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James

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James

James was a simple, humble boy but lived in one of the proudest and most prestigious cities of the world. The inhabitants gloried themselves in its reputation and did their utmost to preserve it. They walked with a quiet dignity that seemed to say “We are a product of this great city and partake of its greatness to such an extent that we have no need for arrogance, indeed, our silence says it all”. They smiled at each other with the loftiest of smiles and spoke only the best of words. They kept the cities ancient architecture in the best of conditions and made sure everything always appeared both noble and perfect. For the city’s reputation was founded on its sacredness as one of the last ancient cities. It was the only city to still have buildings made of brick instead of the fibre optic fibre glass that the scientists had invented to make buildings “intelligent”. This more than anything else made its citizens treat each other as members of a dignified aristocracy that found itself displaced in an age of decadence. Their cool demeanour and polished manners hid the truth from even themselves.

James loved living in the city not because of its reputation but because of the reason for its reputation: its buildings. The new “intelligent” buildings seemed creepy, what with their talking to you and their reading of your brainwaves to anticipate your requests. It wasn’t natural. Scientists had hailed themselves gods when they had invented the microchip that made the buildings as aware, if not more so, than humans. They had already completely mastered the human DNA, making engineered babies with whatever qualities you liked possible and now they were moving into the realm of creating something from nothing. The DNA was already there, they simply had to learn how to manipulate it, but making computers conscious was like creating a whole new life form. James wasn’t a tersely moralistic man but men claiming divine status because of their achievements not only sickened him, it left a cold chill in his heart.

Unfortunately James did not have enough money to live in a brick house, and anyway most of the city’s brick buildings were institutions, such as its prestigious universities, vast libraries and magnificent churches. And so it was that James opened his eyes from a night’s peaceful rest and was greeted with an oddly erotic synthesized voice “Hello James, all is in order in your beautiful apartment and it is a gorgeous day” confusion tinged with fear stirred James’s thoughts until, like a slap to the face, he remembered his ever so helpful “home being” – Mary. James grunted recognition and rolled himself out of bed, the floor was heated and the air was warm, comforts which James grudgingly accepted but tried to feel as little pleasure as possible in.

“So what’s the day like then Mary?” he asked rather sardonically, for he already knew it would be a beautiful summer’s day, everyday since the scientists had taken control of the weather had been a beautiful summer’s day. He was sick of it. “From the calculations of mood and desire made from the dream time observance of the general population the scientists have programmed a beautiful 28C sunny day. It will also be a cool evening with light, purifying showers in the latter part of the night.” “Damned scientists” thought James but he dared not speak it out loud. He walked into the bathroom and the lights turned on and as he approached the shower so did the hot water. He stopped, and so did the shower, and now the toilet seat was being gently raised by the ever accommodating Mary. “Caught you out there didn’t I Mary?” he chuckled as he sat on the toilet.  “Actually, I could tell by the inflammation of your bladder you would be using the toilet first but I discerned in your thoughts your wish to trick me and so I obliged.” “So why didn’t you play along now you dumb machine” James grumbled more to himself than to Mary. Mary did not reply.

James sat down for breakfast and ate without tasting, he was more annoyed than usual at Mary, and his breakfast, made exactly to his liking without him uttering a word and laid on the table at the perfect temperature for eating annoyed him even more. Through these intelligent machines, machines that supposedly knew everything a human was going to do before he did it, the scientists had full knowledge and control of people’s lives. The much celebrated “big brother” myth of the 21st century had finally come to life, the only difference was that not only did people love the watchful eye of big brother, they paid for it to pay attention to them. People believed they never had it better, James knew they had, in actual fact, never had it worse.

James was a spaceship engineer, he fixed the engines of the huge, shiny vehicles of the stars. It was strange because this hi-tech cutting edge job did not mesh well with his personality. In most ways he felt lost in a world of technology, uprooted from everything natural to a human and placed in a stainless steel replica of the real world. But on another, deeper level he liked the power that being an engineer gave him. He was able to see the machines for what they were – just inanimate bits put together. They were completely under his will. Seeing the insides of the machines and the way that one small cog in a wrong place could bring the whole space ship down gave him immense pleasure. The guts and innards were not as perfect as their outward appearance made them seem.

