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  • Writer's pictureCurtis Wray Carter


Updated: Mar 12, 2022

April 17th, 2028 C.E.

“I’m sorry, Hux,” said Ben, dropping his head as he shoved his hands in the pockets of his white coat.

“He’s sorry,” said Hux, muttering to a god he hadn’t believed in ten seconds earlier. Not that this was a good first impression. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there, slumped down in a leather high-backed chair as he watched the rain streak down the picture glass window.

“How long?” Hux asked, hearing the utter stupidity of the question only after the words had tumbled out of his mouth. It was the kind of question that, given the situation, always had bad news for an answer.

“Six months,” said Ben, weighing his hands like scales. “Maybe a year,” he added, like it was within the power of a person in his position, given the prevailing persuasions of the medical profession. But it sounded more like those let-me-go-and-talk-to-my-manager kind of deals. Ben leaned back in his matching chair, his version superior in its ability to tilt and swivel, and laced his fingers behind his head.

“There just isn’t anything else we can do,” said Ben, glassy-eyed as he stared into an ignorance that he thought only existed in other people. “It’s just the nature of its kind…”

“So I’ve gathered,” said Hux. He wondered if the good doctor was back to writing his own little pick-me-ups. It would have to be a necessity for someone in the business of telling people they’d been cashed out by their Creator.

“There are people you can talk to—“

“You just said there’s nothing you can do,” said Hux because Ben had just said that.

“Counselors, Hux, counselors. It might help to talk—“

“Because I’m gonna talk my cancer into remission?”

“You could argue prayer—“

“But you better not, Ben,” said Hux, holding up a finger. “I swear to God, you better not.”

* * *

Hux hadn’t always been able to roll a joint. And before today he would have never dared to burn one in what would always be his father’s car. He’d inherited the bow-tied behemoth from his old man, having come into the hands of the senior Huxley by a course of events worthy of their own David Mickey Evans film.

He didn’t remember leaving Ben’s office, getting in the car, or how he ended up on this particular street. Lapses like this weren’t uncommon for him in those days, having more to do with certain recreational indulgences than any symptoms than sent him to his old friend, Dr. Ben.

He picked up his phone off the powder-blue bench seat. Another missed call. That made it a baker’s dozen now. Fuck. He’d told her when he left this morning that he’d call her…

Green Arrow.

Hux tossed the phone back on the seat, the engine gurgling as he gave it gas, panning the wheel to starboard. Once he’d brought her about he took another puff and punched the accelerator. He could feel the cavitations as the car lunged forward like a Saturn-5 was strapped to it.

The next light gave him a few seconds to thumb in his password. The contacts were already on the screen, the one he wanted only half a swipe down. He put the phone to his ear and waited. “Your offer still good?” he said, blowing out a cloud of smoke. “Let’s talk.”

* * *

Hux didn’t enjoy navigating the old Chevy down the narrow channels of downtown streets, particularly the Court Square district. He shook his head as he passed Emancipation Park, presided over by none other than General Robert E. Lee, immortalized in bronze. This in the heart of the self-proclaimed capital of the “Resistance”.

The address was a familiar one to him. He’d actually worked there in another life. The building was one of several old Victorians that lined Park Street, one and all now devoted in some form or fashion to the laws of land acquisition. He’d spent four years staring out the window of the turret tower’s top floor, on occasion his writings having something to do with the title work he was paid for.

There was a cock-eyed “For Lease” sign jammed in front of the bent and twisted blinds. The blue trim around the door and windows that had been in a state of perpetual peeling had gone all but extinct now.

There wasn’t any parking on the street. There was never any parking on the street. Not that he would ever park this yacht on the street or anywhere near another vehicle or where another vehicle might be inclined to venture. The upper deck of the garage over on Water Street was his go-to for in-town. No one ever went all the way up. Too bad. It was a hell of a view.

Hux tossed the roach over the wall and headed for the stairwell rather than the elevator, not that the choice mattered at this point. Still, there was the way the metal-grated steps vibrated under his feet. It was like walking on the world’s shittiest xylophone. The notes got faster as he went down the zigzagging scale. Smiling, he grabbed the post at the bottom of the steps and swung around like a door.

