A PLAN FOR EVERYONE (2014)
It was as if it hadn’t happened. He awoke, forgetting everything. And then he remembered there was nothing to remember.
Margaux meant nothing to him. And yet he was sitting next to her, his hand to her face and another to her stomach. A casual observer might have mistaken them for lovers, although nothing could have been further from the truth.
Jordan pulled his hands free and sat up. The woman in his bed still was still asleep, her lips moving in wordless conversation.
He remembered she was sick. She wasn’t exactly comatose but she’d been hopelessly delirious, forgetting his name before demanding who he was and why he was perched on her bed. It was his bed, but the explanations weren’t worth the bother.
They’d been colleagues until the sickness came; geologists in the pay of a land developer selling mining contracts. As soon as the park had been sold off to private investors, there was a rush for gemstones, although none had been found. Companies were frantic to make good on their investments, but they were coming up empty.
The former National parks had been goldmines for early investors. Those who came late to the game took what they could. The last park for sale was known for its geological wonders, but only the geologists were impressed.
Jordan and Margaux earned their stipend participating in digs and advising on locations. But it was a matter of time before the company began to cut its losses.
That was until the cracks in the ground and the peculiar rock formations which appeared as if overnight, a desert canyon marked as if by some unseen surveyor’s hand, like ancient astronomers mapping the world to mirror the heavens.
They’d been sent into the desert alone, their expedition leader pulling out to pursue a more lucrative opportunity up north. It was only a day’s hike but Jordan wasn’t much of an outdoorsman, rarely spending a night outside of a motel.
He was relieved to have spent the last two nights back at the motel, although he’d spent the bulk of that time reminding Margaux that they’d been having sexual relations for weeks. She’d forgotten, knocking him to the floor when he kissed the nape of her neck.
It was as if entire months had been wiped from her memory, although the condition was temporary at first. She remembered him well enough the first night back, to wake him up on the sofa and mount him, her sexual ferocity even more overwhelming than his. Exhausted, he fell asleep, awaking the following morning to find that she’d passed out on the floor.
She awoke with tears in her eyes. She said she thought she was the last person in the world, clutching Jordan as if to keep him from leaving her side. He’d grown accustomed to her abandonment issues, but he’d never seen her so frantic.
She held him close, refusing to let him from her sight. It wasn’t until she fell asleep that he could extricate his limbs from hers. But when a short nap stretched into four hours, he tried waking her up. But she was immovable.
By early evening, she was still asleep, her body more lifeless than before. She mumbled words he couldn’t understand. He spoke to her, hoping to draw her out, but it was of no use.
He’d napped for hours himself and yet could barely stay awake for more than an hour or two, scanning the vScreen for something, anything of interest before falling asleep again.
Holding his ear close to her mouth, he attempted to elicit meaning in the movement of her lips, but she was unintelligible.
Jordan had been debating what to do. Unless it was a medical emergency, he wasn’t about to notify Synergy, the developer that promised a better future for the billions living in crowded cities. If Synergy suspected it might be on the hook for medical, Jordan and Margaux’s contract would be up.
It was already Sunday and Margaux was giving him no assurance she could suit up for another trek come Monday morning.
Jordan didn’t expect to see her eyes wide open. It was some relief; although her expression was vacant.
“Margaux?” he queried. She was unresponsive.
He was ready to seek medical attention when she surprised him again by leaping from the bed, hands to her head.
“It’s in my head,” she howled frantically, clutching at her scalp. “Get it out of my head.”
Jorden rushed to her side. “You’re fine,” he assured her, ever hopeful that life could still proceed where they’d left off the day before. But where had they left off?
Drawing his arms about her, he attempted to comfort her, but she convulsed and screamed; his thought less to her health than to what neighbors might think he was doing to her. He didn’t know her all that well. Their encounters were casual but always polite. It could have been anyone else, but he’d been paired up with her for an assignment that required that both were of sound mind.
“It’s alright,” he said in an even tone. “Calm down.”
He could feel her full weight in his arms. She’d lost consciousness again.
“Margaux?” It was his turn to yell, but she couldn’t hear him, that or she couldn’t answer.
Lightheaded, he let Margaux slide back to the floor. Clutching the wall, he waited for the sudden nausea to subside.
The pressure inside his head was unexpected and it was painful.
He dropped to the bed, remembering something he’d tried to forget.
The day of their trek was unusually dark. It wasn’t for lack of sun, which blazed brightly the entire hike. It was a mood, perhaps of foreboding. The darkness appeared to filter through the unusual cracks in the ground, concealing details, their every thought uncertain and confused.
