Is this Living?

A Psychedelic Science Fiction Story set at the end of Humanity

Today was Sunday. There was no reason to wake up early, so she didn’t, as her vivid morning dreams lulled her into strange feelings she didn’t understand. Nocturnal sensations rose that felt so foreign to her, like a freedom in open spaces and a strange driving hunger. Our Hero finally woke and looked over into her personal electric cubicle. The normal buzzing of lights, whirling noises and the hmm of static was silent. Today was the day of rest and that had ramifications as her people were forced to socialize without digital input. She dressed slowly in her best outfit and strolled out towards the Glass hallway, which rested at the edges of the Space Station Ring and offered a viewing choice of either Earth or the passing sun. Since she wanted sunlight, she headed towards a location to view the morning trek of that which creates the morning.

Today was Sunday. He didn’t have to wake up early today, yet sleeping-in did not occur. Our second intrepid hero was already obsessively in his head as there was something unsettling about the new internet Game he was building. His target audience had not liked his last version and he felt the possibility the franchise might be dead. He mused deep into the night and was afraid of the outcome. Plot lines and visuals had juiced his head, as he imagined this new world of possibility, and yet the failures of the last game needed to be solved and he had no idea how to fix them. Since his line of work was glorious and full of cultural purpose, his cubicle was well stocked with the latest technology. Today should have been meaningful, but it was not. It was filled with dread as he stood looking out his portal window unable to progress, stuck in a loop of self doubt.

She strolled through the hallways avoiding common rooms. It was as if each little common room had its own language, games and she didn’t like rules. The appeal of the cultural playgrounds had waned and she longed for something she could not define. Her life in Ring 3 was manageable and fulfilling for a while but the petty social games got old, people got boring and she still had a lifetime ahead of her to do something worthy and notable. She was almost to the quiet edge of the glass hallway, a deserted curve in space that afforded a view quite remarkable. After 100 years the crowds have disappeared as successive generations moved into their inner technology worlds to sustain their existence and allowed the passing stars to tell their story to no one.

He hated Sundays. All production and networks go silent as energy is saved by the cessation of cubicle life. Our hero’s apartment was middle area of Ring 3, and it came with a view. He looked out his window at the blackness, which had begun to lose the stars as the sun moved in at the edges of his luxury view. Once he dreamed that if his game designs became more popular, perhaps he could afford to move over towards the Earth view side. Only if he could find a way to make his audience actually forget themselves and become genuinely afraid. The Gamers never forgot they were in a game and became immune to danger and fear. A worried reflection looked at him in the portal and he dazed into his dreams. Suddenly something moved in the foreground of the stars causing ripples. Out of his stupor, he sought an answer to the mystery and peered closer into space.

A belt of stars danced down from the center of the large window and silhouetted her like a floating Madonna. She almost felt like she was falling into the darkness but the icy touch of her hand on hard metal handrails were so cold her body shivered in bodily reflex keeping her centered. Our hero felt cold all the time, except on Sunday when she could bask in the sun’s rays. The majestic solar lifegiver was coming slowly up from the left. Not enough to feel, but you could sense the shift in the air. Stars disappeared and dark matter could not stop the onslaught of reflection. Suddenly something moved in the stars, like a shadow in the twinkle of light rays. She could see the luminescent shine of Ring 7 far towards the right, curving with it’s own spin of light. Distance is funny when you’ve spent your whole life in a Space station Ring. Somehow she connected the two objects in space. Like a line of distance, a horizon, there was this floating shadow and there was Ring 7.

The Binoculars didn’t help him see the object, just the outline of something dark. It moved like something he had seen at the Zoo on Ring 1. An Eel is what comes to mind. The Eel in space seemed to just swim through the stars as if eating the light or surfing on photon fields. This beautiful thing was amazing but also somehow terrifying. He couldn’t fathom the size or guess it’s dimensions but it tracked around his portal like a cloud on the horizon as it moved closer to Ring 7. He figured their lights would show him more of its particular form as he zoomed his binoculars closer.

Something was going on, Ring 7 seemed to be blinking. These little white blobs of intense light patterns occurred off in the distance like electronic fireworks during some patriotic public event. She quickly looked around to see if anyone was in the hallway. Her sanctuary drifted away empty in both directions. The Moving empty space stretched outward in the manner a snake eats. Darkness enveloped it’s edges and it widened somehow like a sand cloud consuming a city. Then the lights from Ring 7 disappeared as if from a giant eraser. The edges of the Ring, in slow motion was becoming a void of black. She screamed from fright, it’s surprising arrival echoed in the empty hallway.

