Wednesday, 27 January 2016

This space

“This space existed long before you were even born. It started as the centre of someone's home, and after some time it wasn't. And then it was again. And then it was home to small crawling creatures, who were unaware that the low ceilings and nearby railway made it practically uninhabitable. Then there were people who lived there because their parents said it was uninhabitable, and then there were people who thought that was charming, and then there was a man with an accent who was only in the space for a day but whose sharp-bleach smell kept everyone out for years.
This space was always a different space, but to you standing here right now with blood on your hands this space has always been this space. It has always had beige linoleum that wipes clean. It has always had an island in the middle with a stainless steel hob. It has always had cupboards whose contents you do not know. It has always had a knife rack. It has always had a knife missing.
It has always had the dead man lying on the floor. He has always been here. His blood has always been this glossy. His eyes have always been this open. His mouth has always been this scared.
You have always held this knife. You have always felt the curved shape of the handle in the palm of your hand. You have always been aware of the slightly sticky, slightly wet sensation of blood that is not yours between the handle and the palm of your hand.
Except now you are putting down the knife. And if you are putting it down then always does not stretch so far in the future as you thought, and if that is true then it stands to reason that is does not stretch as far back in the past as you thought either. And now you think about it, there was a time when you did not feel the curved shape of the handle slipping and sticking in the blood in the palm of your hand. There was a time when the dead man was not lying on the floor. There was a time when his eyes were not this open and his mouth was not this scared.
There was never a time when his blood was not this glossy.
There was a time when the dead man was standing up. There was a time when the dead man was not here. There was a time when the dead man was not dead.
There was a time when the dead man had a name.
 Do you remember it?”

Sunday, 10 January 2016

A perfect model

Work this week has been fantastically exciting. My overseer at the vague yet menacing government agency where I exchange labour for the right to continue living gave me a very exciting project. I'd barely got in and checked my desk for booby-traps when I heard her voice over my left shoulder.

"You know, it occurred to me over the weekend that our lives could be made significantly easier if we could model precisely how our fellow citizens would react in any given situation. Then we could react quickly to outbreaks of rioting, political unrest, or unauthorised book clubs."

She laughed. I laughed too. We both know that all book clubs are unauthorised, but tautologous statements are a great way for colleagues to share humour and build a rapport. (How to make friends with Alien People, p. 43).
Your naivety is hilarious, and has been noted in your file.
"I would like you to build such a model. It should be accessible to everyone, open-sourced, and involve no more than three blood sacrifices. Oh, and it had better be accurate. We've had word that fourteen copies of Cat's Eye made it across the county border."

I started to speak, but she held up her hand.

"It seems there was a mix-up, and the out-of-town suppliers we get our ingredients from thought for some reason we'd like some books." Her lip was curled, showing the pointed teeth that all overseers receive upon promotion. She spat the word again. "Books. As if we were a town of degenerates."

Her eyes were now flashing from their normal inky-blackness to an iridescent shade of pearl and back again. Against the darkness of her skin, the effect was not dissimilar to lightning, if lightning were a natural phenomenon and not something scientists kept in a cage.

"So before they arrive, I want to see a model of exactly how each of our fellow citizens will react. I want to know their every movements before they do."

I nodded. "Of course, overseer. It's the only way we can ensure their safety."

Her eyes faded back to their normal empty black void, and she clapped a friendly hand to my shoulder. "Your understanding of our mission is adequate." she said, and I blushed. Isn't it great to work with colleagues who appreciate you?

There was a crack as she moved away by crossing through dimensions, and I turned back to my desk. This project was exciting, but a logistical nightmare. How do you capture the infinite depth of a human being? Their thoughts, their fears, their hopes - all of these things combine to propel them into random, unplottable, uncontrollable actions. I shuddered. Even thinking about it gave me the heebie-jeebies.

But from that shudder arose a glorious idea, like honey from the corpse of a lion.
Of course, you can get honey from any dead animal, but lion honey is far superior.
These thoughts that our fellow citizens have are the fuel that propels their fleshy bodies to action. Indeed, by itself a brain is almost entirely harmless.

Almost. Poor Uncle Jean.

Here, then, was my first solution. We needed only remove the brains from our fellow citizens, keeping them alive (or not! After all, the dead are notoriously peaceful.), and then simply permitting them to play out their lives as virtual creatures, just a brain floating in liquid that believes itself to be doing fleshy things.

I wrote up the idea, submitted it by folding it into a paper aeroplane and shooting it through the nearest air-duct, and got ready to home. I made sure all the traps I'd disabled this morning were set again (we hot-desk) and then headed home.

I was woken shortly after midnight by agonising, crackling pain in my skull, as if all of the bones were being ground against each other. I knew it could mean only one thing.

The Director liked my proposal!

Now all that remains is to organise this enormous undertaking. I'm incredibly excited, as it means getting to do some of the hands-on fieldwork that really helps people: drugging them and extracting their DNA to create clones we can experiment on.

Honestly. This is the best job in the world.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

New Year, New Me!

Isn't the new year exciting? We stay up until midnight, gathered with our friends around the stone monolith in the centre of our little town - not the one made of bright white stone that whispers to you, the other one - and we prepare to welcome the new year. We embrace the people we love with arms that feel peculiarly heavy, and talk about all that's happened even as our eyelids droop and our jaws grow tired.

And then, as the monolith hums us gently into slumber, our bodies go slack and we fall, like cut grass, to the warm earth. The earth around the monolith made of bright white stone that whispers to you is always so cold that your skin sticks to it and your breath forms clouds the moment you step onto it, but the earth around the other monolith is always warm. It's wonderful to sleep on, but the dreams are always so peculiar.

I had the same dream I have every year. I dream that I wake up in a white space. There must be floor, because I awake lying on something - but it has no form or feature other than flatness and infinite size. On every side, there is only an expanse of whiteness - as though light were bouncing off a white wall somewhere, but on every side.

Yet as far as I go, there is no wall.

The floor I know is white - I can see it - but looking above me, there is only further whiteness. It could be a ceiling out of reach, or it could be nothing but an infinite, empty space. Of course that hardly bothers me; after all, when we look at the sky, we're seeing the same thing - although the infinite empty space is black, rather than white.

Two things do bother me though, and every year in this dream I walk (eternally) and puzzle over them.

The first is that I can't find the source of the light. We can only see things because light bounces off them and into our eyes - but no matter how far I walk or run, there is no source of light. The light just is.

And the second - as I walk alone through this space, this pristine, empty, place where my voice does not echo but is swallowed by the size of the space I can neither perceive nor understand - is this.

I know this place. Not simply because I come here every year, but on a deeper level. It is knowledge that nags at me like a loose tooth, and I know if I can just find the angle - or the courage - to push hard enough, it will come out of my head.

I am not sure I want to do it. Perhaps I will next year.

Speaking of next year - I assume as you read this you are all awake and settling in nicely. This, for me, is the best part of the new year - working out the kinks, checking out your hair, deciding if you like your new eye colour and the way your voice sounds.

Remember - New Year, New You!