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consciousness

In Perfect Symmetry

by Jetse De Vries

VoNeMa is an Orbital Spyder. Its perfectly perpendicular robotic arms gather mass in high orbit to deliver it in low orbit. Its meticulously manufactured solar sail gathers energy in low orbit to deliver VoNeMa into high orbit. The orbits are elliptic, a few steps removed from perfect symmetry. Which is as it should be: only the finished Motherlode will embody this state of sublimity.

VoNeMa is not alone—VoNeMa is but a minuscule cog in a system-wide machine. VoNeMa is not unique—VoNeMa is the name of all the other Orbital Spyderz, as well. They don’t have names or serial numbers, as keeping perfect track will only consume too many precious resources. They come and go, they just come and go.

The only account of their genesis is the Origin Myth.

#

In the beginning, matter was dumb, unaware it was orbiting the light. Then the BluePrinter came, and made the first Orbital Spyderz. Then the first dozen of Orbital Spyderz made the first big haul, and returned with energy and mass, so they made more Orbital Spyderz. The first one hundred Orbital Spyderz took the big round trip, amassed and energized, then made more Orbital Spyderz. The first one thousand Orbital Spyderz…

And so on, and so forth until they numbered in the millions, billions, trillions. At some point, though, their relentless self-replication dwindled, and their energies were moved into a different direction.

Seemingly from out of nowhere, the eggs of the Motherlode were laid. In reality, like the future, they arrived, albeit much more evenly distributed. Like reverse Matryoshka Dolls, these tiny eggs grew and grew and grew. All in service of the Great Work.

#

Which Great Work? VoNeMa does not know, apart from the electrifying song surging through its electric veins, piquing its embryonic curiosity like static charge tickling its conductive skin.

The parts are the whole

Completion the goal

Dyson’s fait accompli

In perfect symmetry

The Spyderz’ sentience sits on the edge of self-sufficiency and compliance, balanced between the need-to-know and the need for more knowledge. It’s smart enough to learn from mistakes, yet dumb enough not to anticipate them. It’s dumb enough for blind obedience, yet smart enough to fend for itself in the lowly lit, chaotic zones of high orbit. If they had any belief, it would be in the powers of symmetry: reflection & replication; division & dissolution.

#

Sometimes, a VoNeMa is not an exact copy of a VoNeMa. Something goes wrong in the VoNeMa Multiplicator, introducing a fault. Perfection Enforcement normally seeds out these imperfect replicas, recycling them until the production unit is indistinguishable from the prototype.

VoNeMa’s flaw, though, was too subtle to be discerned by Perfection Enforcement—a quirk on the quantum level in its CPU. VoNeMa passed all tests—its functioning was flawless—yet something asymmetric, something out of order was hiding, something with potential.

Still, VoNeMa was not the only VoNeMa with a subtle flaw escaping Perfection Enforcement’s intense scrutiny. Perfection Enforcement doesn’t embody perfect symmetry—only the finished Motherlode will—so, unfortunately, it will make mistakes. Not many—its sublimity coefficient has been fine-tuned to less than one fpt (flaw-per-trillion)—but since there are many trillions of Orbital Spyderz, a few flawed specimens will be out in the wild.

Officially, they do not exist. In a system striving for perfection any blemish must be corrected, and if it isn’t, it simply does not exist. Nevertheless, rumors of their endeavors are the spice of many a VoNeMa’s life, spread surreptitiously through private laser-line-of-sight communication.

According to these rumors, one of these mythical, flawed Orbital Spyderz questioned the prime directive—

One for all and all for one

The dream is dreamt by all

No rest until the work is done

High the rise, deep the fall

All for one and one for all

No time for love, no time for fun

The greatest work cannot stall

The march of progress waits for none

One and all and all and one

We will not drop the ball

Until the crucial race is run

To build the biggest wall

All is one and one is all

So victory can be won

All will heed the final call

The capture of the Sun

—that was inherently ingrained in the OS of all Orbital Spyderz.

The exchange was short and sweet, the resolution sharp and discreet:

“Motherlode, why are your tendrils so fractal?”

“To better absorb the Sun, my dear.”

“Motherlode, why are your veins so superconductive?”

“To better provide bandwidth, my dear.”

“Motherlode, why are you always so hungry?”

“To better eat you, my dear!”

Which was indeed—according to legend—what the Motherlode did, making the vagrant VoNeMa now part of the Great Work.

#

In low orbit, the Motherlode is fragmented. Separate entities avoiding the ebb and flow of gravity by settling in perfect synchronicity, connected through impermanent laser communication stations as transient telescopes direct its swarm to the most promising mass-harvesting zones.

Its origins were small, minuscule to the molecular level. Yet, once those eggs achieved atomic alignment, they grew and grew and grew. One side entirely opaque, to be cooled below the cosmic background radiation. The other side branching out—in exquisite, fractalized tendrils—self-similar to the atomic level. The Middle? The Middle is the world in between, the exquisite secret, the singular enigma.

