ACT I | Aji 30 June 2018
All Audiences Est. Time: 90 Minutes
Welcome to The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories by Soda Tom. We present today Episode 3 from the first volume of the trilogy, “The Shadows.” ~ pub f⊗ | widgets
EPISODE 3 | waking in, the sere dawn, /
< Just an ear gaped the open leeway of a door, honed to the noise patterns of a neighbor laudably arguing his opinions. Red, the ear’s proprietor, mulled aloud, “He’s using the telephone?”
“Nah,” said his son, whose name was Gabriel.
“When d’he get back?” Red asked, easing away. “Probably a girl in there or something; in with him.”
“Forty-five minutes now.”
Red peeked, and noticed the neighbor’s door was ajar. He focused his eyes on the apartment, until he heard the neighbor’s voice insist, “Nah, you’re not a ghost.”
Red told Gabe, “He’s got a ghost in there.”
“Pop,” the son said.
The neighbor knocked Red’s door in a half-hour’s time. Gabe appeared dauntless at the threshold, his eyes wide, and friendly. The apartment was situated across the hall. Gabe said, “What’s he supposed to say. ‘There’s a woman in here. I met her yesterday. She’s young, attractive, like French. But she’s an alien, though. She’s buzzing my Satellite Radio.’”
Red in his oak chair, offered a hard squint; slowly canvassing the man, Gabriel relayed, “And then I say, oh, we’re real busy. Red was shot walking on the sidewalk.’”
Gabriel paused, distracted. “Soo…you want to meet her?”
“Nah,” Red replied.
“I am a ghost, technically, yes,” Aji decided, but wondered privately if the definitions of ghost had changed in the five-century offing. She continued, “The logic is perfect: either I am not a ghost; or there never were ghosts. There are only two possibilities. I say there has never been any ghosts.”
He provided not as much as a “Oui,” then opted, “There were ghosts who played baseball.”
“Alien, that’s better,” Aji suggested, slightly miffed. “You’re the first witness, the first one, yes. First contact.”
“A ghost with an attitude.”
The woman shifted weight in the hall, a black-and-white form with high DPI. The outline cast light from dark, and her mass expanded, and contracted, emerging from the cloud. Aji added, adroitly, “I’m a French attache, to be honest, but I am the American Legion. I attach to them from our side. This your home, yes?”
He unlocked the door, and opened it. “Merci.”
Aji delved into the apartment with an aside, but the sight of her crossing the threshold – her body was created in a slow motion of four, or five steps, each one creating less of a blur, and a reality of flesh, bone, and color – was startling. She said, matter-of-factually, “You are obliged not to complain, as I’m a civil servant; but if you do, I have gobs of time. Forget my FTP. No one would understand.”
“FTP, file-transfer-protocol, right – loading must be a, well, never mind,” he commented, then protested, “You know, you jammed my Satellite radio, for starters! It won’t budge from country-western channels. I can’t move it!”
“I like country,” said Aji, ignoring his laments, and winding through the living room for a comfortable spot. “I’ve resolved the entire commitment issue. This is usually a huge obstacle. Your duty time is just six, seven hours. Maximum. Cumulative. I’m giving my life for Laniakea.”
“I should say this results in substantial duty for me,” Aji said, sliding into a chair at the antique oak kitchen table. “I’ve had to accept a process-reversal, with which I doubt you’re not terribly familiar.”
He composed, “Duty time?”
“Duty time, like jury duty,” Aji allayed, raising a brow. “We’re required by law in the universe to serve duty time. Most people don’t realize it whatsoever. They just do for their fellow people. It can, of course, be like a requisition, like the government stealing a horse, or a car to follow a criminal, say. Official.”
“You’ll unglue my radio?” he asked, bailing. “It was a gift from my grandmother, and thus far in life, it remains uninjured.”
“It is fixed,” she responded. “I reset it.”
He pointed to his microwave oven, which, earlier in the morning, was felled by a crinkling sound, like a wire on fire, and displayed merely a steady image of black-and-white “snow.”
“Oh no, that is fixed, too, more or less,” Aji replied. “I need to fit it out for use as a monitor. You’ll want to keep the specs, no matter what. It may act funny; but you do want to talk to me in Sombrero, yes?”
“I don’t want to talk to you here. I want to use my microwave.”
“It allows us to converse from the Sombrero Galaxy to this kitchen, and it’ll still make MacCheese. I think. Do you make that in the microwave yet?”
