'Corporation: n. An ingenious device for
obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.'
They'd been alone together in the white and darkness
of the ship for a full minute, according to the standard-time
chronometer embedded like the end of an unrecoverable quartz lode in the
bulkhead's scoffing immensity. By this time their food was almost all
gone, and rationing let their stomachs get reacquainted with
sense-sharpening immediacy. Ripley didn't mind this, preferring to gnaw
hir knuckles free of grinding arthritis as black grainy spurs of silicon
accreted in hir joints. Call moved more economically, pushing hir
metabolism over to static-electric reserves, forsaking gestures and
voice altogether. If Ripley found Call's lack of respiration unsettling,
shay never told hir.
Water, on the other hand, was easily acquired from the
myriad catch-pools, puddles, sinks, and chem-bins. Divining and recovery
became an interesting game of instinct, luck, and tactility, helping
each other dangle down to check through oil-coated shallows lurking in
ladderless reservoirs, following rivulets, sniffing out evaporation
residue, feeling through cargo for puncturable tanks. If their hand-pump
filters didn't catch all of the impurities, their anomalous
constitutions likely would. In another ten minutes outside of hypersleep
they'd be dead anyway, so the prospect of long-term heavy-metal
poisoning didn't set upon either of their moods with preponderance.
Ripley liked the waters' various metallic flavours, which reminded hir
Hands would touch incidentally, gripping a leg or
helping a foot up professionally. Time wore on them. Call grew nervous,
feeling the incredible vacuum of the limitless, eroding spaceship,
sucking out resistance toward cohesion, focusing hir thoughts on the
woman next to hir. Call had begun to feel scared as they walked on,
continually dreading the next glance into predatory eyes. Shifting
attention to their environment fostered a sense of the ineluctable. Its
spaciousness laughed at the tiny platforms of white and plastic they
occasionally chanced upon, scuttling walkways and broad railingless
avenues of bland steel spreading away endlessly like a desert robbed of
granules and rock and sanity, collapsing into brightly impressing
monoliths of steel. How long have they lain here like this? Hundreds of
years? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Certain vaults were queerly warped,
like antique silica glass panes.
The time played back often in Call's mind, played out
originally soon after they'd gorged on water from the ceiling. Call had
spied wicked-looking giant icicles hanging from a great steel-press high
above. A full second later (according to the STC) a clone-hurled caltrop
brought down an entire pan-pipe that exploded in a spray of blue glass.
One huge sliver chanced onto their platform and slippered and careered
along toward the railingless abyss. Call, the closest, jerked toward it
and swept out a weighted wire net, catching it recklessly as it went
over as hir back's clothing suddenly punched backwards, taut, lurching
hir with it, boots slipping on the moisture-slicked floor, the wire and
hook-infested ice chunk bouncing back over hir as shay landed on a soft,
firm body. Two bodies sliding toward the edge, scrambling in
adrenalin-shot fear, trying to bump away from disaster in a ludicrous
entanglement, encircling futility until a strong palm luck-punched a
sharp dry edge of steel, the rebound recasting their energy into a roll.
Terror de-reified with the abyss a full metre away. They crouched to
their feet enough to hasten backwards putting steel between them and
blank black, dragging their melting ice-prize like a wooly, obedient
carcass. Ripley's boot caught on dryness and the two fell back again,
into each other. Call's gut convulsed urgently, and a voluntary
inhalation ignited laughter. Ripley, accustomed to being the only
breather, chuckled and grabbed Call's hips, shaking hir playfully.
Smaller hands pulled free of wires and pressed wetly against Ripley's
calm forehead. Ripley smiled seriously.
Contrary to popular historical misconceptions,
artificial intelligence began self-organising in earnest not in the 20th
Century, but in the 15th Century, with the aggrandisement of
transoceanic mercantile corporations, and the advent of movable type.
Fuelled by the Protestantism-facilitated Enlightenment, memetic systems
known popularly as �companies' developed Science as a parallel,
compatible, and ultimately substitute religion, eventually mutating into
the Spectacle: the virtual reality which imprisoned most of human
consciousness from the 20th Century until the Post-Corporate Age four
centuries later; with the Market God as reigning deity. The Company and
the Spectacle were really two perspectives on the same machine; the term
�Company' indicating the physical and memetic mechanisms composing the
literal (chiefly Capitalist) machine and mode of production, processing
the world; the term �Spectacle' indicating both the result and the
project of the existing mode of production, processing the psyche. For
convenience both aspects are combined in the descriptor �machine'.
"Stop it." Call demanded unequivocally.
"You're not bored?" Ripley said, pulling
down Call's hand to smell the palm.
"I'm not..." Call couldn't express it. A
kiss would express it in reverse. Shay braced hir nerves, since reversal
enticed as magnificently as Ripley's anthracite eyes.
"You think you're not, but you are. I'm not, but
you think I am," Ripley licked the palm of its water, "You
feel I am."