They lost their way on multiple occasions, despite use of the GP clip which was supposed to provide unerring directions.
The cracks in the ground were staggered evenly, as if punctured by a machine of immense size and weight. It would be misleading, however, to call them cracks, because they weren’t a natural byproduct of desert conditions. These were vents, as perfectly shaped as the rock formations encircling them. One might describe it as an imprint of a plug.
One wouldn’t call it a landing pad so much as a cap concealing something deep and cavernous, perhaps some secret government installation now abandoned to the elements.
The vents exuded what seemed like a colorless vapor that gave weight to every step and hesitancy to every thought. Something was amiss, but the dangers were difficult to process.
Jordan thought he saw something climbing from one of the vents, although it was more of a shift in mood, a shadow crossing his peripheral as he observed Margaux kneeling before one of the vents, peering into the darkness below.
A gust of wind blasted from within, knocking Margaux onto her back.
Margaux sat quietly, her gaze to the sky. “Interesting,” she mused.
“What?” asked Jordan.
“I felt that through my whole body, like I was hollow.”
“I wouldn’t advise inhaling too much of that.”
“Why?” she answered, sitting up.
“You don’t know what they’ve been storing down there,” he explained, offering her his hand as she pulled herself back to her feet. “Looks like they were developing this place in secret all along.”
“There was no mention of this on the survey,” countered Margaux.
“Why would there be? I’m sure this was very hush hush. You ever wonder what happened to those chems used back in the day? They probably forgot about it. Something on a form that got archived hears ago.”
“This was a park, Jordan. Back when they had more space. People used to hike out here. Enjoy nature. They would have seen it.”
“Not if it was covered up.”
“Those holes aren’t covered now,” she noted.
“This place is no use. There’s no digging here. Come on.”
There was something about the area that made him nervous. Although he suspected an underground government silo, it wasn’t a solid theory. Whatever it was, it could be of no benefit to anyone.
Margaux leaned over the vent once again, but Jordan steadied her.
“Don’t breathe that in,” he cautioned.
“It smells good. Like a forest.”
Another blast of air wafted through the vent. He exhaled, too apprehensive to indulge his curiosity.
“There hasn’t been a forest here in thousands of years,” he explained, turning to the hilltop. Something dark drifted out of sight. He followed the movement but saw nothing.
“There’s something out here,” he reflected aloud.
“Now who’s seeing things,” noted Margaux with a chuckle.
“I never said you were seeing things,” he replied. “I just don’t think we should be here. We don’t have to tell them right away. The minute they get wind of this, we’re done, until another survey gig presents itself.”
Margaux was still lingering near the vents.
“Come on,” he yelled.
“There must be an entrance somewhere,” she observed.
“Are you kidding me?” he answered, refusing to turn back. If she chose to stay, he wouldn’t be accountable for the consequences.
There was more movement, something unseen but surefooted, multiple creatures perhaps. But he couldn’t confirm his apprehension with a visual.
The hillside blurred, sunlight muted as if something had enveloped them. The rest of the world seemed unreal, like more of a possibility than a certainty.
“Jordan?” murmured Margaux, her voice weak.
Jordan turned. The vents belched forth vaporous exhalations, shadows converging on Margaux as she backed away from the vent.
“Let’s go,” he pleaded, reaching for her as she collapsed to the ground under a swirling mass of black.
“I can’t move,” she screamed. “I …”
The mass swarmed over her like a maddened hive of bees. But there was only silence as the darkness blocked out the sun entirely, Jordan’s head like a weight that sent him crashing to the ground.
It was Margaux who woke him up that afternoon. Judging from his wristcom he couldn’t have been unconscious for more than a few minutes. The sun presided over a cloudless sky.
“We must have been tired,” she remarked with a shrug.
It wasn’t like him to fall asleep on the job, much less in the midday sun. His skin was warm but he hadn’t burned.
Seeing the slats in the ground, Jordan’s anxiety mounted. He was expecting something awful to happen, but there was nothing in the area to corroborate it.
“What are you waiting for?” asked Margaux, leaping jauntily toward the hillside. Leaping to his feet he bounded in pursuit. His impromptu nap had refreshed him and within seconds he was scrambling up the hill alongside Margaux, laughing as the two of them broke into a race down the other side of the hill.
Claiming the lead, he rounded a heap or rocks, grabbing her as she caught up and pressing his face to hers. He wanted inside her, Margaux mirroring his ferocity, her mouth to his face as she pulled at his shirt.
