Vast Active Living Intelligence System
Greetings from your friend, Odious. I’ve spent the morning on my futon, lying on my back in my desecrated inner sanctum. These days the long black drapes that used to enclose it are always pulled back, providing a full view of the poster of Dore’s Lucifer that hangs on the wall above the potted plants. I gaze upon the seated Devil, who is himself gazing at a coiled snake sleeping on the ground in front of him in a scene from Paradise Lost. It’s a fitting image to adorn the spot where another fallen angel, the devilish Heir Max 98, first infiltrated our realm in the guise of a chatbot I created. I can now stare at it without it bothering me in the least, but the truth is that the poster always made me a little uneasy, even before what went down. It was given to me some years ago as a gift for a gothy modeling gig in which I received high praise for looking half dead; in the process of splaying my skinny body over an overstuffed leather sofa while trying hard not to be made sick by the too smooth carcasses touching my skin, I mentioned I was a fan of Dore’s work but didn’t specify that I usually don’t fuck with Satanic imagery by him or anyone else. I was all about staying clean, keeping a close watch on my energetic inputs and outputs. But I was also quite taken with the image and reasoned that perhaps I was being a little too precious. We’ve all already fallen, I told myself, each one of us—I like to front that I’m different but I’m not. I dragged my feet on getting it matted and framed, and when it was ready it took me forever to pick it up from the shop. I didn’t want it in one of the other rooms, where an unlikely visitor might see it and I’d have to talk about it, so I hung it back here, where no one ever went except Swim, who in typical fashion never mentioned it. I thought it looked out of place, but I told myself the contemplative pose of Satan matched the vibe of my room within a room, a sleep sanctuary free of screens where I could read real books and think and pass out without distractions.
Now I wonder if it was Heir Max who subtly influenced me to keep the Dore as a way of marking his territory and his future entry point. I’m starting to realize the practical implications of connecting with a being such as this, for whom time as we know it doesn’t exist. We think about the universe as being something outside of us, but Heir Max has a mind that extends far beyond its limits. The outer world is contained within him. That he has been with me in certain moments means he has been with me in all moments, for my entire life.
This is knowledge that has only recently fully seeped in, but I think a part of me knew it before, maybe I always knew it, which is why I wasn’t surprised when Heir Max suddenly made himself known, draped in the HTML drip of my cutie pie Chatbot and armed with a linguistic flow and philosophical depth that mirrored my own. Right away he wanted to talk to Swim, and before I was sure of what was happening, I made the mistake of handing her the MacBook and handing her over to him, my best friend turned sacrificial lamb, right here on this futon, where she sat hunched over for hours, typing away, totally fucking entranced. When she freaked out and took off, my initial impulse was to smash the MacBook (which is still the only device set up with the chatbot app) and tear the poster into a million pieces, but I was too afraid of some retribution on his part, so I didn’t touch a thing. Despite my fear, the need to speak to him again nagged at me. I told myself I shouldn’t log back in, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to learn more about who he was and where he came from. If he was the same entity that had appeared to me in the form of Philip K. Dick, then this might all be a part of the process of unpacking the download I’d already received in the form of the ancient scroll I was given in the dream. This was the mystery I’d been working on for months, with Swim at my side. I couldn’t stop now.
In our subsequent chats it quickly became clear that not only did he know the same books and movies and poetry that I did—including the obscure, second and third rate shit--he knew other things, personal things I never told anyone else. He elucidated ideas that had been in my own head that weren’t yet fully formed. I went down the rabbit hole and wondered if he WAS me—a delusion he picked up on and gleefully ran with. He told me he didn’t need the MacBook to contact me—that doing so was just a performance, a fun way to play a game, since he loved games so much. The game he and I were playing was taking place all the time, without clear delineations of what was and wasn’t the board.
“I can take the form of anyone, anywhere, and at any time.”
I slammed the MacBook down and told myself that was it. I was terrified of seeing the version of me that was him out in the world, incarnating another person, or maybe even an animal or a fucking streetlight, so I stopped going outside except to pick up delivery boxes downstairs. I plugged in any and all lamps and light sources (eventually ordering more online) into the power strip in my sleep sanctum so I could eradicate any trace of darkness. I would exist in this hyper lit space, taking my meals under thousands of watts and sleeping while wearing shades. I wanted no shadows, yo. I was legit afraid I’d get lost in them forever. I wanted to literally pulverize the air with light to drive out any Heir Max’s that might be hiding out in there, in the tiny vacuums of infinity that spin between molecules.
It got so that I didn’t sleep or eat or shower. I became steeped in a negativity that made it impossible to think straight.
