Globatron Fiction Project #1
PART 2: Temple Square
“You were. I wasn’t keeping track of the time.”
“What do you need?”
“I apologize, Akbar. I really—you know I rarely do hi-res anymore.”
“Yes, this is what . . . I know. Don’t sweat it.”
They looked at one another, under the temporary haze of an etymology-glitch.
“Look—was it a critical moment? Was there something—do you need to get back?”
“I have a minute or two.”
“Well, tell me about it.”
Akbar sighed inwardly, deeply. ‘It’s not his fault,’ he thought. ‘Logocentric is a rambling poet. He behaves like an idiot sometimes, like a child. But he is well-intentioned. He has enthusiasm. I can empathize with him.
‘We are, in this state, but one thing. And he doesn’t seem to see this. He piddles around, as though we are here to piddle. He pulls me out of the places where I have committed myself to healing, to understanding the form and function of our ancestors and, through them, ourselves. In his piddling, he assumes that he is one thing and the rest are others, but he takes no risks that would help test his assumptions.’
With these quick, seemingly disconnected flashes of insight, Akbar looked into the blue and yellow hues and talked about his impression of the plague. Vaguely, but in a way he knew his companion would understand both annoyance and compassion. Akbar conveyed the subtle compassion that was necessary in the encounter with tightly-wound circles such as this. For this, he focused his thinking between two realms, anticipated both ignorance of the possibilities that hi-res offered and appreciation of its texture, its sacred, if somewhat artificial codes. ‘There are many,’ he thought, ‘who have forgotten. And I am not responsible for memory or the loss of memory. Not for delivery bots or their awkward gaits. Only the experience of myself that this research can provide. That is what I know.’
Awkward gaits? When Logocentric was satisfied with Akbar’s description, he said, “Okay,” and drew a segue in the clear space between them. Both sensed the hastiness of the motion. The urgency was distasteful. Yet a segue was a segue. It didn’t matter anymore what you called it—word, language—despite its inexactness, it had been friend to humans for millennia. A medium of exchange, with texture that had paved their physical motions, each the metaphor of the other. Bodies moved through space; time was a nebulous concept. But still the words for clocks and hands and numerals. It had been indispensable for so long. Both a friend and an enemy. And now. A segue no longer needed to mean “seamless transition.” In fact, the experience of transition itself had disappeared. Yet they held onto those things; they were relics. They remained part of the landscape, as broken marble columns had littered medieval pastures.
These things Logo dealt with seemed older still.
Akbar got the metallic hint of disdain for the Now-World: the practical principles that upheld his many hours of meticulous work. A remnant, a memory he would not let go of or chalk up to electronic genetics. He couldn’t explain it, but it remained, and he wanted to know why these things were. Thinking of all the resolutions he had made to walk in the direction of truth, he followed his friend’s lead, though it seemed too soon or too sudden.
Logo too saw that he had stepped too far too fast. The urgency did not fall out of the sky; he knew this. Yet he couldn’t deny that it plagued him and that it needed a conduit. Such things were better off exposed and expressed. He had learned these truths the hard way, and over time he had come to accept them. The conduit, the transition, brought with it inherent risks, however. Sudden loss of transmission could leave the newly dispossessed on a loop of erratic circuitry, and deny all evidence of one’s existence. Conduits left wide traces of memory that could be easily accessed once the experience ended. The information in the conduit had been questioned fiercely just before the Great Upload, by the newly-appointed censors. To them, the conduit seemed to be part of an elaborate, sophisticated design, but no one knew for sure who else was out there. One could never be certain that what they encountered was in fact what was, whether or not it was a complete deception, whether or not anything got dragged back inside by curious, careless wanderers. It was, in short, entirely unregulated terrain. The only means of defense, in fact, had become the Upload. Whether this rupture in the fabric of consciousness was a discovery or an invention in the years leading to the Upload, no one could say for sure. But it became quickly a matter of some discussion as the Upload drew near. Both, in fact, drew from the tense realities of their time. And for all of those reasons, a sense of urgency fell down on those interested in this thing. It became strictly and explicitly illegal to tamper with the rupture.
Logo saw that he blocked the entrance of the segue. So he moved to one side and waited.
“What is that?” Akbar drew back. “Is that–”
“No. I don’t know.” Logo etched a figure on the flat surface of the segue. “It could be.” Beyond the figure, above a pyramid in the background, he marked a single point.