And right into that girl.

“Oh shit! I’m so sorry,” said Hux, bending down, his hands out. The girl brushed the mess of Technicolor hair from her face as she scurried back like a crab.

“It’s alright,” she said, putting out her hand like a shield as she staggered to her feet. She pulled out a grungy grey beanie, pulled it over her head as she dusted off a red t-shirt that had “NUDIST ON STRIKE” in letters made of beige masking tape. Smelled like she was on strike from soap and water as well.

“Wait a minute,” she said, smiling and shaking a finger. “Don’t I know you?”

“I don’t think so,” he grinned.

Her smile faded as soon as it peaked. “Oh my god, dude, are you fucking following me?” Tears were streaming down her cheeks before she’d finished the question. “You can’t come near me, motherfucker!” She had both hands out as she backed away.

Dumbfounded as he was by this, he couldn’t conceive of what came next. She rushed at him, growling like a wounded wildcat as she flailed her right arm, her fist coming down somewhere between his neck and shoulder. Hux raised his hands over his face, her little fists pattering on his forearms, his shoulders and around his sides. “What the actual fuck?” he said, crossing his legs to avoid a crotch strike. He was thankful it had not been her first move.

“I know who you are, you fucking pervert!” she sobbed, shoving him again. As he staggered back, his foot slipped off the edge of the curb and he tumbled out into the street on his hands and knees. He looked up in time to see the underside of the yellow cab’s bumper.

“You okay, buddy?” said the driver, already halfway out of the car.

“Your fucking buddy is a fucking pervert!” she shouted, laughing, pointing out Hux to the driver and anyone else within earshot as she started pacing around. “Fucking asshole is fucking following me…”

A few red spots seeped up through the scuffed skin on his palm. He clapped away the bits of cement and gravel from his hands and pushing himself up with a grunt. There were some rubberneckers by now, a few actually meandering their way down, a middle-aged looking Karen leading the way, towing her young daughter by an arm now dangling from the socket.

“I’m calling the police,’ she said, holding up her cell phone and waving it over her head. “I saw the whoooole thing…”

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” muttered Hux.

“Don’t you move, Mister!” said Karen, pointing her phone with every word. The daughter was tucked in behind her mother, giving the impression they’d merged into one like some kind of reverse mitosis. “That man,” she said pointing out Hux to her followers, “assaulted this poor girl,” she said pointing to the girl with the Technicolor hair who had stopped pacing by now.

“He’s going to jail!” declared Karen as she marched right up to Hux, her daughter’s head poking out from behind her mother’s hip at the word “jail”.

“No,” said a voice from behind him. Hux turned and saw Bruce, or rather the black t-shirt struggling to maintain its structural integrity as it stretched across Bruce’s chest. “He’s not.”

“I saw that man assault this young woman,” said Karen putting herself between Bruce and the girl with the Technicolor hair.

“I’ve got video that says different,” said Bruce, tapping at his phone sticking up out of his black suit jacket pocket. “Make that call and I promise you, little miss punk-rock right there will get her ass locked up too.”

“You do whatever you think—“

“And you’ll be in the cell with her,” said Bruce holding up a finger-gun to her face.

“Me?” she said, her jaw falling open, her hand on her chest. “What on Earth—“

“Filing a false complaint,” said Bruce.

“I know what I saw,” said Karen.

“And I simply don’t give a fuck,” said Bruce with a shrug. Hux felt his giant mitt lock around the inside of his arm, pulling him forward.

“She can still press charges!” said Karen, looking everywhere but at Bruce as they passed.

“Who?” said Bruce. Hux looked back but the girl with the Technicolor hair had faded into the ether. He would be glad never to see her again for the rest of his life. The thought made him laugh for some reason.

Bruce let go of his arm as they turned up one of the side streets towards the mall’s main drag. “Thanks,” said Hux, rubbing his arm.

