The Beast, Pt. 1 (Chapter 1 and Chapter 2a)

“Horribilis” will continue in December. If you’re eager to see where Chana’s story takes her, you’re going to have to wait a month to find out. As for November, it’s National Novel Writing Month!

If you’re a longtime reader (I know there’s at least one of you,) then you know that every year I start the marathon that is NaNoWriMo, run about a mile, and then decide that it would be easier to NOT run the metaphorical marathon and go get a literal cheeseburger instead. This year I’m feeling extra optimistic about my chances of success this year on account of my self-imposed update schedule. I’m already writing every day, so keeping up with NaNoWriMo’s demands shouldn’t be quite as big a shift.

But attentive readers might notice that this year’s flailing attempt to produce a novel was something that I previewed way back in July/August. I can hear you now, hypothetical reader/voice in my head: “That’s cheating! Have I been working on this thing the whole time? For shame.” Well, I actually haven’t due to my pathological inability to work ahead. But I do already have some content created. According to OpenOffice, there are 5,416 words written so far (which is more than a tenth of the way to the 50,000 word goal.) To offset this headstart, I’ll be striving to write 50,000 new words.

Unless the novel doesn’t require it.

Or the novel requires more.

You know what? Screw the word count. My goal for November is to tell the damn story. If that means writing a novella, fine. If it means writing a tome you could use to bludgeon someone to death, that’s fine too. Let’s just start this thing and see where it winds up.

1

It would, strictly speaking, be inaccurate to say that it all began in a cheap shuttle en route to the Meadows. Inaccurate, and yet not exactly wrong.

Sure, there had been moments that had come before. Whole lifetimes’ worth. A thousand disparate threads weaving together to create a grand infinite tapestry of which we we occupied an impossibly small portion. Immeasurably so. The lives that made up that portion were meaningless, save for what they contributed to the whole.

As someone once told me, a third of the weight of your shit is made up of dead bacteria.

Not that I’m saying the universe is shit, but hey, isn’t that a neat bit of trivia?

Assuming, of course, that it’s true.

The point I’m trying to make is this: everything that came before, the plans, the falling apart of plans, the replanning of plans, the hopes, the dreams, the dry desert rocks upon which they’d all been shattered, none of it mattered.

Memories may as well have been wholesale fictions. And even if they weren’t, they were suspect. The human mind is no machine. There are no pieces that might grind against each other and wear out and be replaced to keep the whole thing functioning. Instead, there’s just a soft pink mass, horribly vulnerable to trauma emotional and physical. The slightest jolt results in a lifetime of increasingly desperate measures trying to put things back together.

And that’s not even considering the countless nights spent intoxicated, inebriated, inundated with some chemical or another that had left me the unreliable narrator of my own life. An archivist drunk at the stacks of a library crumbling into dust. A writer who’d spilled coffee on an already illegible manuscript. A computer with an expertly crafted bug erasing its files and erasing any trace of the erasure.

That didn’t matter either. The flaws and mistakes, the joys and triumphs, the names and the faces, the history, the past, all of it, were all being put aside. All that mattered was the present unfolding as I hurtled blindly through space, Earth fading behind me and the glowing neon of the Meadows coming closer with each passing second. Within the walls of that shuttle, I was Chad Studlu, and that was the way it had always been.

For as far back as I cared to remember, I had been Chad Studlu. Chad understood in a distant, intellectual sort of way that there must have been a point where he was someone else, where I wasn’t him and he wasn’t me. Either there had been someone else or else there had been non-existence, but it didn’t matter. The concept of not being Chad bored and depressed me. That’s why I had created us. That’s why he made a life I could inhabit. Chad didn’t bore me. Chad didn’t depress me. And so long as I was him and he was me, I didn’t bore me, didn’t depress me.

How could I?

I was Chad Studlu, and Chad Studlu was a man with a mission. A man with a goal. A man with a higher purpose.

There were friends on the shuttle, acquaintances, allies, foils, doppelgangers, sidekicks, each with their own pasts (which didn’t matter) and their own histories (which were fiction.) In lieu of the boring and depressing, they had been granted new ones, neat and meaningful and informative of their character and their motivations. Their needs, their wants, their purposes.

They were grateful, I hoped. I would be, at any rate.

That’s all anyone really needs to be happy in this life, I think. A purpose.

But I’m getting away from myself. So, anyway,

2

there I am, plucked fully formed from the aether, awake and ravening for delight. I’m standing in the bathroom, and it’s this tiny closet of a room. It’s a maze, labyrinthine, Cyclopean, non-Euclidean. It’s so small and cramped and inscrutably, impossibly designed that you’re apt to hit your head and stub your toe and skin your knee and fall on your face all at once if you sit down to use the toilet. And may all the angels and the devils both help you when you have to wipe.

And yet at the same time, the dark wizard that had designed this carnival funhouse of a bathroom had seen fit to make the spot immediately in front of the sink tall enough that I, at six-feet-and-change, could stand up straight. This doesn’t comfort me, though. No. It troubles me.

