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Unity – An Ideological Horror Story in Four Parts – for Worlds and Words Short Story Wednesdays

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Triggers – loneliness, loss

This is a first person short-form socio-political spec-fic short.

This is the important section because it is called the same thing as the main title. It is also the end of the story.

Part 4 –Unity

Space is cold. The stars are burning ice, and their incredible beauty is balanced, measure for measure by the ache of being indescribably alone witnessing it. My people are not the only ones suffering. This story, with you, is all I have against the void. But all stories must end.

The aliens were many and potent. They spoke of harmony and unity. They spoke in unity, the boundaries between each and another were non existent. They couldn’t understand, for all of their potency, all of their listening, how we, who are, after all, one species, could be fighting each other. They couldn’t understand how could self-govern this way, with myriad dissenting voices, only finding resolution when the noise of the many finally drowned the few. They could not understand it, but they knew that such dissent, such drowning, was wrong.

They told me they were all in agreement ( as if agreement was a concept of any meaning to a hive-mind). They agreed, humanity’s similarities were far greater than our differences. That unity should be dominant, the shaper of society, our bonds of care and recognition should be holding us together,  stronger than the schisms of fear and difference could pull us apart. They told me that they could fix it, this ancient race from beyond the stars. They were so moved by our painful human wrongness, causing our self-persecution, that they were willing to commit all of their race’s energy and knowledge to fixing it. I thought they meant it.

What else was I supposed to think? I was just a person, like you. Can you imagine a race that has always been itself and singular and total? Could you have imagined that that completeness would make it impossible for that race to communicate with anything resembling truth? They spoke, and all I heard was the echo of my own voice, inside my mind, where they made an offer in words that were mine and that they could never have imagined would mean different things than what they meant to them. I heard and echo of an offer that was all the human race would ever need to be whole and happy and safe, but the echo was not the offer I accepted.

Maybe I can ask you to linger a while with this story, even after I tell you what this story was created to say. Maybe I can ask you to think of more than my message after you are done with these words. Maybe if you remember me, even after we are done talking, then I, adrift as I am, as all that remains of me is, will feel it. Maybe the loneliness strung between the stars will keep its distance for a time. That would be important to me, but what I have to say, what the story was made to say, is important for everyone, everywhere, so listen. Listen and remember. Even if I am forgotten, remember this:

In a nameless neighbourhood enclave, besieged by government shock troops, ordered toexterminate the group of psychic humans living there, an alien hive-mind made an offer of peace. It was not so much that they lied, a hive-mind isn’t capable of conceiving of the need for deception. They didn’t lie about the offer, I just didn’t ask them about its cost, and they sang so sweetly under my skin. They promised perfect unity, perfect harmony, for all humankind, forever. When I accepted, they used the part of my brain that made me different from you, to broadcast themselves, glowing and singing within my minds reach to systematically destroy all the parts of them that make them individuals. All of the frontal cortex, all of the higher thoughts, what they could not use they destroyed and what they could use they assumed control of. My neighbours stood, still and slack-jawed in the streets, the children playing under the assault bot froze in place, soldiers put down guns. The organism stopped fighting itself.

Some of my people resisted, their bodies were purged from the inside out and their carcasses re purposed for component parts. Me? That I still don’t know. I never believed in a mind without a medium before. I didn’t believe in aliens either. There must have been something special about my mind though, because the aliens came to me to sing and make peace offers. I’m here, in the cold and the stars, telling you this, but my body’s still somewhere planet-side, a flesh-host for the aliens, bigger and more efficient and more powerful than anything the Hive could have grown on its own.

How did I escape? You have a funny definition of escape. I’m a cloud of thoughts and the shrapnel of a shattered consciousness, floating aimless and eternal through space, that managed, just once, to cohere enough to suggest this story to the dreams of a small-time writer of strange science fiction. A writer, who is not so different from how I used to be, or how you I are. I know that because I brushed her sleeping mind, so briefly, when I whispered to it the message you must, please, hear. Hear and remember me, dissipating, I think, into the endlessly looping cosmic static. Her mind was like my mind, is, probably, like your mind, even though we were all once different people with different lives. That distinction matters little to the aliens. This is what I have been trying to tell you, why I’ve been working so hard to show you that your story is not so different from mine that it could not become it. We are one humanity. One humanity of equally serviceable flesh-hosts. The aliens see no distinction between bodies and the Hive exists to expand. All the people of this planet are united in their utility to the aliens. Our unity is their strength.

End

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3 thoughts on “Short Story Wednesday Unity 4

  1. Hi Abi,

    I enjoyed reading your story though it ends in such a dark way. It left me wondering what dystopia represents for you. Does it define a narrative arc or attribute a structure to your writing? Is it an imagination of a future gone wrong? Or do you try to find a silver lining?

