Jason Matthews


The Lake Lucerne Climate Justice Action Task Force met for a third and final summit at the base of Montségur, before dissolving itself and venturing into the mile deep tokamak that replaced the old chateau. Some slogans were slung at the press gallery as a concession to the form. "The time for slogans has ended," Al Gore intoned. "Words must step aside when the future comes knocking." "The future is just brilliant," Bono agreed. The cameras, squeezed between a barbed wire fence and a toy forest buffering the outer edge of a slag heap, could only blink and nod mutely as their hosts filed down into the fathomless depths. This was to be the last time any of these impassioned global citizens were ever seen again.

"I have an inconvenient confession." They were separated from the swag baskets and charcuterie by almost five hundred metres of aluminium and concrete now, but not one stomach protested. A few fit bits beeped, lost in the general silence like tracer rounds in space. "Let the man continue!" interrupted the billionaire developer of last year's top meta-curation app. Eighty-five percent of the app's user base consisted of bots on interracial dating websites. No one in the room had ever used it, and only a few of the worst groomed attendees even recognized the name. While Peter Thiel made a mental note to pull the plug on this human button prompt's project, Al Gore cleared his throat, scanned the room, and resumed.

 "We're straddling the razor's edge of the precipice of a dilemma, friends. The CATHAR experimental fusion reactor isn't going to produce near enough energy to  stabilize the FWB economies, much less ameliorate the global south. It could make the difference between drowning today and starving tomorrow for three billion poor bastards in the tropics. Sure, we could ship compressed steam cells to Bangladesh to process jellyfish into protein, save some huddled masses for a little while. On the other hand, the momentary respite provided by a dip in operating costs could recapitalize the stock of the firms represented in this room, and help us bide our time until something better emerges. The public's going to pass stones, and your shareholders are going to sharpen knives either way. Just imagine all the soup kitchens and AIDS clinics that could have been opened with the resources we spent on hollowing out this mountain.  The math is very very involved, and I must impress upon you how hard this decision will be. Don't worry, I've got some Venn diagrams."

After five dozen slides and two hours of moral rhythmic gymnastics, passed in Model UN decorum, the plutocrats settled upon a new course. CATHAR would be restructured as a joint stock company, the French Energy Ministry, CERN, and the IAEA bought out. All ancillary operations would be acquired by the new company, with or without the relevant paperwork.  Tesla's prototype urban pacification Zords would be pressed into service in 48 hours, making appropriations where necessary, fending off overzealous regulators, shepherding the press where necessary, and guarding against all externalities with negative bearing on market liquidity. No one was quite sure what that last directive meant. What was crystal clear was the impertinence of the merely legal in a time of such crisis, and the mounting need to overcome the encoded behavioral tics of the human animal. They had to think in the correct language, in terms of the correct timescale, the correct distance from the malarial stew and alkaline crust everyone else called home. Quaking nerves had to be disciplined, threaded through the eye of their terrifying post-human responsibility.

Jeff Bezos was spooked by more mundane matters: "I'm leveraged to the balls, between lighting this fireball, hosting THE INTERNET, and running a whole multiverse of simulations to make better banner ads. If I don't get to leave this place as Space Jesus, I'm not fucking leaving. There's nothing to return to. Might as well stick around until the reaction exhausts itself in ten thousand years." It was agreed that this necessitated really out of the box thinking. "If only we could free ourselves from these flabby envelopes and become one with the immortal oobleck!" 

The conversation progressed from ways to means, leading naturally to a discussion of quantum plasma informatics. A certain Jiri Hrabal from Charles University had discovered a method of conducting signal bearing neutrinos through super heated plasma, and the magnitude of forces led to chaotic outcomes with the grain and density of sentience. It was said that Jiri chatted for weeks with a Czech translation of the Bhagavad Gita he had subjected to Hrabal projection. In whispered tones, others claimed that the two had fallen in love. Hindu nationalists loudly protested the imputation that scripture could have homosexual tendencies, which only lent credence to the rumors. On June 10th, a BJP gunman cut him down while making gelato in the superconductor lab. Research assistants kept Hrabalized neutrinos bouncing in the bowels of a Planck Institute stellarator until the grant money was exhausted. It was a tribute to the man's genius that he got to die twice, first in ice, and then in fire. 

