The two pairs of eyes stared at eachother through the darkness.
Then the man turned around.
He faced back toward the console, his hands hovering over buttons and dials and adjusting each very subtly in turn, his head pearing upwards.
Lined above him were three things Heye had not recognised the last time he was here, having his brain sucked out of him.
Above the man were screens, and upon the screens were the images of agony Heye had only just left — had come here to stop — looping and looping.
The man ignored him entirely.
”Floop! It’s not abstraction! They’re function calls!”
He turned ever so slightly. “What,” he said dryly.
Heye explained. “The quotes… the quotes they’re not abstractions. They’re—”
”Define abstraction,” said Floop, sounding annoyed.
”Oh — it’s in computer science. It’s when you have a problem, and you remove unnecessary details to improve the way you represent it, like how trainline maps remove trees and shops and stuff.”
”Congratualations for passing.”
”Thanks. Anyway what you were saying before, about the snapping sensation being bad — you were basically saying that quotes are abstractions of the real feelings, weren’t you? And that abstractions can’t ever represent more than what they’re abstractions of, so we’re all worse off for using the abstraction. That’s what you were saying, right?”
As if bored, Floop rotated ever so slightly back towards the monitors. Heye could sense his locus of attention returning inexplicably to matters other than the alien he had summoned from another world.
”Floop! Listen to me! You’re not wrong about abstractions being bad, but they’re not abstractions! They’re function calls!” Floop had now turned fully to the dials, the pained faces of the Sokotians still plastered above his indifference. “They’re function calls. The quote isn’t the feeling, it’s a label for the feeling. A pointer!”
”I only realised when two of the Sokotians were using quotes that I didn’t recognise — they were still communicating, so their had to be more to what they were saying then the strings in the quotes themselves — just like any language, really.”
”So then the joy of quoting is the joy of being able to talk, of being understood by yourself and by others — and it’s not harmful at all! It’s almost the opposite! Can you imagine if we had to define every concept we wanted to use from scratch in every conversation?”
Floop did not react.
”So you don’t need to do anything! Floop!”
Floop did not react. It was almost like Heye wasn’t even in the room.
Floop didn’t react at all.
”Arggh!” grumbled Heye, taking a step forward. “You’re the one who brought me here! You can’t just ignore me when I’m telling you your whole plan is wrong!
With that, Floop finally turned around. His features looked tired. Not in general, merely by the current conversation. “I needed a brain, Heye,” he said. “Your purpose has been fulfilled. All that’s left for you is to be fixed, or to stay out of my hair, permanantly.”
He turned back around.
Heye’s pupils shrank. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
”What?” yelled Heye. “You— you don’t care!?”
He took a step foward.
”You brought me all the way here, upheaved my entire life, made me believe my entire brain was broken, are currently invading the brains of the only friends I’ve made here — and you don’t care??”
The alien chuckled. “That’s the thing about Floops, isn’t it? The more you expect them to care the more it hurts when they don’t. Allow me to demonstrate.”
Something firey flickered inside Heye. “What? That was…”
”Amphibia, yes. I’m not stupid. You manage pick up a couple after a lifetime. Just how special do you think you are, Heye Reihill?”
”You… you know my last name?”
”Yes! I know everything about you! I’ve been inside your head! I’ve rooted out every possible interesting thing about you — we’re done. I don’t need you. There is nothing novel left in you for me. Just like everyone else on this stupid planet. For now.”
Floop turned back to his dials, spread across the giant dashboard. Heye couldn’t believe how indifferent Floop was to his presence, especially given the remains of his last visit very clearly visible. Floop had had most of the shattered glass of the brain-reading machine cleared, and either he had another one or Heye had damaged it far less than he thought, because he saw something practicelly identical to it lying just where the last one was.
Behind him was the portal he had just teleported through, it’s two curled spikes. He wondered how Floop had felt when it first activated — what excactly he had expected out of the alien he summoned. And how dissapointed he must have been when nothing came out, and how long it took him to realise his subject had just fallen out the other side.
Red dots like eyes literred among the room in the shaddowy darkness.
”You don’t even care if I’m fixed or not?” asked Heye.
Floop shrugged far too nonchantly. “I tried.”
”And what, you forgot my brain wasn’t Sokotian? It failed.”
”Eh,” he said, reaching out and picking up a joystick. “I wouldn’t call it a total failure.”
He twitched his hand against the joystick—
And deep, deep inside brain, far from where he’d ever hoped he’d ever experience any sensation ever again — Heye felt a twitch.
Once apon a time, Heye had read a story about a young girl who went on a road trip to save everyone in the world from a deadly virus. At the time of reading, he had thought it was mildly interesting and occasionally slightly amusing but mostly inane and pointless.
One thing that did stick with him though, was how the author had frequently described stress manifesting in this girl’s brain not as anything usual, but as buzzing.
It had perplexed Heye at the time…
But there was nothing to be confused about now.
His head erupted into a tremendous buzzing. Not a sound, not a physical sensation, but an all-encompassing psychological alarm, as though his head had been cased in sound proof jelly that had done the excact inverse of its advertised purpose… (outside of being jelly).
Goosebumps flooded down his body, the high of figuring out quoting was harmless thoroughly replaced by the low that he had never been free, and was just as much at risk of whatever Floop was about to set off as the Sokotians…
”Wait.” His voice came out as a whisper. “It’s just… been inside me? This whole time? I thought — I didn’t want it to be true — but I thought that whatever you were going to do had already started.”
”Oh no,” said Floop casually. “You can’t perform autonomous, remote, multi-subject brain surgery without a model of what you’re working with. And despite… all of themselves, Sokotians aren’t robots. We’re organic, with natural variations between our brain structures. So I needed to scan every last one of them, and best to do it all at once.”
”So all you’ve been doing this whole time is just creating a tonne of models of their brains? Even when the bugs were in my brain?”
He nodded. “Your brain however needed far less scanning. I already had most of it.”
Heye had slogged through enough sci-fi to know to shiver at that the knowledge that, almagamted, a copy of his brain existed within the ones and zeroes somewhere in this very room…
Up until then, he had felt strangely comfortable in Floop’s room, far more than he would have thought he should have.
But then his heartrate quadroopled as his lips formed the question that was so very unlikely to have a remotely decent answer, but he did it anyway, because he had to.
”And when does the real thing start?”
Finally Floop smiled.
He turned to Heye, finally returned the passion he had had when they’d first spoken, this time annoyed aggravation translated into it’s excact opposite: unhindred, unbridered, glee.
His fingers poised over a button.
Those who were still had started to scream. Those who had been screaming became still.
And inside the tower, the source of it all, was the only one who was aware it was coming.
In the milisecond after he realised what was happening, he finally tore off from besides the portal, hands outstretched, pelting at Floop—
And his heart catapulted as a force came barrelling from against the wall, smashing into Heye and slicing through his skin in the process.
He collapsed in pain, the creature taking not the slightest notice as it wrapped its sharp tentacles around the boy’s legs, effortlessly sweeping him across the metal, the boys eyes rising only just enough to see the similng face of Felonious Floop.
The door shut.