Friday, December 21, 2012

The Angel and the Virgin Mary

When he first came to her, Mary didn't believe Gabriel was real.  She said as much.  She said she believed in God and destiny and the salvation of mankind, but as far as angels go, she just wasn't convinced.

This was before Gabriel announced his revelation.  He visited her a few times, just so she would become comfortable with him.  In those days, angels were a little more active among humans, or at least more overt about it.  Gabriel himself had visited many humans.  He never really understood them, but at least he had experience with them.  The first thing he didn't understand was how they saw him.  Most of the reports he subsequently monitored mentioned wings.  Gabriel had no wings.  In fact, no angels had wings.  True, he tended to float, because angels have no reference for hard surfaces, and so cannot simulate standing.  They can simulate a lot of things, but not standing.  Perhaps to rectify this aberration from everyday experience, humans simply rectified the difference, and assumed all that bright light was hiding wings, like birds.

The bright light.  Well, it was another manifestation of angels not getting human conditions quite right.  The sun doesn't exist where angels come from.  Consequently it can sometimes be easy to assume that humans generated light.  Gabriel was certainly aware of the Six Day Labors, and the myths some cultures had developed around humanity's acquisition of light, but it was all a little fuzzy.  After all, it was all just theory to him.

Mary asked if he would sit down, actually.  Gabriel had no idea how to respond to that.  He didn't acknowledge it.  He knew everything that was going to happen, omniscience borrowed from the big guy, as always, for visitations.  He knew that Joseph was going to have his problems.  He hoped to discuss this with Mary, but it was clear from the start that she wanted to make these decisions for herself, to believe that she still had an active role.

The only way he knew to convince her of his legitimacy was for Gabriel to show Mary what only he knew, which was what he did when he wasn't visiting humans.  He brought her, just for a moment, to his observatory, where had access to all time.  This was the first time in modern history that a human saw dinosaurs.  That was all that Mary needed.  It was seeing such awe-inspiring creatures that she understood both that Gabriel was what he said he was, but also that the world was everything that she had believed about it, far more massive in scope than most of the people she knew could ever comprehend.

In a strange sort of way, this makes a lot of sense.  But it's not something you'll hear about too often.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Angel and the Candlestickmaker

The angel sat on a cloud and looked below.  The world was teeming with activity, people shoving into one another, clamoring to find things for the season ahead, butting heads and getting angry, forgetting all about caring for one another.  He looked above and saw more clouds, obscuring the vastness of space that spread out beyond them.  Somewhere, maybe just an idea he'd had earlier that day, was Heaven, where the Candlestickmaker waited patiently.  The angel was due to give a report on what he saw, but couldn't find the words.  It wasn't that he didn't know what to say, but that he didn't know how to say it, and he was afraid that he wouldn't do it justice, and that if he couldn't do that, then he would fail both those he watched and the Candlestickmaker.  He didn't want to do that.  And so instead he kept watching, waiting for things to make sense.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Coming in 2013

I've been working on a new manuscript based on the Space Corps saga, which accounts for the reason that very little activity has been seen in these parts for the past few months.  However, I will soon enough be putting new material here, including "Darkness Falls on a Dark Land" and "Insidious."  Both will be serialized twelve-part short stories, which has been done here several times in the past.

"Darkness" is another Space Corps story, and in effect will retell the complete story from which "Quagmire," which is included in Monorama (my collection of stories drawn in part from material previously presented here) was drawn.  "Insidious," meanwhile, is a sequel to "Back from the Dead," the superhero story also featured in Monorama.

Flash Fiction!

He was admiring his own reflection in the well when a giant fish came out of it and swallowed Peter whole.  It was okay, because Peter could fly, and soon brought them both clear into the air, where only one of them could survive.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Orica and the Troll

He was swilling his mead when the dragons came.  Orica hadn’t seen a sword in days, not since losing that game of cards, not since kissing the famed Statesman goodbye.  He nodded, just in case anyone thought he wouldn’t acknowledge the panic.

For the past few nights, Orica had been in a constant state of intoxication, the main reason he hadn’t seen even a hint of daylight, the reason why he’d lost Statesman, the reason why he hadn’t been the first to spot the dragons.  He convinced himself all over again each night that everyone was better off with him like that, or that at least he was better off like that, ever since the death of his brother.  That was something he would never get over, or at least that’s what he believed, and what he would continue believing as long as he remained below the fuzz of that perpetual hangover.

It was the troll, the one he had failed to kill a week earlier, that had done it.  How else to blame himself for everything but remember in mind-numbing detail the exact moments of that accursed day?  Even as the bartender tried to rouse him, producing sword after inferior sword, Orica shrugged off any thought but the evening on the road, the last evening he could remember clearly, when he had come across the troll, and actually sheathed Statesman.  What had been his thoughts?  He still couldn’t answer that burning question.  That was the one element he couldn’t remember.

He’d come from a banquet held in his honor, the great hero of the realm, the slayer of monsters and the conqueror of fiends, who had fought back invasions of barbarian horde, wrestled fierce creatures to the ground, spat in the face of death a thousand times in the last year alone.  He had nothing to prove that night.  The troll didn’t even dare approach him.  That was why he had put Statesman away.  The troll had gone out of its way to avoid him.  Even demons feared him now!

He simply kept walking.  The night was young and the breeze was cool across his face, and the moon was full and bright.  He could hear minstrels in the distance, unrelated to the banquet and coming like sirens from the direction he was now headed.  The lumbering steps of the troll reverberated on the ground, but Orica ignored them as best he could.  His fingers flexed, but he calmed them, told them they’d grip Statesman again soon enough, perhaps to sever the head of an elephant, should one come stomping his way.  That was his mood that evening, entertaining the absurd rather than reality.  Those who had that very evening toasted his bravery would have scoffed to know his thoughts.  Did he know them himself?  That was what Orica struggled to reconcile with mead.

The troll was reported by a passing villager as having ravaged a local tavern, and Orica only thought to himself, a fine night for a drink.  A fine night for a drink!  That was all he could think!  It was at another tavern where the troll committed his sin, took the life of Orica’s brother.  Orica did not learn of it until the next evening, but in fact it happened that very night, not an hour removed from their crossing.  He was embarrassed to admit later that he had gotten lost in the woods, looking for a spot to relieve himself, when the first indication of what had occurred came to him.  It was another villager, perhaps the same one, running in panic, screaming at the top of his lungs, stumbling into the indecent Orica, knocking them both over.  At this, Orica reached for Statesman, at this he was willing to defend himself, against someone so small and insignificant that if he had seen the man in the clear light of day, Orica would only have spat on him, a habit he was mindful to keep away from anyone who might have mattered.  Instead he kicked the man away and in the glare of Statesman recognized his mistake, and would have claimed the man’s head just as he would have the elephant’s if the man hadn’t uttered the name of Orica’s brother, the sole casualty of the troll that night, despite a rampage it seems only interrupted by his crossing with Orica.  Only then did the beast become civil, only then did the beast conduct itself with any modicum of restraint, as if it had sensed Orica, sensed what would happen, and instead of respecting the great warrior, mocking him, as no living soul ever had before, on the night of his greatest failure.

Orica didn’t know, at first, what the simpleton meant, why he would dare utter his brother’s name.  “Speak, man,” he demanded, not bothering to explain what exactly he wanted, because it soon became clear that it was unnecessary.  The poor wretch finally recognized Orica, and wept on the spot, as if he were a baby, as if the whole world had come to an end and his last sight was the dimming eyes of the one champion who could have prevented it.

The bartender knew better than to say anything.  Orica lifted his head in an almost comical manner, using both his hands, as if all his strength were needed to perform the act.  When he opened his eyes, the bartender disappeared, knowing the wiser act without having to think about it.  The wings were heavy on the wind, beating against it as Orica had failed to, against the backside of the troll.  That was as much as he could have done, if he had simply given his inaction a second thought, if he hadn’t been so enamored of his own glory, if he had still been the man who had earned all that praise.  He was a drunken charlatan now.  That was all he deserved to be.  He’d thrown the game, just as he’d thrown his brother’s life away, thrown away his reputation, thrown away Statesman, the bringer of death.  Now all Orica considered himself was a harbinger.  He might as well have whistled for the dragons.  In all of creation, he had never been able to handle dragons.  His mead was a beacon, reflected on the surface of the moon, calling on doom and despair, the only things Orica still believed in.

Slowly, he stood, his legs more sturdy than he would’ve anticipated.  He looked around the tavern and saw that it was completely empty, perhaps exactly as the one his brother had died in when news of the troll had reached it.  His brother had stayed, and all Orica had heard of what remained was the club the troll had used, probably the remnants of a barstool, to kill him.  Orica now picked up the stool he’d been slouched on, and flung it at the bar, shattered the glass that had until a few moments ago held his precious mead, and picked up the splintered leg he sought.  “For my brother,” he whispered to no one, and stumbled to the door, beckoning with his free hand to the dragons he could see even now with blood dripping from their teeth.

He had always been petrified of them.  He didn’t abide flying things, never ate bird, thought they were unnatural, and dragons most of all, reminders of an age when the earth was covered by reptiles and not by men.  He nearly tripped over his own feet, felt himself lightheaded, thought that maybe if he fell just right, he would never land, and the club would sink itself into the eye of a dragon, without any effort on his part, just blind misfortune intervening with fate once again.

