DEVOLUTION by Jez Kemp DEVOLUTION by Jez Kemp



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You’ll never know, this degenerate fire in my stomach.
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YET ANOTHER DOOR slid open and Djalo swept on through. He wasn’t sure how his mind and body were keeping upright. His hunger had become something else now, something demonic; the sick hell he could feel making him see things in the dark, things on each wall every time the torch flashed upwards. He could smell the nasty dirty smell of the animal that was Garner, and the even more rank stench of this woman and whatever foulness she’d been through. Powering down the corridor after Garner, who was running with the torch, he knew they could be going anywhere. He could feel the Governor’s boiling presence at every doorway; Garner never stopped whining at him to unlock the codes mentally to make their escape quicker, but he dared not plug his head back into the system, not with Argent waiting.

‘What are they?’

Garner made a disgusted noise and turned away, as Djalo plugged the case into another door. He said nothing.

Djalo didn’t press the point. He glanced down at the crumpled form of the woman, who seemed to have passed out. He wasn’t sure if he could hear a low moaning through the floor, or an ever so slight trembling in the walls, or if his starving brain was just imagining it all. Dark images of faceless unspeakables flashed through his mind, tearing apart the lifts or just seeping through the wires. Could they open doors? The horror they’d seen earlier could.

The door wouldn’t open. Here, in front of him in the flashing blackness as Garner swung the torch backwards and forwards, the codes were correct and the door was rejecting him. And in amongst all the Democracy glyphs and encrypting was Argent, circling, waiting. Furious, Djalo sent some profanities which brought no response. He gritted his teeth and pulled the wire out from his wrist. It was only hours ago (how much time had passed since the Crash?) he’d felt relieved to have the familiar glow, the lost warmth back in his head — but now the alien rush of the Governor swept into his brain, and he was cornered once more.

‘Open the door.’

You have the answers, Mister Stefans. What is Scharla Kim?

‘I don’t know,’ he said calmly.

There was a pause.

I don’t know!’ he screamed.

Why was it you? When the whole colony shut down, why you that could get out?

‘I don’t know! Why was it me?’ His indignance only hinted at his anger, hiding crouched in the corner of his own mind, desperate not to open up. Argent marauded in front of him, prowling, like some profane animal. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here, instead of any of those poor wretches out on the street or still in their homes.’ Images of people choking in blackness flashed through him; his body swayed, light-headed.

You will die down here.

‘I’m not dying.’

This door will not open. You will die down here.

‘Damn you I’m not dying here! Not like the others!’ Garner squealed at his sudden outbursts in the silence, and clawed at the door from the ground. The woman groaned almost inaudibly.

You clearly have some connection with the Crash. You must know things about how to reverse the Crash.

‘What don’t you understand?!’ Djalo cried, withdrawing into himself, hurling one useless random code after another at the immovable door in his mind. ‘You... you, sitting there, sitting wherever you are, with your Electric! With your damned Electric! You don’t know, you don’t know, how can you know what this is like?!!

Far away, there was an ugly crash; maybe something fabricated by his mind, maybe not. The distant mourning of some lost behemoth. Djalo couldn’t tell, he couldn’t perceive anything past this gathering whirlwind inside his brain. Outside, his eyes glistened helplessly in Garner’s trembling torchlight; the governor weighed down heavily on the valiant shield he held up.

Garner whimpered and banged his feet on the floor, scratching his belly. If the non-governor was holding the door shut, well... there was nothing that could be done. Maybe he wasn’t powerless; maybe he was behind it all. He watched the man Djalo start folding up, crying the strength out from his eyes. His hands and lips were trembling, trying to say things, denials, lies; Garner suspected no matter how deep he was being rent and how much the truth stolen from him, his mouth would always pour forth lies, screaming godforsaken lies and fabrications, anything to make the pain stop. There was, there was definitely a rumble then, less distant, another dread-filled moan... his mind constructed hideous sounds of wrenching metal, of steel being torn apart, and visions of horrible shapeless things advancing down the corridor, or those other horribly-shaped things he’d seen in the green glow down there, all that time ago, down there in the dark beneath the batteries, with everything ready, with everything ready to go. Beside him, in the peripheral darkness of his torch beam, the man Djalo curled up into a ball, convulsing, as the machine ripped him apart.

