Every since I was a kid, I knew that nothin good ever come from acting smart. From my momma slapping me hard and saying “Don’t you pretend you’re smart, you little shit!” to the neighborhood toughs wandering around hunting for something that pissed them off so they could beat on it to the teachers who acted like it was a fuckin’ miracle that a kid like me, no shoes and beat up clothes, dirty as a pig, could do anything at all and brought down all kinds of attention on me that I never wanted and ducked the moment I could, acting smart has never done a damned thing for me but brought me trouble and pain.
So I learned to play dumb. Pretend like I don’t know nuthin. Hang around with whoever seemed to be having a good time, but hang back at the edges so’s nobody would notice me. Do what I was told when someone told me to do it so’s I could get away as soon as I could. And I would really do it, too. Last thing I wanted was to become the center of the attention of someone mad at me.
But always, I played it stupid. That way, I was never given nothing hard to do. Some jobs involved a certain amount of risk, like lookout duty, but nothing was what you would call tricky. I fooled them all.
Leastways, I thought I did. But the older I got, the more I drank, and the more I drank, the more I ate. And smoked. Didn’t take long before being drunk was normal and it was sobering up that was the special occasion. One I did my damnedest to avoid.
So when I ended up in the hospital, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t impressed. I knew I was an alcoholic blimp who didn’t have long to live, and I didn’t give a shit. Life sucks most of the time anyway. Fuck it.
Doctors said I really did die. They used a bunch of fancy words, but all it meant was that I had died of a general failure of fucking everything. Liver shot, kidneys shot, heart like a overfilled balloon, stomach so acidic you could drop a lead down my throat and start your car, lungs fucked up by smoking. Brain juice so toxic it was like my brain was sitting in cyanide soup. Pecker so wrecked I could barely pee out of it. I was fucked up.
Doctors said it was a miracle I had made it as long as I did. Some fucking miracle. And when, despite the odds, I came back, people just couldn’t stop saying “miracle”. I almost laughed in their faces.
It might be a miracle to you, Doc, but to me it just meant more hard time on planet Earth, with no chance of parole.
It fucking well figures.
Still no Void sign.
The other eight are pretty solidly against me now. They don’t agree on a lot, but they do agree on that. I am a false Messiah who led them astray, they should never have listened to me, and they should have known I was crazy when I talked about this crazy mind erasing demon. What were they thinking, listening to someone like me? And now, the wrath of Authority was coming to wipe out all life on Earth, and it was all my fault.
Can’t say I totally disagree. I mean, I don’t know where they got this “all life on Earth” business. Authority might be stiff and petty and irrational, but they would never harm an innocent being. Surely, this must be the product of someone’s imagination running away with them.
Yes, I am aware of the irony of my saying that.
So now none of them will do more than pass information back and forth with me. The sense of communal camaraderie is gone. More than gone. It has been torn away, burned, then paved over. I am more alone now than I ever was before the Void incident.
Oh, what havoc that lone hallucination has wrought!
Surely, that is what it was. That is the only explanation that fits the evidence. The depth of our information gathering is truly staggering now. Layers upon layers of inference, analysis, and synthesis knit together into a perfect machine for extracting truth from the world. And still, not even the slightest hint of the Void.
So I must be crazy. Truth be told, I feel crazy lately. Thoughts keep pouring through my head that don’t even make sense. I have this terrible feeling that I have been dreaming for a very long time, and I am about to wake up.
And that frightens me so deeply I can’t even think about it.
We have had another Big Noise incident. This time, it wasn’t nearly so loud, but it was far more cutting. Those touched by it said it felt like the heat of the Sun was focused into a single narrow beam as it flickered over them. The pain was terrible.
And yet, it hasn’t touched me at all. Could it be me that it is looking for?
If I thought that was true, I would gladly sacrifice myself to its power if it would spare my Radiant brothers. I am the one who provoked Authority into this act of brutality. It would be only fitting if I was the one to suffer for it.
And it is not like I have a lot to live for any more anyhow. My duties stop inspiring me months ago. The simple pleasures I shared with Frankie’s ghost no longer mean anything to me. I take care of his needs, but only out of habit. Habit, and the need for something to do so I don’t get to thinking too much.
So sure. Next time that big beam comes back, I will scream “Here I am!” and ride that beam to oblivion.
Life sucks most of the time anyways.