Five years; also, fiction

Today marks the day I’ve been blogging for five years. Yay me. Has been fun; continues to be fun; am grateful to all of you for reading my blatherations. A readership is not necessary for me blathering, but it makes me try harder.

Here’s some sci-fi, inspired by SCP-1243.

*

GHOST

I contacted the aliens the same night I saw Senator Knight proposing the Sectioned Safety Act. Not because I thought Senator Knight could really outwit the aliens, but because I had been waiting for an excuse, and that was it.

I went to my computer room, sat down, leaned back, and searched for “The Delivery of Services”. There were millions of searches for the same every minute; mine was lost in the flow, and as I found a secure node and pulled it up, I knew from all the legends that in all probability nobody but the aliens and me would know what I would write in.

Many people didn’t write anything, of course. Most of those that wrote something just looked down to see the price estimate and, even if it was affordable, then gasped and turned away. That alone was enough for a screencap and a story; most people didn’t want the hassles of a wish coming true, not with how the nuts and even some nice people treat those that talk to the aliens.

Not that I should use the word “wish”, because that is one of those irrational — well, more irrational — things that makes the aliens mad. Wish, genie, spirit-of-the-lamp; not good forms of address, or even description. And given that the Internet wasn’t the aliens’ only way of looking down at us, their insistence on terminology was… very insistent. A French politician had called them genies; the whole of Western Europe had been cut off from their services for forty days, and the poor sap had resigned on day thirteen. Not because it was illegal to piss off the aliens; but because they were such a convenient mystery.

Did you hear about the American man who wrote in, “I wish I lived on a mountaintop”? The spot of land he lived on started rising, a meter a day, until three years later he lived on a mountaintop! With the slopes full of pissed-off neighbors, of course. I believe the litigation was quashed as an act of God. The shadow of an implication there was not well-received by the nuts.

Or how about the South African who wrote, “A lost work by Da Vinci”, and poof! one arrived by mail the next day, corresponding to a disappearance of a much less valuable Cezanne from her collection. As far as anyone’s been able to say, the painting is a genuine Da Vinci, Leda and the Swan, last seen in 1625; as far as anyone’s been able to say, the Cezanne has never been seen since.

The collector hasn’t said what the price was that she saw in that box; she’s just said it wasn’t anything as specific and easy as “a Cezanne”.

Then there was the Chinese man who wrote “I want to be the richest man in the world”, and had a nervous breakdown the next day. It was quite a newscase, because people were so curious to hear what the price he paid had been. (The prices vary wildly, without any pattern or much sense; few even get a price for something like this, and those that do usually find the price too steep, too… too quick to terminate the thing requested.) On the third day, he killed himself. The thing got back into news a week later, when a rumor rose that (according to a faceless, nameless nurse) on pressing the button and watching the form fade away, he had realized a slight ambiguity in his wish, and thus the body of the “richest man” was now solid gold, with diamonds for eyes.

The grave-robbing attempts and the riots lasted for a week before they officially cracked the grave open. Nothing there but a normal human corpse.

Then there were rumors that “the richest man” meant spiritual richness, a heavenly wisdom from beyond the stars; as far as I know, nobody broke in to see if the dead man’s lips still muttered celestial secrets. Say what you want about the modern celestial-secrets sort, they rarely go grave-robbing.

And how about Sarah? An orphan girl, eleven, types in her mother’s name, and a day later an address drops into her inbox: that of her mother, now stable and employed. A perfect happy story, with the price, “a kiss”, being their first greeting since no other was ever observed.

The sane response to this all would be to ask, what are the scientists doing? Are they not studying this — and the answer is, they are being studied. The aliens don’t talk about themselves, or where they came from; if one comes down to Beijing or New York, all slug-like and white and draped in black spacesuits like bandages and gauze, they come just to speak in such platitudes as to rival those of heads of state. And if a few people get together for the purpose of investigating the form and its prices and results, the prices quickly veer into absurd, and into worse.

As in, “A cup of civet coffee” for the price of “Your left thumb”.

One appeared on a windowsill with no visible means of delivery, twenty-four hours later. The other, disappeared the moment the button was pushed, as if cut by an invisible scalpel and then spirited away.

