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     © Copyright William Gibson
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     Mercifully, the whole thing is starting to  fade, to become an episode.
When  I do still catch the odd glimpse,  it's peripheral;  mere fragments of
mad-doctor chrome, confining themselves to the corner of the eye.  There was
that  flying-wing  liner  over  San Francisco last  week, but it  was almost
translucent. And the shark-fin roadsters  have gotten scarcer, and  freeways
discreetly avoid unfolding themselves into the gleaming eighty lane monsters
I was forced to drive last  month in my rented Toyota. And I know that  none
of  it  will  follow  me  to  New York; my vision  is  narrowing to a single
wavelength of  probability. I've worked hard  for  that. Television helped a
lot.  I  suppose it  started  in  London, in that  bogus  Greek  taverna  in
Battersea Park Road, with lunch on Cohen's corporate tab.  Dead  steam-table
food and it took them thirty minutes to find an ice bucket for the  retsina.
Cohen works for Barris-Watford, who  publish big, trendy "trade" paperbacks:
illustrated histories of the neon sign, the pinball machine, the windup toys
of  Occupied Japan. I'd gone  over to shoot a series of shoe ads; California
girls with  tanned  legs and  frisky DayGb jogging shoes  had capered for me
down the escalators of St.  John's  Wood and across the platforms of Tooting
Bec. A lean and hungry  young agency had decided that the mystery of  London
Transport would sell waffle-tread nylon runners. They  decide; I shoot.  And
Cohen, whom I knew vaguely from the old days in New York, had invited  me to
lunch the  day before I  was due out of Heathrow. He  brought  along  a very
fashionably  dressed  young woman  named Dialta  Downes,  who was  virtually
chinless and evidently a noted pop-art historian.  In retrospect, I  see her
walking in  beside  Cohen  under a floating neon sign  that flashes THIS WAY
LIES MADNESS in huge sans-serif capitals.
     Cohen  introduced us and  explained  that Dialta  was  the  prime mover
behind the latest Barris-Watford project, an illustrated history of what she
called  "American  Streamlined Moderne."  Cohen  called it  "raygun Gothic."
Their working title was  The  Airstream Futuropolis: The Tomorrow That Never
Was.
     There's a British  obsession with the more baroque elements of American
pop culture, something like the weird cowboys-and-Indians fetish of the West
Germans or the aberrant French  hunger for old  Jerry Lewis films. In Dialta
Downes this  manifested itself in a  mania for  a  uniquely American form of
architecture that most  Americans are scarcely aware  of. At first I  wasn't
sure what she was talking about,  but gradually it  began  to dawn on me.  I
found myself remembering Sunday morning television in the Fifties.
     Sometimes they'd  run  old  eroded  newsreels  as filler  on the  local
station. You'd sit there with a peanut butter sandwich and a glass  of milk,
and  a static-ridden  Hollywood baritone  would tell you  that  there  was A
Flying  Car in Your Future. And  three Detroit engineers would putter around
with this big old Nash with wings,  and you'd see it rumbling furiously down
some deserted  Michigan  runway. You never actually saw it take off,  but it
flew away to  Dialta Downes's never-never land, true home of a generation of
completely uninhibited  technophiles.  She was talking  about those odds and
ends of "futuristic" Thirties and  Forties  architecture  you pass  daily in
American cities without noticing; the movie marquees ribbed to  radiate some
mysterious  energy,  the  dime  stores  faced   with  fluted  aluminum,  the
chrome-tube chairs gathering dust in the lobbies  of transient  hotels.  She
saw  these  things  as segments of a dreamworld,  abandoned  in the uncaring
present; she wanted me to photograph them for her.
     The  Thirties  had  seen  the first  generation  of American industrial
designers; until the Thirties, all  pencil sharpeners had looked like pencil
sharpeners  your  basic  Victorian  mechanism,  perhaps with  a curlicue  of
decorative  trim.  After the advent of the designers, some pencil sharpeners
looked as though  they'd been put  together  in  wind tunnels. For  the most
part, the  change was only skin-deep; under  the streamlined  chrome  shell,
you'd find the same Victorian mechanism. Which made a certain kind of sense,
because  the most  successful American designers had been recruited from the
ranks of  Broadway theater designers. It was  all a  stage  set, a series of
elaborate props for playing at living in the future.
