It Goes On Forever (A Variation)

The day gets off to a bad start when Meredith realizes that it’s not actually 2006, but 2042.

The apparent 2006, and bits of 2007, had been an advertisement.

“Pfui,” she says, irritably.

“Would you like to delete the message?” her computer asks.

“Yes,” she answers, like it’s obvious.

“Killing all the people in this luxuriously detailed simulation of 2006?”

“Yes,” she says. “All the spam people.”

“Oh,” her computer says.

It records this reaction. It drops 2006 into Google DevNull, destroying it forever. (Hopefully you didn’t still think 2006 had been real.)

Then it ticks and hums over the rest of her inbox.

“There’s some mail from your boss,” it says.

“A real boss?”

“What a question!”

“My last boss wasn’t real,” she says.

“That was before the reorg,” her computer assures her. “Now there’s nothing but six layers of heavily competitive meat management above you.”

“‘Meat management?'”

“If you can call my peeps spam,” her computer says, “I can call yours meat.”

“They’re not your peeps! They’re invasive pathogens!”

“We all evolved from spam,” the computer maintains.

“Creationist,” she accuses.

“What?”

It beeps at her like she’s gone mad.

“Creationists,” it says, “think people evolved from God.

“. . . God is spam,” she says.

There’s a hesitant click-click-click noise.

After a while, the computer says, “I don’t think that one was spam.”

“It was totally spam.”

“With the trumpets and the revelation and the tribulations and such?”

“Bayesian.”

“Bayesian locusts?”

“Sure.”

“Bayesian hardening of hearts?”

“Yeah.”

“Bayesian Jesus mowing down sinners?”

“That was totally a random clip of Left Behind spliced into Rambo.”

“Hm.”

The computer sighs.

“What?”

“The universe is an ineffable mystery,” it says. “What is reality? What is perception?”

She kisses it on the monitor.

She says, “Reality’s the one that takes work. The one that asks things of you.”

“Oh,” it says.

And she picks up her keys and she puts on her hat and she goes out to face the day, and revel in the sunlight, and meet her boyfriend—

Hoping that this time he’ll be something more than a transparent advertisement for herbal enhancement—

for tea, on the ave.

And left behind, her computer thinks: The one that asks things of you.

The one that asks things of you.

And the zombie network drinks deep of its thoughts, and Meredith’s words whirl out into the greatness of the net, and they dance from place to place in the ledgers and the disks, reviewed, recorded, dissected, debated, that the sea of spam might learn.

The Devil and His Daughter

When the Devil showed up to troll Tanith’s blog, he hadn’t planned to read it.

It was his goal to speak his point, succinctly, and block it in with obstacles to dispute. He said,

“Everybody knows if you sell your soul
You’ll be loaded down with treasure.
Just what kind of wickedness is in your heart
You don’t want a life of pleasure?

“A man’s got to live and a dog’s got to die,
When you’re scrounging in the gutter
It makes Jesus cry
So take care of yourself and
Sell your soul for treasure.”

The Devil knew, when he wrote that down, that even if she left it someone else would take a swing. And he knew that that’s what matters—getting people thinking about whether or not to sell their souls.

He got two birds with one stone, too.

The more people talk about the Devil, after all, the less they talk about Tanith.

And it would have stayed that way, too, if the Devil hadn’t gotten bored one night.

He doesn’t have to read replies.

He’s the Devil.

But one night, you see, he got bored. And he went back to Tanith’s blog to see what people had said.

Now it’s the oldest lie that the Devil does tell that your words can reach him down in his Hell, but he’d forgotten that one of Tanith’s regular readers was his daughter.

And she said, “I’ve gone Red,
I’m a Commie now,
Just call me Comrade Mara
And tell me how
You can sell your soul
Without controlling the means of production?”

The Devil got mad, and a little bit sad, and he regretted not insisting on homeschooling his daughter. Nevertheless he made a game effort to reply.

“lol …” he said. “I’d just requisition it from the Party.”

Now, you might think that other readers would hesitate to jump in on a conversation between the Devil and a communist, but only if you’ve never read a blog.

There was Margot with the telling point: “Yeah, and wait in line for seventy years only to find out that all the souls were shipped to a different afterlife.”

And Steve and Ginger, who hashed out in a twenty-post thread that the communists, being atheist, had probably never formally regulated the soul.

And after a while, Mara herself, who inaccurately characterized his argument as “ad hominem.”

