QUIET AS IT WAS...
there, he expected they would hear what he was thinking. Hot as his thoughts were,
even in the deep predawn dark the alters should have been right up behind his
face in milliseconds. Not this time. Or, not yet.
Maybe they weren't
as ubiquitous and omnipotent as their spin had it. Maybe there was a way to keep
a little of life as he'd known it. Still, there would be no chance of that if
they caught him out alone without his headset.
Shit. Have to rely on
old-fashioned skill, luck, and pluck to get out of this one.
Just when everything was cool, with the market easing its way up, wars easing
down, life lengthening, illnesses shortening. He'd never have guessed such a simple,
pleasurable game could undercut the comfort and joy they'd finally inherited from
those who came before.
Canasta. That was in the Fifties. Hula hoops.
Sex, drugs, rock and roll. Greed. Inline skates. Fad after fad, preoccupation
after obsession came and went, or came and stayed. Earth shakers, wisps of silliness,
cultural nuggets. None had ever had this universal effect. No fucking privacy,
anywhere. Gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "You Are Not Alone."
It started out as charades and role-playing, and as far as he could tell it would
end in the next few seconds, at least in his case, with an alter vacuuming his
being out through a crack between his conscious and unconscious essences. Why
did he ever abandon his skepticism?
Trust your gut, he always said.
Right now it ordered: _Get me the fuck out of here before I burst_, so he did
his best, tiptoeing, peering, and sprinting around a corner and up the street,
away from his crib.
"At least I'm not standing still for this," he giggled
to himself as his bowel urged him into extra effort and a shield of shrubbery.
Of course that was the moment when the alter voice _ahemmed_ into his
"Da fuck, George-eye-oh. Da _fuck_ you think you can get
away with? Stupid shit."
"Just a second." He squatted and blew undignified
slurry into the ground between his heels. Ahh. Now, then. Cleansed inside and
out, he buckled his belt as he jogged into the town-bound roadway, chattering
at the alter voice between and ahead of his ears.
"You're the ones with
the getawaywith scam. What 'da fuck' do you want? You're just a big pain in the
butt. Never leave us alone, always chip chip chipping away in there."
On up the center of the street, looking both ways before crossing intersections.
Not really breathing hard. Not really knowing where he was going, or why he thought
it worthwhile to spend his energy cooling nose and ears in the middle of the night
in the middle of a street in the middle of a middle-class neighborhood of a middle-sized
city in the greatest country on Earth.
"Earth." _That_ set them off.
"George-eye-oh, George-eye-oh, George-eye-oh. Didn't you dipsticks learn
anything from Copernicus? The greatest country on Earth? Hah! You might as well
talk about the greatest flea on the butt of the mangiest dog in the solar system.
Earth is nothing. Nothing. You can't even comprehend the breadth and depth of
the nothingness of Earth. Not to mention the absolute less-than-zero nothingness
of the human fucking race. Flea. Dogbutt. Humans. Earth. You. Universe. Fucking
Trotting along the double yellow line. Residential fading
into commercial. Upscale strip malls to the left and right of him. Foot slaps
echoed eerily, taking the shape of trembling neon glow, bouncing back in more
than one modality. This was weird. He thought he was getting a little high on
the dislocation. Felt what must have been a blocks-old grin. Couldn't dislodge
it. Started to get a little high on that, too. Another giggle germinated near
the _solar plexus_.
"There must be something here for you. Nothing has
meant a lot, apparently. I mean you been here what, three years now, give or take?"
"George-eye-oh, George-eye-oh, George-eye-oh. It only seems like three
years. Time slows when you have company in your head. Twice as many nodules to
navigate. Twice as many nuances to negotiate. Twice as many numbnuts to placate.
"One more minute, or millennium, or epoch, or millisecond, George-eye-oh,
and none of that shit will mean diddly to you. Sooner or later you'll slip and
leave room for a wedge, and we'll get our little clamfoot in there. You ain't
got a chance, compa'. Hee hee. I bet it frosts your balls that you don't even
know if we're serious. Could we be cat-and-mousing you? Heh. Maybe we'll let you
have a flash of realization just before we suck up your cognition. Maybe not.
Maybe a flash of _false_ realization. Hee hee."
a little incline toward a cluster of lights. Oh, yeah. The bowling alley. The
all-night bowling alley. He could smell the French fries and sweaty shoes. Too
late for a beer, but the blanching effect of the flat-lighting fluorescents might
mask some of the intrusion.
"That's just mean. Why you want to do that?