He said, “I don’t make Mac Cheese.”
Aji said, “One day you won’t even recognize me. Don’t be so trite.”
“It’s been weeks! These are not the only strange affects.”
Aji explained, “It was, originally, a microwave transmission, see. You sent it to us, if you recall. It was not the other way around: Here we are.”
Credulity strained with his rising heart rate. He skipped a dozen issues to one of the most obvious, and asked, “You are here. From some Galaxy.”
“Denial to Acceptance,” Aji complimented. “Is that not, how did they used to say it… kewl?”
Aji related, “I could say a pileas holograph, but I might just as well say a bus. My native time is five centuries in the future; what’s more. We can enter, and we can exit; interesting at least, until it became rather dull. The fact of the matter is people always have entered, and exited. That’s what I mean. Like ghosts. I was just making conversation.” She concluded, a finger upon a calendar, “The awareness of it doesn’t yet exist.”
Noble goals may create their own lifespan, but like children, can eventually seem unfamiliar. It was fifteen months earlier when Bud Adorjan’s son, Will, entered a New York City computer lab. Will was familiar with Earth, after studying for a year-in-residence at New York University. His mission object – to reduce the danger of a recent failed excursion to the outer span of Pandora – had unhappily merged with bad luck; his only resolve, whittled in algebraic formulas during his trip to Earth, was became a “victimless prank.” The Hydra adage was “if all else fails, try victimless.” He repeated a saw from the old west – let’s get out of Dodge – until it began to incense a student coder working nearby. The true phrase was “burn code.”
Will’s first problem was static electricity; within a mile of the New York subway, the electromagnetic pulse could cause a virtual hip-hop mess of sudden cyber jolts, leaks, jerks, and quakes. He swiftly clicked into the system’s governing manifest, kept in a bank of servers at Washington Park. “It will be totally unfair,” Will murmured, guiltily. “That’s frontier justice.”
Some of the students admired Adorjan’s swift ability; the codes were fairly monumental in size, and a wearying task, but the system offered scant, often humorous resistance. He typed a definitive rend at the outset of a particular line of “html,” skipped a number of lines, and added a new paragraph close to the end. He did choose to be fair, to be fair; it was a dignity of his class, perhaps, or maybe a challenge. He whispered, “Alright,” added two other words, pegging into the keyboard, deleted the history, and logged out: The first word was “burn”; the second, his technological antidote, if the victim ever did guess the word, was “tour-billion.”
Will remarked, with a wry grin, “Plausible. Someone may think of it.”
Mischievously, Gabriel grabbed his elbow. “What are you good for this Saturday?”
He yanked his arm away. “Pastrami.”
Although a lecturer at NYU, which was sufficient to flag a security guard in any hallway, the man was not otherwise well known, both asset, and a liability for their present cause.
Two students were using the computer lab. Gabe hustled an extra chair, and tapped the button of a monitor. “Everybody’s got a hangover on Saturday,” Gabriel said, “College. New York? Listen we can do this!”
A penchant for the Lottery hardly seemed like a fatal vice to him. It was not yet even a Syndrome. The novelty of Gabriel’s ploy made it interesting, plus the looming prospect of an unpaid summer vacation, and part-time employment. “I can’t help with this, Gabe, I’m already seeing stars,” he said, noting white spots which had begun to flutter on the lids of his eyes, probably just stress-related.
Gabe was peerless, mumbling lost lyrics of the generation, and gained on the blinking tower. “Give me the list,” he said.
He frowned, and snapped a piece of composition paper, revealing four sets of numbers in green ink. Gabriel took it carefully from his hand; after twenty-one minutes, Gabe’s face sported a sudden smile. “We got it,” he said. He typed a numerical set of numbers, culled from a thirty-year old algorithm; the system whirred with new command lines, flashed a screen twice, and the third time opened a labyrinth of entries, a multiverse of numbers, non-sequitars, and cyber dashes, and-dots; it comprised a back street in computer logic, and then it comported, providing, almost apologetically, a single black screen, and in neat order: “78-89-54-65-32-12.”
Gabriel’s body curled in a guffaw, and in a whispery shriek, gasped, “It’s printing the ticket for you at Coney Corner. It’s paid!”
Reticent, in his apartment, Aji observed, “You remind me of a Seymour.”
“A Seymour?” he repeated, reading a newspaper.
“A Seymour Glass,” she answered.