Orica arched his back, flexed his muscles, and felt for the familiar blade, but it wasn’t there, and he no longer believed in himself, and doubted very much that anyone else did, even though it had only been a week since all the world loved him.  Many things had changed since then.  There was not another living soul within sight.  There were minstrels, absurdly playing in the distance.  It felt right.  The flames reached him long before he felt them.  In fact, he never felt anything ever again.  He died without having to face reality even one more time.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Darkness in the Knight

It all made perfect sense at the time.  There was once a doctor in Gotham.  He was perhaps the best man the city ever knew.  He himself knew someone in particular.  His name was Joe Chill.  Years before the incident behind the theater, Chill was a patient of Dr. Wayne.

Unbeknownst to either of them, they had a mutual acquaintance, who was myself, Bradley Headstone.  I knew Dr. Wayne as he walked past me every day on his way to work.  I was a street urchin, the same age as his son.  He'd give me money every time he passed, whatever he had on-hand.  Sometimes it was a few coins.  Once in a while it was more.  Chill, fittingly enough, was another guardian angel.  He looked after me in more practical ways.  He taught me how to survive.  There's no reason to believe either of them ever realized how much they both helped me.

The evening of the incident behind the theater I was feeling miserable about myself.  I was sitting in that alley, tucked away, wishing that I could disappear forever, when I saw both of them together for the first and last time.  Dr. Wayne had his wife with him, and their son.  Chill was desperate.  I'll never know his exact circumstances.  The most dignified way to make it in this world is to keep our best secrets to ourselves.  He pulled out a gun.  I'm not not sure either recognized the other in that moment.  It was a different time, the start of a new era.  Dr. Wayne defended his wife.  Chill grabbed at her pearls.  Gunshots echoed into the night.

When it was over, Chill had disappeared.  Two boys remained.  Dr. Wayne's son wept over the bodies of his parents and I watched from a distance.  Somehow I believed that we would be connected forever.  I followed that belief and Bruce Wayne on an odyssey.  I snuck aboard a ship bound for Europe, shadowing him as I had now done for many years.  I knew his secrets.  I knew what he wanted to become.

A storm struck us.  The seas became dangerous.  The younger Wayne foolishly believed he could rescue a sailor caught in some lines.  I watched as a massive wave took them both into fatal waters.  When the ship reached its destination, I wondered what I should do next.  In the confusion of that night, no one had seen what happened.  They didn't know who had been lost.  I took it upon myself to solve the riddle and assume the identity of Bruce Wayne.  I took on the responsibility of avenging his father.

When I returned to Gotham years later, the Wayne family butler Alfred Pennyworth accepted me home as the prodigal son.  Whether it was his failing eyesight or wishful thinking or mindful self-deception, or perhaps simply the passage of time, Pennyworth never seemed to question my identity.  The mansion was a revelation.  It had been cleared of its ghosts, and had in turn embraced others.  Everything was covered over in sheets.  I took to exploring it in my spare time.  In the spacious yard I discovered boarding that covered a hole in the ground.  I went down the hole and discovered a cave.  It was inhabited by bats.

I accepted the bats as the only symbol of my own life I had left, the boy in the alley, the frightful image of Joe Chill that still haunted me.  My friends had always been peculiar.

I immersed myself into the only logical conclusion to Bruce Wayne's quest.  I became Gotham's Dark Knight, its watchful protector, the Batman.  If he were alive today would he approve?  I like to imagine.  But I keep myself too busy to think too much about it.  I have legacies to protect, men whose generosity and tragic fates I guard, try to amend into something more noble than they ever knew.

Despite what you may think, I still think both Dr. Wayne and Joe Chill were good men.  I wonder what they would think of me now.  That's what still drives me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


The following report was not easy to complete.  The events depicted occurred more than a hundred years ago, before time travel became a part of everyday life.  Given the unique nature of what happened, it would have been very easy for history to forget it entirely.
We have the unique benefit, however, of both our subjects writing about their experiences in a series of journal entries.  These entries are really quite remarkable.  Rather than subjecting you to a prolonged transcript of their thoughts, I will attempt to unify their common narrative into the single story it became.
Subject 1 we will call Jack.  He is the younger of them.  Subject 2 we will call John.  He’s the older one.

Jack has been stressing out about his life.  He is a uniquely modern individual, for he is doing this at a much earlier age than his predecessors.  Where previous generations were remarked on their midlife crises, and more recent ones on quarterlife angst, Jack has been worried about the advancement of his goals for as long as he can remember.  The more time passes, the more he finds evidence to believe that he will never amount to anything.
John is the opposite in almost every regard.  He is very successful and fully confident in his abilities.  He has lived a long time like this, and has forgotten it if he has ever had to worry in the manner that Jack does now.  He looks at the struggles of youth the way any adult does, as a necessary element of life that must be experienced and endured, and not to be taken too seriously.  In short, he no longer empathizes in the least bit with it.  It is as foreign to him as an exotic dish, although John can say with some confidence that there are few things he has not eaten.
If there is one cause for concern in John’s life, it’s his latest project.  He has approached it from several different angles, and has yet to find a means of entry.  The project has him entirely stymied.  He has on more than one occasion became upset over it.  He has even considered giving up.  There’s little to lose but a small piece of his pride.  The problem is, pride is almost everything John knows at this point in his life.  He values pride more than anything, because he has much to be proud of, and believes that pride in fact defines everything he’s achieved.  He believes it even defines him.
Jack knows nothing of pride.  He knows everything about ego, but nothing at all of pride.  He is a desperate man, fully confident in his abilities, but an abject failure in everything he has ever attempted.  It’s enough for him to believe that there has to have been some kind of conspiracy against him.  How else to explain it?  There’s plenty of ego in that conviction, but a certain amount of truth as well.  Jack is a failure, but he is not an untalented one.
However, he is most definitely a failure.  From an objective standpoint, it’s almost comical.  In truth, if there’s been any sabotage in his life, it’s been from Jack himself.  Self-fulfilling defeat defines much of what he’s experienced.  He’s too caught up in himself to know what’s best.  He knows a great many things, and is very good at what he does, but he doesn’t know how to execute it so that anyone else will notice.  When they do, it’s as if he’s still a child in a classroom, precocious but easy to forget.
Such reactions no longer reassure him.  He’ll admit with some coaxing that they used to, but that now they only sicken him.  He knows this could go on for years.  That may be why he jumped through the time portal without a single thought to the consequences.
Ah, the time portal.  It was a bright light at the end of a sidewalk, inexplicable in every way.  How did he even know what it was?  He claims that he had a dream about it, and very likely he did.  He was out walking one night, because walking was the one activity that never failed him, even if it sometimes sent him in rambling and pointless directions, though he was plenty used to that.  It was dark and he was a little chilly, having decided to forgo a jacket, which is funny because he normally couldn’t be torn away from his favorite one, something he naively believed made him a character.
When he first saw the light, Jack secretly hoped it was a fire, a chance to catch a little warmth.  Instead, he finds that it’s a time portal, which isn’t confirmed until he actually steps through it, which he does in moments.  He only stops to make a note of it in his journal, on the other side.  Jack’s journal is a notebook, kept on him at all times, along with a pen, which he jealously guards from coworkers who are constantly losing pens, as if that’s what gremlins take these days.
On the other side, he immediately notices that he isn’t in his own day anymore.  There are subtle changes, the kind anyone would notice when separated by several decades from the time they know, enough to know that time has passed, but not enough so that times have absolutely changed.  It’s recognizable, navigable, as much as he needs anyway.
His first thought is, where is the Jack in this present?