"So, as it turns out, we're inside the largest brain in on the planet," Justin Trudeau concluded. There was a stunned silence. "I thought Michio Kaku was telling us this story," Malala Yousafzai said. "Oh no, sweetie, he never even completed hazing." "Are you sure? I thought I found some of his hair in the foie gras pate earlier." The disquiet was thick, savoury and spreadable. George Lucas, who had enjoyed his jowls' share of the torture meat, gagged at the thought of those long silver strands. 

"We were born on a rock, but we built a star, and now we get to live in it," Chelsea Clinton offered in summation, giving the group permission to move on. As the former Task Force's only heredity fellow, Chelsea's summations carried unusual weight. As an Oxbridge such and such, she was better qualified than most to hold forth on the true meaning of the threshold they were poised to cross: elements begat their opposites, the dream of the alchemists, and mind was at last repatriated. Heraclitus crackled and roared behind the ruined backdrop of the Socratic universe. It was plain to anyone that the conflagration had to spread before the work of rebuilding could even be considered. And so on.

"Centuries, not years, eons not news cycles. To delay gratification is to be an adult," said a public educator no one liked, "and today might just be the bar mitzvah of mankind." No one paid the slightest attention, so he repeated himself until a pop singer smiled at him.

Bill Nye and Elon Musk locked eyes. "Hey, we're going to need some cots and hammocks. Tell David Brooks to make finger sandwiches on your way up." The pop star smiled at the CEO as her erstwhile paramour disappeared into a service elevator. 

Assembling the proper hardware took less time than might have been expected. Lawyers, engineers, undocumented Cape Verdean day labourers, Michelin star chefs, doctors, and a team of game designers were airlifted to CATHAR in great teeming airborne rafts. The lawyers busied themselves immediately by getting the rest of the impromptu staff to sign nondisclosure agreements. The reactor's floor plan consisted of concentric rings, each as secure as a cell block in Attica, culminating in its giant toroidal heart. The penultimate ring was an observation chamber affording a view both of the core and the outer rings. it was thought prudent to remain here, rather than deal directly with new personnel, whose trustworthiness had not been in all cases tested, a security measure which added tremendously to the workload of Bill Nye, Banksy, and other Science and Art liaisons. 

The apparatus came together so swiftly it seemed like the final, secret goal of its various components. The group was outfitted with EEGs requisitioned from donor hospitals, linked to a Hrabal interface jointly built by NASA and CERN, nicknamed Dreameater. Its outputs were fed into the core. To complete the sensorium, Mark Zuckerberg ordered VR units to connect group members directly to the core, their normal sensory modalities suppressed by a cocktail of psychedelic and narcotic drugs. Fine tuning took more time than assembly: an excessive dose of psilocin reduced Peter Thiel to gibbering insanity, and the game developers spent weeks trying to come up with the correct data environment for the utterly foreign output feeds. It was agreed that normal metabolic functions were too inefficient to countenance, so these were modified with life support systems and yet more drugs. A refrigerated truck delivered organs, blood and stem cells to arrest the eventual ravages of age. Server farms in Oregon ran nonstop predictive models to anticipate problems and frame strategy. 3D printers could manufacture whatever wasn't immediately at hand.

If Busby Berkeley collaborated with Kenneth Anger on a musical adaptation of the Divine Comedy, it would have resembled the social life that formed inside the reactor core. The polymorphous jubilee of pure information proved to be too much for even very rich and open minded data types, and before long the frontier was domesticated with various structures: protocol, etiquette, noblesse oblige, culminating in a tiered hierarchy of rotating solar essences. If sound in this realm were anything more than an analogy, its choirs would have charmed the most syphilitic Renaissance pope into repentance. The dancing spirits were joined, after a time by secondary intelligences (JSTOR's archive was Hrabalized), attendants, emanations, crowns, thrones and dominions. To describe the supra-lunary realm in terms of prosaic thought or language, God's chief punishment on this fallen plane, would be to commit a truly unforgivable sacrilege. When the present account slips into or towards trespass, it is in the spirit of selfless evangelism to the world's clay -- unknowing but animated with latent solar nature -- what the Kabbalists call Olam HaTikun.

This flowering of spontaneous self organization served a practical end, however baroque the results. Lacking an insulating medium, the signal carried by the neutrino chains tended to migrate, and unless identity was to be abandoned as an outmoded concept, the signal (a person named Al Gore, or in any case an EEG feed rendered in tertiary code) had to rebuild itself recursively, weaving through the latticework of the great flock, crossing and blessing itself at the first sign of contamination. No system is fool proof, and the early years of the community were upended by heresies and gaffes: Slavoj Zizek argued that since the reactor constituted a single mind, all the constituent persons were merely complexes, and ought to be eliminated; Jimmy Wales' consort turned out to be his own Wikipedia page.

