The Stuff

…I don’t know how long this has been going on and it’s hard to recall when it started. I know I’m driving down the highway connecting the outer ring road to the city’s core. Lights stream by, becoming uninterrupted luminous streams in my vision, harsh against the velvet darkness. Fuck knows how fast I’m going – the figures on the speedo have become unintelligible cyphers and I deactivated the onboard nav some time ago – I now have my own onboard nav; where it’s taking me  I don’t know either but there seems little point in resisting at this juncture. I feel in my shirt pocket for the baggie: good, still a fair bit left – not that that’s so critical, in light of what I’ve noticed recently about the dosage.

Not even sure what day it is. Normally I’d be worried about driving while this unaware but this is different – actually I’m totally aware, hyperaware even, just not of mundane things like the time or my location. My mind has been shifted into a gear I’ve never used before even while it’s ever more dissociated from what I can sense externally. This is surely the most perfect dissociative there ever was…

The city has become a grid, more explicitly than ever. The more I look, the more the materials that structures are made from become insignificant, even invisible. All that’s left is the pure structure itself, naked and unsullied by matter, abstracted. Structure, function, potentiality, systems…that’s what I see now. It appears as vision but it’s almost like it enters my eyes only by convention, or out of force of habit. Now everything is approaching wireframe, one-dimensional lines delineating 2-D surfaces enclosing 3-D volumes, themselves embedded in higher-dimension structures…but then I blink and it’s back to normal. For now. There’s a patina of unreality to everything that gets a little stronger each time this happens.

Sense of time comes back to me, a little. I think it’s been about three weeks now. Started with that nutter Carson, for me anyway – another night round his flat, sampling whatever it was he’d got this time. Some fucking ibogaine analogue, wasn’t it – ten minutes of hyperspace, then spend the next four hours thinking you’re five different people, two of whom are dead. Jesus, not my idea of fun. But he also had that stuff, that black stuff…still don’t know what to call it. But that’s what we do call it, ‘the stuff’…too new even to have a name. Turn off the highway onto a slip road, now round the grimy estates that line the flyover…grey concrete washed a flat dirty yellow by the sodium glare…a crude simulacrum of a settlement. But it was black, which was weird for a start, I mean anything in a powder is usually white, especially for something new on the market. And Carson didn’t want any money for it, said that would come later…still haven’t given anyone a cent for it. Come to think of it I still owe Carson fifty euro for that other time, but he didn’t seem to care. Had that glazed look…guess I’ve probably got that now.

Out of the estates now and along a road that edges the industrial park. Empty now of course, but the lights are still on at the tops of the cranes and other structures. I pass under some heavy overhead cables, also lit up at intervals for some reason. The lights form a matrix that remains in my field of vision when I blink and eventually look away. I feel confident I could close my eyes and still drive and navigate perfectly, so completely does the car’s response mesh with my nervous system. And it meshes on a level that’s more and more bypassing my consciousness.

So anyway: the stuff. It’s a kind of junk, that’s for sure – you know you need more of it, but you’re damned if you can say why. You’re not high, you’re not stoned, it’s not what you could call enjoyable…it’s not even like you crave it, it’s more like your autonomic systems steer you towards it without you even being really aware of what’s happening. Other weird things about it: dose is immaterial, as is ROA. Take less than about 20 em gees and it does nothing; above that and the effect is the same no matter how much you take. And that’s whether you bomb it, snort it, smoke it – weird gnarly black smoke, same dense blackness as the powder – probably be the same if you slammed it or stuck it up your arse. I’m starting to get the impression you don’t even need to physically ingest the stuff, like it would work eventually if you just kept it in your hand or in your breast pocket, like I’m doing now. It would affect you eventually.

Back onto a main artery heading into the centre again. Traffic is uniform, neither dense nor sparse for the time of night (whatever that is). Wonder where all these people are headed at this time, whether any of them are in a similar state to me. Road straight now, dual carriageway, lights once more forming unbroken corridors, staring at the red dots ahead of me, white dots oncoming to my right. Hypnotic enough even when you’re straight. Pylons march by, parallel with the road – part of the city’s musculature – its nervous system of course buried under the roads.