     Over coffee, Cohen produced  a fat manila envelope  full of glossies. I
saw the winged statues  that guard the Hoover Dam, forty-foot concrete  hood
ornaments leaning steadfastly  into an imaginary  hurricane. I saw  a  dozen
shots of  Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson's  Wax  Building, juxtaposed with the
covers of old  Amazing Stories pulps, by an  artist named Frank R. Paul; the
employees of Johnson's Wax must  have felt as though  they were walking into
one of Paul's  spray-paint pulp utopias.  Wright's building looked as though
it had been designed for people who wore  white  togas and Lucite sandals. I
hesitated over one sketch of a  particularly grandiose prop-driven airliner,
all wing, like a fat symmetrical boomerang  with windows in unlikely places.
Labeled arrows indicated the locations of the grand ballroom and  two squash
courts. It was dated 1936.
     "This thing couldn't have flown. . . ?" I looked at Dialta Downes.
     "Oh, no, quite impossible, even with those twelve giant props; but they
loved the look, don't you  see? New York to London  in  less than two  days,
first-class dining rooms,  private cabins, sun decks, dancing to jazz in the
evening... The designers were populists, you see; they  were trying  to give
the public what it wanted. What the public wanted was the future."
     I'd  been  in  Burbank  for  three  days, trying  to  suffuse  a really
dull-looking rocker  with charisma, when I got the package from Cohen. It is
possible  to  photograph  what  isn't  there;  it's damned hard to  do,  and
consequently  a very marketable  talent. While  I'm  not  bad at it, I'm not
exactly the best, either, and this poor guy strained my Nikon's credibility.
I got out, depressed  because I do like to do  a good  job,  but not totally
depressed, because I  did make  sure I'd gotten the check for the job, and I
decided to  restore myself  with the sublime artiness of  the Barris-Watford
assignment. Cohen had sent  me some books on Thirties design, more photos of
streamlined buildings, and a list of Dialta Downes's fifty favorite examples
of the style in California.
     Architectural photography  can involve a  lot of waiting;  the building
becomes  a kind of sundial, while you wait for a shadow to crawl away from a
detail you want, or for  the mass and  balance of  the  structure to  reveal
itself in  a  certain  way. While I was waiting, I  thought myself in Dialta
Downes's  America. When I  isolated a few of the  factory buildings  on  the
ground  glass of the Hasselblad, they  came across  with  a kind of sinister
totalitarian dignity, like the stadiums Albert  Speer built for  Hitler. But
the  rest  of  it was  relentlessly tacky: ephemeral  stuff extruded  by the
collective American subconscious of  the Thirties, tending mostly to survive
along depressing strips lined  with dusty motels, mattress wholesalers,  and
small used-car lots. I went for the gas stations in a big way.
     During the high point of the Downes Age, they put Ming the Merciless in
charge of designing California  gas stations. Favoring the  architecture  of
his  native  Mongo, he  cruised  up  and  down  the  coast  erecting  raygun
emplacements  in white  stucco.  Lots  of  them featured superfluous central
towers ringed with  those  strange radiator  flanges  that were  a signature
motif of  the style, and made them look as though they might generate potent
bursts  of raw technological  enthusiasm, if you could only find  the switch
that turned  them on. I  shot one in San Jose an hour before  the bulldozers
arrived and drove right through the structural  truth of plaster and lathing
and cheap concrete.
     "Think of it," Dialta Downes had said, "as a kind of alternate America:
a 1980 that never happened. An architecture of broken dreams."