John has coincidentally gone for a walk, too, one of those walks people take to clear their heads, hope for inspiration, something mature people do, whether they’re old or not.  Jack simply walks.  John’s knees bug him at times, but not tonight.  The moon is shining in the distance, full and orange, like a sticker in the sky.  He’s wearing a sweater, because he never leaves home without one.  He wears it while he’s at home, too, always trying to manage the temperature, and in that way having completely modified his perception of the conditions in any environment.
His head is still full of that project he’s trying to figure out.  That’s why he doesn’t see Jack, although it might also be interpreted as the exact moment Jack emerges from the time portal, thereby making impossible for John to have anticipated the other man.
They collide in an awkward heap, all tangled arms and toes smashing into each other.  John’s head hits first, and he has no idea what it strikes until he looks up.  He’s surprised to see the young man, and offers an immediate apology.
 “It’s my fault,” Jack honestly replies, although like everything else in his life there’s another interpretation he fails to register.
John stares into the stranger’s face for a moment, a glimmer of recognition registering somewhere in the bowels of his mind, but his glasses have been knocked askew, and even if they were on properly it’s doubtful that he would be able to see the young man with any real accuracy.  He offers another apology and attempts to move along.  Older people have little time for diversions, even though they have more unaccountable time than others, very much like the children they’re slowly becoming again.
Jack doesn’t let up so easily.  Younger people have a lot of accountable time, but they’re constantly chipping away at it to make room for what they actually want to do, and since he’s out of his own time, Jack has more of it than usual, which means he’s feverishly looking for a way to fill it.
He asks John where he’s headed, mostly so that if it came up he wouldn’t have to answer it himself.  He’s already looking for ways to use the situation to his advantage, because otherwise he’ll have to admit that he’s lost, and that’s something Jack has been stubbornly trying to avoid for years.  As frustrated as he is, he still likes to believe his life has meaning.  What other point is there to keep going?
John keeps walking for a moment and then stops abruptly.  “I’m not sure,” he says, like a truly old man having forgotten.  He’s not that old yet, but even he wonders if that’s the accurate interpretation of his statement.  He raises his hand to his head, as if to physically remove cobwebs, then frowns and coughs.  Finally, he tells the stranger now behind him that the truth is, he’s headed back home, because there’s no real point to the exercise at hand.  It might as well be that, exercise.  Go for a walk!  He laughs without embarrassment.  People his age do that more easily, almost as easily as very young children, and those young adults Jack used to know in college, when everything was a joke.
“Let me go back home with you,” Jack finds himself saying.  He’s already asking John what he’s working on that’s got him so frazzled before he has a chance to think it.  It’s a night for impulsive behavior.  It all feels exactly right.
John thinks for a moment and decides the young man looks okay, so what’s the problem with humoring him?  He raises his hand to his head again, seeming to remember something, something very important.  Later, he will write a very extensive and very confused entry in his journal about it.  His memory isn’t what it used to be, but he believes with an inordinately strong conviction that he ought to remember what occurred to him in that moment.
They walk together in silence and in perfect unison.  Jack realizes it more quickly than John does, but neither makes a comment about it.  In fact, the walk to John’s home is filled with silence for the duration.  Jack keeps looking around, which starts to annoy John.  It’s something Jack has done all his life, but he has more reason to do so now, and isn’t afraid to do it, even if he notices John staring at him.  By the time they reach John’s door, they’ve finally exchanged names.  Jack notes with a laugh that he has no weapons, and is miserable in a fight, which is only speculation because he’s never been in one.  John does not seem reassured, but he motions for Jack to enter all the same.
With less hesitation than he might have imagined only hours earlier, John starts to tell Jack about his project, the one that sent him on that walk to begin with, and the young man seems to be intrigued.  Jack goes so far as to say that he’s been thinking about very similar ideas, which at first John finds hard to believe, but the more Jack talks, the more John believes.  Like everything else this evening, it’s inexplicable but natural at the same time.
Jack suggests he look directly at John’s notes, maybe get a better feeling for the nature of the project, and ways he might help improve it, get it done.  To this John complies, and offers to make them some tea.  John’s never drank tea in his life, but he has some in the house.  He figures now’s the time if any.  Absently he notices that the pot of coffee sitting on the counter has gone cold, though he doesn’t remember making it, which may explain what happened.
When he’s returned with two mugs filled with boiled water and a couple of packets for tea, Jack is sweating, like he’s had a feverish dream, or maybe expended more energy than he realized on John’s project.  John makes a joke, and it’s Jack’s turn to omit laughter.  They sit at John’s drawing table for a moment, letting the tea bags soak in their mugs, another awkward silence descending, when Jack gives a shout, which causes John to knock his mug of water all over himself.
Understandably, John becomes angry, a spell is broken, and he demands an explanation, whatever goodwill he once had toward the young man long gone, perhaps poured down the drain along with the stale coffee.  He slaps Jack without hesitation.
Wounded in pride, of all things, Jack seems to have forgotten his epiphany.  John takes a step back and asks in a quiet voice if Jack would like to stay the night, brushing everything away, an empty gesture that the young man readily accepts.  Where else is he going to go?
Without any further words, John shows Jack to the spare room where he’ll sleep, and walks off.  They both spend time writing in their journals, the hour getting later all the while.  They’re both unable to sleep anyway.
Jack’s mind is as confused as John’s is.  While John’s suddenly loses all concept of practical use, Jack’s fills up like it will never experience the like again.  He’s still thinking about the project, about what had occurred to him just before the accident.  He slips away back to the drawing board, careful to be silent, keeping all the lights out, counting on that giant orange moon, and sees that he was right.  Jack doesn’t know, but John hears everything, and suddenly knows exactly what’s happening, or believes he does.

That’s where the journals fall silent, and only conjecture can fill in the rest of the story.  We assume that John emerges behind Jack and becomes enraged once again.  Jack must have found the device after completing his notes.  With the improvements, he successfully opens the time portal that originally sent him to the future.  John can’t know what he’s doing, when he strangles Jack.  He can’t possibly appreciate it, but Jack can.  He knows exactly what’s happening.  Maybe a part of John’s mind finally awakens to the truth, but by now he’s become quite senseless to reality.
We don’t know why the journals survive.  By all theories currently known, they should disappear along with both men.  When one kills one’s past self, the whole life experience is erased from history.  The time portal no longer exists.  Jack no longer exists.  John never existed at all.  And yet the journals remain.  Curiously, though the body should also remain behind, Jack does in fact disappear.  Perhaps his body went back to his own time, and is currently buried beneath someone’s house.  Perhaps his ghost haunted the owners into fabricating the journals.  It’s as plausible as any explanation we’ve considered.
Time travel is dangerous.  What happened is always going to happen.  For Jack, for John, it’s an especially tragic fate, but it couldn’t happen any other way.  Jack lost his future, perhaps realized in a glimmer of an instant that he would not have turned out to be the failure he believed he was.  John lost his existence, inadvertently becoming the agent of his own undoing.  Some sort of bizarre karma, a confirmation of shortcomings?
Well, we don’t like to judge.  There’s enough hassle in our work as it is.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 12 (Conclusion)

A long time ago, in a more remote part of the country, a boy named Mannix Roberts woke up one day to discover his parents packing everything they owned into the family vehicle, which backfired almost as often as it drove smoothly.

He asked, bleary-eyed, what was going on, and his mother cooed to him, “We’re moving, baby.”

Years later, Mannix learned the truth, that his father had just committed armed robbery, during which he murdered the shopkeep of a convenience store.  Somehow in the grand scheme of things, the motivation for creating the City of Tomorrow was lost.

The Roberts clan arrived on the outskirts of what was to become Metropolis in 1927.  They discovered a rural population centered around an academy Mannix quickly found himself attending.  After he entered the academy grounds, Mannix never saw his parents again.

This school in the middle of nowhere was the remnant of an earlier time, when the area had been rich and prosperous.  The locals would later claim that they were the first victims of the Great Depression.  For Mannix, however, history was just beginning.  He met a circle of friends with whom a vision of the future was mapped out, plans to resurrect the dead world around them, all inspired by the ridiculous books they tried to hide from the teachers.

Upon graduation, Mannix was overcome with an urge to make that vision a reality.  His friends were more reluctant, but they played along.  Before any of them knew it, the year was 1938 and Metropolis was presented to the rest of the country with a grand opening fair, in which the first fruits of its dream of innovation were revealed, along with a prototype rocket that actually shot clear into the sky but never landed.  Some claim it reappeared in Kansas, others Cleveland.

One by one, the friends split up, moving on to other cities, until Mannix was the only one left.  The truth was, he was never very good on his own.  Sure, he had a wife and kids, but they only ended up reminding him of something he’d struggled to deny.  He grew older, more secluded.  His name was lost to the very thing he’d struggled to create, and finally he understood what history was all about.

His wife left him, took the kids.  He was standing outside the hospital when the first grandchild was delivered.  A man named Jasper Finds had replaced him.  Probably never even knew what he had.

Mannix settled down into the very kind of neighborhood he had tried to eradicate from his memory.  He became a bum.  He drank all day long.  No one around him had a clue who he was, and perhaps if they did, they were only spit on him, and he would deserve it.  The vision had passed into other hands, and he wasn’t sure they knew what to do with it.

One day he learned that a plane crash had taken the lives of his family.  The sole-surviving member was a granddaughter, nine months pregnant, barely holding on.  He stood outside another hospital, waiting to learn the fate of his legacy, the only living soul who would remember his name.

The granddaughter died in delivery.  His great-grandchild, Chelton Roberts, was placed in the arms of strangers.  Like an afterthought, Mannix learned that for some reason, Jasper Finds had not been a passenger.

Then one day I stumbled across Mannix, and then Celeste Montano, and some time later put all the pieces together.  The Boy Who Fell to Earth, I suddenly realized.

I’ve been struggling with what to do with all of this.  What do mere humans mean to the City of Tomorrow when there are superhuman aliens flying around in the sky?  I suppose it’s the basic struggle, the fight for the future despite impossible obstacles.  Something like that.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 11

How do you solve the unsolvable riddle?  By risking everything.

I lived my life by playing it safe for seven decades.  Old men either have storied lives or have avoided anything remotely interesting.  Before Jasper Finds came across me in the park, I had every intent to live another three decades exactly the way I’d lived the previous ones.  I wanted that century mark.

I know, it sounds a little silly.  The mileage doesn’t matter if you haven’t gone anywhere.  Except I never saw my life as boring.  I lived in the City of Tomorrow.  Every day was an adventure, even if I was a tourist in my own life.  I learned early on that there were things bigger than me, and I was okay with that.  My parents were humble, simple folk, and I fully expected to follow in their footsteps.  They came from a different time, though.  Metropolis didn’t exist for them.  It was everything for me.  I looked around and saw a wonderland, and that was enough.  I never gave much thought to how it came together, everything that so fascinated me, the landscape, the people, the collective manifest ambition.  I had none of my own.  I was content to live vicariously.  The world around me seemed like more than enough a challenge.

I shouldn’t sell myself so short.  I cobbled out a living by writing about my experiences.  It was nothing fancy, and I did it mostly for myself, working a mediocre job and spending the rest of the time doing what I loved.  I fashioned fantastic stories about the everyday wonders around me, and didn’t need exaggeration to capture them.  Most of it was fiction, but all of it was real.  What else could result from this place?

But I kept to myself.  I kept my head down.  Those who risk everything lose everything.  I risked little and spent a long time getting along.

