Of a Singular Variety

Adam Wykes

 

 

Stalingrad. Dresden. Carthage. Saigon. Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Constantinople. Rome. Warsaw. Baghdad. Mogadishu. Jerusalem. Pripiat. Tenochtitlan. Babylon. They welcome Taipei and her denizens into the creative-destructive.

 

“It’s that margin-time, like dawn or dusk or the beginning or the end or the moment of enlightenment or death. That’s where we are,” the squid is saying fervently, perhaps too caught-up in its recent transcendence. Anyways it’s a cuttlefish, the GomiSan reminds himself. An intelligent, fervent cuttlefish with a voice that sounds like a London chimneysweep would if he were talking around a set of tentacles and a degree. Course there’s other things wrong with it too – it’s floating above the street on a cushion of pure psychic ectoplasm. So, not really a cuttlefish in the normal sense. Transcendent cuttle-being.

 

Whatever.

 

“Anyway it don’t matter. Where you say that Agglo was?”

 

The two stop to google their surroundings, levitating neo-cephalopod and gas-mask wearing H. sapiens white boy alike, and he clad in a blue garbage-man’s jumpsuit and a construction helmet wrapped in tinfoil and in his rubber-gloved hands a fire ax and M14 7.62mm assault rifle, real Full Metal Jacket GI-Joe style, and a dirty printed dot-matrix sheet of paper taped to his back that reads

 

DON’T IMMANENTIZE THE ESCHATON

 

cause that’s really what the GomiSan wishes for the moment, though it may be or even less subjectively is an anachronistic desire by now. The hilltop intersection they stand on is populated by gray husks of buildings and is littered and lunar and graveyard save for the ashcloud wind sweeping out of the featureless nothing above them and in the distance, rising out of the city like some Neolithic symbol of male virility, Taipei 101 is glowing fuchsia. Immediately to the left of this is rising a smoky pillar of debris whose granddaddies hovered over Trinity and Krakatoa and below which stretches a crater indistinct but vast and testament, and which they know and fear as the epicenter of the hyperstigmergopolyphage which feeds not on the flesh but the very material of the world and would have devoured it entire except for the ninja intervention of the transcended - hallowed and sainted be their names, those of them who were not motherfuckers. If indeed they still had need of nomenclatures such as human beings used or

understood.

 

The GomiSan and the neo-cephalopod grok this scene deeply and know that they will not find the Agglo that has been spoken of. Sure, down one avenue they scope one writhing in the slow growth of its compendium-like activity. Since the transcended population began to grow exponentially sometime last night, these robot Agglos have become a popular pastime of this capricious sect. But this particular Agglo appears to be preoccupied with welding cars and trucks to its form and though this tumor on the ash-foreshortened horizon seems benign in this respect, it also seems dangerously OCD. The space within range of its grasping and twisting metal tentacles is devoid and swept like a bowling alley save for the various chassis and frames that it is busily reforming for inclusion into its carapace. Any creature – vertebrate or otherwise – would likely be considered a rather un-aesthetic blob of carbon and moisture within its artistic space, deserving of quick, total, and very probably lethal removal from the premises.

“Never mind about that then,” the cuttlefish is saying. “Won’t do us any good trying to find anything we thought we could remember. That would smack of normalcy and to attain that here we would, like the Red Queen, be obliged to run as fast as we can just to stay there once we found it.”

 

The GomiSan is initially blown away by the apparent literary erudition of this invertebrate which has likely been alive only for the twenty or so hours since it was minted fresh out of wherever they were minting psychic neo-cephalopods these hours. But then he remembers that the creature might come standard with many such memories, just to give it the verisimilitude of individuality and experience. Doubtless thousands of other identical neo-cephalopods were roaming through the city right now, learning and loving

and very probably being eaten.

 

“You have a point.”

 

They trudge on. The movement is habitual, without reason or destination but observant of a law their genes prescribe. It reminds the GomiSan of his high school in another country. Gym class, January, eight in the morning. Only now the listless staring and shuffling comes not from sensory deprivation but from its reverse. A fireball blooms briefly a block or two away, towering and silent. In the illumination more than a few scurrying figures are outlined in the burnt buildings.