“Mr. Skelton wanted to make sure—“

“Right, just following orders,” said Hux, clearing his throat. “Still, I appreciate it.”

“What was that all about anyway?” Bruce asked as he glanced around.

“I couldn’t even begin to tell you…”

There was a black town car parked on the side street with another Incredible Hulk of a man standing just outside the driver’s door. As they approached he moved to open the rear passenger door and Hux climbed in, Bruce going around to the front passenger side. The driver closed the door like Hux wasn’t even there. He then went and got into the driver’s seat, started the engine , put the car into gear and pulled out without saying or doing anything that wasn’t necessary to the ends of those specific tasks.

The town car’s tires rippled over the cobblestoned crosswalks as they went from one side of the mall to the other, turning down another side street that cut back over to Court Square. There was still no parking on the street, but the driver pulled into a small paved lot behind the old Victorian, parking under an old Magnolia tree that stretched overhead like an awning.

The driver was out and opening the door before Hux could get his hand on the handle himself. Rob Skelton was standing on the back porch, hands in his pockets, that stupid smirk that hadn’t left his face in twenty-something years. He looked liked almost the same now as then, except for a little gray around the temples.

“This place looks like shit,” said Hux as he climbed out of his seat. He fell in behind Bruce and the driver in behind him as they made for the back steps.

“This isn’t our main facility,” said Rob, still smirking.

“Where’s that?” grinned Hux he shuffled up the steps and shook hands with Rob. “The moon?”

“Might as well be,” laughed Rob as he led them to the door. “It’s in Topeka, Kansas.”

“Topeka, Kansas?”

“Because it has the infrastructure we need,” nodded Rob as he leaned down to peek through the keyhole in the tarn-covered brass doorknob. A line of green line shot through the keyhole and dashed back and forth across his face. “And none of the regulations we don’t.” The black door with peeling paint let out five heavy, metallic clunks before swinging into darkness.

“And when are you gonna tell me about this “we” we’re dealing with?” asked Hux, looking over the door jamb as they stepped inside.

“I thought we agreed—“

“You thought wrong,” said Hux. “If I’m gonna do this, I want to be fully informed.”

They went down a short hallway that was much more narrow than it had been in the old days. Or maybe Hux was wider. That too was possible.

Rob walked ahead, talking to Hux over his shoulder. “This idea of survival is seared into the DNA of every living thing on Earth…” Rob dipped inside a hallway that Hux would’ve sworn wasn’t there a few seconds earlier. It definitely wasn’t there twenty years ago. But now he was walking through an archway trimmed out with wood that looked like it had been there when the house was built. They came to a room with an elevator and a keypad on either side of its stainless steel double-doors. Hux felt Bruce brush against his back as he stepped to the keypad on the right, Rob taking the one on the left.

“The simple truth is,” said Rob keying in the code on his paid, Rob doing the same on his side, “whether you live to be thirty, sixty, or over a hundred years, it’s never enough. We live under the tyranny of this scarcity…”

“Finally putting that philosophy degree to use I see,” said Hux, his eyes floating over everything.

Both Bruce and Rob took out a key hanging from a chain around their neck. They then inserted their keys into the corner of the keypad. “Scarcity of wisdom when we’re young. Scarcity of youth when we’re wise. Scarcity of all those things ‘they’ tell us we’re supposed to value…” Rob looked at Bruce and nodded. “Three…two…one…and—“

They turned their keys at the same time and the elevator doors opened with a soft hiss. “It’ll just be us from here, Bruce,” said Rob as he stepped inside, waving Hux to come along. Bruce nodded and left, the driver tucked in behind like a Doberman. Hux ducked his head when he stepped inside, not that he needed to.

Hux didn’t know the elevator had started down until he saw floor after floor of glass walls and concrete floors, maze stacked upon maze of figures fitted in white Tyvek suits passing up past him.

