CHAPTER 17 – Reboot?, by Luis Rainha

©Ana Catarina Fragoso, Duna, 2020, Acrílico sobre ferro (galvanizado) e quinado www.

Translated by Frank Wynne

Edited by Amanda Hopkinson

“An arm. There on the floor was an arm with no body, no weapon, slithering in a series of grotesque convulsions, leaving a black trail like a motion blur.”

But something was moving; not some death rattle from the lifeless body, but a furtive presence, moving stealthily purposefully, close to the ground. It was a snake, gliding into the shadows, away from the astonished eyes of Teresa. Whatever was trying to get out of the kitchen did not squirm like a startled cat, leaping across obstacles to get to safety. Something much more surreptitious, more calculating was moving across the white tiles, stained with lakes of dried blood, marks on a map that heralded some terrible invasion. She flicked a switch, bathing the crime scene in the pitiless glare of the 4,000 K light.

And screamed.

An arm. There on the floor was an arm with no body, no weapon, slithering in a series of grotesque convulsions, leaving a black trail like a motion blur. It was alive, and it did not want to be caught. And Teresa knew without knowing that it had murdered Maria.

Absurdly, the image that flickered into her mind was a broad avenue lined by palm trees in Santiago, which she had selected randomly, capital of an escape that would no longer take place. For several seconds, this dream image seems more solid than the nightmarish scene she had stumbled into: her lover lying dead on the floor, the knife like a metal rib bursting out of her, this thing crawling away in a whisper like castanets – like fingernails scraping on tiles – and fish splashing round on top of each other.

In the end, neither world was solid enough to persist in Teresa’s vision. The tropical scene vanished, but the prosaic kitchen, disinfected only the day before, also quivered, like the hologram of the globe that she… but what hologram? Were these things a part of the real universe, tangible and sensible, or merely props in some morbid fantasy?

A black curtain fell over her senses. Which was good, so long as this gruesomely amputated horror also disappeared. Better to be suspended in nothingness than to be part of a world where such possibilities existed.

And then suddenly Teresa found herself in a different space. A laboratory she could have sworn she recognised, with monitors, keyboards, the trappings of days that had been banal, comforting. A metal tower bristling with cables and levers for the tunnel-effect microscope she had so often used, a periscope focussed on the depths of the Planck scale. She was in the cave. Still. Forever? Words echoed that she had heard minutes before, or in another geological era: “the possibilities of this device? We haven’t even got the faintest idea what will actually happen when we turn it on.”

Standing in front of her, professor Cacilda was holding a black helmet, attached to the control panel by a thick rope of cables in pretty primary colours. She gazed at Teresa as though contemplating the sad fate of her favourite guinea pig, perhaps unable to resist one last experiment. His shoulders slumped, Professor Ricardo turned away from a monitor on which there were still images of palm trees in the sunshine.

“We decided to turn off the device earlier than planned, Teresa. The simulation was starting to spiral out of control …”

“No useful data, by the way,” Cacilda set the helmet down on the bench. “Your feedback created powerful interference in the neural network. We are not much farther advanced in understanding the problem we are facing.”

“Homoerotic escapades, robots, programmed humanoids… congratulations on the creativity of your subconscious. But that last scene could have been too overwhelming for your nervous system. So, as a precaution…”

“We’ve got no time to lose. I can further fine-tune the tolerance levels of the simulator. And I can curb the influence exerted by the volunteer.”

“Cacilda, I know that you know this machine better than anyone. And I know how important these models will be, but it might be saf…”

“Your decision, Teresa: do you want to give the simulator one more try? Or would you rather go back to the cave, to a world on the brink of extinction? Lúcia can always take your place.” Cacilda asserted her authority, turning a deaf ear to her ex-husband’s words and his caution. “What’s it to be: ‘PLAY’ or ‘STOP’?”

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Luís Rainha is a hermit with solid credentials. Locked away at home long before the current pandemic, his main life goals are to master the art of braiding before June and learn how to properly work the oven. Aside from this, he continues to have been born in Figueira da Foz in 1962 and to harbor the intention of dying, though he’s not sure when, preferably after having written some more books of the kind that no one reads, despite being acclaimed by many.

©Rui Vasco

Frank Wynne is an award-winning translator from French and Spanish, who has translated works by Michel Houellebecq, Claude Lanzmann, Frédéric Beigbeder and Yasmina Khadra. He is the author of I Was Vermeer, a nonfiction book about art forger Han van Meegeren.

©Nick Bradshaw

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