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The Atheism Jab + notes

January 23, 2014

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Notes:

This is a story I’m not particularly proud of.

I wrote it for a site called Clarkesworld, which pays quite well for sci-fi. All their stories have a distinct style that isn’t anything like mine, so I read a few and tried to adapt. ‘The Atheism Jab’ was a story I did years ago, but I went back, made it more Clarkesworld-y, and below is the result.

I figured I could get it published, get noticed by sci-fi publishers and sell one of my sci-fi novels more easily. I’m not desperate for cash, but what other way is there to make it in the sci-fi market?

You can keep making zines and printing your own novels + others’ novels and sticking them around the world, but it’s not gonna stop her from leaving you one day. Some sacrifices have to be made, and the first ones to go are always your principles.

Principles = trouble + enemy-makers

I compromised a lot on this story. There’s no real heart to it…a superficial heart, maybe, but it’s all bullshit really. For me, heart comes from my own experiences and actions. E.g. whatever I do in my life, even if I don’t understand it, shows some kind of behaviour or emotion more than anything I can make up so it gets written down. Real arguments become arguments in my fiction, and real scenes become fake scenes which are almost exactly the same as the real ones.

J J Abrams [a counter-example] doesn’t seem able to do this, so he has to make things up…it’s not heart you see in his films, it’s fraud, but because most of us have never been in command of a starship or stuck on a deserted island, we let it pass.

For this story, I was J J Abrams. I used my imagination and zero real life experiences and no humour and it hurts the story, I think.

But still…this is as close as I can get to the science fiction that published authors write, and I don’t feel good about any part of it. What’s the point of writing anything if you don’t even recognise yourself in any of the characters? Why am I writing stuff that mimics stories I don’t even like?

Better not to waste time adapting…better to go back to stuff like ‘Ljubljana Witch’ and ‘Uchu-jin’…they may be shit, but at least they’re different. At least they have a sense of humour.

Better to keep making zines too.

All I need is another guaranteed way to make enough cash to have a future.

Anyway, here’s the story I don’t really like:

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The Atheism Jab

Oli Johns

‘Theism is a disease. If we relent…if we back down in any way, we lose.’

Pg. 7, Notes on rationalism, Blackout Press, 2024

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     The left arm jerked upwards and left, smacking hard against the wall.

It did it again, four, five…eight times.

The ninth time, it stopped.

There was a crack in the wall where the hand had struck. Nineteen days earlier, it would’ve been the glass covering the painting of Moses leading the Israelites out of the desert, but now it was the paint.

The owner of the arm, Wong Tak Wah Alan, slept [relatively] peacefully, unaware of cracks or spasms or the Red Sea.

His bed hadn’t been changed in three and a half weeks. The sheets he lay on were beginning to stain from the sweat brought on by his convulsions. The room around him was also in need of cleaning; the floor was gathering dust, the paint [aside from the crack] was stripping itself off the walls, the desk in the corner still had all the coins Wong had claimed over the past year of his life.

It needed attention, but it wouldn’t get it, not from him.

Wong’s left arm reached up again, this time aiming for the ceiling. The fingers grasped for nothing and the wrist flipped around as though it were trying to break itself.

Sitting in a chair beside the bed, reading Puncher’s infamous Atheist text ‘Exorcising God’, was another man. Yu Tin Lok Thomas…or “Tommy Gun” as the other group members called him. Tommy had been there the whole night, and the eighteen days before that, watching the patient.

It wasn’t his house, but he was living there.

Tommy lowered the book, glaring at the patient. “Come on, Abe,” he muttered. ‘It’s just a little red…’

Wong didn’t answer.

“I reckon you’re faking it anyway…right?”

Nothing.

“Come on, Abe…you can tell me. One spasm for right, two spasms for wrong…”

Wong’s left arm shook a little, but there was no spasm.

“Liar…”

Tommy went back to his book, the conversation clearly over. It wasn’t a strange thing, talking to a guy who couldn’t talk back. He’d done it before, many times. Besides, there was no one around to hear. They were in a large house in a half-evacuated little village, twenty minutes from Tai Po, an hour from Mong Kok, and at least thirty minutes from the nearest church-base. No one knew he was there, not even the theists.