Re-adjusting the binoculars to zoom out, he watched the whole thing disappear. As the Earth side of Ring 7 was eaten, the edges of the beast became apparent. It had no skin of any sort, the light just didn’t reflect off it’s edges in anyway that made sense. Our hero was in shock and couldn’t look away as Ring 7 vanished and a feeling of fear washed over him prompting questions. He wondered if he know anyone on the Space Station and scrambled to make sense of the moment. He knew Ring 7 was mostly used for industrial creation with minimal housing for the workers, so the population was low. The space that once held a Space station became shadow of black and the EEL moved out towards the void of the universe.

“It’s digesting Ring 7”, he thought. “All those people, machines and metal are now the meal of a Space EEL.”

Sparks seemed to come from within the shadow of what was a Station and then the lights blinked on. Suddenly the Ring was there again as if nothing had happened. He watched stupefied as the EEL was no longer pitch black but pulsed like glowworm. It reminded him of a creature from the deep ocean, then it disappeared again into the stars.

Today was Monday and everyone returned to their cubicles. She scanned the news feeds from her desk. According to the talking heads, Ring 7 had lost power on Sunday for 5 mins but no one seemed to know anything else. The news had become a void in the form of actual information reporting. She was plugged into her cubicle, telecommuting to a shared virtual space like most of the population on the Space Stations. She needed to work and unfortunately her apprenticeship wasn’t going very well. The Food Resources department was not very exciting and she couldn’t hide the disappointment in her career choice. Yet she still had to sort through numbers and calculate percentages. Her Boss loved the work and felt it was meaningful but the translation of importance for our hero was not growing. The Boss would sit at the edge of her virtual desk talking about nonsense, social events and how the human race was assured survival with their carefully processed math equations. Boss wasn’t bad and she was treated like an equal, but the drone of numbers depressed the woman into a cathartic existing during cubicle service.

“And when we finally kissed and held each other after 4 weeks of web flirting, i felt …nothing He was just so warm and hairy.”

The boss laughed at the thought.

“I started thinking about the bacteria on his hair follicles, and then it was his smell from our cramped shuttle ride. It was horrid. I did enjoy the trip to Ring 1, and the food was amazing, but I couldn’t wait to get home so I could just virtually …you know… release the pressure in a sanitary manner”.

She nodded as she always did, not participating in the social Sunday events. She couldn’t remember the last time she smelled a man up close. Timidly she asked

“Did you hear about Ring 7?”

“Losing power? Yes, of course thankfully the production didn’t slow down the agriculture sector, that’s in Ring 6 and 9”

Our hero knew where the agriculture sector was and often finished the read-outs for her boss but the nature of the position must be maintained for cultural consensus.

“I heard that a giant black snake from space swallowed it whole and drained all the electricity.”

Her boss looked at her funny and then seemed to decide it was a joke, and began to chuckle. Slowly at first but it built up from a single thought to a fantasy that was shared by no one. Her Boss laughed and laughed walking into her office shaking her hands as if it was too much.

Our Hero didn’t think it was funny. It scared her and it also inspired her. The image of the Empty Shadow lighting up like a glowworm and floating away into space was the single most beautiful moment in her life. It felt greater than all the times she won at the math games, or when someone liked her little poems at the Internet Cafes. Was she alone in the world as a witness to such tremendous beauty?

“Why don’t you believe me?” He said it too his best friend and fellow game creator.

The avatar ignored him deeply invested into a virtual set piece. His little fingers moved up and down smoothing the edges of deep desert ravine where the race track was being built.

“It was a space EEL and it ate Ring 7, then floated away. Maybe it is a hostile species, like it’s a scout for hungry ants and it’s on it’s way back to let them know us humans got some tasty Space stations to eat.”

That made him laugh, they both shared a moment.

“OK, look, I don’t know what it was, and Ring 7 doesn’t seem to know what I am talking about”

“You initiated communication with them?”

“Yes and I sent some messages to senior leadership.”

“Hmm that might not have been smart, my friend.”