I suspect that, somehow, a shorter man or woman or miscellaneous might not be able to stand up straight at all. The strange geometries would swallow them up, and in their last moments they would hit their head stub their toe and skin their knee. With an inadequately wiped asshole, they would cry out, “God damn it, ouch!” and then they would disappear from the universe as we understand it, not just killed but unwritten from the very fabric of existence. Their parents would have a different child, their first love would lose their virginity to some guy named Ricky Two-Fingers instead, and their seat would be filled by some sweaty and morbidly obese individual overflowing into their neighbors like so much Europan Slime Mold.

I suspect that seven virgins were sacrificed on the altar of Buj’et Erh, the blind idiot god of squeezing one’s customers until they pop in a shower of fluids and money, when the room was being designed. I suspect that the blueprints for the bathroom were not constructed in some fancy, overpriced program created explicitly for that purpose, but were instead drawn up on tanned human skin in the blood of catamites.

I suspect that the flight attendant not-so-gently rapping on my chamber pot door is ten seconds away from notifying a Sky Marshal that I’m some kind of a terrorist with gastric distress. And damn it, that would simply be unacceptable. After all, I am neither of those things, and certainly not both at the same time. This is it! The end has come for me! Let my last words be an invective against that fourth Phobos Phiz I drank! I was already synesthetic! Why did I order three more?

Meanwhile, the knocking at the door is becoming more insistent than ever. “Sir-and-or-Madam,” the synthetic attendant says through the door in its meticulously designed, non-threatening, gender-neutral voice. “We’re approaching our destination. I must politely request that you return to your specially designated seat and prepare yourself for the docking procedure, Sir-and-or-Madam.”

There’s a special procedure to follow when you’re being “politely” asked to do something by someone in the service industry and you desperately need to by yourself more time. You don’t want to argue because then you’re an asshole, and if you’re too much of an asshole, you’ll find yourself tackled to the floor. You don’t want to plead because you can’t predict how the person will react; maybe you’ll get someone sympathetic who will leave you be, or maybe you’ll get a miniature tyrant who thinks they can put their hand on your shoulder and escort you away. Your only options then are acquiesce or or start arguing, and arguing is definitely going to get you tackled then.

No, what you want to do is debase and degrade yourself. The most useful emotion you can elicit from an authority figure of any stripe is indifference, and the best way to do that is to make yourself not worth dealing with. Most people don’t get paid enough to deal with a soiled vomiting wretch, and the people who do get paid enough wouldn’t deign to subject themselves to such unsavory interactions.

Keeping this all in mind, I shout back at the attendant “One minute!” as friendly yet firmly as I can manage. I look over my shoulder to project my voice out and into the shuttle proper. After all, there’s no sense in pleading my case with the flight attendant alone when I can simply be a bit louder and make the pilot, the other attendants, and everyone in the first couple of rows feel awkward and uncomfortable, too. “Nearly done! I’m full of parasites, and brother-and-or-sister, you really don’t want me sitting back down until I’m done in here!”

“Sir-and-or-Madam, I really must insist that you–”

I cut the synth off with a horrible retching sound. Really disgusting stuff. A noise that starts low in the back of the throat. A choking, gagging sound that’s uncommon and yet all too familiar with anyone who hasn’t gone out of their way to genetically engineer humanity’s more viscous flaws out of their bodies. To hear it from the outside, you might think it was just an ill-timed cough, a breath gone horribly wrong, but then the noise doesn’t stop. Then the listener must confront the horror that’s to come, the pending emesis, the accompanying effluvia. It’s a terrifying noise. Threatening, really. Humans are social creatures, after all. Empathetic. We can feel each others’ pain, and sometimes proximity can make the emotional become the physical.

Or maybe it’s just the scent of butanoic acid that triggers a reflex.

In any case, mid-faux gag I realize that the attendant at my door is a synthetic and is therefore profoundly unlikely to vomit anytime soon. Or ever. Unless some kind of structural damage that leads to the leaking of motor oil and catalytic fluid and who knows what else from the mouth counts as vomiting.

But the flight attendant gasps in disgust. It’s an impossibly human noise from an inhuman machine, and the charade almost falls apart when I start to chuckle. Fortunately, the noise gets lost in all the other loathsome sounds I’m making and the need to laugh passes. I can just make out footsteps walking away from the door over the sound of the roaring engine. I guess even robots hate getting stuck on mop and bucket duty.

It doesn’t matter, really. I have bigger concerns. There’s work to be done before I sit back down. Back on Earth, I’d swallowed a handful of brain pills both so I wouldn’t have to hide them from security and so that I’d be sharp and on top of my game the instant we touched down in the Meadows. I’d been before once as a child, and the experience had traumatized me so thoroughly that I even twenty years later I knew I’d have to prepare. The sensory assault from that place begins as soon as your shuttle’s doors open and you step into the airlock. Holographic images and opportunities to throw away your money lie in wait, ready to attack you at a moment’s notice. The human brain doesn’t stand a chance. It’s like jumping off a Higgins boat and onto the beaches of Normandy.

Word Count: -3,616 (Oh, Lord…)

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