Anders, Charlie: “Suicide Drive”

Suicide Drive

by Charlie Anders

You’re late. If we miss history, it’ll be all your fault.

Nah, I don’t really care. I’m just flinging shit at you. You’re the one who wanted to record my reaction to the big day. It’s down here, past the big sliding door. OK. Now we’re sealed in, although it’s not in full lockdown mode, or else we wouldn’t be able to receive any signals or anything.

Yes, this is the place. Pretty boring, huh? This was my whole world until I turned twenty one. Right, the last twenty years of his life.

It doesn’t look that great, but it’s sort of designed to deceive the casual eye, if someone somehow found this place when we weren’t in lockdown. True, we had running water when nobody else did. You could maintain a comfortable existence here for decades, which is what I’ve done, actually. The facilities are pretty nice, when everything’s working properly. But of course, that’s why you’re here. The generator’s just behind that wall hanging, by the way.

From my selfish standpoint, that’s why you’re here. From your standpoint, you’re here to ask about my dad. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you everything I know about him. Sorghum wine? Bio-snort? Okay, suit yourself. But at least sit down, that chair keeps bobbing up to meet you, and it’s making me nervous.

Okay, so my dad. You know Hitler was a painter, Havel was a playwright, and Mao was a poet. Well, my dad was a musician. Only, he really was a musician. First and foremost. I think he was always happier making music and entertaining people. At the age when he should have been doing a comeback tour, doing bad acoustic versions of all the songs on the Dead First album, he was running the world. Excuse me, “chairing the World Council.” Same diff.

I’m not trying to trivialize his legacy. I’m not. It’s just everything makes more sense if you think of him as a rock star. And just remember, if he’d died when he was your age, he’d still have been famous forever, just for his music. For as long as there were people, anyway.

I mentioned the facilities are great. See that dirty cooking hole? That’s actually the entertainment system. You press a button and you can watch any one of a million fibrespecs. Like this one – it’s like having The Big Engine playing live in your living room. Here, I’ll show you. This is the show where Toony’s stomach implants burst open, and he just keeps drumming, doesn’t even miss a lick. People forget how hardcore they were. Here, we can slow the replay. Look at his facial expression, he’s in agony but he bites it back. Fucking insane.

He didn’t talk about it that much. I was like one year old when we moved here, and right until the end I never knew the whole story. I sort of knew my dad had been someone important, but mostly I thought it was just the rock-star thing. And I thought everybody lived like this. I didn’t realize half the world was starving while we were in our little luxury compound disguised as a shack. In the fibrespecs we watched, people mostly lived like us. I didn’t realize the stories were lies, just like our life.

You know, it was like when Siddhartha Gautama sneaked out of the palace for the first time. Saw the poverty, the clawing need, the people barely hanging on. I hadn’t realized that everyone else lived that way. I walked around just staring at the rags and the filth and the outlines of all those bones, and then I realized that I looked like the richest man on Earth. So I ran the hell back here and locked everything up for a while. The next time I went out, I fucked myself up. And I still looked way out of place. No, I’m not trying to say I’m Buddha. Just an analogy.

Yeah. I think he would have given anything to be here today. It killed him to know that we couldn’t know the outcome of the Gamba Project for fifty years. I’m the age now that he was when it launched. The Suicide Drive.

I know, that’s not the real name. But the Suicide Drive sounds a lot more poetic than the Murtz-Groeger-Zao Quantum Inverse Drive.

My dad wrote a song called “Suicide Drive,” did you know that? When he was twenty two years old. It’s not on any of the fibrespecs, even the collections of rarities, because it’s a crappy song. It’s all about the deathwish, the opposite of the will to live, and there’s sort of a double meaning with “drive” as in street or driveway. It’s easily one of the twenty or thirty worst songs my dad wrote.

So he was prolific, and every hundredth song was actually pretty great. I guess. Actually, it’s not my kind of music. I prefer blueggae. My dad stopped writing songs after his election. I guess he tried, but he couldn’t get back into that headspace. Which probably did kind of drive him nuts, more than anything else.

Okay, whatever. I’ve heard what they say about his election. I have no clue, and probably neither did he. He thought he won fairly. I have no clue. None. It’s funny, I knew nothing of any of this until I turned eighteen. He sat me down and told me the whole story, in one afternoon. And then he died a few years later, and I finally got out of here, long enough to buy some historical fibrespecs. I didn’t know what people were saying about him until he died. It’s funny, he never knew quite how much he was hated, but he also totally missed out on the whole “Jando wasn’t so bad” backlash.