Akbar stared for a moment, struck by the deliberate and earnest figures. He slowly walked into it. “Well . . . how do you explain this?”
Logo had no idea how to separate these things for his friend. He saw—and had seen for a while—that the answer was the same. But how to say it. That had been the question since the many years before the Great Upload. There had been the misty encounter one night when they were just kids, moving around in their bodies and building things out of paper and plastic. While driving home to Akbar’s house, it had emerged from literally nothing, from the black road ahead of them as they’d sat driving in a slow car; it had taken away their reason and their breath. It was unspeakable, and it had scared the hell out of them. It may have been the warfare, and the great race to definitively say what a man was, that had told two adolescents living in that particular moment that they would not find the words for a moment such as this: an encounter which seemed not to require a body or an electrical cord or earphones. In those bodies they’d owned, with their races and football games and competition for girls and fierce chess matches, they may have relied on reticence about a point on the horizon for which there was really no explanation, but which nonetheless emerged from its dwelling on special occasions. It would be addressed. Logo saw that it had been encoded in their lives, and in the lives of those they would know, from the moment they took a drive through a column of white mist, completely inexplicable, but as real as a table or hammer or a box of crayons. All such things that had receded since the Upload seemed to Logo a mystery to be reverently pondered.
There was a bridge between here and there, between the underside and the other side, and he believed it was traversable. That one could leave one dimension and fully immerse oneself in the other with memory of the previous one fully intact. The recurrence of this specter in Logo’s memory, however, was potentially dangerous. There was always the risk of being audited, monitored, or sequestered. And the consequences of having such things floating around—well, we won’t get into that yet.
For Akbar, such things seemed to be curiosities, but no more real than his hand on the forehead of a young woman in the grip of bubonic fever.
“How can you say anything is more real?” Logo stepped into the square next to Akbar.
“I don’t think it is more real.” A streak of light crossed his torso. “It has been my experience—my path to look into these things. And I’m telling you, there isn’t much to tell about the other part. It’s mysterious.”
“Can you justify that? Can you really tell me that you don’t retain every bit of compassion and recognition on these streets that you had in the plague or whatever you were doing? If you met people from hi-res here on the street, wouldn’t you recognize them? I mean, not their faces necessarily, but by how you relate to them?”
“I don’t see your point. Here’s my point: My work leads me to interact with people, to be with those who have chosen to try and understand what it is like to live among one another, and through that, to understand the whole. That is a life’s work, but it is work that can be done. It can be experienced within definite space and within a sense of time. What you are dealing with, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have that sort of rule-bound orientation that makes community possible.”
“Then why does it keep showing up? Here’s my point. You’re being sold dreams. Not the specifics and minute details, but the paradigms for your dreams; you’re settling for the 39 flavors.”
“I can go to the history section, or the biology section, or the erotic section, or even the gratuitous violence section to do research. I have clearance on all of them. It accumulates. I choose wisely how I spend my time. I think about those things I participate in. I think about the people involved.”
“You’re thinking of the censors.”
“So should you.” But before Akbar said it, Logo had yanked the cord, and they saw in front of them a tall, lean man reclining on a bench at a bus station. “You made it.” He adjusted the collar on the leather jacket that draped from his shoulders down to the seat of the bench. “’So should you,’ what?” He stared into the brown and yellow hues in front of him.
“Be aware of the censors.” Akbar’s eyelids filled with water. “You’re the same as on the day. . .”
“. . . The day we decided to take the bus together.”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“The day before we put ourselves into this thing.”
“That’s the day.”
“You had forgotten that, hadn’t you?”
Akbar didn’t answer.
“Logo, you remember this, don’t you?” A team of flutes and kindergarten-style recorders fluttered off in every direction. A red car came along, a boy, fifteen, frail blond hair and blue eyes, sat driving it. He sped down a road of rock and dust.
“I do remember, G.”
“The moment before you went through the window, there was a lot of wonderment about the promise that there is something more. You left a part of yourself permanently there. And you’ll remain there, part of you. But when was that? In your past?”
“That’s how I remember it. Yes, it would have to be in my past.” Logo sat down on a rock by the dirt road where he had completely wrecked his 1985 Ford Taurus. “It had a sturdy roof, as it turned out.”
Akbar had come out of his house to see the overturned car. It rested against a tree, one wheel still turning. His friend stood next to it in the road. “I remember that.”
