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1 1OCT1993
2 
3 by Stanley Lieber
4 
5 Written 2004-2010
6 
7 This book was typeset (troff -ms|lp -dstdout|ps2pdf) in Times by the
8 author, using an IBM Thinkpad T43p running the Plan 9 operating system.
9 
10 Reprinted with corrections, October 2012
11 
12 1OCT1993
13 1oct1993.com
14 
15 MASSIVE FICTIONS
16 massivefictions.com
17 
18 This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either
19 are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and
20 any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies,
21 events or locales is entirely coincidental.
22 
23 MIT/CC0/Public Domain
24 
25 1OCT1993
26 
27 BOOK ONE
28 
29 TAB2, 1960
30 
31 tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief
32 
33 The testing was rigorous but fair. I don't know if the equipment had
34 any real effect, but he started talking just the same.
35 
36 bump bump bump clickity clickity click bump bump bump
37 
38 Little Tommy.
39 
40 "Semen the color of old comic book pages, aged plastic, tape residue,
41 dipping sauce for crayons that were flattened for a specific age
42 group. You know, so they wouldn't roll away­the crayons, not the age
43 group. Dog piss on the carpet, striped wallpaper, a tray of stale flat
44 bread, a portfolio of chalk drawings."
45 
46 "What else do you remember?"
47 
48 "The weather. Nothing."
49 
50 "Let's start over from the beginning."
51 
52 Aptitude tests. Memory. So far, things were progressing smoothly. I
53 actually choked back a tear. I admit it: I was proud of him.
54 
55 "Son, have you figured out what's going on yet?"
56 
57 "A severed, pierced penis. In a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco.
58 Title: Not Funny."
59 
60 I wrote TAB2 on the inside of his hat and placed it on his head.
61 
62 "Let's get the hell out of here."
63 
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. He
66 scratched at his buzzcut, dumbly.
67 
68 I hoisted him into his car seat.
69 
70 Winter had struck while the other boys were studying. Permafrost,
71 monochrome landscape. I had Tommy out and about in the elements every
72 day; we covered four miles, on average, pacing the farmer's market
73 near headquarters. He was already beating up on the older boys in the
74 class ahead of him.
75 
76 Or so I had forecast, when I set him on this routine.
77 
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 his
80 training hours.
81 
82 "Father, who do I have to blow around here to get a time sheet?"
83 
84 "You'll be done when I say you're done."
85 
86 The kid's mother.
87 
88 I cleared my cache and ducked into a flower shop, dragging Tommy
89 behind me. He planted himself on the floor and booted up a comic book.
90 I should never have bought him that thing.
91 
92 "The usual?"
93 
94 We came in here at least twice a week.
95 
96 "Affirmative. Red."
97 
98 I jammed the bundle of roses under my arm and yanked Tommy along to
99 the truck. I thought he might have voiced a slight whimper, but I
100 couldn't be sure so I ignored it.
101 
102 The mesh was offline in the truck. I punched the dashboard and Tommy
103 let out a laugh. Finally, the HUD activated and we peeled out of the
104 parking lot.
105 
106 I was thirty-three years old.
107 
108 So far, 1960 was diminishing returns.
109 
110 CU/FARLEY
111 
112 tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief
113 
114 1 October 1960 I loaded Tommy into the truck and took him to work with
115 me.
116 
117 The boy perked up at the sight of the two-story displays. A damn sight
118 better than the consumer grade equipment his mother used to review her
119 nude home shows. We had a spare terminal so I logged him in with basic
120 access and let him handle analysis on some of the non-essential
121 traffic. No one would mind. With his orange cap he almost fit in.
122 
123 Perturbations in the mesh. We were bringing a new series of embassy
124 clouds online and things were not going smoothly. I was asked to
125 supervise a side-switch.
126 
127 At 07:30 Tommy spoke up, something about overlap.
128 
129 "Pop, we've got incoming."
130 
131 Three embassies were competing for the same channel. Ping errors were
132 filling up the logs. I asked Tommy if he had a solution.
133 
134 "Subnet them."
135 
136 My men went into action and the crisis was averted.
137 
138 Chief gave Tommy a lollipop.
139 
140 Tommy liked the snow but touching his hand to it produced tears. I
141 growled at him a bit.
142 
143 I gassed up the truck and we cut across town back to the hovel. We had
144 opened a new file on Tommy. CU/FARLEY would follow him for the rest of
145 his life. He'd shown aptitude. All of that testing wasn't a waste
146 after all. His mother would grumble but his interest was clear,
147 honest. We assigned him TAB2 and that was that.
148 
149 Inside the house I prepared a plate of sandwiches and pickles and we
150 settled in to monitor the logs. Again Tommy showed initiative and
151 reorganized his own desktop for efficiency. I dozed off for a while
152 and when I came to he'd routed the embassy logs through his login. He
153 picked out some trouble spots and saved the boys back at HQ a few
154 hours of grief. I considered pulling him out of school for a few
155 months until the embassies were all up and running. Heh, not likely,
156 not with his mother.
157 
158 Flipped on the telescreen. Presidential election. Iran.
159 
160 Can't escape it. Switched off the telescreen and back to Tommy's
161 progress, trawling the logs. I showed him how to clean up a few
162 streams and within a few minutes he was giving me advice on my own
163 data structures. I wondered how long this could hold his attention.
164 
165 At 10:25 a page came over the wire, calling me back to HQ. I strapped
166 Tommy into his seat and we were on our way.
167 
168 The truck spun through the slush and we got hung up in the parking
169 lot. I left the vehicle and trudged towards the building with Tommy in
170 tow; housekeeping would dig out the truck as time permitted.
171 
172 We made it up the stairs and Chief stopped us before we got to our
173 terminals. CU/FARLEY was already twenty pages thick. They had decided
174 to call in their investment early. I slicked down Tommy's eyebrows
175 with my thumb and handed him over.
176 
177 My son and I locked eyes. Tommy full of comprehension.
178 
179 He reached up to his head and removed his orange toboggan. He glanced
180 at the name I'd scrawled inside it, TAB2, and then passed it over to
181 me, his three-year-old arms not quite bridging the gap between us.
182 
183 I nodded. I understood.
184 
185 TOWARDS MYTHOLOGIZING
186 THE COMING RESURGENCE OF COVERT WARFARE
187 
188 tags: 1961, coordinator_rex, tab1, tab2
189 
190 DIPLOMATIC POUCH MAIL
191 (SB:WR-U; 10-17-1961)
192 (Office of Origin: BT/FUCK)
193 
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 of
198 the operations assigned to my group.
199 
200 Here is my description of what took place.
201 
202 Faint smoke wafted out of nearby chimneys. Awkward-looking clouds
203 clung to the sky, a gross of cotton balls scattered at random, then
204 glued down carelessly onto an enormous blue shirt. I observed the
205 aerial tableaux through a crack in the curtains. My hotel room was
206 cold.
207 
208 Shifting focus, I came to notice the ground directly below my window.
209 It offered up only the faintest suggestion of tangibility. Its
210 contours were blunted by yet another layer of new fallen snow.
211 Bemused, I traced the deceptive topology at high resolution, scanning
212 the area for markers before proceeding to vacate for the last time.
213 
214 I made my way out onto the balcony. Even as my room's heavy wooden
215 door clicked shut behind me, I instinctively checked my pocket for the
216 plastic key card.
217 
218 It was present.
219 
220 Coat tucked and breath stale, I tunneled through the mounting drifts,
221 trudging towards the front office. I swiped my key card and slipped
222 inside. The night clerk had dozed off, abandoning the assortment of
223 RAP CHOWDER clips he had pulled up on his terminal. He was probably
224 inebriated. Stealthily, I snuck past him.
225 
226 Moving down the hall, I edged past a throng of blinking, chattering
227 vending machines. My trench coat trailed along behind me, probably, I
228 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.
230 
231 Laundry was done.
232 
233 After stowing my garments, I dropped my room card on the front desk
234 and called for a taxi. Yawning, I leaned up against a support column
235 and strained to hear the closing salvos of the RAP CHOWDER season
236 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 some
238 time and I was in no mood for small talk.
239 
240 An hour later I detected the heat signature of a car engine and then
241 the slush of tires racing through black snow. It was my ride.
242 
243 The taxi driver wasted no time and engaged his car horn, initiating a
244 blast of sharp, targeted audio. Modus operandi endemic to the American
245 service industry: never in a hundred consecutive life sentences would
246 he have thought to come into the hotel and fetch me. Remind me
247 sometime to tell you about Hanoi, and the driver who actually did.
248 
249 I tossed my knapsack over my shoulder and hopped into the cab. The
250 driver was a tough looking Arab, equipped with the usual rough shaven
251 beard and a giant, furry parka. He had a three-dollar cigar clenched
252 tightly between his brown teeth. As he spun the orange cab out of a
253 snow bank, I leaned back into my seat with a sense of detached
254 curiosity. The Motel 6's automation was apparently inoperable; I
255 checked my balance and discovered that I hadn't even tipped the desk
256 clerk on my way out.
257 
258 The driver propelled us across the bridge and on to JFK, where
259 eventually he halted the cab and told me to get out. I tossed him a
260 single hundred dollar bill and he affected only the slightest nod
261 towards the meter. I didn't budge, so he gave me the finger, then sped
262 off into the freezing smog. I had to laugh.
263 
264 Soon, I was aboard my plane.
265 
266 Floating safely above America, I rang for my stewardess. She brought
267 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 of
269 Folger's Crystals. Unlike most passengers, I didn't fall for their
270 upselling to a more rarefied blend­I know from bitter experience that
271 no matter what you order, on a government airplane you end up drinking
272 the same cup of coffee. It still befuddles me that no one ever seems
273 to notice this. Menus are nothing more than a racket they try to put
274 over on unsuspecting consumers. What you actually get is whatever they
275 have too much of on a given day. Anyway, a cup of coffee is a cup of
276 coffee.
277 
278 Finally, we approached New San Francisco. Tires screeched across the
279 runway. Air pressure in the cabin shifted to sea level. Presently, a
280 voice came over the intercom, announcing our impending arrival. I
281 gazed at the surface of my leaf, pretending to read a newspaper
282 article. Shrewdly, I had opted not to activate the pay-device.
283 
284 "At the tone, all passengers will unbuckle their seat-belts and
285 disembark in an orderly fashion."
286 
287 There was an almost deafening racket of clacks and clatters.
288 
289 "Once again, thank you for flying Federal Airlines."
290 
291 "Like we had a choice," came a muffled retort from several rows back.
292 
293 A number of heads from various sections of the plane snapped around to
294 face the speaker, all of them in perfect synchronization. Immediately,
295 I ascertained which of my fellow passengers were Air Marshals.
296 
297 I returned my leaf to the seat-back in front of me, then reached up
298 into the compartment above my head to withdraw my bags. Nothing seemed
299 to be missing.
300 
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 to
303 trip and fall. Children were everywhere in coach, clogging up the
304 aisles with their sluggish movements. This would not have been a
305 problem if I'd taken a seat in first class, where children are
306 generally forbidden, but such an expenditure would have raised flags
307 with the wrong people, and on this flight I was concerned with keeping
308 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.
311 
312 On the way into the terminal I passed through a metal detector. My
313 sidearm triggered a shrill cacophony, followed by an array of hastily
314 drawn weapons. I flashed my TSA card discreetly, at waist level, and
315 got through the checkpoint without much hassle. As you know, with my
316 credentials I am authorized to carry a concealed firearm. I can
317 activate its logging processes mid-flight, or even pull it out and
318 wave it around if I so desire. In this way it would have been trivial
319 for me to clear a path through the crowd by sending everyone diving to
320 the floor. I don't need to tell you that I restrained myself. Even
321 with non-networked weaponry such as my own, flashing a gun would have
322 attracted attention from the mesh.
323 
324 I wandered into a nearby pay-zone and called for another cab. My
325 long-range implant was by now producing only blips and bleeps. For
326 some reason, disabled.
327 
328 My experience with that last cab driver in New York had put me on
329 edge. I recalled now that when I climbed into his vehicle he had
330 shifted his eyes instantly to my left earlobe, pausing for a bit
331 longer than I would have liked. He was careful, also, to look me up
332 and down several times, tracing all of the obvious marker points. I
333 noticed even though he had really been quite subtle about it. To my
334 mind, this was uncommon and suspicious behavior for a New York cab
335 driver. I found myself considering the implications. Something might
336 be going on with the cabbie unions here in the States. Warily, I
337 loaded my Colt and stuffed it into the cargo pocket of my trousers.
338 
339 When my taxi finally arrived I slid into the back seat and gave the
340 driver a once-over of my own. Ditto. The same type as in New York. An
341 immigrant. Although this fellow, rather than expose his bushy eyebrows
342 and lice-infested hair to the world, sported a grey taxi cap with a
343 dark, translucent visor. He was chomping a duty-free cigar (unlit) and
344 taking sips from a can of Stro's Light. From the looks of him, a
345 Russian educated Paki.
346 
347 Before shifting the car into gear, the cabbie pivoted around in his
348 torn seat. With no small effort, he stuck out his free hand, then
349 moved his eyes back to me. Sensing the inherent purpose of the
350 gesture, I pushed a fifty towards him, extending it just far enough to
351 catch in the tips of his fat fingers, then settled the rest of the way
352 back into my seat. The driver remained motionless, silent. His seat
353 creaked under the weight of his body.
354 
355 "Take me to the Embassy," I growled as harshly as I could muster,"And
356 put some stank on it. I have an appointment to keep."
357 
358 With a squeal of tires and a strangled burst of exhaust smoke, we were
359 off.
360 
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 even
365 closer. It seemed he wanted to share a few words.
366 
367 About time.
368 
369 "Meter say five hundred and fifty, stupid fart."
370 
371 He spit out his cigar, which came to rest lightly on the floor.
372 
373 My cue.
374 
375 I rammed the barrel of my Colt into his throat. He recoiled against
376 the seat with a muffled thud, spilling beer all over his lap. I then
377 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 his
380 bladder. He fumbled groggily in his seat and steered his cab the hell
381 out of there. I wouldn't have believed it, but the cabbie trade had
382 actually grown more belligerent in my absence. As a corollary, I'd
383 just saved the government five hundred bucks. You have to stay sharp
384 on the basics.
385 
386 I stomped up the stairs of the Embassy and kicked open the door, which
387 hadn't been latched to begin with. Gradually, I got myself into
388 character.
389 
390 The place was fossilized as ever. All of the antiques, artifacts and
391 arch-politicos were still glued into place, practically inert. The
392 room was artificially quiet, which also conformed to my mental
393 inventory from previous visits. All right then, noise-cancelers were
394 still being employed. What was new, here, was that the place had
395 apparently been outfitted as a nano-blank zone. I wondered why.
396 
397 Good thing I had thought to pack my Colt and not bothered with the
398 network weaponry.
399 
400 Without warning, a butler sidled up to me, whispering that he wanted
401 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 him
403 that I hated being touched by the help. He muttered something and I
404 made a show of ignoring him as I pushed on into the long central
405 corridor.
406 
407 Quickly locating the correct cube cluster, I burst into the
408 Coordinator's office and dropped down onto his horsehair sofa. His
409 eyes moved to meet with my own and then just as casually returned to
410 his pressure screen. I remained silent. After a few minutes passed, he
411 realized that it would be up to him to initiate the conversation.
412 
413 "I'm sure you are aware," he finally said, agitated but monotone in
414 his murmur,"That this sudden reappearance of yours will make certain
415 impending maneuvers more... awkward... for my department. I will have
416 to make up another acceptable room for you here in the embassy, and
417 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 are
421 still officially off of my books."
422 
423 Well, that didn't seem like much of an obstacle to me. I was a
424 diplomat and this was his embassy. I was sure he could come up with
425 something. Run the standard algorithm of embassy lawyers, numerous
426 layers of complex accounting, and a few million dollars out of the
427 discretionary fund. Throw in a gaggle of highly trained Georgian
428 prostitutes and no one would ever be the wiser. This was, after all,
429 his area of expertise.
430 
431 Why not just write it up as a series of business lunches, I thought to
432 myself.
433 
434 But I chose not to say any of that out loud. Instead, I sat
435 motionless, staring, thinking about Iran and 1959, wondering why I'd
436 bothered to haul his perforated ass back home with me. He must have
437 guessed what I was flashing on, because he quickly dropped the
438 pretense of busting my balls and cut straight to the conclusion of his
439 prepared speech. He hated going through the motions as much as I did.
440 
441 "Okay. I give in," he mouthed, the vitriol now suspiciously absent
442 from his voice. He had put up his token resistance, which for the
443 purposes of budgetary documentation would have to suffice. He tossed
444 me my pass and all of the needed cards, already made out and
445 validated, packed into a large manila envelope. He held it out with
446 one hand, not looking away from whatever it was he was scribbling,
447 somewhat erratically, into his leaf. I had never known he was
448 ambidextrous.
449 
450 "Tom," he said to me as I left the room,"Let's not botch this up, not
451 like the last time I had to rely on you. You know what I'm talking
452 about."
453 
454 The wisecrack was wholly unnecessary.
455 
456 I halted. I wanted to launch into him, but quickly reversed myself and
457 resolved to just let him have his insults.
458 
459 Son, at this point the man is little more than a torso. His titanium
460 legs are encased in medical plastic, but that hardly represents a
461 cosmetic improvement. Below the elbows, his arms are tracked with skin
462 grafts, and must be covered up by shirtsleeves even in summer. True,
463 the substrate now conceals more firepower than I could ever hope to
464 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 of
466 his"improvements" necessary. After all, he'd still possessed both of
467 his legs when we were dispatched to Tehran. For this, I do carry some
468 measure of responsibility.
469 
470 Turning again, I looked down at the manila envelope and said nothing.
471 I closed his office door gently on my way out.
472 
473 As I hoofed it down the south corridor, I fished through my envelope
474 of cards, digging out the one that would open my room. It stated: Room
475 1097, Tenth Floor, Second Hall. I pocketed the room key and made my
476 way toward the central security elevator, arriving just in time to
477 glimpse the doors snapping shut.
478 
479 I located the stairwell.
480 
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.
483 
484 As I reached the door of my actual room, I fished out the card again
485 and shoved it into its slot. The whole door frame quivered as I ambled
486 inside. This place was antique, but I didn't mind the clumsy old
487 mechanisms, in spite of what my diplomatic status might have entitled
488 me to. I wouldn't end up using all of that new equipment anyway.
489 
490 I suppose the room itself was quite impressive, by conventional
491 standards. A hot tub was situated, or sunk into, really, the middle of
492 the floor, equipped with its own bar. The carpet was some sort of deep
493 white pile. I don't know, but it looked expensive. Cathedral windows
494 with variable display angles. Universal remote. The furniture was a
495 posh mixture of vintage and the very latest in network enabled. I
496 waved my hand in front of the couch and seats around the room
497 reconfigured themselves to my pre-loaded, custom contour. A few more
498 gestures and my temperature/humidity preferences were transferred to
499 the local mesh.
500 
501 I have not devoted much of my attention over the years to the ins and
502 outs of fully-integrated interior design, but I can tell you that this
503 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 has
505 been able to capture, during the periods between wars when it has been
506 used to house foreign dignitaries.
507 
508 I'm afraid my reputation preceded me here and I did not expect many
509 frivolous trifles, but, still, a few of the line items from my
510 standard rider were missing­and remain missing, above my
511 complaints­which continues to annoy.
512 
513 Well, that's about all I have time for right now. I have quite a bit
514 of work to do before I can turn in for the night. You know I'm not
515 much of a writer, but I hope this has given you some idea of what an
516 average day of mine is like here at the embassy.
517 
518 Hope to see you soon.
519 
520 ADVANCE
521 
522 tags: 1963, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief, violet
523 
524 All told, it was three years until I saw him again. Draped in
525 something reflective, outfitted for stresspants.
526 
527 He appraised me, amused.
528 
529 "I don't suppose you objected too strenuously, when they told you what
530 it was they planned to do to me."
531 
532 Six years old. Circumcised. Ready to start public school.
533 
534 "Son, I've been doing my best to provide for your future. You're
535 getting the best education tax dollars can buy."
536 
537 "Prove it, Dad. They cut off my stick."
538 
539 By 1963, the war had started.
540 
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 of
543 the package."
544 
545 I'll admit, the family tended to shunt Tommy aside. We had shelled
546 into advanced operations and were channeling most of our attention to
547 the tactical situation above ground. Probably some things slipped by
548 unnoticed.
549 
550 "Nobody ever asked what I wanted."
551 
552 Maybe I should have sent him back to his mother. He seemed more
553 attuned to her.
554 
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."
557 
558 "You old fuss budget!"
559 
560 My daughter.
561 
562 "Why don't you give him a break. He's been studying all summer."
563 
564 "This wasn't strictly my decision, Violet."
565 
566 "Lies! You're the ranking officer now."
567 
568 "He's going to learn a lot more by observing us here than he would
569 diddling with you and your mother back at home. Praying. Whatever it
570 is you do."
571 
572 "You're wearing him out."
573 
574 "It's part of the training. He'll endure."
575 
576 "Well, gee. I would advise that you get yourself a good lawyer.
577 Tommy's peer group is quite litigious. See you never."
578 
579 Violet slammed a lot of doors, that year.
580 
581 The dream was this:
582 
583 My wife, my sister and Violet wandering through HQ. Someone I don't
584 remember from high school walking up and smearing grease paint on my
585 face, saying"Don't you remember me?"
586 
587 My wife, my sister and Violet walking through someone's house as a
588 shortcut. The women stop to pick through the occupants' belongings. I
589 advise them not to continue but they've become unresponsive. The
590 occupants of the hovel wake up and sound the alert for their extended
591 family, who appear from out of nowhere and accost us.
592 
593 Hometown Security arrives with shock troops and we are all separated
594 and detained. I am interrogated by Jeff from CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.
595 
596 By 1963 I had quit smoking, but still I made routine trips to the
597 balcony to clear my head and to stare at the snow. There's no telling
598 what my handlers thought of this. Ten below zero and there I was, out
599 there in my shirtsleeves.
600 
601 Well, fuck'em.
602 
603 I was close. Ten more months and the agency would have recouped on my
604 advance. Then I could start in on the mortgage. Savings. Things would
605 start to look up.
606 
607 Mostly.
608 
609 Tommy was still a worry. Soon they'd want to draft him.
610 
611 I wasn't sure he was ready.
612 
613 MEN OF VISION
614 
615 tags: 1963, margaret, plinth_mold, tab1, tab2, william
616 
617 The bombs are still falling when they outfit me with this stupid,
618 spamming hat and instruct me to cart around young cousin William, the
619 other male child on the premises, so that he might bask in the
620 unfiltered sunshine, breathe in the unfiltered air, be exposed,
621 finally, to the city above ground. This isn't posed as an elective
622 course of action; I'm given formal orders and nudged in the direction
623 of the outer doors.
624 
625 I tell them I don't see as how it's a good idea­what with the
626 declining birthrates, the continuously falling bombs, the constant
627 danger of disfigurement and death­but I might as well be set on mute
628 when it comes to registering above the din of the war room. My
629 thoughts are not considered.
630 
631 Children, creatures endowed with no special mastery over the evolved
632 traditions of warfare, are expected to find their own way, to get in
633 where they fit in, to drive unique footholds into the imposing,
634 existential mountain dubbed survival. Honestly, I've never considered
635 this state of affairs to be a cause for concern. I've never shied away
636 from a difficult climb. Have preferred, in fact, to traverse peaks of
637 despair, regarding them as nothing more than simple clumps of grass
638 gathered at my feet. The one permanent handicap I've endured is this
639 responsibility to my cousin, William, who is so young, who cannot even
640 fend for himself. Others of his age are expected to survive by dint of
641 their own industriousness. William, for his part, is basically
642 immobile. Self-sufficiency has been altogether ruled out.
643 
644 The war effort consumes most of the adults' attention. Slowly, William
645 and I have been pushed from one room to another, down long hallways
646 and through half-open doorways, with barely any recognition paid to
647 how we are being treated. No one includes us or keeps much track of us
648 now that the fighting has percolated into the city. With new air
649 strikes arriving daily we are the least of the adults' concerns.
650 
651 I work with what I am given.
652 
653 It is in these streets that I have learned my trade, have begun to
654 earn my keep. I've developed an affinity for commerce­an aptitude, you
655 might say­and happily contribute a percentage of my earnings back into
656 the household. Apparently, I am a natural born hustler. So says my
657 uncle. It has come to the point where I'm afraid the adults will
658 finally realize their neglect. It is conceivable that they may even
659 forbid us, William and myself, to leave the compound on our own. This
660 would negatively impact revenues, which would be unacceptable. It
661 would also harm our family's standing in the community, which would be
662 equally unacceptable. My products are in high demand. It is with a
663 constant awareness of this precarious balance that I, over these past
664 few months, have striven to make the skills of the street my own. I
665 have adapted myself to its unsteady rhythms, mastered its sundry
666 particulars, balanced weight through the hood until my various
667 criminal activities have become as second nature to me, a collection
668 of reflexive actions as simple as walking into the kitchen or emptying
669 my bladder. This sympathy with the tidal nature of currency is hard
670 won, but it allows me to function freely, wholly invisible to the
671 financial surveillance algorithms employed by HQ. I should say,
672 invisible so long as I remember to hold back that reasonable
673 percentage for the family. It is true, my triple-a reputation would
674 quickly dissolve into scandal if ever I became so sloppy as to arouse
675 the interest of my father's men. Let us observe, then, that my
676 operations have never attracted their attention.
677 
678 Add to my already formidable grip the legitimate pay from William's
679 promenades, and I'm already better than halfway to my new shield
680 jacket. I count it as a demonstration of my utility that I'm able to
681 provide my own armor. A new shield jacket would doubtless preserve me
682 through countless future crises (that is to say, if I'm not found
683 skewered by shrapnel before the thing is even delivered). Thus I have
684 concluded that even my supposedly lamentable character traits (such as
685 my unquestioning greed) may, at last, be construed as facets of pious
686 virtue. Until I am allowed to participate in weapons training, I will
687 content myself with the paper chase. I will gild the runway. Keeping
688 William and myself alive is merely the start of what I hope to
689 accomplish.
690 
691 I assume that Mother and Father are cognizant of all this, to some
692 degree. In my view, this whole bang-up­the war­is simply an excuse to
693 seek out and extract ever larger sums of money from the tax base. The
694 whole conflagration merely serves to increase trade, which serves to
695 increase tax revenues, which results in more war. Fortunately for me,
696 the family doesn't seem too keen on auditing my activities. The fact
697 that my relatives' economic interests are currently seen to overlap
698 with my own is a kind of happy accident, perhaps of the sort depicted
699 in children's cinema, or in certain of the ancient, sequentially
700 illustrated pamphlets collected by my father. In reality, my family's
701 enlightened self-interest drives a free exchange of goods and
702 services, a marketplace that in turn benefits the entire community. My
703 own present activities, in spite of the myopic moral objections
704 offered by my sister, contribute to this aggregate effect. Taxes (and
705 thus, war) are merely inevitable. Yes, I've done some reading on the
706 topic. I readily admit. But the ideas I've argued with Father stand on
707 their own, heedless of any pseudo-intellectual hem-hawing. I dare say
708 that they are self-evident. If only I could get him to understand:
709 even in wartime, altruism is beside the point.
710 
711 The kid in the cart doesn't realize I'm only in it for the money. He
712 digs his fingernails into the palm of my hand, obviously frightened by
713 the noises on the street. We round a corner and a rather large
714 building comes apart right in front of us. He buries his face into my
715 coat just as we're pelted with a boiling shock wave of dust. For some
716 reason he looks to me for protection. Of course, this toddler's
717 intellect is incapable of assessing the true complexity of our
718 situation­he's not yet up to the task of cynical apprehension­but
719 perhaps in the end he is right to place his faith in me. It is
720 unquestionably within the realm of my interests to ensure that he
721 survives these trips to the surface. The profit motive is clear. It's
722 right there in my contract.
723 
724 I pause to reflect on the brilliant symmetry of our arrangement and it
725 dazzles me all over again. I cannot help but marvel as I trace its
726 subtle mechanism: William survives; I profit.
727 
728 I strive to gather my thoughts.
729 
730 The dizzying effect persists, even as large sheets of smart glass are
731 de-integrating everywhere around us. A rapture similar to my own seems
732 to have overtaken William. I am enthralled as he adopts a distant,
733 distracted gaze, his jaw falling slack almost against his shirt. He is
734 serene now in his repose, more contented than either of us have any
735 right to be, given the circumstances.
736 
737 I believe that my hand, which he continues to grip quite tightly, is
738 starting to bleed onto my trousers.
739 
740 Torn from my reverie, I reply with a gentle squeeze, communicating to
741 William that we are going to be all right. I guide his chair across
742 the street, away from the perambulating dust cloud that by now has
743 puffed up its chest to encompass half of the block. If the trailing
744 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 rather
746 quickly.
747 
748 Adults are hurling themselves to an fro, generally kicking up more
749 commotion than is warranted by the simple demolition of a midtown
750 office building. I reign in young master William and tether him to a
751 banister, then set off to fetch an adult. In short order I'm
752 breast-stroking through a sea of white lab coats. It is clear to me
753 now that we've ended up in some sort of medical clinic.
754 
755 It takes only a moment to evaluate the new surroundings, and I remain
756 lucid enough not to dust myself off before approaching one of the
757 nurses. That would be tantamount to chucking one of my tools into the
758 trash.
759 
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 is
762 filled with work-a-day resignation. I rotate my body to face him so
763 that I might appraise him visually.
764 
765 Half a second passes. His profile fits, so I launch myself
766 purposefully in his direction. I'm going to try to smear hand prints
767 onto his coat before he has a chance to form a dispassionate
768 impression of me. Once I've struck, he'll be forced to take in my
769 appearance, to consider my circumstances. The ploy is guaranteed to
770 work, given his type.
771 
772 "This spamming war just goes on and on."
773 
774 His remark is sympathetic in nature. I take his words as an obvious
775 cue to redouble my approach velocity, step fully into the field of his
776 vision and wipe my arms across his chest, submitting my filthy
777 clothing and runny nose for his inspection.
778 
779 "Excuse me, sir, might I inquire as to what it is that has just taken
780 place, out on the street?"
781 
782 I let the question hang there, resonating in the stale clinic air. I'm
783 play-acting now as if I'm stupid, asking after that which I'm clearly
784 not equipped to understand. He buys into this mailbox full of spam
785 because I'm merely a child, seven years of age, and therefore,
786 self-evidently, not yet sophisticated enough to mount a motivated
787 deception.
788 
789 Oh, the folly of experience.
790 
791 I tilt towards him perceptibly, making sure he takes notice of my
792 garb. His eyes fall upon me in silence and then there is a gap of some
793 seconds before I finally detect a twinkle in the center of his
794 mechanical eye. At last, he's picked up on it. He's located the
795 transceiver. He's got a make on my ID.
796 
797 This, of course, changes everything. His demeanor, not thirty seconds
798 ago the sort of bemused half-attention one pays to a poverty-stricken
799 child, is now replaced with that of a Green hobo ready to snatch a
800 million dollar bill from the Church collection plate. I am well
801 acquainted with this shift in disposition, immediately recognize his
802 "tell," and so may now reflect that my gambit is almost certainly
803 working.
804 
805 "Well, hello there, young fellow!"
806 
807 He dings my helmet.
808 
809 "You see, recently, some bad men have taken it upon themselves to
810 provide our city's skyline with a series of aesthetic improvements.
811 You may learn in school, in the coming years, about a social
812 interaction often referred to­referred to in the literature, that
813 is­as politically motivated violence. Or, for short, PMV."
814 
815 "Splendid and fascinating!" I exclaim, masking a considerable amount
816 of mental activity with a merely adequate portrayal of child-like
817 wonder.
818 
819 Allow me to explain. Throughout the preceding scene my mind has been
820 occupied, simultaneously, on three fronts: affecting to extract
821 details of the bombing attack without also giving away my real aim;
822 shuffling through numerous possible non sequiturs with which to
823 counter his inane stammering, none of which must come across as
824 excessively practiced lest I inadvertently alert him to the fact that
825 I'm on the grift; and, to complicate matters, keeping an eye on what's
826 going on around us in the office, paying particular attention to my
827 physical location relative to all possible exits. It has only been in
828 situations like this that I have, after so many years, felt well and
829 truly engaged with the world. A fickle melancholy now descends over
830 me, and I resist the urge to withdraw, to run outside, to find myself
831 peering over the railing and thoughtfully evacuating my stomach.
832 Characteristically, I maintain my hold on the situation. I press on.
833 
834 The doctor, for his part, sinks into a portrait of exquisite
835 confusion.
836 
837 "Say, son, what are you two doing in my clinic?"
838 
839 William's chair is knocking back and forth, gently, blissfully unaware
840 of the limits set by my tether. I turn my eyes back to the doctor very
841 slowly, straightening my posture and raising my voice.
842 
843 "Sir, I was carting around my little brother here when the building at
844 25765 St. Aecstopher's Cross did fall down nearly on top of us. I'm
845 afraid I have sustained some sort of injury, as my arm seems to have
846 gone missing."
847 
848 I do the trick with my shoulder, slipping my arm, and he gasps as it
849 re-appears in my sleeve. Absentmindedly, I look down and say,"Oh,
850 there it is."
851 
852 He fails to laugh. Instead, he puts in a respectable effort to wrinkle
853 his eyebrows, to grow more visibly concerned. Privately, I want to be
854 disappointed with this reaction, to ask him if somehow the humor
855 hasn't translated, but I will not break character over a single flat
856 joke.
857 
858 Now, this fellow knows when he smells a five-star dinner. He's
859 recognized which house we're from. Dad's pressure screen is probably
860 glowing red even as we commence negotiations. I think I can actually
861 feel the chips twitching in my wrist and neck, as both regions are
862 crying out to be scratched. Or maybe it's just my allergies.
863 
864 Without warning, something seems to click into place in the doctor's
865 head. He lunges towards me.
866 
867 Almost before I can unlatch William, the man's taken me up into his
868 arms, ferrying me into an examination room. He unloads me gently onto
869 a table and smooths me onto its stiff, white paper. A microwave sweep
870 to stem the spread of various bacteria. It will be interesting to
871 learn which perilous­though certainly, at this clinic,
872 treatable­ailment he has diagnosed me with, now that he realizes I've
873 membership in a truly superlative insurance program. That's when he
874 notices my eyes.
875 
876 "Son­" His own eyes get stuck gliding over William's gilded chair.
877 "Son, are you... blind?"
878 
879 "Of course I'm blind, you jack-ass!"
880 
881 Okay, here I will admit that I've broken character and degenerated
882 into an emotional outburst. I wrench my face back into a pathetic sulk
883 and twitch only once, trying to restore equilibrium. I remind myself
884 to act my age. Let him guide the scene.
885 
886 "How long have you been wandering the streets out there, without being
887 able to see where you're going?"
888 
889 An easy one.
890 
891 "It's never really been an issue. I mean, I seem to know my way around
892 the neighborhood pretty well. Everyone here knows me. And
893 twenty-twenty vision isn't a panacea against belly-flopping
894 architecture, as I think was proved out there today."
895 
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 time
898 outdoors. I would imagine it's also quite demoralizing, when your
899 obstructed vision is rated against that of your peers, wouldn't you
900 agree?"
901 
902 Like I said, I'm a million dollar bill lying face-up on the sidewalk.
903 
904 Presently, he claps me into another chair, this one missing the
905 sanitary strip of paper, and begins attaching things to my face. I
906 open my mouth to try another approach but he simply reaches down and
907 plugs it with a wad of medical gauze. I suppose we'll have to continue
908 our discussion once he's finished tinkering with my eyes.
909 
910 He's a few hours getting on with it, and so by the time he's taken
911 down my numbers and confirmed them multiple times against his network
912 queries, William and I are left to amble along home. Once again I have
913 to point out: here we are, children, alone on the streets after dark,
914 where a war is still being waged. (Admittedly, the firing usually
915 stops when the sun goes down.) Sure, plug me into a machine to fix my
916 eyes, and then send me right back out into the war zone. What was the
917 point? I could just as easily have enjoyed this kind of treatment from
918 the boys back at HQ. In any case, I have now been outfitted with an
919 outlandish plastic headband. It encircles the top half of my face and
920 displays a pleasant array of colored shapes, monochrome to onlookers
921 and passers-by. Aside from the cosmetic effects, my vision seems
922 unchanged.
923 
924 We exit the clinic without having gathered any useful intelligence.
925 Ditto for the tally of unburdened currency we have to show for our
926 trouble. No doubt this will have been a complete waste of an
927 afternoon, distinguished only by the irritation of a needless medical
928 procedure. I've wasted a lot of time that could have been devoted to
929 shoring up my grip. William looks up at me, visibly disappointed.
930 
931 At an intersection, I am surprised to note that I can now see things I
932 have never been able to see before.
933 
934 In some ways it is confusing, this trying to peer between the fat
935 cubes of light that gyrate before my eyes. At first I am not quite
936 sure how to adjust, even as I attempt to keep walking. Slowly the
937 input begins to make sense; to help, rather than hinder, my
938 navigation.
939 
940 On balance, I will say that there is much to recommend in these
941 additional streams of information, all dancing betwixt each other and
942 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 motherspamming
945 optometrist done to me?
946 
947 I seem to have gotten quite a ways down the street on my own. I've
948 inadvertently left William back at the intersection, his chair bobbing
949 in sync with the traffic. When I return to his side I see that he has
950 pulled out his knapsack and begun to tear off little strips of paper,
951 creasing them into slim, rectangular folds that bear a striking
952 resemblance to illegal tobacco cigarettes. He offers one to me and I
953 accept, gripping it between my second and third fingers, leaning back
954 against the enormous smart glass windows of the FIRST MULTINATIONAL
955 BANK. Eventually, I bring the sliver of paper up to my lips, deftly
956 feigning inhalation. Smooth flavor...
957 
958 William looks up at me with those preposterously large eyes of his
959 and, for the first time today, puts forth the effort to straighten out
960 his spine and stutter a few words. In spite of the pain it causes him
961 he wants to speak to me. You have to admire his grit.
962 
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 tarry
965 here for a while, and p-p-pickle in the ebb and flow of the...
966 c-c-cool night air."
967 
968 I raise my cig to him and nod respectfully. We both jump as a building
969 collapses, somewhere off in the distance. On this night, the city will
970 not be afforded its usual dusk-to-dawn reprieve.
971 
972 Gingerly, I work the length of gauze out of my mouth and begin to
973 unroll its damp wad of fabric onto the sidewalk. William's glassy eyes
974 reflect a light that seems to originate from no obvious source. He
975 recognizes what it is I've managed to smuggle out of the doctor's
976 office. There is more here than just the blood and spittle sopped up
977 by the rags.
978 
979 A selection of tiny hand tools glistens in the light of the street
980 lamp. These are the final pieces we'll need to render our
981 reverse-engineering shop, hidden for now in a vacant ammo closet on
982 the sixth level, fully operational. Once I can get a hold of a few
983 more classified schematics, we can begin undercutting the importers
984 and kick our minuscule operation into full gear. We'll even be able to
985 outfit William's chair with its own shield jacket and an independent
986 comms package, all of our own design. No more relying on the adults or
987 outsiders for our gear.
988 
989 I briefly consider cutting Father in on this action. The notion is
990 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. This
992 world we've arrived at, crowning from the great, vaginal maw of
993 nothingness bequeathed to us by our ancestors, brooks no quarter for
994 the elderly, or for those sad individuals still nostalgic for the
995 unambiguous adversaries of eras past. Pop would be happier lobbing
996 rounds at the enemy, clawing defiantly as he sinks into his grave,
997 still convinced he's making some sort of falsifiable, empirical
998 contribution to his generation's most momentous struggle.
999 
1000 What a load of bollocks. Dad has wasted his entire life on this
1001 nonsense.
1002 
1003 I decide it's best to keep my opinions to myself. William tends to be
1004 sentimental when it comes to family.
1005 
1006 Speaking of which, the boy has gotten busy, grunting and drooling onto
1007 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 his
1009 clothing.
1010 
1011 I snatch up the little bundle of tools before he spoils them.
1012 Sometimes you wonder why you even bother. With William, the sentiment
1013 is amplified. I suppose I do feel for him.
1014 
1015 We're both of us looking forward to the end of this war.
1016 
1017 No, really. Hear me out.
1018 
1019 I've grown weary of the grind. I want to be free of William, free of
1020 this duty.
1021 
1022 I worry that the adults have already compromised our security. I can't
1023 imagine the Green insurgents will ever give up. Do you see what I'm
1024 saying? It's frustrating that the family pursues this stagnant vision
1025 of religious purity. We can't all be ideologues. Or not of the type my
1026 father admires, anyway. We have to be in this to win it. We have to
1027 get in where we fit in. And that might not include the Church.
1028 
1029 For now, I suppose, I'm content to focus on having a smoke and getting
1030 rich.
1031 
1032 I'm convinced it's the only way I'm going to survive.
1033 
1034 VISOR TECHNOLOGY
1035 
1036 tags: 1964, actron, tab1, tab2, the_chief
1037 
1038 The new gear seemed to suit Tommy fine.
1039 
1040 Indeed, over the past month he'd hardly complained. The visor allowed
1041 him to dominate. Sometimes even with the older boys. Now, he came home
1042 with money in his pocket.
