Adam Wykes is a writer from Rockford IL. His writing focuses primarily on science-fiction, his poetry on the metaphysical. He would just like to say that he is a big fan of Emily Novak, Civ III, shrews, wikipedia, all things Welsh, emergence, and William Gibson.
As if it were some rippled reflection in a pool of oil, the Milky Way stretched parallel across the early night above two lanes. Roadside reflectors and broken glass shone brightly, twinkling, tinkling and crunching as first the angel-white headlights and then the black vulcanized rubber went passing, passing, passing, in a pattern sea.
I always hear the whispering, alone in the cornfields. Alone out there, it rises just past the wind in the stalks, the wind in my hair and ears. And momma used to say, that’s the souls singing on the way to heaven, child. That’s the hymn of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, atheists. Those are the pagans and gentiles and Jews, the Muslims and the Shinto people. Child, they are all going the same place, but they don’t even know it. They’re all going to heaven child, they’re all dying. That’s before momma went away. But that doesn’t make her words go, too. Every time I look to the lights of the city at night, so far away.
That’s when I can hear her.
I heard voices that night. I’ve heard them before – children left on the roadsides, abandoned by the angels going to heaven. Babies crying, women sighing, all wanting to continue dying, flying down that highway. But these weren’t those. I heard two voices, low and unafraid. I heard them after the truck pulled up and the engine stopped. The engine tinkled, dying, and I heard them throw open car doors. Then sounds of smaller wheels on the gravel, then on the grass by the road.
I got up. My hole is not far from the roadside, and it is in the middle of the corn. I could move quietly and not be seen in the summer. No one expects out here, anyway. No one expects anything at all. The smell of antiseptic hit me like the strong liquor thrown from cars whispering down the road at late hours. Drinking from those half-empty bottles, I can remember things that didn’t happen, see things I didn’t see. But momma says that nothing comes from nothing, so something comes from something. Momma says those are things I remember from before I was who I am now. Momma says I used to be a different person.
The antiseptic made me remember something that I knew was my memory, though. It was the smell I had on me when I was Thrown.
When I woke here the first time. Little pokes all over my skin, naked, cold, throwing up. Eyes that wouldn’t work, mouth that only tried to make the sounds I could when I was with momma. Nothing came out but screams and breathing. And after the screams, I heard only the whispering. I knew millions were passing by in the lanes two feet from my head. Momma had told me this would happen one day: that it happened to all of us. I only felt such pain, such helplessness. I knew that momma couldn’t be with me any more; that no one could. But that is what religion is for. Getting you ready for this. And momma always made me sing my hymn strong.
Then I knew what they were doing. The angels were going to Throw another of us. I heard the gurney straps coming undone, I heard the low voices more:
“Fuckin’ shame we gotta dump it, after alla work of pinchin’ it from that hospital.”
“I’m telling you, these computers, these bodyboxes – they only work once. Any other box, you can crack it, sure, but you get to use it again and again. Bodyboxes, they only work once. They get a print of its alpha waves, and then it’s like a fingerprint. All over. Gotta dump it.”
“The only fuckin’ shame is that you thought it would be a good idea and I was too drunk to disagree.”
I moved closer, I breathed quieter and got angrier. I heard the body as they Threw it into the corn. Ninety percent of those who are Thrown never wake. Either they starve while they remain in Comaland, or a vulcanized tire swerves – they kill Thrown for fun on the highway – or animals eat them, or a combine chews them. I woke, and I don’t know why. Momma says she doesn’t know why it happens, even why it happened to her.
There are three sorts of Boxes. Silicons, Quantums, and Bodyboxes. Silicons are too slow, not powerful enough. Quantums are too expensive, too noticeable. Bodyboxes are one-shot daggers to the engorged corporate heart. When Boxers want a Box that can crunch numbers almost as well as a Quantum and leave no transaction trail, they go for a black market Bodybox.
We are the Thrown, taken from hospital beds as we lay sleeping (and momma says, because she went there in Realand once, that they call us coma patients there) and jacked into Electric Comaland, born again brains hard-wired for a fast data connection and multiple streams of logic crunching. Then corporations find the hackers out, we can’t be used anymore, and we get Thrown.
I saw the Thrown Bodybox in the cornfield where they had tossed it – a thin female with albino skin from weeks in a basement lab, streams of black chemical trails in her veins from how they had pumped up her processor and kept the Box powered. I got really angry. Momma says not to hurt the angels, that they are something that most of us will never really be again – alive. Momma says killing live things isn’t right, and sometimes I think so.
I killed them though, hiding my sounds in the whispering highway hymn. I ran forward through the stalks, over the corn crater of the Thrown, out to the back of a black-shadow angel. Neck snap, vicious writhing and tossing, and it was over. The other: not so dumb. He ran, oh he ran. Back to the ambulance, illuminated in the scintillating lights of the highway cars. I saw my sun darkened hands reach out in the headlight radiance and grab an arm. He spun, screaming, and hit me hard on the eye, but I was too quick for his other punches, oh too quick. Like a scythebot I yanked his arm, popping the socket, swinging smooth and powerful. I swung him into the highway and let the whispers take him. I’d done it enough times to cats and dogs and woodchucks, when there was no food already on the shoulder.
Then I rested, because my Bodybox was tired, breathing hard. I rested and gazed at the ambulance, doors open, lights bloody red. The other Bodybox in the corn was a goner. They’d already jacked her far too much, I found out.
I was alone. But the antiseptic kicked in again, like it was cleaning away all the dirt of the present and shining the past in my face. I stood, a deer in the headlights of an inexorable realization coming on.
Momma said never to kill things and I know I’ve done wrong. But now I can talk to momma again, maybe, and ask for forgiveness. Something is wrong with killing to get to her, but momma will know a way to make it good, as long as I make amends. I buried all of them, like momma told. Momma knew something for everything. She was like me once, like all of us. But when momma was Thrown, she found a way out. A car on the side of the road abandoned. From there to the big city light and a cheap hotel room with a jack. From there back to Comaland, with enough money taken every now and then to pay the room and for a doctor man with no questions to come and feed her. Until she was entirely in Comaland.
Momma says there is a way to do it. I believe.
And I listen to the whispers of the highway travelers in eternal transit to heaven, and I watch all the galaxy do the same above. In my ambulance by the roadside (for these days the trash piles higher; no one comes to clean any more) there is a jack to Comaland, and there is food and there are intravenous tubes. One day I will find momma. And she will tell me what I should do, because I have done wrong.
Then I get to the end of my highway - and Momma, she tells me where to turn off.