This is part 2 of the serialized story JUMPCUT MEMORY. To catch up, look at the archive of stories HERE.
Cheryl woke up feeling like a burden had been lifted from her. She touched her cheek and it was wet. She tried to dig around and see whether she had possibly been dreaming, and whether that had triggered the tears, but it had evaporated, as the tears would. She knew on some level that Andy had gone.
She was glad – she had come to hate him in recent months. There was something in him that would not allow another viewpoint to take hold; he lacked empathy. She had tried to tell him that working at an Emotion Bank did something for her and that her everyday life didn’t, and that she wasn’t a victim.
It was strange to her that in some ways Andy had become like the cancers he worked with at the Cancer Farms – that he would infect and turn healthy cells, damaging them and making them like the cancer that he was – a reverse Midas Touch. She had heard him muttering about info-cancer in his sleep, and she wondered if that was what had been interfering with their communication. She had read about localspace informational disruption caused by some of the work that they were doing at The Cancer Farms manipulating the quantum field.
Some days when she sat there with people screaming at her she wondered if the whole problem with the world was merely the result of the destruction of the channels along which information might pass. She read around the subject a lot, and she had come to agree with a theory that society was so atomised now, that any apocalypse that a person envisaged was most likely so intrinsically significant that it could only be a perception of that own individual’s ending. Every person was their own star, and when that started to collapse, and all the light in their life was dragged over the event horizon of their own internal singularity they would glimpse their whole life and the ending simultaneously as they were encoded into the supertranslation on the black hole’s event horizon. Andy was seeing that, and it affected the space around him.
She avoided Tibetan Sanctuary Eats – anywhere that her and Andy had frequented. He had no friends that she really knew of, so she couldn’t really ask any of them for more data about what he had been doing before he died. She was paid a visit by a couple of shady characters who flashed their IDs so fast that she almost got whiplash trying to read them – they had said the words spatiotemporal anomaly almost inaudibly, and they asked her if she knew anything about his life as Terminal. She was glad that she had no knowledge of it. She had only started asking questions because she was concerned that it was going to affect her life.
The baby kicked inside her. She winced – as much at the thought that flitted through her mind as the physical sensation. What if the child was like Andy? What if it turned into a scratch-head too? She knew Andy had dosed her with Behavioral because she had taken it back in her clubbing days. She knew that he had thought she was suffering from Contagious Emotion Syndrome because the idiot had written about it on his Writer.
Cheryl went to a Whack Joint later that night, needing to let off some steam – they had clones that you could hunt, or if you wanted something a little less murderous they had Pinata Rooms where you could take a stick and hit naked individuals hung upside down. She spent a brief second wondering about pre-natal memories, and how this wasn’t exactly Mozart, but then she commenced to whalloping some guy until he got his rocks off.
Cheryl was in her second trimester before she realized that there was something not quite right about this pregnancy. She felt weird saying it, but she felt like something had downloaded into her child, and that the thing she was now carrying wasn’t the same baby. She would have dreams where her stomach would burst open and a scorpion would crawl out of her, stinging her, leaving her for dead.
She had a blip-meeting with Andy’s parents to tell them the news. They seemed indifferent, which she supposed might make some sense given their mode of living – but still, this would be their grandchild.
Someone anonymously sent her a note saying that she should go and check out the Weaponizer Facility in Poughkeepsie – that they might have answers about what had been happening to Andy.
She laughed at three people at the Emotion Bank that day – her bosses told her that there was something off about her, and if she couldn’t get in touch with her inner brokenness for their clients she should start looking for a new job. She laughed at her employers too. Maybe what had been broken had been mended.
There are times when you have an inkling of what is wrong, and it comes to you in a clear flash, but then you talk yourself out of it and put away the cognition to gather dust. Often it would come back and it would bite you in the ass. But Cheryl felt so free compared to how she had felt with Andy that she would brook no notion that something bad was on the horizon.
Sat in the canteen of the Weaponizer Facility, talking to the stuffed suit who had been tasked with handling her and defusing any situation she may be associated with, she knew that there was blood in the water. Not a single question that she asked of the man was answered with a straight yes or no – the whole thing was PR talk, and she started to feel that they had Frankensteined the man out of dead spin doctors.
As she left someone pulled her aside, and told her that if she had the time to meet them, they might be able to tell her something. Where? Tibetan Eats Sanctuary. She ate a bowl of Thentuk and followed that up with a dish consisting mainly of Gyurma. Telemachus, the man she had come to meet seemed slightly out of focus and looking at him for too long hurt her eyes.
‘You wanted to tell me something?’
‘Get an abortion.’
‘Why would you possibly think that it was OK to say that to me?’
‘Because I have a conception of what it is that you are giving birth to.’
‘And what might that be?’
‘To understand that you have to understand what Andy was. He wasn’t just some schmuck that had delusions of grandeur that blew up and did nothing. He believed that he was doing something that would reboot the world, and he did, but that thing was impregnating you.’
‘You don’t say.’
‘But I do. He had to die to facilitate the transference of his information – the information programmed into him at the facility I work at – into the perfect receptacle for that reality changing program.’
‘Exactly. Part of him is inside you, but it needed the component that you bring to the table to make it a truly executable program.’
‘And what, pray tell, is that?’
‘The interesting way in which you process emotional data. You have an interesting buffer and expression routine that makes you a perfect vessel for getting the word out there.’
‘Oh my god, you see me as a delivery system for a viral information load disguised as a baby?’
‘No, that’s not how I see you – that is how the people who experimented on Andy see you. The reason he was dosing you with Behavioral was to suppress the expression of the data that was bound to have been leaking from the seed you were impregnated with.’
‘Do you realize how disturbing this might be to a pregnant woman?’
‘Of course. I’m not a monster.’
She smiled, suddenly realizing something. ‘No, you’re a trigger aren’t you? Get me all upset and it triggers this whole damned thing, right? I wouldn’t have been stonewalled right up to the point I was in my third trimester if it wasn’t useful to you.’
‘You’re smart. I can see why Andy liked you. Andy had been hacked and implanted with the code he carried around – the thing inside you has it as part of its make up. I think your waters just broke by the way.’
It wasn’t that the room was shaking; reality itself was coming loose from its moorings. Physics abandoned its usual patterns and exotic matter began to erupt into their space from some direction they couldn’t quite see.
‘What is your name? I didn’t quite catch it.’
‘Oh, me? For all it matters my name is Pays; Mia Pays.’
‘Mia? Isn’t that a girl’s name?’
‘Why should that matter, here, at the end of this iteration of existence?’
‘It doesn’t. I was just trying to hold onto something human amidst this impersonal apocalypse.’
‘Oh, the irony. That is the whole point – a personal apocalypse for Andy to bring about the impersonal apocalypse for everyone else. We call this moment The Switching Gate; where we change the line that we are on and go onwards into a brighter future.’
That bright future was a disintegration – the eternally collapsing object finally falling in on itself until it turned inside out, and there they were, or rather, there everyone else was – in a brand new universe with the slate wiped clean.