|date:||Fri, 17 May 2019 01:51:28 +0200|
|description:||mkone: fix man target (thanks Amavect)
> mkone and mkmany have backwards targets for installing man pages.
> This patch makes 'mk man' actually work for mkfiles that include mkone.
> mkmany is not easily fixed without breaking changes.
> It may go without saying that external repos should write their own mkfiles.
1 1OCT19933 by Stanley Lieber5 Written 2004-20107 This book was typeset (troff -ms|lp -dstdout|ps2pdf) in Times by the8 author, using an IBM Thinkpad T43p running the Plan 9 operating system.10 Reprinted with corrections, October 201212 1OCT199313 1oct1993.com15 MASSIVE FICTIONS16 massivefictions.com18 This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either19 are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and20 any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies,21 events or locales is entirely coincidental.23 MIT/CC0/Public Domain25 1OCT199327 BOOK ONE29 TAB2, 196031 tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief33 The testing was rigorous but fair. I don't know if the equipment had34 any real effect, but he started talking just the same.36 bump bump bump clickity clickity click bump bump bump38 Little Tommy.40 "Semen the color of old comic book pages, aged plastic, tape residue,41 dipping sauce for crayons that were flattened for a specific age42 group. You know, so they wouldn't roll awaythe crayons, not the age43 group. Dog piss on the carpet, striped wallpaper, a tray of stale flat44 bread, a portfolio of chalk drawings."46 "What else do you remember?"48 "The weather. Nothing."50 "Let's start over from the beginning."52 Aptitude tests. Memory. So far, things were progressing smoothly. I53 actually choked back a tear. I admit it: I was proud of him.55 "Son, have you figured out what's going on yet?"57 "A severed, pierced penis. In a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco.58 Title: Not Funny."60 I wrote TAB2 on the inside of his hat and placed it on his head.62 "Let's get the hell out of here."64 Tommy hated the matching outfits. Orange toboggan hat, bomber jacket,65 military galoshes. I had told him to think of it as his uniform. He66 scratched at his buzzcut, dumbly.68 I hoisted him into his car seat.70 Winter had struck while the other boys were studying. Permafrost,71 monochrome landscape. I had Tommy out and about in the elements every72 day; we covered four miles, on average, pacing the farmer's market73 near headquarters. He was already beating up on the older boys in the74 class ahead of him.76 Or so I had forecast, when I set him on this routine.78 Reality didn't quite track. Tommy wasn't meeting his PT requirements.79 I began scrubbing his face with an abrasive washcloth and doubled his80 training hours.82 "Father, who do I have to blow around here to get a time sheet?"84 "You'll be done when I say you're done."86 The kid's mother.88 I cleared my cache and ducked into a flower shop, dragging Tommy89 behind me. He planted himself on the floor and booted up a comic book.90 I should never have bought him that thing.92 "The usual?"94 We came in here at least twice a week.96 "Affirmative. Red."98 I jammed the bundle of roses under my arm and yanked Tommy along to99 the truck. I thought he might have voiced a slight whimper, but I100 couldn't be sure so I ignored it.102 The mesh was offline in the truck. I punched the dashboard and Tommy103 let out a laugh. Finally, the HUD activated and we peeled out of the104 parking lot.106 I was thirty-three years old.108 So far, 1960 was diminishing returns.110 CU/FARLEY112 tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief114 1 October 1960 I loaded Tommy into the truck and took him to work with115 me.117 The boy perked up at the sight of the two-story displays. A damn sight118 better than the consumer grade equipment his mother used to review her119 nude home shows. We had a spare terminal so I logged him in with basic120 access and let him handle analysis on some of the non-essential121 traffic. No one would mind. With his orange cap he almost fit in.123 Perturbations in the mesh. We were bringing a new series of embassy124 clouds online and things were not going smoothly. I was asked to125 supervise a side-switch.127 At 07:30 Tommy spoke up, something about overlap.129 "Pop, we've got incoming."131 Three embassies were competing for the same channel. Ping errors were132 filling up the logs. I asked Tommy if he had a solution.134 "Subnet them."136 My men went into action and the crisis was averted.138 Chief gave Tommy a lollipop.140 Tommy liked the snow but touching his hand to it produced tears. I141 growled at him a bit.143 I gassed up the truck and we cut across town back to the hovel. We had144 opened a new file on Tommy. CU/FARLEY would follow him for the rest of145 his life. He'd shown aptitude. All of that testing wasn't a waste146 after all. His mother would grumble but his interest was clear,147 honest. We assigned him TAB2 and that was that.149 Inside the house I prepared a plate of sandwiches and pickles and we150 settled in to monitor the logs. Again Tommy showed initiative and151 reorganized his own desktop for efficiency. I dozed off for a while152 and when I came to he'd routed the embassy logs through his login. He153 picked out some trouble spots and saved the boys back at HQ a few154 hours of grief. I considered pulling him out of school for a few155 months until the embassies were all up and running. Heh, not likely,156 not with his mother.158 Flipped on the telescreen. Presidential election. Iran.160 Can't escape it. Switched off the telescreen and back to Tommy's161 progress, trawling the logs. I showed him how to clean up a few162 streams and within a few minutes he was giving me advice on my own163 data structures. I wondered how long this could hold his attention.165 At 10:25 a page came over the wire, calling me back to HQ. I strapped166 Tommy into his seat and we were on our way.168 The truck spun through the slush and we got hung up in the parking169 lot. I left the vehicle and trudged towards the building with Tommy in170 tow; housekeeping would dig out the truck as time permitted.172 We made it up the stairs and Chief stopped us before we got to our173 terminals. CU/FARLEY was already twenty pages thick. They had decided174 to call in their investment early. I slicked down Tommy's eyebrows175 with my thumb and handed him over.177 My son and I locked eyes. Tommy full of comprehension.179 He reached up to his head and removed his orange toboggan. He glanced180 at the name I'd scrawled inside it, TAB2, and then passed it over to181 me, his three-year-old arms not quite bridging the gap between us.183 I nodded. I understood.185 TOWARDS MYTHOLOGIZING186 THE COMING RESURGENCE OF COVERT WARFARE188 tags: 1961, coordinator_rex, tab1, tab2190 DIPLOMATIC POUCH MAIL191 (SB:WR-U; 10-17-1961)192 (Office of Origin: BT/FUCK)194 Son, you said you wanted to know what I do all day at my job. That is,195 since we've been separated and you've been off at school. To that end,196 I've written up this account based on notes I took sometime last week.197 I traveled from New York to New San Francisco to take part in one of198 the operations assigned to my group.200 Here is my description of what took place.202 Faint smoke wafted out of nearby chimneys. Awkward-looking clouds203 clung to the sky, a gross of cotton balls scattered at random, then204 glued down carelessly onto an enormous blue shirt. I observed the205 aerial tableaux through a crack in the curtains. My hotel room was206 cold.208 Shifting focus, I came to notice the ground directly below my window.209 It offered up only the faintest suggestion of tangibility. Its210 contours were blunted by yet another layer of new fallen snow.211 Bemused, I traced the deceptive topology at high resolution, scanning212 the area for markers before proceeding to vacate for the last time.214 I made my way out onto the balcony. Even as my room's heavy wooden215 door clicked shut behind me, I instinctively checked my pocket for the216 plastic key card.218 It was present.220 Coat tucked and breath stale, I tunneled through the mounting drifts,221 trudging towards the front office. I swiped my key card and slipped222 inside. The night clerk had dozed off, abandoning the assortment of223 RAP CHOWDER clips he had pulled up on his terminal. He was probably224 inebriated. Stealthily, I snuck past him.226 Moving down the hall, I edged past a throng of blinking, chattering227 vending machines. My trench coat trailed along behind me, probably, I228 thought, getting dirty. I bustled once more into the laundry room,229 tossed my knapsack down on a table and placed my hat on the dryer.231 Laundry was done.233 After stowing my garments, I dropped my room card on the front desk234 and called for a taxi. Yawning, I leaned up against a support column235 and strained to hear the closing salvos of the RAP CHOWDER season236 finale. It seemed I had not alerted the night clerk to my presence.237 That suited the situation fine, as my taxi would not show up for some238 time and I was in no mood for small talk.240 An hour later I detected the heat signature of a car engine and then241 the slush of tires racing through black snow. It was my ride.243 The taxi driver wasted no time and engaged his car horn, initiating a244 blast of sharp, targeted audio. Modus operandi endemic to the American245 service industry: never in a hundred consecutive life sentences would246 he have thought to come into the hotel and fetch me. Remind me247 sometime to tell you about Hanoi, and the driver who actually did.249 I tossed my knapsack over my shoulder and hopped into the cab. The250 driver was a tough looking Arab, equipped with the usual rough shaven251 beard and a giant, furry parka. He had a three-dollar cigar clenched252 tightly between his brown teeth. As he spun the orange cab out of a253 snow bank, I leaned back into my seat with a sense of detached254 curiosity. The Motel 6's automation was apparently inoperable; I255 checked my balance and discovered that I hadn't even tipped the desk256 clerk on my way out.258 The driver propelled us across the bridge and on to JFK, where259 eventually he halted the cab and told me to get out. I tossed him a260 single hundred dollar bill and he affected only the slightest nod261 towards the meter. I didn't budge, so he gave me the finger, then sped262 off into the freezing smog. I had to laugh.264 Soon, I was aboard my plane.266 Floating safely above America, I rang for my stewardess. She brought267 out some coffee and loaded it up with a fair amount of cream.268 Somewhere over St. Louis, I was enjoying a fifty-dollar cup of269 Folger's Crystals. Unlike most passengers, I didn't fall for their270 upselling to a more rarefied blendI know from bitter experience that271 no matter what you order, on a government airplane you end up drinking272 the same cup of coffee. It still befuddles me that no one ever seems273 to notice this. Menus are nothing more than a racket they try to put274 over on unsuspecting consumers. What you actually get is whatever they275 have too much of on a given day. Anyway, a cup of coffee is a cup of276 coffee.278 Finally, we approached New San Francisco. Tires screeched across the279 runway. Air pressure in the cabin shifted to sea level. Presently, a280 voice came over the intercom, announcing our impending arrival. I281 gazed at the surface of my leaf, pretending to read a newspaper282 article. Shrewdly, I had opted not to activate the pay-device.284 "At the tone, all passengers will unbuckle their seat-belts and285 disembark in an orderly fashion."287 There was an almost deafening racket of clacks and clatters.289 "Once again, thank you for flying Federal Airlines."291 "Like we had a choice," came a muffled retort from several rows back.293 A number of heads from various sections of the plane snapped around to294 face the speaker, all of them in perfect synchronization. Immediately,295 I ascertained which of my fellow passengers were Air Marshals.297 I returned my leaf to the seat-back in front of me, then reached up298 into the compartment above my head to withdraw my bags. Nothing seemed299 to be missing.301 Exiting the plane, I was forced to elbow a few tourists out of my way.302 Nothing too unusual; a young Pioneer Scout had nearly caused me to303 trip and fall. Children were everywhere in coach, clogging up the304 aisles with their sluggish movements. This would not have been a305 problem if I'd taken a seat in first class, where children are306 generally forbidden, but such an expenditure would have raised flags307 with the wrong people, and on this flight I was concerned with keeping308 thingsas far as those wrong people were concerned, anywayquiet.309 Friendly shoving had become commonplace during the average disembark,310 and so my excess physicality went unnoticed.312 On the way into the terminal I passed through a metal detector. My313 sidearm triggered a shrill cacophony, followed by an array of hastily314 drawn weapons. I flashed my TSA card discreetly, at waist level, and315 got through the checkpoint without much hassle. As you know, with my316 credentials I am authorized to carry a concealed firearm. I can317 activate its logging processes mid-flight, or even pull it out and318 wave it around if I so desire. In this way it would have been trivial319 for me to clear a path through the crowd by sending everyone diving to320 the floor. I don't need to tell you that I restrained myself. Even321 with non-networked weaponry such as my own, flashing a gun would have322 attracted attention from the mesh.324 I wandered into a nearby pay-zone and called for another cab. My325 long-range implant was by now producing only blips and bleeps. For326 some reason, disabled.328 My experience with that last cab driver in New York had put me on329 edge. I recalled now that when I climbed into his vehicle he had330 shifted his eyes instantly to my left earlobe, pausing for a bit331 longer than I would have liked. He was careful, also, to look me up332 and down several times, tracing all of the obvious marker points. I333 noticed even though he had really been quite subtle about it. To my334 mind, this was uncommon and suspicious behavior for a New York cab335 driver. I found myself considering the implications. Something might336 be going on with the cabbie unions here in the States. Warily, I337 loaded my Colt and stuffed it into the cargo pocket of my trousers.339 When my taxi finally arrived I slid into the back seat and gave the340 driver a once-over of my own. Ditto. The same type as in New York. An341 immigrant. Although this fellow, rather than expose his bushy eyebrows342 and lice-infested hair to the world, sported a grey taxi cap with a343 dark, translucent visor. He was chomping a duty-free cigar (unlit) and344 taking sips from a can of Stro's Light. From the looks of him, a345 Russian educated Paki.347 Before shifting the car into gear, the cabbie pivoted around in his348 torn seat. With no small effort, he stuck out his free hand, then349 moved his eyes back to me. Sensing the inherent purpose of the350 gesture, I pushed a fifty towards him, extending it just far enough to351 catch in the tips of his fat fingers, then settled the rest of the way352 back into my seat. The driver remained motionless, silent. His seat353 creaked under the weight of his body.355 "Take me to the Embassy," I growled as harshly as I could muster,"And356 put some stank on it. I have an appointment to keep."358 With a squeal of tires and a strangled burst of exhaust smoke, we were359 off.361 After a short interval we careened to a stop in front of the Embassy.362 I evacuated the back seat and leaned into the taxi's front window,363 glaring at the driver, adopting an aggressive posture. In response,364 the Paki clenched my collar into his fist and pulled me in even365 closer. It seemed he wanted to share a few words.367 About time.369 "Meter say five hundred and fifty, stupid fart."371 He spit out his cigar, which came to rest lightly on the floor.373 My cue.375 I rammed the barrel of my Colt into his throat. He recoiled against376 the seat with a muffled thud, spilling beer all over his lap. I then377 gripped him by the hair and smashed his head into the dashboard,378 smirking bemusedly because his forehead had just taken out the meter,379 and because his pants were now soaking wet as if he'd burst his380 bladder. He fumbled groggily in his seat and steered his cab the hell381 out of there. I wouldn't have believed it, but the cabbie trade had382 actually grown more belligerent in my absence. As a corollary, I'd383 just saved the government five hundred bucks. You have to stay sharp384 on the basics.386 I stomped up the stairs of the Embassy and kicked open the door, which387 hadn't been latched to begin with. Gradually, I got myself into388 character.390 The place was fossilized as ever. All of the antiques, artifacts and391 arch-politicos were still glued into place, practically inert. The392 room was artificially quiet, which also conformed to my mental393 inventory from previous visits. All right then, noise-cancelers were394 still being employed. What was new, here, was that the place had395 apparently been outfitted as a nano-blank zone. I wondered why.397 Good thing I had thought to pack my Colt and not bothered with the398 network weaponry.400 Without warning, a butler sidled up to me, whispering that he wanted401 to take my coat. I kicked him out of the way. He tumbled into a chair,402 looking dumb. I decided to ham it up in my new role and barked at him403 that I hated being touched by the help. He muttered something and I404 made a show of ignoring him as I pushed on into the long central405 corridor.407 Quickly locating the correct cube cluster, I burst into the408 Coordinator's office and dropped down onto his horsehair sofa. His409 eyes moved to meet with my own and then just as casually returned to410 his pressure screen. I remained silent. After a few minutes passed, he411 realized that it would be up to him to initiate the conversation.413 "I'm sure you are aware," he finally said, agitated but monotone in414 his murmur,"That this sudden reappearance of yours will make certain415 impending maneuvers more... awkward... for my department. I will have416 to make up another acceptable room for you here in the embassy, and417 re-issue your cash and supply requisitions." He wiped his forehead,418 the pitch of his voice lowering steadily as he continued to speak,419 resembling nothing so much as the air being let out of a bicycle tire.420 "I'll also have to find a way to pay for all of this, since you are421 still officially off of my books."423 Well, that didn't seem like much of an obstacle to me. I was a424 diplomat and this was his embassy. I was sure he could come up with425 something. Run the standard algorithm of embassy lawyers, numerous426 layers of complex accounting, and a few million dollars out of the427 discretionary fund. Throw in a gaggle of highly trained Georgian428 prostitutes and no one would ever be the wiser. This was, after all,429 his area of expertise.431 Why not just write it up as a series of business lunches, I thought to432 myself.434 But I chose not to say any of that out loud. Instead, I sat435 motionless, staring, thinking about Iran and 1959, wondering why I'd436 bothered to haul his perforated ass back home with me. He must have437 guessed what I was flashing on, because he quickly dropped the438 pretense of busting my balls and cut straight to the conclusion of his439 prepared speech. He hated going through the motions as much as I did.441 "Okay. I give in," he mouthed, the vitriol now suspiciously absent442 from his voice. He had put up his token resistance, which for the443 purposes of budgetary documentation would have to suffice. He tossed444 me my pass and all of the needed cards, already made out and445 validated, packed into a large manila envelope. He held it out with446 one hand, not looking away from whatever it was he was scribbling,447 somewhat erratically, into his leaf. I had never known he was448 ambidextrous.450 "Tom," he said to me as I left the room,"Let's not botch this up, not451 like the last time I had to rely on you. You know what I'm talking452 about."454 The wisecrack was wholly unnecessary.456 I halted. I wanted to launch into him, but quickly reversed myself and457 resolved to just let him have his insults.459 Son, at this point the man is little more than a torso. His titanium460 legs are encased in medical plastic, but that hardly represents a461 cosmetic improvement. Below the elbows, his arms are tracked with skin462 grafts, and must be covered up by shirtsleeves even in summer. True,463 the substrate now conceals more firepower than I could ever hope to464 lift with my merely human-gauge limbs, but technically he was correct.465 During the war, I'd botched the rescue attempt that had made all of466 his"improvements" necessary. After all, he'd still possessed both of467 his legs when we were dispatched to Tehran. For this, I do carry some468 measure of responsibility.470 Turning again, I looked down at the manila envelope and said nothing.471 I closed his office door gently on my way out.473 As I hoofed it down the south corridor, I fished through my envelope474 of cards, digging out the one that would open my room. It stated: Room475 1097, Tenth Floor, Second Hall. I pocketed the room key and made my476 way toward the central security elevator, arriving just in time to477 glimpse the doors snapping shut.479 I located the stairwell.481 With little effort I advanced to the tenth floor. Swiping my key card,482 I pushed the security door open and proceeded into the hallway.484 As I reached the door of my actual room, I fished out the card again485 and shoved it into its slot. The whole door frame quivered as I ambled486 inside. This place was antique, but I didn't mind the clumsy old487 mechanisms, in spite of what my diplomatic status might have entitled488 me to. I wouldn't end up using all of that new equipment anyway.490 I suppose the room itself was quite impressive, by conventional491 standards. A hot tub was situated, or sunk into, really, the middle of492 the floor, equipped with its own bar. The carpet was some sort of deep493 white pile. I don't know, but it looked expensive. Cathedral windows494 with variable display angles. Universal remote. The furniture was a495 posh mixture of vintage and the very latest in network enabled. I496 waved my hand in front of the couch and seats around the room497 reconfigured themselves to my pre-loaded, custom contour. A few more498 gestures and my temperature/humidity preferences were transferred to499 the local mesh.501 I have not devoted much of my attention over the years to the ins and502 outs of fully-integrated interior design, but I can tell you that this503 wasn't the work of amateurs. I wasn't able to locate a single bug.504 Good for them. There's no telling what kind of footage this room has505 been able to capture, during the periods between wars when it has been506 used to house foreign dignitaries.508 I'm afraid my reputation preceded me here and I did not expect many509 frivolous trifles, but, still, a few of the line items from my510 standard rider were missingand remain missing, above my511 complaintswhich continues to annoy.513 Well, that's about all I have time for right now. I have quite a bit514 of work to do before I can turn in for the night. You know I'm not515 much of a writer, but I hope this has given you some idea of what an516 average day of mine is like here at the embassy.518 Hope to see you soon.520 ADVANCE522 tags: 1963, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief, violet524 All told, it was three years until I saw him again. Draped in525 something reflective, outfitted for stresspants.527 He appraised me, amused.529 "I don't suppose you objected too strenuously, when they told you what530 it was they planned to do to me."532 Six years old. Circumcised. Ready to start public school.534 "Son, I've been doing my best to provide for your future. You're535 getting the best education tax dollars can buy."537 "Prove it, Dad. They cut off my stick."539 By 1963, the war had started.541 "They didn't cut it off. They've trimmed back the excess skin.542 Hygienic benefits. Read up on your New Jack Testament. It's part of543 the package."545 I'll admit, the family tended to shunt Tommy aside. We had shelled546 into advanced operations and were channeling most of our attention to547 the tactical situation above ground. Probably some things slipped by548 unnoticed.550 "Nobody ever asked what I wanted."552 Maybe I should have sent him back to his mother. He seemed more553 attuned to her.555 "Irrelevant. You're not old enough to have an opinion on this. Here,556 hop on up here. Help me parse these filter rules. We have incoming."558 "You old fuss budget!"560 My daughter.562 "Why don't you give him a break. He's been studying all summer."564 "This wasn't strictly my decision, Violet."566 "Lies! You're the ranking officer now."568 "He's going to learn a lot more by observing us here than he would569 diddling with you and your mother back at home. Praying. Whatever it570 is you do."572 "You're wearing him out."574 "It's part of the training. He'll endure."576 "Well, gee. I would advise that you get yourself a good lawyer.577 Tommy's peer group is quite litigious. See you never."579 Violet slammed a lot of doors, that year.581 The dream was this:583 My wife, my sister and Violet wandering through HQ. Someone I don't584 remember from high school walking up and smearing grease paint on my585 face, saying"Don't you remember me?"587 My wife, my sister and Violet walking through someone's house as a588 shortcut. The women stop to pick through the occupants' belongings. I589 advise them not to continue but they've become unresponsive. The590 occupants of the hovel wake up and sound the alert for their extended591 family, who appear from out of nowhere and accost us.593 Hometown Security arrives with shock troops and we are all separated594 and detained. I am interrogated by Jeff from CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.596 By 1963 I had quit smoking, but still I made routine trips to the597 balcony to clear my head and to stare at the snow. There's no telling598 what my handlers thought of this. Ten below zero and there I was, out599 there in my shirtsleeves.601 Well, fuck'em.603 I was close. Ten more months and the agency would have recouped on my604 advance. Then I could start in on the mortgage. Savings. Things would605 start to look up.607 Mostly.609 Tommy was still a worry. Soon they'd want to draft him.611 I wasn't sure he was ready.613 MEN OF VISION615 tags: 1963, margaret, plinth_mold, tab1, tab2, william617 The bombs are still falling when they outfit me with this stupid,618 spamming hat and instruct me to cart around young cousin William, the619 other male child on the premises, so that he might bask in the620 unfiltered sunshine, breathe in the unfiltered air, be exposed,621 finally, to the city above ground. This isn't posed as an elective622 course of action; I'm given formal orders and nudged in the direction623 of the outer doors.625 I tell them I don't see as how it's a good ideawhat with the626 declining birthrates, the continuously falling bombs, the constant627 danger of disfigurement and deathbut I might as well be set on mute628 when it comes to registering above the din of the war room. My629 thoughts are not considered.631 Children, creatures endowed with no special mastery over the evolved632 traditions of warfare, are expected to find their own way, to get in633 where they fit in, to drive unique footholds into the imposing,634 existential mountain dubbed survival. Honestly, I've never considered635 this state of affairs to be a cause for concern. I've never shied away636 from a difficult climb. Have preferred, in fact, to traverse peaks of637 despair, regarding them as nothing more than simple clumps of grass638 gathered at my feet. The one permanent handicap I've endured is this639 responsibility to my cousin, William, who is so young, who cannot even640 fend for himself. Others of his age are expected to survive by dint of641 their own industriousness. William, for his part, is basically642 immobile. Self-sufficiency has been altogether ruled out.644 The war effort consumes most of the adults' attention. Slowly, William645 and I have been pushed from one room to another, down long hallways646 and through half-open doorways, with barely any recognition paid to647 how we are being treated. No one includes us or keeps much track of us648 now that the fighting has percolated into the city. With new air649 strikes arriving daily we are the least of the adults' concerns.651 I work with what I am given.653 It is in these streets that I have learned my trade, have begun to654 earn my keep. I've developed an affinity for commercean aptitude, you655 might sayand happily contribute a percentage of my earnings back into656 the household. Apparently, I am a natural born hustler. So says my657 uncle. It has come to the point where I'm afraid the adults will658 finally realize their neglect. It is conceivable that they may even659 forbid us, William and myself, to leave the compound on our own. This660 would negatively impact revenues, which would be unacceptable. It661 would also harm our family's standing in the community, which would be662 equally unacceptable. My products are in high demand. It is with a663 constant awareness of this precarious balance that I, over these past664 few months, have striven to make the skills of the street my own. I665 have adapted myself to its unsteady rhythms, mastered its sundry666 particulars, balanced weight through the hood until my various667 criminal activities have become as second nature to me, a collection668 of reflexive actions as simple as walking into the kitchen or emptying669 my bladder. This sympathy with the tidal nature of currency is hard670 won, but it allows me to function freely, wholly invisible to the671 financial surveillance algorithms employed by HQ. I should say,672 invisible so long as I remember to hold back that reasonable673 percentage for the family. It is true, my triple-a reputation would674 quickly dissolve into scandal if ever I became so sloppy as to arouse675 the interest of my father's men. Let us observe, then, that my676 operations have never attracted their attention.678 Add to my already formidable grip the legitimate pay from William's679 promenades, and I'm already better than halfway to my new shield680 jacket. I count it as a demonstration of my utility that I'm able to681 provide my own armor. A new shield jacket would doubtless preserve me682 through countless future crises (that is to say, if I'm not found683 skewered by shrapnel before the thing is even delivered). Thus I have684 concluded that even my supposedly lamentable character traits (such as685 my unquestioning greed) may, at last, be construed as facets of pious686 virtue. Until I am allowed to participate in weapons training, I will687 content myself with the paper chase. I will gild the runway. Keeping688 William and myself alive is merely the start of what I hope to689 accomplish.691 I assume that Mother and Father are cognizant of all this, to some692 degree. In my view, this whole bang-upthe waris simply an excuse to693 seek out and extract ever larger sums of money from the tax base. The694 whole conflagration merely serves to increase trade, which serves to695 increase tax revenues, which results in more war. Fortunately for me,696 the family doesn't seem too keen on auditing my activities. The fact697 that my relatives' economic interests are currently seen to overlap698 with my own is a kind of happy accident, perhaps of the sort depicted699 in children's cinema, or in certain of the ancient, sequentially700 illustrated pamphlets collected by my father. In reality, my family's701 enlightened self-interest drives a free exchange of goods and702 services, a marketplace that in turn benefits the entire community. My703 own present activities, in spite of the myopic moral objections704 offered by my sister, contribute to this aggregate effect. Taxes (and705 thus, war) are merely inevitable. Yes, I've done some reading on the706 topic. I readily admit. But the ideas I've argued with Father stand on707 their own, heedless of any pseudo-intellectual hem-hawing. I dare say708 that they are self-evident. If only I could get him to understand:709 even in wartime, altruism is beside the point.711 The kid in the cart doesn't realize I'm only in it for the money. He712 digs his fingernails into the palm of my hand, obviously frightened by713 the noises on the street. We round a corner and a rather large714 building comes apart right in front of us. He buries his face into my715 coat just as we're pelted with a boiling shock wave of dust. For some716 reason he looks to me for protection. Of course, this toddler's717 intellect is incapable of assessing the true complexity of our718 situationhe's not yet up to the task of cynical apprehensionbut719 perhaps in the end he is right to place his faith in me. It is720 unquestionably within the realm of my interests to ensure that he721 survives these trips to the surface. The profit motive is clear. It's722 right there in my contract.724 I pause to reflect on the brilliant symmetry of our arrangement and it725 dazzles me all over again. I cannot help but marvel as I trace its726 subtle mechanism: William survives; I profit.728 I strive to gather my thoughts.730 The dizzying effect persists, even as large sheets of smart glass are731 de-integrating everywhere around us. A rapture similar to my own seems732 to have overtaken William. I am enthralled as he adopts a distant,733 distracted gaze, his jaw falling slack almost against his shirt. He is734 serene now in his repose, more contented than either of us have any735 right to be, given the circumstances.737 I believe that my hand, which he continues to grip quite tightly, is738 starting to bleed onto my trousers.740 Torn from my reverie, I reply with a gentle squeeze, communicating to741 William that we are going to be all right. I guide his chair across742 the street, away from the perambulating dust cloud that by now has743 puffed up its chest to encompass half of the block. If the trailing744 wisps of this mess are not to gum up the works of William's chair,745 we'll need to find our way into a shop or an office or a foyer rather746 quickly.748 Adults are hurling themselves to an fro, generally kicking up more749 commotion than is warranted by the simple demolition of a midtown750 office building. I reign in young master William and tether him to a751 banister, then set off to fetch an adult. In short order I'm752 breast-stroking through a sea of white lab coats. It is clear to me753 now that we've ended up in some sort of medical clinic.755 It takes only a moment to evaluate the new surroundings, and I remain756 lucid enough not to dust myself off before approaching one of the757 nurses. That would be tantamount to chucking one of my tools into the758 trash.760 "There's just no end to it," I hear one of the doctors remark,761 circumnavigating the perimeter of a nearby cubicle. His voice is762 filled with work-a-day resignation. I rotate my body to face him so763 that I might appraise him visually.765 Half a second passes. His profile fits, so I launch myself766 purposefully in his direction. I'm going to try to smear hand prints767 onto his coat before he has a chance to form a dispassionate768 impression of me. Once I've struck, he'll be forced to take in my769 appearance, to consider my circumstances. The ploy is guaranteed to770 work, given his type.772 "This spamming war just goes on and on."774 His remark is sympathetic in nature. I take his words as an obvious775 cue to redouble my approach velocity, step fully into the field of his776 vision and wipe my arms across his chest, submitting my filthy777 clothing and runny nose for his inspection.779 "Excuse me, sir, might I inquire as to what it is that has just taken780 place, out on the street?"782 I let the question hang there, resonating in the stale clinic air. I'm783 play-acting now as if I'm stupid, asking after that which I'm clearly784 not equipped to understand. He buys into this mailbox full of spam785 because I'm merely a child, seven years of age, and therefore,786 self-evidently, not yet sophisticated enough to mount a motivated787 deception.789 Oh, the folly of experience.791 I tilt towards him perceptibly, making sure he takes notice of my792 garb. His eyes fall upon me in silence and then there is a gap of some793 seconds before I finally detect a twinkle in the center of his794 mechanical eye. At last, he's picked up on it. He's located the795 transceiver. He's got a make on my ID.797 This, of course, changes everything. His demeanor, not thirty seconds798 ago the sort of bemused half-attention one pays to a poverty-stricken799 child, is now replaced with that of a Green hobo ready to snatch a800 million dollar bill from the Church collection plate. I am well801 acquainted with this shift in disposition, immediately recognize his802 "tell," and so may now reflect that my gambit is almost certainly803 working.805 "Well, hello there, young fellow!"807 He dings my helmet.809 "You see, recently, some bad men have taken it upon themselves to810 provide our city's skyline with a series of aesthetic improvements.811 You may learn in school, in the coming years, about a social812 interaction often referred toreferred to in the literature, that813 isas politically motivated violence. Or, for short, PMV."815 "Splendid and fascinating!" I exclaim, masking a considerable amount816 of mental activity with a merely adequate portrayal of child-like817 wonder.819 Allow me to explain. Throughout the preceding scene my mind has been820 occupied, simultaneously, on three fronts: affecting to extract821 details of the bombing attack without also giving away my real aim;822 shuffling through numerous possible non sequiturs with which to823 counter his inane stammering, none of which must come across as824 excessively practiced lest I inadvertently alert him to the fact that825 I'm on the grift; and, to complicate matters, keeping an eye on what's826 going on around us in the office, paying particular attention to my827 physical location relative to all possible exits. It has only been in828 situations like this that I have, after so many years, felt well and829 truly engaged with the world. A fickle melancholy now descends over830 me, and I resist the urge to withdraw, to run outside, to find myself831 peering over the railing and thoughtfully evacuating my stomach.832 Characteristically, I maintain my hold on the situation. I press on.834 The doctor, for his part, sinks into a portrait of exquisite835 confusion.837 "Say, son, what are you two doing in my clinic?"839 William's chair is knocking back and forth, gently, blissfully unaware840 of the limits set by my tether. I turn my eyes back to the doctor very841 slowly, straightening my posture and raising my voice.843 "Sir, I was carting around my little brother here when the building at844 25765 St. Aecstopher's Cross did fall down nearly on top of us. I'm845 afraid I have sustained some sort of injury, as my arm seems to have846 gone missing."848 I do the trick with my shoulder, slipping my arm, and he gasps as it849 re-appears in my sleeve. Absentmindedly, I look down and say,"Oh,850 there it is."852 He fails to laugh. Instead, he puts in a respectable effort to wrinkle853 his eyebrows, to grow more visibly concerned. Privately, I want to be854 disappointed with this reaction, to ask him if somehow the humor855 hasn't translated, but I will not break character over a single flat856 joke.858 Now, this fellow knows when he smells a five-star dinner. He's859 recognized which house we're from. Dad's pressure screen is probably860 glowing red even as we commence negotiations. I think I can actually861 feel the chips twitching in my wrist and neck, as both regions are862 crying out to be scratched. Or maybe it's just my allergies.864 Without warning, something seems to click into place in the doctor's865 head. He lunges towards me.867 Almost before I can unlatch William, the man's taken me up into his868 arms, ferrying me into an examination room. He unloads me gently onto869 a table and smooths me onto its stiff, white paper. A microwave sweep870 to stem the spread of various bacteria. It will be interesting to871 learn which perilousthough certainly, at this clinic,872 treatableailment he has diagnosed me with, now that he realizes I've873 membership in a truly superlative insurance program. That's when he874 notices my eyes.876 "Son" His own eyes get stuck gliding over William's gilded chair.877 "Son, are you... blind?"879 "Of course I'm blind, you jack-ass!"881 Okay, here I will admit that I've broken character and degenerated882 into an emotional outburst. I wrench my face back into a pathetic sulk883 and twitch only once, trying to restore equilibrium. I remind myself884 to act my age. Let him guide the scene.886 "How long have you been wandering the streets out there, without being887 able to see where you're going?"889 An easy one.891 "It's never really been an issue. I mean, I seem to know my way around892 the neighborhood pretty well. Everyone here knows me. And893 twenty-twenty vision isn't a panacea against belly-flopping894 architecture, as I think was proved out there today."896 "Hm. I suppose it was. I admit, you do seem capable. But still,897 blindness is a serious complaint for one who spends so much time898 outdoors. I would imagine it's also quite demoralizing, when your899 obstructed vision is rated against that of your peers, wouldn't you900 agree?"902 Like I said, I'm a million dollar bill lying face-up on the sidewalk.904 Presently, he claps me into another chair, this one missing the905 sanitary strip of paper, and begins attaching things to my face. I906 open my mouth to try another approach but he simply reaches down and907 plugs it with a wad of medical gauze. I suppose we'll have to continue908 our discussion once he's finished tinkering with my eyes.910 He's a few hours getting on with it, and so by the time he's taken911 down my numbers and confirmed them multiple times against his network912 queries, William and I are left to amble along home. Once again I have913 to point out: here we are, children, alone on the streets after dark,914 where a war is still being waged. (Admittedly, the firing usually915 stops when the sun goes down.) Sure, plug me into a machine to fix my916 eyes, and then send me right back out into the war zone. What was the917 point? I could just as easily have enjoyed this kind of treatment from918 the boys back at HQ. In any case, I have now been outfitted with an919 outlandish plastic headband. It encircles the top half of my face and920 displays a pleasant array of colored shapes, monochrome to onlookers921 and passers-by. Aside from the cosmetic effects, my vision seems922 unchanged.924 We exit the clinic without having gathered any useful intelligence.925 Ditto for the tally of unburdened currency we have to show for our926 trouble. No doubt this will have been a complete waste of an927 afternoon, distinguished only by the irritation of a needless medical928 procedure. I've wasted a lot of time that could have been devoted to929 shoring up my grip. William looks up at me, visibly disappointed.931 At an intersection, I am surprised to note that I can now see things I932 have never been able to see before.934 In some ways it is confusing, this trying to peer between the fat935 cubes of light that gyrate before my eyes. At first I am not quite936 sure how to adjust, even as I attempt to keep walking. Slowly the937 input begins to make sense; to help, rather than hinder, my938 navigation.940 On balance, I will say that there is much to recommend in these941 additional streams of information, all dancing betwixt each other and942 pouring unstoppably into my face. The interface is intuitive,943 hands-free. I can see where such a device could be considered useful.944 I'm even getting telemetry now from HQ. What has this motherspamming945 optometrist done to me?947 I seem to have gotten quite a ways down the street on my own. I've948 inadvertently left William back at the intersection, his chair bobbing949 in sync with the traffic. When I return to his side I see that he has950 pulled out his knapsack and begun to tear off little strips of paper,951 creasing them into slim, rectangular folds that bear a striking952 resemblance to illegal tobacco cigarettes. He offers one to me and I953 accept, gripping it between my second and third fingers, leaning back954 against the enormous smart glass windows of the FIRST MULTINATIONAL955 BANK. Eventually, I bring the sliver of paper up to my lips, deftly956 feigning inhalation. Smooth flavor...958 William looks up at me with those preposterously large eyes of his959 and, for the first time today, puts forth the effort to straighten out960 his spine and stutter a few words. In spite of the pain it causes him961 he wants to speak to me. You have to admire his grit.963 "T-T-Thomas, it's been a fun day, and it is r-r-rather late ungt!964 but, if it's all the same to you... I... I would prefer that we tarry965 here for a while, and p-p-pickle in the ebb and flow of the...966 c-c-cool night air."968 I raise my cig to him and nod respectfully. We both jump as a building969 collapses, somewhere off in the distance. On this night, the city will970 not be afforded its usual dusk-to-dawn reprieve.972 Gingerly, I