I’m standing at the Way-station Hub. Everybody around me is dead. I’m holding the blue chipset in my hand and I’m willing it to work.
Over my head the sky is swirling. It’s a purple vortex.
I’m waiting for it all to end.
Outside the Way-station the desert winds blow hard. There are scraggle-lined black creatures dancing in the sand-storms. They flit from shimmer to shade and I can never quite see them clearly.
The Thing stomped here. The desert was leveled. Everybody died. The Way-station survived. And I, because I have the chipset, because I am what I am, have survived.
I turn it over in my hands. It is a blue chunk of flat plastic. I know its power, and that even now it is sending out a signal that is at once raising and battling the thing, purpling the skies, and driving everyone mad.
I’m thinking about a girl I once loved. Where does love go? She may still exist out there, somewhere. It’s hard to say. How far has the thing reached? Has it stomped itself everywhere?
Did it wipe out Tokyo? Did it take out the seed banks on Svalbard?
I hold the blue plastic chipset up before me, wink the tears from my sand-whipped eyes, and start shouting command-lines into the roaring winds and the purple rift.
Image from Andrew Jones.
Danny said the black things were invisible but coming. I hadn’t believed him.
He was lying in a bed in the Way-station. We were only supposed to watch, but he’d gone down, gone out, and gotten himself infected. I don’t know what it was, but the computer said- ‘memetic virus’. The Thing.
“I met a girl,” he said, his face choke-white, the tendons in his hands straining like piano-wire. “Her name was Clancy.”
I mop his steaming forehead down with a cool white sponge.
“What happened to her?” I asked.
“I threw her away,” he said. “Like I throw everything away.”
“You can’t throw a person away.”
“She killed herself a few weeks after I ended things with her. In her note she said it was not my fault. She said she loved me, but she understood, I wasn’t responsible for her.”
“You weren’t. She did what she did, not you.”
He shook his head frantically. “I did it,” he said. “I knew what I was doing. I used her up like washing up liquid then threw her away when I was done. I knew she was damaged. When I took her on I knew her program was damaged.”
“Things happen,” I said. “You can’t blame yourself.”
He grabbed my wrist and pulled me in close. Waves of heat rushed up from his shaking white body. “I knew. I’m a bad person. I deserve worse than this.”
Then he lapsed into fits. After that, a coma. After that, he died, and life resumed on the Way-station as it always had.
We watched what we watched. We saw people, coming and going. Life was life.
I played chess. I slept. I talked to the computer. Joel and Abu Hara sometimes took me on in gravity ball. We slapped that old pig-skin up and down the tube.
“What do you make of Danny?” Joel asked me after one game. We were in the rec. room watching old renders of Casablanca, eating hot fries and chili dogs.
I shrugged. “Bad memes ate his brain. There was nothing to be done.”
“No, I mean about what he was saying. About his girl, Clancy.”
“That was all mad talk.”
Joel nodded. “I know that,” he said.
We ate chips.
I type in my report blog:
Imagine a purgatory full of lonely people. They all sit in their spaces, trapped in their own fear of being alone forever. They neither cry nor rock nor whine. They merely sit, and stare into the purple void. Some of them shake without end.
These people are hungry. They are empty limpets, leeches, slung on the underbelly of the fabric of reality.
Of course none of this is real. There is no soul. We are just little meme programs filling mechanical human tubes.
But imagine that great hunger. The yearning of so many little programs, longing for something. There’s a hole left by God. There’s a yawning purple hole that could rip the Clan from the face of the Universe.
When I think of Danny, this is what I think of.
Abu Hara was the next to show signs of the Thing.
She grew sloven. She grew careless. She left the hatch open so the desert sands blew in. The Way-station echoed with her silences. She grew to be like a black-hole.
I sat and spoke with her. She drank a can of pop and smiled at me as I spoke.
“What’s the matter, Abu Hara?” I asked her.
She smiled like she meant it. But I felt the malaise creeping within her. The tides of aching need.
“Nothing’s wrong, Georgie,” she said. She patted at my hand. “I’m fine.”
She entered a coma that night.
I write in my personal journal, on paper, with a pen:
Abu Hara joins their ranks.
I don’t know why this thing started. I refuse to believe that this is evolution. I refuse to believe that this is what we are all fated for. This giant zoo, this immense Way-station watching over this world.
