Jekeled's Sandbox IIIIIIIII
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Annette chose a school. Of course they chose a school. The final insult.

The nuke jumbled some sense back into me. I can feel the Foundation conditioning again. With it, it is hard to see the light. With it comes the guilt and the shame, and now, the school. Damn.

"Why did you choose this place?"

NEEDED QUIET PLACE. THIS WAS EMPTY. ABANDONED BUILDING.

I nod glumly. Annette is out of battle mode, at least. Those things are no threat to us. No threat to anybody. They are happy. I decide to probe further. To pick at the scab, to poke the bruise.

"Do you know what this place was?"

S C H O O L?

I need to tell someone. I can't. Maybe it will come out? I remember the blurs in the car, trapped in something they could no longer perceive, could no longer experience. Dying alone, together. I shake my head. It still aches. Everything aches. The deconditioner is almost done. It is a nice little box in my head, waiting to be opened. It cries to be opened. It promises blackness. The scene will go like this:

We will enter the school. The dashing Doctor Williams will be on a bier, surrounded by medical equipment, serene and sedated. Annette will grab me by the shoulder, begging me one last time not to do it, not to go through. I shake them off and continue unfazed. I will lean down to ear level and, in one breathy whisper—

I do not want to enter the school. The school is bad, the school is guilt.

We enter the school.

Empty corridors. Annette holds out a hand. The disc is off.

SMTG HRE

They take off down the corridor, skittering up the wall. I try to make myself small in a corner of the entryway. I swear I can hear little feet patters, but that is impossible, because if anyone was here, I would hear nothing at all.

Annette rounds the corner at full speed. They slam into me, picking me up off my feet and hauling me towards the door. I manage to reach out and tap their shoulder:

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE"

We reach the door. They stop.

"S KCO"

They drop me and reactivate their wrist.

WHT R U TRNG SY

"Stop," I say. "I know what they are."

I pull myself up to my full height and look up at Annette. Her eyes meet mine, on what must be reflex.

"Please take me to Williams."

She is nothing like I expected. Annette has her on a haphazard altar of desks, more functional than aesthetic. One leg is bent off at a hideous angle. Red stains surround her mouth. A half-empty IV bag drains into her arm. What was once her face is now pitted and rotten, covered in a black mold.

Annette, seeing this, lets out a keening moan. They rush over and do something. My head hurts.

"Do you see them?"

YES.

"How do humans reproduce?"

Silence. They walk over to me, kneel down, and look me in the eye.

WHY?

The words come spilling out of me now. They vanished, one day. The children. Anyone under the age of 18. The beginning of the end.

What is the medium of humans but ideas? There is a river through human history, an ever-wheeling flow of memes. And then, one day, it shifted. Rivers in some places will naturally reverse direction—buck and break their banks in a titanic gallop, until what went one way now goes another. I think that was what happened with the ideas, and what happened with humanity—one day it just changed course, to something new.

Some things cannot be removed, not entirely. You can never hold back a river. We were running out of amnestics. Too many disasters had happened too fast. The stars had gone. 'Leave it to the memeticists,' they said. Hah! Memetics is the poisoned craft, and we the poisoners. But they dumped it on our lap and amnesticed themselves—amnesticed the whole Foundation, leaving us alone in our guilt. And there are some things you cannot remove, some things embedded too deep in the human psyche. And we were asked to remove something not even amnestics could touch?

And so I took that impulse and re-channeled it. Me, and me alone. I was the only one that could do it—not the skill, the will. Like the stars. Everyone knows stars are in the sky, so you put in new stars and no one notices. Their children go, you make new children. Or change the impulse, the drive. Redirect. Transform. Their children are the grass and the breeze and the stars in the sky. All of those things and more.

And what about the children? What happened to them? How many starved in front of parents that could not see them? How many babies cried unanswered until they cried no more? When I made people forget, did they stay people? Did I do a good thing? Then why do I feel so bad?

Annette stares at me.

"Well?" I demand. I stand up tall, puff out my chest. "What are you going to do?"

Their eyes meet mine. I know, suddenly, that they pity me. That they have always pitied me, that they have always pitied memeticists more than I have pitied myself. They walk away, and there is no catharsis.

Somewhere in the room there are children.

"I'm sorry," I call, knowing they cannot know or care.

Somewhere inside of me, the last piece slides into place.

How to forget what I have done? I know of one way, at least. The box is taut and sleek. It cannot explode on its own but it wants to, I can feel, wants to so badly. As I sit I feel my body become heavier. It becomes harder to breathe. Something is on my chest. Something must be on my chest. My head is pounding. I feel flushed. Too late I realize what is happening. I look to Annette. What never were eyes stare back.

"Are they trying to kill me?" I whisper.

NO.

I am a fool. I start to cry. I cry for a long long time, not for them, but for me. They seem to understand.

The river may shift, but it does not go away. Maybe there is something on the other side. What I saw in the city could hardly be human, but it was alive. There can be light in darkness; what else are stars?

I jerk upright. I do not know how long I have sat on the floor. My head is about to explode. I stagger over to Williams, and take one last look at her ruined face.

"You can survive the deconditioner?"

NO CONDITIONING.

"Decide what to do with it."

I WILL.

They pause.

GOODBYE.

THANK YOU.

They mean it.

I lean down, to the level of the ear. A hole to the brain. I take a deep breath. The box never wanted to be opened. It was always me. Maybe things will change. Maybe things have to change.

I whisper: I'm sorry:









The dam breaks. There is light. I see Williams for the first time, as Annette must. She smiles at me. In the light I see Annette, as they always are.

There is music. I do not know who is playing it, but there is music. All around me are children. They see me and laugh.

There are stars. There are children.

In their eyes are stars.

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