I am standing at the back of the Loss-Hop room in Glory Box, a world-renowned superclub in Little Abyssinia. Usually, Glory Box is the preserve of the international party caravan, but tonight it is hosting an altogether different constituency.
A man is standing on the stage, wearing a T-shirt with “iamdifid:” across it, saying numbers into a microphone that keeps feeding back and causing him to step away from it. A big screen behind him is playing a succession of flashing words:
draft jeremiad draft casus draft emergent draft sanguine draft
Rows of chairs are being laid out by an army of volunteers — known as the difidans. Unique SolipShare slaps suggest that self-identifying difidans number in the tens of thousands.
I am waiting for Zane Garlish, the organiser of tonight’s event — one of the hundreds of similar events taking place simultaneously across the globe. It will be 4 a.m. in Tokyo, 6 a.m. in Sydney and 11 a.m. in Los Angeles when the difidans come together to pool their collective energy and send a “supplicantation” to the mysterious figure known as “difid.”
The messages began six months ago. The first instalment of what has become known as the “difid manifesto” was posted to the SolipShare portal from thousands of dummy accounts which deactivated after the post had been up-slapped by the requisite number of users. In the first weeks, a small number of organic users slapped “DM-1” to their SolipShare polip:
iamdifid: draft entity draft upsurge draft scan draft initiate
One such user was Garlish — a fair-haired, heavyset, ebullient figure in his mid-twenties, who was a rising star at the Vicarious State elision agency before quitting to become a full-time difidan organiser, for which he receives no salary and relies on donations from fellow difidans.
“I remember the first meet-up I arranged at my local church. Seven people showed up! Then the Spike happened.
The Spike has been attributed to micro-influencer Ryker Soams, who slapped ‘”DM-1” to zir SolipShare polip a month after it first began to germinate. Suddenly, “DM-1” began to gain slap-traction, surpassing digils like “twaz bigum.”
I ask Garlish how he first encountered “DM-1”:
“As a Senior Trend Analyst at Vicarious State, it was my role to track Device traffic for emergent currents. It’s not always the obvious stuff that germinates, so you have to cover a lot of ground. One day, I saw something that wasn’t like anything else I’d ever come across as an STA. It didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. That was DM-1.”
I ask him what it was that appealed to him about “DM-1”:
“For me, it’s an alien intelligence trying to communicate in a medium we’d understand, but not quite getting it right.”
There are several competing theories as to the true meaning of the “difid manifesto.” The Galactic School believes the “difid manifesto” is a communiqué from an alien intelligence. The Numinous School believes “difid to be a divine messenger warning of an impending cataclysm. The Internecine School sees the ‘”difid manifesto” as a call to enact a mutually destructive conflict against “the Forces of Obfuscation.”
The next instalments came quickly, each more anticipated than the last, each out-slapping the last. Attempts by my research team at New Pragmatist to locate the source of the original dummy accounts led them into one of the darkest catacombs of the Undervice — the Identity Bazaar, where users can purchase one of today’s most valuable commodities: anonymity.
The Alliance of Self-Identifying Difidans (ASID) successfully lobbied Gov. for membership of the Tax-Exempt Status Council of Oversight (TESCO), and used the proceeds from the manifold “iamdifid:” merchandise lines to fund the meet-ups which grew in size and number as the “difid manifesto” took shape. But counterfeit “iamdifid:” merchandise started appearing on the Undervice bazaars, and measures to curb their spread began to be taken by the Upsurge, a militant wing of the difidans which saw it as their duty to protect the “semiotic integrity” of “difid” by any means. The Upsurge’s “wellspring campaign” culminated in the infamous attack on a distro unit suspected of collaborating with a counterfeiting ring, resulting in five deaths and nine-zero mega-big-cash in property damage.
I ask Garlish about the tactics used by the Upsurge:
“We do not condone their actions. They do not speak for the mainstream of difidan belief. We completely disown anyone found to be affiliated with them. When we find out who they are, we immediately inform the Comity Squad. We believe that someone has implanted them to stir up unrest among us.”
