly drone moves in, hovers a moment to run its facial-recog system, and drops a band. She tries to intercept it, but it shifts midfall, targeting her feet. The band fastens snug to her ankle with a satisfied beep. “Home again,” she says with relief and regret.


Karen Lord is author of The Galaxy Game.

This article was originally published as part of our “Dispatches From The Future” science fiction feature in the August 2015 issue of Popular Science.