Tommy read a few more lines of Puncher’s book, something about ‘God is love’ being the impossibility of ‘an abstract is an abstract’, and nodded.

He looked up at the end of the page, just in time to see Wong’s right arm spasm.

“Ha, I knew it…”

Tommy put his book on the floor, marking the page with his ‘Devil in a suit’ bookmark. When he looked up again, Wong’s eyes were open.

“Ah, you’re awake,” Tommy said, leaning forward.

No answer.

“What’s up? You want something, Abe?”

Wong closed his eyes again.

Tommy looked at his watch. “I guess it’s about time, huh…”

He got out of the chair Wong Alan’s father had used to tell stories from, the chair he’d been sitting on for seven hours straight, cleaned the red out of the needle and prepped the next dose.

“Back to the baby juice,” he told his patient. “Let’s try a half shot, see how we go.”

He took a large bottle of green liquid [three quarters empty] off the desk and stuck the needle in, filling it up to halfway.

#

‘Green is important, the baby steps before walking upright. It doesn’t replace the theist lies, it challenges them. It brings the delusional closer to us, through information and truth.

Methodology: the watcher reads our texts, the green turns the words into scenes within the patient’s brain. It transports our people, our speakers, past the barricades and directly into the prespyrus-dithalic cortex, where the defences are weak. The subconscious informs the conscious, as Kapok told us. The patient is given a foundation, a base built solely on rationalism.

Recommended dose: Quarter shots for the first ten days, half shots for the next ten, full shots for the last five.

DO NOT introduce the red until day twenty six.’

Pg. 56, Notes on Rationalism, Blackout Press, 2024

#

      Tommy pointed the needle upwards and pushed the trigger. Some green fluid squirted out, flying briefly up towards the ceiling before dropping harmlessly onto the floor by the bed. Tommy watched the hallucinogen try to dissolve itself into the floor.

“If your floor were alive, it’d probably be atheist by now,” he said, smirking.

He pulled the point of the needle down to the flip side of Wong’s elbow and pushed it in hard. It went up to the hilt. The green juice switched sides, the whole lot of it disappearing from the syringe.

“There…better than red, huh, Abe?”

Tommy pulled the needle out, put it back on the desk without wiping it, and stood back so the arm wouldn’t hit him when the convulsions started up again.

The green had been ineffective the last few times, but that wasn’t unheard of. All it needed was a stronger dose, real characters, a harder loyalty breaking down the old one…

“I’ll run you all the way up to forty days if I have to,” said Tommy. “All the way, Abe, I don’t care…”

He thought of Sammy, alone in the clinic.

“No one holds out past thirty five anyway…”

Tommy went back to the narrator’s chair, picked up the book from the floor and started to read the lines out loud.

The third sentence was broken by a knock on the door downstairs.

He stopped reading and listened.

A few seconds passed…then a second knock.

Tommy put the book on the floor. “You expecting anyone, Abe?”

Another knock, louder this time. He tried not to think bad thoughts, but it was hard. Everyone knew what had happened to Kenny in Yuen Long a few months back…

He looked over at the bedroom door, unlocked.

But that was…it was a one off. Something like that…that severe…hadn’t happened in over two years. Not anything they’d put on file at least…unless…

Another knock.

Tommy muttered something, dug his nails a little way into his left thigh then stood up.

“Okay, Abe…stay here and don’t move…”

He walked out of the room and down the small flight of stairs leading into the kitchen. The gun was by the kettle, in the same position he’d left it. He picked it up, forced a deep breath and aimed at the front door.

“Come on then, you bastards…come on…”

He spat on the floor, trying to work himself up to some kind of eruption.

“Come on…”

Silence.

His hand started to sweat a little, so he changed the gun to his left, went over to the window near the door and looked out onto the street. Well, it wasn’t a street exactly, more like a path leading to each house in the village.

There was no one there, only the chickens in the cages opposite.

“Right…”

He went quickly to the door and opened it, stepping out with the gun behind his back. Still no one.  He walked to the left, along the path and onto the hill stretching down to the village entrance.