It was all over in five minutes as they luxuriated half naked on the dusty ground, examining each other’s bodies and savoring every sensation and every touch as if trying out skin for the first time. Every moment was a taste of eternity.
They spoke not a word as their bodies once again assumed a rhythmic motion, more energized with every exertion, their bodies folding into one.
Time passed, the sun disappearing behind a hill as they lay in each other’s arms, observing a hawk aglide on a rush of wind.
It was Margaux who dressed first, her eyes lowered as if pleasure were shameful. Jordan reached for her but she lurched free.
“We should go,” she declared before standing to put on her boots.
Jordan threw on his clothes before following Margaux as she jogged ahead. She maintained a surprising distance, her gaze downcast as she rounded the mountain pass toward the unused lot where they’d parked.
“Are you alright?” asked Jordan as Margaux later angled the car onto the main road.
“Don’t I look alright?” she asked. He refused to credit the mood shift to her being a woman. Was it something he did? Their sweaty, impassioned scramble on the desert floor was better than his usual air-conditioned encounters in antiseptic hotel rooms with women whose names he never knew.
“I wasn’t expecting what happened,” he began, hoping to shift the topic of conversation to pleasing memories.
“What are you talking about?” she answered, turning on him as if he’d insulted her.
“You don’t want to talk about it? Fine. Pretend it didn’t happen but I won’t.”
They spent the remainder of the drive in silence, later shuffling into the motel room and taking separate showers before settling down to rest. It would have been time for dinner, but neither of them expressed any interest in food.
There was nothing to say and nothing much of anything to do.
Suspecting that he’d forgotten something important, something to explain Margaux’s silence, Jordan revisited the day’s events, but he was unable to account for their nap. His thoughts soon took a more pleasing turn as he revisited their fleeting encounter on the ground. Had their passion dissipated so entirely?
Sunlight waned the following afternoon. Jordan awoke, his head no longer feeling heavy. Margaux, however, was nowhere to be found. She’d moved of her own volition which, hopefully, was an auspicious sign.
Someone was running the faucet in the bathroom.
“Margaux?” he called.
Margaux appeared at the door, toothbrush in hand, her face devoid of expression.
“Yes,” she answered with unexpected sang-froid.
“Are you alright?” he asked, sliding from the bed.
“Yes,” she answered before returning to the bathroom.
“You weren’t doing too well earlier,” he explained as he approached the bathroom door.
“I don’t understand,” she replied, washing her toothbrush before placing it atop the counter.
“It doesn’t matter,” he answered with a shrug. “You sure you’re alright? No headache?”
“I answered your question,” was her matter-of-fact reply.
“Ok,” he said, taken aback by her brevity. She was ordinarily so quick to elaborate on her feelings.
“Last night was amazing,” he said, hoping to prompt some passion from her. “I didn’t think I’d have the energy to do that again after yesterday. I could probably go again.”
“You’re leaving?” she concluded as she stepped past him into the room to turn on the vScreen, her back to Jordan.
“What do you think about last night?” he asked, asking her the question he’d expected her to ask him. Was she still punishing him for something he couldn’t remember?
Margaux ignored him as she examined the program listings.
“Am I talking to myself?” he asked.
“Yes,” she remarked, without the least hint of sarcasm.
“If there’s something I did, you can tell me,” he began. When women gave him the silent treatment, it was because they wanted to provoke a conversation. He was more than ready for that conversation.
“We’ll talk,” he continued, taking a seat next to her. “Anything you want to talk about. I’m here. Though I don’t think anything that happened has to impact our working relationship. And we don’t have to mention it again if you prefer. But I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of. We had fun. Why not? How we decide to pass the time is our concern.”
“I can’t help you,” she replied, her gaze fixed on him a few seconds before returning her attention to the vScreen.
“Talk to me,” he pleaded. “If I did or said something wrong.”
“You don’t have to speak,” she explained without gazing at him.
“You don’t want to talk at all?” he asked.
She answered him with silence.
“I guess we’ll talk when you’re ready,” he concluded, wondering if he’d done something he’d forgotten. His memory was patchy all weekend. And he couldn’t shake the suspicion that there was something important he needed to recall.
There were messages on his wristcom from Synergy, requesting a report and demanding a signoff on the day’s events. He’d neglected protocol, but there were distractions.
He used a vScreen to script careful answers to all requests, speaking for Margaux as well.
Her gaze was fixed on a series of inane advertisements. He’d never seen Margaux watch a vSerial much less a sing-song product plug.
Standing, he waved the volume down.
“You watching that?” he asked.