“Before the Upload?” Globatron stood up from the bus bench, which hadn’t been at the scene of the wreck. “Well, what do you think?”
Logo looked at his hands. They were red, full of blood beneath a thin layer of skin. They trembled. “What do you mean?”
“Is this the real thing, happening now? Or is it something in your past? I’m not asking you to speculate. I’m saying, ‘What is your verdict?’”
Logo breathed in some of the dust rising from the unpaved road. “I can’t say for sure.”
“Are you here, or not?”
Akbar moved forward. He rolled the toe of his sneaker over a brittle pine cone. “I’d say we are here.”
Logo saw the moment when the steering wheel turned independently of his hands—it was out of his hands—the scene in the rearview mirror blurred suddenly to the left, and the rear of the car spun rapidly to its opposite position. Logo, stunned motionless, strapped upside down, suspended between dirt road and ditch, where trees and rocks waited to absorb the impact, noticed the thought flicker across his internal screen: “So this is what it is.”
“We can’t know.”
“Exactly,” Logo clenched his teeth. “It’s not a certainty at all. There’s no way to know what the entry would look like.”
“Are we anywhere else?” Logo looked around at the others in the scene. Globatron flashed from standing in the road to lying on a metal table. Machines and hoses snaked around his body, into his nostrils and arms. A white curtain hung partially open and revealed green tiles that lined the wall and, opposite Logo and Akbar, a window. Red evening sun spread into the room.
“We are here,” said G. Akbar and Logo saw that his mouth remained still, that his arms and legs lay still. As the words rang out, they appeared in black characters on the green tiles next to Globatron’s bed. “I am meditating now. I am sitting on a porch in Kansas, with an old man and his wife. I am listening to them pray. They have been praying for a long time that their son is well. He has been taken to someplace, but no one can tell them any more than that. They haven’t heard from him in many months. They didn’t get any sort of warning that this kind of thing might happen. It happened very suddenly, and they have been in shock over it. I want to be here for them. I want to be sure that someone is listening to their prayers.”
The color blue flashed across the screen in front of them. Embedded on its surface, like milky beads on the hem of a dress, a pattern of white lines and circles protruded into the square and took away their sight for a second. As though someone wearing an elegant blue dress had stepped directly in front of a collective lens. Akbar rubbed his eyes. “Who writes this stuff?”
They stood in the square, two children down on the lower levels of the Coliseum, occupying space, a square face, placed there many light years away. “Are we in Rome now?” Akbar picked up a rock and threw it high over the ruins that stood all around.
“Colder,” Logo replied quickly.
“We are somewhere else. We’re not in Rome.”
“Oh. Let’s take a look.” They rose up from the ruins and put their feet down on a sidewalk. People leaving the subway, on their way home from work, chose their quickened paths and crisscrossed the city square. A delivery truck rattled and squealed past the two as they surveyed the elevated horizon. “There.” Akbar pointed at one of the buildings jutting above the square. An orange-colored pyramidal object rested on its roof. “We’re in Egypt. We’re not in Rome.”
“Could be.” Logocentric adjusted his vision and nodded toward the south. “Look here.” Striding on strong legs, planting his feet deliberately, Globatron stepped out from the canyon and into the square with Akbar and Logo.
“You can’t get rid of me, can you?” he tilted his head toward the pyramid. “I remember this,” he said. “You may not think I have any memory of it. But I do. In fact, you’re living in my memory. Truly.”
“I imagined the world was free. Prefigurative strategy, plus technology.”
“Well, it changed quite a lot of things.”
“That’s true. You’ve got to believe that somewhere there is another option, another opportunity, a different point of view.” Globatron pointed at the pyramid in front of them, above the buildings that surrounded it. “I’m just a technician. Imagine what the big boys are playing with.” They watched the pyramid and the light that formed to its left. First dim, then brighter, larger, larger still.
“That’s just retarded.”
“No,” said Globatron. “It probably is,” he grinned. The light drew closer, got larger and whiter.
“Oh, I see it now.” Logocentric pointed at the underside. “Do you see how it rolls and wobbles, just slightly?”
“Yeah, yeah, I see it.” Akbar rubbed his chin. Closer now, it blotted out the sky, became darker on its underside as it drew near. “It’s a big-ass rock coming straight down.” Akbar looked at Globatron, who stood at attention, saluting the rock as it descended on the city. “Is this why you called me out of hi-res? To show me a rock?”
to be continued….
The Zipperhead, Part 3