I ask you again, what is in it for you? If you are so big and powerful and playful,
why bother with us. Sure, we kind of set a record for universal shallowness over
the past couple decades. Yeah, we almost lost our sense of what 'person' and 'personal'
and 'personal freedom' meant. We pretty much abandoned thinking in favor of experiencing.
What is so bad about that? And whether it is or not, why do you give 'da fuck'?"
"George-ee-eye-oh, George-ee-eye-oh, George-ee-eye-oh. 'Da fuck' is
the last thing we give. We give guffaw. We give chortle. We give aching diaphragms
and burst cranial blood vessels and cherry-red sclera. We give anaerobic laughter
and cures for what ails you. Don't you get it?"
A little rush of pleasure
as Giorgio remembered to _Pull_ the door rather than _Push_. Into the frigid air
of the bowling alley with another, sharper rush, this one more like a face-punch
of insulted sinuses. Behind another _Pull_ at the side of the lobby was a lunchroom.
Ushering himself to a seat at the counter, he thanked himself, grabbed
a wad of paper napkins and mopped the suddenly-cold sweat off his face. Asked
the ephemeral waitress for an order of fries and a cup of Soma.
OK?" She was disinterested but complete.
"Sure, and one for my pal."
"Another one of those, eh? Gotcha covered."
"Thank you, George-ee-yi-ee-yi-oh,
but you know we don't indulge."
The fries were hot, crisp on the outside
and fluffy-sweet on the inside. And no salt. Wonderful. The Soma was a joke.
"Giorgio, what in the world are you fenseing with your nepwinst? Grend inch
motgarn. Yik noom warmnebt. Mold inbid rostnel instru."
_Omigod! Is that
me or him? Is it the lights? The fries? My joke? Holy mother of Elvis, did I find
"No, Giorgio. It was my joke this time. You should
see your face! What bathos."
A WASTE OF TIME...
moaned. What in the world could be worth all that? Surely not this. There wasn't
a single twinge of pleasure. No slick sliding of sea-salt rapture. Not even a
swelling surge of unresolved urge. Just nothing. An anguished sense of time eroding.
And the little tune. What was that? Where did that come from?
was, she realized, was the most poignant six notes from _Dance Of The Cuckoos_.
Where it came from, she knew, was them. When it came, naturally, was whenever
it hurt the worst. Why? That was pretty clear, too. Anything to disrupt, corrupt.
Anything to drain off the human fluid of existence. We are going to be sooo dry,
"How dry _will_ you be?"
"God _DAMN_, alter!
Stay the fuck out of my head, will you?"
"You have no idea how dry you
will be, have you? Shall I teach you what _dry_ is? Relax and enjoy it, Hon. It's
going to happen."
The bad part was, she knew they were right. It was hopeless.
Inevitably, the parts of her that had already become foreign would grow to absorb
and control everything. She was surprised they left enough of her self intact
that she could ponder the difference.
"Nice thinking, Hon. What do you
suppose that means? Got an inkling?"
"Buzz off, leech."
Sweetness. Not a leech. A leech can't live without a host. This is recreation
for us. Together and apart, we do what we want, when we want. For fun. No need
for external energy. We're plugged-in to the basic source. Talk about your freedom."
"For what? For _fun_? How can this be fun?"
A little used
to the presence by now, she could hear the calm growing in her "voice." It was
always like that. Startle and quiver from surprise, fear, or anger, then natural
biological tapering when nothing physical happened. Aside from the mild nausea.
"Look, Precious, there is no point in going over this with you. You
and your kind can _not_ come _close_ to 'getting' what is going on here. Your
minuscule apprehensions about existence are not only tiny, but off-target. If
you think about four dimensions, let me assure you there are forty. If you observe
ten commandments, there are ten tens. If you would indulge in sex with four flavors,
learn that there are dozens. If you contemplate a million concepts, there are
billions. Suck it up. Show some awe. Revel in your small part in the progress
of the universe. It's nearly obsolete, anyway."
"Obsolete would be a
step up from here, Master. What? Obsolete. What obsolete? The universe? Awe? Progress?
My small part? You're just pulling my string, aren't you? Bastard leech."
"There you go with the 'leech' again. Are you really that dim, or are you
trying to join the game? Hmph. Not likely."
No comment on her sarcastic
"Any chance you'll shut the fuck up while I get rid of this
No answer. Slight elevation in tension level. It was a standard
ploy: be absent until presence hurt more. Asshole leeches.
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