Shapeless by 2050 - Uncharted

Shapeless by 2050

By Remi Martin

The shapeless entity, formerly known as Glen, was enjoying his new mode of being – really, he was.

Sure, he couldn’t interact with things as easily, now that he didn’t have a body, and that had taken some getting used to. There was no more drinking coffee or going for jogs, it was true. He would never learn to surf, or hold a physical guitar again, and it took a while to get his head around these facts.

If he wanted to, of course, he could hop into a computer programme and experience a simulation of any of these things, with much the same effect, but for the entity formerly known as Glen, this was thinking far too small. Out in the world, he could vibe amongst the soundwaves and mingle with the light beams, experiencing the true, beautiful reality of things, untethered to the limitations of a body. Sure, he wouldn’t be able to hold his Les Paul again, but now he could become part of the textures and rhythms of the music it made.

He loved his new life; he did. And yet, he was back here again. He had the entire universe to explore, more accessible than ever now he had no boundaries, no limitations, no finitude. Why did he keep coming back to his dad’s dusty, one-bedroom apartment? Why did he keep enclosing himself between these claustrophobic walls and moping around in the lamplight? Especially since his dad had thrown out his computer and smart TV, even his phone, any technology his son could still communicate with him through.

TEFKA Glen floated through the apartment’s stale air, riding a slight draft drawn in from the old wooden frame of the kitchen windows. Outside, the wind howled, and water lashed against the glass; these days, it was storming more likely than not. TEFKA Glen used to hate them, back when he had a body, but now he loved to ride their updrafts and feel the caustic tingle of the rain he was part of.

His dad sat in his chair, the chair he always sat in. He was reading a book right now but would no doubt, in a few moments, flick on the TV, the thing he’d replaced his smart TV with, and stay in front of it all day. It was digital, but an early model designed long before shapelessness was possible, and so TEFKA Glen struggled to interact with it.

His father, very shortly, would bend the page of the battered paperback he was reading and turn it on. He would watch gameshows, old-westerns, survival shows from the early millennium, black-and-white movies, anything he could still get a signal for. Anything but the news. Too depressing these days, he would say. What with the ‘weather’ and all these young, idealistic numbskulls just giving up.

“Offing themselves,” he called it, sometimes. If he was feeling particularly sour about it, he might call it “betraying humanity” or “playing the self-righteous fucking martyr, these jumped-up little shits.”

Needless to say, he didn’t like the movement. Despite all the benefits of being shapeless, for an individual, for the planet, for all of life on Earth, his dad was incapable of moving with the times. Even if every goddamn numbskull on the planet decided to ‘off themselves’ by 2050 like these kids wanted, he was clinging on to his outdated body until it rotted away with him inside. He’d never really forgiven his son, after he’d transcended.

TEFKA Glen had tried to reach out afterwards. He’d spoken to his father through his computer, which had wound up at the charity shop, and messaged him on his phone, which he’d promptly thrown in the rubbish pile outside his apartment. TEFKA Glen had even tried speaking through his television, and his father replaced that with the thing in front of him, that he had now started aimlessly flicking through. There was still the stereo system that TEFKA Glen could inhabit, but he knew how much his father loved listening to his old digi-files and didn’t want to see him throw all those out as well. Granted, he’d come on a little strong before transcending and afterwards got a little bit preachy. He’d told his father how ethereal and euphoric his new life was and how small and limiting a human body could be. He told him how nobody meant he wouldn’t have to consume anymore, and how this could be the answer to humanity’s problems, how it might help alleviate the pressure on this scorched and flooded planet they called home. He reminded his dad that he no longer had to worry about death; he was an unshackled consciousness drifting through the ether for eternity, in touch with the true nature of things.

None of this went down well.

“All I know,” his father had said to the empty room, before throwing away his electronics, “Is you can’t eat a burger, or put your head on a pillow, or get drunk or high or laid anymore.” TEFKA Glen had tried to explain that he could do these things, simulate them exactly, but his father wasn’t having any of it.

A part of him, the remnant of some human part, felt bitter at the effort he was having to put in. His father was the parent, after all. He should be making the effort. Still, TEFKA Glen was here. Again.

The static hum of the television mixed with his father’s staccato breaths, and Milo’s laboured snores. TEFKA Glen floated amongst all of it, embodied it, fell into the fabric of it for a moment.

Milo, like his owner, was a creature of habit. He lay on the rug, beside the old man’s chair, where he had for the last fourteen years, and snoozed, waiting for dinnertime, hoping for a walk. He was too old to go far these days, they both were and the ‘weather’ made it all the more unlikely that he’d get one today.

