Update on the radio show/podcast; as it is right now, I have the YouTube channel, website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and iTunes podcast all set up for it. (Click the links to view them, and hey, why not subscribe? I’ve got a lot of cool stuff planned out for it.) A second episode – slightly different than the first, for reasons you’ll see – will hopefully be coming out sometime next week/weekend.
A week later, Stephen followed much the same steps as before; driving through the town with the hood down, perfectly warm air blowing in his face, until he reached the building. He parked his car across the road and strolled across to the building. Once inside, he looked around for people he knew. He was planning on asking Peter over to have dinner at his house afterward. He spotted the small group that he and Peter usually were a part of, but Peter was nowhere to be seen there.
He walked up to the others and waited for a lull in conversation. Once one was reached, he broke in.
“Hi, everyone, do you know where Peter is?”
The people around him looked at him with perplexion. “Who?” one of them asked.
“Peter. The guy who’s always here with us? About my height, brown hair, glasses, you know?”
Several of them shrugged. “Not sure who you’re talking about, Stephen,” another said.
“You must! I mean, last week he was talking about a book on astronomy he had been reading.”
A pause, then the man who had just spoken responded. “You must be thinking of someone we don’t know.”
Stephen wore a look of confusion as he left the group and took a seat. The service wouldn’t start for ten or so minutes more, but he suddenly didn’t feel in a mood to talk with people. He didn’t get it; he knew Peter had been there last week.
The service proceeded as usual and he drifted through it in a daze, running through the steps without putting his mind to it or even necessarily being aware that he was doing them.
He drove home afterward, not feeling the perfect-temperature breeze in his face. He wasn’t even necessarily thinking about Peter – and likewise any knowledge of him – disappearing. It was just some semi-conscious state in which he wasn’t aware, was locked fully in his own mind. Something about this feeling reminded him of… something. A sort of strange, negative nostalgia. It was similar to what he remembered feeling after waking up sometimes.
The rest of the evening continued in the daze for Stephen, until he went to bed. Once in bed he suddenly felt sober and awake. His mind was racing, though on nothing in particular. It seemed to be jumping from subject to subject and making connections, but he couldn’t see what they led up to.
A while later, he finally fell asleep.
It was one of those dreams again. Nothing specific, but it imparted a strong feeling to him, a strong feeling that he couldn’t describe. Peter was in it, he thought, or someone like Peter. It wasn’t even so much as a person as it was a feeling that he was near. But at the end of the dream, he was no longer there, like he was ripped out of the dream.
All of this was imparted to Stephen in a feeling rather than a memory. It was only a small part of the feeling, the rest was a contradictory mess of defeat and success, of realization and confusion, desperation and submission.
After he awoke, after a cup of tea and a scone, after taking a stroll through his garden, the dream and the resulting feeling had faded to be nothing but a little inconsistency in his otherwise balmy day. Even Peter’s nonexistence at the congregation the previous night had been reduced to just an odd occurrence, nothing to take note of.
I remember the day despite it not having any major significance at the time, for some reason. I didn’t participate in it, of course, that was for my employees. But I read the notice, as I always do, and knew what would happen.
A small group of my employees, specifically trained for the process, would walk to the elevators, and ride one down to the storage level. One of them, the leader, would check a clipboard for a string of numbers and letters, and tell it to the others. They’d make their way as a group to where those digits signified, double check to make sure they got it right, then press a button next to the machine.
There would be a hiss, and a pop, and a section would slowly rise out of the main machine. The top of the rising part would split open, revealing an unconscious human within, a man. This man’s name, though unknown to the people there, would be Peter.
The group would triple-check the digits, one last time, then push another button on the machine, and the body would become cold. The body would be lifted out of the machine, then another button would be pushed to return the machine to its previous state.
Someone would come towards the group, pushing a cart, and the corpse would be placed on the cart. The cart would be pushed to the elevators, which would then be taken up to surface level. The cart would be pushed along the small path intended for it. The group would be pushing the cart fast, hoping to get back inside, away from the cold and snow, sooner. Once at the end of the path, they would be at the brink of a deep gully. The person pushing the cart would hesitate, but only for a moment, then tilt up the cart until the corpse slid off and began its descent into the pit.
It would be falling for a surprising amount of time before it landed on and subsequently joined the pile of frozen bodies at the bottom. The group of workers would stand at the top for a moment, maybe, seeing the ice-covered corpses. But they cold would remind them where they were, and they would return to the inside of the building.
And Peter would no longer be in our system, simple as that. After that, no one in the virtual world would have any memory of him, or that’s how it should have been. Once I saw the notice, I got out from behind my desk and walked over to where my window looked out over the pit. Just one small dent in the landscape of pure white, and it looked like a fresh snowstorm was starting up. It was good to leave layers of obscurity between the bodies, I thought. The workers might not realize just how many were down there, then. I didn’t care, of course, but some of them might have troubles continuing their work if they knew.
Caroline and the group had been walking for two days, now. They had travelled far beyond anywhere she had gone before at this point, and seemed to be getting closer and closer to a city. They were somewhere in the outskirts, but had gradually been passing more and more houses, more and more roads – less of which were dirt roads, too.
The nausea had mostly faded after that first day. It still remained somewhere in the back of her mind, a small nagging discomfort, but nothing she couldn’t deal with. She was glad for it, too; it had been a lot of walking, and hard walking. She wondered how other women, ones who didn’t work in the terrible conditions of the information farms, dealt with it.
While they had been traveling, she mostly kept to herself. She talked with Gerome occasionally, but most of the time walked a slight distance from the others, lost in her own mind. It was understandable, of course. She was leaving the place she had spent most of her life in – and the majority of her memories, by far, came from it – and leaving just felt so utterly foreign. It was like she was leaving behind her own skin.
She didn’t regret it, though. It was a horrible place, and she was glad to be done with it – but it was almost all she knew, and being outside of it was an unknown feeling to her.
The lack of restoration people had brought to the land they passed was surprising to her. She knew things were bad and the bombings had caused the ground to be mostly infertile, but it seemed like no work had been put into it.
She had been told that the city they were going towards was called Newhaven 7, and was the base of this sector of the Anti-Introspect group. Caroline hadn’t known they had an official name before then; most times she had heard them referenced to as the “raiders”, though knowing their almost militaristic organization, that name seemed to lose a bit of credibility.
Just as the sun was setting, they crossed the ridge of a hill and Caroline saw the skyline of Newhaven 7 laid flat against the purple-red horizon. She hadn’t seen such tall buildings in her life. Nothing except some dim memory she had, and she was unsure if that was from her early childhood or merely from dreams. They continued walking towards the city, but she had misjudged the distance based on the size of the buildings, and they only got a bit further before they stopped moving and set up camp for the night.
Some time before they stopped, though, the smell hit her. A deep, heavy smell, like the underside of a dirty truck. She asked Gerome about it, and he told her that the city and a surrounding radius of several miles smelled like that continually.
“It’s horrible, yeah,” he said. “What’s worse, though; you never get used to it.”