He was suspended like dust in the sun. But there was no sun in the hangar and only enough light to find the Coms socket he was hooked into.
His mind turned to the Fluid Drive. “What time is it?
Fluid Drive said “11 pm.” as if it was a good time to commit suicide.
Beth hated eleven. Two ones, separate, standing up, bare and blatant. It was like him and the computer, of course without the equality. He was one and it was one and he was locked to it until the end of his lifetime, which could be another few thousand years.
At 3 in the morning backup mode would digest the day’s ideas, problems, and imaginings. ‘Woken up’ again he would get back to those same issues, and his own, sharing at large with all the others plugged into the Coms Matrix… It wasn’t so bad, even if it wasn’t so good. They spent time thinking; their bodies were nourished while they slept.
Beth, knew that he, like all his fellow Lung People, was not the ancient human form, which could be absolutely beautiful (sometimes) and deformed, obese and ugly (often). He thought that he was glad of that fact – but remained aware of a nagging sense of doubt. The archives on Fluid Drive detailed the thousands of years of evolution, the genetic design and prosthetics, which had changed humankind, until everyone he knew, depending on his or her role, was more or less like Beth, a tubular balloon with a brain at the end.
Everyone in their beautiful hangar-office was prosthetically improved with the ball-bearinged socket designed to accommodate the quantum cable which connected to Fluid Drive. Line upon line of them hung, effortless in this eggshell-white ceramic warehouse, thinking and brainstorming. There was a strange kind of beauty to it; but it had begun to pall for Beth for some time. Something itching at him was poisoning it.
Gimel worked next to him and talked out loud all the time, which was against protocol.
“Did you know that at one time in the near past fingers and hands were used for computers. That’s why fingers have survived.”
He would bring up that story pretty much every couple of weeks. It was as if his mind wrapped around it every sleep time and wouldn’t let it go. Fingers were Gimel’s… what did you call it… his romantic… possession.
Anyone could understand why. You only had to look at him. His arms and hands were weaker, and one of his legs was damaged. It hung there, useless at guiding him in the air; more like a broken stick than the air paddle it was designed to be.
“Oh, and I suppose we don’t need fingers for plugging into the Coms sockets, or speaking,” Beth said, the pragmatic Devil’s advocate.
The finger thing was Gimel’s addiction; his compulsive thing. Beth knew he had a unique compulsion in himself, but his words hadn’t shaped it yet. It would come. It was maybe just more subtle than Gimel’s; like a secretive facial tic, or something that happened inside, maybe even atom-sized, neuron-triggered. Everybody here made one, or it made them. That was your proof of final initiation into the Lung People. No one had said that in words. You didn’t have to here, where words had become anachronistic. One just knew.
Your tic or obsession marked you as a veteran, a wounded mind-warrior. Beth was young, but not so young not to know that any life-role they engineered you to meant personal collateral damage.
“Just think, check the database for old humans and think of us now. We use our fingers and our eyes to interact with Fluid Drive Coms Units. Way back then, they made words appear on screens with those ancient clumsy keyboards and hardware you see in the foyer museum. Now where are we? Performing magic, mind to mind with Fluid drive. Finger signs manipulated as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. Then there’s our eyes subtly nuancing language between one another. There’s almost no need for sound.”
He didn’t get the irony. Gimel never used finger signs and never stopped talking.
Gimel reached up and tightened his socket, an achingly long process for him. Beth stared, half aware of the rhythmic beat of ceiling fans, and amazed at the same time that he could be so completely entranced by something so brainlessly stupid as Gimel tightening his Coms socket. Gimel had crappy hands – so what? Who could care less that it cost Gimel more effort than most; that it ate up maybe thirty seconds more? Did anyone else notice things like that?
Lately, Beth was coming to terms with the strong intuition that he was odd, shaved at an abnormal bias. Gimel was cuckoo, but he fit in. He did his work, he slept, he seemed to enjoy meetings. All that. Cuckoo, in that case, was nice. Beth wasn’t nice.
Gimel was speaking again.
“I wasn’t kidding what I said about writers. There were people, thousands and thousands of years ago, in the early days of computers and even before, who wrote on their own, not connected to any Hard Drive or Fluid Drive or anything like that.”
Gimel talked about them as if the knowledge would alter the world, or the hangar at least, or some dysfunctional corner of Fluid Drive (if it had one). Beth didn’t believe a word of it, and just signaled him laughs with his free fingers not messaging Fluid Drive.
“You are totally lacking in curiosity and imagination,” said Gimel. “These people wrote stories, essays, all sorts of original data, just because something in them made them do it.”
For a moment Beth forgot Gimel. He inhaled, then exhaled, then fell silent, like a snowflake touching warm flesh, melting. His brain, mercifully, shut down. He joined, then, all the others who were hooked up to the Fluid Drive as their mental union melted and formed a droplet bigger than all. It was a trick of his. Beth loved those moments.
“I want something bigger than all this. Bigger than your autonomy and writing.” He finger signaled to Gimel as he detected the static click of the mic in his Coms line butting in. “We are not one and single, not one of us, separate and autonomous. We are alive to do this work, this thinking, imagining, creating for the betterment of the human-kind. We are building, constantly building, inch by psychic inch. But what is it all? It’s simply the epitome of the physical sciences, the mind/science world celebrating itself. It can neither accommodate nor understand anything else – and it ultimately has no purpose.”
Gimel said. “Don’t be foolish. It was the ennui and cynicism of the past that almost destroyed things. But look at us, all energy…”
“Yes, and maybe all these generations of Fluid Drives have been right. Maybe we will know when that shift of self into oneness comes. They say it can. That it has happened before with miraculous results.”
“Talk is cheap. And once again, it’s all mind-oriented.”
Beth stopped for a moment to contemplate a logistical issue that had been sent their way regarding the transformation of antimatter into variable light speed energy that could be stored and utilized for individual use, altering orbits with ease. He played it out in his mind, part imagination, part theoretical physics, and tossed out some useful notions. Everything fast and loose; that was the key here. Beth liked to think that they were the trouble-shooters, the inventors who mentally dared. It wouldn’t work any other way. Get bogged down and cowardly with their minds and they’d soon be out of work and missing what they did best.