Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Silence: Mr. November

Mr. November

Turing extracted himself, limb by sticky limb from his cyberJesus Tron suit, let sheets of hot water cocoon him into that liminal, bodhisattvan state of not-unconsciousness where the world becomes for a moment just the fluctuation of wet thermal gradients on naked skin. For a moment, the withering wasteland and the homicidal apparitions of the old world and the fanatic techno-messianics were like half-remembered fragments of a science fiction novel.

It was always the end of something. Even before the world had pretty literally ended, there had always been millennial cults, 2012, nuclear apocalypse, the rapture, the end of civilization. The notion of going on indefinitely, churning away the same unmagnificent routine till your bones ground away like plastic gears in a cheap soulless toy - it was terrifying, that unbearable continuity of being. ‘Mid life crisis’ the ancients called it. You’d be lucky to live beyond that midpoint in the post-Silence world, even if you were one of the vanishingly few individuals inhabiting the leisure-class in The City.

His thoughts turned to Haley, inevitably. She was bright, spirited, very much on his level. Damaged goods, but then who didn’t come off the trainwreck people-assembly line of the cutthroat Wasteland unflawed? But there was something dark beneath Haley’s relaxed flip posture. She was a blast furnace, smouldering away inside, and the bitchy external persona was but the thin layer of dross veiling all that volatile magma. Turing had encountered it once, when he’d asked about her mother. He was more than a little surprised to discover Haley’s father was in fact Bishop, whom she regarded shruggingly as an overbearing, nuts, albeit generally benign old loony. When Turing naturally shifted the subject to Haley’s mother, though, she darkened, quietly whispered that her mother was dead and fucking just leave it alone. It scared him, frankly, he had never seen her so sincere, so bereft of the insulating layers of irony, peeled away to reveal that terrible core.

His daily H20 allotment was temporarily doubled, a congratulatory initiation gift, which Turing savored to the last drop, but alas, the LED gauge dwindled down to zero and the spray abruptly halted. Toweled himself off, waved his hand before the tirelessly staring infrared eyes of his workstation terminal, a holographic workspace triangulated in the cyber-ether around him. His lower-right quadrant was bombarded with myriad lime green Wastebook messages and friend requests with gushy subject titles, thanks undoubtedly to his newfound microcelebrity.

“An adventure is something terrible that happens to someone else,” Turing reminded himself. He sampled a few fan mail, started feeling queasy, programmed an inbox filter hunting for ‘congratulations’ + ’initiation’ + ‘friend me’ and/or ‘can I have your love child’, made a junk folder marked “ego boosters”. He swept the messages into a virtual pile with hand gestures, dumped them in the junk bin like bales of raked autumn leaves, let the mail compost.

Next most obvious item was an e-sticky with a memo beamed over from the Sand Scorpion’s onboard computer reading, “Update Plasti-Deagle blueprints.” He winced, recalling the gun exploding in his hands as he was going toe-to-tentacle with the Advertiser. A two-finger ‘peace’ sign over ‘Plasti-Deagle’ highlighted the text, a tap brought up a search of the most recently accessed files with that tag in the Deus Ex Machina servers. A double tap maximized ‘Plasti-Deagle Version 2.134’ to a rotating cyan semi-opaque Desert Eagle pistol surrounded by context-sensitive schematic details and developer notes, revision history arranged by co-author. Thumbs and indexes framed the gun, magnified till the spectral pistol was the size of a tractor tire. He located the intersection of steel and plastic denoted in the barrel map, expanded the territory of steel across the plastic down to the trigger grip. Popped up a developer note next to the grip with indicator arrows, “Heterogenous plastics in grip and trigger guard undermine stability. Fabricate from single plastic source if possible.” Saved the updated file to central database, waved it away.

The Sand Scorpion AI was begging for tweakups in the corner of Turing’s eye as well. Some serious finite state machine psycho-therapy was in order after the Scorpion went AWOL, identified Turing as a hostile and nearly took his head off in a blaze of 0.50 caliber, schizophrenic catastrophe. But there was not the time, nor the energy nor the psychological headspace to hold all that complex heuristic code in his tired neocortex at this time of night, and Turing had a reception-function-whatever to be fashionably late for.

