“So tell me,” Beth finger-signaled his rhetorical question, speaking of the problem he had just been posed; “Why would Fluid want to know about variable light speed energy for the individual if we are all simply made to hang here like comatose sucker fish all our lives? Somebody’s going to use that energy, and it isn’t us. We’re just Lung People. We can’t do anything than what we were designed for.”
At least, Beth thought so, until that night in a niche of darkness, when he disconnected from the Coms, (stealing a forbidden two minutes or so) and his brain came up with the idea of motion. Not the regular swaying here under the fans, but real, directed motion, whether with a group or just as an individual lung. “Notion of Motion” came to him. He kept repeating it to himself in a mimetic byte, hoping the Fluid Drive would not see it, or see through it. It was a memory trigger with some hope of being hidden for a while.
Beth introduced Notion of Motion to a complacent Gimel. It was big and amorphous. Beth struggled.
“If we communicate, if we commune, then we generate power far beyond what we do now. For example,” Beth felt his arm quivering at the Coms socket, urged to rip it free, “Who’s to say we can’t commune and all move in one direction at once. You know what that would mean?”
Why did Gimel’s mind always seem to default to boredom?
“It would mean something new – physical presence. It would bring us somewhere new – with a commune of minds engaging on this newness. Us. Not…” He did not dare name Fluid Drive, in word or signal.
“There would be real purpose, not simply hanging here, fuel cells for ideas that mean nothing to us. Our minds, aren’t they ours… ?”
Gimel’s face shadowed with anger. “Shut up Beth!!” he hissed. “They already know how much time you and I have partnered our minds right now. STOP!”
Gimel turned his back to Beth and made a show of adjusting his Coms socket. Then he spoke with reasoned calm.
“This is your job, Beth. Mine too. There’s nothing glorious in it for us, but we get to eat and sleep, and spend our lives thinking. In my book, that can’t be beaten. I’m not playing any silly games. And no one else will either. You think we’re beginners here? There are reasons why…”
“Okay then. We do something smaller. But unique, something It hasn’t asked of us. If we could truly coordinate our minds and imaginations together, evolve one mass psyche that does not belong to It, Maybe we could move things a little, urge new group thought. Not just answering. Acting. Moving life.”
He almost felt the magical urge of anticipation he had once felt when they first anchored him to the Fluid Drive when he was a precocious infant. But he only knew it now by its absence. Fluid Drive was that something bigger than himself, that which gave him ultimate meaning, for which he was automatically grateful. That was not gratitude. It was cowardice.
Like Gimel’s response, muttered through closed teeth. “What’s life Beth?”
Sometimes he could feel something inside him butting against distraction, communication, work and forced play; testing its strength against all that made up their synthetic life. He felt it, and it spoke a terrifying language, and some nuzzling pleasuring pain he had no name or face for.
Then he tried to feel outward, to talk, to connect, to know somehow what others there were feeling– if there could be communication on this one little thing. Huge thing.
They didn’t want to know, and they didn’t even hear. And Gimel had grown cowed and nervous. Altogether he was sad, through and through.
Then, in his next sleep, Beth felt Fluid Drive drinking his mindsoul. Their imaginary tongues wrapped together, an infinite kiss, until he was a vibration the fluid drive drank. It swallowed long, then stopped, relinquishing just a drop of mercurial memory.
He remembered himself, faintly at first. Then fear shot into his stomach. Fluid Drive knew.
Beth crept into the waking shift as if under fire. He anticipated his end. Fluid Drive’s fingers touched his mind and what was left of him cringed. He had felt virtual wars from the archives; he had become the turret, the gun, the bullet, the flesh slammed by the bullet shock. And he waited, day after day in dry mouthed terror for that final moment in which his soul would be hit and know its obliterating electric pain.
And then, after mornings, days and nights of fear, it was as if something swept him brutally empty. Brutally, icily and beautifully empty of clutter. He had won through. A sliver of himself, drained but determined, repeated simply, “Beth,” and he knew for certain that Beth could move.
“Gimel,” he signaled.
Gimel ignored him. Beth could feel his mind frantically fiddling avoidance.
He signaled him again. Nothing.
“GIMEL!” Beth yelled. Its echo bounced to every last space in the hangar. Fluid Drive be hanged. This had to be talked over, just a little, even if he was going ahead anyway, even if he was caught and condemned.
“I know at least half your eye is watching, Gimel, so this is it. I am going to leave here.”
“Going where?” Gimel signaled angrily, and Beth realized that this could mean the end of a friendship, such as it was. “Down the hall to the next office? Some kind of infantile protest about something?”
“No. I’m going out that door over there.” Beth pointed to the exit door. The door he had seen no one ever go through. There was something outside this hangar, maybe even outside their conglomerated cities. He suddenly knew this. That was his compulsion; his facial tic; his Gimel obsession.
“They’ll punish you for it. Probably take you off this project. They’ll make you a labourer or something.”
“No they won’t. They’ll be grateful.”
“Why the hell would they be grateful to you? For going out a door?”
“Because I will tell them what’s beyond.”
“They told us all that already.”
“When? Centuries ago, millennia. We’ve been told and have to shut up about it forever?We know nothing about it today. So I’m volunteering.”
“Idiot. How you gonna get there? You can’t fly, can barely walk.”
“But I can float, from Coms jack to Coms jack. There’s scores of empty ones between here and the door. And I’ll bet that door has an emergency bar. I can do it.”
“You’re nuts,” signaled Gimel and returned to his work.
Beth floated from empty socket to empty socket, inventing his path based on simplest opportunity. Even his strong arms ached each time he fumbled at a new Coms jack, but eagerness drove him. He pushed off, rested, pushed off again, until finally he arrived at the door. He listened to the hangar. Still only the fans going whomp whomp. No alarms. And way back there, Gimel didn’t so much as peek. Beth lock-detached his Coms socket and switched to breathing mode, then did it. He pushed on the panic bar. The door swung stiffly open, then slammed shut.
Beth was outside, alone, for the moment, stunned under caged wall lights. A brutal wind battered his naked body, stinging it with ice pellets that left wounds. All around him was arctic; white, ice crusted snow and black sky. Beth rolled into what cover he could find, a shallow snowdrift. But it did no good. He could feel the last of his warmth sucked from him by the frigid cold. He splayed in the snowdrift, trying to approximate a swimming stroke. His natural buouyancy would have been a boon in water. Now, his tubular body simply slid haphazard inches, pushed by the wind, and his legs and arms splayed and rowed with no purchase. With every second he felt more of his gut freeze; felt his meagre energy die away.
He grabbed with his fingers and dug his toes in behind. His lungs clawing in oxygen, Beth’s fingers and toes loosened him from the snow trap. He had only moved forward mere inches, but more of this and he might reach the hangar again. He dug and pushed until he had covered a few feet. If he had teeth they would be chattering down to shards.
Then a massive, bullish wind hit him sideways and he rolled across a series of snow dunes that crowned a deeper downhill slope. Blown down there, he would never get up again. He would die down there in the shadows.