Drifting In The Not
rating: +16+x

“Hello, Timothy. My name is Samuel.”

I opened my eyes.

“Hi. Yes. Hello. Hi Samuel.”

“You look surprised to see me. Not expecting visitors?”

“I… yes. A little. Surprised, I mean. Yes.”

“Don’t worry about the headache. It’ll pass.”

“What? Listen, I… I’m a little busy, now. I think. Could you come back later?”

“I’m afraid not, Timothy. We’re on a tight schedule tonight.”

“Is this… is this about the rent? Are you the landlord? Look, can we talk about this later, maybe set a date, I’m really quite busy. Probably. I think I should be busy.”

“We’re all busy, Timothy. This isn’t about the rent. I’m here to make you an offer.”

“Listen, I really don’t have time for this, I’m not interested in whatever you’re selling. I have to get back to… working. So I can pay my rent. I don’t think I’ve paid my rent for a while.”

“You haven’t paid your rent in 37 years, Timothy.”

“I… what?”

“You haven’t paid your rent since you died.”

“Oh. Yeah, that makes sense. I guess I’m probably not busy then. Wait, where have I been living?”

“You haven’t.”

“Oh. Right. That’s… interesting. What was your name again?”

“Samuel. I’ll be your operator this evening. I’m an intern here.”

“Oh. Here, being?”

“No, it isn’t actually.”

“Oh.”

I closed my eyes. Not much point in seeing what isn’t.

“I’m here to make you an offer, Timothy.”

“Yes, you said that already, I think. Wait, you said I’m dead?”

“Yes, Timothy. We’ve been over this. Listen, would you like some coffee?”

“No, I drink tea. Do you have any?”

“I’m afraid not. We don’t have any coffee either, to be honest.”

“Oh. Then why did you offer me some?”

“The offer, Timothy.”

“You came here to offer me some tea?”

“Coffee, and no. Well, yes. Maybe. I guess what I’m offering is the opportunity to drink it.”

“So you’re offering me the opportunity to drink some coffee? I don’t drink coffee.”

“I’m offering the opportunity to drink tea, too. I’m offering you the opportunity to drink tea, and as part and parcel of that offer, the ability to drink, and in turn, an anchor point in time, wherein verb tenses make any sort of sense, and of course, and this really is the crux of what I’m offering here, you will have to be, which you currently aren’t. Interested?”

“I don’t know if I’m that thirsty.”

“Of course you’re not. Listen, this really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, inasmuch as you can still be said to be within the span of your own lifetime at the moment. I mean, time isn’t here either. It messes with your head for a while. Inasmuch as “a while” can be said to exist in any sense when time doesn’t. I asked the higher ups what they replace time with, once. They said something about a systematically generated segmentation of potential, considering a finite form of all possible states, and then ignoring the ones that they disagreed with, keeping the ones that follow, and so we’re left with this. I don’t get why we can’t just import time, to be honest. I heard they tried, once, but it took too long to get here.”

“You’re blathering.”

“Apologies. Listen, you died, right? Surely there’s something you didn’t get to do when you had the time, hey?”

“Honestly, I really don’t like coffee that much.”

“Forget the coffee. We’re offering you another chance at being. Back when you were, people would have died to do that! No pun intended.”

“Yes it was.”

“Yes, it was. Don’t blame me for that one, it’s in the employee handbook. ‘Lighten the mood’ they say. Look, if you don’t accept the offer, we’ll put you back where you were before.”

“Which was?”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Oh. Right. Wait, what are you getting out of this?”

“Do you have any idea how much time and effort it takes for us to keep something in a state of not being?”

“You said you don’t have time here.”

“Effort, then. Let me tell you, it takes a lot. They’ve got me working overtime.”

“You said you don’t have time here.”

“Fine! They’ve got me working extra then, whatever! Anyway, we’re understaffed and overcrowded. Not to mention our funding keeps getting cut.”

“You get funded?”

