Disc Skip Nirvana

User Error’s copy of Nirvana’s Nevermind is mostly, surprisingly good, but it’s scratched enough where it’ll skip and freeze periodically, mostly during “In Bloom,” “Come as You Are,” and “Breed.” It isn’t enough to kill the mood, and User and Sanford Brisket usually shout out “Remix!” whenever Kurt Cobain’s voice stutters and chops up into audio oblivion, but it’s enough to be noticeable.

They’re biking/rollerblading down a random tunnel with no end in sight, nothing but the occasional ominous torch, ominous because no one’s supposed to be alive out this far. User Error looks at Sanford as he pedals on:

“You ever wonder if you were alive before this life?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the world’s been around for billions of years, right?”

“It has?”

“Yeah, I read it in a book once. Had to pull the thing out of a sewer. Anyway, I read in another book that matter can’t be created or destroyed, it just turns into other jazz. So who’s to say we haven’t been repurposed into new lifeforms and junk over the eons?”

“Like birds and bugs and shit?”

“Yeah, and people.”

“It’s a cool story, but it’s all speculation. Rabble dabble.”

“So was everything at one point. Some dude in the past thought that he could turn rocks and minerals into computer chips, and I’m guessing people thought he was crazy before he actually did it. And then they got the Inner Net and all that.”

“Yeah, and then they got super advanced and blew each other up and made it so our ancestors had to scurry underground to survive. You ask me, they were a bunch of jive turkeys.”

“Eh, I say it’s human nature. We love mystery, and death is the ultimate mystery.”

“So we seek it out? With like wars and junk?”

“Maybe, I don’t know. Just a theory.”

“Hmm. I mean, you do have a poi– Holy shit!”

They both stop. In front of them is what appears to be a person going through an abrupt life cycle. He’s standing in the middle of the tunnel, body shifting, growing tall through childhood and adolescence, thickening up from adulthood, stooping with age, shriveling up, and shrinking back down to where he started. Then he disappears, all of this in about thirty seconds.

“What in the actual Sam Hill, User? Like the full-blown Samuel H. Hill. What was that?”

“I think it was a life cycle. A super short one, but a life cycle.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“You know how flies will live for like a day and then just die? I guess that guy was programmed to live for like thirty seconds.”

“Programmed?”

“Yep. Might’ve been a bug in the code or something.”

All of a sudden, someone pops into existence in front of them. This time, it’s someone completely different. They spring up, grow tall, stall out, wrinkle, and stoop just like the first person. Right before they pop out of existence, they manage to look at User and get out:

“Who are–”

The person disappears, but then another person appears. They look at User as they rapidly age and finish the sentence:

“–you?”

The recurring being disappears. User looks at Sanford:

“They’re immortal. Living their life in tiny segments, dying over and over again, coming back as new people, but it’s the same central consciousness. Their memory is carrying over from–”

“Leave me–”

The person, now with green skin, is there, then gone. They reappear with reptilian features and a thick hide.

“–alone.”

“What the fuck is happening, User?”

“I don’t know, but I think it’s cycling through its species’ evolution. It’s almost as if when it gets startled or angry or something, it cycles faster, and it appears the way it will, the way we will, in the distant future.”

“So we’re going to look like weird lizard people in the future?”

“Not us, but our descendants will. Maybe. If the theory holds, anyway.”

The person reappears, but this time they’re barely human. Its knuckles touch the tunnel floor, and its skin is now a grayish green. Its eyes are blank white, like it hasn’t seen the sun its entire life. Its voice is a growl:

“I said go away!”

It disappears again. Sanford turns to User:

“Uh, I think we should do what he says.”

“Agreed. Let’s skedaddle.”

They gather their equipment and ride away. They can hear the being cycling over and over again behind them, but then it stops. They turn and see why:

Where the being once stood and cycled now sits a small, human baby. It doesn’t cycle, just sits on the ground and does baby things. User and Sanford turn to go help the baby, but they won’t have to: He stands up, waves at the two of them, and walks on down the tunnel, toward where User and Sanford came from. Sanford blinks:

“Trippy. Absolutely insane.”

“Shall we continue?”

“What?”

“I need to go get parts to make myself a robot leg, remember?”

“Oh yeah. Okay. Yeah, we should get out of here.”

They do. User presses play on his CD player. Kurt Cobain’s voice skips and distorts, but it eventually finds itself as it reverberates down the endless tunnel.