When Jasper gave me his burden, it didn’t occur to me the extent to which he had drastically altered the course of my life, because at first it seemed exactly like what I’d been doing before.  Jasper had made a career of unearthing secrets.  I had made a hobby of it.  Turns out there are differences between careers and hobbies.

For instance, the people are real when you make it a career.  You can pretend that it’s all fiction when it’s a hobby, you can pretend that none of what you do makes any difference.  When you make it a career, everything matters.  What you do affects someone else.  When it’s just a hobby, you can keep to yourself and keep everything you do to yourself, but you no longer have that luxury when it’s a career.  You start matching faces and names.  You start interacting with the world around you, like stepping from a 2D image to 3D.

In some ways it’s the same, though.  You start immersing yourself in legend, because in a sense you’ve become a part of it.  Names that only seemed like fiction before become reality.  They take on a sense of urgency.  You become a part of the narrative.  You find that the end of someone else’s story becomes the beginning of yours.  In one sense, that was Jasper Finds to myself, but also much more than that.  The whole of the City of Tomorrow, in fact.  The story of the past being written into the future, with a little help from yours truly.

Something happened to the vision that motivated the founders of Metropolis, that key difference that separated it from the rest of the world.  Somewhere along the way, the mechanics started taking over and the vision was lost, and everyone started scrambling to reclaim it.  But in the absence of the vision, doubt started flooding in.  Did anyone truly know what was supposed to be done, what needed to be accomplished?  Jasper Finds figured that the link between the past and the future had to be reestablished, and dedicated his life to fulfilling that task.  Actually, he sacrificed it.

My task was to figure out what that meant, how close he’d gotten.  I’d stepped through the looking glass, saw the mechanics for myself, and now knew what was necessary to revive the vision.  And I think I knew what needed to be done, how to connect the City of Tomorrow to men who flew through the sky and made all us regular folk superfluous.  But then again, maybe that didn't have to be the case.

Friday, September 28, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 10

It’s said that Metropolis was founded because someone had a vision of the future.

I don’t mean to be coy.  Literally, someone had a vision of the future.  That’s what the City of Tomorrow was based on, an actual vision.  The initial days of feverish architectural design was meant to facilitate that vision, to bring about the necessary conditions that would help that vision come true.

What was the vision?  No one knows.

The Apex Club was formed, first and foremost, to answer that question, which burned at the heart of the secret conversation constantly murmuring across the streets of Metropolis.  If you listen carefully, you can hear it, even in the midst of the busy hubbub of workaday life, or at night when anywhere else the whole world seems to be abuzz with anything but matters of truth.

There’s a common misconception that the Apex Club is a scientific organization.  To a certain extent, that’s exactly what it is, but in a slightly more comprehensive survey of disciplines than you’d normally expect.  Mostly it emphasizes the human element, when normally science seeks to downplay our impact in the grand scheme.

But like the City of Tomorrow itself, the Apex Club doesn’t look backward but forward, attempting to make the giant leap to the future, and how humanity factors into that, dismissing the usual pessimism to envision life as it can shape change even in the midst of obstacles.

The main requirement for membership was measurable psychological levelness, which is to say sanity.  They didn’t want potential megalomaniacs who would derail their efforts or warp them.  That’s not something everyone thinks about.

They didn’t know it, but the Apex Club was very much like the original founders.  Sometimes those attempting to explore something are very much like what they’re exploring.

They sought to identify the individuals who had the potential to fulfill the original vision.  To put that another way, exceptional individuals came together to fulfill the vision of exceptional individuals by looking for other exceptional individuals.  Got it?

That’s why they cared about people like Jasper Finds and Charlie Varrick, and why they cared about the identity of the infant under the care of Celeste Montano, why they sought to recruit Martha Thomas, who was to be the last of their agents, who would answer the riddle of the infant and all the other questions, and quite possibly, the biggest one of them all, what exactly was the vision of the future that gave birth to the City of Tomorrow.

Am I talking in circles?  I’ve found that most times it’s necessary to do that in order to understand what’s going on.

Martha struggled to accept what was happening to her, especially the odd way in which the Apex Club chose to reveal itself to her.  In the weeks and months after learning the truth of the clinic, she no longer saw individuals, no longer trusted them, and to its credit the Apex Club realized that this was to its benefit.  Martha was the opposite of everything it had assumed about what it would take in order to solve the riddle.  The fact that she had such a hard time adjusting also meant that she would never be comfortable, and that would only force her to fight harder for her answers.

It’s true that she avoided answering the obvious questions presented her, but it also meant that she answered the ones that the Apex Club never expected to be asked.  That was what made her so valuable.

Martha ended up transcending what she was supposed to represent.  That had always been the goal.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 9

When she was a little girl Celeste did not understand the political underpinnings of her family.

For instance, she did not understand why she had to dress up in her Sunday best nearly every day, because Daddy had visitors over.  It became repetitive, and Celeste wasn’t the type to enjoy the constant attention and the grownups saying how pretty she looked.

In hindsight, that’s probably why she stopped thinking of herself as pretty.  You either begin to believe such things, or reject them, even if they’re true.

Her father was important, and yet she never understood why.  As far as she could tell, nothing important happened at these gatherings, which seemed like a means to make sure everyone was happy, everyone was friends.  There were drinks Daddy didn’t enjoy except on these occasions, which made it all the more scary the more regular they became.

That’s when he started to change.  In her earliest memories of him, Daddy was perfect, not in the way that most children will accept Daddy as perfect unless given very specific reasons not to, but that he really did everything that a little girl will appreciate, even the things she will never expect, not to spoil her but surprise her, always surprise her.

That was in the beginning.  In hindsight even the perfection was an act, a means to buy her love, even if his was genuine, even if hers would have come without all that effort.

In later years, and not just because she was growing older, Celeste started to notice the change.  The gatherings were only the start of it.  How do I know any of this?  Because like Jasper Finds, I started to find answers to questions nobody asked, like a curse.

Daddy didn’t become corrupted so much as misled.  He only wanted what was best, and like all desperate men his need to satisfy his ambitions made him more desperate, more susceptible, more willing to compromise.  He was the last of the founders, come many years after the City of Tomorrow had entered the future and discovered that the rest of the world hadn’t followed.

What that meant was the end of the dream.  No one appreciated that more than the little girl who was growing up too quickly.

So one day in a meaningless act of defiance she broke the charade and made her public life take a turn that it wasn’t supposed to.  She rebelled in the most profound way she knew how and got her name tattooed on the back of her shoulder.

It was like a brand.  Everyone knew who she was already, knew who her father was, but she was supposed to be modest, be a good girl, stick to the script and let the public at large believe that she was just like everyone else, just more privileged.

The tattoo itself was a common gesture, something her kind was never supposed to do, but still common enough.  The fact that it was a tattoo wasn’t the problem, but rather that she had stitched her own name across herself.

What did it really mean?  That she had broken the code, of course.  That she had taken pride.  That was the one thing her father had never done.

But her father was dead, slumped over one evening in her favorite chair, dropped of a heart attack.

What did she have left to prove?  Who did she have left to entertain in her meaningless way?  That was when she adopted the baby.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 8

As you might assume by now, Jasper Finds was my informant.  Why did he the need to confide in me?  Mostly because I kept what he told me to myself.

Jasper got the information everyone needed.  He was not indiscriminant about it, and he was always careful.  If there was something he felt should remain hidden, he kept it that way.  Over the years, he built a rather large store of such knowledge.

It was exactly that material that he confided in me.

I used to be one of those old men who sit in the park playing chess.  I was never any good at it, and after a while, even the novelty of getting a free win off me wore off, and I stopped finding matches.  I started to sit there, staring at the pieces, wondering all manner of weird things about them, what it might be like to live in a world where kings and queens and pawns were still the agents of change, the old world in the new, as if that’s not what still dominates our lives.  Well, maybe not in Metropolis.  We have certain checks and balances here.  We’re the City of Tomorrow, after all.  We’re what the whole world’s going to be like, in the future.

Sometimes I wonder what the means, too.

When Jasper Finds unceremoniously sat down in front of me, waving his hand in front of a face staring blankly ahead, it took a moment to realize what was happening.  Even for me, it’s not every day a living legend crosses my path.  It’s a common misconception to believe that anyone in the relative proximity of greatness will run across it in their lifetime.

He started to laugh, and I asked what was so funny.  He said, “To find such a man in such a cliché.”  I wasn’t amused.  Like people anywhere, I could sometimes take my good fortune for granted.  I was living in Metropolis!

He started to explain himself more lucidly.  For some reason, I stood out for him in the vast sea of humanity, something about inherent humility that he found hard to overlook, something he used to see in himself and still wanted desperately to believe in.

I stopped him and asked who he was, because at that time I was as ignorant as the next guy, no clue to the vast wonder all around me, the hidden history of the City of Tomorrow still waiting to play itself out, with just a few pushes left.

It was only then that I looked into Jasper’s face, and noted how ashen it appeared.  I started to piece his motives together for myself.

Without very much fanfare and shelling peanuts the whole time, he told me everything he knew, everything he’d never told anyone else before.  “Keep it alive for as long as it takes.”

For as long as it takes?  Wasn’t I going to be the end of it?  Everyone would love to see the fulfillment of what they experienced in their lifetime.  The truth is, that’s very near impossible.  History doesn’t work like that.

After finishing, he simply got up, scooped the shells into a pocket, and shambled away.  I think the obituary was printed within the week, and I almost missed it, still frantically trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with all the information I now possessed.  I barely knew the man, but I started crying on the spot, whether for the man or the terrible responsibility he’d given me, I don’t know.

