Don’t work yourself to death, folks. There are some things stranger than death.
No one ever talked about acid rain anymore. Why would they? There were too many environmental issues to deal with, too many wars to protest, too much violence in the world.
Industrial leaders paid their fines, fixed what they could fix, and the world kept turning.
Meanwhile, one particularly pregnant cloud floated laboriously through a nondescript neighborhood, in a nondescript town. The wind nudged the blue-black monstrosity ever eastward until the end of the day, when it settled comfortably at the very edge of the town, over the house of one Noah Ginnis.
Then it began to rain.
Noah sat hunched in front of his computer, his brow furrowed, eyes furiously scanning the code cascading across the screen. Almost…almost there…his hand hovered over the mouse, clicking and moving various elements and stopping mid-click to type in more code, more directions.
Noah had been at his desk for three days now, wide awake. His lanky form, usually in better-than-average shape, had begun to take on the characteristics of a very, very tall person uncomfortable with their own height: hunched over, curled into his workstation with no regard to the soreness radiating through the small of his back or the backs of his legs. The handsome facial features were becoming ever blurred as whiskers, some dark but most white, began to cover the space above his lip, across his chin, and spanning the sides of his face. His eyes seldom blinked at this point, and the whites of his eyes were tinged with whispers of red.
The near-bursting cloud over Noah’s house radiated with alternating hues of green and watery blue. The rain was soft, gentle; the kind of rain normally meant to give the earth below a loving soak, to caress the plant life and rejuvenate the world. But this particular cloud was not normal. It had situated itself in a seemingly deliberate manner over Noah’s house, the rain only covering his property, managing even to infiltrate the open window of his office. Tiny droplets floated in, slowly covering the small table beneath the window.
Noah was not tired. He was fueled with an inexplicable fire, the desire to finish this project drowning all other notions, overpowering any need for food, or sleep, or rational interaction with any other human being. Even his occasional trip to the bathroom was in perfect zombie form; he would stand in front of the toilet, seeing nothing, doing his business and finishing with scarcely a shake. At this point, even those breaks had ceased as Noah slowly began to dehydrate.
His wife had crept up the steps twice today, hovering at the door and wringing her hands.
“Noah..? Are you hungry?”
“No,” was the curt reply.
She had never seen Noah this way, and any sharp words she might have normally thrown at him died in her throat as she gazed across the room. Noah did not notice her, even when she had brought the small sandwich plate and left it on the filing cabinet next to his desk. It was still there, limp and untouched. He had no use for such things, not right now, not at this crucial point.
Just outside his window, the rain continued to fall. Every now and again, a gentle gust of wind would urge the water droplets to throw themselves further into the office. The wetness caressed the back of Noah’s chair, and then one especially industrious gust carried a whole slew of droplets even further, dampening the back of his neck, and almost saturating the tips of his hair.
Noah took no notice, as one particularly complicated problem had presented itself on the glowing screen before him. He bit down a little on his lower lip, eyes squinting, working out formulas and code in his head.
The raining tapered off until it was just a now and again sprinkle. The cloud, however, stayed firmly lodged in its perch over Noah’s house.
In his fevered pitch, Noah did not notice the new dampness in the air. He paid no mind to the water soaking industriously into his skin in a decidedly un-watery way. Chances were, he couldn’t feel the liquid forcing its way into his pores, nor did he think it odd how the rain which had landed on the back of his head seemed to slide deliberately down the shaft of each individual hair and push its way into each follicle. The rain that had evaporated slid in a graceful cloud, swirling around and slipping up his nose with every inhalation. It clung to his lungs, refusing to exit with his exhalation. For Noah Ginnis, the only thing that mattered was the screen before him, the gentle hum of his computer, and his brain working overtime as he edged closer to perfection in this digital creation.
No… People really don’t talk about acid rain anymore. The average Joe Shmo on the street wouldn’t think much about it. He also wouldn’t really give much thought to the research and development of nanorobotics. These two topics never seem to blossom in the same circles or conversations.
