The office is oval, sits on the last floor of an endless skyscraper, and has the fucking government seal stamped on her chair. William’s voice sounds monotone and white as he speaks rather hopelessly to doctor Esperanza:
“I found Alfred in the house six weeks ago. I’m pretty sure the disorder started then. He (me) had 3 grand in his bank account back then. He owes over 2 now. Don’t think he has slept since. He’s been playing all night with his laptop hooked into the speakers and stuck to his face. The house is a mess. I found my reading cushion in the dishwasher, a flashlight in the fridge, lemons on the bedside table, plenty of mugs filled with piss and Soma dust all over the place. He’s missed all of his appointments. Not to mention his pills. It’s this fucking videogame. Gave him seizures the other day…”
William is trailing off and Doctor Esperanza nods slightly as she scrutinizes me. I’m looking out the window of her medical practice and I can see her reflection in the glorious glass and I can see the eagle on the seal stretching his neck and biting a salmon. Doctor Esperanza raises her left brow as if she knows what I’m seeing. She’s like an empress under water, like Cleopatra. You can see the whole city from here. I wonder why the birds look like fish, why treetops are swaying like jelly, where all those bubbles are coming from. Doctor Esperanza shakes her head and cuts straight to the bone.
“You were making great progress, D. But you’re making all the wrong decisions. You have to start taking the medication again. Otherwise I’ll have to recommend your immediate admission in the same government-run institution”.
Site Upsilon is big and you are skinny. And Canadian. Your voice is weird. I mean, Simon’s voice. I’m high. You are high. High on doors and steel corridors. High on fucking fear; high on Soma. Soon enough you’ll find out that you’re buried in an abandoned science research facility beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Next thing you enter another metal room as cold as the womb of a Nazi. There’s a robot crushed into the ground. He has a human face. Like those sick Bill Viola puppets. You can interact with him. He is all wires and tubes and metal tangled shit. He has a human voice and some analogue memories too. This is disturbing as much as it’s moving. He speaks like an emotional granny. He wants to live and he believes he is human. But he is a robot and he is clearly dying in slow whispers and tiny creaks. You actually have to kill him in order to activate the console behind him. So you do. Bum. Now you are Canadian and you are a murderer. Take that, Simon! I go for another bomb. The console can run free now that the robot is dead. And then it happens: her voice pops out. Her name is Catherine. She is… less unfriendly than an angry ex-girlfriend, I guess. She speaks through the console via some radio transmitter and you can see an image on the screen of who she might be. Catherine is white and brunette, and has the same dead fish expression as doctor Mushi. You wonder how your own face looks, and then Catherine asks who you are, and to be honest I ask myself the same question. Simon speaks to her with the subtleness and grace that I lack. Catherine tells you to go to some communication centre. You are Simon now. And Simon is you. It’s been like that the whole way through, but now it’s just crystal clear.
“Is it true that you are drinking your own urine? doctor Esperanza asks.
“Relatively” I answer.
“I was born in the 70’s.” I say
“Me too.” Says doctor Esperanza.
“So was I.” Says William.
“Does that entitle you to drink your own piss?” They both ask at the same time.
“We are all orphans of the revolution”, I say, “but that wasn’t the main reason. Plus I’m not doing it anymore.”
“So what was the main reason?” Esperanza asks.
“To play the game properly. I mean, in some forms of Vedic culture drinking your own piss was a way to purify yourself. It was considered just as powerful as drinking Soma”.
“And now he’s found that fucking twat brat of a wreck that is selling him the drug itself. That Soma shit!” Shouts William.
“It’s not a drug.” I say.
“And where do you think you are getting your seizures from?” Asks Esperanza. “From Heaven?”
“It’s the same anticonvulsant that they give me for my seizures. Only that this time the seizures are being inflicted by the monsters in the game, not by my own brain. It’s the same shit that happened to those kids in Japan.” I say.
“What are you talking about?” Asks William.
“The Pokemons. Some kids in Japan got seizures after watching an episode where Pokemons were doing some extra shaking. In Soma when the monsters get close to you, the screen starts shaking. Only that in Soma the monsters behave like the ghosts of broken TV’s. It’s beautiful. I was dead on the inside. But now I’m alive again”.
