Plantains piled high. Woven baskets full of beans and pulses. Dried, salted fish and curried goat. I made my way through the evening market, sand rising in the air as trucks depart with their unsold goods, last rush for the discounted meats that spoil soon. I had been in the country for six days but still hadn’t heard from the agent who was supposed to meet me at the airfield. Company policy was to consider the contact in the wind at this point, to return to headquarters and await further communication. This was complicated, however; we hadn’t heard a word from this contact since last summer, when his name was flagged by our system after being reported by the local coroner.

Whoever was using our deceased agent’s contacts and callsigns seemed to know exactly who we were, and so was either stupid enough to assume we’d be fooled, or desperate enough not to care. I had wondered, as the plane skidded uneasily across the runway, whether it would in fact be our old associate waiting at the gate, miraculously healed of the thirteen bullet-wounds listed in the report. At least three of those went through his skull, so I was ready for a slow-talker.

Humour will preserve your courage while the little shrieker in the back of your head paints a picture of a death-squad lying in wait near the airport, Kalashnikovs clacking gently as they huddle down, all eyes on the gate, waiting for the obvious spook.

But there had been nothing. After an hour of waiting I had jumped in a taxi to the nearest town and put cash down on a room. That night I stood in the street-facing window, smoking and eyeing the women at the brothel across the road, lamenting, not for the first time, that only the Russians permit their people to fuck and get fucked up on the clock.

After three days I was antsy. It was looking more and more like someone had found our man’s contacts and gotten curious. I changed hotels every evening, but no one was following me and no one was tossing the rooms I’d stayed in. It was time to leave, I knew that. But…

My ears ringing with the blast. Patterson dead, missing the better part of his left arm on the ground beside me. Gunfire and shouting. Had to get the ambusher’s truck off the runway, or we’d never be able to take off. Crawling to my gun, legs don’t move so good. Gunman above me now, blocking the sun, raising his gun and barking something… His head snaps forward, burst of fire from the barrel of his gun as he briefly death-grips the trigger, most bullets thudding into the sand, two into the side of the plane. Above me now, my contact, hand outstretched and already stinking of cordite. Clamber onto plane as he jumps in truck and makes a getaway. Saved me.

Gratitude. I’d felt something when his name popped up red on my terminal feed. Had any of them survived the ambush? If so, they may have identified him. Did he die because he saved me? I briefly glanced at my terminal for the first time in days; unread messages nearing the hundreds now. I was being missed. I knew I had to go back, report the lead as unconfirmed and reconsider our presence in the region. Tomorrow. I’d go home tomorrow. For now, I decided to head to the market for the evening; this was where we’d first encountered our agent, pulling him out of a dispute with a local merchant and taking him to a nearby cafe, filling his stomach with food, his head with thoughts of espionage and his hand with currency.

Women carried the last of the unsold goods to the trucks, the sinking sun setting the brilliant colours of their traditional garb ablaze. I turned a corner past a fruit stand being taken apart for the night and there he was. I froze. He was unmarked by bullets, his face seemingly far older than before. But the eyes I stared into after having accepted my death would forever be burned into my memory, and I knew he had been waiting for me. Unknown feelings of warmth and brotherhood began to blossom in my chest as I headed toward him. I wasn’t even checking my surroundings anymore; I was so happy to see him. His eyes were warm but hinted to a resigned sadness. Raised voices to my left, clattering and shoving. He turned away from me and I stretched a hand out to him as night fell upon me forevermore.


Here’s What Happens

There is life after death, and it’s horrible. Sorry to spoil the surprise, but everyone deserves to know this, really. Since civilisation’s beginnings we’ve tried to explain what happens to consciousness after death. The simplest and most likely explanation was also the most frightening; nothing. Nothing at all. Blankness, a void of sensation you wouldn’t even be present for. No one really wants to embrace the idea that once your heart stops beating and the brain starves of oxygen, then that’s all she wrote. No brainwaves, no electrical impulses, no sensation. Nothingness.

So we devised all kinds of reasonings and fables to offer ourselves some glimmer of hope. Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, anything was more appealing than the idea of non-existence. But the truth was worse than oblivion, if you can believe it.

