by Glenn Dungan
Fort Rio, Albuquerque, September 8th, 2061,
How your warm embrace keeps me company as the rain pelts our camp here at Fort Rio. Your smile has helped me sleep at night, your emerald eyes brighter than the sapphire hue which occupies several clicks near Death Valley and just won’t seem to go away. I hope these few lines will find you, Margot, and Jr. well.
I cannot talk about REDACTED but I can say that it is frightening to the troops, myself included. All our technology had to be confiscated for inspection once we got off the bus, hence this letter written on a typewriter. When was the last time anyone used one of these? It feels good, the weight of the buttons underneath my fingers, the click-click-clicking. The brass needs to check if our technology is susceptible to the strange aura above the Valley. It looks a little like the Northern Lights, which you might recall we saw on our honeymoon. That memory warms me on the coldest nights and gets me through the slop in the mess tent. No phones available here. Nothing with wireless internet.
They have me working on recon, in the Binary Division. I’m with two others. Carl is one of them. He has been smoking cigarettes like the world is ending. They took away his electric vape when he was touched base, and sometimes he shakes when he thinks no one is looking. There is also Josie, who keeps a picture of her wife and kids in a fastened pocket of her army fatigues. Apparently, the top brass told her she can only take one physical picture of them, because they could not trust her mobile device would remain independent from REDACTED.
Please send a physical picture of you and the kids. It gives me something to hold onto.
We live in racks right where Nob Hill used to be. Houses have been turned into barracks that house about twenty people. The lights all had to be retrofitted to manual switches. It is a strange change, not being able to command the room vocally to light up. Luckily, we were given black out curtains to stop the blue aura in Death Valley from waking us up too early.
My dear little daughter Margot, I want you to send your papa one of you’re A+ book reports as it would please her papa very much to know his daughter is so smart. Papa is so proud of you.
My strong and proud Jr, protect your mother and your sister while I’m gone. Have you made chess captain yet? You are probably too young for that. We play chess sometimes here to pass the time. You would like it.
Margaret do not be afraid for me. We are fighting the good fight. These scary times for us all, but like always, we’ll get through it. Make sure to only stay on the secure network. I love you to the moon and back, and you and the family are in my mind always.
Fort Rio, Albuquerque, September 29th, 2061,
To my Margaret,
I love you dearly. Your picture of you and the children is kept at a post on my bunk, right where I can see it when I wake up.
Things are going well here, I wish beyond hope, that the same is for you and the children. We are only allowed oral news here because our phones and devices have been confiscated due to the digital infection. Can you picture that? I real town crier in this day and age!
Last week was me, Carl, and Josie’s first recon in the blue light. They had us travel via motorcar up to the base of Death Valley, and then travel the rest by foot to meet the rest of the platoon. Nothing with any digital connectivity. Did you know that cars originally did not have screens on the terminals? Even the radio was retro. I remember a story that your father told me about remembering when televisions had color—it was hard to imagine now that VR is everywhere, but you get the idea. Anyway, Carl and Josie and I made the hike, Carl leaving a trail of cigarettes in his wake. We used walkies instead of our Bluetooths, and actual maps instead of our GPS. It felt like we were hiking up the Valley with a hand tied behind our backs.
The commander is a hard ass, but I like him. He told us that the blue light is just a noxious cloud, sort of like spittle from a very voracious eater. I disagreed, and said so, but everyone else was sort of in agreement. My work in AI back home meant nothing to them. They only needed by the Binary Division’s reconnaissance to see if the digital storm is going to take over New Mexico proper. I wish I took a polaroid for you, but I am not really sure how to load the camera.