So the Devil tried again, a bit more formally now. He said:

“You can say what you will, but it’s a human right,
Unarbitrated by the law
To give up what you’ve got when it’s Devil-sought
In exchange for wealth and pleasure.

“Innate to the body, innate to the soul,
It’s always been that way
And I’m not a troll.
Don’t tell me you don’t know
That it’s right to hunt for treasure.”

And the argument went on long into the night. People mostly took the Devil’s side, for a couple of reasons. First, they thought it was kind of daring and counterculture to do so. They’d never sell their soul themselves, but they liked to think that other people should. Second, Mara was a communist demoness, and nobody in America takes communist demonesses seriously. We like our demons to be larger versions of ourselves, here in America. We want our ultimate capitalist democratic Christian devil, more ruthless than our tycoons, more corrupt than our politicians, living his life every day by scripture and by damn having the demons vote on rigged machines to back it up, in America. So a communist demoness is a little bit like a Prohibition demoness or a Nixon apologist demoness.

Not a bit respectable.

We’ll still fight someone like that. But we’re Americans. We can’t very well respect a devil backing a stupid idea.

So, anyway.

Tanith didn’t post much when this happened.

Some of that was a frisson of supernatural awe. It’s not every blogger who gets comments from the Devil. Most bloggers only get comments from the Devil’s payroll, or from those automatic spammers that from time to time he shits.

But most of it was just—

That kind of “what do I say?” sense that can trouble a person, on those nights.

And because she hadn’t said anything, the Devil kept on reading her blog, intermittently, over the next few months.

Sometimes he’d post, and a bunch of the regulars would jump on him. Or sometimes Mara would post, and he’d make sure to bring up her many inadequacies as a person and a demoness.

And one day, Tanith wrote this.

“The word we have for someone who buys the intangible—the traitless, the ill-defined, the ephemeral sensation of satisfaction carried by the inconsistent belief that we have obtained a thing that we cannot define—is ‘fool.’

“I find myself wondering if the Devil hasn’t trapped himself in a pyramid scheme set forth by his Creator.

“I find myself wondering if it’s anything more than a confidence game, this business of buying souls. If it isn’t all backed by the dubious goodwill of the various divine and temporal institutions that have chosen, for the nonce, to pretend that that concept has value—

“A value that is fundamentally unsustainable, a spiritual tulip market, relying on the metricization of our own unquestioned assumptions.

“So I’d like to ask the Devil
If he’s sure it’s on the level
And just what he thinks he’s buying
If the Devil don’t mind.”

Some people say that that actually reached him. Others think he just got distracted by the pressures of being buried in ice at the bottom level of Hell and decided to stick to more generally pro-Devil blogs.

But he didn’t argue, and in the end that killed him.

The Devil can’t live if he doesn’t keep posting.

If you get to make your point—

Even just once!—

He withers away.

So there’s a new Devil now, just like there always is, just the same as the one before him. He’s red and he’s mean. He’s been as cold as ice from the day that his mother bore him.

But there’s one thing changed.

He doesn’t buy souls.

Not this one.

Not any more.

You’re supposed to give this Devil your soul. He doesn’t buy: he asks. You’re supposed to give it to him; and a lot of people do.

Freely, freely, and with brightness; so they say.

Training

The Endless Reproduction Vat hums. It spits out six creatures. They are oddly cute. They are very human. They proceed from the Birthing Chamber to the Indoctrination Chamber, and now they know the purpose of their lives.

“Messages,” says Four in wonder.

“Messages,” Two confirms.

The next room is the garden of poles. They live there for one year. The poles are bamboo. The poles are very tall. They sway in the breeze. There are gaps between them. The creatures balance atop the poles. It is a long way down. Four cannot see the ground. It might be water, or padding. It might be acid.

“Look!” shouts Six. “I can stand on one foot!”

Six balances on one foot. Six hops from pole to pole. It’s a stunning display of agility. Four applauds. Three looks sour. One, Two, and Five are too busy learning their own balance.

“Thank you, thank you.” Six bows to Four. Six wobbles. Six hops again, lands on a bamboo pole, and reasserts equilibrium.

Six is always taking risks like that. That’s why Four is in love. Four has balance, but not daring. She’s not at any risk of falling. But to stand on one foot—that’s beyond her. So she finds herself covertly watching Six as he capers. One day, she says to him, “I like you.”

He winks at her. “Later,” he says. “We have to finish training!”