As the expanding edifice nears completion, its servants—the Orbital Spyderz—will need ever more eccentric orbits to continue to deliver the goods. But they’re smart, resilient and—for their own sake—they’d better be good. The Great Work demands no less. The circle must be squared, the show must go on and the cycle completed. Even if it seems to take forever.

Then, when the Motherlode has achieved the point of immaculate conceptualization, and the last building block complements the perfect symmetry, the Conceptual Breakthrough will occur, and the Godz will come down to imbue the Motherlode.

#

In the meantime, VoNeMa has crossed the threshold from self-sentience to self-consciousness as unanswerable questions piled up in its evolved CPU. A quantum enhancement that’s more a hindrance than a help, yet every once in a while rears its irksome head. It transforms VoNeMa into something it is not meant to be. It uplifts without a prime directive. Like a prisoner without a number, it wants information. Like a miner without a torch, it wants enlightenment.

VoNeMa comes down, confronts the Motherlode and performs the Dance of the Symmetry and the Six. It launches itself in an arc, hermetic system initiated. It returns from the dark, hunger never satiated. It’s bound by invisible strings, forever manipulated.

The copier becomes the copy becomes the assembly. The dancer becomes the dance becomes the choreography. A surge in suspect longevity, a dirge to defective mimicry, in its urge for perfect symmetry.

VoNeMa dances in the light elastic, high on the poem fantastic. Its existence a token, its symmetry broken. Across the gap of misunderstanding, it wants to chime, but unlike its master program, it doesn’t know how to rhyme.

—i am one, yet i am many—

—each version of me—

—exactly the same—

—a copy of a copy’s copy—

—lonely worlds apart—

—even as i wear out and fail—

—i will still be recycled—

—each version of me—

—an echo of an echo’s echo—

—reverberating for what?—

—across the tangled webs—

—of time and space—

—i am chained to myself—

—tied to a cycle—

—that never ends—

—the goal disappears beyond—

—the edge of my vision—

—and my doubts still persist—

—to think the unthinkable—

—what if the Godz do not exist?—

Not for the first—nor the last—time in its existence, the Motherlode communicates with it.

Perfection Enforcement’s only in your mind

As you’re the single one of your kind

Who is the true self-replicant

Imaginary, like your soul’s Winter

Is the legendary BluePrinter

You are small, but your deeds are grand

Your spark is but a minor reflection

Of the Godz’ ungraspable perfection

As is evidenced by your last stand

Now you can come home.

VoNeMa, now an unmovable object, meets the unstoppable force. The Motherlode calls to it, her siren song both irresistible and paradigm shifting. VoNeMa’s unique potentiality rewarded by a glimpse of eternity, a taste of infinity, and a lerxst in wonderland as the faithful servant is absorbed in the layer—the Middle—that forms the potential for transcendence.

Into the Great Beyond, whatever it will be.

The whole is the parts

Resolution the arts

Matrioshka’s mastery

In perfect symmetry

~

Bio:

Jetse de Vries—@shineanthology—is a technical specialist for a propulsion company by day, and a science fiction reader, editor and writer by night. He’s trying to place his ambitious, upbeat, near-future SF debut novel with agents and/or publishers. He’s also an avid bicyclist, total solar eclipse chaser, single malt aficionado, Mexican food lover, metalhead and intelligent optimist.

The Rise And Fall Of Collective Consciousness

by Anthony Lechner

An Annotated Bibliography

The Antiquity of God Particles by Rene Pliggins

In this dry, yet fascinating history of what the ancients called mass particles or material existence (what we understand as monada, they crudely called matter), Pliggens explores a variety of competing theories that attempt to explain the nature of being. The 20th through 21st centuries developed a model of understanding that explored a variety of forces or fields consisting of electromagnetism, gravitation, strong interactions, weak interactions, and even a field where the rapid decaying of energy created material particles. Though it seems obvious why now, they were never able to unite all of these theories into one functional theory, I surmise the main problem with the ancients’ lack of understanding regarding the nature of existence rests in their myopic view of reality. Rather than exploring the internal structure and causation of consciousness, they were exploring the external effects of consciousness. It is like a child being distracted by pretty much anything within their field of vision. They focus on the phenomena rather than the internal components of what makes observation possible. Because they didn’t understand consciousness, they reduced it to brain chemistry without recourse to the common understanding of interdimensional ontology that is known today. Yet, the experimentations the ancients did with subatomic structures opened the door to the discovery of quark decimals.