“Sorry old friend, good things come to those who wait. Hold down the fort.” Turing patted the 3d ghost of the Sand Scorpion before slinking it onto the digital backburner of a virtual shelf marked ‘GetAroundToMe’. A far more difficult, perilous quest lay ahead of him than any he faced before; mingling.


“Oh my Guugle, it’s him!”
“I heard he fended off a dozen killer Advertiser bots with his bare hands!”
“I heard he programmed a humanoid that could fool the Voight-Kampff test!”
“Does he have a girlfriend?”
“I don’t think so, he mostly hangs around that bulldyke Haley. He might be gay.”
“I call dibs on his bff.”
“I’m so getting a Turing plush printed up. Nom.”
“Get’em while they’re hot: Turing action figures complete with miniature Sand Scorpion vehicle and post-human accessory pack.”
“Can you please sign this? My son is going to tantrum me to death if you don’t sign his cyberspace deck.”
“Hey Turing, need a plastic scavenging partner?”

Turing followed the roaming quadruped punch table around like a cleaner wrasse, sucking down mouthfuls of saccharine red water hopefully not red from radiation, deflecting incoming fangasms with awkward smiles and sentence particles trailing into chuckles. Occasionally chomping appetizers of thinly sliced coyote ham and sixty-year-old canned vegetables dunked in a zealously healthy hummus dip traded from the Tree Dwellers. The Deus Ex Machina cloister was lit up like a Christmas tree for Turing’s initiation celebration, packed physically with people and aurally with loud conversation. DJ Apocalypse was spinning “The Top 100 Mashups of The 2010’s” on a vintage iPod Macro. Brain-rattling dancehall aberrations of Beethoven’s 5th laced with endlessly repeating four-word samples of Bob Dylan songs boomed from PA speakers hefted about by Armitage mechs.

A fab-blonde in perilously high cut shorts and an ‘I’m not hardcore, I’m Turingcore’ t-shirt sidled in under Turing’s radar and would’ve knocked him completely off guard if it wasn’t for the ridiculous slogan.

“Wow, gush alert!! I’m totally hyperventilating here. I’m like, your biggest fan, this is so crazy! I’m Lindsey, and this is my friend Christa. Christa, get over here and take this pic. Do you mind if we get a picture with you?” Turing suddenly discovered his left and right side smushed firmly against female body, mind clouding over in an umbra of lavender perfume and assorted fruity alcohol breath.

“Um, hey. Yeah, sure, pictures. You want the Rat Pack or the The Scream pose? I’m all out of the Bond and the MySpace pic.” Turing took an angled stance, tilted his chin strategically down to keep the camera from sneaking in an extra twenty pounds on him.

“Hahaha! What? Ok, one, two, three, Singularity!!! No, it’s the other button, Christa.” The girl-sandwich tightened in on him as they battled for camera space next to his face, making kissy pouty lips. Turing tentatively put an arm around either girl. Maybe this fame thing wasn’t so bad.

“Oh, this is totz going up on Wastebook. Wait, I think I kinda look like a ditz in this. What do you think, do I look like a ditz?” Lindsey held the photo out for critic circle.

“Uhh….” Turing ellipsized.

“Lindsey you look amazing. I think I’m giving off a balloonfish vibe on the other hand though,” Christa reassured.

“Oh-em-gee Christa you look fabulous here, silly girl. Hey, so anyway, Christa and I and some of our friends, we’re gonna have this thing back at my quarters. You could like, you know, come, if you want.”

Turing sputtered fruit punch in a mist cone of pink, thankfully a narrow one. Half a dozen voices went off in his head(s), some screaming ‘HELL YES, SEX’, some protesting, ‘Really not a smart move, champ’, and everything in between as his inner lawyer was swamped trying to post-facto rationalize for each and every party. In that moment he knew, viscerally, the meaning of “Gridlock” as described in old-world democratic governments like the Youessay. His nubile fanclub increased lobbying pressure for the Id party with literal pressure on his chest and neck.