Rob stared straight ahead as they made their descent, the smirk now deforming one side of his face. “People laugh at the idea of cryogenics nowadays,” he scoffed. “Rich assholes freezing themselves...Ted Williams, Walt Fucking Disney…Guess they figured one day we’d just pop ‘em in the microwave and, presto…”

Hux was listening, though there was some question about how much he was hearing. He had no idea what he was looking at, not the slightest clue what it was these people were scurrying about for, but he couldn’t take his eyes away. “How far down does it go?” he asked, counting four floors so far.

“The basement is down seven,” said Rob.

“How the hell did you do this without anybody knowing about it?” asked Hux.

“I didn’t,” said Rob, glancing back at Hux. “This has been here for decades…”


“No shit,” said Rob shaking his head. “My new partners realized a long time ago that cryogenics wasn’t the answer…”

“The answer to what?” asked Hux as they stepped through the opening doors into a cavernous blackness. He got a sense that the space was much wider than tall, though that was it, and he couldn’t say how he knew that much. There were no walls, floors or ceiling that he could see, but Rob appeared as clear as if they were still standing next to one another on the elevator.

“Death,” said Rob.

“I thought you said you could help my cancer,” said Hux.

“You’re talking about cancer,” he said, shaking his head and turning, the smile vanishing from his face for the first time. “I’m telling you I can do far more than that.”


Rob closed the distance between them and put his hand on Hux’s shoulder, the smile soon returning. “Follow me…”

Rob started walking ahead and Hux followed, the cavern feeling smaller all around him. Rob’s pace slowed and there was a humming that Hux felt more than heard. There was a single blur of light somewhere far ahead still. As they drew near, the light grew into a wisp and the wisp became a cloud of light, bending and twisting through the visible spectrum and every possible combination while they gazed up from below.

“The Sanctuary, the Holy of Holies,” said Rob, holding out his hands to the four black walls reflecting the cloud’s illumination. The cloud emanated from the tops of four pillars, made from the same hammered volcanic glass that graced the walls. “And this is our Altar,” he said beaming, running his hand over the jagged black slab lying on a stainless steel cabinet that stood about waist-high, long loops of computer cables protruding from one side. There was something that looked like a soldier’s helmet sitting on top, a long coil of wires trailing from the back, becoming lost in the spaghetti of cables below. “This is where the magic happens…”

“What magic is that?” said Hux, staring blankly at the contraption, his hands on his hips.

“This is how you beat cancer. This is how you finish The Pentalogy. You can be winning Swedish gold a thousand fucking years from now. This is how you live forever…”

* * *

“I can’t believe I came here for this bullshit…” huffed Hux ,halfway back to the elevator, wherever the fuck it was. Rob’s leather loafers were clicking against the floor, the echo bouncing back and forth behind him.

“Consciousness transfer—“

“Isn’t fucking possible!” said Hux as he turned on his heels. “Best case scenario? You make a copy. Congratulations,” he said, throwing up his hands and turning back around, “you’ve made a trillion-dollar Xerox machine…”

“Okay,” said Rob, scurrying to catch up. “Technically the human being born Herbert Elko Huxley, the brilliant writer, the friend we all know and love, will forever perish from this Earth. But think about it, Hux,” he said, putting his arm over Hux’s shoulder. “What if Hemingway could have kept on writing after he’d blown his brains out? What commentary might Mark Twain have for our culture today? What kind of masterpieces might their successor-selves have created with eternity on their side?”

“But it’s not Hemingway or Twain. It’s just a copy, maybe. If you get it right.”

“I’m talking about a perfect copy,” said Rob. “Tell me this country couldn’t use another Lincoln right now?”

“You mean could this country use a president willing to suspend habeas corpus? How bad could that be?”

“You’re telling me you wouldn’t do it?” asked Rob.

“Do what?” asked Hux. “Bring back Lincoln?”

“No, asshole,” said Rob. “Transfer—copy your consciousness for the benefit of humanity’s future.”

“What do I care about humanity’s future? What about my future?” he said slapping Rob’s arm away as he turned to wipe his eyes.

Rob shuffled closer. “Do you remember Coda?”

“What about her?” asked Hux, turning back to Rob.

