Written by Toren Chenault
Cover/Logo by Rachel Hoard
What’s the time? Ah fuck, who cares. I do know the day, though. Tuesday, right? No? Seriously. It’s Friday? Fuck. This recording exists in its original, unedited format so you can take it all in. Screw you, Tyson. That’s not funny. Okay, okay. How to explain this. How do I explain the end of the world?
It started just how most of us thought it would. Climate change rolled through us like nothing. Yesterday’s trash. Cities flooded, crops burned, animals froze. All at once. Like a shitty video game opening. Then the bombs started. Korea says it was China, China says America, America blames Israel of all people. Millions gone, just like that. Fuck, this is hard.
Politics never stopped either. Just got worse as people, and I don’t blame them, just got scared and more scared. So many people. Too many damn people…
Our liberation came from a woman named Dana
“Reggie, I need you to get the fuck up.”
It ended with her as well
She had been staring at the same rock formation for three hours. Every second that went by she swore they were moving. But it was a digital model, a replica. It was supposed to only move when she said so. And yet, it disobeyed her. Her eyes disobeyed. And the rocks moved. It was like watching paint mix, the way the different clusters of gray and brown danced. Everything disobeyed. Her eyes shifted from the dance on her screen to notes on her desk. Why didn’t she have the notes in front of her she needed? Why were these notes over three days old?
Home hadn’t been in her mind, so she pondered just how long she had been here, staring at dancing formations. Some semblance of reality was needed. She clicked off the model, scanning the news, hoping to see something. Good? Bad?
The President’s dog had puppies. A puppy for each kid. Black and brown, one was white. The white one seemed bigger than the rest, but just as rambunctious and cute, although----
Two actors married. One a staple in Hollywood’s superhero films. The other, a former model. Their relationship, they said, was made possible by their Lord and savior----
More reports of political unrest in----
She sighed. And the dance continued. She wasn’t sure what she had wanted from leaving her rock formations. Mundane, like the way the patterns looked in the rocks. A flurry of guilt washed over her as she switched to a live version. Showing the rocks and their (not mundane) patterns. The damage the water caused was always in her mind. The loss of life and the creation of some. Mostly loss. Birds were playing in puddles caused by the flood. She could see other animals nearby too, like spectators who just witnessed a shooting. Surveying, searching, questioning. She laughed and wished the animals would do her job for her.
‘Flood caused by human pollution. And human aversion to stopping climate change.’
They were getting tired of reading that on reports. Even threatened to cut off her funding, send her---the dance continued. Digital replica came back up on her screen as she typed something useful on her notes. Something that wouldn’t get her fired. Or send her to---
Her reaction was delayed. Strange, didn’t mix like the rocks. Didn’t have the same effect as the birds singing in the pools of destruction. She rubbed her nose as she turned.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt,” her colleague said.
“It’s fine. What is it?”
“Shannon is back.”
She stopped rubbing her nose. Looked up at her colleague, who was staring at her, at her replica. Offended almost. As if when the door opened, she was supposed to be hunched over a model she had built herself screaming ‘Eureka’ the reasons of climate change solved here, at this small institution in Ohio. She let the bitterness flow from her, into the pools with the birds. With the soil and the animals. Put her glasses back on.
“Is she still Shannon?”
Her colleague shook her head.
“Not crazy about the name,” her colleague said. They leaned in like they were telling a secret. Nuclear codes on a Wednesday afternoon in her tight, cramped office. “Rick.”
“Yeah, that’s terrible. Why not his name? Chad.” Her colleague shrugged as they walked off, leaving her door open, exposing the mass of people in the hallway waiting to see---Rick.
The hallways were bright, minimal. A white that put doves to shame. Dana almost always had to squint as she came out of her office. The blinding slick white and grey didn’t mix well with the white lights forcing themselves on her like a bad first date. She rubbed her hand against the wall, forcing them to dim, light exiting from the bottom mainly, outside becoming the star of her building. Her colleagues in the hallway looked back as the lights dimmed, migrated towards the lounge. She heard their whispers.
Look who’s come out of her cave. Oh, the reaper is here. Her research is a dead end, why does she try?
Lynzee never was the best whisperer. Dana caught a glimpse of a window as she made her way to the lounge. She wandered over to the glass, which was in another colleague’s office. Reached out and touched the glass, then it was gone. Her hand moved back, and the glass flickered, appeared again. Why had she removed them from her office? Or, was it always that way? No windows, to let anything close to sunlight come inside. She couldn’t remember.
Another dance was happening in front of her. A swirling of color, meshing and converging. Sex, if color could have sex. Top, bottom, side, every which angle possible was happening right in front of her, right outside. Dana adjusted her glasses, tapped the side of them, ordered them to analyze what she was seeing. Real, it said.