Then Turing thought of Haley, and she vetoed the Get-Turing-Quintuple-Laid Act. Where was she anyway?

“Golly, there goes Mr. November, carried in the arms of cheerleaders. That’s the Turing I know, never lets his fans down.” Haley stood there as if on cue, brow quirked in caustic appraisal. Turing’s moral dilemma was overjoyed to see her.

“Haley! Oh, sorry Lindsey, Christa.” He gave them both girly tappy-hands hugs. “It was great… impactful, meeting you guys, I think we all learned a lot today, we’ve really grown (ahem) from this teaching moment. But I kind of like, have this Thing I need to get to. It’s a really thingy Thing, you know how it goes. So, thank you for the photoshoot, don’t forget to drop me a friend request, maybe we could try for next initiation ceremony reception?”

The pair of girls got the deer-in-headlights syndrome, blinking dumbly for several seconds. They gave Haley the customary ‘mmmHMM’ once over, then shrugged, swiped a couple shots from a passing server bot, downed the liquor. They skipped off towards a cluster forming around a performer juggling virtually-projected augmented reality machetes.

“I see you’re adjusting well to your new found celebrity.” Haley nudged an empty plastic cup under the red waterfall emitted by the blindly spraying punch dispenser bot that was glitching out and soaking the table.

Turing winced, “What, them? That was nothing, they were just geeking out and collecting some souvenirs to show their friends. Your dad requested I make an appearance, milk the crowd. Just a little photo-op. It’s good PR for the cult, and all.”

“Uh huh. I doubt Bishop requested that.” Haley pointed to his cheek. He rubbed it and his fingers came away smudged with clove flavored lipstick. Where the hell did those girls get clove flavored lipstick?

“What- Oh. Hey, come on, that’s nothing, give me a break. So they were a little drunk and friendly-“

“I see, keep digging.” Haley crossed her arms, her lips pulled into a thin red line. Turing marched across it.

“This is ridiculous, nothing was going to happen. What are you anyway, my mom? Patron Saint of Wasteland Co-eds with Poor Judgement?” Turing angrily chewed a vegan cracker lathed in dry coyote meat till it held the consistency of krill paste.

Her mouth opened, closed. “I just can’t bear to see you sinking to this level, is all. It’s beneath even you, Herr Lothario.”

“Sinking? Is this too much ankle for you, Queen Victoria?” He shrouded his leg with a tablecloth. “I can’t have a little fun before dying terribly in a raider attack on this fucked scorched Urth? I’d think a rock star could score at least a sample of the requisite hookers n blow.”

Haley hmphed and turned to face the statues of the three Digital Wise Men. “You’re not just some famous playboy, you’re the Chosen One now, you represent the Deus Ex Machina. I don’t want to have to damage-control your philandering.”

Turing spat the meaty cud on the ground, half out of spite and half because of the disgusting taste. “Can you hear the words that are coming out of your mouth? I’m not running for President of the fucking Youessay, I just dug up some cracked giblet of abandonware, brought it back and have been reluctantly crowned Master of the Universe by a bunch of Wasteland loonies, Guugledamnit.” A frolicking woman with matted hair and a talisman of sequined USB drives stopped by and asked for Turing’s blessing. He made a halfhearted ceremonial uploading sign, tried to keep the pity from showing up in his smile.

“Jesus, do you ever think of anyone but yourself? Who you’re going to freeload off of while spitting on today? How you can waltz in, take advantage of a community’s traditions to score some ‘perks’? What wet hole you’re going to stick your dick in tonight?” Haley was glowing red in the cheeks, shoulders rising and falling in staccato motion from ragged breath.

“You… I was thinking about… You can be a real fucking bitch, you know that!?” Turing grasped her by a bare milky white arm, squeezing it firmly. It felt like someone had overturned the easel of his psyche and all the bottled emotions were spilled and running together at once.

