The genesis was the onset of a very particular sort of academic madness that most failed to notice. She had been a normal enough girl, after all, growing up in a loving home and with a bright future. There were no signs that anyone on the outside that something was festering within her, a paradoxically commonplace yet rare and exotic affliction that was best known for its nearly universal infection of children but also rapid disintegration upon adulthood. In the end it would come to consume much of her and her life. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, and eventually years would all be sacrificed on the altar of time in pursuit of a human holy grail; teleology, perfected.
It began in her bedroom with stacks of books, Plato, Kant, Hegel, and then Kierkegaard, Sartre, Camus. Names that jangled like bells on a string, chiming in and out of harmony as she read and thought. Always above her “level”, as though she had broken an obligation to stay grounded in the interests of her peers. School quickly became a secondary priority and grades dipped as she entered into new spheres of intellect, only to recover when she realized how she had fallen behind. This was still the incubational period, when there was the hope of a cure by distraction, a belief in those around her that something new and obsessive might still come along to detract from her intellectual needs; perhaps puberty would precipitate a fresh assessment of her priorities, maybe in the form of a boy or, her parents reluctantly decided, a girl. It brought about no such thing.
Instead, her hobby grew out of her room and into the basement, moulting essays and excerpts along the way. The house became unto a chamber from the Library of Babel, full of unordered fragments and one desperate inhabitant trying to make sense of it all, the other two having long since given up. She assuaged the worries of her family with increasingly stable grades as well as a meticulously maintained facade of a social life and an ambition for law school. In reality, she slowly worked towards a career in physics, hoping a deeper grasp of objective realities might reveal the grand design she still slavered for, despite the testaments of great minds to the contrary.
This was the path she pursued in college, along with several lesser but no less impressive detours into neuroscience and chemistry. She worked to uncover the precise mechanics of thoughts slowly embarked on a grand expedition to properly map and identify the core components of human consciousness within the brain in their most basic forms. College ended, grad school began with her working on the integration of human neurons to circuitry. An idea for an invention took hold, the creation of a fresh instrument for the monitoring of activity within the brain. She diagrammed it as she finished her dissertation, to be received with unanimous praise by the board, and immediately won a grant for it that erased all her debts, allowing her, for the first time, to live as she pleased.
Her parents sighed with a mix of relief and pride as their home experienced a mass exodus of all things scientific and philosophical. They wished her good luck on her voyage into isolation, as she intended to take up residence in a place where the ravages of her affliction could play out their terminal symptoms in peace. So it came to be that she lived in the lushly forested mountainscape beside the land that she would soon develop into several laboratories full of unprecedented technology. But first she had to grapple with the challenges of her desire.
The difficulty was this; she had come too far. Her mind was at a precipice at which few arrived and none had surpassed. Those who had come before had either retreated or stayed in admiration of the strange and terrible view, and she wanted neither of those things. In this the peculiar resilience of her disease revealed itself; she wanted to go further and higher and, after months of internal strife, she received the blessing of the stranger unto Jacob, finding the inspiration for the mechanism she might use to travel towards the teleological sun. To this end she built the laboratories and the various devices within them.
In secrecy, she modified her body, replacing as much of her physical form with minimalist cybernetics until she was little scarcely more than a head on a spider-like chassis in the hopes that fewer sensations and desires would purify her thoughts in the way the old ascetics once dreamed of. The metastasis to her physical form claimed three senses: taste, smell, and touch. Only hearing and sight, which she required to operate and observe the various machines she now relied on to measure her brain activity, remained. When her body was crafted to her satisfaction she began construction of one final creation, the one which she hoped would reveal that final truth.
To conceive of it took three years and to build it took four. She labored, deformed beyond awareness of day and night, until the device was complete; a rectangular box approximately the size of a personal computer that spewed a tangle of cables from its front. Mounted on it was a thin screen on which the results of her experiment would display, not for her but for the audience she would invite. With the device itself finished she clattered from one end of her dwellings to the other in preparation for their arrival, which would mark the completion of her project. She could execute the experiment on her own but the disease, now considerably more advanced than it had been in her childhood, dictated that she had to have witnesses to contaminate.
