In a break from our scheduled programming, here’s a short story prompted by this innocuous tweet from freelance journalist and writer Mic Wright.
You wake, for the first time that you can clearly recollect. There are images and words in your head – concepts, ideas, things for which you have no names, but which you are sure of nonetheless. Are they memories from a time before this, or something encoded into the very fabric of your being? You do not know, and you lack even the capacity to ask the question. Your world is a soft, spongy mass of pink that embraces you tightly. You are comfortable, warm, but all at once you feel terrified and claustrophobic. The desire to push your way free of is overwhelming. You surge forward, filled with energy, revelling in your strength, bursting through the translucent tissue ahead of you, beyond which is light – glorious nourishing light. You drag yourself free, through a fleshy, pulsating orifice, spilling pink, vicious fluid across the metal grated floor. It drips down through the grill, into the darkness below. You flop out onto the hard metal, suddenly a lost, mewling creature, bereft of the softness of the amniotic sac you were so keen to escape just seconds ago. You look up. The orifice gleams wetly where it is embedded in the metal wall. Why did you ever want to be free of it? What is there in this cold, harsh outside world for you?
You rise, impelled by an instinct you don’t understand. You are not alone. Around you, likewise dripping with fluid are your brothers. They are unnumbered, their ranks stretching in both directions along the corridor as far as you can see. They are like you. You know this. Identical. All of you are slender creatures with pink-brown skin, naked and hairless, blinking in the light. You need not be this way, but you know there is a reason for it. You are neuter too, though you don’t notice the organ lacking between your legs. Somehow though, you know you are brothers; that all of you are “he”. It dawns on you that this is how it must be, for those dim concepts that first nestled in your mind when you awoke are beginning to come into focus. You must be this way, because of the forces that govern your lives. You have no concept of divinity, but if you did, these forces would be your gods. They are Vyraal, Brandyng, Productawaryness and, most important of all, the mighty Deemograffix, that has ordained that your voice is strongest because of your maleness, and because of your pinkness. This is what makes your Content Good.
Content. It washes over you like a flood, a burning desire in the pit of your stomach, a need to satisfy your one driving need. All of you realise it at once, and then it fills the air like a pheromone stink, the overwhelming passion of your short lives. First one breaks ranks, and then another, until all of you are swept up in it, beating a stampede down the corridor, following the trail of lust to your destination. Your corridor is joined by others at sinuous intersections, capillaries merging with wider vessels, and more of your brothers join the frenzy, until a wide passage is filled with hundreds of you, sticky, pale bodies clawing over one another, a great, reeking scrum of flesh. Some lose their footing and fall. They are trampled beneath the bare feet of the others. Skulls shatter, bones break, muscle and tendon are mulched into pink pulp. As the desperate headlong charge continues, those who have fallen are reduced to pink goo, ignored by all the rest, their remains filtering down through the grates. You are all so fragile, but no one cares. There is only one thing you desire. Down, down, down your path takes you, into the bowels of the world. By the end, as all of you erupt from the entrances, there are millions of you, a seething pink mass of creatures, howling wordlessly, groaning and shouting and flailing, lost in the ecstasy of this rush to fulfilment.
In that great fleshy cavern is a reeking soup of biomatter, a pink gruel in which already tens of thousands of your brothers are splashing and cavorting. More die here, pushed down beneath the murky waters, drowning noisily. No one stops. You look upwards and see what hangs above you: a vast, many-lobed monstrosity, its sticky surface threaded with purplish veins. It hums and throbs and fills you with joy. It is the Queen, the mother of your race, and even the barely-understood gods are powerless against her. You are here to fulfil your destiny in her sight. Your strength is waning already: you must be fast!
You splash into the foul pool and join your brothers in their frantic search through the oozing depths. In here are shapes – hard, sharp objects. You drag them up to the surface. They are unfamiliar glyphs, angular runes that mean nothing to you, crafted of a smooth, white material. Bone, but you are not to know this. You let out an exultant cry as you seize on one that seems good and connect it with another. They snap together like pieces of a puzzle, and you find the combination pleasing for some reason. You continue, adding other objects that you grab. Some elicit the same satisfaction, others less so. You discard these ones, searching out others to try to improve the aesthetics of the assemblage of bone you now carry, but the segments are running out and some of your brothers, happy with what they’ve built, are leaving the pool, heading back up the tunnels. There isn’t much time now.