Why had I been chosen?  Had he really known me so well?  I sat back down in the park and there waiting for me was a young woman holding a baby, didn’t even know I was there.  She quickly got up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 7

The truth of Charlie Varrick’s defining action is less miraculous than the legends, but then again, perhaps it’s moreso.  Such is the problem with reality.

I only recently learned it myself, and that’s the reason I’ll telling you any of this, because it begins to tie the whole thing together, but you’ll see how for yourself.  Well, hopefully.

Charlie Varrick wasn’t so extraordinary, and neither was the act that defined his life.  In many ways, it’s what we expect any decent individual to do, even though many people wouldn’t have done it, and nowadays it seems downright superheroic.

One night as he was walking home from another lousy day at work Charlie heard someone calling for help.  It was a residential neighborhood, exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from such a scenario.  The other unusual element was that the man calling for help didn’t need it himself.  He was asking on behalf of another man, who was presently crouched down and holding his head, which if Charlie had been able to see clearly enough given the poor lighting, would have noticed a fair amount of blood on it.

The man asking for help on this poor individual’s behalf only wanted Charlie to make a phone call.  The man seemed to be impatient, but Charlie was never one to judge.  As soon as he related the basics of the situation, he got in his truck and drove away.

As Charlie understood it, the man had come across the victim of an assault, and given him a ride home.

The victim was an old man, though he looked like he could have been twenty years younger than he was.  Charlie knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked to make the necessary call.  It didn’t occur to him that the man who had just driven off could have easily doe that.

The call was quickly made, with the neighbor being a relay of information, including the particular spelling of the victim’s name, Mannix Roberts.  The first name was certainly unusual, but Charlie didn’t give it a second thought.  If you’re catching on to a pattern, you’re not the first one.

Charlie hadn’t intended to stay, but the more questions the dispatcher asked, the more he realized that he should.  He reassured Mannix Roberts as best he could, but neither was feeling very chatty that moment.  An ambulance arrived and a phalanx of medics emerged, started asking questions, and as soon as Mannix was identified as the victim, Charlie started feeling superfluous.

He walked on.

Within weeks he started noticing people treat him differently.  Charlie had always been a private sort of individual, maybe even mysterious, but he had never experienced a reception like this.  He didn’t think for a moment that it had anything to do with the incident that night, but of course it did.

Even I didn’t know who Mannix Roberts was the first time I heard the story.  I asked and was surprised to learn that he was the founder of Metropolis.  The founder of the City of Tomorrow the victim of a common mugging?  How had he even gotten himself into such a situation?  That much isn’t important to the story, but the fact that he had become an anonymous old man is, and the fact that someone stopped to help him in his hour of need was something he never forgot.

Somehow that steamrolled into the legend of Charlie Varrick.  The more he tried to distance himself from that legend, the more people started to wonder if they had the right man.  The source of the legend died years before anyone could try and confirm it, making it that much harder to verify, and therefore that much more of a legend, that much more distorted, a part of the fabric of the future, when the impossible in fact became reality.  But that’s the kind of thing that happens here, what we all believe in, even if that belief turns out to belong more to fiction than anything else.

Monday, September 24, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 6

Martha Thomas spent three months as an intern in a law office until she was approached to volunteer at a clinic on the outskirts of town. After college it was a welcome change of pace, a step away from the daily grind that she had welcomed, a natural extension of her studious upbringing. Finally she could enter the sea of humanity. She assumed the opportunity came more because of her looks, however. Dedicated as she was to intellectual pursuits, Martha was used to the world accepting her foremost for her beauty, which had already become something of an albatross. She spent as much time trying to achieve her goals as trying to avoid those who only wanted Martha as a trophy. The clinic was exactly like that for six months. She endured it. It was mostly clerical work, but sometimes Martha could convince herself that she was making a difference in the lives of the patients she saw pouring in on a regular basis. Sometimes it could be overwhelming. She wanted to feel bad about her problems, the lack of respect, being treated like an object, but so many of the people she saw were experiencing real pain, real torment, that they felt in a visceral way every waking moment, and all they wanted was to live without it. She knew there was some revolutionary work being done at the clinic, but she had no part of that. She had a degree that was sitting in a drawer in her apartment, which she very much wanted to use, and the more time she spent at the clinic, the more Martha convinced herself that she could use it there. When the opportunity didn’t come, she started to use her spare time to work on her own ideas. She’d seen enough, knew enough, about the problems the clinic treated. She knew what discharged patients took with them, prescriptions with complicated names but ingredients she could identify. She bit her tongue when all she wanted to do was share her ideas at work, and so she worked it out at home. That didn’t help the time pass at work that much easier, however. If anything, it made it worse. It made it a real grind. Never do something that’s more personally fulfilling outside of work hours. It makes it impossible to care about work. Yet something remarkable happened to Martha. After six months, she was called into the innermost offices of the clinic. It was explained to her that the directors knew what she’d been doing. She thought she’d been careful. She’d never tested on humans, never told anyone. The directors told her not to panic. They explained that the six months had been a test, and she had passed with considerable grace. There was only one way to become a member of the Apex Club, and that was to prove that you were selfless, that you would go out of your way to improve a situation, no matter the personal cost. At first, Martha was angry. All she wanted to do was to curse the directors, walk away from the clinic, and never return. She was asked what she’d do next. Probably apply her research, was Martha’s reply. Let us see it first, they said. What could the harm be? Let us validate it. No hard feelings. She was still upset. She felt humiliated. But she figured they were right. She’d spent six months at least believing the clinic was a legitimate operation. She’d done her research because she believed that. In a week she was informed that the directors were impressed. She’d come up with innovations they’d never considered. She wanted nothing more than to tell them what she thought about that. Something held her back. Something was always holding her back, she realized. She was waiting for something. The Apex Club? She accepted an invitation for a tour, and official introductions. She listened to their goals. She came to embrace their ambitions. Martha wondered what she would have done without patience. After all, it was the future that had always concerned her.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 5

One day I went to church.

I’m not here to advocate religion, or tell you what I think about it, so simply accept that statement as it stands.  I went to church.

The pew in front of me, and more specifically the space directly in front of me, was empty up until a few moments before the service began.  A family quickly scampered to fill it.  The individual who ended up in front of me was a young woman.

Now, you ought to know that modesty is supposed to be one of the virtues of attending church.  Modesty, however, was not one of the virtues of this young woman.  She wore a tube top that exposed her bra straps, and every time she bent over even in the slighted degree, the bottom of the bra could be seen.

I think it goes without saying that this was in the recent past.  In the more distant past, I’d like to believe that this would never have happened.

Let me also reassure you at this point that I am not a dirty old man.  I relate this young woman’s attire not because I went to church looking for something like that, but because it happened, and who she was.  You may not believe it, but her name was Celeste Montano.

I know what you’re thinking, but the tattoo on the back of her shoulder made it clear enough.  It in fact proclaimed “Celeste Montano.”

The Montanos were the last of the founders, several generations removed.  They were a beacon of the immigration drive that still represents Metropolis.  We’ll accept anyone here, even though in many ways we’ve become just another big city.  We cling to our ancient ambitions and ideals, but sometimes it’s hard to see how the City of Tomorrow hasn’t joined the rest of the corrupted modern age, slipping into ambiguity.

Celeste was famously orphaned at a young age, which makes the rumors about her and her child all the more ironic.  She was holding and trading off an infant throughout the service, with relatives or friends, I don’t know.  The infant is said to be another orphan, and if you can believe it.

If Celeste comes from the last founders, that infant is said to derive from the first.  Strange circles of fate.

The service continued for close to an hour, as it usually does.  The whole time, I wasn’t thinking about the infant, but it was excuse enough to distract my attention toward that tattoo.  Was it really Celeste Montano, or just someone who found a new trend?

The thing is, the young woman kept looking over her shoulder.  Maybe it’s a common fallacy, to assume that because you’re thinking it and they’re doing it, that the person constantly turning their head like that is giving you the view that you want, helping guide the visual conversation, just as aware as you are in your obsessive thoughts that the action is necessary.

It was her.  It was Celeste Montano.  She’s the girl all the boys in school are infatuated with; forget all the pop princesses and swimsuit models.  In this town, they all pine for Celeste Montano.  How was I to know, a wrinkled old man, that I would sit behind her in a church service?

She’s a part of this narrative because of the infant, however.  Everything in the City of Tomorrow points toward the future.  The founders pointed toward a man who could fly, who came to Metropolis a different kind of orphan, an alien.  In a way, every citizen here is an alien, even if some of them are reluctant to admit it.  Celeste Montano was an alien in that service, and she playfully juggled an orphan that some of us had been waiting for all our lives.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 4

The only person in Metropolis who ever knew everything there was to know was Jasper Finds.

Yes, it was probably an alias.  Finds had an alias.  Charlie Varrick was an alias.  Even my name, Barton Summary, is an alias.  Names can be changed.  Names aren’t important.  The important question is, can you tell the truth about someone by looking at them?  Most people assume they can, but most people are wrong.

By all accounts, Finds had an uncanny ability to read people.  He didn’t even have to question them to know their answers.  It was the same with everything else.  He was the most intuitive man alive.

