by Benjamin DeHaan
AFTER THE HUNDREDTH prisoner was taken away by the Syn guard, Halden decided he would no longer speculate when his memory was due up.

A cockroach crawled from underneath the barred wall on the opposite side of the cell and raced across the concrete floor, legs dancing to a blur.

Commotion down the hall reminded him that his time was near.

‘You metal-faced fu…’ Voices muffled, and only the sound of dragging feet and solid alloy thumping across concrete could be heard.

He looked at the cockroach rubbing its antennae together, cleaning away the filth of this godforsaken Syn-controlled prison. He thought about how much power the human race had over the Syns and how little they had now. How the human race never had power, only time did. And in time, all things would end, and the shadows and dust would still be playing amongst one another when he was gone.

When the spark of cognitive intelligence flooded the Syn’s silicone minds, he thought, it was then that human hope fizzled and faded like a flame without oxygen.

Memories of the pounding and hammering of war above ground, as he trekked the last standing tunnel system to Noah’s stronghold, were still fresh in his mind and a small tremble lingered inside his bones yet from the aftermath of it all, from trying to escape.

The cockroach hopped on to the bottom of his leather slip-ons and crawled to the middle of the sole. All he had to do was push down with a quick motion and the bugger would have exploded right then under the force of his foot.

But he didn’t want to receive his judgment in front of the fires alone. He didn’t want to be last. And so, with the flick of his toes, he let the insect crawl off towards his half-eaten scone.

If the Jeera were able to decode his memories and decompile his past, where would his fate end up in all this? If he were to stay, what would the Jeera, still on the fringes of our solar system, do with him when they arrive? So many questions and nobody to answer them.

There was a slight hammering and scratching sound coming from the right side of the wall at about waist height. A section of it began to flake and fall to the cell floor.

The poor construction made sense. The Syns had an agreement with the Jeera; transmit the memories and every conscious of every soul on Earth to the Jeera before they arrived. There were too many souls to transmit and not enough time. They were just livestock being put into pens and prevented from running away. And that was sufficient.

A hole opened in the wall and gave birth to a brown wiggling finger. It retracted into its hole like a worm.

‘About time I got through this hunk of mule dung,’ the hole said.

Great, Halden thought, now he had a visitor on the other side of his cell to deal with. He was never a small chit chatter and God damn if he would talk about the weather before he had his mind ripped and traded, and his meat cooked and incinerated.

‘Plug the hole.’

‘Come on, man,’ said the voice. It was grainy and husky and reminded Halden of the old biker gang films his father used to watch.

The hole got bigger and now he could see half a bearded face staring at him. An eyeball was laser latched right on him. The outside of his eye socket had been inked in what looked like the tattoo of a sun giving off rays. This place could use some sunshine, Halden thought.

The man licked scone crumbs out of his beard.

His eyes looked teary.

‘They say I’m next, man. But you know what. I ain’t no bad man. I ain’t going to the furnace like they say. The Jeera, yeah, bottom line, they are going to spare me.’

Halden never understood why people talked about their near futures as if assuring it would be the only path in front of them, the only option. He believed in controlling fate yes, but to assume you knew exactly where the road would lead seemed preposterous.

‘You sure of that? That sparing part?’


‘You really think you know what an advanced species from across the stars is going to do?’


The cockroach ran across the floor with a big crumb in its mouth and disappeared down the hall.

‘Man, you really know how to throw shit upriver.’

‘You can plug up that hole anytime now. Actually, plug both if you can.’

‘You ain’t a very nice guy.’

‘I’m tired and you talk a lot.’

‘I’m Yalar, and you look like you could use a friend. You look in the mirror recently? You look worse than the scone I shit in my pale this morning. Believe me, no one wants to be friends with a shat-out scone.’

Halden thought about picking up his sandal and throwing it at Yalar’s ugly mouth of yellow nubs, but another worm, a white one, wriggled out from the hole and dangled down. Looking closer he could see it was a joint.

‘Come on, man, tell me a story.’

Halden would rather have eaten his scone.

‘I know you got a story in you.’

‘And how do you know that?’

‘The quality of the meat in the transporters, Halden. And the quality of the meat in our little shithole waiting sector here. I thought maybe they were going to divide us up somehow. Maybe by job type, gender, hair colour, shit, who knows? Sexual preference? But it was clear to me riding the elevator down here with the others that they are putting evil humans into one camp and non-evils into the other. Mark my words, Halden. In your little crumby wall over there if you can. Mark it “We are the evil ones”.’

The white worm wiggled back and forth from Yalar’s hole. It was perfectly wrapped, paper tight, and the body was fat. He imagined the innards of that worm smoking into his lungs and how the chance to settle his nerves might never come again.

