This is one of the most “outrun” things I’ve ever written. I was quite buzzed at the time lol. Toasted, you might say. For quite a while I had writing and depression and a surreal cynical take on time travel, government and fatalism going all at once…still do, but there’s mania now too. break on through… oh did I forget to mention I’m bipolar? :p It’s very short. Tomorrow, September 7, Monday, we start working our way backwards through the House That Jack Built drafts. You should be able to follow the evolution until we arrive at Block Zero, sometime during World War II…
Downtown Pasadena is beautiful today. A slight mist of rain still lingers from the torrents that marked my drive here. Down the concrete path, a man and his daughter are feeding the birds. I can hear the sounds of traffic, toward Arroyo Seco, toward the future, toward the galactic rim. Here in the Orion Arm, here downtown, here in 1984, the urban press of pizza in cardboard containers, Chinese in steel Volvos, newspapers in trash, kids in spring, is vibrant. Like the pulse that thunders inside my head. I really shouldn’t come out here when I’m sleep deprived. In a mood. Dissatisfied, with a Sehnsuct for the past replacing normal desire to achieve. I never will again, anyway.
You see, I’m a government agent for Project Prometheus. And I’m scanning the city block rapidly, the first light hit of psilocybin taking hold. Human interest stories becoming collateral damage, birds becoming possible cover, economic units in stores and streets and trucks and human bodies becoming tactical data. That’s the true form of economics, you see. An army moves on its stomach, goes the old proverb. We kill what we don’t understand, goes another. Well, we eat the rest. I savor a bite of pho, its taste spectrum becoming a cosmic Van Gogh in my mouth, as the blood-brain barrier becomes Vietnamese, machine elf, and tactical termination paradigm in equal mixture. The pho does not taste like Mama used to make.
The man and his daughter are moving along. Talking of shopping for school supplies. She has a life. A future. I push her from my mind. In five minutes, the Chinese agents will be here. In fifteen, the Chinese and I will both be dead. If she is in my mind when I die, she may never have been born. That’s a human risk, I know. I’m not supposed to be so goddamn sentimental. But that guy has a daughter. She has an existence worth living for. I will change it as a result of my death. I will not change her essence. That is one line I have trained myself never to cross. No matter what the purpose of my training with Project Prometheus, I have my own sphere of power. Rays jet from it like the sun, rising and setting at the same time in an ontological paradox of asynchronous timelines. It is zero and two. Night and day. Multiplication and division. And I am the unknown factor. This is what gives me the ability to do what I do. To bend the arc of history into steel. Consciousness survives beyond death. Where it goes…is up to us.
Shit. The drugs are kicking in. The first soliloquy is usually a sign it’s time to go to phase two. I’ve done this before. Not here. Not now. Not as Agent John Ambrose, USG…but I have done it. I will do it again. “Waiter.” I look the pretty Mexican girl in the eyes. Trying not to register her existence. She’s a waitress, a pretty one. It’s easy. She’ll survive the Passage.
“Yes?” She smiles, showing teeth. She could have been a model. A housewife. A publicist. She’s a waitress. My God, this city. It eats humanity with a precision normally reserved for government work. Destroys their potential with more enthusiasm and capability than the IRS.
“Take this cup from me…” I pause, grinning, then lower my chin to indicate the empty glass on the table. “And get me a refill, will ya?”
“Sure.” She twists, a mild half pirouette…reminds me of an Immelman. An evasive turn in aerobatics. She doesn’t meet my eyes. I am not human. I am Creep In A Suit And Sunglasses, #335. She smiles. A consumer courtesy. Lube to make the wheels of industry turn smoother. Have a nice day. She’s brainwashed. The drugs do strange things. I have to get more in my system. Bardo is not kind. It is necessary. And the Chinese agents will be here in three minutes.
“I’m a secret agent, you know.” I call after her. It’s the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard. But it worked in Riyadh. I’m here to help.