Not that he sounded up to it. Now TEFKA Glen was listening, he noticed that the old boy’s breathing really did sound strained. TEFKA Glen felt the wheeze of the dog’s breath and allowed himself to be drawn into the inhale. He felt the warmth of the old dog’s trachea, heard the muffled pounding of a struggling heart as he was sucked into the coarse fabric of frayed lungs and then exhaled again with a sigh.

TEFKA Glen had fond memories of Milo. He’d been overjoyed, ecstatic, in the way only an eleven-year-old could be when presented by his father with a puppy, and until he left home for university, they’d been inseparable. It was a shame to know with such certainty that he didn’t have long left.

TEFKA Glen would have to keep an eye on him.


He already visited his dad and their dog a lot, but now he started wafting into the apartment every day. He watched his dad follow the same routine, and watched as Milo sat patiently, lovingly, by his side, despite the lack of walks, and every day he listened to his breathing, listened as the rattling grew louder, and heartbeat fainter, and the wheezing more exaggerated.

Animals can’t go shapeless.

Physically, it’s possible, of course. The early test subjects were mice and lab rats, after all. But therein lies the problem: those rodents were still out there somewhere, floating in the endless abyss of time and space, an abstract entity that could no longer scurry, or scavenge or nest or mate.

TEFKA Glen loved his new mode of being – really, he did. But for an animal who didn’t choose it and didn’t know what was happening or why, it must have been torture. No more walkies, or playing ball, or treats, or chasing squirrels.

He’d heard of a start-up developing a programme called ‘Doggy Heaven’ where well-to-do owners could upload their shapeless pets before they died. It promised endless walks, naps by an eternally toastie fire, and a place where shapeless owners could visit them. TEFKA Glen wondered what would happen when there was no one left to run the servers. Perhaps, for Milo, his fate was a mercy.

Because he was dying, of course. TEFKA Glen could feel the energy bleeding out of him, as the life left his body. He could feel the slowing pulse of his heart, as the rhythm of his life finally came to an end. Eventually, the breathing stopped, and the air around Milo cooled.

He passed peacefully. TEFKA Glen felt the chill breeze of his consciousness dispersing. If he’d had a metaphorical heart, it would have dropped into his metaphorical stomach. As it was, TEFKA Glen had neither, but he still felt the sorrow of losing his friend just as keenly. The sting was dulled somewhat by the knowledge that he was old, he was ready, he had been cared for, and he was spared an eternity of aimless wandering around a universe he didn’t understand.

TEFKA Glen’s father, of course, would be devastated. That made what TEFKA Glen was about to do a little easier.

When he entered his pet’s trachea today, it wasn’t so warm. He followed it into the nasal passages and into the dog’s brain and then dispersed himself through the nervous system. He had a body again.

He felt along the winding paths, getting a feel for the technology of it. It wasn’t like communicating with a computer or a smart TV, but he had some sense of how to control it – he had controlled a body of his own for twenty-four years, after all. Just to test the waters, he fired a synapse, felt an infinitesimal spark course through him, reached neuron receptors in the base of his spine, and then wagged his tail. He was in control. There was no heartbeat, no blood-flow or cell repair or metabolization or whatever else a body did every day to keep itself alive, all of that would be too much for TEFKA Glen to control on his own, would probably require a team of specialists working around the clock to upkeep. No, TEFKA Glen had the basics, a body, and bodies only lasted so long without all that other stuff.

He only had had a small window of time in this body, but he would use this small window to spend a bit of time with his dad.

All the other times he’d tried, through the computer, the TV, the phone, he’d been too forward, too vocal. With only the basic motor functions of a dog’s body, he didn’t have the capacity to be either of those things. Probably for the best, he didn’t think his dad would throw the dog away, but he couldn’t be certain.

Instead of preaching or demanding his dad see the world his way, he had little choice but to settle beside the armchair and watch some TV. His dad was breathing heavily and flicking channels, eventually settling on an old Batman movie, one of the good ones. It had been a while since TEFKA Glen had watched a movie. He could, of course, have access to any movie he could think of, but with so much else to explore, he simply hadn’t. There was something comforting in the primitive act of getting lost in a story, and for a while, he became engrossed, watching the action unfold, listening to his dad’s breathing, feeling the warmth of the rug beneath him. Eventually, his dad broke the spell.

“Glen loved this film,” he said, talking to the dog, to no one. “It came out when he was a kid, and I took him to see it, and he ran round the house for days after talking like he smoked fifty goddamn cigarettes a day…” He trailed off, apparently realising he was talking to himself. “I bet you’re hungry?” He said, at last.

TEFKA Glen wasn’t. In his shapelessness, he never got hungry, and so never really bothered to simulate eating – why would he? Milo didn’t have the executive functioning to feel hunger, but TEFKA Glen dutifully approached his food bowl as his father filled it and soon found that he could still receive signals from the receptors in his taste buds. Milo salivated. He instructed his jaw to chew the protein mush that had been served up for him and tasted, tasted in a way he’d never tasted before, tasted with enhanced canine senses.