She didn’t bother to answer, standing to retrieve her boots and sliding her feet into them.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded. “They wanted the reports. I signed for you. Not that there was much to tell them, though perhaps with more intensive digging they could …”
Jordan trailed off, remembering the vents in the ground. Was it chem storage? He wasn’t sure. There was more to it, but he didn’t recall any other details.
It would present a problem for Synergy, and Jordan debated whether to inform them right away or wait closer to natural close of their employment contract. He was supposed to tell them everything but he feared Synergy would pull out early if they got wind of hazmat storage.
The front door closed. Margaux made a hasty exit.
Racing to the door, he peered outside. Margaux shuffled around a corner.
“Where you going?” he yelled. Whatever feelings she was repressing, he’d be sure to hear it later when she let loose on him. He was accustomed to being reamed out for unseen crimes.
He felt light-headed again, or might one call it head-heavy. He stumbled to the bed and threw himself atop the crumpled sheets. He could feel his brain as if it were a swollen muscle. The tightness was alarming.
He could smell something familiar. The air from the vents. It smelled sweet, nauseatingly so. Perhaps it was burning wood. Or was it a chem reaction?
They were surrounded. He remembered now. Marguax was screaming for help but he couldn’t help her. It wasn’t a chem leak so much as it was something alive, something unseen, something that surrounded and entrapped them like a new skin.
Margaux was experiencing trauma. He couldn’t leave her alone.
Still light-headed, he reached for the door and opened it. His wristcom buzzed. It was Synergy demanding an immediate accounting. But the situation was beyond their concern. No one cared about Margaux but him, and he barely knew her.
He raced toward the office building.
“Margaux,” he called.
The sky was surprisingly starless for a desert motel. Not a sound came from the unlit rooms. One might conclude the hotel was completely uninhabited.
He heard a sign, or was it moan. He saw Margaux sitting on the ground near a parked vehicle, a hand to her head. Her other hand was resting on the forehead of traveling utility tech, the young man’s tanned arms outstretched.
“Is he alright?” asked Jordan. Drama was hounding them.
As Margaux removed her hand from the man’s face, the man opened his eyes. Observing her, he recoiled, scrambling to his feet before racing off.
“Epileptic?” asked Jordan as he approached his partner.
Margaux was blank-faced, a tear coursing down her cheek.
“You can’t help me,” she said, her eyes closed.
“Of course I can,” he offered, kneeling before her, his hand to hers. It was his habit never to invite outpourings of emotion, but he liked this woman. He didn’t know her but he hoped to change that.
Gazing into his eyes, she scrutinized his face.
“It’s too late for us,” she warned him.
Had he provoked some deep feelings of abandonment in her? Was she afraid of loving someone and then losing them?
“I’m here. You won’t lose me,” he informed her.
“They’re feeding on our thoughts,” she explained.
“What are you talking about?” he asked. Why did the ones he liked have mental issues? He should have felt for her, but all he could feel was disappointment.
“Can’t you feel them inside you? They’ll eat away at us until there’s nothing left.”
“And that guy?” asked Jordan.
“It’s the only way to take the pain away. You can feel it go into someone else.”
“You feel it inside your head?”
“There are so many of them.”
“The chemicals. I’ll get you to a hospital.”
When he reached for her, she lurched away.
“They’re not from here. Don’t you hear them talk to you?”
Jordan could only shake his head. He never would have suspected Margaux could lose her grip on reality so entirely.
“When you hear them, you’ll know. And it’ll be too late.”
Margaux climbed to her feet.
“You should kill me. And that boy. And then yourself. We’ll infect them all.”
“It’ll be alright,” he pleaded, hoping to secure her in the car. Perhaps the sex wouldn’t have been so earth-shattering if she weren’t so unhinged. There was always a price to pay.
“It’s not alright,” she roared. “It’s not. It’s not.”
Margaux raced off. Jordan gave chase, but Margaux was faster, preternaturally so. Still light-headed, he gave up the chase and steadied himself against a wall. He would follow her with the car.
Half a minute later, the motor charged and the vehicle raced out onto the old highway. He could see Margaux several hundred yards down the road, a hand out to hitch a ride from a lumbering truck.
Jordan increased his speed. There was no accounting for what happened to her if she disappeared in a vehicle.
The truck door closed.
Jordan was still a hundred yards away, giving him plenty of space to angle the car across the road. Surprisingly, the truck accelerated. What could she have told the driver about him?
The truck was gaining speed. Jordan had little time to shift gears, putting the car in reverse. But the truck was already on him, smashing the front of his car and sending him spinning off the road.
