In this artifact piece, Virginia Carraway Stark talks about the early days of the GAF on Old Earth. The Maitre committed a short-lived, atrocity-riddled invasion of our planet that was thwarted by the eventual inclusion of Earth in the GAGA; you can read here what life was like for a human on planet Earth cresting the years of the initial invasion.
by Virginia Carraway Stark
“I’m going insane,” I said. I was trying to keep my voice calm, I was trying to keep ‘it’ from getting to me what it was a losing battle.
“You’re always going insane,” Jordan muttered, throwing a handful of chips into his mouth and then licking his finger to hunt errant crumbs.
The rain was pelting the window and I turned away from my boyfriend to look out at the dismal street, “I’m going insane.”
He ignored me this time, he had his earbuds back in and was adjusting the microphone to submerge back into the virtual world that he cared about more than anything else. I could understand the urge. Just let go, one step, fall over the edge, stop thinking, stop wondering, stop worrying…
Something kept me holding on. Taking those moments for me where I just thought about things. I had been doing it since childhood, stopping, taking the measure of things, the world, my parents, myself. I had a sense of comparison and I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t plug myself in to the virtual and let go of the material plain once and for all, emerging only to suck up some snack food and submerge again.
In these moments of mental anguish I tried with all my being to retrace my steps to figure out how I had come to this place in life. Should I have pushed harder to try to go to university? Would I feel like I was making a difference then? Should I run away to some mission somewhere and help disabled children in a third world country? What would make me feel like I had purpose? What would make me feel like life was worth living?
The street outside was quiet, people got up, people went to work, people came home and ate. People plugged into their virtual world of choice until they collapsed in bed and started the cycle all over again. When the rush to and from work wasn’t on the streets were deserted more often than not. Once in awhile I would see a child in the park, alone, forlorn. I imagined talking to them, asking them if they were ok but I never did. They might ‘take it the wrong way’ and then I would have the police knocking on my door asking me why I was talking to children in the park.
As every day passed me by I felt more doors slam in my face. The news was always bad on tv. One more thing taken away. One more loss, one more liberty gone. It wasn’t just tv either, go to the grocery store and everything costs more, the food tastes worse.
Jordan and I had met working at a cracker box store and we both still worked there. We had two roommates, Sarah and Lilac and they worked there too. They had the lower half of the small house and they would be plugged in by now too. Jordan was probably on some sort of campaign or other with them right now. I should just give up. I should stop being the oddball who doesn’t know what’s going on because I’m not playing online with them.
The rain hit the windows and left yellow streaks like pollen in their wake. It wasn’t pollen, it was uranium, but nobody was allowed to say so. If I told Jordan it was uranium he wouldn’t believe me and if I could prove it to him he would shrug and say, ‘that’s life’. Everyone avoided going out in the rain, everyone avoided going out into the woods, nobody talked about it.
Our shared house had a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and two small ‘living’ areas. Jordan and I shared a bedroom but we didn’t sleep in it together that often, his domain was the couch and the game system so the bedroom was the one place I could go to get some quiet in my own thoughts. Jordan was talking and laughing with people from our basement to across the far side of the planet. He was the normal one, I was the crazy one. He didn’t care though, he was used to me and I served my function for him. We would probably be together for pretty much forever because once you hook up with someone it’s just easier to stay together than it is to go apart.
The only motivator anyone seemed to have now was to have the latest technology. I knew that was the only thing that got my roommates into work in the morning, now work meant no paycheck.
Jordan had been saving for one of the new Holographic Televisions for the past three years. Saving up badly, a new game system took precedence, or a new game, or buying more time or credits for his campaigns, or buying more bandwidth to make sure that he didn’t run out of internet game time.
The ‘Holos’ as they were called had broken the television market. New game systems were being designed that could only be played on them. Flat screen televisions were about to go the way of the old vacuum tube tvs. Soon they would be useless fodder for landfills the way their predecessors had been. The Holographs were impressive. They projected a three dimensional image that could be seen from different angles from all 360 degrees. The crisp colors and vibrant images made the virtual world look more appealing than the world outside my windows. A vacant world where talking to a child could get me put in jail and trees died when it rains some days and other days started growing downward. Everything was changing, from the way petals grew out of flowers to the way leaves clustered on trees and yet nobody talked about it. How wonderful the world would be when we could afford to buy Holos at a price that anyone could afford.
We had colonies started on mars and the moon. What a wonderful era we live in. The super rich can blast rocket fuel across the planet and see the earth from the atmosphere, accomplishing nothing except another check on their elaborate bucket lists.
In the corner my computer turned off and then on again. Some sort of update or maybe a virus. I frowned. I didn’t want to be immersed in the virtual world like Jordan was, but I also didn’t want to lose my only real window to the outside world. Without the land of virtual friends I was alone in the world. I really would go insane if my computer was having a problem.
I pulled my computer onto my lap and curled up on the bed. It gave me an update on how the percentage of updates was going. Probably just that then.
I sat with it on my lap, waiting for it to come back on anyway. There was little else to do and the threat of losing it, even a momentary threat, was enough to raise my anxiety and make my heart race. It came back on and I logged into my media network. I had a couple dozen notifications and a few messages. One message caught my eye, “You have a message request”.
Usually those only came in from non-friends. It was probably some scam but I clicked it anyway. An icon with a grey alien with large black eyes was the only avatar the person had used, I clicked the message anyway.
