It took a moment for me to adjust to the scale of the thing. There was some free space at the bottom, where I was, the rest of the chamber was filled with a lattice, each strand of which originated from Maurice’s body, or possibly that was their final destination.
Coming from him, going to him, it was hard to say.
He had his arms and legs spread out, like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man drawing, the one that looks like he’s doing jumping jacks.
Maurice was suspended like he was caught inside a very large and ornate cat’s cradle, like he’d been placed inside a geodesic structure Buckminster Fuller might have built if he was into organic building materials.
He wasn’t moving, and he also wasn’t clothed. Which isn’t to say he was naked. I mean, he was naked, but not in the conventional sense. His body was covered in green fluff, that’s what it looked like. Sort of the appearance sunken ships take on when nature reclaims them and grows greens stuff out of every porthole and orifice.
It was quite a stunning sight, to see him hanging in the middle of this matrix, like he was the centrepiece to some avant-garde art exhibit (although what other kind is there nowadays?), presented for your viewing pleasure.
“You made it, then,” said a voice from across the room.
“I told you he would,” another answered.
I tore my eyes away from Botticelli’s The Birth of Maurice to rest them on Arthur. He was standing next to Wesley, both of them looking at me like proud parents. Had I passed some test? Managed to get to the secret level no one else had? Like I gave a fuck for the validation of my elders.
“You are about to witness something truly special,” said Arthur, smiling the way people smile in the hope you won’t notice what a massive twat they are, like twats don’t have lips or something.
“Doesn’t look very special,” I said. I focused my attention on Wesley. “You decided to choose love over loyalty, I see.”
There was a sadness in her eyes, but it could have been for any number of reasons. Guilt for failing to keep her word was probably not in the top three.
“Your friend was the last piece of the puzzle,” said Arthur. “He is the key.”
“No, he isn’t,” I said, not with any force or volume, just with incontrovertible certainty. “He’s a boy that never liked hip-hop. Hardly makes him worth doing this to.”
By looking at Arthur, you’d never think he was some kind of megalomaniac. He had a round face, very avuncular, and kindness in his eyes. No leering or rubbing his hands together in glee like the way they portray Fagin in Oliver Twist, or Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Funny how those classic portrayals of anti-semitism are accepted as excusable for the sake of art, but Woody Allen is reviled. He has to make movies in Europe, isn’t that punishment enough? Mind you, if you’ve seen any of his recent efforts, he’s giving as good as he gets.
Arthur could quite easily be mistaken for the good guy in this scenario. Peter was clearly a piece of shit, so Arthur, for all his questionable tactics, had to be on the side of the angels. I would probably encounter an angel at some point, and no doubt they’d seem like nice guys at first but then turn out to be a bunch of dicks as well. Probably call God “M’Lord” while tipping their halo in His direction.
Arthur had the appearance of a reasonable person, but one sensible part doesn’t guarantee the whole. People can believe in homeopathic medicine and the health benefits of raw vegetables, and think both stances are equally valid. Although, to be fair, some people dilute their bullshit over and over and it retains all of its potency, so maybe homeopathy isn’t a big tub of wank (or, more likely, a tiny tub of very expensive wank).
“This is the heart of the island, is it?” I had expected to find some kind of pulsating, throbbing rock waiting for me. A giant egg with a mythical creature inside it would have been a nice touch.
“This is just the cavity where the heart resides,” said Arthur. “Until now, we never knew what was meant to go here.”
Maurice was apparently the one they had all been waiting for. I was just the delivery boy. Didn’t even get a tip.
“And what’s he going to do up there? Slowly rot?” He was already covered in mildew. He was like that bag of cut and washed fresh salad you buy at the supermarket in a fit of good intentions, put in the crisper drawer, and then throw out two weeks later unopened.
“I know you are uncertain of what is happening here,” said Arthur, “but at least give it a chance before you decide you have betrayed your friend. His sacrifice will pave the way for amazing things. His gift will benefit us all.”
It wasn’t me betraying him that I was ever concerned about. People are very good at assuming you must be feeling terrible about what you’ve done, even as they resolutely ignore what they’ve done. If you’re going to assume something about others, it should be that their capacity for blaming anyone but themselves is at least as strong as yours.
“But he won’t be in control of what his powers do, will he?” I said. “You will.”
“This goes far beyond what any individual might choose,” said Arthur. “We have allowed our senses to atrophy. We have lost our animal instincts in favour of human empathy instead of human breakthrough. We are only one-tenth of our potential, even the best of us. Whole new worlds are waiting to be explored but they are untouchable. No, they are unreachable.”
Maybe the same could be said of me.
“But,” he continued, “now we are able to unlock the door to a whole new way of seeing. This world will become so much more than a rock of green and blue. It will be the start of our next stage of evolution. Now we can truly become gods.”
Mad as a bag of frogs. I didn’t doubt the possibility that it was all true, or at least possible. What I objected to was this new progressive march into the future would be led by an utter piece of shit like him.
Risk losing the chance of ultimate power for the sake of spite? Do you even have to ask?
“Not just the island, the whole world?” Maurice had apparently been upgraded. Who wants to be the vestigial centre of a poxy island when you can become the rotting corpse at the centre of the world? This and your own YouTube channel were the only ways to make it happen. Don’t forget to smash that like button.
“We will be able to go anywhere,” he said, “bring anywhere to us.”
There was more than a chance that he was right. That whatever machine Maurice was now a cog in, it would allow the rest of us to experience new things that we couldn’t even begin to guess at. Human achievement has always been built on the sacrifice of others. Your pyramids, your revolutions against tyranny, your iPhone, they all came at a human cost.