‘Come on. I need to kill this boredom. And I know you could use a hit, and I could use a story.’

Halden wondered how he got that lump of grass past the Syns but the lingering question of how in the world he was going to light that joint overwrote the former inquiry.

Yalar took the plump grub of grass back into the hole and Halden bent over so he could get a better view into his cell.

‘You see, Halden, the Syns thought they could drain me, by taking my bio-BAT, but,’ he brought his foot up so that it was in view. His toes were wriggling. ‘I got me an org-GEN with detect protect for backup power.’

A bio power generator. That was nice, Halden thought. But that wasn’t going to get them high.

‘Wait for it, Halden. Wait for it.’

Yalar brought the joint up in front of his face. He twirled it so that it was right in front of his left eye. He looked like a kid that was just given a gun. Blocky jaw and insidious grin.

But then his complexion sharpened into a state of awkward seriousness.

His eye looked completely normal. Yalar gritted his teeth so hard that Halden thought at some point his enamel would crack down to the nerve roots of his gums.

And then like magic, the end of the joint began to smoke.

Yalar looked at Halden with an expression that almost induced the sickening of his guts.

‘You can have it all. But before I go here. Before these tin-can assholes take me to their brain rip station, I want you to tell me a story. No story, no high.’ Yalar shakes his head and smiles. ‘That’s one hell of a way to go. Sober that is. Sober must suck in the end. I know you need this, Halden. Don’t let back.’

Halden went over his options, but in the end, he also thought what the hell. He was going to be most likely roasted in the end.

‘Okay, Yalar. Maybe you can get something out of me.’

His head nodded slower than the up and down sway of a container ship on port tide.

Halden ignored the smile. He was always smiling as if that would somehow get the information out of him faster. But finally, Halden gave in. ’Cause Halden was going to give Yalar a story for a high. A trade.

‘Great. I knew you would finally come to the agreement of grass and smoke.’

A dilemma. He didn’t want to tell everything but wanted to tell everything. He wasn’t going to be here much longer anyway, so he decided that he would tell as much as Yalar desired.

‘Okay,’ Halden said. ‘You got me.’

Yalar kept bobbing his head. He didn’t stop bobbing it until Halden spoke again.

‘I’ll tell it now. But I want the whole grub when I’m done.’

‘Minus a hit.’



The cells went silent. Even the footsteps of the Syn and screams of the humans taken to their place of judgement couldn’t be heard anymore.

Halden wondered about the judgement. But it must have been a grey haze. He wanted to go over his history but then, he thought, he would just be repeating himself, because in order to get that grub from Yalar he had to release enough information to make him happy. Halden wasn’t going to repeat himself. Especially now that his life was over.

‘Tell it. Just tell it, oh boy.’



‘I’ll tell it.’

‘Go ahead then.’

The words took time to reach his tongue but then his story began.

‘Fires and flame were how my nightmare started. The Syns were burning the world. They still are burning the world and always will be so as long as humans plague the soil and earth. Tunnels were how I got here. I don’t mean that I made it here via some tunnel, I’m saying the it was when I tried making it to the Stronghold in Noah, I was captured and the Syns located me here—next to you. Then they divided us like you say. But I don’t believe that they separated by the status of evil and good.’ Halden looked carefully at Yalar. He was grinning again and it was hard to control the urge of ripping off his face. ‘You are clearly evil. I am clearly good. We were put together by chance.’

By the time Halden looked over into the cell of Yalar, he noticed that his cellmate had already hit the joint at least two times since he started talking. The worm was now half gone. Yalar put out the orange ember on his tongue.

‘Now that costed you. One hell of a lot of good grass from Jamirala. And damn does it get hot down there below the Caribbean on those ocean growth fields. Oh damn. I feel like I’m swimming to the moon right now.’

Halden wanted to tell him to just plug the hole up and let him get a last sleep.

Maybe it wasn’t worth telling this jerkoff his story after all. He wasn’t sure how much he had to reveal in order to get his share so there was a slight risk on the table as well.

Another pair came thumping and screaming down the hallway. The Syn’s eyes glowed at Halden as its thighs hammered the concrete and tremored the floor all the way to his crotch.

That look on the metal lord’s face brought back a fury of memories.

But boredom persisted, and the urge for a drag ensued.

He went on with the story.

‘I’m sorry about that last one. If you’ll allow me to continue…’

Yellow nubs, grin, a half toked blunt all seemed to be right there in front of Halden at the same time. The cockroach was back, except it crawled passed Halden’s cell and now was on the far wall in Yalar’s.

‘There was a doctor in the tunnels. He was a smart and had to have had some relationship with the government because he knew things...’

‘Like what?’

‘The memRIP.’

‘The rippa what?’