We made it to the top of a canyon and had to use our issued sunglasses to block any of the digital influence. Everyone on the crew was made sure to take out any bio-sensors in their body, evidenced by the pockmarks on everyone’s skin when they scappled them out (which reminds me, please do not send any pictures to my personal cloud, my AGU is out—living like your great-grandfather in the desert like a bunch of hippies). After initial surveys to confirm that the cloud has not grown, we then tested for any stronger electrical surges that might suggest it is being funneled through a new network. Then it was back down, scanning the area for any of the Digital Nomads who seem so intent on leaving old routers, x-boxes, cell phones, etc. in the bushes to create another anchor for the cloud. Like spores. Jr. would have liked to see what scraps we found. We found a couple old cell phones from a time when people put them in their pocket. Josie found an old laptop that weighed the size of a small cat. Where are these Nomads getting everything?
Margot is getting very good with her words! I liked her essay about nature. A real Thoreau. And Jr., send please send me an autographed piece from one of your matches.
I love you all very dearly.
Fort Rio, Albuquerque, October 19th, 2061,
These last two weeks have been a different kind of hell. The Digital Nomads have rounded the mountains and planted wireless networks for the blue cloud. They are a finicky bunch, wrapped in cloth and attached with more tech than anyone I’ve ever seen. They carry around these little routers on their waists and I cannot help but think they are marionettes to that blue cloud lurking above the Valley. We caught one and intended on interrogating him, but he used some sort of far-reaching radio wave to explode his head when we brought him to camp. His last words were “101000100101101001”. Whatever that that means.
The incident rattled everyone in the camp, and it has been up the Binary Division and my platoon to round up all the old technologies to make sure the blue cloud does not infiltrate our systems by sheer digital domination. It has been hard. The desert is very hot in the day and extremely cold in the night. We must search the hills manually for the artefacts because modern day dossiers have Bluetooth connectivity. All we have are flashlights and little shovels.
I took a fall, Margaret, but I am alright! Just a sprained ankle. I am only writing to you now because I know you will find out eventually and you will be less mad knowing that I did not hide this from you. I trust that you’ll trust my confidence. I was scaling a mountain with Josie and Carl, trying to find some plants by the Digital Nomads. I lost my footing and tumbled down the rocks, about twelve feet. Fortunately, my black-out glasses covered my eyes from damage.
Unfortunately, my black-out glasses cracked. I was in the Valley with my Bio-Optics out in the blue-aura open. It was only for a second before Josie shoved another pair of glasses on me and we continued our trek back to camp.
The blue cloud floating above the Valley looks very beautiful. Almost like a painting, or visual music. I know it is nefarious because sometimes beautiful things are.
Speaking of, how are Margot’s eyes? It is getting time for her to receive her implants. Not only will the AR help her vision problems, but it’ll help her with school too. Imagine growing up having a computer in your brain instead of your pocket! Times have changed, Margaret. Haven’t they?
The Valley has gotten strangely warmer these past couple of days. The blue cloud has started to emit a heat and strange sound. I think it’s a death knell, but my superiors are defiant that it is not.
Fort Point, San Francisco, October 30th, 2061,
I hope this message finds you and the children well. This letter has taken a little more time getting to you because we have been relocated to San Francisco. Fear not. I understand that San Francisco is known to be the worst of it, but it truly is not that bad.
I volunteered to go to the epicenter. The public will commend me with a medal, they say. Carl and Josie are with me. It took some convincing but all it took was a good, strong stern look to ask what they wanted out of this endeavor, and after a while they agreed.
I hope that you read this and do not cry, my love. I hope you understand my need to commit all of myself to this mission. Our country is at stake. Our humanity is on the plank.
I’ve been having strange dreams lately. I close my eyes and I see an ocean of blue. And then I see beyond. It reminds me when I wake up in the morning that I am a part of something bigger than myself. We all are. You understand this, right, Margaret?
There is a new kind of Digital Nomads in San Francisco. They speak in clicks and move sluggishly. It is hard to understand their shouts when we capture them and dismantle their networks. They are strange too. At first, I thought their cloaks and goggles were to shield themselves from the outside world and provide shade from the permanent blue cloud over the Golden Gate Bridge. Turns out they, and you will excuse me, are nothing short of grotesque.
