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I was laying around in my hammock burning the midnight oil, my laptop precariously resting on my thighs with an unlit joint held captive by my lips. Massive clouds of smoke billowed out of my mouth, choking the air around me, making my eyes water. My fingers pounded harshly through the keyboard like they had something to prove, something to establish that had not yet been thought out, stretching painfully to keep pace with my thoughts as I hacked into reality for so many, just another night’s work. A glass of tepid partially drunk gin sat next to me; ice melted away as a mist gathered over the far edges of my mind. There was a definite chill in the air.
I was mid-flow, mid-thought, and keyboard-crushing pound when I heard a voice. “Is it really you?” it asked. I stopped typing. Maybe it was just the voices in my head painting another fiction. As I continued pounding away, my overstretched fingers seemed angry, but I didn’t know why. I heard the voice again. “It wasn’t all me you know?” This time I looked around. I could see no one. I thought about stepping inside to get my shotgun. Then I heard the voice again, but this time it was inside my head, like a person talking to me directly, rather than by talking through my thoughts like the whispers had done before. “You know most humans have only ever heard one side of the story.”
The devil's skull had come loose and was lying on the floor. It had happened some time ago but had only caught the periphery of my mind. It was them alright. Lucifer, as they hated to be called, were they really talking to me? I was annoyed. I had been busy beating the shit out of my keyboard. I didn’t need supernatural interruptions in my quiet time. I had killed them once before they should know better and stay dead, especially considering my mood.
It had been two years since I had done what I had to them, and it was by that point something I had almost forgotten. Between then and now, I had reshaped their story and moved them from my conscious thought, creating them from memory alone. Hidden away somewhere in the history books back there in my mind. A short-lived episode that gave very little in the way of real satisfaction. At that moment hearing their unmistakable voice speak from a poorly decapitated skull didn’t surprise me, maybe it should have, but I didn’t process it at the time as I was more concerned with why they had chosen that moment when I am mid creative flow, after weeks of dry patches to interrupt me. I was in no place of mind for entertaining unwanted guests, especially those that were meant to be dead.
I stopped what I was doing: the annoyance was rolling around my bloodstream already. A joint was still perched between my lips, and I took a hard pull. I didn’t turn back, but I looked in the direction of the skull. My eyes could only just make out the outline of the jaw in the shadow. The eyes would have been glowing like coals if they had had lids. If Satan was trying to be dramatic, they were doing a damn good job of it. Still, I wasn’t impressed by the effort. The timing and intrusion were annoying me more than anything else. I had no fear of revenge from a decapitated skull; I had killed them once and could do it again if needed. I was just annoyed.
I inhaled smoke the thick smoke and just looked at them like an impatient father waiting for his banal five-year-old to get to the point. They had already broken my mojo I wasn’t about to be forthcoming in making conversation. Small talk had always been something that was foreign to me.
“You see you humans have only heard her side of the story” they continued.
“We have?” I responded with any enthusiasm unmistakably replaced by annoyance. I just stared into the bottom of my gin glass, dead-eyed wondering when this hallucination might end.
“Yes, you have” they sighed at the effort “her side.”
“Whose? God’s?” I asked, failing at displaying any interest whilst wondering why I was entertaining a conversation.
“Yes, gods, seriously, are you normally this much work?”
“Yes,” I said. I inhaled deeply, a tired sighing breath, took another drag from my joint and washed it down with a swig of, now lukewarm, gin. “But do you know what?”
“The world got bored of this fucking conversation decades ago and that is why religionists were outlawed. Anyway, I don’t believe in your god. We are all god if that is what you want to call it, even you.”
“God has made her case over and over, and I never got heard.” Geez, why were they still talking and carrying on this drivel? Had they not heard a word I said or were they just choosing to ignore it?
“You mean in the Christian narrative. In that one, you ran the world.” Why was I allowing myself to be dragged kicking and screaming into a debate with my own hallucination about something I didn’t believe in or care about?
“Bah, yeah, right. That’s what she had you believe.”
“I never believed.”
“You know what I mean, in the west the Christian narrative. Maybe to start with I had some influence but after a while, you people became too much for even me to handle, too extreme, fierce, and without self-control. You redefined evil. Humans are fucked up. You had your chance of going a very different direction but, as I always expected, you defaulted to form and went the way you did.”
