March 29, 2006

Crutch (7 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

April 25, 2054. The truth is made of simple words that penetrate the brain like a hail of bullets. They carry a poison payload that has no antidote – the universe’s darkest secret, the nature of its betrayal.

Seamus and Alison were the only two people in the vast space of the godnode’s main chamber, beneath a twilight sky that peeked through the story-spines. Their endeavours to keep the project a secret had been justified. The raw words of a god were not safe to be distributed like some flyers from a street corner.

The unrefined translation shimmered before them on their makeshift monitor, an array of clumsy, wonky characters that dared confrontation.

Although he was free to leave having played his part, Seamus did not rise from his chair beside Alison; he seemed confined by the heavy, oppressive atmosphere that had enveloped them.

The abandoned orphans the universe cradles are more alone than they could have realised. At the limits of his endurance, this discovery was more than Atlas could bear. It is knowledge that can compel you to insanity and suicide. Find me a blade and I will empty my veins. Find me a window, I will follow my father.

Mistakes do not conform to the normal laws of reality; they are far easier to create than destroy. Alison’s blinkered determination had forced her to cast aside every normal relationship she had previously enjoyed. She had accepted her solitude as inevitable but now she found herself uttering absent-mindedly, “Evelyn…” Evelyn was with her father, far away.

She looked across at the disembowelled heart terminal, gutted like some livestock post-slaughter.

The unexpected consequence of her father’s experiment forty years ago was that Atlas had infected every trace of silicon on the planet. Alison had often tried to persuade Atlas to change his name to Gaia because, she said, he was like the soul of the Earth. He was vehement in his refusal, proud of the original name Alison’s father had bestowed upon him.

In the brand new world after Atlas’ demise, they were forced to cannibalise his inert silicon flesh to construct the obedient, lifeless technology Alison recalled from her youngest years. Less and less of Atlas remained with every passing year as more was consumed to feed a new human society.

Alison felt sad to look at the remnants of the heart terminal. She had sought to give Atlas a suitable epitaph, to arrest the chaos and remind his people what he had stood for. Her search had taken her away from the people she had wanted to rescue, deep into the darkest, frightening wilderness. She was lost.

Alison moved her silvery prosthetic hand towards Seamus with painful slowness, as if negotiating through an invisible minefield, desperate to make contact. Despite the subtlety of the movement, she triggered a mine.

All we have is each other, but is this enough? Such great irony. I descend into solitude to discover the greatest truth and the greatest truth turns out to be… that we are alone. I know the universe mocks me, “Klickety-klick!”

Seamus kicked his chair back, standing up abruptly. She retracted her prosthesis and looked into Seamus’ baby blue eyes. They were blistering with confused rage.

Seamus was twitching as if drunk on caffeine. He roared, “Why? Why did you make me do this? Couldn’t you have left this alone?”

Alison started to speak but Seamus slapped her face with a ferocity that spun her head around.

“Just shut up! Shut your face! Why can’t you listen? Why couldn’t you bloody listen?”

An estranged husband. A daughter I do not know. A mother I cannot locate. No god to love me. Swollen black holes in the photographs on my mantelpiece.

Before her cheek had a chance to grow warm in response to the clout, Seamus struck again with emboldened enthusiasm. He knocked Alison from the chair with a well-placed right hook throwing her to the hard ground that had once received damning words from the deities. The ropes of politics and torture that she had bound him with a year ago had finally come undone and he unleashed the rage that had grown grotesquely fat during the intervening time. Love and pain. Order and chaos.

Alison did not call for help, despite it being just on the other side of a door. She accepted Seamus’ blows with truncated gasps of pain as if she were a bellows. She relished the cathartic punishment and felt the emotional fortress she had built after Atlas’ death shudder and crack, mimicking the decay and ruin of her silicon benefactor.

I wish you were here, Daddy. You could tell me what I did wrong. I wanted to know more but I just forgot everything. It seems that none of us learnt anything under his stewardship. As soon as he was taken from us, ego, secrecy and enmity began their second ascent. These were not concepts that Atlas entertained. Do we need an iron hand to be brave and good? I see my prosthetic hand and wonder if it is a message in itself.

His anger spent, Seamus ceased his assault. He hovered over Alison briefly, exhausted and breathless, like a lover post-coitus. His eyes exuded disgust and contempt, surveying the damage wrought with his fists. He was always right, thought Alison. Her face was wet; with tears or blood she was not sure.

Looking up, we did not see someone watching over us, attending to the complexities of the universal machine, the strange illusions of quantum relativity. We saw something that unravels belief and dismantles science. It comes down to this: the universe is a joke. We are its cruel punch line, underlined and in bold.

Seamus left her to slide into a bright white unconscious mist, making a swift escape from the scene of a crime. A crime welcomed by its victim.

Alison imagined warm arms holding her tight as everything faded into a vast, white clarity; the comfort of other. The words refused to leave her be, however, and remained attendant like watchful sentinels in her sleepy fog. Words that killed with their careless simplicity. Words that the deities sent to Atlas. Words…

?h?nk··f?r ?cc?p?1ng·· bUrd?n
n?w/?r?Ub1?[Us]n? m?r?