“You are fucked up. The only thing that makes you a child of the 70’s is this sad ability to keep taking drugs, to find childish excuses not to grow up. You are going to end up dead in a back alley.”
Now William is sobbing. It’s a bit of a doctor Mushi kind of sob. Or like a dead robot crying.
You’ve come across your first monster. It’s some kind of Gorilla covered in Xmas lights that screeches like 2000 maniacs. There is going to be a glorious variety of them. And they are going to kill you many times. The closer they get to you, the more your vision blurs and your movements weaken and the bigger it’s deadly steps crunch the ground and make your little balls tremble. The only way to elude them is hiding, that being another highlight of the game: there’s no confrontation with your enemies, there’s no heroic rampages of testosterone where Simon shows that he is bigger than other men. There is fear, an ultimate sense that the only way to survive is to lock yourself in a dark corner and try not to breathe, nor even look up. You are the goddam antihero. A lovely Canadian chap stuck in what looks now to be a flooded forest in the bottom of the Atlantic. Forget the bullets and the payback, the swords and the hand grenades. There is darkness, fucked up lights and the disturbing traces of a mass murder, but you’d never get to actually witness anyone’s death apart from your own and that of those disturbing Bill Viola robots. Confronting the monsters will likely kill you. Then the game restarts at your last checkpoint, but your movements are slower, you’re breathing much heavier and your vision is quite a bit blurrier. And that’s because if the monsters don’t kill you in the first place, they will badly hurt you, enough to make you walk like a blind old man after a gang rape. And when that happens, and that is going to happen a good few times, you’ll find out that there is a remedy, the unquestionable substance that links Soma with Soma, that connects Huxley with Satan and Satan with lady Godiva. It is then that you will come across the ultimate plant, some kind of petrified algae that looks like a liquid crown and that allows you to stick your finger into it. Once you do it, once Simon sticks his middle finger into that darkness, you realise, all of a sudden, that your poor vision and your janky limp are gone. And it’s only then that you’ll understand that you are not just a Canadian patient and a robot murderer, but also some kind of underwater junkie.
And soon enough you’ll also find out that Catherine is not Catherine, but a scan of Catherine. Someone who knows shit that you don’t want to know, and whose knowledge of the mayhem will slightly ease your way through the sinister modules, the dusty ramps and floating deserts of this abandoned universe. Catherine will become the receding compass of a forgotten territory, the voice that will map the scale of your loneliness, and the ambiguous consciousness that will filter the echoes of the crazy scientists who once lived in this gruesome colony. And there, beyond the depth of your sorrow, of your nonexistence, is where Soma will deliver you its ultimate dystopic blow, where you’ll find out that Simon isn’t really Simon, that you are not really you, but instead the scan of a dead brain, the implant of some long gone memory corpse that has been injected into the rubber body of a robot. Soma is not only the heroin that keeps your batteries working, but the mirage of an existence, a fake and futuristic one, set in a fucked up drowned world that was built to save humanity from the impact of a meteorite. I know. You know. Simon knows. This is a massive spoiler and an obscene philosophical stroke. But this is Soma, the peak of a nonchalant aphorism rooted in Buddha’s ancestors and developed in some Phillip K.Dick meets J.G. Ballard kind of fashion, that suggests that what you thought was human kindness is in fact just the nauseous whisper of a robot that is about to drive you insane.
I’m on the run. Can’t believe this is happening again. I’m shivering, my teeth clattering like 200 hundred year old ballerinas trying to emulate Pavlova in the Swan Lake. And failing. Profusely. The sky is dark and there are no bubbles anymore, not even fish, but helicopters instead. There are petrified eagles and stone gargoyles and marble stairs and government flags at the end of each staircase, and every black man I see reminds me of William. Fuck this shit. Fuck William and fuck doctor Esperanza’s bullshit. I’ve managed to run just as the needle was about to reach my vein. I’ve dealt her a massive blow. She didn’t look like Cleopatra anymore while she was trying to pick up her broken teeth scattered all over the carpet. I know I need to go north but I don’t know where north is anymore and I don’t want to ask either. My face is crumbling and my body is decomposing. I keep running against my instincts. Whenever I think I need to go right, I choose left. And vice versa. It works. Shit is about to hit the fan when I find his flat, the yellow door of the abandoned building. Alfred looks like he is just back from a busy day in Afghanistan.