She laughs. “Save it, white boy.” Good. Plausible deniability. Delusional veteran killed by police after opening fire on Chinese businessmen…Reagan administration downplays intelligence connection…Apple and Commodore up, Wang down. To quote a cartoon dog, “curse this stupid war”.
You see, I look every bit the part of a ridiculous Men In Black stereotype. Immaculate suit, sunglasses, buzz cut, unnaturally square jaw…I get a thousand looks out and about, insisting I must be some kind of government agent. People who had a choice between Reagan and Mondale, who get their opinions on the best brands of soap from Billy fucking Graham and their music recommendations from the Parent’s Music Resource Center, who believe knowing is half the battle and spent money on plastic men with plastic chests to prove it, take one look at me and say in hushed tones “He must be CIA!” Fuck that. If I was CIA, I’d dress plainclothes like everyone else. I wear the uniform, I wear the archetype, because I’m from an agency that does not exist. We don’t publish any World Factbooks. We write history. And you cannot buy that in a bookstore. And so you say “He was CIA!” and I’m not the only one laughing at you. Funny how that works.
The birds crowd around me. Their meal ticket is gone. They are hiding in plain sight, too. And they’re onto me. I have food. “I have a gun, too, ya stupid bird.”
The waitress rolls her eyes. “Here’s your drink, jackass.” She waves her hand like some sort of witch, and the birds fly away. I immediately begin calculating a twenty-five percent tip on the check that’s never going to come. She’s already predisposed to take the side of anyone who comes in here looking for me. To call the police. She deserves a nice tip for that service. Even if she never knows she’s part of a time-traveling chess game where the effect comes before the cause, where magic words and bullets rewrite the page before it goes to the printer…she deserves something for her work. I can’t exactly get her a medal…
I open a packet, holding it within clear line of sight of anyone in the room, and the security cameras. I pour it into the soda. I stir. It is obvious to all involved that I am a crazy person who thinks he’s a secret agent doing drugs and harassing waitresses. Soon I will be another sidewalk stain in a global war for information and finance. In twenty years, a relic of the time when that war had human soldiers. A person who lived in a time when Neuromancer was fiction.
I take another sip. Delicious. The Theta-4-Genesis always adds such a tang to Coke. An eternity passes. I am going going gone. Twenty-eight thousand feet and going fast…
The Chinese agents arrive they are asking for me I stand up lighting my fire from a Beretta M92 chartreuse indigo spitfire rage there is only God only God God only I am
I have drunk the drug of forgetfulness
They return fire I am transparent, divine
I shoot back sweating great drops of blood there is only pale fire and I cannot sleep
She won’t let me I am not at liberty
E x c e p t 2 d o m y Will andthatofhimwhosentme
There is an explosion. I had not expected that. Are they perhaps aware of the high castle I seek to conquer, the moat I must cross? The heat is radiant on my forehead and cheeks. I think my suit is burning. That’s okay. It’s not like I expected to be buried in it. I load another clip and take careful aim at the lead agent. I do want to kill as many of them as I can, even though…oh shit. I didn’t mention, did I? The Chinese and…whatever the hell it is they want…are totally ancillary to my actual goals.
I fire, remembering the last time I tasted Szechuan sauce. I ate it off cheap melamine. Tonight I dine in hell. With the lead agent, who has just reserved a table. The police sirens are louder, finally penetrating the shell of shockwaves around my ears. What was once an impressionistic Van Gogh, a Sunset worthy of the Strip, is now a Mondrian of possible worlds, a megaplex of narratives slicked up and directed by Lucas or Cameron, marketed by Murdoch…a mall with every possible convergence of meaning on offer. I must collapse the waveform. The destination already chosen. The purpose. The vehicle. The form. These are all one. They are meaning and will. I must become a being who has a body. And to do this, I must leave mine.
I don’t know if it was the cops. It was probably the ChiComs. But someone is more than happy to oblige. Was. Will be, thirty-eight years from now.