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1434

March 19, 2006

Crutch (6 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

Jean-Claude threw his rifle over his shoulder and took Evelyn by the hand. The armed babysitter said to Evelyn, “Ah, what’s this I have here… a piece of chocolate?” He continued to misdirect her attention while leading her out of the main chamber.

Her daughter removed from the scene, Alison was able to concentrate on Seamus again, tied up against one of the old story-spines. The spine was covered in scorch marks left by Atlas’ nerve tendrils. Seamus looked ridiculously small against the fat spine, almost Lilliputian. That would have made her Gulliver.

Ivan lurched into action, as he was apt to occasionally. He stood between Alison and her prey and said, “Alison, sweetheart, you really don’t have to do this. Really. Please.”

“Ivan,” she said. “Get out of the way.”

A single pebble cannot dam a raging torrent and so he took his familiar wounded puppy look aside, shoulders sagging.

A noise of a distant gunfire exchange was carried through the damp air. Just like the vines and creepers that were breaking through the shell of the godnode, shoots of green staining the silver and white, chaos was seeping through once-strong order that Atlas had brought the planet.

Alison said to the bound man, “Seamus, last chance. We used to be on such good terms, you and I.” She spoke with a confidence that belied the fact that this was a maverick act, one which was likely to start a small war unless she converted Seamus quickly.

Seamus, who had tethered his anger with his own rope thus far, could restrain himself no longer. He shouted, “I don’t need to help anyone! This place should have been wiped off the map years ago, for the good of the curve. And… I don’t think you have much time.” He stared into the overcast sky with a self-satisfied smile, beyond the open roof where the story-spines climbed into heaven.

Alison had never really grown to like his know-it-all attitude, but Seamus was right, once again. She turned to her security attaché and said, “A knee. I don’t care which one.”


Obedience, thought Alison, is a good thing.

A gunshot reverberated around the chamber, followed by a high-pitched scream. Blood pooled around Seamus’ right knee and he writhed in agony, straining against his bonds. Blue jeans turned red. His eyes scrunched up tight in pain, generating wrinkles were none had previously existed. One bullet had seemed to age him by several years.

Ivan, in shock, could only say, “Jesus Christ, Alison…” He fled, unable to bear witness.

Alison could make it up to Ivan later, so she paid his departure no attention. Ivan, the ever-abused pet, always came back, a glutton for her punishments. This was the post-Atlas sadomasochistic world in all its splendour. Order and chaos. Love and pain.

Fuck you!” Seamus yelled. “I lost my family when LunR blew under Atlas’ watch! I remember how safe Atlas’ love was!” He could barely open his eyes, tears upon them like glue. He continued to struggle against the rope in anger, futile though it was.

Alison turned towards her attaché again, opened her mouth briefly but thought better of it. Instead she advanced towards Seamus and said, “We were… together on that night in Dublin. I remember clearly even if you don’t and I remember that you loved Atlas even then. Who has turned you against him? What terrible harm has loving Atlas managed to inflict on you from his grave?”

She knelt down beside Seamus, angry with her old intimate. While considering her next move, her eyes skated across the chamber floor, spying puddles of water where the rain had managed to find rest. In the puddles, she saw not the distorted reflection of herself, but that of the story-spines charging up into the sky, cut brutally short by the water’s edge.

Breathing heavily, Seamus tried again to protest. He said, “Atlas was not the great sage you make him out to be. How many of the past-born took their own lives after he emptied everyone’s secrets out into the open?”

“Of all people, don’t you think I know that, Seamus? And don’t you understand what Atlas was? A simple experiment gone wrong. In minutes every single piece of silicon on the planet became him, every computer and handpad, every toaster and radio, every satellite and calculator. This is what Atlas was. He was an accident, a happy accident. He was not a god, he was our best approximation. He would make mistakes but damn you Seamus – it was not for want of trying.

“He died trying not to save himself, but to save us. He died… for us. For us. He deserves a fitting epitaph. It’s the least we can do. Look at what we have become, look at how we remember him.”

Having provided the carrot, the attractive lure of doing the right thing in a world gone wrong, she provided the stick. She pressed his shattered knee with the index finger of her shiny prosthesis. Seamus responded appropriately. Chaos from order. Pain from love.

“We need to get the godnode active again. We need to understand. We want to read the message that Atlas received.”

She pressed again. After his scream subsided, Seamus started to sob.

Blood had now stained the watery reflections of the spines just like her prosthesis. Alison turned her gaze away from them towards Seamus. His face was drenched in tears and sweat and she said to him, “I think he found out that he was alone. His own message came back to him. He was talking to himself.”

Choking on tears, Seamus uttered, “The first sign… of madness.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1341

March 5, 2006

Crutch (5 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

Massaging the chrome frame of the heart’s screen with gentle fingers, Alison sang quietly to Atlas. The heart flashed the familiar, ominous message that everyone had being seeing intermittently for several months:


Ivan approached from the corner of the chamber and rested an arm on her shoulder. “Seamus says they’re ready.”