One other time, a group of bright Caltech physicists kept asking for “a cup of coffee” — I don’t know why scientists keep asking for that — and recorded nineteen different prices and the loss of three pets before they stopped.

The price eighteen was “money”; that there was no quantity was explained the next time the button-pusher tried to withdraw some, and found none…

Price nineteen was “the sun”. That has never come up since (if you pardon the pun), or before; I can’t help but shudder what might happen if it was offered to less conscientious people, instead of the sort that abort the experiment at that and then spend a year in therapy, muttering of twitching fingers.

But this is all distraction; tangents thrown up by a scared soul.

I went to that site the night Senator Knight pontificated on breaking the Internet into pieces that might prove more resistant to that ghostly website beamed from the alien spaceship on Earth’s orbit, and what I wrote was this, “I want my girlfriend to be alive again.”

I had considered “I want to be reunited with” — but I somehow felt the aliens’ amoral solution to that would be a penny and a cleansing bolt of thunder.

I didn’t believe in souls or afterlives, of course; but I had high hopes. She was just a week dead; she had been a star of self-exposure online, her thoughts and feelings recorded in millions of written words, thousands of hours of video and audio, in tens of thousands of pictures, including some from her modeling days. Surely that collection of echoes of her was as good as a soul. Surely there was enough of her, her open mind and honest self, for her to be brought back to me.

The price shown was… “a toothbrush”.

I admit I raged a bit. At heavens, mostly, that being a convenient direction to assume for the aliens’ location. I ask for the person I have loved like nobody else, and they demand a toothbrush? It is known they are not interested in equivalent exchange, or sane exchange even, but a toothbrush?

Then I clicked the button. What else could I have done? Requests such as this rarely even got quoted a price.

Then I waited.

Then when nothing happened I went to the bathroom, saw my toothbrush had disappeared, and waited some more.

She did not walk in the door. She did not materialize on my bed, grinning and nude.

She did not appear.

You might suppose I would next have bolted upright, ran to her grave, and started to dig — but cremation leaves no body in a grave; a strong gust of wind at a favorite place leaves not even dust. There was no place for her to be, except here with me.

Unless she was alive, but in some random place, confused and frightened… but no, if she was herself, she would not stay away from me.

Tink.

A window had popped up on the screen.

“Hi, girl” it said.

Her name was on it.

New text appeared. “I’m calling you.”

Then a phone popped up and started to ring. Mouth dry, I answered, and heard her voice. I spoke, and she answered.

She was as she had been; in minutes I was crying, and she sounded teary as well. I begged her to come so I could see her, and a video screen came up: she, in a red shirt and a black hairband, against a green background, smiling, waving, alive, with a faint scar on her cheek where she had been killed.

Come to me, I cried, eventually. Let me hold you.

Sorry, girl, she said. Cannot do.

She told me she’s a ghost in the machine now, a voice and an image online: alive, but not embodied.

I guess I should feel bitter. Cheated, even. Maybe grudgingly happy, muttering “at least this is something.” I should be afraid of Senator Knight, or some shadowy government agency that wants to put her in a box. But no, none of that: she is alive.

Most people think she’s a hoax, but a hoax of the too-good-to-be-true variety: that she’s really alive somewhere, blogging and vlogging and whatever from her hidden base. (Not her parents, of course, nor me.) People have tried tracking her calls, her transmissions, sure that there must be some node, some specific computer where they originate. Nobody has found anything: her voice breaks down into fragments of files, into single words, meaningless little breaths, and they all seem to go round and round the world forever until they become her voice.

I’ve been asked — because if she’s a minor celebrity, I’m her shadow — if I think her voice comes, ultimately, from the aliens’ starship, still in Earth orbit, still selling its incomprehensible services for nonsensical prices; if I think her existence is conditional to the aliens’ continued patience and presence.

I don’t think so. I think there is more space in the web and the tubes than are dreamt of in your dreams, people, inner spaces that the people of outer space know; more than enough space for one perfectly living human being.

And as I nervously call up that page again, I’m pretty sure there is space for at least one more on the fields of meme alive.

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