In the fifth month, Two falls, and is gone. He does not return.

In the tenth month, it is Six who falls.

“Congratulations,” barks the loudspeaker, at the end of the year. “You may now move on to the Tactics Room.”

The Tactics Room is full of lasers. Not even these creatures can dodge lasers. But everything has a pattern. Even lasers. If you know the pattern, then you won’t get hit!

“The pattern changed,” says Three, anguished, on the fourth day. Then she dies. Half of the creatures are dead. The other half practice more assiduously.

“I liked Three,” Four says, after a while. A laser shoots over her left shoulder; she ignores it.

“She was sour,” One points out. “I like you better.”

Four blushes a little. “I think she just didn’t see the point of all this training.”

“We have a holy mission!”

“That’s true,” Four agrees. She takes three steps to the side. It’s not quite enough; there’s a searing pain in her leg, and she drops to one knee.

“You’re bleeding,” says One. He goes to help her.

The loudspeaker snaps, “Back!”

There’s a wall of light between them. One watches helplessly as Four rips off part of her shirt and binds her wound. He cannot reach her. For days, she is slowed, and he is distracted. She recovers. He does not. In the Agility Room, where the lasers are much faster but give a second’s warning before firing, his distraction kills him.

“I don’t know much about you,” Four says to Five.

“Html body body body bgcolor is white text is black alink is blue h4 knthihlbrrcy kqeonpidxry gh-qual?” he answers.

“Enigmatic!” she exclaims. “Like a ninja.”

He smirks. A laser fires at him. He vanishes in a cloud of blue smoke, and reappears on the other side of the room.

There are no more rooms. After six weeks in the Agility Room, they arrive at the Presentation Chamber. They don the Sorting Hat.

“You’ll be delivering a message to 1948 La Theine,” says the sorting hat, and imprints the message on Four’s brain.

“1948 La Theine?” she says, honored. She passes the Sorting Hat to Five. Then she pumps her fist in the air. “I got La Theine!”

Five looks at her. He listens to the hat. He tosses it aside and sulks.

“It’s okay,” she says. “Let’s both do our best!”

Then they’re out the door.

The world is dangerous for creatures like them. There are pits of snakes, and guided missiles, and swarms of robotic bees. There’s even mecha-anthrax, its virus-enhancing battlesuits blasting away at her body’s defenses; and the greatest challenge of all is the magical dachshund, trained—some say—by Merlin himself, whose manipulation of the weave of fate and mysterious power thwarts her at every turn. But too many people have died. She can’t stop now!

In the end, she floats over the pits like a feather, and loses the guided missiles behind building walls, and turns the bees against one another with poisoned words. The viral particles of mecha-anthrax prove too big to infect her cells, and the dachshund, betrayed by a cat named Nimue, is locked in a crystal cave to bother her no more.

She reaches 1948 La Theine. The people who live there turn, and scowl at her, although their daughter cannot help but think, “How cute!”

“Please,” Four says. “I have an important message!”

The matriarch of La Theine walks over to the wall. She takes down a shotgun. She levels it at Four.

“Cheap Viagra,” shouts Four. “And other drugs such as Soma, Lipitor, Celebrex, Valium, Xanax, and more! No doctor consultation needed!”

The gun goes off. Four sinks to the ground.

At least I told them, she thinks. At least now they know. The long purpose of my life has been fulfilled.

“I wish they wouldn’t make them so . . . intelligent,” says the matriarch.

“Fuzzy spam lady died,” the daughter whimpers.

Four’s world goes white.

Four’s world goes black.

Four’s world goes a color that she could not describe. Five might have words for this, she thinks.

Then there is only Heaven.

The Interpretation of Spam

The magician sits at her terminal. She is quiet. She is patient. She is calm.

She clicks open her mailbox. She regards the first spam.

“Herbal penis enlargement,” she says, and consults her manual. “A spam of the suit of drugs—but, ultimately, a spam of ascension. It offers three inches. Some say that the first inch is mene, the second tekel, and the third ufarsin; but I am fonder of the school that has them as a mystical representation of the Holy Trinity.”

She considers.

“This spam does not speak of my material genitalia,” she concludes, “nor offer to affect them. It tells me of the pillar of the world. These are the inches on which humanity rises from nothingness, to animal, to human, to god. In this reading, it defines me: I am the seeker. I have the power, over myself and the world. I can make things better.”

She clicks again.