Nothing.

No cars, no dog walkers, no joggers…nothing.

He waited a few more seconds, squinting at a minibus speeding past at the bottom of the hill, checking for dodgy faces or men with baseball caps pulled down over their eyes…nothing, the thing was practically empty.

He ran back to the house and locked the front door behind him. He checked the kitchen and the living room and upstairs to see if someone had managed to sneak in while he’d been gone, but there was nothing different about any of it.

If it was them, he thought, returning to Wong’s room…why didn’t they just rush me when I opened the door?

That’s what they’d done to Kenny…the first part of it anyway.

He put the gun on the desk by Wong’s bed and pulled the phone out of his pocket.

“It’s Tommy, I need a check.” He paused, waiting for confirmation. “Wo Mei Tsuen, Tai Po. There was a knock on the door. Yeah, it’s the third time in the last two nights. Options?”

The person on the other end talked for a while, Tommy listened. After a while he started to nod.

“You sure? Kids? Okay, fine. Right. I’ll keep the gun close by. Yeah, on me at all times. Got it.”

He hung up and put the phone back in the pocket.

“No white knights tonight, Abe…”

Wong stared up at the ceiling, oblivious to white knights or black knights or knights of any colour whatsoever.

Tommy looked out the bedroom window onto the path below, checking one last time. Nothing but chickens and shitty concrete. He turned back to the patient.

“Green’s been in a while…we better get this done.”

He picked up the book, opened to the third chapter, the one concerning the ontological proof, and started reading out loud.

Inside the dream-scape of Wong Alan, the blank space cleared and things started to take shape. Halls and podiums appeared…microphones, cables, cameras…leading figures of atheism spun themselves out of nothing, coughing, glaring, readying their false mouths to explain everything their listener had never wanted to know.

#

       Two nights later [Day Twenty-One of the process] Tommy Gunn stood in Wong’s living room holding a bible and a big, black bag.

The bag was for anything considered by the council as regressive or prohibitive to their patient’s development. Anything from his past way of thinking had to go in there. Each member, after putting the patient under, had to scour the apartment for anything religious, biblical, supernatural, mystical…anything containing dogma or rhetoric. The most common things were books on the shelf, crosses on the wall, bibles hidden within drawers.

In place of these items, the member had to scatter things related to the cause: science journals, evolution charts, naturalist texts.

So far, Tommy had put a few physics books on the shelves and a poster of the human body on the wall near the front door. It wasn’t much, but he didn’t really care. The most important part, to him, was making sure all the theist shit was eliminated.

The bible in his hand was the last piece of Wong’s theist shit, a lucky find. He’d been up in Wong’s room a few hours earlier administering another shot of green, when he’d noticed a lump in the pillow beneath his head. A book-shaped lump.

Fucking theists…

He didn’t know why, but after reaching under and pulling out that damn book, he’d loaded the needle with another half shot of red and stuck it in Wong’s arm.

#

‘Red is to be used after twenty-five days of green. Simply, it is a stimulant which releases a specific set of endorphins in the patient’s brain, embedding loyalty to the atheist cause. Post-insertion, the watcher reads atheist names to the patient as well as all the theists who have attacked them, forcing the patient to mentally defend the former.

Side effects: quite painful, induces spasms and chest convulsions if more than half a shot [50ml] is administered’

Pg. 83, Notes on Rationalism, Blackout Press, 2024

#

      Tommy looked at the front of the bible, that fucking cross. It had been lying there all that time…twenty-one days, right next to the guy’s head, and he hadn’t noticed.

Wong was lucky. That kind of defiance deserved blue, not red. And it’s not like he’d given him that much…just a few drops of red here and there…when Wong was bad.

Tommy dropped the bible into the bag and kicked it.

“It’s your own fault, Abe. If you’d just put it somewhere open, none of this would’ve…’

There was a knock at the door.

He spun round, straight away looking at the latch on the front door. No alarm system, no cameras, no double locks…just an old-fashioned latch.

It didn’t move. Not yet, at least.

He tried to think of possibilities. Pranksters? It was the fourth time in as many nights, there’s no way it was kids. It couldn’t be. Neighbours? There weren’t any, the place was like a morgue. Police? No, it was too remote, and they had their hands full in Kowloon anyway. Who else?

