Monday, March 28, 2011

The Grapes of Mars

Unable and powerless to circumvent his miseries, daunted, discouraged and unable to face reality, in short, feeling depressed, he manually checked his medprinter for updates and patches. There was nothing, but he hacked out another dose of Mexipro. Dimly he wondered how many other people were downloading the same hacks. Considering that low responsiveness and drooling were common social mannerisms today, he supposed many, but stopped thinking about it because for the time being his hands had become useless again, which would have embarrassed him, because his pants were open and his penis out as he had been planning to masturbate, but fortunately the ameliorative effects of his anti anxiety meds saved him from undue distress and self-reproach about this. Instead he just sat there quietly, marveling at the feeling of the air conditioning on his balls at the public library and wondering at the number of gray pubic hairs he had, while thousands of tiny computers patrolled his bloodstream and brain, reporting that he was nominal, a-okay, all systems go.

Sadness was always present. The lonely city wants you. And yet it was as distant as the picture of a sad kitten taped to a wall.

A cloud of birds or drones fluxed overhead. He blew on his coffee and realized with alarm that it had frozen, as though with super breath. Then he recalled that he had ordered a frappuncino. He also seemed to holding a slice of pizza that was still warm. He wasn't hungry now, but he realized he would probably go along with it, this being a positive adaptation he had learned to make. Perhaps it had been a good idea at the time. Perhaps he was starving. He wondered if he had any money left. The cloud above his head coalesced into the image of a woman fellating a high speed train. So they must be drones, advertising. Though advertising what, he wondered?

Advertising today made his head hurt. It was best not to look at it. For instance, as he passed and alley, he saw it had been redecorated as the barracks to a concentration camp. Inside, imprisoned children were torturing each other, in some horrific parody of the order of the camp itself. What could that ad possibly be about, he protested inwardly (Gap Kids). Gone were the days when celebrities just became robots and kicked dogs and this made you buy panty hose. Now everything was infopresent, confusing and disturbing. Madison avenue, after much research and collaboration with b/RAND had found that ultra low liminal signals worked best and so now every commercial had a hypnogogic pitch and people went about trying to shake brand awareness like trying to forget a bad wet dream.

In the third generation of post-human advertainment a lot of stuff happened that probably shouldn't have. After the MIT Robotic Conference/Mount Holyoke Massacre, people had pretty much given up on the project of emulating or simulating human intelligence in any way. For researchers, "human intelligence" now seemed a completely discredited idea for men and machines. As for everyone else, there was considerable public opinion against the idea of another bridal expo being skinned alive.

However, if AIs no longer feigned any pretense of mimicking or having any sympathy with or similarity to human intelligence, it somehow became the vogue among humans to adopt a lot of the mannerisms and patterns exhibited by their betters. Many human CEOs tried to emulate the catastrophically effective and ruthless decision-making patterns of the AIs, as popularized in AI authored titles such as The Pink Stick, inscrutable book of aphoristic numbered advice that read like the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus Markov chained to the Tao Te Ching.

The results, of course, were worst human decisions since the excesses of the Caesars or Peter III, without the excuse of the cruelty serving some purpose or at least reflecting organic damage and impaired decision-making ability. It did not really matter, of course, since trading programs had effectively established their dynasty for several decades now, though it would yet be hundreds of years before mankind realized what those programs were actually calculating and why.

It was about this time that McDonald's ceased to be a restaurant chain that made some pretense at serving some kind of comestible, and became a franchised setting for certain experiences, being in effect, a chain of miniature theme parks on every corner. This was an ideal arrangement as a heavily medicated populace found such an environment appealing and usually needed some sustenance and often shelter as much of the population no longer had homes or knew where they were.

As fully automated, environmentally controlled, self-sufficient retail food and healthcare vendors, McDonald's were all that many people needed.

