“They’re irradiating me with carcinogenic chemicals, Saul. Gamma rays, delta waves, and the like, contaminating me. I can’t take it anymore. I came out because I had a dream where I was in a prison and I tried to escape and… and… I know that’s what they’re doing to me. I know it.”
She stood on the stairs and stared intently at Saul, but her eyes kept rolling back into her head and as they did so her knees wavered. Her hands flailed around after her knees gave way and she collapsed, her body sprawled out across the steps. Her eyes, which were covered in smeared black eyeshadow, looked over her limbs uncomfortably hanging over the edges of each step as if her body were an entity alien to her. Saul kneeled down and took her arm, gently tugging her upwards, but her spiderlike body was a dead weight, her voice now lurking just above his feet.
“It’s gone past any sort of point where I could say this is normal. That this is some side effect of what’s going on. That this was intended, or that this is something I just have to bear and get through because the grass will be greener on the other side, or some platitude like that. No, Saul. This is something they’ve permanently done to me and my body. There’s no going back now.”
Her body was like water and no matter what angle he tried to pick it up from, it seemed to squirm away. But he had to somehow get her back to her room. “Come with me, Vicky. It’ll all be better soon.” He assured her. “Just come with me. Take my hand. You have to lie down, that’s all. That’s why you’re feeling bad, Vicky. Relax, and come with me to lie down.”
“Horrible. Horrible. They’re so horrible. They’re trying to kill me, Saul. They’re infusing the images with gamma radiation. All they want is the complete annihilation of both my body and spirit, Saul. And you know what? The truth is they won’t even be content if I die. They want to take me through the second death too. It’s so horrible and painful and disgusting what they want to do to me.”
After trying to pick her up by her shoulders she reluctantly started getting on her feet and, with all the energy of a monk who had fasted and prayed for days wading through mud, trudging up the stairs. With his arms on both her shoulders, he kept her from teetering left and right as he guided her along the hallway to her room, whispering more reassurances into her ears. She stumbled over the potted leafy ferns which covered the floor of her room, leaving little space to stand, twirled around a few times in confusion, and finally fell supine onto her bed. Saul stood by the tall cabinet full of craft supplies in the corner, plucking a sheet of paper from inside containing the terms and conditions of her agreement to the incubation period and the interface with her mind.
“Here’s what it says, Vicky. It says, you have to stay inside, preferably in a relaxed posture and on a bed. That will allow you to be receptive as the image streams seep into you, imbuing your thoughts and emotions as necessary for the process to complete. And you have to do that for a whole month, and maybe even more.”
“Gosh, you don’t have to spell it out for me...”
He remembered how lost she had looked amid the sea of paperwork when she was first reading over it all. Papers filled the room, some of them had dropped into the plant pots and were covered in globs of soil. He remembered seeing sentences like, “You, the subject, grant the Company the ability to access your internal mindstate, to assess that mindstate, and to alter that mindstate accordingly. In doing so you allow the Company to input data, formatted as sensory input, into your long-term and short-term memory while tracking deep unconscious responses in real time.” These were acts which Vicky had tried to visualize in her mind, then, but was unable to grasp how they would be carried out. It was still a vaporous possibility, then. After she had signed them, her full name, Victoria Lydia Plubell, stood out boldly on each page, as if asserting her will to undergo this process under the stewardship of LIQUEFY corporation, and her desire to let go of this carnal realm and enter a digital one.
“So, you were in a prison?” Saul asked.
Vicky was lying on the bed, covering her face with her hands. The face mask was by her side, temporarily shut off after she had taken it off to go downstairs, but the cybernetic implants behind her ears were blinking green which meant the passage to her mind was available. It was impossible to speak to her in the times when they blinked red. Saul remembered her eyes glazing over for hours at those times, with her sensory inputs totally occupied, engrossed in another reality.
“I remember the titanium lattice of my cell. The floor was uneven and the bars were all bent in skewed directions. I was trapped inside for the longest time until I found a hole in the corner of the floor. I crawled through a tight tube for the longest time until I fell into a big black lake full of sewage. A thick morass filled with pieces of trash flowing over and under each other. I suddenly felt self-conscious, like my body was perforated with hundreds of pores and the trash was seeping into them, poisoning me to the core. And then I felt like I wasn't my body anymore, like I didn't own it anymore. Because it was owned by somebody else now. It was owned by the trash. And that's what the images are doing to me, Saul."
For some reason she was constantly obsessed with paranoid thoughts. He was unsure whether it was a glitch in the system or simply a quirk of her character that the technology's interactions with her mindstate have magnified. As she looked at him Saul avoided looking directly into her eyes, as if he feared her delusions might telepathically transfer to him if he did so. He wondered what it was like to hook in to cosmic consciousness, to a collection of brains interacting with each other, syncing-up with each other in real-time across the planet. Maybe it would be traumatic for him, too.
He wanted to comfort her, so he crawled onto the bed, but touching her was always awkward for him. He had never really touched a girl intimately before, so even something as simple as patting her shoulders sent tingles up his spine. They were so bony, and he felt he might damage some part of her if he pressed too hard. She rolled onto his lap, with her hands clasped together as if hoping to fall into a stupor of some sort to ease her discomfort. With her head there he also felt at ease and began running his hand through her hair, but it kept getting caught on knots and tangles, so he began to simply pat the top of her head, over and over.
“Listen. It’s your incubation period, Vicky, that means you shouldn’t leave your room except in exceptional circumstances… if you do, it might lead to further complications in the future and you don’t want that, do you?”
“I know, I know…”
“Fall asleep, Vicky…” Saul said as he pet the back of her head in a straight, repetitive motion. Her eyes were glazing over, and her implants changed from blinking green to red. As the sun set that evening he could see the images floating through the tubes that led to the face mask grafted to her cheeks. The matrix of social media feeds they drew from were a thousand points of light—light that brought insight and wisdom, luciferous. For a second Vicky’s pupils widened and moved about, then her eyes drooped and her head wobbled back and forth, again and again, sedated by the images. A trickle of drool squeezed out of her lips.
Like stumbling across lost tapes in a dusty corner of a cabinet, wrapped in moldy parchment paper, it took him a long time to recall the memories which were beamed into his long-term memory that night. He had faint inklings, sometimes, of a radiant woman with wood-colored hair exiting a beamship parked in a meadow. Her hair blew in the wind before its platelike form, like stacked chrome cylinders, with thin insectoid legs planted into the grass below. She reached into her gray jumpsuit and pulled out a metal rod that looked like an antenna, pointing it at him as if scanning him. He could hear her voice too, light and mellifluous, saying words that he could not remember. But those memories were fogged over by other memories of conversations at slime bars and orgasmic, psychedelic visions.