Whilst he licked the bowl, his dad made his way into the kitchen. TEFKA Glen heard glasses clinking, as he poured himself a nightcap.

When TEFKA Glen had lived with his father, in their old house, Milo always had to sleep in the kitchen, so TEFKA Glen obediently headed there now, but whilst he was looking for somewhere to get comfy, his father motioned for him to follow him into the bedroom. Either getting soft or lonely in his old age, TEFKA Glen couldn’t tell which. He sent signals to his feet and followed the old man into the room. His dad sat for a minute on the mattress, muttering under his breath, then he looked directly at his dog, confusion on his face.

“Well, come on then, you dope, up you get.” On the bed? Definitely getting soft. TEFKA Glen stretched through the dog’s neural pathways and sent a signal to his hind legs to jump. Joints creaked, and muscles tore, but he made it onto the bed.

“Good boy,” his father said. “It’s just me N’ you. Come ‘ere.”

For a moment, TEFKA Glen hesitated. But then he instructed his new body forward and, nestled into the crook of his father’s leg, felt the warmth of it through pyjamas and blanket via his newly acquired nerve endings. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d simulated softness, couldn’t remember the last time he’d simulated warmth. As he instructed his lower body to curl in on itself, he felt the heavy gravity of sleep bear down on him. In his shapelessness, TEFKA Glen had no need to sleep. He’d almost forgotten how good it felt, how comforting and necessary. He let it overcome him.


The following morning, the clouds cleared and the rains stopped, and the howling winds died down to manageable levels, and TEFKA Glen’s father awoke him with Milo’s lead in hand.

“You lazy old git,” he said, “you slept like the dead.”

At the sight of the lead, TEFKA Glen felt some innate stirring within him, a reflexive response built deep into the brain he was inhabiting. An excitement overcame him, a feeling so strong he couldn’t remember anything like it since he was a kid. Walk time!

He instructed his body to hobble off the bed to the sound of more creaking and tearing and followed his dad out of the apartment, and down the steps outside.

In his shapelessness, TEFKA Glen could experience reality in a myriad of ways, feel it at an atomic level, inhale it, become it, so at first his new body felt somewhat limiting. It didn’t take long for him to reacquaint himself with this narrow worldview, however. He couldn’t imbibe or become the odours around him, as he usually would, but he could smell them, canine smell them, which was almost as good. He drank down the smells of fresh air and decaying leaves, of drying rain and damp earth.

He couldn’t vibrate to the tune of the birdsong or mingle in amongst the noise of the traffic, but he could hear it, an orchestra of canine proportions, full of frequencies he had never heard in a human body.

It was limiting, but somehow this made him appreciate the things he did have access to all the more, the smells and tastes and sensations.

Both he and his dad plodded along, on a familiar route towards the fields behind his apartment, not far from their old house. They went steadily, both of them taking care in the aging cages of their bodies. Despite his excitement, his legs protested as he walked, and he felt small tears begin to creep into his creases and corners; the decay was starting to set in.

When they reached the field, his father stopped and turned to him. He unclipped the lead and scratched him behind the ear.

“Go on then,” he said, and before TEFKA Glen could stop himself, his legs were pumping away beneath him, as Milo took over again. TEFKA Glen felt elation surge around the brain he was inhabiting, as he sprinted as best he could around the field, chasing the scent of squirrels to the base of trees, not caring that his flesh was tearing, or that his lifeless organs were being pummelled within him. He wasn’t shapeless, wasn’t dispersed among the ether weightless and eternal, but as he ran and leapt and sniffed, he felt just as free.

Eventually, he fell back in step with his father.

“I used to bring Glen here,” his father said. “When he was a kid, before we got you. There were more trees back then… before I lost him.”

A momentary flash of rage crossed through TEFKA Glen’s being. It was a human, animal rage, not the sort of thing he was accustomed to feeling since becoming shapeless. It was so powerful, that he was overcome with the urge to bite the old man’s hand. His dad hadn’t “lost him”; he was still there, waiting to be let back in! If it felt like that, it was only because his dad had chosen to shut him out.

He resisted the urge to sink his teeth into his dad’s hand and instead turned and bolted away into the overgrowth beneath the dry branches of the dying trees.  

Fuck him! TEFKA, Glen thought. He was going to “lose” him now, alright. As he sprinted furiously away, he felt a further unzipping of his decaying skin, felt the wounds expand where his legs met his body, and felt a curious tugging at his mind, the urge to go back – Milo.

Milo didn’t want to run away. He was a good boy; he didn’t do that. He wanted to stay with his owner, to heel, and to enjoy what was, in all likelihood, his final walk.

TEFKA Glen reluctantly stopped and turned around. He looked with dual vision at his owner, his father. He was towering and safe and in control. He was lonely and bitter and sad.