 

They pass a public aquarium, water salivating from the dank smashed maw of its entrance. The air is salty and from deep inside the building issues a guttural roar and they quickly ninja away. The GomiSan looks at his floating companion and the cuttlefish looks back, his unblinking eyes displaying not fear nor any other emotion. For a moment, though the GomiSan groks that this neo-cephalopod is in many ways an equal, he feels lonely. Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing, he reminds himself, except that he is in a city, and to the GomiSan cities lend a negative aspect to the experience of solitude. Supposedly he could make his way back to the crowds of sentient beings he knew were gathering near Taipei 101’s base. He could join the throng gathered there in expectation of transcendence, courtesy of the neighborhood post-human enclave set up in the lobby of that place. But the GomiSan had already been there, to drop off his mother and father and baby sister for that same purpose. Though he had seen them go happily, justifiably expectant of immortality, vast mental powers, and liberation from their physical form – and all that just the beginning – he had, at the last moment, hugged them all, pulled the gas mask down over his face, and turned toward the looming metropolis.

 

The GomiSan doesn’t know why he did this. He just groks that he could not part with his humanity, however mediocre and frail it might prove to be. The need to eat, the fear of death, and the strange sexual urges. Even the woefully subjective perspective. He just niched that stuff, if such a trope might stand.

 

“It might, if it could be taken as a verb to mean that one is finding a certain aspect of one’s experience to be very comfortable and natural.”

 

Right. The cuttlefish’s psychic powers extend to telepathy. The GomiSan wonders does anything in this fucked-up city not have a one-up on him?

 

“I think we should head for the city limits,” he says. “There isn’t a place in this city where we can sit down and groove without attracting baddies.”

 

The neo-cephalopod replies in a not-very-British gesture of approval by wriggling all of its tentacles emphatically and turning its entire body green. They pick out a hill rising above the city’s skyline in the distance.

 

“How ‘bout that hill over there? If we head toward that we can keep our bearings and it should only be like an hour’s walk away.”

 

“Barring any… unfortunate distractions, yes.”

 

“Course barring those. And it looks kinda rural – lots of trees on it, at least.”

 

“Should make for quite a view, too.”

 

“Yeah, that too, though I’m not sure you’re gonna see much, with all this smoke and ash still in the air.”

They start walking in the direction of the hill, the only interlocutors amid a menagerie of parked and crashed vehicles and darkened store fronts. A sound, coming from several different directions: machines whirring and backfiring in places unseen. A burning oil drum is encountered, its fire lighting several bodies and giblets strewn around it. None of these, upon inspection, have anything useful in their pockets and purses, nor even the slightest clue as to their demise.

 

Then a voice, calling out in Chinese from somewhere nearby, indecipherable to the GomiSan. He gets up, looks around. His eyes fall on the figure of a man in the open doorway of an apartment complex, a pistol in his hands and a doctor’s mask over his mouth. The GomiSan doesn’t truck with motherfuckers popping out of nowhere. He’s about to paint the town with this guy’s head but the guy waves his hand, gesturing for them to follow. Motherfucker looks scared.

 

“I say, let’s at least go talk,” the cuttlefish suggests.

 

“GomiSan can’t understand shit he says,” the GomiSan complains, but he puts the safety back on and starts walking over. Maybe the squid can do Chinese with this guy. Anyway someone who isn’t trying to transcend them or eat them or incorporate them into an Agglo or distributed swarm intelligence is more than halfway toward being a friend. They approach the guy and he leads them into the apartment and through a series of holes knocked in the walls and floors of the buildings. At one point they leap from a second-story window and into another hole in the building across an alley. The GomiSan can’t say for sure but he gets the feeling that he’s going up. Good. Maybe this guy takes the GomiSan to the hill eventually. Maybe he doesn’t and he isn’t the GomiSan’s friend after all.

 

But eventually they come to a multi-story parking garage and the doctor-mask guy yells something. Two diminutive Asian women appear from within, one wielding a flamethrower and one another fire ax. These two lead the GomiSan and the cuttlefish into the garage. Inside there are a lot of people. Children too. The guy that led them there breaks off to talk with another group of people who are armed. An old man is slowly turning a spit with two dire hamsters on it in one corner of the garage, a greasy black smoke rising from the fire. Almost everyone who isn’t armed is stacking bricks and sandbags and poles and gomi around the open sides of the street level of the garage. They seem to be in a hurry about it.

 

“Do you suppose they’re making this a fortress, GomiSan? Seems like a good idea, except that it won’t save them from the hyperstigmergopolyphage, if that gets out. Why don’t they just find a charitable Agglo that keeps such unpleasant visitors at tentacle’s reach?”

 

The GomiSan sees that is exactly what they are doing, and that the cuttlefish is exactly right despite his

peculiar manner of expression.

 

“Ask ‘em what for,” he tells his companion.

 

“Sorry, don’t know the language, chum. And they think in it too.”

