2,900 Words

There was a peculiar kind of sadism, or was it masochism, involved in downlowing into a limbsuit and going out among the slowfolk. We’d get an especial chuckle when we’d strike up a conversation with a humanity or other and the whole gaggle of them would be obsessed with something insane and childish, like who got to be captain, or worse, “credits.” And the credits weren’t even really issued by the captain! And it wasn’t as though these humanities didn’t have their charms; some of them stacked blocks rather well, or fucked a lot and ate insects off one another and wisely kept their toolkits small and manageable.

And the ones with religions were sometimes especially beautiful. To weep and sing and build monuments and write books about, and to, one’s own executive function—good stuff, brainheads! We’d come across a humanity that had fissioned ridiculously into fifteen major subsects based around distrust of matter, and they had a couple planets and junk like that. Captained ships and little upload emulators that sort of acted like their own famous dead and such. It’s probably most fair to say that this humanity had an abject relationship with the world of matter—they were suspicious of the universe, but really couldn’t bear to live without it. They loved their molecules and atoms and loved counting them up and applauding those who had convinced the others they had the most.

Anyway, we were there in this limbsuit and hit one of the planets and a few of them had recently debodied after some fuss, and there was a big discussion over whether emulated emissions could own molecules, which is precisely the sort of conversation that has always made us hungry, so we found a restaurant.

“Have you been here before?” our date asked. She was a very nice one, so we said no so she’d tell us all about it. There was tongue stuff and skin stuff and nose stuff and she punctuated her explanation of the menu and the cultures from whence it came with a joke about credits, but her smile was so winning that we didn’t even reach up and tilt the star around which her planet orbited to make sure they all died before they could escape and infect the rest of existence with such tediousness.

“No, but I’ve definitely been someplace similar once,” we said. “I’m an aesthetic explorer; so, I’m super-excited about it.”

“Aesthetic explorer,” she repeated, rolling the phrase over. “Yeah, me too.”

“Oh good!”

“But I come here all the time. There’s plenty to explore.” She gestured grandly to the menu, which was significant. “I am going to consume so many molecules,” she said, or something like it.

Blind dates can be awkward, so we shifted the chat upward a level to see what she’d do. “How about that recent controversy everyone’s talking about, eh?”

“Don’t get me started,” she said, getting started. Oh boy, what local subsects informed her axioms, we were dying to know! She was pretty intense and even let us wonder whether she didn’t want to fuck after eating by way of explaining her worldview.

“The issue is fundamentally spiritual, not economic,” she said. We licked ourselves in glee.

“Ultimately markets are emergent properties of not only human behavior, but of human sense-making; so, the central issue is how we can hauntologically relate the subjectivity of posthumous heuristigolems to our embedded notions of animal-spirits in voluntary exchange—”

“I can’t believe you don’t want to fuck after dinner!” we shouted.

“What?” she said. “Of course I want to fuck after dinner.”

And speaking of dinner, it was served. She could really smear it about. We find that humans like talking about themselves, so we peppered her with questions like we peppered the entrées—also with questions. You could really learn something from a molecule, even when it’s not concatenated together in such a fashion as to mimic or even create sentience.

“So, tell me about you,” she said flirtily. So, we did. We are a nigh-infinite opera omnia of a once fertile and rambunctious bit of humanity; these days, we mostly hide under the blankets, keeping all electromagnetic energy and novel quantum information away, though of course we do poke our heads out occasionally, to sample local cuisine and to make sure that the laws of physics remain intact long enough to guarantee a front-row seat at Heat Death. We may even show up early for the opening act, Big Crunch. It keeps the mind active, thinking about it.

“You make sure?” she said.

“Well, not insofar as we could do anything about it, were the informational basis of the cosmos to change. It’s more like peeking through the oven door at the soufflé within. If it collapses, there’s shit-all to do except shrug and get on with having ice cream instead.”

“Ah, soufflé,” she said. It wasn’t on the menu or even within the realm of experience of her local articulation of humanity, but she probably figured out what we meant from context clues. She was a sharpie, our blind date.

“But if the soufflé does collapse, what will shrugging and getting on with it look like?” She smiled. “I’m not really one for much small talk, especially if we’re going to fuck after dinner.”

We bravely kept from wincing at the imposition of if before fuck after dinner. “It’ll depend …” we started to say. Honestly, we’d never given the issue much thought. Who digs their own grave the moment they learn to make tools, except for everyone, secretly, without even realizing it? “Do we just keep chugging ahead, or turn off the cosmic light within our brains? We’re an acephalous coagulum, not a collective, so really, every possible decision will be made.”

“Maybe you should consider the possibility of impossible decisions, if you catch my drift,” she said.