work the length of gauze out of my mouth and begin to973 unroll its damp wad of fabric onto the sidewalk. William's glassy eyes974 reflect a light that seems to originate from no obvious source. He975 recognizes what it is I've managed to smuggle out of the doctor's976 office. There is more here than just the blood and spittle sopped up977 by the rags.979 A selection of tiny hand tools glistens in the light of the street980 lamp. These are the final pieces we'll need to render our981 reverse-engineering shop, hidden for now in a vacant ammo closet on982 the sixth level, fully operational. Once I can get a hold of a few983 more classified schematics, we can begin undercutting the importers984 and kick our minuscule operation into full gear. We'll even be able to985 outfit William's chair with its own shield jacket and an independent986 comms package, all of our own design. No more relying on the adults or987 outsiders for our gear.989 I briefly consider cutting Father in on this action. The notion is990 dispersed by the echoes of mortar fire reverberating across the river.991 Try as I might, I know he just couldn't be made to understand. This992 world we've arrived at, crowning from the great, vaginal maw of993 nothingness bequeathed to us by our ancestors, brooks no quarter for994 the elderly, or for those sad individuals still nostalgic for the995 unambiguous adversaries of eras past. Pop would be happier lobbing996 rounds at the enemy, clawing defiantly as he sinks into his grave,997 still convinced he's making some sort of falsifiable, empirical998 contribution to his generation's most momentous struggle.1000 What a load of bollocks. Dad has wasted his entire life on this1001 nonsense.1003 I decide it's best to keep my opinions to myself. William tends to be1004 sentimental when it comes to family.1006 Speaking of which, the boy has gotten busy, grunting and drooling onto1007 his shirt. All evidence of his brief flash of lucidity is gone,1008 vanished. Might as well never have happened. He's making a mess of his1009 clothing.1011 I snatch up the little bundle of tools before he spoils them.1012 Sometimes you wonder why you even bother. With William, the sentiment1013 is amplified. I suppose I do feel for him.1015 We're both of us looking forward to the end of this war.1017 No, really. Hear me out.1019 I've grown weary of the grind. I want to be free of William, free of1020 this duty.1022 I worry that the adults have already compromised our security. I can't1023 imagine the Green insurgents will ever give up. Do you see what I'm1024 saying? It's frustrating that the family pursues this stagnant vision1025 of religious purity. We can't all be ideologues. Or not of the type my1026 father admires, anyway. We have to be in this to win it. We have to1027 get in where we fit in. And that might not include the Church.1029 For now, I suppose, I'm content to focus on having a smoke and getting1030 rich.1032 I'm convinced it's the only way I'm going to survive.1034 VISOR TECHNOLOGY1036 tags: 1964, actron, tab1, tab2, the_chief1038 The new gear seemed to suit Tommy fine.1040 Indeed, over the past month he'd hardly complained. The visor allowed1041 him to dominate. Sometimes even with the older boys. Now, he came home1042 with money in his pocket.1044 He still hadn't been drafted.1046 When I'd sent him to the clinic, I was only vaguely aware of what they1047 might install in his head. This modern equipment was beyond my1048 expertise. Above my pay grade, as we used to say. Now, it looked as if1049 some improvements had been pushed to Tommy's firmware, even in the1050 last fifteen minutes. All I could do was shake my head.1052 The tactical advantage was clear. I was just glad HQ had agreed to pay1053 for it all.1055 Reagan was starting to concern us. Would he poison the public on Bush?1056 J. K. Rowling might run for President in 1968. Naturally, something1057 had to be done.1059 I decided to involve Tommy. I was allowed complete discretion when it1060 came to personnel. I thought that with the enhancements he'd prove1061 useful. At least as useful as before.1063 And he had been pretty useful, before.1065 I got him out of bed and brought him in to work.1067 The Chief was having a bit of a problem with a can of bi-partisan1068 gravy.1070 "I can't get this spamming thing opened."1072 Tommy quickly found a weak spot in the can's lid, using his visor."No1073 problem," he said, and opened the can.1075 "Next time, I'll just go with the low-fat deli shtick."1077 "None of that stuff is very good for you," Tommy chided.1079 The Chief could only roll his eyes.1081 "Well, shit on my Christmas! The boy's found another one."1083 Campaign contributions. We'd put Tommy on the trail of J. K. Rowling's1084 backers. The financial streams were now running through the boy's1085 system. He was even better at this than the machines.1087 "It's old man Jerrymander."1089 "The Molds," I said, making eye contact with Tommy.1091 We'd had a hell of a time keeping this guy out of the race. Strictly1092 speaking, he wasn't even legal; an immigrant from some border state1093 that had been excluded from the new American union. But he'd leveraged1094 his wealth to rig local rules in one of the communities he controlled.1095 We'd missed it before it was too late. It had caused some friction1096 here at HQ. Who was to blame? We all had a bit of a problem with1097 Mold's politics.1099 "So I guess if he can't run, he'll put up a guy who can. Sounds like a1100 good strategy to me."1102 "No, not analysis," I ordered."You concentrate on the streams."1104 "Yes Father," Tommy replied.1106 After a while he seemed to tucker out. I brought up some comic books1107 on my leaf and sent him over to a corner. The Chief had allowed his1108 own son to tag along that day, and so the two of them spent a few1109 hours together, chewing on slices of lunch meat and catching up on1110 back issues of ACTRON. Harmless entertainment, in my opinion.1112 But Tommy had hit on something important. If Jerrymander Mold really1113 was angling again to get his claws into the election, we could expect1114 a lot of activity down south in the next few weeks. It was likely the1115 attacks on the city would only intensify.1117 The boy's visor had amortized in only a month.1119 PAPER WINTER1121 tags: 1966, mother, tab1, tab2, violet1123 Violet's Diary1125 1 October 19661127 It had all crumpled. Violet moved her eyes across the sky but could1128 not find its edges, the corners of a vast, dirty sheet of paper that1129 canopied the entire city. Fibrous swirls stirred and unrolled before1130 her, contriving illusions of focus. Violet stared silently past the1131 rooftops, ignoring the city and directing her gaze forward into space.1132 Or rather, she thought, she would have been staring into space, if not1133 for this endless, sprawling white that inevitably drew one's eyes back1134 into the soot. Her mask observed the scene with detachment. On its1135 face, it did not register whether Violet felt one way or the other1136 about the situation. More broadly, about anything at all. The lack of1137 visibility was of personal concern, to be sure; but it was nothing1138 that should mar Violet's appearance to others. The mask was certain of1139 this. After all, Violet had configured the settings herself.1141 Violet turned away from the window and directed her face towards the1142 central corridor of her family's apartment. A line of green squares1143 tracked her hand as it traveled from the window back down to her side.1144 Turning in bright arcs, the dots of color followed by half-steps,1145 floating gradually closer to the reflector on the opposite side of her1146 body. Chimes had sounded, there in the room, and Violet knew at once1147 that she was meant to answer the door as quickly as possible. Her1148 mother had not yet emerged from her preening room, her father was1149 still in his bath, probably drinking, or perhaps by now bloodying his1150 hands on the broken pieces of his bourbon glass. She could not slump1151 any further without endangering her balance, so she straightened1152 herself, careful not to put any undue strain on her stabilizers.1153 Finally, this action prompted her mask to register a minute change in1154 her facial expression. Inside, a joint clicked.1156 "My back feels like it's being folded into paper airplanes," she1157 muttered into her faceplate.1159 Presently, there emerged between the doorway's mechanical lips a1160 familiar, angular-faced woman, who reeked alternately of whiskey and1161 of the orchids that were pinned to her billowing yellow coat. Violet's1162 grandmother swept into the apartment and at once commenced to critique1163 the child's appearance. She was able to issue several disconnected,1164 declarative statements before being overcome by the rolling contours1165 of her own formal wear. Violet giggled. This animation of the old1166 woman's garb was not without its effect. Soon enough, bony hands1167 pushed through the bright folds of cloth and found purchase on1168 Violet's arm. The hands proceeded to travel. Violet's fingers were1169 studied at length before it was stated authoritatively that she would1170 now turn over her tobacco pouch and put away her pipe. Nicotine, her1171 grandmother said, stains the hands.1173 When Grandmother fled the seclusion of her estate, which was by now1174 quite seldom, she would insist upon stowing a small animal within the1175 sleeves of her baroque accouterments. As a matter of course, one such1176 animal was present today. The Shih Tzu nipped wildly at Violet's mask1177 as she leaned forward to embrace the old woman around her waist.1178 Violet made no attempt to pull away from her grandmother or from the1179 dog. Her mask maintained its aloof composure, sensors indicating that,1180 beneath its porcelain exterior, Violet's flesh likewise held close to1181 its default settings.1183 The formal greetings finally concluded, Grandmother seated herself and1184 began smoothing out the creases in her dog's black velvet dress. A1185 spate of frivolous conversation ensued; meaningless, serving only to1186 mark the passage of time and to calm the old woman's nerves until at1187 last she would be reunited with her son.1189 Brill cream.1191 A wristwatch.1193 He was now able to make out a lot of what was there, sitting on the1194 bathroom shelf. Paper-white reflected in the mirror, streaming in from1195 the window. It was snowing. It was daylight again. Still?1197 A buzzer. His face seemed permanently affixed to the bathroom floor.1198 Two or three of his teeth scratched along the tiles and vibrated in1199 sympathy with whatever that racket was, echoing down the hall. A pool1200 of saliva had formed around his chin. Slowly, he came to the1201 realization that the current arrangement of his limbs was1202 uncomfortable.1204 When his arms didn't work, he shifted attention to his legs. He pushed1205 himself over to the door and noticed that it remained locked from the1206 inside. Still, it was a no-go on getting it to open again. At this1207 point he couldn't even pull his arms up off of the floor, much less1208 manipulate a key.1210 Movement in the hallway flagged his attention as a whole set of keys1211 (worn externally) brushed the doorknob in passing. The sound passed1212 very quickly. Presumably, Violet, on her way to the kitchen.1214 Just then, the remainder of last night's double-malt scotch flickered1215 into view, diffracting the snow-light and catching his eye. The bottle1216 lay motionless in a blurry field of illumination, an unconvincing1217 square of warmth let in by the bathroom window. He realized then that1218 the odds were narrowing with regards to his non-functional arms. Oh1219 no, not again. He lunged wildly and tried to chew the words out of his1220 mouth, protesting the locked door, proclaiming his innocence, but1221 instead of the familiar taste of his own lies, his tongue caught on a1222 jagged fixture of gauze and surgical tape. Fragments still wedged into1223 the space where a molar had lived.1225 He popped several fasteners by artificially expanding his belly and1226 got out of his suspenders and Italian pants. The shirt and vest had1227 become a straight jacket, detaining him against his will; flailing1228 around on the mat beneath the sink, he tried to squirm out of them.1229 Finally down to his underpants, he slid over to the bathtub and pushed1230 himself up, over its lip, into the gaping, porcelain mouth. The water1231 was quite warm, as far as he could tell. The porcelain, cold.1233 Head upside-down, hanging over the edge of the tub, he could just make1234 out a snow drift on the neighbors' roof. He had to stop then and laugh1235 because it looked like the house was wearing a beard.1237 He had been awake for close to half an hour. It should have taken no1238 more than four seconds (at the outside) for his arms to come back to1239 life, but the scotch was complicating matters. His shoulder gave an1240 inch, and a splinter of pain shot through his elbow, shattering1241 violently at his wrist.1243 Motor functions had still not returned to his arms.1245 A pounding came at the door and it was faster than he could sink his1246 bottle into the tub. The soapsuds were mostly dispersed now, traveled1247 behind his legs and back. He realized, too late, that his glass was1248 still on the sink. None of this would look good to Violet. He hoped it1249 was the boy.1251 The lock clicked, and turned, and then the heavy wooden door swung1252 inward.1254 Appearing at the foot of the tub was his nine year old son, head1255 poking through the shirt Thomas had struggled to tear out of only1256 moments before. It fit him like a circus tent. The boy was completely1257 oblivious to his father's predicament.1259 "Dad," he said."The Vice President will arrive soon."1261 Soon, he thought. But Thomas could not yet speak. He was too drunk.1263 Presently, his wrist began to turn, forming his hand into a fist1264 beneath the water. His grip was so tight that it drew blood from the1265 skin graft stretched around his palm. He could hear some nonsense1266 about Redaction Day dinner from a telescreen three rooms away. If his1267 mouth had been working, he would have screamed for them to turn the1268 damned thing down. So loud.1270 His mother would arrive within the hour, no doubt with her husband in1271 tow. He hadn't even wanted them to know where he lived.1273 The Vice President. The spamhole.1275 Now, where were his pants.1277 Again, his kid was waving his arms around like a shot pigeon and1278 looking as if he had something especially urgent he wanted to say.1280 What?1282 "Dad!"1284 He heard a weird grating sound in the left side of his head, followed1285 by a long hiss that seemed to issue from his own mouth. Lateral1286 stimuli?1288 Thomas blinked, involuntarily, and his arms fell off, right into the1289 bathtub. He heard the bloop, and then he heard them hit bottom,1290 rolling around underwater. Suds splashed onto the floor and also onto1291 his cleanly pressed pants, which were right where he'd left them,1292 draped over the edge of the sink. He looked around, disgusted. How was1293 he going to get himself out of the tub? His daughter would be livid.1295 But he was also suddenly sober. In half of a second he'd come fully1296 awake. Yes, it was not too soon to say he'd hatched himself a1297 Redaction Day plan.1299 The idea burned in his mind, seemed to radiate sufficient heat to1300 alter the temperature of the room. Old favors would be called in. They1301 would not make a fool of him this year. Things were definitely1302 starting to look up.1304 "Tommy, get me my phone."1306 "Sure thing, Pop!"1308 Thomas, Sr. looked around the room. He fished in his pants pocket and1309 found the other flask.1311 "Fuck it," he thought, and took another drink.1313 D.I.V.O.R.C.E.1315 tags: 1967, margaret, piro, tab1, tab2, the_chief, violet1317 While we waited for NO/MOAR to calm down, overtime was channeled into1318 other projects.1320 Tommy was doing well, he'd started his ops training in the fall. I had1321 asked to have him assigned to Piro, the son of an old buddy of mine,1322 and probably the most experienced instructor at the Farm. Everything1323 seemed to be going as planned.1325 Then we ran straight into PM/DAWN. I was out of the house for six1326 months.1328 Here again, I have to say, Tommy was a big help. On his trips home1329 he'd advise HQ on tactics. He had a knack for anticipating how the1330 enemy would respond to our provocations. It was bad of me, but again I1331 found myself wondering how hard it would be to pull him out of1332 classes, to get him more directly involved in the operation. He was1333 shaping up to be our most promising young asset. I stopped worrying1334 about whether or not he could handle a regular assignment. He was more1335 than ready; anyone could see it.1337 But the boy needed to be in school. On this, I honestly agreed with1338 his mother.1340 So, we had reached an impasse. I left him where he was.1342 One day I was catching up on the backlog of paperwork when the Chief1343 dropped something new on my desk. Immediately, I recognized the name1344 of my daughter. It was printed there in the byline.1346 I had never once taken a drink on the clock, but I found myself1347 wondering after a bottle.1349 I looked over the folder. It appeared to be excerpts from Violet's1350 diary, circa 1966. Key portions had been circled, some of them were1351 flashing.1353 The phone rang.1355 It was Violet's mother.1357 It was my wife.1359 As I say, I didn't even drink.1361 I still don't know why Violet wrote it; the bulk of it was obviously1362 fictional. Some elaborate account of my supposed boozing and general1363 drunkenness. Wholly fabricated. In any case, the facts were1364 irrelevant. The girl's mother caught wind of the mention of alcohol1365 and that was that. It didn't matter that she'd never even seen me take1366 a drink. We were getting divorced.1368 I hung up the phone.1370 Well, this would complicate dealing with PM/DAWN, almost certainly.1372 I didn't want to draw things outI knew the last thing the kids needed1373 was the added drama of having to wait for me to show up and take my1374 lumpsbut I needed to make a few stops on the way home. I realized1375 that, with my few personal belongings, I had very little that would be1376 of interest to the children. Even Margaret's scriptures said that this1377 was no way to make an exit from your family. Protocol required that I1378 turn over, to each of them, some artifact to remember me by.1380 Prop-effects from here at HQ were no good; Tommy had spent his whole1381 childhood playing with them out in the warehouse. He knew they were1382 junk.1384 There was nothing of interest in my truck, either. By habit, I kept it1385 as clean as my office. Briefly, I considered giving Tommy the vehicle;1386 but then I remembered that he was only nine years old. The truck was1387 unlikely to be of use to him, at that age.1389 What else.1391 The Chief was in, so I couldn't sneak into his office and rummage1392 through his mess, either.1394 It looked as though I'd be paying a visit to a GANGSTERMAX theme1395 store. Find something there. Thus equipped, I could face the children,1396 explain to them why this would be my last evening living with them at1397 home.1399 I hoped that the local branch would have what I needed in stock.1401 Or at least something approximate.1403 (18:54) < tommy> trds1404 (18:54) < tommy> i guess he's not going to be home for a while. you1405 know, you still have time to change your mind.1406 (18:54) < violetCRUSH> Oh, fuck him.1407 (18:55) < violetCRUSH> Mom's not going to stand for this.1408 (18:55) < tommy> for him being late when he had to stop off at the1409 store?1410 (18:55) < violetCRUSH> Haha, no, you idiot. just watch.1411 (18:55) < tommy> i really wish i could be home to stop you from doing1412 this.1414 "An old belt?"1416 "Son, you know I don't actually drink. But I won his belt twenty years1417 ago, riding an electric bull."1419 Tommy's connection cut out, momentarily.1421 "You were drunk," he resumed.1423 "Well..."1425 I was spinning this stuff out of thin air. I hesitated for too long.1427 "Of course he was drunk! Can you imagine Dad climbing onto an electric1428 bull under any other circumstances?"1430 "This is stupid," Tommy said."Have you been drinking behind our backs1431 all of these years or not?"1433 "An analog microscope? But... why?"1435 "This belonged to me in college, Violet."1437 "But all the glass has been removed!"1439 "I... it broke, some years ago."1441 "I suppose I can use it as a bookend."1443 "That's my girl. Good thinking. Adapt to the situation at hand."1445 Tommy cut out, rather abruptly. This time on purpose. He seemed1446 disgusted with the whole affair. Good, son, put it into your training.1447 Violet kept trying to resume the connection, but he was gone.1449 "What a kick in the chest-balls, Dad," Violet said."You could at least1450 have bought us something expensive."1452 I cleaned out my den with a minimum of fuss. Most of my gear was1453 networked and took up little physical space. It wasn't a big job.1454 Violet helped me pack my things out to the truck.1456 Margaret never even entered the room. Violet said she was waiting1457 until I was gone. The sour old bitch.1459 Well, I don't suppose she deserved that.1461 "You know I get your room when you're gone," Violet said, elbowing me1462 in the ribs.1464 "That's what this is all about, isn't it?" Of all the... I had finally1465 put it all together.1467 "And what if it is?"1469 My only daughter. The sour little bitch. I don't care what you think,1470 I won't take it back. She definitely deserved it.1472 "We'll see if you're still smiling when your brother and I are in Ohio1473 this summer."1475 That shut her up. Her training was topmost in her mind. I could cut1476 her off. Let her sit in my den. Reading about the training.1478 "You don't know what you're doing, Dad."1480 And she was right. I didn't.1482 VIOLET RETURNS FROM THE WOODS1484 tags: 1967, margaret, tab1, tab2, violet1486 As I say: at that moment, I had no way of knowing how far it would go.1488 Once Violet was sure I had left, she burst out of the house and ran1489 into the woods, making a production of whatever tears she was able to1490 muster. She stumbled over a tree limb and managed to tear her1491 stockings on her way to the ground. For increased verisimilitude she1492 also affected to scrape her elbow on a rock. Her face (and mask)1493 contorted accordingly.1495 Margaret observed all of this from the kitchen window, cursing me1496 audibly for having driven the girl into the forest. Her fists clenched1497 stiffly and her arms began to flail about, a spontaneous gesture of1498 maternal rage. I would have laughed even if I'd been standing there.1499 Funny. Predictably, she proceeded to bang one of her hands into a1500 cabinet corner, drawing blood. With this, she sat down on the floor1501 and began to cry.1503 Much was made of her injury back at HQ. Some of the guys actually felt1504 sorry for her.1506 Ah. My tender-hearted compatriots. Let them sit at the dinner table1507 with the woman. Then we could talk.1509 By now the Chief had filled me in on the plan. I would be brought up1510 on charges before a tribunal. The trial would be pushed through with a1511 minimum of publicity. In short order it would be decided that I was to1512 serve out a five year sentence in minimum security. Of course, I would1513 still operate with relative impunity from my cell. Assignments would1514 be passed to me via the usual covert methods. Meanwhile, the divorce1515 would be finalized without me. An Agency lawyer would be dispatched to1516 handle the case, making sure that the children were well taken care1517 of. Margaret could fend for herself.1519 So far, I was unable to offer a single objection.1521 Next, I would be drummed out of the service. I would be stripped of my1522 seniority and pension. To compensate, my Turkish accounts would be1523 reinstated. I would be provided a bottomless slush fund and unlimited1524 personnel. All requisitions would be rubber-stamped. Best of all, I1525 would have my pick of assignments from the general pool. (Within the1526 boundaries of the fall line-up.)1528 "This is just like Iran," the Chief observed.1530 And indeed he was right. If they were trying to frustrate me, it was1531 going to take more than fulfilling every bullet-item on my wish list.1533 "So long as we don't get canceled in the first season," I said, also1534 referring to our defunct Iranian program.1536 The Chief took my meaning.1538 The purpose of the divorce/prison subterfuge was to free up vital1539 Agency resources.1541 Namely, myself.1543 The war had tied a number of key assets to specific regional theaters;1544 a change that had been mandated from the top down. This was not how1545 the Chief liked to operate. Presidential authority had encroached upon1546 the Agency's domain, and the Chief was ready to turn things right-side1547 up again. The only problem was, authority for force replenishment had1548 not been returned to the Agency.1550 So, the Chief said, a number of non-essential agents would have to1551 die.1553 Others, such as myself, would simply go to prison.1555 Again, like Iran. Laundering, we called it.1557 Once she was sure that Margaret had finished the chores, Violet1558 returned to the house. Streaks of soft mud had accumulated around her1559 eyelids, conveying the impression of an afternoon spent sitting in the1560 dust, consumed by uncontrollable sobbing. Remarkably, Margaret herself1561 was still in tears.1563 The two females sat at the kitchen table, foreheads touching.1564 Blubbering and sputtering loudly. I had a leaf close at hand and1565 immediately began to jot down notes.1567 I was surprised to notice one of the surveillance operators dabbing at1568 his own eyelids with a handkerchief. This was an extraordinary display1569 for a professional. He had obviously failed to detect the covert1570 communication that was passing between the females of my household.1572 I recorded his handle in an adjacent column.1574 The next day, Violet shared her story on the playground. Her fellow1575 students were enthralled. Violet had inherited a particular skill at1576 narrative, it was true. From myself or from her mother I could not1577 say.1579 She led her friends over to the reflecting pool in preparation for her1580 big finale. Her mask wobbled in and out of coherency, but the other1581 children seemed oblivious to its significance. She had gained a fuzzy1582 penumbra. Was she having second thoughts?1584 "My father doesn't know I know this, but... he's a secret agent!"1586 Gasps for air. Unintelligible, involuntary vocalizations.1588 Here I would have the last laugh: her schoolmates would soon learn1589 that I was little more than a drunk who had abused his children and1590 who had been dumped into federal prison for his trouble.1592 We would see how Violet would recover from this blow to her1593 credibility.1595 Relaxing at home, Violet took her time moving her belongings into my1596 den. Margaret hadn't even complained about the mess. From time to1597 time, Tommy would stop by. Near the end he could barely contain his1598 disapproval of the new decor. Pink stripes and red carpeting; plus all1599 of Violet's junk. But in deference to Margaret's authority, he said1600 nothing.1602 It's too bad he didn't speak up. Some friction might have slowed1603 Violet down.1605 Emboldened by the great success of her first deception, Violet would1606 soon go to work on her mother.1608 KUDEN1610 tags: 1968, dante, piro, ralph, tab1, tab21612 Tommy and his group made their way over to the 9th green.1614 "This is the 9th green," Piro announced."Please stack your lunches, or1615 line them up neatly along the outer edge of the training area. It1616 would be appreciated if you could put the lunches into your gear bags,1617 if there is no extra room along the tree line. It will be a while1618 before we are ready for a snack."1620 Most of the boys complied.1622 "Now, if there are no preliminary questions, we can begin."1624 "Sir," Dante interrupted.1626 "Yes, Dante?"1628 "Ralph isn't here."1630 "Isn't here?"1632 "He hasn't caught up with us yet. I think he spilled his gear bag in1633 one of the sand traps."1635 "I see."1637 Piro dispatched a pair of camp counselors to fetch Ralph.1639 "Now. Tommy, please attack Dante with your hanbo."1641 Hesitantly, Tommy rose to his feet. His camp uniform flapped in the1642 cool breeze. Standing in the darkness, he could no longer make Dante1643 out against the tree line.1645 So, improvise.1647 Tommy lunged wildly, waving his hanbo around like a parade flag. He1648 ended up taking three or four steps towards where Dante ought to have1649 been standing. He was starting to wonder if he should adjust course1650 when he felt what seemed to be a hand brushing against his visor,1651 which caused him to blink uncontrollably. This disrupted his movements1652 such that he fell directly onto his face. A beat later, Dante had1653 tripped over his own hanbo and fallen on top of him.1655 "Saru mo ki kara ochiru," Piro said, extending an arm towards Tommy to1656 help him up."I see the problem. Because of the darkness, you are both1657 effectively blind."1659 "No shit," said one of the other boys.1661 "Actually," Tommy ventured,"Because of my visor, if I had enabled the1662 functionality, I would be quite able to see in the dark."1664 Piro was not impressed."Yes. Then that explains your fall."1666 "I tripped! What do you want from me?"1668 "Get up."1670 It went on like this for several hours. The nine boys finding any and1671 every excuse to fall on their asses, and Piro obliging them happily. I1672 don't know about the Agency, but I was certainly getting my money's1673 worth. At a certain point, the two older students returned with Ralph1674 in tow. It had taken them quite a while to coax him out of the sand1675 trap.1677 He had lost a contact.1679 "Ralph. Please. Attack Tommy with your hanbo."1681 "My...? Oh. I left that back at the cabin."1683 "I see. Here, you may use mine."1685 "Oh. Well... Sure."1687 Ralph assumed an offensive posture and then tore off running towards1688 Tommy. Only, Tommy standing wasn't where he had been, moments before.1689 Nothing was where Tommy had been. Ralph looked around. It was nearly1690 pitch black. All he could distinguish in the night was the tops of the1691 trees. He could not even see his own feet.1693 Ralph's optic revelation was interrupted by the unlikely sensation of1694 his left arm being wrenched fully out of its socket. Tommy had somehow1695 entangled his arm with his own short staff. As Ralph cried out Tommy1696 sank deeper into his stance, fully applying the technique. At length1697 he released the pressure and fell back into a defensive stance. Ralph1698 collapsed to the ground, writhing and spitting, nursing his damaged1699 limb. Through his tears, he could just make out Tommy's silhouette,1700 skylined against the clouds above the trees.1702 "Oh bull shit," cried Ralph."I quit!"1704 Towards the end of the training session, Piro began to pick on Tommy.1706 "Tommy, with me."1708 "Again? But I've gone the last ten times in a row."1710 "What can I say? You're good at falling. Let's see if you can keep it1711 up even when you're tired."1713 "It's a shit parade and you're riding the big float," said one of the1714 other boys.1716 Piro triangulated the reverberations and then pointed directly at the1717 source of the remark.1719 "You're next."1721 In the middle of Piro's sentence Tommy launched himself into the air,1722 a full-body tackle aimed squarely at Piro's chest. He could feel1723 himself making contact even before it happened. On this, his first day1724 of training, his confidence as a fighter was already on the rise. He1725 was a natural not only at strategy, but even at the blunt, physical1726 stuff.1728 Piro stepped lightly out of the way of Tommy's assault, digging his1729 fingers into the slim space between his visor and his face. He twisted1730 Tommy's body around in a spiral, somehow gaining the leverage to flip1731 himself over Tommy's back. Next, the equal and opposite reaction:1732 Piro's movement sent Tommy hurtling over his head into a tree. The boy1733 went limp and collapsed to the ground, unconscious.1735 "We're finished here for tonight, boys. We'll meet on the 9th green1736 again tomorrow, after the cookout. Twenty-three hundred hours, sharp."1738 Immediately following Piro's departure, Dante rose to the occasion. He1739 knelt over Tommy's inert body and began to take down his trousers.1741 "Come on guys. We'll give him a Scottish Samurai while he's asleep."1743 CLASS 681745 tags: 1968, 1983, dante, piro, ralph, reginald, tab1, tab21747 "I hate Ohio! It's crazier than a dick in an ashtray out here!"1749 "Son, I don't care if the instructor cuts your fingers off. Your1750 tuition is costing taxpayers money. Think NASA. You suck it up and1751 make me proud."1753 "This combatatives SME... Piro. They tell me he has photographic1754 reflexes."1756 "Yes."1758 "Dad..."1760 "I trained with his father. He'll get you off to a good start. Learn1761 your basics. Then you can complain."1763 "I'm experiencing some mild discomfort, Dad."1765 "I should say you are! Remember, I'm familiar with your physical1766 stats. The pain will pass."1768 "Whatever. I guess. My knees feel like toothpaste."1770 Tommy clicked off and straightened his uniform. Shortly, a tram would1771 arrive to take the boys bar hopping. First on the itinerary was THE1772 VULVA POLE. Reginald's idea. Tommy hoped they would have time to grab1773 a bite to eat before moving on to THE TIZENAUS. Dante's idea. He spun1774 through his calendar app. Scheduling headaches, even at camp.1776 "A pigeon can't drop shit if it never flew."1778 The password was correct. Tommy minimized the lock and a few of the1779 guys from his class ambled into his room.1781 Reginald appraised the situation. Tommy was going overt.1783 "I see. We're assuming the ladies can't resist the uniform."1785 "Where's Ralph," Tommy asked, smoothing down the front of his jacket.1786 Reginald always had the freshest gear.1788 "Fapping in his room again," said Reginald."We didn't interrupt."1790 "Just as well," Tommy sighed."We're all logged out, right?"1792 "Probably not Ralph."1794 "Oh right. I guess he doesn't mind that they log everything we do."1796 "For him, I think that's part of the appeal."1798 Click. Click.1800 Shoulder almost out of joint.1802 Piro eased the pressure only slightly, but it was enough for Tommy to1803 snake out of his hold.1805 "You had better hope you didn't let me go on purpose. Sir."1807 Piro didn't answer, so Tommy continued.1809 "I guess you didn't see that coming. It's a little something I've been1810 working on with the guys. I must create a system or be enslaved by1811 another man's."1813 "Blake. Good. I assume you're telling me that you haven't yet mastered1814 the techniques I assigned to you."1816 "Well, I haven't engaged in rote memorization. But I'll assume the1817 fact that I'm standing over here, no longer restrained by your hold,1818 indicates that I've familiarized myself with the basic principles."1820 Tommy's posture didn't alter. Piro's gaze remained steady. The other1821 boys in the training group thought anything could happen.1823 "Talking to me that way is... ridiculous."1825 "Doing this for three hours a day is ridiculous. Do you really think1826 I'm learning anything from you?"1828 Piro continued to stare.1830 "Boys, take five. Tommy. Over here."1832 "What, you want some more of this?"1834 "I think you'll understand once we begin."1836 I guess really I should have stayed glued to the monitors. After all,1837 it was my son. But I couldn't study every moment of his experience.1838 That probably marks me as a bad parent.1840 I've no defense.1842 I had originally intended to be present for his graduation, but at the1843 last minute I was called away to put out fires in another department.1844 Quotas.1846 I hold onto this earliest transcript because somehow, the later1847 material is no longer extant. The available photos are even older. For1848 some reason, mixed in with the logs from the camp, there are old1849 snapshots from Tommy's primary school. Evidently, that's all that's1850 left from the surveillance we ran. I'd ask Piro about it but let's1851 just say we're no longer on speaking terms.1853 [Interruption as I answer incoming messages.]1855 In the end, I hope Tommy can live up to his early promise. When I lost1856 track of him he was well on his way to providing excellent ROI. Even1857 with the ego problem. Essentially, he was a sure thing.1859 '68 was a long time ago, but not so long ago that he'd be inactive1860 just yet. If he stayed in.1862 I should look him up. He's probably not that hard to find. With my1863 access.1865 What am I saying. I'm retired.1867 DULL CARE1869 tags: 1969, tab1, theodore_roosevelt, volume_11871 "Well well, I've not seen one of these in quite some time."1873 Our cell was crammed floor to ceiling with the things, box upon box,1874 but for some reason, the weathered newsprint of this particular comic1875 book held singular importance. He was being very careful with it, and1876 I had to cough into my shirtsleeve to mask an involuntary guffaw. He1877 stowed the comic's bag and backing board before he continued.1879 "Just look at it. I'd grade this as at least a VF/NM. Unfortunately it1880 wasn't slabbed. You see, there once existed any number of companies1881 that would take a comic book and grade it meticulously before sealing1882 it permanently in archival grade plastic, which would guarantee"1884 "I know what'slabbing' means," I said.1886 He was talking in captions now.1888 Volume_1 had the largest comic book collection in the entire cell1889 block. This was significant as, in our facility, comic books were1890 traded as currency. In point of fact, these specific comic books were1891 valued as well above average reads. I don't mean to pun: they were1892 literally encoded with information critical to the continuity of the1893 United States government.1895 This was all he managed to tell me before we were interrupted.1897 "Shh! Someone's coming!"1899 Volume_1 was desperate to get the issue back into its bag, board and1900 long box. I couldn't figure out why; there were plenty of comics in1901 our cell to go around.1903 We could hear them talking.1905 "Productivity is down."1907 "Have you thought about reducing headcount?"1909 "Ha ha ha ha ha!"1911 After the guards had passed, I turned back to Volume_1."I don't think1912 I've ever asked you why you were in here."1914 "I kept sending these instant messages. My manager was monitoring.1915 Frequently, I guess. Evidently, the content of my messages offended1916 his protected sensibilities. Based on his religion. Felony1917 Insensitivity."1919 "I see. Which heresy?"1921 "Chicago Cubs."1923 Nothing more needed to be said.1925 Volume_1 went back to his comic book and I watched him flip through1926 it, gingerly supporting its spine on the flat of his hand.1928 Soft chimes surfaced slowly at the periphery of my awareness,1929 progressively drawing into focus. It was time for Volume_1's shift. He1930 stopped extracting comics from yet another long box and scooted it1931 back under his bunk. Bushed, I stretched out for a short nap.1933 At least, that's how I made it look to Volume_1.1935 As soon as he vacated the cell I pounced back to the floor, removed1936 the false panel and pulled out my kit and belt. I tore open a new1937 packet of FalseHand, deposited the wrapper, and in the same swift1938 motion pressed the delete button on the trash bin. I waved my hand in1939 front of the cell door and exited onto the balcony, where I was1940 greeted with quite a lot of hustle and bustle. Most of the workers1941 were scattering about between shifts. Volume_1 would return within1942 sixteen hours, so my timetable had to be executed with precision, not1943 skipping any beats. Fortunately, as a professional, I had been1944 expertly trained. There would be no problem meeting (or perhaps1945 exceeding) the requirements of my schedule.1947 My ride was idling on the roof. As I approached the air vehicle, rotor1948 backwash batted my hair around my face. Annoyed, I tied it back. A man1949 strapped to a gurney was removed from the back seat before I boarded.1950 He looked to be in bad shape.1952 I observed the red cross of the landing pad shrinking into nothingness1953 as we pulled away from the complex. The pilot of the helicopter gave1954 me a thumbs up but I stared past him, blandly, lacking any awareness1955 of his gesture. Outside of the building my implants had kicked in and1956 I was now sorting my mail.1958 Zoom.1960 Half an hour later they put me down near Monte Rio. By this time I'd1961 changed into a sweater and khakis. A Mercedes idled ponderously about1962 a hundred yards down the road, trickling exhaust runoff onto the1963 pavement. I lugged my duffel behind me, finally heaving it into the1964 car's trunk. Off to one side the driver stood motionless, grinning.1965 Clearly, he was amused at my efforts to avoid breaking a sweat. He1966 kept standing there and eventually I figured out that he was waiting1967 for some sort of a tip. His remarkable audacity gave me a chuckle, so1968 I dug around in my bag and passed him an old, rolled-up comic book1969 from the collection in my cell. He jammed it into his back pocket,1970 quickly, quietly, betraying no reaction, so as not to be observed by1971 the departing chopper pilot. Obviously, he was used to this sort of1972 transaction. Seemingly satisfied, the driver took his place behind the1973 wheel of the Mercedes and we sped off through the countryside.1975 We accelerated into a steady incline, passing through many stands of1976 trees before finally arriving at a very small entryway that branched1977 off of the main highway.1979 The driver navigated the Mercedes through a series of security1980 checkpoints, and soon I was deposited into one of the"new member"1981 parking lots of the Green. Presently, a small, open-roof shuttle1982 appeared, ready to escort me through the main gates of the encampment.1984 The trees of the Green were monstrous. I mean to say that literally: I1985 was half-convinced they were moving. Of course, they weren't. I1986 detected no other signs of life in the general vicinity. No animals.1987 The hiking trails were deserted.1989 Not all was dead: I rounded a curve in the path and spotted my first1990 vantage point, glowing yellow, centered in my field of vision.1992 The tree was quite large. It would do.1994 I hoisted my bags onto my perch, then setup the comms package before1995 unjacking myself and turning on the beacon. I waited for the trigger.1997 Nothing.1999 The by-laws of the Green forbade surveillance equipment of any kind. I2000 now surmised that this policy was enforced through active2001 intervention, jamming of a sort I was not familiar with. My2002 chronometer didn't even work. I would have to go manual.2004 I climbed down from the tree just as the sun was creeping below the2005 horizon and commenced wandering along paths, searching for Bannister2006 Colon.2008 When I found him, he was pulling on a Hawaiian cigar and waxing2009 political with a few friends in front of a large, gas bonfire. The2010 Eagle's Nest loomed beyond, wavering in and out of coherency through2011 the flames and smoke. The trees seemed to be swallowing it and2012 spitting it back out again, unsure of its potential toxicity.2014 "The high ground is attained through the stacking of bodies,"2015 Bannister said blandly, as if reading from a script.2017 My man Colon.2019 The others cackled, extending a wave of unrestrained mirth along the2020 necklace of fat bellies draped around the bonfire's ashen neck. Each2021 man appeared to have modeled his personal grooming and liturgical2022 wardrobe upon that of President Theodore Roosevelt, patron saint of2023 the Green. The aesthetic was an unfortunate portrait of crass largess.2024 The body language a study in historical inaccuracy. Our former2025 President would have been appalled at such a display. I shuddered2026 despite myself.2028 Indeed, this was a strange scene: to a man they reclined completely in2029 the buff, from balding head to lotioned, shoeless foot.2031 Preverts.2033 The Prevert tradition is older than the technology that makes it2034 possible.2036 It took me a while to wrap my head around that one.2038 I'm only aware of the technology's existence because my grandfather2039 was a member of the Green. Otherwise I would never have been selected2040 for this mission. Traditionally, problems within the Green are handled2041 internally.2043 Membership is not hereditary. I was never invited into the ranks of2044 the Green itself. Not that I would have joined them even if offered2045 the chance. By the time I was of age I had long since departed for2046 Iran, exercised my own unique will and signed on for my first tour of2047 duty in the armed forces, trudging hip-deep into my own army of2048 olive-skinned bodies.2050 Whatever, the organization had stopped accepting outside inquiries2051 some time in the 1920s, after a breach of security had resulted in2052 front page articles around the world that exposed the interaction2053 between certain political leaders and boy prostitutes taking place2054 within its walls.2056 Obviously, that was only a cover story.2058 Before long things started to pick up around the bonfire, activity2059 sparking within the self-satisfied circle of fat.2061 From out of nowhere each man produced a small device and strapped it2062 to his hand. Instantly, the bonfire extinguished itself and the2063 