The reddish glow of the fake sun was starting to get to him, so he lowered the intensity settings to the raised eyebrow of his friend who wandered off to finish building the full scale digital set somewhere else. Our hero was left with his thoughts and a job to do. The game release was coming in a week and he had deadlines. Increasing his adrenaline feeds, he felt the surge drift slowly up his bloodstream. They still had another 6 hours until the shift was over, but he knew it was going to be an 90 hour work week. The public clamored for fresh entertainment and it was his job to serve. Post apocalypse games were very popular in culture as the children, 3 generations from the Exodus, wondered if they had the guts to survive the barren wastelands of Earth. The race cars were threaded together from old pictures of a historical culture that used to be obsessed with auto mobiles. The last release of his game had some bad press for it’s unrealistic violence as the bloodshed was based on his imagination.

He punched into the air bringing up some floating code that surrounded a half bone Zombie frozen before his lamenting soul. If he played all the tricks he had in his brain then what was he to do if the public was still bored. Our hero still needed something else to really drive the fear up. Modern tastes were getting primal.

Her 10 hours of community work was done and it was time to play. The options are endless and yet it felt like the same old games and entertainment. Dating, gambling, gaming, farming, playing and children, they all felt overdone and disingenuous. She walked out of her cubicle to eat dinner going through the motions of existing. The same old mash of starches and vitamins felt like blandness and she tired of eating alone. Our hero thought about the string of men her boss spoke about.

“What would it feel like to be kissed and touched like that?” She spoke to pictures on her wall and they said nothing but of the safety of her past.

She didn’t really have a preference on how she was touched. There were times when her boss was close, behind her desk going over numbers that she felt a sort of ..whoosh. A dizzying need for touch, but it was just a virtual projection and it didn’t count. Everything outside the virtual world was segmented and sanitized for the long haul of human survival. Yet there was something about the boss’s long fingers with carefully manicured nails, that just made her want to…

“oh never mind” she thought. “It was all too confusing.”

She was honestly afraid of everything. Yet as she pushed her food around with a fork and stared at the silent cubicle, with its endless potential of entertainment, she only thought about the Empty Shadow creature.

“Maybe it needs a name?”

She said in the cold square she called home. The creature reminded her of a lightning bug from a story her mother read her, only more like a snake. The way it slithered around the stars.

“Giant Luminous Snake, perhaps or the GLS!” she proclaimed “The GLS it is!”

The next thing she knew, she was out in the hallway walking toward the Glass hallway. The lights were muted, and she crossed the main pathways carefully avoiding cargo pods and trains passing by quietly. The small residential hallways had the buzz of a thousand channels of entertainment, blasted at various frequencies through tiny door frame cracks. The Ring was collectively exploring the worlds created for them and all our Hero wants to do, is look out a window.

Today was Saturday and the game was being released. Zombie Road 4 was being test marketed and the Ring was watching. The first racers were at the starting line after an opening ceremony at the Zombie dome, a sort of theme park designed by the crew. There was merchandise, and awards, character showcases, celebrity gamers and of course, test drives of the Post Apocalypse vehicles. Once the crew was shown where to shoot the gun, decided who was driving, they entered the cars. The game was set, it was time to launch. Our hero was down on the floor checking cars, like any anonymous coder on the team. Granted while it was a Team effort, his unique imaginative mind had been mined deeply like the landscape of death before them. The homegrown zombie horde, was poised in hidden spots, and somewhere, within their own generated cars of death designed to cause havoc on the patrons. Of course the elite were the first to try and it was by their recommendation, the next few months of money was to be made. The tech firm had hired real women in virtual attractiveness to talk up the masculine corporation patrons as they made their way to the starting line.

“Got a moment?”

The Investor surprised him. He rose from the vehicle with a nervous tick.

“Everyone is ready. You sure got the medical info down on the massacres, and the death protocol?”

He nodded intimidated by anyone with a higher social status.

“Yes, but I made some last minute shifts to the death code. Something that will leave the patron dazed for a moment.”

“Dazed?”

“Yes, I realized this week that the problem with Zombie Road 3 was you regenerate so quickly, it wouldn’t change the strategy of the players during game play. They simply popped back up where they were and never built any fear of death. In this version there is lag time. I added another 7 seconds of …just light…. When they regenerate back into the game, the 7 seconds will be disorienting enough to teach them death is something to avoid. It creates a Survival Hunger.”

She looked at him as if he was the floating alien in space.

“This wasn’t part of the original pitch.”

“No, but I think it will improve the game.”

“Let’s hope so, because I want to be frank you, this game better be a hit, or my brother and I end the contract.”