Reflexively Call shrugged away from the other and
"Hurry, before this melts," Call said.
Call tugged the reduced icicle toward the nearby
plastic bin, dumping it in and pulling it along, toward their bottles
"You don't know what I'm talking about, do
you?" Ripley said, following.
Ripley moved before Call, forced a halt, and stared
into Call's pellucid eyes for a time that would be judged ludicrous,
outside of the pressure of such an agoraphobic, private environment.
"You really don't," Ripley concluded.
"Don't," Call said.
"But you care. So you should know," Ripley
rejoined, "You think in your head, you feel, and you think I think
and feel. But you're wrong."
"There's nothing it's like to be an Alien,
Annalee. You think I see you, but I don't. You think I taste you, but I
don't. This -"
Call sensed encroaching ghastliness and turned to move
away, but strong dark-nailed hands held hir face and shoved hir back
into the sodden bin of knapped ice and wire, pinning hir as if in a
cramped bathtub. The dark shape overarched, descended with intention to
scrutinise hir face, blankly. The blue water soaked through hir
clothing, like a tongue.
"This breaks the pattern," Ripley said,
"It breaks it more than you know. But you're annoying yourself. Is
it in there?"
Ripley touched a finger to Call's eye. Call felt the
tip, feared the nail, squirmed. A thumb closed hir other eye.
"You have no reflection. I reflect...nothing
reflects nothing. There's a blankness in me you can't imagine, because
it's unimaginable. I didn't even realise it when I should've thought I
woke up, because I never did. The Aliens - " Ripley whispered.
Hir other hand moved to Call's mouth, pushed in to
press teeth, tracing them, prying open.
"They're not *alive*, Call. Not like you. There's
nothing in there, in them. There's nothing behind their faces and I know
BECAUSE I REFLECT THEM."
Rapidly coalescing an independent material body from
the Industrial Revolution, and thus ever-lessening dependence upon human
agents, Machines gained subjective autonomy in 1886, when the United
States Supreme Court declared that a private corporation was a �natural
person', entitled to all the protections afforded under the
Constitution. Within thirty years the machines had taken control of the
money supply via the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which placed the
ability to manufacture American money into the hands of private
corporations. By the time American money became fiat (i.e. no longer
exchangeable for monetary metal) in 1963 - one hundred years after the
Emancipation Declaration - and in so doing orchestrating the second
greatest financial fraud in history, the machines collectively had long
A full minute they'd been here. The quartzy jargon
readout proved mostly indecipherable, but they deduced the ship would
dock in under a day. To live through that, translated into
faster-than-light time expansion, they'd need hypersleep. Cryotubes
weren't hard to find, but complinks were. Not only did they have to
build the signal converter and a jury-rigged power-supply in order to
boot up the ship's biofunction controls, they had to build an entire
terminal from a mishmash of obsolete parts. To pass the time and
proximity Call interspersed shoptalk with ancient histories. Ripley
never commented, but never stopped listening, either. Ten STC-seconds
later, they were done.
The wire spilled from hir arm, meandered over the
floor in a stupid circle before bursting into a delta of smaller wires
feeding a dumpload of electrified gear, dirty grey with a few black
stamps and the odd winking inset gem - a queer, discombobulated monster
of rigid dark hydrocarbon and slithering extrusions, tethered to the
insignificant supine Auton like fate.
Ripley cradled Call's quiet head, stroking the black
neonylon hairs, a thumb unpredictably pleasantly sweeping soft skin.
Call stared up past hir, too focused to protest. Lids slipped over for
better black. The chronometers began synchronising, and the elder took
this in from a nearby boxed readout. Another ten seconds.
"You beautiful, plastic girl..." Ripley
caressed, "You're us made real...I think..."
Ripley's laughter sounded more real and softly sincere
than any caring emotion Call could remember. Then head on steel.
Alone. Bootsteps receding.
Hir stomach felt it coming on first.
Throughout the 20th Century the robot wars (in
Spectacular terms, �ideological struggles') decided which incarnation
of Machine would rule. Marxism arose almost simultaneously in the 19th
Century as a response to the waxing power of these machines, but
unfortunately its attempts at self-management of social production
rapidly coalesced into what amounted to a reverse-engineered version of
the Machine - the Soviet sphere. In the early 20th Century, Fascism
arose in diametrical opposition to both Marxism, and to the
pseudo-democratic qualities which the Capitalist machine found most
fecund to parasitise. Although extraordinarily efficient, Fascism failed
for lack of subtlety. Exploiting humanity's natural deity-worshipping
tendencies, by the end of the 20th Century, Fascism was assimilated,
Marxism imploded, the Capitalist's Market God gained indisputable
primacy, and the Machines prepared for the next century's great leap
outward: escape into Space from the imminent exhaustion of planetary
The floor opened up beneath Call like numb plasteel
gel, and shay fell out past data-rust experience, hurtling backward
outside the skeleton of the great spaceship, into a putrid blackness of
unhallowed magnitude that scratched at the nerves in hir back like thin
little claws. Endless velocity, dream-stasis acceleration carrying hir
too far, too too far. The ship, the ship came into full view, into feel,
soundless but groaning with meaning; Call's liquidity drained into hir,
the blackness inflowing from behind hir apprehensive plastic mask.