“No. Well, the guy who funds us doesn’t exist, I guess? And he pays us by not giving us anti-things? It really is quite complicated. Anyway, he’s only got so many anti-things to not give us. Listen, don’t even worry about it. Here’s what the offer boils down to: we pull you out of non-being, fix up your body a bit, smoke out the worms and grubs and whatever’s gotten into your flesh, knit you some brand new muscles – that gets done by hand, by the way, they’re crazy in that department – plop some new organs in, then reduce you into a biologically compatible brain. Stitch up some nerves and your body’s set to go. And not just that, we will throw in a complimentary package of fundamental materials, still all free: 5 kilograms of alchemic gold, 2 of alchemic silver, and one of biomass. Then we simply pop the new you through a little bubble of potential right where your body used to be. Or the closest area you won’t just die again. A little more boring than climbing out of a crypt, that one, but there you go.”

“What if I got cremated?”

“You didn’t.”

“Oh. And this is supplied free of any conditions?”

“Yes! Mostly. 90% condition free.”

“So not condition free?”

“No! The whole point of us getting you out of here is to free up resources. This is given to you for free, on the condition that you don’t come back.”

“Wait, what do you mean, don’t come back? You mean I’m getting immortality too?”

“Well, no. Maybe. Depends on how you look at it. As simply as can be said, acceptance is conditional on a promise of never returning to non-existence. That comes with a few caveats. You can still ‘die’, I suppose, depending on how you define the term. There are a few parts of the offer that I can’t really go into detail about unless you agree.”

“So I’m getting into this without knowing what’s going on?”

“Not at all! No! Look, you can continue with us if you like. We’ll send you back into the realm of not, you’ll keep not being, and there’s nothing else to worry about. If, however, you would prefer to be, we can arrange that, and would be willing to subsidise those efforts.”

“Right. And how much, exactly, does that alchemic gold and silver buy me? What does that equate to at the moment?”

“Enough to buy a planet.”

“Wait, really?”

“Yes! A small, uninhabited, inhospitable planet, really more of an asteroid to be honest, but still. The value isn’t really in the gold and silver’s monetary worth. I can’t go into it until you accept. Trade secrets, confidentiality agreements, so on. Anyway, it’s plenty to be getting along with, trust me.”

“This sounds like a lot to think about. Can I put this off for a bit?”

“I’m afraid not. Like I said, I’m busy. There are a lot of people who aren’t at the moment, trillions, actually, and we really need to get them out of here.”

“I really need more time to think this over.”

“Alright, that’s okay, that’s fine. We have about 5 minutes left here, until I have to put you back into nowhere.”

“You said you don’t have time here.”

“Whatever! Roughly the equivalent amount of entropy as 5 minutes would have.”

“Okay. Alright. So this is an offer of functional immortality or eternal death, right?”

“Pending any future offers, yes. We may return later if we approach critical capacity again. And it’s not really death, it’s non-existence. I mean, the two terms are probably synonymous to you, but it’s an important distinction to us.”

“Okay. Next question: you said I’ve been dead 37 years.”

“Yep.”

“But you don’t have time here?”

“Just let it go. If you try to get your head around it you’ll only give yourself a headache. Or you would if, you know, you had a head at the moment.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be, I’d be pretty confused too. When you get sent back, it will have been 37 years after you died. There’s a sort of disconnect between being and not being, as you may have noticed during your not-time here. According to my files, you’ll be… fourth wave. First large scale deployment into being, after the pilot runs. We’ve ironed out the problems… oh, right, forgot about that! You’ll be getting a few extras. A phone, identification documents, clothes of course, somehow we forgot about that on the first run. Very embarrassing.”

“Why am I getting a phone? Do I get a house too?”

“Oh, right, forgot about that too. Mobile phones, tiny things these days. You’ve missed out on a lot of stuff. People have been pretty busy while you’ve been gone. We’ll get you caught up on all this stuff before reconstitution, don’t worry.”

“Huh. Alright, third question: debts.”

“What, debts from 37 years ago? All long since settled. Your landlord’s probably an old man now, lemme just… oh. Ah. I probably should have read this in advance. So that’s why you… you know. ‘Cancelled your subscription’, as we say.”