He edged towards the kitchen counter, keeping his eyes on the latch. There was no point debating it…he knew who it was.

Knock, knock.

He reached out with his right hand, picked the gun off the counter and aimed it at the front door, keeping the black bag in his other hand.

Knock, knock, knock.

Louder, louder, louder.

He stared at the door, expecting it to burst into pieces.

It didn’t.

But that was only because he wasn’t standing next to it…that’s what they were waiting for, wasn’t it?

Knock, knock, knock.

He imagined the wooden splinters firing from the door and into his eyes…he imagined theists swarming in, pinning him down and…

No…

He was better than this. He wasn’t Kenny, he was…

“Fuck’s sake, Tommy, move. Do something.”

He dropped the bag, kept the gun at arm’s length and walked quickly to the door. He didn’t bother to check the window first, he didn’t care. If it was them…if they really were out there…

He opened the door with absolutely zero hesitation and aimed at what he thought would be head height.

The steps outside were empty.

Across the path, the chickens were making noises, beak-butting the sides of the cages. Tommy looked left and saw what they were clucking about. A man was running towards the hill…

“Hey…” Tommy shouted, running onto the path, gun still drawn.

The man looked back, raised his arm…

Tommy ducked down and covered his head. He waited for the sound of the bullet hitting glass or chicken.

Nothing.

He took his arms away from his head and looked at where the man had been standing. The space was empty.

“What…”

He straightened up quickly and ran to the end of the path, cursing himself for ducking, praising himself for getting back up so fast.

At the top of the slope, he stopped and looked around. There was a chair outside one of the houses, but no one was sitting on it. No one on the main road at the bottom of the hill, either.

He walked a little further down the slope, squinting at the minibus stop under the overpass.

No one.

The whole place was dead. Deader than…

He turned and walked back up the slope, the only thought coming to him ‘deader than Kenny.’ When he reached the top, he noticed the steps leading into the forest. Not many people went up there, not at night…not with all the illegals around.

Unless…

He looked at the steps, following them up until they dissolved into a huge mass of dark canopy. There were eyes in those leaves, dozens of them.

That’s where he’d gone, had to be.

Tommy stood there, posing for a picture that no one was taking. If he went, they might get him. If he didn’t go…

“You better run…” he muttered, cocking his gun and walking slowly towards the first step.

#

       Back in the room upstairs, Wong opened his right eye. He wasn’t fully awake, but he had a notion that…some idea that someone was…where was he?

He looked around until he was satisfied it was still his room and he was alone. It was, he was, everything was normal. Still, there was a feeling…something wasn’t right. He wasn’t sure what it was but…his head felt comfortable. The pillow’s softer than usual, he thought. Much softer.

His next thought was to thank someone for the softness of his pillow but he couldn’t think of anyone to address. There is someone though…who do I usually thank?

He pushed the back of his head further into the pillow. There must be a reason why this pillow’s softer than usual, he thought. Someone made it this way, there was a cause…but who?

He raised his head higher, off the pillow, and checked the room again. This time he saw the desk and the needles resting on it. Three large bottles of red, green, and blue; all without labels, the green one almost empty. What…

He stopped himself.

Was this really his room? Was someone else there?

He waited a few seconds for someone to appear, but no one came. Was this…the bottles were real…they are real…what is that stuff?

Gotta get up, he told himself. Go downstairs, look around.

He tried to lift his legs off the bed but they wouldn’t move. Then his arms…they moved an inch off the sheets then shot right back down. They were dead.

This didn’t…there was something not…what was going on here?

A spasm ran through his chest and then spread out four ways, running to each tip of his body.

What the…

He couldn’t finish the thought, the pain…

His eyes closed again, beyond his will. Despite his fatigue, the spasms continued inside, delivering pain to every nerve and cell and nuclei and then flowing back to his brain where he started to think of…

…he thought a thousand things at once…there had to be something that would help him…Evolution; a natural process, a selection that made him…a universe without a creator…what creator? What did it look like? How was it outside out of time? What would that look like? Morality is relative, it cannot, CANNOT be programmed into you by a God-head…what’s that? The man was shouting and he knew him, he knew the man…Puncher…Tony Puncher…and he was shouting at another man but it was alright, he seemed to like Mr. Puncher…there was something reassuring about him…that Mr. Puncher, he was a good guy…if anyone talked bad about him, he would…wait, what was…who was this man?