The essential drama of the first date is this: when is it appropriate to make a corrective remark? If one wishes to fuck after dinner, the answer is never. And yet, a first date is also a matter of exploration. Some things are more important, deadlier, than fucking after dinner.

“Are you referring to the possibility that not all constants are necessarily constant, especially as we evolve from universe to baby universe and—”

“Back again,” she interrupted. She called for the dessert menu, which fired our libido. So many beings see dessert as an indulgence or insist on waiting for table-wide consent before whistling for the waiter. “I believe in ‘law without law,’” she said, gesturing to the dessert menu. “Different sets of laws to choose from that create the universe via the act of observing the law.”

“Sure, a mathematical universe. We can only order what’s on the menu,” we said. “Really, once the menu is written, the only food available is menu food. The mere existence of the menu not only implies the existence of the food, it limits the universe to only that food while also guaranteeing that food.”

She licked her lips and leaned in close, showing off attractive curvilinear coordinate surfaces. “Unless, of course, you understand the menu, cuisine, the kitchen staff, and your own desires well enough to ask for some substitutions.”

“But it’s still just the menu items. One cannot order an amuse-gueule of electrons with imaginary number spins,” we said. I was veering into over-explaining, an entirely unfair behavior given the evolutionary chasm between our social groupings. “You can’t order a whole roast pig on a spit in a vegan restaurant—maybe something shaped like a pig that tastes like one though.”

“And if the menu just called it pig, and pig meant ‘a mass of tofu carved into the shape of an imaginary beast with a curly tail and snout’?”

“Well yes, exactly. But the universe is larger than this menu, as significant as it is. The universe is the menu, and we’re all just dishes …” I tried to smile, as she was frowning severely.

“There are also specials,” she said, an edge in her voice. “Non-menu items based on leftovers, daily market prices, and season.”

“I suppose there are, but at some point, every metaphor fails. If a metaphor were apt one hundred percent of the time, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be the thing itself,” we said. “But tell me, what do you mean about the possibility of making impossible decisions? I guess I don’t catch your drift after all.” I suspected that she was just confused, but it’s good form on a first date to let one’s companion talk about themselves.

“I was really excited when you asked me out,” she said. “You’re just so worldly and interesting. We’ve been looking for someone like you forever. I don’t mean to say something too forward, or too awkward, but do you … spend a lot of time on yourself anymore?”

We blinked. “Well, Γνῶθι σεαυτόν and all that, to be sure. I’d say that I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the years, but I’m in a pretty good place now.” She raised an eyebrow, more whimsical than suspicious. “To be almost perfectly honest, I don’t spend a lot of time on myself anymore. I’m really more interested in the project I was talking about earlier—pushing forward through millennia to the end of the universe and the birth of the next babyverse.”

“That’s very maternal.”

“I definitely have a maternal side,” we said. “Then let me ask you another question—why did you ask me out?”

There were a number of answers to this. I wanted to fuck after dinner. Honestly, I wanted to fuck instead of dinner, but some humans enjoy their quaint traditions and I am one to indulge them. I did find her fascinating in a way, though it was a fascination more akin to a visual binary star—the comes is dimmer but still exerts some pull. She was a naïve milkmaid, a promising provincial, a charm quark among the ups and downs.

I suppose I was also a little bored, and wanted to see what would happen. Would she be impressed with me, intimidated, or just perplexed?

“I thought, correctly, that you would be good company.” I smiled a galaxy.

“Thought, or felt …” Those eyebrows again.

We took a quick inventory. “Yes. Feel.”

She nodded. “I’m so glad. I’m very good at feeling things, too. Feelings aren’t distinct from cognition, they’re just a different type of cognition. I’ve felt something about you for a long time; I’ve had my eye on you for many a year.”

“I see; what in particular attracted you?”

She leaned in again, nudging the dessert menu away, taking all of our hands in all of hers. “What you’re standing on. You’re so confident in your own perfection, you didn’t even notice it. Sometimes a lesser being can perceive what a greater one cannot.”

We must have made a shocked, horrified panoply of faces because she suddenly pulled her hands away and waved them around. “No, no, you don’t understand,” she said, plaintive. “This isn’t a trick. I am organically interested in you. I’m not trying to show you up. But you know what it’s like—we’re all just trying blindly to live and evolve, groping about in the inky blackness of trans-infinite space. It’s all so horrifying,” she said. Then a whisper of a smile drifted across her otherwise upset features.

“It’s true,” we said, quietly. “The absolute infinite is always out of reach. That’s the most terrifying part of existence.” We were getting in first-date deep with her, so we had to swallow the urge to finish our utterance, which is why we should get the check and then get to fucking. “But, what were you saying about your senses?”

