“Look, I’m sure we can all benefit from a little extra exercise, right? We’re getting older and maintaining cardiovascular fitness is important.”
“Fuck that,” Googe says in between pants. “Once my metabolism starts tanking, I’m getting gene therapy and cybernetic implants.”
“Shameless cheating,” I say with a sniff.
“It’s better than jogging.”
“But where’s the sense of accomplishment? The sense of bettering one’s self? Where’s the part where you look in the mirror and think, ‘Yes, I can be a better me?’”
The ground is rising up before us, and I almost let a grown slip past my lips. There’s no reason for there to be a damn hill here. There’s no reason for there to be hills anywhere in the Meadows, given that the whole thing is man-and-machinemade and designed. The whole thing could be flat, or spherical, or cuboid or whatever the hell was most efficient, but not hilly. I suppose if we wanted efficiency, we wouldn’t have launched ourselves into medium earth orbit. But still, why hilly, damn it?
“Fuck that,” Googe gasps as we ascend, and in the moment, I’m inclined to agree. “I’d rather look at a catalog and think, ‘Yes, I can have robo-lungs.’”
“He’s got a point,” Monk adds, huffing and puffing and probably on the verge of vomiting. “Jogging sucks.”
“Oh, honestly. Why don’t you just scan your brain, digitize it, upload it to a cloud somewhere, and be done with it?”
“I would if I could afford it,” Monk says with an air of finality, and I shudder for the truth he speaks. Doubtless he would, and who knows what dark, diseased thoughts are playing out in his head at the mention of it? I envision a world of perfect happiness, of peace, love, and understanding for all. Children playing with fluffy animals while loving parents look on with feelings of pride at the life they’ve brought into a world that isn’t overcrowded or resource-starved or cut down and dug up and paved over. I imagine all of this, and then I imagine Monk imagining a world where he can sleep in until 10 and sit at home and play games and watch films all day. A world confined to a box, a world that only exists within that box. Perfect solitude floating in white emptiness. And also his wife is dressed in a French maid outfit with cat ears. And she’s a twin. A triplet, maybe.
I look up at the sky. There’s a sky the color of a bruise above us and a bright light set against it. I honestly have no idea if it’s the sun or some kind of artificial thing intended to make us think that sun’s light shines on this forsaken place, but either way the damn thing is cooking my brain.
Vehicles speed past us, the hum of electric engines and the roar of gas engines filling the air. I can hear laughter and hear screams of joy and hear children complaining and hear people hawking their goods and services. We have covered a preposterous distance in a short span of time to make this journey, thousands of miles straight into the air, and yet it feels like it’s been an eternity. Like there is still so much farther to go. And yet, as we crest the hill and the hotels and casinos of the Meadows stand before us, glass and steel and neon shining like a beacon, like the impossible dream that it is, something stirs within me.
For the first time since we’d first shuffled into the shuttle and blasted off, since I’d begun planning the trip and planting the idea into my friends’ heads, possibly even since I’d first learned of Beast and what it was capable of, the salvation that it promised, I felt something. I could feel myself becoming something I rarely was, something I strived not to be, something I tried to stamp down and beat out of myself, drowning it in booze and sedating it with medication and willing it away with the kind of determination usually reserved for a Buddhist monk seeking enlightenment.
I suppose there was a part of me that understood Monk and Googe, their loathing of discomfort and suffering. But where they only wanted to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain, I wanted something more. I wanted transcendence. The human body is a frail, fragile thing. I know this. It would be so easy to cut it apart and put it back together with robo-lungs and cyber kidneys and a CPU embedded in your brain and proclaim yourself superior. But I sincerely do believe that’s cheating. If you want to be a machine, then be a machine. But don’t think that you’re a superior human being because when your body oxidizes, it gets a patina of rust or tarnish instead of aging.
Maybe I’m just stubborn. There’s something wrong with me, I know that, but I want to fix it, not replace it. Like everyone else who has ever come to the Meadows, I have come here in search of something greater. The next big score. Inner peace. Fortune. Fame. I want it all. I want that drug. I want the possibility of seeing through space and time like the gods do. I want to know exactly where things went wrong, and I want to fix them.
Only then will I be whole.
I can get the Beast, I think. I’ll find a dealer, score some, take it, and fix everything. Expand my consciousness, make the right decisions, reap the benefits. No more regret. No more sleepless nights. No more hauntings. No more Lady in White.
This will work. This will work. It has to.
“Come on, boys,” I mutter through clenched teeth. “Not much farther now.”
Word Count: 11,121 (2,287 words a day to go!)