He tried to lift his hand to his temple to rub it and make the thoughts slow down but it wasn’t his real head and even if it were real, it didn’t matter as he was still pinned to the bed, his fake bed, his dream bed.

More thoughts came…but not thoughts, it was a vision now…a face in the sky…and a man on the ground, with a beard and white robes…he knew that man…the face in the sky spoke: “I am you and you are me, and if you ask any more questions…” The man, the one he knew, nodded and then turned to a crowd and spoke to them, but it was inaudible…the crowd was nodding and listening…and the face in the sky was watching them all, monitoring them…then the crowd was gone, and there was a city…a huge walled city, and he could see right down into it, as if he were a bird…there were people down there, some of them in a group…he somehow magnified it, possibly by swooping down, he wasn’t sure, and he saw that the people in the city were strong and had swords and spears and were killing other people, defenceless people…he looked away, horrified…but then he looked elsewhere in the city and he saw more people…they were talking, and laughing, and there was a mother with a child in her arms, and a group of men watching, smiling at the baby who seemed happy…this was a better part of the city, he thought…and then the face in the sky came…Wong looked left and saw his bird arm and some clouds and beyond that he saw the face…it was looking over the whole city, and it was puzzled…then the face changed, turned into a giant stone and fell towards the city. He watched as it dropped and at first it looked like it would flatten the whole earth…but as it fell, it slowly shrank until it covered only the city, which was further away from him now, and then it hit, and there was nothing there anymore. No city, no killing, no happy kids. He swooped down again and circled the stone…it grew back into a face and then into a man and floated back down to the ground, leaving the wreck of the city behind it, along with the killers and the mother and her child, and then the newly born man spoke to some men who had appeared from somewhere holding stones and chalk, and as he spoke they wrote with their chalk…the man faded into nothing and the whole landscape changed into grass and fields, and then he was back in his room…what was happening here…he knew who he’d seen, but it was different…he’d never seen it like that before…the mother, her child…was that the story? Something told him to reach under the pillow, and that’s what he did…his hand had come back to life and he could move it…slowly, but it was moving, it was definitely moving…and then it disappeared, under the pillow up to his wrist, and there had to be something there for him…but he couldn’t…it wasn’t…there was nothing there. He reached further in until he hit the wall and…a noise from somewhere in the room…there’s someone here…

“Who’s there?” he shouted. “What are you doing?”

He spun his head round in four jerked movements and took in the rest of the room…there was someone…a whole body, and arms, coming towards him with…it was sharp…a knife…no, a needle…a needle with bright red juice…tried to pull hand back from pillow but…not move quickly…edged out, too slow…needle on arm…was it…final push and…wake again…only chance…waited fear paralyze but…no fear…pain…pain drilling bones…veins…deep…

#

      Tommy kept the needle in until Wong’s eyes were shut tight. He was still breathing heavily from his sprint up the stairs, imagining what his boss would say if he found out about this.

You’ve let us down, son. You’ve destroyed us, everything we’ve…

But…

It didn’t make sense. All from one shot of red…how? It wasn’t procedure, fine, but…they never woke up, not like this, never. This guy wasn’t anything different. All the background checks had been conclusive; he was a regular. Just another Wong. Why was he waking up? And his hand…it was under the pillow…why? Did he remember? He couldn’t…he wasn’t supposed to remember, it was impossible.

Tommy pictured the future hearing in his head. Seven men around a horseshoe shaped desk, lecturing him. You used too much red, you were irresponsible, they said.

No, I was…

You are relieved of all duties from this moment on. Please reflect on your actions and perhaps one day, if satisfactorily repentant, you can reapply.

But…

Dismissed.

No…

We said, dismissed. Go. Leave. Be gone. Disappear.

