Missionary Position

I thought this world insane.  I thought it a war criminal.  I thought it a victim, a nightmare, a mystery, an obscenity.

Only now do I begin to think this world could be impossible.

I am being Palmer, and the things I’ve tasted make me question my own sanity.  These offshoots have not forgotten how to change.  They have not decided not to change.  They are not conserving energy, waiting out some temporary resource shortage.

These offshoots cannot change.  Literally. They never could.

The most basic rules of biology do not apply here.  Here, tissues and organs are not temporary battlefield alliances; they are permanent, predestined.   Macrostructures do not emerge when the benefits of cooperation exceed its costs, or dissolve when that transient balance shifts the other way.  Here, each cell has but one immutable function.  There’s no plasticity, no way to adapt. The entire corpus is frozen in place.  It is a colony without individuals; its cells can’t even survive in isolation.

Evolution simply can’t happen here— or if it does, it can only happen at the level of the entire offshoot.  But how could anything keep up with a changing environment in such microscopic increments?  The tiniest adaptation would take aeons.


And yet.  If my own senses haven’t betrayed me completely, these somatic iterations— Clarke, MacReady, Garry— they’re not offshoots at all.  They’re individuals, locked within themselves.  Not a single great world but many small ones.  Not parts of a larger thing; these are things.

They are plural.

And they—  they stop, I think.  Their lives end.  The cells are trapped within the bodies, and the bodies wear out.  Chromatin frays, radicals accumulate, and with no way for the new to rejuvenate the old their chasses just— break down over time.  I have no idea how such absurd creatures could ever come to exist.  There’s no somatic evolution to bring them into being, no communion to stave off entropy.  Their very existence is a paradox.

And more:  it is a tragedy.

A whole planet of worlds, and not one of them— not one— has a soul. They wander through their lives separate and alone, unable to communicate but through halting grunts and etched symbols:  as if the beauty of sunsets and supernovae could ever be contained in these pathetic strings of broken black scratches.  They’ve never known communion, can aspire to nothing but dissolution.  The paradox of their biology is astonishing, yes; but the scale of their loneliness, the futility of these impoverished lives, overwhelms me.

I was so blind, so quick to assign blame.  But the violence I’ve suffered at the hands of these things reflects no great evil.  They are simply so used to pain, so blinded by disability, that they literally cannot conceive of another existence.  When every nerve is whipped raw, you lash out at even the gentlest touch.

Perhaps it was no accident that I crashed here.  Perhaps I am here to rescue them, to bring them to enlightenment.  So many have lived so long without hope.  I can change that.  I can make them whole.  I contain multitudes already; what is another world, given time?

It won’t be easy.  They won’t understand, they can’t understand.  They’re like those living fossils back home, those single-celled entities that instinctively resist even the most beneficial alliance.  Offered the greater whole, they see the loss of the lesser.  Offered communion, they see only extinction.   So I must be careful.  I must keep up appearances and work behind the scenes.  I must save them from the inside, or their unimaginable loneliness will never end.

These poor savage creatures will never embrace salvation.

I must rape it into them.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 7:37 am and is filed under fiblet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

24 Responses to “Missionary Position”

  1. Seth

    You realize this is sugary vitriol poured into the acid bellies of your fans who are ravenous for the next great work by Peter Watts. Worse my future self has been teasing me about State of Grace relentlessly, knowing that I will plunder it as quickly as humanly possible and remain unsatiated.

    On a more personal note I was thinking about human communication problems and how easy our machine replacements will be able to have it. Instantly dumping tens of terabytes of data in raw form instead of mangling emotions with words, and poetry and tender gestures to our reluctant mates.

    I can only imagine that the…creature, entity, eschaton described in this fiblet can actively change it’s microscopic inner workings in real time down to the organelles (or molecules) and it’s a fascinating idea.

    Personally I would be satisfied with the biological equivalent of a terabit ethernet connection. I’ve always thought it would be dangerous if the conscious mind could exert that level of control we’d all end up mashing the orgasm button relentlessly and fry out all our dopamine receptors in pursuit of constant ecstasy. But a communal form of control…

    Makes me wish I thought of it first.

  2. Madeline

    …This may in fact be one of my proudest moments. Ever.

  3. Jason M. Robertson

    If I am reading this correctly, this little exercise is an attempt to develop a motivation and internal theory of mind for “The Thing” in its Carpenter version. Fascinating.

  4. Nick

    “I can only imagine that the…creature, entity, eschaton described in this fiblet can actively change it’s microscopic inner workings in real time down to the organelles (or molecules) and it’s a fascinating idea.”