Joel and I play chess. He loses.
“Looks like I lose,” he says.
We don’t mention Abu Hara.
Joel and Abu Hara were lovers. Recently, they had been lovers. Of course, Abu Hara and I had been lovers before.
We don’t mention her now, but Joel does anyway.
“You think she’d have still done it if we’d upped the narcs on her?” he asks me. His king lies dead on the board before us.
“The deadeners?” I ask.
“Muters,” he says.
I mull it over. “Why are you talking to me about this?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Emotions,” he says. “This damn hard-wiring.”
“Shake it off,” I say.
“Mute them,” he says.
I pause a moment, look at him. “Are you telling me you need muters?”
He stares off into space. Above us there are stars, bright and white and filling the sky through the glass roof overhead, all the many galaxies of the Clan.
He grins. “No,” he says.
I nod. He nods.
I wonder how long it will be before the Thing shuts him down too.
I write in my private journal:
We are not meant for this. We have reached out and touched the face of God, and found nothing there but the codes of our own DNA. And what is our DNA but a cleverly built house, empty on the inside.
There is nothing on the inside, just the acres of empty souls, and the cracklings of outmoded programs that have come to know themselves.
I put muters in their food supply, so they’re all deadened. None of them smile much for a time. Nor will they feel sad. They will feel nothing. Their dopamines have been blocked. All of their little chemical bits and pieces have been blocked.
They can think clearly. They can move around. They can play in the tube.
And still they are entering comas and dying.
They aren’t feeling loss. They don’t feel bad.
They feel empty. Their report blogs say it, as much as the vacant looks in their faces.
“Alone,” they write.
“Today, nothing,” they write.
I find dead bodies everywhere I go.
I write in my report blog:
The Thing is stomping here.
We built the Way-stations on one in one hundred worlds. We built them apart from the masses. We built them to reach out and touch divinity. We touched divinity. We tore it open, and the new light of knowledge is tearing us all apart.
I’ve been watching the news. People are entering comas all around the Clan. The Thing is stomping them all. People are killing themselves. It’s like watching dinosaurs in the pleiocene. They are just giving up.
I write in my report blog: Is this evolution?
Then I write: Who is reading this report?
I finally finish the chipset. It is a blank blue stretch of plastic. It is crammed with millions of lines and links and transponders. It can summon the crackle of consciousness.
I feel the purple rush of an empty world tugging at my core, and wonder what the next step should be. I wonder how to insert myself into the plastic sheet.
I stand in the Way-station hub, amidst the dead bodies of my colleagues, and watch the Thing that has stomped this world flat around me.
I think of love.
“What is love?” I ask the chipset.
I want it to tell me love is more than just electric pulses. More than bits and bytes of chemicals that muters can dull. I want it to tell me love is as real as the Thing that has been stomping down the world. I want to believe that if this is evolution, and the hunter evolves with the prey, then love is the antidote to this soul-eating loneliness that is consuming the Clan.
I loved a girl once. She left me, long before the Thing began. Danny knew a girl and she died. Abu Hara died, and I may have loved her. They were more sensitive than me, I suppose. Though I feel it. I see the fields of the lonely and lost in my dreams.
What use is love if it can’t reach beyond the grave and appease these people, this thing that is tearing at us? The weight of the dead pressing down on us from above far outnumbers the number of those living.
What is the answer to this extinction? What is the antidote?
The Thing hovers over the Way-station. I see it in the purple susurrus of the station’s filters, as they run low on fuel. Soon the bubble will burst and the vacuum will come rushing in. The Thing has squashed flat every person alive here with the knowledge of their humanity. We are nothing but tubes, programs designed to fetch and carry and reproduce.
The Thing is on my shoulders. I hold the chipset before me and will it to work. Is this love, I ask the chipset. Is this the grand plan? Is this the best we could make?
The chipset says nothing.
The purple skies crescendo above me and I will to mind the memory of the girl. She was young. I was young. It is one simple memory.
We saw shooting stars lying on her garage roof. That moment was magical to me then. She reached over, she touched my chest, and that was magical.
I try to put the thoughts of chemicals and falling asteroids and flashes in the ozone out of my mind. I try to will the ignorance into the chipset, via command-lines through my skin and chemical computer binary I tell the chipset- ‘if ignorance is what it takes to make love real, and love is what it takes to beat this Thing, then I’ll accept ignorance.’
