Reality Like an Onion

Author: Jim Anderson

A bell rang and the finding room fell silent.
The finder — a small, silver-haired woman in a lavender robe — turned to Ulrich and said, “A simple question, Citizen. Do you believe in one objective, mechanistic reality governed by the laws of Newtonian physics?”
“I don’t believe in any reality in which that’s a simple question.”
“Yes or no, Citizen.”
The wise strategy was to lie. But Ulrich had already showed a lack of wisdom.
“No, then.”
“Heretic!” The prosecutor sprang to his feet. “He admits his guilt.”
“Finder, my client is insane,” the defender said. She stayed seated and seemed bored by the proceeding.
“Thank you both,” the finder said. She turned again to Ulrich. “Explain your view.”
“Why? So that you can declare me a heretic or a lunatic? The punishment is the same.”
“There is no punishment. Only treatment. Admittedly, the treatments are similar, but that’s to be expected. The law defines heresy as a type of insanity.”
A brain-wash either way, Ulrich thought. He understood why others ran. Had Julie? Maybe. He only knew that the apartment was empty when he came home from his shift supervising the Sector 112 excavations. His mistake was looking for Gil and Vega. The Doctrine cops had their place staked out.
Julie, Gil and Vega. All gone. Disappeared. Were they hiding? Were they being held incommunicado? Washed and witless? Dead?
“Big fish seldom make it to a public finding,” Julie once told him. “Stay small. If you get caught in the net, profess your love for Newton’s Laws.”
Staying small meant staying away from her. Ulrich couldn’t do that. He couldn’t lie about his view of reality, either. Now he’d get a proper washing. He’d be a new man. He’d forget Julie.
“Will you explain your view?”
Ulrich shrugged. “Reality is like an onion.”
“Multi-layered. We only live in one.”
“How do you know other layers exist?”
“It’s a model put forward generations ago, along with several others that came after Newton. The state banned them all and destroyed much of the supporting evidence.”
“Why destroy knowledge?”
“The models led to technologies we weren’t ready to control, to weapons that rendered the surface of the planet uninhabitable.”
“That sounds like recitation. Have you simply replaced one doctrine with another?”
“I’m an engineer, not a physicist. Newtonian physics works fine for me. I understand it. But people I trust have studied the other models and found some compelling. They are peeling the onion. I want to help.”
The prosecutor was on his feet again. “Finder, the state no longer seeks a determination of heresy. An insanity finding serves our purpose. Anything to shut him up!”
“Far from shutting up, I’d want him to sing,” the finder said. “Enhanced interrogation is my order. Call my team.”
Three officers in helmets and body-armor entered from a side door.
The defender stood. “The defense asks the finder to reconsider.”
The finder waved her off.
Ulrich marched out of the room between two of the officers. Each grasped one of his arms above the elbow with a power-glove. Beyond the door, the third officer came up behind him and dropped a hood over his head.
Denied sight, Ulrich stopped walking. He expected to be dragged, but the power-gloves released him.
The floor gave way, and he… floated downward.
Not far. His feet touched a firm surface. He heard familiar voices.
Somebody pulled off the hood. Air moved around him, fresh and fragrant.
Julie leaned in and kissed him.
“Ick,” she said. “Have you been eating onions?”

The Fungilarity

Author: Majoki

“A synaptic map of the brain.”

“Social media pathways on the Internet.”

“A spider web. If the spider had taken acid.”

The program director waited as each volunteer gave their interpretation of the sprawling diagram being displayed in the research center’s conference room.

“A force much more powerful than any robot overlords we unleash.”

The director prompted, “Go on.”

“Mycelium. The subterranean threads that weave life. The network that links the underland. Fungi. The Wood Wide Web.”

That answer is how I got here. Buried, but far from dead.

I’d been sunk into the ground deep in the Hoh Rain Forest where I’d not be disturbed, except by mycelia. That was the hope which goes a long way in explaining the craziness of the plan. Volunteering to be buried alive.

Not my physical self. That was in a very sterile lab in Olympia, ostensibly doing very well by doing very little, or so the lab monitoring systems reported. No, my flesh wasn’t six feet under. My consciousness was.