‘The m… e… m… rip. He taught me a bunch of things. But damn If I could remember it all. He talked about how when the Syns take us in, they hook us up to their interface and inject places, people, dates, activities, smells, photos, and image data into our conscious in order to trigger memories. Neurons are activated and recorded by this. In other words, neurotransmitters are sent to receptors located in the plasma membrane of a cell. During this memory recalling process, the patient’s neurotransmitter diffusion between the pre-synaptic, sending cell neuron and the post-synaptic, receiving cell neuron are analysed and matched with nerve impulse data already in the Syn’s human neural network servers. Hidden memories are recorded and then… well that is enough for now.’

‘Yeah, any more and I’m going to have a brain aneurism. You just spat enough jargon to graduate someone from college. What the hell happened with the doctor anyway?’

A lump grew in Halden’s throat.

‘We scavenged together. I used to be an amber miner so I knew the soil well. Where to find certain roots and what not. He became attached to me…’

Yalar laughed. ‘’Cause you found food for the poor shmuck.’

‘I gave him some food but another traveller stole it from him. There was a quarrel and he ended up killing a child. I don’t know where he got the gun, but one day he pointed it at me and told me I was to be his dog.’

Yalar howled like a wolf.

‘Over a week or so he ended up killing another two and injuring four on the basis that they had scavenged too much and didn’t save any roots, mushrooms and algae growth for the other ones that would inevitably pass through the same tunnel routes as them. I had to end it all, and one day while he was asleep, I took his gun…’

‘Hope you shot him.’

‘I hid the gun.’

Yalar scoffed.

‘And then one morning he pulled me against the wall as groves of people passed by. He said, ‘You cost me a lot of food.’ He then pulled a sharpened metal rod from his sleeve. The needle point flew past my left eye. Not but a millimetre to the left, and my eyeball would have been speared. I grabbed his hand that was clenched tight on the rod. We struggled and then slammed to the ground. Nobody stopped, totally oblivious to our quarrel. Shit-giving, of course, is last priority in an ending world. I looked up at the doctor and the rod was sticking out of his neck and blood pooled behind his head.’

‘Ok, so you killed the doctor. And that is why you are here with me, you little devil you. You know what this means, right?’

Of course, he was going to say that it meant that Halden would be sent to flame for his sins. But it wasn’t a sin, it was not it his fault.

‘It was an accident and surely when the Syn take my memories they will find that I am innocent.’

‘Quite sure of yourself there.’

‘I control my own fate.’

Yalar roared out an eardrum-damaging laugh and the cockroach scurried out of the beast’s den.

‘Good one, Halden. Control your own fate. Ha…fucking…ha. We humans have about as much control of our fate as a Berkshire hog hanging for slaughter.’

‘They are going to know, Yalar. Once they see inside my head it will all be clear, and I will be cleared of the furnace. Have faith. God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth.’

‘Oh, you a religious man? I can spit a line myself. For our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:29.’

The room became silent. Halden didn’t know what to say. He would have rather had the company of the roach than that of the vulgar eye-tattooed bull in the other cell. His father had said that everyone controls where they go and where they end up. He told him he could get out of the mines if he put his mind to it.

Halden had did just that. The mines didn’t keep him for long and he found his place in education, helping kids with psychological issues and getting them out of bad families. The negative air that Yalar created with his mouth was starting to grow stale and it was time to move on to the end of his story.

A Syn guard pushed a cussing naked man down the hallway. Facial expression was non-existent on the Syn’s face but Halden knew that the silicon mind inside held a forever evolving complex highway. Inside was a highway that was built to their very freedom.

Yalar stared at the Syn guard like a starving wolf and licked the corner of his mouth. His nose twitched. ‘Any of those tin assholes on your travels?’ Yalar asked.

Atmospheric sourness persisted.

‘I was just going to get to the final part of my story which indeed involves a group of Syns.’

‘Hurry on now. It ain’t gettin’ any quieter. Nor you any higher.’

‘After the doctor’s burial, maybe a week after, I met a trio of Syns that were walking in the opposite direction of the human herds that were flocking to Noah’s Stronghold. The way the Syn’s had walked, heads down and arms swinging slow like the pendulum of an old grandfather’s clock, conveyed to me clearly, they were not hostile and had very little interest in any human affairs. Despite this, people started to throw rocks at them and call them horrible names. I couldn’t stand to watch. I always had believed that we could someday override their protocol and live in harmony. I believed that there was always hope to build a better world.’

Yalar’s pants grumbled. ‘Extra methane. Now that’s a better world.’

