It is hard to tell now what is the absinthe and what is the bile. Matyáš and Tomáš contemplate the red doors.
Behind one red door is the incinerator. Behind the other red door is the future.
Outside the laboratory altogether then is the third option, the option already inside the two Czech’s bodies, inside every body. The third option then was the plague.
Yesterday, the pods drained of water and two beautiful beings stepped onto the floor.
So Matyášian plastics had worked. The beings stretched from their pods and shook out their legs. They came and looked through the glass. What had created them? Why were they here?
Matyáš and Tomáš linked arms and danced around the laboratory while the beings watched them through the glass.
“A little absinthe for me. A little absinthe for you.”
That was yesterday. Today was today.
Today, one being banged on the window, not out of fear, but out of desire to torment.
It was not superintelligence, yet it was certainly intelligence, and it was certainly frightening. They were self-learning, self-willed, and beyond our potential by any degree. ‘Hyper-,’ instead of ‘super-,’ because these beings had, by every projection, never reached superintelligence, only a far-above-intelligent intelligence, something which was not so much Godlike, as we conceive of the singularity-superintelligence, but something all too human–unpredictable, unknowable.
‘Super-,’ the Latin, ‘Hyper-,’ the Greek, both ‘over,’ though super, preferred, the superman. And hyper, shameful, the hyperactive child. The success of Matyáš and Tomáš, admitting they had not achieved superintelligence but “something near close,” was thought by the Germans as, quote, “Hyperactive-intelligence: leave it to the Czechs to call the singular disorder a success,” end quote. Hyperintelligence. Matyáš and Tomáš accepted the term. It sounded better than sub-superintelligence or far worse ‘suberintelligence.’ Though they tore the arms off the Romans, no society has since become, aside from the Americans, more Latin, than the Germans. The Czechs, however, who are the Czechs but Ancient Achaens revived? Achaens not drunk on sobering wine but Achaens drunk on the world’s finest beer. Being two of the most exquisite of Czechs themselves, Matyáš and Tomáš knew the cogito pales in the shadow case by the column at Delphi. ‘I think, I am.’ No, instead ask, Whose blood is this that stains my hands?
Matyáš and Tomáš leaned close as boys over their table, their faces like stones in the eerie green light and dense smoke.
Tomáš worked a bubo between his thumb and forefinger. It poked like a kumquat under his jaw. When finally it broke, it split like the mouth of a can.
“We cannot let her into this world,” said Matyáš.
“She is the last of this world,” said Tomáš. “She is the only human-thing left.”
It gave them each a chill. They each drank again. Each day they knew, was humanity’s last.
“She is an abomination,” said Matyáš. “She is not human.”
“She is created in our image. All our hope rests in her,” said Tomáš.
The eye of Matyáš drooped under an orb made of skin. He massaged it with his thumbs. A few dribbles dropped to the table. They drank of the absinthe. They glanced at the door. The blond hair inside moved up and down.
“That despicable creature is not representative of humanity,” said Matyáš.
“That is the highest humanity,” said Tomáš.
“Can she reproduce?” said Matyáš. “On her own?”
“It’s conceivable,” said Tomáš. He thought of the man, his blood, his peeled skin, his red pelvis. “Maybe she already got what she needed from him,” said Tomáš. “She could be pregnant right now. Her programming will at least convert what she eats into something which speaks.”
“And now that she eats flesh?”
“Well, it is flesh plastics. She will produce a baby much like herself, if she is pregnant.”
“And what if she eats organic material?”
“The programming will extract the carbons and begin to form monomer propylene, the rest is waste unless her programming really proves to be self-learning to the extent it produces molecular change at will and even the waste product can be used.”
“Transformed into what?”
“And what if her principal nourishment is organic?”
“Presumably that would be the case.”
“But she has a taste for the human body. She ate her brother at least. Won’t she eat humans?”
“Humans?!” sputtered Tomáš, his chin buboe squelching from fright. “They are all dead. You’ve heard the radio. You’ve seen the TV. It’s all static, static, static. Dead. Everyone is dead. Excluding you and me, there are no humans so far as we know.”
“So far as we know.”
“You’re suggesting the possibility of survivors? Look at me,” said Matyáš, pointing at his horrible face, a face like a reanimated corpse. “If we are the world’s current survivors, what do you expect the others to look like?”
“Imagine if there are survivors, and we unleash this killing machine.”