No, you can’t hear it. I told you, it’s a shitty song. Jesus. Plus how do I know you won’t record it? Fuck you, man. It’s bad enough I have to do this interview in the first place. You do know how to fix my generator, right? That’s the only reason I let you down here. And you already promised in writing not to tell anyone where I am.

Yes, you could say I’m sheltered. I mean, I grew up in a fucking bunker. So yes. Sheltered.

The generator’s over here. You can work on it while we talk.

Actually, he was a really gentle person. I mean, I don’t have much to compare him to as parents go. But those historical fibrespecs I watched were the first I ever heard of his “dark side.” I know that part of him always wanted to go face his critics and stand trial for his crimes and stuff. But he wanted to protect me.

You’d better work fast if you want to be able to catch my reaction to the first images. That generator’s pretty fucked up. It could totally give out just as the ship touches down. Fuck, I keep using the present tense. Even though it’s not the present, it’s the past, and it’s taken this long for the light to reach us.

I suck at math, sorry. But I think so. Twenty years ago? The ship landed. On “Free Land.” Or else it crashed. Or got shot down by natives we didn’t know were there. Hah. Of course, the crew of the ship were the best and brightest of every culture, so they probably didn’t crash. But you never know, right? They could have gone crazy, cooped on that ship for a few months, their time.

Didn’t I just say I sucked at math? I have no clue. It was like twenty eight, twenty nine years our time, a few months their time. Or something. Maybe it was a few years their time. Part of the benefit of the Suicide Drive.

No, I won’t play you that song. I don’t even know where it is. Stop asking.

My dad definitely didn’t come up with the name Suicide Drive, he hated that name. That’s what his opponents called it. And it wasn’t actually suicidal, right? I mean, we’re all still here?

Okay, so we’re not all still here.

I think those figures are inflated. They’re disputed, anyway.



No, not at all.

I’m not being deliberately obstructive. I’m answering your questions. It’s just that some of them I don’t have much to say to. No, don’t stop working on the generator. I’ll answer fully. Right. Fuck you too.

It’s just that you seem kind of biased. Yes, I get that. That’s why my dad hid away. Yes, I get that everyone lost someone. Even me. No, I meant my mom.

I don’t know how to answer that. I can’t speak for my dad, I really can’t. And he addressed all that stuff in his farewell speech.

You can stop working on the generator if you want. But we’re supposed to be able to see the landing in like half an hour, and we won’t see squat here unless you fix it by then.

Okay then, here’s my interpretation based on my knowledge of dad. He took a bunch of logical turns, small steps that each made sense, and ended up at an extreme conclusion. I didn’t say insane, I said extreme. Don’t forget Australia. A whole continent, just gone. And my dad could see nothing ahead but more of the same. He inherited an environment that was already fucked, even without the Suicide Drive.

You know. I mean, supposedly it takes an infinite amount of energy to travel faster than light. And the energy needs increase exponentially the closer you get to light speed. You can’t cheat Einstein. And there was Free Land, so close we could practically spit on it.

No, I wouldn’t agree with that. We were probably doomed on this planet before the Suicide Drive, and we were still probably doomed on it afterwards. You never know, a tiny fraction of the population may survive. But the plagues, the weather events, the accidents, those dumb genocidal wars… those were already happening. People had been saying for a long time that we needed to establish a presence off-world. The difference was the Suicide Drive made it possible.

I don’t know if my dad was insane. Sanity is pretty situational, isn’t it? I mean, if you dropped any of us into the Middle Ages, they’d think we were insane. Good point. We may soon get a chance to find out.

I think he was pretty clear on the difference between being a rock star and being Prime Minister of Europe. Yes, I know people thought he was a joke originally. Pretty expensive joke.

I think he knew that. He would have held elections eventually.

He never wanted to “take over the world.” You’re just trying to yank my chain. I know what you want, you want a money quote. You want me to denounce my dad. Or you want me to say something freaky in his defense. I’m not playing.

No. I’m not being defensive. I feel like you’re trying to provoke me. And watch it, you’ll electrocute yourself. Are you really an electrician? “Used to be” isn’t the same thing. What was it, a summer job? Jesus.

You’re probably right about my social skills. What did you expect?

Twenty minutes until planetfall. Hopefully not “fall” in the literal sense. How’s it coming along there?

There’s vindication and then there’s vindication. If they land safely, that’s one thing. A month from now, we can see if they’re building settlements. A year from now, we’ll know if they survived their first winter on Free Land. We think the winters are mild there, right? We think.

