h.e.l. // epilogue

My name is Limper, or at least, that’s what the rest of the transhumans call me. Maybe I should say that’s what the rest of my kind calls me.

I remember lying down, and feeling so goddamn peaceful about everything when the transhumans loomed over me. I remember finally anticipating what my newfound contentment would feel like.
At first, it was painful as hell. I felt poking frigid fingers everywhere. They drove wires and microscopic rods into my arms, through my fingernails, separating the nail from the bed with a sickening wet sound. One of them shoved a piece of rubber in my mouth to keep me from swallowing my own tongue. Jesus, I screamed like a banshee. I think I lost consciousness when they started to slit my legs open to clean away the rotting tissue and to force my bones straight. The stuck some electronic metal in there, too, I think. There was goopy, rank, and yellow-red pus splotching on the floor as they squished and squelched around in my body.

They cracked my sternum and wrenched my chest open. My eyes remained open and I just gazed up at the ceiling, eyes glossy. They replaced my heart with something mechanical and stored most of my organs in pans, ready for donation, most likely to some bastard eating too much butter. It was really quite poignant, if you thought about it. But not more poignant than I realized when I woke up in the cave.

I awoke to a familiar dark ambiance, and to familiar high, uneven, stalactites. My body had sunk into a very comfortable wool cover on the cot that I had once slept in. And around me, the transhumans. I squinted closer at each of their faces. These were all faces I knew, once.

My brother. My friends. My kids. My uncle. My aunt. My grandmother. One of my high school classmates. I knew these faces. The transhumans—they never wasted anything. They killed humans, and recycled them into something greater.
All my friends and I had joined something better than humanity. We joined the human extinction league.

mercury magic

take a picture of your food,
Instagram that shit,
whatever it is the kids do,
the next iPhone is coming out soon,
chuck the old one out the window,
palm trees, convertible,
blasé as the suicide nets lining Foxconn,
the slaving hands that assembled
your incessantly irritating machine,
throw it out onto the pile
of mercury magic, kids,
into the venom whirlpool,
where arsenic, lead, cadmium
paint the waters.

the kids need another goddamn phone,
don’t recycle your old one,
just toss it on the fatass 3.4 million ton mountain,
and drive through Beverly Hills.

h.e.l. // metamorphosis

Why did you come back to the hospital?
No answer. He lowers his head and doesn’t keep eye contact with us. He is not afraid; just anxious.
You ran from the hospital and now you’ve come back. Why?
“I don’t know,” says Limper. He stiffly moves his upper body, careful not to move his legs.
What happened to your legs? They’re rotting from the inside. You were nearly healed by the time you had run away.
Still no clear answers. One of us grabs ahold of his right kneecap and wrenches his leg out of his socket. Limper shrieks out like a dying pig. “Goddamn it!”
Why did you come back?
He blinks to squeeze out two tears and spit sprays from his tongue as he snarls at us. “Because I’m not a goddamn idiot. I know you were going to kill me. It was what you had planned the entire time.”
We glanced at one another and then back to him. He wasn’t wrong. Yes, we were going to kill you. Humans always talk. Humanity is not ready to fathom the existence of transhumans.
“I would’ve kept your secret. I could’ve lived the rest of my life in that cave,” says Limper, swiping his arm across his crumbed and stained beard.
We have to tighten every muscle in our bodies to stifle a chuckle. We’ve heard it all. Humans all think in some kind of collective mindset. They aren’t loyal or trustworthy to anyone. Or anything. Unless it reeks and it’s green, don’t you know?
Limper clenches his jaw and brushes a clump of hair from the back of his neck. “I came back because it was the only place I could go. The hospital is better than any place in this world.”
It was the best place you could go? The surgeons are murdering patients for their organs—this is the best place?
“It’s the best place, trust me.” He moves the sheets from beneath him and we wince at the overpowering smell of pus radiating from his legs. “The city isn’t safe. The air isn’t clean. People are hacked to pieces in alleyways for their money. The food is disgusting.”
The hospital isn’t going to be any better, either. You’re going to die here and go to waste.
“Oh, believe me, the hospital is as good as it gets. They got pills and shit. It’ll be less of a mess when I do myself in.”
What a waste. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us, though. We know humans are incredibly wasteful.
He continues, “You see, I came back to tell someone about—the cave— but when the doctors called the psych ward I knew there was no point. The human era is over.”
Indeed it is. We can’t help but scrutinize his legs, wondering how to clean them up. He catches our line of sight, as if he suddenly realizes all the questions we are asking him.
“Yeah, I broke my legs so I could be admitted to the hospital for a longer time. I had friends who bit themselves, broke their ribs, swallowed bleach, burnt themselves, you know, the whole nine yards,” says Limper.
Well. You’re not walking out of here alive, you’re aware?
He sighs, lies down, and laces his knobby, hairy hands together. “I know.”
He would die, yes, as a human.