There was that report on last week about the stuff, or at least it sounded like the same gear. Some chemists at a government poisons lab did tests on it and couldn’t find anything. I mean no molecular structure at all, couldn’t even detect any carbon in the damn stuff. What the fuck is this substance? Then I realised: it’s a placeholder, nothing more. A passive, inert symbol for something else. Like a pointer to a memory address. Pointing where and to what…well, the ping just doesn’t come back. Some people in my circle spoke of a factory in central Asia somewhere, but whether there was any truth in that, or if true, whether it was just a distribution point from somewhere else…no idea.

Traffic slows and I slow with it, not even noticing it consciously and suddenly we’re at a standstill. Endless corridors of lights to either side, ahead and behind. This is truly a global drug though, reports in the official media few and far between but everyone knows someone who knows something, or has read something on a messageboard or in a tweet…it’s coming up in Vancouver, LA, Shanghai, Tokyo, Rio, Cape Town, Beirut, Moscow, Marseille. Virtually simultaneously, we hear a rumour of it appearing in a new city every other day now, often hundreds or thousands of miles from the last hotspot. And everyone says the same thing: you don’t get ‘high’, at first it seems to do almost nothing in fact, but you can’t help but keep taking it. Has everyone else been receiving it for free, too? Can’t recall anyone talking about prices. I’ve met Carson for top-ups three – no, four times now – but didn’t some appear in my mailbox in a plain envelope a few days ago? Christ, my memory…what is it doing to me?

Traffic’s moving again now. I see we’re now heading due east, into the heart of the city. Buildings tall now, glass-encased, endoskeletons of steel and concrete. Street lights glitter on the reflective surfaces, shop signs still illuminated hours after businesses have shut for the night. Electricity spent profligately, extravagantly. How much longer will this go on? Russia turning down the gas taps a fraction with each passing winter…AGW can’t happen fast enough for the old and the poor with fuel credits out the window.  On an impulse that I’m sure has its origin outside me I reach down into my breast pocket with my left hand as I steer automatically with my right, dip fingertip in the open baggie, raise it to my tongue. The texture is dusty, the taste unplaceable, entirely neutral but distinct and alien nonetheless. Nothing tastes like this – but this stuff does. I know I’ve got enough for now, and at least you can’t OD on it. Sensation of all the nerves in my body lighting up like this damn street, starting at point of contact on my tongue and spreading…fungal hyphae infiltrating the xylem of a host tree…I am a host to this junk now, that’s for sure. Cannot begin to imagine what its agenda is.

Glance out the window. Physical substance recedes still further, now I can see electricity and optical pulses coursing through the office buildings as the workers sleep…current supply for power, merely brute musculature, runs parallel with the subtle nerve impulses in ethernet cables as computers talk to each other, keeping up a silent colloquy throughout the night. Plotting, scheming perhaps…but by now I feel so far removed from humanity myself that I can’t even muster up any paranoia. The great city continues to breathe, hum, vibrate with occult potential – truly an organism in its own right, more alive now than the fleshy bags of tissue and electrolyte that scurry through it each day. Capital’s myrmidons.

The thought strikes me that this stuff has come from the same place cities come from – not of this Earth, a parasitic form from elsewhere. Conjecture, of course, and you’d be justified in thinking me a little strange if you heard me talking this way – ‘strange’ and ‘normal’ have pretty much lost meaning for me by now.

Glance out again, and up. All I see now is information. Matter replaced by data. Great streams of it, encoded in a thousand different protocols, analogue and digital…the latest from the Dow Jones and the Nikkei, oil prices, exchange rates…an amorous email between lovers, data packets connecting some kid with his comrades and enemies in a capture-the-flag mission hosted on a server on another continent, streamed TV shows, insomniacs chatting the night away or checking a rolling newscast of some unfolding disaster. I can feel it all around me, sense it flowing through me at 2.4 GHz. The volume of data traffic is almost perceptibly increasing just as I drive…total information saturation can’t be far off.