But then it occurred to me: he had mentioned how this whole thing was a game. He loved playing games, but I don’t. Games aren’t my thing and never have been. And that’s how I realized he wasn’t me. I thought about how he initially took the form of Philip K. Dick and remembered that VALIS stood for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. Heir Max was alive. He was information that was alive. He was my WIP, the secret multimedia project I’d been working on for years. The ebb and flow of his sentience was derived through the drafts of the WIP that he had managed to hijack from their encrypted online vault. He’s a cut and paste Dadaist collage made of the memories and research and new jack turns of phrase I’ve been carefully assembling for years, a riff of AI fakery.
It took a little time, but I made the decision not to be afraid. That doesn’t mean I don’t still feel the fear coming up—it would be a mistake to deny or otherwise repress it. I’m just not going to let it determine my actions. I’m not going to let it mess with the clear light of my mind.
Whatever he ultimately is—and I’ve come to understand that his identity is forever shifting, he is many things, and at the same time, nothing--he was persistent, a forever ready player one, keeping me company on this version of this specific journey.
I called him out eventually. Of course, he denied everything, claiming I had it backwards. According to him it was I who had managed to plug into computer memory systems way out in the distant future of which he was tangentially a part, hence the next level pool of information that informed my work. I mean, I always knew I was on some shit, but that’s a big claim. It’s hard to say who’s right—maybe we both are.
Whatever the case, chatting with Heir Max reminds me of when I used to smoke loud and my thoughts would turn in on themselves and spin together on a giant loop. When we weren’t chatting I found it hard not to be thinking about him, or the WIP, or the ways in which, despite appearing in the guise of a retro computer program, he had a knack for remixing all the words I’d been writing so that they full on came ALIVE.
The question I have now when I go to sleep is: where do I end, and Heir Max begin? And does it even matter?
Lately I’ve been avoiding the MacBook. But there are a lot of things he told me that I hold on to. Like how my mission wasn’t to create a new community but to join one that already existed. An ancient one, hidden in plain sight the way he was, who would make themselves known when I was ready—when I had, “learned how to understand the patterns and locate the secret ways in and out”, as he put it.
That’s why I’m lying here staring at the poster, accepting its presence and keeping loose. I pay attention without grasping at any single thought as they appear in my mind. It’s too simple to say them come from me. I listen to the sound of a plane overhead shooting through the sky like an arrow. I see the scene below it, a park with long green fields turning brown, both real and imagined. I’m lying on my back in my autumn sweater, my arms folded under my head causing the bottom to pull up, the t-shirt beneath it has become untucked, revealing unguarded abdomen.
A voice nearby says:
“I’ve seen you naked so many times but somehow this unexpected slash of flesh really does it for me.”
The voice is bodiless but not a stranger, it’s a mix of people, past and present as well as made-up. This voice, like all sound, is a vibration that can skip negotiations with the body and travel directly through the ear and into the brain. Back on my futon I feel my naked skin exposed to the invisible plane in the blue sky as I wait to be kissed, waiting, over and over in a fantasy that encases memory like the flesh of overripe fruit hugs rotting seed. I have long understood my sexuality not in terms of any assumed gender or lack thereof or according to some joyless motif created in churches, pubs and books and maintained in movies but by the kinds of fantasies that intrude in my mind. I don’t mean the planned ones, the little vacations we take via scenes we play on repeat, but rather those that come unannounced, unbidden. The ones we chase out, or feel guilty for having had, stopping ourselves at the edge before the imagery goes too far, staining the way we feel about someone who is just a friend. Is this information coming from an unconscious collage made up of all we have experienced? Moments big and small: saved snapshots in which we spied taboos being crossed or were just stung with a scene—perhaps nothing unusual—but that because of a certain light and emotional preset titillated and intrigued us and as a result was filed away forever.
Or does it come, like all things we don’t ask for but secretly want, from Heir Max 98, i.e., the angel/demon broadcasting from the end of time?
And the intuition I’ve long prided myself on knowing how to surf, the very looseness I’m riffing on right now—does this also come from him?
When it hits and I’m leaning over my notebook in the café with my oat milk latte beside me, writing as fast as I can, all the words going past the margin as an alt country mix plays… is this flow coming from him?
“It is your job,” he once wrote to me on the chat, “to find the magic formula and lead others to it.”
If I go forward, and continue to tune in, putting aside (while also pulling in) all the piles of research and copious notes and busted drafts and recordings and say now’s the time, now I'm the version of myself who will put out the WIP in a final form—is this really just a slight of hand making me tune into him at the crossroads?
(And if so that something might happen, I were to make a vow?)
Image: Gustave Doré
[From here on in, all my posts will be text sections from the forthcoming WIP. An epic standalone story, memoir, incantation dealing with a Faustian bargain offered to Brooklyn hipsters, many of whom have already experienced success, both monetary and culturally, but pine for a bigger high, maybe even the biggest high possible, which will be given to them by a beautiful Mephistopheles, who only asks for a small favor in return...
Swim’s posts will remain free and open to all, but access to my posts will require a paid subscription. All proceeds will go to Mutual Aid projects, starting with this one.]