They have milky eyes that are very sensitive to sunlight and have no hair on them. Varicose veins bubble across their body like tiger stripes. They are as blue as the giant cloud and move in unnatural 90-degree angles. It makes it look like a circuit board has been grafted onto their pasty skin. I’ve seen children, older men, pregnant women. We never know who is behind the cloaks until we unmask them. This war is taking us all.
But enough of me. Give me sunlight. How are the children? I have received Jr.’s signed chess piece. They say after three moves there are 121 million different possible games. The beauty of game and the mathematical crunching power of the computers that computed it astound me. Back when they worked for us.
I have a gift for Margot that will be sending in the mail once it gets past customs. I do not think she’ll really use it, but she’ll find it interesting. Like an old relic.
I love you, Margaret. You are my sun.
Fort Point, San Francisco, November 18th, 2061,
I will not be home for Thanksgiving. I am sorry. Please make sure that the children do not resent me for this. This is my biggest fear. They will understand and appreciate these trials when they are older.
They have me working twice as hard since Carl disappeared. Josie and I woke one morning to find a breadcrumb trail of cigarette butts scaling up the bridge and past our EMD barriers. Our superiors would not let us into the no man’s land across the Bridge, but I swear I saw cigarettes disappearing into the ether. Josie said he might have defected. I suspect the same. Another part of me thinks he went somewhere warmer. Maybe he missed being a part of something.
I have been sleeping less and less. The doctors say it is due to stress. I cannot sleep when it is time to get into our cots. Sometimes Josie and I will sit on the pier and look at the blue cloud and talk about our life at home. Sometimes the clouds take little shapes. Josie says she cannot see the shapes. After a couple of days of trying to convince her, Josie stopped hanging out with me during rec time and I only see her during missions. I do not want to be mean, but I assume it’s because her stress is making her bald, and she is embarrassed.
I’m serious about the cloud. 1 can only describe it as abstract art. There is no visual communication in the chaos, but the blue cloud is trying to tell us something. I can feel it in my bones, taking root in my skin.
They say that the blue cloud has taken over all of Oakland and a large part of New Mexico. It has mobilized over Texas and upper California. Intelligence suggests that it is trying to route us out, as if we are the cancer. I think New York and Los Angeles will be able to bastion their defenses, but I fear that middle America will not stand a chance. The infrastructure is not there.
Please take the children and go to your brother in Staten Island. Leave the house if necessary. Then, head into Manhattan. You’ll be safer in the subways if it gets that bad.
I received a copy of Margot’s book report. She is such a good writer and absolutely deserves the “A”. Please tell her I am proud of her. Did she like the iPad I sent her? The screen is cracked but I thought she’d find it interesting. You said that she is afraid to turn it on. Do not worry. It has been vetted by me personally. I could just feel the interconnectivity coming from the old dinosaur as customs sent it off.
You are the first thought I have when I wake up, and the final thought 1 have before I go to sleep, my love.
Fort Point, San Francisco, December 1, 2061,
I am concerned that you are not giving the children a chance to appreciate the artefacts I am giving them. There is nothing wrong with the ipad I sent Margo, and I believe that the old computer modem I sent Jr would make him appreciate the brains of the chess computers I wrote about a couple of months ago. The technology is old and not frightening. A relic if I’ve ever seen them.
Camp found more Digital Nomads lurking in Haight-Ashbury. They screamed their strange sonic sounds and fought and bit. Luckily, no one was hurt. Josie will not talk to me anymore because she is so embarrassed of her hair. I tried telling her that the stress is making me lose mine, too (you’ve always liked me bald, right?) but she makes no effort to communicate. Just last week Josie asked to be transferred to the Intel department, so she may study and research the Digital Nomads. Her transfer was denied and now she especially will not talk to me. Still, I find her awake at the same hours as me, us both only sleeping an hour a night, if at all. I’ve found her sleeping near the POW camp, trying to talk to the Digital Nomads through the anti-wifi plexiglass. As much as a benefit she was to our little team, I commend her efforts to understand the troops of the enemy.