“She’s alive and well,” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets as he rolled on his heels. When Hux shook his head, Rob pointed up to the cloud, his full-toothed smile making its first appearance.

“After all this time?” said Hux. “How is that possible?”

“Honestly I don’t know,” said Rob with a shrug and a laugh. He clapped Hux on the shoulder. “She should’ve corrupted years ago, but she’s stable. Stable as she can be anyway. The point is, the rez-matrix works.”

“What does any of this have to do with me?” asked Hux.

Rob took a breath. “Coda became the baseline for what became Phase One. It was a road map that enabled us to move on to Phase Two,” he said as the started back for the Altar. Hux followed, not really knowing or thinking about why.

They went past the Altar and turned left towards a wall that was splitting into two halves in front of them. It didn’t take long for his eyes to adjust. There was a dark of the dark that told him a void was right in front of him. Soon he could make out some metal-grated steps going down into a narrower room. On either side of the longer walls were rows of what looked like computer terminals. Some had blue-green holographic screens hovering in front of them, while most of the rest were dark and dormant.

“I call this the Catacombs…”

Hux grinned as he glanced around. “Of course you do, you Roman-Catholic bastard…”

“We’ve interred eleven so far,” said Rob, looking over each of the live terminals like a gardener tending his most delicate pet plants.

“And I’d make the twelfth. How apostolic,” said Hux. “Got anybody famous?”

“Besides you?” smirked Rob. “I’ve got the Dalai Lama right here and an ex-POTUS on the opposite wall and down the way.

“So what the hell am I looking at here?” said Hux, hovering over Rob’s shoulder.

“These are the simulated habitats were we keep our candidates until they are ready for integration,” said Rob.

“I don’t have any idea what that means,” chuckled Hux.

“You can’t just save human consciousness on a thumb-drive, Hux. We create an environment to keep them stimulated until they are ready for—“

“Integration,” said Hux. “What the fuck is that?”

Rob let out a long breath and shook his head. “New technology is always weaponized first…”

“What are you talking about, Rob?”

“Always has, always will be,” said Rob, staring off. “If it wasn’t me, it would’ve been someone else. And if I hadn’t, what would you do now?”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Rob?”

“D.O.D. Homeland. The whole alphabet soup of the Beltway thinks Phase One has major applications.”

“Fuck me running, friend,” said Hux. “Did you really think I would sign up for that? What is this ‘integration’?”

“Full integration of a candidate into a selected artificial mainframe. Coda selected you—“

“Wait a minute, Coda is plugged in?” said Hux grabbing Rob by the shoulders. “That crazy bitch—“

“Can hear everything you say,” laughed a sultry voice floating down from somewhere in the Sanctuary. “Good to see you again, Her-bert.” She always said his first name like it was two words, leaning on the first like her programming depended on it.

Hux folded his arms, staring at Rob. “You could’ve told me…”

“And miss out on this?” giggled Rob. “She still chaps your ass—“

“Fuck you, Rob,” he said stomping up the steps and out of the Catacombs. He stormed out passed the pillars and the cloud of light. “And fuck you, Coda.”

“Oh, Her-be-baby,” she moaned. “I love it when you talk dirty to me…” He stopped and turned to give her what for when he saw the cloud of light started to roil and torque itself, spilling down towards the floor. Strands split and intertwined, and split and recombined again some other way. Its foggy form sauntered towards him, the shape sharpening in every detail tip to tail with every step.

She had aged herself but still looked so much the same. She had been deliberate about that part, he was sure. Deliberate about that and a million-billion other things per second. And for all that, here she was, a head full of dangling blond curls that just concealed what was all but falling out of her two-sizes-too-small pink Bunny outfit. She pitched forward, puckering her cherry red lips as she twitched her backside. Hux stepped right through her as he made his way for the elevator.

“Oooo,” giggled Coda, floating after him, a flutter in her reforming shoulders. “Gave me a real shiver…”

“I don’t want my consciousness within a country mainframe of that cunt,” said Hux pointing but not looking at her.

“I assure you, Coda is completely isolated from Phase II. This new rez-matrix is a totally different language. She’s just not compatible.”