The overly plump cloud hovering over Noah’s house was a little less plump now. Having released at least a quarter of its strange wet gift already, it seemed to have slimmed into a sleeker, stranger cloud – especially as it was the only one in the area at the moment.
Noah Ginnis did not realize that he was now typing code with only his left hand. The skin of his right hand had become porous and sticky, and the last action of said hand, clutching the mouse and clicking furiously, had resulted into a subtle fusion between the flesh of his hand and the plastic casing of the mouse. Strands of flesh were slowly creeping around the outer corners of each button, burrowing into the innards of the device and fusing with the various little components. So entranced was he with his ever-rising success on the screen before him, Noah was both blind to the physical changes literally happening before his eyes, and deaf to the increased rev of his computer’s usual calm purr.
Bits of his flesh continued to slide smoothly, in double-celled rows, into the cracks and crevices of the mouse. The cord attaching the mouse to the computer began to stretch, incrementally, to accommodate more than what the manufacturer had ever intended. More transport action took place on the outside of the cord, snaking along the underside. The nanobots moved slowly, pulling their newly acquired cells of skin and blood along, spilling out from the tiniest of holes found at the other end of the mouse cord. Slowly they infiltrated the very guts of his computer, dripping in fleshy droplets onto the edges of the graphics card, snaking intimately around the motherboard, settling in tightly around every component.
The whites of Noah’s eyes were clearing rapidly as the nanobots swimming through his body made the tiny repairs needed to restore his flesh to a properly hydrated state. His left hand had long since gone still as the microscopic robots manipulated synapses and rerouted electrical currents through his brain.
Some fired particular commands, demanding he sit straighter to alleviate the stress on his lower back. Noah complied, his eyes never leaving his computer screen. Others shot out more commands, and Noah’s feet shuffled and lifted, coming to a rest on the tiny stool beneath his desk.
The merging continued, and it was no longer clear where Noah’s hand ended and the computer mouse began. There was a hand-shaped lump resting peacefully on the mouse pad, attached to the arm pulsating with new life just below the skin, attached to the body that was Noah Ginnis.
Noah’s pupils dilated, then dilated again, until there was little left to see of his amber corneas. His brain could now process images many thousands of times faster, and he could see each pixel of the screen before him. He no longer needed the keyboard, as he and the computer continued to merge into one being.
A tickle began in the back of his throat. The nanobots were clearing away a small infection that even Noah had not known was there. The movement caused him to cough, and as he exhaled violently, the sound emanated from his mouth, and from the expensive speakers attached to the computer. It was a harsh, thunderous cough, in full surround sound. Noah didn’t flinch. The parts of his brain which would have registered shock were otherwise occupied by very tiny, metallic creatures.
All extra flesh existing around his mid-section, any extra cells padding his inner thighs – all of this was exiled in an efficient process. Noah was not an overweight man, by any stretch of the imagination. He had kept himself in good shape over the years, and the cells being evicted from his person, while numbering in the trillions, averaged perhaps 9 pounds collectively. The microscopic creatures moved in a graceful symphony. The excess flesh flowing smoothly, albeit slowly, from its original location to his right arm and disengaged purposefully, dribbling onto the mouse cord that had become a kind of New Life Highway in a matter of hours.
The metamorphosis had not completely finished when a figure appeared at his office doorway. His wife was back, wondering why the lamp was not on in his office for the third evening in a row. She hesitated, loathe to interrupt. Finally she made a little sound, clearing her throat, and spoke.
“Noah..? Is everything alright..?”
Noah blinked, rapidly, a dozen times. His head tilted a fraction to the left. His mouth opened. The words whistled through his vocal chords but also transmitted richly through the speakers.
“Everything is fine. Please make sure the door downstairs is locked. I’ve heard there are heavy storms headed our way. Also I would like a glass of water, please.”
His wife slumped briefly against the door frame, relieved to have gotten a cordial response. Forgetting the oddity that was her husband, sitting in the twilight in front of an overly-bright computer screen, speaking in a strangely stereo voice…she left quickly to do as he asked.