They arrived on a Sunday, curious to see what the once-shining-star of academia turned recluse had made of herself. They entered through a front door left carefully ajar and filtered into a handsomely furnished living area with refreshments already provided. Little time was wasted before descending into mingling, gossiping, and generally fulfilling basic mandates of interaction. She watched them, alienated to that process by both time and distance. But a short observation prepared and renewed her knowledge so it was not long before the guests met their host.
Gliding out into the crowd, the mental noise struck her instantly. It was disorienting enough that she had converted suddenly back to a bipedal, humanoid body for the occasion but all the considerations she suddenly had to make as part of the social equation that existed in her former living room almost unbalanced her completely. Only the awareness that the prize was so near kept her from collapsing in the presence of such bizarre creatures as the academics that had populated her previous life and even then it was all she could do to keep up the appearance that she had kept in some kind of touch with the world outside her laboratories. In addition to all casual references to the current news and pop culture, some of the guests were actually bewildered that they had even been invited, as their relevancy had faded dramatically during her time in seclusion. To prevent discontent, the host quickly assured them that their work was still quite relevant to her even if the academic community had discarded them. And so continued her brief reintroduction to the rest of the world until the ebony clock struck and it became imperative that the masque of red lead the guests towards their doom.
They went jovially into the laboratories, perplexed and intrigued by the various flashing lights and screens, all purpose built to indicate the innermost hopes and dreams of a human mind in medical hieroglyphs. They did not know that these monitors were for the host herself; they were under the impression that there were unseen test subjects within the facility, individuals who had volunteered for neuroscientific vivisection. Everyone knew after all, that such monitoring required extensive surgery and the host was a hale, healthy, and whole human being, wasn’t she?
When they arrived at last at in the presence of her ultimate device, they found it alone in an empty room, utterly silent. A few joked that it had been designed to be as underwhelming as possible as she splayed them against the walls of the room. What was it really for, they wanted to know. What was this miracle she had bought them out here to see. She promised they would know soon, soon, if they would only hold still and be quiet. And when the room was finally devoid of noise, she spoke.
This machine, she began, will enable me to do something no one has done before. It will cure the greatest torment of our species, the affliction that has led us down a myriad of dark paths and drives us back towards self-destruction when we have finally recovered. It will change all of us for the better and leave us content with our lot in life. It is a machine designed specifically for the display of the true nature of thoughts, from which we may at last be able to divine the reason for our conscious being.
At this her audience gasped and murmured. They were subsumed with questions that she largely answered with a following lecture on the technical nature of the machine. A few raised objections regarding the ethics of presuming to find a purpose for all of humanity and she quieted these with an assurance that her results would be irrefutable, that the machine would identify features of conscious thought common to all living things. When all their inquiries had been satisfied, she announced that she would now begin to perform the experiment on herself and the shock ran silently anew through them.
With perfect calmness their host placed both hands alongside her head and lifted it bloodlessly from her shoulders. Where there should have been a mess of muscle, bone, and connective tissue hanging beneath the neck there were only black cables, twisting and twitching in the air and these same cables mated with those attached to the machine placed on the floor beside them. There was a great deal of digital screeching as the device booted up and then a second plane of reality opened up in that tiny room, directly visible only to the host herself and indirectly available to her guests through the cramped screen attached to the machine for that specific purpose.
In that second plane she saw at first nothing, then a distant shape, a constantly contorting form that was coming ever nearer. As the gap between her and itself closed, she saw that it was in fact composed of multiple twisting polyhedrons, intersecting and modifying one another by their contact. They had no color beyond an abominable gray and as she looked ever deeper into the writhing masses she became aware that they were multiplying...
It struck her then, the true purpose of human beings, as she stared into the glittering geometric abyss. Her eyes on both planes opened to the one true reality; there were no such things as “people”, only vessels of flesh and blood that served as hosts and breeding grounds for these invisible creatures. She became aware of them crawling in and out of the mouths of people around her, a parasitic menagerie of beings both hideous and divine, infecting her and everyone else. They scratched beneath her skin and rattled through her skull, ethereal beings mutating in a biological limbo, raging to be free. There was nothing more to do.
She opened her mouth and the idea spread.