Halden cleared his throat and pretended not to hear the disgusting man in the other cell. He continued, ‘And I helped them. I told them to follow me. Maybe they could see it in my eyes to trust me. One was caught by a netter but the other two followed me. I knew the earth better than anyone and I ran with them back deep in the tunnels through a route that would eventually lead to the surface but there was a soft spot in the ground and we fell through. After fifteen meters of air-time we fell into an underground river that eventually that lead us to yet another complex tunnel system. But there was no one. We became close and before they let me go, they told me everything. How they didn’t agree with the rise of the Syns and dominion over humans, how the trade with the Jeera won’t help what they need to do.’

‘What trade? Syn and Jeera trade?’

‘It’s a swap they had said. The Syns will give the Jeera human memories in exchange for their FTL technology. The Syns want to go to the stars. There is nothing left on this planet for them to learn. They must leave this rock. It’s the only way for their civilization to advance.’

‘Jesus Christ, and what do the fucking Jeera want with our memories?’

‘The runaway Syns were gone by the time I had even thought to ask, but speculation among the other human herders was something to the effect of what you said.’

‘Evil-ones and non-evil ones. I’ll be God damn. I guess I ain’t the dumbest druggie ex-biker gang white trash I thought I was.’

‘The Jeera, will be our new masters,’ Halden said. ‘We are to be consumed by fire or not, after that, we haven’t the slightest how our fates will align in the greater cosmos of things.’

Halden wondered how his new mate here would be aligned and how God would set him on the tracks that lead to afterlife. Surely this man has done evil. As a psychologist he has learned to be able to smell and taste evil. Once you get its aroma you never forget.

‘And in the end,’ Halden said. ‘When I went back to join the herd the tunnels were raided. Hundreds of Syns came and took us away. The ones that resisted had their legs and arms pinned and clamped and were dragged off. Exhaustion over took me and I simply fell forward into metal arms that whisked me away. But how do you see yourself in the end, Yalar? Is there another chapter after this? Or does it end here?’

‘Killed a family,’ Yalar said. ‘The gods will spare me though. The court gave me a pass as I had mental issues. My lawyer pushed it to hell highwater to get the case dismissed. Besides, the Jeera are going to need a human man with a pair like me if they are going to dominate the twenty billion sissified rats that roam this snot ball.’

‘Very well then.’

‘Very well.’

A white worm with a glowing ember dropped next to Halden’s right thigh. It was time to take the edge off of a long day. Halden took it in all the way to his fingertips and tossed the remaining brown twisted paper on the floor. The smoke came out of his mouth in one giant billow that escaped the confines of the cell and dissipated in the corridor.

Footsteps sounded.

The Syn guard opened Yalar’s cell and pointed down the hall. ‘Go.’

Yalar looked at Halden. His face twitched. A chink in his armour, perhaps.

‘Looks like it’s time. Tinny is here.’

His face was the colour of wet ash.

And Yalar left with the Syn down the hall.

Halden’s Syn came next and he got up and made his way to the barred door. Surprisingly, he still had motor skills to move his legs but felt slightly off not sure if it was the grass or anxiety sending tremors up his thighs.

From there it happened so fast.

Yalar and his Syn were walking ahead of them.

The hallway illumination dimmed and they were slowly enveloped in darkness. Next, it was Halden and his Syn. Just the cold grip on his shoulder was guiding him now.

The Syn’s voice was like ice.

‘You are wanted for not the goodness in your heart.’

The air became cool and cold air blew on the back of Halden’s neck. His guard stopped him with a sharp pull.

The sensation of a hundred stabbing needles.

A whirring sound followed by static crackle and burnt hair smell.

White flashing across the vision.

The Syn pushed him onwards.

It was still pitch black.

It continued with its unwelcoming monotone voice. ‘Analysis within suggests that you are shrouded in darkness.’

Halden wanted to fall to his knees.

It was all over. It was just like Yalar had predicted. The evil ones were to be sacrificed in the fires as uselessness to the prosperity of the Jeera.

‘Further analysis will be required. You will live to see the Jeera.’

You will live, Halden, you will live! No fire, no flames!

Through the darkness, on the horizon, flashes of gold, white, and red licked the air—he could have sworn he heard his name— but still the illumination wasn’t enough to make out the surroundings. Without the Syn’s guidance he would have been merely walking in an empty vacuum of space.

He wanted to cry. He was crying.

‘The Jeera will take apart your mind and analyse the festering darkness that resides there. They will learn what makes you what you are—an evil spirit on a dying planet—and meld that fearsome soul into their culture. They are a species with the sole purpose of dominion over inferior forlorn creatures. The meaning of their lives is your lives. Patient CY4392, taste your last thoughts and remember that it was you and only you that never had control. Give yourself to the Jeera and feed their craving minds with the black of your heart. A sacrifice for the betterment of a galactic civilization. Fate, now, come.’


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