Enough to Turn an Ocean Red
By J.A. Becker
THE VAST CRACK IN THE STATION window screeches like a boiling kettle, drowning out the blare of the oxygen alarm.
I take another puff of a stale Russian cigarette, cough horribly, and watch the smoke vent through the fissure into space.
Beyond, the wormhole flares again in its celestial-firework brilliance as another ship passes through.
There’s so little oxygen now I can barely smell the meaty stench of the five bodies behind me. Their blood laps at my bare feet. My hands are sticky with it.
What lies beneath, must stay beneath. What lies beneath, must stay beneath.
I keep telling myself as I watch the ships disappear into the wormhole; trying to convince myself that this is the only way.
It all started the second I met Jane, Dr. Targen’s wife, at the station’s airlock. She was squeezed into a black skinsuit that was two sizes too small, and not in the good way. I was kind of shocked, really. Big red lipstick, big blonde hair, big fake bazooms, and this was supposed to be a plum assignment with the finest minds in neuropsychology; yet here was this thing meeting me at the gates.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was already infected.
I caught a thought from her: bedroom baby?
I was open-mouthed, wide-eyed, and looking her up and down, which she mistook for attraction. She was desperate for affection and was thinking about taking me for a roll in the hay.
But at the time, I didn’t realize that was her thought. It came from my head, just popped out, so why would I think otherwise?
I dismissed it as one of those childish sexual urges that ruminate through our heads more often than not, and followed her down the hallway, watching the great sway of her buttocks from side to side, thinking of how much of a fool I was to come out here to the edge of known space. This was unsanctioned, unpaid, and could ruin my career. What the hell was I doing?
She opened a thick metal door and the four of them were already seated in a semi-circle facing us, waiting for me.
They’d been cooped up so long out here their social graces had atrophied. No introductions. No, how do you do, Dr. Michael Davis? How was your six-month flight out here?
“How do you define the mind, Mr. Davis?” Dr. Targen asked.
His lab coat had been white at some point, but was now yellowed and grossly frayed like an old housecoat. His beard was unkempt and eyes were shot through with bloody veins.
He was tired. They were all damn tired. The weight of this thing, this discovery, had eaten them from the inside out.
“I assume you’ve already read my book?” I asked. “I mean that’s why you brought me out here, isn’t it?”
“Please,” he said. Gesturing to the whiteboard on the wall behind me. “Explain.”
So I did. I was way the hell out there already, so why not?
“The mind is an organic computer,” I began. “The eyes and ears are sensory input readers and the corpus callosum is an internal data bus carrying electrical and chemical impulses back and forth through the occipital, frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes. Memories are electrochemical recordings of external stimulus that are stored in pockets of neurons that are distributed throughout the brain for quick access.”
And I drew this for them, the machine of the mind with its processors, memory caches, system buses, I/O, and so on.
They were unimpressed.
“Maybe this was a mistake,” a girl with short purple hair whispered rather loudly to Dr. Targen.
“Mistake?” I nearly shouted and turned to my audience, rage boiled behind my eyes.
What madness was this? I thought. I was promised the cutting edge of science, the finest minds in the universe, the opportunity of a lifetime. But here I was in a rusty dump of a station with these dirty people and they were thinking I was a mistake! What irony! What preposterous irony.
“What about murder?” Dr. Targen asked abruptly.
“Murder?” I replied.
“How do you explain the desire to murder?”
“Murder is just another computation to achieve a desirable end, like I want your watch and therefore ...”
“No!” Dr. Targen said and I fell silent. The man had a commanding voice. “The want to kill. The desire to kill. How does that fit into your scheme?”
“I’m not following,” I say and look to their dusky faces for help. There was none there.
“We called you up here for your paper on the utopian model of the mind, not that silly book of yours. In that paper, you said we are beings who are all desiring the last end, whose end you said is happiness.”
I was all kinds of confused.
“In the paper,” he explained, his red eyes narrowing. “You postulated that the functions of the brain are designed to forward the sole goal of the self which, you said, is to be happy.”
Suddenly I remember a paper written to deadline after a night of heavy drinking. I was in a merry mood then and all that good cheer had leaked out onto the page. But it was utter dreck. I made it all up. How in the hell did they get a hold of it?
“Well, you’re really distilling everything down there,” I said, stalling for time, trying to remember more of the paper. “The thesis wasn’t so clear cut as that.”
“But in essence, this is what you’re saying?” He asked. “This is what you believe?”
I was surprised to see such hope in their faces now. Their eyes gleamed like jewels in sunken sockets.
