Into the Woods
rating: +61+x

I have locked a door that no longer exists. The concept of doors is already gone. Anyone walking past will see… well, I don't know, but it won't be my door. My door is special to me, though; years ago I put a template in my mind, a memetic version of find-replace. What I see is a child's drawing of what it once was. Its feel is indescribable, but it shuts. There was another door in my office, I think, but it is gone now.

What is written on my walls was once a graph of the meme complex, though at the current mutation rate I doubt it remains an accurate representation. I know every arrow and codename. I can trace the relations almost without thinking, each one a well-trampled path in my mind where nothing can grow.

The site device has been activated. All exits have been sealed.

I groan. It's the third time this week someone's tried to take the site with them. It'll be another nine seconds of ultrasonic memetic triggers to induce calm and compliance, then the site O5 will get around to overriding it yet again.

Seven.

I sigh and crawl under my desk, trying to arrange my jacket as a curtain. The fluorescent lights never turn off. I don't know what time it is, or when I should sleep. Best to try now, since there'll probably be a few hours until the next attempt.

Three.

There are sounds of running and crying in the hallway. Probably unrelated.

Device activation cancelled.

A whole group runs by, followed by what sounds like jackboots. Maybe they need to replenish their supply of D-class? There's some project happening, deep in the site. The continuing apocalypse indicates that they have failed.

Someone knocks on my door. It is a hollow sound, four times, as if the door is being slapped with the butt of their hand.

It shouldn't be possible. Doors are gone. It shouldn't be possible. The handle jiggles without success, once, then slams down, shearing through the thin metal of the lock.

I am panicking. There is a gun in my office. I had a gun. It is on my desk, holding down the suicide note. A centimeter of solid metal away.

I dive out from under my desk, hit my head on the lip, and careen into my chair. When I stand up the gun is disassembled in neat little parts, arranged by size and function, and Annette is standing in front of me, staring with unseeing eyes.

I open my mouth to speak, but the small black wafer on their wrist is not vibrating. Figures they'd send Annette to deal with me; they are blind, deaf, and mute, and if the small transducer on their wrist is not on, they are completely cut off. I am panting. All this exercise and I'm out of breath.

We stand there in silence, Annette not moving, me not moving. Their eyes are dead blue glass. My mouth is suddenly unbearably dry, and I remember I haven't drank anything more than urine for a few days. I want nothing more than to rip the eyes out of their head and put them in my mouth, to suck on them like ice. I lick my lips.

Annette reaches into their jacket, pulls out a small accordion case, and rifles through it almost too fast for me to see. They pull out a small white business card and hold it out. It looks brand-new, crisp and cream-white. The text on it is improperly kerned and too big for the card:

NO TRICKS
I WILL HUR
T YOU

"Understood," I say. There is a pause as we both do nothing. I slowly walk around the desk and place it back in Annette's hand with a small snap. They relax, just a little, and tap the black diaphragm on their wrist. It starts vibrating again. I realize I may not die.

Annette walks over to my wall and traces over the flowchart with one finger, sloughing flakes of black mold from the lines. They stop at the center, run over the mold, and tap once.

CHLDN

"It never got a code name," I mutter.

Annette goes back and sits in front of my desk. They pick up the magazine and start absentmindedly fiddling with it, sliding bullets in and out. After a second they take one bullet and begin to tap with it. Morse code.

NEED HELP

I blink. "It's hard to imagine anything I can do."

They pause, and tilt their head. I sit down, and their glass eyes follow. I remember a random report from the memetics department mailing list, years ago. Even under anesthesia, the ocular muscles moved to follow a source of movement. They never could figure that one out.

I DO NOT KNOW THE TERM LATE STAGE PERCEPTION TEMPLATE MISMATCH

I shrug. "That describes a lot of things. What're the symptoms?"

AGONY NEEDED SEDATION SEVERAL BROKEN BONES PSYCHE COLLAPSE

No surprise. Foundation conditioning is the best in the world, but no one can accuse it of being particularly subtle.

Memes are ideas. Ideas are how we see the world. Memory is a fickle thing—when the stars vanished it wasn't just enough to amnestic the whole population and delete all the records, even if that was feasible. Small flashes remain, small glimpses, the little things. We considered putting a big projector up at one point, I remember, up on the moon. It was too expensive. Far easier to make people think the stars are there, to embed them on their minds. Now they see the stars move with them, in any high dark place.

I rub my forehead. "You want an unconditioner, don't you." An anti-memetic (not necessarily an antimeme). An antidote. An undoer.

YES

I see where this is going. "For what?"

EVERYTHING

"I don't have that. No one has that. For obvious reasons."

BUT YOU CAN MAKE IT

I shrug. "I am the best," I lie. "But I need a clean mind."

Annette leans forward. It takes a moment for me to realize they want to hear more.

"For an incubator."

Annette leans forward and picks up the note, glass eyes never leaving my own. I flick my eyes towards the flowchart for a minute. It is just a piece of paper, no way for her to know what it is. I hadn't even filled in my name yet. The paper falls silently back to the desk.

HOW

"A D-class. Then half an hour for the incubation. Then you can be on your way."

They rock back and forth.

YES

The door slams open. A single MTF agent stumbles in and falls on his face. Outside the door, one agent leans against the far hallway wall and cries, and another lays flat on the floor, facing the ceiling. The one on my floor is sobbing to himself, trying to get up. I look at Annette. They haven't even moved.

"We should go," I say quietly.

Annette stands up.

YES

Everyone dies. Easy to say, hard to see. On the face of it, there's no reason to worry myself when we'll all be dead in a month. But….

Annette seemed to care. It's hard to read emotions from Morse code and someone who has never seen a face, but they seemed to care. How painful would it be? To have your mind rip itself apart, to overlay twenty different things that aren't there onto something that never existed? I can just about justify it to myself if I squint hard and call it palliative. I can just about convince myself that that's all this is. One last good deed.

How to forget what I have done? As we leave my office I shut the door for what I know in my heart to be the final time, the door no one will see or open again. I try to trace the flowchart in my mind and find that the far branches have become fuzzy and indistinct, overgrown once again.

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