     And that was my frame  of mind as I made the stations of her convoluted
socioarchitectural cross  in my red  Toyota as I  gradually  tuned in to her
image of  a  shadowy  America-that-wasn't,  of Coca-Cola plants like beached
submarines, and  fifth-run movie houses  like the temples of  some lost sect
that  had worshiped blue mirrors  and geometry. And  as I moved  among these
secret  ruins,  I found myself wondering what the  inhabitants of  that lost
future  would think  of  the world I lived in. The  Thirties  dreamed  white
marble and slipstream chrome, immortal crystal and burnished bronze, but the
rockets on  the  covers  of the  Gernsback pulps had fallen on London in the
dead of night, screaming. After  the war, everyone had a car no wings for it
and the promised  superhighway  to  drive it  down,  so  that the sky itself
darkened, and the fumes ate the marble and pitted the miracle crystal...
     And  one day, on  the outskirts  of Bolinas, when  I  was setting up to
shoot  a  particularly  lavish  example  of Ming's  martial architecture,  I
penetrated  a fine membrane, a membrane of probability... Every so gently, I
went  over the  Edge  And  looked up  to see a twelve-engined thing  like  a
bloated  boomerang,  all wing,  thrumming its way  east with an  elephantine
grace, so  low  that I could count the rivets  in its dull  silver skin, and
hear maybe the echo of jazz.
     I took it  to Kihn. Merv Kihn, free-lance journalist  with an extensive
line  in Texas  pterodactyls, redneck UFO contactees, bush-league Loch  Ness
monsters, and the Top Ten conspiracy theories  in the loonier reaches of the
American mass mind.
     "It's good," said Kihn, polishing his yellow Polaroid shooting  glasses
on the hem  of his  Hawaiian shirt,  "but it's not mental;  lacks  the  true
quill."
     But  I  saw it, Mervyn."  We were seated poolside in  brilliant Arizona
sunlight. He was  in Tucson waiting for a group of  retired  Las Vegas civil
servants whose leader received messages from Them on her microwave oven. I'd
driven all night and was feeling it.
     "Of course you did. Of course you saw it. You've read my stuff; haven't
you  grasped my blanket solution to the UFO problem? It's  simple, plain and
country simple: people" he  settled the glasses  carefully on  his long hawk
nose and fixed  me with his best basilisk glare see . . . things. People see
these things. Nothing's there, but people see them anyway. Because they need
to, probably. You've read Jung. you  should know the score... .In your case,
it's  so  obvious:  You  admit  you   were  thinking  about   this  crackpot
architecture, having fantasies. .. .Look, I'm sure  you've  taken your share
of drugs, right?  How many people survived the Sixties in California without
having  the odd  hallucination? All those nights  when  you  discovered that
whole armies of  Disney technicians  had  been employed  to  weave  animated
holograms of Egyptian hieroglyphs into the fabric of your jeans, say, or the
times when "
     "But it wasn't like that." "Of course not. It wasn't  like that at all;
it was `in a setting of clear  reality,' right? Everything normal, and  then
there's the monster, the mandala, the neon  cigar. In your case, a giant Tom
Swift  airplane. It  happens all the time.  You aren't even  crazy. You know
that,  don't you?"  He fished  a beer out of the battered foam cooler beside
his deck chair.
     "Last  week  I  was  in  Virginia.  Grayson  County.  I  interviewed  a
sixteen-year-old girl who'd been assaulted bya bar hade."
     "A what?" "A bear head. The severed head of a bear. This bar hade, see,
was floating around on its own little flying saucer, looked kind of like the
hubcaps on cousin Wayne's  vintage  Caddy. Had  red,  glowing  eyes like two
cigar  stubs and telescoping  chrome antennas poking up behind its ears." He
burped. -
     "It assaulted her? How?"  "You don't  want to  know;  you're  obviously
impressionable.  `It  was cold' " he  lapsed into his bad southern accent  "
`and metallic.' It made electronic noises. Now that is the real  thing,  the
straight goods  from the  mass  unconscious, friend; that  little girl is  a
witch. There's just no place for her to function in this society. She'd have
seen  the devil, if  she hadn't been brought up on `The  Bionic Man' and all
those `Star  Trek' reruns. She is clued  into the main  vein. And  she knows
that it  happened to her. I got  out ten  minutes before the heavy  UFO boys
showed up with the polygraph."