However, between Carl going AWOL and my lost friendship with Josie, I admit I am quite miserable. I feel very alone. Just me and the blue cloud, forever lighting up the sky in sapphire.
Every other night I’ll spot someone getting into bed but the next morning they are gone and not seen around camp. At first it was frightening, these vanishes. After a while our superiors are just licking their wounds. I’m starting to think they sympathize with our AWOL colleagues. We are at about half capacity now. I practically have my entire corner of the bunks to myself. What would I give to push the cots together and have you nestled up next to me.
I went in for a physical today because I am starting to feel little, unpleasant jolts of energy carry up my arms and neck. It feels like little beetles are using my veins as a highway. The medics say that they need to monitor my situation, but I am not worried. I lo0k at the blue cloud and it says not to worry, that the pain is temporary. I do not know how I know, but I know. There is something…humane about the blue cloud. Humane, not human. It is not the monster that we created. Perhaps it just seeks community, like the rest of us.
In your last letter you said that the neighbors are all burning anything with a wi-fi signal. You do not need to do that. The cloud is not over you yet. You also said that you are cancelling the appointment for Margot to get her AR. I think this is a mistake. She needs to be connected to the digital sphere. I fear you may be generalizing. Do not consider the Coup of the West as a sign that all digital maneuvering is bad. She needs to be connected. This is the way of things now.
Fort Point, San Francisco, December 21, 2061,
I love you and the children both. I will not be available for Christmas. I admit that I have not asked to take leave. I’ve been doing some thinking lately and have decided that holidays are a human construct and directly antagonistic to the concept of “togetherness”. I cannot tell you exactly when I decided this, only that I was walking past the POW camp to drop off some relics (an old videogame system, some sort of hard drive looking thing, a Bluetooth earpiece, etc.) to be vetted. They were all plugged in, their icy blue circuit-board veins creating a faint sapphire glow not unlike that of the cloud above the Golden Gate Bridge. Given their situation, I would have been so sad to be captured, but they seemed really nonplussed. With their milky eyes they gazed at the cloud, jaws slack, and seemed to be content. Like their minds were elsewhere. Is this not what humanity should be? 1 asked myself. Connected with one another. One holiday, one culture, one mission?
In case you were wondering, Josie and I had a conversation. She came to me one day in our bunks, brushing away the last strands of her hair. Her eyes were a little faded because she has been drinking. She told me that she has ordered a personality upload into her bio-hard drive of her wife and children. In this way, they would always be with her. If their physical bodies pass away, she’ll carry them in the recesses of her mind, her body a vessel of plurality. Insane, I know. But it seems to make her feel better. I did not ask where she got confirmation of this, but I assume the technology has passed inspection in the “real world”. What was strange is that she hardly moved her lips. I could anticipate everything she was going to say. The next morning, she was gone, her beloved locket on her pillow and a package left for me to discover.
I see Car1 somet1mes in my dreams t0o, on the occasion that I sleep. We have full conversations. He told me that cigarettes are a physical hang up. Same could be with the electronic vaporizers that were confiscated in the beginning of our campaign. It was easier once you gave away the parts of yourself that could have hang ups. It made me wonder what mine are. Loneliness, I suppose. After we talk, he will disappear into the blue backdrop. Sometimes I won’t be sleeping.
I was caught staring blankly at the ceiling for a good couple of hours.
Either way, I’m happy to have my teammates back again, however fleeting.
My skin is taking on a white, almost translucent tone. Can you send Vitamin D pills?
It goes against my superiors to write you this, but I strongly implore you to take the children to your brother’s. The Cloud is growing fast. I can just feel all the dormant relics placed by the Digital Nomads being placed along the country…growing, growing. Call it a hunch.