Breaking from her song, Alison spoke carefully to the screen whose organic frame she continued to knead and caress. “Did you hear that Atlas? Did you hear? They say they’re ready.”

The message vanished, replaced by undulating Rorschach patterns indicating Atlas’ immediate presence.

He spoke with a tired, almost elderly voice. “I hear, love. The continuum is so dense, the data flavours, societal fractals… can’t…”

The worm message flashed across the Rorschach momentarily.

Alison gripped Ivan’s hand on her shoulder. “Scared, Ivan.”

Ivan leant down to kiss Alison on her scruffy, blond hair and whispered, “Atlas is a capable sort of guy. It’ll be alright, I am as sure as sure can be.”

Alison looked up at him with glistening eyes and a smile that threatened to crumble. “I’ve always been a smart lass, Ivan, and can see through your lovely attempts to act brave for me. Like glass.”

A wounded look darted across Ivan’s face and she patted his cheek while her smile strengthened into a grin. “But thank you.”

Unable to see the horizon from the main chamber of the godnode, Alison suddenly found herself appalled at what had become of the once-beautiful garden atop Kynnan Hill. No floral hue, no leafy scent; she was surrounded by the unnatural. The chamber walls were splashed with Atlas’ crystalline extensions and silicon arteries appeared to stitch the room together, weaving in and out of every surface. Yet this was mere detail compared to the seven cyclopean story-spines.

The smooth, ivory spines, wrapped in Atlas’ sparkling nerve tendrils, were around a metre in diameter. They erupted from the ground like teeth from gums and stretched upwards into the night sky, twisting into a kilometre-high helical structure. This was a lesson, Alison thought, in appreciating the meaning of the word insignificance. She was in the maw of something alien, waiting for its jaws to close and take the stars away.

At that moment, she finally confessed her true feelings out loud. “I don’t think this is going to work.” She stood up, walking away from the heart to the base of the nearest story-spine. “No-one understands it. All we know is that it amplifies tiny perturbations in Atlas’ thoughts. He thinks its God trying to communicate. It could be anything. Or worse… nothing at all.”

“Shhh… wait and see,” Ivan cooed. He followed her to the spine and embraced her but not even the warmest of arms could persuade Alison to ignore the symmetry. She had seen this before.

Technicians wandered around making preparations for an important experiment, surrounded by devices that none of them could completely understand. The technologies and the faces had changed but seemingly nothing else had in the intervening thirty years. Symmetry, symmetry. That time had become known as the birthing. This time…

“Seamus,” intoned Atlas more confidently than earlier. “Time for our cheeky prayer. I will start God off with an easy one: how is the burden carried?”

The co-ordinator rose from the corner where he had been crouching with his head in his hands. “This thing is as ready as it’s ever going to be, my silicon pal,” Seamus replied.

“I love you all, my gorgeous people.” The Rorschach pattern ebbed and flowed.

Atlas’ words reverberated around the interior of the godnode, as dull pulses of light climbed the story-spines into the stars. Atlas was attempting to make contact.

Ivan held Alison tightly. She recognised it as a reaction to Ivan’s own fear and so returned the gesture.

After a few tense minutes passed, Atlas broke the silence. “Nothing. God does not deign to reply! God must answer! God must hear our prayer!” Frustration wracked his voice. “I will shout so that God can hear me!”

A chain of blinding pulses was launched through the spines around them. The ground shook slightly and a guttural snarl resonated across the interior of the godnode. Alison watched the powerful light journey upwards and thought, disturbingly, that perhaps they had fired a weapon into heaven.

Seamus, staring directly up into the helix, said matter-of-factly, “If there’s anything up there at all, it will have heard that alright. Holy hell, yeah.”

A minute passed and then Alison saw the helix appear to flicker in the sky. She alerted Ivan to this and pointed him towards the tips of the spines. The anomaly expanded down towards them and it became clear that patches of darkness were travelling down the spines with great speed.

Ivan’s arms fell limp around Alison and he uttered, “Oh my God…”

She broke away from Ivan and took one step towards the heart terminal. The darknesses slammed into the ground, shaking the structure with unexpected force, throwing everyone to the floor. Each impact was accompanied by a thunderous noise much like the roar of an approaching avalanche.

The characters of the message written in darkness continued to batter the godnode. Alison tried to crawl towards the heart amidst the earthquake, hoping to ask Atlas what was transpiring. What did the message say?

Suddenly, a blood-curdling shriek rang out as if the planet were suffering unimaginable torment. Atlas’ organs flickered violently with white light, fluid showering from arteries and conduits as they split and tore open.

Fear overcoming her, Alison shouted a question from the floor that no one heard: “Daddy, what did we do WRONG?”

Atlas’ body continued to disintegrate across the chamber, arteries came flying away from the walls and his nerves began to burn out like the filaments of a thousand expiring light bulbs. Crystalline structures lost their cohesion and slid from the walls to shatter against the ground.

Shortly after the message was finally received in its entirety, the seizures ceased, as did the screaming. The blazing light from Atlas’ broken organs gradually faded and died, and Alison and the others were swallowed whole by a desperate, empty darkness.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2345