This is an excerpt from The Island Will Sink, by Briohny Doyle.
INT. BOARDROOM. WIDE SHOT. DAY
Twelve men sit around a large table. They wear immersive cinema headsets. Their lips are pursed, expectant. Max circles the room, regarding his audience.
You’re straining to hear my voice. Why does it seem so soft to you, when I am speaking at 140 decibels? The answer: a trick of the mind. Like many of the techniques employed in my films, this immersion is designed to set the conditions for a complete surrender to experience. Despite that, I encourage you to keep trying to listen to me actively, because it is my voice that engages the one part of your mind that is keeping you in control. The part that can differentiate reality from the cinematic environment. If you are successful in keeping that part alert then you will be able to experience the inner workings of the simulative model, discerning between the devices and their effects. This kind of split attention does not come easily – it requires discipline. If you feel that you are slipping and can’t maintain focus, then by all means let go, surrender. There is no failure at this task. There is only experience. Those forms you can’t recognise are millions of layers of stroboscopic light particles, dynamically assembling and reassembling, creating patterns, changing at a rate you can’t consciously register. These patterns are engineered to draw the user into a state of altered consciousness, similar to a trance state. This technology has come a long way since the first experiments. It’s more sophisticated now – but then, so are our minds. They are capable of processing the meaning of over a billion images per minute. Do you see them now, rising out of the snow? They are unambiguous. A triangle. A cube. But they are incomplete. It’s a mental exercise. Your mind fills in the blanks. The images can be processed as symbols of your own experiences. You complete them. You create the association. Now you’re experiencing gamma waves at a frequency of around sixty exahertz. It won’t last long. Relax. If you feel confused, just remember: there is no certainty other than that the island will sink. There is no certainty other than that the island will sink. Do you understand that? You have been woken from a dream, suddenly. Your mind is clear for the first time in your life. All your worry, stress, fear and guilt are forgotten in an instant. There is no certainty except that the island will sink. This is your fate. Listen. One hundred villagers stop to collect fish from the drained ocean bed. The villagers dance on the damp ground, gathering flapping fish in their arms. The wave is approaching, though they cannot see it yet. The island will sink. The landmass will plummet through the foaming water, pieces of coastline breaking apart and spiralling down, down, as far as the ocean floor. The impact causes a hairline fracture. This island was formed by the tip of a dormant volcano. As it sinks will it awaken the beast of fire? Red eyes blink after a thousand year sleep. Bubbles rise from the ocean. Tiny bubbles. See how beautiful they are? They are death. Those beautiful bubbles are air compression caused by earthquake. Earthquake begets earthquake. You see? The earth is a giant fault line in the universe. It was an earthquake that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Giant mammals explode in violet twilight. They fall into the sea, their bodies decay, the ocean bed grows over their bones. They are fossils for excavation. We are all fossils for excavation. The tremors are barely visible from this many leagues below, but the whales see them. They call to each other through the blue. It’s over, they are saying. The glaciers are melting. They crack, one after another. A family of polar bears clings to a sliver of ice. The baby bear will drown first. Where are your babies? They will drown first. The icecaps are sinking. The waves will come. In the zoo, the elephants are going wild. They raise their trunks to the sky. Huge shrapnel from collapsed buildings falls onto them, nailing the giant dromedaries to the floor of the cage. They die as prisoners. Did you live as a prisoner? It doesn’t matter now. You will be nailed to the ground by shrapnel. The heavy bodies of elephants show you this. A flock of seagulls takes off. They are knocked out by missiles of water. Have you seen missiles destroy villages? This is worse. Dead birds rain from the sky. Everything you have will be gone. Flash fires spring up across the countryside. The ocean is burning. The water cannot put out the fire. Where are your loved ones? They are on fire. Can the fire diminish your love? It doesn’t matter now. The mega-tsunami looks like a dust storm. It’s a horizon like none you have seen before. There are no more horizons. They are gone. You only have your body. Can you hear your breath? It will be your last. Do not try to wave down the helicopters, they can’t take you, there’s nowhere to go. They will be blown out of the sky, become as flightless as the gulls expiring on the sand. A helicopter blade hurtles and turns the house you grew up in into splinters. Where is your childhood? It does not matter. It is now splinters. Pray. Do you have a god? It does not matter now. The water is your god. The fire is your god. There is nothing else. Pray with no words. Do not ask for anything. Look at your hands. Nostradamus was right. Finally. Are you ready for surrender? Are you ready to see the final image you will ever see? You are a second before nothing, are you ready? The only certainty is that the island will sink. Anything that has happened before this will be lost. Are you ready?