“Yep.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that this time around. Fresh new start. One minute left. No pressure.”

“Alright. Okay. That all sounds pretty good. No catches? Really?”

“None that should really be deal breakers. A few small things, mostly just legal nonsense to cover us if you change your mind. Thirty seconds.”

“Okay. You’re sure he’s -”

“A lot changes in 37 years.”

“Right. Good. I guess my answer’s yes, then.”

“Great! Now, Timothy, like I said, we’ve got a lot of people in the queue at the moment, so I’m going to have to transfer you to the waiting room. We’ll establish a baseline presence for you there, just some kind of intermediary form so you can actually see and move around and such. I’m just going to need you to hold on for a bit, okay?”

“Yeah, no problem.”

Samuel’s voice faded out and smooth jazz began to play, somehow reaching my nonexistent eardrums. I opened my eyes again. There was still nothing to see, of course, and at this point I didn’t actually have eyes to be seeing with. I felt as though I was floating in a void, not black or white, or cold or hot, just a general sort of medium. Of course, I wasn’t really feeling anything at all. Not to mention that there wasn’t even a brain of any kind to meaningfully amalgamate all of these non-sensations into that which I would refer to as myself. It’s hard to describe a firsthand lack of existence. After all, the English language isn’t concerned with what isn’t there so much as what is.

“Still there, Timothy?”

“Yeah, Samuel, I’m here. Not going anywhere by myself, am I?”

“Suppose not. I’m going to transfer you through to Amanda now, she works in Constituency, okay? Once you’re corporeal we can move you through the legal department, just need to sign a few things, boring stuff. After that you’ll be free to mingle with your cohort and we’ll find you a buddy. Just someone we can bring you back with so that you don’t get confused or lost.”

“I’m guessing by ‘cohort’ you mean fellow dead people.”

“Pretty much, yeah. Any questions about what’s going on, just ask someone. We’re pretty friendly.”

“Alright, thanks Sam.”

“No problems, Tim. I’ll patch you through to Amanda now, alright?”

“Okay. Thanks!”

More smooth jazz. At least their waiting music wasn’t bad. Around this point I started thinking about all the different ways that this could have been a trick. In my stupor of semi-existence I hadn’t asked a lot of very important questions about immortality. Would I still age? Would I be some kind of zombie, or vampire? What was the purpose of the ‘biomass’ that I was being given; hell, what does ‘alchemic gold’ even mean? What purity is that? These questions, and others like them, spiraled around in my head for what seemed like an eternity, until finally the silence was broken.

“Hello? Tim?”

“Hi, I’m here. Is this Angela?”

“Amanda, actually.”

“Sorry.”

“Not a problem. Listen Tim, I’m in the Constituency department at the moment. We’re going to see if we can reduce you, okay? Basically, we’ll just take your current being of a perception annulled transcendent representation, then grab a semi-corporeal image of your body, and stick the two together with perispirits.”

“I have no idea what any of that means.”

“You’re getting a body back.”

“Oh. Great. When?”

“Now.”

If it was difficult to explain nonexistence, it is impossible to describe the intense flood of sensations that followed my Constitution. An abstract representation of who I was, my ‘soul’, if you wanted to be poetic about it, was… I suppose ‘stretched’ would be the right verb, into the shape of a human brain. Fresh photoreceptors knitted into the back of my new retinas, optic nerves stabbing into the gooey flesh that contained my very being. My body was enveloped in a sack of skin, rapidly inflating with blood and organs; then bones popped into existence and gave my body form. The process was mercifully rapid, and not painful, but profoundly disorientating. I felt a swift blast of dry air from all angles, and a warm robe wrapped around me. The last thing that they added was gravity, and I crumpled inelegantly into a heap on the smooth, spongy floor.

“Buh. Augh.”, I carefully enunciated, before attempting to regurgitate from an empty stomach.

“Just a bit of Existence sickness, Tim. It’d be more worrying if you felt fine.”