The major newspapers attempted to get him on staff repeatedly.  As a consequence, he never granted them an interview.  He didn’t like the intrusion.  A man who read the world like an open book probably preferred to keep his own life as private as possible.  I assume it was his revenge.  If he was to have a gift, he wasn’t going to make a mockery of it by giving away his secrets.  If anyone had been worthy, they would have been able to do it themselves.

Finds was asked many times to help unravel the mystery of Charlie Varrick, and it was the only request he denied, other than those about his own life.  It made more than one person wonder if Finds was in fact Charlie Varrick.  Let me put that rumor to rest right now.  I knew Jasper Finds.  One does not accuse one legend of being another.  Finds wouldn’t have had time to be Charlie Varrick, besides.  People would have noticed him missing.

If you want to have a secret like that, your other identity had better have a good excuse for missing time.

Finds never had any missing time.  He could account for everything.  He started out as a police informant, found on a routine hustle on the street, brought in and questioned, and when he baffled every officer sent into the interrogation room with his answers, the truth was eventually revealed.  He had never shown up on the radar before.  He was a complete surprise.  The explanation worked itself out.

That doesn’t mean that the law didn’t keep tabs on him.

Once exposed, however, everyone seemed to learn his secret, and the increased public scrutiny helped shake the hassle of detectives who had been shadowing him, which for a man like Finds was like a mosquito buzzing about, impossible to ignore.

He never sought any of it.  He would have preferred to live his own life.  I heard enough complaints about it from Finds to confirm that it wasn’t just an act, that he was genuinely annoyed by the reaction to his gift, that he wished he could just crawl back to obscurity, when he could pass his skills off as coincidence, which most people are more than ready to believe.

The more I dug around, though, the more I learned that even that would have been impossible, that he had been used by the very culprits in the sting operation that had exposed him.  Most people love a good conspiracy even more than they love coincidence.  Someone finally decided that Jasper would finally be found.

The thing about Finds is that his memory remained sharp.  Often when someone uses a gift like that, it grows dull, like a punishment in advancing age, a payment in turn for abusing it over the course of a lifetime.  Maybe the Apex Club wanted to study him for that reason alone, or maybe they were just hoping that he would help them solve the riddle of Charlie Varrick once and for all.  One legend leads to another.  That’s the way it always works.  At least, that’s how most people like to believe it.

In the City of Tomorrow, a man like Jasper Finds demonstrated throughout his life that big achievements could have simple methods and ordinary results.  He was always a neighborhood concern’s first refuge.  Care to know the truth about someone?  You could always trust that man to tell you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 3

The legend of Charlie Varrick fascinated denizens of Metropolis for decades.  It’s said that he was one of the primary reasons the Apex Club stuck around for as long as it did.

You see, he was known as the Man Who Fell to Earth.

Now, before you get carried away, the appellation was always assumed to be allegorical.  The tricky part is, the legend grew because no one really knew what it meant.

The obvious interpretation is that Charlie literally fell to earth, and the implication is that he survived.  Since he exists in legend more than documented reality, it’s assumed that he lived in the earliest days of the city’s foundation.  Yet all attempts to verify his existence have been rebuffed throughout the years.  Most assume that he lived under a series of aliases, and that “Charlie Varrick” itself is merely the most famous ones.  If you poke around the basements of my best friends, you’ll discover scrapbooks full of purported identifications in newspaper clippings and circus flyers, even the commemorative brochure from the opening of Metropolis.

Did he survive a fall?  Such a sensational story would likely leave an impact, but also theoretically a trail in trade journals and perhaps permanent enshrinement in the medical field.  As he’s already a cult figure, it might be argued that religion already found Charlie.

Chances are, however, that the fall is metaphorical.

Perhaps he was one of the founders, and he suffered a fall from grace, and that’s why no one talks about any of them anymore.  That would certainly solve a couple of mysteries, wouldn’t it?

But he seems more common than that, even if he lived an uncommon life.  If you visit a playground, you’ll still hear children sing rhymes about him:

Charlie Varrick fell to earth
He’s been falling since his birth

Those are the only ones I know, I’m afraid.  The strange part is, I think I chanted them myself when I was that age, which would make it a long time ago.  I suppose the fact that even I don’t know may say something about Charlie.  Maybe he was the pied piper of the founders, leading them to this ground, marking a spot as it were, a truly symbolic fall.

Yet the memory is a funny thing, as I’ve suggested.  Charlie is such a part of the background chatter that it’s difficult to separate the man from the legend, especially when there’s more legend than man to him.

Do I have my own theories?  Sure I do.  I could name a dozen men, and a few women, who could’ve been Charlie.  Can I come up with a single individual actually named “Charlie Varrick”?  Searching through the public record will quickly solve that particular mystery.  Do an Internet search.  You will probably come up with a ghost or two.  Maybe there’s a connection.  I wouldn’t put much stock in that.

No, Charlie is the guardian angel of Metropolis, a man who never existed in the past and so is as much a man of the future as anyone, on whom you can project anything you want, insubstantial, ephemeral, a part of someone’s dream.

Still, that doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried to find him.  As I said, the Apex Club did, for a very long time.  Their efforts were seen as dubious by some, a discredit to everything else they hoped to achieve, chasing after a legend when they were supposed to be inventing fact.  Well, discovering the unknown was always their game.  What else did their critics expect?  I will say that I gave them a little help, in a roundabout way.  But more on that in a moment.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 2

The biggest loss to the legacy of Metropolis after it became defined bald billionaires and flying men was the Apex Club.  Consider it the Manhattan Project and the Justice League rolled into one.

It was the dream of Martha Thomas.  Martha inherited a sizable fortune from her industrialist father, but chose to invest it in the City of Tomorrow.  There was no greater champion of scientific and social innovation than Martha Thomas, and to put it simply, Metropolis wouldn’t exist today without her.

In order to achieve her lofty goals of revitalizing everything that had originally motivated the foundation of the city, Martha formed the Apex Club, gathering the brightest minds of her generation to not only solve the problems of the day but anticipate those of tomorrow.  That’s not to say that they dawned garbs of sackcloth and bemoaned the evils of humanity, as all the would-be street-level saviors do now.  Their job, as they saw it, was to anticipate the needs of mankind before anyone realized they existed.

Not to harp on the present too much, but the Apex Club did more than infinitely refine the same technology, making the same things smaller and more diversified.  As I’ve said, the brightest minds look for something new.  Cynics will tell you there’s nothing new under the sun.  Cynics are notably absent from our brightest minds.

This is not to say that the Apex Club did not run into opposition.  There’s always opposition to change.  I’ve also said most of us exist in a lethargy of normality, and we like it so much that we actively abhor those who attempt to alter the predictable and routine and well-established.  We preach all the time about supporting people like Martha Thomas, but more readily reward her exact opposite, those who reassure mediocrity.  We claim to reward success, when we really only care about achievement, and the achievements we most value are incredibly mundane.  When it isn’t, we find a way to downplay the achievement.

The Apex Club fought that every step of the way, and that’s what made it all the more remarkable.  As I’ve said, the City of Tomorrow wouldn’t exist without it.  It’s one thing to bring Metropolis into being.  It’s another thing to maintain it.  The only way to maintain Metropolis is to keep its vision alive.  Innovation through routine.  It’s an irony that was not lost on Martha.

Skyscrapers were nothing new when Metropolis came into being, but they discovered a new dimension in this city.  Visitors always notice that.  After a while, most of the world’s architects stopped inspiring awe, everywhere else but in Metropolis.  That’s the singular contribution of the Apex Club.  Their towers were taller, sturdier, and filled with infinitely more complex ideas than any that had been seen before.  The famous L-shaped building you know today was originally Martha’s tribute to her father, Lon Thomas.  Yes, it has since been appropriated.

The Apex Club had its successors, too, some of which you may be aware of.  In more ways than is typically appreciated, it was the missing link of the 20th century, too modest to boast, not secretive enough to develop a cult following, but behind everything that came to define the City of Tomorrow, after it was determined that simply maintaining what sat in the foundations would have been a betrayal to them.

I never met Martha, never sat in on a board meeting of the Apex Club.  Martha’s funeral drew thousands from around the whole world, representative it’s said from every continent and probably from most countries, even those who had never directly benefited from her work, but who nonetheless drew inspiration from her.  I suppose in a way I did meet her, because I attended the funeral, too.  In her final interview she exclaimed a deep ambivalence to her legacy, and regret that she had not done more, that in time no one would remember her name.

I suppose it’s true.  Sometimes referenced in editorials, but you will seldom hear her name today.  The march of progress eventually leaves everyone behind, even its greatest champions.  Yet if I could tell Martha anything, it’s that she hasn’t been forgotten, that she was every bit the success she strived to be.  It’s just, we haven’t even begun to see the fruits of her labor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

City of Tomorrow, Part 1

People tend to forget that Metropolis existed before him.

The other thing they forget is that before they learned to expect routine from their lives, they used to discover new things all the time.

It can be a hassle to imagine the world differently from what you’ve come to expect.

I’ve lived here all my life.  My name is Barton Summary and I’m old enough to be your grandfather, so when I say I know this town, hopefully you’ll take my word for it.

Metropolis, as I’ve been getting around to saying, was known as the City of Tomorrow from the very start.  It wasn’t always dominated by greedy billionaires, but I’m sure they had their part in its origins, too.  I mean, how else is something like this going to happen?  You don’t end up with this kind of innovation just by accident and speculation, though a little of that helps.

