Fulton floated in the limitless reaches of the cosmos with Reese at his side.
He didn’t feel like he was floating. He was still standing upright. An invisible floor remained beneath his feet. Reese hadn’t gone so far as to simulate spacial disorientation. A bit disappointing, really. If it were anyone else’s app Fulton would have put it down to laziness.
But this was not anyone else’s app.
Reese wanted him to feel like he was standing on his own two feet.
“Welcome to the universe,” Reese said. “Take a look around. Get comfortable with your place in it. You may have some trouble with the latter. It’s not easy locating yourself within the limitless expanse of the cosmos. Even the planet Earth, for that matter. Any guesses where you might find it?”
Zombie Reese held up both hands and turned round in a circle.
I surrender, Fulton thought.
“I have to admit I don’t have the slightest clue, either. I can tell you we’re several hundred billion miles from the Milky Way.” Reese pointed off into the darkness. “Home is a few hundred billion miles that-a-way.”
Then his voice darkened.
“You know I often think about my place in the universe. More specifically, the utter insignificance of it. The universe is so vast that our home galaxy does not even register as a point of light in the distance. Consider: every sensation you have ever experienced; all your relationships; your most sacred, personal thoughts and feelings…” Reese trailed off.
As his voice faded the star field transformed back into a room of sorts. Once again Fulton stood in the midst of four walls, a ceiling and a floor. The space was larger than the hotel room. Much larger. Cavernous. Different images played across the walls, ceiling and floor.
Upon closer inspection they were not just images, but video feeds.
And not any old video feeds either.
In one Robyn walked down the aisle in her wedding dress, her father on her arm. Another showed the narco chick, Lela, bleeding out on the floor in the hotel lobby with her foot twitching uncontrollably. Yet another displayed the downtown cityscape at night. Towering skyscrapers loomed up from the fortified central business district: Banco Nationale, International Machining Ltd., Agrocore, USBev (which for whatever reason had decided to continue operating its bottling plant in the capital, presumably for tax purposes). The USBev logo was actually an LED screen that played an animation on repeat: a line of bright red bottles that filled with bright red liquid then exploded one after the other, as if someone were using them for target practice. Fulton remembered that cityscape from the just the other night as he sat in his hotel’s rooftop bar, nursing a scotch.
These were his memories, from his POV, exactly as he remembered them. The app stripped them from his memory like files off a hard drive.
A torrid porno played on the floor. Fulton had the starring role. His co-star was neither Robyn nor some long-forgotten crush but his partner in crime, Emily. He registered this as porno because nothing about it was even vaguely reminiscent of lovemaking.
What he and Emily were doing was fucking. Pure animal fucking, replete with biting, scratching, slapping and choking. A casual observer might think the two of them were actually were trying to kill each other. In places they had broken skin. Blood trickled down Fulton’s back, along Emily’s left cheek.
“…Despite what you may have believe none of these things are any more significant than a single grain of sand on a beach…” Reese paused. He retrieved a cigarette from his pocket and lit it.
You son of a bitch, Fulton thought. You did it.
Reese continued. “For a million years we’ve lied to ourselves about the significance of our own thoughts and feelings. We have deluded ourselves into the belief that there is such a thing as an eternal soul, the way a victim of any trauma might disassociate himself from the event. Every day computers prove that it is possible for programs of incredible complexity to evolve out of simplest building blocks: combinations of ones and zeros. Here before your eyes is proof that consciousness, ‘the soul,’ can be manipulated as easily as any other media.”
All the walls switched over to Fulton and Emily fucking, as if to say yes, I did that to prove my point, Mitchell, now feast your eyes once more on this hi-def interdisciplinary masterpiece.
“There is no meaning in the things we see and feel,” Reese said. “No larger purpose. Complexity has evolved over time through the random, meandering interaction of basic structures. You may or may not be familiar with the principle of ergodicity: given an infinite time horizon a given event with a probability greater than zero becomes not only possible but certain. In that sense the development of ‘consciousness,’ ’emotion,’ – indeed the sum total of human civilization – is simply the product of the repeated interaction of countless random variables over an extended time horizon.”