By Alan Green
Kate gazed out across the sea of sickly yellow smog. There were smears of purple and red on the horizon where the sun was trying to force its way through the haze. It looked like it was going to be a nice day.
Her television sprang into life with a burst of trashy music. She always set the timer to make sure that she didn’t miss the lottery numbers. The traditional frantic hunt for her ticket ended when it turned up in her pocket, where it definitely hadn’t been a moment before. She sighed with relief and settled down to watch the show.
This was the highlight of her week. Her chance to achieve transcendence. Every Monday five thousand people won the chance to make the jump into cyberspace. Obviously millions of people bought tickets but someone had to win and there was no reason why it shouldn’t be her. Even if she didn’t win the big one they still gave out some old-fashioned cash prizes. She wouldn’t say no to a few million but that wasn’t the reason she bought a ticket every week. She knew the odds were increasingly ridiculous but she loved the rush. The sense of knowing that your fate is hanging in the balance, that if the right numbers come up you could shake off all of your limitations and become divine. The possibility of escape made her feel all warm and safe inside.
The presenter was chatting to the pretty comedienne they’d drafted in to start the machine. Kate whistled through gritted teeth. What made them think that anyone was interested in all this nonsense? Why didn’t they just read out the numbers and put everyone out of their misery? Instead they insisted on letting people like this whimpering little fool make silly stale jokes. She drummed her fingers as the smarmy presenter finally asked his guest to press the button.
Kate sat up with a jolt as the first two numbers flashed up on her screen. 20 77. The year she was born! Her first two numbers! She breathed deeply and tried to keep herself under control. She’d played every week since she was 18 and this was the first time this had happened but there were still four more numbers to go. Her hopes could so easily be destroyed.
Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open in shock as the final four numbers flashed up… 08 06 25 12. She’d won; she’d actually won!
Suddenly a terrible thought occurred to her. If more than five thousand people got the right numbers they might fob her off with a cash prize. She laughed at the idea that if things went horribly wrong she would win millions of pounds. Lots of people had much worse problems. There was a brief beep and a private message symbol popped up on her TV. She grabbed the control and opened it.
It was a simple little note.
“Congratulations Kate Golding. You have won transcendence. Please report to the Transcendence Jump Station at 9pm on Friday. Directions attached.”
She’d done it she’d finally done it. She was going to escape this dying world and move on to a whole new level of existence, an existence that was truly limitless, where anything was possible. No more queuing for hours to get a few scraps of food. No more relying on state handouts. No more breathing foul polluted air and being grateful that she had a tiny cubicle to call home. No more hunger, no more grief, no more despair, no more weakness. She was going to ascend.
She reached for the phone and tried to think of someone to call. A spark of disappointment flickered in the midst of her joy when she realized that she couldn’t think of anyone who would be genuinely happy for her. Her friends would probably just be jealous and she didn’t have any family left. Would anyone miss her once she’d left? She smiled at her own melochany thoughts. Her lifelong dream had come true; she had no reason to mope. Everything would be different after Friday. Once she’d ascended she would be able to commune with her brothers and sisters in a way that was purer and more intense than any human relationship.
The next few days really dragged. She had some goodbye drinks with her friends and joked about seeing them soon but her heart wasn’t really in it. She went for long walks through the city trying to conjure up some sense of nostalgia for the town she had lived in for so long but she knew that the truth was that she couldn’t wait to get out of there. She wasn’t going to miss this concrete maze, cloaked in choking smog, wreathed by eternal traffic jams and peopled by bitter unseeing crowds with faces taunt from hunger and despair. She’d endured a chaotic childhood followed by a bleak adulthood that was enlivened almost solely by the weekly possibility of escape through transcendence. She thought about picking up a man for one last fling but it wasn’t really her style. The days slowly drifted by. She was tortured by impatience and by a slight haunting sense that she ought to be doing more with her last few days of being human.
Friday finally came. Since she didn’t have to worry about money anymore Kate splashed out on a tram ticket. In no time at all she found herself outside the famous Transcendence Jump Station. The imposing neogothic building looked like something from another age, it was a vast edifice of stone guarded by bronze angels. A cathedral to the new religion, dedicated to the gods that humanity could become. Kate stared at it in awe and tried to imagine what life would be like once she had ascended. Nobody really knew what actually happened. It was said that the ascended couldn’t communicate with humans anymore than humans could communicate with ants. In theory she was about to attain divinity but what if the theory was wrong? What if she ended up alone and lost in the electronic ether?
A young man in a sharp suit walked towards her and smiled.
“Miss Kate Golding?” He said glancing at his clipboard. She tried to smile back but she was feeling nervous.
“Um, yes that’s me. Do you work for the transcendence people?”
“Yes. I’ll be your attendant for the jump. Don’t look so worried, we do this all the time. I hate to rush you along but actually we are running a little bit late. Please follow me.”
Feeling as if she was in a dream Kate followed the young man.
Her guide led her though a maze of dark corridors. Eventually they emerged in a huge hall. It was almost pitch black but she could hear a faint hubbub of noise as if a crowd of people were whispering to each other. When her eyes began to adjust to the lack of light she realized that there were hundreds of other people in the hall. Presumably they were her fellow jumpees and this at last was the platform itself. She tried to find the attendant to confirm her assumption but he seemed to have silently sidled away.
The hum of conversation was gradually drowned out by a deeper hum as if hugely powerful machinery was slowly warming up. Now that she knew that there was no way out Kate felt much more relaxed about transcendence. It didn’t seem likely that the experts were wrong but if they were, well what did she really have to lose? Transcendence couldn’t possibly be worse than her life in this reality.
Released from all worries about the future she found her mind drifting back to the past. She thought about her mum and her childhood. She thought about the Christmases when food had been scarce and money barely dreamed of but her mum had still managed to rustle up a tree, a little something from Father Christmas and a bit of something close to turkey for lunch. She thought about sunrises and the surprise birthday party her friends had thrown for her twenty-first, she thought about jokes and laughter and past loves. For a moment she found herself regretting the fact that she was leaving it all behind but she reminded herself that the joys to come would be far greater than anything she had known in the past. Being human had mostly been a desperate struggle for food and air and space. She was about to leave all that behind. She was going to be a goddess.
The hum grew unbearably loud then there was a sudden flash of blinding light. After the light there was darkness and silence.
From an office high above the hall floor two technicians looked down at the pile of lifeless bodies. John sparked up a cigarette and turned to his sharp-suited young colleague.
“Well that’s another batch done. What did you think of your first jump?”
“Very efficient. Have they had any luck making it actually work?”
John laughed bitterly.
“God, no. I think they’ve given up trying. That’s another five thousand mouths they don’t have to feed. That’s success enough for them. Don’t worry lad you’ll get used to it. See you next week.”