“What about you?” I asked Wesley. “How do you fit into this brave new world. Queen Wesley?”
“I’m not sure,” said Wesley. “You’re the one who stabbed your friend in the back. I’d like to see how you choose, first.”
“I stabbed him in the front,” I pointed out, for the record. “And the reason I did that was to stop something like this from happening. I don’t like it when powerful people get more power. They say they’ll use it to create jobs for the average joe, but then they build themselves giant underground planet controllers and claim it against tax.
I looked back at Maurice. The thing that struck me was how peaceful he looked. There wasn’t much going on around him. The strands holding him in place weren’t moving, there were no lights shooting up and down them like neurons firing. It didn’t look like the Death Star was operational yet.
“How long before you can actually do something with all this power you’ve got here?”
“Any time now,” said Arthur, which is the kind of answer you can rely on to be complete bullshit.
I floated upwards. I passed through the tendrils, making no contact with them. I took out my sword and tried slicing off one of the vines, but the sword went right through it. Then I reached out and touched it with my fingertips, which also passed through without contact. I let some magic feed into my hand. They began to glow, and I could feel furry surface of the tendril brushing against my skin.
This place didn’t feel like the real world or the adjacent one. Or maybe it was a combination of the two, creating something else. Arthur may also have been keeping me from interacting with it.
Close up, Maurice’s body looked less than human. He wasn’t covered in the green stuff, he was made out of it. His whole body had been infused with it, so he no longer existed as anything other than a faint after-image of the boy he used to be. Which could also be said about me. I put my hand out to touch his chest.
His eyes opened.
They were green eyes, both inside and out, and there were no pupils, just a green orb in a green socket, but he was looking right at me. Or through me. There didn’t seem to be anyone home.
“How’s it going?” I said.
I nearly shat myself when he replied, “I don’t feel very good.”
Even though this was clearly Maurice’s body, with all the moving parts, I hadn’t expected the actual Maurice to be in there. Maurice was alive, in a manner of speaking.
“You look great,” I said. “Maybe a bit green around the edges.” No point giving the boy body image issues.
“Everything’s so dark. What happened? I feel very heavy… Have I put on weight?”
You can’t integrate with a planet without expecting to put on a few pounds, but people are sensitive about their appearance, so I decided perhaps now wasn’t the best time to reveal his exact predicament to him.
“It’s hard to explain. You know in that Star Trek movie where Spock dies?”
“Wrath of Khan.”
“Yeah, and then they bring him back to life by terraforming a planet.”
“The Genesis Project.”
“Sure, well, that’s sort of what happened to you.”
“I’m undergoing the Genesis Effect due to a Genesis Device?”
You’d expect science fiction writers to come up with more inventive names.
“Not exactly. Just a sec.” I lowered myself so I could face Arthur. “You didn’t mention he was still alive.”
“He isn’t. That’s just the remnants of his life force. The planet is keeping his memories in a state of suspended momentum. Eventually they will fade.”
Don’t ask me how you keep momentum suspended. There was something about the way Arthur was acting that gave me the impression he wasn’t quite as sure of himself as he was trying to make out. “I think you’re full of shit and have no idea what you’re doing.”
“Even if that were true,” he said, “a moment as exciting as this is not something we should let out of our grasp.”
It’s always a worry when narcissists start using words like ‘we’ and ‘us’. It means they don’t mind sharing the spotlight with you before your imminent demise.
I floated back up. “Hey, did I miss anything?”
“No. I’m not really alive, am I?”
“You’re sort of alive.”
“It doesn’t feel the same. I can sense so much around me. It goes on for so long. I think I might be going mad. How bad is it?”
“You know that Total Recall remake they did?”
“Dear God…” He understood. There was no need to explain what I was going to do, or why.
“I’m sorry, Maurice.”
Sometimes you have to kill what you love. Sometimes you have to kill it twice. I placed my hand on his chest and let the heat spread out.
His body only took a moment to disintegrate. It turned to ash and remained where it was, floating opposite me.
The vines that had been attached to him caught light. The flames shot away from me, burning up the vegetation that was the only thing I was any good at destroying. It was quite a light show.
“No,” screamed Arthur.
He made to move towards me, perhaps he had some arcane item to use against me, one of the artefacts he had promised to give me, but he didn’t get very far. Wesley reached out and grabbed him. Not by the throat, not his lapel or collar or the tail of his coat. Her hand passed through his chest and he stopped moving.
I guess true love is when you have someone’s heart in your fist and you don’t squeeze. Wesley had a hold of Arthur and she wasn’t going to let him go this time.
I floated down.
“I didn’t think you would do that,” she said.
“I didn’t think you’d do that,” I said, nodding towards Arthur whose face was twisted in agony.
She let go and Arthur stumbled away. “I won’t forgive you,” he said, although I wasn’t sure which of us he meant. Both, probably. “I may not be able to leave this place, but you won’t leave this island, I promise you.” He ran into the dark.
“You’re going to let him go?” I said.
“He has nowhere to go. And he isn’t the real problem.”
“I’m going to kill him,” I said.
“I’m going to help you.”
We both stood there. I was fine with what I’d done. I considered it a far better fate than leaving Maurice as some puppet. Life isn’t as precious as people think, and sometimes nothingness is better than the alternative. But there was a good chance the others were on the island. What was I going to tell them? I had no idea. Maybe it would be less awkward if I just killed them too.