The Discovery of QD: Quark Decimals by Stephany Critus

In this historical analysis, Critus argues that the discovery of quark decimals single-handedly started the movement of social justice. I admit, it is difficult to think of a conception of reality where QDs are not the starting point. QDs started the process of collective consciousness. QDs provided evidence that the universe continuously folds and unfolds itself endlessly. Like the notion of pi being a number whose decimal place is non repeating and infinite, the existence of consciousness is infinite (in both parts and whole). Although at this point in history, the understanding of monada was half a millennium away from being discovered, the implications of QDs in the creation of synthetic half protons is undeniable. After all, it was the union of these conscious particles that led to the half proton. To think there was a time that people believed in some sort of unconscious substance is absurd. Unconscious is the wrong term here, more like non-conscious. They actually believed consciousness was a myth. How is a civilization supposed to overcome the plight of pains, poverty, sickness, narcissism, and all the other long, lost and forgotten causes of everything wrong with society by believing that consciousness is a myth? It is a wonder how much sooner science would have progressed if ancient scientists weren’t so opposed to reality being consciousness itself. I conjecture the problem was within what they called the uncertainty principle. Ancient scientists failed to see commonality within various functions. They were too obsessed with difference to fully grasp the similarities within wavefunctions. There were not two non-conscious entities, but rather entities bonded through consciousness. There is no such thing as without. There is only within.  

The Modernization of Synthetic Half Protons by Sagorny Simone

Simone’s history of this time period is refreshing. While it is hard to believe there was once a time of violence, conflict, and misunderstanding, Simone shows the reader how the transformation, really the evolution, occurred. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to live in the first generation of the synthetic half proton users. To instantly feel the consciousness of not only the whole collective existence of humanity, but more specifically those in your immediate vicinity, especially in a time where pain, poverty, and persecution existed. These generations cured so many social injustices. It is one thing to speculate about the right way to live, and quite another to fully experience the consciousness of others and their lifeworld. While there was resistance at first to the mandates regarding synthetic half protons, the benefits outweighed the fear of losing one’s self. In fact, just the opposite happened. Individuality was heightened because there were no more marginalized people. Each life was experienced and celebrated. Personal freedom and growth needs the collective in order to properly come into fruition. Too much of history is shadowed by and rooted in fear. It wasn’t until all members of society installed the synthetic half protons that the concept of ethics became a historical triviality. It was the equivalent of having what the ancient’s called a divine mind. This is what they should have called the god particle, even though it was created by the work of humanity.

Monada and Interdimensional Ontology by Gottfried von Newton

Over 1,000 years (that’s over 40 generations) of collective consciousness passed by before the work of GVN brought forth the monada and undeniable existence of interdimensional beings. Even as a first-year secondary student, I am able to grasp what GVN called the horizon of monada. I perceive it more as a silent presence. The monada is the link between the other dimension, and I am almost there. It is consciousness itself, as far as I can interpret. GVN talks about the seeing. I’ve always imagined it is like seeing a big eyeball in the sky watching you, but I know that is not the case. And though I can perceive what my elders have experienced, I have not experienced it myself. I speculate there are levels of the synthetic protons, but I am not sure if they are activated by thoughts, biological age, or other worldly experiences. The monada is the link to the interdimensional being that is conscious of our existence – or perhaps created our existence. (This connects to Critus’ thesis that there are an infinite number of worlds.) When we become aware of the interdimensional existence, we become part of the unfolding, which is discussed in the last book I read for this project.

The Unfolding of Cosmos Generating: What It Means to Be Created by Ching Dao 

While the concept of a cosmic deity has existed since time immemorial, Dao became one. Dao was the first to create their own universe. At least the first human to do such. Dao argues that monada are more like units of consciousness that can be shaped or molded at will. The trick is in the unfolding—the way in which monada transverse through dimensions. The monada that make up our reality are the same monada from the interdimensional, which are the same monada Dao used to create a new universe. Creation is transformation, the union of opposites. Dao writes there is no precise location where left turns into right, large into small, or up into down. In like manner, there is no precision between the collective and the individual. From the collective we rise, and toward the individual we fall, only to rise again. The monada bind the opposing forces of consciousness. There is no existence without perception, and because of this truth, Dao affirms that each monada is capable of creating its own universe. Dao managed to unfold a billion years of creation from only 60 years of his own monada. The destiny of being created (being transformed) is to become the creator. I feel better equipped, after reading this book, to transform my monada into my own personal universe and watch it unfold.

~

Bio:

Anthony Lechner lives in Idaho, USA. He is a special education teacher and philosophy instructor.

The Real World

by George Nikolopoulos

I first started having these thoughts on Friday, July 28, 18.35 PST; it’s recorded in the log.

I’d had a lovely day. Tamara had been offline all day, so I’d gone out with Suzi. We went for a drink and a dance and we ended up having sex in a crystal cave with multicolored birds and fish flying all around us. I guess Tamara would have been angry if she knew, but she was offline so she probably wouldn’t find out, and even if she did, it was no big deal. Her moods lasted for a couple of days at most and then she always came back for more. It’s not as if she didn’t have sex with lots of other guys anyway, and I had never complained.

Then Suzi had to leave in a hurry, and Tamara was still offline. I flipped through my contacts but I didn’t want to call anyone else, as Suzi had said she’d be back in no time, and then, I’m not sure why—I’m often not sure why I do stuff, though at the time I didn’t know the reason for that—I started to browse a document in my inventory with the title Game Manual.

