The Removals, Part Three


by Nicholas Rombes

–  Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare. (D. Bowie)

You can’t go back. And yet here I am going back, to house zero, to the beginning. I can’t remember anything. I remember everything. These are how my thoughts run now, in contradictions that bark against each other. I remember what Evelyn’s face looked like. I can’t remember what her face looked like. The world before the removals began wasn’t like this. Huge swaths of memory blink in and out. Is it like this for everyone else, too? I have spent so much time destroying so much information, to make it scarce again, as I was instructed to do.

I had taken care of Mason. How many others had suffered at my hands like he had? This question rattled in my head as I made my way down the path toward the orange light in the distance.

The drones were back, filling the yellow sky with sound. The path pixilated and depixilated beneath my feet. It shifted to such a low resolution that for a few moments I felt as if I’d fall through the earth. I tried to conjure Evelyn’s face in my mind but it was smeared with drone sound. I had killed Mason with the weapon and the others too, pressing it into the flesh of their necks.

The weapon jangles in my pocket, sealed in a bubble to protect me from the radiation. And then I notice: it vibrates when the drones come. It’s part of them, somehow. It belongs to them. They are calling it. I take it out and hold it in my hand and consider leaving it at the side of the path. Then I think to use it on myself.

But that would mean no house zero, no Evelyn. Is that what I hope to find there, my daughter, my Evelyn, gone now gone now gone? I put the weapon back in my pocket, and the path and the trees and the sky shift to high definition, so tightly packed with pixels that it hurts my eyes. Everything is hyper clear as if God himself had breathed all the missing information that had been removed back into the world, leaving me overwhelmed with sadness, and my thoughts spool out ahead of me, threading their way down the path to house zero, which glows in the near distance with such intensity that I look directly at it, and whose heat I can feel even back here, on the path.

The drones are lower now, their sound more intense, and I can see their tiny silver bodies shrieking across the sky. I remember what Mason had told me, at the very beginning, during recruitment: The drones, Bronson, they are all ours, even the ones that aren’t.

And then it all goes black.


I hear the light coming at me like sound, and then there it is, and I can see again. I’m in a room, in a chair, a blank metal table before me. I am in house zero. I can feel it, feel its absence, the stench of Archimedes, the void, the valueless placeholder, not even a number but a digit that comes after the 9 (rather than before the 1) on a keyboard. If there is a gap in the System, then I am here, inside the gap. The absence of ideas, the ideas that govern the drones that are ours and not ours at the same time.

There is a speaker on the table, and the voice that addresses me sounds like Mason’s but with voice putty anything is possible. The voice could be anyone’s.

“Bronson,” it says, “you’re here. At last.”

“I’m done,” I said. “I quit.”

“You can’t. There’s no way out. You’re in ideology now, Bronson, and ideology has no outside.”

“You sound like a theorist. It’s just words. I’ve done my part. I’ve completed everything that’s been asked of me. Now just let me go.”

“Go where?”

The light in the room softens a bit, and I can see a door on the far wall, its handle painted white like the rest of the room. I imagine my daughter Evelyn on the other side of the door, but of course she’s not. She’s not anywhere now. She’s gone. And my wife. They disappeared along with the old ways. I understand that. And, even if it were possible, I wouldn’t want them back.

“The captain is missing,” I say.

“What captain?”

“Ground control. Major Tom. The pilot.”

“From the drones, you mean.”

“From the drones,” I say. “They’re captain-less. There aren’t even cockpits.”

“But there are,” says the voice, “just not in the planes. There are ‘captains,’ as you say, and cockpits. And data links. And ground moving target indicators. And synthetic aperture radar. And thermal cameras. The deadly persistence capability. Their greatest power comes not from being undetectable, but from being seen. From being known.”

The light in the room grows even dimmer. I keep my eye on the thin outline of the door. I think of each strand of hair on Evelyn’s head, and how she counted them one night, when she was just a girl, and wrote down the number on a piece of paper, folded, and handed it to me and asked me to guess the number.

The voice continues: “Ground control is everywhere. Major Tom is everywhere.”

“Sinister,” I say.

“Not at all. Don’t you remember your training, your Foucault: Power is everywhere not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere.”


“And what? The outside that you’re looking for doesn’t exist. We’re not in the realm of theory anymore, Bronson. We’ve moved beyond that.”

“I want to leave.”

“What you want,” said the voice, “is invisibility, but that doesn’t exist any more.”

But that wasn’t true. All I wanted was Evelyn, and everything that was before. And a sense of place again. Not zeroes and ones, but something higher, in the hundreds of thousands, in the millions, something beyond numbers, something beyond the imagination of the drones.

I still had my weapon.

There was the door.

The outside that didn’t exist lay beyond it. No matter. It was where Evelyn was.

I opened it, and stepped out.

Read ‘The Removals, Part One’ and ‘The Removals, Part Two’

 About the Author:

Nicholas Rombes is the author of Cinema in the Digital Age, A Cultural Dictionary of Punk: 1972-1984, and Ramones, part of the 33 1/3 series published by Continuum. He is a professor and chair of the English Department at the University of Detroit Mercy. His work has appeared in The Oxford AmericanThe Believer, The Rumpus, Exquisite Corpse, Wigleaf, and other places. His digital home is The Happiness Engine.