She walked away and he smiled, noting the behavior of people often changed the on Internet. His investor was actually quite timid when he met her during a Christmas Party, and she preferred games that were strategy and simply went along with her twin brother on this investment as a past-time. Our hero looked up at the front vehicle where the hulking mass of her brother revved his engine, impatient for adventure. As was the custom, the boss tried out the game first and was his most important customer. The mind of the Boss and his virtual avatar were primed and ready for the death and dismemberment to come.

Today was Saturday, and she was going out. Not sure how it happened but her boss invited her to a game release party in a makeshift bar. It was full of eligible singles and she was going to try to meet someone. Using some credits on a new outfit, she decked out her body in interesting ways at the suggestion of her older friend, and slinked into the room far too early. The race was still underway on big screens, so she walked awkwardly over to a couch and posed herself for conversation without any notice. Our hero watched the room for who might attract her. It had been a long week alone for her. Every night she stared at the stars looking for shapes and movements until it made her mad. She was nauseous thinking something was wrong with her, and yet an inner strength grew that told her everything was going to be great from now on. She was done with being afraid. The universe was suddenly much larger than the tiny homes and Space Station she existed in.

Suddenly the room screamed as a gnarly looking zombie jumped into the screen shot. The man atop the truck had been using a very large caliber weapon to mow down the horde of bodies along the side of the track. The zombie was above him, and reached down to pull the gunner’s head from his body as the remains slumped down into the vehicle cab. The handsome man driving, who seemed to be a crowd favorite, shifted back in the car seat using his knees to drive and blasted the zombie with a shotgun. Everyone cheered loudly and some rose from their seats to clap, 7 seconds later the murdered gunner was back at his post with a little more determination. The crowd murmur in appreciation and exclaim in loud voices that they wished to experience the gore directly.

Soon the race was done and the men entered the room from their private cubicles, as heroes. They shook hands and wiped the sweat from their faces, still in the costumes they had chosen, clean as when they bought it. She crowded in and asked her boss who had joined her side who the man was.

“He owns the company that created these violent games,” she said.

The entourage split up and the man walked with his female twin across the metal space, ending up in front of them. Her boss pushed the both of them closer and when the man caught the eye of her friend, she found herself wedged as he leaned in for a big hug. In slow motion she was face to face with a giant shoulder that towered above her as it enveloped her boss. She looked down at the line of fabric now stretching in muscular wonder and a faded space where sweat had leaked through changing the color towards darkness. Curiously in that millisecond of time, she leaned in and smelled his armpit.

It had not gone unnoticed as the crowd went silent. The twin of the man looked angry, her boss was embarrassed and the man simply looked down at the tiny woman who dared smell the champion. She smiled meekly and turned toward the bar, hoping she had enough credits for a stiff drink.

He had seen the woman smell his boss, it had been a funny moment that seemed to lighten his own mood. Anxiously standing at the edge of the crowd, he waited for the man to give him a thumbs up or down. This was his future on the line. It was all going to come down to this endorsement. He closed his eyes and sat on a couch and just breathed deep.

” Why did life have such a razor line to it.” he thought “One day I am on top of the world and the next, walking into extinction or success.”

Perhaps not such drastic line for a thinking man of privilege. There was something in the way the EEL just came out of the darkness and swallowed a station whole, without so much as a warning that did something to his personality. This fear of death is how he turned a moment of doubt, into something artistic and life affirming. He feared that if his fellow Ringers no longer felt standard human emotions, what was the point of endlessly floating around the orbit of a dead planet?

“Wasn’t it just waiting for something to happen?” He thought.

The survival of the human species was hanging on exclusively here in this precarious place in the stars and he spent his life designing ways for them to die, simply for entertainment. What if the human hive mind in stasis suddenly woke up to a larger reality. One in which a giant space EEL eats us like we were plankton.

“My boy.”

The voice shocked him out of his inward dialogue as his boss had found him. The Boss fell into the space next to him with a huge puff of air. The displacement was obvious and he found himself giggling at the overwhelming smell of the man.

“That was quite a game!”.

“Thank you”

“I have never felt so much natural adrenaline, and Mike, my gunner said he almost shit himself when that zombie ripped his head off. He told me he had an epiphany as soon as he regenerated and had a profound emotional moment… but most importantly didn’t miss a shot after that. What did you call that feeling?”

“Feeling?”

“To my sister, you called it, Survival Hunger.” He wasn’t sure if that meant he should paranoid that his phrase was already known, but his success was assured. He breathed out relaxing with a smile.

“Speaking of survival, I got some interesting info before the race.” His boss leaned over with subtle aggression. “What’s a Space Eel?”