I couldn’t argue with that, not in my line of work, but still, I had now engaged in the argument and had to weigh in on the side of humanity, “but you’re the devil, according to your argument, based on a Christian god, in that narrative you torture souls for eternities, and you influenced the direction humans went in. Is it not your fault?”
“Come on. Really? Do you actually believe that?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Come on man I am trying to have a conversation with you.” They sighed and then continued. “What I am saying is that it was just God’s spin doctors spreading fear. The greatest PR campaign of all time, with God, pitched as man’s saviour, for the Christians at least. Why would I, a fallen angel, who has seen all the beauty of heaven, who had seen the earth formed, who had been an integral part of the greatest experiment ever, one of his highest-ranking angels at that, why would I do that? Why would I, someone who had seen worlds born and stars die, why would I want to spend all my time in a hot fiery pit sticking forks in people? Really? You have an IQ of some description would you waste your time with an eternity of that?” They were clearly the ones getting annoyed now.
“Well, I suppose I never really thought about it from that angle, because frankly, I couldn’t give a fuck, but yeah if the people were pricks, I could get some pleasure out of it.”
“Ok, some people deserve it. But no one has thought of it that way. I mean what would be the point of me torturing all these souls for eternity? Really what would be the point? I am supposed to be a fallen angel, and that has the word angel in it, angels are meant to be higher beings of consciousness. As a higher being of consciousness, we are far surpassing the abilities of those the human race. No offense.”
“Meant to be?” I said taking another drag from my joint, hoping it would kick in soon and drown them out.
“You know according to the narrative I am a being that was, supposedly part of god’s creative process and who assisted in the construction of the universe and all that jazz. Do you really think I would have nothing better to do than spend my time torturing people’s souls for an eternity?”
“Well. Like I said.” I trailed off bored with my own logic. “I don’t give a fuck.” This really was a banal subject for anyone to come back and haunt me with, let alone the devil. I mean really, could they, as an enlightened being, not think of a million more interesting subjects and discussion points to bring up other than whether or not the devil had been hard done by Christian propaganda?
“On top of that,” they continued “they would supposedly be the wicked people or the people that chose not to follow God, and therefore, people that followed me and I what, reward them with eternal damnation? Really? Come on get real. You think if people were to turn their back on god and follow me, I would then reward them with punishment?”
“And why? Why because I dared to ask. Did I dare to question God? Because I thought her ego might be getting a little out of control with all the worship, servitude, and so on that she expected.”
“Exactly. You see it just doesn’t make any sense, yet the entire world just decided to accept it. I mean come on people use your brains.”
“Well, not the entire world.”
“No. Not everyone is a Christian.”
“What you don’t know?”
“Of course, I know. But I am asking you if you think you’re not Christian, for example?”
“Well, of course, I am not. I don’t even believe in it.”
“Are you not?”
“No” I was getting somewhat annoyed with them at this point and was seriously considering how I could grab my axe from the shed and smash that skull into a million different pieces. The shotgun would do it too, it would keep them quiet for a bit at least and, not to mention, would have been incredibly satisfying.
“Are you a pagan? Or just full of shit?”
“Do you want me to grab my shotgun” I could feel the blood start to boil up inside me. “Yes, I am a fucking pagan. And what I am full of tonight is indignation that you should show up unannounced and mess up my creative flow with your fucking boring conversation.”
“Okay, but my point is I would never be so arrogant as to ask for your undying devotion like certain other people.”
“Why would I give it anyway? You’re forgetting I am the guy that killed you.”
They fell silent for a moment like they were remembering for the first time “Yeah; we need to talk about that at some point.”
“Yeah, we do. You have some serious anger issues, dude. But this is going off-topic.”
“See what I mean? My point is that lots of non-Christians display very Christian behaviour in their everyday life. It is so ingrained in Western cultures that people don’t even see it.”
“Not these days, not in Ultra-High”
“Maybe not but you know what I mean.”
I just looked at them with my eyebrows arched encouraging them to elucidate me.
