Black Lotus, Part 12

“What would you say is the best way to die?” Lotus asked. “The least pain, the shortest duration, the easiest of memories on your return to life?”

“Well,” Çrom said, “I know it’ll sound like an unhelpful answer, but none of them are easy. That’s the simple truth. I know,” he raised his hands before she could protest, “you said best, and there has to be a spectrum, right?”

Lotus expectantly twirled a gnarled hand. “Well?”

“Yes and no,” Çrom said. “There’s a spectrum, but its entirety falls at the extreme end of a larger spectrum of human experience, beyond the line that separates bearable from unbearable sensation. So yes, there are better and worse options. For example, being brutally tortured for days leading up to being dismembered to death – worse.”

“A shame, but I will make a note of it,” Lotus said. They both chuckled, but it was a chuckle full of awareness of how un-chuckleworthy the topic was.

“The best and cleanest and swiftest and most painless possible death is still a death,” Çrom went on seriously, “and as such accounts for … practically one hundred percent of the unpleasantness of it. Any peripheral stuff comes in at a very, very distant second place. I just want to make that as clear as I possibly can.”

“Interesting,” Lotus said. “Do you think that this … unpleasantness, which seems an insufficient word…”

“You’ve got that right.”

“Do you think that it is purely a function of the human brain not being able to process its own death? Or do you think the dread Ghåålus added an intentional barb to the curse, making the death itself into a tortuous ordeal?”

“I think maybe it doesn’t really matter which is the case,” Çrom said, “but I have done a bit of pondering about it, over the years. And it’s true, He very well might have dialled up the nastiness of it. But the simple fact is, I don’t think He needed to. Death is bad enough without any amplification. It’s just fine for almost every mortal who ever lived, because they don’t need to actually process the data back into a living and operational nervous system.”

“I see.”

“But if you want to talk about the spectrum within a spectrum…” Çrom thought about it some more. “The easy answer, something along the lines of ‘passing away peacefully of exhaustion or heart failure in bed with a small group of sexual partners of your choice’, sounds ideal but like I was saying, it’s really just another death. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be worth trying another eight or nine times, just to be sure,” he joked feebly, “but don’t hold it against me if I wimp out in the middle of the afterglow and sneak away somewhere to get my breath back. Dying is still not worth it no matter how happy my inner monkey is when it happens.”

He shivered, for once not really noticing the bright inquisitive look Lotus was still directing at him. The feeling of your nervous system shutting down, your consciousness retracting to a single aactur and winking away into whatever comes next – Limbo or the afterlife or blessed, blessed nothingness – and then being unwinked back into reality and blown back up into the same old body to just carry on … no, the human mind was not adequately equipped for that. Çrom had come to suspect that even the Firstmades, who had been doing the same shit on purpose since the dawn of time, weren’t actually equipped for it. That was why they were all sociopathic lunatics with severe substance abuse issues.

“So, the best possible end of that spectrum within a spectrum,” Lotus pressed. “If you had to choose.”

“If I had to choose…” Çrom shrugged. “Just a straight-up severed spine is about the best I can hope for. There’s a certain amount of lingering consciousness but at least it’s centred in the brain – the rest of the body’s signals don’t get through. It’s better than decapitation though, if you do it right, because decapitation usually reads like … like all the signals trying to go through at once. Don’t ask me why they’re different, but they are. I think it’s a shock thing. Maybe with a crushed vertebra I’m still getting some sort of signal saying that the rest of my body is fine and the only damage is the spine and there’s no real need for a lot of impulses that are only going to make my brain unhappy. Cutting the head off allows the whole ‘massive cutting trauma across neck’ message to go through, and that translates into ‘let’s say the whole body has been mangled to a pulp to save time’. But destroying the brain itself,” he raised a finger. “Worse, not better. Because that’s when the real no-fucking-idea comes out to play and I wake up with a hideous nightmarish nothing-spot. No shock, no gentle loss of signal, just straight to the raw death.”

“What of the famed sleeping killers?” Lotus asked. “Sedation and overdose? Drowning? Hypothermia?”

Çrom shook his head. “No, no and no,” he said. “All awful. The people who say those things are like falling asleep all have one obvious thing going for them – they don’t actually die. Oh, maybe they do, clinically … but if they do it’s not for long, not for keeps, and they are revived into the same body and the same brain. With the added benefit of a bit of oxygen deprivation or some other trauma to pack wool around the whole thing. Lucky bastards,” he shook his head. “The consciousness defends itself by wiping out the real sensations retroactively, and substituting a gentle going-away feeling that you could swear you really experienced at the time. The brain fools itself. We’ve bred for that, selectively, over the millennia.”

“And you have been dragged along with the flotilla,” Lotus smiled.

Çrom laughed shortly. “Exactly. I don’t get that thoughtful little retcon action when I get killed. Trust me when I tell you,” he concluded. “I’ve been clinically dead and then resuscitated, and it’s entirely different to being properly killed and then unkilled.”

“That brings us back to the question of the unkill – the reset itself,” the Black Lotus leaned forward eagerly. “When you are injured or sedated to the point of clinical death, and revived, your consciousness fades as your nervous system shuts down, your soul – according to current theories – retracts to unreality … but then your flesh is resupplied with the necessary substances, the damage is repaired, your nervous system resumes activity and the connection – not actually broken, so much as thinned to a thread – is brought back to fullness. You are the same, occupying the same flesh, and you continue.”

Çrom nodded. “Sounds clinical enough.”

“Yet you are saying that this does not occur,” the Black Lotus pressed, “when you are killed and then unkilled by your curse.”


“You die completely, the connection severed. And then it is forcibly reforged, and you are placed in a new housing of flesh, practically identical to the one you wore before.”

“Right,” Çrom said again. “Except for the cause of death being edited out – you know, the physical damage repaired – and maybe a tiny evolutionary change written in to be going along with.”

“But not the same flesh.”

“Not the same,” Çrom said, and frowned, “I guess.”

“What, then, happens to the flesh that died?”

“No idea,” Çrom said. “I’ve never woken up beside a carcass of myself, except in those cloning exercises we talked about earlier. I think it’s recycled. I mean, the matter is basically exactly what the universe needs in order to build a new Çrom Skelliglyph, give or take a few molecules here and there. The most efficient way to rebuild me, really, is to reuse the material I was made out of originally. So you could say it’s the same matter, but not the same meat. It’s completely scrubbed, like a stolen starship.”

“And has this recycling been studied in action?”

“Of course,” Çrom said. “Nothing very conclusive was ever found, though.”

“And why is that?”

“Because medical instruments and magically enhanced senses are no better equipped to deal with a carcass turning back into a person than the brain inside that carcass is,” Çrom said. “You know, if I had to guess. They don’t seem to find it as awful as I do, but they’re still basically left at a complete loss. How close are we to my death now?”

“Closer than ever before.”

“That doesn’t mean much. It just means time is unidirectional,” Çrom sighed. “Tell me something, Lotus,” she raised an eyebrow. “Tell me why you really study immortality.”

“Ah,” she said, her smile bitter. “Have you not guessed the answer to so paltry a mystery, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph?”


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
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