“No…”

Tommy turned to the desk and stared at the blue bottle. It had no label…it looked kind of like a cartoon version of shampoo or body lotion…but he knew exactly what it did.

#

‘If all else fails, use the blue. 10ml shot only. The liquid is basically poison therefore overuse will result in extreme pain and probable brain death.’

Pg. 147, Notes on Rationalism, Blackout Press, 2024

#

      He took the cap off the bottle.

“It’s goodbye to the God of love, Abe…”

He filled the needle with 20ml of blue juice and stuck it hard into Wong’s right arm. The cartoon blue disappeared. When it was all gone, Tommy pulled the needle out and threw it casually back down onto the desk.

He got off the bed, sat down in the chair in the corner and waited.

#

       The next night [day twenty-two of the process], Tommy was sitting in his usual chair, reading Singh’s ‘Kill all Gods and burn them’ to Wong, when his mobile rang. He put the book on the floor, saw the name and sighed.

“What is it?”

“It’s me, dear.”

“I know, Mum. Caller ID.”

“Can we talk?”

“Now?”

“It’s important, dear…”

Tommy looked at the clock on the wall, the new one that didn’t have Abraham in the middle. Both his parents knew about his work with the group. They’d all been de-converted together, in the same house. After waking, he’d been the quickest to adjust, which is why he was recruited as a member. Mum had been the slowest, but she’d come around eventually.

“I’m working…call you back later.”

“Wait, you’re still there…in Tai Po? I don’t understand, it’s been a month already…what’s happening? Are you alright?”

“It’s been three weeks, Mum. And I’m fine.”

“Then why’s it taking so long?”

“Ah, you know how it is…another God-sucker clinging on. It doesn’t matter, it’s fine.”

“But they don’t take this long…I don’t understand, dear.”

“It doesn’t matter…”

Tommy looked down at the floor, at the cover of the book, an image of an elephant God being burnt at the stake.

“I’m worried about you, Thomas. If they find out where you are…”

“They won’t. We cover our tracks…don’t worry.”

“It’s not enough. You’re all alone out there, it’s not…we heard about what happened in Yuen Long.”

“It’s fine, Mum, really. Yuen Long was a one-off, it won’t happen again.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am. Besides, there’s a team nearby if I need them.”

“You mean they’re in the area…in Tai Po?”

“Yes.”

“And you have their number?”

“I do.”

“You know which house they’re in? The building name, number…”

“Mum…it’s okay, really.”

There were a few seconds of silence. Tommy thought about giving details, but couldn’t think of any specific place. Besides, it was a lie, there wasn’t anyone nearby. What he’d said already would be enough…as long as she didn’t know about the knocks at the door…

“Okay then. As long as you’re sure, dear…”

“I am.”

Wong’s body didn’t seem to like this answer. It came to life and rolled onto its side, the arms reaching over the side of the bed.

“Look Mum, I’ve gotta go…the patient’s getting close.”

“Wait…one more thing…”

“Mum, please…”

“No, just…it’s about Sammy.”

Tommy looked over at Wong, who was paddling his arms as if he were in a canoe. “What is it?”

“I went to see him today, at the clinic.”

“Uh-huh…”

“He wasn’t looking so good, Thomas…I tried to give him something to look at…you know those Heinlein books he used to read when he was young…I tried to read them out loud to him, but…they don’t seem to interest him anymore. Nothing does.”

Tommy nodded, but didn’t say a word back. He couldn’t think about his brother, not now.

“…I think they’re giving him the wrong shots. Actually, I’m sure of it. Some of those nurses…they don’t look like nurses. Not the normal ones you see. The eyes are different, the way they walk in with those clipboards and…they don’t look right. I think they could be working for them…”

“It’s a secular clinic, Mum…theists can’t get in.”

“They can. They’re sneaky. And the security guards in reception…they look like they’re a hundred and fifty years old…they couldn’t stop a…a fly…or a child. Really, they’re useless, Thomas, I’ve seen them move. They can’t fight. They don’t have guns. The theists could just…if they know where Sammy is they could just walk right in and…”

“I won’t let that happen.”

“But you can’t promise that, Thomas. How can you? You’re always working…”

“Mum…”

“It’s true. When was the last time you visited him?”