The ‘Earth Project’, if you want to call it that, is effectively battery-farming. The Archons, those conscious powers of nature, force and time which exist in all places and forms, needed sustenance. The forces of this universe operate in a way much like what you think happens in the deep sea; small fish eat smaller fish, then are eaten by bigger fish, on and on. In the great Cataclysm which we choose to see as the Big Bang, the cosmic singularity burst apart and what had been an inconceivable All to which there was no ‘outside’ or ‘other’ was suddenly forced to adjust to something new; disparity. Suddenly, the All was split into Many, and there was no true equality. There were newly formed beings and consciousnesses with their own identities, strengths and weaknesses. Some were bigger and more powerful than others, and found themselves suddenly at the mercy of Time, a wholly new concept. They aged and withered, but could stem the flow of entropy via the consumption of other forms and powers, and so the strongest in this new pantheon devoured those who were weaker, on and on.

Eventually, with the passage of Time, which few seemed able to get used to, there were no weaker souls left in the divided cosmos. A small collection of unimaginably vast and powerful presences lorded over the cold space and the heat and matter which dotted it. None were capable of moving against the other without opening themselves up to attack from another, and with all of them aware that they were entirely matched in strength and omniscience, it was a stalemate. Perhaps if one had eventually consumed all the others then the universe, as we see it, would have returned to it’s original unity. But this did not occur.

These ‘Archons’ hatched an idea, each realising it at the same time and aware that the others must have done so as well. They worked together, for the first time, and made the world as we know it. They pooled their collective power and formed a world situated perfectly in the comfort-zone of a healthy star. They seeded the world with a small portion of their own power, and this became Life. In time, this Life developed a kind of advanced consciousness, as they anticipated.

The Archons were starving, you see. Unable to feed upon each other anymore they were beginning to atrophy. They understood that without fresh energy they were destined to fade, and they would have to embrace the Nothingness that we so fear ourselves. And so they began to farm, and we are the crops. Upon birth we are each blessed with a kernel of that initial spark which brought forth life on this world, and as time passes it matures. Our society and development act as a kind of greenhouse, that spirit growing into a unique and bright flame. We marinate in our collective experience of ‘Life’. And then, when our physical frames wither and fail, when our bodies are no longer able to act as vessels for the burning and titanic force of spirit and soul that threatens to burst out of us, we ‘Die’. The kernel, now massive and ripe, rises out of this ecology and returns to it’s original source, the Archons.

And they eat us.

Can you conceive of it? The white fire within, the one thing that remains within you even when everything else about life changes, the inner sense of being and experience, in the end it’s just a kind of cosmic nourishment for powers greater than you can imagine. Are you offended? Does the idea upset you, that everything that ever happened to you was effectively the cultivation of greater nutrition and flavour? Well be upset. Get mad. The chickens our species sends to slaughter every day aren’t happy about their situation either; do you care?

Gods will loom over you, leering and writhing in anticipation of their meal. That’s all you ever were. Tendrils which formed the universe plunge into your very essence with no concern for your consent. Your memories are torn away, like the crisp, juicy crackling which shields a freshly-roasted pork belly. They smack their lips on your hopes and fears, sucking the marrow from the wealth of your experience. You’ll fight and struggle, they all do. If anything the Archons like it; a final bit of resistance sweetens the meat and adds a spice to your dreams. And all of this happens so slowly… They like to take their time, to ensure that absolutely everything about you is consumed and converted into fuel for their own existence, so much more significant than yours as to inspire dreadful, star-shattering laughter upon comparison.

There is nothing you can ever do to prevent this. Your soul will be eaten, and all your memories and experiences will eventually be reduced to crumbs on a plate which spans the deepest abyss of space. You don’t return, you aren’t reborn. Eventually that initial fear of our species is made true; oblivion and nothingness. You simply have to endure the experience of being torn apart over millennia, knowing beyond doubt that there is absolutely no escaping any of this.

I suppose you could spoil their meal with suicide. You’d be giving them much less to feast upon, were you to artificially shorten your ripening. But you wouldn’t even be able to enjoy their frustration; your ability to perceive it would be gobbled up in short order.

So if you are spiteful enough to wish some kind of pain upon these unimaginable titans, then pray for war. Do everything you can to herald a nuclear armageddon, because only the complete devastation of all that lives on this ‘world’ will end their meal. And as the second suns rise from silos and burst in the twilight sky and the air grows fast and hot as the blast wave approaches you, ready to reduce you to immediate ash and cinder, rejoice in the knowledge that you have hastened the death of the universe.

Non serviam.