Plugs

This is actually a story by Ken Brady. We’re having some technical problems with the site that are keeping Ken from posting under his own name, but with any luck, everything will be sorted out over the weekend.


Standing on the foredeck of the Titanic the first thing we notice is how real the wind feels. We walk unnoticed all the way up to the bow railing and spread our arms as if to fly like that meat actor back in the flat days. The days when it only took a few hundred million dollars and a contrived love story to suspend disbelief.

We have greater requirements. When the only reality we have is a construct, we come to rely on the details. Down to the prim, the pixel, the ray. And here, on the deck of one of the most famous disasters in human history, we will make our stand, take our chances, be saved or fade into obscurity, forever lost.
We have been in the Purgatory Hub for six days now, and our cluster will lose its public funding tomorrow. None of us had enough money in life to buy our way into everlasting life, so here we are, in a final act of desperation.

We know the great ship will strike an iceberg tonight, and we must find new bodies to inhabit before that occurs. We must do or die, as the expression goes. If we don’t face death in a body of historical significance, we will simply be deleted. We will not join the other uploads in the Perpetual Cluster, not become part of the global mind, not become part of human history. It will be like each of our two hundred lives never existed.

Choosing another life is difficult. None of us knew in which historical event we would find ourselves, but some of us recall bits of useful data, factoids from history class or pop culture. We are on the upper decks for practical reasons; in first class, we have a better than sixty percent chance to live forever.

We move through the cabins and lounges, each of us choosing a body. We temporarily assume their names and identities, their lives and last hours. Women and children first. The unfortunate among us are left with men. We choose the richest-looking men.

If we are lucky and our assumed names match those on the front page of The New York Times, April 16, 1912, if we are indeed on the partial list of the saved, we will earn a place in history. We will be survivors.

The alternative is not really an alternative at all, but the dark depths of the ocean and the cold embrace of eternity.

History is our only route to the future.

My friend is sad. He is driving us to a poetry reading. I have just shown him the glossy back-cover photo of the poet reading tonight. My friend holds his head in his hands and rubs his face. One would think driving in this posture would be difficult. Grabbing the steering wheel, I ask, what ails you, my friend?
I am sick and tired, he says, of being sick and tired behind the wheel of this vehicle.
I allow him to wallow in his misery in peace. People need peace with their misery. Like donuts need grease.
He cries dry tears. I know because he will lift his face, and it will be dry because I will do something he will not like that will cause his face to lift. His eyes will, however, be red from rubbing them with his palms. The only time he has ever cried wet tears was over Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. When the peaceful misery passes, I say, tell me what makes you so sad.
If you don’t know, I am not going to tell you.
I release the steering wheel. My hands cover my face. I say nothing. I need peace with my misery though misery gives no peace. Come here, I say; let me kiss and make it feel better. I gesture for his face.
He lifts his face. His eyes are red, his face is dry, and his elbow, apparently, does not like my gesture (nor does my gesture like his elbow). He says, we will not. We are men.
I forgot, I say rubbing my gesture; I only wished to comfort your misery.
Let us go, you and I, to a poetry-etherized reading.
Let us, I say, and afterwards we can gobble a steak dinner and salad at the casino buffet on the river. The food may not be good, but there is a lot of it, which is good for us manly men who don’t know what we want to eat.
Yum, he says.
Besides, I say, a river is the universal, unidirectional symbol for time because it can’t change directions–except in earthquakes. We will eat on a river of time until our guts explode. Like true artists: everything done in excess.
Thyme, he asks.
Exactly, I say.
My friend cuts across traffic, because we are late, heading the wrong way down a one-way on Dodge Street, which is poetic because the cars have to dodge us. We live art.

Routing…

A. Portland, Oregon

1. Grand adventure is calling!
2. Slide your ass out of bed.
3. Drink a Stumptown or three.
4. Clear IPAs from your head.
5. Gas up the Subie wagon!
6. Put on your old Birks!
7. You’re in Oregon camo.
8. (In the city that works.)
9. Avoid roads with bored cops.
10. (You don’t want to go down.)
11. Stash the weed! Crank some indie!
12. Head straight south out of town.

637 miles later (about 10 hours, 2 minutes):

B. San Francisco, California

1. Cross your choice of big bridges.
2. Pick one – pay the damn toll!
3. Go up and go down.
4. Don’t stop at stop signs – just roll!
5. Go up and go down.
6. Get lost and then again!
7. Do E with a homeless dude.
8. He’ll become your best friend!
9. Good luck finding parking.
10. (Though it helps some to pray.)
11. Kick the homeless dude out.
12. And head south to L.A.