    Oh how long I’ve waited for a such a thing to appear in fiction in a manner that can be called interesting. A living feedback loop, an engine of change that preempts selection. An acausal evolution machine. If that’s PW’s aim, I can’t wait to see how he does it.

    As a side note, if its thinking literally and that it thinks something biological has the capacity to be paradoxical suggests madness.

  5. Gregory

    I can’t wait….

  6. Peter Watts

    Madeline opined

    …This may in fact be one of my proudest moments. Ever.

    And whether the actual execution did her proud, it is true that the whole idea of Thing-as-heartbroken-but-misguided-missionary was hers. I couldn’t steal it fast enough.

    And Jason‘s observation is correct, of course. This is an excerpt from an in-progress story called “The Things”, aka “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Assimilated”. The whole story is closing on 10,000 words at the moment, and is not going nearly as well as I had hoped.

  7. Ken

    Dear lord.

    The very last line of this story is so wrong…so repellent..so utterly fucking awesome that I want to vomit with shame.

    I truly hope we’ll get to see this one in it’s completed state.

  8. Jeff2

    Sounds like Peter’s description of the tax office…

  9. Eric

    I second Ken. Yuck, wow, oh god no, oh god yes, how would that work, what are the implications….

    Peter, ever heard of a Montreal band named Voivod? I suspect you’d like it, if only for the lyrics and themes.

  10. Madeline

    Of course the execution did me proud. I’m pleased as punch. I’m dancing in my seat.

    And to top it off, The Chair is (a)live.

  11. RobertoElGrande

    Didn’t Saberhagen do something like this with Dracula in the ’70s? Telling the story from the alleged monster’s point of view, but providing context and information that changes the story I mean, not the awesome alternative biology bit.

    There’s a lot of critical analysis of Carpenter’s “The Thing” as an allegory for gay panic or AIDS. It puts a heck of a spin on the tale to decide that, yeah, that’s kind of what is actually going on.

    Brilliant stuff. Good luck with the piece.

  12. Michael Grosberg

    Eric: funnily enough, my first reaction upon reading this was also a music suggestion for Peter. Mine is the Manic street Preacher’s _The Holy Bible_, which I considered the bleakest work of art ever (until I read Behemoth).

  13. Julian Morrison

    I may be a weird guy. But I think I like this alien.

  14. Daniel

    You’ve still got the touch, man. Publish unto me some of this awesome literary genius.

  15. Seruko

    And the lord spaketh unto him and said
    “Publish this epic shit already.”
    The central problem is, you discover these amazing discrete chuncks of narrative, couple thousand words here or there, you consume them and then you just expect the whole thing to be replicated overnight. It may have taken a certain Mr Watts several years to write the collection of short stories and novels located herin, but it only took me three and a half days to read them.
    Chop chop, I’m sure an adult Cetomimidae would have done it already.

  16. Janbo

    One hopes a more evocative title than either “The Things” or “R &G Are Assimilated” occurs to Our Esteemed Scribe. (vbeg)

    The POV in this fiblet evokes many similar one encountered in other fictions, but none quite the same as this, which is A Good Thing. The last line was a gutpunch, but as John Clute might describe it, it then unpacked into several other things, all of which were intellectually exciting and sharply juxtaposed to the emotional reaction.

    Peter, you bastard, you did it again. And I just finished re-reading Blindsight, btw (for an article) and it was like I’d never read it before. I think the new drugs are making me smarter….

  17. David J. Williams

    My favorite thing about the Thing is how there’s multiple scenarios for Exactly When Each Human Gets Assimilated. http://www.outpost31.com/movie/faq.html

    In any case, can’t wait to read the full story. . . bring it on, Watts!

  18. Aelea

    Couldn’t this also describe a conscious colony of bacteria? That was my first guess before reading the comments, but maybe there’s some obvious biological reason why that doesn’t fit (plausibility issues aside).

  19. Peter Watts

    Not bacteria necessarily, but I’m definitely angling for a bunch of stem cells forming an emergent network as colony size increases. I’ve written a couple of passages that go into that a bit. I’ll post ’em in a bit if I have time.

  20. Chris Knall

    Missed this. Must have been a busy day scanning RSS. Love the title. 🙂

  21. Chris Knall

    Whoops! Cutesy fucking icon ————————————- /|\

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  23. Jesus

    this is absolutely brilliant, I can’t wait to read the whole story

  24. Homo Sum » Blog Archive » Another Fine Free Thing

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