The Future of Work: ‘ars longa’ by Tade Thompson 

In the ship, Sampson looks like an exquisite corpse because of the lighting and his stillness.

I missed something. Both parents did not die in the massacre. Mother did, but father was seriously wounded and required care afterward. Sampson, wiping dribble off his father’s mouth, assisting him to shit, washing him, watching him waste away. Cheap android assistant, broken down, repeating a phrase from the code, can’t afford to repair or replace, insurance invoking an obscure clause. I paint nothing from this era.

Everybody wanted me once upon a time. I went to openings to endorse shit, the person to be seen with. I enjoyed it. I was alive and real, instead of the shadow artist I have become. I can’t stand to look at the surface of Hippocamp now.

Bad air day, full respirators. Most people stay in, but if your livelihood depends on it you have to go out. I see them shambling along to their farms with their cheap oxygen tanks and duct-taped visors. Nigerians don’t play. Earth may be a waterlogged steaming mess, but those who are stuck here make do. Thrive, even.

I can create here, and that’s what matters. I am a curiosity to them, but they bring me food and check to make sure I’m alive in my dwelling. They do this by creating a racket and waiting for me to complain. Then, when I do, whomever it is nods and slouches away.

Gi y i àbi.

me vyé no

I don’t speak Berom or Hausa, but I’ve picked up a smattering of Eggon, enough to ask for where the bus stop is. It took me a while to realize this noise was neighborliness. I had been contemplating moving elsewhere.

Sampson’s father’s bullet wound never heals. It discharges pus till the day he dies. Sampson lives with the purulence, with the cleaning, the smell of it, the disposal of pads, the tissues, the wound dressings.

When his star rises it’s evanescent. For a brief moment he’s everywhere, then nothing. The buying public tires of his features. Bookings thin, then dry up. There is, after all, a galaxy of talent out there. Dominance is possible, but rare. Beauty is cheap and stardom is not a career, it’s an interlude.

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I have what I need from Sampson, and I have the bare bones of my work. I’m excited at the prospect of what I could make of this if I’m patient and diligent. I do the work, but I’m curious about my sad-eyed model. The Rig can extrapolate into the future using data from the subject’s past. It’s illegal to disclose in most jurisdictions, and for good reason. If they disclose to the people around them certain futures become self-fulfilling. People die or commit suicide. It’s messy, so it’s outlawed.

I check the data and there’s not a lot, which means one of two things: faulty machine or the subject is projected to die young. I’m alarmed, but I play it.

Sampson travels, face grim. I sketch the features. Not seen that particular expression before. He has a knife that he made himself. He attacks someone, a man, a symbol from his past. Killed his parents. Revenge, then. Sampson had no chance. He is cut down by bodyguards and bleeds out.


I repeat it, then sit in the dark.

Outside my window, clear night, no moon.

I can’t get the image of Sampson dying out of my head. It’s not pretty like when he broke his skull in the artificial gravity incident. I don’t draw it.

But he is still alive.

So what? I can’t warn him.

Besides, it’s a possible future. Might not come to pass.

Yes, it will.

I sketch a local landmark. A bronze statue to a forgotten hero. Nobody here can tell me who it is. Nothing written, yet at some point this woman was so admired that the community put money together to immortalize her features. Homo sapiens. Fickle about our prime apes.

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