surrounding woods fell silent. Only the sound of the men's chattering2064 teeth broke the stillness, settling into a steady rhythm that2065 resonated unpleasantly in my skull.2067 I began to hear what sounded like an injured animal, whimpering softly2068 from within the center of the makeshift circle. The fire was out, but2069 I couldn't imagine how it could have cooled so quickly, or how2070 anything living could have survived the flames that had subsided only2071 moments before.2073 The men's mouths spread wide and their chattering teeth became2074 visible, reflecting in the sickly moonlight. I felt something hard2075 coalesce in the pit of my stomach. For some reason the scene was2076 affecting me physically. A hint of the taste of vomit trickled into my2077 mouth.2079 A child had appeared. A boy.2081 Dumbly, he bounced between the bare bellies, clawing and scratching2082 and kicking against the men of the circle. They didn't seem concerned2083 with his evident distress. Blood seeped from some of the scratches he2084 was inflicting, against the men and against himself.2086 Oblivious, he didn't seem to care. Lacking in empathy, the men didn't2087 care either.2089 I never cared for this part of the process, myself.2091 Preverts rape themselves.2093 According to legend, it goes back to Caesar. Symbolically, anyway.2094 Candidates in the world-ruling business have long been vetted through2095 an exotic procession of pomp and ritual.2097 The technology I mentioned truly is remarkable. It's not exactly time2098 travel, per se, because the men themselves, the initiators, don't2099 actually travel through time. The same holds true for their victims.2100 Rather, space is bent in such a way that interaction with the past is2101 non-paradoxical. Lateral. Frankly, it's beyond me. I've seen it in2102 action so I no longer try to make sense of it. It just works.2104 I shifted uncomfortably as the service continued.2106 Each man, when it was his turn, spit out his cigar and touched the2107 surface of his wrist device. The boy would jerk uncontrollably towards2108 him, drawing temporarily into his grasp. Simultaneous with this2109 motion, the child's face morphed to resemble that of his captor,2110 uncannily regressed to childhood. This alternating promenade continued2111 for some time, though the participants were carrying out their2112 observance at an unnerving pace. As each man embraced the boy he2113 continued to whimper, weakly, and my skull tightened around my brain.2115 With each tap of the wrist, a different face.2117 My orders were clear: only interrupt them once they'd finished with2118 what they'd come to do. It was imperative that the ritual proceed to2119 completion.2121 Habitually, I always followed orders, even where inconvenient. That2122 was my calling card. That was why they gave me these jobs. A Green2123 mission was no exception, on either account.2125 Soon, the ritual concluded. It was time for me to intercede.2127 I checked my weapons before leaping into the clearing. Then, with a2128 single, smooth motion, I laid down the entire congregation of2129 important men. Nerve agent spilled across their undulating frames and2130 splattered against the big wooden benches behind them. Sloppy.2131 Uncharacteristically so. I paused to scold myself and clean up the2132 evidence.2134 The organic material in the benches was starting to melt. Running out2135 of time, I abandoned them.2137 I made my way over to the boy. His features had stopped changing and2138 now he wore the wrong face. Great.2140 Returning to the mound of boiling fat, I fished out the proper hand2141 and used it to thumb the appropriate controller. Suddenly, the correct2142 face coalesced on top of the boy's body. I introduced myself and asked2143 him a few questions.2145 "Son, what's your name?"2147 "Thuh..."2149 "Yes?"2151 "Th-Theodore... R-R-Roosevelt."2153 The face. The Name. Not what I had expected.2155 Definitely a bigger job than I was being paid for.2157 Frankly, I was appalled.2159 But: Orders. Reputation. The things I actually cared about. I would2160 follow the script.2162 I raised my weapon, logged in, and emptied my full clip into the boy's2163 face.2165 Finally, the woods fell silent.2167 THE BAD STUDENT2169 tags: 1969, frankie_willard, prince, tab2, cheryl2171 I tear a sheet from my notebook. After some fidgeting I manage to2172 produce a cigarette. I lean back against the concrete wall of the2173 building, my rat-tail poking into the scruff of my neck. It's rather2174 uncomfortable. There is a commotion from somewhere, over near the2175 basketball courts. After a brief period of silence, the school bell2176 rings. I curse, sub-audibly, taking my place in line. I'm careful not2177 to crumple the cigarette as I conceal it within my sleeve.2179 Recess is over.2181 I'm antsy. I shift my weight from one leg to the other. This jostling2182 brings to mind Frankie Willard, made to stand with both feet planted2183 inside of a single tile on the floor. Punishment for having spoken out2184 of turn. Frankie complained that because of his great size, he would2185 surely topple over if he were not permitted to sway from side to side.2186 The teacher sarcastically denied his requeststructural integrity be2187 damned. No, Frankie would have to stand firmly within the square,2188 maintaining his posture for the duration of the class. At the time, I2189 too had regarded Frankie's claims as spurious. Does an office building2190 need to sway from side to side? It seemed ridiculous. A man should be2191 able to stand still.2193 Today I'm of a mind to view Frankie's situation in a different light.2194 Standing still in this line is impossible. Despite myself, I've begun2195 to sway from side to side. Fuck it, Frankie was right all along.2197 At the moment, no one is watching me. I disregard protocol and resume2198 my cigarette. Smoke slinks from the burning cherry, a string of2199 ten-dimensional nothingness. Or so I choose to perceive.2201 The boy in front of me rotates his head to an obtuse azimuth, asks to2202 bum a cig. I am more than happy to oblige. From my pocket I produce2203 two slender folds of paper, offering one to my companion. He's still2204 in possession of the lighter I made for him, so we're all set. Good to2205 go. From time to time, I'm happy to supply free product, as a short2206 demonstration will often serve to spark demand. When one's business is2207 illicit, establishing the perception of good-natured magnanimity is2208 wise. Happy customers are quiet customers.2210 And quiet is a baseline necessity for my mission.2212 Just as the fresh cigarette taste is making itself apparent, our2213 teacher pokes her head around the corner. She notices us stragglers,2214 lately fallen away from the back of the line. She's displeased to note2215 that we're still here, leaning up against the wall, each man enjoying2216 an individual smoke. She approaches swiftly and proceeds to bend our2217 ears. That's when she realizes who I am. Quite comically, this new2218 awareness halts her scolding, mid-sentence. She directs the other boys2219 back to the classroom and then turns to me, a stupid look on her face.2220 She pulls me by my rat-tail into a deserted corridor. The contact is2221 exhilarating.2223 I'm going to score.2225 The woman has been shooting me these kinds of looks all semester. A2226 couple of times she's caught me adjusting my visor, straining to catch2227 a peek through her blouse. Instead of voicing an objection she usually2228 just smiles. It's crossed my mind that she may even fancy my attempts2229 to look down her shirt. Consider: she's the only one of our first2230 grade teachers who will wear shorts in summer. To my knowledge, this2231 is technically against the rules. I turn these thoughts over in my2232 mind, one after the other, as I consider my immediate future.2234 She tightens her grip on my shoulder.2236 I brace for a kiss.2238 Instead, she snatches the cigarette from my lips and sends it2239 careening over her shoulder, skittering down the corridor. Well, that2240 wasn't quite what I expected. I think to myself that it's convenient2241 this corner of the building is devoid of traffic. Could she have2242 planned our confrontation days, even weeks, in advance? Have things2243 really progressed to that level? Gradually, the woman is drawing my2244 attention to infinite new dimensions, threading my string through2245 myriad vortices, the resulting matrix a blunt satire of our2246 tessellating material realm. She's the teacher? I'm fit to burst.2248 She parts her lips as if to speak. Softly, softly.2250 This must be it.2252 "So. You believe that folding pieces of paper into the shape of a2253 cigarette, then selling them to your classmates is a good way to make2254 friends, Thomas?"2256 The tenderness I sensed only moments before is now vanished. She's2257 trying her best to be stern. I can't say why, exactly, but this only2258 excites me more.2260 "So far it seems to be working fine," I offer, straining, barely2261 containing myself."I have plenty of friends."2263 "I've seen you outside, pretending to smoke, for weeks now. The2264 students here look up to you, and I'm disappointed in how you've2265 chosen to repay that trust. I want you to think of how you're2266 influencing them, Thomas."2268 "I'm not coercing anyone," I correct gently, so as not to rend the2269 gossamer fragility of the moment."I'm simply providing a service.2270 There's an obvious demand and I'm only too happy to fill it. Surely2271 you realize, this sort of equitable transaction is the very basis of2272 our free economy, which ensures the continuity of"2274 She kisses me.2276 I break free.2278 "the very continuance of our society."2280 She doesn't seem impressed with my argument.2282 From my jacket I produce a conspicuously pristine piece of equipment.2283 The object fairly leaps from its place of concealment. She is somewhat2284 startled, tries to mask her reaction, but the sudden adoration evident2285 in her eyes will not be suppressed. Does she know what this is, then,2286 after all? Removing her hand slowly from my own, I raise the object to2287 my chest (her waist) and finger the switch that brings it to life. She2288 jumps as a holographic image grows out of my palm. I have to adjust my2289 visor again before I'm able to see it.2291 So, this is Prince Rogers Nelson. Not exactly an imposing figure, but2292 in relation to his framing, here in my hand, it hardly matters.2293 Reports indicate that my teacher is quite enamored with this miniature2294 entertainer. By all rights he was a fine composer, but some say he2295 actually considered himself to be the physical reincarnation of the2296 Egyptian Pharaoh Ahkanaten. There was a spate of controversy around2297 the time he decided to found his own religion.2299 Whatever.2301 The unexpected appearance of the tiny man seems to be doing the trick2302 with my teacher. As PRN begins to vibrate, I angle him beneath her2303 skirt.2305 "Just lay back," says Prince.2307 She does as he says.2309 While she is momentarily stunned, distracted, I remove the remaining2310 contraband from my pockets, depositing several paper cigarettes onto2311 the window ledge behind me. Shortly thereafter, the spring breeze2312 carries them away, floating them ever downwards, towards the2313 unnaturally green summer grass of the courtyard. All evidence of my2314 wrongdoing thus disposed of, I snap closed my gadget and switch to2315 manual, gazing deeply into my teacher's eyes as I finish her off.2317 She's some time in coming. But once sated, her body goes slack. At2318 last, I relax my arm and place my hand on her exquisite breast.2320 To my great surprise, she recoils. It seems I have ventured too far.2321 She smiles awkwardly and pushes me away, leans her head out of the2322 window to see what I've been up to all this time she's been writhing2323 under the ministrations of the holographic Prince. Her face shoots2324 completely red, full of blood. The view from the window, of course, is2325 unremarkable, but it's not the landscaping below that concerns her.2326 She sees the paper cigarettes scattered about the courtyard and2327 deduces that they must belong to me.2329 She begins to lecture me. Even these playthings, which are not real at2330 all, still set a negative example for the other students. Such toys2331 glorify the act of real smoking. I should have known better than to2332 engage in this sort of thing while at school. The premises is also a2333 commerce restricted zone, blah blah blah, etc. She is scrupulous to2334 avoid any mention of her orgasm, though I sense the experience is2335 still very much on her mind.2337 Overall, it proves to be a lackluster brow-beating. I consider the2338 context of present events set against the larger backdrop of my2339 mission and decide that her appraisal of my behavior is irrelevant. At2340 twelve years of age, infiltrating the first grade has been a cakewalk.2341 If this doesn't boost my grade average I don't know what will. I2342 swear, I'm ready to graduate CU/FARLEY. Let's hope my father and the2343 Chief see things my way.2345 I acknowledge her statements as I shove my hand into my pants and2346 scratch my groin.2348 As we return to the classroom, I reach out to hold her hand.2350 I probably don't have to tell you that I use the same hand.2352 UBICOMP2354 tags: 1969, potus, tab12356 There is a ring of teeth around my stick and I can't pull it out. I2357 ease back and forth, gently, but the mouth won't let go. A sliver of2358 saliva escapes, spreading first around my stick's circumference, then2359 down to its base. All at once the President's head starts to move2360 again.2362 Textbook package delivery. Six calories of Turing gel forced into the2363 digestive track of the mark. Freed from its carriage, some of the2364 payload has already bonded firmly with the President's teeth.2365 Presently, the liquid bootstraps itself into the machinery of2366 surveillance. All logged in, phase one is complete. Other components2367 of the payload make their way into the President's circulatory system,2368 compensating for various biological ticks that would otherwise prove2369 fatal to the Commander In Chief. Phase two, loaded, completed.2371 I imagine there is something of an alkaline flavor. I don't know how2372 she can stand it.2374 Without warning, an additional teaspoon-dollop of nutrient-rich paste2375 shoots between the President's lips. Slowly, it threads down her2376 esophagus, coating her stomach's lining. I swish my stick around a2377 bit, making sure that the gel, by now teaming with expensive hardware,2378 gets a fair chance to take hold. She murmurs softly. I assume in2379 pleasure.2381 I glance at my watch.2383 Over time, the rogue cells I've introduced will create new tissue.2384 They'll get into the business of subverting dendrite structures, which2385 in turn (I'm told) will lead to the President's conscious assent to2386 our programs.2388 Caveat: the gel will need to be administered on a regular basis. I2389 assume I will be selected as the agent of delivery (it's of no concern2390 either waythere are numerous agents who are up to the task). In any2391 case, the process will continue. Before the President knows what is2392 happening, she will begin to crave the injections, find herself2393 inexplicably drawn to the blunt insertion of stick into mouth. Lacking2394 awareness, she'll come to regard the process as a pleasure of her own2395 devising. She may even develop an affinity for the taste.2397 But enough of my speculation, however well-informed. Her mouth is upon2398 me now, showing no sign of loosening its grip. Not losing suction. Her2399 eyes have rolled back into her head. She's become unresponsive. Even2400 her gag reflex has gone dead.2402 As an initial response to insertion, this faux catatonic state is not2403 unusual. In my field-work I've observed that women will often slip2404 into semi-consciousness once they've worked the Turing gel past their2405 back teeth. In truth, I was quite alarmed the first time it happened.2406 Maybe I had dribbled psychoactive sedative onto the tip of my cock, I2407 thought to myself. But no, this brief period of unconsciousness tends2408 to be shallow, tends to pass quickly.2410 I decide to sneak a peek, to see how she's coming along. Her mouth2411 glides smoothly on a thick lather of saliva, sealed by the walls of2412 her throat. Her head bobs up and down, gently rotating, rhythmically2413 advancing and retreating across the length of my equipment. She's2414 quite awake now and seems to have swallowed her cares.2416 A strand of the President's hair has caught on my watchband, but I'm2417 reluctant to interrupt her work.2419 I nudge her lovingly on the ear and her entire head shifts weight to2420 the other side. Her eyes flick open and she smiles as she releases my2421 stick, seemingly unaware of the considerable amount of time that has2422 passed. I slide out, drawing a trail of spit between myself and her2423 tongue, which she stares at quizzically before flashing a mischievous2424 grin and then aggressively chewing it all back into her mouth.2425 Ordinarily this would be fine, but a pool of spittle has coalesced2426 around my scrotum, and now it traces the contour of my buttocks. It is2427 cold.2429 A pink square blips in the lower-left of my vision, telling me that2430 the Turing cells have gained purchase.2432 I engage the President verbally as she re-applies her lipstick and2433 adjusts her coiffure.2435 I start making excuses, looking for a way out of the room.2437 ALL THAT IS2439 tags: 1970, missus_camilla, violet2441 Violet used her stylus to press against the reflective surface of her2442 school leaf. Presently, a margin message from Missus Camilla appeared,2443 signaling the class to begin writing.2445 Violet began:2447 Words are insufficient to communicate all that is.2449 Having'a problem' with this would imply that I think any other2450 state of affairs is remotely possible. The fact is that I2451 have to accept my best current thinking on the subject, and2452 right now I haven't come up with any reasonable counter to the2453 observation that language is inescapably circular. To me,2454 this means that at best we can only approximate The Truth at2455 any given momentand since we can't make these determinations2456 with any significant certainty (e.g., to judge the accuracy of2457 our approximations),'A' can only equal 'A' on a localized,2458 individual level.2460 And yet, 'A=A' is the fundamental assertion of logic. I think2461 there is a tendency to try and expand too far upon this basic2462 construction. The subjective assumptions applied by logic2463 tests too often outpace language's ability to accurately map2464 the salient factors at hand. Too much emphasis is placed upon2465 how the logic is articulated, with very little attention paid2466 to the structure of the logic itselfwhich, presumably, should2467 transcend the language that was used to describe it.2469 This presents an interestingI'd say insurmountableproblem,2470 and was essentially the point of my previous two papers. 'A=A.'2471 Fine. But what the hell is an A? And who says so? The answer2472 is that it all depends on who you ask.2474 I don't think the fact that we have managed to evolve grammars2475 which are effective at managing objects and activities,2476 effective at managing the processes of machines, even, is2477 evidence that those grammars are universally descriptive of2478 our entire shared reality. Success in a single, limited area2479 does not imply universal success on a grand scale, even if2480 many times a simple set of rules can exhibit emergent2481 behaviors that transcend the original description.2483 Consider the following stories. Observe how these seemingly2484 correct articulations of reality work at cross-purposes to the2485 protagonist's intentions, yet still manage to exhibit a2486 peculiar efficacy all their own:2488 1.) Occupied Poland. A man held a job at a stroller factory.2489 His child needed a stroller. Being short on money, and being2490 handy with his tools, the man decided to steal all the2491 necessary parts from his workplace and assemble the stroller2492 at home. Wary of arousing suspicion, he limited himself to2493 absconding with only a single component each night. After2494 many such nights, the man took an inventory and noticed that2495 he had managed to acquire almost all of the parts on his list.2496 Finally completing the assembly, the man discovered that2497 instead of a new stroller for his son he had assembled a fully2498 functional, modular sub-machine gun.2500 Does this mean that a stroller is in fact the very same thing2501 as a sub-machine gun? After all, the man had worked in the2502 factory for many years and was quite experienced at his job2503 (which consisted chiefly of speed-buffing several types of2504 polished parts as they came whizzing past his station on an2505 assembly line). In this case, the value of'A' was at first2506 disputed; then investigated; and finally, revised. In the2507 end, would it have been sufficient to simply continue2508 referring to the finished product as a stroller? Why or why2509 not?2511 2.) A radical priest gains increasing infamy with the native2512 residents of a Roman-occupied garrison town in Jerusalem.2513 After he has been put to death by a civilian2514 courtadministered by his own people, no lessa cult religion2515 springs up around him, and a legend begins to solidify around2516 the memory of his living days. Indeed, the legend glorifies2517 even the most mundane aspects of his life. His story is at2518 first spread verbally, but is eventually written down by2519 various scribes, disparate of geography and generation, who2520 never quite managed to cross paths with the priest or his2521 followers. (Granted, when the priest was supposedly executed,2522 the scribes in question had yet to be born.)2524 I'm sure you can follow this one to its obvious conclusion.2525 After a certain point, the language used to describe a legend2526 begins to transcend the actual events, to take on a life of2527 its own. The events themselves remain unobserved, wholly2528 obscured from view. At best: irrelevant.2530 The above are clearly examples which reinforce the notion that2531 all languages are tautologies. For this reason,'A=A' can only2532 apply universally when the definition of'A' is immutable,2533 cannot be tampered with as it travels from one side of the2534 equation to the other. (This fact does tend to break the2535 discussion into many different levels, including questions of2536 control over so-called shared languages [e.g., dictionaries,2537 popular idiom], but the problem of complexity comes part and2538 parcel with the problem of precision.)'A=A' may well be2539 subjectively true, but the equation is necessarily based upon2540 assumptions that may be incorrect. The uncomfortable truth2541 about our knowledge of the world is that it is almost always2542 filtered through a mediating source of questionable2543 benevolence. Think about that. The ultimate impossibility of2544 neutrality. Even if we momentarily eschew the likelihood of2545 intentional misrepresentation, we must accept that once2546 language escapes our minds and begins to interact with the2547 language of others, we lose personal control over its context2548 and meaning. At this point, rationally, we should acknowledge2549 that we can no longer verify that'A' means what we think it2550 does. Thus, we come to glimpse the limitations of logic2551 itself.2553 Language initiates us into a special kind of'cargo cult.' We2554 scramble, frothing at the mouth like so many tropical savages,2555 attempting to reenact a Reality that we're just certain we've2556 experienced, all in the vain hope that we might someday entice2557 that Reality to return to us, laden with crates full of movie2558 reels, Coca-Cola, and fresh cartons of cheap American2559 cigarettes. At that point, we presume, we'd all be farting2560 through silk.2562 Violet2564 DRIFT2566 tags: 1951, 2026, pink_floyd, tab12568 2026.2570 The sunlight fades and I wonder after my satchel. It's here, buried2571 somewhere under the snow. Wearily, I prop up both of my arms and thumb2572 through the entries on my leaf.2574 I stumble upon a decades-old post.2576 1951. So, I was laid out on the couch (free), face pressed up2577 against my camo pillow ( 123.67), wondering if I should pick2578 the dead pill bugs out of the fibers of my bath robe, when a2579 garish advert for a new Pink Floyd"greatest hits" collection (2580 2999.99) ran across the display of my telescreen: Order ECHOES2581 now and we'll include blah sqwak blah niner foxtrot delta2582 sqwak blah sqwak blah My attention span waned and I lost the2583 rest of the advert to random static generated by a mild2584 migraine headache (previously acquired), but the damage had2585 already been done. Slowly, the new information sunk in.2586 Within a couple of hours I had stumbled into the bedroom. I2587 stood fondling the jewel case of a 2-disc collection of my own2588 original music (entitled: ECHOES), desperately trying to2589 figure out how Pink Floyd's handlers had managed to bug my2590 home. Motherspammers. I took a swig of apple juice from a2591 glass tumbler on the dresser, then spit it back out again when2592 I realized the surface of the drink had been blanketed by a2593 layer of dust. I needed to stop leaving those things laying2594 around where anyone could find them. I resumed staring at the2595 jewel case. The artwork was superior to what I had just seen2596 on the telescreen. Fucking Pink Floyd. What did I ever do to2597 them? (Besides torturing that girl in the Pink Floyd t-shirt2598 at Denny's.) There had to be a reason why they had selected2599 me. I glared at the tumbler for a couple of seconds, then2600 back at the jewel case in my hands. I downed the entire glass2601 without tasting the dust. Apple juice doesn't really ferment,2602 but at this point my migraine had wedged itself in-between my2603 frontal lobe and another slab of gray matter I wasn't able to2604 identify, resulting in a significant impairment to my decision2605 making faculties. Somehow, I kept from vomiting. Before long2606 I detected a handful of splinters in my hand, and came to the2607 slow realization that I'd squeezed the jewel case into several2608 pieces. The dust flavor returned to my mouth, resembling the2609 sensation of pushing my tongue through ungroomed tufts of fur.2610 I threw the tumbler down and stomped back into the living2611 room. The advert was on again. This time tracking a sequence2612 I hadn't noticed during the previous playback. The message2613 ran at ten minute intervals, but I had yet to see it all the2614 way through. The visual rhetoric was contrived, but would2615 probably prove effective. They'd likely sell a billion2616 copies. I swallowed an over the counter pharmaceutical2617 designed to combat dizziness and resumed my seat on the couch.2618 Staring at a spot two feet above the telescreen, my mind began2619 to spin down, drifting to other concerns. My next shift at my2620 corporate front-job was scheduled to begin in just under five2621 hours. Still tasting apple dust (maybe it wasn't really apple2622 dust, after all), I chewed at the air with my mouth and then2623 dozed off, resigned to whatever dreams might come.2624 Approximately two-hundred forty minutes elapsed. I woke up.2625 Two more pill bug carcasses had embedded themselves into the2626 folds of my robe. They no longer seemed to be the most likely2627 vector of leaked intelligence. In point of fact they appeared2628 organic. Quite simplistic. This new-found lucidity2629 intensified as I painted shaving cream onto my chin and then2630 accidentally sliced the skin between my nostrils. It occurred2631 to me that Pink Floyd might not really be ripping me off.2632 They were probably capable of coming up with such an obvious2633 title as ECHOES on their own. Their boxed set was probably2634 being manufactured even as had I decided on the title of my2635 own collection. Still, the overlap rankled. I guessed that2636 it must have been a case of Steam Engine Time. For2637 posterity's sake, I will note here that my own ECHOES2638 collection may be sampled at the following address:2641 And here I had inserted a hypertext link. A pointer to some old,2642 half-considered project of mine from my early years trying to break2643 into the music industry. I wince at the memory, irrationally certain2644 that this will be all they'll find when they finally dig my starved2645 body out of this house and this snow drift and begin to piece together2646 the circumstances of my disappearance. Decorated Agent Leaves Behind2647 Rough Draft Of An Early Internet Posting. Family Denies Any Knowledge2648 Of Agent's Artistic Endeavors.2650 I lean back my head against the exposed boards of the attic floor and2651 observe as small flecks of snow float in and out between the cracks in2652 the roof. My fingers have become useless now, and I suspect that I'm2653 too weak to kick through the tile shingling. Troubling, to be sure. As2654 if to underline the point, I make an attempt to stand up and one of my2655 legs cracks and falls off onto the floor.2657 Well, so be it. Another opportunity to reflect on my past.2659 Reviewing this material I have to admit, I've had a good run.2661 IN THE END, NOTHING WORKS2663 tags: 2079, eva, gordon, tab22665 In spite of his back, Thomas was up early the next morning. It hurt to2666 be out of bed. He slipped on his robe and dialed a reasonable2667 temperature for his bones. The floor felt cold under his feet. A draft2668 tickled his scrotum as he dragged himself down the hallway, robe2669 swishing freely between his legs.2671 Thomas found no paper on the front step.2673 Therefore, he reasoned, no newspaper could actually exist.2675 The number of people required to produce such an artifact could, quite2676 simply, never be forced together, never be entrusted to bring such a2677 project to fruition. Thomas dismissed the idea as self-evident lunacy.2678 As with other would-be conspiracies, this"newspaper" business, if it2679 were ever truly attempted, would immediately run afoul of man's signal2680 inability to cooperate effectively. The whole endeavor would end in2681 disaster. Thomas pictured a management team showing up at the office2682 and attempting to corral the so-called"newsmen" into some semblance of2683 order. Let's put this edition to bed, the managers would say. Sure,2684 their subordinates would reply, we'll get right on top of that, boss.2685 And then they would go to lunch. The whole concept of a metropolis of2686 workers, each synchronizing his movements to the other, all in some2687 effort to compile a grand codex of halftoned words and photographs...2688 Ostensibly a periodical source of news and sports-related2689 information... Implausible wasn't the word. The idea was like2690 something that would come out of a liberal arts college. Thomas2691 understood that in the end, nothing really worked. Thus it followed2692 that no newspaper would or could be delivered to Thomas' door, on this2693 or any other morning.2695 Thomas looked down. Perhaps he was surprised to see that the newspaper2696 still wasn't where it should have been. He wiped the condensation from2697 the front of his visor and planted his feet in the doorway, fixing his2698 gaze upon the concrete stoop. Why was he here? He meant specifically.2699 His eyes focused on a rough patch of masonry, shaped, vaguely, like a2700 copy of THE NEW YORK TIMES. He was slowly becoming aware that his lips2701 had chapped.2703 What...2705 He tried to remember why he was standing there, holding the door open,2706 facing out onto the street. Nothing came to mind, save for an2707 awareness of the relentless, frozen sheets of air that were blowing2708 past his face. After several moments, he became enticed by the sounds2709 emanating from inside the house, and so he retreated back into the2710 living room. He sat down by the fireplace and started to pull on the2711 hair that protruded from his chin. He would often affect this pose2712 whenever he found himself confused.2714 Presently, Eva came in with the tea.2716 Thomas regarded her suspiciously, conjecturing that she must have2717 prepared this tea herself, not simply poured it, pre-mixed, from a jug2718 or a bottle delivered by the government truck. It would later prove2719 that his suppositions had been correct. But at present, Eva refused to2720 discuss her inspiration. Why organic tea? He wrinkled his eyebrows2721 with palpable irritation and stared at her, knowing perfectly well2722 that his tendency towards interpreting simple results as the fruit of2723 complex machinations should not distract him so long that his tea2724 would go cold. I'm being silly, he thought to himself. Next, he'd be2725 accusing her of inventing, then hiding, and finally denying the2726 existence of, his daily newspaper.2728 He resolved not to say anything about it for now.2730 The feed to his visor had gone dark, sometime, he thought, in the past2731 week. The boys down at the switching station had gotten so wrapped up2732 in their chatter and practical jokes that the feed had ceased to be2733 maintained. This group of teenage boys had allowed any number of feed2734 pools to become irretrievably poisoned. Obviously, the problem had yet2735 to be amended. The cause of the service disruption was the logical2736 result of leaving unsupervised boys in charge of the running system.2737 There. Blunt common sense. No conspiracy required.2739 Though it could have been sabotage.2741 From the perspective behind Thomas' visor, everything had simply gone2742 black. Neighborhood residents were skeptical that the city's plans for2743 replacing the youths with middle-aged housewives would yield a network2744 any more reliable than the one that already existed. The real problem2745 was that this new technology simply didn't scale. You couldn't expect2746 everyone to get online at the same time without ramping up the2747 system's capacity. Unsupervised boys or no. Thomas doubted if any2748 demographic could keep the thing running without the assistance of2749 authorized Green technicians. Of course, that would cost money. On a2750 related note, did the Green Consortium really think that these2751 middle-aged women would subject themselves to working for lower wages2752 than what they could make staying at home? Like the aforementioned2753 "newspaper" idea, the scheme simply didn't wash.2755 How the networks had ever been built in the first place was also a2756 damned mystery. The secrets of net construction had apparently passed2757 into the realm of mythan area where Thomas carefully abstained from2758 treading. Just what had inspired Jeff Bezos to invent the Netscape2759 browser? The world might never know for sure. To be certain, claims2760 had been staked out by all of the usual suspects: Church leaders,2761 government agencies, atheist intellectualsthe full gamut of2762 unreliable sources. But Thomas was confident he knew the real score.2763 He had realized early in life that they all made up storieslies, in2764 factthat weren't supported by the available evidence. Anyone who2765 advanced a positive claim was merely covering an angle. No one knew2766 the real history of the Green. Or, at the very least, he was certain2767 there had been mistakes in the recording.2769 Just as well, then, that young people not be misled by any wild tales2770 of human beings working together towards a collective goal. It might2771 make for a ripping yarn, fine, but this sort of cooperation just2772 wasn't going to happen. Not that he could see. In his experience,2773 human beings were incapable of effective organization, even if2774 sometimes his mind liked to hallucinate collaboration amongst his2775 enemies. It would make more sense if the networks had simply grown2776 themselves.2778 You had to market your trash to the trash men, or else they would2779 stubbornly refuse to take it away. Thomas knew this to be true, but2780 still he couldn't find the time to arrange his various bags and2781 receptacles pleasantly enough to attract their attention. Instead,2782 garbage would pile up for several weeks before he'd finally be forced2783 to trudge down to the edge of the yard, spit on the road, and go to2784 work creating a minimally effective layout. These city trash men2785 thought they were critics. Thomas knew full well that as insiders to2786 the waste reclamation industry, their own garbage would never be2787 subjected to the ridicule of their peers. Instead, a trash man's2788 refuse would be hauled off periodically, sight-unseen. Thomas resented2789 the situation because it just wasn't fair. He could feel his hate for2790 the double-standard solidifying in his back. Why did consumers let the2791 government get away with this?2793 Thomas spied his friend Gordon coming up the road.2795 "What up, G?" he asked.2797 "I dunno, man. Field trip around the sun, I guess."2799 Thomas fingered his visor until the face of his friend came into2800 focus. Gordon had that look about him, as if he'd just been slipped2801 counterfeit money. (Money. Another conspiratorial delusion. Thomas was2802 undecided as to whether this particular fiction yieled sufficient2803 utility to warrant his playing along. Convenient, since he was usually2804 broke.)2806 "What are you doing to your face," asked Gordon.2808 "What do you mean?"2810 "There, your face. Why are you moving your hand around as if you were2811 manipulating some sort of device, or making some sort of minute2812 adjustments to your eyebrows. There's nothing there. Just that wrinkly2813 old skin wrapped around your skull."2815 Thomas moved to punch Gordon in the arm. Just then, he slipped off of2816 the stairs and toppled to the ground. He felt his hip shift out of its2817 socket as he struck the hard stone beneath him. Resigned to the pain,2818 he put his hand down in the snow and groaned.2820 "Can you help me up, please?" he said."My damn ass is broken."2822 Perversely, Thomas' visor clicked through its boot-up sequence and2823 once again resumed service.2825 Click. Click. Click.2827 But the settings were futzed. Thomas could see through Gordon's pants.2829 "Nice briefs," he said.2831 END BOOK ONE2833 BOOK TWO2835 THE GREEN2837 tags: 19182839 Mary lit candles while I made some adjustments to the sound levels and2840 then paced off the markers on the stage. The trees were turning up2841 their leaves and the cold breeze against my face indicated that the2842 sooner we got started, the better. The weather was in transition2843 again. I noticed that in the diminished light, the curtain seemed to2844 be reflecting the green from all around us. I looked down at my arms2845 and the same effect was showing against my skin. Mary smiled2846 acknowledgement from her corner of the stage.2848 I faced toward the swaying grass. The movement of the hillside caught2849 hold of me immediatelyI felt it pull against my stomachbut once the2850 playback started I had little trouble falling into the correct rhythm.2851 Insects in the trees began to organize their shrieks around the2852 activity on stage. Presently, our surroundings had settled into smooth2853 synchronization with the machines. The shift between recognition and2854 acceptance was instantaneous, complete.2856 I noticed after a while that this had all transpired without incident,2857 and so with the usual assistance from Mary I began the second phase of2858 the rite. Intonation. One voice, then two, joining with the electronic2859 pulses, slipping into the fold, setting down a canopy atop the2860 invisible scaffolding which was still emerging from the loudspeakers.2861 We erected a shelter of sound, continuing with the program until2862 almost all movement within sight had come to a stop. Even the grass2863 had ceased its inverted pendulum swing. A single drop of water2864 splashed against my face and I winced almost imperceptibly, but did2865 not waver in my vocalizations. We both turned to face the hillside.2867 Then silence, from the both of us, and all at once it was over.2869 After an indeterminate period, Mary began to extinguish the candles. I2870 worked my way around the stage, detaching speakers and re-coiling2871 cords and plugs. The hillside below remained resolutely still2872 throughout this secondary performance, our movements a sort of encore2873 begging the mute appreciation of spring foliage. This silent effect2874 would persist for weeks before finally returning to normal. Mary and I2875 would fall back into our own familiar patterns. Clanging about. We2876 would complain that we missed the children, or that the government had2877 evolved beyond all recognition. It was comfortable, for the most part.2878 But the trees on the hillside were more thoughtful. They would hold2879 still for a few more days, perhaps as a reminder of what had already2880 passed. While I might climb back up to the stage some afternoon,2881 planning to relax with a book, my consciousness of the synchronicity2882 would have already expended itself. The resonance would be completely2883 drained. I was sure it would be the same for Mary.2885 I slept better that night than I had in a long time. A decade. The2886 temptation was always to think that if we'd take time out for this2887 observance just a little more often, if we'd simply make an effort to2888 keep these sentiments in our daily thoughts... Well, you know how2889 these things tend to work out. The truth isand this is as important2890 as any other detail you'd care to focus onthe rite was only to be2891 performed once a year. That's how it had always been. And the2892 tradition, I think, was correct. Well-founded. The empty spaces were2893 in fact as significant as those caressed by the resonance of conscious2894 observance. The transition from one state to another could only be2895 measured along this sort of blunt, descending staircase. Dividing2896 awareness from its counterpart, one state from its successor, empty to2897 all filled up. How else could we perceive change at all?2899 As the rains started, I scooped up the last of the cables and snapped2900 shut the plastic container where they were stored when they were not2901 being used. A thoughtful crease appeared along the ridge of my2902 eyebrows, and Mary quickly rolled out the awning over the stage, just2903 as the downpour really began to break loose. We locked hands and2904 wandered the stone pathway back to the house, a silent song on our2905 lips as the rain beat clumps of our hair down against our ears. It2906 felt as if we were aging in reverse.2908 Rainwater spread over the green fallen leaves, sticking them to the2909 concrete, bulletin boarding them from the edge of the woods all the2910 way up to the house. We kicked them along as we made our way through2911 the spring shower, splashing forward to the doorway and its steady,2912 house-shaped warmth.2914 Until next year.2916 EPISODE IX2918 tags: 1957, margaret, paris_mold, tab1, the_chief2920 I couldn't get the lid off.2922 I bashed the base of the jar against the corner of a nearby table2923 (away from my body, so as to avoid the spray of flying smart glass)2924 and kicked the resulting debris out of my path. Moved back to the2925 terminal to finish transcribing. I had the bulk of the message keyed2926 in by the time the big kitchen door dissolved into its frame.2928 In sauntered Paris Mold.2930 He smoothly traversed the tile floor, making a beeline for the object2931 in my hand (and by extension, for me). He peered at my stats,2932 observing my progress without bothering to explain his presence.2933 Annoyed, I flashed him my teeth and continued typing. I carefully2934 unlatched the bag under my table with an obscured foot.2936 Paris' gaze slid from my keyboard to my shoulders to my scrambled face2937 in a continuous gesture. He maintained a blank expression that I2938 couldn't have mustered even with the help of electronics.2940 He cocked his head slightly to the left and began to speak. I noticed2941 there was a huge smudge of dirt on his cheek.2943 A detail such as that could be my anchor in the moments to come.2945 "That's one hell of a portable," Paris observed, nodding in the2946 direction of my table-top device. As if in response, the pressure2947 screen's broadcast antenna extended itself and locked into place.2949 Without warning, the room folded back upon itself, pulling all sorts2950 of visual transforms that reminded me of the programming exercises2951 given to small children at school. It appeared to be modeling the2952 cellular automata of snowflakes, tree branches, and the flocking2953 patterns of birds. Most of the standard primitives.2955 I gritted my teeth. Being this close to Paris Mold was like chewing2956 power cables. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep my head straight for2957 long, so I leaned in towards him and smiled in feeble agreement.2959 "Yes, boss."2961 Paris coughed.2963 Purposefully, I fastened the strap on my helmet, then clamped shut my2964 eyes until my sensors reached equilibrium. I risked one last glance at2965 Paris Mold, tightened my scrotum and tapped the device in my bag with2966 the tip of my boot.2968 There sounded a short series of digital squawks. Then the whole place2969 went wobbly and the walls began to collapse.2971 A look came over Paris' face. As the ceiling rushed to meet the floor,2972 he realized what I'd done. His expression was no longer inscrutable.2974 Still, this was going to kill me, too.2976 I plopped in another pat of margarine and inhaled over the sizzling2977 frying pan. Folding the wrinkled bits of paper into the eggs, a series2978 of disconnected sentence fragments slowly came into view. I closed my2979 eyes and surveyed the partial collage. Three signatures in all. These2980 were definitely the forms I'd sought, but the fragments seemed2981 incomplete. Something was missing.2983 Tabasco.2985 I thumbed the labels of three different brands (there were several on2986 the shelf). Overwhelmed by the available choices, I went ahead and2987 emptied them all into the mix. A brief shot of green-smelling flame2988 licked the canopy above the stove. Spam!2990 I batted the fire with my spatula. Left-handed, because I was still2991 holding onto the frying pan. I had to guess about where the tongues of2992 flame were going to dart next.2994 In wandered Paris Mold. We didn't make eye contact; we couldn't2995 really, on account of my being blind.2997 I assumed he had come to apologize.2999 Mold was no longer my boss. But still he would offer me work from time3000 to time, bundled with an awkward expression of sympathy. He felt3001 responsible for my blindness and therefore made every attempt to wipe3002 clean his conscience by providing me with advance notice of his job3003 listings. I tolerated it only because I needed the work.3005 "Can't sleep?" he asked.3007 "Horseshit. I'm trying to finish my taxes."3009 "Still slaving away at that, eh? The deadline's coming up, you know,"3010 he chided."Why don't you hire an accountant?"3012 "These days, I've got plenty of time to waste. Besides, I was hungry."3014 My finger hovered over the"eight" key while Paris regarded my3015 handiwork. I wasn't about to enter negotiations without some sort of3016 leverageeven if that meant blowing his forehead into spun glass.3017 Paris wrinkled his eyebrows and made a disappointed sigh. So, this was3018 going to be it. With a flick of my finger, a shotgun would descend3019 from the ceiling and project a hot lead sandwich through Paris' face.3020 I judged from the sound of his low, even breathing that he was3021 standing right on top of the the marker. Almost...3023 The bandages on my face began to itch. I twitched, trying to adjust3024 the strips of gauze with my nose before they slid completely off of my3025 face. This must have created an awkward spectacle, given the3026 situation.3028 "What is that? Sign language?" Paris snickered.3030 A flash of rage. My eyes started to burn. I punched the"eight" key3031 vigorously. Eat this, fuck sack!3033 Then: A long, piercing beep as my keypad's buffer filled with"eights."3035 Why wasn't it working? I looked down and saw nothing.3037 It transpired that my hands had slipped off of home row. I had been3038 mashing the wrong key.3040 The realization dawned, as my wife used to say, too little, too late.3042 Paris Mold retaliated with extreme prejudice.3044 By force of habit, he went straight for my eyes.3046 They said I had been chewing on my left hand, apparently trying to get3047 at my chronometer. I complained that I hadn't managed to kill Paris3048 Mold, period, no matter what or when I'd tried. He was just so...3049 there. You know? Something to do with his training, I guessed. It was3050 this last remark that got me pulled from the operation.3052 They wanted to know if I was through wasting their time, if I was3053 ready to stop stalling. When had I planned to follow through on the3054 objective? Was I really so disoriented that I couldn't maintain3055 narrative continuity? And what was this nonsense I'd been ranting3056 about? Had I experienced fear in the presence of the Molds?3058 The words"dishonorable discharge" were bandied about over my3059 restrained bodythe first time such words had been mentioned in3060 relation to my person. It sounded to me like a threat. I could do3061 nothing but foam and thrash.3063 Had I really failed so completely?3065 The Molds still walked the Earth.3067 The Chief phoned while I was still strapped to the table. He claimed3068 that my wife had become pregnant.3070 I asked him how he knew.3072 THE PARTISAN3074 tags: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, mother, tab13076 13078 Mother didn't love me.3080 Well, who knows, but it sure was hard to tell. I assume she wanted me3081 gone by graduation. Pushing me out of the nest fit symmetrically with3082 first having introduced me to its warmth.3084 Only, I hadn't needed to be pushed.3086 Whatever the case, I wouldn't have stuck around once I'd secured my3087 means of escape. In fact, my childhood agenda came to center upon3088 vacating the nest at the earliest possible convenience. I told her as3089 much on a handful of occasions, which may have been an early source of3090 her resentment towards me.3092 Drifting, there. Such thoughts are useless for filling out my report.3094 I dribble a handful of words into the document and save before making3095 a trip to the men's room. Time to call it a night.3097 Passing through the marketing department, I ponder the desks of the3098 new-hires, noticing for the first time that their cubicle partitions3099 and arm-thick contract binders serve as ballast against the3100 accumulation of personal effects. The design is intentional. In my3101 first few months at the company I never would have suspected such3102 subtle architectures of control.3104 I round the corner to the men's room and take a seat in the furthest3105 stall.3107 After a few minutes I'm faced with a problem.3109 No toilet paper.3111 23113 I am out of work.3115 Real work, that is. My study group has been shut down.3117 It's the Greens. They're everywhere. Though admittedly they're less3118 numerous than in recent years.3120 Take my former manager. Matters of consequence on his mind. A month3121 ago he retracted our billet after deciding that my group had fielded3122 too many atheists. A security risk, he said.3124 What is this, the 1910s?3126 For a while now I've been sitting at home, steadily freezing solid in3127 my poorly insulated study. Not the best working environment, and I'm3128 not getting much done. On top of it all, Mother won't leave me alone.3129 I've had to resist the urge to flag her for rendition. I like to think3130 I've made the right decision.3132 This morning I discover that the Greens have cut loose my former3133 manager. I'm digging around in his account when the call comes in.3135 We're back on.3137 Patent disputes in the hinterlands.3139 The traffic orb on my desk glows a suggestive blue as I pick up the3140 phone to contact my team.3142 33144 Well, that didn't last long.3146 Back to retail.3148 I work the counter between calls because no one else knows how to3149 operate the products we sell. Customers roll in and then they roll3150 back out, au gratin waves of body fat wrapped in plastic garments. The3151 typical specimen reeks of a public cafeteria.3153 A man wanders into my zone and starts fidgeting with the boxes of3154 electronic equipment. He picks up a box and then sets it back down3155 without examining it. He repeats this awkward choreography at several3156 different positions along the aisle. His movements seem aimless and3157 there appears to be no intelligent pattern underlying his3158 investigations.3160 What is going on here? The answer is that I don't care.3162 "Is there something I can assist you with, sir?"3164 Contractually, I cannot allow his anti-commercial behavior to pass3165 unchallenged. I maneuver myself between him and the shelves and then3166 read him one of the scripts I've been required to memorize.3168 "I am certified in twenty-seven dialects of formal sales semantics,3169 with a top-five ranking amongst appliance technicians in the local3170 Green. It would be my pleasure to interpret your needs today. Thank3171 you for choosing AT&T."3173 "Son, let me ask you a question. Do you actually like working here?"3175 I have to admit, there's no easy way to answer. I don't let it show on3176 my face.3178 From an obscured storage pouch the man produces a business card and3179 communicates it smoothly into my hand. Affixed to its underside is a3180 thousand dollar bill. I turn the tiny rectangle in my hand, staring at3181 it quizzically. What has just happened here? Gradually, I realize that3182 the currency is fraudulent. The thousand dollar bill is a facsimile,3183 printed on the reverse of the business card. I smile and the man3184 lights up, returning my grin. I swear I can hear his face skipping3185 gears.3187 "Five minutes of your time and that t-note becomes real, deposits into3188 the account of your choice. Spend it however you like."3190 It's hardly pocket change, and of course I'm well beyond broke, so I3191 gesture for him to proceed with his pitch.3193 Before I know it, he has me filling out paperwork, signing papers.3194 "Signing your life away," he announces, and smiles.3196 He doesn't seem to care about my previous experience.3198 43200 I'm being sent to the front.3202 Well, one of the fronts.3204 In modern warfare, someone has to keep the breathers running. My3205 orders are to install hotfixes and updates on the machines that3206 control the mobile flow tanks, which in turn feed the breathers. We3207 aren't permitted to install unauthorized programs, but everyone I've3208 ever worked with does so anyway.3210 Our Sergeant hosts a fileserver from his backpack.3212 The men of the platoon have taken to calling me"Mother." I assume this3213 is in reference to my careful maintenance of their breather3214 apparatuses. I don't find it amusing in the slightest.3216 In spite of improvements to our equipment, signal degradation3217 continues to render the mail unreliable. The satellite gear proved3218 flaky and we dumped it after the first week in the field. At higher3219 elevations we're sometimes able to establish line of sight with the3220 fleet.3222 Mother would probably like to hear from me. Maybe I'll drop her a line3223 the next time we're up the mountain.3225 53227 Responding to aggressive stimuli, I discharge my service rifle into3228 the crowd.3230 My round exits the back of a man's skull and strikes the man standing3231 directly behind him. It then travels on to the next man standing3232 behind him. For a split second the perforated heads sync up, their3233 wounds aligning in a peculiar sort of optical tributary. As quickly as3234 it is formed, the channel collapses and the illusion of coherence is3235 lost.3237 This dynamic tableaux has been observed by several hovering cameras.3238 I'm struck by the way each unit edges past its neighbor, vying for a3239 better angle on the corpses lying at my feet. They seem to3240 deliberately ignore me and my fellow soldiers. I don't understand why.3242 A hand falls on my shoulder. It is the Sergeant.3244 What's he doing here, I think to myself.3246 Oh, right.3248 63250 Prison clothing is uncomfortable. In my case it fits well enough. Some3251 of my peers have been less fortunate.3253 I keep in step with the other prisoners. Occasionally, I catch my3254 reflection in the back of another inmate's jacket. Even out of uniform3255 we're unmistakably soldiers.3257 A guard shouts obscenities through a bullhorn and the man in front of3258 me stumbles. I think that I recognize him. Latino, approximately3259 twenty years of age. Infantry, definitely. Could it be?3261 When the guards aren't looking I kick him in the back.3263 "Keep up, asshole."3265 He gasps, flashing me the secret hand sign of our platoon.3267 I'm convinced now, and kick him again, this time less carefully. Less3268 the actor. I have him on the ground by the time the guard with the3269 bullhorn interrupts.3271 "Move, faggots!"3273 We do as he says.3275 The data has changed hands.3277 73279 I am free.3281 Released.3283 The spring sun sinks into my face. Mother has passed away at some3284 point during my incarceration.3286 I convalesce at home for two days before calling in to be reactivated.3288 The boys will be anxious to hear about my experience behind bars. I3289 wonder how many of us are left.3291 83293 And now it's back to the grind. Nothing has changed about the war3294 we've been fighting, though the locales tend to shift with the3295 seasons. We manage the periodic disorientation by assigning colors to3296 each theater of operations. This quarter we're in the Red. The3297 projection is that by next quarter we'll be in the Black.3299 One of our little jokes.3301 Oh yes, and no White after Labor Day.3303 Staffing is flexible, pending new developments. This rotation we're at3304 home. For us, domestic deployment (as with training) constitutes3305 leave. The boys are all present and we fall into our familiar rhythm3306 as we pace the perimeter Capitol Hill.3308 A froth of reporters churns to and fro between our lines. The latest3309 fashion in Washington is a press pass that authorizes the bearer to3310 cross military checkpoints with impunity. A stupid idea, to be sure,3311 but nobody asked my opinion. The cameras flit about as a few of the3312 reporters spill over in my direction.3314 One approaches me, brandishing a microphone.3316 "Corporal! What's your take on the continuance of the war? Can you3317 give me seven syllables on the reinstatement of compulsory military3318 service? The draft?"3320 I regard her from behind my service rifle.3322 Seven syllables? Let's see.3324 "I'm afraid I enlisted."3326 HALF-DANDY IN THE RUBBISH FACTORY3328 tags: 1918, lonnie, pennis_mold3330 Standing in the mirror and seeing that without a belt, these new3331 slacks are simply not going to stay up. I'm in danger of tipping the3332 balance between classical style and practicality, but I mustn't be3333 caught off guard if anyone should happen to catch a glimpse of me in3334 my civilian underclothes. I find something suitable in my closet and3335 pin myself into the pants, clipping a handful of mesh transceivers to3336 my blouse before pulling on the pressure suit and chiming for a ride.3337 Down in the tunnels, I don't want my breeches coming loose, getting3338 wound around my legs inside of the suit. Before exiting the apartment,3339 I remove a number of petals from a rose and press them between the3340 pages of my notebook. I savor the scent for a few moments before3341 concealing the book within my pressure suit and heading out the door.3343 At the entrance to the lowest tunnels I pause before a monstrous3344 installation, a war machine from some forgotten conflict of decades3345 past, and affix my collapsed flower to a placard situated below the3346 airplane. It is humid enough that the petals stick to its slick3347 surface with little effort. Even in this diffuse lighting, the mighty3348 nose and wings of the plane gleam immodestly, and I am ashamed to3349 experience a wave of exhilaration, prostrate as I am before such a3350 reverential display of murderous articulation. I gather myself and3351 proceed to the elevators.3353 In my mind it is all quite different than this.3355 I embody two discreet realities. Suffering alone, I am continuously in3356 peril of favoring one reality over the other. As of late, a new3357 barricade has been thrown up, an obstruction that permanently divides3358 these tandem perspectives of the rubbish factory. Necessity demands3359 that I pick a side and entrench my position, but my heart cries out3360 for reconciliation.3362 I take solace in the fact that, being made of plaster, the dividing3363 wall will eventually bow under its own weight.3365 If memory serves, a similar plaster wall erected around the3366 masterpiece Il Cenacolo protected it from the onslaught of mechanized3367 warfare, early in the last century. No one expected a fresco to stand3368 against mortar fire, but here our fellow Leonardo had produced a hare3369 from his conical hat. The wall stood firm though the building around3370 it crumbled to dust.3372 I see now that such a wall can be made to serve a useful purpose. Do I3373 really wish for all the evil in my thoughts to pass so freely? It is3374 at moments such as these that I find it crucial to get something down3375 on paper, before mind's effluvium carries mind itself away on a raft3376 of sudden, fatiguing currents. In truth, I write to cleanse the3377 palate. There is a bad taste in my mouth after three weeks toiling on3378 the latest factory inventory. Lonnie plays Microsoft SOLITAIRE at his3379 desk while I scribble in my notebook.3381 Furthering my previous thought, let us now consider the plaster wall3382 in my mind as ballast. A shift in perspective to interpret the empty,3383 unused spaces as the most precious of cargo: a portal to new3384 understanding.3386 I boot up a fresh sheet of paper, reflecting upon the true nature of3387 metaphor as filler. A great sewer main has burst in my mind, carrying3388 forth copious amounts of shit and pissboth having been lodged quite3389 stubbornly in the pipe. This is the opposite of the wall. I observe as3390 each new parcel of feces floats away, bobbling down the stream. There3391 is something that cannot be contained within a mind such as my own, a3392 mind that is slowly breaking up, dividing into dull, gray cubicles.3394 It seems that we have come full circle.3396 Which way is it going to be, then? Walls to divide, or portals to3397 connect?3399 They are both the same. Textures that are defined, even as they are3400 described, by the perceiving apparatus.3402 There is a great wealth of surface detail to be absorbed, to be3403 sorted, and I do carry on exploring, but I find that there is only one3404 true form of currency, here in the rubbish factory, and that is the3405 universal reserve of the personal imagination. It proves to be an3406 aether that never devalues, that is never appraised relative to3407 markets or governmentsit is the ineffable substance that constitutes3408 essential wealth.3410 Reaching this point of minor resolution, I close up my notebook and3411 stuff it into one of the compartments of my pressure suit. A whistle3412 sounds, groaning, pixelated. A gavel is banged and my mental courtroom3413 clears of solicitors, making room for me to think other thoughts, to3414 reconnect the cycling belt of my psyche back to the idling gears of3415 its cadaver.3417 It is time for lunch.3419 We men clamber into the mess hall, which has not yet reached fifty3420 percent capacity. Two- and three-man teams are clotted into3421 flesh-colored scabs around the edges of each steel table. We dine on3422 whatever has been set down in front of us by the kitchen staff.3423 Between bites of supper, we trade raucous barbs.3425 "And what, pray tell, is the value of this thing called beauty," a3426 colleague stands up and asks, apparently to no one.3428 A few of the men turn around in their seats to face the speaker. Some3429 of them get up and leave altogether. But most simply pick over their3430 lunch trays and stare at their food, seemingly oblivious to the3431 philosophical gauntlet that has been thrown down.3433 "Ah, yes, the dominant minority," a familiar voice chimes in.3435 "Rather, I should say, an aristocracy of merit," counters the original3436 speaker, earning smiles from every participating table.3438 I appreciate exchanges like this, here in the lunch room, as they3439 afford us men the chance to unwind between extended shifts in the3440 tunnels. The work can be grueling, the hours long. The repetitive3441 plunging of gloved hands or shielded feet into the crowded arteries of3442 the sanitation lines coarsens men to fellowship. But here, we make our3443 own peace with our situation. Here, we arrive on the cusp of our3444 destinies by the strain and sweat of our honest toil. It is a kind of3445 progress.3447 Before things really get started, a triumvirate of management stride3448 into the room, enjoying a buffer nearly three meters in diameter as3449 they pass between the huddles of workmen. I grip my lunch tray with3450 trepidation as they float past my table, unsure of the purpose for3451 their visit.3453 What I notice first is the impeccable styling of their attire. Even3454 when down in the tunnels, these gentlemen always always keep their3455 gear clean. In the general low-light conditions of the sewer, it is3456 their bejeweled teeth and resplendent gold necklaces which can first3457 be seen approaching, glittering through the humid mists of municipal3458 waste. At times, the ricocheting reflections may cause an entire face3459 to disappear, or at least, they may seem to disappear when one's3460 vision is obscured by a pressure suit mask. But here in the mess hall,3461 we all remove our helmets to talk and eat. Here, the glare does not3462 obscure but instead serves to illuminate.3464 The small group approaches now, my own supervisor striding to the3465 fore. His low-slung denim splits into a Cheshire grin of plaid cotton3466 undergarments. The suede of my supervisor's sneakers appears to be3467 freshly brushed, having accumulated no floating particles of detritus3468 or dirt. His tasteful, oversize polo tee asserts the classic dialectic3469 of red and white striping, situated masterfully alongside a deep blue3470 rectangle bearing numerous white stars, each of self-evident, sacred3471 significance. I am somewhat taken aback by this sudden explosion of3472 color. It is a moment I cherish even as it overwhelms me, and I3473 briefly clench my eyelids together, attempting to trigger my mesh3474 camera, to stream the scene into the pages of my department's3475 distributed memory.3477 As the managers pass my table they hesitate, stop, and then double3478 back.3480 My supervisor's nostrils incline perceptibly. As one, the group turns3481 to face me. I swallow the food in my mouth, which goes down the wrong3482 way, and I begin to worry about the visible stubble on my face. How3483 must I appear to them?3485 "Yo, ya'll have been selected, son! We're up in this place to request3486 that you authorize a temporary application fee of two billion credits3487 to secure your promotion to management. Know what I'm sayin', cousin?3488 To authenticate this ceremonial enhancement, please press here, fool.3489 Fa sho."3491 I place my thumb onto the reader and press down, weakly. This elicits3492 a further vocalization.3494 "Peace. Five thousand, G."3496 And then they are gone.3498 I am quite literally bowled over, and my lunch tray pinwheels to the3499 floor in pursuit of my limp form. Lonnie, faithful companion of lo3500 these many years, helps me back to my seat as I slowly regain my3501 composure. Gradually, the ramifications of what has just happened3502 begin to sink in. Promotion will mean an increase in my pension, new3503 quarters... and an unlimited civilian clothing allowance. I have just3504 been created anew. Afforded a repeat birth. I switch on all mesh3505 transceivers and begin capturing every possible angle of my3506 surroundings, preserving this vital moment, etching a record for the3507 corporate archives, for my descendants, for their inheritors.3509 "What up, son," Lonnie chides, adopting the formal tone of management3510 in a sort of mockery of their stiff, proper elocution."These negroes3511 done lost they minds."3513 I nod my head slightly, acutely aware of the expanse that now3514 separates our respective circumstances. The great plaster partition3515 has come crashing apart in my mind, and in this instant, the dejected,3516 isolated occupants of each chamber are crushed together, the sticks of3517 pious liberty bundled into a final, immobilizing unity. I eschew my3518 former concerns, beholden as they were to considerations of slop and3519 waste. The combustion of my thoughts is now fueled solely by the light3520 of its own countenance.3522 Lacking a prepared response, I yield to myself completely.3524 My face droops into my hand. A bent elbow evenly supports the3525 increased weight of my skull, flesh and excessively powdered hair. I3526 find that I have grown suddenly weary of contemplating the great3527 weight of my responsibility. Lonnie will come to appreciate this3528 fatigue if ever he is called up, into the obdurate embrace of his3529 betters.3531 But at this moment I cannot expect him to fully understand. Not while3532 he still finds himself tethered to the undercarriage of our labyrinth3533 of shifting human shit.3535 I look at him and it is obvious he cannot understand what I have3536 become.3538 "Dandy," I finally reply, employing the crude language of the tunnels.3539 I burp towards the mess hall out of politeness. In the resulting3540 silence I pick at the visor of my helmet.3542 Lonnie makes a face, forlorn, but still he says nothing.3544 I wave him away. I excuse myself and leave my tray for the staff to3545 clear.3547 I am already running next month's numbers in my head.3549 Fitting my manicured hands to the master controls of the rubbish3550 factory.3552 ASDFASDF3554 tags: 1979, erik, roger, tab23556 Thomas adjusted the focus of his visor and opened three new chat3557 windows. He joined the appropriate channel in each window, issued3558 greetings to everyone, and then banked his fighter jet into a cloud,3559 dodging enemy fire. He checked his screens but it looked like everyone3560 else was idling.3562 Roger crushed the soda can beneath her foot and stomped into the3563 building. Behind her, Erik dribbled the rest of his beverage into the3564 gutter and followed suit. Both of them were late for duty. <Thomas_>3565 Oh well, here we are again, crammed into this office when it's windy3566 and gray outside. No cold London breeze in our faces today, boys! By3567 the time you read this, I'll have flattened quite a bit of real3568 estate, I'd imagine. Oh well, where does the time go.3570 <Rog> Is someone stroking you off over there?3571 <Thomas_> That's offensive. And just where the spam have you two been.3572 <erikw> i'm so spamming tired3574 A flash crossed all of their screens at once. A vibrant pink square3575 that obscured half of the desktop, causing Roger (at least) to3576 misdirect her fire towards a friendly.3578 Folks, RDO (Regular Day Off) Since we are starting a run on training3579 next week and through September for various classes (other course3580 scheduling to be announced), we will be depending on all to help keep3581 our levels up as well as possible, as you have these last couple of3582 weeks. Since Thursday and Friday are always busy days anyway, we'd3583 like to ask anyone with their RDO on Thurs and Fri to work OT during3584 our critical time. That can be up to 8 hours starting between 7am-9am,3585 and possibly a couple more depending on how busy it is. Then from next3586 week on until further notice, we'd like those that will, to work OT on3587 their RDOs between the same starting times, with the possible 2 hrs3588 extra on top of the 8 if business needs are heavy. If you cannot work3589 the full 8 but can work 4 hrs between 10am-2pm or 11am-3pm (same for3590 this Thur & Fri), that would help out during the lunch periods. Of3591 course working through lunch is also authorized w/ break splitting3592 until further notice.3594 Thomas cleared the flash and flitted his eyes back to incoming. Roger3595 and Erik actually finished reading the entire message.3597 The result of their decision was immediately apparent.3599 Rockets in the air. Thomas vectored wildly, but it was clear that3600 convergence was only a matter of time. The air support team (the happy3601 trio, all together) cursed simultaneously.3603 The potential flight paths whirling in front of them were useless.3604 TelemeTry was lagging again. The sky was infinite white on every side.3606 Roger and Erik backed off of the target and regained control of their3607 vehicles.3609 Thomas, for his part, had lost the ground.3611 asdfasdfasdfasdfasdf3613 <erikw> i wasnt going to come in at all today but it turns out i've3614 already used up my personal days for the rest of the year. it's3615 fucking january!3616 <Rog> I was in the cafeteria and I heard Sarge talking spam about us3617 not getting 20 minute breaks anymore after this quarter3618 <erikw> fuck that! argh. that does it, i'm deleting his account on3619 webster. no more free zero day for him!3620 <Thomas_> Hey guys.3621 <Thomas_> I am SO not working overtime this weekend3623 asdfasdf3625 Thomas drummed his fingers on his desk absentmindedly. Presently,3626 UTF-8 characters appeared in front of his eyes, translucent, but still3627 rather annoying as they partially obscured his vision. He finished3628 logging his flight ticket and got himself up, out of his chair.3630 As usual, Erik and Roger were a few minutes longer in getting their3631 acts together. This was exacerbated by Erik accidentally brushing his3632 elbows against Roger's breasts, several times, in the space of just a3633 few minutes.3635 After she'd finished repeatedly punching him in the gut, both airmen3636 caught up with Thomas and took their places next to him in the chow3637 line, where they casually compared the features of their newly3638 upgraded visors.3640 "I'm always waiting for you guys. Spam like this is why we lose so3641 many airplanes."3643 Thomas held his serious expression for several seconds, and then they3644 all burst into laughter.3646 I'M JUST SAYING3648 tags: 1979, christopher, violet3650 "Every time I walk past your desk you're reading that damned feed."3652 "Do you see the flaw in this?" Violet asked."Every time you see me3653 reading the feeds, you're away from your own desk. You'd never even3654 know I was breaking the rules if you weren't up, walking around,3655 breaking them yourself."3657 Frankly, there had been little to distinguish her until fairly3658 recently. The spring quarter had perhaps brought about a kind of3659 transformation. Certainly, she'd taken well to his instruction.3660 Christopher mused (to himself) that perhaps what he admired in her3661 most was his own reflection. But this was a profoundly disagreeable3662 notion, and he discarded the thought. The light from the office window3663 played softly in her hair. He would try again. There could be no harm3664 in trying.3666 "No, Violet, Newton did not hold that the Green was eternal. A3667 gentleman of his era would not even have been able to perceive the3668 Green."3670 "Now you're just lying," said Violet.3672 "Nullius en verba," sighed Chris."Trust, but verify. Or in other3673 words, do your own research. You see, it doesn't matter if you believe3674 me or not. This isn't a relative matter. The Green did not exist in3675 the seventeenth centuryit's not merely an assertion, it's an3676 incontrovertible fact."3678 "According to your essentialist bias," Violet said."But what are3679 'facts,' anyway?"3681 There was no answer. It was a meaningless question.3683 Violet's mouth creased acutely at its corners, her eyes tracing the3684 arc of the golden ratio as Christopher shifted in his work trousers,3685 unsure of how to proceed. He could no longer remember what he had been3686 trying to say, or why. He stopped typing in order to formulate his3687 response.3689 "All you need to know about Newton is this: his work on optics may3690 have indeed set the stage for the eventual overturning of his work on3691 motion."3693 "That's seriously not even true," said Violet."Einstein was very clear3694 that his own work should not be seen to supersede Newton's, but merely3695 to build upon the foundations laid by his able predecessor. Newtonian3696 mechanics is still quite viable from virtually any perspective. Even3697 today."3699 "I'm just saying," she added.3701 "And yet, you cling to this notion that Newton knew ofcommuned3702 withthe Green. That he had some sort of access to the network."3704 "Didn't he?" asked Violet, rolling her eyes behind her face-mask.3706 "No," said Chris, finding himself increasingly frustrated, in more3707 ways than one.3709 Violet drifted away. She thought to herself: When I lay my head down,3710 now, my dreams are as stories, are no longer as the psychotic, Dadaist3711 collages to which I've become accustomed. Humble, linear narratives.3712 But what is more important to me? Lucid memories of my childhood or3713 the removal of this block, the lifting of this veil that has3714 descended, that so complicates my machinery? She was unaware of how3715 she appeared, laying prostrate over her desk. Consequently, she was3716 oblivious to her co-worker's mounting discomfort.3718 Christopher excused himself and retreated to the men's room.3720 He latched the stall. He took down his trousers and began to3721 masturbate furiously into the toilet. His heartbeat rapidly outpaced3722 the ticking of his chronometer. His breathing quickened appreciably as3723 the sweat from his forehead poured into his eyes.3725 Presently, a long, slow moan escaped from his lips.3727 It was then that Christopher noticed the presence of a co-worker,3728 seated in the adjacent stall.3730 "I'm just saying," the co-worker said, and folded his newspaper.3732 MY VIOLET DUCHY3734 tags: 1967, margaret, tab1, tab2, violet3736 Mother fitted Violet's mask into place, but that did nothing to cap3737 the jet of words spraying from her face.3739 I hated my sister.3741 Violet:"All of this leaf stuff is still undecided. It'll be difficult3742 to unseat the pressure screen in this household, especially with Dad.3743 I wouldn't wager my summer vacation on that contraption. I doubt if3744 he'll buy it from you."3746 Thomas: "The thing about this device neither of you seem to understand3747 is that it's much more than a simple substitute for the pressure3748 screen. Just look at it's features! The interface is remarkable, even3749 to functional illiterates such as yourselves. See how it responds so3750 readily to the touch of my finger? I'm certain he'll be as excited3751 about it as I am."3753 Mother: "Isn't this a bit like that old LCD screen you dug out of the3754 back yard, Thomas? I don't understand what's so interesting about it.3755 It doesn't even speak. Violet is probably right: your father is not3756 going to compensate you for this find, I'm afraid..."3758 Thomas: "..."3760 Violet: "He's not going to allow it into the house anyway. Are you3761 going to tell him where you found it, or should I? Ouch, Mom, the pin3762 goes into my blouse, not my neck!"3764 Thomas: "Sure, I'll tell him. Though I'm not convinced his consent is3765 even relevant at this point. How is he going to say no when the device3766 could prove indispensable to his work? Classical pressure screens are3767 not going to be interoperable with the new networks. Is Dad going to3768 let us go broke just so he can pretend the market still values his3769 pre-war skillset?"3771 Mother: "Thomas."3773 Thomas: "Blame the market. I didn't invent supply and demand. Finding3774 this thing in the trash doesn't make it trash."3776 Violet: "I have to wonder if there's any significant purpose to all of3777 these upgrades. In a few months time there'll be another new device to3778 replace this one, and then, in the fall, a new device to replace that3779 one. Haven't you discerned a pattern yet, Thomas?"3781 Thomas: "I haven't the slightest idea what you're on about."3783 SHELL OUT3785 tags: 1969, christopher, frankie_willard, tab23787 When you lay your shell down on the street, you have to expect that3788 someone is going to come along and pick it up. Frankie considered this3789 self-evident fact to be ample justification for his scooping up the3790 small piece of equipment and dropping it into his pocket. So far as he3791 could tell, no one had noticed him retrieving the device. Out on the3792 street, such random finds were rare.3794 Now, if only he could figure out what it was supposed to be.3796 Thomas Bright immediately recognized the shell's function. He observed3797 his friend's actions and contrived to take the object away from him.3798 By force, if necessary.3800 Presently, he asserted himself.3802 "Hey Frankie," he yelled.3804 The fight unspooled quickly, with Thomas shrugging off an abrasion and3805 Frankie doubling over on the pavement, nursing a lacerated fist that3806 had rolled through a patch of broken glass. Frankie's attempt at3807 securing a headlock had proven ineffective.3809 Thomas surveyed the battlefield, projecting a wide, mischievous grin3810 from beneath his visor.3812 "What?" asked Frankie.3814 The display of glistening of teeth had set Frankie's legs to feeling3815 remarkably naked beneath the hem of his cargo shorts. With all of his3816 extra equipment, Thomas was more resourceful than Frankie had3817 supposed.3819 "How many of my cigarettes would you say you burn through in a week?"3820 Thomas asked, gesturing pointedly and exhaling imaginary smoke into3821 Frankie's face.3823 Blocks of light exchanged positions in front of Thomas' eyes.3824 Discharges of air escaped through his lips at regular intervals as he3825 considered how to attach Frankie's shell to his home feed. It was3826 imperative to dump the shell's contents into temporary storage as3827 quickly as possible. By the time Thomas had established connectivity3828 with the mesh, his errant verbalizations had organized themselves into3829 a frivolous melody.3831 Christopher, for one, was unimpressed with the one-off vocal3832 performance. He observed that Thomas tended to drift off-pitch, which3833 was only partially ameliorated by the reverberations of the tiled3834 bathroom walls.3836 "Soaked in reverb, your off-key caterwauling almost resolves into3837 music," Chris stated, flatly.3839 "Thanks," said Thomas.3841 "What's the point of booting up this device if we can't connect it to3842 our other equipment?"3844 "I'm appalled by your doubt. As well as your seeming inability to3845 negotiate novel obstacles," Thomas complained. He laid down his tool3846 on the counter and replaced it with another from his toolbox."Please3847 observe as I perform the necessary operations to bring this device's3848 configuration into parity with our extant systems and software."3850 "But Thomas, this piece of equipment doesn't conform to open3851 standards. Carrying out your plans would be at cross-purposes to our3852 SOP; the greater work of populating our testbeds with only legally3853 unencumbered technologies."3855 As the dialogue progressed, Thomas worked the casing off of the shell3856 and proceeded to probe its internals. After a brief interlude of utter3857 silence, he let out a whoop and spun around to present the results of3858 his efforts.3860 A holographic image of Thomas flickered into existence, approximately3861 four inches above the device. The projection aped Thomas' every word3862 and movement, allowing for a slight delay.3864 "Just because you can modify it doesn't make it free that is, er,3865 redistributable," Chris tried to quip, but it had come out all wrong,3866 mixed-up, as a wave of dizziness seemed to be interfering with his3867 verbal faculties."You can't even sell the thing now."3869 "Oh, give me some credit. I don't plan on selling it. Hand me the3870 smallest forceps."3872 Chris could no longer tell if he was getting dizzy or merely getting3873 confused.3875 "Then why are we wasting time examining it?" he asked.3877 Thomas looked up at him, perturbed.3879 "For the funk of it," he said, and then added,"I'm going to fine you3880 if you keep asking me these stupid questions."3882 GENDER SMURF3884 tags: 1968, albert_lunsford, bob, piro, tab13886 "You fucking faggot!" my co-worker cried as he leaped out of his3887 pick-up truck and clapped me on the ear.3889 I placed my satchel on the picnic table and opened it. We got to work3890 immediately.3892 "There's no point in shutting down the whole group," Piro pointed out.3894 "Oh, you're absolutely right," I said."I think we can accomplish more3895 by poisoning the well."3897 Piro had the black box up and running. Every message posted to the3898 Albert Lunsford group would flow through our illicit kernel module3899 before it even reached the group's database. In this way, we would3900 tamper with reality.3902 "I used your wife's name for one of my fake logins," Piro remarked.3904 I popped him in the arm.3906 "Hey, it was easy to remember."3908 "Just keep your story straight when you're posting. There aren't many3909 females active on the group; these guys will notice if you get your3910 continuity out of whack."3912 I pulled up a sample message.3914 > Date: Sun, 05 Oct 1968 04:44:16 -00003915 > To: firstname.lastname@example.org > Message-ID: <email@example.com>3917 > In-Reply-To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>3918 > User-Agent: THEGREEN-EW/0.823919 > MIME-Version: 1.03920 > Content-Type: text/plain; charset="ISO-8859-1"3921 > Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable3922 > From:"no_such_name"3923 > <email@example.com>3924 > Subject: Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast Or Else3925 > You're a Feminist3926 >3927 > Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast Or Else You're3928 > a Feminist3929 >3930 > 1. People are inherently good, and3931 > therefore communism doesn't work because it postulates that human3932 > nature is trustworthy. Similarly, a democratic-republic such as the3933 > United States and Territories is superior to communism because it pits3934 > people's interests against one another in a system of checks and3935 > balances, rather than trusting that humans will, of their own accord,3936 > make the right choices. Also, because people are inherently good,3937 > ninety-eight out of every one hundred of them end up in Hell.3938 >3939 > 2. Women3940 > are less equal than men as human beings and therefore should never3941 > have been given the right to vote. However, since women have already3942 > been given the right to vote, it is a good idea to let them keep it,3943 > even though they are messing up the whole world with their bad3944 > choices.3945 >3946 > 3. Women are clinically insane because psychiatry is bogus3947 > medicine, therefore Albert Lunsford is not insane because he has not3948 > been diagnosed as such by a psychiatrist.3949 >3950 > 4. Only liberal feminists3951 > would consider a six-year-old boy to be eligible for political asylum,3952 > therefore those who don't consider a six-year-old boy eligible for3953 > political asylum are liberal feminists.3954 >3955 > 5. Most illness is a result of3956 > demonic possession.3957 >3958 > 6. Conspiracies in government are unlikely, if not3959 > impossible, because the government is so large as to make keeping a3960 > secret impossible, and because government employees make less money3961 > than private employees.3962 >3963 > 7. No Republican would ever accuse a public3964 > official of murder or other atrocities, because to do so would be3965 > disloyal to their country, and because public officials make less3966 > money than private employees.3967 >3968 > 8. A fiscal conservative is still a3969 > liberal if they do not believe in God, therefore a theist who believes3970 > in extorting tax dollars at gunpoint is a conservative.3971 >3972 > 9. The3973 > impending completion of Lunsford's twenty-six year graphic novel3974 > project triggered a natural disaster that killed thousands of people,3975 > therefore keeping the storyline in print is absolutely necessary to3976 > fulfilling God's will.3977 >3978 > 10. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a word-perfect3979 > copy of the Old Testament in its entirety, therefore the other texts3980 > bundled with it are of negligible value, and the 1591 King James Bible3981 > is the inerrant Word of God even though different copies of the same3982 > text varied due to the nature of printing technology in 1591.3983 >3984 > 11.3985 > Albert Lunsford is the first person in the history of mankind to have3986 > unlocked the true meaning of the Old Testament, the New Testament and3987 > the Koran, and therefore he is not a Prophet.3988 >3989 > 12. RFC #289/2903990 > represents a Unified Field Theory of physics which is not only3991 > coherent, but correct, all without reference to mathematics. This3992 > theory is not given the credit it is due because comic book fans are3993 > afraid to admit that Albert Lunsford is right about everything on this3994 > list.3995 >3996 > 13. RFC itself is not given the credit it is due in the comics3997 > industry because comic book fans are afraid to admit that Albert3998 > Lunsford is right about everything on this list.3999 >4000 > 14. Failure to agree4001 > with anything in the above list is evidence that you are a4002 > Marxist/Feminist/Homosexualist, and therefore not Albert Lunsford, and4003 > therefore wrong.4004 >4005 > 15. Albert Lunsford's new comic book project will4006 > fail because his comic book readership is comprised solely of4007 > Marxist/Feminist/Homosexualists, therefore it makes perfect sense to4008 > dispatch agitators who are known to be hostile to4009 > Marxism/Feminism/Homosexualism to the four corners of the Green to4010 > promote it.4012 I had to laugh. These guys really took this stuff seriously.4014 Our objective was to subtly disrupt Lunsford's operations. The group4015 was extremely high traffic, so the black box only had to be active for4016 a few minutes before our efforts started to bear fruit. I grabbed4017 another fragment to check on our progress.4019 >>>-- In firstname.lastname@example.org,"juan_whatever"4020 >> <juan_whatever@> wrote:4021 >>>4022 >>> Did the text appear kinda messed up on"part two" on other's4023 >>> pressure screens -or just mine? Gargamel?4024 >>> Anyway, this is a pretty big deal as we continue to get insight4025 from4026 >>> the ground floor of what will probably become the world's dominant4027 >>> religion some time in the future -oh, you know it'll happen:)4028 >>4029 >>4030 >> On Sun, Oct 5, 1968 at 9:48 AM, Sam <samslammer@...