Redistribution: Coda
by Anthony Discenza
The space he stood in was vast, seemingly endless, and very bright, although he could pinpoint no specific source of the illumination; it appeared to simply inhere in every surface. He could not even say with any certainty whether the incomprehensible architecture around him was solid, or merely a series of delicately interlaced projections. Far off, he thought he could detect faint curvatures of enormous extent receding into a roseate obscurity.

Alone upon the massive dais, he gazed with resignation at the audience arrayed before him like a dark, heaving sea that had frozen into a collection of byzantine shapes. A handful among them, he could see, more or less resembled the people of his own time, though this fact brought him little comfort, for he knew that this resemblance was merely a kind of costume, an appearance which the people of this period changed as effortlessly and casually as he would a t-shirt or hairstyle. Yet despite the raw strangeness of the crowd, the appalling gulfs of time that separated their sensibilities from his, he thought he recognized in them the complacent arrogance that always emanated from those in positions of great power and affluence. He watched them murmur amongst themselves, their jewel-like bodies sleek and untroubled, except perhaps by their own terrible desires.

He understood as well that, though he looked more or less like “himself,” this too was only a matter of surfaces and external topologies. Though outwardly, the visage in the mirror seemed to be the one he remembered (albeit somehow smoother), the internal arrangements of the vessel he now—temporarily—occupied were quite different from what he had been used to when he had enjoyed a biological existence. Apparently, it was not deemed necessary that his host’s body be made over entirely in order to house his consciousness; indeed, one of the Directors had told him, quite casually, that his host was not even what he would have described as male. Though not precisely female either, for in this world, biology itself was a matter of recombinatory play, continually subject to humanity’s endless capacity for caprice. The initial realization of how radically different his host’s actual physiology was from his own had come as a vertiginously horrifying shock at first (though he realized that this horror was shot through with bright threads of an excitement he reluctantly acknowledged as erotic). But all too soon, both these reactions had deliquesced into numb fatigue, and from there into an all-too familiar boredom.

He suspected, not for the first time, that he brooded too much. For a brief moment, he felt that old, fleeting feeling of an outward expansion: his mind was racing, grasping at far-flung ideas. The core of the wonder tradition, he recalled reading somewhere, was travels, chronicles, encyclopedias; that is to say, surveillance for the sake of knowledge. Magic and sorcery had always used the most advanced technologies at hand; this was well-known. In the Bronze Age it may have been fire, fur, bone, blood, metal. In the Middle Ages it was the crucible and alembic, the chalk circles and potions of the alchemist or the diviner. In his day it had been television, cell phones, the Internet. These were what was used to control people. In this current world in which he found himself, however, such stage tricks had become unnecessary; technology had truly become a magic circle through which the citizens of this age had passed, never to return. They had joined the dead, or at least the non-living.

Idly, he found himself wondering what his host was like, what sort of appearance they typically wore, when not cloaked in the form of someone who had been dead for millennia. He knew that to be a vessel for a construct such as himself was considered a deep honor; moreover, there were only a handful of individuals who possessed the necessary synaptic adaptability to be imprinted in such a manner without serious or lasting impairment. And of course there was the issue of cost; he knew the Foundation demanded an exorbitant price for these retrievals and imprintings. It was apparently a complicated matter to thoroughly convince a sentient mind that it was someone else, even if only temporarily.

You can only understand something by fighting it, he mused, but what if that something was yourself? Aside from being an exhausting proposition, wouldn’t the very act of that engagement change you, thereby changing the nature of the very thing you hoped to reveal through the conflict? This had always been a problem, this perpetual slipping away of himself from himself…unbidden, his mind filled with images of endlessly receding hallways, empty waiting rooms, the sunless voids between the stars. These were not new thoughts, but then there had been no new thoughts for a very long time, for him or anyone else. Everything had already been said and done; all that was left was to keep the pieces moving around on the board, to keep up appearances. To show you were still trying, he supposed. Hence his presence here; hence the hothouse appearance of the audience, who suggested nothing so much as a museum full of Max Ernst paintings come to life. How much longer could all this continue? For a moment, he considered the possible forms the last stages of life in the universe might take, before heat death overtook everything completely. He imagined flattened, rugose beings like living carpets, their surface area maximized to absorb heat, scuttling in darkness across the cooling surface of a dying star, shrunken and shriveled, its fires almost out.

For him, the worst realization of all had been that he would not retain any of this, not now, nor the next time, nor the next, nor the next. No new information, no new experience, could be allowed to “corrupt” his imprint; each time his pattern was generated anew from the n-dimensional space in which it was stored, it was always instantiated from its default state before being mapped onto the consciousness of the host. It could not be added to without fundamentally altering it—which of course would render it worthless. He understood, with a sense of irony almost oceanic in extent, that he was essentially a kind of priceless artifact, a unique edition. The idea of allowing his pattern to change, to evolve, was as unthinkable to these people as allowing someone to scribble notes on the first Gutenberg Bible would have been to the archivists of his own time.

He ought to have fed himself before he came here, he realized. Though he knew the body he currently occupied was supposed to be physiologically incapable of such unpalatable sensations, he felt both listless and unsettled, as though his body was composed of a mass of uniform particles held together by an envelope of static. Why was he here? Why had they called his shade forth yet again from its quantum underworld, reweaving the pattern of his consciousness out of its imperceptible fluctuations? What could they still want from him? What could he tell them that he had not said already, innumerable times before?

He saw now that the inability of his construct to evolve beyond its original parameters was in fact mirrored by the stagnancy of this shining, post-scarcity society. They, like him, had stopped a long time ago. Here, there could never be anything genuinely new, for everything had already been imagined, every possibility realized. It was a world of stasis disguised as one of endless change. All that was left was to keep shuffling the cards, to keep up appearances.

At any rate, he had no regrets, nor any desire to extend his time here beyond this final absurd performance in which he was yet again forced to play the straight man. The brief time he had spent here had been more than enough; he did not need to see anymore. He would welcome the oblivion of non-existence when it came; he only hoped that that it would be the last time, though he knew it would not.

It hardly mattered; he would remember nothing of this. The impassive, coral-like face of Director Ossua flickered into his field of vision and nodded; it was time to begin. He turned again towards the audience and began to speak.

History as a narrative of progress points to the future, and History as a memory or memorial points to the past. Well, is the Golden Age ahead of us, or behind us? I’ll tell you, to those who decry Utopia as a futile project, or worse, one whose failures brought us the horrors of the 20th century, I say: We are in a Utopian moment. Each moment is a Golden Age.

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Anthony Discenza is an artist living and working in Oakland. Fueled by an interest in systems of image production and consumption as well as a love of speculative fiction, his practice frequently invokes fragmentary or unreliable narratives. His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum, Objectif Exhibitions, V-A-C Foundation, and the Wattis Institute and is included in the collections of Kadist Foundation, SFMOMA, and the Berkeley Art Museum, among others.