I didn’t know it at the time, but they were banking on me to save their very souls.
So I regurgitated the bits of the paper I could remember. I told them about the inherent goodness of the mind, how our consciousness and thoughts are designed to forward our one true goal, which is happiness for ourselves and, by proxy, happiness for others.
It was all steaming drunk dreck, but they lapped it up like thirsty desert Bedouins.
I can’t recall the questions they asked next. I can only remember the fervency. They wanted proof! How could I be so sure of this? How does this work given what we know now about such and such? And on and on they shot their questions at me.
I didn’t have a single answer. I mean the whole thing was goddamn nonsense. I begged time to recover from my journey, to let me prepare for this discussion and properly address their questions.
Begrudgingly, they let me retire.
When I left, my first thought was to make a beeline to my ship and get the hell out of there. But it was already too late for me.
I was as doomed as they were.
That night Mrs. Targen—Jane she insisted on being called—swept me into the storm of her unconsciousness and we made mad, desperate love.
It was quite the trick she played on me, really.
She used it, actually manipulated it to forward her own ends, which just showed she was a damn sight more clever than the lot of them put together.
It started as I lay in bed, thinking of how I should make a break for it. Then a thought abruptly came into my head. It wasn’t my thought, but I didn’t know that. It sprung from my own mind, so my body reacted to it and I got hot and flushed and the hairs on my neck rose. The thought was of lust and sex. Then more thoughts came exploding into my head like a volcano. I got so spun up my whole body was quivering for pleasure, dying to be touched and dying to touch another.
And then she was at the door. Bright red lips, no clothes, and a wicked smile. I took her in my arms and got what I thought I wanted, which is what she wanted, which is what we all want deep down inside.
I’m drawn from the window by a voice in my mind begging me to let it live.
Surprised, my cigarette slips from my fingers and hisses out in the pool of blood at my feet.
Which one of them is it? They’re all so still. Just bare lumps of flesh.
Then I see, it’s Jane. Her big chest slowly rises and falls. Of course it’s her. The one who wanted this the most.
Please, she says in my mind. I want to live. LET ME LIVE!
It’s such a sharp, compelling thought that I nearly spring into action to save her. Then I steel myself and turn to watch the ships streaming through the wormhole.
What lies beneath, must stay beneath. I think over and over again, drowning Jane’s thoughts out of my head.
After we screwed, she told me everything and I took a walk outside.
I had gotten into the habit on the long way out here. Just me amongst the stars, strolling on the outside of my ship in a space suit, centering my universe.
Of course I was furious, spitting mad. I’d been viciously tricked out here and my ship was fused to the station and they wouldn’t release it. Then this insanity about the nanites. What to make of that? What the hell was that mad slut talking about? Was she really a nanite engineer? With bazooms as big and as fake as that, how could she be?
I wouldn’t believe it. Refused to.
The mind was an organic computer, organized and beautiful—that was what I believed. That’s what it was!
Suddenly, I was flushed with anger at Jane for sleeping around on me. Every second I turn my back she’s in bed with somebody else, I was thinking. My brother, my colleagues, even out here at the edge of the universe she beds some pseudo-intellectual prick from Ridus who she had known for all of two seconds. Slut!
She does this on purpose to embarrass me, I was thinking. To humiliate me. She hates me deep down inside, despite what she says. She wants to me to fail. Nothing would make her happier. I could kill her. Squeeze her throat tight till her eyes bulged out as big as her tits.
There I was, standing on the outside of the station by myself and actually mimicking strangling her. I could feel my fingers about her her throat. I could feel her hot, wet breath gasping for air. She whispered in my head: Gerald! No! Please! Please!
Then I realized what was happening and my universe went inside out like I’d gone through a wormhole.
It was true.
It was all true.
Gerald, Dr. Targen, was killing her. He was strangling her somewhere in the bowels of the station beneath me this very second. I could hear his thoughts in my head. I could feel them. They became my thoughts. I became his rage.
That’s what the nanites do, Jane had said. They transmit our deepest, darkest thoughts to one another, fire them in our own synapses like they originated in our own heads and our brains couldn’t tell the difference. Dr. Targen’s thoughts became my thoughts. Jane’s mad lust became my mad lust.
And the whole thing couldn’t be stopped.
My stupid paper on the utopian model of the mind was their last hope. They had thought I had found a goodness in the mind that could push back this darkness.
And in a way that none of us expected, they were right.
By the time I got back in, the others were pummeling Dr. Targen’s door with a fireaxe and not making much progress.