For decades we’d been waiting for the singularity. Uploading our ethereal selves into a promised digital land. But, here I was downloaded into the analog underland. My mind melding with mushrooms. The fungilarity.

This was no psilocybic psychedelic trip. I was the program’s first hyponaut, my consciousness inserted into the mycelia of one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S. to tap into taproots, sound the soil, and mosey along the myriad subterranean networks that connected all manner of flora, from towering trees to microscopic mushroom spores.

A heady responsibility and a mega headtrip as well. Good thing my head was on ice in a lab. A very good thing because I was discovering how much unnecessary baggage that skull of mine carried.

Yes, humans are social. We crave connections. We search for those forever friends and soul mates, looking to form bonds that transcend–whatever. But, you see, what I really discovered down here in the underland, untethered from my physical form, is that humans have been soul searching in the wrong place. We’ve been raising our eyes and hopes upward, to the heavens, to the celestial depths, when the core of our being is right at our feet, below and within our simple earth. An earth that has been patient with us, even as we smother it.

Now, I was in it, rooted to its roots, connected as no human consciousness had ever been before and all humankind’s fears and myths of inner earth being the domain of the dead were wrong. Dead wrong. Every fiber of the underland was about life. Life bound together and dependent. A true system of survival and revival.

Fungi were among the first organisms to return to the atomic blast site of Hiroshima. From mushroom clouds to mushrooms. That is our way out, to dig deeper, into our earth, into our hearts, into the real soul of our being. If we no longer try to simply bury our mistakes, we can unearth our true potential. Not just as human beings, but as fellow beings.

Partners for life.


Author: Andrew Dunn

They come every seventeenth year. Momma says they are evil, each one a little piece of hell called forth by her ex-husband to torment springtime before summer’s heat dries our corner of Georgia to a crisp.

“Cicadas.” Molly said. “They’re just bugs.”

Molly was unshouldering her bra in my bedroom, and then unzipping her shorts. We were too young to be doing what we were doing. The only thing that could have stopped us would have been momma bursting through the door wailing about how Adam gave up a bone from his rib cage so that Eve could come into this world and tempt that poor boy with an apple. We were well past Adam and Eve. Molly Jenkins was my Salome, dancing her own version of the seven veils as she peeled off socks and planted her hands on her hips.

Outside the shrill piercing sound of the cicadas roiled up in one of those crescendos I imagined washed over everywhere like a sonic tidal wave. Momma was in her room oblivious. She was glued to that news channel where they’re sure whatever any given democrat is suggesting will unravel life as we know it on the third stone from the sun, or least within the bounds of ‘Merica.

I never knew why momma called daddy Satan, and I wasn’t inclined to ask after I felt Molly’s body against my own. I didn’t know whether I was Adam or Herod either, as my fingers passed over her rib cage, sheathed in soft pale skin. What I knew for sure, as my lips found Molly’s, was that I was molting free of childhood as I danced with her toward my bed.

I knew afterwards, me and Molly would find the world outside littered with cicada hides. Where would I hide the skin I was shedding as my body merged with Molly’s for the very first time?

Maybe I’d leave it raw, bare, and evident for momma to find, a mystery easy for her to unravel.

Boltzmann’s Brain

Author: Calum Strachan

It was an overwhelmingly unlikely occurrence. Somewhere at the end of time, as the universe approached uniformity, a localised phenomenon sprung out of the thin and fragile space. Purely by chance, the particles that had drifted alone for so long coalesced all at once with pugilistic violence and grace.

Colliding atoms inadvertently arranged themselves in the form of a functioning thalamus. White matter erupted from nothing, followed by all manner of grey. The inexplicable tissues enveloped and enfolded around an increasingly unlikely mass.

A cerebellum slotted in precisely, as if by design. The deity-less miracle persisted as a spinal cord sprouted and trailed off to nothing.

A stray packet of electromagnetic energy, travelling unimpeded on its random path since the beginning of physical space, happened upon the accident of thermodynamics. It struck like lightening, without the mess. The brain lit up; it was alive.

The improbability of this outcome could not be overstated.

The brain remembered. Somewhere, at this moment and aeons ago, a child stepped one unsure foot in front of the other. The brain felt the grass between its toes and recoiled instinctively from the unexpected dampness. The boy stumbled and the brain jolted with a hypnic jerk. The boy worried at the edges of an apfelstrudel with new, budding teeth, and a surge of dopamine ricocheted around the brain.