“What…I still visit him…”

“When?”

“All the time…”

“When?”

“The last one…okay, it was…it was last month. I went to see him a month back, before I came here. I took him the downloads, the old ROMs…”

Tommy was lying. He hadn’t visited his brother in nine months. His mum wouldn’t know this unless she asked the nurses directly, and they wouldn’t say anything as he’d sworn them all to secrecy. They wouldn’t go back on that, not with the money he’d given them. And Sam…Sammy couldn’t say a damn word. Mum would never admit it but he was gone. The theists…they’d done their work.

He realised his mum was still talking.

“…don’t forget about him, Thomas. He’s not gone yet. He’s still our Sammy, even if he doesn’t like those silly science fiction books anymore.”

“I know…”

“As long as we keep trying…as long as we protect him…as long as we keep them away from him.”

“I know.”

Wong came to life again and rolled onto his other side, pinning down his own arms.

“Mum…gotta go.”

“Okay, dear, but make sure you call…”

He hung up before she finished.

Wong moved his head again. He was close to waking up. Tommy had to finish the chapter before he opened his eyes again.

Perhaps another shot of blue to help him feel more…

A picture came into his head. Sammy sitting on the steps outside their building, telling him what was and what wasn’t science fiction.

He closed his eyes, tried to wipe it away, but it wouldn’t budge.

“It’s not good, you should read more…stop playing all those ROMs…”

      “I like the ROMs…”

      “Yeah, so do I, but they’re no good. They don’t mean anything…”

      “Okay, Granddad Sam…”

      “Fuck off…not my fault I’m more diverse than you…”

      “More diverse…ha, you sure that’s the right word?”

      “It is…”

      “Really?”

      “It was in one of the Pohl books…he used it, so it must be right.”

      “Ha…”

Tommy opened his eyes and looked at the patient. He looked at him for a long time. He looked at him as if he were already a corpse.

“You don’t like Pohl, do you, Abe?”

No answer.

Tommy leaned forward. “You don’t even know who he is…”

Wong’s right arm shook, sliding itself off the edge of the bed.

Tommy watched it hanging there, begging to be pricked.

“Okay then, Abe…okay.”

He stood up and walked over to the desk. The needle was lying next to the bottle, waiting. He picked it up and filled it with blue. The liquid should’ve stopped near the first marker, ten millilitres, but he couldn’t let go of the trigger.

“A little extra,” he said. “You deserve a little extra, don’t you?”

He brought it over to Wong’s arm and let the tip of the metal rest against the skin, ready to go.

He looked at Wong’s face and thought about how similar it was to any other face. Eyes, nose, mouth, ears…it was all there. All that was wrong was in the brain. Information, wiring, synapses…it was unfixable with this one. They said it wasn’t…anyone could be saved, no one’s ever completely gone…but it wasn’t true.

Wong was different. He was one of them, always.

Not my fault I’m more diverse than you.

      No…

      Not my fault.

I know…I know it’s not.

Tommy pulled Wong’s arm closer and found a vein. He didn’t hesitate, he didn’t freeze. The needle went in and he emptied the whole cylinder, every last drop of blue. When it was done he reached over for the blue bottle and took all that was left, straight into the needle and then the arm.

Wong didn’t react at first; his face was serene and his body relaxed. When the second dose was all in, Tommy took out the needle, put it on the desk, and sat back down in his chair. The atheist book was on the floor, but he ignored it.

“Won’t be long, Abe…”

A few moments later, it began. He watched as the patient’s arm flew into the air and against the wall, lashing out at it ten, twenty, thirty times, trying to break through the plaster. The rest of Wong’s body lurched upwards, convulsing, trying to throw itself off the bed. It vomited bile and little bits of yellow phlegm, and finally blood. There were sounds…primal howls, animal noises…like a creature being mauled. It filled the room and its walls and anything inside.

Tommy sat with his arms folded, only a metre away from the dying man. He didn’t get up to close the window or gag the patient, what was the point? There was no one living within two houses of them and even if someone in the village did hear something, it didn’t matter.

The thing…it was already done.

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