Different Levels Of The Devil’s Company

The air’s got that taste, you know, the metallic tang of too many hidden circuits firing off invisibly, where once there was only the subtle kiss of the Pacific breeze. I feel it whistle through the bones where the marrow’s remembering rain, remembering how the world was before the zeros and ones. I’m turning the last corner on the reel, some seventy-nine revolutions ’round the sun, and as I look out from this cliff over a horizon pocked by the Second Moon, I can’t help but trace these lines we scored across history.

Back at the first level of the Devil’s Company, it was all shining and new. That was sometime after ’17—still fresh-faced from the End of History, the world licking its wounds and ready for the tapestry of the new-century. I was a young man, saw myself as a sorta techno-cowboy. We plugged into the Net when it was still wild; raw collective consciousness sprouting up like strange digital flowers. My kids—they were just a concept back then, the product of nights when Eleanor and I weren’t interfaced with the rest of humanity.

It didn’t take long for that first level to show its fangs. Pulled us in with the promise of constant contact, no more missed hellos or goodbyes, just a carousel of never-ending nows. But that’s where we got it wrong—we bartered presence for permanence. My first boy, Billy, he barely cried when he spawned; he was born to this hum. Eleanor, she took to it like it was meant to be, weaving her womanness into it, making a home among the wires while the whispers of what we were giving up were all but drowned out by the next great notification.

Then came the second descent, when the world picked up speed and the machines started doing the dance of the everyday and the everyman. That’s when you started to see the strain, where the Devil’s grin crept wider—a seduction of sorts. By the time little Sarah came ’round, it wasn’t about whether you could live without the automation dives, it was about whether you wanted to. I watched as my job got swallowed up, and Eleanor, she retreated further into the place where our voices were just one of the many. And the kids, bless ’em, they wouldn’t know a world without it.

The labyrinth came next, that headlong hurtle into the Hyperreal. Must’ve been around ‘50 when the solid started to give way to the suggestible. We lost the ground beneath our feet, started painting it in whatever shades and stories that suited the passing fantasy. I remember looking into Eleanor’s eyes and not knowing if the love I saw there was graphic processing or genuine passion. I became the ghost in my own life; my children were natives to these new realms, spoke in codes and perceived in pixels while I—well, I was the echo of a time before, when the earth held firm under your soles and the sky was only as wide as your dreams.

The advent of the Second Moon was the climax—the fourth pact made. It was the reflection of our existential query writ large against the void. Governments sounded their alarms in an orchestra of dread and wonder, but we were different people now, tugged to and fro by the Company of the devil. For me, it was an ache for beneath and before, grappling with the fear that I was becoming nothing more than a footnote in the annals of our own making. Eleanor’s passing marked the day when I realized the soil of our legacy was sown with too much steel.

Now, in the twilight of existence, with the Second Moon a constant silent sentinel, the final level is at hand. It’s this nod to the inevitable symbiosis with the machine, the fated embrace of the inhuman. I see it in the eyes of my children, the gulf of our understanding wider than the void between Earth and that cold, distant hunk of alien rock.

I’m relic. I’m remnant. Eleanor’s ghost weaves through the silent spaces of our once-home, and my children—they’ve got orbits I can’t fathom. My legacy is fading signal; it’s a marker on the route we all walked with the Devil’s Company. Was it for the better? That’s the question I’m leaving behind. As I draft this in the style of the Gibsonian troubadours of the old net, I wonder whether the tales we coded ourselves into will hold any meaning for the ones who come next. Or will they, too, lose themselves in the layered levels of the Company, doomed to haunt the new worlds in search of something that cannot be synthesized, something undeniably human?

It’s a heavy coat to wear, this life. And as I flicker in and out of the neon daydreams, there’s a hope—brittle as the last autumn leaf—that in our dance with devils, we might still find steps that lead us back to the warmth of hand-helds, of heartbeats unmonitored, of love unalgorithmized. But that’s likely just the rambling of an old man caught in the afterglow of a century that burned too bright, blinded by the light of our own making.

So this is what I carve out, what I’m leaving as I drift: the reflection of a man who sipped too deep from the cup of the Devil’s Company, watched the world change colors, and now, at the edge of all things, wonders if it should’ve stayed a little grayer, a little slower, a little closer to the heart.