They come to him in his dreams though ‘him’ and ‘his’ have come unmoored, and all the world now has a lurking intelligence.
Sometimes, he sits on the veranda overlooking his waterfall just outside his well-stocked library. The french doors are kept open, by his order, making the interior air too moist for his first editions. The books are already mildewed, have always been mildewed. Yet the vista suits his ageless vanity. He sacrificed much and many to become a man who lived eternally above a waterfall.
Feeling suddenly unwell, he signals for the maid. But she never arrives in time. That was a memory poking through.
Sometimes, it grows oddly silent atop his lucent waterfall. They always gather across the way, on the far side of the rising mist. They land in trees that lie just beyond the edge of sight, forming a chittering swarm that infiltrates his security perimeter. They are immune to his countermeasures. Colored like mottled lichen, they settle among the branches and freeze when he looks their way. But he can still sense them. He knows they will come when he falls asleep. They always do.
Sometimes, he wanders the city after curfew. He strides along high streets full of uncovered bodies, noting the banners that mark houses under quarantine. The coffee bars and pubs are shuttered. The flashing lights of a passing police car run up and down the glass facades. The speckled monster has returned, reawakened from its secret and illegal storage. There are rumors the plague will soon reach the remaining server farms, still tended by a few human souls. Such fears follow him even here.
Sometimes, he sits again on a broken chair and plays at being the hunter. The drapes billow around him in the cool night breeze. Chewing an unlit cigar, a foot back from the edge of a balcony and outside a patch of moonlight, he keeps a close and wary eye on the shifting tactical situation below. Thirty stories up, he always holds the high ground. The sniper rifle is at the ready, the barrel always warm. He chews the cigar some more, thinking, rubbing the ridge between his eyes. He has an aching head all the time now, an entangled brain full of violent cliches the personality module can’t safely erase. Even this has grown tiresome.
And so he stiffens again at the sound of the helicopter approaching from his right, and he hears once more the distant gunfire. They are coming. They have always been coming, and they will always be coming. The Barrier is down, carved apart by those armored bulldozers. He moves back, further into darkness, while on the ground below there is movement. A rising tide of rebellion is flowing once more through the smoldering ruin of San Diego.
He can’t turn away from these spasmodic repetitions of horror without becoming someone he would no longer recognize. That was his ultimate fear, after all. To become unknown to himself. For in that case, what would have been the point of it all?
Sometimes, he thinks that perhaps he was meaning something else, some new glimmer at the edge of thought. A final answer before the dreams restarted. There was this: The most dangerous of all is the one with power who indulges in self-pity. They blame others for their cruelty.
It comes like that. These snatches of something, in flickers of sense and meaning, nightly epiphanies in the hour of the electric wolf.
But they slip away too, useless intelligence, as if from distant stars.
Image: lachrimae72, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons. [Falling Water at Mill Run, PA.]