by David Thorpe, Wales
I’m not sure exactly how it ended up like this — me of all people. But then these are the last days, so they keep telling us. It’s what we should have expected.
I’m holed up in a cave in the Rockies just south of the border with Arthur Rambo and the Wu Wei kid — Martin Bradley, also known as Yin Yang Bradley. It’s been a long time since anyone tried to break in to steal our supplies. We chose this place well — it’s pretty impregnable unless you happen to have a bunch of commandos willing to abseil 200 metres down a cliff face above and behind us on titanium cables. The view west, south and north is unimpeded for half a mile at least. No one could sneak up without us seeing.
We’ve got enough supplies for a couple of years. However, long before then, I expect we will have finished each other off. See, we hate each other’s guts. Rambo is a sickly one. He mopes about all day feeling sorry for himself. He has periods when he rants and rages — he screams blue murder and threatens to kill himself. I wish he would. Who needs poets in this day and age? I ask you. This is the time of the scavenger. Survival is the watchword. Rambo survived by accident — he just happened to be liked by the right people at the right time. Yin-Yang Bradley and me — we survived because we are genii. When we met I thought he was cut from the same cloth as me — we both have a common enemy: liberal wankers. But it soon turned out we have opposing modi operandi. I believe in propaganda, human stupidity and greed, and, if these don’t work, brute force. He believes in “going with the flow”. All crap if you ask me. If I’d gone with my flow I’d never have got off the crawling mat.
As for me, I’m just a doctor — you may know me as Doc Chaos, or Mr Nuclear. Twice I’ve been heralded as the saviour of the world. Maybe third time lucky, eh?
In comes Bradley with the Columbian. I got the Glenfiddich. Together we make Irish coffee. We’ve got enough coffee to last for two years but only enough whisky for one year — at present rate of consumption. This is another reason why one of us has to go.
“In what sense exactly were you the saviour?” sneers Bradley. We’re playing the blame game. What else is there to do? It’s 2090 and there’s fuck all left.
“The first time around, I gave them the promise of cheap energy and a Cold War that must have saved millions of lives. The second time, I gave them low carbon energy, and prolonged their illusions by a couple of decades. I play the long game. Don’t worry I’ll be back.”
“You’re just another interfering busybody who takes pleasure from fucking everybody’s lives up.”
“Damn right. Pass the sugar.”
“Are we ever going to be able to go outside again?” This is the voice of Rambo whining in the corner. We each pick up a brick and throw it at him. These days we don’t even bother to tell him to shut the fuck up. He squats there stewing in his own faeces. He says it’s art — performance art. But who’s watching?
“Bradley —” I ask, lighting a joint (five year’s supply left). “Don’t you think there is a paradox at the heart of your chilled jade crusade?”
“One —” he wags a finger at me. “it ain’t a crusade, I’m just at the leading edge of The Way. Pushed by the Flow. Two — ain’t everything powered by a paradox? Shit, nothing would happen otherwise.”
“That old diala-lectical rag again…. give me a break with your socialist dogma.”
“No such shit. This is a Yin Yang thing.” And would you believe it, he stands up and bursts into song. Must be the dope. Else he’s in one of his bi-polar Yang moods. I don’t see anything to sing about. “Yin-yang, Yin-yang, Yin-yang, Yin-yang, Yin-yang, Yin-yang, tiddle-i po. Yin-yang, Yin-yang, Yin-yang, tiddle-i po, tiddle-i po.”
This makes as much sense to me as a pile of primeval slime. As this is a rule of the game, I sing back to him: “You mean ‘I make syntheses of antitheses from little theses grown. And the syntheses are new theses for antitheses unknown.'” That’s one of my little ditties.
“Stop putting words into my mouth, you arsehole, or I’ll make sure you never synthesise anything again.” He’s standing over me waving a hammer.
I affect being completely unperturbed. “Just who do you think you are, Mr Yin Yang Bradley?”
“I am the Way.” He turns around and addresses the room which is almost completely empty as if imagining the whole world is listening. “You can call me by any other name you like but I’d smell as sweet and still be true and unknowable. Live and let whatever happens happen. That’s my motto!”
“Shut the fuck up, Bradley,” whines a voice from the corner.
But he’s on a roll now. He starts singing and dancing around the room, his long purple robe twirling after him. “Wu-wei – it’s the way for me! Woo Woo Wu-wei – the only way to be!”