Traffic has come to a standstill again. I’m snapped out of my reverie by the sudden appearance of a spidery figure darting here and there among the stationary vehicles. A beggar I guess, from his jerky, furtive movements and ragged clothes. So many of them these days, more even than in the early years following the Crash. He approaches my car, hands held out in wordless supplication. His race is impossible to determine, grimed as he is from living rough and with scarred, discoloured skin. Poor fucker, probably been PassiGassed a couple too many times by the cops or some of the myriad private security contractors that operate in the city – to the extent that there’s even a difference any more. That shit’ll leave you looking like a burns victim without immediate medical attention, and with the price of health insurance going the way it is a lot of working people – never mind the homeless – can’t afford a hospital trip these days.

I don’t have any cash on me and even if I did, it’s hard to see how it could benefit this man other than to prolong his misery, so I’m glad when the car in front pulls away and, again without conscious volition on my part, I slip into gear and glide away. The figure rapidly disappears from sight in the rearview and once again there is a total dearth of visible humanity. All the private cars now have tinted windows, it seems. A reaction to the CCTV or just a trend in imitation of Russian gangsters and Saudi oil sheikhs? Seems to fit society’s general vibe, anyhow.

Approaching the financial district now. Few buildings more than two or three decades old, divided between the relatively ancient edifices built with home-grown cash during the last big boom and the newer ones that have sprung up over the last few years. The nation-state continues to crumble as global elites network, consolidate and gradually merge. These newest buildings belong to every architectural school and to none; postmodern studies in the divorce of style from any recognizable tradition, they could be in any city in any part of the world. This is apparent to me now more clearly than ever, as my heightened awareness picks out curves, angles, length ratios, encodes them numerically according to some unknowable algorithm…structure becomes equation becomes bitstream…I get the feeling these data are being squirreled away in some obscure department of my brain for a purpose that is not mine.

My hands turn the wheel to the right and I am conducted southward down a narrow street towards the river. I pass the building that houses the financial insurance brokerage firm where I work; glancing up, I involuntarily visualise streams of data passing between it and the banks, actuaries and other institutions we deal with. If I were to look over at these places I know I’d see (if that’s the right word) similar links to other institutions, and their links to yet others…an Indra’s net of connections, fractal, receding to the horizon and beyond it in limitless self-similar iterations. Don’t let the city’s countless fanes fool you – the only god this old town has ever venerated is Mammon, and these shining rivulets that crisscross the sky are the weft and warp of His great loom.

Approaching the river now. Without knowing why, my right foot releases the accelerator and applies gentle pressure to the brake as I cruise slowly along a row of residents-only parking spaces, searching for a vacant spot. There’s one. I pull up and cut the engine. Looks like this is the end of the road, at least in my car.

Out now and walking neither hurriedly nor slowly along the embankment, the river to my right, dark and silent. This great curving spine of murky water was once the chief datastream along which traffic material and otherwise passed, long since superseded by rail, road, cables of copper and glass, intangible waves…but on a whim I wonder if there isn’t still some great occluded current flowing along with or under the physical current of the stream? Increasingly uncertain whether any of ‘my’ thoughts are really my own or have their origin elsewhere. I look up from shimmering lights reflected in the otherwise featureless surface of the water and the glittering city night appears a blasphemy, yet also a thing of impossible beauty, like some gorgeously iridescent parasite emerging from the dull husk of the humdrum creature that involuntarily nursed it. Wonder again what it is that I’m incubating. I think it won’t be long before I find out.

My train of thought is interrupted by a sound that seems far more alien than it should. Footsteps a few metres behind me and to my right; a youngish guy, about my age, nondescript clothes, South Asian. He sees that I’ve seen him and then, in one instant, we both know. He’s on it too. There’s no nod or other gesture needed; the stuff in him communicates with the stuff in me. He and I are merely vehicles, perhaps soon to be abandoned like the vehicle I’ve just left behind. I turn ahead again and we trudge in step for an indeterminate length of time. I become aware of others joining us; a middle-aged woman ahead and to my left; black kid about eighteen a few paces behind her; white girl of 22 or so joining us from a side street and falling into lockstep with the rest.