1043 
1044 He still hadn't been drafted.
1045 
1046 When I'd sent him to the clinic, I was only vaguely aware of what they
1047 might install in his head. This modern equipment was beyond my
1048 expertise. Above my pay grade, as we used to say. Now, it looked as if
1049 some improvements had been pushed to Tommy's firmware, even in the
1050 last fifteen minutes. All I could do was shake my head.
1051 
1052 The tactical advantage was clear. I was just glad HQ had agreed to pay
1053 for it all.
1054 
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, something
1057 had to be done.
1058 
1059 I decided to involve Tommy. I was allowed complete discretion when it
1060 came to personnel. I thought that with the enhancements he'd prove
1061 useful. At least as useful as before.
1062 
1063 And he had been pretty useful, before.
1064 
1065 I got him out of bed and brought him in to work.
1066 
1067 The Chief was having a bit of a problem with a can of bi-partisan
1068 gravy.
1069 
1070 "I can't get this spamming thing opened."
1071 
1072 Tommy quickly found a weak spot in the can's lid, using his visor."No
1073 problem," he said, and opened the can.
1074 
1075 "Next time, I'll just go with the low-fat deli shtick."
1076 
1077 "None of that stuff is very good for you," Tommy chided.
1078 
1079 The Chief could only roll his eyes.
1080 
1081 "Well, shit on my Christmas! The boy's found another one."
1082 
1083 Campaign contributions. We'd put Tommy on the trail of J. K. Rowling's
1084 backers. The financial streams were now running through the boy's
1085 system. He was even better at this than the machines.
1086 
1087 "It's old man Jerrymander."
1088 
1089 "The Molds," I said, making eye contact with Tommy.
1090 
1091 We'd had a hell of a time keeping this guy out of the race. Strictly
1092 speaking, he wasn't even legal; an immigrant from some border state
1093 that had been excluded from the new American union. But he'd leveraged
1094 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 friction
1096 here at HQ. Who was to blame? We all had a bit of a problem with
1097 Mold's politics.
1098 
1099 "So I guess if he can't run, he'll put up a guy who can. Sounds like a
1100 good strategy to me."
1101 
1102 "No, not analysis," I ordered."You concentrate on the streams."
1103 
1104 "Yes Father," Tommy replied.
1105 
1106 After a while he seemed to tucker out. I brought up some comic books
1107 on my leaf and sent him over to a corner. The Chief had allowed his
1108 own son to tag along that day, and so the two of them spent a few
1109 hours together, chewing on slices of lunch meat and catching up on
1110 back issues of ACTRON. Harmless entertainment, in my opinion.
1111 
1112 But Tommy had hit on something important. If Jerrymander Mold really
1113 was angling again to get his claws into the election, we could expect
1114 a lot of activity down south in the next few weeks. It was likely the
1115 attacks on the city would only intensify.
1116 
1117 The boy's visor had amortized in only a month.
1118 
1119 PAPER WINTER
1120 
1121 tags: 1966, mother, tab1, tab2, violet
1122 
1123 Violet's Diary
1124 
1125 1 October 1966
1126 
1127 It had all crumpled. Violet moved her eyes across the sky but could
1128 not find its edges, the corners of a vast, dirty sheet of paper that
1129 canopied the entire city. Fibrous swirls stirred and unrolled before
1130 her, contriving illusions of focus. Violet stared silently past the
1131 rooftops, ignoring the city and directing her gaze forward into space.
1132 Or rather, she thought, she would have been staring into space, if not
1133 for this endless, sprawling white that inevitably drew one's eyes back
1134 into the soot. Her mask observed the scene with detachment. On its
1135 face, it did not register whether Violet felt one way or the other
1136 about the situation. More broadly, about anything at all. The lack of
1137 visibility was of personal concern, to be sure; but it was nothing
1138 that should mar Violet's appearance to others. The mask was certain of
1139 this. After all, Violet had configured the settings herself.
1140 
1141 Violet turned away from the window and directed her face towards the
1142 central corridor of her family's apartment. A line of green squares
1143 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 her
1146 body. Chimes had sounded, there in the room, and Violet knew at once
1147 that she was meant to answer the door as quickly as possible. Her
1148 mother had not yet emerged from her preening room, her father was
1149 still in his bath, probably drinking, or perhaps by now bloodying his
1150 hands on the broken pieces of his bourbon glass. She could not slump
1151 any further without endangering her balance, so she straightened
1152 herself, careful not to put any undue strain on her stabilizers.
1153 Finally, this action prompted her mask to register a minute change in
1154 her facial expression. Inside, a joint clicked.
1155 
1156 "My back feels like it's being folded into paper airplanes," she
1157 muttered into her faceplate.
1158 
1159 Presently, there emerged between the doorway's mechanical lips a
1160 familiar, angular-faced woman, who reeked alternately of whiskey and
1161 of the orchids that were pinned to her billowing yellow coat. Violet's
1162 grandmother swept into the apartment and at once commenced to critique
1163 the child's appearance. She was able to issue several disconnected,
1164 declarative statements before being overcome by the rolling contours
1165 of her own formal wear. Violet giggled. This animation of the old
1166 woman's garb was not without its effect. Soon enough, bony hands
1167 pushed through the bright folds of cloth and found purchase on
1168 Violet's arm. The hands proceeded to travel. Violet's fingers were
1169 studied at length before it was stated authoritatively that she would
1170 now turn over her tobacco pouch and put away her pipe. Nicotine, her
1171 grandmother said, stains the hands.
1172 
1173 When Grandmother fled the seclusion of her estate, which was by now
1174 quite seldom, she would insist upon stowing a small animal within the
1175 sleeves of her baroque accouterments. As a matter of course, one such
1176 animal was present today. The Shih Tzu nipped wildly at Violet's mask
1177 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 the
1179 dog. Her mask maintained its aloof composure, sensors indicating that,
1180 beneath its porcelain exterior, Violet's flesh likewise held close to
1181 its default settings.
1182 
1183 The formal greetings finally concluded, Grandmother seated herself and
1184 began smoothing out the creases in her dog's black velvet dress. A
1185 spate of frivolous conversation ensued; meaningless, serving only to
1186 mark the passage of time and to calm the old woman's nerves until at
1187 last she would be reunited with her son.
1188 
1189 Brill cream.
1190 
1191 A wristwatch.
1192 
1193 He was now able to make out a lot of what was there, sitting on the
1194 bathroom shelf. Paper-white reflected in the mirror, streaming in from
1195 the window. It was snowing. It was daylight again. Still?
1196 
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 in
1199 sympathy with whatever that racket was, echoing down the hall. A pool
1200 of saliva had formed around his chin. Slowly, he came to the
1201 realization that the current arrangement of his limbs was
1202 uncomfortable.
1203 
1204 When his arms didn't work, he shifted attention to his legs. He pushed
1205 himself over to the door and noticed that it remained locked from the
1206 inside. Still, it was a no-go on getting it to open again. At this
1207 point he couldn't even pull his arms up off of the floor, much less
1208 manipulate a key.
1209 
1210 Movement in the hallway flagged his attention as a whole set of keys
1211 (worn externally) brushed the doorknob in passing. The sound passed
1212 very quickly. Presumably, Violet, on her way to the kitchen.
1213 
1214 Just then, the remainder of last night's double-malt scotch flickered
1215 into view, diffracting the snow-light and catching his eye. The bottle
1216 lay motionless in a blurry field of illumination, an unconvincing
1217 square of warmth let in by the bathroom window. He realized then that
1218 the odds were narrowing with regards to his non-functional arms. Oh
1219 no, not again. He lunged wildly and tried to chew the words out of his
1220 mouth, protesting the locked door, proclaiming his innocence, but
1221 instead of the familiar taste of his own lies, his tongue caught on a
1222 jagged fixture of gauze and surgical tape. Fragments still wedged into
1223 the space where a molar had lived.
1224 
1225 He popped several fasteners by artificially expanding his belly and
1226 got out of his suspenders and Italian pants. The shirt and vest had
1227 become a straight jacket, detaining him against his will; flailing
1228 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 pushed
1230 himself up, over its lip, into the gaping, porcelain mouth. The water
1231 was quite warm, as far as he could tell. The porcelain, cold.
1232 
1233 Head upside-down, hanging over the edge of the tub, he could just make
1234 out a snow drift on the neighbors' roof. He had to stop then and laugh
1235 because it looked like the house was wearing a beard.
1236 
1237 He had been awake for close to half an hour. It should have taken no
1238 more than four seconds (at the outside) for his arms to come back to
1239 life, but the scotch was complicating matters. His shoulder gave an
1240 inch, and a splinter of pain shot through his elbow, shattering
1241 violently at his wrist.
1242 
1243 Motor functions had still not returned to his arms.
1244 
1245 A pounding came at the door and it was faster than he could sink his
1246 bottle into the tub. The soapsuds were mostly dispersed now, traveled
1247 behind his legs and back. He realized, too late, that his glass was
1248 still on the sink. None of this would look good to Violet. He hoped it
1249 was the boy.
1250 
1251 The lock clicked, and turned, and then the heavy wooden door swung
1252 inward.
1253 
1254 Appearing at the foot of the tub was his nine year old son, head
1255 poking through the shirt Thomas had struggled to tear out of only
1256 moments before. It fit him like a circus tent. The boy was completely
1257 oblivious to his father's predicament.
1258 
1259 "Dad," he said."The Vice President will arrive soon."
1260 
1261 Soon, he thought. But Thomas could not yet speak. He was too drunk.
1262 
1263 Presently, his wrist began to turn, forming his hand into a fist
1264 beneath the water. His grip was so tight that it drew blood from the
1265 skin graft stretched around his palm. He could hear some nonsense
1266 about Redaction Day dinner from a telescreen three rooms away. If his
1267 mouth had been working, he would have screamed for them to turn the
1268 damned thing down. So loud.
1269 
1270 His mother would arrive within the hour, no doubt with her husband in
1271 tow. He hadn't even wanted them to know where he lived.
1272 
1273 The Vice President. The spamhole.
1274 
1275 Now, where were his pants.
1276 
1277 Again, his kid was waving his arms around like a shot pigeon and
1278 looking as if he had something especially urgent he wanted to say.
1279 
1280 What?
1281 
1282 "Dad!"
1283 
1284 He heard a weird grating sound in the left side of his head, followed
1285 by a long hiss that seemed to issue from his own mouth. Lateral
1286 stimuli?
1287 
1288 Thomas blinked, involuntarily, and his arms fell off, right into the
1289 bathtub. He heard the bloop, and then he heard them hit bottom,
1290 rolling around underwater. Suds splashed onto the floor and also onto
1291 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 was
1293 he going to get himself out of the tub? His daughter would be livid.
1294 
1295 But he was also suddenly sober. In half of a second he'd come fully
1296 awake. Yes, it was not too soon to say he'd hatched himself a
1297 Redaction Day plan.
1298 
1299 The idea burned in his mind, seemed to radiate sufficient heat to
1300 alter the temperature of the room. Old favors would be called in. They
1301 would not make a fool of him this year. Things were definitely
1302 starting to look up.
1303 
1304 "Tommy, get me my phone."
1305 
1306 "Sure thing, Pop!"
1307 
1308 Thomas, Sr. looked around the room. He fished in his pants pocket and
1309 found the other flask.
1310 
1311 "Fuck it," he thought, and took another drink.
1312 
1313 D.I.V.O.R.C.E.
1314 
1315 tags: 1967, margaret, piro, tab1, tab2, the_chief, violet
1316 
1317 While we waited for NO/MOAR to calm down, overtime was channeled into
1318 other projects.
1319 
1320 Tommy was doing well, he'd started his ops training in the fall. I had
1321 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. Everything
1323 seemed to be going as planned.
1324 
1325 Then we ran straight into PM/DAWN. I was out of the house for six
1326 months.
1327 
1328 Here again, I have to say, Tommy was a big help. On his trips home
1329 he'd advise HQ on tactics. He had a knack for anticipating how the
1330 enemy would respond to our provocations. It was bad of me, but again I
1331 found myself wondering how hard it would be to pull him out of
1332 classes, to get him more directly involved in the operation. He was
1333 shaping up to be our most promising young asset. I stopped worrying
1334 about whether or not he could handle a regular assignment. He was more
1335 than ready; anyone could see it.
1336 
1337 But the boy needed to be in school. On this, I honestly agreed with
1338 his mother.
1339 
1340 So, we had reached an impasse. I left him where he was.
1341 
1342 One day I was catching up on the backlog of paperwork when the Chief
1343 dropped something new on my desk. Immediately, I recognized the name
1344 of my daughter. It was printed there in the byline.
1345 
1346 I had never once taken a drink on the clock, but I found myself
1347 wondering after a bottle.
1348 
1349 I looked over the folder. It appeared to be excerpts from Violet's
1350 diary, circa 1966. Key portions had been circled, some of them were
1351 flashing.
1352 
1353 The phone rang.
1354 
1355 It was Violet's mother.
1356 
1357 It was my wife.
1358 
1359 As I say, I didn't even drink.
1360 
1361 I still don't know why Violet wrote it; the bulk of it was obviously
1362 fictional. Some elaborate account of my supposed boozing and general
1363 drunkenness. Wholly fabricated. In any case, the facts were
1364 irrelevant. The girl's mother caught wind of the mention of alcohol
1365 and that was that. It didn't matter that she'd never even seen me take
1366 a drink. We were getting divorced.
1367 
1368 I hung up the phone.
1369 
1370 Well, this would complicate dealing with PM/DAWN, almost certainly.
1371 
1372 I didn't want to draw things out­I knew the last thing the kids needed
1373 was the added drama of having to wait for me to show up and take my
1374 lumps­but I needed to make a few stops on the way home. I realized
1375 that, with my few personal belongings, I had very little that would be
1376 of interest to the children. Even Margaret's scriptures said that this
1377 was no way to make an exit from your family. Protocol required that I
1378 turn over, to each of them, some artifact to remember me by.
1379 
1380 Prop-effects from here at HQ were no good; Tommy had spent his whole
1381 childhood playing with them out in the warehouse. He knew they were
1382 junk.
1383 
1384 There was nothing of interest in my truck, either. By habit, I kept it
1385 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 was
1387 unlikely to be of use to him, at that age.
1388 
1389 What else.
1390 
1391 The Chief was in, so I couldn't sneak into his office and rummage
1392 through his mess, either.
1393 
1394 It looked as though I'd be paying a visit to a GANGSTERMAX theme
1395 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 at
1397 home.
1398 
1399 I hoped that the local branch would have what I needed in stock.
1400 
1401 Or at least something approximate.
1402 
1403 (18:54) < tommy> trds
1404 (18:54) < tommy> i guess he's not going to be home for a while. you
1405 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 the
1409 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 doing
1412 this.
1413 
1414 "An old belt?"
1415 
1416 "Son, you know I don't actually drink. But I won his belt twenty years
1417 ago, riding an electric bull."
1418 
1419 Tommy's connection cut out, momentarily.
1420 
1421 "You were drunk," he resumed.
1422 
1423 "Well..."
1424 
1425 I was spinning this stuff out of thin air. I hesitated for too long.
1426 
1427 "Of course he was drunk! Can you imagine Dad climbing onto an electric
1428 bull under any other circumstances?"
1429 
1430 "This is stupid," Tommy said."Have you been drinking behind our backs
1431 all of these years or not?"
1432 
1433 "An analog microscope? But... why?"
1434 
1435 "This belonged to me in college, Violet."
1436 
1437 "But all the glass has been removed!"
1438 
1439 "I... it broke, some years ago."
1440 
1441 "I suppose I can use it as a bookend."
1442 
1443 "That's my girl. Good thinking. Adapt to the situation at hand."
1444 
1445 Tommy cut out, rather abruptly. This time on purpose. He seemed
1446 disgusted with the whole affair. Good, son, put it into your training.
1447 Violet kept trying to resume the connection, but he was gone.
1448 
1449 "What a kick in the chest-balls, Dad," Violet said."You could at least
1450 have bought us something expensive."
1451 
1452 I cleaned out my den with a minimum of fuss. Most of my gear was
1453 networked and took up little physical space. It wasn't a big job.
1454 Violet helped me pack my things out to the truck.
1455 
1456 Margaret never even entered the room. Violet said she was waiting
1457 until I was gone. The sour old bitch.
1458 
1459 Well, I don't suppose she deserved that.
1460 
1461 "You know I get your room when you're gone," Violet said, elbowing me
1462 in the ribs.
1463 
1464 "That's what this is all about, isn't it?" Of all the... I had finally
1465 put it all together.
1466 
1467 "And what if it is?"
1468 
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.
1471 
1472 "We'll see if you're still smiling when your brother and I are in Ohio
1473 this summer."
1474 
1475 That shut her up. Her training was topmost in her mind. I could cut
1476 her off. Let her sit in my den. Reading about the training.
1477 
1478 "You don't know what you're doing, Dad."
1479 
1480 And she was right. I didn't.
1481 
1482 VIOLET RETURNS FROM THE WOODS
1483 
1484 tags: 1967, margaret, tab1, tab2, violet
1485 
1486 As I say: at that moment, I had no way of knowing how far it would go.
1487 
1488 Once Violet was sure I had left, she burst out of the house and ran
1489 into the woods, making a production of whatever tears she was able to
1490 muster. She stumbled over a tree limb and managed to tear her
1491 stockings on her way to the ground. For increased verisimilitude she
1492 also affected to scrape her elbow on a rock. Her face (and mask)
1493 contorted accordingly.
1494 
1495 Margaret observed all of this from the kitchen window, cursing me
1496 audibly for having driven the girl into the forest. Her fists clenched
1497 stiffly and her arms began to flail about, a spontaneous gesture of
1498 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 a
1500 cabinet corner, drawing blood. With this, she sat down on the floor
1501 and began to cry.
1502 
1503 Much was made of her injury back at HQ. Some of the guys actually felt
1504 sorry for her.
1505 
1506 Ah. My tender-hearted compatriots. Let them sit at the dinner table
1507 with the woman. Then we could talk.
1508 
1509 By now the Chief had filled me in on the plan. I would be brought up
1510 on charges before a tribunal. The trial would be pushed through with a
1511 minimum of publicity. In short order it would be decided that I was to
1512 serve out a five year sentence in minimum security. Of course, I would
1513 still operate with relative impunity from my cell. Assignments would
1514 be passed to me via the usual covert methods. Meanwhile, the divorce
1515 would be finalized without me. An Agency lawyer would be dispatched to
1516 handle the case, making sure that the children were well taken care
1517 of. Margaret could fend for herself.
1518 
1519 So far, I was unable to offer a single objection.
1520 
1521 Next, I would be drummed out of the service. I would be stripped of my
1522 seniority and pension. To compensate, my Turkish accounts would be
1523 reinstated. I would be provided a bottomless slush fund and unlimited
1524 personnel. All requisitions would be rubber-stamped. Best of all, I
1525 would have my pick of assignments from the general pool. (Within the
1526 boundaries of the fall line-up.)
1527 
1528 "This is just like Iran," the Chief observed.
1529 
1530 And indeed he was right. If they were trying to frustrate me, it was
1531 going to take more than fulfilling every bullet-item on my wish list.
1532 
1533 "So long as we don't get canceled in the first season," I said, also
1534 referring to our defunct Iranian program.
1535 
1536 The Chief took my meaning.
1537 
1538 The purpose of the divorce/prison subterfuge was to free up vital
1539 Agency resources.
1540 
1541 Namely, myself.
1542 
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 how
1545 the Chief liked to operate. Presidential authority had encroached upon
1546 the Agency's domain, and the Chief was ready to turn things right-side
1547 up again. The only problem was, authority for force replenishment had
1548 not been returned to the Agency.
1549 
1550 So, the Chief said, a number of non-essential agents would have to
1551 die.
1552 
1553 Others, such as myself, would simply go to prison.
1554 
1555 Again, like Iran. Laundering, we called it.
1556 
1557 Once she was sure that Margaret had finished the chores, Violet
1558 returned to the house. Streaks of soft mud had accumulated around her
1559 eyelids, conveying the impression of an afternoon spent sitting in the
1560 dust, consumed by uncontrollable sobbing. Remarkably, Margaret herself
1561 was still in tears.
1562 
1563 The two females sat at the kitchen table, foreheads touching.
1564 Blubbering and sputtering loudly. I had a leaf close at hand and
1565 immediately began to jot down notes.
1566 
1567 I was surprised to notice one of the surveillance operators dabbing at
1568 his own eyelids with a handkerchief. This was an extraordinary display
1569 for a professional. He had obviously failed to detect the covert
1570 communication that was passing between the females of my household.
1571 
1572 I recorded his handle in an adjacent column.
1573 
1574 The next day, Violet shared her story on the playground. Her fellow
1575 students were enthralled. Violet had inherited a particular skill at
1576 narrative, it was true. From myself or from her mother I could not
1577 say.
1578 
1579 She led her friends over to the reflecting pool in preparation for her
1580 big finale. Her mask wobbled in and out of coherency, but the other
1581 children seemed oblivious to its significance. She had gained a fuzzy
1582 penumbra. Was she having second thoughts?
1583 
1584 "My father doesn't know I know this, but... he's a secret agent!"
1585 
1586 Gasps for air. Unintelligible, involuntary vocalizations.
1587 
1588 Here I would have the last laugh: her schoolmates would soon learn
1589 that I was little more than a drunk who had abused his children and
1590 who had been dumped into federal prison for his trouble.
1591 
1592 We would see how Violet would recover from this blow to her
1593 credibility.
1594 
1595 Relaxing at home, Violet took her time moving her belongings into my
1596 den. Margaret hadn't even complained about the mess. From time to
1597 time, Tommy would stop by. Near the end he could barely contain his
1598 disapproval of the new decor. Pink stripes and red carpeting; plus all
1599 of Violet's junk. But in deference to Margaret's authority, he said
1600 nothing.
1601 
1602 It's too bad he didn't speak up. Some friction might have slowed
1603 Violet down.
1604 
1605 Emboldened by the great success of her first deception, Violet would
1606 soon go to work on her mother.
1607 
1608 KUDEN
1609 
1610 tags: 1968, dante, piro, ralph, tab1, tab2
1611 
1612 Tommy and his group made their way over to the 9th green.
1613 
1614 "This is the 9th green," Piro announced."Please stack your lunches, or
1615 line them up neatly along the outer edge of the training area. It
1616 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 while
1618 before we are ready for a snack."
1619 
1620 Most of the boys complied.
1621 
1622 "Now, if there are no preliminary questions, we can begin."
1623 
1624 "Sir," Dante interrupted.
1625 
1626 "Yes, Dante?"
1627 
1628 "Ralph isn't here."
1629 
1630 "Isn't here?"
1631 
1632 "He hasn't caught up with us yet. I think he spilled his gear bag in
1633 one of the sand traps."
1634 
1635 "I see."
1636 
1637 Piro dispatched a pair of camp counselors to fetch Ralph.
1638 
1639 "Now. Tommy, please attack Dante with your hanbo."
1640 
1641 Hesitantly, Tommy rose to his feet. His camp uniform flapped in the
1642 cool breeze. Standing in the darkness, he could no longer make Dante
1643 out against the tree line.
1644 
1645 So, improvise.
1646 
1647 Tommy lunged wildly, waving his hanbo around like a parade flag. He
1648 ended up taking three or four steps towards where Dante ought to have
1649 been standing. He was starting to wonder if he should adjust course
1650 when he felt what seemed to be a hand brushing against his visor,
1651 which caused him to blink uncontrollably. This disrupted his movements
1652 such that he fell directly onto his face. A beat later, Dante had
1653 tripped over his own hanbo and fallen on top of him.
1654 
1655 "Saru mo ki kara ochiru," Piro said, extending an arm towards Tommy to
1656 help him up."I see the problem. Because of the darkness, you are both
1657 effectively blind."
1658 
1659 "No shit," said one of the other boys.
1660 
1661 "Actually," Tommy ventured,"Because of my visor, if I had enabled the
1662 functionality, I would be quite able to see in the dark."
1663 
1664 Piro was not impressed."Yes. Then that explains your fall."
1665 
1666 "I tripped! What do you want from me?"
1667 
1668 "Get up."
1669 
1670 It went on like this for several hours. The nine boys finding any and
1671 every excuse to fall on their asses, and Piro obliging them happily. I
1672 don't know about the Agency, but I was certainly getting my money's
1673 worth. At a certain point, the two older students returned with Ralph
1674 in tow. It had taken them quite a while to coax him out of the sand
1675 trap.
1676 
1677 He had lost a contact.
1678 
1679 "Ralph. Please. Attack Tommy with your hanbo."
1680 
1681 "My...? Oh. I left that back at the cabin."
1682 
1683 "I see. Here, you may use mine."
1684 
1685 "Oh. Well... Sure."
1686 
1687 Ralph assumed an offensive posture and then tore off running towards
1688 Tommy. Only, Tommy standing wasn't where he had been, moments before.
1689 Nothing was where Tommy had been. Ralph looked around. It was nearly
1690 pitch black. All he could distinguish in the night was the tops of the
1691 trees. He could not even see his own feet.
1692 
1693 Ralph's optic revelation was interrupted by the unlikely sensation of
1694 his left arm being wrenched fully out of its socket. Tommy had somehow
1695 entangled his arm with his own short staff. As Ralph cried out Tommy
1696 sank deeper into his stance, fully applying the technique. At length
1697 he released the pressure and fell back into a defensive stance. Ralph
1698 collapsed to the ground, writhing and spitting, nursing his damaged
1699 limb. Through his tears, he could just make out Tommy's silhouette,
1700 skylined against the clouds above the trees.
1701 
1702 "Oh bull shit," cried Ralph."I quit!"
1703 
1704 Towards the end of the training session, Piro began to pick on Tommy.
1705 
1706 "Tommy, with me."
1707 
1708 "Again? But I've gone the last ten times in a row."
1709 
1710 "What can I say? You're good at falling. Let's see if you can keep it
1711 up even when you're tired."
1712 
1713 "It's a shit parade and you're riding the big float," said one of the
1714 other boys.
1715 
1716 Piro triangulated the reverberations and then pointed directly at the
1717 source of the remark.
1718 
1719 "You're next."
1720 
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 feel
1723 himself making contact even before it happened. On this, his first day
1724 of training, his confidence as a fighter was already on the rise. He
1725 was a natural not only at strategy, but even at the blunt, physical
1726 stuff.
1727 
1728 Piro stepped lightly out of the way of Tommy's assault, digging his
1729 fingers into the slim space between his visor and his face. He twisted
1730 Tommy's body around in a spiral, somehow gaining the leverage to flip
1731 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 boy
1733 went limp and collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
1734 
1735 "We're finished here for tonight, boys. We'll meet on the 9th green
1736 again tomorrow, after the cookout. Twenty-three hundred hours, sharp."
1737 
1738 Immediately following Piro's departure, Dante rose to the occasion. He
1739 knelt over Tommy's inert body and began to take down his trousers.
1740 
1741 "Come on guys. We'll give him a Scottish Samurai while he's asleep."
1742 
1743 CLASS 68
1744 
1745 tags: 1968, 1983, dante, piro, ralph, reginald, tab1, tab2
1746 
1747 "I hate Ohio! It's crazier than a dick in an ashtray out here!"
1748 
1749 "Son, I don't care if the instructor cuts your fingers off. Your
1750 tuition is costing taxpayers money. Think NASA. You suck it up and
1751 make me proud."
1752 
1753 "This combatatives SME... Piro. They tell me he has photographic
1754 reflexes."
1755 
1756 "Yes."
1757 
1758 "Dad..."
1759 
1760 "I trained with his father. He'll get you off to a good start. Learn
1761 your basics. Then you can complain."
1762 
1763 "I'm experiencing some mild discomfort, Dad."
1764 
1765 "I should say you are! Remember, I'm familiar with your physical
1766 stats. The pain will pass."
1767 
1768 "Whatever. I guess. My knees feel like toothpaste."
1769 
1770 Tommy clicked off and straightened his uniform. Shortly, a tram would
1771 arrive to take the boys bar hopping. First on the itinerary was THE
1772 VULVA POLE. Reginald's idea. Tommy hoped they would have time to grab
1773 a bite to eat before moving on to THE TIZENAUS. Dante's idea. He spun
1774 through his calendar app. Scheduling headaches, even at camp.
1775 
1776 "A pigeon can't drop shit if it never flew."
1777 
1778 The password was correct. Tommy minimized the lock and a few of the
1779 guys from his class ambled into his room.
1780 
1781 Reginald appraised the situation. Tommy was going overt.
1782 
1783 "I see. We're assuming the ladies can't resist the uniform."
1784 
1785 "Where's Ralph," Tommy asked, smoothing down the front of his jacket.
1786 Reginald always had the freshest gear.
1787 
1788 "Fapping in his room again," said Reginald."We didn't interrupt."
1789 
1790 "Just as well," Tommy sighed."We're all logged out, right?"
1791 
1792 "Probably not Ralph."
1793 
1794 "Oh right. I guess he doesn't mind that they log everything we do."
1795 
1796 "For him, I think that's part of the appeal."
1797 
1798 Click. Click.
1799 
1800 Shoulder almost out of joint.
1801 
1802 Piro eased the pressure only slightly, but it was enough for Tommy to
1803 snake out of his hold.
1804 
1805 "You had better hope you didn't let me go on purpose. Sir."
1806 
1807 Piro didn't answer, so Tommy continued.
1808 
1809 "I guess you didn't see that coming. It's a little something I've been
1810 working on with the guys. I must create a system or be enslaved by
1811 another man's."
1812 
1813 "Blake. Good. I assume you're telling me that you haven't yet mastered
1814 the techniques I assigned to you."
1815 
1816 "Well, I haven't engaged in rote memorization. But I'll assume the
1817 fact that I'm standing over here, no longer restrained by your hold,
1818 indicates that I've familiarized myself with the basic principles."
1819 
1820 Tommy's posture didn't alter. Piro's gaze remained steady. The other
1821 boys in the training group thought anything could happen.
1822 
1823 "Talking to me that way is... ridiculous."
1824 
1825 "Doing this for three hours a day is ridiculous. Do you really think
1826 I'm learning anything from you?"
1827 
1828 Piro continued to stare.
1829 
1830 "Boys, take five. Tommy. Over here."
1831 
1832 "What, you want some more of this?"
1833 
1834 "I think you'll understand once we begin."
1835 
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.
1839 
1840 I've no defense.
1841 
1842 I had originally intended to be present for his graduation, but at the
1843 last minute I was called away to put out fires in another department.
1844 Quotas.
1845 
1846 I hold onto this earliest transcript because somehow, the later
1847 material is no longer extant. The available photos are even older. For
1848 some reason, mixed in with the logs from the camp, there are old
1849 snapshots from Tommy's primary school. Evidently, that's all that's
1850 left from the surveillance we ran. I'd ask Piro about it but let's
1851 just say we're no longer on speaking terms.
1852 
1853 [Interruption as I answer incoming messages.]
1854 
1855 In the end, I hope Tommy can live up to his early promise. When I lost
1856 track of him he was well on his way to providing excellent ROI. Even
1857 with the ego problem. Essentially, he was a sure thing.
1858 
1859 '68 was a long time ago, but not so long ago that he'd be inactive
1860 just yet. If he stayed in.
1861 
1862 I should look him up. He's probably not that hard to find. With my
1863 access.
1864 
1865 What am I saying. I'm retired.
1866 
1867 DULL CARE
1868 
1869 tags: 1969, tab1, theodore_roosevelt, volume_1
1870 
1871 "Well well, I've not seen one of these in quite some time."
1872 
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 comic
1875 book held singular importance. He was being very careful with it, and
1876 I had to cough into my shirtsleeve to mask an involuntary guffaw. He
1877 stowed the comic's bag and backing board before he continued.
1878 
1879 "Just look at it. I'd grade this as at least a VF/NM. Unfortunately it
1880 wasn't slabbed. You see, there once existed any number of companies
1881 that would take a comic book and grade it meticulously before sealing
1882 it permanently in archival grade plastic, which would guarantee­"
1883 
1884 "I know what'slabbing' means," I said.
1885 
1886 He was talking in captions now.
1887 
1888 Volume_1 had the largest comic book collection in the entire cell
1889 block. This was significant as, in our facility, comic books were
1890 traded as currency. In point of fact, these specific comic books were
1891 valued as well above average reads. I don't mean to pun: they were
1892 literally encoded with information critical to the continuity of the
1893 United States government.
1894 
1895 This was all he managed to tell me before we were interrupted.
1896 
1897 "Shh! Someone's coming!"
1898 
1899 Volume_1 was desperate to get the issue back into its bag, board and
1900 long box. I couldn't figure out why; there were plenty of comics in
1901 our cell to go around.
1902 
1903 We could hear them talking.
1904 
1905 "Productivity is down."
1906 
1907 "Have you thought about reducing headcount?"
1908 
1909 "Ha ha ha ha ha!"
1910 
1911 After the guards had passed, I turned back to Volume_1."I don't think
1912 I've ever asked you why you were in here."
1913 
1914 "I kept sending these instant messages. My manager was monitoring.
1915 Frequently, I guess. Evidently, the content of my messages offended
1916 his protected sensibilities. Based on his religion. Felony
1917 Insensitivity."
1918 
1919 "I see. Which heresy?"
1920 
1921 "Chicago Cubs."
1922 
1923 Nothing more needed to be said.
1924 
1925 Volume_1 went back to his comic book and I watched him flip through
1926 it, gingerly supporting its spine on the flat of his hand.
1927 
1928 Soft chimes surfaced slowly at the periphery of my awareness,
1929 progressively drawing into focus. It was time for Volume_1's shift. He
1930 stopped extracting comics from yet another long box and scooted it
1931 back under his bunk. Bushed, I stretched out for a short nap.
1932 
1933 At least, that's how I made it look to Volume_1.
1934 
1935 As soon as he vacated the cell I pounced back to the floor, removed
1936 the false panel and pulled out my kit and belt. I tore open a new
1937 packet of FalseHand, deposited the wrapper, and in the same swift
1938 motion pressed the delete button on the trash bin. I waved my hand in
1939 front of the cell door and exited onto the balcony, where I was
1940 greeted with quite a lot of hustle and bustle. Most of the workers
1941 were scattering about between shifts. Volume_1 would return within
1942 sixteen hours, so my timetable had to be executed with precision, not
1943 skipping any beats. Fortunately, as a professional, I had been
1944 expertly trained. There would be no problem meeting (or perhaps
1945 exceeding) the requirements of my schedule.
1946 
1947 My ride was idling on the roof. As I approached the air vehicle, rotor
1948 backwash batted my hair around my face. Annoyed, I tied it back. A man
1949 strapped to a gurney was removed from the back seat before I boarded.
1950 He looked to be in bad shape.
1951 
1952 I observed the red cross of the landing pad shrinking into nothingness
1953 as we pulled away from the complex. The pilot of the helicopter gave
1954 me a thumbs up but I stared past him, blandly, lacking any awareness
1955 of his gesture. Outside of the building my implants had kicked in and
1956 I was now sorting my mail.
1957 
1958 Zoom.
1959 
1960 Half an hour later they put me down near Monte Rio. By this time I'd
1961 changed into a sweater and khakis. A Mercedes idled ponderously about
1962 a hundred yards down the road, trickling exhaust runoff onto the
1963 pavement. I lugged my duffel behind me, finally heaving it into the
1964 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. He
1966 kept standing there and eventually I figured out that he was waiting
1967 for some sort of a tip. His remarkable audacity gave me a chuckle, so
1968 I dug around in my bag and passed him an old, rolled-up comic book
1969 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 by
1971 the departing chopper pilot. Obviously, he was used to this sort of
1972 transaction. Seemingly satisfied, the driver took his place behind the
1973 wheel of the Mercedes and we sped off through the countryside.
1974 
1975 We accelerated into a steady incline, passing through many stands of
1976 trees before finally arriving at a very small entryway that branched
1977 off of the main highway.
1978 
1979 The driver navigated the Mercedes through a series of security
1980 checkpoints, and soon I was deposited into one of the"new member"
1981 parking lots of the Green. Presently, a small, open-roof shuttle
1982 appeared, ready to escort me through the main gates of the encampment.
1983 
1984 The trees of the Green were monstrous. I mean to say that literally: I
1985 was half-convinced they were moving. Of course, they weren't. I
1986 detected no other signs of life in the general vicinity. No animals.
1987 The hiking trails were deserted.
1988 
1989 Not all was dead: I rounded a curve in the path and spotted my first
1990 vantage point, glowing yellow, centered in my field of vision.
1991 
1992 The tree was quite large. It would do.
1993 
1994 I hoisted my bags onto my perch, then setup the comms package before
1995 unjacking myself and turning on the beacon. I waited for the trigger.
1996 
1997 Nothing.
1998 
1999 The by-laws of the Green forbade surveillance equipment of any kind. I
2000 now surmised that this policy was enforced through active
2001 intervention, jamming of a sort I was not familiar with. My
2002 chronometer didn't even work. I would have to go manual.
2003 
2004 I climbed down from the tree just as the sun was creeping below the
2005 horizon and commenced wandering along paths, searching for Bannister
2006 Colon.
2007 
2008 When I found him, he was pulling on a Hawaiian cigar and waxing
2009 political with a few friends in front of a large, gas bonfire. The
2010 Eagle's Nest loomed beyond, wavering in and out of coherency through
2011 the flames and smoke. The trees seemed to be swallowing it and
2012 spitting it back out again, unsure of its potential toxicity.
2013 
2014 "The high ground is attained through the stacking of bodies,"
2015 Bannister said blandly, as if reading from a script.
2016 
2017 My man Colon.
2018 
2019 The others cackled, extending a wave of unrestrained mirth along the
2020 necklace of fat bellies draped around the bonfire's ashen neck. Each
2021 man appeared to have modeled his personal grooming and liturgical
2022 wardrobe upon that of President Theodore Roosevelt, patron saint of
2023 the Green. The aesthetic was an unfortunate portrait of crass largess.
2024 The body language a study in historical inaccuracy. Our former
2025 President would have been appalled at such a display. I shuddered
2026 despite myself.
2027 
2028 Indeed, this was a strange scene: to a man they reclined completely in
2029 the buff, from balding head to lotioned, shoeless foot.
2030 
2031 Preverts.
2032 
2033 The Prevert tradition is older than the technology that makes it
2034 possible.
2035 
2036 It took me a while to wrap my head around that one.
2037 
2038 I'm only aware of the technology's existence because my grandfather
2039 was a member of the Green. Otherwise I would never have been selected
2040 for this mission. Traditionally, problems within the Green are handled
2041 internally.
2042 
2043 Membership is not hereditary. I was never invited into the ranks of
2044 the Green itself. Not that I would have joined them even if offered
2045 the chance. By the time I was of age I had long since departed for
2046 Iran, exercised my own unique will and signed on for my first tour of
2047 duty in the armed forces, trudging hip-deep into my own army of
2048 olive-skinned bodies.
2049 
2050 Whatever, the organization had stopped accepting outside inquiries
2051 some time in the 1920s, after a breach of security had resulted in
2052 front page articles around the world that exposed the interaction
2053 between certain political leaders and boy prostitutes taking place
2054 within its walls.
2055 
2056 Obviously, that was only a cover story.
2057 
2058 Before long things started to pick up around the bonfire, activity
2059 sparking within the self-satisfied circle of fat.
2060 
2061 From out of nowhere each man produced a small device and strapped it
2062 to his hand. Instantly, the bonfire extinguished itself and the
2063 surrounding woods fell silent. Only the sound of the men's chattering
2064 teeth broke the stillness, settling into a steady rhythm that
2065 resonated unpleasantly in my skull.
2066 
2067 I began to hear what sounded like an injured animal, whimpering softly
2068 from within the center of the makeshift circle. The fire was out, but
2069 I couldn't imagine how it could have cooled so quickly, or how
2070 anything living could have survived the flames that had subsided only
2071 moments before.
2072 
2073 The men's mouths spread wide and their chattering teeth became
2074 visible, reflecting in the sickly moonlight. I felt something hard
2075 coalesce in the pit of my stomach. For some reason the scene was
2076 affecting me physically. A hint of the taste of vomit trickled into my
2077 mouth.
2078 
2079 A child had appeared. A boy.
2080 
2081 Dumbly, he bounced between the bare bellies, clawing and scratching
2082 and kicking against the men of the circle. They didn't seem concerned
2083 with his evident distress. Blood seeped from some of the scratches he
2084 was inflicting, against the men and against himself.
2085 
2086 Oblivious, he didn't seem to care. Lacking in empathy, the men didn't
2087 care either.
2088 
2089 I never cared for this part of the process, myself.
2090 
2091 Preverts rape themselves.
2092 
2093 According to legend, it goes back to Caesar. Symbolically, anyway.
2094 Candidates in the world-ruling business have long been vetted through
2095 an exotic procession of pomp and ritual.
2096 
2097 The technology I mentioned truly is remarkable. It's not exactly time
2098 travel, per se, because the men themselves, the initiators, don't
2099 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 is
2101 non-paradoxical. Lateral. Frankly, it's beyond me. I've seen it in
2102 action so I no longer try to make sense of it. It just works.
2103 
2104 I shifted uncomfortably as the service continued.
2105 
2106 Each man, when it was his turn, spit out his cigar and touched the
2107 surface of his wrist device. The boy would jerk uncontrollably towards
2108 him, drawing temporarily into his grasp. Simultaneous with this
2109 motion, the child's face morphed to resemble that of his captor,
2110 uncannily regressed to childhood. This alternating promenade continued
2111 for some time, though the participants were carrying out their
2112 observance at an unnerving pace. As each man embraced the boy he
2113 continued to whimper, weakly, and my skull tightened around my brain.
