Articulation: “The Worm”

Posted on December 15, 2005 by Jenna

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This story is forbidden because it articulates a heresy.

It is naturally quite possible to experience this story without accepting that heresy. In doing so you strip it of its horror and its mystery. It becomes a story of a delusion encoded into an entity that is neither human nor machine. It becomes a story where, above all else, the Cult of the Worm is wrong.

But to describe it as that story would be dishonest. This story is forbidden for good reason. Its implications are in simplest fact heretical and offensive, nor can they be disproven. We can conclude that they are horrid, we can reject them, we can deny them.

Whether they are true or false—in premise, if not in detail—we can never know.

//To understand the motivations of the Cult of the Worm, you must first understand the peculiar inversions of meaning that they practiced. Words such as “corrupt,” “murderous,” and “unethical” possessed an intrinsic character to them that assigned them unto others’ door; to speak of a Cultist as corrupt or evil was, while not incomprehensible, patently false and awaiting only disproof. Words such as “virtuous,” “moral,” and “right” applied not to an objective standard but to anything that strove away from the filth of everyday life.

In the language as the Cultists spoke it it became very difficult to express “you bloody fools, you’ll destroy the world!” The fanfic bodhisattva Severus came as close as any outsider ever could when he told them: “To escape the world is to return to it”—an idea that, while superficially entirely alien to his point, conveyed to them some of the essential dirtiness of their actions. Sadly, it did not suffice to overwhelm their convictions; Severus became a sacrifice to their cause and the work of the Cult progressed.//

In 2284, human civilization is great and it is glorious. Having lost the moon to error, it drew a new one from the ocean’s depths and set it in orbit around the world. From the face of the Earth great gossamer beanstalks rise like towers. People can fly, and not with difficulty but as casually as a thought. They can talk, just by wanting to, to anyone in the world.

The Singularity had receded from them as it approached it; the change in fundamental human nature that they much anticipated eluded them, slipped away from them like a struggling fish. That the world was much the same as it had ever been—taller perhaps, more peaceful perhaps, certainly different in every respect, but failing to change its fundamental qualities—they called the “isobeing” or “isostasis,” and they looked back towards a Golden Age when its presence was not so profound.

In 2284, the people of Earth glide above the world, speaking their chirping tongues, discussing with five or seven of their tribe such matters as this.

Then from that compound in Sweden to which the Cult had outsourced its sacrifices there is a flare of sapphire light. There is born into the world the worm.

It is indescribably large and horrid and its mouth opens unto forever.

The worm destroys the land. It strikes it with great blows and the land breaks into shards and archipelagos. It drives its bulk over the shards and islands and sinks them down into the sea.

Thrashing, it overturns the boats and platforms that dot the sea but are not land.

And as it does its work, humanity strikes back. It is to no avail.

Mass drivers do nothing.

Grid dumps do nothing.

Atomic weapons fail; and then, to the consternation of the scientific community, the worm ignores the artificial black hole that they birth within its flesh.

“Well, foo,” says Hawking_7942, the physicist most responsible for this attempt, because that really should have worked.

The worm is a product of human desire, human dreams, and human making; but it is a thing greater than what humanity has become, and it survives.

It tears down the beanstalks.

It swallows the flying whales.

It rages up into the sky and rips humans down and throws them into the sea.

Then, before the world is even halfway dead, its eyes glint seven colors and its rage goes still. With its maw the worm sketches lines of blood into the sea. It forms a portal to another place. It dives away from world and sound; and the worm is gone.

For three generations humanity struggles simply to survive: to hold on to its lives, to keep the fabric of its science and the basics of its technology in place; to survive without the land or infrastructure that had given it such glory.

For four generations, humanity catches its breath. It scavenges the seas for secrets it had lost. It searches the skies and waters for the worm. It tries to cope with the enormity of what has gone before.

Then it is time to begin the recovery.

People begin to dredge the land up from the sea. With great magnets and cranes they fish up the pieces of the continents and slowly they cobble them together.

It takes a long time.

Children are born, raised, and fed into the vats without ever knowing “land” as something more than “that muck-covered rubble in the distance.”

Not even the oldest minds in the last computers remember land as much more than a dream.

It is thirty generations after the time of the worm before it is possible to live on land again for a short period of time.

It is forty generations after the time of the worm when humanity can once again declare the land its home.

There is a kind of peace, then. There is a slackening in the iron will that drives humanity forward. People stop to breathe. They look up at the stars. They release the burden of their ancestral glory.

“We will build it again,” says Dr. Sevens, as he powers down the ancient computers.

“Goodbye,” says Dr. Ashen, as she seals creaky old robots in their shells and pushes them into the sea.

It is not stupidity that drives them thus, nor Luddite loathing, but rather celebration. They recognize with their actions the culmination of “the human destiny to rebuild” and the beginning of a new era. It is something their culture has looked forward to ever since, eighty years or so ago, it began to sense the project’s end.

It is not a person or a group that abandons the remnants of ancient glory for the simplicity of houses, grain, and land. There is no one to ask who would even consider it a decision in more than the most superficial sense. It is simply the sense of the times that it should be so.

It is two more generations before anyone musters a compelling objection to this decision. The woman who does so is named Sapphire.

She is the heir to the Cult of the Worm.

“Articulation” continues tomorrow or Monday.