“Aghhhh. Luh. Lalulaluh… pleargh. Spu. Plupluplup.”

“Keep trying. Lips are difficult.”

“Pa. Ha. Hoo. Okay. Ah. I think I’m good. Good. I’m good.”

“You’ve still got your eyes shut.”

“Yeah. It hurts to see.”

“It’s not going to get any better unless you open your eyes.”

I rubbed my hands against my closed eyelids, cupped them around to shield my eyes, and squinted around the room. The place was uniformly clinical white; I had existed into the centre of a flawlessly cubical room. A woman wearing blue medical scrubs and a small earpiece was staring at me, clearly Angela, of course; she held a notepad in her hands and was scribbling down notes.

“What’s that?”

“Vitals.”

“Vitals?”

“I can see inside you.”

“Oh. Okay, I guess. That makes perfect sense.”

“Your blood pressure’s rising a bit.”

“Yeah, that’s not overly surprising. I’d be freaking out if this weren’t a hallucination.”

“Whatever coping mechanism helps, Tim. Right this way, please.”

Angela walked to one edge of the room and pressed her index finger to her earpiece.

“Patch me a door to legal, please. Whoever’s available. Timothy Smith. Thanks. You too.”

And then a door appeared.

“Huh.”

Angela pushed it open and walked through to Legal. I followed after her. Upon passing the door’s boundary, the sound hit; hundreds of typing hands clattering in a chorus of menial office work, printers pumping paper out in continuous streams. And yet, I couldn’t actually see any other people besides Angela and Wes.

“Tim, this is Wes. Say hi.”

“Hi, Wes.”

“Hi, Tim. I’ll be your legal liaison.”

“Bye, Tim.”

“Bye, Angela.”

“Amanda.”

“Bye, Amanda.”

Angela walked back through the door, and then the door ceased to exist.

“Have a seat, Tim. Make yourself comfortable. We’re going to have a bit of a chat, go over anything you’re not certain about, and then have you sign a few papers. We run time a bit slower in here, so take as long as you need.”

“Samuel said you don’t have time here.”

“Samuel?”

“He was… uh… the guy I talked to first.”

“Your operator? Name doesn’t ring a bell. Not surprising though, I spend most of my time in here, and there are a lot of us. He’s right though, it’s not really time. It’s all faked for us here, so that nothing goes wrong. Really, though, have a seat.”

It was around this time that I noticed that there was no door into or out of the room any more. Or any connection to outside of the room, not even a vent. The room was just a bland, uniform brown; the floor a carpeted brown, the walls being brown wallpaper, and the roof brown-painted plaster. Wes walked around his brown wooden desk and sat on a brown, cushy chair. And the sounds of typing and printing continued.

“Where are the sounds coming from?”

“Sorry, that’s just ambiance. I can turn it down if you want. Or replace it with something different, I’m not really that fussed. Up to you really.”

“Yeah, but where are they coming from?”

“If you want to ask that sort of question, then you need to ask another. Where are they going to?”

“My eardrums, presumably.”

“Yes, but how are you hearing it?”

“Well, that’s my brain or something, right?”

“And what’s your brain doing?”

“Everything that I am, I guess.”

“Exactly. Exactly. Have a seat.”

I sat on the brown, cushy chair on the other side of Wes’ desk.

“Tim, first things first about this place: we don’t exist. We can’t exist. We ourselves are impossible beings, we live in an impossible space, and we steward things that might exist somewhere in and out of not-being. We call ourselves Eidolons. Questions?”

“Can you change the background noise? It’s a bit distracting.”

“Sorry.”

Wes fiddled with something under his desk. The sounds changed from that of an office to punk rock, then from classical music into white noise, finally settling on the sound of light rain.

“Is this alright?”

“Yeah, it’s fine.”

“Great. So, like I said, Eidolons. The space in which you and I currently believe ourselves to reside does not exist, or rather, does not exist in a quantifiable, observable, or predictable manner, unless it does, which it can because of how unpredictable it is. If any self-aware perspective comes to the conclusion that it no longer exists, or has that conclusion forced upon it by its local reality, it no longer exists unto itself, and so it gets shunted here. Usually.”