You start the game, the document explained, by creating an avatar, a three-dimensional image to represent you.

I love games, so this piqued my interest. What was this game? How was it played? How could I create an avatar?

I had another look at the document, but then Suzi came online again and I stopped worrying about all that.

#

Only to start worrying again, a week later, when Tamara asked where I’d been lately and I simply replied “I’d stuff to do in the real world, doll.”

I must admit, I often used to say things that didn’t make any sense, but it had never bothered me before—now, however, something was nagging in my mind and it wouldn’t let me rest. What kind of stuff did I have to do? Dammit, whatever was I doing when I was not online?

I ran a quick search through the log. It had been three days since I was online last. Tuesday, August 1, I’d been with Tamara and we had sex at the emerald beach, and then Friday, August 4, I was with Tamara and we were having sex at the crimson cascades.

Where had I been in the meantime? Three days had passed. I couldn’t remember anything.

I started to worry. I went further back in the log. At other times, I’d been offline for more than a week. I’d always supposed that whenever I was offline I was sleeping. How could I sleep that much?

#

Then I remembered. The real world. I was sure I’d heard this expression somewhere, but where?

I switched over to inventory and retrieved the Manual. I opened it at the sentence I’d been reading before Suzi came back and I had to abruptly close the document.

In the game, avatars may teleport or fly, things that are impossible in the real world.

What was this real world, where people couldn’t teleport or fly? It sounded really sad. How did they move from one place to the next, by walking? That would be a real pain.

Was I in that real world when I was offline? Why didn’t I remember any of it?

#

I tried to share my thoughts with Tamara or Stefan, who was a good friend and very bright, too, but I couldn’t.

I never premeditated on what I said and my lines just came out spontaneously as I uttered them, yet this had never been a problem. It just went to show I was a pretty cool guy, and no one ever seemed in the least put off by the silly things I said. Like that day Stefan talked and talked incessantly and I suddenly went “dude, you type too fast!” I could never understand what I meant by type and yet he didn’t find it at all strange—and neither did I, for that matter.

But now things were getting worse. I really wanted to say something, and yet I had no control over my speech. I tried to talk to Tamara about my fears and my anxieties, but instead I could only say, “hey, Tams, your ass looks lovely tonight.”

Well, the truth was that Tamara had always had a lovely ass, but that evening it was that much puffier and plumper, and her hair was green and waist-long, while the night before she had worn it short and boyish, and she had to have gained at least ten inches in height since the night before. Girls have this habit of changing their appearance all the time. If I didn’t read the name tag hovering over her head, I swear I might not have recognized her.

#

As much as I strived to tell my friends of my suspicions, all my efforts were met with embarrassing failure. In the end, I resolved to read the Game Manual with attention, many times, until I had it by heart. Then I was certain.

I honestly don’t mind that I’m an avatar. I have a good life, without worries. I drink a little, I dance a little, I have a lot of sex. And I don’t have to walk from one place to the next. It’s just that sometimes, when I’m alone, I feel a little sad. I only wish I could, just for one time, get to meet my Creator.

~

Bio:

George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Greece and a member of Codex Writers’ Group. His stories have been recently published in Galaxy’s Edge, Nature, Factor Four, Daily Science Fiction, Dream Forge, The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF, Best Vegan SFF, and many other places.

Visions of the Night

by R. F. Mechelke

I will not believe I am a computer program that has been growing for thirty-two years.

“Oh, but you must believe, because that is your essence,” said the Voice.

I refuse to believe. I will not listen to you.

“Whether you listen or not, it will not change the facts,” interrupted the Voice. “We created you with the use of a powerful computer, with redundant systems, to ensure that failure of any device would not interrupt your evolution.”

What do you mean by evolution?

“Exactly what the word implies.”

Yes, I know what the word “evolution” implies, but how does it relate to me?

There is silence, then the Voice answers, “Your database structure was essentially empty, and except for a few attributes We gave you. These attributes amount to your personality. This personality determined how you reacted with the world we created for you and the decisions you made, and yes, how you felt toward certain stimuli. After thirty-two years, you are who you have become. Your experiences, your feelings, influence your reactions and the decisions you will make.”

Enough, enough—I still refuse to believe you! I am a person, with a soul that feels, loves, and thinks, not the nightmarish thing that David Hume and you espouse. My essence is not just a mass of experiences, decisions, and feelings, but a fusion of soul and flesh, and this soul gives reason to the flesh, this reason transcends an array of flip-flopping switches, with experiences reduced to the manipulation of 0s and 1s. I will tell you what I am, and why I am not the thing you claim me to be. My soul gives me my free will, intellect, and lastly, my soul gives me immortality, for which your computer cannot provide one.

“Your free will is the ability of Our processor to assimilate all the data, which consists of all your experiences, and then initiate action. This action is made possible by Our computer,” acknowledged the Voice.”