> wrote:4031 >>4032 >> You might have been kidding about this, juan, but it did occur to4033 >> me. Wouldn't put it past Gargamel or Satan to make Albert's text4034 harder4035 >> to read.4036 >>4037 >> I had to pull the text into a editor and get rid of all the4038 >> superfluous characters that were making the text unreadable. Few4039 >> people would probably do that, achieving Gargamel's end nicely.4040 She/He/It4041 >> would be invested in *not* having people read the Bible, Torah, and4042 >> Koran and think about them deeply.4043 >>4044 >> Not sure if there's an easier way to add the text without all the4045 >> extra characters, Klaus, but more people will read the the text if4046 >> they don't have to work so hard at it. I can make offline4047 suggestions4048 >> on how to do that if it will help.4049 >>>> Sam Slammerhaus4051 Perfect. The modules were functioning as designed. Even simply futzing4052 the formatting on a random selection of messages could spin the group4053 into a number of irrelevant side discussions.4055 Satisfied with our work, I closed up my satchel and we vacated the4056 picnic area. Using a public access point had made our insertion4057 untraceable.4059 "No end until victory," Piro said, reciting the old Gender Smurf4060 credo.4062 "It should be interesting to see how they react to our efforts," I4063 offered.4065 Piro quietly nursed his beer.4067 "I just hope these guys don't fly completely off the handle. Their4068 tactics are entirely unpredictable."4070 "Truth," I said.4072 We fell into silence for a few moments, each of us contemplating the4073 notion of blue-skinned rioters storming the public schools, smurfing4074 their way into the girl's restrooms.4076 "I have to admit I find their sexual practices disgusting," Piro said4077 at last.4079 "Hey, you'll get no argument from me. But so long as they remain in4080 their hovels they're not doing anything illegal."4082 "The whole reason we're involved with this mess is precisely because4083 they do sometimes leave their hovels."4085 The discussion usually tended in this direction. I set them up and my4086 partner knocked them down. Point to Piro.4088 "I suppose there is a fear that their culture will spread, put down4089 roots in the urban centers. No one really cares about a local cult,4090 but now that they're making inroads in the national media..."4092 "I'll say it again: disgusting," Piro repeated.4094 A Gender Smurf entered the room and made a beeline for the bar. He sat4095 himself down on a stool right next to Piro.4097 "You guys ever thought of going blue?" he asked, by way of4098 introduction.4100 I clutched Piro's shoulder as he reached for his sidearm."Don't you4101 people know Peyo was a Satanist!" he spat out, struggling against my4102 grip.4104 "We're not interested," I said, intensifying my stare to indicate we4105 would brook no further discussion. We got up to leave.4107 Three hours later Piro was still arguing with Bob, the Gender Smurf.4109 "What's the big deal? Blue skin is as healthy and safe as bare4110 hands... Tell me, how would'flesh color' have protected that gentleman4111 over there or anyone else from'runaway shopping carts' or the other4112 so-called'dangers' you've enumerated? Well-adjusted, blue skin can4113 actually withstand quite hazardous environments... It's amazing how4114 paranoid most people are here in North America. You should try going4115 blue outside sometime, it feels great and it's nowhere nearly as4116 dangerous as most people seem to assume. I've been doing it for nearly4117 fifteen years, up in Canada, and my skin is in great shape. I'm4118 healthy as a horse. Open your minds, gentlemen!"4120 "What about SPF," Piro asked, resigned to his fate as the lone voice4121 of reason in the discussion. I refused to participate.4123 "This calls for a two-part argument," said Bob."One: One more reason4124 I'm really glad I don't live in the U.S.I'd really hate for others to4125 be telling me what color I can and can't be when I'm spending my money4126 at their store. So much for'The Land Of The Free.' The'No Blues'4127 policy does not have anything to do with health protection or laws. It4128 is a double standard created by corporations to enforce dress codes;4129 designed only to create a business'image.' Unfortunately, that kind of4130 stupid mentality is getting contagious up in Canada."4132 Bob indicated the placement of quotation marks with his fingers.4134 When no one objected to his first point, he continued.4136 "Two: Again, I don't understand how people think flimsy, flesh colored4137 skin (which seems to be totally okay at most places of business, all4138 over) can protect them from any of the'horrible' things they could4139 catch or the usual hazards on the streets. In fact, some of the4140 so-called normal shoes people wear (platform shoes, pointy, etc.) pose4141 a greater threat to someone's health than actually walking around4142 outdoors with blue skin! For more information on how going blue is not4143 only okay but is also good for you, please surf to:4144 groups.thegreen/albert.lunsfordA U.S. based organization of people4145 who go blue as a lifestyle choice."4147 Finally, I had to but in.4149 "We don't. Spamming. Care."4151 Piro insisted on paying for Bob's drinks. I told him to take it out of4152 petty cashI wasn't going to try and justify this on my expense sheet.4153 He made the necessary preparations and transmitted payment.4155 "Do you see now why I discourage talking with these people," I asked,4156 punching Piro in the back.4158 "I'm not sure how to explain my objection to your attitude," Piro4159 said."It's not precisely that you're a racist, because these people4160 are not born blue. It's not really intolerance of their religion,4161 because, aside from their blue skin, white hats, and the fact that4162 they have sex with each other while wearing them, these people are not4163 fundamentally different from you or me."4165 I gave him a look.4167 "I'm just saying, there's no reason not to treat them like human4168 beings."4170 "Sure there is," I said."It's our job."4172 DISSIPATION4174 tags: 1963, plinth_mold, saito4176 Click, click, click. Twelve cubes of light, each flipping past the4177 other, rotating into the slot left vacant by its predecessor. The4178 purpose of this orchestration is to massage the cortex with4179 electromagnetic oscillations in the frequency range of 8-12Hz.4180 Patients appear to derive the most benefit, Saito has noted, from4181 working through the entire routine, pausing rhythmically at the4182 completion of each sequence to allow the electronics to catch up with4183 the procession of their focus.4185 But what are the effects, he wonders, if the patient identifies his4186 therapeutic parlor trick and susses out the mechanism? What happens4187 when the patient's conscious mind tracks the incoming data with4188 greater precision than the machinery? Click, click, click. Saito leans4189 forward. Perhaps this particular arrangement of cubes is novel. He4190 presses a button, freezing the arrangement in memory. To be studied4191 later.4193 He is pleased that the treatment has proven efficacious. For the vast4194 majority of his patients, anyway. Ironic, then, that he should feel so4195 powerless to alter the degree and substance of his own compulsive4196 addictions. Contemplating this, Saito produces a pocket lighter from4197 his coat and sears the flesh of his right hand. He stifles a primal4198 yelp, burying his shame in his handkerchief (not only the shame, but4199 the evidenceself-immolation is an offense not only against the state,4200 but against Saito's ancestors, for historical reasons peculiar to his4201 family). He then re-calibrates his equipment for the next patient.4203 The work he is carrying out could revolutionize treatment of numerous4204 conditions, given the eventual push into mass production. For4205 uncounted moments Saito shifts out of time, is aloft, floating on the4206 awareness of what he is so very close to achieving. He finds the4207 sensation is fleeting.4209 Saito adjusts his coiffure and smooths down the front of his white4210 coat, feeling his sweat cool against the skin of his wrists. If anyone4211 has seen him burning himself, it could result in the loss of his job.4213 But of what use is a job, at this point in his life? They've made his4214 impossible.4216 He has been forced to accept a number of compromises that limit the4217 efficacy of his design. He doubts that the latest cubes, in their4218 present form, will do much more than narcotize. Hypnotize. Amounting4219 to nothing more than an entertainment. Saito ruminates on the shambles4220 of his career before taking the lighter back out of his pocket and4221 burning several additional black marks into the flesh of his hand. He4222 tries to ignite his skin completely, but succeeds only in singeing the4223 sleeve of his coat. With the smoke, he imagines his kami slinking up4224 to the ceiling, dispersing across its surface, crawling in several4225 directions at once towards the duct work and vents.4227 A knockan abrupt punctuation to his thoughtsand the door swings4228 open, pulling his kami back down to the floor. So, they had seen him4229 after all. He knows now that the charade is concluded. His work is4230 finished.4232 As a result of his actions his patients will suffer. But then,4233 patients are always suffering.4235 With his expulsion, Saito's role in the project will be expunged.4236 Because his research is considered a state secret, there will be no4237 one to complain on his behalf. His data will be reclaimed and filtered4238 for an executive summary. And then, he suspects, quietly abandoned, as4239 it is clear that the process of weaponization would exceed the4240 available funding. This, at least, is some small cause for relief.4242 Still, he feels as if his kami has dissipated. There is nothing left4243 for them to kill.4245 This thought compels him to emit a tiny laugh. The thought dies,4246 strangled stillborn in his throat.4248 Saito flinches as the door swings inward.4250 Into the room bounds Plinth Mold, flanked by two of his most trusted4251 attorneys.4253 "Relax, Saito," says Plinth."Let's talk patents. I'm interested in4254 what you've been working on up here, all these years."4256 DUCHESS OF MASKS4258 tags: 1993, saito, violet4260 What I hold in my left hand is different from what I hold in my right.4261 What is on my face is different still. I have so many choices of how4262 to proceed.4264 At any moment an alarm will sound and I will be discovered. Sitting in4265 this chair, looking over these files, wearing whichever face has4266 fallen into place as they burst through the door. How will they see4267 me? It is of no consequence what they will think.4269 The gray backdrop of what I have learned here throws what I know of4270 our history into menacing relief; paper shadows under fluorescence and4271 lost thoughts in the drawer. Which eyes will I use to record these4272 discoveries? With no apparent prejudice I select a mask and peer4273 through its gates, rifling numerous papers and file folders spread4274 across the floor. A slender cord tethers me to the machine under my4275 cushioned seat, which interprets the ambient state of the room.4277 Through these eyes.4279 Oh, Saito. I am afraid that I cannot clean these tracks from the4280 floor. Your actions have plunged a polished knife into the swollen4281 belly of our tracking. It is, in fact, you who is splayed out here on4282 the floor. A descending pattern of guilt.4284 Would that I were here when it happened, all those years ago.4286 Would that you had listened.4288 CALL, WAITING4290 tags: 1977, eva, tab24292 The whole side of the building is green. I see I've come all the way4293 out here again for nothing.4295 I'm slow packing up my gear. The day has already evaporated around me.4296 Might as well soak the trip for billable hours.4298 This happens every week. I've yet to be given the go ahead on an4299 operationat all, actually. The work is easy, but dragging out my gear4300 just to sit here in the dark is humiliating. If I didn't need the4301 money I would withdraw my registration.4303 The sun has not quite vanished. There are still a smattering of locals4304 out and about on the street. I decide to finish my report here, while4305 I'm still on the scene. I finger the leaf out of my coat pocket and4306 expand its display. As soon as I light the screen, four messages4307 appear, each edging its neighbor out of the way in accordance with an4308 algorithm deemed intuitive by emotionally bereft software engineers.4309 Presently, desktop real estate on the hand-held is at a premium.4311 All of the messages are from Eva. Message 1: 16:01 Are you coming in4312 to work today?:)4313 Message 2: 16:03 I know you're in there, I can see the light from your4314 leaf reflecting in the mirror and peeking out of the curtains. Should4315 I send over a a tray of makizushi, or just keep it to myself?4316 Message 3: 16:07 FINE THEN! I'M GOING ON BREAK.4317 Message 4: 16:16 Why won't you talk to me?4319 There are numerous relevant answers to her question, but I'm not about4320 to entangle myself in a discussion. I close all four message windows4321 with an index finger and bring up the report template. Light from the4322 window continues to leak into my room, coaxing abstract reflections4323 from the dresser mirror. Dusk always wreaks havoc with my visor and4324 its ability to read the screen of my leaf. I end up leaving the visor4325 off, missing out on a lot of calculating I could be doing while I4326 pretend to work.4328 There is a sound I don't like, out in the hallway, and suddenly I've4329 got my pistol out, working my finger into its trigger guard and4330 inserting a clip of ammunition. After a few moments I put the firearm4331 back in my bag. It was only the landlady's cat.4333 So.4335 On to my report. 19:04 NOTHING HAS HAPPENED AGAIN. I RECEIVED THE4336 ALL-CLEAR SIGNAL AT 19:00 PER THE SCHEDULE AND SO RETURNED ALL4337 INSTRUMENTATION TO ITS STORAGE CASE AND SHUT DOWN THE TRANSMITTER.4338 SIGNING OFF TO RETURN TO THE REAL WORLD. EOF.4340 I encrypt the message with my thumb and send it on its way.4342 As I'm gathering my things, my mind wanders to my fellow agents,4343 spread out across diverse countries and kingdoms, who must also have4344 been called out and then sent back home without seeing any action. I4345 wonder about their frustrations with the tedious ins and outs of the4346 business. Surely we'd have a lot in common. Not that we'll ever meet.4348 I'm not long in dusting the chair and table. I wrap my shirt around my4349 hand, then lightly grip the doorknob and vacate before I'm noticed. My4350 visor tells me the landlady is rounding the corner, two blocks away,4351 returning home with a bag full of groceries. I follow the path my4352 visor has illuminated until I reach a public transport, which it flags4353 as off-limits. Instead, I hop into a taxi.4355 By the time I arrive at home I've decided against more studying. I4356 pull up a telescreen window and lean back in my bed, trying to get4357 some rest. I wonder who we did decide to blow up today. I'm always4358 kept close to potential action scenes, even if I'm never actually4359 ordered to intervene. It's probably the same with all of us.4361 I fall asleep just as the answer to my query hits the scroll. A group4362 of wailing women are brought up on screen to provide visual context4363 for the hour's headline story.4365 My visor flags the clip for my attention, but I don't remember what4366 happens next. It's unlikely I'll remember to review this in the4367 morning.4369 TRY MY PRODUCT4371 tags: 1979, coca_cola, do_wuh, motherfucker, perpetrator4373 The airbrushed cover was decidedly inferior to what Motherfucker had4374 seen before, attached to other printings of the same book. It was4375 outlandish. All swaddling clothes and taut, glistening muscles.4376 Objectifying the physiques that would result from pious observance,4377 appealing to the vanity of practitioners who were required, by4378 tradition and by law, to study it. Transparent ableism. This kind of4379 self-aggrandizing marketing disgusted him. Gazing upon its cover, it4380 was hard for Motherfucker to take the book seriously.4382 "Well, don't just sit there, all slack-jawed, however arresting that4383 dust jacket might be... Open the blessed book and let's get started."4385 Perpetrator adopted an instructional tone, as if to communicate that4386 Motherfucker's own study habits were somehow deficient, would somehow4387 land him in hot water. He was always prepared to dispense advice to4388 his lessers. In this case, the advice involved the interpretation of4389 the Bible, and the careful application of those interpretations to the4390 logical conundrums that permeated modern life. Perpetrator was only a4391 couple of months older than Motherfucker. He was a total spamhole.4393 "That's not what the book says at all," complained Motherfucker.4395 Perpetrator indicated the text with his finger."You're wrong. It's4396 right there on the page in front of you. Just look at the words."4398 "Yes, my eyes were directed at this material during the process of4399 forming my initial assessment," sighed Motherfucker.4401 "Well, one couldn't tell from hearing you recite it."4403 The pages dissolved into one another. Motherfucker couldn't sustain4404 his focus. He wondered briefly why the long lists of telephone numbers4405 that comprised this part of the Scriptures featured variable font4406 sizes, brilliant piping and color illustrations. Why all the fuss?4408 "Perpetrator, what is the point of these chapters that are mainly just4409 lists of telephone numbers and advertisements for insurance agents?"4411 "Motherfucker, those are the Sanctified Tribes of the Green. Your4412 remarks are veering dangerously close to blasphemy. Why do you have to4413 question every last detail, when it comes to our studies? Not4414 everything is a conspiracy!"4416 Motherfucker sighed again."It all just seems so arbitrary. Like4417 they've gone and copied pages out of an old telephone directory and4418 called it Scripture."4420 "Naturally that is what it seems like, Motherfucker, for that is4421 precisely what they've done."4423 "..."4425 "What," asked Perpetrator, finally and honestly befuddled."You didn't4426 know?"4428 "What do you mean what?" asked Motherfucker."Why did they copy pages4429 out of an old telephone directory and call it Scripture?"4431 "Because, Motherfucker, these manuscripts are illuminated."4433 "..."4435 "Look at the section headings. See how the Tribes are organized4436 according to service offerings, then alphabetized? These illustrations4437 are graphical elements that illuminate the organization of the data.4438 It renders the information discernible at a glance."4440 "..."4442 "Still you do not comprehend."4444 "No, I'm afraid I don't."4446 Perpetrator stalled for several seconds, allowing time for the the new4447 concepts to sink into Motherfucker's mind.4449 Minutes passed.4451 "Wait. Oh. Now I see," claimed Motherfucker."They're not so old as to4452 be presented as text-only, like the original Scriptures. These pages4453 contain source code and meta data."4455 "That is correct."4457 "I guess that makes sense."4459 "Good, Motherfucker," said Perpetrator."Now we're making progress!"4461 But Motherfucker still seemed to be confused.4463 "We've wasted enough time on the display elements. Please return to4464 the previous chapter and read aloud."4466 "Son of a bitch. You know I'm not comfortable reading aloud."4468 "Okay then, I will read aloud to you," resolved Perpetrator, training4469 his standard, disdainful stare into the pupils of Motherfucker's eyes.4471 Throat cleared, he began.4473 "Newton wrote:4475 any forces whatsoever, and of the forces required to produce any4476 motion... and therefore I offer this work as the mathematical4477 principles of philosophy, for the whole burden of philosophy seems to4478 consist in this from the phenomena of motions to investigate the4479 forces of nature, and then from these forces to demonstrate the other4480 phenomena...4482 "Yeah, right," said Motherfucker.4484 "What, you don't believe him? Here, what do the footnotes say?"4486 From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has4487 been defined, that 1 + 1 = 2.4489 "It also says that the text in question wasn't always a part of this4490 chapter," finished Motherfucker.4492 "Honestly! And what year was this edition sourced?"4494 Pages flipped backwards.4496 "Twenty thirty-one. According to the information in the front."4498 "Then you see what I mean."4500 "No, not really."4502 It was going to be a long night.4504 Presently, Do Wuh entered the room, disrupting their studies. He was a4505 bit dirty from tumbling in the yard, and Perpetrator recoiled visibly4506 when at last he came fully into view.4508 "Do Wuh."4510 "Motherfucker, put that book down and let's go outside and play."4512 "Do Wuh." Perpetrator spoke the name more stiffly this time, as if it4513 were an accusation rather than an identity. His face contorted4514 menacingly, seeming very serious indeed.4516 "Shut up, Perp," cracked Do Wuh."Motherfucker, seriously, I'm sick of4517 this spam. Why don't you come outside with the rest of us."4519 "Oh, but to journey through the out of doors," lamented Motherfucker,4520 glancing woefully at Perpetrator."Perhaps we should take the book4521 outside, so we can all consult the rules if such a thing becomes4522 necessary."4524 A delicious pause.4526 "That's a good idea," nodded Perpetrator, his incessant, condescending4527 glare now softening, owing to the fact that he was outnumbered. In4528 spite of the rigid persona he projected, he knew when an argument was4529 a lost cause. Besides, it was more likely that the others would4530 stumble into diligent study if he and Motherfucker first worked to4531 gain their respect by participating in their aimless, physical games.4533 "Whatever," said Do Wuh."You two are going to go blind, sitting in4534 here playing with that book all the time."4536 "Unlikely," remarked Perpetrator.4538 "Actually, that's a myth," offered Motherfucker.4540 Do Wuh slammed the door on his way out.4542 Outside, lawnmowers hovered in the distance. Uh Huh and Coca Cola were4543 already on the field, caked with dirt. It behooved Perpetrator to4544 comment on their slovenly appearance.4546 "Those are your good clothes, are they not?"4548 "Shut up, Perp," said Coca Cola.4550 "Okay, there's five of us here and we only need four. Perp, you're4551 out."4553 "I didn't want to play in the first place!"4555 "Then everybody wins," said Coca Cola, laughing.4557 Perpetrator sat down with his book and began to leaf through its4558 pages, focusing intently on the text. He de-fogged his glasses with4559 the corner of his shirt and chewed his fingernail as he read.4561 "Spam them all. I'm studying!" he thought.4563 "Indeed," replied a voice that wasn't there.4565 Perpetrator's eyes grew large as the gold Daytons on his father's4566 Impala.4568 "Intriguing," he thought to himself, and continued with his reading of4569 the Scriptures.4571 OLD MOLD4573 tags: 1861, haus_mold4575 By the winter of 1861 I hadn't seen another human being in six years.4576 My gun had rusted, but that didn't much matter as for the majority of4577 my time on the mountain I had been completely snowed in.4579 My graph hadn't perturbed itself in months. I thought it might have4580 simply shut itself down, protesting inactivity. I couldn't muster the4581 interest to scan its core for flaws. I considered cannibalizing it for4582 parts.4584 I melted some snow from the window and sloshed the water around in my4585 mouth. Brine. I spit it out on the wood floor. Opened the cabinets for4586 no real reason; there was no food left.4588 I contemplated trying to dig myself out.4590 I got my legs attached and unlocked the front door. A flat wall of4591 beige snow, suspended where the sunshine should have been.4593 Voices, from behind the wall.4595 My first thoughts ran to annoyance. I hoped they would move on. Anyone4596 up here at this time of year could only be seeking after help. Two4597 voices meant they would be unlikely to take no for an answer from a4598 lone hermit such as myself.4600 A gloved hand poked through the snow, groping around as if to stave4601 off asphyxiation.4603 I prepared myself for unwanted conversation.4605 The strangers were polite. Dug out the front step. Offered me4606 provisions when they noticed I didn't even have a stove for cooking. I4607 distracted them with talk of the astronomical data I had been4608 collecting. The younger fellow was able to follow along to some4609 extent, but both seemed lacking in the fundamentals so I let the4610 subject drop.4612 I do not recall now which of them first broached the topic of their4613 extra horse, but they talked me into stepping out front to inspect its4614 injury.4616 The reader will have seen this coming. I was several paces into the4617 front snow drift when I heard the door lock behind me.4619 Their provisions were still loaded onto their horses.4621 Their mistake.4623 I ran some calculations in my head and decided that the horses could4624 probably make it into town. It did take the better part of the day to4625 make the journey.4627 Everything had changed. The general store had expanded to include a4628 bar and eatery. The grand hotel was now a school house. Inside the old4629 court building, the whores were now wearing shoes. No one seemed to4630 recognize me.4632 I bartered the two oldest horses for a new rifle, a flint and a sewing4633 needle. I wouldn't need food. I made love to a whore in order to blend4634 in with the other drifters; it was frowned upon by the constabulary to4635 leave town without first engaging the local labor pool. Civilization4636 and tradition had conspired to keep me within city limits until after4637 dark.4639 I fell asleep without replacing my eye patch.4641 When I woke up, it was gone.4643 "'Haus Mold,'" laughed the hotel manager, reading from my card."Your4644 name's a joke, right?"4646 "It's an Indian name," I said.4648 My bad eye focused on him and I assumed he must have caught a glimpse4649 of the internal mechanism because he started when it whirred to life.4651 "Right. You're an injun." He gestured sarcastically as if he were4652 jerking off.4654 I glanced over at his daughter. The whore I had bedded. He noticed4655 this and his voice trailed off.4657 As my boots hit the dirt outside the hotel, the snow was just starting4658 to pick up. The first big storms up the mountain would have rolled in4659 the night before. The pass would be buried until spring.4661 I made a backup of myself and dropped it in the mail to New York. Just4662 in case.4664 As I approached my horse, a shot rang out. Its echo clashed against4665 the wooden slats of the general store, the school and the casino. My4666 horse tipped over like a grandfather clock, brains pushing out of its4667 impacted eye socket. I noted that we had both contrived to lose the4668 same eye.4670 I turned and raised my new rifle, returned fire. It was no surprise to4671 me who I'd killed.4673 "Fair fight!" some idiot exclaimed.4675 "Squash it," I barked."Increase the peace."4677 I rode west. Once out of town, I removed my clothing and walked beside4678 my horse.4680 The snow eventually gave way to desert.4682 FAST4684 tags: 4086, albert_lunsford, piro, shit_mold4686 There are folded bits of me coming off. The heated stress in the room4687 has peeled back the edges of my face and I think that the human glue4688 underneath is melting away...4690 In four minutes I will leave for the day, cutting through the steam to4691 the outer door of my compartment. In four minutes, I will sleep.4693 Well, no.4695 The stacks of leaves are cleared. I've fought off the last bits of4696 synthetic sick from the foodstuffs in the office pantry. But the4697 vending machines haven't been refilled in almost a month, and the food4698 ports back up when there isn't anyone around to place orders. I'm in4699 the same boat in my quartersI try to stay on the button and make due4700 with what I can coax from the machines (I'm always working), but it's4701 hard to keep myself awake when I'm always so hungry.4703 The last of the leaves put away, I can now turn down my screens and4704 cover my seat for the morning decontamination cycle. It seems I've4705 missed one; a straggler. The little leaf confronts me, cross to have4706 been overlooked. I find it hunkered down, nearly collapsed into a pile4707 of itself, casting an agitated shadow on the carpet. Its facing edge4708 wavers in and out of focus in the reduced lighting. I regard it4709 blankly and then crush it with my heel.4711 Next: The King's quarters, which must also be purged of filth.4713 I pull up an icon of Albert Lunsford and meditate on the seventh book4714 of volume four. Walking On The Moon.4716 It is Ramadan, and everyone is gone.4718 The station turns.4720 SELECTION4722 tags: 2179, massive_fictions, rimbaud, stanley4724 All of this was not going to work for him anymore. It was coming down4725 around his ankles. His output had exceeded his company's resources,4726 and his private prospects were taking a nosedive as well. He could4727 hardly pay himself to write. Without that weekly stipend from MASSIVE4728 FICTIONS, he wasn't going to make rent on the storage facility for his4729 collections. One unwelcome change blurred into another, and in short4730 order, the accumulated results were overwhelming to contemplate.4732 Rimbaud passed Stanley on the fifty-fourth floor and tipped his hat.4733 Stanley was probably off to tinker with more of hiswhat had he called4734 them martial simulations. What a thought; larping about as if to4735 train for war. But, this was Stanley, and, after all, this was one of4736 Stanley's interests. No harm was being done, in any case.4738 As he navigated the spiraling path, the requisite plying of a new4739 editor at some other ragwhat other rags were even leftwas very much4740 on his mind. A crease formed across his forehead as he alit gently on4741 the elevator, negotiating the physical geometry with his body whilst4742 simultaneously evaluating potential budget configurations in his mind.4743 Duality. Synchronous operation. He watched the frothing crowd of his4744 countrymen, churning to and fro along the pathways below. They4745 resembled nothing so much as beer suds sloshing in a bed of potting4746 soil. And it was a very long way down. Petalsfloorswhipped by4747 silently, causing the sun to blink, languidly, somewhere near the4748 horizon.4750 Rimbaud stood amongst his fellow salarymen and mused that,4751 self-evidently, the architecture of their day would have to be4752 considered superior to that of any previous era. From his studies he4753 recalled that, in centuries past, forays had been made into evolving4754 wholly organic super-structures, but that it had taken the better part4755 of a four hundred yearsbringing the public state-of-the-art almost up4756 to date with that of his own great-grandfather's famous, proprietary4757 workbefore emergent plant mimicry was fully integrated into the4758 mainstream of public works. While it was true that most citizen4759 hovelseven todayevinced the brute angles and sharp corners4760 characteristic of the twentieth century's most prolific architects4761 (perhaps out of some sense of fealty to tradition, since,4762 structurally, such arbitrary designs were no longer strictly4763 necessary), in his own lifetime he had witnessed the marvelous4764 transformation of municipal buildings from great, lumbering and4765 inefficient storage containers into organic, plebeian tangles of4766 smoothly curving branches, stems and flowering foyers. Why, his own4767 quarters were situated within just such a fractal space! Rimbaud had4768 to remind himself that the upper-most levels of these buildings, or,4769 more appropriately, growths, were still reserved for the business4770 classes and their various concerns. He observed with some satisfaction4771 that these concessions were small sacrifice when weighed against the4772 general improvements to the Commons such commerce inevitably yielded.4773 The slums were already starting to grow over.4775 The express elevator distended and Rimbaud disembarked towards an4776 identification booth. He slid into a vacant pod and hooked his legs4777 around the seating apparatus as his entire body was rotated into4778 position. From there, his awareness shifted back to Home. Thus4779 transported, he prepared his evening meal to the accompaniment of a4780 historical recording. His pleasure was the Existentialist literature4781 of the mid- twentieth century, and he preferred to track the audio4782 wholly eyes-free while handling his cooking materials. Sophistry,4783 perhaps, but well within the curve of the culturally acceptable4784 plotted for him by his trusted almanack.4786 Pulsing from the far counter came a notice that his tuna had thawed.4787 Rimbaud slid to the other side of his pod and began eating pieces of4788 raw fish. From an adjacent curved plate he selected a number of4789 additional food items to link into his meal. By running a finger4790 across the stamen of the plate, Rimbaud seasoned the course to his4791 liking. He chose some vegetables and elected to submerse them in one4792 half-ounce of wood-aged high-fructose corn syrup. He flattered himself4793 that his tastes were truly refined.4795 The 8-bit alarm drones Rimbaud had programmed for eight o'clock (a4796 clever recursive reference, he had thought) sounded, softly, and he4797 knew then that it was time to replace the dishes within their folds4798 and return to work. Rimbaud made a gesture towards the door, and the4799 sunlight streaming in from above shifted, gave way to the interior of4800 his encephaloid pod. Identification. He untangled his legs and got4801 himself up, running a hand through his mussed hair and replacing his4802 felt cap. He smoothed down his jacket and made his way back through4803 the forest of salarymen, climbing once again into the express4804 elevator. As he flitted up the stem of the building, he thought to4805 himself that his lunch periods seemed shorter and shorter as his life4806 progressed. As he grew objectively older.4808 Finally reaching his objective at the very top of the building,4809 Rimbaud took stock of the vast garden spread out across the city4810 below. Millions of his fellow countrymen were busy going about their4811 daily tasks, worker bees distributing commercially registered pollen.4812 None questioning themselves as he did. None of them devoting the scant4813 moments of their free time to comparing themselves unfavorably with4814 American negroes of centuries past. Was his toil really so4815 objectionable as all that? Such nonsense that he allowed to enter his4816 mind.4818 Rimbaud then reflected upon his appearance, and suddenly he was4819 grossly ashamed. He wiped away the stray rivulets of sweat from his4820 forehead and pulled the end of his antique almanack slightly out of4821 his breast pocket, cater-corner, plainly into the view of casual4822 passers-by. Moribund regrets of servitude would not cast a pallor upon4823 his demeanor. I have a choice in this matter, he thought. My suffering4824 is mine, and mine alone.4826 As the elevator distended once more, Rimbaud was bathed in the bright,4827 sympathetic air of photosynthesis made comprehensible.4829 As was his usual habit, he pushed the negative thoughts from his mind,4830 choosing instead to consider the significance of beautiful flowers.4832 SPEED GRADING4834 tags: 4086, piro, tab24836 I'm cleaning out the King's cupboards when I run across some old4837 detritus that he had thought it would be a good idea to bring along4838 with him to the station.4840 Thomas.4842 According to legend, he wrote this paper for a grade school4843 assignment. As I recall, it triggered unrest amongst the faculty. In4844 the absence of advanced philosophical technology, papers written by4845 school children wielded the capability to disrupt classroom4846 activities.4848 The popular image of Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus4849 Theophilus Mozart is inaccurate to the point of4850 ridiculousness. However, this has not prevented a4851 multiplicity of interpretations from emerging to surround his4852 work. Ludwig von Kochel's contrived naming convention has4853 even been absorbed into the text of Mozart's published scores,4854 sans any indication that Herr Mozart did not create these4855 titles himself. Beneath the layers of false attribution lies4856 a man (J. C. W. T. M.) whose own prodigious correspondence is4857 often the last resource consulted by would-be experts. Thus,4858 the common conception of the silly-voiced man-child, idiot4859 savant dominates the commentary upon his work even to this4860 day. Figures such as Mozart are invoked almost as articles of4861 our language, employed as symbols of narratives larger than4862 the mere facts of their corporeal existence. This phenomenon4863 renders any deeper investigation into the men themselves a4864 trifling diversion, an unnecessary digression at best. When4865 one appears to be referencing a rich study of the available4866 facts, what one is too often doing, instead, is invoking the4867 surface texture of popular memory (most often grossly4868 misconstrued, but constituting a shared culture nonetheless).4869 It is shamefully dishonest to put forward such vagary as4870 learned discourse. But. Is this lamentable transgression so4871 far removed from the process of creating words, themselves? I4872 beseech the thoughtful reader to consider that language, to4873 begin with, is merely a collection of consensual, codified4874 misunderstandings. I will now shift contexts and refer to the4875 decades-long correspondence between the Americans Thomas4876 Jefferson and John Adams. It is unlikely that the modern4877 reader is familiar with these gentlemen. Sadly, the average4878 Federalist/Anti-Federalist scholar is likewise ignorant of4879 their existence. And yet, it must be pointed out, portions of4880 their correspondence have been, since 1926, accepted into the4881 Scriptures. One recoils at the cognitive dissonance; this4882 vast field of Green scholarship, donning its own willfully4883 fogged-over spectacles in order to better scrawl out its blind4884 declarations. It is deemed acceptable to reference the icons4885 of culture by name or by clique, but it is seen as4886 counterproductive to make clearly understood precisely what it4887 is one is trying to say. Of course, not all manglings of the4888 language are intentional, and not all such manglings are4889 equally deceptive. Some people just don't care about the4890 Bible. There persists an interplay between the rigorous4891 accuracy that is ostensibly sought after and the broad4892 symbolism that is most easily digested. I am prepared to4893 admit that in my own work I have yet to satisfactorily bridge4894 these disparate vectors of focus. Even an isolated, outlying4895 case refuses to make itself known. For example, I am capable4896 of pursuing either individual goal with exceeding stamina and4897 skill, and yet I am resigned to my failure in striking a4898 balance between the two as a whole. I have discovered no4899 happy synthesis. No congenial associations between the two4900 paths. The network betwixt particle and wave refuses to4901 materialize. Redoubled focus simply dissolves into a migraine4902 headache. This, then, is the eternal struggle. The Mozart of4903 reality versus the Mozart of history. Why read the entirety4904 of Jefferson's correspondence when a blind quotation will4905 suffice? As I compare like with unlike, I stumble upon the4906 realization that the vision of others, is, by necessity,4907 likewise obstructed. This myopia that afflicts me is not an4908 invention, a deficiency particular to my person. All of our4909 screens are thus occluded, whether we recognize it or not. In4910 our minds, the eminence of the signifier shall always eclipse4911 that of the signified. Ironically, we trip repeatedly over4912 this blunt limitation, which itself probably evolved as a4913 means to facilitate communication. What I'm trying to say is,4914 stop trying to tell me what I mean. In this paper I have4915 demonstrated the inherent political power of dictionaries.4916 The careful reader will adjust his ambitions accordingly.4919 I fold the leaf and replace it within its compartment. We are way4920 beyond these sorts of observations by now, Thomas. Today I would mark4921 this paper with a C-, at best. But, you wrote for your time. Some4922 inaccuracies and the overall sparseness of detail may be forgiven. I4923 confirm the historical grade (A-) by thumbprint and wave away the4924 hovering screen.4926 While I was a grading, something in the room has changed. A faint4927 white light illuminates the port hole of the King's quarters.4929 I make my way over to investigate the disturbance.4931 ANALYSIS4933 tags: 2182, rimbaud, violet4935 There was a slow dithering moment before it all coalesced and came4936 upon him like a spilled dinner tray. All of the air went out of him at4937 once. What the tiny viewscreen showed him would certainly mean the end4938 of his tenure; if not his career as an instructor of children's4939 literature.4941 Little Violet reading from her diary.4943 He clutched at the front pocket on his shirt for tobacco. Must keep4944 watch. (Can't watch.) He ran a knotted hand through his auburn strands4945 (or lack thereof) and pulled at the lobe of his ear while blue smoke4946 ran fingers of its own down his cheek, mocking him tenderly.4948 Another minute, maybe less.4950 As Violet brought her reading to a close, the other children began to4951 text each other about the performance, proceeding to update their4952 class journals as they waited for a response. The classroom was devoid4953 of snickers. The group had broken out into mad hysterics of flat4954 silence. Rimbaud's attention was still rapt.4956 What Violet had said.4958 He pocketed the monitor and poked his cigarette into a receptacle.4959 Attached his glasses and pushed back through the heavy air of the4960 empty hallway. Resumed his classroom.4962 She'd kept quiet.4964 In spite of her innuendo, bald threats, blatant comminations,4965 exaggerated bluster, roundabout disparagement; she hadn't shared her4966 scathing review of his first novel with the class.4968 That was good.4970 That was a good girl.4972 Rimaud considered staying on for the semester.4974 He thought: Those who can't, teach.4976 The students remained silent as he entered.4978 JERRYMANDER FALLS4980 tags: 1868, haus_mold, jerrymander_mold4982 The polls had closed and so Jerrymander did the only thing he knew how4983 to do, aside from campaigning, which was to crack open a beer and down4984 the whole thing in one gulp.4986 The beverage exhibited no effect upon his overweight, mechanical body.4988 Grover fucking Cleveland! he growled.4990 Opening another can, he decided that America deserved a Democrat.4992 Fuck'em, he mumbled.4994 "Stop pretending to be drunk."4996 Haus Mold stood in the doorway, examining Jerrymander's hotel room.4997 "Where are your people," he asked.4999 "I sent them away. There's no point in listening to their excuses."5001 "You seem to be taking this awfully personally."5003 "So what."5005 Jerrymander put down his beer can and paced the circumference of the5006 curved room.5008 "Something troubles me about this election," he said at last.5010 "Sure. You didn't win."5012 Jerrymander scowled.5014 The horse looked worried. It seemed to sag under the weight of5015 Jerrymander's saddle.5017 "There's no reason for you to leave town over this," Haus pleaded.5019 "Fuck'em," was all Jerrymander would say. He repeated it quietly5020 several times before trailing off into belligerent silence.5022 Dust caught in Haus' face and false teeth as the horse made a go of5023 things.5025 Jerrymander didn't look back.5027 Once the old man was gone, Haus retreated to his hotel room and laid5028 down on his bed. The name kept coming back to him. Jerrymander Falls.5030 He unlatched his satchel and checked the integrity of the Mold backups5031 for the third time that day.5033 Haus finally made up his mind. He took out his pen and got started on5034 the paperwork.5036 Hard reboot.5038 VISUAL RHETORIC5040 tags: 1983, 4086, piro, tab25042 Thomas Bright's disembodied head regarded me from the other side of5043 the port hole.5045 I made a little waving gesture and he smiled.5047 "Don't just stand there," he said."You've got to help me!"5049 First of all, they're not voices. In the fall of 1980, fast5050 approaching my twenty-third birthday, I had become enamored5051 with the irrational certainty that something dramatically and5052 disturbingly... well, bad... was going to happen during the5053 course of the coming year. I had weathered a series of5054 nightmares about tornadoes and hurricanes, which had lately5055 been joined by a progression of graphically detailed plane5056 crashes. Eventually, the two dream-streams collided and5057 morphed into a single, recurring narrative. The twin5058 tornadoes (one comprised of dust and the other comprised of5059 water) inched down a gravel road to demolish a giant diorama5060 of Manhattan. This diorama had been laid out like a5061 room-sized map across the altar of the Methodist church I5062 attended as a child. Curious, right? I could see the5063 whirlwinds of destruction making their way slowly towards the5064 church. A seemingly random sampling of individuals I'd known5065 throughout my childhood each knelt down on the floor with me,5066 playing with an assortment of plastic military5067 toysplanesflying them around the diorama city. We would5068 throw the toy planes like footballs and crash them into the5069 buildings. This distracted us from the impending arrival of5070 the tornadoes. The floor of the giant map was complete with a5071 legend, compass, and an elaborate island airstrip (which5072 seemed