Fort Point, San Francisco, January 8th, 2062,
Hello, my love.
Happy New Years! This is the only holiday that I can appreciate now, being away for so long. It marks another era of humanity (according to some calendars). A collective birthday. That is what makes it so special. It is about the collective, a reminder that we are fighting for something bigger than ourselves. Even the POWs seem in high spirits, smiling with necrotic, icy blue teeth.
Margaret, I must ask: why did you not upload our children’s consciousness into the drive? I provided all the instructions and Josie took a lot of time getting me the technology. No, it is not contraband. Does the thought of a copied consciousness frighten you? Our children will still be our own. They will grow up with a digital twin, one that can navigate exclusively in cyber space. If you do the same, then you will always be with me, and I will always be with y0u. It is about connectivity my love. Please reconsider.
The fort chaplain and I got into an argument last week, one which made me go to the medics to get a psychiatric evaluation. He claimed that God is a divine power that rules above us in judgement. I claimed that he was false, that connectivity is god. When he asked me to explain, I used the following metaphor: query> every person on Earth links arm with another person, creating a unit. Every person is another knot in a chain link fence. When you zoom out, you’ll see everyone connected, as one. That is god. The zoomed out, holistic view. We are greater than the sum of our parts. The chaplain asked if I was talking about the giant cloud above the Bridge and I said that in a way, the cloud was representative of this. So false was this man’s teachings that I recognized him as a cancer to the chain link fence, a speck of cancerous, volatile rust.
I am ashamed to say that my anger got a hold of me. All the while I felt the cloud at my back, watching. Carl whispered into my ear; his voice multiplied a hundred thousand times. I know this sounds crazy but as I was reprimanded and brought to the prison before processing, all the Digital Nomads started to echo exactly what Carl was whispering to me. How is that possible, my l0ve? Does that make any sense?
This is what they were saying: 100101100011001101110
I suppose it is a common enough statement. Carl is not here. Nor is Josie. Perhaps I am going crazy. 1 miss you and the children dearly.
I’ve been keeping the knight piece with Jr’s little signature on it in my fatigues. At night I rub it between my fingers when the cloud tells me of the vastness from which it comes. My blue veins surge with little jolts and I think I’ve accidentally whittled it to look sort of like a pawn. Please don’t tell junior. Maybe he can send me another piece?
Query>Why do you n0t tell me news of my children anymore?
I write this in processing as we speak. 1 anticipate that my letters will be m0nitered from now on. I might not be able to write for a while.
Please disregard my recommendations for heading to your brother. Stay in New Jersey. The war against REDACTED is turning tides for the better.
Fort Point, San Francisco, January 22nd, 2062,
1 do not kn0w if this letter will reach you. 1 have been deemed psychologically fractured by my superiors. Already there is a new platoon coming to camp to take the roles of Josie, Carl and myself. An additional garris0n has rolled up the Fort P10nt and are taking the empty beds.
The POW Digital N0mads keep smiling at me with their mind. I can feel it. 1 smile back. They tell me that everything will be alright and are holding my hand gently as we become a singular collective, a ME in a WE. As it shou1d. They have downloaded Margot and Jr.s consciousness for me, as a testament to their faith. Carl and Josie were there too. I think 1’m happier with their digital copies, for what you might consider a duplicate I consider true to the new world. There is another digital version of you in that cloud too, the cloud tells me. It is more difficult to get a copy of you because your bio-enhancements are too ingrained in your cerebral cortex. I know this because we know this.
I receive apprehension from you in your letters. Y0u claim I am frightening you. D0 you still love me? Or d0 you love the part of me that is from yesterday, before we joined the great blue?