2114 
2115 With each tap of the wrist, a different face.
2116 
2117 My orders were clear: only interrupt them once they'd finished with
2118 what they'd come to do. It was imperative that the ritual proceed to
2119 completion.
2120 
2121 Habitually, I always followed orders, even where inconvenient. That
2122 was my calling card. That was why they gave me these jobs. A Green
2123 mission was no exception, on either account.
2124 
2125 Soon, the ritual concluded. It was time for me to intercede.
2126 
2127 I checked my weapons before leaping into the clearing. Then, with a
2128 single, smooth motion, I laid down the entire congregation of
2129 important men. Nerve agent spilled across their undulating frames and
2130 splattered against the big wooden benches behind them. Sloppy.
2131 Uncharacteristically so. I paused to scold myself and clean up the
2132 evidence.
2133 
2134 The organic material in the benches was starting to melt. Running out
2135 of time, I abandoned them.
2136 
2137 I made my way over to the boy. His features had stopped changing and
2138 now he wore the wrong face. Great.
2139 
2140 Returning to the mound of boiling fat, I fished out the proper hand
2141 and used it to thumb the appropriate controller. Suddenly, the correct
2142 face coalesced on top of the boy's body. I introduced myself and asked
2143 him a few questions.
2144 
2145 "Son, what's your name?"
2146 
2147 "Thuh..."
2148 
2149 "Yes?"
2150 
2151 "Th-Theodore... R-R-Roosevelt."
2152 
2153 The face. The Name. Not what I had expected.
2154 
2155 Definitely a bigger job than I was being paid for.
2156 
2157 Frankly, I was appalled.
2158 
2159 But: Orders. Reputation. The things I actually cared about. I would
2160 follow the script.
2161 
2162 I raised my weapon, logged in, and emptied my full clip into the boy's
2163 face.
2164 
2165 Finally, the woods fell silent.
2166 
2167 THE BAD STUDENT
2168 
2169 tags: 1969, frankie_willard, prince, tab2, cheryl
2170 
2171 I tear a sheet from my notebook. After some fidgeting I manage to
2172 produce a cigarette. I lean back against the concrete wall of the
2173 building, my rat-tail poking into the scruff of my neck. It's rather
2174 uncomfortable. There is a commotion from somewhere, over near the
2175 basketball courts. After a brief period of silence, the school bell
2176 rings. I curse, sub-audibly, taking my place in line. I'm careful not
2177 to crumple the cigarette as I conceal it within my sleeve.
2178 
2179 Recess is over.
2180 
2181 I'm antsy. I shift my weight from one leg to the other. This jostling
2182 brings to mind Frankie Willard, made to stand with both feet planted
2183 inside of a single tile on the floor. Punishment for having spoken out
2184 of turn. Frankie complained that because of his great size, he would
2185 surely topple over if he were not permitted to sway from side to side.
2186 The teacher sarcastically denied his request­structural integrity be
2187 damned. No, Frankie would have to stand firmly within the square,
2188 maintaining his posture for the duration of the class. At the time, I
2189 too had regarded Frankie's claims as spurious. Does an office building
2190 need to sway from side to side? It seemed ridiculous. A man should be
2191 able to stand still.
2192 
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 begun
2195 to sway from side to side. Fuck it, Frankie was right all along.
2196 
2197 At the moment, no one is watching me. I disregard protocol and resume
2198 my cigarette. Smoke slinks from the burning cherry, a string of
2199 ten-dimensional nothingness. Or so I choose to perceive.
2200 
2201 The boy in front of me rotates his head to an obtuse azimuth, asks to
2202 bum a cig. I am more than happy to oblige. From my pocket I produce
2203 two slender folds of paper, offering one to my companion. He's still
2204 in possession of the lighter I made for him, so we're all set. Good to
2205 go. From time to time, I'm happy to supply free product, as a short
2206 demonstration will often serve to spark demand. When one's business is
2207 illicit, establishing the perception of good-natured magnanimity is
2208 wise. Happy customers are quiet customers.
2209 
2210 And quiet is a baseline necessity for my mission.
2211 
2212 Just as the fresh cigarette taste is making itself apparent, our
2213 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 note
2215 that we're still here, leaning up against the wall, each man enjoying
2216 an individual smoke. She approaches swiftly and proceeds to bend our
2217 ears. That's when she realizes who I am. Quite comically, this new
2218 awareness halts her scolding, mid-sentence. She directs the other boys
2219 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 is
2221 exhilarating.
2222 
2223 I'm going to score.
2224 
2225 The woman has been shooting me these kinds of looks all semester. A
2226 couple of times she's caught me adjusting my visor, straining to catch
2227 a peek through her blouse. Instead of voicing an objection she usually
2228 just smiles. It's crossed my mind that she may even fancy my attempts
2229 to look down her shirt. Consider: she's the only one of our first
2230 grade teachers who will wear shorts in summer. To my knowledge, this
2231 is technically against the rules. I turn these thoughts over in my
2232 mind, one after the other, as I consider my immediate future.
2233 
2234 She tightens her grip on my shoulder.
2235 
2236 I brace for a kiss.
2237 
2238 Instead, she snatches the cigarette from my lips and sends it
2239 careening over her shoulder, skittering down the corridor. Well, that
2240 wasn't quite what I expected. I think to myself that it's convenient
2241 this corner of the building is devoid of traffic. Could she have
2242 planned our confrontation days, even weeks, in advance? Have things
2243 really progressed to that level? Gradually, the woman is drawing my
2244 attention to infinite new dimensions, threading my string through
2245 myriad vortices, the resulting matrix a blunt satire of our
2246 tessellating material realm. She's the teacher? I'm fit to burst.
2247 
2248 She parts her lips as if to speak. Softly, softly.
2249 
2250 This must be it.
2251 
2252 "So. You believe that folding pieces of paper into the shape of a
2253 cigarette, then selling them to your classmates is a good way to make
2254 friends, Thomas?"
2255 
2256 The tenderness I sensed only moments before is now vanished. She's
2257 trying her best to be stern. I can't say why, exactly, but this only
2258 excites me more.
2259 
2260 "So far it seems to be working fine," I offer, straining, barely
2261 containing myself."I have plenty of friends."
2262 
2263 "I've seen you outside, pretending to smoke, for weeks now. The
2264 students here look up to you, and I'm disappointed in how you've
2265 chosen to repay that trust. I want you to think of how you're
2266 influencing them, Thomas."
2267 
2268 "I'm not coercing anyone," I correct gently, so as not to rend the
2269 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. Surely
2271 you realize, this sort of equitable transaction is the very basis of
2272 our free economy, which ensures the continuity of­"
2273 
2274 She kisses me.
2275 
2276 I break free.
2277 
2278 "­the very continuance of our society."
2279 
2280 She doesn't seem impressed with my argument.
2281 
2282 From my jacket I produce a conspicuously pristine piece of equipment.
2283 The object fairly leaps from its place of concealment. She is somewhat
2284 startled, tries to mask her reaction, but the sudden adoration evident
2285 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 to
2287 my chest (her waist) and finger the switch that brings it to life. She
2288 jumps as a holographic image grows out of my palm. I have to adjust my
2289 visor again before I'm able to see it.
2290 
2291 So, this is Prince Rogers Nelson. Not exactly an imposing figure, but
2292 in relation to his framing, here in my hand, it hardly matters.
2293 Reports indicate that my teacher is quite enamored with this miniature
2294 entertainer. By all rights he was a fine composer, but some say he
2295 actually considered himself to be the physical reincarnation of the
2296 Egyptian Pharaoh Ahkanaten. There was a spate of controversy around
2297 the time he decided to found his own religion.
2298 
2299 Whatever.
2300 
2301 The unexpected appearance of the tiny man seems to be doing the trick
2302 with my teacher. As PRN begins to vibrate, I angle him beneath her
2303 skirt.
2304 
2305 "Just lay back," says Prince.
2306 
2307 She does as he says.
2308 
2309 While she is momentarily stunned, distracted, I remove the remaining
2310 contraband from my pockets, depositing several paper cigarettes onto
2311 the window ledge behind me. Shortly thereafter, the spring breeze
2312 carries them away, floating them ever downwards, towards the
2313 unnaturally green summer grass of the courtyard. All evidence of my
2314 wrongdoing thus disposed of, I snap closed my gadget and switch to
2315 manual, gazing deeply into my teacher's eyes as I finish her off.
2316 
2317 She's some time in coming. But once sated, her body goes slack. At
2318 last, I relax my arm and place my hand on her exquisite breast.
2319 
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 the
2322 window to see what I've been up to all this time she's been writhing
2323 under the ministrations of the holographic Prince. Her face shoots
2324 completely red, full of blood. The view from the window, of course, is
2325 unremarkable, but it's not the landscaping below that concerns her.
2326 She sees the paper cigarettes scattered about the courtyard and
2327 deduces that they must belong to me.
2328 
2329 She begins to lecture me. Even these playthings, which are not real at
2330 all, still set a negative example for the other students. Such toys
2331 glorify the act of real smoking. I should have known better than to
2332 engage in this sort of thing while at school. The premises is also a
2333 commerce restricted zone, blah blah blah, etc. She is scrupulous to
2334 avoid any mention of her orgasm, though I sense the experience is
2335 still very much on her mind.
2336 
2337 Overall, it proves to be a lackluster brow-beating. I consider the
2338 context of present events set against the larger backdrop of my
2339 mission and decide that her appraisal of my behavior is irrelevant. At
2340 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. I
2342 swear, I'm ready to graduate CU/FARLEY. Let's hope my father and the
2343 Chief see things my way.
2344 
2345 I acknowledge her statements as I shove my hand into my pants and
2346 scratch my groin.
2347 
2348 As we return to the classroom, I reach out to hold her hand.
2349 
2350 I probably don't have to tell you that I use the same hand.
2351 
2352 UBICOMP
2353 
2354 tags: 1969, potus, tab1
2355 
2356 There is a ring of teeth around my stick and I can't pull it out. I
2357 ease back and forth, gently, but the mouth won't let go. A sliver of
2358 saliva escapes, spreading first around my stick's circumference, then
2359 down to its base. All at once the President's head starts to move
2360 again.
2361 
2362 Textbook package delivery. Six calories of Turing gel forced into the
2363 digestive track of the mark. Freed from its carriage, some of the
2364 payload has already bonded firmly with the President's teeth.
2365 Presently, the liquid bootstraps itself into the machinery of
2366 surveillance. All logged in, phase one is complete. Other components
2367 of the payload make their way into the President's circulatory system,
2368 compensating for various biological ticks that would otherwise prove
2369 fatal to the Commander In Chief. Phase two, loaded, completed.
2370 
2371 I imagine there is something of an alkaline flavor. I don't know how
2372 she can stand it.
2373 
2374 Without warning, an additional teaspoon-dollop of nutrient-rich paste
2375 shoots between the President's lips. Slowly, it threads down her
2376 esophagus, coating her stomach's lining. I swish my stick around a
2377 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 in
2379 pleasure.
2380 
2381 I glance at my watch.
2382 
2383 Over time, the rogue cells I've introduced will create new tissue.
2384 They'll get into the business of subverting dendrite structures, which
2385 in turn (I'm told) will lead to the President's conscious assent to
2386 our programs.
2387 
2388 Caveat: the gel will need to be administered on a regular basis. I
2389 assume I will be selected as the agent of delivery (it's of no concern
2390 either way­there are numerous agents who are up to the task). In any
2391 case, the process will continue. Before the President knows what is
2392 happening, she will begin to crave the injections, find herself
2393 inexplicably drawn to the blunt insertion of stick into mouth. Lacking
2394 awareness, she'll come to regard the process as a pleasure of her own
2395 devising. She may even develop an affinity for the taste.
2396 
2397 But enough of my speculation, however well-informed. Her mouth is upon
2398 me now, showing no sign of loosening its grip. Not losing suction. Her
2399 eyes have rolled back into her head. She's become unresponsive. Even
2400 her gag reflex has gone dead.
2401 
2402 As an initial response to insertion, this faux catatonic state is not
2403 unusual. In my field-work I've observed that women will often slip
2404 into semi-consciousness once they've worked the Turing gel past their
2405 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, I
2407 thought to myself. But no, this brief period of unconsciousness tends
2408 to be shallow, tends to pass quickly.
2409 
2410 I decide to sneak a peek, to see how she's coming along. Her mouth
2411 glides smoothly on a thick lather of saliva, sealed by the walls of
2412 her throat. Her head bobs up and down, gently rotating, rhythmically
2413 advancing and retreating across the length of my equipment. She's
2414 quite awake now and seems to have swallowed her cares.
2415 
2416 A strand of the President's hair has caught on my watchband, but I'm
2417 reluctant to interrupt her work.
2418 
2419 I nudge her lovingly on the ear and her entire head shifts weight to
2420 the other side. Her eyes flick open and she smiles as she releases my
2421 stick, seemingly unaware of the considerable amount of time that has
2422 passed. I slide out, drawing a trail of spit between myself and her
2423 tongue, which she stares at quizzically before flashing a mischievous
2424 grin and then aggressively chewing it all back into her mouth.
2425 Ordinarily this would be fine, but a pool of spittle has coalesced
2426 around my scrotum, and now it traces the contour of my buttocks. It is
2427 cold.
2428 
2429 A pink square blips in the lower-left of my vision, telling me that
2430 the Turing cells have gained purchase.
2431 
2432 I engage the President verbally as she re-applies her lipstick and
2433 adjusts her coiffure.
2434 
2435 I start making excuses, looking for a way out of the room.
2436 
2437 ALL THAT IS
2438 
2439 tags: 1970, missus_camilla, violet
2440 
2441 Violet used her stylus to press against the reflective surface of her
2442 school leaf. Presently, a margin message from Missus Camilla appeared,
2443 signaling the class to begin writing.
2444 
2445 Violet began:
2446 
2447  Words are insufficient to communicate all that is.
2448 
2449  Having'a problem' with this would imply that I think any other
2450  state of affairs is remotely possible. The fact is that I
2451  have to accept my best current thinking on the subject, and
2452  right now I haven't come up with any reasonable counter to the
2453  observation that language is inescapably circular. To me,
2454  this means that at best we can only approximate The Truth at
2455  any given moment­and since we can't make these determinations
2456  with any significant certainty (e.g., to judge the accuracy of
2457  our approximations),'A' can only equal 'A' on a localized,
2458  individual level.
2459 
2460  And yet, 'A=A' is the fundamental assertion of logic. I think
2461  there is a tendency to try and expand too far upon this basic
2462  construction. The subjective assumptions applied by logic
2463  tests too often outpace language's ability to accurately map
2464  the salient factors at hand. Too much emphasis is placed upon
2465  how the logic is articulated, with very little attention paid
2466  to the structure of the logic itself­which, presumably, should
2467  transcend the language that was used to describe it.
2468 
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 answer
2472  is that it all depends on who you ask.
2473 
2474  I don't think the fact that we have managed to evolve grammars
2475  which are effective at managing objects and activities,
2476  effective at managing the processes of machines, even, is
2477  evidence that those grammars are universally descriptive of
2478  our entire shared reality. Success in a single, limited area
2479  does not imply universal success on a grand scale, even if
2480  many times a simple set of rules can exhibit emergent
2481  behaviors that transcend the original description.
2482 
2483  Consider the following stories. Observe how these seemingly
2484  correct articulations of reality work at cross-purposes to the
2485  protagonist's intentions, yet still manage to exhibit a
2486  peculiar efficacy all their own:
2487 
2488  1.) Occupied Poland. A man held a job at a stroller factory.
2489  His child needed a stroller. Being short on money, and being
2490  handy with his tools, the man decided to steal all the
2491  necessary parts from his workplace and assemble the stroller
2492  at home. Wary of arousing suspicion, he limited himself to
2493  absconding with only a single component each night. After
2494  many such nights, the man took an inventory and noticed that
2495  he had managed to acquire almost all of the parts on his list.
2496  Finally completing the assembly, the man discovered that
2497  instead of a new stroller for his son he had assembled a fully
2498  functional, modular sub-machine gun.
2499 
2500  Does this mean that a stroller is in fact the very same thing
2501  as a sub-machine gun? After all, the man had worked in the
2502  factory for many years and was quite experienced at his job
2503  (which consisted chiefly of speed-buffing several types of
2504  polished parts as they came whizzing past his station on an
2505  assembly line). In this case, the value of'A' was at first
2506  disputed; then investigated; and finally, revised. In the
2507  end, would it have been sufficient to simply continue
2508  referring to the finished product as a stroller? Why or why
2509  not?
2510 
2511  2.) A radical priest gains increasing infamy with the native
2512  residents of a Roman-occupied garrison town in Jerusalem.
2513  After he has been put to death by a civilian
2514  court­administered by his own people, no less­a cult religion
2515  springs up around him, and a legend begins to solidify around
2516  the memory of his living days. Indeed, the legend glorifies
2517  even the most mundane aspects of his life. His story is at
2518  first spread verbally, but is eventually written down by
2519  various scribes, disparate of geography and generation, who
2520  never quite managed to cross paths with the priest or his
2521  followers. (Granted, when the priest was supposedly executed,
2522  the scribes in question had yet to be born.)
2523 
2524  I'm sure you can follow this one to its obvious conclusion.
2525  After a certain point, the language used to describe a legend
2526  begins to transcend the actual events, to take on a life of
2527  its own. The events themselves remain unobserved, wholly
2528  obscured from view. At best: irrelevant.
2529 
2530  The above are clearly examples which reinforce the notion that
2531  all languages are tautologies. For this reason,'A=A' can only
2532  apply universally when the definition of'A' is immutable,
2533  cannot be tampered with as it travels from one side of the
2534  equation to the other. (This fact does tend to break the
2535  discussion into many different levels, including questions of
2536  control over so-called shared languages [e.g., dictionaries,
2537  popular idiom], but the problem of complexity comes part and
2538  parcel with the problem of precision.)'A=A' may well be
2539  subjectively true, but the equation is necessarily based upon
2540  assumptions that may be incorrect. The uncomfortable truth
2541  about our knowledge of the world is that it is almost always
2542  filtered through a mediating source of questionable
2543  benevolence. Think about that. The ultimate impossibility of
2544  neutrality. Even if we momentarily eschew the likelihood of
2545  intentional misrepresentation, we must accept that once
2546  language escapes our minds and begins to interact with the
2547  language of others, we lose personal control over its context
2548  and meaning. At this point, rationally, we should acknowledge
2549  that we can no longer verify that'A' means what we think it
2550  does. Thus, we come to glimpse the limitations of logic
2551  itself.
2552 
2553  Language initiates us into a special kind of'cargo cult.' We
2554  scramble, frothing at the mouth like so many tropical savages,
2555  attempting to reenact a Reality that we're just certain we've
2556  experienced, all in the vain hope that we might someday entice
2557  that Reality to return to us, laden with crates full of movie
2558  reels, Coca-Cola, and fresh cartons of cheap American
2559  cigarettes. At that point, we presume, we'd all be farting
2560  through silk.
2561 
2562  Violet
2563 
2564 DRIFT
2565 
2566 tags: 1951, 2026, pink_floyd, tab1
2567 
2568 2026.
2569 
2570 The sunlight fades and I wonder after my satchel. It's here, buried
2571 somewhere under the snow. Wearily, I prop up both of my arms and thumb
2572 through the entries on my leaf.
2573 
2574 I stumble upon a decades-old post.
2575 
2576  1951. So, I was laid out on the couch (free), face pressed up
2577  against my camo pillow ( 123.67), wondering if I should pick
2578  the dead pill bugs out of the fibers of my bath robe, when a
2579  garish advert for a new Pink Floyd"greatest hits" collection (
2580  2999.99) ran across the display of my telescreen: Order ECHOES
2581  now and we'll include blah sqwak blah niner foxtrot delta
2582  sqwak blah sqwak blah My attention span waned and I lost the
2583  rest of the advert to random static generated by a mild
2584  migraine headache (previously acquired), but the damage had
2585  already been done. Slowly, the new information sunk in.
2586  Within a couple of hours I had stumbled into the bedroom. I
2587  stood fondling the jewel case of a 2-disc collection of my own
2588  original music (entitled: ECHOES), desperately trying to
2589  figure out how Pink Floyd's handlers had managed to bug my
2590  home. Motherspammers. I took a swig of apple juice from a
2591  glass tumbler on the dresser, then spit it back out again when
2592  I realized the surface of the drink had been blanketed by a
2593  layer of dust. I needed to stop leaving those things laying
2594  around where anyone could find them. I resumed staring at the
2595  jewel case. The artwork was superior to what I had just seen
2596  on the telescreen. Fucking Pink Floyd. What did I ever do to
2597  them? (Besides torturing that girl in the Pink Floyd t-shirt
2598  at Denny's.) There had to be a reason why they had selected
2599  me. I glared at the tumbler for a couple of seconds, then
2600  back at the jewel case in my hands. I downed the entire glass
2601  without tasting the dust. Apple juice doesn't really ferment,
2602  but at this point my migraine had wedged itself in-between my
2603  frontal lobe and another slab of gray matter I wasn't able to
2604  identify, resulting in a significant impairment to my decision
2605  making faculties. Somehow, I kept from vomiting. Before long
2606  I detected a handful of splinters in my hand, and came to the
2607  slow realization that I'd squeezed the jewel case into several
2608  pieces. The dust flavor returned to my mouth, resembling the
2609  sensation of pushing my tongue through ungroomed tufts of fur.
2610  I threw the tumbler down and stomped back into the living
2611  room. The advert was on again. This time tracking a sequence
2612  I hadn't noticed during the previous playback. The message
2613  ran at ten minute intervals, but I had yet to see it all the
2614  way through. The visual rhetoric was contrived, but would
2615  probably prove effective. They'd likely sell a billion
2616  copies. I swallowed an over the counter pharmaceutical
2617  designed to combat dizziness and resumed my seat on the couch.
2618  Staring at a spot two feet above the telescreen, my mind began
2619  to spin down, drifting to other concerns. My next shift at my
2620  corporate front-job was scheduled to begin in just under five
2621  hours. Still tasting apple dust (maybe it wasn't really apple
2622  dust, after all), I chewed at the air with my mouth and then
2623  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 the
2626  folds of my robe. They no longer seemed to be the most likely
2627  vector of leaked intelligence. In point of fact they appeared
2628  organic. Quite simplistic. This new-found lucidity
2629  intensified as I painted shaving cream onto my chin and then
2630  accidentally sliced the skin between my nostrils. It occurred
2631  to me that Pink Floyd might not really be ripping me off.
2632  They were probably capable of coming up with such an obvious
2633  title as ECHOES on their own. Their boxed set was probably
2634  being manufactured even as had I decided on the title of my
2635  own collection. Still, the overlap rankled. I guessed that
2636  it must have been a case of Steam Engine Time. For
2637  posterity's sake, I will note here that my own ECHOES
2638  collection may be sampled at the following address:
2639 
2640 
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 break
2643 into the music industry. I wince at the memory, irrationally certain
2644 that this will be all they'll find when they finally dig my starved
2645 body out of this house and this snow drift and begin to piece together
2646 the circumstances of my disappearance. Decorated Agent Leaves Behind
2647 Rough Draft Of An Early Internet Posting. Family Denies Any Knowledge
2648 Of Agent's Artistic Endeavors.
2649 
2650 I lean back my head against the exposed boards of the attic floor and
2651 observe as small flecks of snow float in and out between the cracks in
2652 the roof. My fingers have become useless now, and I suspect that I'm
2653 too weak to kick through the tile shingling. Troubling, to be sure. As
2654 if to underline the point, I make an attempt to stand up and one of my
2655 legs cracks and falls off onto the floor.
2656 
2657 Well, so be it. Another opportunity to reflect on my past.
2658 
2659 Reviewing this material I have to admit, I've had a good run.
2660 
2661 IN THE END, NOTHING WORKS
2662 
2663 tags: 2079, eva, gordon, tab2
2664 
2665 In spite of his back, Thomas was up early the next morning. It hurt to
2666 be out of bed. He slipped on his robe and dialed a reasonable
2667 temperature for his bones. The floor felt cold under his feet. A draft
2668 tickled his scrotum as he dragged himself down the hallway, robe
2669 swishing freely between his legs.
2670 
2671 Thomas found no paper on the front step.
2672 
2673 Therefore, he reasoned, no newspaper could actually exist.
2674 
2675 The number of people required to produce such an artifact could, quite
2676 simply, never be forced together, never be entrusted to bring such a
2677 project to fruition. Thomas dismissed the idea as self-evident lunacy.
2678 As with other would-be conspiracies, this"newspaper" business, if it
2679 were ever truly attempted, would immediately run afoul of man's signal
2680 inability to cooperate effectively. The whole endeavor would end in
2681 disaster. Thomas pictured a management team showing up at the office
2682 and attempting to corral the so-called"newsmen" into some semblance of
2683 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 of
2686 workers, each synchronizing his movements to the other, all in some
2687 effort to compile a grand codex of halftoned words and photographs...
2688 Ostensibly a periodical source of news and sports-related
2689 information... Implausible wasn't the word. The idea was like
2690 something that would come out of a liberal arts college. Thomas
2691 understood that in the end, nothing really worked. Thus it followed
2692 that no newspaper would or could be delivered to Thomas' door, on this
2693 or any other morning.
2694 
2695 Thomas looked down. Perhaps he was surprised to see that the newspaper
2696 still wasn't where it should have been. He wiped the condensation from
2697 the front of his visor and planted his feet in the doorway, fixing his
2698 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 a
2700 copy of THE NEW YORK TIMES. He was slowly becoming aware that his lips
2701 had chapped.
2702 
2703 What...
2704 
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 an
2707 awareness of the relentless, frozen sheets of air that were blowing
2708 past his face. After several moments, he became enticed by the sounds
2709 emanating from inside the house, and so he retreated back into the
2710 living room. He sat down by the fireplace and started to pull on the
2711 hair that protruded from his chin. He would often affect this pose
2712 whenever he found himself confused.
2713 
2714 Presently, Eva came in with the tea.
2715 
2716 Thomas regarded her suspiciously, conjecturing that she must have
2717 prepared this tea herself, not simply poured it, pre-mixed, from a jug
2718 or a bottle delivered by the government truck. It would later prove
2719 that his suppositions had been correct. But at present, Eva refused to
2720 discuss her inspiration. Why organic tea? He wrinkled his eyebrows
2721 with palpable irritation and stared at her, knowing perfectly well
2722 that his tendency towards interpreting simple results as the fruit of
2723 complex machinations should not distract him so long that his tea
2724 would go cold. I'm being silly, he thought to himself. Next, he'd be
2725 accusing her of inventing, then hiding, and finally denying the
2726 existence of, his daily newspaper.
2727 
2728 He resolved not to say anything about it for now.
2729 
2730 The feed to his visor had gone dark, sometime, he thought, in the past
2731 week. The boys down at the switching station had gotten so wrapped up
2732 in their chatter and practical jokes that the feed had ceased to be
2733 maintained. This group of teenage boys had allowed any number of feed
2734 pools to become irretrievably poisoned. Obviously, the problem had yet
2735 to be amended. The cause of the service disruption was the logical
2736 result of leaving unsupervised boys in charge of the running system.
2737 There. Blunt common sense. No conspiracy required.
2738 
2739 Though it could have been sabotage.
2740 
2741 From the perspective behind Thomas' visor, everything had simply gone
2742 black. Neighborhood residents were skeptical that the city's plans for
2743 replacing the youths with middle-aged housewives would yield a network
2744 any more reliable than the one that already existed. The real problem
2745 was that this new technology simply didn't scale. You couldn't expect
2746 everyone to get online at the same time without ramping up the
2747 system's capacity. Unsupervised boys or no. Thomas doubted if any
2748 demographic could keep the thing running without the assistance of
2749 authorized Green technicians. Of course, that would cost money. On a
2750 related note, did the Green Consortium really think that these
2751 middle-aged women would subject themselves to working for lower wages
2752 than what they could make staying at home? Like the aforementioned
2753 "newspaper" idea, the scheme simply didn't wash.
2754 
2755 How the networks had ever been built in the first place was also a
2756 damned mystery. The secrets of net construction had apparently passed
2757 into the realm of myth­an area where Thomas carefully abstained from
2758 treading. Just what had inspired Jeff Bezos to invent the Netscape
2759 browser? The world might never know for sure. To be certain, claims
2760 had been staked out by all of the usual suspects: Church leaders,
2761 government agencies, atheist intellectuals­the full gamut of
2762 unreliable sources. But Thomas was confident he knew the real score.
2763 He had realized early in life that they all made up stories­lies, in
2764 fact­that weren't supported by the available evidence. Anyone who
2765 advanced a positive claim was merely covering an angle. No one knew
2766 the real history of the Green. Or, at the very least, he was certain
2767 there had been mistakes in the recording.
2768 
2769 Just as well, then, that young people not be misled by any wild tales
2770 of human beings working together towards a collective goal. It might
2771 make for a ripping yarn, fine, but this sort of cooperation just
2772 wasn't going to happen. Not that he could see. In his experience,
2773 human beings were incapable of effective organization, even if
2774 sometimes his mind liked to hallucinate collaboration amongst his
2775 enemies. It would make more sense if the networks had simply grown
2776 themselves.
2777 
2778 You had to market your trash to the trash men, or else they would
2779 stubbornly refuse to take it away. Thomas knew this to be true, but
2780 still he couldn't find the time to arrange his various bags and
2781 receptacles pleasantly enough to attract their attention. Instead,
2782 garbage would pile up for several weeks before he'd finally be forced
2783 to trudge down to the edge of the yard, spit on the road, and go to
2784 work creating a minimally effective layout. These city trash men
2785 thought they were critics. Thomas knew full well that as insiders to
2786 the waste reclamation industry, their own garbage would never be
2787 subjected to the ridicule of their peers. Instead, a trash man's
2788 refuse would be hauled off periodically, sight-unseen. Thomas resented
2789 the situation because it just wasn't fair. He could feel his hate for
2790 the double-standard solidifying in his back. Why did consumers let the
2791 government get away with this?
2792 
2793 Thomas spied his friend Gordon coming up the road.
2794 
2795 "What up, G?" he asked.
2796 
2797 "I dunno, man. Field trip around the sun, I guess."
2798 
2799 Thomas fingered his visor until the face of his friend came into
2800 focus. Gordon had that look about him, as if he'd just been slipped
2801 counterfeit money. (Money. Another conspiratorial delusion. Thomas was
2802 undecided as to whether this particular fiction yieled sufficient
2803 utility to warrant his playing along. Convenient, since he was usually
2804 broke.)
2805 
2806 "What are you doing to your face," asked Gordon.
2807 
2808 "What do you mean?"
2809 
2810 "There, your face. Why are you moving your hand around as if you were
2811 manipulating some sort of device, or making some sort of minute
2812 adjustments to your eyebrows. There's nothing there. Just that wrinkly
2813 old skin wrapped around your skull."
2814 
2815 Thomas moved to punch Gordon in the arm. Just then, he slipped off of
2816 the stairs and toppled to the ground. He felt his hip shift out of its
2817 socket as he struck the hard stone beneath him. Resigned to the pain,
2818 he put his hand down in the snow and groaned.
2819 
2820 "Can you help me up, please?" he said."My damn ass is broken."
2821 
2822 Perversely, Thomas' visor clicked through its boot-up sequence and
2823 once again resumed service.
2824 
2825 Click. Click. Click.
2826 
2827 But the settings were futzed. Thomas could see through Gordon's pants.
2828 
2829 "Nice briefs," he said.
2830 
2831 END BOOK ONE
2832 
2833 BOOK TWO
2834 
2835 THE GREEN
2836 
2837 tags: 1918
2838 
2839 Mary lit candles while I made some adjustments to the sound levels and
2840 then paced off the markers on the stage. The trees were turning up
2841 their leaves and the cold breeze against my face indicated that the
2842 sooner we got started, the better. The weather was in transition
2843 again. I noticed that in the diminished light, the curtain seemed to
2844 be reflecting the green from all around us. I looked down at my arms
2845 and the same effect was showing against my skin. Mary smiled
2846 acknowledgement from her corner of the stage.
2847 
2848 I faced toward the swaying grass. The movement of the hillside caught
2849 hold of me immediately­I felt it pull against my stomach­but once the
2850 playback started I had little trouble falling into the correct rhythm.
2851 Insects in the trees began to organize their shrieks around the
2852 activity on stage. Presently, our surroundings had settled into smooth
2853 synchronization with the machines. The shift between recognition and
2854 acceptance was instantaneous, complete.
2855 
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 of
2858 the rite. Intonation. One voice, then two, joining with the electronic
2859 pulses, slipping into the fold, setting down a canopy atop the
2860 invisible scaffolding which was still emerging from the loudspeakers.
2861 We erected a shelter of sound, continuing with the program until
2862 almost all movement within sight had come to a stop. Even the grass
2863 had ceased its inverted pendulum swing. A single drop of water
2864 splashed against my face and I winced almost imperceptibly, but did
2865 not waver in my vocalizations. We both turned to face the hillside.
2866 
2867 Then silence, from the both of us, and all at once it was over.
2868 
2869 After an indeterminate period, Mary began to extinguish the candles. I
2870 worked my way around the stage, detaching speakers and re-coiling
2871 cords and plugs. The hillside below remained resolutely still
2872 throughout this secondary performance, our movements a sort of encore
2873 begging the mute appreciation of spring foliage. This silent effect
2874 would persist for weeks before finally returning to normal. Mary and I
2875 would fall back into our own familiar patterns. Clanging about. We
2876 would complain that we missed the children, or that the government had
2877 evolved beyond all recognition. It was comfortable, for the most part.
2878 But the trees on the hillside were more thoughtful. They would hold
2879 still for a few more days, perhaps as a reminder of what had already
2880 passed. While I might climb back up to the stage some afternoon,
2881 planning to relax with a book, my consciousness of the synchronicity
2882 would have already expended itself. The resonance would be completely
2883 drained. I was sure it would be the same for Mary.
2884 
2885 I slept better that night than I had in a long time. A decade. The
2886 temptation was always to think that if we'd take time out for this
2887 observance just a little more often, if we'd simply make an effort to
2888 keep these sentiments in our daily thoughts... Well, you know how
2889 these things tend to work out. The truth is­and this is as important
2890 as any other detail you'd care to focus on­the rite was only to be
2891 performed once a year. That's how it had always been. And the
2892 tradition, I think, was correct. Well-founded. The empty spaces were
2893 in fact as significant as those caressed by the resonance of conscious
2894 observance. The transition from one state to another could only be
2895 measured along this sort of blunt, descending staircase. Dividing
2896 awareness from its counterpart, one state from its successor, empty to
2897 all filled up. How else could we perceive change at all?
2898 
2899 As the rains started, I scooped up the last of the cables and snapped
2900 shut the plastic container where they were stored when they were not
2901 being used. A thoughtful crease appeared along the ridge of my
2902 eyebrows, and Mary quickly rolled out the awning over the stage, just
2903 as the downpour really began to break loose. We locked hands and
2904 wandered the stone pathway back to the house, a silent song on our
2905 lips as the rain beat clumps of our hair down against our ears. It
2906 felt as if we were aging in reverse.
2907 
2908 Rainwater spread over the green fallen leaves, sticking them to the
2909 concrete, bulletin boarding them from the edge of the woods all the
2910 way up to the house. We kicked them along as we made our way through
2911 the spring shower, splashing forward to the doorway and its steady,
2912 house-shaped warmth.
2913 
2914 Until next year.
2915 
2916 EPISODE IX
2917 
2918 tags: 1957, margaret, paris_mold, tab1, the_chief
2919 
2920 I couldn't get the lid off.
2921 
2922 I bashed the base of the jar against the corner of a nearby table
2923 (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 the
2925 terminal to finish transcribing. I had the bulk of the message keyed
2926 in by the time the big kitchen door dissolved into its frame.
2927 
2928 In sauntered Paris Mold.
2929 
2930 He smoothly traversed the tile floor, making a beeline for the object
2931 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 carefully
2934 unlatched the bag under my table with an obscured foot.
2935 
2936 Paris' gaze slid from my keyboard to my shoulders to my scrambled face
2937 in a continuous gesture. He maintained a blank expression that I
2938 couldn't have mustered even with the help of electronics.
2939 
2940 He cocked his head slightly to the left and began to speak. I noticed
2941 there was a huge smudge of dirt on his cheek.
2942 
2943 A detail such as that could be my anchor in the moments to come.
2944 
2945 "That's one hell of a portable," Paris observed, nodding in the
2946 direction of my table-top device. As if in response, the pressure
2947 screen's broadcast antenna extended itself and locked into place.
2948 
2949 Without warning, the room folded back upon itself, pulling all sorts
2950 of visual transforms that reminded me of the programming exercises
2951 given to small children at school. It appeared to be modeling the
2952 cellular automata of snowflakes, tree branches, and the flocking
2953 patterns of birds. Most of the standard primitives.
2954 
2955 I gritted my teeth. Being this close to Paris Mold was like chewing
2956 power cables. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep my head straight for
2957 long, so I leaned in towards him and smiled in feeble agreement.
2958 
2959 "Yes, boss."
2960 
2961 Paris coughed.
2962 
2963 Purposefully, I fastened the strap on my helmet, then clamped shut my
2964 eyes until my sensors reached equilibrium. I risked one last glance at
2965 Paris Mold, tightened my scrotum and tapped the device in my bag with
2966 the tip of my boot.
2967 
2968 There sounded a short series of digital squawks. Then the whole place
2969 went wobbly and the walls began to collapse.
2970 
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.
2973 
2974 Still, this was going to kill me, too.
2975 
2976 I plopped in another pat of margarine and inhaled over the sizzling
2977 frying pan. Folding the wrinkled bits of paper into the eggs, a series
2978 of disconnected sentence fragments slowly came into view. I closed my
2979 eyes and surveyed the partial collage. Three signatures in all. These
2980 were definitely the forms I'd sought, but the fragments seemed
2981 incomplete. Something was missing.
2982 
2983 Tabasco.
2984 
2985 I thumbed the labels of three different brands (there were several on
2986 the shelf). Overwhelmed by the available choices, I went ahead and
2987 emptied them all into the mix. A brief shot of green-smelling flame
2988 licked the canopy above the stove. Spam!
2989 
2990 I batted the fire with my spatula. Left-handed, because I was still
2991 holding onto the frying pan. I had to guess about where the tongues of
2992 flame were going to dart next.
2993 
2994 In wandered Paris Mold. We didn't make eye contact; we couldn't
2995 really, on account of my being blind.
2996 
2997 I assumed he had come to apologize.
2998 
2999 Mold was no longer my boss. But still he would offer me work from time
3000 to time, bundled with an awkward expression of sympathy. He felt
3001 responsible for my blindness and therefore made every attempt to wipe
3002 clean his conscience by providing me with advance notice of his job
3003 listings. I tolerated it only because I needed the work.
3004 
3005 "Can't sleep?" he asked.
3006 
3007 "Horseshit. I'm trying to finish my taxes."
3008 
3009 "Still slaving away at that, eh? The deadline's coming up, you know,"
3010 he chided."Why don't you hire an accountant?"
3011 
3012 "These days, I've got plenty of time to waste. Besides, I was hungry."
3013 
3014 My finger hovered over the"eight" key while Paris regarded my
3015 handiwork. I wasn't about to enter negotiations without some sort of
3016 leverage­even if that meant blowing his forehead into spun glass.
3017 Paris wrinkled his eyebrows and made a disappointed sigh. So, this was
3018 going to be it. With a flick of my finger, a shotgun would descend
3019 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 was
3021 standing right on top of the the marker. Almost...
3022 
3023 The bandages on my face began to itch. I twitched, trying to adjust
3024 the strips of gauze with my nose before they slid completely off of my
3025 face. This must have created an awkward spectacle, given the
3026 situation.
3027 
3028 "What is that? Sign language?" Paris snickered.
3029 
3030 A flash of rage. My eyes started to burn. I punched the"eight" key
3031 vigorously. Eat this, fuck sack!
3032 
3033 Then: A long, piercing beep as my keypad's buffer filled with"eights."
3034 
3035 Why wasn't it working? I looked down and saw nothing.
3036 
3037 It transpired that my hands had slipped off of home row. I had been
3038 mashing the wrong key.
3039 
3040 The realization dawned, as my wife used to say, too little, too late.
3041 
3042 Paris Mold retaliated with extreme prejudice.
3043 
3044 By force of habit, he went straight for my eyes.
3045 
3046 They said I had been chewing on my left hand, apparently trying to get
3047 at my chronometer. I complained that I hadn't managed to kill Paris
3048 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 was
3050 this last remark that got me pulled from the operation.
3051 
3052 They wanted to know if I was through wasting their time, if I was
3053 ready to stop stalling. When had I planned to follow through on the
3054 objective? Was I really so disoriented that I couldn't maintain
3055 narrative continuity? And what was this nonsense I'd been ranting
3056 about? Had I experienced fear in the presence of the Molds?
3057 
3058 The words"dishonorable discharge" were bandied about over my
3059 restrained body­the first time such words had been mentioned in
3060 relation to my person. It sounded to me like a threat. I could do
3061 nothing but foam and thrash.