The truck was already rolling off the road, barreling toward a stunted copse of trees, lurching back with a resounding crack, rear wheels spinning in the air.
Jordan wasted no time leaping from the car and racing to the truck. Margaux was a danger to herself and she needed medical attention. There was no pretending everything was alright.
He stepped close. The driver was bent over the steering wheel, Margaux’s hand on the man’s neck.
“What did you do?” yelled Jordan. Perhaps she was a danger to others as well.
Margaux turned to Jordan, her face still moist with tears.
“You have to kill me,” she pleaded before disappearing outside the other door, the crunch of footfalls receding as she raced off through the dried brush.
Jordan wasn’t going to kill anyone.
The driver opened his eyes as if from sleep, startled to find his vehicle in a ditch.
“What the hell,” exclaimed the driver, his thickset frame ambling down the steps before examining the damage.
Jordan raced off in pursuit of Margaux, leaping over the ditch before clambering over some rocks.
He could feel pressure on the inside of his cranium as if his head were filing with liquid. He could imagine his head exploding.
He fell to his knees, the distant mountains a blur. He was surrounded by a swirl of movement, dark shapes leaping and dropping as sunlight dimmed, shadow claiming his peripheral.
His head felt like a block of cement.
‘We are one,’ said a voice in his head. Synergy had spoken of implant coms for employees, dispensing with add-on devices altogether, but that was still only a frightening possibility. There could be no voice inside his head.
“What?” he asked himself.
‘We are one and we are forever.’
“What is this?” he queried himself.
‘We are together now and always.’
It was a voice inside his head. Had he been experimented upon without ever realizing it? What happened to him in the desert? What had he forgotten?
‘There is nothing to remember,’ answered the voice as if in response to his thoughts. ‘We have the future. Your future. Everyone’s future.’
“Who are you?” he demanded, examining the area as if for a hidden com device.
‘We are you,’ answered the voice.
He couldn’t remember why he was on all fours in the dirt shoulder of a highway. A truck had rolled into a ditch. A man was peering under the hood. Further down the road was a woman waving down a vehicle.
Why couldn’t he remember his own name? Was he suffering form amnesia?
‘You exist,’ said the voice, which sounded like his own. ‘You don’t need memory.’
He didn’t want to forget anything. To lose memory was to lose his identity.
‘There’s nothing to fear. You will be reborn and your mind will be more than it ever was.’
And then he remembered Margaux, not as the woman he didn’t know but as someone he’d always known. She was him and he was her and he knew that she wasn’t running from the world but, rather, embracing it. Only by sharing her mind could she build on it, and with billions of minds, consciousness was a universe of possibility.
If he had a name, he didn’t know what it was. But he no longer cared. He was Margaux and she was him, even as she gazed at him from the passenger seat window of a passing car. Wherever she traveled, they would never be apart.
There were minds to open, a universe of consciousness to claim. And yet, he knew Margaux’s misgivings. There was death in this new life, and the death would come to all living things on the planet. Yet the prison of his brain frightened him. Only by opening another brain could the fullness of thought find expression.
He knew the fullness in his brain would subside if he could share it with others.
He remembered his name. It was Jordan. And there was something in his head that didn’t belong there. It was eating away at him, and what they took he’d never get back.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ said the voice.
“Get out of my head,” he screamed.
‘Don’t think so small. You don’t need your head anymore.’
“I want what I have.”
‘You can have so much more. You can have her.’
It was true. They would never be apart. He was her, in the passenger seat of the car, a hand to someone’s neck, the a new mind surrendered and laid bare, the pressure inside her head easing as thought passed to another brain.
Margaux thought it was something that didn’t belong on this planet, that they were receptacles for a disease that masqueraded as a cure, the elevation of humanity by destroying it.
It was why Margaux wanted to die: to spare everyone else. But it was too late.
‘It is why you were here. We grew your minds until you were ready. And now you’re ready. We want what is ours. But what is ours is yours. We are one.’
“Get out of my head,” he howled. But there was only one solution to the fullness in his brain. He had to find others. Only the thoughts of others would free him.
He ran to the highway. There were no cars on the road but there was a motel with cars in front; and that meant there were people nearby. He needed their thoughts. He couldn’t survive without them.
Humanity was a million year cultivation. There was no voice to tell him this. He understood implicitly. His thought was theirs and theirs was his.
Humanity had served its purpose. He understood that now. But if he had a thought to warning others, it was a fleeting one. What mattered most was sharing the one thought with as many people as possible.
Humanity was an idea. But Jordan no longer cared. He no longer felt human.