“No,” he answered. “I’m not a Seymour, or a Sidney Carton. I’m not fictional character, neat and round. You know. I have sides, and edges like you.”
She chafed her fingers beneath the binding of a chapbook, which was resting with loose-leaf pages tucked under a new phone book on the oak kitchen table. “He wrote Chinese poems, yes?”
He said, morose, “Seymour died in the nineteen-forties. That’s over a half-century ago. Forty-five? Of suicide. I am forty-something, but it’s the twenty-twenties. Beats are over; Sartre faded in the Caribbean tropics, or Cuba. I’m a snowbird, New York – Coney, not Manhattan — to Florida, at the first sign of ice. Snowbirds, and detectives, are always free.”
“What are these, then?” Aji said, skimming through the loose-leaf verse.
He continued, warily, “I write American poems, not Chinese, which is to say, Japanese. None of us wrote Chinese poems. I have a hopeless hitch; it flops hopeless into the couch with sounds like — more Yeats, or Keats. Yeats. (Pause.) Seymour wrote Japanese poems. He wrote Haiku.”
“Really. I didn’t mean to say.”
He breathed, more comfortably on native soil, and folded the newspaper away. He mixed martinis, after the awkward pause. “My earliest memory is from the nineteen-seventies – rounding a corner of a Mom-and-Pop motel like a stray on the coast of Florida. I can still see this innocuous image of gravelly pavement, and a blotch of white paint buried in the cement, an oversight, or drip from a painting crew, a mistake; but it’s a migrant’s signature, yes; his power of attorney; the sun sears my arms; it’s too hot, and the heat is too dangerous. They should rush people indoors in Florida, I decided. Of course, I was a boy.”
She viewed the stock of poems, hand-written in black ink, and centered on single sheets of white delicate vellum. He warned her, “If you read them, Pandora will emerge with seductive gifts.”
“Pandora. My. It is okay, yes, to read them?”
“Tell me about these, — you’re an ecologist?”
Aji poured a martini thoughtfully from a pitcher on the table, and settled into an ersatz font, like a student of English. “Aging.”
He said, “This is about a wisdom tooth. A poker pal in Florida. His dentist put one knee on the chair, and his elbow on the arm rest, and wrenched the tusk from this guy’s jaw. He said it was the best day of his life. But then he chips another tooth. He says it’s because he never paid the dentist.”
“Bad karma,” she said. “An omen?”
“It’s my glimpse of it, of old age,” he said, sliding across the corner of the book. He read, “Am am I just, Oh but/waking in, the sere Dawn,/now I must pay, Oh sin.”
He pointed to another verse. “That one is about a young man, I’ll call Gabe, Gabriel. He lives with his father, Red. It’s a good story. He was really fitful, weary this particular day, more melancholy than usual. He was raised to be a very cheerful kid. His father’s an entertainer. Sort of. Gabe’s twenty-ish. The guy lifts tons of energy drinks in palates every day. He wants, he just wants to fast-forward, vault ahead.”
“There’s yin, and yang,” she offered. “Youth can be awful.”
“Well,” he said. “Gabe gets paid well, but he tells me, one day, he summarizes it all. He says, ‘All I want is pork chops every Tuesday night.’”
“Right. Modest, though.”
“I told him his problem was pork.”
Aji said, “He’s not a vegan. No tradition of zoolatry, or revering sacred cows. This is bad luck?”
“Cats are obligate carnivores. They require meat to survive, due to their physiology. Humans, omnivores, eat plants, animals, bacteria, and other nutrients, not just meat. Our biology evolved; we can’t survive without protein, amino acids, like seventeen of them in a chain. Eighteen? I don’t know. There are frugivores; insectivores. Evolution has made us sinners. Biology. Yet we evolve from these animals.”
“We call it strife,” Aji said, “No, we’re not fruitarians.”
“I have this image of a rabbit; a newborn rabbit, alone in a freshet,” he said.
“Yes, this one, here,” she said, underlining it with her finger: in a violet sky,/stare the heavens, with a/a lightning storm; blankly,/a senseless rabbit gnaws.” ◊
Theme | “Flea Markets, No. 4″ | playlist, nos. 1-15
“The Shadows” is one of three works by SODA TOM.
“The Shadows,” by Soda Tom, Vol. I of III,
from The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories
Copyright (C), 2018; 2017, ff., by the author
All Rights Reserved
Created by Soda Tom