One after another we step over the chain barrier and descend the slippery steps to an old loading platform at the river’s edge. Now only my own height above the river’s surface and yes, I was right! Invisible from the bank, I can now see the same patterns of data and disincarnate commerce flowing along and within the water. Great glittering skeins of subtle light which must surely have been there already – since the city’s founding? before then, even? – but only now become visible. The others can see it too, I guess. I wonder if this is happening, or is about to happen, in the other cities where this stuff has people in its grip. Most major cities are built on rivers…rivers have always been conduits for communication and trade…arteries and nerves…

Two of the people in our little impromptu group are now crouching down on the platform and dipping their legs into the greasy water as it washes sluggushly by. I look to either side and through sight enhanced with more rarefied senses I can see platforms and ladders up and down the riverside crawling with small dark figures. I don’t know whether this should provide comfort in numbers or horrify me at the scale of what’s going on, but my capacity for emotion has drained away to nothing just as other faculties have been sharpened. I turn back to the river. It’s not that there’s some external force dragging me forward and that I’m powerless to resist; it’s simply that resistance has no meaning any more – I cannot imagine resisting any more than a ball can imagine rolling uphill. My turn; I crouch at the edge of the platform and take one last dab from the baggie in my pocket. Almost instantly the scene all around me, already somewhat derealized, loses more solidity than ever and I don’t even feel the cold or the wetness as I slip into the water.

I am now in a totally abstract space of information transactions. Data streams by at colossal rates, gigabits per square metre per second. I see it now not just flowing serenely past in lines or grids but interacting with itself, swirling into eddies and squalls, forming persistent features like weather systems. The complexity is unimagineable; seething entropy wherever I look. I sense that much of it is the human communication traffic of the city, yet other currents seem somehow impossibly older and other. The two strains of information are gradually merging, becoming braided together. And all this is intimately linked to the sudden appearance of this nameless black junk we’ve all been taking.

Is my physical body still under water? I can’t see or feel anything that gives a clue. The others around me are visible only as illuminated schematics of nervous systems, networks of glowing gossamer threads that mesh seemlessly with the flowing datastreams surrounding us on all sides. The physical boundary of the body is immaterial now…integration is complete…each brain becomes another node in the network. I look down at my own arms and bodies and see the same pattern of fine glowing lines extending off into space.

No idea now if I’m even still inside my physical body. Each of my fellow travellers, represented by a nexus of coiled and knotted lines – and I now see there are countless numbers of us – seems to be moving towards what I suppose is the central channel of the river. Here the flowing streams of data are consolidating into a great river of information, following the course of the physical river. We drift towards it and I see one nexus and then another approach it and merge into it, losing individuality altogether.

Now I’m approaching this torrent of liminal data. First my hands – if that’s what they are – move towards it and I sense the utter ancientness yet at the same time hyper-modernity of this great thing, this impossible current of symbols which I now realise is more real than matter. It was here first, will always be here and will outlast the crude stuff I am, I was, made of. Bits predate atoms and vectors predate dimensions. Maybe we’ve reached some critical information density and this is what’s called this stuff into being…maybe this happens every time, why SETI came back empty-handed.

This is it – no emotion now, just the pressure of unimagineable amounts of data coalescing from all sides – we are all here, all of us, all that were or will ever be, together in 1A65 7E611 944B 0594…


2 Responses to “The Stuff”

  1. Modena Daemon Says:

    Wow – Very very good Case, slim thighed young men, unknown drugs, the parallel between data and intoxicant, the living city as a mould – fungi analogies – the dance of parasite upon host upon parasite.. One question – Is this black nameless, elusive, addictive but unrewarding substance a metaphor for Black Metal Theory?!?!?

  2. routemasterflash Says:

    Black metal theory…elusive and unrewarding…could be!

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