h.e.l. // city animals

Limper is a smart little human monkey. But we know he’s no übermensch. He is not on our level, yet. Luckily, we have infiltrated the majority of his city and we have received messages that he has returned to the hospital for some reason. He has checked into the urgent care department.

We figure he somehow found a way to contact someone in the city to arrange a search-and-rescue and one of our own may have caught him in the act. So, like a savage, he must’ve used brute strength to tear the limbs off and to crush its chest. We would have to repair it later. For now, we hurdle towards the city, in a frenzy, hoping he hasn’t told anyone of our existence. He won’t get far, though.

City. Oil stains, darken the sidewalks. Cigarette butts pile up in corners. Stickers, papers, and whatnot plaster the ground. Thick, rank air. The smell of garbage permeates. At least there are more electric cars parked on each side of road this time around. Most of the city is homogenous: there are lights dotting each street, flickering sometimes, mindless nightlife. There are solar panels scattered on almost every roof. Cars zoom to and fro, with human passengers giggling and horse-playing in the backseat. The car seems to creak with every bump and crack in the road as its rotund passengers heave up and down. There’s hardly anyone walking around nowadays. We don’t pay too much attention to this.

We scurry our way through those city bridges, with the stink of the river oozing up. It’s utterly diluted with shit and oil and trash. We would take care of that, later.  Fast food restaurants and dispensaries litter every street front and corner. Instant meals, everywhere. Candy bars boasting essential nutrients and calories for the day. Sodas and sugary juices. There’s also a water fountain, here and there, rusted and brown. There are TVs everywhere, providing a harsh luminescence to the streets. It’s all reality television and porn.

The hospital isn’t hard to locate. It is glossy, pristine, white, bright, and has a plastic sheen. The inside is marked with green tile, machines, IVs, touchscreen doctors, and whatnot. Worried relatives and friends rock back and forth in the lobby, next to the emergency room and urgent care areas. Nobody looks up as we slip past the reception desk without making eye contact to the computer, which is expecting us to sign in with a fingerprint. Slithering past the keycard security doors to the urgent care department is not difficult; the door simply cannot read what we are made of and clicks open. We change into the standard grey scrubs to embed ourselves in the background.

Limper was not lying. What we saw was a travesty to humankind; for any kind, really. Patients lie in hospital beds, swiping and tapping at tablet computers, and diagnosing themselves with inane questions: “How do you feel?”, “Which part of your body hurts? Circle.”, “Do you have a fever?”, “Are you suicidal? If so, please donate organs and limbs.”, “Are you bleeding? Attempt to pressure wounded area.”.

There are a few patients talking to human doctors. There is one signing papers for surgery and organ donations, knuckles white, as if there is some kind of silent blackmail agreement between her and the surgeon. The anesthesiologist keeps squeezing the gas mask, nails ticking densely. Sharp-sounding mutters perforate the air. A surgeon signs the patient’s form and hauls her away into the operating rooms. She howls like a banshee. We figure the surgeon must’ve forced her to agree to a standard viable organ and limb donation. It isn’t too surprising, with all the diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It surely would control the population a little. Other patients look on, and pull their curtains shut. She would be an empty hull soon. A disembodied torso.