“No, no, no.” Tomáš waved him away.
“She is a natural born cannibal,” said Matyáš. “The first thing she did out of the pod was eat her mate. They had hardly got the chance to say hello when she bit out his vocal cords. If she does this within the first day of meeting her twin, her equal, what will she do to us ants?”
Tomáš hung his lip. “There is no one left, I assure you. Without us, without her, there would be no chance for humanity. And this is a superior humanity. We have done right. We have done good work. I congratulate you on your Matyášian plastics. And you are too modest. Here you have created new gods and you blame yourself for the end of the world. Here, have a drink. I insist.”
Tomáš grabbed the absinthe but Matyáš stopped him by the wrist. “She will eat the last of humanity. We have created the Terminator.”
Tomáš jerked his wrist away. Matyáš was acting like a child. “Now I understand,” said Tomáš. “You are in a fantasy. You do not understand the nature of this pandemic. We are all dead or dying. It is not my fault. It is not your fault. It is not Honza’s fault.” Tomáš watched closely as he filled both their drinks. “It simply just is.”
“You will let her out of this lab and she will wreak havoc,” said Matyáš, seeing the green fill, fill, fill up to the top. “So everyone is dead. OK. She will eat no one alive. But she is capable of reproduction, and might I remind you she is a cannibal in a world made of corpses. If she eats my dead body, your dead body, or any of the hundreds of millions of dead bodies, what will grow inside of her. What kind of humanity will step from her womb? Is that what you want to be remembered for?”
“Excluding her,” said Tomáš. “Who else is there to remember us?” He licked then circled his pinky in the sugar bowl.
Matyáš grimaced and instead dipped a spoon into the sugar, then, withdrawing it, lit a match underneath and bubbled the sugar. The spoon turned hot in his hand but he was both so pained all over and so numbed in absinthe that simply did not care.
The future of humanity, the manufactured beings, the twins of impossible life. A man. And a woman. They were made of Matyášian plastic, the greatest breakthrough of this quarter-decade.
What was that, reader? What is Matyášian plastic, you ask? Well, lick a drink, squeeze your pus, and I’ll begin.
Matyášian plastic relies on the physical maxim or, I should say, observable law that thermoplastics are like to men and women, as carbon-based cellular structures are like to carbon-based biological cells. Thermoplastics are made of repeat units, you see, small carbon-based molecules which combine to form monomers. Monomers combine to form polymers.
Take the monomer butene (C4H8), the monomer ethylene (C2H4), or the monomer propylene (C3H6), for example, as all contain double bonds between carbon atoms such that the carbon atoms can react to form polymers. True, the monomers (butene, ethylene, propylene) are all sifted through cracking and at no point pre-cracking, cracking, monoization, nor polymerization, do they resemble anything you or I would call life, for it is not at the subatomic, but at the microscopic scale that we claim life enters the picture. The question then, how do you convince plastic it is alive?
Of this Word’s being forever do men prove to be uncomprehending, both before they hear and once they have heard it. For although all things happen according to this Word, they are like the unexperienced experiencing words and deeds such as I explain when I distinguish each thing according to its nature and show how it is. Other men are unaware of what they do when they are awake just as they are forgetful of what they do when they are asleep.
Consider further Heraclitus: “All things come to pass through the compulsion of strife,” or ‘all is fire,’ or ‘strife,’ or ‘conflict,’ or ‘change,’ or ‘energy,’ or ‘the dynamic tension between opposites.’ Is Schopenhauer’s will, the inner essence of the entire world, then so different? Or, so different is the Buddha’s lament of desire that we must consider the east’s and the west’s sufferings totally unlike? I think it very alike, dear reader. For we are willed, claim these pessimists, into being by Will itself as are ugly tumors from a cancer, that is, we are caused into being ‘by conflict’ or ‘by strife’ or ‘by change,’ life in its nature is ‘energy.’ But we are rescued, as it were, by the contemplation of the Logos, or from our momentary escape from representation, or liberation from our attachment and consideration of the eternal world. If all is caught in the wheel of will, can we not dupe plastics into biological life? Can we not put our fingers into the Logos, and rearticulate the Word so it begins to speak for itself? I ask you, Matyáš. And I, you, Tomáš. Is it so hard to impose life in a pile of plastic, that is, to inscribe “LIVE!” in their monomers and command them to rise?
Their table shined like an organ.
They were giddy for it even in plague.