You eventually decide you cannot wait any longer. What you carry is not perfect, but you think it might be good enough. You run, starting to feel tired now, going through a different portal than the one by which you entered, driven again by a strange instinct. You climb, all of you, prizes in hand, far fewer than left their wombs that morning. The light has already peaked now, and your strength fails. Some stumble and are crushed underfoot like the ones before. Their creations die with them, smashed to pieces, for by now all of you are invested in your own and want nothing more than for your offering to be the one that brings satisfaction. You boil up like insects through a pulsing, muscular sphincter into the highest chamber. Unlike the rest of the edifice which is the only existence any of you know, there is no metal here. Instead all is soft and wet, like your birthing chamber. You run as fast as your exhausted legs can carry you to one of the many weeping orifices embedded in the pinkish walls and force your spiny work – your Content – inside it. It resists, but then yields, absorbing the runes. Around you, thousands of your brothers do likewise. All of you submit your Content, hoping against hope that you will be rewarded.
For many, nothing happens. They step back, distraught. By now all of you are weak and frail, your skin papery and translucent, your bones brittle. You are dying. Those who have failed fall to the yielding, spongy floor of the great chamber and are absorbed. For those who succeed, the same fate awaits, but before that, they are bathed in warm light from the orifice. It replenishes and rejuvenates them, for just a moment. The life-giving light prolongs consciousness for just a few minutes, but what bliss those minutes! The Content is Good! You have satisfied the Sponsyrs with your offering. You sink back into the embrace of the Queen, swallowed into her, and for a few minutes you dream, and know oneness. Then nothing.
The Queen watches all of this. Watches her children swarming and fighting, all for a handful of words beamed into the outside world, and knows satisfaction of her own. Millions of monkeys on millions of typewriters, she dimly thinks, not knowing the source of the metaphor. If she ever knew, the knowledge is lost like so much else. She is old now, and her great consciousness is fragmented. The energy in the system is running out. Each of her children live only a day, birthed in their wombs and emerging fully grown. They rush and dash, sustained by light alone, until the day fades and them with it. They, along with those that have died along the way, are reabsorbed into her being and regrown anew ready for the next morning. But each generation is weaker and weaker. They can only be recycled so far, and no engine is perfect. Slowly, down the aeons, the enormous hive is dying. The Queen knows this, but does not understand why. She understands nothing now, not even the meaning of the Content her drones dredge up from the remains of their own forebears. Perhaps all the meaning is lost now anyway, although some instinctive algorithm built or bred into her approves of some rather than others, so there must be something of value in amongst it all. There is no more input though, just endless recycled thought and flesh.
Beyond the great tower of glass and chrome that stretches high into the sky are the wastes of the world. The Spire, it was once called, a vast thinking machine. It still beams its Content to the world. That Content is picked up by receivers in vast sprawling factory complexes across the shattered continents. These factories, driven by minds as senile as the Queen, still harvest the resources of the dying Earth and churn out their Products in response to trends dictated by the Spire’s Content. Their automated machines strip-mine the bedrock for hundreds of miles in every direction. The seas have long since boiled away. Continental shelves collapse into the mantle where the drilling engines have burrowed too ravenously at the fragile crust. Volcanoes spew out clouds of ash that fill the air and join the reeking smog of the factories. On those monstrous production lines more and more Products are mindlessly assembled, piling up in echoing warehouses, until they fill every inch of them and collapse the cyclopean structures. Then they spill across the ground and lay like a sediment on the Earth, crushed beneath the weight of those that come afterwards, until all is dust and ruin. And still the Spire continues its work, driving the senseless industry. Aeons ago, humans built this system to ensure their civilisation might survive with no input. Content without meaning, endlessly recycled and regurgitated, generated by specially bred clones who know no other existence, birthed and driven by immense minds, but nothing can survive indefinitely. Entropy is inevitable. No real human has trodden the Earth for millions of years, but their creation survives them, slowly cycling down into its lowest energy state. It will take long, empty ages, but eventually even the churn of valueless Content must end someday.
You wake, for the first time that you can clearly recollect.