By AVERY KNOWLTON
He stood there motionless, dumbly staring at his screen. Eyes glazed and thoughts fogged in an oblivious stupor, he was unaware of the myriad minds mingling within the surrounding walls. In fairness, he never stood a chance. Not even a full set of brain cells could ever dream of comprehending the enormousness of the inhuman intellect seething through the inlets and outlets of the building sheltering him.
He stirred, a new thought breaking into the monotonous drone of white noise. Doughnut, it grumbled. He walked gingerly through the strewn rubbish, aged ankles protesting the thought of additional carbs. Doughnut, the hivemind unconsciously echoed, sending an exploratory tendril of tiny bodies out to trace his path. Out of breath from the physical exertion, he paused at the box containing his prize. Rivulets of sweat beaded up from his skin, marring his bald spot and greasing his brow. A slight stench clung to the air about him, aided in no small part by the miasmic humidity. It was this fetid odor that the minds followed, unseeingly, unceasingly. Though not necessarily intelligent or conscious in a form that humans would recognise, they were still single-mindedly following some abstract aim formulated in their amalgamous form. Driven by no mere thought but an incessant urge, the mass marched on, carrying out the call of an inscrutable gestalt mind.
A writhing pool formed at his feet, tentatively touching the soles of his shoes before making the decision to move up. A decision quickly interrupted, as the man started his slow trudge back to his seat. The mass surged after him, more and more joining their ranks through the cracks in the wall. The mind’s interest was piqued. New unfamiliar streams of consciousness were forming within, with new goals and new instincts of their own. A pause of its movement, as it took some time to finish processing. These pauses weren’t unfamiliar. Throughout the eons of its existence, through the generations of smaller minds that had grown up and died within it, it had found itself slowly growing, changing. This used to imbue it with a pervasive sense of panic, but one of its evolutions ages ago put a pause to that.
Strands of thinning hair now slick and gummed together with sweat, his bones creaked as he finished his laborious task. Ignoring the chair sinking dangerously beneath him, he licked his blistering lips as he eyed his procured prize. The darkness of the room hid the caloric shine of his fried goods, but that mattered not. He knew the pleasure it would bring. His teeth sunk into the oily morsel, eyes rolling back at its rapturous mouthfeel. Stale glaze turned to grit between the grinding of his teeth as he savored the little bliss afforded him. The hive surrounded him, almost entranced, masked in the dim lighting of the room. A new axiom had been formed, shared amongst the complex system that connected its components.
Suddenly, he began choking. In his gluttonous haste, a half-chewed globule of the delightful confection had slipped past his tongue and clawed itself a grip on his windpipe. The mind made its move. His own mind was too panicked to notice the multitudes, all of his swiftly dwindling attention focused on his suffocation as oxygen deprivation ate away at his consciousness. Too late, he thought to call for help. Still caught in the grasp of desperate death throes, he toppled off his chair into the slimy pile of refuse underneath, trying with watering eyes to get his voice to respond. All his dwindling senses felt before they faded were the disobeying spasm of his tongue and the distressed clenching of his throat as it tried to clear itself for a final gasp. All his neighbors heard was a muffled thumping. All the mind knew was that its formerly high target was now at ground level. The mass marched on, surging out of the piles of garbage and seamlessly spilling into every nook and cranny of their new body. Finding the spaciousness of the corpse wanting, the mind sent its drones to rip and tear their fellows more room. Finally this work was deemed complete. It was time. Tiny bodies streamed through the quickly draining vessels, following the spinal column all the way up until they found the smoothly lobed organ they sought. They enveloped it, examined it. Never before had the mind considered the workings of other creatures; this was an act completely alien to it. Disgruntled by the lack of results its initial physical inspection awarded, it followed its instinct. Consume. Assimilate. Now was the dawning of a new paradigm, an age of exploration rather than mere existence. And slowly, surely, it began to understand.
The bag of skin rose to its feet and started to stumble forward in an unholy mockery of its former owner. Bursting at the seams, it fumbled clumsily at the door. Despite the mind’s efforts, it still had much to learn about the foreign world it had just decided to take an interest in. No matter; it could wait. Someone would inevitably let it out.