“Let go of me!” She smacked him, hard, and he saw random snippets of code spinning around his head till reality decided to fade back in. Her Machina ring caught him on a molar, cut the inside of his mouth and he tasted tangy copper. But she wasn’t pulling away now. His other hand found its way behind her neck, pressing beneath her tiered faux pearl choker made from recycled, acrylic painted Chinese plastic, to feel the soft, rarer thing beneath. Gazes locked, time and history fell away as the empty space between them began to close…

“Ah, Turing, there you are.”

History came to. The two decoupled, each regathering their composure, straightening out their evening wear. The endorphinal heat cooled, emotional belongings shelved. Planets disaligned.

Bishop stood there smiling in his best white dinner jacket, looking positively 20th century, federal.

“I trust you’re enjoying your celebration, my boy? It is most… what is that recently resurrected morsel of Old World colloquialism the kids are using nowadays. ‘Banging’.” Histrionic guffaws issued from Bishop’s grin.

“Sure, it’s a blast.” Turing replied while signing someone’s action figure of himself.

“Haley, my dear. Please give our most esteemed new member and I a moment, if you please.” Haley, still flustered and in a weird headspace after being interrupted, bowed out quietly, went off to find some water.

“Walk with me, Turing.” Bishop led him across the crowded cloister courtyard strewn with confetti, cups, and other trash being gathered by janitor bots to be taken back to the plastic refinery for smelting. They entered the lighthouse, and the cold silence within was emphasized by the phantom ringing tinnitus induced by the ear-splitting onslaught of the party. As they ascended, each metallic footfall and its descendant repercussions were distinguishable as they reverberated throughout the hollow chamber.

A brisk, Oceanic wind played across the gallery of the light house, washing away the heat of the intense social engagement.

“Beautiful sky, tonight.” Bishop rested his elbows on the aluminum railing, head canted back against his shoulders. His thin spider-silk hair powdered pale blue by moonlight. Turing went to lean there as well, but reconsidered as he noticed boils of rust forming on the support beams connected to the railing.

“Ah, the Big Dipper, there, you see? And Orion’s Belt.” Bishop’s slight stature and posture gave him the appearance of a very old child as he pointed. Turing nodded.

“You know, the night sky was one of the first things we drew when we big-brained monkeys discovered art. Whole maps of the heavens were found in cave paintings from the time before the last great flood of ice cleansed the earth. Civilizations throughout the ages looked to the stars for answers, from the outcomes of wars to our romantic affairs to where to put our life savings. The origin of Buddha to Alexander the Great’s conquests to the First World War, these all were greatly influenced by astrology in one way or another. ‘The stars above govern our condition,’ Shakespeare said. Youessay President Theodore Roosevelt kept his horoscope mounted on a chessboard in the oval office.” The wind gusted and howled, breakers crashed and fanned plumes of glistening blue spray upon the cliff below.

“Do you believe in fate, Turing?” Bishop said, almost to himself, the words spoken softly into the wind to be blown out into the Pacific, but Turing caught them.

“’There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.’” Turing responded, folding his arms into the synthetic cotton of his shirt to warm his chilled hands.

Bishop held his chin, considering, brows creasing like rain clouds. “Who is that, Cicero? Kant?”

“Sarah Connor.”

“Hmm…” Bishop receded into thought again for a time. At last he stood to his full posture, hands grasping the fluted metal railings of the lighthouse like the helm of a galleon ship. “I do believe that we, you and I, are meeting here now for a reason. Perhaps only the mind of a Singularity could reveal that reason, but I believe there is one nonetheless. Towards the end of the Anthropocene, just before the world as our ancestors knew it was destroyed, this sky we see now was invisible. The guiding stars and constellations that humans had sailed by for millennia became shrouded in a poison fog of our own making. The pollution -- smog, hydrocarbon, neon light -- blotted out the sky, and people could no longer see the stars at night, could not see their destiny written in the heavens. The clear, vivid visions of the future of the 20th century, the ‘science fiction’ as the ancients called it, filled with flying cars and crystalline towers, and even the dystopic worlds of Big Brother and the Brave New World, these all but vanished from the collective dream-skies of humanity by the beginning of the 21st Century. At the start of this new millenia, the future became clouded, murky, ever more uncertain. We lost faith in The Future, and The Future lost faith in us.” Bishop gazed out towards the collapsing remains of the sunken skyscrapers ensconced by a floating graveyard of plastic and silicon detritus.