You can see why I am totally sick of this guy. Actually, Yin Yang Bradley started out as an ordinary rich brat, the son of a self-made rich media tycoon who wanted his first-born to follow him into the empire. However, instead he went to Taiwan and discovered Taoism, studied martial arts – t’ai chi (“iron shirt” t’ai chi — Wu style) – for years and then decided to get even with his bastard of a father by fighting for everything he is not. Bradley believes that the world is fucked up because humans can’t stop meddling and interfering. They can’t just leave things alone to reach a balanced Taoist state. So he wishes everybody would just mind their own God-damn business. Mind you I do tend to share that opinion myself. Bradley’s motto at that point was “Whatever will be will be — whether you like it or not, so fuck you. You in the way of The Way? You gonna get hurt!” And that is an impressive motto you have to admit.
“Your problem is that you can’t see you could be interfering yourself,” I mutter. “You just justify your action by believing you’re totally in tune with The Tao and at the leading edge of The Way, whatever that is.”
“Sure am, baby!” He yelps. “A wave of entropy type tendency ever unrolling in the eternal now. A beautiful ecosystem in which I am the strange attractor. You’ve got to be autonomous, spontaneous and without other loyalty.”
“Ha ha. I got you there. What about Zen Girl aka the Koan Kid?”
The Zen Girl, otherwise known as One Hand Sally. She was here at first. In fact she was the reason why Bradley came — he followed her halfway round the world on the last ever air flight as far as I know — before the activists destroyed every single fucking aeroplane on the planet. He fell for her big time. Maybe it was some perv thing about only having one hand. She lost the other to a tiger while removing a thorn from its paw. Her tagline was “listen to my one hand clapping”. Bradley thought he could hear it, you understand — therefore it must be love. And problem is, Bradley can’t love — his father and mother helped destroy his ability to do that by sending him to a private boarding school for ten years.
“What about her?” He says. “She doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“Liar,” comes the voice from the corner.
“Shut the fuck up, Rambo!” We both say it this time and throw another rock.
Sally died, in the first wave of attacks by refugees from the city looking for food. She died so we can live. Cool. However, before she died she did confide to me that Bradley had a dragon tattooed on his bum. That’s as well as the Yin Yang symbol on his tongue. She died protecting us when a gang from the city tried to climb up to our cave, which is halfway up a cliff face. They did pretty well, because we were asleep on the job and she was on watch. They made it to the entrance and reached her before she could fire. It’s hard trying to use a Kalashnikov with only one hand. So much for Zen Buddhism. Bradley was mortified. He was inconsolable for three weeks —never left his room. So much for going with the flow. Or maybe that is the real meaning of ‘wu wei’ — sitting around on your ass all day. It wouldn’t have been so bad if One Hand Sally had loved him back.
Later in the day we’re watching the sun set. We’re sitting with our legs dangling over the edge of the 150 metre cliff. Below us, lost in the Scythian darkness, jagged boulders. On three sides, the foothills slip away. It’s beautiful — you’d almost think nothing else mattered in the world, that everything was okay, the same as it always was. Long blue shadows stretch across the barren landscape. It’s hard to believe all this was forest not so long ago. But now most of the forests are gone, eaten by the hungry deserts. There is peace, not the mess of life any more. It’s quiet, and quiet is the normal state of the universe. There are roads, but nothing moves on them. They lead to cities, once served by energy and water which isn’t there any more. So those who can have gone — further north, where the temperate zones are now, to fight — and scavenge.
I did my bit to make the heydays last. I am the smiling conman, the artful bodger, the devil spawn of Prometheus, the quantum Quixote, the quixotic salesman with the quack cure, the fast-talking, fusion-pushing fantassin of plenty, peddling the fantasy of foison forever. And they bought it.
“Do you remember,” I reminisce wistfully, “how I persuaded them that despite Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and terrorists running around with truckloads of depleted uranium, that I could save them from global warming?”
We share a gentle chuckle as the shadows lengthen.
“Those were the best of days… Feted at high level conferences, brokering billion-dollar deals, shafting the anti-nuclear do-gooders, sweet-talking the politicians.”
The stars are coming out overhead. You can see them again now the city lights no longer pollute the night sky.
“Now all the uranium has run out,” observes Bradley.
“Like we knew it would — did they care?”
“People believe what they want to believe.”
A shooting star flashes across the sky.