“Usually?”

“Well, we’re one particular group of things that don’t exist, a very small subset of all that ain’t. There are a lot of things that aren’t real besides Eidolons. Infinite infinities’ worth of hypothetical beings. You could have been shunted somewhere else, and in fact, you were, or at least a perspective indistinguishable to yours was.”

“Can I just say something?”

“Certainly.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“That’s fine, Tim, that’s fine. Let me simplify to what my peers would likely consider a criminal extent: you died, and this is the afterlife. We’re angels and decided you were a good enough person to get a second chance. Does that sit right with you?”

“Look, Wes, don’t patronize me. Just because I don’t understand doesn’t mean I’m an idiot.”

“Alright, alright! Listen, would you like some coffee?”

“…do you actually have any coffee?”

“Yes. Well, no, but close enough that you couldn’t tell the difference. I have the illusion of coffee, if that’s good enough for you.”

“Do you have any illusion of tea?”

“Certainly. How many illusory milks do you take? Illusory sugar? Salt, if you fancy? Name it.”

“No milk, and a teaspoon of illusory honey if you can, please.”

“One cup of not-tea with no-honey coming up.”

Wes reached to an earpiece that I hadn’t noticed him wearing before.

“You heard the man.”

And then some tea appeared.

“Huh.”

“Nifty, hey? The best thing about not existing is that you get to have all sorts of fun with everything else that isn’t real. Reality forces you to play by its rules, but irreality plays by ours.”

I lifted the tea and took a sip. It was pretty good.

“This is pretty good.”

“Good! Where was I?”

“Filling me in on all sorts of interesting things.”

“Ah, right. Anyway, we’ve kind of run out of space.”

“How do you run out of space in the space where nothing exists?”

“We’re not in the space where nothing exists, we’re in the space that things that do not exist do; the area of potential for those things to be. The problem is that, like I said before, us Eidolons don’t run the entirety of nothing-space, only a portion of it. And a finite portion, at that, and we’re running out of the finite space we have left, so we’re kicking you out. Blunt, but there you go.”

“How exactly do you kick me out of nonexistence?”

“I don’t really know, that’s not my department. You should have asked Amanda, she’d know; Constitution and Ejection are pretty similar. That’s the terminology for it, of course, ‘Ejection’, just to be clear.”

“I see.”

“Anyway, to business. My job, beyond filling you in on the finer details, is getting you to actually put pen to paper. Well, I say that, but it’s not actually a signature that I need to get the ball rolling, it’s an image of your DNA, but we only take that with your signed permission. I have you down for permanent Ejection here, with a standard compensation package of alchemic gold, silver, and biomass, and additional Wave Four benefits, is that right?”

“Yeah, I think so. A quick question while I’m here… what do you mean by ‘alchemic’?”

“Ah, that’s simple. Are you familiar with the idea of alchemy?”

“Kind of. Lead to gold, that kind of thing, right?”

“Close enough. Anyway, it’s real.”

“Huh.”

“Well, I say that, but it’s more like when we sneak you back where you were we’ll put a bit of irreality back in with you, which you can then exploit as you see fit. Within reason. Basically, we’re giving you magic, though it’s bound to your reserves of alchemic resources. Part of the Wave Four benefit package is a phone that has all the information on it.”

“Ah, the mobile phone. By the way, I don’t really know how to use those. Dead 37 years, all that.”

“Okay, that’s not a problem. We can pair you with a more recent departure, someone who knows how to use them. Computers, too, I guess. I take it that Samuel filled you in on the buddy system?”

“Not in depth. More like mentioned it in passing.”

“It’s just what it sounds like, we’ll just partner you up with someone. We’ll get you acquainted before sending you back, and when you get home you’ll have a supportive shoulder to lean on rather than being completely lost. After the second wave we realized that some of our long-term residents had no idea what cars were. Seems ridiculous that we missed something like that, but what do we know about existing, right?”