Noah’s body began to vibrate slightly as the nanomachines completed their connection to the computer, merging into the power supply and adjusting to the electric surge. His eyes, which had been hugely dilated before, jerked in their sockets. The pupils reduced to near nothingness. A trickle of blood oozed out of his nose, and then incredibly, worked its way back up into the nostril as the nanobots went to retrieve the lost fluid. His body twitched, and twitched again. Whatever moisture was left on his skin sizzled and evaporated. The merge was complete.
From a distance, in the twilight, it looked as though Noah Ginnis was peacefully lounging in front of his computer. Nothing really seemed out of place, from a distance.
On closer inspection, it would still look mostly normal, at least in this light. Noah’s bodily functions were properly regulated, perhaps even more efficiently now, and the only awkward second glance would be the odd clump of flesh, shaped vaguely like a hand, encapsulating what used to be the mouse.
However, the ever-diligent observer would see the skin pulsating in a grotesque ripple, as the metropolis exploded, expanding throughout what used to be Noah Ginnis. His eyes had become the periscope for Command Central, the pupils constantly capturing new bits of information, re-focusing, computing. His ears had been reconfiguring, tuning in to every sound associated with the room where he sat, every creak of the house as it settled, and any sound the other human inside this domicile might be making. Even the sounds of the fourteen mice currently residing in the top of the broom closet downstairs were filed away.
The complicated digital problems originally set forth on the screen three days prior had been resolved in just under forty five seconds, as access to previously locked-away brain functions were opened, explored, catalogued, and set to use. Noah no longer needed the keyboard. His eyes dilated, re-focused, blinked – and it was done. The project was zipped up and emailed away to the faceless company who employed him. Unfortunately, the same faceless company had wanted faster results than what Noah alone could deliver, and had sent the proverbial silver-lined cloud in the form of a literal cloud, teeming with silver bodied microbes.
Cloud seeding was no longer considered a fringe science, but rather a mainstream tool to improve rain precipitation and snow. New technology and research produced reliable results that made cloud seeding an affordable and dependable water-supply practice for large dry areas of the globe. While practiced widely around the world, the effectiveness of cloud seeding was still a matter of academic debate. Some of the larger environmental agencies, however, were not nearly as interested in cloud seeding for the purpose of watering the earth as they were for the scientific expansion of research in nanotechnology.
The freshly constructed antennae protruding from Noah’s ears were complete. They vibrated suddenly as the machines inside him sensed his wife returning with the glass of water. She paused in the doorway again, and Noah spoke, softly, his voice transmitting affection he could no longer be aware of.
“Pull up a chair, and see what I’ve just created!”
She smiled in the darkness, stepping into the room and pulling another wheeled desk chair over, close to Noah. She could sense he must be pleased with his work. Noah seldom shared his work with anyone.
Her smile faltered as she stared at the screen. Her right hand gripped the glass of iced water, and she didn’t notice Noah’s hand hover over the glass, his fingers dipped into the cold liquid, the nanobots pulling a thin, steady stream of water into his system.
His wife shook her head, still staring at the screen.
“I don’t…..really, I don’t understand.”
As she gazed at the screen, the images flashed in a hypnotic dance. Pure images, pulled from the depths of Noah’s memory, from infancy and moving all the way up in time to last week.
Noah’s hand moved from the glass and settled on her arm. Nanobots cascaded from the pores in his skin and poured thickly over his wife’s arm, each microscopic creature burrowing into a pore and flooding into her bloodstream.
She stared, slack-jawed, at the screen. Her movements had almost ceased as she gazed at each image.
Noah turned, almost robotically, and smiled at his wife. Her eyes left the screen and met his, returning a beautiful, mechanical smile.
After a half hour, enough of the robotic infestation had been uploaded and she stood, quietly leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.
Soon, it would be time to schedule a party…invite friends over. Noah smiled a beautiful, mechanical smile.
The cloud above the house expanded slightly. Another gust of wind teased it gently, and it floated away…miles away, where it settled in another non-descript town, in a non-descript neighborhood, over the house of one Jeremy Kingsley.
Dude. Thanks for the inspiration… 🙂