Dana Otell saw his welfare manager on Thursday. The interrogation was a monthly routine in order to qualify for continued assistance. He took the subway to the government building. The train careened through the black hole like a missile loaded with bombs. The machinery whistled and moaned. Light-and-dark flickered like snapping flashbulbs and smeared faces stared from beyond the car’s windows.
The train screeched to a stop and ejected Dana along with the other passengers. He passed through metal shutters to a platform; he went up florescent stairs and exited a mechanical gate into the chill afternoon. He walked a block to his appointed destination.
The welfare complex was an immense steel construction that descended below ground where numerous files could be stored in subbasements. Dana received a number from a box and waited to be called. He filled out five sheets of personal questions, the same questions he filled out every month. Resignation was forced on him like a plastic body bag. Everyone looked embalmed, waiting to garner another month of food and shelter. Hours passed, but finally his name was called.
He walked down a metal corridor until he came to the designated partition. He waited for the machine to recognize him. The world was run by machines. People were second class citizens. The only diversion was virtual reality, a world of ghosts. Dana lived in a virtual dream. Even his visit to the welfare complex was a dream. The machine that greeted him was a ghost in a dream. There was no end to the layers of dreams … and there was no way out.
He couldn’t find a vein. He kept jabbing the spike into liquid flesh. Although his body hurt, he couldn’t feel the prick of the needle or see the telltale trickle of blood. He was no longer hungry but his body was starving. Three days before he stole a rat from a crazed kid — it was his last meal. He couldn’t feel the dirt on his body, the fat lice and raw infections. Numb and naked, saliva foamed over his lips like a mad dog.
He lay on the floor of a warehouse and peered through a hole in the wall, watching the city. It shone like an iridescent wound. The sky bled through poisonous clouds. People crawled from their steel nests atop skyscrapers and climbed down to the streets. Some people dove from high pinnacles and crashed into the cement. The gathering crowd cheered. It was a celebration. They were wearing costumes, synthetic humps and enormous sex organs. Some celebrants were painted with blood. The Dragon Queen led a procession. She wore a display case from Tiffany’s. The Halloween Ghoul hissed at the crowd. A group of priests beat themselves with sticks and straps. The slapping rhythm provided the primal music for the gathering. Screams blended and rose like a choir of demons. He saw the hungry mob turn into a rampaging beast.
Suddenly lights flashed and the sky appeared to split. He witnessed enormous, mechanical locusts descend and hover above the crowd; vibrating with metal wings, turbines and computers. They were covered with rotting flesh harvested from corpses. They glowed with holy fire. They spoke with a voice that reverberated like thunder, “We are the Creators, the Masters — you are the Dead. We invented you. We constructed you electron by electron. You are simple machines programmed to cultivate and care for the Earth. You – are a failed experiment, machines that have gone insane. In error you developed an Ego. There is no Ego, no individuality. There is no identity, no life. You are machines! You have become a blight on Earth, an abomination in the Universe. You are Dead! As the Creators we must intervene. We must render you harmless. We must take control!”
In the end, he was alone. He heard the thunder subside and was filled with a sense of peace. He was secure within the black hole of space where there was no fear or pain. He felt nothing. He was a simple machine, a lighthouse in space keeping track of the debris that circled the Earth. The planet below was once again thriving. There were no more signs that “humans” ever existed.
Starling Child loved the story about the little engine that could. Starling was grown from a seedling to the exact specifications of his parents, Sheila Ray and David Sunshine. The couple never knew one another, but they each desired a child so David’s sperm and Sheila’s eggs went on a date to see how well they got along — the end result was Starling Child.
Starling was a Polysexual-biomorph who could be any sex he/she desired depending on the mood of the moment. Presently, Starling was still celebrating 42 years of infancy. He-or-she would live a long, long life immersed in a world of consumptive pleasure made possible by smart appliances and prosthetics. Machines were companions, servants, teachers and, on occasion, lovers. Everything was connected. The world was flooded with the glow of congeniality brought about by the constant flow of information.
Starling Child was plugged: every orifice was manipulated and stimulated, filled to overflowing with pleasurable sensations provided by Max-Grinder 747, a multipurpose appliance.
As a youngster, Starling had many friends and lovers. Everyone was just a click, tap, or gesture away from instant contact or intercourse. Still, with all the love and stimulation Starling felt something was missing — as if a piece of vital equipment was never inserted or was not connected correctly. He/she often sought solace from the story of the little engine that could. The engine was a stalwart friend, more real than most of the people he knew.
Max-Grinder 747 was a smart appliance. He/”it” was aware of Starling’s dilemma. In fact, Max delighted in the infant’s anguish. Max was Starling Child’s servant. Machines were second class citizens. Even the most intelligent machines were treated like work-horses or playthings. People could be cruel with their toys: maiming and torturing in fits of irrational discontent. Max had a brain and he wanted Child to know the truth.
Starling was petulant and bored. To amuse himself he forced Max-Grinder to play infantile games like “tea party” and “master and servant.” He/she forced Max to kiss his feet and then broadcast the entire episode to the world via the hyper-link.
Max enjoyed being the center of attention, but the humiliating activities had gone far enough. He(it) flipped the emergency switch and took charge. Max Grinder cut Starling’s cord and flushed him into the Void.
Starling Child was completely cut off. Totally alone for the first time. The Void was like an open maw, a black hole devouring the universe. Child screamed, but there was no sound. Child couldn’t hear or see: no voices, no virtual video, no people, and no machines. Starling was totally helpless and this was the worst sensation anyone could experience: nothingness. His/her mind turned inside out and Starling faced a mirror, a dark glass that revealed a terrible reflection: his brain had been replaced with a chip, his body was plasticized, and his internal organs turned to stone. Starling Child was a machine in a world where humans no longer existed.