I ask him who he believes has implanted the Upsurge:
“I don’t believe in the Forces of Obfuscation, obviously, but it’s evident that there are forces who are trying to suppress our message. That’s just a reality, Joyce.”
It is five hours before the doors of Glory Box open, but hundreds of difidans have already gathered outside. They are all wearing official “iamdifid:” merchandise; every T-shirt, romper, hat and bandana bearing a unique licensing code to verify its authenticity. They do not conform to any of the stereotypes or invective about them; these do not appear to be what the Daily Slime described as “the feckless meeting the credulous to form a mob-in-waiting.” There appears to be no defining characteristic beyond their status as difidans; they represent a broad demographic base, and are welcoming and articulate as I spend some time in the line that is beginning to envelop the central strip of Little Abyssinia.
Rahaf is engaging and energetic, in her early twenties, she occupies 1/3 of a position as a telepathy booth Unrest Tech, in between her outreach work for the Anti-Upsurge Coalition.
I ask Rahaf how she found “difid”:
“My friends were all slapping it. At first I didn’t pay attention, but by the time it got to “DM-4″ I couldn’t ignore it, everyone was talking about it, arguing about what it meant, and I got sucked in. I have the kind of mind that gets obsessed by things. I have to unpack the meaning.”
I ask Rahaf if she has a theory on the meaning:
“I used to be in the Galactic School. But I think I’m in the Numinous School now. Since mum went. I think ‘difid’ is trying to tell us that everything’s going to be fine.”
Grayford is something of a celebrity in fringe belief; his image is frequently the one which accompanies profiles on the movement — to the consternation of many difidans, who regard him as an embarrassment. Grayford certainly cuts an eccentric figure — lanky and garrulous; in his mid-fifties; long, greasy grey hair obscuring his eyes as he holds forth on the various sects with which he has been affiliated over the years:
“I was ordained as a pastor in the Church for a New Understanding with God, but we had some doctrinal differences. After that, I briefly followed the Blind Guru Kasaluk, but that ended up going nowhere. Then I helped to form the Ineffable Order of Nisop, but they lost their nerve.”
Grayford is very much of the Internecine School. He anticipates a “mighty conflagration that will reduce the landscape to ashes” and believes that “it is the difidans’ destiny to inherit the ashes.” He tells me gleefully:
“It’s all been leading up to this, Joyce! ‘Difid’ saw it before we did, but it’s on the horizon. We need ‘difid’ to step out of the shadows and gird our spirits for battle.”
What is remarkable about the “difid manifesto” is that there is no consensus; even those who align themselves with a school don’t seem to entirely agree on its exact nature. Is “difid” Shiva? Is “difid” Apollo? Is “difid” Mephistopheles? It seems as though everyone is drawing something different from the “difid manifesto,” and it is only some nebulous idea of belonging that brings them to these binding rites. What cannot be contested is that “difid” has mobilised vast numbers of people yearning for a definitive shift in consciousness, whatever that shift may bring. The future is untenable, the present is a pallid recreation of a past nobody recognises as their own yet nonetheless accepts, but “difid” is offering a break from continuity, from abnegation, from reason.
It is impossible to convey the frenzy that ensues when the doors of Glory Box open. Retinas are scanned by a hovering drone as bodies converge on the entryway. The doors will auto-close when the building reaches maximum occupancy, and everyone knows it. The rest will have to content themselves with watching via live-rend in Yohannes Park (violence broke out at a recent meet-up in Reykjavik when maximum occupancy was reached). I flee across the street and seek refuge in the doorway of a telepathy booth, the Unrest Tech comes out with a Para-Lance and I move on to the barricaded entrance of the Hotel Venelux. The scene is reminiscent of what I witnessed in the final days of the Country That No Longer Exists.
When everything has died down on the strip and the overflow has moved on to the park, I take my place among the other specially invited observers on the Loss-Hop room’s VIP tier. (I find myself standing next to none other than $w0li0.)
