(CW: Sex, Violence)
It gave no warning, unlike many other catastrophes that came before: the global warming that gave 48 years of melting ice caps in which people did almost nothing, the subtle tremors before the earthquake that shook half the world, the volcanic gasses and heating that went unnoticed at the Greenberg Islands as the sleeping giant of the Mami Yoda supervolcano woke and erupted, killing 80 percent of Ha'atai and Gantero population. This catastrophe simply came. Though many historians argue that this was a spiritual catastrophe and could not be put to the same measure; that whatever warning signs it may have given would have happened in the depths of the self, between the shadow and the soul.
This was how it happened. One morning, the world woke up to discover that certain people had holographic videos of their sins playing above their heads. In two weeks, this phenomenon which would later come to be known as "the Sin Syndrome" had affected half the world's population and continued to spread like a virus. No one knew how or why. People speculated. Some said it was the result of a malfunctioning of the microchip implant that every citizen of the world had been compelled to get—a human-computer hybrid virus. Some said it was the corruption of a secret Chinese government program by which they had planned to extract records of crimes from the memory of their citizens. Some said—and this was the wildest, most intriguing of all the theories—that the syndrome was simply the physical manifestation of souls that have been left unpurified for too long, the dark contents of the mind spilling outside the body.
The first recorded case of the syndrome was of a Mexican man, Nunez Gomez.
Nunez, as usual, had taken the bus to work that Friday morning. He was crossing the street to the T&T textile factory where he worked when suddenly a hologram appeared atop his head and began playing out a scene.
In the hologram, it was night. There were stars littering the sky. Nunez was standing stark naked on the balcony of the tenth floor of a building that was recognizably the vibrant, new French hotel, l'hôtel vivant, located in the heart of New Haven. He looked around for a brief moment, at the city light shining in the distance below, and then he climbed atop the ledge. For a moment, it looked like he was going to jump. But instead, he suddenly seized his penis and began to masturbate with fury.
He looked primal, grotesque even, as he stood there, his back hunched in the dim light, working his body ragged. His lips were moving as if he was muttering something but there was no sound coming from the video. It went on for minutes, sweat running down his body, until finally he opened his mouth into a soundless scream and spilled his semen into the air.
The video played over and over again. But Nunez, unaware of it, walked on through the busy street.
According to one of his co-workers, it wasn't until he got to the lobby of the textile factory that he realized. The security officer, unable to keep a straight face as Nunez walked past, had asked him, laughing, why he had a holo-pod playing on his head. But Nunez had no holo-pod. Even if that was the one gadget he'd always wanted, he could never, in all his years of working for the factory, earn enough money to buy one. He thought the officer was joking and made to enter the building, but there, on the glass door, was his reflection with the video playing over his head.
It wasn't long before the story spread and many other factory workers came to see for themselves.
In T&T's viral surveillance footage of that fateful day, Nunez was sitting in a corner of the factory lobby, his face buried in his hands. Even with his two-layered old-fashioned clothes and all the people huddled around him pointing and talking, he was shivering like a leaf. Nunez was a large man, but that day, he was folded into himself in the worst possible way.
More and more people began to gather around him, and for a moment, it seemed like someone from the crowd would go to help or talk to him. But no one did. Loudly enough that he could hear, one woman said, "But he seemed like a devout catholic, always so silent and serious. No one would imagine him doing something like this."
Another woman just stood in front of him shaking her head over and over again. One young worker brought out his phone to take a video. All around him, people stood, talking to one another but not to him. All everyone talked about was sin, his sin.
"Being one of the first people to contract the syndrome," Nunez wrote in his memoir. "You realize how utterly alone you are in the world; how character and friendship and universal love, in this modern world of ours, are nothing short of performances. No one is your friend at the moment when it matters."
He followed it with the achingly honest narration of the events that happened after the footage, a passage that soon became the highlight of his book.
"It was the worst day of my life." He wrote. "When I finally realized no one there was going to help me, I swallowed my shame and walked through the throng of people to the Design department, to see my friend, Nicholson. I wanted his advice on what to do. Most importantly though, now that I think of it in retrospect, I wanted him to listen to me. I needed someone to listen to me without contempt or judgment.
I met him in his office rearranging the items on his table like he did every morning. But as soon as he saw me, he started laughing and asking me why I did it.
"Of course, he'd heard. Everyone in the factory had heard. But I didn't expect him to laugh.
"Is that not a sin for you Catholics?" He asked.
"That's not the point, Nic..." I started saying. But he countered.
"Man, it is. I've never seen you do something this silly. I mean, standing on the ledge of a skyscraper to madly jerk off. That's crazy." And he burst into laughter again.
"Okay, sometimes we do things that…" I began to say, but a lump formed in my throat and I choked on the words.
"If he realized how upset I was, he showed no signs of it.
"It wasn't long before I realized I was better off alone. I lied that I had something urgent to get to, and he said nothing as I left. I went to my office, locked the door behind me, and sat, trying not to look at my reflection in the glass window; trying not to look at what was playing above my head. I knew what I did, and I knew exactly why I'd done it, even if the reason was foolish at best.
"It was a year after my divorce from Jean-Rose, and what was supposed to be the 10th anniversary of our marriage. I was feeling lonely. I was on a business trip with Mary from the Marketing department and we were lodging at l'hôtel vivant. Mary was pretty and recently divorced and we'd been friends for a while. So, in a moment of madness, as we sat in the lounge, drinking, I asked her to marry me. She looked at me like I had just shit my pants and said nothing. I was mad. I stormed off to my hotel room unaware then of what I was going to do but too mad to think about it.
"I sat in my office all day, eating junk food from my fridge, trying not to reminisce about that ugly moment until my stomach began to churn and ache from all the eating. I tried to sit through the discomfort but when I could no longer hold it, I damned my shame and ran straight for the factory's one good toilet, not caring who else saw the ugly video playing over my head. But it was locked. Someone was inside. I waited outside for painfully long minutes, and when the person showed no sign that they ever wanted to come out, I threatened to break the door, hitting it a few times to show I was serious.
Finally, the door opened and someone got out. It was Nicholson. He wouldn't look at me as he walked past. At first, I wondered why, but then I saw the video playing over his head. In it, his hands were closed around the neck of Mrs. Montgomery, the Head of Design who had gone missing over a month ago, and he was slamming her on the ground over and over again, his face contorted in rage until finally, the light went out from her eyes." (Gomez, 1324, p. 55)