Its founders imagined Metropolis at the vanguard of the future, and fought hard to keep the march of progress going, long after dreams of utopia settled into the quagmire of reality.  To achieve that, it had to remain at the forefront of the imagination, like any major center of population.  Attractions were built into the cornerstones of the city, but it was also necessary to build celebrity.  The founders were themselves celebrities, eccentrics one and all, though they were always the private type, preferring to keep their creation in the spotlight.  Perhaps if you look in the archives or City Hall, you’ll see a picture of them, catch their names.  After all, Metropolis wasn’t named after anyone.

It was to be the quintessential city, that’s how it got its name.  The only way to lay claim to such a boast was to constantly maintain it, some might even say militantly so.  Before the dream started to collapse and crime and suicide took over its brightest spots, Metropolis was always known for order.  It had a place for everything and everything in its place.  Success came at a price.

The City of Tomorrow was born in the 20th century.  It was populated with dreamers to match the dreamers who conceived it, restless spirits who agitated for the future, innovators in every field.  The only problem with a dream is that it always gives way to reality.  Reality dictates that dreams have practical applications.  Practical applications have a way of annihilating dreams.  Metropolis fought this never-ending battle for decades.  It had tried to transcend the world.  It learned, over the course of time, that the world cannot transcend itself.

Year by year, day by day, reality began to sink in.  The City of Tomorrow was forced to grow up.  But, as with any forced behavioral change, remnants of a prior existence stubbornly clung around the edges.  The past could not be entirely erased, especially when it was so greedily fixated on the future.  As the future grew more grim, the dream became more entrenched.  Those who hadn’t grown up in it and watched it erode began to come to Metropolis, still believing in that dream.

Whoever said there are no second acts in American lives never came to the City of Tomorrow.

I watched all of it unfold.  I was there in the beginning, and I was there when it all started to come apart, and there when it started to come together again.  And yes, I was there when he arrived.  That’s a story for a different time, though.  This time, Metropolis gets its due.  This time, you get to hear about the City of Tomorrow, and some other souls who found their way in the improbable Metropolis, where dreams were planted long ago.

Maybe it all sounds foolish to you, just one more delusion in a time of delusions, a time that has forgotten the lessons of the past, and the old adage about those who forget them.  Maybe so, but you don’t know Metropolis like I do, and that’s what I mean to correct.  New things are possible.  You just need to look around.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dead But Still Walking

At a certain point you will accept anything as normal.  Everything you know was at some point new, after all.  It was with extreme reluctance that the world accepted the undead in this way, however.  It was a process that took several centuries.

Let that sink in: several hundred years of zombies shuffling about.  Most people still find it creepy, but at least now it's so commonplace that they're almost easy to ignore, mostly because there are now ways to cope.

They still shamble wherever they want.  Their heads are smashed in with less frequency.  You tend to forget who they used to be, even if they still retain a resemblance of someone you used to know.  Actually, it's easier now to identify them, because in the early days, it was usual to fixate on what they were rather than who they'd been, even when a transformation happened during an activity that made it hard to ignore.

Planning your day around them is a matter of course.  Once you know how to avoid provoking them, they're almost like any other animal.  They're no longer human, after all; they might as well be a new species, which is exactly what some have classified them, even defended them as, which was considered insensitive by others, at least originally, but has become something they teach in the classroom now.

Maybe in another hundred years they'll simply be an urban myth, like alligators in the sewer.

Since they don't talk it's always been hard to imagine what may be going on inside their heads, which is another reason why they're now considered animals, because that's the eternal question that has always haunted humans, what another life-form thinks when the communication barrier seems impassible.  As you might imagine, there's a cottage industry devoted to interpreting them, now that they aren't simply an object of horror.

And yes, some disturbed individuals keep them as pets.  But what do you expect?

For a nominal fee, you can visit exhibits in most major cities around the world dedicated to the history of their existence.  Trade journals still try to explain why they appeared in the first place.  There are religions that have sprung up around them, extremists who target other nations because of them, end-of-the-worlders who still cling to their anachronistic beliefs.

As for me, I still have never seen one.  Most of my friends have, and sometimes I wonder if I should seek them out, if that would somehow give my life greater meaning, more fulfillment.  It sounds stupid when I admit that.  I mean, they are what they are.  I might as well say I want to see the bottom of the ocean.  I mean, I suppose I could, but would there really be a point?

Maybe I will care more as I grow older.  Right now, I don't, and I know that's not what you want to hear in this essay, but I figure the truth is more important.  Maybe there's more to say on the topic, more that you want to know about what I think, but I'm done writing about it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Captain Bebop and the Stripe-Suited Sugar Stalks

He was presumed dead.

Ten years ago on a visit to the planet Jarvis, a survey team Captain Bebop led against the advise of his executive officer was buried alive by an avalanche.  To his surprise and horror at discovering everyone else dead, Bebop survived.

Crawling from the rubble, he spent the next few weeks learning how to keep doing that.  His training had not prepared him to do it on a planet like Jarvis, however.  It was like something out of a cartoon, completely absurd.  The only thing remotely serious about it was the pit of corpses he left miles behind him.

It was the stripe-suited sugar stalks that got to Bebop.  They were everywhere.  He spent the first few weeks trying to survive and actively avoiding the bizarre stalks.  He didn't trust them.  They looked like sugar stalks, but he didn't trust them.  He ached for something sweet, but he didn't trust the stalks.

The husks on the stalks looked like pinstripe suits.  That's perhaps what unsettled him the most about them.  Growing up, he'd been terrified of well-dressed men.  They only did things like badly represent his father, uncle, and best friends in court.

There were other things he could eat, fruits and vegetables that were as recognizable as the stalks, usually a lot juicier than any he'd had before.  The first few times he had what he considered a Jarvis apple, he splattered himself thoroughly.  He was sticky for months.

But he was alive.

The animals all tried to be his friend.  At first he was terrified of even the most adorable creatures, but they kept licking him.  He'd never killed a living thing, and he wasn't about to start with these things.  Sometimes he wondered if they were simply cleaning him.

Somehow, as the years passed, Bebop survived.  He lost track of time.  He no longer thought of himself as a starship captain.  He stopped thinking of everyone he'd lost, and all those he left behind.  He stopped wondering why the rescue parties never came.  He could no longer remember what it was like for someone other than himself to respond to his verbal thoughts.

The sugar stalks kept mocking him, however.  He wondered if he'd gone mad.  He supposed it didn't matter.

He mounted the courage one day to break the husk and lick a stalk.

It tasted like bubblegum.  He hadn't had bubblegum since he was a child.  It was only appropriate.

Later that day, when he was drifting off to sleep, he wondered if he would wake up as that child.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Things You Never Hear People Say

"We probably ought to think that over," Rathbone said.

"That's an odd thing to say," Van Doren replied.

"I'm serious.  It simply doesn't make any sense.  In a few years, you're going to see it.  Maybe you won't or you can't now, me."

"Unfortunately, we don't think in those terms in the real world.  What makes sense here and now is what we go with.  Anything else doesn't matter."

"That's terribly short-sighted."

"Again, that doesn't matter.  We prefer to flow with current events.  It's easier."

"You're asking for trouble."

"Based on all our analysis, and believe me we do plenty of analysis, it makes sense."

"Your analysis is flawed, and I can tell you exactly how.  It's myopic.  You're using data that doesn't take into account anything but what you want to believe.  You're assuming that your hopeful assumptions and wishful thinking will always prove accurate.  You're a leaky ship without a plug in sight."

"That's your opinion."

"It's common sense, and what's more, your analysis would serve you better if you instead used comparative analysis, looking at factors other than your own history and ambition.  You see what you've been able to accomplish and the methods that have so far proven successful and you assume that this will always work.  I'm here to tell you that you're wrong, and you can find countless examples to support this belief.  The basic truth I'm trying to make is that you are operating under false pretenses and the only reason you believe that they are anything but is because you want it to be so.  When you fail, and you will, your own analysis will tell you what I just did.  And you won't even understand why."

"You're a cynical nonconformist."

"I'm a realist.  I believe that all observations are not equal.  I believe that most people believe only what they want to, and what's more, are foolish enough to despise those who believe differently.  What makes it worse is that this vitriol is exhibited by passive aggression.  It's maddening!"

"You need to talk to someone else about this.  Preferably someone else."

"No, I don't.  You're exactly who needs to hear this.  You need to take control of your own decisions.  You need to think for yourself.  You need to be able to reason for yourself."

"We have a structure of authority that simplifies all that."

"As to a certain extent, it works.  Where it doesn't work is where people begin to rely exclusively on it, or are otherwise coerced to do so.  Anyone who obeys any order is been historically shown to be a villain.  'Villain' is a term, by the way, that was originally derived from the socially superior to belittle the socially inferior.  It implied that this social inferiority was somehow an inherent characteristic.  It's something we're still fighting today, even though by many standards we seem to have overcome it.  Yet every time we allow a structure to subordinate one individual to another without question, we allow 'villain' to be a derogatory term all over again.  A villain is someone who does not work in the best interests of the majority, who believes the minority to be trivial, and who only prizes their own interests.  They believe in the idea of exclusivity as something that limits, rather than something that is limited.  There is only one planet.  It is not without merit to assume that some day, a megalomaniac could claim the entire planet and force everyone else to live somewhere else, in no doubt inferior conditions.  This is what you support, whether you realize it or not, some idiot claiming the entire planet and forcing everyone else to live inside some bubble on Mars or the moon, someplace that does not inherently support human life.  We are actually stupid enough to live in such areas now, because we are always looking to establish exclusivity, usually at the cost of someone else's comfort.  That's what you support without even realizing it."