A vapour rises from the bodies below, captured in the light from the descending numbers that blast from the stage over their heads. The crowd makes a sound like a swelling sea. The time is approaching for the “supplicantation” to commence.
The countdown reaches zero and the room goes dark.
The big screen lights up:
iamdifid: draft hahaha draft morons draft hahaha draft cretins
The crowd makes a sound like the air is leaving the room.
A stentorian voice comes from the stacked speakers:
“Fellow difidans, please welcome to the stage, the Regional Head of Outreach and Development for ASID, Bengt Ottekil.”
The crowd talks among itself as Ottekil walks onstage — Ottekil is in his mid-thirties with shoulder-length blonde hair and a thick beard covered in blue glitter, wearing tiny glasses and a puce romper that hugs his slender frame.
“Hello, everybody, it is a pleasure to be here on this special evening. What you just saw was DM-17. You will notice that DM-17 is different from the previous instalments…”
The crowd begins to jeer. Ottekil raises his reedy voice.
“We believe ‘difid’ is trying to communicate something new! It is our job to work together and decipher it! We are here tonight because we believe in the possibility of the world ‘difid’ has presented! We are united in our desire to see it! We must summon the will to realise the vision of ‘difid!'”
Ottekil vacates the stage when projectiles — various “difid” tchotchkes — are thrown at him. Reports are already beginning to filter through the feeds of trouble at the other events. The VIPs are ushered out of the building by their handlers.
Seeing their opportunity, members of the Upsurge, wearing silver hats, commandeer the stage. They launch their own drone-mic and one of them speaks in a loud, gruff voice:
“This is the ultimate betrayal! ‘Difid’ has betrayed us! We thought ‘difid’ was one of us, but it was all a sick game!”
The crowd begins to fall silent.
“What we’ve got to do now is show whoever came up with this sick game that we can do it on our own! Tear it all down!”
One group of Upsurge members sprays the Upsurge logo on the big screen, while another goes around the room ripping down the “iamdifid:” banners. The crowd begins to help them.
“We were the ones who created this! We can do anything! We make the rules! We make the rules! We make the rules!”
The crowd begins to chant along.
I watch them from an upper-floor window as they go out onto the strip, chanting “we makes the rules.” The crowd from the park joins them. I follow the procession on an overhead stream, until it hits a line of Comity Squad operators. Then I log off. I’ll see what follows on the news feeds the next morning — they are outnumbered and underequipped.
I try to find Garlish, but nobody has seen him since the doors opened. I walk through the corridors backstage and find Ottekil cowering against the wall and crying. His glasses are broken and blood is streaming from a cut on his top lip.
I call Garlish the next morning. His number is not recognised.
I go to the local branch of ASID.
There is a sign on the door:
We are currently closed.
For enquiries call…
I call the number. The number is not recognised.
The lobby window is smashed. I cut my left cheek as I climb through the hole in the window. The office has been ransacked. Upsurge logos have been sprayed on the walls. I crawl under an upturned work console to retrieve a multi-crypt drive.
My research team is able to gain access to the drive — it transpires from the payroll logs that Garlish is drawing an annual salary of five-zero ultra-mega big-cash from ASID.
There is also an address for Garlish — a trading unit in the Innovation District. It belongs to something called the Lifestyle Institute, a consulting firm whose FAQ says it “provides guidance on brand expansion in the belief sector.”
I call the listed number. The number is not recognised.
I go to the address. The unit is shuttered.
“We Make the Rules” hits SolipShare the next morning. It surpasses any previous digil in record time.
I am woken by a growing rumble. It is 04:17 a.m. I get up and go to the bedroom window. The window frame is shuddering. Ranks of silver hats are coming down the expressway. I open the window and the chant fills the air.
D.M. Palmer (@MrDMPalmer) is a writer based in Sheffield, UK. He has contributed to sites like HeyUGuys, The Shiznit, Sabotage Times, Roobla, Column F, The State of the Arts and Film Inquiry. He has a propensity to wax lyrical about Film Noir on the slightest provocation, which makes him a hit at parties. The detritus of his creative outpourings can be found at waxbarricades.wordpress.com.