3062 
3063 Had I really failed so completely?
3064 
3065 The Molds still walked the Earth.
3066 
3067 The Chief phoned while I was still strapped to the table. He claimed
3068 that my wife had become pregnant.
3069 
3070 I asked him how he knew.
3071 
3072 THE PARTISAN
3073 
3074 tags: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, mother, tab1
3075 
3076 1
3077 
3078 Mother didn't love me.
3079 
3080 Well, who knows, but it sure was hard to tell. I assume she wanted me
3081 gone by graduation. Pushing me out of the nest fit symmetrically with
3082 first having introduced me to its warmth.
3083 
3084 Only, I hadn't needed to be pushed.
3085 
3086 Whatever the case, I wouldn't have stuck around once I'd secured my
3087 means of escape. In fact, my childhood agenda came to center upon
3088 vacating the nest at the earliest possible convenience. I told her as
3089 much on a handful of occasions, which may have been an early source of
3090 her resentment towards me.
3091 
3092 Drifting, there. Such thoughts are useless for filling out my report.
3093 
3094 I dribble a handful of words into the document and save before making
3095 a trip to the men's room. Time to call it a night.
3096 
3097 Passing through the marketing department, I ponder the desks of the
3098 new-hires, noticing for the first time that their cubicle partitions
3099 and arm-thick contract binders serve as ballast against the
3100 accumulation of personal effects. The design is intentional. In my
3101 first few months at the company I never would have suspected such
3102 subtle architectures of control.
3103 
3104 I round the corner to the men's room and take a seat in the furthest
3105 stall.
3106 
3107 After a few minutes I'm faced with a problem.
3108 
3109 No toilet paper.
3110 
3111 2
3112 
3113 I am out of work.
3114 
3115 Real work, that is. My study group has been shut down.
3116 
3117 It's the Greens. They're everywhere. Though admittedly they're less
3118 numerous than in recent years.
3119 
3120 Take my former manager. Matters of consequence on his mind. A month
3121 ago he retracted our billet after deciding that my group had fielded
3122 too many atheists. A security risk, he said.
3123 
3124 What is this, the 1910s?
3125 
3126 For a while now I've been sitting at home, steadily freezing solid in
3127 my poorly insulated study. Not the best working environment, and I'm
3128 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 think
3130 I've made the right decision.
3131 
3132 This morning I discover that the Greens have cut loose my former
3133 manager. I'm digging around in his account when the call comes in.
3134 
3135 We're back on.
3136 
3137 Patent disputes in the hinterlands.
3138 
3139 The traffic orb on my desk glows a suggestive blue as I pick up the
3140 phone to contact my team.
3141 
3142 3
3143 
3144 Well, that didn't last long.
3145 
3146 Back to retail.
3147 
3148 I work the counter between calls because no one else knows how to
3149 operate the products we sell. Customers roll in and then they roll
3150 back out, au gratin waves of body fat wrapped in plastic garments. The
3151 typical specimen reeks of a public cafeteria.
3152 
3153 A man wanders into my zone and starts fidgeting with the boxes of
3154 electronic equipment. He picks up a box and then sets it back down
3155 without examining it. He repeats this awkward choreography at several
3156 different positions along the aisle. His movements seem aimless and
3157 there appears to be no intelligent pattern underlying his
3158 investigations.
3159 
3160 What is going on here? The answer is that I don't care.
3161 
3162 "Is there something I can assist you with, sir?"
3163 
3164 Contractually, I cannot allow his anti-commercial behavior to pass
3165 unchallenged. I maneuver myself between him and the shelves and then
3166 read him one of the scripts I've been required to memorize.
3167 
3168 "I am certified in twenty-seven dialects of formal sales semantics,
3169 with a top-five ranking amongst appliance technicians in the local
3170 Green. It would be my pleasure to interpret your needs today. Thank
3171 you for choosing AT&T."
3172 
3173 "Son, let me ask you a question. Do you actually like working here?"
3174 
3175 I have to admit, there's no easy way to answer. I don't let it show on
3176 my face.
3177 
3178 From an obscured storage pouch the man produces a business card and
3179 communicates it smoothly into my hand. Affixed to its underside is a
3180 thousand dollar bill. I turn the tiny rectangle in my hand, staring at
3181 it quizzically. What has just happened here? Gradually, I realize that
3182 the currency is fraudulent. The thousand dollar bill is a facsimile,
3183 printed on the reverse of the business card. I smile and the man
3184 lights up, returning my grin. I swear I can hear his face skipping
3185 gears.
3186 
3187 "Five minutes of your time and that t-note becomes real, deposits into
3188 the account of your choice. Spend it however you like."
3189 
3190 It's hardly pocket change, and of course I'm well beyond broke, so I
3191 gesture for him to proceed with his pitch.
3192 
3193 Before I know it, he has me filling out paperwork, signing papers.
3194 "Signing your life away," he announces, and smiles.
3195 
3196 He doesn't seem to care about my previous experience.
3197 
3198 4
3199 
3200 I'm being sent to the front.
3201 
3202 Well, one of the fronts.
3203 
3204 In modern warfare, someone has to keep the breathers running. My
3205 orders are to install hotfixes and updates on the machines that
3206 control the mobile flow tanks, which in turn feed the breathers. We
3207 aren't permitted to install unauthorized programs, but everyone I've
3208 ever worked with does so anyway.
3209 
3210 Our Sergeant hosts a fileserver from his backpack.
3211 
3212 The men of the platoon have taken to calling me"Mother." I assume this
3213 is in reference to my careful maintenance of their breather
3214 apparatuses. I don't find it amusing in the slightest.
3215 
3216 In spite of improvements to our equipment, signal degradation
3217 continues to render the mail unreliable. The satellite gear proved
3218 flaky and we dumped it after the first week in the field. At higher
3219 elevations we're sometimes able to establish line of sight with the
3220 fleet.
3221 
3222 Mother would probably like to hear from me. Maybe I'll drop her a line
3223 the next time we're up the mountain.
3224 
3225 5
3226 
3227 Responding to aggressive stimuli, I discharge my service rifle into
3228 the crowd.
3229 
3230 My round exits the back of a man's skull and strikes the man standing
3231 directly behind him. It then travels on to the next man standing
3232 behind him. For a split second the perforated heads sync up, their
3233 wounds aligning in a peculiar sort of optical tributary. As quickly as
3234 it is formed, the channel collapses and the illusion of coherence is
3235 lost.
3236 
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 a
3239 better angle on the corpses lying at my feet. They seem to
3240 deliberately ignore me and my fellow soldiers. I don't understand why.
3241 
3242 A hand falls on my shoulder. It is the Sergeant.
3243 
3244 What's he doing here, I think to myself.
3245 
3246 Oh, right.
3247 
3248 6
3249 
3250 Prison clothing is uncomfortable. In my case it fits well enough. Some
3251 of my peers have been less fortunate.
3252 
3253 I keep in step with the other prisoners. Occasionally, I catch my
3254 reflection in the back of another inmate's jacket. Even out of uniform
3255 we're unmistakably soldiers.
3256 
3257 A guard shouts obscenities through a bullhorn and the man in front of
3258 me stumbles. I think that I recognize him. Latino, approximately
3259 twenty years of age. Infantry, definitely. Could it be?
3260 
3261 When the guards aren't looking I kick him in the back.
3262 
3263 "Keep up, asshole."
3264 
3265 He gasps, flashing me the secret hand sign of our platoon.
3266 
3267 I'm convinced now, and kick him again, this time less carefully. Less
3268 the actor. I have him on the ground by the time the guard with the
3269 bullhorn interrupts.
3270 
3271 "Move, faggots!"
3272 
3273 We do as he says.
3274 
3275 The data has changed hands.
3276 
3277 7
3278 
3279 I am free.
3280 
3281 Released.
3282 
3283 The spring sun sinks into my face. Mother has passed away at some
3284 point during my incarceration.
3285 
3286 I convalesce at home for two days before calling in to be reactivated.
3287 
3288 The boys will be anxious to hear about my experience behind bars. I
3289 wonder how many of us are left.
3290 
3291 8
3292 
3293 And now it's back to the grind. Nothing has changed about the war
3294 we've been fighting, though the locales tend to shift with the
3295 seasons. We manage the periodic disorientation by assigning colors to
3296 each theater of operations. This quarter we're in the Red. The
3297 projection is that by next quarter we'll be in the Black.
3298 
3299 One of our little jokes.
3300 
3301 Oh yes, and no White after Labor Day.
3302 
3303 Staffing is flexible, pending new developments. This rotation we're at
3304 home. For us, domestic deployment (as with training) constitutes
3305 leave. The boys are all present and we fall into our familiar rhythm
3306 as we pace the perimeter Capitol Hill.
3307 
3308 A froth of reporters churns to and fro between our lines. The latest
3309 fashion in Washington is a press pass that authorizes the bearer to
3310 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 the
3312 reporters spill over in my direction.
3313 
3314 One approaches me, brandishing a microphone.
3315 
3316 "Corporal! What's your take on the continuance of the war? Can you
3317 give me seven syllables on the reinstatement of compulsory military
3318 service? The draft?"
3319 
3320 I regard her from behind my service rifle.
3321 
3322 Seven syllables? Let's see.
3323 
3324 "I'm afraid I enlisted."
3325 
3326 HALF-DANDY IN THE RUBBISH FACTORY
3327 
3328 tags: 1918, lonnie, pennis_mold
3329 
3330 Standing in the mirror and seeing that without a belt, these new
3331 slacks are simply not going to stay up. I'm in danger of tipping the
3332 balance between classical style and practicality, but I mustn't be
3333 caught off guard if anyone should happen to catch a glimpse of me in
3334 my civilian underclothes. I find something suitable in my closet and
3335 pin myself into the pants, clipping a handful of mesh transceivers to
3336 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, getting
3338 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 the
3340 pages of my notebook. I savor the scent for a few moments before
3341 concealing the book within my pressure suit and heading out the door.
3342 
3343 At the entrance to the lowest tunnels I pause before a monstrous
3344 installation, a war machine from some forgotten conflict of decades
3345 past, and affix my collapsed flower to a placard situated below the
3346 airplane. It is humid enough that the petals stick to its slick
3347 surface with little effort. Even in this diffuse lighting, the mighty
3348 nose and wings of the plane gleam immodestly, and I am ashamed to
3349 experience a wave of exhilaration, prostrate as I am before such a
3350 reverential display of murderous articulation. I gather myself and
3351 proceed to the elevators.
3352 
3353 In my mind it is all quite different than this.
3354 
3355 I embody two discreet realities. Suffering alone, I am continuously in
3356 peril of favoring one reality over the other. As of late, a new
3357 barricade has been thrown up, an obstruction that permanently divides
3358 these tandem perspectives of the rubbish factory. Necessity demands
3359 that I pick a side and entrench my position, but my heart cries out
3360 for reconciliation.
3361 
3362 I take solace in the fact that, being made of plaster, the dividing
3363 wall will eventually bow under its own weight.
3364 
3365 If memory serves, a similar plaster wall erected around the
3366 masterpiece Il Cenacolo protected it from the onslaught of mechanized
3367 warfare, early in the last century. No one expected a fresco to stand
3368 against mortar fire, but here our fellow Leonardo had produced a hare
3369 from his conical hat. The wall stood firm though the building around
3370 it crumbled to dust.
3371 
3372 I see now that such a wall can be made to serve a useful purpose. Do I
3373 really wish for all the evil in my thoughts to pass so freely? It is
3374 at moments such as these that I find it crucial to get something down
3375 on paper, before mind's effluvium carries mind itself away on a raft
3376 of sudden, fatiguing currents. In truth, I write to cleanse the
3377 palate. There is a bad taste in my mouth after three weeks toiling on
3378 the latest factory inventory. Lonnie plays Microsoft SOLITAIRE at his
3379 desk while I scribble in my notebook.
3380 
3381 Furthering my previous thought, let us now consider the plaster wall
3382 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 new
3384 understanding.
3385 
3386 I boot up a fresh sheet of paper, reflecting upon the true nature of
3387 metaphor as filler. A great sewer main has burst in my mind, carrying
3388 forth copious amounts of shit and piss­both having been lodged quite
3389 stubbornly in the pipe. This is the opposite of the wall. I observe as
3390 each new parcel of feces floats away, bobbling down the stream. There
3391 is something that cannot be contained within a mind such as my own, a
3392 mind that is slowly breaking up, dividing into dull, gray cubicles.
3393 
3394 It seems that we have come full circle.
3395 
3396 Which way is it going to be, then? Walls to divide, or portals to
3397 connect?
3398 
3399 They are both the same. Textures that are defined, even as they are
3400 described, by the perceiving apparatus.
3401 
3402 There is a great wealth of surface detail to be absorbed, to be
3403 sorted, and I do carry on exploring, but I find that there is only one
3404 true form of currency, here in the rubbish factory, and that is the
3405 universal reserve of the personal imagination. It proves to be an
3406 aether that never devalues, that is never appraised relative to
3407 markets or governments­it is the ineffable substance that constitutes
3408 essential wealth.
3409 
3410 Reaching this point of minor resolution, I close up my notebook and
3411 stuff it into one of the compartments of my pressure suit. A whistle
3412 sounds, groaning, pixelated. A gavel is banged and my mental courtroom
3413 clears of solicitors, making room for me to think other thoughts, to
3414 reconnect the cycling belt of my psyche back to the idling gears of
3415 its cadaver.
3416 
3417 It is time for lunch.
3418 
3419 We men clamber into the mess hall, which has not yet reached fifty
3420 percent capacity. Two- and three-man teams are clotted into
3421 flesh-colored scabs around the edges of each steel table. We dine on
3422 whatever has been set down in front of us by the kitchen staff.
3423 Between bites of supper, we trade raucous barbs.
3424 
3425 "And what, pray tell, is the value of this thing called beauty," a
3426 colleague stands up and asks, apparently to no one.
3427 
3428 A few of the men turn around in their seats to face the speaker. Some
3429 of them get up and leave altogether. But most simply pick over their
3430 lunch trays and stare at their food, seemingly oblivious to the
3431 philosophical gauntlet that has been thrown down.
3432 
3433 "Ah, yes, the dominant minority," a familiar voice chimes in.
3434 
3435 "Rather, I should say, an aristocracy of merit," counters the original
3436 speaker, earning smiles from every participating table.
3437 
3438 I appreciate exchanges like this, here in the lunch room, as they
3439 afford us men the chance to unwind between extended shifts in the
3440 tunnels. The work can be grueling, the hours long. The repetitive
3441 plunging of gloved hands or shielded feet into the crowded arteries of
3442 the sanitation lines coarsens men to fellowship. But here, we make our
3443 own peace with our situation. Here, we arrive on the cusp of our
3444 destinies by the strain and sweat of our honest toil. It is a kind of
3445 progress.
3446 
3447 Before things really get started, a triumvirate of management stride
3448 into the room, enjoying a buffer nearly three meters in diameter as
3449 they pass between the huddles of workmen. I grip my lunch tray with
3450 trepidation as they float past my table, unsure of the purpose for
3451 their visit.
3452 
3453 What I notice first is the impeccable styling of their attire. Even
3454 when down in the tunnels, these gentlemen always­ always ­keep their
3455 gear clean. In the general low-light conditions of the sewer, it is
3456 their bejeweled teeth and resplendent gold necklaces which can first
3457 be seen approaching, glittering through the humid mists of municipal
3458 waste. At times, the ricocheting reflections may cause an entire face
3459 to disappear, or at least, they may seem to disappear when one's
3460 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 not
3462 obscure but instead serves to illuminate.
3463 
3464 The small group approaches now, my own supervisor striding to the
3465 fore. His low-slung denim splits into a Cheshire grin of plaid cotton
3466 undergarments. The suede of my supervisor's sneakers appears to be
3467 freshly brushed, having accumulated no floating particles of detritus
3468 or dirt. His tasteful, oversize polo tee asserts the classic dialectic
3469 of red and white striping, situated masterfully alongside a deep blue
3470 rectangle bearing numerous white stars, each of self-evident, sacred
3471 significance. I am somewhat taken aback by this sudden explosion of
3472 color. It is a moment I cherish even as it overwhelms me, and I
3473 briefly clench my eyelids together, attempting to trigger my mesh
3474 camera, to stream the scene into the pages of my department's
3475 distributed memory.
3476 
3477 As the managers pass my table they hesitate, stop, and then double
3478 back.
3479 
3480 My supervisor's nostrils incline perceptibly. As one, the group turns
3481 to face me. I swallow the food in my mouth, which goes down the wrong
3482 way, and I begin to worry about the visible stubble on my face. How
3483 must I appear to them?
3484 
3485 "Yo, ya'll have been selected, son! We're up in this place to request
3486 that you authorize a temporary application fee of two billion credits
3487 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."
3490 
3491 I place my thumb onto the reader and press down, weakly. This elicits
3492 a further vocalization.
3493 
3494 "Peace. Five thousand, G."
3495 
3496 And then they are gone.
3497 
3498 I am quite literally bowled over, and my lunch tray pinwheels to the
3499 floor in pursuit of my limp form. Lonnie, faithful companion of lo
3500 these many years, helps me back to my seat as I slowly regain my
3501 composure. Gradually, the ramifications of what has just happened
3502 begin to sink in. Promotion will mean an increase in my pension, new
3503 quarters... and an unlimited civilian clothing allowance. I have just
3504 been created anew. Afforded a repeat birth. I switch on all mesh
3505 transceivers and begin capturing every possible angle of my
3506 surroundings, preserving this vital moment, etching a record for the
3507 corporate archives, for my descendants, for their inheritors.
3508 
3509 "What up, son," Lonnie chides, adopting the formal tone of management
3510 in a sort of mockery of their stiff, proper elocution."These negroes
3511 done lost they minds."
3512 
3513 I nod my head slightly, acutely aware of the expanse that now
3514 separates our respective circumstances. The great plaster partition
3515 has come crashing apart in my mind, and in this instant, the dejected,
3516 isolated occupants of each chamber are crushed together, the sticks of
3517 pious liberty bundled into a final, immobilizing unity. I eschew my
3518 former concerns, beholden as they were to considerations of slop and
3519 waste. The combustion of my thoughts is now fueled solely by the light
3520 of its own countenance.
3521 
3522 Lacking a prepared response, I yield to myself completely.
3523 
3524 My face droops into my hand. A bent elbow evenly supports the
3525 increased weight of my skull, flesh and excessively powdered hair. I
3526 find that I have grown suddenly weary of contemplating the great
3527 weight of my responsibility. Lonnie will come to appreciate this
3528 fatigue if ever he is called up, into the obdurate embrace of his
3529 betters.
3530 
3531 But at this moment I cannot expect him to fully understand. Not while
3532 he still finds himself tethered to the undercarriage of our labyrinth
3533 of shifting human shit.
3534 
3535 I look at him and it is obvious he cannot understand what I have
3536 become.
3537 
3538 "Dandy," I finally reply, employing the crude language of the tunnels.
3539 I burp towards the mess hall out of politeness. In the resulting
3540 silence I pick at the visor of my helmet.
3541 
3542 Lonnie makes a face, forlorn, but still he says nothing.
3543 
3544 I wave him away. I excuse myself and leave my tray for the staff to
3545 clear.
3546 
3547 I am already running next month's numbers in my head.
3548 
3549 Fitting my manicured hands to the master controls of the rubbish
3550 factory.
3551 
3552 ASDFASDF
3553 
3554 tags: 1979, erik, roger, tab2
3555 
3556 Thomas adjusted the focus of his visor and opened three new chat
3557 windows. He joined the appropriate channel in each window, issued
3558 greetings to everyone, and then banked his fighter jet into a cloud,
3559 dodging enemy fire. He checked his screens but it looked like everyone
3560 else was idling.
3561 
3562 Roger crushed the soda can beneath her foot and stomped into the
3563 building. Behind her, Erik dribbled the rest of his beverage into the
3564 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 windy
3566 and gray outside. No cold London breeze in our faces today, boys! By
3567 the time you read this, I'll have flattened quite a bit of real
3568 estate, I'd imagine. Oh well, where does the time go.
3569 
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 tired
3573 
3574 A flash crossed all of their screens at once. A vibrant pink square
3575 that obscured half of the desktop, causing Roger (at least) to
3576 misdirect her fire towards a friendly.
3577 
3578 Folks, RDO (Regular Day Off) Since we are starting a run on training
3579 next week and through September for various classes (other course
3580 scheduling to be announced), we will be depending on all to help keep
3581 our levels up as well as possible, as you have these last couple of
3582 weeks. Since Thursday and Friday are always busy days anyway, we'd
3583 like to ask anyone with their RDO on Thurs and Fri to work OT during
3584 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 next
3586 week on until further notice, we'd like those that will, to work OT on
3587 their RDOs between the same starting times, with the possible 2 hrs
3588 extra on top of the 8 if business needs are heavy. If you cannot work
3589 the full 8 but can work 4 hrs between 10am-2pm or 11am-3pm (same for
3590 this Thur & Fri), that would help out during the lunch periods. Of
3591 course working through lunch is also authorized w/ break splitting
3592 until further notice.
3593 
3594 Thomas cleared the flash and flitted his eyes back to incoming. Roger
3595 and Erik actually finished reading the entire message.
3596 
3597 The result of their decision was immediately apparent.
3598 
3599 Rockets in the air. Thomas vectored wildly, but it was clear that
3600 convergence was only a matter of time. The air support team (the happy
3601 trio, all together) cursed simultaneously.
3602 
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.
3605 
3606 Roger and Erik backed off of the target and regained control of their
3607 vehicles.
3608 
3609 Thomas, for his part, had lost the ground.
3610 
3611 asdfasdfasdfasdfasdf
3612 
3613 <erikw> i wasnt going to come in at all today but it turns out i've
3614 already used up my personal days for the rest of the year. it's
3615 fucking january!
3616 <Rog> I was in the cafeteria and I heard Sarge talking spam about us
3617 not getting 20 minute breaks anymore after this quarter
3618 <erikw> fuck that! argh. that does it, i'm deleting his account on
3619 webster. no more free zero day for him!
3620 <Thomas_> Hey guys.
3621 <Thomas_> I am SO not working overtime this weekend
3622 
3623 asdfasdf
3624 
3625 Thomas drummed his fingers on his desk absentmindedly. Presently,
3626 UTF-8 characters appeared in front of his eyes, translucent, but still
3627 rather annoying as they partially obscured his vision. He finished
3628 logging his flight ticket and got himself up, out of his chair.
3629 
3630 As usual, Erik and Roger were a few minutes longer in getting their
3631 acts together. This was exacerbated by Erik accidentally brushing his
3632 elbows against Roger's breasts, several times, in the space of just a
3633 few minutes.
3634 
3635 After she'd finished repeatedly punching him in the gut, both airmen
3636 caught up with Thomas and took their places next to him in the chow
3637 line, where they casually compared the features of their newly
3638 upgraded visors.
3639 
3640 "I'm always waiting for you guys. Spam like this is why we lose so
3641 many airplanes."
3642 
3643 Thomas held his serious expression for several seconds, and then they
3644 all burst into laughter.
3645 
3646 I'M JUST SAYING
3647 
3648 tags: 1979, christopher, violet
3649 
3650 "Every time I walk past your desk you're reading that damned feed."
3651 
3652 "Do you see the flaw in this?" Violet asked."Every time you see me
3653 reading the feeds, you're away from your own desk. You'd never even
3654 know I was breaking the rules if you weren't up, walking around,
3655 breaking them yourself."
3656 
3657 Frankly, there had been little to distinguish her until fairly
3658 recently. The spring quarter had perhaps brought about a kind of
3659 transformation. Certainly, she'd taken well to his instruction.
3660 Christopher mused (to himself) that perhaps what he admired in her
3661 most was his own reflection. But this was a profoundly disagreeable
3662 notion, and he discarded the thought. The light from the office window
3663 played softly in her hair. He would try again. There could be no harm
3664 in trying.
3665 
3666 "No, Violet, Newton did not hold that the Green was eternal. A
3667 gentleman of his era would not even have been able to perceive the
3668 Green."
3669 
3670 "Now you're just lying," said Violet.
3671 
3672 "Nullius en verba," sighed Chris."Trust, but verify. Or in other
3673 words, do your own research. You see, it doesn't matter if you believe
3674 me or not. This isn't a relative matter. The Green did not exist in
3675 the seventeenth century­it's not merely an assertion, it's an
3676 incontrovertible fact."
3677 
3678 "According to your essentialist bias," Violet said."But what are
3679 'facts,' anyway?"
3680 
3681 There was no answer. It was a meaningless question.
3682 
3683 Violet's mouth creased acutely at its corners, her eyes tracing the
3684 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 been
3686 trying to say, or why. He stopped typing in order to formulate his
3687 response.
3688 
3689 "All you need to know about Newton is this: his work on optics may
3690 have indeed set the stage for the eventual overturning of his work on
3691 motion."
3692 
3693 "That's seriously not even true," said Violet."Einstein was very clear
3694 that his own work should not be seen to supersede Newton's, but merely
3695 to build upon the foundations laid by his able predecessor. Newtonian
3696 mechanics is still quite viable from virtually any perspective. Even
3697 today."
3698 
3699 "I'm just saying," she added.
3700 
3701 "And yet, you cling to this notion that Newton knew of­communed
3702 with­the Green. That he had some sort of access to the network."
3703 
3704 "Didn't he?" asked Violet, rolling her eyes behind her face-mask.
3705 
3706 "No," said Chris, finding himself increasingly frustrated, in more
3707 ways than one.
3708 
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, Dadaist
3711 collages to which I've become accustomed. Humble, linear narratives.
3712 But what is more important to me? Lucid memories of my childhood or
3713 the removal of this block, the lifting of this veil that has
3714 descended, that so complicates my machinery? She was unaware of how
3715 she appeared, laying prostrate over her desk. Consequently, she was
3716 oblivious to her co-worker's mounting discomfort.
3717 
3718 Christopher excused himself and retreated to the men's room.
3719 
3720 He latched the stall. He took down his trousers and began to
3721 masturbate furiously into the toilet. His heartbeat rapidly outpaced
3722 the ticking of his chronometer. His breathing quickened appreciably as
3723 the sweat from his forehead poured into his eyes.
3724 
3725 Presently, a long, slow moan escaped from his lips.
3726 
3727 It was then that Christopher noticed the presence of a co-worker,
3728 seated in the adjacent stall.
3729 
3730 "I'm just saying," the co-worker said, and folded his newspaper.
3731 
3732 MY VIOLET DUCHY
3733 
3734 tags: 1967, margaret, tab1, tab2, violet
3735 
3736 Mother fitted Violet's mask into place, but that did nothing to cap
3737 the jet of words spraying from her face.
3738 
3739 I hated my sister.
3740 
3741 Violet:"All of this leaf stuff is still undecided. It'll be difficult
3742 to unseat the pressure screen in this household, especially with Dad.
3743 I wouldn't wager my summer vacation on that contraption. I doubt if
3744 he'll buy it from you."
3745 
3746 Thomas: "The thing about this device neither of you seem to understand
3747 is that it's much more than a simple substitute for the pressure
3748 screen. Just look at it's features! The interface is remarkable, even
3749 to functional illiterates such as yourselves. See how it responds so
3750 readily to the touch of my finger? I'm certain he'll be as excited
3751 about it as I am."
3752 
3753 Mother: "Isn't this a bit like that old LCD screen you dug out of the
3754 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 not
3756 going to compensate you for this find, I'm afraid..."
3757 
3758 Thomas: "..."
3759 
3760 Violet: "He's not going to allow it into the house anyway. Are you
3761 going to tell him where you found it, or should I? Ouch, Mom, the pin
3762 goes into my blouse, not my neck!"
3763 
3764 Thomas: "Sure, I'll tell him. Though I'm not convinced his consent is
3765 even relevant at this point. How is he going to say no when the device
3766 could prove indispensable to his work? Classical pressure screens are
3767 not going to be interoperable with the new networks. Is Dad going to
3768 let us go broke just so he can pretend the market still values his
3769 pre-war skillset?"
3770 
3771 Mother: "Thomas."
3772 
3773 Thomas: "Blame the market. I didn't invent supply and demand. Finding
3774 this thing in the trash doesn't make it trash."
3775 
3776 Violet: "I have to wonder if there's any significant purpose to all of
3777 these upgrades. In a few months time there'll be another new device to
3778 replace this one, and then, in the fall, a new device to replace that
3779 one. Haven't you discerned a pattern yet, Thomas?"
3780 
3781 Thomas: "I haven't the slightest idea what you're on about."
3782 
3783 SHELL OUT
3784 
3785 tags: 1969, christopher, frankie_willard, tab2
3786 
3787 When you lay your shell down on the street, you have to expect that
3788 someone is going to come along and pick it up. Frankie considered this
3789 self-evident fact to be ample justification for his scooping up the
3790 small piece of equipment and dropping it into his pocket. So far as he
3791 could tell, no one had noticed him retrieving the device. Out on the
3792 street, such random finds were rare.
3793 
3794 Now, if only he could figure out what it was supposed to be.
3795 
3796 Thomas Bright immediately recognized the shell's function. He observed
3797 his friend's actions and contrived to take the object away from him.
3798 By force, if necessary.
3799 
3800 Presently, he asserted himself.
3801 
3802 "Hey Frankie," he yelled.
3803 
3804 The fight unspooled quickly, with Thomas shrugging off an abrasion and
3805 Frankie doubling over on the pavement, nursing a lacerated fist that
3806 had rolled through a patch of broken glass. Frankie's attempt at
3807 securing a headlock had proven ineffective.
3808 
3809 Thomas surveyed the battlefield, projecting a wide, mischievous grin
3810 from beneath his visor.
3811 
3812 "What?" asked Frankie.
3813 
3814 The display of glistening of teeth had set Frankie's legs to feeling
3815 remarkably naked beneath the hem of his cargo shorts. With all of his
3816 extra equipment, Thomas was more resourceful than Frankie had
3817 supposed.
3818 
3819 "How many of my cigarettes would you say you burn through in a week?"
3820 Thomas asked, gesturing pointedly and exhaling imaginary smoke into
3821 Frankie's face.
3822 
3823 Blocks of light exchanged positions in front of Thomas' eyes.
3824 Discharges of air escaped through his lips at regular intervals as he
3825 considered how to attach Frankie's shell to his home feed. It was
3826 imperative to dump the shell's contents into temporary storage as
3827 quickly as possible. By the time Thomas had established connectivity
3828 with the mesh, his errant verbalizations had organized themselves into
3829 a frivolous melody.
3830 
3831 Christopher, for one, was unimpressed with the one-off vocal
3832 performance. He observed that Thomas tended to drift off-pitch, which
3833 was only partially ameliorated by the reverberations of the tiled
3834 bathroom walls.
3835 
3836 "Soaked in reverb, your off-key caterwauling almost resolves into
3837 music," Chris stated, flatly.
3838 
3839 "Thanks," said Thomas.
3840 
3841 "What's the point of booting up this device if we can't connect it to
3842 our other equipment?"
3843 
3844 "I'm appalled by your doubt. As well as your seeming inability to
3845 negotiate novel obstacles," Thomas complained. He laid down his tool
3846 on the counter and replaced it with another from his toolbox."Please
3847 observe as I perform the necessary operations to bring this device's
3848 configuration into parity with our extant systems and software."
3849 
3850 "But Thomas, this piece of equipment doesn't conform to open
3851 standards. Carrying out your plans would be at cross-purposes to our
3852 SOP; the greater work of populating our testbeds with only legally
3853 unencumbered technologies."
3854 
3855 As the dialogue progressed, Thomas worked the casing off of the shell
3856 and proceeded to probe its internals. After a brief interlude of utter
3857 silence, he let out a whoop and spun around to present the results of
3858 his efforts.
3859 
3860 A holographic image of Thomas flickered into existence, approximately
3861 four inches above the device. The projection aped Thomas' every word
3862 and movement, allowing for a slight delay.
3863 
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 his
3867 verbal faculties."You can't even sell the thing now."
3868 
3869 "Oh, give me some credit. I don't plan on selling it. Hand me the
3870 smallest forceps."
3871 
3872 Chris could no longer tell if he was getting dizzy or merely getting
3873 confused.
3874 
3875 "Then why are we wasting time examining it?" he asked.
3876 
3877 Thomas looked up at him, perturbed.
3878 
3879 "For the funk of it," he said, and then added,"I'm going to fine you
3880 if you keep asking me these stupid questions."
3881 
3882 GENDER SMURF
3883 
3884 tags: 1968, albert_lunsford, bob, piro, tab1
3885 
3886 "You fucking faggot!" my co-worker cried as he leaped out of his
3887 pick-up truck and clapped me on the ear.
3888 
3889 I placed my satchel on the picnic table and opened it. We got to work
3890 immediately.
3891 
3892 "There's no point in shutting down the whole group," Piro pointed out.
3893 
3894 "Oh, you're absolutely right," I said."I think we can accomplish more
3895 by poisoning the well."
3896 
3897 Piro had the black box up and running. Every message posted to the
3898 Albert Lunsford group would flow through our illicit kernel module
3899 before it even reached the group's database. In this way, we would
3900 tamper with reality.
3901 
3902 "I used your wife's name for one of my fake logins," Piro remarked.
3903 
3904 I popped him in the arm.
3905 
3906 "Hey, it was easy to remember."
3907 
3908 "Just keep your story straight when you're posting. There aren't many
3909 females active on the group; these guys will notice if you get your
3910 continuity out of whack."
3911 
3912 I pulled up a sample message.
3913 
3914 > Date: Sun, 05 Oct 1968 04:44:16 -0000
3915 > To: albert.lunsford@groups.thegreen
3916 > Message-ID: <gcajs0+q6lf@groups.thegreen>
3917 > In-Reply-To: <gc66fj+5ers@groups.thegreen>
3918 > User-Agent: THEGREEN-EW/0.82
3919 > MIME-Version: 1.0
3920 > Content-Type: text/plain; charset="ISO-8859-1"
3921 > Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
3922 > From:"no_such_name"
3923 > <nosuchname@residential.thegreen>
3924 > Subject: Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast Or Else
3925 > You're a Feminist
3926 >
3927 > Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast Or Else You're
3928 > a Feminist
3929 >
3930 > 1. People are inherently good, and
3931 > therefore communism doesn't work because it postulates that human
3932 > nature is trustworthy. Similarly, a democratic-republic such as the
3933 > United States and Territories is superior to communism because it pits
3934 > people's interests against one another in a system of checks and
3935 > 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. Women
3940 > are less equal than men as human beings and therefore should never
3941 > have been given the right to vote. However, since women have already
3942 > 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 bad
3944 > choices.
3945 >
3946 > 3. Women are clinically insane because psychiatry is bogus
3947 > medicine, therefore Albert Lunsford is not insane because he has not
3948 > been diagnosed as such by a psychiatrist.
3949 >
3950 > 4. Only liberal feminists
3951 > 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 for
3953 > political asylum are liberal feminists.
3954 >
3955 > 5. Most illness is a result of
3956 > demonic possession.
3957 >
3958 > 6. Conspiracies in government are unlikely, if not
3959 > impossible, because the government is so large as to make keeping a
3960 > secret impossible, and because government employees make less money
3961 > than private employees.
3962 >
3963 > 7. No Republican would ever accuse a public
3964 > official of murder or other atrocities, because to do so would be
3965 > disloyal to their country, and because public officials make less
3966 > money than private employees.
3967 >
3968 > 8. A fiscal conservative is still a
3969 > liberal if they do not believe in God, therefore a theist who believes
3970 > in extorting tax dollars at gunpoint is a conservative.
3971 >
3972 > 9. The
3973 > impending completion of Lunsford's twenty-six year graphic novel
3974 > project triggered a natural disaster that killed thousands of people,
3975 > therefore keeping the storyline in print is absolutely necessary to
3976 > fulfilling God's will.
3977 >
3978 > 10. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a word-perfect
3979 > copy of the Old Testament in its entirety, therefore the other texts
3980 > bundled with it are of negligible value, and the 1591 King James Bible
3981 > is the inerrant Word of God even though different copies of the same
3982 > 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 have
3986 > unlocked the true meaning of the Old Testament, the New Testament and
3987 > the Koran, and therefore he is not a Prophet.
3988 >
3989 > 12. RFC #289/290
3990 > represents a Unified Field Theory of physics which is not only
3991 > coherent, but correct, all without reference to mathematics. This
3992 > theory is not given the credit it is due because comic book fans are
3993 > afraid to admit that Albert Lunsford is right about everything on this
3994 > list.
3995 >
3996 > 13. RFC itself is not given the credit it is due in the comics
3997 > industry because comic book fans are afraid to admit that Albert
3998 > Lunsford is right about everything on this list.
3999 >
4000 > 14. Failure to agree
4001 > with anything in the above list is evidence that you are a
4002 > Marxist/Feminist/Homosexualist, and therefore not Albert Lunsford, and
4003 > therefore wrong.
4004 >
4005 > 15. Albert Lunsford's new comic book project will
4006 > fail because his comic book readership is comprised solely of
4007 > Marxist/Feminist/Homosexualists, therefore it makes perfect sense to
4008 > dispatch agitators who are known to be hostile to
4009 > Marxism/Feminism/Homosexualism to the four corners of the Green to
4010 > promote it.
4011 
4012 I had to laugh. These guys really took this stuff seriously.
4013 
4014 Our objective was to subtly disrupt Lunsford's operations. The group
4015 was extremely high traffic, so the black box only had to be active for
4016 a few minutes before our efforts started to bear fruit. I grabbed
4017 another fragment to check on our progress.
4018 
4019 >>>-- In albert.lunsford@groups.green,"juan_whatever"
4020 >> <juan_whatever@> wrote:
4021 >>>
4022 >>> Did the text appear kinda messed up on"part two" on other's
4023 >>> pressure screens -or just mine? Gargamel?
4024 >>> Anyway, this is a pretty big deal as we continue to get insight
4025 from
4026 >>> the ground floor of what will probably become the world's dominant
4027 >>> 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 to
4033 >> me. Wouldn't put it past Gargamel or Satan to make Albert's text
4034 harder
4035 >> to read.
4036 >>
4037 >> I had to pull the text into a editor and get rid of all the
4038 >> superfluous characters that were making the text unreadable. Few
4039 >> people would probably do that, achieving Gargamel's end nicely.
4040 She/He/It
4041 >> would be invested in *not* having people read the Bible, Torah, and
4042 >> Koran and think about them deeply.
4043 >>
4044 >> Not sure if there's an easier way to add the text without all the
4045 >> extra characters, Klaus, but more people will read the the text if
4046 >> they don't have to work so hard at it. I can make offline
4047 suggestions
4048 >> on how to do that if it will help.
4049 >>>> Sam Slammerhaus
4050 
4051 Perfect. The modules were functioning as designed. Even simply futzing
4052 the formatting on a random selection of messages could spin the group
4053 into a number of irrelevant side discussions.
4054 
4055 Satisfied with our work, I closed up my satchel and we vacated the
4056 picnic area. Using a public access point had made our insertion
4057 untraceable.
4058 
4059 "No end until victory," Piro said, reciting the old Gender Smurf
4060 credo.
4061 
4062 "It should be interesting to see how they react to our efforts," I
4063 offered.
4064 
4065 Piro quietly nursed his beer.
4066 
4067 "I just hope these guys don't fly completely off the handle. Their
4068 tactics are entirely unpredictable."
4069 
4070 "Truth," I said.
4071 
4072 We fell into silence for a few moments, each of us contemplating the
4073 notion of blue-skinned rioters storming the public schools, smurfing
4074 their way into the girl's restrooms.
4075 
4076 "I have to admit I find their sexual practices disgusting," Piro said
4077 at last.
4078 
4079 "Hey, you'll get no argument from me. But so long as they remain in
4080 their hovels they're not doing anything illegal."
4081 
4082 "The whole reason we're involved with this mess is precisely because
4083 they do sometimes leave their hovels."
4084 
4085 The discussion usually tended in this direction. I set them up and my
4086 partner knocked them down. Point to Piro.
4087 
4088 "I suppose there is a fear that their culture will spread, put down
4089 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..."
4091 
4092 "I'll say it again: disgusting," Piro repeated.
4093 
4094 A Gender Smurf entered the room and made a beeline for the bar. He sat
4095 himself down on a stool right next to Piro.
4096 
4097 "You guys ever thought of going blue?" he asked, by way of
4098 introduction.
4099 
4100 I clutched Piro's shoulder as he reached for his sidearm."Don't you
4101 people know Peyo was a Satanist!" he spat out, struggling against my
4102 grip.
4103 
4104 "We're not interested," I said, intensifying my stare to indicate we
4105 would brook no further discussion. We got up to leave.
4106 
4107 Three hours later Piro was still arguing with Bob, the Gender Smurf.
4108 
4109 "What's the big deal? Blue skin is as healthy and safe as bare
4110 hands... Tell me, how would'flesh color' have protected that gentleman
4111 over there or anyone else from'runaway shopping carts' or the other
4112 so-called'dangers' you've enumerated? Well-adjusted, blue skin can
4113 actually withstand quite hazardous environments... It's amazing how
4114 paranoid most people are here in North America. You should try going
4115 blue outside sometime, it feels great and it's nowhere nearly as
4116 dangerous as most people seem to assume. I've been doing it for nearly
4117 fifteen years, up in Canada, and my skin is in great shape. I'm
4118 healthy as a horse. Open your minds, gentlemen!"