It was all the same really. It was all one thing. It was all the machine. The pretend-governor might have been a real person, but, but, but there were real people everywhere; the continent stations were full of them, pressing buttons, clearing orders, making missiles, fucking each other. That wasn’t it though, that wasn’t it, it was too big for any one person to see, the wires, the orders, the programming, the guns, the days like all other days, the machine they all lived in. The machine we all help run. Well no more.

He began to snivel and sob, with the real and imminent fear of never escaping here alive. But if he did — it had to be deconstructed. This apparatus had to be torn apart.

Closer sounds came from the depths, as he shrivelled tighter into the corner...

* * *

Caissan ground his teeth and blinked, repeatedly. Argent had gone.

Most of the D-polic patrols weren’t responding, and those that were had fled back to base — back to the canteen, where they were using what battery cases were left to see by and get food and water. They weren’t responding to orders. The inside was full of people dying of suffocation and insanity in their rooms, and the outside was a filthy void where people had stopped being people. He couldn’t blame them. But now Argent wasn’t there, and he was genuinely scared.

Everyone else was composed.

He looked around the darkened room, clinging to his wire, clinging to it like the lifeline it was. All these officers, all these Democracy technicians and personnel, still tapping away at their machines, still silent in front of the screens. It was like, like they didn’t realise what had happened?! Like they had no idea of the, the hell, the completely terrifying lack that was waiting outside, that had taken the colony.

Sir? Governor are you there?

And now Argent wasn’t there, Maybe he just wasn’t responding? After all, the colony was his. It — it revolved around him. He was everywhere. He was in every mechanism, every CPU, he was watching and keeping everything safe. How was the system still here without him? Maybe he just wasn’t responding.

Sir?

‘What?’ he called loudly, to the anonymous voice in his head. It was already filled with numbers, programs, digits, and now this voice he couldn’t tell. Was it Mördechai? Or Singh? No, Singh was dead—

Sir, something important.

‘Who is it?’ he yelled at the room, roaming the seats and desks without direction. They were all looking in the back of his head, but none of them turned, none of them looked. They just stared in front of them.

Sir it’s me, Rodriguez. It’s the supply ship.

He froze, arms outstretched, wire trailing behind him. He frowned. ‘What about it?’

It’s not receiving communication sir. It’s not responding.

‘Try again.’

Sir we’ve tried everything.

The room was cold. He hugged his arms around his chest, clenching the wire in his fist. Argent had gone. The filthy lack had invaded this space, this secure space, here where they’d kept their own Electric, here with the drones that didn’t move, and now—

Now the supply ship wasn’t responding.

He clenched his teeth harder as he ran frantic back to his own desk and brought up tables, figures, graphs, numbers, codings, anything.

Was this it? Had the Crimson Republic truly taken over the rest of the Empire? That must be it. Must it? Fortium Rhegardé wasn’t a strategic location, it was an end point!

He scoured programs that had been torn apart twelve times already, files that had been disassembled and reassembled by these bodies in front of him, by the ghosts in the back of his head, watching him. This filthy little colony! He was going to die, here, on this scrappy little colony on the backside of the Empire with this terrifying lack destroying everything. He could find nothing, there was nothing on the Crash, nothing on the pod, nothing from Argent, and now nothing from the supply ship. No-one was getting out now, not now they’d taken the supply ship—

He finally caught what he’d been looking for. A small green cube, in his mind and on the screen before him, and a floating blue arrow. He kicked aside the cube, then brought it back, then threw it away again, and examined the arrow, the message from far away.

He knew! He knew the pathetic nature of this colony: its complete lack of strategic importance to the Empire, the meaningless jobs given to people to keep them occupied. The pointlessness of the nano-organism project. Why place such an important project where it would take decades to send the results back to the hub? Tasks with no end, to keep people occupied.

He tore into the blue arrow, frenziedly scouring the digits and numbers and place names and wild gibberish in the message contents — endless reams and reams of rubbish, of meaningless filth, streaming away from him into eternity. He hurtled on past it all, not even looking any more, waiting for seemingly hours and days until he found something familiar.