Around the table tears splash down white shirts. Two of the twelve men have fallen to the floor and into convulsive seizures. Fingers twitch in their haptic sheaths, reaching into the interface, feeling everything. A man vomits into his lap.
The island is sinking.
More men are on the floor now. They rock back and forth. Fists are pushed into eyes. Some men struggle with their headsets before surrendering, going limp. A sixty-year-old executive reaches out from his foetal curl to pull at the cuff of Max’s perfectly pressed trousers.
I watch as the screen me bends to comfort the weeping man. ‘Shhhh,’ he coos, in a way I once may have comforted my children. ‘Your babies are safe. We will make this film before it’s too late.’
‘Stop. Go back,’ I tell the archive. ‘Play.’
Where are your babies? They will drown first.
‘Stop,’ I say again.
My fingers tremble in their sheaths. My pulse quickens. Sweat beads on my skin. My vision blurs and tunnels, my ears fill with the sound of burning, with the sound of rogue winds carrying fireballs, with the sound of screaming. The whole room shakes. The immersion flickers and I can’t tell if it’s the boardroom or the apartment that’s shaking. A glass falls off a table and shatters; a sharp sound of domestic catastrophe amidst the broader tumult. Something strikes me on the face. It hurts. I put my hand up to my cheek and when I look down there’s an unmistakable streak of red. I blink twice. Try to process the colour red and its real meanings.
Actual blood? Actual pain, sharp and strange. When was the last time I felt physical pain?
The boardroom flickers out, leaving me alone in the apartment. I blink several times, realising that this space, the real space of now, is in disarray. A fruit bowl has overturned and several oranges cluster under the cracked coffee table. The artworks on the walls are now just static grey squares. A damaged loop of Pow-Pow with a shattered grin buzzes by the kitchen sink, his green ticks pulsing maniacally.
There’s no time to perform the standard re-entry protocol. With difficulty I pull off the haptic sensors and shake away the echo of the immersion ungracefully, pressure building in my temples. I reach for an aspirin or vitamin B amino drink, but nothing is there. Through the windows of the apartment I can see leaf debris and torn solarsheets whizzing through the air. Somewhere far below, an insistent whooping of alarm.
‘Connect,’ I say, and nothing happens.
I can’t connect to any newsfeeds. I can’t log into my home at Bay Heights, nor the office or the hospice.
‘Something is actually happening,’ I say out loud, but no note is recorded.
An insistent error message flashes in my periphery. A large and sentenceless exclamation point.
I tap the side of my head like it’s a vending machine. Something big and unidentifiable slams into the apartment window; a threatening crack spreads immediately across the thermaglass. I try to remember the emergency protocol, any emergency protocol.
The apartment’s elevator door is locked. Simulated flames at its base indicate the risk of fire and hence entrapment. On the wall next to it, a map shows the various spaces of the apartment, dramatised, blinking exclamation points and cartoon lightning bolts illustrating unknown dangers.
At the edge of the map: monsters.
Several glowing arrows on the floor guide me through the living space and meals areas and into a small, vacant foyer that I don’t recall ever setting foot into before. Here, rather than an outside-facing wall of uninterrupted thermaglass, there’s a large framed window with a steel latch. I reach out for it and, registering my bioprint, it springs open. A gale blows into the apartment, carrying flecks of organic matter and unrecognisable scraps of the world below. I put my head down and, bracing my whole body across the window, I manage to shut it. Cheek pressed to the pane, I can see the fire escape below: a lonely, perilous steel staircase descending into a windy abyss.
I am not prepared for this.
I lap the apartment, gathering supplies. I take supplements and water from the refrigerator. In the en-suite bathroom, under cruel default light, I splash water on my face and press wet thumbs into my eye sockets, making blood cells wriggle.
‘This is it,’ I tell my reflection.
This excerpt comes courtesy of our friends at The Lifted Brow, who are the publishers of this wildly original debut novel.
The Island Will Sink is set decades from now - a not-too-distant future which is not so different from today. The energy crisis has come and gone. Cities have been rethought and redesigned, and Ecolaw is enforced by insidious cartoon Pandas and their armies of viral-marketing children. Max Galleon is a filmmaker of immersive cinema, a father to two children distressed by the world around, a distant husband, a brother to a comatose mystery man, and falling rapidly in love with a doctor who is not what she seems.
This is postmodern science fiction at its finest, in the tradition of the greats of the genre – a story that skewers the modern age by tipping just far enough into fantasy that the horrors of the day are illuminated. Brilliant, disturbing, fun and funny. Check it out.
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