Just then, we hear the clatter of metal utensils and a man shouting and growling out obscenities back through the hallway to the operating rooms and prep rooms.

“Please, wait. Wait! Don’t put me under, yet. You have to listen to me, Doctor Hou.”

There he is, sitting up in a gurney in a prep room, in a hospital gown. His legs are contorted in grotesque directions. Limper latches his fingers into Dr. Hou’s arm, voice close to tears.

“Please, lie down and relax. We need to operate on your legs. They’ve developed gangrene tissue,” says Dr. Hou, unfazed and cold. He wraps his hand around Limper’s wrist and sets it down and motions for the anesthesiologist. He catches sight of us, standing in the corner of the preparation room. “About time you got here. Psych department is so damned slow, Christ.”

Limper hasn’t noticed us in the room until now. He recognizes us instantly and begins to weep quietly. He doesn’t bother shrieking. We cart him into another room, switch on the sickly light, and lock the door. He has much to explain.

trap queen

there’s a 55-gallon steel drum out back,
not for music, no.
trap queen flips the fries, ice cold Cherry Cola,
haul off what builds up in the grease trap,
wave good-bye to mister manager.

in her travelling lab,
toss it with hydrochloric acid,
convert free fatty acids to esters.

sometimes she gets her hands on glycerin,
turn up the heat, 400 F,
walk away with biodiesel.

trap queen knows not waste.

971604, proletariat, conversation 2

Artwork by Alex Kinney

[digs into a glazed piece of salmon]
The last time I had salmon like this was when I was ten or so. That was a long time ago. You know how old I am.
Yes. I’ve had fresh fish here and there, but mostly I have only had protein powders flavored like fish. This tastes much better than the stuff I’ve had.
Yeah, relish it, sweetheart. You won’t have any fish for a long, long time. Good thing it comes outta your boss’s budget. This shit is expensive.
[a few moments. Food is cleared off the table. Takes a mint from breast pocket.]
Where were we? Cannibalism?
Yes, the cannibalism.
Well, as you know, the meat industry was a complete disaster for the planet. Even the organic farming industries, you know. That whole movement became some kind of trend for the upper middle class. There was no actual proof as to if it was more carbon efficient. Sometimes it was just as bad, and it used more land than conventional farming. . .
[trails off for a moment, in old lady fashion.]
The farming was offsetting the climate, no?
Yeah, like I said. There were more extreme weather patterns than ever before and every day was hotter than the next. There were more hurricanes and extreme storms. The carbon impact of the meat industry became so severe and soon enough all the chicken, pork, beef, whatever, all that became a luxury. It became expensive because of its processing.
Yes, it’s on special occasions that we get to eat that stuff.
Exactly. So, rather than let human meat go to waste, we take the offal, or put car crash victims out of their misery, and we cut them into nice little pieces. And then you buy ‘em from the grocery store and you make a nice sautéed dish with garlic. It’s affordable for the lower zoo. Myself included.
So, our normal meat sources became too expensive and we turned to human meat instead?
Precisely, yes. We were just pumping the dead ones full of formaldehyde and other shit, and burying them. It was terrible for the environment. All kinds of nutrient depletion in the soil and all. There was really no need for all those chemicals, you know.
What do you mean?
[chomps down on mint aggressively.]
Jesus, sweetheart. Human burial should be left at that. All the chemicals are such a waste. Bodies should be free to decompose and maggots should be free to burrow into the entrails and cycle through the ecosystem, you know? Maybe we could make something of all the waste.
Perhaps cremation is better?
[coughs and gathers belongings]
No, not necessarily. Cremation still uses fuel. And it’s not exactly environmentally friendly.
Well, then, how do you suggest we dispose of the bodies if they are not eligible or if they are not used for our diet?
Between you and me, I have a neighbor who froze his grandma and dipped her in liquid nitrogen. And then he flung her against the wall and she shattered.
She shattered?
She shattered. His grandma literally shattered into a million bits. All over the sidewalk. In the grass. In the bushes. Speaking of which, really started to flourish after that.
That’s interesting.
[cracks knuckles and shifts restlessly]
I think it’s a better alternative to traditional burial. I mean, the old lady had one of those medical devices inside of her, so maybe we could filter that stuff out. What’s left over is compost for your precious kale and quinoa.
[silence]
I suppose it’s cost effective.
Oh, it is more than cost effective, darling. People spend too much money on burial. If you must have a coffin, make one out of cardboard. It’s biodegradable that way. But I have to say, liquid nitrogen is a shit show. It ain’t cost effective in that way.
What about people with certain spiritual beliefs?
[stands up]
Everyone can do whatever they goddamn want. If there’s no reason to waste, then we shouldn’t. Just look at where we are now.
[shakes interviewer’s hand]
This has been a great talk, really. I must get back to the butcher shop. They have a big crisis with some kind of airborne virus. Some kind of plague. Maybe it’s the end of the human reign.