The blue chipset says nothing. It transponds out to the thing, and to the purple filters, and to the worlds on the end of those filters, which are readying to burst and accept the transmission of this failed Way-station.
The burst would spread along the Way-lines across the galaxy, to every world in the Clan, my findings blasted into the hearts of every Clan-node, until they would all buzz with this same memetic virus. The Thing will squat revolting over them, and slowly pick off their people as the nothing rots them from within.
I hold the blue chipset up. It is imprinted with my evolution, and my design, and my attempts to love and my memories of the girl that I once knew.
I stare into the void. Then I slit my wrists. I hold the blood onto the plastic chip, and watch as it soaks up the blood.
The skies over-head flare purple, and the Way-station is blasted by the rush of space sucking out everything.
The Way-station implodes. My body is sucked out, along with the chipset. Everybody is dead. The signal of the Thing launches out from the Way-station’s meme bank.
I come to in a blue space. I am inside the chipset. I feel everything tenfold. I have had my emotions multiplied in this in-organic form. These things, these impulses, this random Brownian motion, this notion of love and anger, these fogs that blind us to the sheer emptiness of reality, they are my shields.
I fill myself with thoughts of the girl who touched my chest. I think about all those lonely millions in their solitary spaces, little empty tubes, and feel the rage swelling within me.
I fit myself with shining silver armor. I fit myself with a steed and a lance, and I gallop off through the waves of data, riding high on an artificial blast of computerized emotion, and I give chase to the Thing.
It ravels and gallumphs along the Way-lines. I chase it in all directions at once. It leaves nothing in its wake. I charge along behind filling the wires with buzzing raw power.
Have I evolved? Forwards or backwards?
I chase the thing until it is roiling before me in its empty black shape. I plunge my spear in its heart but it wilts my spear as if nothing were ever there. I thrust my fists into its depths and see them slowly begin to whiten and dissolve.
I think of Abu Hara. I think of Danny and his loss, and I turn it into white hot anger, and I pulse the anger into the great stomping thing.
It bubbles like tar. I feel the anger sucking from me and diffusing harmlessly into the nothing of the Thing.
I think deeper, and I start throwing endorphin-grenades amidst the people in their lonely holes inside the Thing. I rouse them with digital dopamine Molotov cocktails and I shake them with the electronic gauntlets of my testosterone-fueled avatar-self and I yell- “Is this what you want? Stand up and fight!”
They shake me off and ignore me, as the Thing drains me, but I slap them and beat them until one of them stands up and pushes back at me.
I beat him down again, and he gets up again. I whoop with joy and haul him to help me inject spirit back into the others. We run the empty spaces with bright red data-flares fizzing in our hands, and soon others are joining us.
Is this love, I wonder to myself? Is this the antidote? Can this beat the Thing?
I ride at the head of an army of thousands, and together we charge at the Thing. My people throw themselves into it to fill it up with something, where the nothing is. My people dive into its depths and allow themselves to be consumed. I rally them. I am silver and blue, and I shimmer before them like a God.
I command them. I write the command-lines as if I’m an oracle over-head.
“You shall know pain, and loss, you shall know fear. You shall know wonder. And in wonder, you shall know God.”
The words course across space. I course across space with them. It is only an idea now. The Thing is only an idea also. But we are both a type of virus of the mind.
I stand against the Thing. We are playing chess.
“Your move,” says the Thing.
I pull out my lance and stab the Thing in its amorphous head.
“There are no rules in chess,” I say. “It isn’t win or lose with you, Thing. You are not even a competitor. You are just the drop either side of the bridge I’m walking.”
“I am the destination,” says the Thing.
“You are a passing risk that makes the reward all the sweeter,” I say.
I break the lance off in the Thing’s mouth.
Purple light floods out.
I feel myself racing the Way-lines, taking this antidote out to all the worlds.
Purple light flashes.
I am dead.
I am after-glow. In the after-images, of the Way-station, of the Thing’s corpse looted and carried on ahead of me as a vaccination for the Clan, I look around my world.
This incubator. These millions. This Way-station.
Empty world. Blue plastic chipset.
As I fade, I think of love, and what it means.
Then I remember. Then I forget, because that’s what it’s all about anyway.
You can see all MJG’s stories here:[album id=6 template=compact]