The boy, now a young man, attended endless lectures. Memories piled up in waves as the weight of countless hours of study and debate bore down on the brain. In answer to the burden, an imperceptible schism emerged, not from the matter but from the mind. Days and weeks and years spent theorising and calculating, defending and withdrawing; the schism was nurtured, and it grew into a chasm. Prominence and prestige, fame and infamy; the brain lived the life all in an instant. The brain became very heavy, although its mass remained constant.

The rift grew unbearably large, impossibly deep, an invisible spiderweb of cracks through crystal. The brain closed down hard like a fist on its lifetime of memories. For a moment, the mind inside was still. In the near empty dark, ever so gently, the brain performed a pirouette around its axis.

A mercurial mind, first thrust into the universe between Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, now floated in the void between nothing and nowhere.

The brain, newly alive, got to work making new memories. The first was a sensation of being outside ones self, but still very much restricted. Reflexively, the brain looked down… and was struck by the full force of comprehension. There was no ‘look’. There was no ‘down’. The brain laughed, or tried to, or tried to try, but something so visceral was far out of reach. Choosing intention over defeat, it resolved to quantify its lonely place in the last of the universe. How long had it taken for a drop of chaos to fall into the sea of order? The brain diligently did the maths. A lifetime obsessed with statistical mechanics had served it well; it did not need pen or paper.

Before long, and before the brain could reach an answer (although it was very close), it did what brains do in the inhospitable void at the end of time. The energy that had grasped the brain for the yoctoseconds of its re-existence now loosened its grip. Thermodynamic equilibrium was reached, and the brain receded back into the universe with an inaudible sigh.

It was likely to be the last such occurrence.

The Eraser

Author: Mark Renney

Tanner’s job was to remove the evidence, to wipe away the traces. He considered this task as necessary, that he was an essential part of the system and for more than forty years Tanner’s belief in the system hadn’t wavered. He had remained resolute, diligent and effective.

Although he remembered all the names of those he had erased, Tanner hadn’t ever regarded them as individuals. No, they were part of a collective and anyhow many of them, most in fact, were already dead or imprisoned before his work had even begun.

Some, a few, had escaped and were living in exile, but what they did and said elsewhere didn’t matter. What they were beyond the system was inconsequential. It was the eraser’s job to eradicate those who opposed the system from within. To help establish and maintain the truth.

By the time a name is passed on to Tanner, the bulk of inflammatory material has already been unearthed and obliterated. Underground magazines can’t hide forever and the liars are always captured amidst the lies, like spiders trapped in their own webs.

Tanner is responsible for the minutiae; his job is trawling through old news reports and other archives. When it is decided that someone shouldn’t exist, doesn’t exist, each and every record from birth right up until that final betrayal has to go.

The younger generation aren’t really sure what it is that Tanner does or, more accurately, what it is that he has done. But Tanner has helped to close down national newspapers, the demolition and destruction of institutions, of hospitals, factories, schools and libraries, with the disruption of families, of whole communities, of tradition. But none of this is a part of the truth and he is just an old man with a black marker.

The rhetoric hasn’t changed over the years and Tanner is perplexed by this. Whilst the system has evolved, is constantly evolving, those who oppose it are forever locked in a relentless fight and it is futile. They are able to make themselves heard, yes, but only fleetingly and it seems to him that they are shouting into the void.

Tanner often finds himself thinking about the monolith in that old science fiction film. The film has been banned, of course, and so he hasn’t seen it in years. And it isn’t actually the monolith that preoccupies his thoughts but its surface, gleaming and unmarked.

Protesters and rebels, this is how they are referred to beyond the system. Those who have survived and are still out there, they are dissidents or exiles. Tanner has always been uncomfortable with these labels although he hasn’t managed to come up with any that he feels are better suited. ‘Those who oppose the system’ is too clumsy but that is what they are. And they are still as virulent as they ever were, perhaps even more so and for that brief spell, until they are uncovered, just as vocal.

Tanner remembers the names and also their former occupations. He remembers the carpenter and the school teacher and the plumber and the doctor. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. He remembers what they once were, what they should have been.