Normally Turing would nod and grunt monosyllabic signals of attention till Bishop’s ranting burnt itself out. But something about the events that had just transpired, some unconscious resentment of Bishop’s interruption stirred Turing to respond.

“So people stopped daydreaming Gernsbeck utopias, stopped envisioning where precisely they were going. But with environmental, financial, social, population perils lurking around every bend, things could only end in tears, so why bother looking? So disaster films, where humanity’s virtues overcame our weaknesses as we ‘joined together as one’ to avert doomsday scenario X, waned, replaced by the post-apocalypse, where the story began after the end. Maybe the reason was things just weren’t looking so hot for us super-apes? Not to say that they didn’t try to steer the ship away from the rocks, but they wouldn’t bet their 401k on it, no pun intended. Maybe it wasn’t a zeitgeist of pessimism so much as a sober realism? Maybe people stopped staring open-mouthed at the sky awaiting supergenius godfather aliens to swoop down or flying cars and ivory towers to dazzle us or whatever perfect ‘future’ to appear because, well, the evidence just wasn’t coming in. You can only fiddle anthems for so long while the fires are spreading throughout Rome before you have to wake up, pick up some pails of water, get your hands dirty, and deal with reality.” Turing found his hands flailing about to illustrate this speech from nowhere. He felt a lot better having finally gotten some of it off his chest although he hoped he hadn’t pissed the Big B off too much.

“But is it not true that even with good will and hard work, one might still be dashed upon the rocks without vision?” Bishop turned to regard the light house lantern.

“Some vision is necessary, sure. But it needs to be tempered by the Visine of realism, or you risk chasing pipe dreams and Sirens and winding up in the same place.”

“Touche.”A pearly crescent glowed on Bishop’s mouth in the shape of a grin, a rare display of genuine delight. He patted Turing’s shoulder with his soft old hand. The wind picked up again as Bishop withdrew inward, as if considering the best way to reveal the next card.

“The real reason I wished to speak to you is that I fear that our little oasis here, the Deus Ex Machina, may not last much longer.” Bishop leaned back over the edge of the lighthouse, to observe the party below, colored strobes flashing, distant throb of bass drum like the heartbeat of a child. From the perch of the light house, the sanctuary seemed so small, so fragile, a tiny bubble of light in the cold, savage emptiness beyond.

“What do you mean?” Turing drew closer, grasped the railing beside Bishop.

“Our scouts in Feenix City bring reports that The Intellectual Proprietor suspects we may have artifacts of great power obtained from Red Crater. His suspicions are of course true, in the sense that great power could be generated from the data stored within the relics of the Great Guugle, such as the chip you returned to us.”

Bishop was not one often regarded with descriptors like, “level headed” or “grounded”, to put it mildly. To put it frankly, he was a hysterical nut who would take a word processor spellcheck as a sign of imminent utopia or a rainstorm to signify the end of the world. Turing would have dismissed this ‘fear’ as just Bishop’s paranoia attacks getting the best of him, again. But the mention of Feenix changed everything, and definitely not in a happy way. This was serious as drug-resistant tuberculosis. You did not fuck with Feenix City or you would soon find yourself turned into scorched earth and a cautionary horror story told by a toothless old man to children around a campfire.

“Are you certain of this?”

Bishop nodded solemnly, painfully. “Sadly, yes. It has been confirmed by multiple agents. Several of our brethren have been killed in the line of duty to bring us this information.”

“Turing, I have seen the most terrible things in my life. People treating each other in ways you would not believe us capable of. People standing idly by while…” Bishop trailed off into some dark corner. Returned, “I cannot believe that this is our fate, that the Vision of Deus Ex Machina would end this way, that The Singularity 2.0 was never meant to be, that utopia will be nipped in the bud a second time.” Bishop’s fanaticism shone unbridled in his reddened eyes now.

Turing took a step back, as if he had just discovered an early sign of some terminal and infectious disease on Bishop. He did not at all like where this conversation was going.