to be noticed only by me). Usually, the dream cut off5073 when I spotted the island and walked over to stand on it. I5074 would invariably become convinced that there was something of5075 great importance buried beneath its surface. The last thing I5076 would see as I woke up would be an outline of the bold script5077 of the name of the island, stubbornly obscured by my feet. I5078 could never quite make out the words... Earlier in my5079 childhood, I had convinced myself that a number of disembodied5080 intelligences (perhaps the most intriguing of which was a5081 sentient idea referring to itself as the avatar of Sarcasm)5082 had repeatedly, and quite insistently, presented me with the5083 opportunity to become the living Anti-Christ. The world would5084 be delivered to me if only I were willing to perform a series5085 of simple tasks that would demonstrate my dedication to the5086 sentient idea's service. Horrified, I vehemently refused, and5087 took measures I believed would prevent my proposed political5088 career from ever getting far off the ground. To this day I5089 still can't secure a credit card. The tasks I was given were5090 to have been a simple set of mundane actions, which would have5091 harmed no one, and which would have caused me no undue5092 personal hardship. And yet, I was not enthused with this idea5093 of becoming the personification of a Scriptural prophecy whose5094 study had generated such distress in me as a child. Sarcasm5095 was amused, andwellit would sarcastically counter my adamant5096 refusals by drilling vivid images of the nuclear holocaust5097 described in the book of Revelation directly into my brain. I5098 have to say, it didn't take long for the Biblical stuff to5099 wear thin. By 1975 I had become convinced that these images5100 depicted the aftermath of attacks perpetrated against the5101 United States by Islamic terrorists. I was certain that these5102 attacks would occur sometime within the next fifty years. I5103 privately told my girlfriend at the time that the next major5104 war involving the United States would be centered upon Iraq,5105 and that I hoped conscription would not be re-instated (as it5106 had been in my 'vision,' or whatever you want to call it),5107 because I was certain that I would be called up by my father's5108 employers and sent off to... well, there was more. Let's5109 just say there was more. In light of all this, I wasn't sure5110 I could keep saying no to Sarcasm forever. Of course, while I5111 was well aware that this was all make-believemade-up5112 nonsensethe impact it had upon my disposition and outlook was5113 similar to what might have been expected if the situation had,5114 in fact, been real. The metaphorical tabs had started fitting5115 into the metaphorical slots and they had become impossible to5116 ignore, as the resulting papercraft devices had begun to made5117 themselves apparent everywhere I looked. I was starting to5118 detect the seams in the walls. Stress points in theoretical5119 structures I had never before thought to examine. Perhaps5120 here I should pause and explain how this communication between5121 myself and Sarcasm most often took form. Generally, I do not5122 think in words. Cognition for me has always involved a series5123 of images which fit together as multidimensional shapes, each5124 distinguished by size, color and texture rather than by5125 subject matter or meaning. For example, for as long as I can5126 remember, I have associated certain colors with the numerals5127 zero through nine. Zero is white, one is black, two is5128 yellow, three is orange, four is blue, five is redand so on.5129 As a youth I would store and retrieve long strings of5130 arbitrary numbers simply by arranging the colored blocks into5131 an appropriate collage and committing said collage to visual5132 memory. So, groups of numbers naturally took on an aesthetic5133 as well as a symbolic meaning. Four quarters (yellow-red,5134 yellow-red, yellow-red, yellow-red) made up one dollar5135 (black-white-white). Adding or subtracting blocks of colors5136 was faster for me than learning'real' math. It was mostly a5137 subconscious substitution, but it worked approximately up5138 until middle school, when we started to be taught branches of5139 mathematics that cannot typically be solved'all in your head.'5140 I had read an article in POPULAR SCIENCE or SCIENTIFIC5141 AMERICAN or some other magazine around this time that stated5142 the structure of the human brain made it impossible to solve5143 complex algebra or geometry problems by simply thinking about5144 them visually. Well, this had the unfortunate stink of truth5145 about it, whether it was true or not, and I was sold on the5146 idea from that moment forward. To this day, the colors go5147 dead when I try to envision linear equations. Silly, right?5148 Anyway. Incoming ideas typically flow across the ridges,5149 valleys and other topographical surfaces of my consciousness5150 and are, as I said, molded into multidimensional shapes that5151 are then stored as visual memories. Reasoning and deduction5152 are simply a matter of arranging these shapes into5153 aesthetically'correct' sequences and compositions. Somehow,5154 this visual logic seems to map. It's a firm validation of the5155 Platonic whateveryoucallit. Placing all of my shapes into5156 their natural positions, and then abstracting that visual5157 record into a sequence of English words and phrases which are5158 human-readable, seems to produce lucid thought that I am often5159 told is remarkable for its clarity and insight. Or, perhaps5160 I'm merely deluding myself and I'm only mimicking the bits of5161 language that I've managed to pick up from normal humans after5162 hearing the words repeated over and over again. Maybe this is5163 all crap. Either way, I've somehow managed to scratch out a5164 modest living for close to twenty-seven years. No one has had5165 to help me wipe my own ass. I often wonder if other human5166 beings process language the same way that I do, but have5167 merely failed to articulate the process in a coherent manner.5168 Perhaps they create descriptions of their thought processes5169 out of the more typical, flawed vernaculars, which5170 unfortunately proceeds to shape their cognition and leave them5171 striving to fulfill those false accounts with aggressive5172 phenomenological action. All of this would of course be at5173 the expense of their own more naturally occurring mental5174 rhythms. The virus of language is a parasite feeding on the5175 fat of the human mind. In my case, my own communications with5176 the archetypal concepts of Sarcasm and Messiah seems to have5177 occurred on the sub-linguistic level of colors and shapes,5178 which I have come to believe is nearer to our wetware than the5179 instruction sets (in this case, the English language) with5180 which we are trained from birth to hypnotize ourselves. What5181 if, through some fundamentally subterranean mechanism, we are5182 unconsciously grouping items into structures that alter our5183 English even before it bubbles into our internal stream of5184 consciousness? This is to say nothing of what inevitably5185 comes spurting out of our mouths. It was a sudden5186 preponderance of recognizable patterns in my own linguistic5187 reflexesit seemed that someone had been sleeping in my bed,5188 if you willwhich, when decoded into English, produced a5189 convincing resemblance to direct communication between myself5190 and an outside force. Was it apophenia? Well, who can say?5191 While it is true that there is an element of divining at play,5192 the elaborate motifs which seemed to emerge in my reflexive5193 patterns of thought cannot merely be dismissed as broadcast5194 irritants, disrupting my mental space like so much rumbling of5195 bass from a car down the street. These patterns I've been5196 describing would also respond to my probing. That is to say,5197 they would respond intelligibly. Two-way communication was5198 observed to occur. Hence my references to a running dialogue5199 between myself and the constructs. Hence my mention of their5200 offers and of my rejections. Back at the end of the world,5201 having taken several months to mull over the myriad of5202 proportions and relationships which were emerging, screeching5203 like peacocks from the amorphous collection of data swirling5204 about in my brain case, fall, 1980, finally clawed its way5205 into view. I awoke one September morning full of the5206 realization that I had somehow crept into my twenty-third5207 year, relatively healthy and still firmly planted upon the5208 surface of the planet. Characteristically, my right-brain5209 responded to this happy circumstance by cutting loose a sudden5210 inundation of random stimulation. Quantum foam fired in the5211 widest possible distribution pattern. My left-brain, shocked5212 that this affront had issued from its own5213 squirrel-in-the-wheel sibling, spontaneously divined a5214 slipshod, though astonishingly practical organizational5215 grammar with which to categorize all of the incoming data. A5216 dazzling display of battlefield competence, to be sure, but5217 the flow of information was steadily increasing. My5218 left-brain, bristling now at how quickly its attempts at order5219 had fallen into ruin, burrowed itself ever more deeply into5220 the heaving bosom of... labor politics. To whit: lacking5221 further resources, the faculties of my mind voted to enact an5222 emergency work stoppage. A rhetorical picket line was hastily5223 erected between the two cranial hemispheres. Turning to all5224 of this hubbub consciously for the first time, I (that is to5225 say, me) examined said goings-on, and after a certain period5226 of solemn consideration, decided that union busting was more5227 trouble than it was worth. I would simply pretend that the5228 situation did not exist. I would ignore my predicament and5229 avert my attention to whatever new, interesting and (no doubt)5230 more entertaining thoughts were sure to come traipsing along.5231 My left-brain and right-brain could resolve their differences5232 without my help. My friend, I say this plainly and it is5233 true: ideas are a dime a dozen. Ignore one, and ten thousand5234 spring up to take its place. If I do not care for the5235 direction of a given narrative, I delete it. Even if the5236 ideas do address me audibly and directly, well, that doesn't5237 mean I am bound to listen. I don't owe them anything, least5238 of all a reply. Life is too short to indulge every pointless5239 discrepancy of visual-spatial logic. Let them try to overload5240 me. They can't force water into a plugged drain. Getting5241 drawn into these whirlwinds is simply a waste of my time.5242 Better to pull the hood down over my face. Place my hands5243 over my ears. No, I am not available to come to the phone5244 right now, and please do not bother me again. Thank you for5245 your consideration. Pray, what's for dinner? The year slunk5246 by. I gained skill and efficiency at ignoring the stacks of5247 interlocking realities. Under the stern tutelage of that5248 conscientious ringmaster, ignorance, the serendipitous5249 connections began to fade. Mind the gap, right-brain, the5250 ringmaster would shout, and so on. This system checks and5251 balances kept the situation neatly under my control. Over5252 time, I devised a further arsenal of rhetorical tricks for5253 identifying and severing new visual-spatial connections even5254 before their roots could take hold. My techniques proved5255 surprisingly efficacious. Almost before I knew it, my5256 twenty-fourth birthday was upon me. I looked back on the5257 previous year with a certain contempt for the time spent5258 culling all of this useless cruft from the stream of my5259 thoughts. I was not getting much else done. But overall I5260 retained a sense of accomplishment. The occasional ray of5261 satisfaction seeped through. Gently drawing the curtain, the5262 fall sunshine felt good in my cold, gray room. The morning of5263 September 11, 1981, I awoke alone in my bed. I pulled sweet5264 breaths through a sincere smile and let the top of my head5265 rest against the cool metal bars of my bed frame. Before5266 opening my eyes, I mashed my face back into my pillow and5267 relished that I was finally (almost) home free. One more day5268 to go. And then it would all be over. Goodbye, twenty-three;5269 hello, twenty-four with an"l." I relaxed, sighed richly, and5270 thought to myself (in English), Well, I've made it. Nothing5271 horrendous is going to happen to me just because I've survived5272 to twenty-four years of age. I guess it's time to outgrow all5273 of this superstitious nonsense about the number twenty-three5274 and get on with my life. So what if the symbols and syntax of5275 temporal reality continue to combine obvious configurations5276 that seem to beg acknowledgment, comment and/or intervention?5277 I will ignore it all, straighten my posture and affirm that,5278 on the contrary, all of this 'clairvoyant' horseshit5279 and'spatial reasoning' bollocks has been nothing more than a5280 series of convenient hallucinations. It was really quite5281 simple, in the end, to walk away from the flood of data and to5282 get on with my life. So now then, I admonished myself, let's5283 get up, shave our face, and get the hell in to work before5284 we're late for our shift. I should say, it was quite a relief5285 to finally be rid of the shit-flinging, psychic monkey on my5286 back. No more looking for the seams in things. No more5287 seeing those seams whether I wanted to or not. From that5288 morning forward, with the aid of my trusted ringmaster,5289 ignorance, I would resolve to translate the multidimensional5290 shapes and colors of my thoughts into English prior to5291 becoming aware of them. I possessed the machinery. I could5292 ignore it all. Let God or the Devil sort it out. Life would5293 prove so much easier. Groggily, I pulled on my socks and made5294 my way into the living room. I clicked on the television just5295 in time to see a jetliner bury itself into the World Trade5296 Center and explode. I guess you could say that in that5297 moment, everything changed. So much for my upcoming vacation,5298 I thought to myself. Sarcasm had always been a great5299 practical joker.5301 All of this from the other side of the port hole.5303 I edged backwards, unconsciously.5305 Presently, awareness resumed and I leaped for the curtain. Tom's5306 babbling was cut off by the downward arc of my sleeve. I straightened.5307 I had barely escaped with my life.5309 Then nothing. Silence.5311 After a few moments, it seemed that the disturbance had faded. I5312 decided to take another peek. I inched over to the porthole and slowly5313 drew back the curtain.5315 That proved to be a mistake.5317 THE PUBLIC GREEN5319 tags: 2188, albert_lunsford, rimbaud5321 Redaction Day festivities were well underway by the time Rimbaud5322 arrived on the Public Green. Green Ladies, resplendent in their5323 traditional attire, ensured that every mug remained filled; or in any5324 case, that each did not remain empty for long. This was fortunate,5325 since a lot of important talking was taking place under the big5326 canvases. Tempers would buffer in the mugs.5328 Rimbaud approached a food tent and ran his eyes over the menu. I can't5329 eat here, he thought. He moved to another tent and found himself in5330 much the same predicament. Pork. Beef hearts. Nothing of substance.5331 Typically, there were no vegetables to be found at any of the stalls.5332 And the real animal flesh would only send him into allergic fits.5334 Near the edge of the Green, Rimbaud noticed a small group of children5335 huddled around a wounded animal. The creature seemed to be mechanical5336 in nature. Likely little more than an evolved toy. The young people5337 were painting designs on its exposed flesh with dabs of white mud. He5338 reflected that the mud in question normally anchored the grass of the5339 Public Green.5341 This Redaction Day, Rimbaud had promised himself only limited5342 interaction with his employees. But the flux of the crowd had made5343 that impossible, as every attendee was expected to issue a lively5344 greeting to whomever he passed in the aisles. Rimbaud observed that5345 standing in one place for too long would lead to being ground under by5346 the aggregate mob. Consequently, he'd kept moving and had already come5347 face to face with most of his subordinates several times.5349 What, exactly, he wondered, was really being redacted here? Rimbaud5350 surveyed the crowd and detected no sign of the ostensible paring away5351 of cumulative excess. To him, it seemed the surplus interactions were5352 multiplying.5354 A group of students had gathered on the Green to search for their5355 friend. As a regular participant in the Redaction Day preparations, it5356 was most unlike their companion to wander off just as his toil was5357 finally coming to fruition. But: vanish he had, and under the most5358 peculiar of circumstances. One moment he had been present, and the5359 next he had seemed to disappear without a trace.5361 At first Rimbaud could not avoid overhearing them. After a few moments5362 he could no longer prevent himself from joining in.5364 "Ask yourselves this," he said."Why is it that this man is in the5365 Off-White House? The majority of North Americans did not vote for him.5366 Why is he there? I tell you this morning that he is in the Off-White5367 House because God put him there. God put him there to lead not only5368 this nation but to lead the world in a time such as this."5370 "I"5372 Rimbaud stammered, unsure of himself.5374 "I don't know why I said that."5376 "El Nortes," one of the children remarked.5378 Something in Rimbaud caught on the phrase. Unraveled. He felt as if he5379 had lost control of his vocal chords.5381 "True enough. But there is a difference between quoting from academic5382 sources, which Albert mostly avoids, and quoting from mass media5383 sources (i.e., telescreen), which is mostly what Albert does. When he5384 approaches feminism as an intellectual construct, it doesn't bolster5385 his points to attack the watered-down, simplified, fatuous pablum that5386 passes for a given'movement' or strain of thought on the telescreen.5387 What he does by gathering all of these strains under the same umbrella5388 is akin to what journalists do when they headline articles about5389 Albert Lunsford's comics with blurbs like'Biff! Bam! Slap!'"5391 With this, he had captured the children's full attention. One of them5392 ventured a response.5394 "By my understanding, that is generally correct. But I do think there5395 is a sort of'trickle-down' effect from academia to popular culture.5396 Albert vacillates between crediting academia with benign progress on5397 the one hand and accusing it of the malicious destruction of society5398 on the other. But in both cases he acknowledges academia's5399 contribution to pop-feminism."5401 Rimbaud offered no objection, so the boy continued.5403 "It is true that the overwhelming preponderance of super-heroes in the5404 medium renders comics, for most people, a form that is strictly about5405 super-heroes. But the interesting thing with regards to Lunsford is5406 that, following his own logic, the aforementioned dominance of5407 super-heroes also renders Albert Lunsford, himself, an5408 atheist/marxist/feminist."5410 "Allow me to explain."5412 "Most comic books are about super-heroes. Therefore, comic books are5413 about super-heroes."5415 "Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists.5416 Therefore, comic books are about super-heroes and are created by5417 atheists."5419 "Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists5420 who are also feminists. Therefore, comic books are about super-heroes5421 and are created by atheists who are also feminists."5423 "You can see where this is leading, I'm sure."5425 "Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists5426 who are also feminists who are also marxists. Therefore, comic books5427 are about super-heroes and are created by atheists who are also5428 feminists who are also marxists."5430 "And finally... Albert Lunsford creates comic books. Therefore, Albert5431 Lunsford is an atheist and a feminist and a marxist, and his comic5432 book work is comprised exclusively of the all-ages adventures of5433 traditional American super-heroes."5435 "Clearly, if Albert does not wish to be associated with these5436 atheists, feminists, and/or marxists, as well as the sorts of people5437 who give two shits about super-heroes, he should stop referring to his5438 work as'comic books,' and/or abandon the medium entirely. Thus,5439 responsibility for his public image is placed squarely upon his own5440 shoulders. If he does not publicly disassociate himself from the5441 medium of comics, he is implicitly supporting the groups identified as5442 participants in the medium, and therefore society will have no choice5443 but to lump him in with them and treat him accordingly."5445 The boy who had first responded to Rimbaud raised his hand and5446 simultaneously resumed the conversation without waiting to be5447 acknowledged.5449 "But that's playing fast and loose with the terms we've already agreed5450 have specific meanings (as Albert himself does in so many areas, i.e.,5451 marxism, atheism, etc.). Albert doesn't qualify his statements the way5452 you are trying to do for him. He rejects the notion that there is any5453 difference at all between these classifications. Atheist, marxist,5454 feministto him, they're all the same thing. In this way, he's exactly5455 right that his arguments are'unassailable,' because he has completely5456 removed the ability to distinguish one concept from another."5458 "His way of approaching classification just doesn't scale. In fact,5459 this inability to scale is precisely why Albert, in other discussions,5460 has railed against the erosion of grammatical and syntactical rules in5461 the English language. Pretty soon, people are redrawing the boundaries5462 of what words mean to fit their arguments, which allows them to alter5463 history without even changing the text!"5465 Rimbaud offered his summation:"As with his enemies, Lunsford merely5466 distorts the context of a given discussion to support his5467 pre-determined thesis."5469 A boy who had been seated on the opposite side of the circle now stood5470 up and joined the discussion.5472 "Yes, and every time I would point out one of these collisions of5473 mutually exclusive claims, Albert would just say that the explanation5474 was self-evident to those who had already joined'his team.'"5476 Rimbaud:"And that's why, no matter how far he travels in search of new5477 ideas, he will only ever succeed in rediscovering the tropes he5478 brought along with him. He proceeds from the premise that he's5479 addressing emotional irrationality andsurprise of all surpriseshe5480 arrives at the'valuable confirmation' that he has indeed been5481 addressing emotional irrationality. Is he really seeking after Truth,5482 at all, or is he simply riffing on foregone conclusions? Well, it's a5483 bit of a trick question. He admits that he's merely riffing on5484 foregone conclusions! Every event, whatever the outcome, is merely new5485 evidence that he was right all along. And that's usually the totality5486 of his argument. I think, therefore you're wrong. Back in 1974, I5487 might have kept faith that his essays were leading up to something5488 meaningful. But how long am I expected to wait for the prize? There is5489 no there there. A smooth writing style will only carry you so far. He5490 kept, and keeps, shifting the floor beneath the reader. Every5491 declarative phrase doubles back and ties itself into his5492 atheist/theist binary. He's gone completely off the rails as far as5493 constructing an'airtight argument' (as he calls it) is concerned. The5494 obvious charge here is confirmation bias, and Albert Lunsford is5495 history's most egregious offender.5497 Rimbaud stopped. Looked around. What was he saying? Where had all of5498 this come from?5500 The crowd outside the Green continued to churn, oblivious to his5501 befuddlement.5503 He glanced around the circle of children, who were still lobbing balls5504 of paint onto the mechanical animal. None of their mouths were moving.5505 Their body language suggested that they had not even noticed his5506 presence.5508 He could feel himself losing control of the situation.5510 "No, no, no. Women are clinically insane, but Albert Lunsford cannot5511 be schizophrenic because psychiatry is not a valid science."5513 "I think his mental health is sort of a non-issue. Albert interprets5514 it as the fulcrum his freedom hinges upon; but since he is, so far as5515 we know, not a danger to anyone else and since he does, so far as we5516 know, manage to take care of himself, I really don't think anyone5517 cares. I know I don't care, personally, whether or not he's considered5518 'crazy.'"5520 "Albert, for his part, seems to think that the whole of society is5521 waiting on pins and needles, anxious for him to die. Now really. I5522 think he tends to overestimate the common man's awareness of his5523 oeuvre. Most of society doesn't even know he exists. When people call5524 him'insane,' I don't think they mean for men in white coats to5525 forcibly remove him from the Off-White House and drag him off to some5526 kind of state-run facility. I think the people he's really worried5527 aboutsome small percentage of his peers in the industrysee him as5528 either an amusing crank or as a sad example of what happens when a man5529 convinces himself he's the only person on Earth with access to The5530 Truth. Just because people make fun of him being overdue for his meds5531 doesn't mean they are going to come and strap him into a chair, inject5532 him with marxist / feminist / atheist / homosexualist meta-proteins."5534 "The fact that he was actually committed to an institution once,5535 against his will, probably contributes to his paranoia about the5536 perception of his mental health. Perhaps this fear is exacerbated by5537 his vast experience with hallucinogens, as he may have acquired some5538 idea of what psychotropic medications would do to him. My own parents5539 took me to a psychiatrist once, against my will, and I can say that I5540 was quite belligerent in my response. But I was not given medication,5541 and in fact I was not even held overnight for observation. The5542 psychiatrists seemed confused as to why I had been brought there in5543 the first place. Given his hostility towards psychiatry, I can only5544 assume Albert was treated differently."5546 "If one examines the timeline of recriminations between Albert and the5547 comic book industry, it is interesting to observe the escalating5548 pattern of self-ostracization Albert has enacted over the past several5549 years. I do not dismiss what his latest published material purports5550 itself to be about, but it is instructive to note that Albert's latest5551 theories have expanded to encompass a neat explanation of why he is no5552 longer a fan-favorite creator, and why his latest works have failed to5553 garner the universal acclaim he seems to think they deserve. He5554 obviously has a very high opinion of himself, and requires a5555 corresponding explanation as to why the rest of the world doesn't hold5556 him in similar esteem. It's fascinating to me that the very tenacity5557 and pigheadedness that make him so difficult to interact with also5558 seem to be precisely the traits that have enabled him to complete his5559 multitudinous extended works. I think this is where Ian Kenny's5560 observations have been centered: Kenny marvels that Albert's5561 single-minded determination has resulted in the self-destruction of5562 his critical facultiesthat is to say, his vanished ability to5563 honestly evaluate himself. At the same time, he has turned the5564 remainder of that focus outward, towards the world. With that in mind,5565 I don't just think Ian is being a'fuckwit,' as you put it. He sort of5566 has a point. Others would no doubt remind us that Albert has always5567 been closed off to intimacy, and that he has only stopped portrayed5568 himself otherwise since the summer of 1974.)"5570 Finally, Rimbaud began to wind down. He seemed to have said his piece.5572 "I'm sort of getting tired of this relentless harping on the negative5573 aspects of Albert's philosophies and his approach to arguing them. But5574 dammit, it seems to me that even the people who explicitly admit they5575 are opposed to everything he stands for never seem to criticize him on5576 the right points. I tried writing to him and taking him to task in5577 private, but as we know, Albert is famously unreceptive to real5578 intellectual debate. He prefers to maintain the authorial distance. Or5579 the authorial authority, if you will. All of you folks who hold it as5580 an article of faith that Albert is unfailingly polite and5581 self-effacing to his fans; well, it's hardly a constant, as many of us5582 have learned through hard experience."5584 It finally dawned on Rimbaud that none of this business about Albert5585 Lunsford was actually happening on the Public Green. What he was5586 feeling, seeing and hearing was nothing more than a resonant echo of5587 the original Redaction Day. What he seemed to be interacting with was,5588 in reality, merely a facet of the city's holiday decorations. His mesh5589 transceivers had passed on the data unchecked. What a clever5590 presentation, he thought.5592 Before he could tear himself away from the simulation, one of the5593 children who had been painting the artificial animal appeared at his5594 side and began tugging on his shirtsleeve. He bent down so the child5595 could whisper in his ear.5597 "Keep your mouth shut. Don't listen to the worries inside," said the5598 child.5600 More of the ritual dialogue.5602 In light of Albert Lunsford's harsh example, Rimbaud considered it5603 good advice.5605 MOUNTAINS OF WHITE5607 tags: 1986, 4086, dexter_styles, gravy_needs, piro, shit_mold, tab25609 Thomas resumed haranguing Piro through the port hole.5611 "You have to listen to me. You have to come back with me to 1986."5613 "You've been talking for half an hour. Oh, the plight of the noble5614 graphic designer."5616 "I'm serious, Piotr."5618 "I can tell. And I bet you guys are having quite a laugh at my5619 expense. Well, Ramadan's almost over. You'll be back here soon enough5620 and then I'll have my revenge."5622 "This is not a practical joke, Piro!"5624 "Prove it. Walk me through the challenge and response."5626 "Was there ever a God?" asked Piro, commencing the sequence.5628 "Once. A long, long time ago," answered Thomas.5630 They continued in this vein for some time, until Piro had satisfied5631 himself that everything checked out. Once Thomas had successfully5632 authenticated his identity, Piro allowed the conversation to continue.5634 "Why me?" he finally asked, rubbing his eyes.5636 Gravy Needs hovered around the corner. Piro was not aware that the5637 King had called an early end to the holiday.5639 This was fucking great.5641 "Because we're twin brothers."5643 "Tom, that's impossible. You're from two thousand years ago."5645 "..."5647 "Furthermore, we look nothing alike."5649 "Not all twins are identical," said Thomas.5651 "And not all floating heads tell the truth," said Piro.5653 Stalemate.5655 "MAKE WAY FOR KING SHIT!"5657 Piro and Tom's brotherly reunion was interrupted by the return of the5658 King. King Theodosius Shit Mold's entourage marched into the room,5659 elbowing Piro away from the port hole. The flap closed and no one5660 seemed to notice the floating head outside the window. Dexter Styles,5661 the King's Chancellor, took up his usual position between the King and5662 the rest of the group.5664 "Let it hereafter be known that King Shit has returned to the5665 station!" he declared.5667 The King reclined on his portable throne, his leg dangling over an5668 armrest.5670 "Indulge me," said the King to Piro."Why did you stay behind?"5672 "Your Highness," Piro bowed deeply,"My duties..."5674 The King put up his hand, as if to punctuate Piro's excessive5675 babbling."Eff that noise. From now on, I want you by my side at all5676 times. I've grand designs on your future, Piotr."5678 Piro bowed again.5680 A low rumble issued from the port hole. The flap blew back and the5681 makeshift throne room was once again flooded with pale, colorless5682 light.5684 "I wasn't finished," said Thomas Bright, Jr. through the port hole.5686 King Shit leaned forward as if to affirm his interest in the present5687 goings-on.5689 "By all means, do carry on," smirked the King.5691 Gravy Needs was delighted. He hadn't intended for the King to become5692 involved. But now that he had, the hilarity could only increase.5694 Gravy punched up the others on his forearm and quickly told them all5695 the news. Stifled laughs echoed in the close chamber. Gravy blipped5696 off and resumed his manipulations of the Court.5698 "I'm here to retrieve my brother," continued Thomas."There's trouble5699 back home, and he's needed to help smooth over the discontent."5701 "Ah, I am empathetic to family problems," allowed the King.5703 "This is more than just a family problem. There's also a weird anomaly5704 that threatens to engulf the entire universe."5706 "And only Piro can save us?" laughed the King, incredulously.5708 "That's my position, yes," answered Thomas.5710 The Court fell silent, waiting for the King to respond.5712 Shit Mold could see that Thomas was going to stand firm on his5713 position. Such gallantry touched him deeply, reminding him of comic5714 book stories from his youth.5716 "Very well then. It would amuse me to observe your adventures from5717 remote. Piro! Pack up your monitoring kit. You're headed for the5718 1980s!"5720 Thomas bit his lip and slowly shook his head in affirmation of his5721 victory.5723 At last, his brother was returning to him. At last, the team would be5724 whole.5726 Together again for the first time.5728 Piro climbed into his vehicle and switched on some soft music.5729 Vangelis, as usual. Thomas' head appeared, floating above the5730 passenger seat beside him. The two brothers traveled sans5731 conversation, which was fine with Piro. He needed time to think.5733 Gravy Needs had not anticipated that the King would send Piro away.5734 For all his trouble, the butt of his prank had been effectively5735 promoted to field work.5737 I hate Ramadan, he thought.5739 Moments after Piro engaged the ship's percept drive, the orbital5740 station had begun to undergo a series of complex, unorthodox changes.5741 As the transformations progressed, the station wobbled gradually in5742 and out of sight. The station's engineers were befuddled by the day's5743 events.5745 Within an hour of the brothers' departure, the anomaly Thomas had5746 described had expanded to absorb the station in its entirety. No one5747 had expected it to expand so quickly. Least of all Piro.5749 The King, from his vantage point atop the many phonebooks stacked5750 beneath his posterior, had been blessed to see it all coming. Perched5751 on his throne, he tittered and giggled at the symmetry between the5752 waves of monochrome light on screen and the mountains of white powder5753 piled on the table before him.5755 There was so much white, everywhere.5757 He sniffled as the station shuddered and faded from memory.5759 `865761 tags: 1986, freeway_ricky_ross, piro, tab1, tab25763 Piro eased back on the throttle and the ship came to a stop.5765 "All right," he said."We're here."5767 Thomas eyed him.5769 "Let's get started."5771 Thomas' floating head flickered out of view and was replaced by a5772 light rapping on the passenger side window. Piro depressed a switch on5773 his console and the window slid down.5775 "This way, my man," Thomas said, motioning with his thumb.5777 "This is our guy on the inside. Handle: Freeway Ricky Ross. Real name:5778 Rick."5780 "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Rick."5782 Ricky nodded.5784 "We've been making a lot of progress. We did three hundred million5785 last year in uncut bricks. But Ricky's got a line on some sweet5786 chemistry and we've been able to step on these new shipments up to ten5787 times before sending them out to the street. And it sells just as well5788 as the raw."5790 Piro made a low whistle, pretending he understood what Thomas was5791 talking about.5793 "The small-time dealers love it. Maximal return on a minimal5794 investment."5796 "I own five houses," said Ricky.5798 "It's become an epidemic," complained Thomas, suddenly forlorn."In5799 spite of our best efforts, Crack is still flooding our streets."5801 "But"5803 Piro's face contorted in spite of himself. He couldn't quite make up5804 his mind if Thomas was being sarcastic.5806 He started again.5808 "But you're the ones selling it!"5810 "Not to worry. We fold all of the profits back into our war on drugs."5812 Piro shook his head.5814 "That makes no sense at all."5816 "That's exactly why we need your help. There are still some kinks in5817 the process that need to be ironed out. Something has got to be done5818 about the spread of illegal drugs, and quickly. People are dying out5819 there, Piotr."5821 Freeway Ricky Ross leaned back against the hood of his Impala. He5822 hated this part; waiting for Thomas to make his pitch to some new5823 investor was more boring than going to church. He pulled out his5824 briefcase and mulled over some past due paperwork. This new lawyer...5825 No one could read his handwriting. Ricky snapped the briefcase shut5826 and smoked a menthol cigarette. He suddenly noticed that someone had5827 scuffed his Chuck Taylors.5829 Piro and Thomas had taken a circuitous route around the parking lot.5830 Now they were making their way back towards Ricky. They seemed to5831 still be discussing the preliminaries even as their voices drifted5832 within earshot.5834 "Basically, I bought the Chrysler Building."5836 "..."5838 "Don't look at me like that. We needed the room."5840 "You founded a super-hero teamfunded by drug moneyto fight drug5841 dealers."5843 "Among other things, yes."5845 Piro could feel his eyes popping out of his head. Thomas was almost5846 thirty years old. This kind of self-destructive behavior was5847 inexcusable. But it was true, he had managed to amass some impressive5848 resources. Piro stared off into the Los Angeles smog, weighing the5849 situation.5851 "Almost nothing about this appeals to me. All right, I'll make an5852 exception for a few of your acquisitions. Did you know that the5853 Chrysler Building is still standing in 4086? Owned by the Crown."5855 "Huh. You don't say."5857 "Actually, I operated out of the 61st floor for several years, myself,5858 training new recruits."5860 "Yeah, I remember that training. Dad really had a hard-on for your5861 teaching methods. He always used to tell the rookies,'If you survive5862 one of Piro's seminars, you're hired.' Seemed to think that was5863 hilarious for some reason. Of course, years later I told him about5864 your Blythe collection."5866 Piro laughed."Who do you think got me started on the doll collecting,5867 idiot."5869 Thomas smiled at him warmly.5871 Things were falling into place, just as he'd hoped.5873 "Well Thomas, I'm a little perturbed that you've brought me back in5874 time under false pretenses. Crack cocaine is hardly set to swallow the5875 known universe. But now that I'm here... Well, what the hell. I can5876 see that you've got yourself a heaping full plate. You're going to5877 need all the help you can get dealing with this problem you've5878 unleashed on the inner city. It probably wasn't such a bad idea for5879 you to get me involved."5881 "I'm sure dad would agree."5883 "Please, tell me he doesn't know anything about your drug dealing,"5884 admonished Piro.5886 "Relax," said Ricky, flicking his cigarette over the hood of the5887 Impala."He's in Japan."5889 "The man has full-clearance access to the mesh, Rick." Piro made a5890 face at him, emphasizing the obvious conclusion."If he hasn't already5891 involved himself in this scheme it probably just means you haven't5892 been paying close enough attention to the books."5894 "I resent that," said Ricky."We've spent a lot of money on5895 accountants."5897 New York.5899 The Chrysler Building.5901 It felt strange to once again be standing on the 61st floor5902 observation deck. Piro tilted his head so that his bangs partially5903 shielded him from the setting sun. He pondered the circumstances which5904 had led up to this present eventuality.5906 Thomas had fallen asleep in his apartment downstairs. Freeway Ricky5907 had stayed behind in L.A., in order to keep an eye on the business.5908 Someone had to do it, he had said. Consequently, Piro had been able to5909 claim most of the 61st floor for himself. Just like old times. In5910 point of fact, some of his old gear from the 1960s was still locked up5911 in the building's armory.5913 As Piro's gaze drifted across the city below, he wondered if Thomas5914 was aware that he had burned up the remainder of his fuel in the5915 process of getting them back to 1986. As a result, the RAGNAROK was5916 parked indefinitely within the present temporal frame. Its percept5917 drive had run clean out of new perspectives. Face it, there was5918 nothing new to be learned from the past.5920 No matter. It was true there was a lot of work to be done, here, in5921 1986. It could hardly matter if Thomas had deliberately deceived him.5922 Petty manipulations were not at the forefront of his mind. In any5923 case, it would make little sense for Piro to complain about being lied5924 to at this late stage in the game.5926 So, his plans would change.5928 He willed himself to narrow his focus, concentrating, with some5929 effort, solely on the mission at hand. Stopping the crack cocaine5930 epidemic before it destroyed the country, if not the entire world.5932 Piro checked the logins on his weapons and unlatched his backpack. He5933 withdrew the necessary equipment and prepared to launch himself over5934 the wall of the observation deck. Before he new it, he was once again5935 repelling down the side of the Chrysler Building. This familiar action5936 pleased him, and he accelerated with deliberate speed.5938 The fading sun reflected at right angles against the skyscraper's face5939 as Piro descended its smooth, featureless surface, pacing himself to5940 the rhythm of the city.5942 Down, down, down.5944 PIECES OF FILTH5946 tags: 1886, haus_mold, jerrymander_mold5948 Haus was down. Jerrymander sank backwards into the wagon and hugged5949 his satchel. The Mold family backups.5951 More shots rang out from the top of the canyon. A gurgle came out of5952 Haus. He would be useless for at least another hour.5954 The Secret Service detail had vanished into the brush.5956 These fools worshiped a blank sheet of paper. Any blank sheet of5957 paper. Considered them sacred. That's why they didn't like it when you5958 filled them with words.5960 And Jerrymander Mold had gotten an awful lot of ink. According to the5961 Blanks (as they were known), excess quantities of pulp were spoiled5962 disseminating the tales of his exploits. Naturally, such tended to5963 happen when you were the President of the United States, but the5964 Blanks refused to abide the extraordinary circumstances. The simple5965 inevitability of the press' fascination with power was considered, by5966 their stubborn, peculiar order, to be no excuse. They declared5967 Jerrymander responsible for the destruction of the 25 lb., white bond5968 industry. The market had proven incapable of fulfilling wartime5969 demand. Therefore, President Mold, as the dominant public figure of5970 the war, was obviously to blame for the industry's collapse.5972 Haus had uncovered only minimal data on their rituals, but it had been5973 enough to put the fear of the Green into Jerrymander. By his5974 reckoning, they indulged in blatantly inhumane practices. And now they5975 had tracked him into the canyon.5977 Echoes of movement had been detected nearby. Or so Jerrymander5978 calculated the delay. He hesitated to peek over the side of the wagon.5979 He could see nothing but the sky and the western rim of the canyon,5980 straight ahead of him.5982 Ten minutes elapsed with no further shots fired. Jerrymander assumed5983 the Blanks had moved on, but he declined to relax his grip on the5984 satchel.5986 By any means necessary, the backups must be preserved.5988 Two hours elapsed. Jerrymander pulled out a blank sheet of paper and5989 investigated it in the failing sunlight. It looked normal enough to5990 him. He felt no particular spiritual stirring. Of course, the nature5991 of his mechanical body guaranteed that this would be the case. He5992 found himself absent the necessary hardware to affect faith, even if5993 his ghost had been willing. The virgin rectangle of white paper looked5994 very much to him like a virgin rectangle of white paper. It lay spread5995 out on his hand, motionless and lacking in semantic content. He turned5996 it over and examined it at different angles, but could only derive5997 this same, dispassionate reading.5999 Haus started awake with a gasp. He spit blood on the floor of the6000 wagon, all the while cursing the name of the Green.6002 "These people are truly trying my patience," he remarked, bitterly.6004 "I know what you mean. First they elect me, and then they want to kill6005 me just because I find it insensible to worship reams of tractor-feed6006 printer paper."6008 "It's amazing they've tolerated you for so long."6010 Jerrymander threw up his