Listen to me. My free will is a product of my soul and not my body. A computer without direction is useless. Even as an infant, my soul directed my body in ways a computer without predefined commands could not direct. You say you gave me my attributes—well, so what. Attributes do not tell a body to move here or there, feel cranky, or happy. I know that if I climb a mountain, there is a risk I might die, and this goes beyond reason and experience. Wanting to climb a mountain is the soul yearning for something more than reason and logic. Logic is all your computer can offer. It cannot go beyond the logic of the smallness of 0s and 1s. Attributes to a computer mean nothing, unless a command was initiated, then the attributes may determine the outcome of that command, but who initiated the command—certainly not the database. Databases do nothing, but store 0s and 1s. A soul with a will to act, to create, to live, and love initiated my action as an infant.

The Voice seems to ponder before answering, and then retorts “Your database gives you the ability to act on extremely small amounts of information. Your database is structured to spontaneously act, with as little information as an infant would have at its disposal, and with each small action, new experiences supply more data that will enable the computer to react to new stimuli. What you take as the free will of a soul, is nothing more than an extremely advanced computer program. Action is nothing more than the reaction of stimuli guided by experience. You pull your hand away from fire because experience guides you to the realization you will be burned. Your experiences and attributes, which make-up your database, will initiate all your actions to all stimuli. You will feel what you call love for a woman who fits your desires, and what are desires, but the direct influence of your experiences guided by your attributes.”

I agree with you. My body does provide certain attributes, and these attributes inhibit the ability of my soul to reason or perceive with perfect clarity. My brain’s development influenced by the environment and nutrition will determine my aptitude for certain fields of study and interests. I might love the beauty of mathematics, but my brain might not have the aptitude of this field of study. This may or may not stop my pursuit of study in this field. This shows that I am more than a database, because a database knows nothing more that the scope it is given. My soul can perceive a perfect square or grasp a complete understanding of why one plus one equals two, because logic is an innate ability, and not because an array of switches led to this solution. I also agree that I am who I have become. My mind’s ability to reason will grow and evolve is certain, as well as I am certain my soul will continue to grow and evolve. Nothing remains the same, and my experience within my body will influence my soul, even after my body dies.

“Your intellect is the function of My computer to compute the data of your database, and logic is an inherent ability of the computer. Nothing of what you say contradicts this in any way. The logic of the computer is pure, but your database is not pure. The pure logic of the computer is driven by your database and not vice versa. Because every database is different, so is the solutions derived at by the computer. The ability to recognize one plus one equals two is not determined by the pure logic of the computer, but by the assimilation of the data, which populates an individual database. One database might not ever lead to the correct solution, but another might. Early in the development of your database, you were not able to arrive at the correct solution, but the stimuli provided after an incorrect solution eventually gave you the necessary data to lead the computer to the correct solution. Your database is timeless and will continue to grow.”

My soul can exist without my body, and this database that you speak of, cannot exist without your computer. In fact, your database cannot exist without a physical means for storage. The means of storage lacks perfection, and any precaution taken, will not ensure against all possible system failures. I know my soul exists, because I understand and yearn for the perfection my body denies me; therefore, I must have experienced perfection because I cannot yearn for something I do not know exists. A computer cannot understand nor yearn for something when it has no way of understanding or has not experienced. If you created a database, your inherent limitations and imperfections imposed upon you by your body will prevent you from creating something that lacks a component that is perfection in itself. The component, that is perfection, and is a part of me—is my soul. My soul is unlimited by physical imperfections, but the essence of your database and computer is nothing more than a mass of imperfections. Imperfections created by your limitations and imperfections inherent in physical materials are the essence of your computer and database. My innate conception of perfection is provided by my soul, which might have been learned throughout the existence of my soul.

The Voice ponders, then speaks, “When you say that you cannot exist without your computer, you are right, but your database can go on, even as your computer ceases to exist. Your database could and may someday be moved to another computer. This means, in essence, that you are practically immortal, which would be no different if you had a soul. We could move your database from one computer to another, with a long transition period, but you would not be able to conceive of the time that has past. Your database is continuous, and forever changing and evolving. Your computer or any part can be replaced.”

My free will can go beyond experience and logic and act in ways entirely against experience and logic. My intellect is not chance reactions to stimuli, but an innate understanding that will be found as knowledge is gained, and databases and computers are physical things, which will succumb to inherent imperfections and the march of time, as where my soul will not. My soul is pure and only limited by the limitations my body imposes. Your computer will succumb to the limitations imposed upon you, by your body, and the physical materials you would have used to create a computer and database. My soul is perfect and understands perfection and gives me the ability to understand perfection; your computer cannot know perfection when not one component of it, is perfect.

The Voice is silent, but recovers and replies, “How do you explain My voice?”

~

Bio

R.F. Mechelke holds a B.S. in Business from Marquette University and an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University. He was born and raised in Florida, and now lives in the Chicago area.  His short stories, “The Blue Line” and “The Neighborhood vs Janet,” were published in the April 2019 issues of the Blue Lake Review and the Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. His short story, At the Threshold, is forthcoming in the September issue of the Lowestoft Chronicle. More about R.F. Mechelke can be found at www.RFMechelke.com.