971604, proletariat, conversation 1

Artwork by Alex Kinney.

State your name, please.
Forget about names, sweetheart. It’s not like it matters anymore.
[one breath of laughter]
I’m one of those lucre club millennials. At least, that’s what the Wikipedia hologram page says.
What can you tell us about your experience with how the world has changed, 1604?
It hasn’t changed much. It just…continued its devolution. I knew we’d keep spiraling until we were in this state of something out of a horror movie. But who am I to talk, right? I was just as complicit as everyone else. We were all so greedy.
[reaches across the table, takes two cheap plastic bottles of rum and stuffs them into coat. Opens another one and takes a swig.]
When I was twenty, the president decided to abandon those climate change initiatives, you know? You’re too young to know. Well, in any case, that’s what we did.
What became of it? What did you do?
Things didn’t change for a while. Things went on. I didn’t give a rat’s ass at the time, either. I was a fresh-faced piranha looking for a career in real estate. I just wanted to make a killing and live luxuriously.
Yes, the drive for avarice never changes, does it?
No, no it doesn’t.
[chuckles]
Years passed by. Obesity was still shooting through the roofs. At least pot was legalized in most states. And gas prices were insane, sweetheart, let me tell you. People started working from their homes, and online. Jobs were getting automated. It was a nightmare. Still is.
Yeah, I read somewhere that people used to spend hours in traffic driving themselves around!
Oh, yeah. You won’t see a driver anywhere these days.
What do you do for a living? Is your job about to be automated?
Darling, I hack human limbs and torsos up for a living. Of course, I’m due to be automated soon.
[groans purposefully]
But there’s an art to disarticulating the human body. How will machines read the infinite variety of bodies? There’s lanky ones, pimpled ones, big ones, bony ones, squishy ones. How will they be able to slice the best slabs of meat without hitting the viscera? How will they know without truly seeing and understanding a human body and having a body of their own? There’s an art to it, darling. There really is.
When did the mass production of human meat begin?
[cackles]
Oh, sweetheart, you mean to ask ‘when did cannibalism become mainstream?’
[relishes alcohol and pauses for a moment]
Well, you know there was an exponential growth in human population and the food resources just simply couldn’t keep up with its leisurely arithmetic pace. Malthus was right. The meat industry for poultry, fish and seafood, beef, pork, you name it, was at its apex. But it just couldn’t keep up with our growing appetites and demands. We had to turn to any meat source we could find. We laughed at all the clean, ethical eaters. We laughed at the vegans but God, if I could go back and change things, I would. They knew that the meat industry was destroying the environment.
How was it changing?
God, you’re young. Well, when I was a kid, there were four seasons. Four very distinct seasons. There was winter. That was very cold, and there was snow. There was summer. And then the environment and climate had to adapt to fossil fuel productions and everything was warmer than it had ever been. There were more extreme weather patterns. More hurricanes and floods. It was devastating.
So how did cannibalism come about?
Tell you what. Get me the biggest fish you can find and I’ll tell you the rest of my story.