Clara, thank you for accepting my invitation to talk with you. I have an idea and I thought you might want to hear about it.
I looked at the message for a few minutes, formulating my response.
Do I know you? I finally typed in.
No, but I know you, we’ve been watching you. You’re different, you’re special and we want to talk to you because of it.
I went to close the window. Some sort of scam without a doubt.
Don’t go away! You’re not going insane and we can help you!
I paused, the resonance with my feelings was too close, there was always the block button, I could ask a few more questions, it wasn’t like I was going to give them my credit card information because they guessed that I felt this way.
How can you help me? I finally typed after several false starts and deletes.
We have been watching you, we know you are awake and we want to give you something to help you.
This was sounding increasingly creepy. What are you going to give me?
Hope. If you have any belief left, any desire to have something more than you have now, come to the park at midnight.
Yeah, right. I typed back.
Wouldn’t something, anything, be better than what you have now?
I sat and looked at the screen. How dumb did this guy think I was that I’d go and meet him at the park in the rain at midnight.
Perhaps we’ve misjudged you. Your choice, Clara.
I closed the window decisively and distracted myself with some funny videos and chatting for awhile. I couldn’t help but watch the digital display at the bottom right of my screen move closer to midnight. The park was just across the street. I looked out the window. It was still raining and there was no sign of anyone in the park. It had been a joke. Someone playing a prank on me, probably one of Jordan’s friends, maybe even Jordan having a laugh at me.
I went to the kitchen and made a snack. I waited to see if Jordan would ask me anything to let me know if he was behind the strange messages. It was unlike him to play games like that with me but anything was possible. He was immersed in a campaign. He was a team leader, something close to a Captain or a Major if I understood it correctly. He was all business as he gave orders and things on the screen exploded.
The word echoed in my mind. What would it hurt? It was coming up to midnight now. I put on my raincoat and my rainboots and walked to the park. Jordan didn’t notice me go. I could be going to meet a serial killer and my boyfriend wouldn’t notice I was even gone for a week or two most likely, probably not until the rent came due.
I walked to the swings and sat on them. The rain smelled like metal in my nostrils but the sound of it was pleasant on my hood. My fingers held the safety covered chain and got wet in the uranium rain. Why not? It felt nice, cool after the stuffy house. What was I protecting my life for exactly? Another day of dreary labour to please fat mothers and their fat sticky children? More bad tasting food? Another year and maybe we could all pitch in and get a holo?
The taste of metal was growing in my mouth. I felt dizzy and I clutched the chain with both hands and leaned my head against them. When I looked up I saw a figure coming towards me in the rain.
I was scared when I saw it. I would have run but I was frozen in place. The figure emerged from the rain, it was a large eyed, gray alien with wrinkled skin and eyes that jutted out of the side of its head. His eyes were so big, he didn’t open his mouth but his words were as clear as if he had.
Thank you for coming, Clara, you’ve made this much easier on yourself.
He should have been soaked from the rain but he was as dry as if he were standing indoors. I realized that what I was seeing was probably a holograph. A bright rainbow of lights started flashing in the sky over my head and I felt my connection to my body fail entirely. My eyes closed and when I was able to open them again the things I saw were blurred, fuzzed together.
I saw more beings like the one who had approached me on the swing. They took a long, slender set of tongs and inserted something high up into my nose above my eyes. They took my temperature, they scanned me with instruments and then at long last put me into a round cylinder that reminded me of an MRI. It was loud and overwhelming and I started to panic but as soon as I tried to get away a deep sense of relaxation hit my arms and spread to my mind and I fell asleep once more.
I woke up in the park the next morning. I felt the same but different in an imperceptible way, I felt purposeful for the first time since I could ever remember.
I had a bloody nose and I staggered back to the house, soaked and stiff as though I had been working out. I couldn’t remember what I had seen in the rain for a long time, it was when I felt my sense of purpose intensify and I started to hear the voices in my head that I remembered the dry figure approaching me in the rain.
I was offered a new job working for a technology company that specialized in head hunting talent. Jordan was offended by my new job, he felt he was a much better choice than I was and after fighting off and on for several months I moved out and into a new apartment all on my own.
I was making enough money now to be able to afford the luxury of living on my own and I bought a holo and traded in my bus pass for one of the small, driverless cars that let me have time to think on my way to and from work.
It was early spring again and the rains had returned with a vengence. I watched the heavy drops hit the windows of the car and thought of new ways to present the packaging for new products. I was good at it, I could even get through to the people who weren’t very interested in the new technology, people like I had used to be.
I didn’t feel like I was going crazy anymore. I felt calm, very calm. Very peaceful. The Maitre, as the aliens called themselves had lied about giving me hope. All hope had fled from me. I knew only that the overlords had come and if I thought about it too much or grew unhappy I would start to have nose bleeds and would be compelled to return to the park. The next morning I was calm again. I would use my mind to figure out how to penetrate through to those who resisted. It wouldn’t be long now, I hoped they would send me to one of the colonies because I wasn’t the only one thinking still. Most of us thinkers had been recruited to get through all resistance. We talked about technology, we talked about marketing, it was a game, a purpose to life and more fun than listening to Jordan bark out commands to his army of virtual soldiers.
It was futility, it was hopeless. If I ever needed a reminder of that fact the nosebleeds and headaches when I tried to resist were a reminder of the artifact that had been placed in me. It would be only one of many in the end, we were the servants of an invading force called the Maitre and I was entirely under their control.