    You also write that there is a message to be gleaned that transcends the places we are from, who we are, our names, etc. Since you make an analogy of Hansel and Gretel and the inconsequential setting of that story, I am tempted to turn it back on your story. In doing so I see a notable difference. I’ll indulge this tangent for a moment:

    Hansel and Gretel outwit their captor and escape and they return to a broken place where their stepmother has died and their father has spent the duration of their absence mourning the loss of his children by his own fault. Even though they manage to bring jewels back from the witches hut and secure a more comfortable place for their family as a result, they have paid for their freedom with a great moral transgression: they have committed murder.

    To get back to your story: you challenge the possibility of escape in the final paragraph of your story as it occurs in the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. Your first person narrator ends up a fragmented subject, barely a subject. In fact, your narrator has been occupied by the alien invaders. In turn, your author becomes occupied by the narrator as she is visited by her as she sleeps. Is subsumption, i.e. being subsumed by an other a necessity for seeing beyond a perspective steeped in our history? This singularly raced hive-mind (still you define this singularly raced culture as having a race) would presumably have no need for the concept of race and are able to see humanity as a single entity. As a result the aliens can provide insight into injustice detached from questions of racial categories.

    To end this tangent — is this the “funny definition of escape” you speak of? The idea that getting away from a situation physically, escaping with your life, is all that entails escape. Is there no escape then? Is any occupation of our thoughts — that is to say any change in the epistemological structure from which we enact our agency — forever part of us, inescapable. Are we constantly absorbing every event irrevocably? Is this dystopia or is this the lesson/message you intend your reader to take away having read this story?

    Finally, one line especially stuck with me “Could you have imagined that that completeness would make it impossible for that race to communicate with anything resembling truth?” The idea of communicating with truth is especially interesting in the context of the truth and reconciliation commission in SA. This line seems to describe a spectator position in relation to the act of hearing truth as it is constructed by a speaker attempting to establish the truth of a political and social structure based from an objective position. Or is this reaching too far?

    Looking forward to your response!

    • Hi Brian!
      I’m not sure how it happened that you had to wait so long for my reply. Generally my notifications system is much better than this. I’m really sorry about that.

      It’s a great comment with exactly the kind of engagement I get thrilled about from readers. Thank you so much.

      Just a warning though: its going to need quite a solid reply, so only open this up when you have some time on your hands to read!

      So here goes.

      To start with the ending of the story and dystopia. For me, its not so much preservation of life that is the ultimate goal in this world, because we really can’t control a lot of aspects of that. I can be as safe and careful as I please and still get hit by a bus. For me, the point is making the time we do have matter. So, for the protagonist, telling her story was the only way she had left to enact her agency, and she did that. You read it. The fact that you as the reader engaged with her words meant that she made what she had matter.

      That’s what I was shooting for, but what I will take from a story and what a reader will are two very different things. So, I didn’t see this as a failure story, but a certain kind of triumph.

      And I tend to prefer dystopia to utopia, because at least its a little more honest.

      The fact that the author figure in the story chanelled the protagonist in dreams was more a lampshade. I wanted the reader to feel connected to the protagonist, but was aware that they would know they were reading a story that someone who was not the protagonist wrote. That device was there to give the reader a way of suspending their disbelief at the degree of separation between them and the protagonist because they were reading a story. Again that was the intention, but the reality of it is going to be a little different for everyone who reads it.

      So, I wanted to flip the concept of ‘Unity’ and make it sinister and dark, as a thought experiment, because unity is so often portrayed as an unquestionable good. An alien that reduced what a human is to the simple biological features that make us the same seemed a pretty good way of doing that.

      There is a link with South Africa that I had in mind when writing this story, but its more about truths plural than a truth. In my experience of joburg, difference is comfortable. Listening to languages that I don’t understand, seeing people I don’t know, noting events I’m not invited to, glimpsing other life worlds that I will never understand because I am who I am. That proximity to difference makes it harder for me to believe in a single truth, because things look different and are different to different people. You miss the experiences that are different to yours (and also real and valid and true) if you hold your experiences to be the only truth. An alien that had never experienced difference could not communicate meaningfully (with any relevance to human truths) with a species that is kind of defined by different truths. I kind of don’t think there are objective positions outside the realm of the hard sciences, and get a little nervous the harder people try and convince me that there are and they are so and so.

      I hope there are some answers in the words there! Would love a response if you have the time an inclination.

      Once again, sorry for the wait!

      Have a great week,
      Abi

  2. Pingback: Short Story-Wednesday Unity 3 | Worlds and Words

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