 

The fuck is that shit the GomiSan is thinking, that a cuttlefish made in Taiwandoesn’t speak the goddamn lingua franca. Whatev. The GomiSan will do it the way he always saw his gaijin tourist doppelgangers do it when he was out collecting gomi: loudly.

 

“HEY LADY,” the GomiSan yells at the woman holding the fire ax. She turns around, squinting in case spittle should strike her in the eye. “WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE!?”

 

The woman lights a cigarette with the other’s flamethrower starter light and turns away, so the GomiSan must troll with the question again.

 

“Keep alive,” she replies curtly.

 

“WHY NOT FIND AN AGGLO FOR THAT!?”

 

The woman squints again.

 

“Agglo no allow choice of life-path.”

 

The GomiSan can niche with that real nice. Maybe that’s why –

 

Somebody on one of the levels above starts spamming machinegun fire. People everywhere are running if they don’t have guns and going up to the barricades if they do and the GomiSan is somewhere in the middle of it, grabbing his cuttlefish by a tentacle and dragging him up to the second level of the garage for a better view. He can see swarming from every street around a clusterfuck of scooters and motorcycles and even a small car or two and no one is driving them but pipes and bars and parts that aren’t supposed to be there are welded all over these oncoming machines and they sputter and spark and then the GomiSan notices that razor-sharp hubcaps are pinging against the walls of the parking garage and a man’s head is half sliced off. Blood and screaming and more gunfire. “Universal Constructors!” everyone is yelling for some reason, and then the GomiSan is crouched behind the wall, bringing a Yamaha scooter into his sights and blowing it away and the cuttlefish is going on about something related to clanking replicators and carbon consumption and the GomiSan neither understands nor groks any of this but only pwns and pwns again the onrushing scooters and everywhere there is fragging and pwning and a scooter vaults its way over the growing pile of its scrapped compatriots and flies into the second level of the garage and collides with a defender, gibbing her in a spectacular bolide of shrapnel and gasoline and gore.

The cuttlefish and the GomiSan are stunned for a moment and when they snap out of it the fate of most of the defenders has been sealed, the scooters overrunning the street level of the garage. The GomiSan can hear the slurp of their corpses being converted to constituent proteins and hydrocarbons. He rushes to the up-ramp with a few others, firing crazed into the scooter clusterfuck forcing its way toward them until his gun is dry, throwing it and cleaving and pwning 12 th century-style with his fire ax some more until its handle fractures and then, as the GomiSan is thinking onoz! The cuttlefish floats into his hands.

 

“Squeeze away, guv’na!” the cuttlefish cries and on some subsystem level the GomiSan groks this command and points at the nearest onrushing scooter-thing and squeezes and the cuttlefish, relieved of focusing its mental energies on staying afloat, ejects a jet of pure psychokinetic energy which sends the machine flying back smashed like sidewalk gum and then for a moment pure and singular in all human history and for all history afterward there is the archetype image of a man in a garbage-collector’s suit and gas mask, deconstructing a horde of reanimated scooter-beings with his trusty squid-gun on the dawn of the creative-destructive and cacophony and pwnage pure and unfettered and gibbing and incoherent save to those who have niched with it and none before or since can possibly have niched with this moment save possibly Jesus if he in his second coming were also to take up a neo-cephalopod against the minions of the Prime Usurper with a persecution not unlike Hannibal’s at Cannae. This image is the meme incarnate of the human singularity for it is danger and hope and in no part does it truly relate to its causes or effects but instead stands alone, an effervescent statue commemorating the phase-transition of our time, the recapitulation of the Cambrian explosion. It is a bottleneck, a boiling down followed by profusion, and this time it is primarily memetic, for this is the nature and the scope of the phase-change.

 

* * *

The wind atop the hill blows sweeter than the wind in the city-valley below, and the GomiSan and cuttlefish and few survivors of that place rest for a time in the shade of the trees. On the one side is the creative-destructive at critical mass, towering and moiling and ashen and cipher, and on the other side rolls the ocean in all its placid chaos, and they can see the first elements of the People’s Republic of China landing force coming across the Taiwan strait wide-eyed and naïve.

 

Now the GomiSan feels a reason for his being, which as the cuttlefish assures him is easy once a body has found its niche, and the GomiSan has done this. It is on the edge of chaos, the Langton parameter middling and permissive. The GomiSan may not groove like the transcended or the self-organized, nor did he really fit in the world that yet belongs to these Chinese marines now making their beach head, but his very existence confirms a place and a purpose for him as a functioning member of the greater system. He is part of the singular variety show which is the happy destination of all natural things and the structure by which life itself derives its remarkable tenacity. The GomiSan doesn’t grok what it all means, but he sure feels cool about it all.

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