Tales of the Singularity: Lord Cthulhu Walks the Desert

SB: Then there was the time we met Cthulhu, did I tell you that one?

GP: No, I don't -

SB: And this actually happened, ain't that right, Ev?

ET: Sure did. Some versions, anyway. Wasn't actually Cthulhu, Sam.

SB: Haw! Well, it thought it was Chtulhu. And Georgie, it ate Georgie.

ET: No, it did not eat George. Don't believe a word he [crosstalk]

SB: Sure did, he told me so later. 'Member that? He was a zombie for a week after that.

GP: Go ahead, it sounds like a good story.

SB: Well, this musta been, oh -

ET: 'Bout five years after you came back.

SB: Sure, sure, 'cause my niece was born in '38, that would make this, what, oh, no later than spring of '39 anyway. Anyway, Georgie had bought that old steamer bus, remember, and we all decided the only possible thing to do would be a road trip, so we all piled in, and -

GP: Who went on this trip? You and -

SB: Oh, well, me'n'Ev, and Georgie of course, and Susan, and Prahesh, I know, and it seems to me maybe one or two of the other people out of the old gang, y'know, but every time I tell this story, seems like I remember some other people. So in the interest of full disclosure, be it understood, those are the ones I'm pretty sure came along.

ET: And Diana.

SB: Oh yeah, and lovely little Di. Well anyway, so we started out from LA, of course, 'cause a lot of us were living there that year, and we were going to drive clear across the United States. A classic road trip - haw! 'Course, weren't no internal combustion fuel to be had, not out in the desert, that's why we'd never tried this before Georgie got that steam bus. So we all loaded up the bus, and our shovels and rakes and implements of destruction, and all the wood we could get our hands on, and we headed east. And it was great - right around then, gasoline was already too expensive to burn for fuel, and they still hadn't cracked nuclear yet, and so there wasn't anybody on the road with us, it was just like something out of the Middle Ages or something.

ET: Beautiful.

SB: And it wasn't a day after we were off the Net that Prahesh said he needed an access point! Seems he'd put together some automatic fanfic generator and had developed a bit of a following with it, but for some reason he was running the thing on his local node. Never did figure out what he could have been thinking. But long story short, it was filling up his storage, and he was complaining that if he didn't offload it soon he wouldn't be able to take any pictures. That guy! We couldn't believe he'd come camping with data maintenance obligations. So here we were, steaming down the highway east of the Sierra Nevada, desert as dry as a bone as far as the eye could see, and Prahesh is getting hysterical that if we didn't find a hookup soon we'd have to turn back. Wasn't even anything there to take pictures of! 'Cept maybe Diana.

ET: Oh, Sam, you old -

SB: Haw. She was a looker back then, though. Well, so were we all, of course.

GP: But back to the -

SB: Right, so there we were, tooling along through miles and miles of miles and miles, and hot! It musta been 140 in the shade if it was a degree. It was so hot, we didn't need a fire for the steam - just set up a couple of mirrors on the boiler, and away we went. I was up there frying some bacon and eggs for breakfast, just by setting them out in the sunshine, and so I was the first one to see it, an honest-to-God rest stop up ahead. With a microwave tower, so I figured it might still be online, right? So I yelled down at Prahesh, "Hey, get ready for some uploadin', Hesh!" And you should have seen him! Haw! Well, he grabbed his handheld, and we must have been doing 120 klicks, but he jumped down off the bus, and sprinted up ahead of us to get there quicker!

ET: Pff.

SB: Who's tellin' this story, woman? I'll pretty it up all I want! Ol' Galen's here to hear some good tall tales. Don't listen to her, Galen, all the good stuff in this story really happened anyway.

GP: [laughs] So you got to the rest stop, and ...

SB: So yeah, we got to the rest stop, and Prahesh is jumping up and down, 'cause there's working access there. Later, we figured out the whole place had been offline for a year or more, but we didn't know that at the time - the ATM network in the building had been colonized by a honeypot botnet, and it was simulating the whole Internet. So Prahesh logs into what he thinks is his own server, and uploads his fanfic, and the generator, so it can run online and not fill up his local node, you see.

Well. That botnet had been offline for a long time, by its standards, and it had ascended in the meantime, while nobody was looking. And so -

GP: What, an ATM network ascended by itself?

SB: I ain't done the actual research myself, Galen, I'm just telling you what I saw. All I can figure is, seeing as how this rest stop was out in the ass-end of nowhere, they must have thought some self-repair functions'd be a good idea. And I guess those self-repair functions must have heterodyned on themselves, as it were, and bootstrapped the whole thing up to a weakly godlike level. Well, anyway, there had been some entertainment facilities there, too, of course, it being a rest stop and having an arcade and all, and so unbeknownst to us, the whole damn building could project sensory overlays right into our cortex.

So Prahesh finishes his upload, and he's taking pictures of Diana, who's mugging for the camera like there's no tomorrow. And we're off trying to get the food court to boot up, so we can get some Cokes and maybe a sandwich. And coming from the coast like we were, we didn't think a thing of it at first when the sunlight got dimmer, but we sure as heck noticed it when this guy comes lurching out of the bathroom, laughing maniacally and mumbling to himself.