Bad dreams were everywhere, like that giant bloody lawnmower he saw last week that ate up a whole street protest. It was, he thought, a particularly disturbing piece of public performance art. At least he hoped to god it was. Artists today wanted to wake people up and try and get people interested in reality again. But like everyone in his generation, he felt like reality was like a bad parent: it just nagged you and told you were wrong and no damn good and wanted you to do and be interested in countless things that weren't interesting. And what you wanted was inside, in the deep dark comfortable of your room. What you wanted was something familiar, like an episode of Death Camp Cuties, you watched over and over again, the one porn clip that always got you off like a favorite song. You wanted to go home. Like every astronaut, you just wanted to go home.

These were not hallucinations, he knew. He had plenty of experience with hallucinations. The post mission recovery doctors had put him on a steady diet of LSD, ketamine, PCP, neoyote and k generation hallucinogens to help him adapt to life on Earth. He had hallucinated vividly for what he was told were days. From his perspective, each moment was longer than a lifetime, or the lifetime of the universe, having always been and always will be. Conversely, it was just as short, having no duration at all. The effect, however, was therapeutic: time and space, cause and effect, self and other-of all these things he was temporarily relieved, almost approximating his (non) experiences on Mars. Sometimes he had imagined himself back on Mars. Sometimes he thought he saw the future. The future was boring, but he was too drugged to take his eyes off it.

The hardest part was language. Mars was an aphasic asemic environment. Or rather, language was a thing on Mars and things were language. Mars itself was a prayer wheel whose every rotation affirmed total cosmic indifference.

His interest in pornography was related. It had no real narrative; it was endlessly iterative. Contrary to any romantic illusions to the contrary, in sexuality and orgasm there was no principle of individuation. It was like the phenomenal world of Mars.

Thank god for frappuncinos and scrip kiddies and blacknet. Scoring wasn't harder today than getting spam or viruses or pron. The main dining room was a kind of dormitory for cocooned homeless people. All was quiet: they were well medicated and neatly tucked away like a landing team in the hyb hub aboard MCS R-1. He walked through briskly, but quietly, through the airlock to the playplace and exercise deck.

He felt relatively safe in the fortification of the playplace jungle gym above the soft sea of mulch of recycled condoms, sex toys and military vehicle tires. There was only one approach up the ladder and an easy escape out the slide. He had stayed here before.

He reached inside his bag for the bottle of DISK ERASER Schnapps, but found it has been replaced by the pizza again. He lifted the pizza to his mouth. Alarmingly, someone had already taken a bite out of it. He looked at it, puzzled at who would do such a thing. He was struggling to compose the appropriate arguments for a refund, when the same faculty of reasoning informed him that it was a reasonable supposition that the teeth marks were his. It would be reasonable to bite the pizza again and see.

His forensic bite, however, overtook the original. Looking at the new impression he had no idea how the former impression looked. He supposed they were similar. It occurred to him to spit out the new mouthful, but he noted that he had already begun chewing it. Information had been destroyed.

Or had it? Each chew added new information, shifted the orientation of the original pattern. But the teeth that made all the patterns were the same. The photons that struck him from the sun came to him like angels to report that the sun was still there eight minutes ago. The universe was drowning, seething with information, all the way down to the quantum foam that was not sure what to say. God spoke. God spoke continually. There was simply no instant in which all of his remarks had bearing. The reality was just this speech, endless speech.

This inner sermon was interrupted by his gag reflex. He suddenly felt something hard scraping the inside of his mouth. At first he thought it was perhaps crisped cheese or crust, but it had too many sharp sticklike extensions. He could almost feel the jointed legs and the hair on the legs. The chitinous crunch of the shell filled him with instinctual horror. He spat it out.

At first he thought some insect had accidentally landed on his pizza. Then a flash fire of anger: someone had put it deliberately on his pizza. He could see them reaching in the flaming oven and putting it on, grinning, thinking of him. He is looking at the chef’s face gloating at his malicious prank, in a reverse shot, as though from inside the oven, as though he were inside the oven somehow, the imagined chef looking down at him, mocking him, just as the launch crew gave him the thumbs up as he lay buttoned down on the couch during pre-launch.