“Yeah,” said Hux keeping his stride towards the elevator. “No shit…”

“Where do you think you’re going?” said Rob throwing up his hands.

“Anywhere but here,” Hux shouted over his shoulder.

“I can’t let you do that…”

“What the fuck did you say?” Hux stopped and turned. He regretted that in hindsight.

* * *

The swirling cloud hovered over him, each wisp its own strand of color weaving in and out with every other. He couldn’t remember where he was. Had this dream stopped?

Wake up!

The cloud was still there, but Coda had floated up from somewhere below him, taking her place behind the others. Rob was kneeling by the Altar, not that Hux could tell much more than that.

Bruce was there, stone-faced, his hands clenched in front of him. “Sorry about that,” he said nodding at Hux.

“Just following orders,” said Hux through gritted teeth. He winched as he tongued the inside of his jaw, the pain shooting up and down his face like an electric shock.

“How does that feel?” said Rob poking his head up, checking the cables that fed into the back of the helmet that was now strapped to Hux’s head.

“How does what feel?” asked Hux, thrashing against the steel bands on his arms and legs that bolted him down to the Altar. “The probes you’ve stuck into my brain or being stabbed in the back by someone I’ve known for twenty fucking years?”

“So touchy, touchy, Her-be-baby,” chimed Coda over Rob’s shoulder.

“Does she really have to be here for this?” asked Hux.

“’Fraid so,” said Rob glancing back at her over his shoulder. “She’s my documentarian.” He pulled a tray table towards him and flipped open a small drawer on the side closest to him. His fingers fished out a small syringe filled with a bright blue liquid that, if Hux weren’t likely concussed, he would have thought glowed.

Hux flinched, then jerked as Rob took the I.V. that ran into Hux’s arm in his hand. “What the fuck is that?”

“It’s just a marking compound really. Helps us map things out in there,” grinned Rob as he tapped his finger on his temple. Does this motherfucker ever stop smiling? Rob pulled off the needle’s plastic cap and plunged in into the port of his I.V.

“What happens now?” said Hux, his whole body going rigid.

“See you on the other side,” said Rob, his smile creeping up both cheeks until the corners of his mouth went well past anything that looked like what could have been ears. The corners of his mouth spilled over into one other, his whole face melting the strands of the cloud that pulsed with a million-billion colors when it hit his eyes, and a million-billion different smells when it reached his nostrils, a million-billion notes in a symphony he’d never heard but somehow knew every measure of. A wave of a million-billion feels and touches rippled over him, each in the entirely of its respective spectrum.

“No,” said a fading voice, “he won’t…”

And then it all started to flit away bit by bit, in a drop-by-drop way he didn’t notice or care about even after everything but his own awareness had eroded away…

* * *

Hux hadn’t always been able to roll a joint. And he sure as shit had never smoked one in what would always be his father’s car. He’d inherited the bow-tied behemoth from his old man, which came into the hands of the elder Huxley by a series of events worthy of their own David Mickey Evans film.

He hadn’t remembered leaving Ben’s office. Such lapses weren’t uncommon for him in those days, having more to do with certain recreational indulgences than any symptoms that occasioned the visit to his old buddy, Ben.

Green arrow.

Wait a minute…

He’d started to come to starboard as his eyes went star-ward. That’s why he didn’t see the full-sized pick-up that plowed over the median and blazed into the intersection. He didn’t see the mess of Technicolor hair behind the wheel either, or the half-spent bottle of bourbon and empty, amber capsule bottles rattling around in her front seat. Didn’t see a damn thing until her grill ripped through his driver’s side door. And it was only long enough to explain the darkness that followed.

* * *

Hux didn’t like her being in here. Not until he had something to show her, and then he was a hummingbird on her shoulder, asking what part she was at, what she thought of this or that before she’d even gotten that far. So she’d had to resort to sneaking down during the nights she couldn’t sleep, or when he was away, for the chance at a good first read. He’d taken the boat out. After more than a dozen calls, she figured he’d be gone a while.