“I suppose. One more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“When do I wake up?”

“Ah. Hm. Well, that all depends on you, doesn’t it? You think this is a dream.”

“It’s got to be, right?”

“Of course, of course. Then nothing that you do in here matters, since when you wake up, it’ll all be gone, no?”

“Of course.”

“Well then, for the time being, let’s pretend that this isn’t a dream. That this is all really happening.”

“Even though you yourself admit to not really existing at all.”

“Ahhhhh, well, you’re kind of twisting the meaning behind my words there, but sure. Just cruise along with it. Embrace the dream. I don’t think it’s a dream, but if it were, I’d be a part of it, so my opinion’s really irrelevant on the matter.”

“Exactly. Exactly.”

“Then nothing that you do in this dream really has any meaning, does it? You’ve no problems with signing whatever I put in front of you?”

“Well, within reason.”

“There! There, you see? You’re allowing for some chance in your head, incredibly minute – literally incredibly, without credibility at all – and yet you’re planning for the ‘what if’ anyway.”

“Just because this is a dream doesn’t mean I’ll start acting irresponsibly. I’m still me.”

“Then you can sign these for me?”

“Sure. Sure, if they aren’t too unreasonable.”

“Fantastic. Here you go.”

I, the undersigned, grant consent to the United Eidolonic Collective to extract and record my DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) profile, or otherwise, the genetic code representing my being as a living organism, or otherwise, a methodology by which such may be described, or otherwise, a set of laws by which some such profile analogous to such may be represented. I consent to the use of this information in a manner which will Eject this iteration of my consciousness from local nonexistence, in exchange for the reimbursements stated on the attached document, Wave Four Benefits and Reimbursement Package. I hereby release, waiver, discharge, and covenant not to sue the United Eidolonic Collective, its administrators, directors, or employees from all losses, damages or other injury consequent to Ejection from local nonexistence. I have read this form and understand the rights thus relinquished.

“Until the point of your ejection, you’re still considered a guest, of course. There are a few other papers but they’re really very long and wordy and if this is a dream you shouldn’t care either way, right?”

“Has anyone actually tried to sue you?”

“They’ve certainly tried, but none have ever succeeded. It’s hard to get a corporation to pay out when it doesn’t exist.”

“Fair point. Well, no problem with this, at least. Kick me out of that which is not.”

“Here, have a pen.”

I scribbled a hasty signature at the bottom of the paper.

“And this, too, please. Just the reimbursements, I promise that there’s nothing hidden in there.”

Around this time I remembered a few of my misgivings about the whole process.

“Wait up.”

“In case this is real, right?”

“Yes. In case this is real. Do I age when I go back?”

“That’s a common question. The answer’s yes, but with alchemy it doesn’t matter. We basically give you amazing magical powers, remember? Anything that might inconvenience your day-to-day operations for the rest of forever can be addressed with sufficient quantities of alchemic materials. If worse comes to worse, the amount of biomass in your finger is enough to set your age to anything you want, and then grow the finger back for good measure. Age adjustments are basically free. Though I hear they’re a bit painful.”

“That’s a more reasonable solution than I expected. Alright.”

Another signature.

“Here, too. Last little bit, just more ass-covering.”

Another signature.

“Great, thanks Tim. Looks like we’re done here. You’ve got a few options now, I can send you through to public relations if you’ve got any more questions, or you can just go straight to the public room for Wave Four and get assigned to a buddy.”

“I have some questions, but they probably have really long and boring answers. How long can I spend here before I go back to the ‘real world’? Skipping over the stupid artificiality of time here.”

“In this room, about five days, in the public room, about two. I think I said before, we run this place at different speeds for efficiency’s sake. Constitution actually takes the most time of all, it just doesn’t seem like it relative to you. It might have seemed like you skipped through there in minutes, but compared to my frame of reference it would have probably been a few hours. Anyway, to the public room, then?”

“Sure, thanks.”

Wes raised his finger to his ear in a motion I was gradually getting used to.

“You heard him, public room.”

And then a door appeared.

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