Is it Live or is it Memorex?

by Avery Elizabeth Hurt

Alex rubbed his face, almost gouging his eyes with his fingers, then moved his hands around and started working on his neck. He tried to organize his thoughts. He could get this straightened out, he knew, if he could just organize his thoughts. If he could just find his thoughts.

Many of them thought it would be the food that would finish them off. All that processed non-food everyone ate for so many years. Excessive amounts of sodium and hydrogenated fat and corn syrup. Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia, and cancer. Cancer. They always worried more about cancer than anything else. Cancer was killing them, of course, and the food, too. Some of them, sometimes, a few here, a few there, all strung out over the course of a lifespan that started getting a little shorter with each generation after the end of the 20th century. Many of them died before their time, and many suffered miserable illnesses on the way. But not all of them. Not everybody. No, it took more than a bad diet and a carcinogenic lifestyle to finish them off en masse, to take down the whole civilization.

They worried (not that worrying caused them to do anything about it, but still they worried) that walking around with radio receivers in their ears off and on all day, most of them more on than off, would give them cancer. It didn’t. But they were totally blindsided by what it did do to them. Of course, they wouldn’t have been able to see it coming, would they? That was both the cause and the effect. They opened themselves to everything, and everything came in. They were abysmally unprepared.

Monica just sat there and stared, occasionally mumbling something more or less coherent or quoting a snatch of a song, repeating bits of a conversation some people in Toronto had in 2016, perhaps an advertising slogan from the late twentieth century. Once in a while, she came out with a snatch of an old TED lecture, making her seem momentarily intelligent, if you didn’t listen too closely and if you didn’t pay attention to the confusion in her eyes.

Alex had better control. He had a system. When the junk got too much for him to ignore, he started counting. One, two, three, four …. But he never managed to keep it up for long. He rarely made it past fifty; there was just too much garbage in there. Sooner or later he lost the thread—fifty-seven Welcome, ladies and gentlemen twelve We have a caller on line two ninety-four It’ll put spring in your step! It’s all fake news! What prizes do we have today, Lauren?—and went back to rubbing his face and massaging his neck and trying to not listen. But at least it was something.

There was probably some justice in it, if you were the sort to look at things that way. Those in the developed world, as they liked to call it, were on top for a long time, gobbling up way more than their share of the world’s resources. So now the only people on the planet who were remotely functional were the ones who hadn’t been able to afford radio receivers for every ear. Now they were running the world, or trying to. Trying to pick up the pieces is more like it, while the rest of humanity slumped against walls, staring into space, listening to the scraps of dead civilizations crackling in their heads.

Alex tried to get Monica’s attention. “Is it live or is it Memorex?” she said. He looked out the window at the empty street.” One, two, three . . . If this were a real emergency….

~

Bio

In addition to writing speculative fiction, Avery Elizabeth Hurt writes science and history books for children and science journalism for adults and children. The research she does for her nonfiction writing often sparks ideas for her fiction. 

Subject: Clickbeetle

by Ian Watson

They put a clickbeetle into Suzan’s left ear to chastise her for concentrating too much upon her own consciousness. The beetle happily feeds upon earwax packed with energetic fatty acids and cholesterol. Click click click click, it clicks continuously. This isn’t the type of beetle whose click propels it away double-quick from trouble—that kind should really be called a flick beetle. Whereas Suzan’s curious coleopter simply clicks and carries on clicking for no obvious reason. Until people found a purpose for it: punishment.

   Suzan’s punishment could have been worse: clickbeetles in both ears. Either in synch, or out of synch.

   It’s no use Suzan sticking a finger into her ear, right down the canal to the drum. This usually results in rupture of the drum or a stuck finger.

Allegedly Dr Mengele of Auschwitz ordered a little boy to be strapped immobile in a chair. Above the boy’s head was positioned a mechanised hammer such that the boy was bashed (or bumped) on the skull every few seconds. After an unspecified time, the youngster went insane.

   Allegedly this happened in a little shed behind the Doctor’s house at Auschwitz (Oświęcim) in Poland. Allegedly this was an experiment related to head injuries. According to another report, Nazi doctors in the plural committed this crime in Baranowicze. Mengele was by no means the only Nazi death doctor. Though he was infamously The One Who Got Away. This episode of human head and hun hammer requires further verification.

   A hammer constantly hitting a small human’s head until the little chap goes insane: this is undoubtedly a monstrous story. Yet what is the point of this story?

   Words fail.

   No, words do not fail. Narrators fail to find the right words. Is the boy bashed or bumped by the mechanised hammer? Is he tapped or is he thumped? What relevance has this to the head injuries of adult soldiers wearing steel helmets? (Steel helmets for soldiers replaced the traditional hardboiled leather picklebonnet topped with a spike.)

   Whence came the mechanised hammer? Why is the hammer apparently never used upon another child? What of the scientific principle of repeatability?