“You’re very fast. Maybe so fast you don’t have a sense of the slow,” she said plainly. “Down here in real time, sometimes we catch glimpses of things. You’re still atoms and narrative—the story quantum mechanics tells itself. I know I’m just a dumb little person, just two generations removed from real meat and two-fingers-pinching-a-lit-match death, but even I can perceive things too small, and too large, and too slow for you to notice. You don’t depend on actual perceptions anymore, not like I do.

“Remember dogs?” she said, and we didn’t, but we knew about dogs just as we knew about soufflés and d’lyt and 物の哀れ and

and such-and-such.

“We know about remembering dogs.”

“One of the first animals humans domesticated,” she said. “The earlies off-loaded their olfactory needs to the dog, to the point where earlies could barely smell at all, but dogs could smell the interiors of human bodies. They could smell cancer! Could you imagine downlowing into a limbsuit and not even being able to sniff out a cancer malfunction?”

“The point is that the dogs had a more expansive sensorium than humans, even if they didn’t know anything about cancer other than ‘unusual,’ or perhaps, if we’re being generous, ‘bad.’”

She shrugged expansively. Her coordinates heaved. “Sure. And while we’re not your bitch, we did evolve in … your shadow. In your wake, at least. So, we developed some perceptions that you just don’t need anymore. You are the law-that-is-not-the-law, but we’re the lawyers, interpreting the texts and considering the implications.” The sibilance in that last sentence was erotic. Was she manipulating me? Should I even care?

“And what sort of implications have you found?”

“You asked me out, so we could come here and consider the menu, and consider its implications,” she said. I decided that I’d be very disappointed if she said something like A menu implies a chef, and a chef implies cuisine … She wasn’t so far removed from meat-time, after all; her stupid society was still struggling with probate for uploaded consciousnesses. God stuff, feh! I was beginning to feel bored, like I might have to just end this date, and this restaurant, and this local region of the visible universe.

“You are better than you know,” she said. “You are the law-without-law, not just the law,” she said. “Think about it. Sense it.” She stroked our cheek, brushed the hair from our brow. “What is it that you are standing atop?”

Absolute infinity. The space beyond our space, where narrative doesn’t need atoms. The darkest bits between our visible universe and the one just beyond it, where alacrity is a liability. We’d really just burn ourselves out if we pushed past the spacetime territory we knew, to those moments before constants decided to become constant. You have to be truly slow—to cogitate only once and so utterly that you are the one who decides which concepts became constant—to exist out there. Not a menu that implies a chef, but a menu that implies a set of patrons. We were here in a restaurant, on a first date with a charming little speck of flesh and moments, one we were a bit embarrassed to be seen with. Thus, the downlowing, but she and we were patrons nonetheless.

“The Truly Slow and Singular,” we said. “Do you believe in it? Can you sense it?” Suddenly, I was afraid. We’re pretty hot shit, to tell you the truth. There are only a handful of us fastfolk among the slowfolk, and like I said, we can be sadistic. Sadism is like masochism; it’s borne of boredom, but the masochist is bored with the self and the sadist bored of everything outside the self. Something shifted in me. The Truly Slow and Singular would have to have grown instantly bored of the entire informational lattice of the universe the instant it came into being. It meaning both the Truly Slow and Singular and the informational lattice of the universe. The menu as a collection of all the ingredients of all the dishes and the means with which to prepare them, and the menu as the piece of paper from which I ordered. Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore; it’s always too crowded.

The Truly Slow and Singular would have grown bored of us too, just as they grew bored. Is that why this universe was doomed to extinction? Would the next babyverse be absolutely infinite, just to purposefully exclude us from its absence of edges?

“I can,” she said. We didn’t believe her. We were furious. With a massive expenditure of energy, we expanded our reach out to the very edge of what we are. Imagine if you could taste with the hair on your arms. Was the Truly Slow and Singular out there, under our feet, holding us and everything else up?

She was right.

“Oh no,” we said. “I’m afraid I lost my appetite.”

She had a spoon in each hand and was digging away. “If it’s any consolation,” she said between bites, “what really happened is that you are the law-without-law. The Truly Slow and Singular has always existed because you sensed that it does now, after I suggested it. It was really nice spending trans-infinity getting to know you, but I have to go. I’ll see you around. All around.”

And then she was off, all of her humanity, into the dark space beyond me, to be the Truly Slow and Singular. It hurt to be left alone and superseded and unfucked, but it was the kind of hurt we’ve always craved.

 

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including I Am Providence and Hexen Sabbath. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, New Haven Review, and his essays and reportage in In These Times, Village Voice, The Smart Set and other venues. As an anthologist, Nick co-edited Haunted Legends with Ellen Datlow, The Future is Japanese and Hanzai Japan with Masumi Washington, and the hybrid cocktail/fiction book Mixed Up with Molly Tanzer. His work has been nominated for the Hugo, World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, and Locus Awards.

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