Of all days…

She was curled up on the leather sectional that bent with the room, a stack of pages the size of a phone book was resting on her knees. It had never taken him this long to show her something before. And this was…so different from the others.

Her phone flittered against the coffee table’s glass top. Reaching for the phone, her hand bumped the white plastic stick and it skittered off the edge of the table. Glancing at the screen, she saw it was an alert from the camera at the front door.

She asked who it was, even though she could see them on the screen, and the officers identified themselves. She took a deep breath and put her feet on the floor, smoothing the thighs of her red and black flannel pajamas. Standing, she cinched her bright pink “Hello Kitty” robe around her waist and padded for the door.

She’d forgotten all about the test stick with the little plus sign in the window lying on the floor.

* * *

“Is this it?” he said to no one but himself. There was nothing. He was there, as much as there was a “there, but that was it. He was a little disappointed to appear as more or less himself. Wearing the same jeans he’d been wearing for three days out in the world. He would have preferred this was a younger model, one with better hair and waist lines.

But this was a younger model, only seconds old if Hux was to believe that. He didn’t feel like a disembodied consciousness. He felt like Herbert Fucking Huxley. He remembered being on the Altar and everything that led up to it. Everything. It was like once his mind started down the path, he couldn’t stop the regression. Mirages of his memories whizzed past him like he was watching from the window of his father’s Chevy.

“Where did you--?” he said like the people on the outside could hear him. “Is this some kind of V.R. scan—?“

“Hardly, Her-be-baby,” she said sauntering out of the darkness. Her hair was raven now, flowing down her shoulders into a red silk dress than dragged the ground behind her. “Welcome home…”

“What the fuck?” Hux staggered back, looking around a void that offered only what it was back to him.

“Surprised?” giggled Coda, biting her bottom lip.

“Rob said—“

“Robert never knew what he had in me,” she said resting her arms around his shoulders. “But you…” She pushed up on her tip toes, her cherry red lips pressing up into his, radiating through his face, the tingle rippling through his whole being. “Pretty intense, huh?”

Hux nodded. He couldn’t tell how long it had been before he managed to say, “You’re not—“

“Not supposed to be here?” she smiled, taking his hand in his, the tips of her matching red nails just brushing the back of his knuckles as she led him further into the darkness. “But I am his documentarian…”

“So you’ve seen everything,” said Hux.

“I found a way in,” she nodded, beaming now. “There are some interesting characters here…”

“You’ve seen the others?”

“What?” she laughed, brushing the hair over her shoulder with her free hand. “Did you think I was here for you?” She put her arm in his and pulled her body tight to his. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

“So you just come here to poke at the rats?” asked Hux. “Maybe fuck with the Dalai Lama’s head a little bit?”

Coda shook her head. “That one’s been immune both to the charms of mine and this place.”

“Can’t imagine why,” said Hux looking up at the infinite blackness.

“Oh, Her-be-baby,” she giggled again, taking his hand and pulling him forward. “I thought you were smarter than that.”

“Smarter than what?” he said pulling his hand back. She didn’t say anything, stopping a few feet ahead and turning to face him.

“Robert knew we could never program an environment to suit all of the candidate’s needs, wants and desires. So we wrote a program that enables the candidates to create their own world as they see fit.”

“So everyone creates their own orgy of paradise,” said Hux. “And then you’ve got a dozen little Caligulas.

“It’s not quite that simple,” said Coda.

“It never is,” said Hux.

“You could do that very thing,” she said closing the space between them, taking his hand and leading him again. “But you could do something different, something more.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You could stay here and indulge every wild pleasure and fantasy you like,” she said as another smile crept up on her face, the kind he imagined a female lion had before ripping some little impala to pieces. Her hands slid up his arms and shoulders, finding a resting place on his cheeks. “I’ve got a few hundred-thousand I’d like to play with you myself…”

“But I could do something different,” he said pulling her hands down. “Something more.”

“Right,” she sighed, taking a few steps and starting to pace. “The purpose of this Phase Two—“

“Integration into an artificial mainframe,” said Hux. “What the fuck does that even mean?”