hands."They're a guerrilla force. The Federal6011 government is fat and slow. Furthermore, the recalcitrant aesthetic6012 appeals to the mainstream. These are not the ingredients of an6013 Administration victory."6015 The horses were tired. Haus decided that the wagon could afford to6016 stay put until morning, even in its disadvantaged position. He'd6017 finally gotten the shields up and running. At first light he'd try to6018 track down the awol SS men, while Jerrymander made a beeline for the6019 Continuity of Government bunker thirty miles to the north. The6020 President would be safe there, provided he didn't run into any more6021 Blanks along the way.6023 They divided the backups between themselves according to family6024 protocol. Haus carefully punched out duplicates of everything they6025 had. He took the originals and gave his new copies to the President.6026 If either of them were captured or killed, at least one full copy6027 would survive. If both of them were captured or killed, the6028 preservation of the archive would be irrelevant anyway. They were the6029 only remaining Molds left alive, and it took a living Mold to resume a6030 saved state.6032 Haus realized then that the Molds were the precise antithesis of6033 everything the Blanks stood for.6035 All the more reason to survive.6037 Jerrymander dreamed of white squares in space. He conceived them6038 almost as overlapping pixels, multiplying until they blotted out the6039 stars and planets. In his dream, he observed the total heat death of6040 the universe, presented as a linear narrative spanning the spectrum6041 from red shift to blue shift. Near the end, the white squares took on6042 a pale, greenish hue.6044 He fancied he could make out some meaningful pattern in the mesh of6045 interlocking pixels. The whole enterprise brought to mind Penrose6046 tiles. He felt that there must be some significance to the display6047 that he couldn't quite grasp. Even in his dream he was frustrated that6048 the solution seemed to languish just out of reach.6050 Jerrymander awoke with a crick in his neck. He ran some diagnostics6051 and adjusted the latches of his spine, but this action only minimally6052 reduced his discomfort. He realized then that he felt cold and reached6053 for his jacket. He could definitely do with better weather. The skin6054 on his knuckles was starting to crack.6056 Haus had set off without waking him. It was just as well that they6057 split up early in the day. Jerrymander checked his rifles and made6058 sure his internal GPS was functioning as expected. Presently, he6059 yanked on the reigns. The horses roused groggily to cruise velocity.6061 As the wagon drug forward, each horse evacuated its bowels, one after6062 the other, in an alternating pattern of green and brown.6064 The dust of the trail caught in Jerrymander's teeth. His grimace felt6065 permanent, fixed in place.6067 He was embarrassed to admit that the smell of the horses bothered him.6069 DESCENT OF MIND6071 tags: 1985, albert_lunsford, ian_kenny, saito6073 Saito:6075 I write to you with news of Albert's worsening condition. One6076 moment he is digressing about Kant and the next he has picked6077 up a kitchen appliance and is bashing himself in the face. I6078 am increasingly frightened that he will do irreparable damage6079 to himself. When I'm not around, he calls me almost every6080 day. But I cannot answer his calls anymorenot for any lack6081 of sympathy, understand, but for time. After five minutes he6082 forgets he's called and tries to call again. This can go on6083 for hours. I think it matters very little whether I answer or6084 not, as he won't remember either way. In spite of my fears6085 for his safety, I really don't think my presence or my words6086 mitigate the danger. When I do answer, speaking to him6087 meaningfully is an occluded impossibility, as he rarely6088 understands what I'm trying to say. He seems to be losing6089 comprehension of even simple language. I now manage his6090 percept from remote with an automated script. The program6091 runs continuously, even when I am otherwise preoccupied. I6092 check the log messages most mornings. I still visit him once6093 a week and help him arrange his grocery deliveries,6094 medications, and so on. He is no longer capable of caring for6095 himself in essential matters. I have to put his hand on the6096 pressure screen at the appropriate times. His notebooks have6097 degenerated, devolved over time into page upon page of6098 scratches, really nothing more than dots and dashes. I don't6099 believe he is writing in Morse code. He doesn't even attempt6100 to draw anymore. The systems in his apartment could take care6101 of all his basic needs, but I am reluctant to cut off contact6102 on account of his obvious loneliness. He has begun to confuse6103 me with members of his family who are long dead. My6104 understanding is that your work has taken a turn towards6105 success, as of late, and that the advances you are making6106 every day may be of some benefit to Albert. Things used make6107 sense to him, Saito. To us. In spite of our earlier6108 discussion on these matters, I must appeal to you yet again to6109 reconsider your blunt rejection of his case. Surely you have6110 some leeway in who you treat. Won't you please try to help6111 him, if you are able. I implore you, Saito.6113 Ian Kenny6116 END BOOK TWO6118 BOOK THREE6120 NANA.TECH6122 tags: 1928, nana_mold, plinth_mold6124 Diagoro relaxed his stance only a little as Grandma hobbled over to6125 the cupboard. By the Orb on the kitchen counter, he could see that6126 traffic out of the San Jose backbone was slowly reaching its peak.6127 Very little time now. Grandma jumped when the teacups reached parity,6128 and for a moment he thought that she might be in danger of fainting,6129 toppling over. A reassuring expression of recognition (resignation?)6130 gradually bled into her face, and she settled back down into her6131 slippers, returning to the cupboard as the black tide line in each6132 porcelain vessel miscegenated with 2% milk.6134 "There's really not time for this, Nana," Diagoro breathed thickly.6136 "You just close your ill-filtering little mouth. You'll eat this and6137 you'll like it. And then we can go and put down your little foreign6138 barbarian whore or whoever it is this time and I'll wear a smile for6139 you then."6141 Grandma pressed brittle hands into her apron, smearing grease from her6142 tools onto the linen. She snapped closed the aluminum case of her6143 rifle. After tonight she would tell Diagoro, like so many before him,6144 that he was a Mold.6146 For now, she simply said:6148 "I'm going to shoot this bitch myself."6150 STARTING THEM YOUNG6152 tags: 1935, nana_mold, plinth_mold6154 Tomorrow is a holiday, but today is not. My parents are both at work,6155 and I'm stuck here at the babysitter's house, sitting out the two or6156 three or four hours that I'll be trapped in this room, lying on my6157 pallet, dreaming without sleep about every possible other thing I6158 could be doing with my time. I don't know why she locks me in here.6160 Granny is not really my grandmother. But that does not keep her from6161 closing me up into the spare bedroom after lunch, leaving me there6162 until shortly before my parents arrive to take me home. What am I6163 meant to be doing, during all of this time? Granny has not been6164 forthcoming on the subject.6166 Today's focus is a new assortment of military adventure toys.6167 Specifically, the pre-visualization of a flying machine whose swept6168 wings must be made to contract upon the release of a certain switchI6169 presume to be located somewhere along the aircraft's aft fuselage. I'm6170 having a bit of trouble figuring out precisely how the wing mechanism6171 will work. Something to do with strings or wires of some sort, all6172 obfuscated from the child/operator. The picture is as yet fuzzy...6174 Also up for review is a full-size, realistic combat uniform, infused6175 with what I will for marketing purposes refer to as"the scent of6176 battle." These two ideas should tide me over until the big door6177 unlocks, clicks open at around four o'clock. If I concentrate upon6178 this pair of images intently enough, conceive of them in great enough6179 detail, covering every possible feature, I am convincedno, I am6180 certain that they will have materialized in my bedroom closet by the6181 time I get home. It is not clear why I choose to believe in this6182 notion, but I confess that I do. I suppose such activity amuses me.6183 Consider my age.6185 First then, the aircraft.6187 "Dad is insatiable screwing his daughter," a voice states, aloud,6188 sounding quite desperate to be heard. It is only mildly distracting as6189 I am quite used to this sort of thing by now. I shrug vaguely without6190 losing my train of thought. Laughable, really, these attempts at6191 derailing my creative process.6193 "Japanese teen showing her hairy pussy," the voice continues. I have6194 no trouble ignoring the outburst, and so carry on with my daydreaming6195 as if no auditory phenomena were taking place. All is calm.6197 "Homeless guy wearing a brand new 8-ball jacket."6199 That, I'm sorry to admit, tears it. I have finally had enough. I6200 straighten myself and reply:6202 "Little cutie screams as she gets drilled on her new boss' desk. Okay?6203 Is that what you wanted to hear? May I proceed now?"6205 I have prepared myself for a dramatic pause, but the voices promptly6206 dissolve into a perfect silence. Indeed, one could almost be lulled6207 into sleep in this quiet. Would that all of my projects could be6208 undertaken in such sublime stillness. I'm quite certain that the6209 balance of my output would yield a sharp increase in quality.6211 "Now," I think to myself,"Let's get back to work."6213 Before long, the voices are at it again.6215 "Innocent Gays getting modernistic IT anally."6217 This time, I don't even dignify the disruption with a response. Why do6218 they bother? I'm simply not interested.6220 And yet, I have to admit that the voices have once again succeeded in6221 distracting my attention. Remarkable, these recent advances in advert6222 technology.6224 Granny knocks gently as she enters, clutching a packet of my6225 medications. She casts a knowing look as she unscrews the bottles,6226 sorting the myriad variety of colored pellets into the concave6227 depressions of her tray. Her eyes caress me with warm approval as I6228 accept the arrangement of doses and commence popping pills.6230 "You were diddling yourself in here again, weren't you, Plinth."6232 "No," I say."You're hearing things, old woman."6234 I think she is smiling at me but it's difficult to tell because she is6235 so old that her face appears quite wrinkled even when she is asleep,6236 or watching her programs on telescreen. Is that a smile, or is it6237 merely the untreated cracking of leather?6239 I assume she was joking, that she didn't actually see me with my hands6240 in my pants.6242 There. Now I am certain she is smiling. This is preposterous. As if I6243 needed more variables to consider.6245 I am tired. Much too tired to continue.6247 Where are my parents?6249 That's all for today, Diary. EOF6251 AWAKENING THE SELF6253 tags: 1944, plinth_mold6255 If there is a test, chances are he will pass. But he is never quite6256 sure if he really understands the answers, or if he has merely derived6257 them from some calculus of the movement of language. Has communication6258 truly taken place? And if so, how does he know that he knows? This6259 problem of knowledge goes deeper for him (he suspects) than for any of6260 the other boys; he is certain that the others are secure both in their6261 answers and in the thoughts which (he is also certain) inform them.6262 Much unlike himself, unfortunately. What good is the right answer if6263 it still doesn't make any sense?6265 He is provided a worksheet. On it are inscribed a series of symbols he6266 does not understand. Above the symbols are situated photographs of the6267 room he has just vacated. He studies the paper and notices that, in6268 one of the photos, a mesh transceiver has been placed behind the6269 couch. The angle of the photograph is such that the placement of the6270 transceiver is clearly intended to be noticed. But what is the6271 transceiver for? That information is not provided. He begins to wonder6272 if, perhaps, there is some other, more salient detail of the photo6273 that he is missing. What is it he is meant to be looking for? Perhaps6274 the mesh equipment is not the item of greatest importance. He scans6275 the paper again but notices nothing new.6277 The other children have all been issued this same sheet of paper. Most6278 of them are dumbfounded. Discarding their worksheets, the children6279 proceed to enact a miniature, organized conflict. They count off into6280 strike teams, execute insurgencies, repel counter-insurgencies, invade6281 and defend arbitrarily defined territories within the room's finite6282 perimeter. It is clear to Plinth that they have all but forgotten the6283 problem on the worksheet. Had the exercise confounded them all the6284 same way? Each of the boys, including Plinth himself, have only just6285 turned sixteen. So, some unfamiliarity with printed matter is to be6286 expected. But still, Plinth wonders, What are these boys seeing when6287 they look at the photographs? Indeed, what am I missing?6289 At the one hour marker the children are led back into the waiting6290 room. Further instructions are not provided.6292 The children begin to bicker. It is apparent now that the waiting room6293 has been stripped of standard entertainments. Plinth waits until two6294 quarrelers obscure the main surveillance camera (thinly disguised as6295 an inoperable telescreen) and ducks quickly behind the couch. Seconds6296 later, he pops back up and feigns participation in the complaining. A6297 noticeable bulge now deforms the left-front pocket of his trousers.6298 Upon close observation his sudden sociability is less than convincing.6300 The boys are led out of the waiting room and into a play area,6301 well-stocked with childish trifles. Plinth notes that these trinkets6302 are of the exact type the boys had been clamoring for, only moments6303 before. Carefully, he retreats into a corner, near an air vent, and6304 divests his pocket of the purloined contraband. The cool, manufactured6305 air of the building's circulation system envelopes his hands and face6306 as he crouches above the illicit cargo, squinting at the various6307 inscriptions etched into the reverse-side of each item.6309 Between the legs of a chair, Plinth spies two pairs of wingtip shoes.6311 The furniture is immediately lifted up, completely off of the ground.6312 Large hands likewise lift Plinth out of the corner, but not before he6313 manages to gather up his collection of stolen materials. He is6314 deposited onto a table top, where two uniformed men inspect him6315 thoroughly. Their commentary adopts the distinct air of suspicious,6316 yet enthusiastic interest.6318 The doctor with the big hands is the first to address him directly.6320 "One of your pockets looks rather larger than the other one, Plinth."6322 "Yes," the second man joins in,"The way they're making trousers these6323 days, it's a wonder you can even maintain your balance when you try to6324 walk."6326 Plinth:"Born this way, actually. My gait is lopsided."6328 "More likely, his pants are sagging from the weight of several power6329 cells taken from a mesh transceiver," the smaller doctor remarks to6330 his colleague.6332 "For my leaf," Plinth offers, halfheartedly.6334 "You can read?" both of them say in unison. Now they take turns6335 shaking their heads, greatly amused for some reason.6337 "Duh, jackasses," Plinth says, rolling his eyes."I'm not a little6338 kid."6340 Plinth is once again removed from the waiting room.6342 Presently, Plinth is being lectured, prepared for his circumcision.6343 Before he can be cut, he must first be made to understand.6345 The origin of the procedure is by now lost to history. For his part,6346 Plinth knows enough about the rite of manhood to suspect what comes6347 next. He has also finally deduced the purpose of today's exercise in6348 the waiting room; he is astonished at the transparent nature of the6349 deception. Even more astonishing is the fact that he fell for the ruse6350 on the first try. Doubtless, Grandma was somehow involved.6352 As it happens, he is the only child to have qualified for circumcision6353 today. At sixteen years of age, most males have yet to develop the6354 abstract thinking skills required to perform such feats as, say,6355 comprehending the relationship between his environment and the funny6356 squiggles and marks that constitute a topographical map. By revealing6357 that he knows how to read, Plinth has demonstrated that not only does6358 he grasp the basic concepts of symbolic representation, but that he6359 may also comprehend more abstract relationships which may or may not6360 yield a 1:1 correspondence to empirical reality. This is quite unusual6361 for someone so young. According to the more experienced doctors, there6362 is a precedent for the situation: Plinth will simply be allowed to6363 skip ahead to a higher grade level.6365 Naturally, Plinth is concerned about the costs this may incur.6367 "How can I convince them that my brain is damaged," he thinks to6368 himself.6370 He shoves his hand into his trousers and squeezes out a length of6371 fecal matter. Without hesitation, he chews the curl of feces6372 vigorously into his mouth. Swallows.6374 Much to his dismay, the gambit is unsuccessful.6376 The Mold awareness slowly seeps back into Plinth's consciousness. At6377 first he is beside himself; these men have just mutilated his stick.6378 Then he recalls the purpose of the ritual. Presently, he recalls his6379 past life as Haus Mold. He knows now what he must do next.6381 Plinth waves the doctors aside and inspects his personal effects,6382 ensuring that everything remains as he left it, nearly two decades in6383 his past. Satisfied, he withdraws a small electronic device and6384 activates its primary function, instantly transmuting all organic life6385 in the room into dust.6387 Deactivating the device and donning his eye-patch, Plinth hops off of6388 the examination table and begins to search for an exit.6390 There is much work to be done.6392 IT'S ALL POLITICS6394 tags: 1965, plinth_mold, potus, tab1, the_chief6396 "What do you mean he'runs plastics?'" the Chief snarled,6397 incredulously.6399 "Just that. There's no record of him after 1928, and then all of a6400 sudden this falls into my lap. Somehow, he's taken control of half the6401 toy manufacturing in America."6403 Thomas Bright, Sr. adjusted his cap.6405 "And you're sure it's the same guy?" asked the Chief.6407 "Proof's in the paperwork. Same investment patterns."6409 "But technically it's a different name."6411 "They're all Molds though, aren't they."6413 "True that."6415 Plinth Mold settled into his recliner, his reading glasses perched on6416 the end of his nose. Not much in the paper.6418 Maude. Oh, Maude.6420 Of course, this wasn't really his Maude. Generations had passed. Their6421 children had spawned children of their own. This girl... Was probably6422 his great great granddaughter.6424 No matter, the Molds had always kept it in the family.6426 Plinth Mold hadn't made love since 1888.6428 He lit his pipe.6430 Thomas Bright, Jr. played with his toys. Frequently, he would inspect6431 the intellectual property information inscribed upon the buttocks of6432 his action figures. He had noticed early on that all of his toys6433 seemed to be manufactured by the same company.6435 He figured his dad had purchased them in bulk. The cheap bastard.6437 Thomas threw back the flap of his tepee and climbed out. The cold air6438 burned his lungs, going down. He fumbled in his pocket for a6439 cigarette.6441 "Violet!" he yelled, carelessly."When's dad coming home?"6443 "Never!" Violet called back.6445 Thomas flicked his cigarette into the open flap of Violet's tent and6446 wandered off towards the creek, where he could urinate in peace.6448 An alarm sounded on the Chief's desk. He scanned the incoming message6449 and reacted instantaneously, barking commands into his commlink even6450 before he had fully depressed the trigger.6452 "Dispatching a cappella teams to the scene," he shouted into the6453 aether.6455 Thomas Bright, Sr. stared out of the big the window while the Chief6456 worked. He knew that their discussion had ended, for the time being,6457 on account of the incoming message. Still, the situation with the6458 Molds would have to be addressed, sooner or later.6460 "I'm sorry, Tom, we're going to have to postpone this until tomorrow6461 morning. The President seems to think that current developments within6462 Project: BLUEBIRD should take precedence over our investigation into6463 the Mold situation."6465 Thomas smiled on the inside. The Chief's sarcasm in the face of6466 absolute authority delighted his sense of rebellious individuality.6467 Naturally, he would never reveal such degeneracy to his superior.6469 "I understand, sir. It's all politics."6471 The Chief listened to his earpiece for a moment and then glanced over6472 at Thomas and mimed jerking off with his hand.6474 Thomas nodded and showed himself out of the room.6476 TRADE6478 tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief6480 The men in the street shifted uncomfortably as Thomas threaded between6481 them, calling out user IDs and lot numbers as he went. Many were6482 unaccustomed to such face-to-face business dealings, and they bristled6483 at the close contact.6485 In point of fact, the vocal identification and interplay wasn't6486 strictly necessarythe visor was picking out each recipient quite6487 efficiently, on its ownbut Thomas liked to talk to people. As he made6488 eye contact with each man, he pushed a box into their hands and made a6489 point of thanking them for their patronage. Thomas believed that the6490 human touch created a connection between himself and his clients. For6491 their part, the men in the street were mostly irritated by his6492 forthright manner. They would not have left their apartments in the6493 first place if home delivery had been within their means.6495 Indeed, the men stood crammed into an ever lengthening line along one6496 side of the street. Most had squatted down on the curb to inspect6497 their bid tickets, or in some cases, their parcels. Each figure was a6498 solemn portrait in charcoal, crouched in wool jacket and trousers,6499 gazing fixedly over his clutch of papers. Every so often, the gritting6500 of teeth could be heard above the din as someone discovered that he6501 would not be the next to take delivery of his winnings. For most in6502 the line, this day's auction had been a final, go-for-broke grasp at6503 obtaining a user account on the old pressure screen grid. Securing an6504 account meant the guarantee of employment. Recently, a blanket freeze6505 had been declared. No more new accounts would be created before the6506 end of the year. This unexpected policy was instituted uniformly6507 across all nodes, effective immediately.6509 Thomas ignored his visor's display and ran the figures in his head as6510 he negotiated the sorry gallery of drooping faces. At two hundred6511 thousand dollars per, his deliveries were netting an even million on a6512 good day. This was not to mention the substantial commissions he would6513 claim from brokering his customers' login applications. In this way,6514 he netted rather a lot of money in rather a short period of time. Each6515 infusion of cash compounded with his previous earnings, snowballing6516 out of all rational control. It occurred to him at times that a like6517 substance tended to flow from itself; the small investment that had6518 gotten him started (thank you, Father), wed to the ingenuity he6519 employed at multiplying its volume, spread, fractal as the branches of6520 a tree into an incomprehensibly vast canopy of zeroes. Even so, he6521 recalled that it had been his own insight, quite apart from the fact6522 of his tools, that had proven instrumental in setting the whole6523 process in motion. From one seed, eternity. But the poetry of6524 abiogenesis was a myth. The flow could not proceed from a rock. The6525 rock must first be cracked in two.6527 Thomas considered the sorry status of his customers. Was the6528 competence of others truly so discouraging, such a disheartening6529 exhibition as to obliterate one's own will to succeed? Or were these6530 men simply too lazy to break open their respective rocks?6532 Thomas could see no profit in answering the question.6534 Thomas drifted towards a random squatter and tossed a five thousand6535 dollar chip into his can. He corrected himself at once, retrieving the6536 chip to wipe its memory. After a few seconds erasing, Thomas tossed it6537 back into the squatter's lap. The unfortunate man, who had obviously6538 not won any auctions that day, did not look up from his leather-bound6539 copy of DIANETICS.6541 Comfort yourself as you're able, Thomas thought to himself.6543 Sensing his presence, the book spun up its standard solicitation.6545 "I just took a shit the size of a baby's arm," it read aloud.6547 Disabused of his altruism, Thomas returned to his work.6549 By now, then, the men to Thomas' left had all taken on a greenish6550 pallor. This indicated that their parcels had already been delivered.6551 Thomas wheeled his cart around and headed in the opposite direction.6552 The men on the other end of the street were still tinted red. One by6553 one, they melted to light green as he placed a package into each of6554 their hands. Occasionally, Thomas would produce a handkerchief from6555 his pocket and wipe the fog away from the inside of his visor.6557 The weather crawl indicated that the ambient temperature of the6558 alleyway had reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncomfortable, to be sure,6559 but not yet a cause for alarm.6561 Once the sidewalk had melted into a carpet of soft green, Thomas6562 locked down his cart and pedaled away on his bike. Almost immediately6563 he was flagged by a bright orange man who had lately begun to sputter6564 and spurt various curses from his seat on the curb. Amused but mindful6565 of the orange glow, Thomas put down the kickstand on his bike and6566 removed his gloves.6568 The man on the curb explained to Thomas that his delivery had arrived6569 in unsatisfactory condition. While the outer surfaces of the parcel6570 appeared to be intact, upon opening the box the man had found nothing6571 but charred, broken fragments and a handful of dust. (This, Thomas6572 surmised, derived from the explosion of the device's power source6573 whilst in transit.) A scent reminiscent of mashed potatoes wafted6574 itself into Thomas' nostrils.6576 The man had worked himself into an unfriendly humor. He demanded an6577 immediate replacement for the item, and/or the immediate refund of the6578 full bid amount into his account. As Thomas looked on, the man6579 proceeded to type a complaint into his leaf, which shortly caused his6580 tint to shift from orange to bright yellow. Simultaneously, a soft6581 tone chimed in Thomas' ear.6583 Thomas considered the situation. When the customer had submitted his6584 complaint, a hold would have been placed upon Thomas' account for a6585 corresponding price of the item (minus auction fees, etc.), pending6586 the satisfactory resolution of the buyer dispute. The onus had now6587 shifted to Thomas to provide a valid serial number and delivery6588 confirmation for the replacement item, or to agree to a full refund.6589 He immediately recognized that, due to the hold placed upon his6590 account, his balance was no longer sufficient to secure a replacement6591 item. Much less pay for overnight shipping. A refund, of course, would6592 be out of the question, by dint of the clearly stated terms of his6593 boilerplate delivery contract.6595 Thomas judged the dispute irreconcilable. All for the sake of a used6596 piece of collectible pregnancy armor. The absurdity of the conundrum6597 put him in mind of paper currency. He mulled over suggesting a6598 historical working. Small, rectangular pieces of paper could be6599 collected into an animal leather pouch, then transmitted6600 surreptitiously via occult arm/hand gestures. Traditionally, the6601 procedure had been known put a disgruntled customer's mind at ease.6602 But the notion was laughable. Juvenile. A valid debt could not be6603 satisfied with trinkets and scraps of paper. He wiped the condensation6604 from his visor and likewise sharpened his mental focus. Time to get6605 serious.6607 Thomas examined his surroundings in the alley. He glanced from side to6608 side, then moved his eyes onto his chronometer and noticed that a6609 considerable amount of time had elapsed since he had pulled over his6610 bike to commiserate with his complaining customer. The two men now6611 stood completely alone at the curb. The street had cleared of punters.6613 The unhappy customer's expression registered extreme dissatisfaction,6614 no doubt exacerbated by the evening's steadily steepening thermal6615 incline.6617 Thomas considered how difficult it would be to setup a new delivery6618 account, to find another corner to service, to arrange the dispersal6619 of hundreds of thousands of dollars for yet another intermediary6620 service to accredit is account. He then resumed his customer's tightly6621 focused, accusatory stare. It was true the man could almost be said to6622 look pregnant. The customer continued to grimace from behind his6623 parcel's charred, blackened box flaps.6625 Maybe he had needed that armor for something more important than6626 simply completing a collection.6628 Without warning, Thomas suddenly snatched the ruined box from the6629 man's hands and hurled it to the ground. He punched the man in the jaw6630 and then mounted his bike, adjusted his visor for night vision, and6631 pedaled away at top speed. As he had feared, the ambient temperature6632 was rapidly approaching dangerous levels.6634 Thomas realized, after he had pedaled some distance down the road,6635 that he had dropped his login chit.6637 The man on the curb wobbled uncertainly. He touched his hand to his6638 face several times, confirming the integrity of his jaw line. He then6639 stooped to retrieve Thomas' chit.6641 Thomas observed his customer's activity from a safe distance. He felt6642 some disappointment at the loss of his credentials, but he was glad to6643 see that his customer had survived the transaction. In any case, his6644 account was irretrievably lost. He would have to register all over6645 again in the new year.6647 Thomas leaned into a tight, right turn and accelerated rapidly towards6648 home.6650 On balance, he concluded that he could afford to laugh. His customer6651 was in for a surprise, if ever he attempted to join the ranks of6652 freelance sellers. In today's economy, selling was not nearly as easy6653 as buying. Honest work had proven to yield diminishing returns.6655 Thomas recognized in himself the stirrings of a terminal pessimism.6657 He considered returning to school. Exchanging one set of circumstances6658 for another of equal or lesser value.6660 But he could not admit defeat. Not at twelve years of age.6662 He had to make a go of this.6664 Thomas calculated the remainder of his savings and selected a blank6665 sheet of paper from his binder.6667 NEW SENTENCES6669 tags: 1982, 1986, tab1, tab2, the_chief6671 Eyes burnt out. Almost awake. Vanishing act. Breathing6672 late. Ringing sound. Mild discomfort. Feels like I'm6673 wearing a restroom napkin. Tuning three stations at once in6674 my left ear. The other is numb. Everything is back and6675 forth. Fluorescents blink and convince me otherwise. Smooth,6676 cold and dusty in places. Smell is shrink wrap with rubbing6677 alcohol, but worse. Now questions. Tight grip turns to6678 shaking. White noise. Corner of a desk in my eye, hard, but6679 it just feels like it. Smudged ghosts huddling to warm up.6680 Plastic bindings. Spittle smears my cheek. Sound of pliers6681 and car keys. Something warmer than dish water. Cut with a6682 razor. Tied. Comforting, now. Soft cotton blankets.6683 Lukewarm relax. Taking off the restroom napkins. Softer6684 sheets beneath me. Dermal abrasion. Folded towel on my6685 forehead. More tying. A small pricking. Indistinct6686 murmuring in my ear and then more shouting. I'm drifting.6687 Quieter voices. Mother is not holding me.6690 "Sounds like the diary of a heroin addict," said the Chief.6692 I laughed.6694 "Surprising lucidity. My boy is a born writer. I doubt I'd be coherent6695 enough to recount the experience."6697 "Yeah, I've tried to read your reports."6699 We had needed a willing guinea pig.6701 The lawyers wouldn't even consider writing up our memo unless one of6702 us was willing to undergo the procedure, to prove it was safe.6704 I suggested we get new lawyers. That got some laughs.6706 Then I suggested Tommy.6708 "But will he do it?" the Chief had asked.6710 "You'd better believe it," I assured him.6712 Of course, it wasn't quite so simple. I hadn't even spoken to the boy6713 in a number of years. He never seemed to be available when I called.6714 In the end we had had to extract him from his place of employment.6715 Forcibly.6717 He just wouldn't cooperate. Even after my men identified themselves as6718 Federal agents. Which they never, ever do. (I had given them some6719 leeway to bend the rules. After all, this was my son we were talking6720 about.)6722 We got him out of there. And still he would not submit.6724 I was exasperated.6726 I authorized additional force just because he had made me so damned6727 angry.6729 Possibly, I should have told him it was me. But that would have6730 tainted the experiment. The results would have been declared invalid.6731 The whole operation would have been worse than useless.6733 I had had to proceed under a cloak of anonymity.6735 I hadn't anticipated that he would figure it out so quickly.6737 After he was released, I received an e-mail from him. Short, but it6738 was him. Seems he regretted having gone through the experience. Asked6739 me not to contact him again. Ever. It wasn't signed (in fact, it6740 arrived as a message sent from my own account). But I know for a fact6741 it was him.6743 Shouldn't have been such a big deal.6745 He had been through the training. He was qualified. Obligated, even.6747 But of course, he had had a complaint.6749 He always was a complainer.6751 1986.6753 Woke up this morning. Got a call from Piro. What's he doing back in6754 the country?6756 I was going to say I should let Tommy know, but then I remembered,6757 he's still upset with me.6759 I'll give him a few more years.6761 He'll cool off, eventually.6763 PERIOD DRAMA6765 tags: 1985, b_errol_royale, chuck_fraud, the_director6767 Chuck Fraud loaded his pen.6769 He cruised in through the front doors and attached himself to a cart.6770 Walked it down an aisle and held out his arm, sending a row of boxes6771 tumbling into his basket.6773 At the register he pulled out his pen and started to write a check.6775 "What are you, Abraham Lincoln?" the cashier said,"You can't write a6776 check here."6778 "What, my money's not good enough for you?"6780 "No, sir, it's not. In fact, where did you find an ink pen, anyway?"6782 Chuck Fraud was taken aback by this. How audacious. And no regard for6783 history.6785 "Son"6787 "Cut!" cried the Director."I still don't feel good about this scene.6788 Some of the details just don't read as authentic. And I don't like6789 this conveyor belt. I don't remember electronics stores looking like6790 this."6792 He looked down and then spoke into his Arrow shirtsleeve.6794 "Get me the Expert. The Expert! Now."6796 After a few minutes the actors were already getting restless and so he6797 waved them off, free to shoot dice or fuck under the craft services6798 table or whatever it was actors did when not being directed by a6799 director. People continued to swarm around him, but still the Expert6800 was not present.6802 The Director consulted his shirtsleeve again and then peered into his6803 lap at his leaf. He'd research this himself. He tapped two distinct6804 regions in sequence and then furrowed his brow as his eyes strained to6805 follow the changes.6807 Chuck Fraud loaded his pen.6809 He cruised in through the front doors and attached himself to a cart.6810 Walked it down an aisle and held out his arm, sending a row of boxes6811 tumbling into his basket.6813 Pushed the basket up to the register. Starting filling out a check.6815 "I'll need to see your identoplate," the cashier interrupted.6817 "What kind of scam is this?" asked Chuck Fraud.6819 "Sir, you can't pay with paper"6821 "Cut!" screamed the Director, finally making himself hoarse.6823 This time, the Expert was on hand.6825 "This sequence just isn't working. I'm sort of re-writing it blind6826 here; I don't know if the original screenplay was pecked out at random6827 by amphetamine-soaked apes or if this was something originally6828 intended for telescreen. Either way, it's shit. This retail6829 environment is in no way authentic. The transaction particulars are6830 also inaccurate. If I remember this stuff, you know the viewers are6831 going to remember it. We've got to do something about it."6833 "I'll see what I can come up with," confirmed the Expert, before6834 darting between some interns and vacating the sound stage.6836 Errol Royale fingered a business card from the top of his deck. It6837 read:"B. Errol Royale, Recruiter." His eyes massaged the dense6838 ultracrowd. As he surveyed the area, an erection began to deform the6839 contour of his trousers.6841 Royale flashed on one Chuck P. Fraud and made a bee-line for him,6842 parting the sea of aimless consumers by waving his business card in6843 front of his face like a butterfly knife. Fraud responded, naturally6844 enough, by shifting his weight and attacking Royale's midsection,6845 using the point formed by his knuckles to radiate a signal of pain6846 throughout the taller man's ribcage6848 "Cut," breathed the Director.6850 He paused to draw in more air before continuing.6852 "I think I'm going to give up on this scene. I no longer care how6853 Fraud gets into the military. We just have to make it believable when6854 he starts picking off Congressmen. Let's move on to the next page."6856 THE MOLDS6858 tags: 1975, jonathan, plinth_mold, reginald6860 The man from downstairs would appear every evening at 7:00 p.m., ready6861 to collect the wax sculpts. He would take them down to the6862 manufacturing floor where they would be cast as first shot test molds,6863 and be then put through several short production runs. Gently, the man6864 would scoop up each figure and place it onto his tray. He would then6865 push his cart along to the next desk. This cycle iterated, every6866 evening of every season, without fail. By autumn, the company's lead6867 design team would complete a fresh collection of figurines.6869 Jonathan's team had never failed the company.6871 Motioning to the man with the cart, then towards an array of already6872 assembled parts that were spread out on the table before him, Jonathan6873 presented the work that had most recently occupied his attention. The6874 wheels of the man's cart emitted a cantankerous noise and shortly6875 began to roll again, this time in the direction of Jonathan's work6876 area.6878 From out of nowhere, Plinth Mold tramped into the room. He shook the6879 dust from his boots, shouldered past the man with the cart, and locked6880 his one good eye, somehow simultaneously, onto both men at once.6881 Plinth held onto this intimate, personal contact for as long as he6882 possibly could before proceeding to the next phase of the interaction.6884 Jonathan batted a curtain of dirty hair from his face and began to6885 scratch his yellow beard. There was no use trying to stop the boss6886 now.6888 Plinth removed his eye patch, revealing the smooth, concave surface6889 where an eye socket should have been situated, had Plinth been born of6890 a mere human woman. Squinting, he proceeded to inspect Jonathan's most6891 recent achievements. The first sculpt seemed to captivate, singularly,6892 and he hoisted it up into the light, the better to examine its6893 particulars. His weight shifted forward and his mouth produced a6894 vaguely appreciative grunt. His one good eye rapidly alternated its6895 focus for several seconds, comparing his favorite figure to the other6896 wax artworks arranged haphazardly across Jonathan's table. It was6897 clear from these physical perturbations that, in Plinth's opinion,6898 none of the other figures measured up to the one he held clenched in6899 his leather-gloved hand.6901 Suddenly sweeping away his velvet knapsack, Plinth winked at Jonathan6902 and pulled the drawstring closed.6904 "Our style of working will seem less threatening, in retrospect," he6905 remarked.6907 "Who's threatened?" Jonathan tended to humor the aging businessman his6908 eccentricities, but he sensed that he was being mocked.6910 Plinth (indicating the sculpt that had captured his interest):"I shall6911 require more figures in this vein. Yes. Similar, I think, if not6912 identical, to this one."6914 Jonathan:"But I've completed a whole series of designs. Here, just6915 take a look at these other models"6917 "I will require only the Asiatics," insisted Plinth, expertly6918 maneuvering past Jonathan's pointlessly extended hand.6920 "You aim to pick and choose between the Lord's handiwork?" demanded6921 Jonathan, a surprising wave of anger suddenly breaching the surface of6922 his pink face.6924 "A man must content himself with the time that he has been allotted,"6925 quoted Plinth,"...and so divide his attentions accordingly."6927 Plinth paused, waiting for Jonathan's mind to catch up with his ears.6929 "It should also be pointed out that you have come perilously close to6930 conflating yourself with the Lord our God. A most unusual lapse, for a6931 young man of your background."6933 This led to silence. Plinth knew quite well which switches he was6934 throwing within the young lad's mind.6936 Jonathan considered himself to be the reincarnation of a famous Green6937 religious leader, highly revered by the people of his home country.6938 This quirk had been jealously concealed by Jonathan's family, as wide6939 dissemination of his delusions was likely to result in ridicule, or,6940 even worse, excommunication from the country's dominant religious6941 order. Since no one believed his claims, there could be no defense.6943 As time continued to elapse, Plinth wondered if perhaps he had flipped6944 Jonathan's switches with an excess of vigor.6946 Eventually, the young man let out his breath. Plinth winced visibly as6947 Jonathan opened his mouth and slowly began to speak.6949 "I suppose you are better qualified to discern the relative, mundane6950 qualities of my work than I can ever hope to be," Jonathan said6951 easily, his ears slowly fading from red to pink."I do not begrudge you6952 your preferences. They are the very basis of our relationship, after6953 all. Please, take what you will."6955 With this, Plinth relaxed and settled back into his shoes. He could6956 see now that Jonathan had regained conscious control of his limbs, and6957 so, in this more equanimous humor, would not attempt to strike him6958 with any of the tools laid out on his workbench. Plinth hastened to6959 remind himself that there was never a guaranteed outcome when one6960 ventured to upset the Divine equilibrium of the religiously inclined.6961 He was only glad that he had not come to terminate the boy's6962 employment.6964 Behind Plinth's back, situated at the base of a far wall, a half-sized6965 door rose up from the floor. Presently, it opened, and a half-sized6966 man crossed over its threshold into the open air of Jonathan's6967 workshop. Plinth had not come equipped to deal with multiple6968 assailants, and so he spun around quite awkwardly to confront this6969 lately arriving interloper.6971 Somewhat unexpectedly, Plinth's plastic cloak had gathered itself6972 around his ankles, on the floor, and he nearly tripped over it as he6973 assumed the appropriate defensive posture.6975 The man in the closet had declined to join Plinth and Jonathan in the6976 lounge. He claimed not to have been aware of Plinth's arrival in the6977 workshop, which seemed ordinary enough on its face, but no sane man6978 (in Plinth's estimation) refused a free drink and a chance to gnaw the6979 ear of his employer. He would know the reason behind this man's6980 stubborn abstinence. He demanded that the fellow explain himself, and6981 fixed his posture to wait for an answer. The half-sized man had6982 prepared no rebuttal, and so finally he agreed to break from his6983 chores, to drink with his employer, to act like a human being. In6984 spite of this surrender, Plinth observed that a measure of wariness6985 still showed plainly on his face.6987 "I have busied myself in that closet, without emerging, for a handful6988 of months, and would continue in my toil without complaint if you6989 could but leave me alone to get on with my work," lamented the6990 half-sized man.6992 "Is it comfortable in that closet?" Plinth asked. His genuine6993 curiosity was evident to all who were present at the table.6995 "I have to admit that it's not. But my closet is still serviced by the6996 building's pneumatic tube system, through which I am able to procure6997 my materials."6999 "May I ask then why it is you are willing