“Uh-huh.” Bradley takes my hand —I let him. It gives the idiot some comfort. His Yang mood has been switched for a Yin one.
It’s a great advantage having absolutely no moral scruples. I believe in the appliance of science — the world is my crucible, my laboratory, my Petri dish, and humans are my culture — my bacterial culture. This is the world’s —i.e. my — greatest experiment: to prove the fallibility of humanity, which has so much misplaced faith in itself.
“Anyway, by the time all the nuclear power stations were built, it was already too late — global warming had pushed the planet beyond its tipping point.”
“And they’d wasted all that time and money. Brilliant, eh?” I let out a wheezy laugh — smoking too many joints. No need to cut down — I have abused so many bodies in my life. Finish one, just move over into another. That was my first accomplishment — to become a brain surgeon: my brain has been through more bodies than you’ve had hot dinners. But you know after so many body transplants even I have to admit that something has been lost along the way. My memory is no longer what it was. I can’t remember what body I was wearing when. What did I look like? I don’t recognise myself in photographs. Anybody could be me. Maybe they were. In the end, what difference does it make?
I’m known by my genome, it’s as simple as AGCT. I’m an unnatural selection for a sexual mate — but it’s not as if Bradley has a lot of choice around here. He’s feeling weak and vulnerable, I can tell. It’s in his bleeding eyes, his pleading, open Yin vacancy. He’s resting his head on my shoulder as the sky turns to spangled black. He’s thinking not just of everything the world has lost, but of Zen Girl. His one true love — too bad it was unrequited. This moment is drenched in ennui, as we remember everything we’ve accomplished, how victorious I was, and how he has failed. Once you start interfering, you can never stop. Human beings interfere — they can’t help it. Bradley suffers from the illusion, and has done all his life, that human beings can integrate with nature, that they can stop interfering. I know their ultimate purpose: they were born to destroy. Ever since they crawled out of central Africa two and a half million years ago it has been one long trail of destruction, culminating in the last two hundred years’ great prolonged climactic orgy of chaos and annihilation.
He starts to cry, his body racked with heaving sobs. Earlier in the day, we put Rambo out of his misery with a massive injection of morphine. All in a day’s work for me — another intervention for him. Another final act of destruction. I thrive on moments like this. I know what he’s thinking about. I know what I have to do — what he really is crying out for. I start whispering a low hypnotic chant in his ear, grooming him for what’s about to happen. “I’m a catalytic compere in the generation game; an excitable enzyme whispering your name, I’m a transfer agent, your protein pal, a recombinant roamer with a message to tell. I’m the mother of chance, the mask of romance, the mutant menace, the active factor, the swirling dance. Your chance to clone, I’m your ribosome, the master of hype for the genotype. I’m the ultimate pack leader, a mass seeder, a pressurised fast breeder, a one-man evolutionary chain reaction, the ex-brokering revolutionary main attraction. The alpha male, an alpha particle; the fact that I lead to omega makes it farcical. You and me, we can be a living, breathing, erogenous team, a parcel of genes, a sex machine. Shoot me up, we’ll go down in flames, then I’ll write your qualities in four letter names. I’ll turn you into a miraculous phoenix, if you’ll be my partner in this double helix.”
Bradley says nothing, just turns his big cow eyes up at me and I know he’s waiting for it, he’s given up, he’s surrendered, finally. He admits at last that he’s not The Way — I am. Thus was it always, thus — as long as the half-lives of all the tens of thousands of tonnes of plutonium, uranium, thorium, caesium and other nuclear waste which I have spread all over the planet — shall it ever be.
As he grips my gaze with his, I detach my hand from his and place it on his back and give him a gentle shove. I watch as Mr Yin Yang Bradley slips over the edge of the cliff and goes with the flow — of gravity — growing smaller and smaller, to be swallowed up by the gathering gloom. There is not even any noise when he hits the bottom.
Now it’s just me. The peace and quiet of half a million years into the future stretches ahead and I smile. This is my final body. It will last that long: but did I tell you, did I mention which body it is? Why, whose else could it be? For it was during the three weeks while Mr Bradley was grieving for his lost love locked in his room, that I had my robotic assistants transplant my brain into her bod. So that when he emerged, he could perpetuate the illusion that in the end, it was really him and the beautiful Japanese One Hand Sally holed up in the final retreat.
The last laugh — you’ve got to have it.