381 miles later (about 6 hours, 26 minutes – up to 7 hours, 50 minutes in traffic):

C. Los Angeles, California

1. Oh! The freeways and cloverleafs!
2. Lots of lights! Lots of cars!
3. Oh! The silicone breast implants!
4. Lots of strip clubs and stars!
5. Don’t turn down the wrong roads.
6. Never trust a valet.
7. Careful snorting while driving.
8. Buy a hands-free coke tray!
9. Party at clubs with ridiculous covers.
10. Drive like you’ve got the heart of a beast!
11. Avoid being on a reality show.
12. Onward, the desert awaits to the east.

792 miles later (about 12 hours, 19 minutes):

D. Albuquerque, New Mexico

1. Take that left turn.
2. (You know that you want to!)
3. Make fun of the town’s name.
4. Just where no one can hear you.
5. It’s a good place for business.
6. And for jobs (Forbes says so).
7. But they drive like they have
8. Nowhere special to go.
9. So just drink some peyote.
10. View the great color fountain!
11. See hot air balloon fiestas.
12. Then head on up the mountain!

449 miles (about 7 hours, 11 minutes):

E. Denver, Colorado

1. Celebrate that you’re here!
2. Your adventure is done.
3. Drink beer and get stoned.
4. Pretend you’re in Oregon!
5. It’s the Mile High City.
6. Snow’s a beautiful scene!
7. Reflect on your adventure.
8. All the places you’ve been!
9. You’ve had traffic and parking.
10. Yes, at times you were vexed.
11. But it’s your destination!
12. Where will you go next?

Fang Chin put down his palette and brush, rose slowly from his stool, knees cracking, and peeked around his canvas at the UFO that had just landed nine meters from where he stood, in the center of the Dafen Art Village on the outskirts of Shenzhen. The saucer was a blackish color, carbon possibly, or charcoal, but Chin could not tell for sure, as he felt slightly nauseated upon looking at it and had to turn away. It was roughly the size of his artist’s shed, vaguely disc-shaped, and it pulsed with a frequency so low that his bones vibrated.

The Village itself was in chaos, artist workers and framers and pigment mixers running in all directions, clambering over each other to escape the presence of this thing that could not be, paintings forgotten, oil reproductions of Van Gogh and Vermeer and Modigliani and Toulouse-Lautrec and hundreds of others, scattered, slashed, ruined in haste and fear.

But Fang Chin did not run. One of the few artists in the Village to paint “originals,” his imitations of the masters stylized, skewed beyond mere mimicry, featuring in the top right corner of each piece a small representation of the UFO that pulsed before him right now, his trademark, his “signature,” impossibly come to life.

Without transition, two amorphous blobs of the same nauseating color as the saucer stood before him, roughly his height, undulating hypnotically, and said, in perfect Mandarin, “Artist-Prescient Fang Chin?”

Chin cleared his throat, licked his lips, and said, “Yes. That’s me.”

“At last!” The blobs undulated faster, more cheerfully. Chin could not tell if the synchronized voices were spoken or just in his head. “Long have we searched the Multiverse for you, such a rare prescence, located only here and in our home univ, so highly improbable your existence.”

“Ah, okay. Thank you.”

“Today we bestow upon you a mighty honor! You and your work are to be immortalized by our collective, absorbed into our cultural consciousness and forever revered as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Will you accept?”

Immortality was of course any artist’s dream. To be placed amongst the highest echelons of creative visual endeavor, to join with those who had inspired him and given his life meaning, to be known beyond the small galleries in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong, his name on the lips of everyone in China, Asia, the world. His fingers and toes tingled.

“Yes, I accept.”

And without a word, the two amorphous blobs flowed over Fang Chin, covering him from head to toe, rippling with rhythmic consummation, and devoured him utterly. His DNA mingled with theirs, transmitting experience and epiphany, and the two blobs uttered a cry of delight. Then they re-merged with their saucer, lifted up into the sky, and were never heard from again.

Creative Commons License

This piece is just one in a 23-part linked narrative called Fragile, which will take a liberal interpretation of the song titles (but not the lyrics) of the masterful Nine Inch Nails double-album The Fragile. To read the other chapters in this series, click on the category “Fragile” below.

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