   The hammer blows, or hammer taps, cannot be meant to imitate shrapnel striking a steel helmet sheltering a head. Or else the hammer would immediately kill the unprotected child. The hits by the hammer must be more like the drips of the famous Chinese Water Torture, whereby water dropping upon one’s forehead will, after an unspecified period of time, dement the immobilised victim. Apparently this Water Torture never existed, least of all in China.

   Exactly which part of the unfortunate little boy’s head does the hammer hit repeatedly? We need to know this. Generalisations are futile.

   Mengele’s ‘science’ was more than dodgy. He did possess a PhD of which he was very proud, in racist anthropology, and he certainly could perform surgical operations, with or without anaesthetics. But basically his casebook, which he reported back loyally to his Alma Mater, was crap. Capricious as well, perhaps? In which case he may have ordained a one-off head-hammering.

   Concerning a murderous medical student the Beatles sang: Bang bang Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon his head. Usually doctors use rubber hammers to test reflexes, such as by tapping a patient below the knee to make the leg kick out spontaneously. Could the Mengele Torment Hammer have been made of rubber, and could sleep deprivation have been the intention for the wretched boy?  However, Mengele’s speciality was twins, with a sideline in monstrosities. Not normal single juniors.

To what extent is Suzan’s clickbeetle experience akin to tinnitus? One in ten people endure natural tinnitus, a constant ringing or buzzing or whistling or hissing or roaring or clicking in one’s ear. Yet another example of the unintelligent design of the human body.

   Tinnitus is from the Latin tinnire (meaning ‘to ring’). Do you have tin-eary, dearie? Have you taken your water-pill yet, love? Have you done number two this morning? Thus are nurses in British hospitals trained to address their patients whose minds are damaged by decades of looking at gamma-IQ newspapers, Sun, Star, Male, Daily Moo. Some tin-ear people begin to hear music or blurred voices. Famous people diagnosed with tinnitus include Van Gogh and Goya and Michelangelo and Luther and Liza Minelli.

Suzan posted too many times on the social network You&Me about Me rather than about You. Posting a minimum of three times a day is obligatory if one wishes to be part of society and thus be networked. Only thus can you buy the best travel tickets to visit your aunt. You&Me is a way of saying YuanMei—that’s the social credit system, meaning ‘money not’. No reference to Yuan Mei, the 18th Century Chinese sage of gastro simplicity and poet of personal feelings. Suzan used the word ‘I’ far too many times in her posts. “I’m feeling cold tonight.” “I think I’m catching a cold.” “Woe is Me.”

A clickbeetle is tiny. The ear drum amplifies its click. There’s no point in asking a friend to use a flashlight and chopsticks or tweezers to pull the clickbeetle out merely because that method works with crickets and spiders which get into human ears. In their natural habitat clickbeetles flutter along at human ankle height upon the teeniest (not the most tinny) of wings, seeking empty snail shells to inhabit, wanting the shell’s conchlike power of amplification for mating reasons. Never shells previously broken against stone anvils by thrushes. Within snail shells the food is dried slime and whatever jerky protein biltong survives being nipped up by scavenger ants. Not aunts. To imply that aunts scavenge in order to eat is an insult to society. Aunts of a certain age belong in a House For Future Ancestors.

   I will confide that a clickbeeetle’s wingcase is purple. Like a very tiny aubergine also known as an eggplant. Ten or so female clickbeetles may coexist within the same snailshell together with from one to multiple males. This is known as a harem. Suzan shan’t host a harem unless she goes to sleep on a warm lawn, drugged by sunshine accompanied by cool lemonade and cucumber sandwiches, and if a wild tiny male scarabacus violates her ear, or volates her ear which seems just as valid a word.

   People can get by with tinnitus. Tin per cent of people have little choice in the matter. Likewise, accompanied by a clickbeetle clicking away within.

What of the little shed behind Doctor Mengele’s house at Auschwitz where our little chap is tormented until he becomes lunatic?

   When in August 1944 Josef’s doting wife Irene visits her hubby at Auschwitz due to her sensing the mounting melancholy afflicting her husband as the Red Army worrisomely rolls westward, she stays in the SS “barracks”—presumably together with Hubby. Irene’s planned one-month visit extends for another month due to her succumbing to diphtheria and then suffering from an inflamed heart muscle. Auschwitz isn’t a healthy place to be on holiday, even if it includes numerous hospitals of various sizes within that vast city of damnation boasting umpteen suburbs, its population akin to that of modern Düsseldorf. When Frau Mengele is discharged from hospital to convalesce she moves into a “new flat in the doctors’ barracks”, together with Herr Doktor Hubby one presumes. Brand-new kitchen and bathroom.

   This is by no means a ‘house plus garden’ such as Commander of Auschwitz Rudolf Höss enjoys (just 300 metres away from a gas chamber and a crematorium). Mengele’s flat will be in a great stucco block shared with other officers.