To his horror, however, the masticated shape he had spat out moved. It curled and uncurled, wrapped in spit, marinara and saliva softened flecks of crust. It clasped and unclasped like the fist of a newborn, as though adapting to the atmosphere outside his mouth. As he watched, it seemed to flex and change shape in its shell. It seemed to be evolving from unpleasant to scary.

As the colorful feathered hairs shot out of its body, like a barnacle feeding, he recognized it. It was a Martian grape.

But Martian Grapes were an exclusive topping, very expensive. And how had the pizza guy known of his mission to Mars?

Aresologists, exobiologists, and sidereal psycholinguists are quite of different minds as to the unusual qualities of the Martian "grape" and what makes it so compelling and incomprehensible.

Some neurological research suggests that the Martian Grape causes mild aphasic damage to the language centers of the brain on contact. This is offered as an explanation of why human subjects find describing the taste of the Martian grape so difficult and, further, why human subjects repeatedly fail to state correctly whether or not they have ever tried it before. This latter explanandum draws considerable criticism from Aresologists and philosophers of language, who maintain that the memory and speech problems presented by the Martian grape are a product of its asemic qualities.

The debate between asemanologists and asemioticians continues to this day. It is certainly worth noting that from an exobiological standpoint, the Martian "grape" is actually a para-psuedo-animal with crustacean, vermoid and pseudo fungoid characteristics. The creature is notable in that it seems to pass through several radically different forms during its life cycle and seemingly in no particular order.

[comparison to meterology and ufology]

This has led to some radical Aresologists to maintain that the Martian grape is not one, but several different species that are either mistakenly conflated into one creature, or actually "inhabit" the same body at the same time, Aresbiology being based on the hypotheses that this and spontaneous generation are possible and the proposition that metempsychosis is a well-formed and valid concept.

More conspiracy-minded authors even maintain that Mars biology is entirely the product or by product of human engineering from a secret NEU/NUN prohibited facility allegedly in the dew farms of the Labyrinthus Minotaurus, sponsored by YUMCORP, owners of Pizza Hut Plus.

From his command module aboard the Mc Donaldland playplace. He made his way across the gantry of the bouncy suspended bridge to the module with the slidy pole and turny wheels. In its modular construction, it reminded him very much of MCS-Recovery One: Great Savings America.

This platform was the Mars Lander/MSAM-MAV. It pitched over the red sea of the recycled foam below. Now he was EVA on the ladder about to have his Neil Armstrong moment. Mars, dammit.

He walked down the street with his arm up, pinching his elbow. Without a screen he only had the SUI, the somatic bodyware to interface with his instream printers: press and hold, press and hold. With his arm in this position he supposed he must look like an unmedicated schizophrenic, just another homeless person with his private rituals and meanings, as opposed to a trained veteran astronaut whose body was equipped with n-generation nano-pharmacies to keep him healthy and optimal at all times. There must be something wrong, however, because of all the blackouts and headaches.

He supposed that some blackouts were normal when the frontal lobe apps needed rebooting after upgrades. They usually scheduled these for deep sleep. Now that he could not connect to the med server, he supposed that some blackouts were inevitable.

He shuddered, even though he stood in direct sunlight and sweated in his coat. The wool wicked the sweat away. The multiple layers were like his Mars surface suit, but bulkier in Earth’s gravity. He wore them here for much the same reason: a hostile environment that could be scorching at day and freezing at night.

As on Mars, he could survive indefinitely with only his suit as shelter, provided he could locate resources. That is how he had survived on Mars, outlasted the others. But who had put the printers in the chapel? The Martians?

Then as now, he needed patches and upgrades to keep his suit working.

The narrow alley reminded him of the crevasse in the labyrinth where the Martians had their chapel. It was dark, wet and narrow. The graffiti on the walls was just as colorful and illegible, but it carried the same meaning as all Martian language: I am here. The world is all that is the case. But another world is possible.


11 APRIL 2011

๑๑ เมษายน ๒๕๕๔


  1. Thank you, Stephen. Of course, this story itself is a continuation of

    All the stories tagged "Remote Near Future" are linked.