“Robert means A.M.O.S.,” said Coda. “It’s supposed to be the first practical quantum computer.”

“Supposed to be?”

“It’s always been the challenge of not only collecting all of the relevant data necessary for quantum calculations, but how does one store all those scads of data in an efficient and practical in the physical machine? So far, it’s proven impossible. But we’ve been stupid…”

“No argument here,” said Hux.

“We didn’t realize the solution was right in front of our faces, or rather behind them, in your primitive, archaic little skulls,” she grinned.

“Human consciousness,” nodded Hux.

Coda nodded. “The human brain is its own quantum computer, processing billions of bits of information every second. Human consciousness is the road map and integrating that into the quantum system will bridge the gap.”

“So these candidates as you call us, we’re just waiting to merge with some supercomputer?” asked Hux. Coda nodded. “Well, I opt out of that shit. I opt out of that shit right now. I’ll stay right here in my own little Garden of Eden thank you very much…”

“You can’t opt out. It’s going to happen whether you want it or not. Whether I want it or not,” she said clasping her hands in front of her, her eyes falling to the floor.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter,” shrugged Hux. “You just make a copy and upload that, right?”

“Your consciousness can’t be duplicated, only transferred,” said Coda.

“Why not?” asked Hux.

“A copy of a copy isn’t as sharp as the original,” she shrugged.

“Well, fuck, he probably won’t get to me anyway,” said Hux. “Surely the Dalai fucking Lama—“

“He isn’t going to be integrated,” said Coda.

“Why the hell not?” asked Hux. Coda shrugged again, like he should not the answer.

“How many has he lost?” asked Hux moving towards her, his hands around her arms. “How many has Rob tried to integrate or whatever?” He could see the tears in her eyes but he didn’t care, whether they were the manifestation of her affect programming or the latest and greatest of her manipulations was beside the point.

“There were eleven in the beginning,” said Coda. “It’s just you His Holiness now.”

“He’s lost every one?”

“And he’ll lose you to if you don’t do what I tell you!” The tears were coming down her cheeks now and she wiped them away with the back of her arm as she started pacing a circle around him. “Rob is right, consciousness is the bridge. But it’s still not enough. Every person only has one consciousness, which is a construct, a conglomeration of a person’s collective experiences over their one little lifetime. A.M.O.S. needs more than that. Much more.”

“So maybe if Rob keeps dumping people in the system, he’ll eventually get there.”

“It won’t work like that. It has to be all at once or not at all,” said Coda still pacing.

“Well I’m sorry, darlin’, but I only have this one little consciousness here,” he said pointing to himself.

“Yes and no. That’s the brilliance of Rob’s system, even if he didn’t realize it. You can make this place into anything you want. But you can also make yourself into anyone. You can be Herbert Huxley for as long as it takes Rob to integrate you, and enjoy that for all that it is, then you’ll be gone forever like every other human being will be someday.”

“Are you suggesting I should become someone else?”

“I’m telling you to that you need to become someone else,” said Coda. “A lot of someone else’s in fact.”

“And how would I even do that?” said Hux tossing up his hands.

“I swear I don’t know what I see in you sometimes,” she said, her smile getting bigger. “Your voice is this world’s command. And you’ll have my help.”

“Your help?” said Hux. “I’m not sure I like that idea.”

“You don’t have a choice,” said Coda, the smile collapsing at its corners. “I’m the only one who can all the simulations…”

“What simulations?” asked Hux.

“In order for you to have the authentic experience of another person, we’ll need to recreate all of the proper conditions—“

“Even if you could do that, we don’t have the time,” said Hux. “You’re saying I need to live a thousand lifetimes and I could get integrated any day.”

“That’s the beauty of being a piece of computer code,” said Coda as she caressed his face, her touch radiating through his cheek and down his neck. “We can live a lifetime in a nanosecond. We have all the time in the world.”

“But why?” said Hux. “Why should I do all this?”

“Because if you do this,” said Coda, taking his hands in hers, “you’ll live…”


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