James left his house in the direction of the transporter station, the day, as Mary so kindly advised him, was a beautiful one. The huge magnetic fields that warped the weather to the scientist’s wills was just discernable in the glint of the metallic sun rays. Everything looked so artificial and glaringly fake that it hurt James’ eyes. He walked down the high street in pursuance of his destination. Busy businessmen power walked to huge sky scrapers, kids buzzed by on their air boards and couples walked hand in hand down the seething road. There were stalls lining the pavement whilst the speeding air cars zipped over head. The last 100 years had seen massive “progress” in all spheres of life, and the transference of cars from ground to air was one of the most beneficial for mankind. By using the magnetic power of the surrounding weather field the scientists were able to eliminate the need for fuel powered cars, thus lessening the pollution, and giving back the roads to the pedestrians.

The air, although purer, felt charged with an unnatural energy and made James feel like sneezing. Everything about modern living grated on him, he only knew the past from history books and old literature but how he wished to be living in those times! Any times apart from these digital times! The town’s super mall loomed into view and glistened with reflected sunshine. Its front was like a huge face and the windows its immense soulless eyes. All of a sudden a Mercedes (typical) crashed out of the raging traffic above and into the glaring face of the super mall. There was half a second of pure calm, where people knew something had gone wrong but not quite what, then realisation settled in and there were babies crying and men swearing and women screaming and all sorts of commotion. The mall being a fibre optic fibre glass heaven merely bent to accommodate the burning car and used its self cleaning function to put out the fires. But still people raged and ran and cried for help. The only difference from them and the so called “misguided” people of the past was that whereas the people of the past called for their gods to help them these called for their scientists. It was tragic to see how thin the layer of self assured personality really is.

James’s breath caught in his throat and for more than a second and for more than a minute he wished it was something way bigger that had crashed and that him, and all the busy, laughing, happy people of the high street were wiped away. Indeed he wished that not only the people of this high street but of all high streets everywhere were wiped away. With these thoughts burning their usual trail through his mind he ran toward the mall to offer assistance, but even as he ran he knew that none was needed, the “commercial being” of the mall – Psyon, had already taken care of everything.

“Imagine seeing you here! I didn’t know you lived here, haha! Imagine that! You see someone every day in the furthest corners of the galaxy, indeed in other galaxies and universes altogether but never do you think you will bump in to them on Earth! Haha! How quaint.” The large nosed, large eyed man addressing himself to James wrapped an arm around his shoulder and pulled him in to his conversation, enveloping him with his words. James saw there was no escape and so let himself be carried away from the general population crowded around the now mouldering spectacle. “Where are you off to my industrious friend? Anywhere near? Me, Well I’ve got a ship to commandeer on the outskirts of Heraldon, I don’t know if you know it – it’s in the Exasus galaxy. Lovely galaxy but strange little people! I mean so little, so little! The galaxy is within one of the pools of the Seventh House”

James had always thought the Seventh House was a myth, a story told by star struck earth-bound humans to romanticize the ever more mapped out multiverse. It was a non-place, the only way of arriving there through bodily death. The Seventh House had 12 pools each of which led to different “spheres”. The fact that there were other universes other than our own was proved and proven but these “spheres” were something else. Something far stranger than parallel dimensions and the tiniest bit more sinister. Just to give an idea of the strangeness of the Seventh House, it encompassed the multiverse entirely and yet can be found in a part of our universe, and so the part could be taken for the whole and the whole for the part. It was strange to even think about and made James dizzy.

James eyed his interlocutor suspiciously “So how are you getting to this Seventh House then?” the man guffawed and gave James’s back a hearty smack. “That is the question,…. or the answer, depending on how you look at it!” at this he gave another bellow of a laugh and dragged James ever forwards to their destination. James wasn’t sure what to make of his affable new friend and so kept his skepticism to himself. Indeed he did not even recognise this man that seemed to know him on such intimate terms. “What if I were to tell you that there were no galaxies, no universe, no multiverse and no me and no you!” The man whispered in a conspiratorial way. The man gave James a quick side glance, a half smile and a soft squeeze on the shoulder. James had had enough of this crazed well wisher and so stopped abruptly. The man, mistaking this for interest smiled wholeheartedly and let out another attack of laughter. “All in good time my dear, all in good time!” he prolonged the words in his mouth and seemed to be taking a quiet enjoyment of not only their meaning but their shape and form as well.