But then there is no conquering the will, not while it is always behind you, always beneath you, always inside you, always before you.
“Will she burn?” said Matyáš. He ashed his cigarette on the table itself. He did not give a shit. No one did. Apart from the cannibal in the other room, the whole world was dead, or dying.
“That would be genocide,” said Tomáš.
“She has already caused genocide by a half,” said Matyáš. Matyáš waved his hand in the smoke.
The two men looked over their shoulders
Behind the window in the red door, the woman’s bare legs shined with blood. She sucked the dead man’s fingers. She slid the ring finger out from her mouth. The skin was gone and the muscle was exposed. The man’s eyes and his tongue were comically giant. She had eaten his eyelids and lips. Even his teeth were too large, as if she had gnawed on his gums.
They turned back to the absinthe.
“Can we say that this counts as humanity?” said Matyáš.
“Something beyond. An intelligence far beyond what you or I may comprehend,” said Tomáš.
“Are you saying, if I were smarter, if I were a being of higher intelligence, I would eat you. Is this right?” said Matyáš.
“Again, she is of incomprehensible intelligence,” said Tomáš.
“That does not make her human,” said Matyáš.
“No,” said Tomáš. “She is altogether human. She is more human than human.”
Tomáš’s body stiffened in his agitation and his scars and trembling buboes swelled in the light. He looked like a child’s favorite doll ripped open then restuffed and resewn so many times by the mother that the job was finally given over to the child, and the child had no choice but to plop down and get started, poking anything into the doll within reach, sticking it with the needle again and again, hoping to close it.
“She is not singularity, but she is damn close,” said Tomáš.
“She is a cannibal,” said Matyáš.
“Maybe that is the highest expression of humanity, the highest desire,” said Matyáš. “I don’t know. You don’t know.”
“The exemplar of humanity, the last of humanity, she will walk through our cities, eating the corpses of six billion dead,” said Tomáš. “What children born from her she does not herself re-consume will escape and begin their own horrible cycles.”
“It is not certain that she will eat the corpses,” said Matyáš.
“Orville and Wilbur gave the human race an airplane,” said Tomáš. “Daedalus, the axe, the drill and the minotaur. And now we have only given the minotaur. We–”
Tomáš meant to speculate further, but could not for the pain of the lemon-shaped buboe under his tongue, which, in his excitement, had bubbled from his throat like the sac of a toad. “We–” he tried again, but it was clear that he was struggling.
Matyáš heated a knife under match flame, then pulled Tomáš’s face toward him like he was going to give him a shave. Matyáš plugged the knife into the lemon and the lemon coughed. A small pool of bile formed on the table. Because of its thickness and eerie luminescence, it resembled a kind of candle wax bewitched. Judging by the few floating spots like oil in his absinthe, some of the juices from his chin lemon had dribbled therein.
But reader, does it matter always, the contents of your cup? And even as we as a world wade into the killing juices of the plague? Reader, I raise my glass.
“Cheers,” said Matyáš.
“-eers-,” winced Tomáš.
Matyáš and Tomáš grasped hands and shook.
Matyáš departed from the barstool and adjourned to the red door of fire, whereas Tomáš from the barstool crept to the red door of ‘the future.’
True, reflected Matyáš, ‘Matyášian plastics,’ his name was the cause of this monster or new humanity, but see now, reader, it was Tomáš, Tomáš with his hand on the door, Tomáš who unlocked then decompressed the vacuum-sealed door, revealing to the world, the new human race. From suction, the door opened with a gasp and Tomáš held out his hands to their joint-creation. Matyáš had pulled out the bed of the incinerator and it had taken him in like a disk, the porthole-like door immediately closing. Lying flat on his back, he tilted his head and eyes back to watch, for his last few moments, Tomáš. And, even from this vantage point, he immediately knew the woman’s grip on Tomáš spoke not of friendship, but gripped the hand of Matyáš like the farmer grips the leg of a chicken. The future was now. But Matyáš was unable to watch any further, for the timer on the incinerator had ended and–in three, two, one–his eyes were devoured by flame.
Long Beach (Washington, not California) native, Cabdriver takes inspiration from the wildlife around him, the wildlife far below him when he’s out in his boat, and the wildlife he used to see as a child during his short visits to the Oregon Zoo. Cabdriver has been a writer-in-residence at the Sou’wester on fifteen separate occasions. And still nobody remembers him!