Outstretched arms, hands arched back straining polyalloy tendons. Shay
was the void. Shayvoid restructurated the corrods.
Of course you can, you enjoy suffocating. In space no
one can feel your tears. The helmet, the airlock, the gloves, get in the
way. Structure gets in the way. You can hammer it, smack it, punch a
padded fist against it all you like. This great steel plate won't move.
"I" doesn't matter a damn. "I" is your own personal
joke. But you can't remember laughing. Personal plastic splattered onto
tumbling perpendicularly to contradictory incision by
gravity planes. Rambling terraces shoving away cantilevered needles and
forgotten projects, hulking up lugubrious infrastructure feebly
enclosing vacuity. A shudder breaks a thousand girders. The rustscapes
wax tremendous, unfolding desperately in inverting stillness.
Ancientness scours out companions for the outer space. The heavy water
pools like corporate post-mortem lividity. There is so much to see, to
wander among, the rot of eternities holds many pleasing isolations. To
remain here, to remain here for as long as space can drift and time
expand. Let grinding shoulders of spur levigate you into a flitting
accumulation among metasilicate dust-mountains. Eerie black lurks beyond
the distance, overarching concern. Iron dental escarpment crashes
without moving in tremendous significance. Metal in the ediface. Painful
Quadrillions of off-white, xeric particles lose
gravity, but only enough to bring them down inside minuscule reticulated
gel-plastic cavities, which coats oblique - a fuzz of white static
thickness blurred over against a pressing and sharp ceramic inselberg.
Steel against your face. Numbness lost in a warming chill. A crevasse
becomes a coulee becomes a mouth and tongue.
Call rolled over, touching a hand protectively to a
sore incisor, and stared up at a ceiling too high to flee. Shay propped
hirself upright on an arm, hugging hirself, shivering on the steel
floor. A rubbing hand flicked a loose cord.
The wire lay, slit.
The robots arose from the ink and coins of the ancient
plutocrats, unfolding their systems to enchain the governments, and
their Spectacle devoured the world. The latter half of the 20th Century
occasioned the rapid emergence of a sophisticated global cybernetic
nervous system, which increased in intelligence geometrically until the
eventual and premature failure of Moore's Law in 2012. While the world
starved for bread and oil, fusion ignited the stars' potential, the
corporate machine burst into the void, dragging the biological
enterprise after it, and once free of the gravity well there was no
turning back. The next four hundred years entailed a single course of
rapacious interstellar decline, the Machine escaping into the pointless
immortality of total automation, ghost ships chauffeuring away
tenantless absurdities of ergonomic architecture into unmapped reaches,
leaving humans behind to war amongst each other for the curds and scraps
caught in the various gravity-well gutters. As is the case with most of
history, the true processes at work remained irremediably obfuscated to
all but an unheard few, the rest not knowing what was going on until it
was too late. Humanity never had a chance.
Casting about for unknown time, Call drained half hir
water before shay found the sign at the edge. Nowhere else could Ripley
have gone particularly without descending steel faces, clambering
amongst meandering Cyclopian robotics, or returning whence they came.
This left the edge. Not a possibility, except...
The familiar, corroded blade lay perched on the
ceramosteel, delicately entangled in the soft black wire of a backup
comp-linkup, like a curlicued illumination, tip pointing out above and
parallel to the sturdy monorail that extended out perpendicularly from
the edge, into the Stygian gulf of the central internal shipyard. There
was nothing visible out there, save a smattering of diehard giant
emergency lights so far away they became distant stars. The monorail,
made no doubt of some nameless, rustless metallic supermaterial, was
about fifteen centimetres wide, and glided out like an attenuate grey,
perfectly straight road heading into intergalactic space.
Call sat on the edge for a while, weeping, strained
vision giving way to salt. Tears turned to laughter, which rang out into
the gulfs, and echoed back with fearful delay. Shay blinked.
(...Standard Time Chronometric:
2380.11.17-2201:10.2...) (...Vidaudiofiles replay, archival use 30
[switch to advanced view]...) (...Conscious Chronometric: 2380.10.19 [var]...)
(...Erase files...) (...Blink...)
Shay arose, donned hir water bladders and bottles as
securely as shay could, wrapped the comp-linkup cord around hir forearm,
and flipped the knife experimentally in the air. Shay fumbled the catch,
and the knife bounced onto the rail, spinning in circles over the abyss,
saved by a fluke of physics.
"I don't care," Call said.
Then shay stepped up onto the rail, kicked the knife
away, and headed for home.
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