At least once every night that week, I was crying. Usually in the club, the edges of the rhythm squaring into the corners of my hips. Sometimes it happened alone, other times I perceived in successive thirds a body against flashes of light. I persisted in repositioning. Dark, dark light, totally sweat through. One beat frothing after another. Slowed down every so often, only wide enough to open our mouths. Things would get so stretched out down there—it felt like eons for any company worth having. Led to some tricks, some undoings. I went alone and in search. And in that night’s fountain, my eyes were tracing the negative space of bruo_rep0 in all their fluttering shine, trying to track movement that would never happen.
By chance of the waywards LEDs, I caught sight of lilt_rill_bill covered in dirtbag cowboy leather who had seen me too across several cycles of whatever was going on. “Cryin’ again, CASH?” he asked, hanging on the H. Sometimes you could see blood flowing out of mouths on nights like this.
“Isn’t it just so like that?”
We both nodded like we were already in sync.
This DJ playing, the type who had come from one of the more elite bootcamps that drew inspiration from a bicoastal twenty-tens, knew half his crowd were visitors from the remnants of those cities. He suddenly slipped off the upbeat something at least 30 bpm slower like dembow and the grease dropped.
I stepped closer to lilt_rill_bill. “You seen bruo_rep0 at all?” I asked.
“Nope, but then, hard to recognise them sometimes, isn’t it?” lilt_rill_bill said.
“You know more than anyone, you’re close. But bruo goes in and out, sometimes you feel you’ve gotten a grasp and right then you realise the whole time that they weren’t ever there.”
I found some recognition in what he had said, but also didn’t fully believe I knew that bruo.
“And,” he said, “some might say the same thing of you.”
LO(O)P, after billions of dollars and years of experiments, had already finalised the technical side of the algorithm that they titled, like a great masterwork, S(O)MA. A decade or so ago, the company had used its philanthropic arm to finance an artificial island off the southern coast of California and christened it Opal. By then, techniques for life extension had moved away from stimulating the growth of telomeres and stem cells to building a way to induce the end. The theory was that if you could invoke death, stagger it, it could become distributed, and the real mystery was what would happen after. The Opal program was a palliative care experiment that would enshrine all of us in S(O)MA, depersonalized data points in the most symbolic of the techno-deterministic quests. Whoever could afford to buy the program would become beneficiaries of the techniques. Maybe joining OPAL was inevitable—we were all unknowns otherwise, and, with no sense of myself, I could not help but look for all my possible reflections.
My eyes were still fixed on whatever points bruo_rep0 might appear. They were the first that arrived at Opal and I was the last. “I would stop there, otherwise…” were their first words to me. “I’m guessing you’re the last arrival?” were the second. I was removing the location card from my journal device and pretended not to hear until they touched my hand. I immediately recoiled, but not from disgust. It was first a tensing, then an emptying out, then a sprouting upwards. I noticed their eyelids. Lids moved with sinew, crouching, in preparation. Looks that meant game over. I was afraid. It would be too much—I would learn the contours of my brutality, where I absented. The OPAL Program was structured around pinpointing, and bruo_rep0 had divined what kind of new arrival I might be.
“You know, I’ve met nearly everyone so far and they fall into two categories. Those who treat this like performance art with a sense of irony and those who are genuinely afraid of dying.”
bruo_rep0 had my same way of closing their eyes in one position and reopening them in another. In their knowing, they had created the conditions for their own tragedy, the one that comes with this kind of potential. Despite my drive to preserve myself, to make myself anew, here was where I would fall.
Around Opal the sea didn’t glisten in different directions the way it might elsewhere. Routines were known and simulated; ferries docked and visitors disembarked to daytrip or to visit the young tech crowd stationed on Opal, authenticating the conditions that would mean we could form the requisite emotional bonds to others and to the island. But how could we when our realities were folded and folded in ways that could never unfurl into a shared understanding? When I was alone, the span of thoughts I tried to push into the water’s surface could never break free from the pervasive narrowness originating somewhere in Opal.
The floor, sticky beneath my feet, held on to the secrets we were keeping. Mine, in memory alone, of bru0 and the others eroding like coasts into the open air. Under these dark lights, I could tell quickly who would be there the next day to see who I was and who would move on once they figured out that the rippling across my body was sobbing. What deep fear lurched with such irregularity? Knowing less than what I knew then, I could have guessed an old self of mine had interceded on my behalf. I’ve murmured across every corridor since then, waiting. We, who were always dying, had made our pact with Opal, but now I was dying already dead.
ri patel is a writer
and researcher based in london