Right. Worst case scenario, they crash. Or die out. And then the human race finishes committing suicide on Earth, and we’re extinct. And it’s my dad’s fault.

It’s been more than fifty years and nobody’s come up with an alternative to the Suicide Drive yet. That was my dad’s biggest fear, you know. That twenty years later, someone would discover a way of propelling a city-sized vessel at near-light speed that didn’t… well, you know.

Who knows what would have happened? The environment was already fucked up. Most people already lived in poverty. The only difference was all the resources were going into a project to help save the human race, instead of building toys for the rich. Nobody’s ever proved that slave labor was used.

No, I feel like you want me to defend my dad. You’re pushing me towards that. Of course I feel ambivalent. How could I not? Yes, I’ve seen it. I’ve been outside a bunch of times, remember?

If you quote me in your article as saying part of me hates my dad, I will sue. I don’t even care if that costs me my privacy forever. I will flay you in court and make you eat your own skin.

I don’t see any irony. It wasn’t just Europe forcing the rest of the world to take part. There was Bolivia and Canada. And. And Japan, what was left of it. It wasn’t a re-run of colonialism, more like a coda. Right, a music metaphor. Huh.

Some of those people would have died anyway. You can’t take the entire number of deaths from those years and blame them all on my dad. That’s a statistical fallacy. Oh look, here’s his guitar solo from “Running In Place.”

You know, mostly he was a dad to me. He read to me when I was little, he sewed my clothes and shit. Well, we didn’t have clothing for every age of child down here, so he had to adapt stuff. No sewing machine. He sewed by hand. I figured out recently he made my footie pajamas out of his old sash of office. Now I mostly wear his old clothes. He taught me math and science, and what little I know of music. He encouraged me to become an artist – you haven’t even asked to see my art, by the way. He kept me safe from the shadows. He never seemed paranoid or haunted, just, I don’t know, withdrawn sometimes. Sorry to disappoint you. His last two decades were peaceful, like swimming in shallow water.

You’re sure it’s fixed? Like, a long-term fix? I don’t want it to break down again a month from now.

Okay. Let’s see if we can pick up the outside signal. That would be funny if this was all for nothing. Well, maybe funny isn’t the right word.

Okay, so that’s the star system, and that must be Free Land. I can’t see the ship. Is that the ship? God, it’s ugly. I don’t know what I expected it to look like after all this time. It looks like a giant turd. Sure, you can quote me. This is all on the record, right? Free-association from the dictator’s offspring, for the amusement of the starving masses.

Is that really the best picture we’re going to get? Oh. So they deploy that apparatus in orbit, and it helps the telescope back on Earth to get images of the planet? Like a big magnifying glass in space. Sort of. Okay.

You’re sure you don’t want a drink. Okay.

Fuck, they’re burning up! Yes they are, they’re burning up! They’re on fire, they’re-

Oh. Okay. Well, it looked like they were burning. How was I to know?
So now the turd is floating down near the equator on the biggest continent. I guess they jettisoned the Suicide Drive out in space. It only works once, right?

Can’t really see much now. It’s just a speck. Okay. So how long until that happens? Come on, sit down, you make me jumpy. Sure. I’m just not used to it, okay? You know, I experimented with feeling guilty about the whole thing, but it seemed like too much work. I mean, I wasn’t even born then. I tried, I wallowed for a few months, and it just felt dumb. Sit down, goddamnit. Thank you.

Woah. So that’s the difference with the magnifying thing. Wow, that’s pretty clear. We can see the landing site, and, and some vegetation and rock formations that could be mountains. And, and. Hey. Those do look like settlements, don’t they. Huh.

So there were people on Free Land after all. Or creatures. Can’t really tell what they look like. Huh. Well, they’ll just have to learn to coexist. Yeah, I know. History doesn’t have to repeat itself. That’s just lazy thinking. After all, if you know history, you’re guaranteed not to repeat it. I read that somewhere.

Well, I knew it was something like that. Anyway, it’s going to be different this time. It’s not like they could just pack up and go home again. It was a one-way trip.

My thoughts? Didn’t I already verbalize my thoughts? Well, what there was of them. I’m not exactly a deep thinker. Okay. Well, I’m glad they made it. It doesn’t prove anything, because it’ll be years before we know. Right. Well, all we know is that they’re intelligent enough to build. But there weren’t any satellites or space junk, so not too advanced. Or power lines. Those settlements looked sparse. Not cities.

