We drove up to the edge of a clearing. I backed the truck into a hovel next to the road, pulled out the nanouflage I’d kept in the shop for such an emergency. It would hide the truck undercover while we were in the d-zone. Poured it across the hood, the microscopic seeders took over from there, spreading over the metal and paint like a tribe lost ghosts fleeing across a temporal rift. Within a minute the truck looked more like rubble than a hot-rod. The nanotubules were locked to my biogen relays so that the moment we returned and I touched the hood with the palm of my hand a chain reaction would set in and the whole mirage would implode leaving my truck intact. Strange what scientists spend their lives doing for advanced military systems.
I’d given Matt explicit instructions before we left, knowing his base neuroplants were Civilian Issue, rather than Military grade. Even with the handicap his memory feeds were beyond mine at the moment. At least he had salvage access to the trade systems in the Sphere – the last network on the planet.
Red and I updated his neuralsim’s feeds with the flashprog software and he seemed to need no further instruct – as if he’d been a Quad Pro intercept for years. With the special software update he’d be able to disable most of the perimeter drones easily.
“So we’re only five clicks away,” he whispered.
“Question? Or statement?”
“Oh, I meant I wish I could patch you in to the feeds… the maps, I mean.” He was seeing two worlds. Overlays, v-map reads, filaments tracing diagonals across the ruins ahead as if the sun were midday. Yet, the visuals were to a purpose: the moment a drone or necrosynth slipped into his viewer it would be toast. Nothing like a nanospheric dump on a piece of electronic intelligence, like slaying a dragon with a needle – one of those impossible possibles that still seem to keep the GovPol’s up at night squirming. They’d not even know the thing was dead till we were come and gone, its n-feeds would still repeat the base payload in a randomized replay action sequence as if it was nothing more than the daily quota. The dipshits sitting back in HQ watching the screens wouldn’t recognize the difference till it was too late.
“Yea, I know, don’t worry,” I pulled out a sectec-locater, scanned the ruins ahead of us as we edged our way forward on our bellies. “I’ll let you be my eyes tonight.”
Heard a sound to the left, probably a Wag looking through the bins. Wag’s usually came out only at night. Scruffy, diseased, desperate – they’d gather whatever the rest of the salvagers wouldn’t touch.
We waited a few more minutes. I heard the Wag giggle, must’ve found something shiny.
I tapped Matt’s shoulder. “It’s time.”
* * *
A friend of mine once said of the unknown that it was a like a great thirst for annihilation, that within its darkness the world continually canceled itself out, and in the collapse toward nothingness the wreck of its mystery opened up in the vagrancy of appearances, racing toward the unknown and the incommensurable, toward a spasmodic dissolution.
I know a mad old woman who expects her home to break into a thousand fragments from one minute to the next; she spends her days and her nights on the alert; creeping from room to room, ears cocked for every sound, she is furious that the event takes so long to occur. Sometimes I think we’re all that mad old woman pacing the world like the mad denizens of a paranoiac’s dream, living out the apocalypse of an event that will never happen anywhere but in our own minds. We hold on to this faith in collapse even when we do not think about it. We tell ourselves the end will come sooner or later; we can even foresee the moment it suddenly raises its deadly axe above our heads, brings us to the pedagogies of a truant universe.
I believe in the future of the terrible. Yet, the others, those such as yourself I worry for, the ones like you who are so little prepared for it that you are about to enter the unknown like a fearful child lost among dim illusions, fears that hold you in the grip of total stasis. Afraid to act you stand there like a frozen doll, your mouth as wide as the abyss, a scream rising from your throat that will never reach existence.
On nights such as this the memory of the Civil War comes back to haunt me. Sometimes I take a peak into that dark place within where death seems more like a friend than an enemy, and I feel a trembling, a sickening unto death – as Kierkegaard once described the great defeat and suffering of existence. Even on returning I was one of the living dead, a zombie; a walking ghost seeking the habitation of his former self: a man who’d seen the abyss of things, but had not survived its wounds; instead I was a open-wound, an broken vessel seeping the blood of darkness into reality, impressions caught in the amber smudges of corruption and decay; an open bleeding wound awaiting the final unraveling of existence. These ruins we were crawling through reminded me of that lost place in time, a sanctuary before the fall, before humans forgot themselves; went blank before the great amnesia set in and the world became dust and waste and death.
I remember reading T.P. Agnos’s memoirs of the War a year after I’d come back. He probably summed up my life best when he said:
“A man is nothing more than nothing. He thinks of himself as a living breathing loving husband, father, lover, worker, brother, son, etc., but these are nothing more than the roles assigned him by time and circumstance, the mere slippage of one’s social being. But what remains when you strip away the roles, when you look down into the abyss of Self? Nothing, nothing remains. Words? Thoughts? Even those come from elsewhere, have already too much of the human taint of others in them, the linkages to an endless ocean of words one neither owns nor for the most part shares in. Does one have a word of one’s own? Are we not the belated guests at a banquet that others finished long ago, their lives slipping into sleep and forgetfulness, drunk upon the wine of former ages? No, my friend, what remains is only one’s pain. Pain is our share of fate, it follows us, marks us out, tracks us down into the labors of the night, the empty place of our mind and heart; the negative remains that cannot be eliminated, yet seem forever untouched, hidden away from our prying eyes, invisible within yet full of a strange laughter that haunts us and brings us to our knees. Only in the darkest night of pain does one begin to sense that spark that is at once one’s freedom and one’s fatal flaw and wound. Only then does one discover the nothingness one is.”
* * *
– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.