Jams and Cycles

User Error is watching the way the lights flash by as he cycles down his town’s main tunnel, Sanford Brisket rollerblading next to him while beatboxing. They’re going so fast that Sanford’s constantly getting out of breath, stopping his beat to breathe, then beatboxing again when he gets bored. He looks at User.

“Let’s listen to some jams.”

“Now?”

“Yeah, I’m bored. I want to hear some of the tunes you whipped up on that computer of yours.”

User Error stops his bike and pulls out a beaten and battered portable CD player from his backpack. The top of it is partially broken, but he fixed that with some duct tape and super glue. The anti-skip still kind of works. He pulls out a dusty CD case and gives Sanford his pick of about 100 discs in total, some of them ones that User scavenged in his travels and some that he made himself, chopping up MIDI files and making music out of computer error sounds, startup music, and the digitized Beethoven that came standard with every copy of Windows 95.

Sanford chooses a CD of User Error’s latest mixes. User loads the CD and hangs the headphones over his neck, if they can still be called headphones at this point. A while back, User removed the foam over-ear coverings and made some modifications. He flipped the speakers so that they were facing outward and tinkered with them until they were playing at the volume of a loud radio. That’s how he likes to listen to his jams.

The first song sounds like a synthesized choir flying through space. The beat slams, the bass is funky, and you can just tell how much fun User Error was having when he made it.

They’re getting moving again, the sound reverberating off of the tunnel walls.

“Okay, this is a bop, User.”

“Yeah?”

“Certified fresh, man. I’d give birth to this if I was a lady.”

User laughs:

“What?”

“Yeah man. You should play this for mamas who are popping out babies. It’d make the whole experience much cooler, I bet.”

“Okay… I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Yeah man. Really good stuff.”

It goes on like that, one song bleeding into another, both of them going farther than they’ve ever gone before, beyond the lights that are still running, into the dark, until User has to switch on his bike’s headlight and Sanford has to put on his headlamp.

“Sanford, what do you think you would have done above ground? Like as a job?”

“We’ve been over this. There is no one and nothing above ground.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I mean like before everything went crazy. Before our ancestors went all ‘fuck this’ and got down into the tunnels. You know? There were jobs. You’d go somewhere and do something for like eight hours, then at the end of the day you could go to like an apartment or something and your boss would give you paper so that you could go buy food. So what would your job be?”

“How would I get food paper?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit, I’d probably just find where they kept all the food paper and take it for myself.”

“This isn’t like someone hoarding gold in a cave, San. They had like vaults and guards and stuff. They kept their money on the Inner Net.”

“Damn. Well, I don’t know then. Probably someone who tells travelling tales. You know? Like you see these guys going from tunnel to tunnel, and everyone gathers around to hear them weaving it thick, and everybody loves it. Everyone needs stories, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Plus, if the people above ground were dumb enough to destroy everything up there, I’m pretty sure I could trick them into giving me a shit ton of food paper.”

“You’re ridiculous, Sanford. You know that, right?”

“I am aware.”

The CD plays out. The tunnel makes the music sound like it’s coming from miles underwater. Sanford looks at User Error.

“Do you ever think about cycles, User?”

“Like bicycles?”

“No, like things happening again and again. That kind of cycle.”

“Eternal return?”

“Eternal what?”

“Eternal return. So basically, the theory goes that the world and the Inner Net and the universe and all of it will all one day come to an end.”

“Already seems like it has.”

“Yeah, I know. But the theory says that after all of it ends, it all starts up again. Like everything, word for word and step for step. The world happens, and people make the Inner Net, and everything blows up, and there’s us tunnel people, all of it.”

“And there’s no way to stop it?”

“Nope. It just cycles again and again, over and over. For all of eternity, you and I will be running into each other as kids, then becoming friends, then going on adventures, and then having this exact conversation.”

“What if I change it and… FUCK.”

“What?!”

“Nothing, sorry. I just wanted to mess with the cycle.”

“That’s the thing though, San. The theory says that you’ve always yelled out ‘fuck’ in the middle of the conversation like that, and you always will. And you’d have no way of knowing, because your memory is wiped each time you’re born again. Like a fresh hard drive.”

“Holy shit.”

“Right?”

“No, I mean holy shit, where is this waterfall at? We’ve been going for like hours now.”

“I think we’re almost there.”

“You think?”

“Well yeah, I’ve never been there before. But it feels like it, right?”

Sanford thinks for a second, then smiles.

“Yeah, it does.”

User Error starts his CD from the beginning. They ride on into the darkness.