You know the cycle existed for thousands of years before my dad. Maybe there was no way to break out of it on Earth, but they might be able to escape it on Free Land. I said “maybe,” okay? You asked for my thoughts. Anyway, my dad didn’t invent any of that stuff, he just harnessed it to make the Suicide Drive possible.

What makes you think that? I mean, it’s been fifty years. People have been rebuilding. I would say it’s less likely now than it was fifty years ago. We’re probably out of the danger zone.

Well, okay, the environment. But it seems like humans can adapt to anything. No matter how toxic.

You know, those things are constants. They’re what humans do. I don’t know that you can say they’re getting any worse.

So what are you saying? That people have been holding on to see if we made it, if the human race will go on somewhere else? And now that we know, we can all let go. Give ourselves, what, permission to die? That’s not how people work. People are individualistic, they fight to live as individuals, not as a species.

And after every catastrophe, they’ll rebuild again. And again. They’ll learn how to breathe nitrogen, or C02, or whatever.

Wow, lookit. You can just make out the little explorer vehicle. Can’t quite see the people wandering around. A few thousand of them, on solid ground for the first time in however long. Probably peeing all over the place and putting things in their mouths without testing them first. Just like babies. I read somewhere they expected a five-to-ten percent death rate in the first few days. It was factored in. It’s amazing.

He’d probably say thank the fucking stars and bring me another beer. No, he’d probably be crying and shit. He was more sentimental than any of you guys knew.

Okay, well, I guess the interview’s over. Time for you to hit the road. And actually, I want to thank you. You’ve helped me make a decision.

No, actually, I’m going back into lockdown mode. It’s not just that I don’t trust you. I figure after this interview, people will be looking for me again. And maybe you’re right and things are going to get even worse.

That’s right. Not just people, though. Nothing gets in or out. Not even air. I won’t even be able to see if the Free Land colony survives the winter. I’ll be sealed up. Nah, I’m used to being alone. See that? It’s the total culture of the world, up until about twenty five years ago. I’ll just have to live without seeing the Dongle Fairies in concert, then. I’m sure they’re great.

What do you mean, a celebrity? You just spent the last hour baiting me. Yes, you did. Fuck you. I know enough to know I’m dead if I go public. Just to get back at my dad. Or because I was living in luxury when everybody else was… And to be honest, the handful of walks I’ve taken outside in the past few years haven’t left me wanting more.

You what?

Jesus, you’ve got some nerve.

I’ve only known you for like an hour and a half, and I already hate you. Why would I want to be trapped in a shelter with you for years and years?

I’m not sexually attracted to you. Please stop doing that. Seriously, back off.

No, I’m not a virgin. I’ve told you, I’ve been outside a bunch of times. It was okay, I guess.

You’re really serious about that, aren’t you? You think it’s the end. An end, anyway. My dad always thought if we lasted this long, we’d be home free.

I don’t know how many people could fit down here. The supplies would keep two people alive for another fifty years, I guess. More than that, it goes down. Plus, I’d be killed in my sleep. Of course, then they’d be trapped down here with my corpse, since they wouldn’t know the combination to deactivate the lockdown.

I think I’m capable of bodily ejecting you from here.

I thought you said the generator was fixed long term. Well, is it or isn’t it? That’s kind of a weasely answer.

Okay, let’s try this. This place is bigger than it looks. And in lockdown, there’s no day or night. So here’s what we do. You’re on New Zealand time, I’m on North American time. You sleep when I’m awake, vice versa. We’ll try that for a few weeks, and then we’ll see. Stay out of my way. Only because I can’t look you in the eye and condemn you to death. Well, if you’re right, which you could be. I mean, you’ve lived outside all your life, versus my handful of visits. So you know more than me. So I’m not as ruthless. Sheltered, yeah.

Don’t thank me. It’s probational. I have a gun hidden somewhere, where you won’t find it. And if you start driving me up the wall, I’ll risk opening up just to get you out of here. Just, you know, lighten up on my dad. I know that was just for the interview, trying to get some good quotes out of me.

Okay, so you really do hate my dad. But you’re living in his house now. And he may be a monster to you, but I have my own image of him that I keep separate from all that historical stuff. I want to save it from all the crap.

Well, if everyone on Earth dies out, then the people on Free Land will be the only ones writing history. And he’s their founder, right? Even if they left all their families to die. And maybe one day they’ll come back and re-colonize Earth.

Okay, last chance. I key in this sequence, you’re stuck here with me until I decide to open up again. There won’t be any way of knowing what it’s like out there, just guesswork. You sure? Okay. Say goodbye to the world.