4119 
4120 "What about SPF," Piro asked, resigned to his fate as the lone voice
4121 of reason in the discussion. I refused to participate.
4122 
4123 "This calls for a two-part argument," said Bob."One: One more reason
4124 I'm really glad I don't live in the U.S.­I'd really hate for others to
4125 be telling me what color I can and can't be when I'm spending my money
4126 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. It
4128 is a double standard created by corporations to enforce dress codes;
4129 designed only to create a business'image.' Unfortunately, that kind of
4130 stupid mentality is getting contagious up in Canada."
4131 
4132 Bob indicated the placement of quotation marks with his fingers.
4133 
4134 When no one objected to his first point, he continued.
4135 
4136 "Two: Again, I don't understand how people think flimsy, flesh colored
4137 skin (which seems to be totally okay at most places of business, all
4138 over) can protect them from any of the'horrible' things they could
4139 catch or the usual hazards on the streets. In fact, some of the
4140 so-called normal shoes people wear (platform shoes, pointy, etc.) pose
4141 a greater threat to someone's health than actually walking around
4142 outdoors with blue skin! For more information on how going blue is not
4143 only okay but is also good for you, please surf to:
4144 groups.thegreen/albert.lunsford­A U.S. based organization of people
4145 who go blue as a lifestyle choice."
4146 
4147 Finally, I had to but in.
4148 
4149 "We don't. Spamming. Care."
4150 
4151 Piro insisted on paying for Bob's drinks. I told him to take it out of
4152 petty cash­I wasn't going to try and justify this on my expense sheet.
4153 He made the necessary preparations and transmitted payment.
4154 
4155 "Do you see now why I discourage talking with these people," I asked,
4156 punching Piro in the back.
4157 
4158 "I'm not sure how to explain my objection to your attitude," Piro
4159 said."It's not precisely that you're a racist, because these people
4160 are not born blue. It's not really intolerance of their religion,
4161 because, aside from their blue skin, white hats, and the fact that
4162 they have sex with each other while wearing them, these people are not
4163 fundamentally different from you or me."
4164 
4165 I gave him a look.
4166 
4167 "I'm just saying, there's no reason not to treat them like human
4168 beings."
4169 
4170 "Sure there is," I said."It's our job."
4171 
4172 DISSIPATION
4173 
4174 tags: 1963, plinth_mold, saito
4175 
4176 Click, click, click. Twelve cubes of light, each flipping past the
4177 other, rotating into the slot left vacant by its predecessor. The
4178 purpose of this orchestration is to massage the cortex with
4179 electromagnetic oscillations in the frequency range of 8-12Hz.
4180 Patients appear to derive the most benefit, Saito has noted, from
4181 working through the entire routine, pausing rhythmically at the
4182 completion of each sequence to allow the electronics to catch up with
4183 the procession of their focus.
4184 
4185 But what are the effects, he wonders, if the patient identifies his
4186 therapeutic parlor trick and susses out the mechanism? What happens
4187 when the patient's conscious mind tracks the incoming data with
4188 greater precision than the machinery? Click, click, click. Saito leans
4189 forward. Perhaps this particular arrangement of cubes is novel. He
4190 presses a button, freezing the arrangement in memory. To be studied
4191 later.
4192 
4193 He is pleased that the treatment has proven efficacious. For the vast
4194 majority of his patients, anyway. Ironic, then, that he should feel so
4195 powerless to alter the degree and substance of his own compulsive
4196 addictions. Contemplating this, Saito produces a pocket lighter from
4197 his coat and sears the flesh of his right hand. He stifles a primal
4198 yelp, burying his shame in his handkerchief (not only the shame, but
4199 the evidence­self-immolation is an offense not only against the state,
4200 but against Saito's ancestors, for historical reasons peculiar to his
4201 family). He then re-calibrates his equipment for the next patient.
4202 
4203 The work he is carrying out could revolutionize treatment of numerous
4204 conditions, given the eventual push into mass production. For
4205 uncounted moments Saito shifts out of time, is aloft, floating on the
4206 awareness of what he is so very close to achieving. He finds the
4207 sensation is fleeting.
4208 
4209 Saito adjusts his coiffure and smooths down the front of his white
4210 coat, feeling his sweat cool against the skin of his wrists. If anyone
4211 has seen him burning himself, it could result in the loss of his job.
4212 
4213 But of what use is a job, at this point in his life? They've made his
4214 impossible.
4215 
4216 He has been forced to accept a number of compromises that limit the
4217 efficacy of his design. He doubts that the latest cubes, in their
4218 present form, will do much more than narcotize. Hypnotize. Amounting
4219 to nothing more than an entertainment. Saito ruminates on the shambles
4220 of his career before taking the lighter back out of his pocket and
4221 burning several additional black marks into the flesh of his hand. He
4222 tries to ignite his skin completely, but succeeds only in singeing the
4223 sleeve of his coat. With the smoke, he imagines his kami slinking up
4224 to the ceiling, dispersing across its surface, crawling in several
4225 directions at once towards the duct work and vents.
4226 
4227 A knock­an abrupt punctuation to his thoughts­and the door swings
4228 open, pulling his kami back down to the floor. So, they had seen him
4229 after all. He knows now that the charade is concluded. His work is
4230 finished.
4231 
4232 As a result of his actions his patients will suffer. But then,
4233 patients are always suffering.
4234 
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 no
4237 one to complain on his behalf. His data will be reclaimed and filtered
4238 for an executive summary. And then, he suspects, quietly abandoned, as
4239 it is clear that the process of weaponization would exceed the
4240 available funding. This, at least, is some small cause for relief.
4241 
4242 Still, he feels as if his kami has dissipated. There is nothing left
4243 for them to kill.
4244 
4245 This thought compels him to emit a tiny laugh. The thought dies,
4246 strangled stillborn in his throat.
4247 
4248 Saito flinches as the door swings inward.
4249 
4250 Into the room bounds Plinth Mold, flanked by two of his most trusted
4251 attorneys.
4252 
4253 "Relax, Saito," says Plinth."Let's talk patents. I'm interested in
4254 what you've been working on up here, all these years."
4255 
4256 DUCHESS OF MASKS
4257 
4258 tags: 1993, saito, violet
4259 
4260 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 how
4262 to proceed.
4263 
4264 At any moment an alarm will sound and I will be discovered. Sitting in
4265 this chair, looking over these files, wearing whichever face has
4266 fallen into place as they burst through the door. How will they see
4267 me? It is of no consequence what they will think.
4268 
4269 The gray backdrop of what I have learned here throws what I know of
4270 our history into menacing relief; paper shadows under fluorescence and
4271 lost thoughts in the drawer. Which eyes will I use to record these
4272 discoveries? With no apparent prejudice I select a mask and peer
4273 through its gates, rifling numerous papers and file folders spread
4274 across the floor. A slender cord tethers me to the machine under my
4275 cushioned seat, which interprets the ambient state of the room.
4276 
4277 Through these eyes.
4278 
4279 Oh, Saito. I am afraid that I cannot clean these tracks from the
4280 floor. Your actions have plunged a polished knife into the swollen
4281 belly of our tracking. It is, in fact, you who is splayed out here on
4282 the floor. A descending pattern of guilt.
4283 
4284 Would that I were here when it happened, all those years ago.
4285 
4286 Would that you had listened.
4287 
4288 CALL, WAITING
4289 
4290 tags: 1977, eva, tab2
4291 
4292 The whole side of the building is green. I see I've come all the way
4293 out here again for nothing.
4294 
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.
4297 
4298 This happens every week. I've yet to be given the go ahead on an
4299 operation­at all, actually. The work is easy, but dragging out my gear
4300 just to sit here in the dark is humiliating. If I didn't need the
4301 money I would withdraw my registration.
4302 
4303 The sun has not quite vanished. There are still a smattering of locals
4304 out and about on the street. I decide to finish my report here, while
4305 I'm still on the scene. I finger the leaf out of my coat pocket and
4306 expand its display. As soon as I light the screen, four messages
4307 appear, each edging its neighbor out of the way in accordance with an
4308 algorithm deemed intuitive by emotionally bereft software engineers.
4309 Presently, desktop real estate on the hand-held is at a premium.
4310 
4311 All of the messages are from Eva. Message 1: 16:01 Are you coming in
4312 to work today?:)
4313 Message 2: 16:03 I know you're in there, I can see the light from your
4314 leaf reflecting in the mirror and peeking out of the curtains. Should
4315 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?
4318 
4319 There are numerous relevant answers to her question, but I'm not about
4320 to entangle myself in a discussion. I close all four message windows
4321 with an index finger and bring up the report template. Light from the
4322 window continues to leak into my room, coaxing abstract reflections
4323 from the dresser mirror. Dusk always wreaks havoc with my visor and
4324 its ability to read the screen of my leaf. I end up leaving the visor
4325 off, missing out on a lot of calculating I could be doing while I
4326 pretend to work.
4327 
4328 There is a sound I don't like, out in the hallway, and suddenly I've
4329 got my pistol out, working my finger into its trigger guard and
4330 inserting a clip of ammunition. After a few moments I put the firearm
4331 back in my bag. It was only the landlady's cat.
4332 
4333 So.
4334 
4335 On to my report. 19:04 NOTHING HAS HAPPENED AGAIN. I RECEIVED THE
4336 ALL-CLEAR SIGNAL AT 19:00 PER THE SCHEDULE AND SO RETURNED ALL
4337 INSTRUMENTATION TO ITS STORAGE CASE AND SHUT DOWN THE TRANSMITTER.
4338 SIGNING OFF TO RETURN TO THE REAL WORLD. EOF.
4339 
4340 I encrypt the message with my thumb and send it on its way.
4341 
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 have
4344 been called out and then sent back home without seeing any action. I
4345 wonder about their frustrations with the tedious ins and outs of the
4346 business. Surely we'd have a lot in common. Not that we'll ever meet.
4347 
4348 I'm not long in dusting the chair and table. I wrap my shirt around my
4349 hand, then lightly grip the doorknob and vacate before I'm noticed. My
4350 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 my
4352 visor has illuminated until I reach a public transport, which it flags
4353 as off-limits. Instead, I hop into a taxi.
4354 
4355 By the time I arrive at home I've decided against more studying. I
4356 pull up a telescreen window and lean back in my bed, trying to get
4357 some rest. I wonder who we did decide to blow up today. I'm always
4358 kept close to potential action scenes, even if I'm never actually
4359 ordered to intervene. It's probably the same with all of us.
4360 
4361 I fall asleep just as the answer to my query hits the scroll. A group
4362 of wailing women are brought up on screen to provide visual context
4363 for the hour's headline story.
4364 
4365 My visor flags the clip for my attention, but I don't remember what
4366 happens next. It's unlikely I'll remember to review this in the
4367 morning.
4368 
4369 TRY MY PRODUCT
4370 
4371 tags: 1979, coca_cola, do_wuh, motherfucker, perpetrator
4372 
4373 The airbrushed cover was decidedly inferior to what Motherfucker had
4374 seen before, attached to other printings of the same book. It was
4375 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, by
4378 tradition and by law, to study it. Transparent ableism. This kind of
4379 self-aggrandizing marketing disgusted him. Gazing upon its cover, it
4380 was hard for Motherfucker to take the book seriously.
4381 
4382 "Well, don't just sit there, all slack-jawed, however arresting that
4383 dust jacket might be... Open the blessed book and let's get started."
4384 
4385 Perpetrator adopted an instructional tone, as if to communicate that
4386 Motherfucker's own study habits were somehow deficient, would somehow
4387 land him in hot water. He was always prepared to dispense advice to
4388 his lessers. In this case, the advice involved the interpretation of
4389 the Bible, and the careful application of those interpretations to the
4390 logical conundrums that permeated modern life. Perpetrator was only a
4391 couple of months older than Motherfucker. He was a total spamhole.
4392 
4393 "That's not what the book says at all," complained Motherfucker.
4394 
4395 Perpetrator indicated the text with his finger."You're wrong. It's
4396 right there on the page in front of you. Just look at the words."
4397 
4398 "Yes, my eyes were directed at this material during the process of
4399 forming my initial assessment," sighed Motherfucker.
4400 
4401 "Well, one couldn't tell from hearing you recite it."
4402 
4403 The pages dissolved into one another. Motherfucker couldn't sustain
4404 his focus. He wondered briefly why the long lists of telephone numbers
4405 that comprised this part of the Scriptures featured variable font
4406 sizes, brilliant piping and color illustrations. Why all the fuss?
4407 
4408 "Perpetrator, what is the point of these chapters that are mainly just
4409 lists of telephone numbers and advertisements for insurance agents?"
4410 
4411 "Motherfucker, those are the Sanctified Tribes of the Green. Your
4412 remarks are veering dangerously close to blasphemy. Why do you have to
4413 question every last detail, when it comes to our studies? Not
4414 everything is a conspiracy!"
4415 
4416 Motherfucker sighed again."It all just seems so arbitrary. Like
4417 they've gone and copied pages out of an old telephone directory and
4418 called it Scripture."
4419 
4420 "Naturally that is what it seems like, Motherfucker, for that is
4421 precisely what they've done."
4422 
4423 "..."
4424 
4425 "What," asked Perpetrator, finally and honestly befuddled."You didn't
4426 know?"
4427 
4428 "What do you mean what?" asked Motherfucker."Why did they copy pages
4429 out of an old telephone directory and call it Scripture?"
4430 
4431 "Because, Motherfucker, these manuscripts are illuminated."
4432 
4433 "..."
4434 
4435 "Look at the section headings. See how the Tribes are organized
4436 according to service offerings, then alphabetized? These illustrations
4437 are graphical elements that illuminate the organization of the data.
4438 It renders the information discernible at a glance."
4439 
4440 "..."
4441 
4442 "Still you do not comprehend."
4443 
4444 "No, I'm afraid I don't."
4445 
4446 Perpetrator stalled for several seconds, allowing time for the the new
4447 concepts to sink into Motherfucker's mind.
4448 
4449 Minutes passed.
4450 
4451 "Wait. Oh. Now I see," claimed Motherfucker."They're not so old as to
4452 be presented as text-only, like the original Scriptures. These pages
4453 contain source code and meta data."
4454 
4455 "That is correct."
4456 
4457 "I guess that makes sense."
4458 
4459 "Good, Motherfucker," said Perpetrator."Now we're making progress!"
4460 
4461 But Motherfucker still seemed to be confused.
4462 
4463 "We've wasted enough time on the display elements. Please return to
4464 the previous chapter and read aloud."
4465 
4466 "Son of a bitch. You know I'm not comfortable reading aloud."
4467 
4468 "Okay then, I will read aloud to you," resolved Perpetrator, training
4469 his standard, disdainful stare into the pupils of Motherfucker's eyes.
4470 
4471 Throat cleared, he began.
4472 
4473 "Newton wrote:
4474 
4475 any forces whatsoever, and of the forces required to produce any
4476 motion... and therefore I offer this work as the mathematical
4477 principles of philosophy, for the whole burden of philosophy seems to
4478 consist in this from the phenomena of motions to investigate the
4479 forces of nature, and then from these forces to demonstrate the other
4480 phenomena...
4481 
4482 "Yeah, right," said Motherfucker.
4483 
4484 "What, you don't believe him? Here, what do the footnotes say?"
4485 
4486 From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has
4487 been defined, that 1 + 1 = 2.
4488 
4489 "It also says that the text in question wasn't always a part of this
4490 chapter," finished Motherfucker.
4491 
4492 "Honestly! And what year was this edition sourced?"
4493 
4494 Pages flipped backwards.
4495 
4496 "Twenty thirty-one. According to the information in the front."
4497 
4498 "Then you see what I mean."
4499 
4500 "No, not really."
4501 
4502 It was going to be a long night.
4503 
4504 Presently, Do Wuh entered the room, disrupting their studies. He was a
4505 bit dirty from tumbling in the yard, and Perpetrator recoiled visibly
4506 when at last he came fully into view.
4507 
4508 "Do Wuh."
4509 
4510 "Motherfucker, put that book down and let's go outside and play."
4511 
4512 "Do Wuh." Perpetrator spoke the name more stiffly this time, as if it
4513 were an accusation rather than an identity. His face contorted
4514 menacingly, seeming very serious indeed.
4515 
4516 "Shut up, Perp," cracked Do Wuh."Motherfucker, seriously, I'm sick of
4517 this spam. Why don't you come outside with the rest of us."
4518 
4519 "Oh, but to journey through the out of doors," lamented Motherfucker,
4520 glancing woefully at Perpetrator."Perhaps we should take the book
4521 outside, so we can all consult the rules if such a thing becomes
4522 necessary."
4523 
4524 A delicious pause.
4525 
4526 "That's a good idea," nodded Perpetrator, his incessant, condescending
4527 glare now softening, owing to the fact that he was outnumbered. In
4528 spite of the rigid persona he projected, he knew when an argument was
4529 a lost cause. Besides, it was more likely that the others would
4530 stumble into diligent study if he and Motherfucker first worked to
4531 gain their respect by participating in their aimless, physical games.
4532 
4533 "Whatever," said Do Wuh."You two are going to go blind, sitting in
4534 here playing with that book all the time."
4535 
4536 "Unlikely," remarked Perpetrator.
4537 
4538 "Actually, that's a myth," offered Motherfucker.
4539 
4540 Do Wuh slammed the door on his way out.
4541 
4542 Outside, lawnmowers hovered in the distance. Uh Huh and Coca Cola were
4543 already on the field, caked with dirt. It behooved Perpetrator to
4544 comment on their slovenly appearance.
4545 
4546 "Those are your good clothes, are they not?"
4547 
4548 "Shut up, Perp," said Coca Cola.
4549 
4550 "Okay, there's five of us here and we only need four. Perp, you're
4551 out."
4552 
4553 "I didn't want to play in the first place!"
4554 
4555 "Then everybody wins," said Coca Cola, laughing.
4556 
4557 Perpetrator sat down with his book and began to leaf through its
4558 pages, focusing intently on the text. He de-fogged his glasses with
4559 the corner of his shirt and chewed his fingernail as he read.
4560 
4561 "Spam them all. I'm studying!" he thought.
4562 
4563 "Indeed," replied a voice that wasn't there.
4564 
4565 Perpetrator's eyes grew large as the gold Daytons on his father's
4566 Impala.
4567 
4568 "Intriguing," he thought to himself, and continued with his reading of
4569 the Scriptures.
4570 
4571 OLD MOLD
4572 
4573 tags: 1861, haus_mold
4574 
4575 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 of
4577 my time on the mountain I had been completely snowed in.
4578 
4579 My graph hadn't perturbed itself in months. I thought it might have
4580 simply shut itself down, protesting inactivity. I couldn't muster the
4581 interest to scan its core for flaws. I considered cannibalizing it for
4582 parts.
4583 
4584 I melted some snow from the window and sloshed the water around in my
4585 mouth. Brine. I spit it out on the wood floor. Opened the cabinets for
4586 no real reason; there was no food left.
4587 
4588 I contemplated trying to dig myself out.
4589 
4590 I got my legs attached and unlocked the front door. A flat wall of
4591 beige snow, suspended where the sunshine should have been.
4592 
4593 Voices, from behind the wall.
4594 
4595 My first thoughts ran to annoyance. I hoped they would move on. Anyone
4596 up here at this time of year could only be seeking after help. Two
4597 voices meant they would be unlikely to take no for an answer from a
4598 lone hermit such as myself.
4599 
4600 A gloved hand poked through the snow, groping around as if to stave
4601 off asphyxiation.
4602 
4603 I prepared myself for unwanted conversation.
4604 
4605 The strangers were polite. Dug out the front step. Offered me
4606 provisions when they noticed I didn't even have a stove for cooking. I
4607 distracted them with talk of the astronomical data I had been
4608 collecting. The younger fellow was able to follow along to some
4609 extent, but both seemed lacking in the fundamentals so I let the
4610 subject drop.
4611 
4612 I do not recall now which of them first broached the topic of their
4613 extra horse, but they talked me into stepping out front to inspect its
4614 injury.
4615 
4616 The reader will have seen this coming. I was several paces into the
4617 front snow drift when I heard the door lock behind me.
4618 
4619 Their provisions were still loaded onto their horses.
4620 
4621 Their mistake.
4622 
4623 I ran some calculations in my head and decided that the horses could
4624 probably make it into town. It did take the better part of the day to
4625 make the journey.
4626 
4627 Everything had changed. The general store had expanded to include a
4628 bar and eatery. The grand hotel was now a school house. Inside the old
4629 court building, the whores were now wearing shoes. No one seemed to
4630 recognize me.
4631 
4632 I bartered the two oldest horses for a new rifle, a flint and a sewing
4633 needle. I wouldn't need food. I made love to a whore in order to blend
4634 in with the other drifters; it was frowned upon by the constabulary to
4635 leave town without first engaging the local labor pool. Civilization
4636 and tradition had conspired to keep me within city limits until after
4637 dark.
4638 
4639 I fell asleep without replacing my eye patch.
4640 
4641 When I woke up, it was gone.
4642 
4643 "'Haus Mold,'" laughed the hotel manager, reading from my card."Your
4644 name's a joke, right?"
4645 
4646 "It's an Indian name," I said.
4647 
4648 My bad eye focused on him and I assumed he must have caught a glimpse
4649 of the internal mechanism because he started when it whirred to life.
4650 
4651 "Right. You're an injun." He gestured sarcastically as if he were
4652 jerking off.
4653 
4654 I glanced over at his daughter. The whore I had bedded. He noticed
4655 this and his voice trailed off.
4656 
4657 As my boots hit the dirt outside the hotel, the snow was just starting
4658 to pick up. The first big storms up the mountain would have rolled in
4659 the night before. The pass would be buried until spring.
4660 
4661 I made a backup of myself and dropped it in the mail to New York. Just
4662 in case.
4663 
4664 As I approached my horse, a shot rang out. Its echo clashed against
4665 the wooden slats of the general store, the school and the casino. My
4666 horse tipped over like a grandfather clock, brains pushing out of its
4667 impacted eye socket. I noted that we had both contrived to lose the
4668 same eye.
4669 
4670 I turned and raised my new rifle, returned fire. It was no surprise to
4671 me who I'd killed.
4672 
4673 "Fair fight!" some idiot exclaimed.
4674 
4675 "Squash it," I barked."Increase the peace."
4676 
4677 I rode west. Once out of town, I removed my clothing and walked beside
4678 my horse.
4679 
4680 The snow eventually gave way to desert.
4681 
4682 FAST
4683 
4684 tags: 4086, albert_lunsford, piro, shit_mold
4685 
4686 There are folded bits of me coming off. The heated stress in the room
4687 has peeled back the edges of my face and I think that the human glue
4688 underneath is melting away...
4689 
4690 In four minutes I will leave for the day, cutting through the steam to
4691 the outer door of my compartment. In four minutes, I will sleep.
4692 
4693 Well, no.
4694 
4695 The stacks of leaves are cleared. I've fought off the last bits of
4696 synthetic sick from the foodstuffs in the office pantry. But the
4697 vending machines haven't been refilled in almost a month, and the food
4698 ports back up when there isn't anyone around to place orders. I'm in
4699 the same boat in my quarters­I try to stay on the button and make due
4700 with what I can coax from the machines (I'm always working), but it's
4701 hard to keep myself awake when I'm always so hungry.
4702 
4703 The last of the leaves put away, I can now turn down my screens and
4704 cover my seat for the morning decontamination cycle. It seems I've
4705 missed one; a straggler. The little leaf confronts me, cross to have
4706 been overlooked. I find it hunkered down, nearly collapsed into a pile
4707 of itself, casting an agitated shadow on the carpet. Its facing edge
4708 wavers in and out of focus in the reduced lighting. I regard it
4709 blankly and then crush it with my heel.
4710 
4711 Next: The King's quarters, which must also be purged of filth.
4712 
4713 I pull up an icon of Albert Lunsford and meditate on the seventh book
4714 of volume four. Walking On The Moon.
4715 
4716 It is Ramadan, and everyone is gone.
4717 
4718 The station turns.
4719 
4720 SELECTION
4721 
4722 tags: 2179, massive_fictions, rimbaud, stanley
4723 
4724 All of this was not going to work for him anymore. It was coming down
4725 around his ankles. His output had exceeded his company's resources,
4726 and his private prospects were taking a nosedive as well. He could
4727 hardly pay himself to write. Without that weekly stipend from MASSIVE
4728 FICTIONS, he wasn't going to make rent on the storage facility for his
4729 collections. One unwelcome change blurred into another, and in short
4730 order, the accumulated results were overwhelming to contemplate.
4731 
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 called
4734 them­ martial simulations. What a thought; larping about as if to
4735 train for war. But, this was Stanley, and, after all, this was one of
4736 Stanley's interests. No harm was being done, in any case.
4737 
4738 As he navigated the spiraling path, the requisite plying of a new
4739 editor at some other rag­what other rags were even left­was very much
4740 on his mind. A crease formed across his forehead as he alit gently on
4741 the elevator, negotiating the physical geometry with his body whilst
4742 simultaneously evaluating potential budget configurations in his mind.
4743 Duality. Synchronous operation. He watched the frothing crowd of his
4744 countrymen, churning to and fro along the pathways below. They
4745 resembled nothing so much as beer suds sloshing in a bed of potting
4746 soil. And it was a very long way down. Petals­floors­whipped by
4747 silently, causing the sun to blink, languidly, somewhere near the
4748 horizon.
4749 
4750 Rimbaud stood amongst his fellow salarymen and mused that,
4751 self-evidently, the architecture of their day would have to be
4752 considered superior to that of any previous era. From his studies he
4753 recalled that, in centuries past, forays had been made into evolving
4754 wholly organic super-structures, but that it had taken the better part
4755 of a four hundred years­bringing the public state-of-the-art almost up
4756 to date with that of his own great-grandfather's famous, proprietary
4757 work­before emergent plant mimicry was fully integrated into the
4758 mainstream of public works. While it was true that most citizen
4759 hovels­even today­evinced the brute angles and sharp corners
4760 characteristic of the twentieth century's most prolific architects
4761 (perhaps out of some sense of fealty to tradition, since,
4762 structurally, such arbitrary designs were no longer strictly
4763 necessary), in his own lifetime he had witnessed the marvelous
4764 transformation of municipal buildings from great, lumbering and
4765 inefficient storage containers into organic, plebeian tangles of
4766 smoothly curving branches, stems and flowering foyers. Why, his own
4767 quarters were situated within just such a fractal space! Rimbaud had
4768 to remind himself that the upper-most levels of these buildings, or,
4769 more appropriately, growths, were still reserved for the business
4770 classes and their various concerns. He observed with some satisfaction
4771 that these concessions were small sacrifice when weighed against the
4772 general improvements to the Commons such commerce inevitably yielded.
4773 The slums were already starting to grow over.
4774 
4775 The express elevator distended and Rimbaud disembarked towards an
4776 identification booth. He slid into a vacant pod and hooked his legs
4777 around the seating apparatus as his entire body was rotated into
4778 position. From there, his awareness shifted back to Home. Thus
4779 transported, he prepared his evening meal to the accompaniment of a
4780 historical recording. His pleasure was the Existentialist literature
4781 of the mid- twentieth century, and he preferred to track the audio
4782 wholly eyes-free while handling his cooking materials. Sophistry,
4783 perhaps, but well within the curve of the culturally acceptable
4784 plotted for him by his trusted almanack.
4785 
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 of
4788 raw fish. From an adjacent curved plate he selected a number of
4789 additional food items to link into his meal. By running a finger
4790 across the stamen of the plate, Rimbaud seasoned the course to his
4791 liking. He chose some vegetables and elected to submerse them in one
4792 half-ounce of wood-aged high-fructose corn syrup. He flattered himself
4793 that his tastes were truly refined.
4794 
4795 The 8-bit alarm drones Rimbaud had programmed for eight o'clock (a
4796 clever recursive reference, he had thought) sounded, softly, and he
4797 knew then that it was time to replace the dishes within their folds
4798 and return to work. Rimbaud made a gesture towards the door, and the
4799 sunlight streaming in from above shifted, gave way to the interior of
4800 his encephaloid pod. Identification. He untangled his legs and got
4801 himself up, running a hand through his mussed hair and replacing his
4802 felt cap. He smoothed down his jacket and made his way back through
4803 the forest of salarymen, climbing once again into the express
4804 elevator. As he flitted up the stem of the building, he thought to
4805 himself that his lunch periods seemed shorter and shorter as his life
4806 progressed. As he grew objectively older.
4807 
4808 Finally reaching his objective at the very top of the building,
4809 Rimbaud took stock of the vast garden spread out across the city
4810 below. Millions of his fellow countrymen were busy going about their
4811 daily tasks, worker bees distributing commercially registered pollen.
4812 None questioning themselves as he did. None of them devoting the scant
4813 moments of their free time to comparing themselves unfavorably with
4814 American negroes of centuries past. Was his toil really so
4815 objectionable as all that? Such nonsense that he allowed to enter his
4816 mind.
4817 
4818 Rimbaud then reflected upon his appearance, and suddenly he was
4819 grossly ashamed. He wiped away the stray rivulets of sweat from his
4820 forehead and pulled the end of his antique almanack slightly out of
4821 his breast pocket, cater-corner, plainly into the view of casual
4822 passers-by. Moribund regrets of servitude would not cast a pallor upon
4823 his demeanor. I have a choice in this matter, he thought. My suffering
4824 is mine, and mine alone.
4825 
4826 As the elevator distended once more, Rimbaud was bathed in the bright,
4827 sympathetic air of photosynthesis made comprehensible.
4828 
4829 As was his usual habit, he pushed the negative thoughts from his mind,
4830 choosing instead to consider the significance of beautiful flowers.
4831 
4832 SPEED GRADING
4833 
4834 tags: 4086, piro, tab2
4835 
4836 I'm cleaning out the King's cupboards when I run across some old
4837 detritus that he had thought it would be a good idea to bring along
4838 with him to the station.
4839 
4840 Thomas.
4841 
4842 According to legend, he wrote this paper for a grade school
4843 assignment. As I recall, it triggered unrest amongst the faculty. In
4844 the absence of advanced philosophical technology, papers written by
4845 school children wielded the capability to disrupt classroom
4846 activities.
4847 
4848  The popular image of Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus
4849  Theophilus Mozart is inaccurate to the point of
4850  ridiculousness. However, this has not prevented a
4851  multiplicity of interpretations from emerging to surround his
4852  work. Ludwig von Kochel's contrived naming convention has
4853  even been absorbed into the text of Mozart's published scores,
4854  sans any indication that Herr Mozart did not create these
4855  titles himself. Beneath the layers of false attribution lies
4856  a man (J. C. W. T. M.) whose own prodigious correspondence is
4857  often the last resource consulted by would-be experts. Thus,
4858  the common conception of the silly-voiced man-child, idiot
4859  savant dominates the commentary upon his work even to this
4860  day. Figures such as Mozart are invoked almost as articles of
4861  our language, employed as symbols of narratives larger than
4862  the mere facts of their corporeal existence. This phenomenon
4863  renders any deeper investigation into the men themselves a
4864  trifling diversion, an unnecessary digression at best. When
4865  one appears to be referencing a rich study of the available
4866  facts, what one is too often doing, instead, is invoking the
4867  surface texture of popular memory (most often grossly
4868  misconstrued, but constituting a shared culture nonetheless).
4869  It is shamefully dishonest to put forward such vagary as
4870  learned discourse. But. Is this lamentable transgression so
4871  far removed from the process of creating words, themselves? I
4872  beseech the thoughtful reader to consider that language, to
4873  begin with, is merely a collection of consensual, codified
4874  misunderstandings. I will now shift contexts and refer to the
4875  decades-long correspondence between the Americans Thomas
4876  Jefferson and John Adams. It is unlikely that the modern
4877  reader is familiar with these gentlemen. Sadly, the average
4878  Federalist/Anti-Federalist scholar is likewise ignorant of
4879  their existence. And yet, it must be pointed out, portions of
4880  their correspondence have been, since 1926, accepted into the
4881  Scriptures. One recoils at the cognitive dissonance; this
4882  vast field of Green scholarship, donning its own willfully
4883  fogged-over spectacles in order to better scrawl out its blind
4884  declarations. It is deemed acceptable to reference the icons
4885  of culture by name or by clique, but it is seen as
4886  counterproductive to make clearly understood precisely what it
4887  is one is trying to say. Of course, not all manglings of the
4888  language are intentional, and not all such manglings are
4889  equally deceptive. Some people just don't care about the
4890  Bible. There persists an interplay between the rigorous
4891  accuracy that is ostensibly sought after and the broad
4892  symbolism that is most easily digested. I am prepared to
4893  admit that in my own work I have yet to satisfactorily bridge
4894  these disparate vectors of focus. Even an isolated, outlying
4895  case refuses to make itself known. For example, I am capable
4896  of pursuing either individual goal with exceeding stamina and
4897  skill, and yet I am resigned to my failure in striking a
4898  balance between the two as a whole. I have discovered no
4899  happy synthesis. No congenial associations between the two
4900  paths. The network betwixt particle and wave refuses to
4901  materialize. Redoubled focus simply dissolves into a migraine
4902  headache. This, then, is the eternal struggle. The Mozart of
4903  reality versus the Mozart of history. Why read the entirety
4904  of Jefferson's correspondence when a blind quotation will
4905  suffice? As I compare like with unlike, I stumble upon the
4906  realization that the vision of others, is, by necessity,
4907  likewise obstructed. This myopia that afflicts me is not an
4908  invention, a deficiency particular to my person. All of our
4909  screens are thus occluded, whether we recognize it or not. In
4910  our minds, the eminence of the signifier shall always eclipse
4911  that of the signified. Ironically, we trip repeatedly over
4912  this blunt limitation, which itself probably evolved as a
4913  means to facilitate communication. What I'm trying to say is,
4914  stop trying to tell me what I mean. In this paper I have
4915  demonstrated the inherent political power of dictionaries.
4916  The careful reader will adjust his ambitions accordingly.
4917 
4918 
4919 I fold the leaf and replace it within its compartment. We are way
4920 beyond these sorts of observations by now, Thomas. Today I would mark
4921 this paper with a C-, at best. But, you wrote for your time. Some
4922 inaccuracies and the overall sparseness of detail may be forgiven. I
4923 confirm the historical grade (A-) by thumbprint and wave away the
4924 hovering screen.
4925 
4926 While I was a grading, something in the room has changed. A faint
4927 white light illuminates the port hole of the King's quarters.
4928 
4929 I make my way over to investigate the disturbance.
4930 
4931 ANALYSIS
4932 
4933 tags: 2182, rimbaud, violet
4934 
4935 There was a slow dithering moment before it all coalesced and came
4936 upon him like a spilled dinner tray. All of the air went out of him at
4937 once. What the tiny viewscreen showed him would certainly mean the end
4938 of his tenure; if not his career as an instructor of children's
4939 literature.
4940 
4941 Little Violet reading from her diary.
4942 
4943 He clutched at the front pocket on his shirt for tobacco. Must keep
4944 watch. (Can't watch.) He ran a knotted hand through his auburn strands
4945 (or lack thereof) and pulled at the lobe of his ear while blue smoke
4946 ran fingers of its own down his cheek, mocking him tenderly.
4947 
4948 Another minute, maybe less.
4949 
4950 As Violet brought her reading to a close, the other children began to
4951 text each other about the performance, proceeding to update their
4952 class journals as they waited for a response. The classroom was devoid
4953 of snickers. The group had broken out into mad hysterics of flat
4954 silence. Rimbaud's attention was still rapt.
4955 
4956 What Violet had said.
4957 
4958 He pocketed the monitor and poked his cigarette into a receptacle.
4959 Attached his glasses and pushed back through the heavy air of the
4960 empty hallway. Resumed his classroom.
4961 
4962 She'd kept quiet.
4963 
4964 In spite of her innuendo, bald threats, blatant comminations,
4965 exaggerated bluster, roundabout disparagement; she hadn't shared her
4966 scathing review of his first novel with the class.
4967 
4968 That was good.
4969 
4970 That was a good girl.
4971 
4972 Rimaud considered staying on for the semester.
4973 
4974 He thought: Those who can't, teach.
4975 
4976 The students remained silent as he entered.
4977 
4978 JERRYMANDER FALLS
4979 
4980 tags: 1868, haus_mold, jerrymander_mold
4981 
4982 The polls had closed and so Jerrymander did the only thing he knew how
4983 to do, aside from campaigning, which was to crack open a beer and down
4984 the whole thing in one gulp.
4985 
4986 The beverage exhibited no effect upon his overweight, mechanical body.
4987 
4988 Grover fucking Cleveland! he growled.
4989 
4990 Opening another can, he decided that America deserved a Democrat.
4991 
4992 Fuck'em, he mumbled.
4993 
4994 "Stop pretending to be drunk."
4995 
4996 Haus Mold stood in the doorway, examining Jerrymander's hotel room.
4997 "Where are your people," he asked.
4998 
4999 "I sent them away. There's no point in listening to their excuses."
5000 
5001 "You seem to be taking this awfully personally."
5002 
5003 "So what."
5004 
5005 Jerrymander put down his beer can and paced the circumference of the
5006 curved room.
5007 
5008 "Something troubles me about this election," he said at last.
5009 
5010 "Sure. You didn't win."
5011 
5012 Jerrymander scowled.
5013 
5014 The horse looked worried. It seemed to sag under the weight of
5015 Jerrymander's saddle.
5016 
5017 "There's no reason for you to leave town over this," Haus pleaded.
5018 
5019 "Fuck'em," was all Jerrymander would say. He repeated it quietly
5020 several times before trailing off into belligerent silence.
5021 
5022 Dust caught in Haus' face and false teeth as the horse made a go of
5023 things.
5024 
5025 Jerrymander didn't look back.
5026 
5027 Once the old man was gone, Haus retreated to his hotel room and laid
5028 down on his bed. The name kept coming back to him. Jerrymander Falls.
5029 
5030 He unlatched his satchel and checked the integrity of the Mold backups
5031 for the third time that day.
5032 
5033 Haus finally made up his mind. He took out his pen and got started on
5034 the paperwork.
5035 
5036 Hard reboot.
5037 
5038 VISUAL RHETORIC
5039 
5040 tags: 1983, 4086, piro, tab2
5041 
5042 Thomas Bright's disembodied head regarded me from the other side of
5043 the port hole.
5044 
5045 I made a little waving gesture and he smiled.
5046 
5047 "Don't just stand there," he said."You've got to help me!"
5048 
5049  First of all, they're not voices. In the fall of 1980, fast
5050  approaching my twenty-third birthday, I had become enamored
5051  with the irrational certainty that something dramatically and
5052  disturbingly... well, bad... was going to happen during the
5053  course of the coming year. I had weathered a series of
5054  nightmares about tornadoes and hurricanes, which had lately
5055  been joined by a progression of graphically detailed plane
5056  crashes. Eventually, the two dream-streams collided and
5057  morphed into a single, recurring narrative. The twin
5058  tornadoes (one comprised of dust and the other comprised of
5059  water) inched down a gravel road to demolish a giant diorama
5060  of Manhattan. This diorama had been laid out like a
5061  room-sized map across the altar of the Methodist church I
5062  attended as a child. Curious, right? I could see the
5063  whirlwinds of destruction making their way slowly towards the
5064  church. A seemingly random sampling of individuals I'd known
5065  throughout my childhood each knelt down on the floor with me,
5066  playing with an assortment of plastic military
5067  toys­planes­flying them around the diorama city. We would
5068  throw the toy planes like footballs and crash them into the
5069  buildings. This distracted us from the impending arrival of
5070  the tornadoes. The floor of the giant map was complete with a
5071  legend, compass, and an elaborate island airstrip (which
5072  seemed to be noticed only by me). Usually, the dream cut off
5073  when I spotted the island and walked over to stand on it. I
5074  would invariably become convinced that there was something of
5075  great importance buried beneath its surface. The last thing I
5076  would see as I woke up would be an outline of the bold script
5077  of the name of the island, stubbornly obscured by my feet. I
5078  could never quite make out the words... Earlier in my
5079  childhood, I had convinced myself that a number of disembodied
5080  intelligences (perhaps the most intriguing of which was a
5081  sentient idea referring to itself as the avatar of Sarcasm)
5082  had repeatedly, and quite insistently, presented me with the
5083  opportunity to become the living Anti-Christ. The world would
5084  be delivered to me if only I were willing to perform a series
5085  of simple tasks that would demonstrate my dedication to the
5086  sentient idea's service. Horrified, I vehemently refused, and
5087  took measures I believed would prevent my proposed political
5088  career from ever getting far off the ground. To this day I
5089  still can't secure a credit card. The tasks I was given were
5090  to have been a simple set of mundane actions, which would have
5091  harmed no one, and which would have caused me no undue
5092  personal hardship. And yet, I was not enthused with this idea
5093  of becoming the personification of a Scriptural prophecy whose
5094  study had generated such distress in me as a child. Sarcasm
5095  was amused, and­well­it would sarcastically counter my adamant
5096  refusals by drilling vivid images of the nuclear holocaust
5097  described in the book of Revelation directly into my brain. I
5098  have to say, it didn't take long for the Biblical stuff to
5099  wear thin. By 1975 I had become convinced that these images
5100  depicted the aftermath of attacks perpetrated against the
5101  United States by Islamic terrorists. I was certain that these
5102  attacks would occur sometime within the next fifty years. I
5103  privately told my girlfriend at the time that the next major
5104  war involving the United States would be centered upon Iraq,
5105  and that I hoped conscription would not be re-instated (as it
5106  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's
5108  employers and sent off to... well, there was more. Let's
5109  just say there was more. In light of all this, I wasn't sure
5110  I could keep saying no to Sarcasm forever. Of course, while I
5111  was well aware that this was all make-believe­made-up
5112  nonsense­the impact it had upon my disposition and outlook was
5113  similar to what might have been expected if the situation had,
5114  in fact, been real. The metaphorical tabs had started fitting
5115  into the metaphorical slots and they had become impossible to
5116  ignore, as the resulting papercraft devices had begun to made
5117  themselves apparent everywhere I looked. I was starting to
5118  detect the seams in the walls. Stress points in theoretical
5119  structures I had never before thought to examine. Perhaps
5120  here I should pause and explain how this communication between
5121  myself and Sarcasm most often took form. Generally, I do not
5122  think in words. Cognition for me has always involved a series
5123  of images which fit together as multidimensional shapes, each
5124  distinguished by size, color and texture rather than by
5125  subject matter or meaning. For example, for as long as I can
5126  remember, I have associated certain colors with the numerals
5127  zero through nine. Zero is white, one is black, two is
5128  yellow, three is orange, four is blue, five is red­and so on.