to tolerate such working7000 conditions?"7002 Plinth knew that he was traversing the boundaries of etiquette. Had he7003 opened himself to recriminations? The half-sized man matched his tone.7005 "Oh, and I suppose you find every aspect of your job to be ideal? I7006 work from the time I wake up, straight through to the time when I fall7007 asleep. What could be the purpose of maintaining separate quarters?7008 There's nothing about where I sleep in my orders."7010 "I don't mean to rhyme..." he added.7012 Jonathan was again fumbling with the bristles of his beard, eyes7013 focused upon some distant apocalypse. Reginald (for that, Plinth had7014 learned, was the half-sized man's name) had performed the series of7015 keypad exertions necessary to extend his rolling platform to roughly7016 chair height, and so he began the process of conveying his legless7017 body into the booth alongside his companions. For his part, Plinth was7018 generous enough not to remark upon Reginald's ornate personal mobility7019 carrier. Though gape at it he did.7021 "What?" demanded Reginald.7023 "I take it you are the man who operates the molds," whispered Plinth,7024 eyes fairly glazing over as he avoided focusing on Reginald's...7025 stroller.7027 "The man who designed them. Now operates them. No one else seems to be7028 able to get the hang of the interface."7030 Here Jonathan interjected, reciting the well-worn narrative."The7031 backups of Reginald's original designs for the molds were lost in a7032 catastrophic fire that cleaned out the department's central data7033 center back in'71."7035 "The company opted to rescue what was left of my code instead of what7036 was left of my legs. And how did that work out for them?"7038 "Reginald was caught in the fire," Jonathan explained.7040 "Falling machinery bisected me. Cut me into hemispheres. With the loss7041 of my templates, I've no way of growing a new interface. None of the7042 department's people have ever been able to figure out how to run the7043 things without me."7045 "But we get by," Jonathan insisted, realizing that Reginald was making7046 him sound useless.7048 "Yes, recognizing that losing me meant throwing off their budget, the7049 department chipped in on this mobility rig, and built a special room7050 for me here so that I might be close enough to the molds to lend my7051 expertise when complex adjustments were required. Eventually, I just7052 made the space over into an office. The molds are too expensive to7053 replace, so this is the state of affairs until we discover how to map7054 the controls onto other users' minds."7056 "I had no idea," said Plinth, now sincerely embarrassed.7058 Reginald inclined his head toward Jonathan and took another sip of his7059 water.7061 "I tell the kid here it's all God's fault."7063 I'LL MANAGE7065 tags: 1976, maude_mold, plinth_mold7067 So he was unhappy, again. But when he halted to appraise the situation7068 rationally, he found that nothing had really changed. Why, then, this7069 morose disposition?7071 Each season, Plinth Mold selected the action figures that would7072 comprise the next year's line. He did this alonethat is, his decision7073 was finalbecause Plinth Mold knew that to consult a committee would7074 signal weakness to the trade press. Such fanfare had been made of his7075 spectacular rise, his subsequent reign and famously charismatic7076 management style, that he was wary of reversing the polarity of this7077 momentum, reluctant to sour himself in the public eye by demonstrating7078 an acute lack of direction. He knew well that each word of praise7079 committed in print represented an investment expected to yield7080 generous dividends; that the looming weight of his success was not7081 itself immune to the fearful and awesome properties of general7082 relativity. In point of fact, there was a sort of balance to the7083 world, and he was loathe to tip it off-kilter.7085 The problem was, finally, that these latest designs were not going to7086 work. That is to say, Plinth could not decide between them. In years7087 gone by such an impasse would have met with the unhesitant scrapping7088 of the entire linePlinth would fire the responsible team and start7089 over from scratch. But it was far too late for that, this year. He7090 would have to make a choice from amongst what had already been placed7091 in front of him. He knew it was imperative to come to a decision, but7092 still he was unsure of his direction.7094 Yes, so something of some significance had actually changed. He cycled7095 between each layout and reprimanded himself sternly for his7096 indecision. Why was he making this so difficult? As he stared at each7097 proposal, he could not determine to his satisfaction which was7098 superior. They all seemed to consist of roughly the same elements.7099 Each seemed equal in merit to the next.7101 "There is urine all over the front of this toilet," complained Maude7102 Mold, Plinth's wife of some twenty-five years."Sometimes I sit down7103 and my pant leg touches itI can feel it."7105 Plinth looked up from his leaf."I guess I'll need to clean that up."7107 "That'd be a good idea, so I don't fucking retch."7109 Previous flirtations with indecision had cost Plinth an entire7110 season's work. He had ended up pushing a wave of repaints into the7111 stores for Redaction Day. No truly new figures for over six months.7112 Mention of that debacle was now off-limits in staff meetings, but the7113 dark period lingered in his memory. Fatigued, he thought to himself7114 that bouncing back from abject failure was a young man's game.7116 To All Employees: Our Guiding Principles form the basis for how we7117 should manage our day-to-day interactions with customers and each7118 other. They are the unchanging foundation that supports how we conduct7119 ourselves everyday. Along with our Business Plan objectives and7120 Factors for Dominance, the Guiding Principles form the building blocks7121 to ensure the Figures Department and ultimately UNIVERSAL MOLD's7122 success. Click here to view the presentation of the month that7123 discusses the importance of"Hold Yourself and Others Accountable." Act7124 with Honesty and Integrity at All Times7125 Exhibit a Positive Attitude7126 Treat Everyone with Courtesy and Respect7127 Do What You Say You are Going to Do7128 Seek First to Understand Then Be Understood7129 Communicate Clearly and Often7130 Inspect What You Expect7131 Execute Flawlessly Everyday7132 Recognize and Encourage Continuously7133 Hold Yourself and Others Accountable Thank you, Plinth Mold7134 President, UNIVERSAL MOLD7136 "I can't believe I just wrote that," thought Plinth Mold."I wonder how7137 I would respond to a message like this, were I to receive it from my7138 own employer." But of course, Plinth Mold did not have an employer.7139 Had not, in fact, for some time. (Maude, it was true, was only his7140 wife.) He tapped the appropriate region on his leaf's screen, causing7141 his message to be sent. He hated these condescending dispatches, but7142 this one had been necessary, something about gradated impacts that had7143 bubbled up from Force Management, and if that were the case, it might7144 as well bear his own signature instead of one belonging to some7145 irrelevant middle manager. He sought solace through embracing the7146 inherent nobility of his judgment, but, curiously, accepting his7147 responsibility failed to improve his sagging mood. He still felt7148 blankor worse, confused.7150 "When you sit there with your pen, scratching away, it almost appears7151 as if you have friends," allowed Maude."Your movements, these gestures7152 toward what appears to be the composition of some sort of communique,7153 are so realistic."7155 Plinth sighed, folded up his leaf and turned off the lamp on his7156 nightstand. He removed his eye patch and laid it on the table next to7157 his face, then ran his fingers over the concave surface where his7158 eyeball should have been. His toes were freezing, but Maude would not7159 countenance another blanket or any adjustment to the environmental7160 controls. Perhaps he could show her the figure designs, see if she7161 could muster a preference for one in particular. Immediately, he7162 wondered what that would cost him in the event of an acrimonious7163 separation, and so he closed his mouth. He'd better just do it7164 himself. Like so much else.7166 "It's an expensive illusion, created just for you."7168 There was silence, then, but he knew that he had said too much.7170 SHIFT!7172 tags: 1981, chricton, eva, plinth_mold, tab27174 11SEPT19817176 UNIVERSAL MOLD, NYC OFFICE7178 Plinth Mold scrolled through the morning news and shook his head.7180 "They make up some lie and then they get mad at you when you see7181 through it. Because in their mind they think they've crafted the7182 perfect deception, which should appeal to your (perceived) faults."7184 "That's pretty fucking ridiculous. Clearly they are to blame for their7185 own inability to con you."7187 "Yeah."7189 "By the way, do you want to come in early today?"7191 "I'm already here, sir."7193 Plinth looked up from his leaf and saw that Thomas was indeed standing7194 in the doorway to his office.7196 "Oh. So I'm not talking to you on the phone."7198 "No, sir."7200 "You sound like you're on the phone."7202 "I'm not, sir."7204 "You're sure."7206 "Yes, sir."7208 "Nano-toxins. That eat sperm. Selective genocide."7210 "History is spamming weird."7212 "Yeah, I read about it the other day. Something they unleashed during7213 World War II. Hell of a way to get your pipes cleaned."7215 "Barbaric. And yet... Hmm. Piques the curiosity."7217 "I'll say. I wonder if it hurts."7219 "See if you can finish up these inks before Chricton comes back from7220 lunch."7222 "Will do."7224 Thomas moved his fingers inside the box. Ink lines began to appear7225 over the blue wireframe on his screen. Once finished, he would export7226 the flat image to paper. For some reason, Plinth Mold still preferred7227 a 2-D mock-up for his action figures. Thomas found the whole get-up7228 awkward, but for a paycheck he was willing to oblige.7230 "I know this is not what we set out to do with ourselves," Thomas said7231 to himself as he continued to trace the lines on his screen."We've7232 allowed a number of years to slip by, and yet, no clear progress7233 towards our goals is apparent."7235 Just as Thomas was getting into the rhythm of self-deprecation,7236 Chricton returned, bursting through the door with two brown paper bags7237 full of groceries.7239 "That was quick."7241 "Yes. I ran into Eva in the corridor. Relieved her of these. Here,7242 let's snack while we work."7244 "Thoughtful of you."7246 "Yeah, I don't think she was going to do anything important with all7247 this stuff anyway. She was covered in some kind of white powder. Just7248 stood there while I took her groceries away from her. Distant look in7249 her eyes."7251 Thomas leaned his head down on his drawing surface and pretended to7252 snort a line of cocaine.7254 Both men laughed heartily.7256 Plinth was flossing with a piece of o-ring from one of the prototype7257 figures.7259 "Boss, that's gross."7261 "Hey, all this junk is mine anyway. Keep your eyes on your own paper."7263 "You know, I've often wondered how to solve the problem of The Troll."7265 "What the fuck is a Troll, boss?"7267 "I'm glad you asked. A Troll is merely someone who enters into a7268 discussion with the intent of disrupting the equilibrium; usually by7269 misrepresenting his own or others' actual positions in favor of7270 inflammatory rhetoric, or by the constant interjection of non7271 sequiturs."7273 "I see. This has to do with one of your theological speculations,7274 doesn't it? Doesn't sound like a very friendly habit, anyway."7276 "No, the Troll isn't a very friendly sort at all. In fact, the7277 practice of Trolling is usually undertaken maliciously. Why, the7278 history of the Green is positively peppered with examples of7279 individuals who"7281 "But boss, why would someone want to do something like that? Seems7282 counterproductive."7284 "That, Thomas, is the problem of the Troll."7286 Chricton looked up from his workbench."I think we should make a figure7287 of this Troll character." He swiveled his screen around and displayed7288 his design: a small creature with an obnoxious outgrowth of wispy7289 hair, mounted atop a pencil as if it were some kind of ornamental7290 eraser.7292 Plinth was visibly amused. He depressed a switch inside his coat7293 sleeve.7295 "Capital idea, Chricton! Our only obstacle will be securing a license7296 on the concept from the Green Consortium."7298 All of the men chuckled hesitantly before deliberately shifting the7299 discussion to other matters.7301 The Green Consortium never issued licenses.7303 Not to the likes of Plinth Mold.7305 THE SHIP7307 tags: 1993, piro, plinth_mold, tab27309 I'm watching the waves do weird things, dancing around the stuck pixel7310 in my visor. It's making me a little nauseous.7312 Piotr's abovedecks with the boss, Plinth Mold. I really, really,7313 really didn't want him to come along on this outing, but Captain7314 Plinth insisted. I can't say no to him; literally. In spite of the7315 rumors of impending cutbacks, I need to hold onto this job for as long7316 as possible. There are debts to consider. And hey, it's his boat.7318 But truthfully, I hate Piotr. He's my best friend, sure, but things7319 are complicated. He makes me be the bottom. Plus, his hair is longer7320 than mine. These are only two of my reasons for hating him.7322 Staring out of my porthole is not working. I'm about to blow7323 groceries, so I've got to get out of my room. I don't want to ruin my7324 sheets.7326 I'm up top again, leaning over the railing. Piotr thinks this is all7327 pretty funny. Plinth, if he notices, ignores the subtle7328 best-friend-tension between Piotr and myself and has a laugh as well.7329 I'm peering into his face, trying to line up the dead pixel in my7330 visor with his one good eye. It centers me momentarily and I stop7331 vomiting long enough to strike up a conversation.7333 "Plinth, I need a raise."7335 "I just want you to know that my having to fire Piotr isn't going to7336 reflect badly on you."7338 I am transfixed. Somehow I keep from letting loose on Plinth's shoes.7340 "You know, because you recommended him to the company."7342 After a period of stasis the sky is vibrating normally again, and so7343 I'm back to leaning over the railing. If you need me, you'll know7344 where I'm at. Plinth keeps on talking.7346 "Let's not tell him until we cross the Equator, eh?"7348 Wiping my mouth. Pushing the words out."He's not really my brother,7349 you know."7351 Going back several years now, Piotr and I have been telling people7352 that we're brothers. Twin brothers, even. Somewhat surprisingly,7353 seeing as how we look nothing alike, no one has ever expressed the7354 slightest incredulity about our claim to blood kinship. I guess I have7355 to admit, I would be surprised if anyone at this company had paid that7356 close attention to anything that came out of our mouths. But this goes7357 beyond simple gullibility. Never, no matter how ludicrous a scenario7358 Piotr and I may have just tried to put over, has anyone, at any time,7359 ever, challenged one of our claims. Even when we have deliberately7360 crafted preposterous stories. Even when it's clear that we almost7361 certainly must be lying. I have no explanation for this incredible7362 fact. Though I do admit to taking advantage of the effect from time to7363 time. When it comes to untruths, Piro and I are multi-platinum7364 sellers. Too hype, straight dope, flavor milk, so to speak. It's7365 sickening.7367 Anyway, by now I am tired of the charade. Determined to break the7368 illusion, to drop real knowledge on our employer and our co-workers.7369 Piotr, my love; how I hate him.7371 "Boss, I have a confession. I've been lying to you, all these years."7373 "In your way. Of course I know that you are not a blood relation of7374 Piotr's. Though I doubt anyone else here at the company suspects. You7375 see, Piotr is my son."7377 I lean back over the edge, then straighten myself, then back over the7378 edge, ad nauseam. (Ha ha.) An inverted pendulum. The IV comes out of7379 my arm and then my premium grade Green is washing all over the deck.7380 It's a beautiful chaos.7382 "No way, boss."7384 "Oh, yes way, Thomas."7386 "That's ridiculous. That's disgusting. How could this happen."7388 It is a great storm that frightens the fish and blows up the skirt of7389 our boat. It causes a great deal of entertaining interference in my7390 visor. I'm tracing lines between the raindrops with my messed-up pixel7391 and again, it's making me quite ill. However, my stomach has almost7392 caught up with the unstable gravity of the ship, and I feel that if7393 only I can keep up with the raindrops, I may stave off vomiting7394 indefinitely. In the meantime, the IV has been replaced in my arm.7396 Plinth stands watch over the bridge.7398 I can feel Piotr entering the room even though he's exercising his7399 professional skills; he's so vain that he even wants to lie to me with7400 his movements.7402 I can't take it anymore.7404 "He's firing you, idiot."7406 "I love you, Thomas."7408 The ball is in play. I really do hate Piotr.7410 "Of course you love me. We're brothers, right?"7412 "He's not firing me. He's giving me the ship."7414 This is just too much. I have to throw up some more of my insides.7416 "You know he's my father, then," says Piotr.7418 "Oh, fuck you." I barely spit out the words before losing my lunch all7419 over the bed. Piotr looks sympathetic, but suddenly he gets a little7420 testy as he realizes I'm damaging his property.7422 "Hey, don't make a mess of my boat."7424 Aw, shut up.7426 This is not a problem.7428 This is no emergency.7430 I know how to calm him down.7432 PERCEPT DRIVE7434 tags: 1993, piro, plinth_mold, tab27436 Plinth Mold sat and ate his Green Cashew cereal. The ship's percept7437 drive sent barely visible tremors across the surface of his milk.7439 "Do you ever get sad when you see a girl who is, like, all obsessed7440 with sports and stuff, and you realize that there's no way the two of7441 you could ever be compatible?"7443 Thomas had somehow gained entrance to Plinth's cabin. What about the7444 elaborate rhetoricalock system Piro had installed? Plinth had been7445 assured, specifically, that Thomas could not penetrate it. Ridiculous.7447 "You mean some girl you like?"7449 "Not necessarily. Just, you know, any girl. Just to see her. From a7450 distance, it's almost as if there is some sort of active force that7451 draws you towards her, even as it pushes her away."7453 "I can't say as I've ever suffered that sort of crisis, Thomas."7455 "Oh. Well, even though I'm gay, it still sucks. Strictly speaking."7457 The ship lurched sharply and Plinth figured Piro must be wrangling the7458 percept team to the other side of the deck, making a slight course7459 adjustment.7461 "Anyway, could you please shut up this incessant chattering? My Green7462 Cashews are getting soggy."7464 "All right, boss. I'll just head up top and see if anything else needs7465 doing."7467 Abovedecks, Piro was indeed herding members of the percept team from7468 one side of the ship to the other. Each man or woman planted7469 themselves into their new position and focused their attention7470 acutely, fixating upon a single point along the horizon that had been7471 marked pink in their visors. Slowly, the ship began to change7472 direction.7474 Piro propped a leg up on the railing."Forward; That way," he7475 commanded, gesturing in a specific direction for the benefit of the7476 percept team.7478 Their gaze moved to his hand instead of to the distant point he had7479 meant to indicate.7481 That was not good for the ship.7483 THE SHIP, PT. 37485 tags: 1993, albert_lunsford, chrystal_pepsi, piro,7486 plinth_mold, tab1, tab2, the_chief, wetbeard7488 It was Lunsford, all right. QCL Corp.7490 I really didn't need to verify.7492 I had spellchecked over three hundred individual songs, processing7493 each of them manually. One at a time because Lunsford refused to let7494 anyone use the automation. All of his interns were on leave for7495 various reasons. He'd popped out of his office a couple of hours ago7496 and handed me this improbable stack of leaves. One leaf per song! Then7497 disappeared just as quickly as he'd arrived. Meanwhile, at an access7498 junction to the abandoned floor, my own"interns" were spreading porn7499 onto the mesh like so much organic peanut butter onto a bland tasting7500 sandwich. The security exposure revealed by last night's scans would7501 heal itself by lunch time, possibly even before I could put Lunsford7502 in the freezer and be on my way. Potentially troubling, but as a7503 strictly practical measure I was confident of my chances. For various7504 reasons it paid to keep positive.7506 I cracked open a Gray Pop and chugged it back. Frothy, neutral-toned7507 agents coated my throat with perpendicular cells. It was refreshing,7508 and also damned delicious. Honestly, I should have been focusing on7509 losing the extra pounds I'd picked up while working on the this7510 assignment. Only a week to go before I'd be shipping out again. I'd7511 appear obese and would probably be mocked by my teammates. I glanced7512 down at my belly, hesitantly. All right, shit, I thought to myself,7513 I'll purge the perp cells before heading to bed. So much for the perks7514 of the job. I hated forcing myself to vomit.7516 Presently, I belched.7518 Which temporarily alleviated my sea sickness.7520 I squeezed my eyes shut and strained to hear my heartbeat. The sounds7521 of the machinery in the room ran my thoughts aground. Wave upon wave7522 of diverse electronic complaint, crashing together in a ubiquitous7523 aural foam. So loud that I couldn't feel the reassuring pulse of my7524 circulatory system clicking against my inner ear. I wondered: Am I7525 finally dead? Or am I being recalled to base? What is the meaning of7526 all this?7528 Then reason, and balance, resumed.7530 Meaning was irrelevant.7532 A new disturbance in my visor window. Some of the security from7533 upstairs was leaking onto the public layer. Wonder what the pajama7534 shits are? Text 667-SHITZ to find out!7536 Well. It was old-fashioned stuff but it would work. That is to say, if7537 my interns could keep their hands out of their pants long enough to7538 smear it into place properly. I crushed the empty Gray Pop can on my7539 forehead and tossed it into the trash bin. There was groundwork to be7540 laid before my part of the assignment could proceed. I scanned the7541 progress reports again and made sure that the numbers were leveling7542 according to plan. We were on schedule. Barely. A relief, but the boys7543 were only onto the B tab by now.7545 We were going to need more time.7547 It may have started as a reaction to the percept team's sudden loss of7548 attention. It may have been something else. What was positive was that7549 things were not going well for the team stationed upon the top deck of7550 the USS DOM DELUISE. Piro's prodigious organizational efforts7551 notwithstanding.7553 "You men, eyes on the horizon," directed Piro.7555 A waved sloshed over the deck, knocking a couple of the team off of7556 their feet. They immediately righted their gaze to stern.7558 "Not what I meant," said Piro.7560 "Water's getting choppy," hollered Thomas Bright, emerging from7561 belowdecks."You sure you don't need to get your folks strapped in?"7563 "We'll be fine." Piro reinstated his leg to the side of the railing7564 and propped himself against it with his elbow. Somehow, he maintained7565 the appearance of standing upright. He motioned towards the sun, which7566 was only just now slipping below the the horizon.7568 Thomas interjected again."It's no wonder they were having trouble,7569 staring into the sun like that. Probably ruining their eyesight."7571 "Worrying about that is my responsibility," said Piro, clearly7572 irritated that Thomas had raised the issue in front of his men.7574 "Hey, fuck- s'cuuuuuuse me. I'm here on behalf of the boss. He's7575 trying to mentate down there. Only, the ship's rocking back and forth7576 too much. Making him nauseous."7578 Piro's face didn't change."Understood."7580 Satisfied, Thomas returned belowdecks.7582 Piro kicked one of his men in the seat of his uniform."I said eyes on7583 the horizon."7585 We were in before Lunsford got back.7587 I sat down behind his desk and played around with his knickknacks.7588 Action figures, mostly. Even one of himself. Though it must be stated7589 that the depiction was idealized, anatomically enhanced almost beyond7590 recognition. There were some doodles carved into the arm of his chair,7591 apparently with a pocket knife. What a barbarian. Inside his desk I7592 found several unopened packages of Magnum prophylactics.7594 He burst through the doorway of his office just as I had one of the7595 Magnums out and stretched over the barrel of my gun. I suppose it7596 painted an odd picture for him. Well, shit, I thought, break time's7597 over.7599 My first shot punctured the digitally enhanced prophylactic. The rest7600 of the flexible, translucent material blew away as I carried forward7601 with renovations to Lunsford's frame. Pieces of the Magnum had ended7602 up all over the place, and I laughed when I saw that a small fragment7603 had become stuck to Lunsford's cheek. The debris and flesh dispersed7604 in their usual fractal pattern as I emptied the rest of my clip into7605 his face.7607 Mission accomplished, then.7609 By the time Lunsford had settled to the floor, my interns had caught7610 up with me. They proceeded to scoop up any and all items of interest.7611 I fished in Lunsford's pockets for a cigarette and came up with some7612 off-brand that must have cost even less than what I normally smoked. I7613 stripped off my necktie and tossed it onto Lunsford's lifeless chest,7614 chased it with a flick of ash, and then, with some effort, produced a7615 fair amount of Gray Pop spittle. A signature, of sorts. We gathered up7616 what we needed from his office and left the body for housekeeping.7618 Ring, ring.7620 "USS DOM DELUISE, your one-stop shop for Redaction Day savings," Lt.7621 Commander Wetbeard sighed into his mouthpiece.7623 "This is Plinth. I'm calling on an outside line because the intercom7624 in my stateroom is non-functional. I need you to contact Piro and send7625 him down here for me."7627 "I'll get right on top of that, boss," said Wetbeard, straightening7628 smartly in spite of the fact that no one could see him in his watch7629 seat.7631 A low-flying aircraft became momentarily visible to the percept team7632 and the ship rolled to starboard.7634 "Did you feel that?"7636 "Feel what, boss?"7638 "Nevermind."7640 "I'll send Piro down right away, sir. Anyway, it looks like he could7641 use a break."7643 "Tell him we'll have Thomas steer the team for him, while he's7644 belowdecks."7646 Lt. Commander Wetbeard stared at his phone. While his rank as Lt.7647 Commander was merely a job title, and not an actual rank in any known7648 naval organization, he was still conflicted over whether or not to7649 question the orders of Plinth Mold. It had been some time since7650 Wetbeard had needed to contemplate the ramifications of any of the7651 orders that were issued to him. His mind ran several possible7652 scenarios as he awaited the flash of resolute intent which would7653 signal that a suitable course of action had been selected.7654 Accordingly, the two conflicted halves of Lt. Commander Wetbeard7655 engaged in an extended negotiation, exchanging discreet packets of7656 information at last-century speeds. As if to unclog the apparent7657 bottleneck, Plinth Mold severed the uncomfortable silence by at last7658 continuing to speak.7660 "I'm sending him up now," Plinth said, and hung up.7662 And with that, Wetbeard's crisis was resolved.7664 In all, fifteen of my team were disqualified from active service based7665 upon their performance in the Lunsford simulation.7667 I began to seriously consider retirement. No, really this time. It7668 wasn't bad enough that I'd been busted down to mission7669 pre-visualizations; I had to be roundly insulted by the lackluster7670 passel of students assigned to me, as well. I fairly ached to commit7671 government-sanctioned violence against an entrenched detachment of7672 radical dissidents, or at least to fire a loaded weapon at a7673 stationary target in a taxpayer-funded firing range. My desires,7674 however, were irrelevant, owing to my present status at the Farm.7675 They'd even revoked my weapons certificates so that nothing in my7676 personal arsenal could be activated or equipped. For now, the weapons7677 would lay idle, stubbornly refusing to aid in the national defense.7678 Naturally, I was still responsible for their maintenance. It was a7679 textbook example of bureaucratic entanglement: an asset simultaneously7680 existing in two contradictory states, never collapsing, one way or the7681 other, into coherence. During the first six months of my demotion I7682 was convinced that soon I'd be slipped a deep-cover assignment which7683 would exploit my new status as a pseudo-civilian. It would hardly be7684 the first time I'd enjoyed such an arrangement. But no one ever7685 contacted me. No such assignment ever materialized.7687 Maybe I had missed a cue.7689 In truth, there was a given reason for my demotion. I won't go into7690 detail, but suffice to say that around 1991 it was suddenly considered7691 bad form to tally a large number of civilian casualties in the course7692 of a single mission. My superiors had cunningly rewritten the rule7693 book after I'd already been deployed to the field. Oh, there were7694 extenuating circumstances, to be sure, but, as with the review board7695 who oversaw my case, I'm sure you have better things to do with your7696 time than listen to me complain about how I was sabotaged by the petty7697 reprisals of middle-management. I'll just say that it was no7698 coincidence a former student of mine had become my new case officer7699 shortly before we shipped out, and that the offending mission was my7700 first under her command.7702 Chrystal Pepsi. An officer for whom I'd flatly refused to die.7704 It's conceivable that she may have sensed my lack of faith in her7705 abilities.7707 Taking a peek at the paperwork and gradually realizing the scenario I7708 was being slotted into, I was furious. It's unprofessional to admit7709 this, but I'm certain my feelings toward C. Pepsi affected my7710 performance during the mission. It's likely that she was cognizant of7711 my opinions even when she first floated my name to lead the team.7712 Hence, a typical sort of trap. Her bid to leapfrog my years of7713 experience by simply removing me from the game board. This was exactly7714 the kind of thing I had taught her to do to other people.7716 And, well, it had worked.7718 I missed the Chief. I missed my old life.7720 I was used to being a target, but that didn't mean I would just sit7721 around and do nothing about it, once I found out.7723 It was time to reactivate my guns.7725 THE CARRIER7727 tags: 1993, chipotle_pope_bags, gravely_cuss, pennis_mold,7728 piro, plinth_mold, tab2, wetbeard7730 "This logo is all wrong," complained Pennis Mold."You've got to7731 include the inverted commas, like this." Pennis made a few marks on7732 the leaf and held up his doctored version of the logo."Is that so7733 hard?"7735 "It just seems like a bunch of artsy-fartsy crap, to me," said7736 Chipotle."It's a stroke book. Why does it have to be high concept?"7738 Pennis waved the new logo around, gesturing with authority, which7739 finally triggered Chipoltle to relent.7741 "Okay, all right, I'll give it another pass."7743 Each day at the company was a repeat of this same pattern. Pennis7744 would issue instructions and then there would be friction. By the end7745 of his fifth year at MASSIVE FICTIONS, Pennis was all but ready to7746 hang it up. Then, more problems emerged. A general strike had been7747 called, partway into his latest project, which had resulted in Pennis'7748 line being reduced to a handful of stroke books and a live streaming7749 video site that was only accessible from within the Bohemian Grove.7751 The publishing business had proven more difficult than he had7752 anticipated.7754 And Pennis didn't even like stroke books.7756 Years ago.7758 "Pornstations on," chirped the instructor.7760 Gravely and Chipoltle slapped the sides of their pornstations,7761 whispering behind the buzzing of the blue lights. Their instructor7762 adjusted the smallpox heart on her cheek and immediately launched into7763 her morning monologue. At this, Chipoltle activated his stresspants.7765 A fact that did not pass unobserved by his classmates.7767 Back in the present.7769 "Sir, how long until dinner?"7771 "Help me with these potatoes," answered Pennis Mold.7773 The two men went to work, removing the polymer wrap from each of a7774 dozen red potatoes. Pennis was going to wing it. He hoped that Plinth7775 wouldn't notice he'd bought organic. And from outside the company, to7776 boot. Pennis decided then and there that Plinth would have to tough it7777 out. Human food was human food.7779 Many years ago.7781 The squad of boys made their way down the corridor. Rounding a corner,7782 a snatch of audio snagged their attention."Gravely Cuss, Chipotle Pope7783 Bags (Low Fat), Pennis Cialis Moldreport to the office at your7784 convenience."7786 "That means never," laughed Pennis Mold.7788 "I think I like the sound of that woman's voice," remarked Chipotle.7790 Present time, present day.7792 The deck of the carrier struggled to remain parallel with the horizon.7793 As Pennis stumbled onto deck, a group of homeless men pedaled out on7794 their bicycles, brandishing empty gas cans, demanding spare change so7795 that they might refuel their stranded automobiles. Seemingly oblivious7796 to the rolling of the ship's deck, the cyclists converged on Pennis'7797 position.7799 Pennis looked around and wondered where their automobiles could7800 possibly have broken down. For that matter, how could anyone be7801 homeless on an aircraft carrier?7803 "An aircraft carrier is supposed to have stabilizers," he explained to7804 the homeless men."Obviously, ours are not working very well. It's7805 probably dangerous for you to be riding out here, right now."7807 The cyclists eyed each other nervously. Slowly, apprehension hardened7808 into rage.7810 This guy was ignoring their pitch.7812 Pause to consider:7814 Pennis was the youngest of the three Mold brothers. To himand to7815 their fatherit seemed he could never quite measure up. This had made7816 Pennis' life much more difficult than he would have preferred.7818 But now he had his own ship.7820 The carrier was an old vessel, to be sure. But she was seaworthy, and7821 Pennis had never regretted his investment.7823 He had even made some improvements of his own.7825 "I just can't take it anymore," gasped Pennis Mold, tipping against7826 the hold and clutching his stomach in a decaying imitation of his7827 brother's photogenic, sportsmanlike physicality. He dropped the very7828 important folder of leaves he had just removed from the ship's vault.7830 "What, you'd rather head back up top? Relax. We'll rendezvous with7831 your brother soon."7833 "It's not the ship that's making me sick."7835 "Maybe you shouldn't have eaten so much of that weird cereal."7837 "Paris sent me another case. I wouldn't feel right just throwing it7838 away."7840 Pennis started back towards his quarters. Then reversed course. Then7841 reversed again. He stared down at his shoes, which promptly faded into7842 the floor beneath him. He was seeing green circles, spheres, squares,7843 cubes, words. When he tried to focus on them he found that nothing7844 came to mind.7846 Piro switched back to optical and then checked again. As with his7847 other sensor sweeps, the visual pass confirmed that there were no7848 approaching ships. He glanced over at Thomas and wondered if his visor7849 would report the same thing. That is, if Thomas were to muster any7850 interest in scanning the horizon. Piro imported his department's7851 budget and earmarked an allotment for upgrades to his team's standard7852 equipment. New visors for all his men.7854 "What I'd like is for everyone to be prepared to withdraw at a7855 moment's notice," stated Plinth.7857 "Understood, sir."7859 "I don't expect this will take very long. In fact, if not for the7860 simple pleasures of life at sea, I doubt I would have agreed to this7861 meeting at all."7863 Piro and Thomas both rolled their eyes.7865 "We'll be taking the same route back. I intend for us all to derive7866 some enjoyment from this cruise. Consider it a peculiar sort of7867 vacation. A paid vacation, obviously."7869 "If you don't mind my saying so, boss, the South Atlantic is kind of7870 an awkward venue for a family dispute," observed Thomas.7872 "Thomas, the open seas are essentially the only place left on Earth7873 where humans may whisper to each other in relative privacy."7875 Incredulous looks. That hadn't been true for decades.7877 "In any case, this meeting will hardly constitute a debate. We've long7878 ago settled any differences we might have had between us. Contrary to7879 what you two have probably surmised, I intend to shake the man's7880 hand."7882 "That's a whole grab bag of intentions you've got there, boss."7884 "Hush now, Thomas."7886 "Gentlemen."7888 Plinth Mold removed his safety belt and stepped out onto the deck of7889 the carrier. At his side were his personal chef, an armed guard, and7890 three of his most trusted attorneys. The chef shuffled nervously,7891 fingering the weapon concealed within his coat pocket.7893 Let's get out of this damned sunlight, thought the chef.7895 "Let's get out of this sunlight," suggested Plinth Mold, and all who7896 were present nodded in agreement.7898 Arriving to greet Plinth and his entourage were a coterie of men in7899 green suits. Vintage microfiber. They pegged Piro immediately as a7900 fellow specialist and nodded to him, exchanging introductions via7901 private channel. The conjoined group of men made their way into a7902 vacant deck elevator and adjusted their postures to accommodate the7903 cramped space. Presently, the doors swung shut and the mechanism7904 slowly lowered them into the sub-levels of the carrier.7906 Inexplicably, Plinth's attorneys seemed as nervous as the chef.7908 The elevator doors slid open again and Plinth took the lead,7909 navigating a winding series of passageways that finally terminated in7910 the entrance to an executive conference room. He felt at home on the7911 carrier, and somehow seemed familiar with its layout. This came as a7912 mild surprise since he had never previously studied the vessel, nor7913 had he ever set foot aboard such a craft. On the other hand, it was7914 sometimes difficult for him to isolate the experiences which had7915 accumulated throughout his long life. It was certainly possible that7916 the carrier had, at some point in time, belonged to him or to one of7917 his holding companies. He was amused because he could not remember,7918 could not distinguish between whimsy and reality.7920 Plinth poured himself a glass of water and replaced the pitcher at the7921 center of the table.7923 Lt. Commander Wetbeard was the first to spot the lighthouse. He7924 reached instinctively for his pressure screen, but the board had gone7925 dead. He fumbled in his shirt and eventually produced his personal7926 leaf. Shit. It would not power up.7928 Without Piro to guide their attention, the percept team was scrambling7929 on the deck below.7931 Thomas finally gave up on aiming at the toilet and resigned himself to7932 urinating on the floor.7934 GREEN SQUARES7936 tags: 1993, interviewer, pennis_mold, plinth_mold, wetbeard7938 It was Plinth's turn to evince incredulity. Obviously, there was no7939 lighthouse at these coordinates, or at any other coordinates in the7940 general vicinity. The apparent reality of the situation did not mesh7941 with with common sense. The situation was untenable.7943 Plinth employed the use of a vintage chronometer, worn on his wrist.7944 Presently, he fingered the device as his lawyers booted up their7945 paperwork."We're in the middle of the South Atlantic, Wetbeard," he7946 said."Please explain."7948 "Sir, I don't know where it came from. I looked down, and then I7949 looked up. From out of nowhere, it was there."7951 "Well, what am I paying you for? Steer the ship out of its way."7953 "Sir, that's what I've been trying to tell you. I"7955 "So, after you founded'MATERIAL', then what?"7957 "Plinth was impressed. I'd finally done something right. With his7958 encouragement, I went ahead and launched TURBO FUCKIN': SENSUAL7959 MAGAZINE as well as the fringe one, SASQUATCH COLOGNE. Neither of them7960 lasted long."7962 "Hm. What went wrong?"7964 "Basically, I went to sleep one night and had a dream that God was7965 real. I mean, physically real. And I was lucky enough to be born as7966 His incarnation on Earth. I guess what was most difficult about the7967 whole episode was that I... Well, I actually believed it. I believed7968 in the dream wholeheartedly."7970 "Haha, a foolproof source of information because dreams are so often7971 known to mirror reality."7973 "Exactly. Heh. You know, don't ask me to explain it, but at the time7974 it seemed rational. Or should I say, intuitive."7976 "Ah, I see. That old pratfall. Laid clean by the banana peel of7977 subjective cognition. I remember a time when I was forced by my7978 grandfather to drive one of those four-wheeled automobiles. Mercedes,7979 I believe they were called. I couldn't make sense of the steering7980 mechanism. No Tetris blocks, as we have today. My grandfather was7981 livid. He actually punched me in the shoulder! He couldn't believe7982 that someone my age would have no interest in piloting one of his7983 antique vehicles. What a laugh, right? I told him to just use his leaf7984 and order the groceries himself. Of course, by the time all of this7985 took place he had been blind for thirty years."7987 "What can I say. You only know what you know. If you can't trust your7988 own mind, what can you trust? The tactile leaf interface was foreign7989 to him; the car, not so much. Your grandfather probably thought you7990 were an idiot."7992 "And I, him. you have to admit that there was no real way he could7993 have taught me to drive, in his condition. He was not equipped for the7994 task. Just as in your dream, you conceived that the Green had been7995 made flesh. Believing yourself, in fact, to be an incarnation of the7996 Green, despite a complete lack of empirical evidence for your claim.7997 I'm sure you can see the parallel I'm drawing here. Both of you were7998 groping for an appropriate set of terms, clawing for a hand-hold in7999 the cliff-face of ambiguity that immediately blocked your path."8001 "Okay, okay, you've got me there. Maybe I wasn't God after all."8003 The boat lurched sharply, causing the walls of the mess hall to8004 reorient violently. The interviewer's laughter seg-faulted into a8005 vague, restrained panic.8007 "I don't like the sound of that."8009 "Neither will my brother."8011 Silence then, as Pennis rearranged his folders.8013 "Tell me again about God's peculiarities with regards to intellectual8014 property."8016 "Oh yes. As God, I briefly refused to interact with humans on the8017 grounds that one of them might try to sue me... In the event that I8018 ended up creating something which too closely resembled one of their8019 fan fictions. Or prayers, as they were known."8021 "Never mind the Scriptures, I guess! Was this before or after the8022 introduction of your DNA-filtering condoms?"8024 "Oh, long before. All of this happened before Plinth set me up in the8025 manufacturing business. This was even before the RODS MAGAZINE8026 lawsuits. I had yet to piss away my share of our father's fortune.8027 Plinth was still doing the action figures, partnered with that Swedish8028 fellow."8030 "I wonder if he's going to be happy to see you."8032 "He'll make it seem so. You see, I have physical possession of his8033 Green certificates. And we both know he wants them back."8035 A LARGE ROOM WITH NO LIGHT8037 tags: 1993, albert_lunsford, calbert_whimsy, piro, plinth_mold, tab18039 Hello, I'm Calbert Whimsy, Master Of Ethics at POLICY SCHOOL: WHISKEY8040 TANGO FOXTROT. For twenty-five consecutive generations, the men of my8041 family have stood watch over your children and their education.8042 Granted, twenty of those generations were vat-grown, simultaneously,8043 over the last decade. And yes, we correspond. Ah ha ha ha. I've made a8044 little joke. It is a pleasure to see you here, you all say. Likewise,8045 I'm sure.8047 As you may have guessed, I'm not really Calbert Whimsy. Somehow,8048 though, they've fitted me in here, floating paralyzed amongst these8049 sharks. The Families. Their publicists, attorneys, clergy. And now8050 I've got to give this speech to the Green Consortium assembled. I've8051 had better days.8053 Thirty years ago I entered this profession, not knowing what to8054 expect.8056 THE STRAND is a luxury liner, Old British flag and technically8057 off-limits to agents such as myself. This class of people are not8058 supposed to be subjected to operational trifles such as political8059 assassinations and internetwork intrigue. Let's just say I'm off the8060 clock. The Lunsford affair was a wake-up call nobody wanted to hear.8061 The collective, meaty fist of the Green aristocracy simply mashed