In some ways, life carried on as before: Warren Buffet traded stocks when he wasn't trading his very substance with Lady Gaga, the Clinton Foundation issued press releases to the outside world, no one liked Bill Nye. The equilibrium between the superficially normal and the new cosmic dispensation carried on smoothly and invisibly until the day it was irreversibly shattered. "Predictive models indicate that we've been in the core too long!" Zuckerberg announced without language. "Boot out or face permanent nerve damage and maybe death!"

Readjusting to bodily existence proved to be traumatic. Music was no longer music, fellowship and pleasure were pallid in comparison with what they had known before. Bono would not stop screaming, clutching his eyes and gagging on his feeding tube. In order to calm him, Richard Branson stroked the inside of his mouth, and switched their catheters in a show of camaraderie. This did not have the intended effect. "I vote we kill him," Oprah said. "This isn't a democracy, and that's not an option," said Al Gore, hierophant of the dance even here. "I command ye motes to combine with our fallen companion. Find stray sparks of yourselves in his weak flesh." It began slowly, with an errant tongue, here, an imperious breast there, but soon enough, Bono's sobs subsided, and most of the community found themselves knotted together like rat kings. They were thrilled on by the familiar communion, but thrilled harder by its frustration, the constant jarring against an impermeable barrier. Male and female, young and old, all the basic oppositions of the incomplete were not easily relearned. When satiety came, it was both too sharp and blunt, nothing like the recombination enjoyed in the core, information loss and not information exchange. Limbs and orifices parted, and in the viscous puddle that remained, they found Bono's crushed corpse.

"We need new bodies, these ones are too frail," Michio Kaku said, wiping a gob of semen through his silver locks. Zuckerberg thought it was feasible, and sent Bill Nye retrieve a window so he could do the relevant calculations. "It turns out we have enough biological material, stem cells and the like, to 3D print ourselves better bodies," he said, triple checking the numbers, "but some questions remain, like how is Michio Kaku here?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Jeff Bezos tweaked Chelsea Clinton's right nipple, and stroked his chin. "We're inside a simulation, and a paradox was inserted during troubleshooting. And not just any simulation--it's probably one of mine. Laszlo loves doing that, and Earth One Laszlo must too." Zuckerberg was nonplussed, insisting that it could just as easily be one of his. Elon Musk made the same objection, on the grounds that his dick felt too much like itself. "Here at Tesla, we don't just simulate reality, we enhance it."

"Who else is running sims?" Malala asked. A couple dozen hands went up. "Why does Starbucks have an AI program? Never mind."

The implications were as vast as they were tedious. No one noticed that the hierophant had left halfway through the discussion of the relative merits of the Matrix sequels, or noted the rumble and shriek of machinery coming from the printing lab. It was only after every method of experimentally testing the simulation hypothesis was rejected as either impractical or stupid, that anyone questioned the faint metallic tang in the air. The sound of machinery was replaced by something else, a rasping, wet and muffled, like an octopus clad in wool. Something heavy was being dragged through the adjacent corridor, and it was coming fast. The doors were ripped from their hinges before the group could mount a defense, and the room was filled instantly with the reek of seminal fluids. "Behold!" Al Gore roared out of his 27 orifices, "pay obeisance to me, your hierophant, clad in his true form! Each of you has a place inside of me, surrender not to the temptation of fatalism or doubt! There are no accidents in this flesh maze! There are no accidents!" A pseudopod wrapped around Malala, and thrust her into an engorged sphincter head first. Al Gore wept with pleasure out of tear ducts surrounding a dolphin sized phallus. Enfeebled by years of suspended animation, no one could run or put up much of a fight. One after another they found their appointed place inside the gurgling slime filled ductwork. Elon Musk tried to bargain with it by straddling its pendulous penis, stroking it until another one emerged, and then another. The ejaculation fired with water cannon force, drenching a few unfortunate spectators and blinding Musk. Soon, the entire group had been installed, moaning as vili-like appendages stimulated their small pathetic erogenous zones. "Now, to attend to the final mystery," Al Gore told his flock, and ripped through the graphite barrier of the reactor core.

A single silver hair was drawn, measured, and cut.


Jason Matthews is a Canadian writer trapped in a higher ed Meshes in the Afternoon-style infinite loop.