5129  As a youth I would store and retrieve long strings of
5130  arbitrary numbers simply by arranging the colored blocks into
5131  an appropriate collage and committing said collage to visual
5132  memory. So, groups of numbers naturally took on an aesthetic
5133  as well as a symbolic meaning. Four quarters (yellow-red,
5134  yellow-red, yellow-red, yellow-red) made up one dollar
5135  (black-white-white). Adding or subtracting blocks of colors
5136  was faster for me than learning'real' math. It was mostly a
5137  subconscious substitution, but it worked approximately up
5138  until middle school, when we started to be taught branches of
5139  mathematics that cannot typically be solved'all in your head.'
5140  I had read an article in POPULAR SCIENCE or SCIENTIFIC
5141  AMERICAN or some other magazine around this time that stated
5142  the structure of the human brain made it impossible to solve
5143  complex algebra or geometry problems by simply thinking about
5144  them visually. Well, this had the unfortunate stink of truth
5145  about it, whether it was true or not, and I was sold on the
5146  idea from that moment forward. To this day, the colors go
5147  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 consciousness
5150  and are, as I said, molded into multidimensional shapes that
5151  are then stored as visual memories. Reasoning and deduction
5152  are simply a matter of arranging these shapes into
5153  aesthetically'correct' sequences and compositions. Somehow,
5154  this visual logic seems to map. It's a firm validation of the
5155  Platonic whateveryoucallit. Placing all of my shapes into
5156  their natural positions, and then abstracting that visual
5157  record into a sequence of English words and phrases which are
5158  human-readable, seems to produce lucid thought that I am often
5159  told is remarkable for its clarity and insight. Or, perhaps
5160  I'm merely deluding myself and I'm only mimicking the bits of
5161  language that I've managed to pick up from normal humans after
5162  hearing the words repeated over and over again. Maybe this is
5163  all crap. Either way, I've somehow managed to scratch out a
5164  modest living for close to twenty-seven years. No one has had
5165  to help me wipe my own ass. I often wonder if other human
5166  beings process language the same way that I do, but have
5167  merely failed to articulate the process in a coherent manner.
5168  Perhaps they create descriptions of their thought processes
5169  out of the more typical, flawed vernaculars, which
5170  unfortunately proceeds to shape their cognition and leave them
5171  striving to fulfill those false accounts with aggressive
5172  phenomenological action. All of this would of course be at
5173  the expense of their own more naturally occurring mental
5174  rhythms. The virus of language is a parasite feeding on the
5175  fat of the human mind. In my case, my own communications with
5176  the archetypal concepts of Sarcasm and Messiah seems to have
5177  occurred on the sub-linguistic level of colors and shapes,
5178  which I have come to believe is nearer to our wetware than the
5179  instruction sets (in this case, the English language) with
5180  which we are trained from birth to hypnotize ourselves. What
5181  if, through some fundamentally subterranean mechanism, we are
5182  unconsciously grouping items into structures that alter our
5183  English even before it bubbles into our internal stream of
5184  consciousness? This is to say nothing of what inevitably
5185  comes spurting out of our mouths. It was a sudden
5186  preponderance of recognizable patterns in my own linguistic
5187  reflexes­it seemed that someone had been sleeping in my bed,
5188  if you will­which, when decoded into English, produced a
5189  convincing resemblance to direct communication between myself
5190  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 reflexive
5193  patterns of thought cannot merely be dismissed as broadcast
5194  irritants, disrupting my mental space like so much rumbling of
5195  bass from a car down the street. These patterns I've been
5196  describing would also respond to my probing. That is to say,
5197  they would respond intelligibly. Two-way communication was
5198  observed to occur. Hence my references to a running dialogue
5199  between myself and the constructs. Hence my mention of their
5200  offers and of my rejections. Back at the end of the world,
5201  having taken several months to mull over the myriad of
5202  proportions and relationships which were emerging, screeching
5203  like peacocks from the amorphous collection of data swirling
5204  about in my brain case, fall, 1980, finally clawed its way
5205  into view. I awoke one September morning full of the
5206  realization that I had somehow crept into my twenty-third
5207  year, relatively healthy and still firmly planted upon the
5208  surface of the planet. Characteristically, my right-brain
5209  responded to this happy circumstance by cutting loose a sudden
5210  inundation of random stimulation. Quantum foam fired in the
5211  widest possible distribution pattern. My left-brain, shocked
5212  that this affront had issued from its own
5213  squirrel-in-the-wheel sibling, spontaneously divined a
5214  slipshod, though astonishingly practical organizational
5215  grammar with which to categorize all of the incoming data. A
5216  dazzling display of battlefield competence, to be sure, but
5217  the flow of information was steadily increasing. My
5218  left-brain, bristling now at how quickly its attempts at order
5219  had fallen into ruin, burrowed itself ever more deeply into
5220  the heaving bosom of... labor politics. To whit: lacking
5221  further resources, the faculties of my mind voted to enact an
5222  emergency work stoppage. A rhetorical picket line was hastily
5223  erected between the two cranial hemispheres. Turning to all
5224  of this hubbub consciously for the first time, I (that is to
5225  say, me) examined said goings-on, and after a certain period
5226  of solemn consideration, decided that union busting was more
5227  trouble than it was worth. I would simply pretend that the
5228  situation did not exist. I would ignore my predicament and
5229  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 differences
5232  without my help. My friend, I say this plainly and it is
5233  true: ideas are a dime a dozen. Ignore one, and ten thousand
5234  spring up to take its place. If I do not care for the
5235  direction of a given narrative, I delete it. Even if the
5236  ideas do address me audibly and directly, well, that doesn't
5237  mean I am bound to listen. I don't owe them anything, least
5238  of all a reply. Life is too short to indulge every pointless
5239  discrepancy of visual-spatial logic. Let them try to overload
5240  me. They can't force water into a plugged drain. Getting
5241  drawn into these whirlwinds is simply a waste of my time.
5242  Better to pull the hood down over my face. Place my hands
5243  over my ears. No, I am not available to come to the phone
5244  right now, and please do not bother me again. Thank you for
5245  your consideration. Pray, what's for dinner? The year slunk
5246  by. I gained skill and efficiency at ignoring the stacks of
5247  interlocking realities. Under the stern tutelage of that
5248  conscientious ringmaster, ignorance, the serendipitous
5249  connections began to fade. Mind the gap, right-brain, the
5250  ringmaster would shout, and so on. This system checks and
5251  balances kept the situation neatly under my control. Over
5252  time, I devised a further arsenal of rhetorical tricks for
5253  identifying and severing new visual-spatial connections even
5254  before their roots could take hold. My techniques proved
5255  surprisingly efficacious. Almost before I knew it, my
5256  twenty-fourth birthday was upon me. I looked back on the
5257  previous year with a certain contempt for the time spent
5258  culling all of this useless cruft from the stream of my
5259  thoughts. I was not getting much else done. But overall I
5260  retained a sense of accomplishment. The occasional ray of
5261  satisfaction seeped through. Gently drawing the curtain, the
5262  fall sunshine felt good in my cold, gray room. The morning of
5263  September 11, 1981, I awoke alone in my bed. I pulled sweet
5264  breaths through a sincere smile and let the top of my head
5265  rest against the cool metal bars of my bed frame. Before
5266  opening my eyes, I mashed my face back into my pillow and
5267  relished that I was finally (almost) home free. One more day
5268  to go. And then it would all be over. Goodbye, twenty-three;
5269  hello, twenty-four with an"l." I relaxed, sighed richly, and
5270  thought to myself (in English), Well, I've made it. Nothing
5271  horrendous is going to happen to me just because I've survived
5272  to twenty-four years of age. I guess it's time to outgrow all
5273  of this superstitious nonsense about the number twenty-three
5274  and get on with my life. So what if the symbols and syntax of
5275  temporal reality continue to combine obvious configurations
5276  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' horseshit
5279  and'spatial reasoning' bollocks has been nothing more than a
5280  series of convenient hallucinations. It was really quite
5281  simple, in the end, to walk away from the flood of data and to
5282  get on with my life. So now then, I admonished myself, let's
5283  get up, shave our face, and get the hell in to work before
5284  we're late for our shift. I should say, it was quite a relief
5285  to finally be rid of the shit-flinging, psychic monkey on my
5286  back. No more looking for the seams in things. No more
5287  seeing those seams whether I wanted to or not. From that
5288  morning forward, with the aid of my trusted ringmaster,
5289  ignorance, I would resolve to translate the multidimensional
5290  shapes and colors of my thoughts into English prior to
5291  becoming aware of them. I possessed the machinery. I could
5292  ignore it all. Let God or the Devil sort it out. Life would
5293  prove so much easier. Groggily, I pulled on my socks and made
5294  my way into the living room. I clicked on the television just
5295  in time to see a jetliner bury itself into the World Trade
5296  Center and explode. I guess you could say that in that
5297  moment, everything changed. So much for my upcoming vacation,
5298  I thought to myself. Sarcasm had always been a great
5299  practical joker.
5300 
5301 All of this from the other side of the port hole.
5302 
5303 I edged backwards, unconsciously.
5304 
5305 Presently, awareness resumed and I leaped for the curtain. Tom's
5306 babbling was cut off by the downward arc of my sleeve. I straightened.
5307 I had barely escaped with my life.
5308 
5309 Then nothing. Silence.
5310 
5311 After a few moments, it seemed that the disturbance had faded. I
5312 decided to take another peek. I inched over to the porthole and slowly
5313 drew back the curtain.
5314 
5315 That proved to be a mistake.
5316 
5317 THE PUBLIC GREEN
5318 
5319 tags: 2188, albert_lunsford, rimbaud
5320 
5321 Redaction Day festivities were well underway by the time Rimbaud
5322 arrived on the Public Green. Green Ladies, resplendent in their
5323 traditional attire, ensured that every mug remained filled; or in any
5324 case, that each did not remain empty for long. This was fortunate,
5325 since a lot of important talking was taking place under the big
5326 canvases. Tempers would buffer in the mugs.
5327 
5328 Rimbaud approached a food tent and ran his eyes over the menu. I can't
5329 eat here, he thought. He moved to another tent and found himself in
5330 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.
5333 
5334 Near the edge of the Green, Rimbaud noticed a small group of children
5335 huddled around a wounded animal. The creature seemed to be mechanical
5336 in nature. Likely little more than an evolved toy. The young people
5337 were painting designs on its exposed flesh with dabs of white mud. He
5338 reflected that the mud in question normally anchored the grass of the
5339 Public Green.
5340 
5341 This Redaction Day, Rimbaud had promised himself only limited
5342 interaction with his employees. But the flux of the crowd had made
5343 that impossible, as every attendee was expected to issue a lively
5344 greeting to whomever he passed in the aisles. Rimbaud observed that
5345 standing in one place for too long would lead to being ground under by
5346 the aggregate mob. Consequently, he'd kept moving and had already come
5347 face to face with most of his subordinates several times.
5348 
5349 What, exactly, he wondered, was really being redacted here? Rimbaud
5350 surveyed the crowd and detected no sign of the ostensible paring away
5351 of cumulative excess. To him, it seemed the surplus interactions were
5352 multiplying.
5353 
5354 A group of students had gathered on the Green to search for their
5355 friend. As a regular participant in the Redaction Day preparations, it
5356 was most unlike their companion to wander off just as his toil was
5357 finally coming to fruition. But: vanish he had, and under the most
5358 peculiar of circumstances. One moment he had been present, and the
5359 next he had seemed to disappear without a trace.
5360 
5361 At first Rimbaud could not avoid overhearing them. After a few moments
5362 he could no longer prevent himself from joining in.
5363 
5364 "Ask yourselves this," he said."Why is it that this man is in the
5365 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-White
5367 House because God put him there. God put him there to lead not only
5368 this nation but to lead the world in a time such as this."
5369 
5370 "I­"
5371 
5372 Rimbaud stammered, unsure of himself.
5373 
5374 "I don't know why I said that."
5375 
5376 "El Nortes," one of the children remarked.
5377 
5378 Something in Rimbaud caught on the phrase. Unraveled. He felt as if he
5379 had lost control of his vocal chords.
5380 
5381 "True enough. But there is a difference between quoting from academic
5382 sources, which Albert mostly avoids, and quoting from mass media
5383 sources (i.e., telescreen), which is mostly what Albert does. When he
5384 approaches feminism as an intellectual construct, it doesn't bolster
5385 his points to attack the watered-down, simplified, fatuous pablum that
5386 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 umbrella
5388 is akin to what journalists do when they headline articles about
5389 Albert Lunsford's comics with blurbs like'Biff! Bam! Slap!'"
5390 
5391 With this, he had captured the children's full attention. One of them
5392 ventured a response.
5393 
5394 "By my understanding, that is generally correct. But I do think there
5395 is a sort of'trickle-down' effect from academia to popular culture.
5396 Albert vacillates between crediting academia with benign progress on
5397 the one hand and accusing it of the malicious destruction of society
5398 on the other. But in both cases he acknowledges academia's
5399 contribution to pop-feminism."
5400 
5401 Rimbaud offered no objection, so the boy continued.
5402 
5403 "It is true that the overwhelming preponderance of super-heroes in the
5404 medium renders comics, for most people, a form that is strictly about
5405 super-heroes. But the interesting thing with regards to Lunsford is
5406 that, following his own logic, the aforementioned dominance of
5407 super-heroes also renders Albert Lunsford, himself, an
5408 atheist/marxist/feminist."
5409 
5410 "Allow me to explain."
5411 
5412 "Most comic books are about super-heroes. Therefore, comic books are
5413 about super-heroes."
5414 
5415 "Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists.
5416 Therefore, comic books are about super-heroes and are created by
5417 atheists."
5418 
5419 "Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists
5420 who are also feminists. Therefore, comic books are about super-heroes
5421 and are created by atheists who are also feminists."
5422 
5423 "You can see where this is leading, I'm sure."
5424 
5425 "Most comic books are about super-heroes and are created by atheists
5426 who are also feminists who are also marxists. Therefore, comic books
5427 are about super-heroes and are created by atheists who are also
5428 feminists who are also marxists."
5429 
5430 "And finally... Albert Lunsford creates comic books. Therefore, Albert
5431 Lunsford is an atheist and a feminist and a marxist, and his comic
5432 book work is comprised exclusively of the all-ages adventures of
5433 traditional American super-heroes."
5434 
5435 "Clearly, if Albert does not wish to be associated with these
5436 atheists, feminists, and/or marxists, as well as the sorts of people
5437 who give two shits about super-heroes, he should stop referring to his
5438 work as'comic books,' and/or abandon the medium entirely. Thus,
5439 responsibility for his public image is placed squarely upon his own
5440 shoulders. If he does not publicly disassociate himself from the
5441 medium of comics, he is implicitly supporting the groups identified as
5442 participants in the medium, and therefore society will have no choice
5443 but to lump him in with them and treat him accordingly."
5444 
5445 The boy who had first responded to Rimbaud raised his hand and
5446 simultaneously resumed the conversation without waiting to be
5447 acknowledged.
5448 
5449 "But that's playing fast and loose with the terms we've already agreed
5450 have specific meanings (as Albert himself does in so many areas, i.e.,
5451 marxism, atheism, etc.). Albert doesn't qualify his statements the way
5452 you are trying to do for him. He rejects the notion that there is any
5453 difference at all between these classifications. Atheist, marxist,
5454 feminist­to him, they're all the same thing. In this way, he's exactly
5455 right that his arguments are'unassailable,' because he has completely
5456 removed the ability to distinguish one concept from another."
5457 
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 in
5461 the English language. Pretty soon, people are redrawing the boundaries
5462 of what words mean to fit their arguments, which allows them to alter
5463 history without even changing the text!"
5464 
5465 Rimbaud offered his summation:"As with his enemies, Lunsford merely
5466 distorts the context of a given discussion to support his
5467 pre-determined thesis."
5468 
5469 A boy who had been seated on the opposite side of the circle now stood
5470 up and joined the discussion.
5471 
5472 "Yes, and every time I would point out one of these collisions of
5473 mutually exclusive claims, Albert would just say that the explanation
5474 was self-evident to those who had already joined'his team.'"
5475 
5476 Rimbaud:"And that's why, no matter how far he travels in search of new
5477 ideas, he will only ever succeed in rediscovering the tropes he
5478 brought along with him. He proceeds from the premise that he's
5479 addressing emotional irrationality and­surprise of all surprises­he
5480 arrives at the'valuable confirmation' that he has indeed been
5481 addressing emotional irrationality. Is he really seeking after Truth,
5482 at all, or is he simply riffing on foregone conclusions? Well, it's a
5483 bit of a trick question. He admits that he's merely riffing on
5484 foregone conclusions! Every event, whatever the outcome, is merely new
5485 evidence that he was right all along. And that's usually the totality
5486 of his argument. I think, therefore you're wrong. Back in 1974, I
5487 might have kept faith that his essays were leading up to something
5488 meaningful. But how long am I expected to wait for the prize? There is
5489 no there there. A smooth writing style will only carry you so far. He
5490 kept, and keeps, shifting the floor beneath the reader. Every
5491 declarative phrase doubles back and ties itself into his
5492 atheist/theist binary. He's gone completely off the rails as far as
5493 constructing an'airtight argument' (as he calls it) is concerned. The
5494 obvious charge here is confirmation bias, and Albert Lunsford is
5495 history's most egregious offender.
5496 
5497 Rimbaud stopped. Looked around. What was he saying? Where had all of
5498 this come from?
5499 
5500 The crowd outside the Green continued to churn, oblivious to his
5501 befuddlement.
5502 
5503 He glanced around the circle of children, who were still lobbing balls
5504 of paint onto the mechanical animal. None of their mouths were moving.
5505 Their body language suggested that they had not even noticed his
5506 presence.
5507 
5508 He could feel himself losing control of the situation.
5509 
5510 "No, no, no. Women are clinically insane, but Albert Lunsford cannot
5511 be schizophrenic because psychiatry is not a valid science."
5512 
5513 "I think his mental health is sort of a non-issue. Albert interprets
5514 it as the fulcrum his freedom hinges upon; but since he is, so far as
5515 we know, not a danger to anyone else and since he does, so far as we
5516 know, manage to take care of himself, I really don't think anyone
5517 cares. I know I don't care, personally, whether or not he's considered
5518 'crazy.'"
5519 
5520 "Albert, for his part, seems to think that the whole of society is
5521 waiting on pins and needles, anxious for him to die. Now really. I
5522 think he tends to overestimate the common man's awareness of his
5523 oeuvre. Most of society doesn't even know he exists. When people call
5524 him'insane,' I don't think they mean for men in white coats to
5525 forcibly remove him from the Off-White House and drag him off to some
5526 kind of state-run facility. I think the people he's really worried
5527 about­some small percentage of his peers in the industry­see him as
5528 either an amusing crank or as a sad example of what happens when a man
5529 convinces himself he's the only person on Earth with access to The
5530 Truth. Just because people make fun of him being overdue for his meds
5531 doesn't mean they are going to come and strap him into a chair, inject
5532 him with marxist / feminist / atheist / homosexualist meta-proteins."
5533 
5534 "The fact that he was actually committed to an institution once,
5535 against his will, probably contributes to his paranoia about the
5536 perception of his mental health. Perhaps this fear is exacerbated by
5537 his vast experience with hallucinogens, as he may have acquired some
5538 idea of what psychotropic medications would do to him. My own parents
5539 took me to a psychiatrist once, against my will, and I can say that I
5540 was quite belligerent in my response. But I was not given medication,
5541 and in fact I was not even held overnight for observation. The
5542 psychiatrists seemed confused as to why I had been brought there in
5543 the first place. Given his hostility towards psychiatry, I can only
5544 assume Albert was treated differently."
5545 
5546 "If one examines the timeline of recriminations between Albert and the
5547 comic book industry, it is interesting to observe the escalating
5548 pattern of self-ostracization Albert has enacted over the past several
5549 years. I do not dismiss what his latest published material purports
5550 itself to be about, but it is instructive to note that Albert's latest
5551 theories have expanded to encompass a neat explanation of why he is no
5552 longer a fan-favorite creator, and why his latest works have failed to
5553 garner the universal acclaim he seems to think they deserve. He
5554 obviously has a very high opinion of himself, and requires a
5555 corresponding explanation as to why the rest of the world doesn't hold
5556 him in similar esteem. It's fascinating to me that the very tenacity
5557 and pigheadedness that make him so difficult to interact with also
5558 seem to be precisely the traits that have enabled him to complete his
5559 multitudinous extended works. I think this is where Ian Kenny's
5560 observations have been centered: Kenny marvels that Albert's
5561 single-minded determination has resulted in the self-destruction of
5562 his critical faculties­that is to say, his vanished ability to
5563 honestly evaluate himself. At the same time, he has turned the
5564 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 of
5566 has a point. Others would no doubt remind us that Albert has always
5567 been closed off to intimacy, and that he has only stopped portrayed
5568 himself otherwise since the summer of 1974.)"
5569 
5570 Finally, Rimbaud began to wind down. He seemed to have said his piece.
5571 
5572 "I'm sort of getting tired of this relentless harping on the negative
5573 aspects of Albert's philosophies and his approach to arguing them. But
5574 dammit, it seems to me that even the people who explicitly admit they
5575 are opposed to everything he stands for never seem to criticize him on
5576 the right points. I tried writing to him and taking him to task in
5577 private, but as we know, Albert is famously unreceptive to real
5578 intellectual debate. He prefers to maintain the authorial distance. Or
5579 the authorial authority, if you will. All of you folks who hold it as
5580 an article of faith that Albert is unfailingly polite and
5581 self-effacing to his fans; well, it's hardly a constant, as many of us
5582 have learned through hard experience."
5583 
5584 It finally dawned on Rimbaud that none of this business about Albert
5585 Lunsford was actually happening on the Public Green. What he was
5586 feeling, seeing and hearing was nothing more than a resonant echo of
5587 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 mesh
5589 transceivers had passed on the data unchecked. What a clever
5590 presentation, he thought.
5591 
5592 Before he could tear himself away from the simulation, one of the
5593 children who had been painting the artificial animal appeared at his
5594 side and began tugging on his shirtsleeve. He bent down so the child
5595 could whisper in his ear.
5596 
5597 "Keep your mouth shut. Don't listen to the worries inside," said the
5598 child.
5599 
5600 More of the ritual dialogue.
5601 
5602 In light of Albert Lunsford's harsh example, Rimbaud considered it
5603 good advice.
5604 
5605 MOUNTAINS OF WHITE
5606 
5607 tags: 1986, 4086, dexter_styles, gravy_needs, piro, shit_mold, tab2
5608 
5609 Thomas resumed haranguing Piro through the port hole.
5610 
5611 "You have to listen to me. You have to come back with me to 1986."
5612 
5613 "You've been talking for half an hour. Oh, the plight of the noble
5614 graphic designer."
5615 
5616 "I'm serious, Piotr."
5617 
5618 "I can tell. And I bet you guys are having quite a laugh at my
5619 expense. Well, Ramadan's almost over. You'll be back here soon enough
5620 and then I'll have my revenge."
5621 
5622 "This is not a practical joke, Piro!"
5623 
5624 "Prove it. Walk me through the challenge and response."
5625 
5626 "Was there ever a God?" asked Piro, commencing the sequence.
5627 
5628 "Once. A long, long time ago," answered Thomas.
5629 
5630 They continued in this vein for some time, until Piro had satisfied
5631 himself that everything checked out. Once Thomas had successfully
5632 authenticated his identity, Piro allowed the conversation to continue.
5633 
5634 "Why me?" he finally asked, rubbing his eyes.
5635 
5636 Gravy Needs hovered around the corner. Piro was not aware that the
5637 King had called an early end to the holiday.
5638 
5639 This was fucking great.
5640 
5641 "Because we're twin brothers."
5642 
5643 "Tom, that's impossible. You're from two thousand years ago."
5644 
5645 "..."
5646 
5647 "Furthermore, we look nothing alike."
5648 
5649 "Not all twins are identical," said Thomas.
5650 
5651 "And not all floating heads tell the truth," said Piro.
5652 
5653 Stalemate.
5654 
5655 "MAKE WAY FOR KING SHIT!"
5656 
5657 Piro and Tom's brotherly reunion was interrupted by the return of the
5658 King. King Theodosius Shit Mold's entourage marched into the room,
5659 elbowing Piro away from the port hole. The flap closed and no one
5660 seemed to notice the floating head outside the window. Dexter Styles,
5661 the King's Chancellor, took up his usual position between the King and
5662 the rest of the group.
5663 
5664 "Let it hereafter be known that King Shit has returned to the
5665 station!" he declared.
5666 
5667 The King reclined on his portable throne, his leg dangling over an
5668 armrest.
5669 
5670 "Indulge me," said the King to Piro."Why did you stay behind?"
5671 
5672 "Your Highness," Piro bowed deeply,"My duties..."
5673 
5674 The King put up his hand, as if to punctuate Piro's excessive
5675 babbling."Eff that noise. From now on, I want you by my side at all
5676 times. I've grand designs on your future, Piotr."
5677 
5678 Piro bowed again.
5679 
5680 A low rumble issued from the port hole. The flap blew back and the
5681 makeshift throne room was once again flooded with pale, colorless
5682 light.
5683 
5684 "I wasn't finished," said Thomas Bright, Jr. through the port hole.
5685 
5686 King Shit leaned forward as if to affirm his interest in the present
5687 goings-on.
5688 
5689 "By all means, do carry on," smirked the King.
5690 
5691 Gravy Needs was delighted. He hadn't intended for the King to become
5692 involved. But now that he had, the hilarity could only increase.
5693 
5694 Gravy punched up the others on his forearm and quickly told them all
5695 the news. Stifled laughs echoed in the close chamber. Gravy blipped
5696 off and resumed his manipulations of the Court.
5697 
5698 "I'm here to retrieve my brother," continued Thomas."There's trouble
5699 back home, and he's needed to help smooth over the discontent."
5700 
5701 "Ah, I am empathetic to family problems," allowed the King.
5702 
5703 "This is more than just a family problem. There's also a weird anomaly
5704 that threatens to engulf the entire universe."
5705 
5706 "And only Piro can save us?" laughed the King, incredulously.
5707 
5708 "That's my position, yes," answered Thomas.
5709 
5710 The Court fell silent, waiting for the King to respond.
5711 
5712 Shit Mold could see that Thomas was going to stand firm on his
5713 position. Such gallantry touched him deeply, reminding him of comic
5714 book stories from his youth.
5715 
5716 "Very well then. It would amuse me to observe your adventures from
5717 remote. Piro! Pack up your monitoring kit. You're headed for the
5718 1980s!"
5719 
5720 Thomas bit his lip and slowly shook his head in affirmation of his
5721 victory.
5722 
5723 At last, his brother was returning to him. At last, the team would be
5724 whole.
5725 
5726 Together again for the first time.
5727 
5728 Piro climbed into his vehicle and switched on some soft music.
5729 Vangelis, as usual. Thomas' head appeared, floating above the
5730 passenger seat beside him. The two brothers traveled sans
5731 conversation, which was fine with Piro. He needed time to think.
5732 
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 effectively
5735 promoted to field work.
5736 
5737 I hate Ramadan, he thought.
5738 
5739 Moments after Piro engaged the ship's percept drive, the orbital
5740 station had begun to undergo a series of complex, unorthodox changes.
5741 As the transformations progressed, the station wobbled gradually in
5742 and out of sight. The station's engineers were befuddled by the day's
5743 events.
5744 
5745 Within an hour of the brothers' departure, the anomaly Thomas had
5746 described had expanded to absorb the station in its entirety. No one
5747 had expected it to expand so quickly. Least of all Piro.
5748 
5749 The King, from his vantage point atop the many phonebooks stacked
5750 beneath his posterior, had been blessed to see it all coming. Perched
5751 on his throne, he tittered and giggled at the symmetry between the
5752 waves of monochrome light on screen and the mountains of white powder
5753 piled on the table before him.
5754 
5755 There was so much white, everywhere.
5756 
5757 He sniffled as the station shuddered and faded from memory.
5758 
5759 `86
5760 
5761 tags: 1986, freeway_ricky_ross, piro, tab1, tab2
5762 
5763 Piro eased back on the throttle and the ship came to a stop.
5764 
5765 "All right," he said."We're here."
5766 
5767 Thomas eyed him.
5768 
5769 "Let's get started."
5770 
5771 Thomas' floating head flickered out of view and was replaced by a
5772 light rapping on the passenger side window. Piro depressed a switch on
5773 his console and the window slid down.
5774 
5775 "This way, my man," Thomas said, motioning with his thumb.
5776 
5777 "This is our guy on the inside. Handle: Freeway Ricky Ross. Real name:
5778 Rick."
5779 
5780 "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Rick."
5781 
5782 Ricky nodded.
5783 
5784 "We've been making a lot of progress. We did three hundred million
5785 last year in uncut bricks. But Ricky's got a line on some sweet
5786 chemistry and we've been able to step on these new shipments up to ten
5787 times before sending them out to the street. And it sells just as well
5788 as the raw."
5789 
5790 Piro made a low whistle, pretending he understood what Thomas was
5791 talking about.
5792 
5793 "The small-time dealers love it. Maximal return on a minimal
5794 investment."
5795 
5796 "I own five houses," said Ricky.
5797 
5798 "It's become an epidemic," complained Thomas, suddenly forlorn."In
5799 spite of our best efforts, Crack is still flooding our streets."
5800 
5801 "But­"
5802 
5803 Piro's face contorted in spite of himself. He couldn't quite make up
5804 his mind if Thomas was being sarcastic.
5805 
5806 He started again.
5807 
5808 "But you're the ones selling it!"
5809 
5810 "Not to worry. We fold all of the profits back into our war on drugs."
5811 
5812 Piro shook his head.
5813 
5814 "That makes no sense at all."
5815 
5816 "That's exactly why we need your help. There are still some kinks in
5817 the process that need to be ironed out. Something has got to be done
5818 about the spread of illegal drugs, and quickly. People are dying out
5819 there, Piotr."
5820 
5821 Freeway Ricky Ross leaned back against the hood of his Impala. He
5822 hated this part; waiting for Thomas to make his pitch to some new
5823 investor was more boring than going to church. He pulled out his
5824 briefcase and mulled over some past due paperwork. This new lawyer...
5825 No one could read his handwriting. Ricky snapped the briefcase shut
5826 and smoked a menthol cigarette. He suddenly noticed that someone had
5827 scuffed his Chuck Taylors.
5828 
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 to
5831 still be discussing the preliminaries even as their voices drifted
5832 within earshot.
5833 
5834 "Basically, I bought the Chrysler Building."
5835 
5836 "..."
5837 
5838 "Don't look at me like that. We needed the room."
5839 
5840 "You founded a super-hero team­funded by drug money­to fight drug
5841 dealers."
5842 
5843 "Among other things, yes."
5844 
5845 Piro could feel his eyes popping out of his head. Thomas was almost
5846 thirty years old. This kind of self-destructive behavior was
5847 inexcusable. But it was true, he had managed to amass some impressive
5848 resources. Piro stared off into the Los Angeles smog, weighing the
5849 situation.
5850 
5851 "Almost nothing about this appeals to me. All right, I'll make an
5852 exception for a few of your acquisitions. Did you know that the
5853 Chrysler Building is still standing in 4086? Owned by the Crown."
5854 
5855 "Huh. You don't say."
5856 
5857 "Actually, I operated out of the 61st floor for several years, myself,
5858 training new recruits."
5859 
5860 "Yeah, I remember that training. Dad really had a hard-on for your
5861 teaching methods. He always used to tell the rookies,'If you survive
5862 one of Piro's seminars, you're hired.' Seemed to think that was
5863 hilarious for some reason. Of course, years later I told him about
5864 your Blythe collection."
5865 
5866 Piro laughed."Who do you think got me started on the doll collecting,
5867 idiot."
5868 
5869 Thomas smiled at him warmly.
5870 
5871 Things were falling into place, just as he'd hoped.
5872 
5873 "Well Thomas, I'm a little perturbed that you've brought me back in
5874 time under false pretenses. Crack cocaine is hardly set to swallow the
5875 known universe. But now that I'm here... Well, what the hell. I can
5876 see that you've got yourself a heaping full plate. You're going to
5877 need all the help you can get dealing with this problem you've
5878 unleashed on the inner city. It probably wasn't such a bad idea for
5879 you to get me involved."
5880 
5881 "I'm sure dad would agree."
5882 
5883 "Please, tell me he doesn't know anything about your drug dealing,"
5884 admonished Piro.
5885 
5886 "Relax," said Ricky, flicking his cigarette over the hood of the
5887 Impala."He's in Japan."
5888 
5889 "The man has full-clearance access to the mesh, Rick." Piro made a
5890 face at him, emphasizing the obvious conclusion."If he hasn't already
5891 involved himself in this scheme it probably just means you haven't
5892 been paying close enough attention to the books."
5893 
5894 "I resent that," said Ricky."We've spent a lot of money on
5895 accountants."
5896 
5897 New York.
5898 
5899 The Chrysler Building.
5900 
5901 It felt strange to once again be standing on the 61st floor
5902 observation deck. Piro tilted his head so that his bangs partially
5903 shielded him from the setting sun. He pondered the circumstances which
5904 had led up to this present eventuality.
5905 
5906 Thomas had fallen asleep in his apartment downstairs. Freeway Ricky
5907 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 to
5909 claim most of the 61st floor for himself. Just like old times. In
5910 point of fact, some of his old gear from the 1960s was still locked up
5911 in the building's armory.
5912 
5913 As Piro's gaze drifted across the city below, he wondered if Thomas
5914 was aware that he had burned up the remainder of his fuel in the
5915 process of getting them back to 1986. As a result, the RAGNAROK was
5916 parked indefinitely within the present temporal frame. Its percept
5917 drive had run clean out of new perspectives. Face it, there was
5918 nothing new to be learned from the past.
5919 
5920 No matter. It was true there was a lot of work to be done, here, in
5921 1986. It could hardly matter if Thomas had deliberately deceived him.
5922 Petty manipulations were not at the forefront of his mind. In any
5923 case, it would make little sense for Piro to complain about being lied
5924 to at this late stage in the game.
5925 
5926 So, his plans would change.
5927 
5928 He willed himself to narrow his focus, concentrating, with some
5929 effort, solely on the mission at hand. Stopping the crack cocaine
5930 epidemic before it destroyed the country, if not the entire world.
5931 
5932 Piro checked the logins on his weapons and unlatched his backpack. He
5933 withdrew the necessary equipment and prepared to launch himself over
5934 the wall of the observation deck. Before he new it, he was once again
5935 repelling down the side of the Chrysler Building. This familiar action
5936 pleased him, and he accelerated with deliberate speed.
5937 
5938 The fading sun reflected at right angles against the skyscraper's face
5939 as Piro descended its smooth, featureless surface, pacing himself to
5940 the rhythm of the city.
5941 
5942 Down, down, down.
5943 
5944 PIECES OF FILTH
5945 
5946 tags: 1886, haus_mold, jerrymander_mold
5947 
5948 Haus was down. Jerrymander sank backwards into the wagon and hugged
5949 his satchel. The Mold family backups.
5950 
5951 More shots rang out from the top of the canyon. A gurgle came out of
5952 Haus. He would be useless for at least another hour.
5953 
5954 The Secret Service detail had vanished into the brush.
5955 
5956 These fools worshiped a blank sheet of paper. Any blank sheet of
5957 paper. Considered them sacred. That's why they didn't like it when you
5958 filled them with words.
5959 
5960 And Jerrymander Mold had gotten an awful lot of ink. According to the
5961 Blanks (as they were known), excess quantities of pulp were spoiled
5962 disseminating the tales of his exploits. Naturally, such tended to
5963 happen when you were the President of the United States, but the
5964 Blanks refused to abide the extraordinary circumstances. The simple
5965 inevitability of the press' fascination with power was considered, by
5966 their stubborn, peculiar order, to be no excuse. They declared
5967 Jerrymander responsible for the destruction of the 25 lb., white bond
5968 industry. The market had proven incapable of fulfilling wartime
5969 demand. Therefore, President Mold, as the dominant public figure of
5970 the war, was obviously to blame for the industry's collapse.
5971 
5972 Haus had uncovered only minimal data on their rituals, but it had been
5973 enough to put the fear of the Green into Jerrymander. By his
5974 reckoning, they indulged in blatantly inhumane practices. And now they
5975 had tracked him into the canyon.
5976 
5977 Echoes of movement had been detected nearby. Or so Jerrymander
5978 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.
5981 
5982 Ten minutes elapsed with no further shots fired. Jerrymander assumed
5983 the Blanks had moved on, but he declined to relax his grip on the
5984 satchel.
5985 
5986 By any means necessary, the backups must be preserved.
5987 
5988 Two hours elapsed. Jerrymander pulled out a blank sheet of paper and
5989 investigated it in the failing sunlight. It looked normal enough to
5990 him. He felt no particular spiritual stirring. Of course, the nature
5991 of his mechanical body guaranteed that this would be the case. He
5992 found himself absent the necessary hardware to affect faith, even if
5993 his ghost had been willing. The virgin rectangle of white paper looked
5994 very much to him like a virgin rectangle of white paper. It lay spread
5995 out on his hand, motionless and lacking in semantic content. He turned
5996 it over and examined it at different angles, but could only derive
5997 this same, dispassionate reading.
5998 
5999 Haus started awake with a gasp. He spit blood on the floor of the
6000 wagon, all the while cursing the name of the Green.
6001 
6002 "These people are truly trying my patience," he remarked, bitterly.
6003 
6004 "I know what you mean. First they elect me, and then they want to kill
6005 me just because I find it insensible to worship reams of tractor-feed
6006 printer paper."
6007 
6008 "It's amazing they've tolerated you for so long."
6009 
6010 Jerrymander threw up his hands."They're a guerrilla force. The Federal
6011 government is fat and slow. Furthermore, the recalcitrant aesthetic
6012 appeals to the mainstream. These are not the ingredients of an
6013 Administration victory."
6014 
6015 The horses were tired. Haus decided that the wagon could afford to
6016 stay put until morning, even in its disadvantaged position. He'd
6017 finally gotten the shields up and running. At first light he'd try to
6018 track down the awol SS men, while Jerrymander made a beeline for the
6019 Continuity of Government bunker thirty miles to the north. The
6020 President would be safe there, provided he didn't run into any more
6021 Blanks along the way.
6022 
6023 They divided the backups between themselves according to family
6024 protocol. Haus carefully punched out duplicates of everything they
6025 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 copy
6027 would survive. If both of them were captured or killed, the
6028 preservation of the archive would be irrelevant anyway. They were the
6029 only remaining Molds left alive, and it took a living Mold to resume a
6030 saved state.
6031 
6032 Haus realized then that the Molds were the precise antithesis of
6033 everything the Blanks stood for.
6034 
6035 All the more reason to survive.
6036 
6037 Jerrymander dreamed of white squares in space. He conceived them
6038 almost as overlapping pixels, multiplying until they blotted out the
6039 stars and planets. In his dream, he observed the total heat death of
6040 the universe, presented as a linear narrative spanning the spectrum
6041 from red shift to blue shift. Near the end, the white squares took on
6042 a pale, greenish hue.
6043 
6044 He fancied he could make out some meaningful pattern in the mesh of
6045 interlocking pixels. The whole enterprise brought to mind Penrose
6046 tiles. He felt that there must be some significance to the display
6047 that he couldn't quite grasp. Even in his dream he was frustrated that
6048 the solution seemed to languish just out of reach.
6049 
6050 Jerrymander awoke with a crick in his neck. He ran some diagnostics
6051 and adjusted the latches of his spine, but this action only minimally
6052 reduced his discomfort. He realized then that he felt cold and reached
6053 for his jacket. He could definitely do with better weather. The skin
6054 on his knuckles was starting to crack.
6055 
6056 Haus had set off without waking him. It was just as well that they
6057 split up early in the day. Jerrymander checked his rifles and made
6058 sure his internal GPS was functioning as expected. Presently, he
6059 yanked on the reigns. The horses roused groggily to cruise velocity.
6060 
6061 As the wagon drug forward, each horse evacuated its bowels, one after
6062 the other, in an alternating pattern of green and brown.