"I stopped listening five minutes ago."

"Everyone hears these thoughts.  You can't deny them, only delay them, as everyone has throughout the entire history of man.  Usually people finally listen to them on their deathbed.  Most people confuse them with religion, which is the method by which humanity has always tried to learn this lesson while they can still use it.  Usually, though, they let interpretation get in their way.  They lose the message in favor of adopting a new lifestyle, Constantine codifying Christianity and ushering a new world order.  That's another thing, stupid paranoia.  Maybe some people really do think they can control the world, but it takes so long, why even bother?  By the time it works, someone else is trying to figure out how to make it work, if you understand what I'm saying, and you probably don't.  But don't worry about it.  Very few people do.  So few, in fact, that they are always the outsider in society.  Sometimes they're lucky and they get to be called philosophers, and a number of people listen to them, but don't understand them, which amounts to being ignored, just as always."

"You're hurting my brain."

"Well, all knowledge hurts the brain.  We're really no different from animals.  Even the smartest person who ever lived, lived like an idiot."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dune by the Numbers

Every 4th, 8th, 15th, Sixteenth, 23rd, and 42nd sentence from Frank Herbert's Dune:

And take the most special care that you locate Muad'Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis.

It was a warm night at Castle Caladan, and the ancient pile of stone that had served the Atreides family as home for twenty-six generations bore that cooled-sweat feeling it acquired before a change in the weather.

"So I've heard," wheezed the old woman.  "Yet he's already fifteen."

Within the shadows of his bed, Paul held his eyes open to mere slits.

Paul fell asleep to dream of an Arrakeen cavern, silent people all around him moving in the dim light of glowglobes. (from Book One)

He blamed everyone in sight, not excepting even me, for he said I was a witch like all the others.

"Now Harkonnen shall kill Harkonnen," Paul whispered.

"Lifting the shades wouldn't help," he whispered.  "There's been a storm."

The undermining emptiness of her words helped restore some of his calm.

My unknown mother, Jessica thought. (from Book Two)

It cost more than a million solaris in spice bribes, so my mother said, and there were other gifts as well: slave women, royal honors, and tokens of rank.

The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen raged down the corridor from his private apartments, flitting through patches of late afternoon sunlight that poured down from high windows.

Nefud stood, his face composed by the narcotic but with an overlay of paleness that told of his fear.  The semuta music had stopped.

"Almost two years."

"Did I not say to you that you were to tell me whenever he went into the quarters of the slave women?" (from Book Three)

The effect of Arrakis on the mind of the newcomer usually is that of overpowering barren land.

His mind went directly to the free-moving human population, the Fremen.

Then one marries a Fremen woman.  When she gives you a Fremen son, you begin with him, with Liet-Kynes, and the other children, teaching them ecological literacy, creating a new language with symbols that arm the mind to manipulate an entire landscape, its climate, seasonal limits, and finally to break through all ideas of force into the dazzling awareness of order.

"The entire landscape comes alive, filled with relationships and relationships within relationships."

They knew him: he was the Imperial servant. (from Appendix I)

But there are more profound points of accord between the Kitab al-Ibar of the Fremen and the teachings of Bible, Ilm, and Fiqh.

The agnostic ruling class (including the Guild) for whom religion was a kind of puppet show to amuse the populace and keep it docile, and those who believed essentially that all phenomena - even religious phenomena - could be reduced to mechanical explanations.

Immediately, space gave a different flavor and sense to ideas of Creation.  That difference is seen even in the highest religious achievements of the period.

"Increase and multiply, and fill the universe, and subdue it, and rule over all manner of strange beasts and living creatures in the infinite airs, on the infinite earths and beneath them."

For more than a standard year, that statement was the only announcement from C.E.T. (from Appendix II)

Analysis of their "trial of fact" on the Arrakis Affair betrays the school's profound ignorance of its own role.

In simpler terms, what they sought was a human with mental powers permitting him to understand and use higher order dimensions.

The plan was to inbreed this daughter with Feyd-Rautha Harkonne, a nephew of the Baron Vladimir, with the high probability of a Kwisatz Haderach from that union.  Instead, for reasons she confesses have never been clear to her, the concubine Lady Jessica defied her orders and bore a son.

When Family Atreides moved to the planet Arrakis, the Fremen population there hailed the young Paul as a prophet, "the voice of the outer world." (from Appendix III)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Star Trek '12: 3112 AD (Conclusion) - And Vulcans Again

A Vulcan by the name of Sallek tinkered with a new starship design, a retrofitted dorsal carrier.  For many years, Vulcans had been excluded from the intergalactic community, mostly by choice but also through their inability to adapt.  No doubt many of them had seen it coming, perhaps by as many as three millennia, perhaps someone in Sallek’s own line, and perhaps they had made peace with it.  The times were always changing, but Sallek preferred to believe that they remained comfortably familiar, even in the midst of radical reform.  He himself had always tried to lead a simple life, something many of his brethren had elected to forego, always filling their days with complication, always verging on chaos, even if they believed their efforts to represent basic Vulcan logic.  Sallek didn’t believe most Vulcans had the first clue of basic Vulcan logic.  It was a lost art almost from the beginning.  Still, what was he to do about it?

As it turns out, nothing.  He instead led a humble life, and tinkered away at his technical manuals.  He often chatted with his human friends via subspace, an antiquated but amiable way to communicate.  He tried to keep up on current events, but with so many reporting agencies, it was difficult to settle on the best one to follow, especially since none of them were comprehensive.  He decided not to worry about it.  There were plenty of things to worry about, besides, not the least was his own continued well-being, which could never be assured.  There were so many elements working against each other in the universe, and in their efforts to be successful in this venture, they often discovered that it was easier to ignore the small things that got caught up in their affairs, caught up and lost and abandoned, chewed up and spit out, became the victims of circumstance and their own inability to adapt.  Yes, Sallek believed that his very decision to lead a simple life kept him safe from such concerns, but in fact, he also knew it made him specially vulnerable.

So yes, he worried about it, but he also tried not to.  He figured there was enough space to go around, and that there were enough good people where even the worst of calamities might eventually be dulled.  Life was full of complications and possibilities, but some things always remained the same.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Star Trek '12: 3012 AD - Daniels

He forgot to study for the test, and so he traveled back in time to make up for his lapse of judgment.  Actually, it should be noted that young Daniels did not always cheat like that, but every now and again, it was worth the risk.  These days they didn’t monitor activity like that too closely.

There was much to be taken for granted, even though there were many more complications to life these days, at least so it may have seemed had Daniels reached the higher grades already, where he might be asked to write a paper on the comparative analysis of millennia.  These days, history was arguably the primary subject each student studied.  It dominated everyone’s interests.  For Daniels, it had always been a boring necessity, something so commonplace that he took no real pleasure in it.  It was this detached attitude that would eventually make him a perfect candidate to become an agent of the Temporal Cold War.  He would not lose his head at the first meeting with some long-dead celebrity.

It should be noted that for most people these days this was an entirely common temperament, but there was now such a high degree of accessibility that there was a very serious and sober physiological monitor that reported the exact level of stimulation to a given experience.  It was not one of the cooler toys, but it was most effective.  You couldn’t very well let someone go off and affect the past because they couldn’t keep a level head.  In a time where travel had become less than linear, very few mistakes happened.

Young Daniels didn’t tend to appreciate much of this, however, and so maybe that’s why his older self tended to visit him on a fairly regular basis.  This did not on a whole affect his opinions, but it gave comfort to the older Daniels that he was at least thinking about it, because while you may retain a certain amount of opinions as you grow older, you don’t retain specific thoughts, and neither Daniels liked to keep a record of those, even though these days virtually everything was marked down in some sort of ledger.

Upon every visit, the young Daniels would ask the older Daniels if there was something important that was about to happen.  The young Daniels already knew the answer, as it had been the same every time he asked this question, but the only amusement he gained from these visits was all the squirming his older counterpart exhibited.  Young Daniels knew that he would never be comfortable explaining himself, both from himself and from these visits, and it was almost comforting to know that it would never change.  Repeating the exercise was the only sense of control he had over the visits, which never ceased, and wouldn’t until it was him on the other end.  This was another way in which Daniels learned temperance.  These days there were very interesting lessons to learn.

If Daniels were interested in his studies, he might have concentrated a little more, and yet it was all so boring, so routine, that he struggled mightily.  He understood it well enough, but he wanted to be surprised, and didn’t consider that these days it was meant for life to have anything but occur until he had in fact become his older self.  That was when he discovered the real reason for the visits, undertaken between trips to the distant past, nearly a millennium ago, during which he was meant to ensure the foundation of his present reality, with identically similar visits to a man he was very distantly related to, but who for all intents and purposes was both a father and child figure for him.

It was during these days that Daniels finally knew the thoughts he himself was having during the visits to his younger self, trying to imagine what that man really thought of him, if he shared the same opinions as the young Daniels, baffled and annoyed and probably mystified, too, but knowing that they would continue to happen.  The older Daniels was almost pleased to know that there was a connection between these two distant figures, and wondered if that was something he was meant to have learned in school.  He asked his younger self this question, each and every visit, and received the same response he was himself forced to give whenever the young Daniels asked if there was a specific reason for the visit.  He had to give the man an answer each time, and he didn’t like that one bit.  Maybe the man felt the same way, and maybe he should have been formulating a question for the man.  Maybe that was the whole point of their relationship, of his whole life, and he’d just never realized it before.

Well, these days it was hard to tell.