“I know that you have history in Feenix City, Turing, although the exact nature of this history is not known to me, nor do I expect you to tell me. You have shown yourself to be not only one of our best machine inventors, but your courage and resourcefulness are rare indeed. But most importantly, you have the best chance of infiltrating Feenix, planting evidence to throw them off our trail, and retrieving that one vital element that could help us gather allies to our cause and hasten the coming of The Singularity 2.0 by many orders of magnitude. The Pedia.”

No, this was wrong, this was all wrong. Turing’s hands unconsciously gestured the command for “undo”, “undo”, “exit program”, but there was no reboot in the machine of reality.

“You want me to go to Fenix, perform counterintelligence, and steal the Pedia from The Intellectual Proprietor? Ok Bishop, that’s hilarious, I give you props for that one, haha.”

“I’m quite serious about this, Turing.” Bishops eyes were scary serious.

“Bishop, first of all, I am definitely not the superman you’re making me out to be, and second of all, even if you were Superman, that would be impossible. Feenix is the most heavily guarded, heavily surveillanced place in the universe, not a fleck of dandruff falls to the ground without being accounted for, not a bit of electromagnetic transmission goes unsniffed. It’s just-“

“It is an extremely dangerous and difficult task, I know. But if we fail, it will mean the demise of Deus Ex Machina and all that we have worked to accomplish. We will give you all the support you require and reward you any price, but at the end of the day, you are in the best position to accomplish the mission. ”

The old fool was wrong about a great many things, but Turing hammered, crash-tested every junction of Bishop’s logic and found it to be sound in this instance, and Turing hated him for it. No one else in the Deus Ex Machina had an in with Feenix City but Turing. Anyone else stood a mutant rat’s chance on a shishkebab. Turing considered suggesting Bishop hand over all the Guugle artifacts to The Intellectual Proprietor, but Turing knew that Bishop would get himself and all his followers killed before he would give up on the Singularity 2.0. And even if Bishop did give up the chips, Feenix might destroy the Deus Ex Machina just for getting in their way.

If only he could’ve fucked up the spirit quest. If only he could’ve not mentioned his Feenix origins that one time he got drunk on poker night. LEAVE NOW, a voice alarmed in his head. ‘Think of all these people, think of all your friends here, think of Haley,’ whispered another. If only he could’ve not wandered into this Wasteland shanty town full of delusional idiots and tar-babied himself into these stupid emotional attachments, this ‘caring’ thing, it infuriated him. Now he knew why in pre-Silence movies the Lone Wanderers were Buddhist monks who always moved on to another town every episode. Because all the ones who stuck around eventually ended up giving in to some hackneyed suicide mission.

“I’m not used to having all this greatness thrust upon me. I think I need to sleep.”

“Of course, you must be exhausted. I am truly sorry to have to ask this thing of you after you have just accomplished so much for us and risked yourself in the process. If there was any way at all it could be me instead of you I would go.”

“Mhm. Goodnight.” Turing kicked off the light house railing, descended the staircase. His initiation party had ended though the last embers were still stumbling about the garbage strewn cloister: the DJ trying to untangle scary snarls of cords, a cluster of drunken teenage boys fucking with one of the Armitage mech’s programming to make it breakdance for lolz, random passed out bodies in the grass surrounded by friends trying to smack them awake.

Strolling across the courtyard, Turing felt a sudden, deep distance from everything, from these people, carrying on carefree in their little bubble, which Turing stood outside of now, carrying on his back. He felt cold, alone, and afraid. This was a mistake, a bad dream from which he would soon awake. They had the wrong guy. Turing was not the Hero, he was the runaway survivor who kept his head down and survived. He had never been responsible for more than himself and his vehicle, and now the fate of a whole group of people was in his hands. Turing wondered if this was something like what it felt like to be elected President of the Youessay afterall? To have all the lights and cameras on you, confetti sprinkles and motorcades, surrounded by cheering suits and blazers, casting on you hopes and dreams, but ultimately to be alone and terrified in the eye of it, knowing it is you alone who are responsible for so many lives, for history. He was indeed Mr. November.


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