6063 
6064 The dust of the trail caught in Jerrymander's teeth. His grimace felt
6065 permanent, fixed in place.
6066 
6067 He was embarrassed to admit that the smell of the horses bothered him.
6068 
6069 DESCENT OF MIND
6070 
6071 tags: 1985, albert_lunsford, ian_kenny, saito
6072 
6073  Saito:
6074 
6075  I write to you with news of Albert's worsening condition. One
6076  moment he is digressing about Kant and the next he has picked
6077  up a kitchen appliance and is bashing himself in the face. I
6078  am increasingly frightened that he will do irreparable damage
6079  to himself. When I'm not around, he calls me almost every
6080  day. But I cannot answer his calls anymore­not for any lack
6081  of sympathy, understand, but for time. After five minutes he
6082  forgets he's called and tries to call again. This can go on
6083  for hours. I think it matters very little whether I answer or
6084  not, as he won't remember either way. In spite of my fears
6085  for his safety, I really don't think my presence or my words
6086  mitigate the danger. When I do answer, speaking to him
6087  meaningfully is an occluded impossibility, as he rarely
6088  understands what I'm trying to say. He seems to be losing
6089  comprehension of even simple language. I now manage his
6090  percept from remote with an automated script. The program
6091  runs continuously, even when I am otherwise preoccupied. I
6092  check the log messages most mornings. I still visit him once
6093  a week and help him arrange his grocery deliveries,
6094  medications, and so on. He is no longer capable of caring for
6095  himself in essential matters. I have to put his hand on the
6096  pressure screen at the appropriate times. His notebooks have
6097  degenerated, devolved over time into page upon page of
6098  scratches, really nothing more than dots and dashes. I don't
6099  believe he is writing in Morse code. He doesn't even attempt
6100  to draw anymore. The systems in his apartment could take care
6101  of all his basic needs, but I am reluctant to cut off contact
6102  on account of his obvious loneliness. He has begun to confuse
6103  me with members of his family who are long dead. My
6104  understanding is that your work has taken a turn towards
6105  success, as of late, and that the advances you are making
6106  every day may be of some benefit to Albert. Things used make
6107  sense to him, Saito. To us. In spite of our earlier
6108  discussion on these matters, I must appeal to you yet again to
6109  reconsider your blunt rejection of his case. Surely you have
6110  some leeway in who you treat. Won't you please try to help
6111  him, if you are able. I implore you, Saito.
6112 
6113  Ian Kenny
6114 
6115 
6116 END BOOK TWO
6117 
6118 BOOK THREE
6119 
6120 NANA.TECH
6121 
6122 tags: 1928, nana_mold, plinth_mold
6123 
6124 Diagoro relaxed his stance only a little as Grandma hobbled over to
6125 the cupboard. By the Orb on the kitchen counter, he could see that
6126 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 her
6131 slippers, returning to the cupboard as the black tide line in each
6132 porcelain vessel miscegenated with 2% milk.
6133 
6134 "There's really not time for this, Nana," Diagoro breathed thickly.
6135 
6136 "You just close your ill-filtering little mouth. You'll eat this and
6137 you'll like it. And then we can go and put down your little foreign
6138 barbarian whore or whoever it is this time and I'll wear a smile for
6139 you then."
6140 
6141 Grandma pressed brittle hands into her apron, smearing grease from her
6142 tools onto the linen. She snapped closed the aluminum case of her
6143 rifle. After tonight she would tell Diagoro, like so many before him,
6144 that he was a Mold.
6145 
6146 For now, she simply said:
6147 
6148 "I'm going to shoot this bitch myself."
6149 
6150 STARTING THEM YOUNG
6151 
6152 tags: 1935, nana_mold, plinth_mold
6153 
6154 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 or
6156 three or four hours that I'll be trapped in this room, lying on my
6157 pallet, dreaming without sleep about every possible other thing I
6158 could be doing with my time. I don't know why she locks me in here.
6159 
6160 Granny is not really my grandmother. But that does not keep her from
6161 closing me up into the spare bedroom after lunch, leaving me there
6162 until shortly before my parents arrive to take me home. What am I
6163 meant to be doing, during all of this time? Granny has not been
6164 forthcoming on the subject.
6165 
6166 Today's focus is a new assortment of military adventure toys.
6167 Specifically, the pre-visualization of a flying machine whose swept
6168 wings must be made to contract upon the release of a certain switch­I
6169 presume to be located somewhere along the aircraft's aft fuselage. I'm
6170 having a bit of trouble figuring out precisely how the wing mechanism
6171 will work. Something to do with strings or wires of some sort, all
6172 obfuscated from the child/operator. The picture is as yet fuzzy...
6173 
6174 Also up for review is a full-size, realistic combat uniform, infused
6175 with what I will for marketing purposes refer to as"the scent of
6176 battle." These two ideas should tide me over until the big door
6177 unlocks, clicks open at around four o'clock. If I concentrate upon
6178 this pair of images intently enough, conceive of them in great enough
6179 detail, covering every possible feature, I am convinced­no, I am
6180 certain ­that they will have materialized in my bedroom closet by the
6181 time I get home. It is not clear why I choose to believe in this
6182 notion, but I confess that I do. I suppose such activity amuses me.
6183 Consider my age.
6184 
6185 First then, the aircraft.
6186 
6187 "Dad is insatiable screwing his daughter," a voice states, aloud,
6188 sounding quite desperate to be heard. It is only mildly distracting as
6189 I am quite used to this sort of thing by now. I shrug vaguely without
6190 losing my train of thought. Laughable, really, these attempts at
6191 derailing my creative process.
6192 
6193 "Japanese teen showing her hairy pussy," the voice continues. I have
6194 no trouble ignoring the outburst, and so carry on with my daydreaming
6195 as if no auditory phenomena were taking place. All is calm.
6196 
6197 "Homeless guy wearing a brand new 8-ball jacket."
6198 
6199 That, I'm sorry to admit, tears it. I have finally had enough. I
6200 straighten myself and reply:
6201 
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?"
6204 
6205 I have prepared myself for a dramatic pause, but the voices promptly
6206 dissolve into a perfect silence. Indeed, one could almost be lulled
6207 into sleep in this quiet. Would that all of my projects could be
6208 undertaken in such sublime stillness. I'm quite certain that the
6209 balance of my output would yield a sharp increase in quality.
6210 
6211 "Now," I think to myself,"Let's get back to work."
6212 
6213 Before long, the voices are at it again.
6214 
6215 "Innocent Gays getting modernistic IT anally."
6216 
6217 This time, I don't even dignify the disruption with a response. Why do
6218 they bother? I'm simply not interested.
6219 
6220 And yet, I have to admit that the voices have once again succeeded in
6221 distracting my attention. Remarkable, these recent advances in advert
6222 technology.
6223 
6224 Granny knocks gently as she enters, clutching a packet of my
6225 medications. She casts a knowing look as she unscrews the bottles,
6226 sorting the myriad variety of colored pellets into the concave
6227 depressions of her tray. Her eyes caress me with warm approval as I
6228 accept the arrangement of doses and commence popping pills.
6229 
6230 "You were diddling yourself in here again, weren't you, Plinth."
6231 
6232 "No," I say."You're hearing things, old woman."
6233 
6234 I think she is smiling at me but it's difficult to tell because she is
6235 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 it
6237 merely the untreated cracking of leather?
6238 
6239 I assume she was joking, that she didn't actually see me with my hands
6240 in my pants.
6241 
6242 There. Now I am certain she is smiling. This is preposterous. As if I
6243 needed more variables to consider.
6244 
6245 I am tired. Much too tired to continue.
6246 
6247 Where are my parents?
6248 
6249 That's all for today, Diary. EOF
6250 
6251 AWAKENING THE SELF
6252 
6253 tags: 1944, plinth_mold
6254 
6255 If there is a test, chances are he will pass. But he is never quite
6256 sure if he really understands the answers, or if he has merely derived
6257 them from some calculus of the movement of language. Has communication
6258 truly taken place? And if so, how does he know that he knows? This
6259 problem of knowledge goes deeper for him (he suspects) than for any of
6260 the other boys; he is certain that the others are secure both in their
6261 answers and in the thoughts which (he is also certain) inform them.
6262 Much unlike himself, unfortunately. What good is the right answer if
6263 it still doesn't make any sense?
6264 
6265 He is provided a worksheet. On it are inscribed a series of symbols he
6266 does not understand. Above the symbols are situated photographs of the
6267 room he has just vacated. He studies the paper and notices that, in
6268 one of the photos, a mesh transceiver has been placed behind the
6269 couch. The angle of the photograph is such that the placement of the
6270 transceiver is clearly intended to be noticed. But what is the
6271 transceiver for? That information is not provided. He begins to wonder
6272 if, perhaps, there is some other, more salient detail of the photo
6273 that he is missing. What is it he is meant to be looking for? Perhaps
6274 the mesh equipment is not the item of greatest importance. He scans
6275 the paper again but notices nothing new.
6276 
6277 The other children have all been issued this same sheet of paper. Most
6278 of them are dumbfounded. Discarding their worksheets, the children
6279 proceed to enact a miniature, organized conflict. They count off into
6280 strike teams, execute insurgencies, repel counter-insurgencies, invade
6281 and defend arbitrarily defined territories within the room's finite
6282 perimeter. It is clear to Plinth that they have all but forgotten the
6283 problem on the worksheet. Had the exercise confounded them all the
6284 same way? Each of the boys, including Plinth himself, have only just
6285 turned sixteen. So, some unfamiliarity with printed matter is to be
6286 expected. But still, Plinth wonders, What are these boys seeing when
6287 they look at the photographs? Indeed, what am I missing?
6288 
6289 At the one hour marker the children are led back into the waiting
6290 room. Further instructions are not provided.
6291 
6292 The children begin to bicker. It is apparent now that the waiting room
6293 has been stripped of standard entertainments. Plinth waits until two
6294 quarrelers obscure the main surveillance camera (thinly disguised as
6295 an inoperable telescreen) and ducks quickly behind the couch. Seconds
6296 later, he pops back up and feigns participation in the complaining. A
6297 noticeable bulge now deforms the left-front pocket of his trousers.
6298 Upon close observation his sudden sociability is less than convincing.
6299 
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 trinkets
6302 are of the exact type the boys had been clamoring for, only moments
6303 before. Carefully, he retreats into a corner, near an air vent, and
6304 divests his pocket of the purloined contraband. The cool, manufactured
6305 air of the building's circulation system envelopes his hands and face
6306 as he crouches above the illicit cargo, squinting at the various
6307 inscriptions etched into the reverse-side of each item.
6308 
6309 Between the legs of a chair, Plinth spies two pairs of wingtip shoes.
6310 
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 he
6313 manages to gather up his collection of stolen materials. He is
6314 deposited onto a table top, where two uniformed men inspect him
6315 thoroughly. Their commentary adopts the distinct air of suspicious,
6316 yet enthusiastic interest.
6317 
6318 The doctor with the big hands is the first to address him directly.
6319 
6320 "One of your pockets looks rather larger than the other one, Plinth."
6321 
6322 "Yes," the second man joins in,"The way they're making trousers these
6323 days, it's a wonder you can even maintain your balance when you try to
6324 walk."
6325 
6326 Plinth:"Born this way, actually. My gait is lopsided."
6327 
6328 "More likely, his pants are sagging from the weight of several power
6329 cells taken from a mesh transceiver," the smaller doctor remarks to
6330 his colleague.
6331 
6332 "For my leaf," Plinth offers, halfheartedly.
6333 
6334 "You can read?" both of them say in unison. Now they take turns
6335 shaking their heads, greatly amused for some reason.
6336 
6337 "Duh, jackasses," Plinth says, rolling his eyes."I'm not a little
6338 kid."
6339 
6340 Plinth is once again removed from the waiting room.
6341 
6342 Presently, Plinth is being lectured, prepared for his circumcision.
6343 Before he can be cut, he must first be made to understand.
6344 
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 comes
6347 next. He has also finally deduced the purpose of today's exercise in
6348 the waiting room; he is astonished at the transparent nature of the
6349 deception. Even more astonishing is the fact that he fell for the ruse
6350 on the first try. Doubtless, Grandma was somehow involved.
6351 
6352 As it happens, he is the only child to have qualified for circumcision
6353 today. At sixteen years of age, most males have yet to develop the
6354 abstract thinking skills required to perform such feats as, say,
6355 comprehending the relationship between his environment and the funny
6356 squiggles and marks that constitute a topographical map. By revealing
6357 that he knows how to read, Plinth has demonstrated that not only does
6358 he grasp the basic concepts of symbolic representation, but that he
6359 may also comprehend more abstract relationships which may or may not
6360 yield a 1:1 correspondence to empirical reality. This is quite unusual
6361 for someone so young. According to the more experienced doctors, there
6362 is a precedent for the situation: Plinth will simply be allowed to
6363 skip ahead to a higher grade level.
6364 
6365 Naturally, Plinth is concerned about the costs this may incur.
6366 
6367 "How can I convince them that my brain is damaged," he thinks to
6368 himself.
6369 
6370 He shoves his hand into his trousers and squeezes out a length of
6371 fecal matter. Without hesitation, he chews the curl of feces
6372 vigorously into his mouth. Swallows.
6373 
6374 Much to his dismay, the gambit is unsuccessful.
6375 
6376 The Mold awareness slowly seeps back into Plinth's consciousness. At
6377 first he is beside himself; these men have just mutilated his stick.
6378 Then he recalls the purpose of the ritual. Presently, he recalls his
6379 past life as Haus Mold. He knows now what he must do next.
6380 
6381 Plinth waves the doctors aside and inspects his personal effects,
6382 ensuring that everything remains as he left it, nearly two decades in
6383 his past. Satisfied, he withdraws a small electronic device and
6384 activates its primary function, instantly transmuting all organic life
6385 in the room into dust.
6386 
6387 Deactivating the device and donning his eye-patch, Plinth hops off of
6388 the examination table and begins to search for an exit.
6389 
6390 There is much work to be done.
6391 
6392 IT'S ALL POLITICS
6393 
6394 tags: 1965, plinth_mold, potus, tab1, the_chief
6395 
6396 "What do you mean he'runs plastics?'" the Chief snarled,
6397 incredulously.
6398 
6399 "Just that. There's no record of him after 1928, and then all of a
6400 sudden this falls into my lap. Somehow, he's taken control of half the
6401 toy manufacturing in America."
6402 
6403 Thomas Bright, Sr. adjusted his cap.
6404 
6405 "And you're sure it's the same guy?" asked the Chief.
6406 
6407 "Proof's in the paperwork. Same investment patterns."
6408 
6409 "But technically it's a different name."
6410 
6411 "They're all Molds though, aren't they."
6412 
6413 "True that."
6414 
6415 Plinth Mold settled into his recliner, his reading glasses perched on
6416 the end of his nose. Not much in the paper.
6417 
6418 Maude. Oh, Maude.
6419 
6420 Of course, this wasn't really his Maude. Generations had passed. Their
6421 children had spawned children of their own. This girl... Was probably
6422 his great great granddaughter.
6423 
6424 No matter, the Molds had always kept it in the family.
6425 
6426 Plinth Mold hadn't made love since 1888.
6427 
6428 He lit his pipe.
6429 
6430 Thomas Bright, Jr. played with his toys. Frequently, he would inspect
6431 the intellectual property information inscribed upon the buttocks of
6432 his action figures. He had noticed early on that all of his toys
6433 seemed to be manufactured by the same company.
6434 
6435 He figured his dad had purchased them in bulk. The cheap bastard.
6436 
6437 Thomas threw back the flap of his tepee and climbed out. The cold air
6438 burned his lungs, going down. He fumbled in his pocket for a
6439 cigarette.
6440 
6441 "Violet!" he yelled, carelessly."When's dad coming home?"
6442 
6443 "Never!" Violet called back.
6444 
6445 Thomas flicked his cigarette into the open flap of Violet's tent and
6446 wandered off towards the creek, where he could urinate in peace.
6447 
6448 An alarm sounded on the Chief's desk. He scanned the incoming message
6449 and reacted instantaneously, barking commands into his commlink even
6450 before he had fully depressed the trigger.
6451 
6452 "Dispatching a cappella teams to the scene," he shouted into the
6453 aether.
6454 
6455 Thomas Bright, Sr. stared out of the big the window while the Chief
6456 worked. He knew that their discussion had ended, for the time being,
6457 on account of the incoming message. Still, the situation with the
6458 Molds would have to be addressed, sooner or later.
6459 
6460 "I'm sorry, Tom, we're going to have to postpone this until tomorrow
6461 morning. The President seems to think that current developments within
6462 Project: BLUEBIRD should take precedence over our investigation into
6463 the Mold situation."
6464 
6465 Thomas smiled on the inside. The Chief's sarcasm in the face of
6466 absolute authority delighted his sense of rebellious individuality.
6467 Naturally, he would never reveal such degeneracy to his superior.
6468 
6469 "I understand, sir. It's all politics."
6470 
6471 The Chief listened to his earpiece for a moment and then glanced over
6472 at Thomas and mimed jerking off with his hand.
6473 
6474 Thomas nodded and showed himself out of the room.
6475 
6476 TRADE
6477 
6478 tags: 1960, margaret, tab1, tab2, the_chief
6479 
6480 The men in the street shifted uncomfortably as Thomas threaded between
6481 them, calling out user IDs and lot numbers as he went. Many were
6482 unaccustomed to such face-to-face business dealings, and they bristled
6483 at the close contact.
6484 
6485 In point of fact, the vocal identification and interplay wasn't
6486 strictly necessary­the visor was picking out each recipient quite
6487 efficiently, on its own­but Thomas liked to talk to people. As he made
6488 eye contact with each man, he pushed a box into their hands and made a
6489 point of thanking them for their patronage. Thomas believed that the
6490 human touch created a connection between himself and his clients. For
6491 their part, the men in the street were mostly irritated by his
6492 forthright manner. They would not have left their apartments in the
6493 first place if home delivery had been within their means.
6494 
6495 Indeed, the men stood crammed into an ever lengthening line along one
6496 side of the street. Most had squatted down on the curb to inspect
6497 their bid tickets, or in some cases, their parcels. Each figure was a
6498 solemn portrait in charcoal, crouched in wool jacket and trousers,
6499 gazing fixedly over his clutch of papers. Every so often, the gritting
6500 of teeth could be heard above the din as someone discovered that he
6501 would not be the next to take delivery of his winnings. For most in
6502 the line, this day's auction had been a final, go-for-broke grasp at
6503 obtaining a user account on the old pressure screen grid. Securing an
6504 account meant the guarantee of employment. Recently, a blanket freeze
6505 had been declared. No more new accounts would be created before the
6506 end of the year. This unexpected policy was instituted uniformly
6507 across all nodes, effective immediately.
6508 
6509 Thomas ignored his visor's display and ran the figures in his head as
6510 he negotiated the sorry gallery of drooping faces. At two hundred
6511 thousand dollars per, his deliveries were netting an even million on a
6512 good day. This was not to mention the substantial commissions he would
6513 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. Each
6515 infusion of cash compounded with his previous earnings, snowballing
6516 out of all rational control. It occurred to him at times that a like
6517 substance tended to flow from itself; the small investment that had
6518 gotten him started (thank you, Father), wed to the ingenuity he
6519 employed at multiplying its volume, spread, fractal as the branches of
6520 a tree into an incomprehensibly vast canopy of zeroes. Even so, he
6521 recalled that it had been his own insight, quite apart from the fact
6522 of his tools, that had proven instrumental in setting the whole
6523 process in motion. From one seed, eternity. But the poetry of
6524 abiogenesis was a myth. The flow could not proceed from a rock. The
6525 rock must first be cracked in two.
6526 
6527 Thomas considered the sorry status of his customers. Was the
6528 competence of others truly so discouraging, such a disheartening
6529 exhibition as to obliterate one's own will to succeed? Or were these
6530 men simply too lazy to break open their respective rocks?
6531 
6532 Thomas could see no profit in answering the question.
6533 
6534 Thomas drifted towards a random squatter and tossed a five thousand
6535 dollar chip into his can. He corrected himself at once, retrieving the
6536 chip to wipe its memory. After a few seconds erasing, Thomas tossed it
6537 back into the squatter's lap. The unfortunate man, who had obviously
6538 not won any auctions that day, did not look up from his leather-bound
6539 copy of DIANETICS.
6540 
6541 Comfort yourself as you're able, Thomas thought to himself.
6542 
6543 Sensing his presence, the book spun up its standard solicitation.
6544 
6545 "I just took a shit the size of a baby's arm," it read aloud.
6546 
6547 Disabused of his altruism, Thomas returned to his work.
6548 
6549 By now, then, the men to Thomas' left had all taken on a greenish
6550 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 by
6553 one, they melted to light green as he placed a package into each of
6554 their hands. Occasionally, Thomas would produce a handkerchief from
6555 his pocket and wipe the fog away from the inside of his visor.
6556 
6557 The weather crawl indicated that the ambient temperature of the
6558 alleyway had reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Uncomfortable, to be sure,
6559 but not yet a cause for alarm.
6560 
6561 Once the sidewalk had melted into a carpet of soft green, Thomas
6562 locked down his cart and pedaled away on his bike. Almost immediately
6563 he was flagged by a bright orange man who had lately begun to sputter
6564 and spurt various curses from his seat on the curb. Amused but mindful
6565 of the orange glow, Thomas put down the kickstand on his bike and
6566 removed his gloves.
6567 
6568 The man on the curb explained to Thomas that his delivery had arrived
6569 in unsatisfactory condition. While the outer surfaces of the parcel
6570 appeared to be intact, upon opening the box the man had found nothing
6571 but charred, broken fragments and a handful of dust. (This, Thomas
6572 surmised, derived from the explosion of the device's power source
6573 whilst in transit.) A scent reminiscent of mashed potatoes wafted
6574 itself into Thomas' nostrils.
6575 
6576 The man had worked himself into an unfriendly humor. He demanded an
6577 immediate replacement for the item, and/or the immediate refund of the
6578 full bid amount into his account. As Thomas looked on, the man
6579 proceeded to type a complaint into his leaf, which shortly caused his
6580 tint to shift from orange to bright yellow. Simultaneously, a soft
6581 tone chimed in Thomas' ear.
6582 
6583 Thomas considered the situation. When the customer had submitted his
6584 complaint, a hold would have been placed upon Thomas' account for a
6585 corresponding price of the item (minus auction fees, etc.), pending
6586 the satisfactory resolution of the buyer dispute. The onus had now
6587 shifted to Thomas to provide a valid serial number and delivery
6588 confirmation for the replacement item, or to agree to a full refund.
6589 He immediately recognized that, due to the hold placed upon his
6590 account, his balance was no longer sufficient to secure a replacement
6591 item. Much less pay for overnight shipping. A refund, of course, would
6592 be out of the question, by dint of the clearly stated terms of his
6593 boilerplate delivery contract.
6594 
6595 Thomas judged the dispute irreconcilable. All for the sake of a used
6596 piece of collectible pregnancy armor. The absurdity of the conundrum
6597 put him in mind of paper currency. He mulled over suggesting a
6598 historical working. Small, rectangular pieces of paper could be
6599 collected into an animal leather pouch, then transmitted
6600 surreptitiously via occult arm/hand gestures. Traditionally, the
6601 procedure had been known put a disgruntled customer's mind at ease.
6602 But the notion was laughable. Juvenile. A valid debt could not be
6603 satisfied with trinkets and scraps of paper. He wiped the condensation
6604 from his visor and likewise sharpened his mental focus. Time to get
6605 serious.
6606 
6607 Thomas examined his surroundings in the alley. He glanced from side to
6608 side, then moved his eyes onto his chronometer and noticed that a
6609 considerable amount of time had elapsed since he had pulled over his
6610 bike to commiserate with his complaining customer. The two men now
6611 stood completely alone at the curb. The street had cleared of punters.
6612 
6613 The unhappy customer's expression registered extreme dissatisfaction,
6614 no doubt exacerbated by the evening's steadily steepening thermal
6615 incline.
6616 
6617 Thomas considered how difficult it would be to setup a new delivery
6618 account, to find another corner to service, to arrange the dispersal
6619 of hundreds of thousands of dollars for yet another intermediary
6620 service to accredit is account. He then resumed his customer's tightly
6621 focused, accusatory stare. It was true the man could almost be said to
6622 look pregnant. The customer continued to grimace from behind his
6623 parcel's charred, blackened box flaps.
6624 
6625 Maybe he had needed that armor for something more important than
6626 simply completing a collection.
6627 
6628 Without warning, Thomas suddenly snatched the ruined box from the
6629 man's hands and hurled it to the ground. He punched the man in the jaw
6630 and then mounted his bike, adjusted his visor for night vision, and
6631 pedaled away at top speed. As he had feared, the ambient temperature
6632 was rapidly approaching dangerous levels.
6633 
6634 Thomas realized, after he had pedaled some distance down the road,
6635 that he had dropped his login chit.
6636 
6637 The man on the curb wobbled uncertainly. He touched his hand to his
6638 face several times, confirming the integrity of his jaw line. He then
6639 stooped to retrieve Thomas' chit.
6640 
6641 Thomas observed his customer's activity from a safe distance. He felt
6642 some disappointment at the loss of his credentials, but he was glad to
6643 see that his customer had survived the transaction. In any case, his
6644 account was irretrievably lost. He would have to register all over
6645 again in the new year.
6646 
6647 Thomas leaned into a tight, right turn and accelerated rapidly towards
6648 home.
6649 
6650 On balance, he concluded that he could afford to laugh. His customer
6651 was in for a surprise, if ever he attempted to join the ranks of
6652 freelance sellers. In today's economy, selling was not nearly as easy
6653 as buying. Honest work had proven to yield diminishing returns.
6654 
6655 Thomas recognized in himself the stirrings of a terminal pessimism.
6656 
6657 He considered returning to school. Exchanging one set of circumstances
6658 for another of equal or lesser value.
6659 
6660 But he could not admit defeat. Not at twelve years of age.
6661 
6662 He had to make a go of this.
6663 
6664 Thomas calculated the remainder of his savings and selected a blank
6665 sheet of paper from his binder.
6666 
6667 NEW SENTENCES
6668 
6669 tags: 1982, 1986, tab1, tab2, the_chief
6670 
6671  Eyes burnt out. Almost awake. Vanishing act. Breathing
6672  late. Ringing sound. Mild discomfort. Feels like I'm
6673  wearing a restroom napkin. Tuning three stations at once in
6674  my left ear. The other is numb. Everything is back and
6675  forth. Fluorescents blink and convince me otherwise. Smooth,
6676  cold and dusty in places. Smell is shrink wrap with rubbing
6677  alcohol, but worse. Now questions. Tight grip turns to
6678  shaking. White noise. Corner of a desk in my eye, hard, but
6679  it just feels like it. Smudged ghosts huddling to warm up.
6680  Plastic bindings. Spittle smears my cheek. Sound of pliers
6681  and car keys. Something warmer than dish water. Cut with a
6682  razor. Tied. Comforting, now. Soft cotton blankets.
6683  Lukewarm relax. Taking off the restroom napkins. Softer
6684  sheets beneath me. Dermal abrasion. Folded towel on my
6685  forehead. More tying. A small pricking. Indistinct
6686  murmuring in my ear and then more shouting. I'm drifting.
6687  Quieter voices. Mother is not holding me.
6688 
6689 
6690 "Sounds like the diary of a heroin addict," said the Chief.
6691 
6692 I laughed.
6693 
6694 "Surprising lucidity. My boy is a born writer. I doubt I'd be coherent
6695 enough to recount the experience."
6696 
6697 "Yeah, I've tried to read your reports."
6698 
6699 We had needed a willing guinea pig.
6700 
6701 The lawyers wouldn't even consider writing up our memo unless one of
6702 us was willing to undergo the procedure, to prove it was safe.
6703 
6704 I suggested we get new lawyers. That got some laughs.
6705 
6706 Then I suggested Tommy.
6707 
6708 "But will he do it?" the Chief had asked.
6709 
6710 "You'd better believe it," I assured him.
6711 
6712 Of course, it wasn't quite so simple. I hadn't even spoken to the boy
6713 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.
6716 
6717 He just wouldn't cooperate. Even after my men identified themselves as
6718 Federal agents. Which they never, ever do. (I had given them some
6719 leeway to bend the rules. After all, this was my son we were talking
6720 about.)
6721 
6722 We got him out of there. And still he would not submit.
6723 
6724 I was exasperated.
6725 
6726 I authorized additional force just because he had made me so damned
6727 angry.
6728 
6729 Possibly, I should have told him it was me. But that would have
6730 tainted the experiment. The results would have been declared invalid.
6731 The whole operation would have been worse than useless.
6732 
6733 I had had to proceed under a cloak of anonymity.
6734 
6735 I hadn't anticipated that he would figure it out so quickly.
6736 
6737 After he was released, I received an e-mail from him. Short, but it
6738 was him. Seems he regretted having gone through the experience. Asked
6739 me not to contact him again. Ever. It wasn't signed (in fact, it
6740 arrived as a message sent from my own account). But I know for a fact
6741 it was him.
6742 
6743 Shouldn't have been such a big deal.
6744 
6745 He had been through the training. He was qualified. Obligated, even.
6746 
6747 But of course, he had had a complaint.
6748 
6749 He always was a complainer.
6750 
6751 1986.
6752 
6753 Woke up this morning. Got a call from Piro. What's he doing back in
6754 the country?
6755 
6756 I was going to say I should let Tommy know, but then I remembered,
6757 he's still upset with me.
6758 
6759 I'll give him a few more years.
6760 
6761 He'll cool off, eventually.
6762 
6763 PERIOD DRAMA
6764 
6765 tags: 1985, b_errol_royale, chuck_fraud, the_director
6766 
6767 Chuck Fraud loaded his pen.
6768 
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 boxes
6771 tumbling into his basket.
6772 
6773 At the register he pulled out his pen and started to write a check.
6774 
6775 "What are you, Abraham Lincoln?" the cashier said,"You can't write a
6776 check here."
6777 
6778 "What, my money's not good enough for you?"
6779 
6780 "No, sir, it's not. In fact, where did you find an ink pen, anyway?"
6781 
6782 Chuck Fraud was taken aback by this. How audacious. And no regard for
6783 history.
6784 
6785 "Son­"
6786 
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 like
6789 this conveyor belt. I don't remember electronics stores looking like
6790 this."
6791 
6792 He looked down and then spoke into his Arrow shirtsleeve.
6793 
6794 "Get me the Expert. The Expert! Now."
6795 
6796 After a few minutes the actors were already getting restless and so he
6797 waved them off, free to shoot dice or fuck under the craft services
6798 table or whatever it was actors did when not being directed by a
6799 director. People continued to swarm around him, but still the Expert
6800 was not present.
6801 
6802 The Director consulted his shirtsleeve again and then peered into his
6803 lap at his leaf. He'd research this himself. He tapped two distinct
6804 regions in sequence and then furrowed his brow as his eyes strained to
6805 follow the changes.
6806 
6807 Chuck Fraud loaded his pen.
6808 
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 boxes
6811 tumbling into his basket.
6812 
6813 Pushed the basket up to the register. Starting filling out a check.
6814 
6815 "I'll need to see your identoplate," the cashier interrupted.
6816 
6817 "What kind of scam is this?" asked Chuck Fraud.
6818 
6819 "Sir, you can't pay with paper­"
6820 
6821 "Cut!" screamed the Director, finally making himself hoarse.
6822 
6823 This time, the Expert was on hand.
6824 
6825 "This sequence just isn't working. I'm sort of re-writing it blind
6826 here; I don't know if the original screenplay was pecked out at random
6827 by amphetamine-soaked apes or if this was something originally
6828 intended for telescreen. Either way, it's shit. This retail
6829 environment is in no way authentic. The transaction particulars are
6830 also inaccurate. If I remember this stuff, you know the viewers are
6831 going to remember it. We've got to do something about it."
6832 
6833 "I'll see what I can come up with," confirmed the Expert, before
6834 darting between some interns and vacating the sound stage.
6835 
6836 Errol Royale fingered a business card from the top of his deck. It
6837 read:"B. Errol Royale, Recruiter." His eyes massaged the dense
6838 ultracrowd. As he surveyed the area, an erection began to deform the
6839 contour of his trousers.
6840 
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 in
6843 front of his face like a butterfly knife. Fraud responded, naturally
6844 enough, by shifting his weight and attacking Royale's midsection,
6845 using the point formed by his knuckles to radiate a signal of pain
6846 throughout the taller man's ribcage­
6847 
6848 "Cut," breathed the Director.
6849 
6850 He paused to draw in more air before continuing.
6851 
6852 "I think I'm going to give up on this scene. I no longer care how
6853 Fraud gets into the military. We just have to make it believable when
6854 he starts picking off Congressmen. Let's move on to the next page."
6855 
6856 THE MOLDS
6857 
6858 tags: 1975, jonathan, plinth_mold, reginald
6859 
6860 The man from downstairs would appear every evening at 7:00 p.m., ready
6861 to collect the wax sculpts. He would take them down to the
6862 manufacturing floor where they would be cast as first shot test molds,
6863 and be then put through several short production runs. Gently, the man
6864 would scoop up each figure and place it onto his tray. He would then
6865 push his cart along to the next desk. This cycle iterated, every
6866 evening of every season, without fail. By autumn, the company's lead
6867 design team would complete a fresh collection of figurines.
6868 
6869 Jonathan's team had never failed the company.
6870 
6871 Motioning to the man with the cart, then towards an array of already
6872 assembled parts that were spread out on the table before him, Jonathan
6873 presented the work that had most recently occupied his attention. The
6874 wheels of the man's cart emitted a cantankerous noise and shortly
6875 began to roll again, this time in the direction of Jonathan's work
6876 area.
6877 
6878 From out of nowhere, Plinth Mold tramped into the room. He shook the
6879 dust from his boots, shouldered past the man with the cart, and locked
6880 his one good eye, somehow simultaneously, onto both men at once.
6881 Plinth held onto this intimate, personal contact for as long as he
6882 possibly could before proceeding to the next phase of the interaction.
6883 
6884 Jonathan batted a curtain of dirty hair from his face and began to
6885 scratch his yellow beard. There was no use trying to stop the boss
6886 now.
6887 
6888 Plinth removed his eye patch, revealing the smooth, concave surface
6889 where an eye socket should have been situated, had Plinth been born of
6890 a mere human woman. Squinting, he proceeded to inspect Jonathan's most
6891 recent achievements. The first sculpt seemed to captivate, singularly,
6892 and he hoisted it up into the light, the better to examine its
6893 particulars. His weight shifted forward and his mouth produced a
6894 vaguely appreciative grunt. His one good eye rapidly alternated its
6895 focus for several seconds, comparing his favorite figure to the other
6896 wax artworks arranged haphazardly across Jonathan's table. It was
6897 clear from these physical perturbations that, in Plinth's opinion,
6898 none of the other figures measured up to the one he held clenched in
6899 his leather-gloved hand.
6900 
6901 Suddenly sweeping away his velvet knapsack, Plinth winked at Jonathan
6902 and pulled the drawstring closed.
6903 
6904 "Our style of working will seem less threatening, in retrospect," he
6905 remarked.
6906 
6907 "Who's threatened?" Jonathan tended to humor the aging businessman his
6908 eccentricities, but he sensed that he was being mocked.
6909 
6910 Plinth (indicating the sculpt that had captured his interest):"I shall
6911 require more figures in this vein. Yes. Similar, I think, if not
6912 identical, to this one."
6913 
6914 Jonathan:"But I've completed a whole series of designs. Here, just
6915 take a look at these other models­"
6916 
6917 "I will require only the Asiatics," insisted Plinth, expertly
6918 maneuvering past Jonathan's pointlessly extended hand.
6919 
6920 "You aim to pick and choose between the Lord's handiwork?" demanded
6921 Jonathan, a surprising wave of anger suddenly breaching the surface of
6922 his pink face.
6923 
6924 "A man must content himself with the time that he has been allotted,"
6925 quoted Plinth,"...and so divide his attentions accordingly."
6926 
6927 Plinth paused, waiting for Jonathan's mind to catch up with his ears.
6928 
6929 "It should also be pointed out that you have come perilously close to
6930 conflating yourself with the Lord our God. A most unusual lapse, for a
6931 young man of your background."
6932 
6933 This led to silence. Plinth knew quite well which switches he was
6934 throwing within the young lad's mind.
6935 
6936 Jonathan considered himself to be the reincarnation of a famous Green
6937 religious leader, highly revered by the people of his home country.
6938 This quirk had been jealously concealed by Jonathan's family, as wide
6939 dissemination of his delusions was likely to result in ridicule, or,
6940 even worse, excommunication from the country's dominant religious
6941 order. Since no one believed his claims, there could be no defense.
6942 
6943 As time continued to elapse, Plinth wondered if perhaps he had flipped
6944 Jonathan's switches with an excess of vigor.
6945 
6946 Eventually, the young man let out his breath. Plinth winced visibly as
6947 Jonathan opened his mouth and slowly began to speak.
6948 
6949 "I suppose you are better qualified to discern the relative, mundane
6950 qualities of my work than I can ever hope to be," Jonathan said
6951 easily, his ears slowly fading from red to pink."I do not begrudge you
6952 your preferences. They are the very basis of our relationship, after
6953 all. Please, take what you will."
6954 
6955 With this, Plinth relaxed and settled back into his shoes. He could
6956 see now that Jonathan had regained conscious control of his limbs, and
6957 so, in this more equanimous humor, would not attempt to strike him
6958 with any of the tools laid out on his workbench. Plinth hastened to
6959 remind himself that there was never a guaranteed outcome when one
6960 ventured to upset the Divine equilibrium of the religiously inclined.
6961 He was only glad that he had not come to terminate the boy's
6962 employment.
6963 
6964 Behind Plinth's back, situated at the base of a far wall, a half-sized
6965 door rose up from the floor. Presently, it opened, and a half-sized
6966 man crossed over its threshold into the open air of Jonathan's
6967 workshop. Plinth had not come equipped to deal with multiple
6968 assailants, and so he spun around quite awkwardly to confront this
6969 lately arriving interloper.
6970 
6971 Somewhat unexpectedly, Plinth's plastic cloak had gathered itself
6972 around his ankles, on the floor, and he nearly tripped over it as he
6973 assumed the appropriate defensive posture.
6974 
6975 The man in the closet had declined to join Plinth and Jonathan in the
6976 lounge. He claimed not to have been aware of Plinth's arrival in the
6977 workshop, which seemed ordinary enough on its face, but no sane man
6978 (in Plinth's estimation) refused a free drink and a chance to gnaw the
6979 ear of his employer. He would know the reason behind this man's
6980 stubborn abstinence. He demanded that the fellow explain himself, and
6981 fixed his posture to wait for an answer. The half-sized man had
6982 prepared no rebuttal, and so finally he agreed to break from his
6983 chores, to drink with his employer, to act like a human being. In
6984 spite of this surrender, Plinth observed that a measure of wariness
6985 still showed plainly on his face.
6986 
6987 "I have busied myself in that closet, without emerging, for a handful
6988 of months, and would continue in my toil without complaint if you
6989 could but leave me alone to get on with my work," lamented the
6990 half-sized man.
6991 
6992 "Is it comfortable in that closet?" Plinth asked. His genuine
6993 curiosity was evident to all who were present at the table.
6994 
6995 "I have to admit that it's not. But my closet is still serviced by the
6996 building's pneumatic tube system, through which I am able to procure
6997 my materials."
6998 
6999 "May I ask then why it is you are willing to tolerate such working
7000 conditions?"
7001 
7002 Plinth knew that he was traversing the boundaries of etiquette. Had he
7003 opened himself to recriminations? The half-sized man matched his tone.
7004 
7005 "Oh, and I suppose you find every aspect of your job to be ideal? I
7006 work from the time I wake up, straight through to the time when I fall
7007 asleep. What could be the purpose of maintaining separate quarters?
7008 There's nothing about where I sleep in my orders."
7009 
7010 "I don't mean to rhyme..." he added.
7011 
7012 Jonathan was again fumbling with the bristles of his beard, eyes
7013 focused upon some distant apocalypse. Reginald (for that, Plinth had
7014 learned, was the half-sized man's name) had performed the series of
7015 keypad exertions necessary to extend his rolling platform to roughly
7016 chair height, and so he began the process of conveying his legless
7017 body into the booth alongside his companions. For his part, Plinth was
7018 generous enough not to remark upon Reginald's ornate personal mobility
7019 carrier. Though gape at it he did.
7020 
7021 "What?" demanded Reginald.
7022 
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.
7026 
7027 "The man who designed them. Now operates them. No one else seems to be
7028 able to get the hang of the interface."
7029 
7030 Here Jonathan interjected, reciting the well-worn narrative."The
7031 backups of Reginald's original designs for the molds were lost in a
7032 catastrophic fire that cleaned out the department's central data
7033 center back in'71."
7034 
7035 "The company opted to rescue what was left of my code instead of what
7036 was left of my legs. And how did that work out for them?"
7037 
7038 "Reginald was caught in the fire," Jonathan explained.
7039 
7040 "Falling machinery bisected me. Cut me into hemispheres. With the loss
7041 of my templates, I've no way of growing a new interface. None of the
7042 department's people have ever been able to figure out how to run the
7043 things without me."
7044 
7045 "But we get by," Jonathan insisted, realizing that Reginald was making
7046 him sound useless.