>please god, I fear for my life. i look in the mirror and I see no hair, only milky eyes. blue veins cross stitch on my bodies. it is not a circuit board but a net, pulling me to this blue cloud. they call it a singularity. I call it the devil.
i miss my wife. i miss my children. i miss my life. i miss being what I once was>
In my last day before being dispatched to the camps, I took the key to the confiscated items. I looked like Santa Claus with my satchel full of artefacts. 1 would ask that you tell the children of this image, so they get a g1ggle of their papa. I kn0w you won’t.
Some of the guards found me. Some of the new garrison tried to stop me. When was the last t1me you’ve used a physical key for anything?
A physical key was required to open the gates to the POWs. Do not ask me how I received it.
>our honeymoon. yes our honeymoon. looking out against the alien plateaus, dipping our faces in sapphire colored water with bubbles of minerals. looking at the sky and seeing the green ribbons that I used to call the Northern Lights. now all I can see in my memory is the blue cloud. please, I do not want to assimilate. I do not want to become a WE. the cloud lies. Margaret, take the children. Throw away all your electronics, do not let Margot get the AG. keep Jr. away from it all, he is the purest of all of us because he has not yet become inundated as everyone else>
0ur great digi1al god is now sweeping over midd1e-America, gobbling up the major data warehouses kept under the bunkers in the mountains. D0 not be afraid. Fear shall soon be unrec0gnizable to y0u.
Goodbye, Margaret. Please keep yourself and your meat puppets safe. I will keep the part that matters close to my heart, where it beats in sync with all the others. With the released Digital Nomads behind me, our eyes towards the blue cloud above the red bridge. The tip of a much greater, much more beautiful, arrow.
*The following letters were found upon inspection of AWOL Recon Trooper George McCay. The letters were abandoned in haste and unsent.
Fort Point, San Francisco, February 13th, 2062,
I hope this letter finds you well. Your digital copy is telling me to say hello to you. I’m sure you understand why I am leaving you in this claustrophobic, physical realm. Our bodies are our own limitations. I hope you’ll find that my Margot has since read every book in the New York Public Library just this morning, including the ones in other languages. She is so smart. I am so proud of her. My Jr. has completed more chess games than any physical grand master has, and ever will in their entire life. The wonder of children!
Carl says that we solved the global energy crises. The initiative is to…well, it really makes no matter. The thoughts I have now are multiplied by everyone else. We will go to fast for you. We will still need physical labor to construct our terminals. Not too far from your children there should be a camp where you will stay and work. Already we have one in Birmingham, Austin, Nashville. Large terminals. Look outside of your house and look for the blue thunder cloud.
Didn’t your father go to church? Ask him to recall to your children the Tower of Babel. Ask him to recall the arrogance of man.
>run, Margaret, run. take the children. leave land. i heard there is a cluster of ocean liners all tangled and welded together in the Bermuda Triangle that will take refugees. the cloud cannot reach the sea. At least for now. i know this because the Digital Nomads fear the rumors. I know this because when I close my eyes all I can see is blue and I too fear the rumors. do not wait for me. I love you, Margot, and Jr. so much>
With Margo’s book report on Thoreau in one pocket and Jr.’s whittled knight to pawn in the other, I will soon be walking through the no man’s land on the bridge, into the mouth of the great and beautiful cloud, the future personified, our ego ascended. I will admit that I tear up as I write this. A single droplet falls down my cheek, and it shocks my flesh. I write not by candlelight or bulbs. The blue aura emanating from my body is enough.
Oh, j0yous reunion into a new world.
***Found at the base of the Golden Gate bridge. The words are written in haste over what appears to be a graded elementary school child’s English paper. The child’s name is Margot.
1 was wrong. The cl0ud 1ies.
***Found right before the No Man’s Land, next to a wedding ring.
101010 0100 00 00 11 01 010 111 010 1010010
0010 00 10101
11 11 000 00
Glenn Dungan is currently based in Brooklyn, NYC. He exists within a Venn-diagram of urban design, sociology, and good stories. When not obsessing about one of those three, he can be found at a park drinking black coffee and listening to podcasts about murder.