The moment was long, so many thoughts went through his brain, as his Boss stared dangerously in his face. He recognized the feeling from before, the razorline of survival was pulsing in his chest. It only took a moment to adjust as his familiarity with the emotion had grown. He breathed in deeply and took action by striking the boss on the shoulder in a masculine move of friendship.

“It’s a new idea for a game, I don’t love the name, but I was experimenting with a Survival Hunger script and it accidentally got released. I wondered what it would be like, if the danger was more localized and involved the Rings themselves? It could take place here, as giant eel creatures come from outer space to swallow us whole.”

The room had returned to a loud party atmosphere and music floated in from speakers that were at least 100 years old from the PA system. The two men sat in the midst of chaos and understood the potentials with faces made of stone.

“So a game, that can return the Fear of Death back to the people, shake the comfort zone of the Rings and remind us that death is always out there lurking?” His boss looked so solemn and then beams with a bear like warmth.

‘’You are a genius, my boy and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I am very excited and I know a few military types that would also throw some money our way. Let’s get started on Monday.”

He shook the boss’s massive hand and was left alone. Our hero had a face full of sadness for a moment and then he smiled. A single figure silhouetted in a mass of people, perfectly happy for one moment of time.

It was late Saturday night and she spent too many credits on drinks. The metal square room had a massive window where she looked out at the stars. Tiny dots of light that meant nothing linguistically, other than they were there, but truly she knew the light bore the information of an entire solar system. She was riding the light photons like data streams. Perhaps with her own eyes she could see the gravity fields, the gas clouds, tiny asteroids, and the size of the sun. Perhaps she could even see the fascinating creatures on far away planets, millions of years old, looking as they did, in glorious them-ness.

A funny young man walked up to her awkwardly and instead of saying anything he sipped quietly a liquor drink through a tiny straw and stared up at the stars with her.

“It’s frightening” he said after a while.

“It’s beautiful” she replied.

He laughed and turned to her smiling.

“He smells bad doesn’t he.”

She wasn’t embarrassed anymore and laughed too.

“Yes”

“Did you like the Game?”

“No, it was far too violent for me”

“What games do you like?”

She looked out at the stars and felt a comfort.

“I don’t like games, I like stars and Giant Luminous Snakes.”

She kinda amused herself with that one, and shook her head drinking from her expensive drink. The boy hadn’t said anything so she casually looked over at his shocked face.

“The EEL that ate Ring 7?”

She became excited clapping her hands together and they said in unison

“You saw it too?”

Today was Sunday, early in the morning. Still dressed in last night clothes, two young Ringers, sat in the glass hallway. He had covered the railing with his coat, and they sat on it staring into the void laughing. She still felt the cold through her legs, but her shoulder was warm as he put his arm around her and they stared up at the stars.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked.

He nodded and became poetic

“I want to design games to help people, to reflect a grander reality. We are in a universe of Giant EELS, or GLS now and we should understand that.” Smiling at her “We need to dream bigger, with more purpose as a species. We need to fix things in a holistic sense and get out of our own heads.”

They shared a moment of silence enjoying the reflecting polymer glass that afforded them a view but also safety from cold hard space.

“ You?” he asked

She smiled feeling safe in the conversation.

“Do you think it’s too late to be an explorer?”

They laughed nervously at the idea of leaving their tiny safe world and moving into the unknown.

“Perhaps I should create an expedition into deep space to research these entities. There are things out there we don’t understand and I am not spending any more time playing Games or being on the internet.” she wiggled with excitement.

“So you were not frightened by the event?” He asked with a far away look.

“At first” Our hero said, “but after I screamed and I saw the GLS was just eating a tasty snack of electricity, I knew it was going to be fine.”

She nuzzled his arm a bit, enjoying having someone listen, but he seemed to stiffen slightly and slowly she looked up into his face.

He stared out into the glass into the vast expanse and felt the now familiar feeling in his gut as it wrenched and his adrenaline naturally spiked.

“Do you see them?”

She turned and felt elation, the stars no longer twinkled but were blocked by a horde of shifting darkness. Thousands of reflecting bits of lights gave way to something else. The EELs or GLS had returned with collective purpose and were slowly getting larger and larger as they neared. The residents of Ring 3 had no sense of the coming darkness, as the day of rest had began with a long collective sleep-in.

Our two heroes watched the universal cosmic scale tip away from humanity as they held hands and understood something profound and had no idea if it might be lost forever.

The End?