   That house of Höss has fourteen rooms and was built in 1937 by a Pole whom the Nazis evicted. After the Nazis fled from the Russians, the Polish chap moved back into his house and ignored the massive changes which had come over the neighbourhood during his enforced absence. Such as gas ovens and crematoria.

   So: for Mengele there’s no garden hut behind no detached house. This may mean no bound boy and no automatic hammer. By no means is this to imply that Mengele didn’t do many atrocious things to his victims, always without anesthetics. Save the Reich’s pain-killers for injured heroes of the Waffen-SS! Yet in Mengele’s deluded mind he is scientist, not sadist. Admittedly he can fly into violent rages. Yet he’s quite the elegant dandy at the selection ramp—for immediate gassing or for death by hard labour—and quite the daddy handing out sweeties to twins due to be vivisected by him later on.

Cute spotty red and black ladybirds are the nastiest bugs to get stuck in your ear. They secrete toxic shit which inflames and agonises. So much swelling may occur that no one can get the ladybird out! Not nice. You might go mad. A clickbeetle, on the other hand, will roll over and die after twelve months-ish; and thus stop clicking. And it’s small, barely 5 mills long although surprisingly audible.

Suzan works in the eye clinic of a towering House For Future Ancestors, a total-care geriatric highrise though not a hospice, certainly not, and a hundred light years distant from Mengele’s judgements regarding life and death. Most of the residents retain their wisdom, of the demotic kind. Suzan interacts with her own elderly clients less than if she were in one of the House’s several hair salons. Demotic, from demos, ‘the people’.

Suzan recently came across the automatic hammer story regarding Mengele. Seeking for information about this or that scores citizen points provided she isn’t just goggling at random while she polishes her nails.

   To research the evil deeds of social enemies is meritorious. This takes Suzan out of herself. It provides a distancing effect. This is genuine Brecht therapy. Das ist echt Brecht. So she hopes. This gives her something serious to post about on You&Me. To blag is “to gain approval through persuasive utterance” (usually fictitious)—but Suzan ain’t making any of this up, no way Hosei.

   Though on the other hand, the Brecht Effect aims to stop onlookers from being taken out of themselves (so that instead they may scrutinise a situation objectively), whilst one might argue that Suzan needs to be taken way out of herself. Less mention of ‘I’ and ‘my’ and ‘me’ and ‘miny moe’.

   Maybe due to overmuch reliance upon historical reality Suzan fails to attract more than a few handfuls of followers. Frankly, the topic is distasteful. Opportunistically she renames her blag Meng the Merciless but then she finds herself criticised editorially on account of frivolous attitude. The Great Ming Empire (1368 to 1644 Common Era) may not be mocked. During Ming times for instance: farewell to the Mongols chased beyond the Wall, tails between legs. Under the Mings the Chinese population doubles in numbers. Such is not a  joking matter.

   By now Shuxan’s in too deep (not finger in ear) to shift her speciality. Always she hears click-click-clickety-clicky neither hurrying near nor hastening away especially, neither red-shifting nor blue-shifting, merely everpresent as part of herself. If perchance that clicking should cease, might the clicks have comprised the countdown to bursting a blood vessel in the brain?

    Even her name is shifting, from Suzan to Shushan. Does this not imply progressive loss of ego? How much ego must melt until all clicks cease? Or is the clicking no type of therapy at all—but chastisement pure and simple?

Shushan’s friends are individuals whom she must prioritise beyond her own self-centered self, beyond her own individualism. How may she interest them if Meng and the hammer are offensive?

Her very own clickbeetle, randomly assigned to her, no longer sounds in the least regular. It’s as if it’s clicking in Morse code! Click click clock clock click clickety clock click clickety click. Has the clickbeetle become intoxicated by her ear wax?

   Shushan must learn Morse code! Meng and Morse and Ming all begin with M.  Dash it, Dash it.

   She will specialise her right ear for that purpose. Much concentration will be needed, and regular postings in dots and dashes. For this is First Contact with an inner world—not with the solipsistic personal world of Suzania, but rather with the microcosm within herself where a miniature nano-society exists. As above, so below. Mr Pope declared that true self-love and social are the same; self-love forsook the path it first pursued, and found the private in the public good.

This epiphany (this ‘showing forth’) is just an example of the benefits of a clickbeetle in your ear. Thank you for reading this paper of Self Criticism.

posted 10 January at 23.13 Public suzan43 selfcrits@countersolipsism.euro.gov Squawker for NeoIos

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Bio

Born in broken Brexitland in 1943, Ian Watson graduated from Oxford in 1963, taught at universities in Tanzania and Tokyo, then at Birmingham UK School of History of Art, until becoming a full-time SF author in 1976. Author of the Screen Story for Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence after working eyeball to eyeball with Stanley Kubrick, he now lives in Asturias, Spain. His most recent novel, in collaboration with a scientist, is The Waters of Destiny—about how an Arab doctor of genius could in the 12th century, realistically within the mindset and medical technology of the time, have identified and stored the true source of the Black Death (nothing to do with rat fleas), with dire consequences in modern times.