A change has come to the world. Nobody knows from where. Nobody knows why.
People find themselves compelled to take certain objects, to lay hands on pieces of the world as it is, and to move them, dis- and re-assembling them.
The objects represent every form created by people across human history. A simple shoe. An empty soda bottle. Or it could be as complex as a piece of the rarest statue from antiquity. Or an item of cutting-edge technology stolen from a secret lab.
The objects are moved to new locations, altered into new shapes, and assembled into new structures that over time are growing monumental, and alien in shape.
The world as we know it is increasingly becoming a skeleton of its former self. And a new 'body' of civilization is forming.
At first the structures the Compelled assemble are skeletal. An odd reflection of the corresponding skeletons of the buildings and places from where the objects were taken. They are not yet finished; they are confusing; they are misshapen. Some people fear them. Many find them mysterious in a forbidding way. Others grow angry and attempt to disrupt the process, tearing down what has been built.
Increasingly, everywhere one looks, familiar buildings are being reduced to their bare parts. Leaning in strange ways. Revealing the architectural and infrastructural arteries of a world we took for granted, a world that reveals itself as also strange and alien.
The Compelled carry, drive, lift, heft, unload, dis-assemble and re-assemble pieces from the world that was. They are building a new world. A pilgrimage is mounting, similar to when the pyramids were constructed in Egypt, the stones dragged from the banks of the Nile.
1. Vida Dominic and Lee Gaines
Growth is always growing its growing. At what point does a tree say: big enough now, I’ll stop? So the whole rolling world becoming inexorably locked in the baobab embrace of this tree’s branches, and our planet is a globed tangle of forest green spinning on its endless path round the sun. But then again, maybe trees are endlessly telling us to cease as the wind pushes through their meshes. Cease, cease, cease. A tree with five trunks. Five pillars of arboreal wisdom.
But she was awake now, she was just, or just about, or just roughly about awake. Rubbing the granulations of sleep the night had accumulated there. Vida thought: coffee; and then she thought: toast; and the thought of picking a knife from the drawer and swiping it through the butter to spread onto the toast brought that familiar feeling back. It started in her gut, low down, and spread along the tree-branches of her veins, the cinder-tracks of her nervous system, until it occupied her wholly. Compulsion, it was called—the global crisis, the everywhere-psychosis, ordinary people from Guam to Geneva, from London to Long Island, compelled to go to such-and-such a place and take up such-and-such a thing and move it to such-and-such and place and put it down again.
Vida wasn’t one of the Compelled. But the phenomenon dominated her life nonetheless, as it did most people’s. She was strangely drawn to the people it affected. Afflicted. Soiled by their commerce with this world. Leaves on a tree they did not plant, shaken by a breath they did not blow. Her boyfriend, now ex-, Manil, used to say: you hang with the weak to make yourself feel strong, but her interactions with the Compelled didn’t incline her to regard them as weak, exactly. In many ways the Compulsion gave them a strength that wasn’t available to ordinary people, a willfulness that over-rode their habits of living, their desires to keep their jobs, sometimes even their self-preservation. Take this. Take it there. Fit it into this.
Vida had ended-up (if anything ended) working as an outreach officer for people caught up in their Compulsions. It wasn’t their fault, after all. And her new ‘work’ wasn’t that different to what she’d been doing before—straight out of college she’d taken an internship at a homeless charity, and from there she’d shifted into prison outreach work and had taken up a low-paid part-time position in a company that sold probation bonds. The company was about making money, because companies are always about making money; but there were good people working there alongside the desk-drivers. The clincher, for management, was that one-on-one interventions by people like Vida made ex-cons less likely to reoffend and forfeit their parole bonds, and so her work helped the margins.
Then the Compulsion had descended on the world, directly affecting some (not all) of the population in every nation. At the beginning Vida was as baffled as anyone. People found themselves arrested in large numbers. People needed help. It was all ends and means, and who knows what means even means with all this shit happening, which is how she ended up working with the Compelled. Nothing ever really ends, though. Isn’t that one of the lessons of Life? Growing up, like a tree, until you’re all grown up? Except that there’s always space above you. Life, the university and every—what? They sometimes lost their temper, the people she was trying to help, and they sometimes snapped at her (what? what?) although just as often they were kind-of confused (what am I doing here?).
What am I human doing? And the assemblage was drawing breath prior to asking: what am I, human being?
Of course, maybe it wasn’t aliens. Who knew. The previous day Vida had woken up with this phrase in her head: light gravity of that grave planet the moon. She didn’t know where it came from, or what it meant. Grave as in serious, or grave as in hole-in-the-ground? Building the temple. She’d taken her coffee outside and stood in the public street in front of her apartment block looking up at the moon, like a slide-projector’s image shone on the screen of the sky, delicate as a circular plug of ice splotched and blotted with dirt and scratches. She stared at it for a long time, but nothing happened. The moon, she told herself, presides over the Compulsion, because the moon means mutability, and the Compelled live change in the most direct and intimate way. But still, nothing happened, and eventually she went back inside and warmed up her coffee in the microwave. Grave planet.
This morning though? Butter knife.
Not the same thing at all.
So Vida stepped out into morning sunlight and got on her bike and cycled into the brightness. Past buildings that were whole, and past other buildings where panels had been ripped away, and windows removed. The Noon Inc tower had been picked back to its steel girders from the fourth floor upwards. House roofs missing tiles.
She climbed the rise and freewheeled down the long, curling downslope on the far side and straight away she could see the flickering spin of a police car light, and the car itself slant on the sidewalk, and the cops out apprehending somebody.
Vida pulled up, balanced her bike against a tree and walked over, phone out. The police were handcuffing a weeping man. Vida stepped closer to get better footage on her phone and one of the cops stepped away from his arrest. ‘Put away the phone, ma’am,’ he said. ‘Put away the camera-phone, ma’am.’
‘I’m within my rights as a citizen,’ Vida said in a strong voice, to make sure it came out clear on the audio. ‘Can you tell me why you’re arresting this individual?’
‘Theft,’ barked the other cop. His close-shaved head looked like something sculpted out of marzipan. Vida, who had experience of these things, noted that he wasn’t wearing his cap. That would make it easier to overturn the arrest. ‘Is he Compelled?’
‘They grabbing me,’ the arrestee wailed.
‘Sir—are you Compelled?’
‘Gotta take this shit down the beach,’ the main wailed. ‘Ain’t for me, lords and ladies, way no way.’
‘Courts will decide,’ said the second cop. The two of them swung the guy round and pressed down on his head in their human pez-dispenser manner, to maneuver him through the aperture of the open car door. ‘I’m most particularly terribly most sensitive to pain,’ wailed the perp as he disappeared inside. Vida kept filming. The bald-headed cop picked up a large tote-bag from the sidewalk and deposited it in the trunk. Vida caught a glimpse of what looked like electronics—computer parts maybe. ‘Give it a rest, lady,’ the cop said. He sounded more tired than pissed.
‘Officer, be aware,’ said Vida, ‘that this footage is automatically uploaded to the Justice For The Compelled website, and that our attorneys will be—’
‘They all claim they’re Compelled,’ grumbled the Cop, ponderously inserting his large body into the driver’s seat, ‘and nine times in every ten they’re just common-garden thieves.’ He pulled the door shut and the car revved, reversed and drove away.