“Well, you can see it in simple statements like ‘thank god for that’ or ‘thank goodness for that’ which is a derivative of the latter, and so on. Plus, lots of non-Christians pray to god on their death bed, trust me I know a lot about that.” They said all this with what I thought to be a smirk, but then I thought that must be my mind playing tricks as I sensed an evil glint where their eye used to be.
“But does that mean that they are Christian? They might not be praying to a Christian god.”
“It doesn’t matter, there is only one god.”
“You know that is not true.”
“You know there are many gods, and as I said we are all gods. What you mean is there is only one Christian god that you are in subservience to. And your god isn’t around anymore.”
“Well.” They seemed confused by this. Like they had somehow forgotten what had happened.
“You remember, your Christian god left the western world back in 2016 when she had had enough with us.”
“I remember,” I detected sadness where their face used to be.
We sat, well I did, they rested the side of their skull on the damp cold decking of my porch, in silence for a moment or two. I clicked the play button on the Bose speaker remote that was in my pocket. If You Wait by London Grammar came on and seemed aptly haunting. I loved to listen to outlawed post-industrial music as I hacked Ultra-High algorithms reshaping reality for almost all but me.
“Maybe we will continue this conversation another day,” they said. Breaking my thought process.
“Maybe,” I said, really hoping we wouldn’t.
I looked back at the screen and continued editing code as if I had never been interrupted.
“But I bet you’ve seen some shit?” god they couldn’t help themselves “I mean. In the early days when things were a little more, free-roaming.”
“Yeah, people did some fucked up shit,” I said, blocking them out from any more replies.
I didn’t want to tell them because they could have wanted to get off on it, they were, after all, they were the sickest fucks of all sick fucks, so my assumptions were probably safe, I also didn’t want them to have any more access to manipulating the sands of time than they already had. What I knew truly annoyed the devil was that they no longer had influence over humankind ever since they stepped inside Ultra-High. It was sometime after that, that as a day walker, I met the devil, and things ended as they did.
People lost their minds with the freedoms that Ultra-High originally gave them. They could live out their fantasies, even upload their personalities, into the network and become a part of the greater whole without having to rely on each other. The illusion of giving people the ability to become whatever they wanted simply by making a few selections as they entered and became assimilated with the pod was too much for them to take. Freedom to do and become anything gave them freedoms that they could not handle. They came to live lives without boundaries but within this, they lost themselves because there were no foundations from which that reality was set. True freedom would mean being absent from the basic fundamentals of life that kept the constraints of reality in place, but they could not handle that either. The network found to keep those simulations alive for people their interactions with other real humans became almost impossible because very few of the fantasies that were being played out were interlinked with others therefore crossovers became an issue, and human contact was lost.
From ordinary comic book fans that became complicated superheroes to horror fantasy fans that became evil immortals with blood as cold as ice, to the richest and most evil men and women on the planet. They had all been lured into the network by the promise of instant wealth or fame or immortality or all three. It was a game for a chosen few in the early days of the network. As a great experiment in human behaviour, it was both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch. The network learned so much about its users then, which was only added to by their studies of human behaviour leading up to that point. It had been so easy for them to pinpoint every weakness and every desire in their subjects. Lessons that would be used to the advantage of the network going forward.
People didn’t need their fantasies anymore. They needed to feel reality. The idea of allowing people to carry out their wildest fantasies really came from the need for people to have purpose and meaning in their lives and by offering it to them on a plate it was believed people would be happy in their pods, in their fake reality, so happy that they never even thought about the real world again. Because in the early days, people obviously had memories of the real world even though these started to phase out over time. But the happiness didn’t last, and the entire project became unmanageable and so the day of ‘the great reset’ arrived where memories were erased of both the real and the fantasy world from people’s minds only to be replaced by a grim ultra-reality that had been more like reality was way back before it became as fucked up as it did the day people had to walk into their pods voluntarily to save the human race.
music used in this episode
This is a live book series writing/story art graphic novel cyberpunk, dystopian fantasy project. Written by Sam I Am Artwork by Wonder Ai directed by Sam I Am. Copyright is protected. It is a first rough draft work in progress so will change over time. This project is part of the SleeplessDystopian.com writing projects.