The autumn tree stood there in all it’s glory. Red, yellow, gold, and deep within, she could see stubborn hints of green, refusing to conform. The wind swayed them back and forth, the dance more elegant than her rocks. And next to the tree, a small squirrel. Twitching as it ran across the lush green field. A small duck watching from an even smaller pond. Their green heads blending lovingly with the water. She tapped her glasses once again. Real.
Dana could feel her heart skip a beat. She could remember everything in her life, every moment. And yet, she hardly knew her name, her mother’s name, or what she had eaten for breakfast. Tears came to her eyes watching it all. The tree, the duck, the squirrel. One of her colleagues caught her eye outside now too, and the feelings faded. But she winced, thought, believed, let the feelings wash over her. But as her colleague stepped onto the grass, the blue pixels flew from the back of their heel. The squirrel attempted to intervene, her colleague swiped at it, causing it to disappear. They walked through the tree next, the image, the color, sex, gone. Dana wiped her face.
Rick sat in the lounge with everyone standing next to him, their lips quivering with anticipation. The questions flowed much like Dana imagine that flood did. Each more generic than the next, demeaning this new person, or life form, that sat in front of them. Dana hated to even acknowledge how good Rick looked. How well the fusion seemed to go. She couldn’t stop the words from flowing.
“What part of you is still Shannon?” the room went silent. Two birds appeared on a tree outside the window behind Rick. Robins. Dana didn’t bother tapping her glasses.
“You shouldn’t ask that,” one of her colleagues said. “No, no,” Rick answered. What a deep voice. Stronger than either Shannon’s or Chad combined. “It’s quite alright.”
Rick crossed his legs. Dana noticed this new man didn’t carry any of the weight the pair used to. He was all muscle and sex appeal. He belonged selling futures, not examining volcanoes, or whatever it was that Shannon was doing now.
“We opted for a complete reconstruction,” Rick continued. “One that was optimal for both of us. Shannon’s brain was obviously indispensable. Non-negotiable, she said.” He moved in the chair again. Legs moving from a crossed position to normal sitting position. Did he have to go to the bathroom? Or did they enhance his penis too? Dana almost cracked a smile at the thought.
“Chad just wanted something fun, cool. So, here we are. A new personality with Shannon’s brain, fulfilling the hopes of Chad.” A funny way of explaining the death of souls.
It was a story that impressed. The moronic questions continued, and Rick smiled awkwardly, moving in his chair as he answered them. Dana figured it was time to get back to work. She stepped into the hallway and into the chest of a colleague, Tristan. The youngest person at her job, always running around doing something he shouldn’t have, always running into people. He smiled at her as she tried to get her balance back.
“Sorry about that,” Tristan said.
“I need to watch where I’m going,” Dana responded.
“Pretty crazy, right? Rick,” Tristan pointed to the awkward man crossing and uncrossing his legs in the chair. The man that used to be a woman who ate fast food breakfast every morning. “Surprised they went with it so early.”
Tristan continued to prattle on about how difficult of a decision it must have been for them, how he wondered if Shannon really wanted what Rick said. Or if Chad made some last-minute alterations, an audible to win the game, cementing a legacy forever. Deep down, was Shannon a prisoner? Her mind rummaged through when deemed useful by her master, Rick. Or Chad. It made Dana’s brain hurt, she tried not to think about fusions too often. But there one was, sitting right in front of her, struggling with a penis. Tristan was still talking.
“How’s your work coming?” he asked. “Heard you’re doing some research into a recent flood down the road?”
Dana nodded. “Yeah, same old thing. Just covering my bases.”
“Man, I’m not sure how you do it. Look at rocks all day. Couldn’t be me,” Tristan said.
What exactly do you do here? Dana nodded again. “Yup, that’s the gist of it. Well, I have to get back to looking at rocks.”
Tristan either ignored her or didn’t know she wanted to leave. He tapped Dana on the arm and kept talking. “What do you think made them do it so early? I mean, damn. Shannon was only twenty-seven. Chad even younger.”
Dana was silent.
Tristan sighed. “Well, I guess it’s better than waiting until the very last possible second. My brother, Reggie is like that. Thirty-fifth is tomorrow, can you believe it?” She looked up at him, noticing his messy hair and glasses just as big as hers. She tried to open her mouth.
“Catch you later, Dana!”
She adjusted her glasses as he walked away. People continued to pass her, a few even tried to strike a conversation. But Dana couldn’t hear them, she just thought of the dance. Of the rocks and the flood patterns, of the colors of the holographic autumn setting, of life. She was frozen in time, thinking about the cruelty of life. The wonders of it as well. Shannon screaming inside of Rick’s mind never left hers.
The government required you commit to a fusion by age thirty-five. Punishment was death or being sent to----
Reggie was on his last day. Thirty-four today, thirty-five tomorrow.
And so was Dana.
END PART 1
About the Author: Toren Chenault (he/him) lives in Lansing with his fiancee, Rachel. A writer of everything from comic books to novels, Toren loves science-fiction and anything that pushes the brain to think. His influences range from hip-hop, sports, television, and of course, comics.