They had, by this time, moved into the older part of town where cars were not allowed to drive and where the buildings were of brick and mortar. James looked around in amazement, he had been so taken up by this man and his peculiar talk that he had not noticed where they had been going and was now in confusion to how they had got there. The stately libraries and universities stood proudly alongside the smaller houses and shops. The houses were inhabited by Scholars and the shops were all antique shops. The air felt different here, it was less ionized, more dusty and dense. Even the weather was different, the sun rays finding it harder to warm such dense particles and the clouds rebelling against the unnaturalness of their conformity. Rain spattered here and there and in some parts there was even fog.

James turned to his enthusiastic friend and for the first time really took him in. He had dark brown eyes and white speckled brown hair which flew wildly from side to side even though no wind moved it. He had thick, bushy eyebrows and a wide forehead. Everything about him was over the top in a not over the top way. His ears were long and pointy and his nose was a bulbous growth just above his fish-lipped mouth. “We’ve been walking for some time now and I still don’t know your name nor where we are going,” James muttered whilst inwardly scolding himself for allowing himself to be carried around in this way. Surely he should have asked his name from the outset. The man’s face contorted itself into a convincing look of surprise before crumpling up in good natured laughter, “Ah my dear friend, has it been that long that you’ve forgotten my name already? I must admit I am just the tiniest bit upset, but not offended, no, never offended! Don’t you worry yourself about my feelings, I do understand! My name is Gerald. Gerald Smithsonian. I bet that brings back memories doesn’t it? I can see recognition flooding back into your face even as we speak! Marvellous, absolutely marvellous!”

“hmm” James grunted. He had no idea who this Gerald person was and the more he tried to be friendly with James the more James became suspicious. James didn’t have any friends, and even if he did, they wouldn’t act like Gerald. “So where is it you’re going because I have to be off now, it was…good…speaking to you and everything but its getting late in the day and I should be at work,”  The man eyed James more slowly this time, quite as if James was the one acting crazy now. “Whatever do you mean? I told you where I am going, and you’re coming right along with me!” with this Gerald took out a big, black police bludgeon from his big, black overcoat and gave James a mighty smack around the head. I cannot lie, it was a devastating blow, blood splattered from James’s ruptured head and bits of brain and blood flung themselves across the ancient brickwork of the wall next to them in a surrealist painting of the highest pedigree. The man quite chuckled to himself in the most casual and good natured manner before smacking his own head against the same wall and adding another beautiful detail to the masterpiece of brain, blood and now flaps of skin.

Just at the moment that James realised what the man who claimed to be Gerald was up to, he felt a tugging from underneath him. Actually, that’s quite wrong, it wasn’t from underneath him but from within him. It was as if he was being pulled away from his senses, ever deeper to some unknown place that was at once in his very core as well as millions and millions of miles underneath. He was being pulled down and down and down. He saw nothing for an eternity, felt nothing, heard nothing and was very nearly forgetting that there was anything else apart from nothing when he suddenly came to a stop.

“Ah my good friend, everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die!” with these words a world opened up in front of James’s eyes, a world as marvellous as it was scary. James had never dreamed such things could exist in the same place, it seemed like a marriage of heaven and hell. Directly in front of him was a mighty fountain that flung up the most beautiful bluey-purple water. The water danced in every which way, spraying the dewy grass and staggering yellow leafed trees. The bulk of it then returned to the ground as a meandering river, making its mazy way across the entire landscape and finally descending into a sunless ocean. Quite how the land was so sunny and the ocean so dark was beyond James but he could not deny that it was at once beautiful, intriguing and scary. To his right he could smell the sweetest scent of strawberries and chocolate and lemon and a hint of orange. James turned to take in the view and saw tree upon tree blossoming with fruits, it was so strange! On the very same tree there were apples and bananas and oranges and chocolates!! He couldn’t believe it.

Contributed By: Caio Fiocco caio.fiocco@conted.ox.ac.uk

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