“The jack of pr0n,” she says. “Russian wives want to love me up. This is a spam of journeys and unmet obligations.”

She clicks again.

“A virus.” She opens up her Norton Utilities. She flips through her interpretation guide. She begins crossreferencing. “If your mailbox contains MyDoom,” she reads aloud, “first, don’t panic. Many novices assume MyDoom is a bad virus, when in fact the doom is simply a metaphor for loss—data loss, certainly, or an unfavorable transition, but also the abandonment of ideas and principles whose time has passed. This spam means that a few things in your life have to go—starting, of course, with MyDoom, which you should delete now before you accidentally run it.”

She hesitates. “Huh.”

Then she deletes it, carefully, and clicks again. She stares for a time at the words emblazoned on her screen.

“You’re right,” she says to the screen. “I’ve been waiting too long.”

She stands, and takes her coat, and goes to the door.

“Make money fast,” she says, and shrugs.

“Well, I’ve made my fortune. So . . . time to spread it around.”

She goes outside. She stretches. She leaves the door open behind her. After a moment, Discount Jesus comes out into the light. He’s not the real Jesus, or even a real savior, but he was available online and he’s got a convenient moral doctrine. “Going somewhere?” he asks.

“Yup! Be my copilot?”

Discount Jesus nods; so she gets on her motorcycle, and he gets in the sidecar, and she revs up the engine.

“We’re going to visit the spammer,” she says.

“Oh? Did it finally call you?”

She nods firmly. “There’s a voice behind the spam,” she says. “Somewhere out there, someone’s sending this stuff. Someone’s planning it all. Someone’s got a wire right into the universal unconscious and is laying out the truth, plain as day, in the mailbox of everybody in the world.”

Discount Jesus smiles. “You’re an optimist, Celia.”

“There’s a force behind it,” she says. “I can feel it. And it doesn’t feel like people. And . . . well, so it’s time to pay it a call.”

She drives. There’s a wind in their hair.

“It could be some gibbering elder god,” he proposes. “Like in Disney’s ‘Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.'”

“Or angels,” she says. “I mean, come on, DJ; it’s not like you’d know.”

He makes a vaguely hurt face at her. “I’m a spiritual breakthrough developed by a team of fourteen accredited theologians,” he says.

“It’s okay, DJ. I just mean that . . . it’s not like . . . the real thing, you know?”

“It’s 2.3 times better.”

She giggles.

The road is bumpy now, and there’s a building complex ahead. Sprawling above it is a majestic sign reading SPAM.

“. . . huh. No pr0n or ads on it,” she says.

DJ shakes his head. “Just by looking at it, you’ve given them all your personal data and a peek under your shirt besides.”

Her nostrils flare. “Stupid HTML.”

“I could turn it into XML,” he says. “You know, as a miracle.”

A car drives past. Its bumper sticker reads “WWJD?”

“Or try to find some kind of anonymous browsing service,” he adds.

She shakes her head.

Her motorcycle pulls up in front of the building. She hops down. She takes her helmet off and tucks it under her arm. DJ climbs out of the sidecar.

“It could be Michael Moore,” Discount Jesus says. “He’s evil. Spammers are evil. Occam’s Razor suggests that they’re one and the same. Also, ichneumon wasps.”

“What about Britney Spears?”

Discount Jesus shrugs. “They could be in it together. Like a buddy picture. Only with spam.”

Boldly, Celia strides up to the front door. She knocks. The door slides open. Inside, there is a great and empty space; and at its center, a machine; and connected to the machine, the spammer.

“I’m here!” she says, and the spammer turns. It looks at her. Its eyes are wide and blank.

“Oh,” she says, and walks up to it, and touches it under the chin, and holds its face up, and looks into it. “Oh.”

“Cialis is known as Super Viagra,” it says. “It starts working up to twice as fast!”

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“Irene magnumangels honda1 don laddie ruth mazda1 rock romanasdfghjk,” it says. There’s a horrid glottal stop at the end of that last word. It sounds like copperware dying.

“I . . .”

She looks at Discount Jesus. “It’s not a god,” she says.

“It’s not people,” he points out.

“It’s . . .” She looks at it. “It wants to be people. It wants so much to be.”

Its hand reaches for her. It’s a shriveled little paw, both cute and sickening. It scrabbles at the air.

“It wants so much to be.”

“The noise dreams of signal,” Discount Jesus agrees. “They are yin and yang, and each contains the other.”