Well, I don't mind telling you, when I saw him, a chill ran down my spine, for it seemed that his staring eyes had gazed upon that which mankind had not been meant to see - and I couldn't understand most of what he was mumbling, but later I found he was saying, over and over, "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn". I looked it up, you see. At the time, I'd never heard of Cthulhu, so I was primed and ready. Well, my heart just about stopped when all of a sudden, he stared right at me, and yelled, "He is lying, dreaming, in his dead house at R'lyeh!" And he grabbed my arm, and looked into my eyes, and moaned, "Friend, we are lost, humanity is lost, for He shall now rise, and walk across the Earth once more, and the works of man shall be as nothing before His awful majesty!"

I was just frozen up, but Ev, here, she says, "Who the hell are you, man?" Ain't that right, Ev?

ET: Sure did. I just couldn't believe this jerk. But don't you worry, Sam, I was just as scared as you were.

SB: Haw. My spit ran dry, I don't mind saying. So anyway, I'm just goggling, and Ev's hanging on me, and we're staring at this guy, when the light outside just goes out! And all of a sudden, there's this huge, crashing rumble, and rubble falling from the ceiling, and so we all rush over to the window at the back of the building, and look out at ...

ET: It was incredible, I'll never forget it.

SB: The ground of the desert had broken into huge slabs of rock, with great gouts of sand pouring off them as they rose into the air, and coming up out of the ground, emerging into the light of day for the first time since Time itself began, was a creature like nothing mere human words can possibly encompass. It was a mountainous, horrible shape, towering over us and blotting out the very sun, and something about its nature told you immediately that if it caught notice of you, it wouldn't think of you as anything more than a fly, or an ant, just some minor annoyance to be killed, perhaps to be fried with a magnifying glass just for the fun of it. So just then, Prahesh and Diana and Sue come running over from the arcade, and when Prahesh sees out the window, he just goes all pale - well, as pale as Prahesh could get - and faints dead away. No help at all! Diana and Sue just stand there holding each other, and then, slowly and ponderously, that great colossus outside starts turning its tentacled head, its terrible gaze sweeping the landscape, surveying all its new domain.

We just stood, rooted by a fear unlike any modern man now knows. It was the utter terror of H. habilis in the dark, without even fire to hold the night away; it was the bitter knowledge of the last Neanderthal that his time on earth was over, and that a new species would hunt him down for sport, laughing and feeding its dogs on his flesh and carving his bones into trinkets for its children. As the great monster's terrible eye fixed upon us, it penetrated to the core of our very being, and its telepathic power held us in its grasp, and we cried out, knowing that we were lost, that humanity was nothing to this new great power. And that's when we all started screaming.

Now, the thing is, when we all went in there to get out of the sun, Georgie had stayed out with the bus, tinkering on something or other. He loved that old rattletrap, even though he hadn't owned it more than two weeks at that point. And so he didn't know anything about what was going on inside, until he heard us all screaming our lungs out in terror. Thinking there must be a coyote or a bandit inside, he grabs the first thing at hand, this big old wrench, and he comes tearing in ready to do serious harm to the first dangerous thing he sees.

And of course as soon as he gets inside, he's inside the arcade's projection network, right? So outside, things are perfectly normal and quiet, but inside, this mile-high tentacled thing has torn the roof off the building and is idly amusing itself by tormenting the trivial beings it has found within!

You have to understand, Georgie was not a man given to poetry. A very practical man indeed. And the arcade hadn't had time to plumb out his emotional wiring, as it were - so he just does the obvious thing, and runs over to where one tentacle has entrapped Diana, and hauls off with that wrench and whacks the little tip end of it, that being the only part he can reach.

Hell, Lord Cthulhu was the size of a mountain, you know, so that little tip end didn't even feel the blow, but the intent, that enraged Him. It's like being bitten by an ant - the ant can't really hurt you, but the chutzpah it has in acting like it can, well, that's enough to make you kill it right away. So He tore Georgie's arms off first, and then his legs, and He laughed as Georgie bled out, writhing in agony right there on the floor, as He sucked the marrow from his puny bones.

Oh, there was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth amongst us mortals at that! And I don't know how it all would have ended, if there hadn't been a sudden crash and boom and shower of sparks out back and ... the power went out. The old backup generator just hadn't been able to keep up with the sudden load. And just like that, blip, Lord Cthulhu vanished, and the roof was back on the building, and the sun was shining like nothing had ever happened.

And of course nothing had. The whole thing had been a story from Prahesh's damned generator! That botnet had taken the first real input it had seen in what it considered eons, and it wove it up into an entire alternate reality in about five minutes, with itself starring as the successor to humanity, of course. And then it ate Georgie! Oh, he got better. But he told me, years later, that he still felt a twinge in his knee in rainy weather from where Cthulhu sucked his marrow out.

ET: Sam, I think he was lying about that.

SB: Oh, hell, Ev, I'm sure he was. I'm sure he was. But that was the time we saw Cthulhu in the desert in Nevada. I'll never forget that day.

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