The neuropsychologists were pantywaists so I took the axe from one of their limp wrists and chopped into the steel hinge.
Again and again, the sparks flew until the rusted hinge gave way.
Dr. Targen was on his bed in his yellowed coat, curled up like a little boy, whimpering and shaking.
Jane was flat out on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.
Her eyes were bulged like a goldfish’s and bile was dribbling down her chin. Her vast chest was motionless. Somehow, despite all this horror, she looked at peace. A smile was on her red lips.
I didn’t understand the thing like I do now and I didn’t understand her either. Never would it have occurred to me that she’d actually wanted this. Just like when she’d bedded me, she’d done the same to her husband and spun him up into getting what she wanted, what is what he wanted, what is what we all want deep down inside.
But I was oblivious to this and brought her back from the brink with the medbay’s stenvolt. Seven thousand jolts to the chest are enough to kick start a dead elephant’s heart.
When she came to, she was as mad as hell.
They were deep in our minds, ensconced in the folds of our cerebellum, and couldn’t be gouged out or shut off.
Jane angrily whispered this to me from her hospital bed. Every word pained her. Fat splotches of makeup splashed from her eyes as she spoke. Why did I bring her back? She hissed. What kind of fool was I?
I held her hand as she spoke. I’m not sure why I did that. She’d brought this down on me, doomed me really, but still I patted her hand.
She whispered how she had designed the nanites to spread like a pestilence, drifting through the air and then burrowing in through our skin to set up a wireless net in our brains. They transmitted our brain’s signals to any nanite within range, which then initiated the same chemical impulses in the other host’s brain.
There’s enough unsaid things between us to turn an ocean red, she whispered. What lies beneath, must stay beneath.
I couldn’t take anymore. I left and took a walk outside.
There was another fight swirling down in the rusted bowels of the station beneath me. I didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to be a part of it, so I stared at the wormhole like I stare at it now, letting the thing fill my mind and wash everything out.
Of course, that lasted for all of two seconds and I was sucked into the maelstrom of horror churning beneath me.
By the time I got back in, someone had split the purple-haired girl’s head open with the fireaxe.
They were grouped around her body, shoulders drooping, grief upon their lips.
Regret filled me, oozed from every pour. I felt like throwing myself out of the nearest airlock for what I had done; though, I’d done nothing.
Then one of us was angry at her murder. She was innocent. She was just shouting, doing nothing really, and Dale brought that axe down on her. She didn’t deserve that. Nobody deserves something like that.
Then quite suddenly I hated and feared Dale. I wanted to kill him before he could kill me. He was somewhere on the station and we wanted to find him and stop him.
We became like animals then, a fearful pack of us, marauding the rusty corridors, searching for Dale, spinning each other up and down with dark imaginings.
We found him cowering in his closet. I dragged him out and we tore him to shreds.
Then we were all regret and sadness at the horror we had wrought. Then anger again. And on and on ...
If one knew another’s thoughts, knew exactly how the other felt, then we could live in a universe without lies: a utopia.
It’s hard to believe such a beautiful idea could spring from Dr. Targen’s ugly bald pate.
But there just wasn’t enough time to fix this before somebody showed up at the station unexpectantly and this thing spread. If it did, it could pull the universe under.
I was outside, watching the wormhole opening and closing as I considered this. And then suddenly it was clear to me what to do. I would use it to get what I wanted, which is what they wanted, which is what we all want deep down inside.
I got back inside and it had already started. They were killing each other. But like I said before, they were all pantywaists.
Dr. Targen came at me, screaming about how I was banging his wife. I brought my fist sharp and hard into his face. That sat him down hard on his bum, blood gushed from his nose. Then Jane was at me, kicking and screaming how I had hurt him. I threw her off my back and she cracked her head pretty hard on the rusted bulkhead.
I ducked and the axe blade passed over my head and thunked into Dr. Targen’s chest. Shock filled his eyes and he fell backwards to the ground.
I pulled the axe from his chest and the rest was me swinging it like I was scything wheat.
When it was done, I went to work on the window.
The smokes were Jane’s of course and I was grateful for them. They were the punctuation I needed.
Once the room bleeds out and I fall, the remaining nanites in our bodies will drop off one by one and all those things beneath, will stay beneath. This is what I wanted, which is what they wanted, which is what we all want.
I light another smoke. I can’t hear the fissure whistling anymore.
J.A. Becker is a writer from Vancouver, Canada. He graduated from Carleton University with a degree in English Honors and a concentration in Creative Writing. His work has appeared in “The Colored Lens” and “Beyond Imagination” magazines.