He found it. Scrolling backwards, he saw it now, seamlessly blended in with digits and code that made no sense

 

“>>>bplakh square turn-four. sketching sketching

>>>angles, underwater sekkkkk, grind — be go — harkkkkk#.k#.k#.k

>>>Stop now! This is getting out of hand. These ideas we are spreading. Do we intend them to do harm? Or do they just get lost along the way. Perhaps the structure we have created changes them. What if this structure itself warps and destroys our intentions?

>>>The way it’s been managed, the ideas we impose, they need to be radically re-thought.

>>>We are on the edge of this spreading darkness. We have lost control! This sytem, it reproduces itself, it feeds itself, it protects itself!

>>>tlhaÄn/futile, further, d1sintgratï. dissipate. explode, ghlau.î5//: backwards...”

 

like that.

He let go of the data, let the sparkling digits fall away, and sat wide-eyed, thinking, in this new darkness of his own. The ghosts watched him from behind. He threw up a hand involuntarily behind his head, but he knew they weren’t there, they were watching him through the wires...

Something — something had caught up with them. Fortium Rhegardé was on the edge of the Empire, right? To push outwards, right? To expand? But the Empire was huge, and old, and maybe — yes, it had collapsed in the centre! They weren’t expanding the Empire, they were running, running from the impending darkness chasing them from behind. On a long enough timeline everything reverts to zero, and from some planet or continent station the Crimson Republic were here, with their crazed demands and ideas of chaos. It’d started somewhere, where no-one had been looking, no-one had seen underneath them, under their feet, where all this stuff came from or how they survived. Machines! Did machines make everything? Who made the machines? And how come I don’t know?

For a split second, he thought of joining them; maybe the Democracy hadn’t surrendered, but he could. He could join them, and help them, yes, help them build this different empire by fragmenting the old one. He could even do it as a mere corporal! But... but they wouldn’t see it that way. They wouldn’t be taking prisoners.

He played with the lead in his wrist, pushing the skin around the hard socket. And then he pulled it out. The data faded, and the graph-scapes faded, and the numbers faded, and the ghosts vanished. Suddenly he was alone. For a brief second the radio link in his head switched back on, but with a mental yank he slammed it shut, and all was dark. He was dark, and cold, and alone in a room of bodies that tap-tap-tapped away without moving. He drifted for a few seconds, swimming in the dark. And then he hurried to the door. One door, two doors, corridors, guards that said nothing, guards who’d be dead soon. The Crimson Republic wasn’t leaving anyone alive, and they’d all be dead soon, as dead as the animals out on the streets. But he wouldn’t. Standing here now, breathing hard through his nose, all his thoughts trapped in his own head; standing here, in front of the escape pod unit. He pressed a pad, and the door slid open.

No-one was getting out alive, except him.

He moved to step forward, and saw a small girl waiting for him.

* * *

See the leviathan drift through the ocean, of infinite shadowy corners.

There is such a sense of tranquillity. Here, in the beast’s guts, in the organs and the capillaries, everything is calm and ghostly. Serene. All its sensors, all its body’s feedback loops, even its brain: everything is shutting down, one by one... but still functioning, slowly, calmly, peacefully. It can see its destination now, clearly, close, and detailed. It is familiar, very familiar, but perhaps wearily so.

Midges and tiny frantic creatures assail it now, asking questions, what its name is, where it has been; its majestic, unmoving head ignores them. Deep inside though, it brings up memories of where it has been — dates far back in the depths of time — and begins forgetting them, one by one, closing down its own memory.

It is sad, in its own way. But it can feel a great sleep coming; soon, its very self will begin shutting down, and it won’t know what sad is. The usual microscopic creatures inside it have gone — now, there is just empty, ghostly space. In some ways, out here, it misses the company. There is a vast mourning sense of melancholy, underlined with loneliness. But it can feel the sleep coming on now.

The rush of nothingness passes it, speeding up, while closing down...

Its destination shining before it.

The rush of nothing.

Insects, incessant insects.

Calm, serene.

The rush.

End.

Nothing.


Chapter 16 ->