Begrudgingly, the dog made his way over and nuzzled at the old man’s hand. He gave him a puzzled look as he reached down to pat his head and secure the lead back to his collar.

“What’s got into you?” He asked, before leading them silently back home.


After more food and naps, TEFKA Glen awoke the next day in much the same way, only in far worse shape. He followed his father into the living room to the sound of rain lashing against the window again and the sorrowful howling of wind forcing its way through the cracks in its frame. That meant no walk, which was a blessing for TEFKA Glen, if not for Milo. Their legs didn’t want to move today, were really stiffening up now. TEFKA Glen managed to hobble into the living room and plonk himself down by his dad’s chair.

His dad was digging around in an old box full of ancient devices, heirlooms, and artifacts. He then set about setting up a DVD player.

“You smell like shit, boy,” he said, sitting down beside him. “Come on, let’s watch the box for a bit. This is a show Glen used to like.”

He pressed play, and TEFKA Glen realised it was season one of Give ‘Em Hell. It was a sitcom, sure, but it was clever, self-referential, actually funny. His father had always hated it, he remembered, but it certainly wasn’t TEFKA Glen’s DVD. He wasn’t even aware they’d made physical copies, given how outdated the medium had been when the show came out. His dad must have bought them, but TEFKA Glen couldn’t think for the life of him why.

They settled into watching the show, and TEFKA Glen settled into the rug beneath him. He was surprised to find that he enjoyed it. He hadn’t watched it in years, but it held up. He even found himself trying to laugh at the funnier moments, an impossibility for Milo, that ended up coming out as strange yelps. His father didn’t seem to notice.

The first episode finished, but neither of them moved. They let the next come on and then the one after. TEFKA Glen even heard his dad let out the occasional chuckle, as they burned through the seasons, enjoying the show and each other’s company. The light began to fade outside.

Eventually, his father got up and made himself a sandwich and poured himself a whisky before coming to sit back down with a paperback book in hand. He didn’t start a fire or turn on the heating – the prices were too high these days, he said, and the solar panels hadn’t caught any sun today – but he did throw a blanket over his dog, bending down with a grunt and tucking the edges in under him.

They sat in silence for a while, whilst his father read, and TEFKA Glen enjoyed the softness and warmth of the blanket, enjoyed being in a body again. Eventually, his father spoke:

“It was hard with Glen,” he said to his dog, to himself, to the empty room. “I didn’t want to let him go. He was a good son; I wish I’d been a better dad when I could.” He paused for a second and took a sip of his drink.

“It’s my fault, I know. But first she left, and then he disappeared, physically, I mean, somewhere I couldn’t follow, became something I didn’t understand.” He sighed. “It was selfish of me… I suppose,” he was looking directly at Milo now, “I’d like for him to come visit in the stereo system one day… if he isn’t too busy exploring the universe.”

It was the most his dad had spoken to him since he went shapeless, and really, he was speaking to his dog. The night dwindled on, the sound of howling wind only punctuated by his father occasionally turning the pages of his book. TEFKA Glen was deep in thought. He hadn’t moved all day and doubted Milo’s old body would be able to at all. He could still feel neurons of contentment lighting up within him, though, at the comfort of home, of his blanket, of being near his owner.

Eventually, his dad spoke, again addressing his dog.

“Better get an early night, ey boy,” he said, folding over the corner of his page and upending the tumbler into his mouth. “Maybe it’s time you transcend this body too? You smell awful, and I’m scared tomorrow your jaw might fall off.”


TEFKA Glen did have big plans of exploring the cosmos, of seeing stars die and black holes form, finding out where they led. He had enjoyed being in a body again, and he’d found himself simulating it more since he’d inhabited Milo. He’d rewatched all of Give ‘Em Hell in the weeks that followed and simulated playing the guitar again, but it wasn’t the life for him anymore. He wanted to spend his existence in quiet, quantum contemplation, vibrating with atoms, drifting in deep space, vacillating in its vacuum. He’d heard of parties of shapeless leaving Earth in packs, to explore corners of the universe humanity had never witnessed, never would have had they not released themselves from the shackles of their bodies. TEFKA Glen was excited to join one but wasn’t ready to leave just yet.

Instead, he spent much of his time in that cramped apartment, listening to old digifiles from inside the stereo system, and talking with his dad. They had a lot of catching up to do, and TEFKA Glen had all eternity to explore. The universe wasn’t going anywhere, after all.  

About the Author

Remi Martin is a speculative fiction writer from Derbyshire in the UK, where he lives with his wife, cats, and rescue chickens. He has stories published in F&SF, Hexagon Magazine, and in various Ab Terra anthologies, as well as a thousand unpublished ones scrawled on notebooks and hidden around his house.

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