“Jesus Christ, what the fuck are you doing here?” This is the closest thing to a welcome you’ll get from him. But wait, there’s more to it. “You look like fucking shit. Has someone shoved a couple of hungry piranhas up your ass? Jesus? What is this? Blood? No, hold on. Is this fucking shit? Have you fucking shit yourself, man?
“They might be Coprophagic piranhas, dude.” I say.
“Oh my fucking goodness. Do you have the money?” Asks Alfred.
“Yes I do. And I’m going to spend more. But let me in, dude, I think they are following me”.
I shouldn’t have said that. Alfred’s face crumbles now.
“What the fuck are you talking about? I told you to keep that fucking William away from here”
“Can you not hear the helicopters?” I ask.
“Get the fuck in. Go on. Give me the money. You need a fix”.
After Lambda there will be plenty of other underwater facilities in this endless and hypnotic drowned world. You’ll get there through some more bubbles and sunken kingdoms. There will be hanging gardens and Babylonian-style fallen empires, clumps of memories travelling in waves that you cannot even see, but that you’ll swear you can hear, drifting the depths of the same nameless sea where Soma once grew. And everything will sound vacuum packed, like your existence outside this game, like those days before William and the spoons, upon a time where marble stairs were dreams that didn’t turn into shielded public nightmares. There will be revelation, suggestions that everything you understand, your entire existence is based on some sophisticated tech conceived to save humanity from its own destruction. Once you realise that you are not you and that Simon isn’t Simon but a perfect digital shadow of his former self, your own deconstruction as a player will advance as smoothly as your character’s own atomization. And in its glorious depth, in its unstoppable and disarming expansion as an entertaining force that is much smarter than you, Soma will create a sense of adventure, belonging and identification that will equal if not defeat any other adventure ever delivered by science fiction. There will be a moment, likely after Lambda, where all the walls will be blown away, where the ground will open to the stars and the stars to the monsters and the monsters to your awkward sense of being, the sense of being an underwater junkie murderer Canadian fucking robot who is about to expire under a massive rain of spears, shark fangs and utterly inexpressible attacks. Through Catherine’s oblique guidance you’ll find out that the plant that made you a junkie, that phosphorescent elixir that you are sticking your finger into, is some sort of structure gel, the sticky atomic DNA of an artificial intelligence called WAU that has turned humans into growling apes covered in Xmas lights, in orangutesque zombies, the same unsuccessful and disgusting piece of failed machinery that you’ll always be. So once you are stripped off any sense of human dignity, your only mission will be driven by the insane curiosity awoken by the fact that you are simultaneously dead and alive, that you’ve been swallowed by the most appealing dystopic narrative ever experienced outside of the landmarks erected by the greatest sci-fi authors.
Alfred’s gaff is as dark as your imagination will be once you’re finally dead. It feels like someone has thrown a tank of acid all over the walls. He leads you down a set of stairs into a squealing basement. You still feel like that little Japanese girl taken by the hand of the ultimate Nazi. At the bottom of the stairs you see a massive toilet where a bunch of monsters are hanging out. The room is lit by a bare bulb hanging from a rotten rope. You feel heavy and slow, like the last spectator in the history of cinema. You have to rub your eyes to realise that there’s the time-worn husk of a human lying on the ground, a long and viscous creature made of repulsive tentacles and human heads. Jesus. There are heads inside assholes, the same human chain that you once saw in a movie where people were eating each other’s intestines. Only now, while the only thing you’d like to do is grab that needle and stick it in your eye, you realise that one head belongs to David Cameron, his dripping lips and his obscenely long tongue slurping Putin buttocks, while Putin is licking Obamas back, that is covered in Hollande’s fluids. Every possible world leader is feeding on the massive dropping of a sublime eagle, hanging on top of them all, like the ultimate shield. This might be the end, it has to be, so your mouth is dry and your eyes are poking out of their sockets and your stomach’s ruined… And right before you look for Alfred to ask him, beg him to rescue you, William strokes your sweaty temples and whispers again the same elongated string of words:
“D… D… Wake up… It was only a nightmare!”