7047 
7048 "Yes, recognizing that losing me meant throwing off their budget, the
7049 department chipped in on this mobility rig, and built a special room
7050 for me here so that I might be close enough to the molds to lend my
7051 expertise when complex adjustments were required. Eventually, I just
7052 made the space over into an office. The molds are too expensive to
7053 replace, so this is the state of affairs until we discover how to map
7054 the controls onto other users' minds."
7055 
7056 "I had no idea," said Plinth, now sincerely embarrassed.
7057 
7058 Reginald inclined his head toward Jonathan and took another sip of his
7059 water.
7060 
7061 "I tell the kid here it's all God's fault."
7062 
7063 I'LL MANAGE
7064 
7065 tags: 1976, maude_mold, plinth_mold
7066 
7067 So he was unhappy, again. But when he halted to appraise the situation
7068 rationally, he found that nothing had really changed. Why, then, this
7069 morose disposition?
7070 
7071 Each season, Plinth Mold selected the action figures that would
7072 comprise the next year's line. He did this alone­that is, his decision
7073 was final­because Plinth Mold knew that to consult a committee would
7074 signal weakness to the trade press. Such fanfare had been made of his
7075 spectacular rise, his subsequent reign and famously charismatic
7076 management style, that he was wary of reversing the polarity of this
7077 momentum, reluctant to sour himself in the public eye by demonstrating
7078 an acute lack of direction. He knew well that each word of praise
7079 committed in print represented an investment expected to yield
7080 generous dividends; that the looming weight of his success was not
7081 itself immune to the fearful and awesome properties of general
7082 relativity. In point of fact, there was a sort of balance to the
7083 world, and he was loathe to tip it off-kilter.
7084 
7085 The problem was, finally, that these latest designs were not going to
7086 work. That is to say, Plinth could not decide between them. In years
7087 gone by such an impasse would have met with the unhesitant scrapping
7088 of the entire line­Plinth would fire the responsible team and start
7089 over from scratch. But it was far too late for that, this year. He
7090 would have to make a choice from amongst what had already been placed
7091 in front of him. He knew it was imperative to come to a decision, but
7092 still he was unsure of his direction.
7093 
7094 Yes, so something of some significance had actually changed. He cycled
7095 between each layout and reprimanded himself sternly for his
7096 indecision. Why was he making this so difficult? As he stared at each
7097 proposal, he could not determine to his satisfaction which was
7098 superior. They all seemed to consist of roughly the same elements.
7099 Each seemed equal in merit to the next.
7100 
7101 "There is urine all over the front of this toilet," complained Maude
7102 Mold, Plinth's wife of some twenty-five years."Sometimes I sit down
7103 and my pant leg touches it­I can feel it."
7104 
7105 Plinth looked up from his leaf."I guess I'll need to clean that up."
7106 
7107 "That'd be a good idea, so I don't fucking retch."
7108 
7109 Previous flirtations with indecision had cost Plinth an entire
7110 season's work. He had ended up pushing a wave of repaints into the
7111 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 the
7113 dark period lingered in his memory. Fatigued, he thought to himself
7114 that bouncing back from abject failure was a young man's game.
7115 
7116 To All Employees: Our Guiding Principles form the basis for how we
7117 should manage our day-to-day interactions with customers and each
7118 other. They are the unchanging foundation that supports how we conduct
7119 ourselves everyday. Along with our Business Plan objectives and
7120 Factors for Dominance, the Guiding Principles form the building blocks
7121 to ensure the Figures Department and ultimately UNIVERSAL MOLD's
7122 success. Click here to view the presentation of the month that
7123 discusses the importance of"Hold Yourself and Others Accountable." Act
7124 with Honesty and Integrity at All Times
7125 Exhibit a Positive Attitude
7126 Treat Everyone with Courtesy and Respect
7127 Do What You Say You are Going to Do
7128 Seek First to Understand Then Be Understood
7129 Communicate Clearly and Often
7130 Inspect What You Expect
7131 Execute Flawlessly Everyday
7132 Recognize and Encourage Continuously
7133 Hold Yourself and Others Accountable Thank you, Plinth Mold
7134 President, UNIVERSAL MOLD
7135 
7136 "I can't believe I just wrote that," thought Plinth Mold."I wonder how
7137 I would respond to a message like this, were I to receive it from my
7138 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 his
7140 wife.) He tapped the appropriate region on his leaf's screen, causing
7141 his message to be sent. He hated these condescending dispatches, but
7142 this one had been necessary, something about gradated impacts that had
7143 bubbled up from Force Management, and if that were the case, it might
7144 as well bear his own signature instead of one belonging to some
7145 irrelevant middle manager. He sought solace through embracing the
7146 inherent nobility of his judgment, but, curiously, accepting his
7147 responsibility failed to improve his sagging mood. He still felt
7148 blank­or worse, confused.
7149 
7150 "When you sit there with your pen, scratching away, it almost appears
7151 as if you have friends," allowed Maude."Your movements, these gestures
7152 toward what appears to be the composition of some sort of communique,
7153 are so realistic."
7154 
7155 Plinth sighed, folded up his leaf and turned off the lamp on his
7156 nightstand. He removed his eye patch and laid it on the table next to
7157 his face, then ran his fingers over the concave surface where his
7158 eyeball should have been. His toes were freezing, but Maude would not
7159 countenance another blanket or any adjustment to the environmental
7160 controls. Perhaps he could show her the figure designs, see if she
7161 could muster a preference for one in particular. Immediately, he
7162 wondered what that would cost him in the event of an acrimonious
7163 separation, and so he closed his mouth. He'd better just do it
7164 himself. Like so much else.
7165 
7166 "It's an expensive illusion, created just for you."
7167 
7168 There was silence, then, but he knew that he had said too much.
7169 
7170 SHIFT!
7171 
7172 tags: 1981, chricton, eva, plinth_mold, tab2
7173 
7174 11SEPT1981
7175 
7176 UNIVERSAL MOLD, NYC OFFICE
7177 
7178 Plinth Mold scrolled through the morning news and shook his head.
7179 
7180 "They make up some lie and then they get mad at you when you see
7181 through it. Because in their mind they think they've crafted the
7182 perfect deception, which should appeal to your (perceived) faults."
7183 
7184 "That's pretty fucking ridiculous. Clearly they are to blame for their
7185 own inability to con you."
7186 
7187 "Yeah."
7188 
7189 "By the way, do you want to come in early today?"
7190 
7191 "I'm already here, sir."
7192 
7193 Plinth looked up from his leaf and saw that Thomas was indeed standing
7194 in the doorway to his office.
7195 
7196 "Oh. So I'm not talking to you on the phone."
7197 
7198 "No, sir."
7199 
7200 "You sound like you're on the phone."
7201 
7202 "I'm not, sir."
7203 
7204 "You're sure."
7205 
7206 "Yes, sir."
7207 
7208 "Nano-toxins. That eat sperm. Selective genocide."
7209 
7210 "History is spamming weird."
7211 
7212 "Yeah, I read about it the other day. Something they unleashed during
7213 World War II. Hell of a way to get your pipes cleaned."
7214 
7215 "Barbaric. And yet... Hmm. Piques the curiosity."
7216 
7217 "I'll say. I wonder if it hurts."
7218 
7219 "See if you can finish up these inks before Chricton comes back from
7220 lunch."
7221 
7222 "Will do."
7223 
7224 Thomas moved his fingers inside the box. Ink lines began to appear
7225 over the blue wireframe on his screen. Once finished, he would export
7226 the flat image to paper. For some reason, Plinth Mold still preferred
7227 a 2-D mock-up for his action figures. Thomas found the whole get-up
7228 awkward, but for a paycheck he was willing to oblige.
7229 
7230 "I know this is not what we set out to do with ourselves," Thomas said
7231 to himself as he continued to trace the lines on his screen."We've
7232 allowed a number of years to slip by, and yet, no clear progress
7233 towards our goals is apparent."
7234 
7235 Just as Thomas was getting into the rhythm of self-deprecation,
7236 Chricton returned, bursting through the door with two brown paper bags
7237 full of groceries.
7238 
7239 "That was quick."
7240 
7241 "Yes. I ran into Eva in the corridor. Relieved her of these. Here,
7242 let's snack while we work."
7243 
7244 "Thoughtful of you."
7245 
7246 "Yeah, I don't think she was going to do anything important with all
7247 this stuff anyway. She was covered in some kind of white powder. Just
7248 stood there while I took her groceries away from her. Distant look in
7249 her eyes."
7250 
7251 Thomas leaned his head down on his drawing surface and pretended to
7252 snort a line of cocaine.
7253 
7254 Both men laughed heartily.
7255 
7256 Plinth was flossing with a piece of o-ring from one of the prototype
7257 figures.
7258 
7259 "Boss, that's gross."
7260 
7261 "Hey, all this junk is mine anyway. Keep your eyes on your own paper."
7262 
7263 "You know, I've often wondered how to solve the problem of The Troll."
7264 
7265 "What the fuck is a Troll, boss?"
7266 
7267 "I'm glad you asked. A Troll is merely someone who enters into a
7268 discussion with the intent of disrupting the equilibrium; usually by
7269 misrepresenting his own or others' actual positions in favor of
7270 inflammatory rhetoric, or by the constant interjection of non
7271 sequiturs."
7272 
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."
7275 
7276 "No, the Troll isn't a very friendly sort at all. In fact, the
7277 practice of Trolling is usually undertaken maliciously. Why, the
7278 history of the Green is positively peppered with examples of
7279 individuals who­"
7280 
7281 "But boss, why would someone want to do something like that? Seems
7282 counterproductive."
7283 
7284 "That, Thomas, is the problem of the Troll."
7285 
7286 Chricton looked up from his workbench."I think we should make a figure
7287 of this Troll character." He swiveled his screen around and displayed
7288 his design: a small creature with an obnoxious outgrowth of wispy
7289 hair, mounted atop a pencil as if it were some kind of ornamental
7290 eraser.
7291 
7292 Plinth was visibly amused. He depressed a switch inside his coat
7293 sleeve.
7294 
7295 "Capital idea, Chricton! Our only obstacle will be securing a license
7296 on the concept from the Green Consortium."
7297 
7298 All of the men chuckled hesitantly before deliberately shifting the
7299 discussion to other matters.
7300 
7301 The Green Consortium never issued licenses.
7302 
7303 Not to the likes of Plinth Mold.
7304 
7305 THE SHIP
7306 
7307 tags: 1993, piro, plinth_mold, tab2
7308 
7309 I'm watching the waves do weird things, dancing around the stuck pixel
7310 in my visor. It's making me a little nauseous.
7311 
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 Captain
7314 Plinth insisted. I can't say no to him; literally. In spite of the
7315 rumors of impending cutbacks, I need to hold onto this job for as long
7316 as possible. There are debts to consider. And hey, it's his boat.
7317 
7318 But truthfully, I hate Piotr. He's my best friend, sure, but things
7319 are complicated. He makes me be the bottom. Plus, his hair is longer
7320 than mine. These are only two of my reasons for hating him.
7321 
7322 Staring out of my porthole is not working. I'm about to blow
7323 groceries, so I've got to get out of my room. I don't want to ruin my
7324 sheets.
7325 
7326 I'm up top again, leaning over the railing. Piotr thinks this is all
7327 pretty funny. Plinth, if he notices, ignores the subtle
7328 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 my
7330 visor with his one good eye. It centers me momentarily and I stop
7331 vomiting long enough to strike up a conversation.
7332 
7333 "Plinth, I need a raise."
7334 
7335 "I just want you to know that my having to fire Piotr isn't going to
7336 reflect badly on you."
7337 
7338 I am transfixed. Somehow I keep from letting loose on Plinth's shoes.
7339 
7340 "You know, because you recommended him to the company."
7341 
7342 After a period of stasis the sky is vibrating normally again, and so
7343 I'm back to leaning over the railing. If you need me, you'll know
7344 where I'm at. Plinth keeps on talking.
7345 
7346 "Let's not tell him until we cross the Equator, eh?"
7347 
7348 Wiping my mouth. Pushing the words out."He's not really my brother,
7349 you know."
7350 
7351 Going back several years now, Piotr and I have been telling people
7352 that we're brothers. Twin brothers, even. Somewhat surprisingly,
7353 seeing as how we look nothing alike, no one has ever expressed the
7354 slightest incredulity about our claim to blood kinship. I guess I have
7355 to admit, I would be surprised if anyone at this company had paid that
7356 close attention to anything that came out of our mouths. But this goes
7357 beyond simple gullibility. Never, no matter how ludicrous a scenario
7358 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 deliberately
7360 crafted preposterous stories. Even when it's clear that we almost
7361 certainly must be lying. I have no explanation for this incredible
7362 fact. Though I do admit to taking advantage of the effect from time to
7363 time. When it comes to untruths, Piro and I are multi-platinum
7364 sellers. Too hype, straight dope, flavor milk, so to speak. It's
7365 sickening.
7366 
7367 Anyway, by now I am tired of the charade. Determined to break the
7368 illusion, to drop real knowledge on our employer and our co-workers.
7369 Piotr, my love; how I hate him.
7370 
7371 "Boss, I have a confession. I've been lying to you, all these years."
7372 
7373 "In your way. Of course I know that you are not a blood relation of
7374 Piotr's. Though I doubt anyone else here at the company suspects. You
7375 see, Piotr is my son."
7376 
7377 I lean back over the edge, then straighten myself, then back over the
7378 edge, ad nauseam. (Ha ha.) An inverted pendulum. The IV comes out of
7379 my arm and then my premium grade Green is washing all over the deck.
7380 It's a beautiful chaos.
7381 
7382 "No way, boss."
7383 
7384 "Oh, yes way, Thomas."
7385 
7386 "That's ridiculous. That's disgusting. How could this happen."
7387 
7388 It is a great storm that frightens the fish and blows up the skirt of
7389 our boat. It causes a great deal of entertaining interference in my
7390 visor. I'm tracing lines between the raindrops with my messed-up pixel
7391 and again, it's making me quite ill. However, my stomach has almost
7392 caught up with the unstable gravity of the ship, and I feel that if
7393 only I can keep up with the raindrops, I may stave off vomiting
7394 indefinitely. In the meantime, the IV has been replaced in my arm.
7395 
7396 Plinth stands watch over the bridge.
7397 
7398 I can feel Piotr entering the room even though he's exercising his
7399 professional skills; he's so vain that he even wants to lie to me with
7400 his movements.
7401 
7402 I can't take it anymore.
7403 
7404 "He's firing you, idiot."
7405 
7406 "I love you, Thomas."
7407 
7408 The ball is in play. I really do hate Piotr.
7409 
7410 "Of course you love me. We're brothers, right?"
7411 
7412 "He's not firing me. He's giving me the ship."
7413 
7414 This is just too much. I have to throw up some more of my insides.
7415 
7416 "You know he's my father, then," says Piotr.
7417 
7418 "Oh, fuck you." I barely spit out the words before losing my lunch all
7419 over the bed. Piotr looks sympathetic, but suddenly he gets a little
7420 testy as he realizes I'm damaging his property.
7421 
7422 "Hey, don't make a mess of my boat."
7423 
7424 Aw, shut up.
7425 
7426 This is not a problem.
7427 
7428 This is no emergency.
7429 
7430 I know how to calm him down.
7431 
7432 PERCEPT DRIVE
7433 
7434 tags: 1993, piro, plinth_mold, tab2
7435 
7436 Plinth Mold sat and ate his Green Cashew cereal. The ship's percept
7437 drive sent barely visible tremors across the surface of his milk.
7438 
7439 "Do you ever get sad when you see a girl who is, like, all obsessed
7440 with sports and stuff, and you realize that there's no way the two of
7441 you could ever be compatible?"
7442 
7443 Thomas had somehow gained entrance to Plinth's cabin. What about the
7444 elaborate rhetoricalock system Piro had installed? Plinth had been
7445 assured, specifically, that Thomas could not penetrate it. Ridiculous.
7446 
7447 "You mean some girl you like?"
7448 
7449 "Not necessarily. Just, you know, any girl. Just to see her. From a
7450 distance, it's almost as if there is some sort of active force that
7451 draws you towards her, even as it pushes her away."
7452 
7453 "I can't say as I've ever suffered that sort of crisis, Thomas."
7454 
7455 "Oh. Well, even though I'm gay, it still sucks. Strictly speaking."
7456 
7457 The ship lurched sharply and Plinth figured Piro must be wrangling the
7458 percept team to the other side of the deck, making a slight course
7459 adjustment.
7460 
7461 "Anyway, could you please shut up this incessant chattering? My Green
7462 Cashews are getting soggy."
7463 
7464 "All right, boss. I'll just head up top and see if anything else needs
7465 doing."
7466 
7467 Abovedecks, Piro was indeed herding members of the percept team from
7468 one side of the ship to the other. Each man or woman planted
7469 themselves into their new position and focused their attention
7470 acutely, fixating upon a single point along the horizon that had been
7471 marked pink in their visors. Slowly, the ship began to change
7472 direction.
7473 
7474 Piro propped a leg up on the railing."Forward; That way," he
7475 commanded, gesturing in a specific direction for the benefit of the
7476 percept team.
7477 
7478 Their gaze moved to his hand instead of to the distant point he had
7479 meant to indicate.
7480 
7481 That was not good for the ship.
7482 
7483 THE SHIP, PT. 3
7484 
7485 tags: 1993, albert_lunsford, chrystal_pepsi, piro,
7486 plinth_mold, tab1, tab2, the_chief, wetbeard
7487 
7488 It was Lunsford, all right. QCL Corp.
7489 
7490 I really didn't need to verify.
7491 
7492 I had spellchecked over three hundred individual songs, processing
7493 each of them manually. One at a time because Lunsford refused to let
7494 anyone use the automation. All of his interns were on leave for
7495 various reasons. He'd popped out of his office a couple of hours ago
7496 and handed me this improbable stack of leaves. One leaf per song! Then
7497 disappeared just as quickly as he'd arrived. Meanwhile, at an access
7498 junction to the abandoned floor, my own"interns" were spreading porn
7499 onto the mesh like so much organic peanut butter onto a bland tasting
7500 sandwich. The security exposure revealed by last night's scans would
7501 heal itself by lunch time, possibly even before I could put Lunsford
7502 in the freezer and be on my way. Potentially troubling, but as a
7503 strictly practical measure I was confident of my chances. For various
7504 reasons it paid to keep positive.
7505 
7506 I cracked open a Gray Pop and chugged it back. Frothy, neutral-toned
7507 agents coated my throat with perpendicular cells. It was refreshing,
7508 and also damned delicious. Honestly, I should have been focusing on
7509 losing the extra pounds I'd picked up while working on the this
7510 assignment. Only a week to go before I'd be shipping out again. I'd
7511 appear obese and would probably be mocked by my teammates. I glanced
7512 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 perks
7514 of the job. I hated forcing myself to vomit.
7515 
7516 Presently, I belched.
7517 
7518 Which temporarily alleviated my sea sickness.
7519 
7520 I squeezed my eyes shut and strained to hear my heartbeat. The sounds
7521 of the machinery in the room ran my thoughts aground. Wave upon wave
7522 of diverse electronic complaint, crashing together in a ubiquitous
7523 aural foam. So loud that I couldn't feel the reassuring pulse of my
7524 circulatory system clicking against my inner ear. I wondered: Am I
7525 finally dead? Or am I being recalled to base? What is the meaning of
7526 all this?
7527 
7528 Then reason, and balance, resumed.
7529 
7530 Meaning was irrelevant.
7531 
7532 A new disturbance in my visor window. Some of the security from
7533 upstairs was leaking onto the public layer. Wonder what the pajama
7534 shits are? Text 667-SHITZ to find out!
7535 
7536 Well. It was old-fashioned stuff but it would work. That is to say, if
7537 my interns could keep their hands out of their pants long enough to
7538 smear it into place properly. I crushed the empty Gray Pop can on my
7539 forehead and tossed it into the trash bin. There was groundwork to be
7540 laid before my part of the assignment could proceed. I scanned the
7541 progress reports again and made sure that the numbers were leveling
7542 according to plan. We were on schedule. Barely. A relief, but the boys
7543 were only onto the B tab by now.
7544 
7545 We were going to need more time.
7546 
7547 It may have started as a reaction to the percept team's sudden loss of
7548 attention. It may have been something else. What was positive was that
7549 things were not going well for the team stationed upon the top deck of
7550 the USS DOM DELUISE. Piro's prodigious organizational efforts
7551 notwithstanding.
7552 
7553 "You men, eyes on the horizon," directed Piro.
7554 
7555 A waved sloshed over the deck, knocking a couple of the team off of
7556 their feet. They immediately righted their gaze to stern.
7557 
7558 "Not what I meant," said Piro.
7559 
7560 "Water's getting choppy," hollered Thomas Bright, emerging from
7561 belowdecks."You sure you don't need to get your folks strapped in?"
7562 
7563 "We'll be fine." Piro reinstated his leg to the side of the railing
7564 and propped himself against it with his elbow. Somehow, he maintained
7565 the appearance of standing upright. He motioned towards the sun, which
7566 was only just now slipping below the the horizon.
7567 
7568 Thomas interjected again."It's no wonder they were having trouble,
7569 staring into the sun like that. Probably ruining their eyesight."
7570 
7571 "Worrying about that is my responsibility," said Piro, clearly
7572 irritated that Thomas had raised the issue in front of his men.
7573 
7574 "Hey, fuck- s'cuuuuuuse me. I'm here on behalf of the boss. He's
7575 trying to mentate down there. Only, the ship's rocking back and forth
7576 too much. Making him nauseous."
7577 
7578 Piro's face didn't change."Understood."
7579 
7580 Satisfied, Thomas returned belowdecks.
7581 
7582 Piro kicked one of his men in the seat of his uniform."I said eyes on
7583 the horizon."
7584 
7585 We were in before Lunsford got back.
7586 
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 stated
7589 that the depiction was idealized, anatomically enhanced almost beyond
7590 recognition. There were some doodles carved into the arm of his chair,
7591 apparently with a pocket knife. What a barbarian. Inside his desk I
7592 found several unopened packages of Magnum prophylactics.
7593 
7594 He burst through the doorway of his office just as I had one of the
7595 Magnums out and stretched over the barrel of my gun. I suppose it
7596 painted an odd picture for him. Well, shit, I thought, break time's
7597 over.
7598 
7599 My first shot punctured the digitally enhanced prophylactic. The rest
7600 of the flexible, translucent material blew away as I carried forward
7601 with renovations to Lunsford's frame. Pieces of the Magnum had ended
7602 up all over the place, and I laughed when I saw that a small fragment
7603 had become stuck to Lunsford's cheek. The debris and flesh dispersed
7604 in their usual fractal pattern as I emptied the rest of my clip into
7605 his face.
7606 
7607 Mission accomplished, then.
7608 
7609 By the time Lunsford had settled to the floor, my interns had caught
7610 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 some
7612 off-brand that must have cost even less than what I normally smoked. I
7613 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 a
7615 fair amount of Gray Pop spittle. A signature, of sorts. We gathered up
7616 what we needed from his office and left the body for housekeeping.
7617 
7618 Ring, ring.
7619 
7620 "USS DOM DELUISE, your one-stop shop for Redaction Day savings," Lt.
7621 Commander Wetbeard sighed into his mouthpiece.
7622 
7623 "This is Plinth. I'm calling on an outside line because the intercom
7624 in my stateroom is non-functional. I need you to contact Piro and send
7625 him down here for me."
7626 
7627 "I'll get right on top of that, boss," said Wetbeard, straightening
7628 smartly in spite of the fact that no one could see him in his watch
7629 seat.
7630 
7631 A low-flying aircraft became momentarily visible to the percept team
7632 and the ship rolled to starboard.
7633 
7634 "Did you feel that?"
7635 
7636 "Feel what, boss?"
7637 
7638 "Nevermind."
7639 
7640 "I'll send Piro down right away, sir. Anyway, it looks like he could
7641 use a break."
7642 
7643 "Tell him we'll have Thomas steer the team for him, while he's
7644 belowdecks."
7645 
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 known
7648 naval organization, he was still conflicted over whether or not to
7649 question the orders of Plinth Mold. It had been some time since
7650 Wetbeard had needed to contemplate the ramifications of any of the
7651 orders that were issued to him. His mind ran several possible
7652 scenarios as he awaited the flash of resolute intent which would
7653 signal that a suitable course of action had been selected.
7654 Accordingly, the two conflicted halves of Lt. Commander Wetbeard
7655 engaged in an extended negotiation, exchanging discreet packets of
7656 information at last-century speeds. As if to unclog the apparent
7657 bottleneck, Plinth Mold severed the uncomfortable silence by at last
7658 continuing to speak.
7659 
7660 "I'm sending him up now," Plinth said, and hung up.
7661 
7662 And with that, Wetbeard's crisis was resolved.
7663 
7664 In all, fifteen of my team were disqualified from active service based
7665 upon their performance in the Lunsford simulation.
7666 
7667 I began to seriously consider retirement. No, really this time. It
7668 wasn't bad enough that I'd been busted down to mission
7669 pre-visualizations; I had to be roundly insulted by the lackluster
7670 passel of students assigned to me, as well. I fairly ached to commit
7671 government-sanctioned violence against an entrenched detachment of
7672 radical dissidents, or at least to fire a loaded weapon at a
7673 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 my
7676 personal arsenal could be activated or equipped. For now, the weapons
7677 would lay idle, stubbornly refusing to aid in the national defense.
7678 Naturally, I was still responsible for their maintenance. It was a
7679 textbook example of bureaucratic entanglement: an asset simultaneously
7680 existing in two contradictory states, never collapsing, one way or the
7681 other, into coherence. During the first six months of my demotion I
7682 was convinced that soon I'd be slipped a deep-cover assignment which
7683 would exploit my new status as a pseudo-civilian. It would hardly be
7684 the first time I'd enjoyed such an arrangement. But no one ever
7685 contacted me. No such assignment ever materialized.
7686 
7687 Maybe I had missed a cue.
7688 
7689 In truth, there was a given reason for my demotion. I won't go into
7690 detail, but suffice to say that around 1991 it was suddenly considered
7691 bad form to tally a large number of civilian casualties in the course
7692 of a single mission. My superiors had cunningly rewritten the rule
7693 book after I'd already been deployed to the field. Oh, there were
7694 extenuating circumstances, to be sure, but, as with the review board
7695 who oversaw my case, I'm sure you have better things to do with your
7696 time than listen to me complain about how I was sabotaged by the petty
7697 reprisals of middle-management. I'll just say that it was no
7698 coincidence a former student of mine had become my new case officer
7699 shortly before we shipped out, and that the offending mission was my
7700 first under her command.
7701 
7702 Chrystal Pepsi. An officer for whom I'd flatly refused to die.
7703 
7704 It's conceivable that she may have sensed my lack of faith in her
7705 abilities.
7706 
7707 Taking a peek at the paperwork and gradually realizing the scenario I
7708 was being slotted into, I was furious. It's unprofessional to admit
7709 this, but I'm certain my feelings toward C. Pepsi affected my
7710 performance during the mission. It's likely that she was cognizant of
7711 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 of
7713 experience by simply removing me from the game board. This was exactly
7714 the kind of thing I had taught her to do to other people.
7715 
7716 And, well, it had worked.
7717 
7718 I missed the Chief. I missed my old life.
7719 
7720 I was used to being a target, but that didn't mean I would just sit
7721 around and do nothing about it, once I found out.
7722 
7723 It was time to reactivate my guns.
7724 
7725 THE CARRIER
7726 
7727 tags: 1993, chipotle_pope_bags, gravely_cuss, pennis_mold,
7728 piro, plinth_mold, tab2, wetbeard
7729 
7730 "This logo is all wrong," complained Pennis Mold."You've got to
7731 include the inverted commas, like this." Pennis made a few marks on
7732 the leaf and held up his doctored version of the logo."Is that so
7733 hard?"
7734 
7735 "It just seems like a bunch of artsy-fartsy crap, to me," said
7736 Chipotle."It's a stroke book. Why does it have to be high concept?"
7737 
7738 Pennis waved the new logo around, gesturing with authority, which
7739 finally triggered Chipoltle to relent.
7740 
7741 "Okay, all right, I'll give it another pass."
7742 
7743 Each day at the company was a repeat of this same pattern. Pennis
7744 would issue instructions and then there would be friction. By the end
7745 of his fifth year at MASSIVE FICTIONS, Pennis was all but ready to
7746 hang it up. Then, more problems emerged. A general strike had been
7747 called, partway into his latest project, which had resulted in Pennis'
7748 line being reduced to a handful of stroke books and a live streaming
7749 video site that was only accessible from within the Bohemian Grove.
7750 
7751 The publishing business had proven more difficult than he had
7752 anticipated.
7753 
7754 And Pennis didn't even like stroke books.
7755 
7756 Years ago.
7757 
7758 "Pornstations on," chirped the instructor.
7759 
7760 Gravely and Chipoltle slapped the sides of their pornstations,
7761 whispering behind the buzzing of the blue lights. Their instructor
7762 adjusted the smallpox heart on her cheek and immediately launched into
7763 her morning monologue. At this, Chipoltle activated his stresspants.
7764 
7765 A fact that did not pass unobserved by his classmates.
7766 
7767 Back in the present.
7768 
7769 "Sir, how long until dinner?"
7770 
7771 "Help me with these potatoes," answered Pennis Mold.
7772 
7773 The two men went to work, removing the polymer wrap from each of a
7774 dozen red potatoes. Pennis was going to wing it. He hoped that Plinth
7775 wouldn't notice he'd bought organic. And from outside the company, to
7776 boot. Pennis decided then and there that Plinth would have to tough it
7777 out. Human food was human food.
7778 
7779 Many years ago.
7780 
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 Pope
7783 Bags (Low Fat), Pennis Cialis Mold­report to the office at your
7784 convenience."
7785 
7786 "That means never," laughed Pennis Mold.
7787 
7788 "I think I like the sound of that woman's voice," remarked Chipotle.
7789 
7790 Present time, present day.
7791 
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 on
7794 their bicycles, brandishing empty gas cans, demanding spare change so
7795 that they might refuel their stranded automobiles. Seemingly oblivious
7796 to the rolling of the ship's deck, the cyclists converged on Pennis'
7797 position.
7798 
7799 Pennis looked around and wondered where their automobiles could
7800 possibly have broken down. For that matter, how could anyone be
7801 homeless on an aircraft carrier?
7802 
7803 "An aircraft carrier is supposed to have stabilizers," he explained to
7804 the homeless men."Obviously, ours are not working very well. It's
7805 probably dangerous for you to be riding out here, right now."
7806 
7807 The cyclists eyed each other nervously. Slowly, apprehension hardened
7808 into rage.
7809 
7810 This guy was ignoring their pitch.
7811 
7812 Pause to consider:
7813 
7814 Pennis was the youngest of the three Mold brothers. To him­and to
7815 their father­it seemed he could never quite measure up. This had made
7816 Pennis' life much more difficult than he would have preferred.
7817 
7818 But now he had his own ship.
7819 
7820 The carrier was an old vessel, to be sure. But she was seaworthy, and
7821 Pennis had never regretted his investment.
7822 
7823 He had even made some improvements of his own.
7824 
7825 "I just can't take it anymore," gasped Pennis Mold, tipping against
7826 the hold and clutching his stomach in a decaying imitation of his
7827 brother's photogenic, sportsmanlike physicality. He dropped the very
7828 important folder of leaves he had just removed from the ship's vault.
7829 
7830 "What, you'd rather head back up top? Relax. We'll rendezvous with
7831 your brother soon."
7832 
7833 "It's not the ship that's making me sick."
7834 
7835 "Maybe you shouldn't have eaten so much of that weird cereal."
7836 
7837 "Paris sent me another case. I wouldn't feel right just throwing it
7838 away."
7839 
7840 Pennis started back towards his quarters. Then reversed course. Then
7841 reversed again. He stared down at his shoes, which promptly faded into
7842 the floor beneath him. He was seeing green circles, spheres, squares,
7843 cubes, words. When he tried to focus on them he found that nothing
7844 came to mind.
7845 
7846 Piro switched back to optical and then checked again. As with his
7847 other sensor sweeps, the visual pass confirmed that there were no
7848 approaching ships. He glanced over at Thomas and wondered if his visor
7849 would report the same thing. That is, if Thomas were to muster any
7850 interest in scanning the horizon. Piro imported his department's
7851 budget and earmarked an allotment for upgrades to his team's standard
7852 equipment. New visors for all his men.
7853 
7854 "What I'd like is for everyone to be prepared to withdraw at a
7855 moment's notice," stated Plinth.
7856 
7857 "Understood, sir."
7858 
7859 "I don't expect this will take very long. In fact, if not for the
7860 simple pleasures of life at sea, I doubt I would have agreed to this
7861 meeting at all."
7862 
7863 Piro and Thomas both rolled their eyes.
7864 
7865 "We'll be taking the same route back. I intend for us all to derive
7866 some enjoyment from this cruise. Consider it a peculiar sort of
7867 vacation. A paid vacation, obviously."
7868 
7869 "If you don't mind my saying so, boss, the South Atlantic is kind of
7870 an awkward venue for a family dispute," observed Thomas.
7871 
7872 "Thomas, the open seas are essentially the only place left on Earth
7873 where humans may whisper to each other in relative privacy."
7874 
7875 Incredulous looks. That hadn't been true for decades.
7876 
7877 "In any case, this meeting will hardly constitute a debate. We've long
7878 ago settled any differences we might have had between us. Contrary to
7879 what you two have probably surmised, I intend to shake the man's
7880 hand."
7881 
7882 "That's a whole grab bag of intentions you've got there, boss."
7883 
7884 "Hush now, Thomas."
7885 
7886 "Gentlemen."
7887 
7888 Plinth Mold removed his safety belt and stepped out onto the deck of
7889 the carrier. At his side were his personal chef, an armed guard, and
7890 three of his most trusted attorneys. The chef shuffled nervously,
7891 fingering the weapon concealed within his coat pocket.
7892 
7893 Let's get out of this damned sunlight, thought the chef.
7894 
7895 "Let's get out of this sunlight," suggested Plinth Mold, and all who
7896 were present nodded in agreement.
7897 
7898 Arriving to greet Plinth and his entourage were a coterie of men in
7899 green suits. Vintage microfiber. They pegged Piro immediately as a
7900 fellow specialist and nodded to him, exchanging introductions via
7901 private channel. The conjoined group of men made their way into a
7902 vacant deck elevator and adjusted their postures to accommodate the
7903 cramped space. Presently, the doors swung shut and the mechanism
7904 slowly lowered them into the sub-levels of the carrier.
7905 
7906 Inexplicably, Plinth's attorneys seemed as nervous as the chef.
7907 
7908 The elevator doors slid open again and Plinth took the lead,
7909 navigating a winding series of passageways that finally terminated in
7910 the entrance to an executive conference room. He felt at home on the
7911 carrier, and somehow seemed familiar with its layout. This came as a
7912 mild surprise since he had never previously studied the vessel, nor
7913 had he ever set foot aboard such a craft. On the other hand, it was
7914 sometimes difficult for him to isolate the experiences which had
7915 accumulated throughout his long life. It was certainly possible that
7916 the carrier had, at some point in time, belonged to him or to one of
7917 his holding companies. He was amused because he could not remember,
7918 could not distinguish between whimsy and reality.
7919 
7920 Plinth poured himself a glass of water and replaced the pitcher at the
7921 center of the table.
7922 
7923 Lt. Commander Wetbeard was the first to spot the lighthouse. He
7924 reached instinctively for his pressure screen, but the board had gone
7925 dead. He fumbled in his shirt and eventually produced his personal
7926 leaf. Shit. It would not power up.
7927 
7928 Without Piro to guide their attention, the percept team was scrambling
7929 on the deck below.
7930 
7931 Thomas finally gave up on aiming at the toilet and resigned himself to
7932 urinating on the floor.
7933 
7934 GREEN SQUARES
7935 
7936 tags: 1993, interviewer, pennis_mold, plinth_mold, wetbeard
7937 
7938 It was Plinth's turn to evince incredulity. Obviously, there was no
7939 lighthouse at these coordinates, or at any other coordinates in the
7940 general vicinity. The apparent reality of the situation did not mesh
7941 with with common sense. The situation was untenable.
7942 
7943 Plinth employed the use of a vintage chronometer, worn on his wrist.
7944 Presently, he fingered the device as his lawyers booted up their
7945 paperwork."We're in the middle of the South Atlantic, Wetbeard," he
7946 said."Please explain."
7947 
7948 "Sir, I don't know where it came from. I looked down, and then I
7949 looked up. From out of nowhere, it was there."
7950 
7951 "Well, what am I paying you for? Steer the ship out of its way."
7952 
7953 "Sir, that's what I've been trying to tell you. I­"
7954 
7955 "So, after you founded'MATERIAL', then what?"
7956 
7957 "Plinth was impressed. I'd finally done something right. With his
7958 encouragement, I went ahead and launched TURBO FUCKIN': SENSUAL
7959 MAGAZINE as well as the fringe one, SASQUATCH COLOGNE. Neither of them
7960 lasted long."
7961 
7962 "Hm. What went wrong?"
7963 
7964 "Basically, I went to sleep one night and had a dream that God was
7965 real. I mean, physically real. And I was lucky enough to be born as
7966 His incarnation on Earth. I guess what was most difficult about the
7967 whole episode was that I... Well, I actually believed it. I believed
7968 in the dream wholeheartedly."
7969 
7970 "Haha, a foolproof source of information because dreams are so often
7971 known to mirror reality."
7972 
7973 "Exactly. Heh. You know, don't ask me to explain it, but at the time
7974 it seemed rational. Or should I say, intuitive."
7975 
7976 "Ah, I see. That old pratfall. Laid clean by the banana peel of
7977 subjective cognition. I remember a time when I was forced by my
7978 grandfather to drive one of those four-wheeled automobiles. Mercedes,
7979 I believe they were called. I couldn't make sense of the steering
7980 mechanism. No Tetris blocks, as we have today. My grandfather was
7981 livid. He actually punched me in the shoulder! He couldn't believe
7982 that someone my age would have no interest in piloting one of his
7983 antique vehicles. What a laugh, right? I told him to just use his leaf
7984 and order the groceries himself. Of course, by the time all of this
7985 took place he had been blind for thirty years."
7986 
7987 "What can I say. You only know what you know. If you can't trust your
7988 own mind, what can you trust? The tactile leaf interface was foreign
7989 to him; the car, not so much. Your grandfather probably thought you
7990 were an idiot."
7991 
7992 "And I, him. you have to admit that there was no real way he could
7993 have taught me to drive, in his condition. He was not equipped for the
7994 task. Just as in your dream, you conceived that the Green had been
7995 made flesh. Believing yourself, in fact, to be an incarnation of the
7996 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 were
7998 groping for an appropriate set of terms, clawing for a hand-hold in
7999 the cliff-face of ambiguity that immediately blocked your path."
8000 
8001 "Okay, okay, you've got me there. Maybe I wasn't God after all."
8002 
8003 The boat lurched sharply, causing the walls of the mess hall to
8004 reorient violently. The interviewer's laughter seg-faulted into a
8005 vague, restrained panic.
8006 
8007 "I don't like the sound of that."
8008 
8009 "Neither will my brother."
8010 
8011 Silence then, as Pennis rearranged his folders.
8012 
8013 "Tell me again about God's peculiarities with regards to intellectual
8014 property."
8015 
8016 "Oh yes. As God, I briefly refused to interact with humans on the
8017 grounds that one of them might try to sue me... In the event that I
8018 ended up creating something which too closely resembled one of their
8019 fan fictions. Or prayers, as they were known."
8020 
8021 "Never mind the Scriptures, I guess! Was this before or after the
8022 introduction of your DNA-filtering condoms?"
8023 
8024 "Oh, long before. All of this happened before Plinth set me up in the
8025 manufacturing business. This was even before the RODS MAGAZINE
8026 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 Swedish
8028 fellow."
8029 
8030 "I wonder if he's going to be happy to see you."
8031 
8032 "He'll make it seem so. You see, I have physical possession of his
8033 Green certificates. And we both know he wants them back."
8034 
8035 A LARGE ROOM WITH NO LIGHT
8036 
8037 tags: 1993, albert_lunsford, calbert_whimsy, piro, plinth_mold, tab1
8038 
8039 Hello, I'm Calbert Whimsy, Master Of Ethics at POLICY SCHOOL: WHISKEY
8040 TANGO FOXTROT. For twenty-five consecutive generations, the men of my
8041 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 a
8044 little joke. It is a pleasure to see you here, you all say. Likewise,
8045 I'm sure.
8046 
8047 As you may have guessed, I'm not really Calbert Whimsy. Somehow,
8048 though, they've fitted me in here, floating paralyzed amongst these
8049 sharks. The Families. Their publicists, attorneys, clergy. And now
8050 I've got to give this speech to the Green Consortium assembled. I've
8051 had better days.
8052 
8053 Thirty years ago I entered this profession, not knowing what to
8054 expect.
8055 
8056 THE STRAND is a luxury liner, Old British flag and technically
8057 off-limits to agents such as myself. This class of people are not
8058 supposed to be subjected to operational trifles such as political
8059 assassinations and internetwork intrigue. Let's just say I'm off the
8060 clock. The Lunsford affair was a wake-up call nobody wanted to hear.
8061 The collective, meaty fist of the Green aristocracy simply mashed
8062 their alarm clock and rolled over on their 800 thread count sheets.
8063 Hopefully, right into the wet spot.