     I must have looked pained,  because he  set  his  beer  down  carefully
beside the cooler and sat up.
     "If you want a classier explanation, I'd say you saw  a semiotic ghost.
All these contactee  stories, for  instance, are framed in a  kind of sci-fi
imagery that  permeates our culture. I could buy aliens, but not aliens that
look  like  Fifties' comic art.  They're  semiotic  phantoms, bits  of  deep
cultural imagery that have split off and taken  on a life of their own, like
the Jules Verne airships that those  old Kansas farmers were  always seeing.
But  you saw  a different kind of ghost,  that's all. That plane was part of
the mass unconscious, once.  You picked up on that,  somehow. The  important
thing is not to worry about it."
     I  did worry  about it, though. Kihn combed his thinning blond hair and
went off to hear what They had had to say over the radar range lately, and I
drew  the curtains in  my room and  lay down in air-conditioned  darkness to
worry about it. I was still worrying about it when  I woke up. Kihn had left
a note on my door; he was flying up north in a chartered plane to check  out
a  cattle-mutilation  rumor  ("muties,"  he  called  them;  another  of  his
journalistic specialties).
     I  had  a  meal, showered,  took a  crumbling diet pill  that  had been
kicking around in the bottom  of my shaving kit for three years, and  headed
back to Los Angeles.
     The  speed  limited my vision to the tunnel of the Toyota's headlights.
The body  could  drive, I told myself, while the mind maintained. Maintained
and stayed away from the weird peripheral window dressing of amphetamine and
exhaustion, the spectral, luminous vegetation that grows out of  the corners
of the mind's eye along late-night highways. But the mind had its own ideas,
and  Kihn's  opinion  of  what  I was already thinking of as  my  "sighting"
rattled  endlessly  through my  head in  a tight,  lopsided orbit.  Semiotic
ghosts.  Fragments  of the  Mass Dream,  whirling past  in  the  wind of  my
passage.  Somehow this  feedback-loop aggravated  the  diet  pill,  and  the
speed-vegetation along  the road  began to  assume  the colors  of  infrared
satellite images, glowing shreds blown apart in the Toyota's slipstream.
     I  pulled  over,  then, and  a  half-dozen  aluminum beer  cans  winked
goodnight as I killed the headlights. I wondered what time it was in London,
and tried to imagine  Dialta  Downes having breakfast in her Hampstead flat,
surrounded by streamlined chrome figurines and books on American culture.
     Desert nights  in that  country are  enormous;  the  moon  is closer. I
watched the  moon for a  long time and decided that Kihn was right. The main
thing  was not to worry. All across  the continent,  daily,  people who were
more normal than I'd ever aspired to be saw giant birds, Bigfeet, flying oil
refineries; they  kept Kihn busy and solvent.  Why  should  I be  upset by a
glimpse of the 1930s  pop imagination loose over Bolinas? I decided to go to
sleep, with  nothing worse  to worry  about than rattlesnakes  and  cannibal
hippies, safe  amid  the  friendly  roadside  garbage  of  my  own  familiar
continuum. In the morning I'd drive down to  Nogales and photograph the  old
brothels, something I'd intended  to do  for years. The diet  pill had given
up.
     The light woke  me, and then  the.voices. The light came from somewhere
behind me  and  threw shifting shadows inside the car. The voices were calm,
indistinct, male and female, engaged in conversation.
     My neck was stiff  and my eyeballs felt gritty in their sockets. My leg
had gone  to  sleep,  pressed against the steering wheel. I fumbled  for  my
glasses in the pocket of my work shirt and finally got them on.
     Then I looked behind me and saw  the city. The books on Thirties design
were in the trunk; one of  them contained sketches of an idealized city that
drew  on Metropolis and  Things to Come, but squared everything, soaring  up
through an architect's perfect clouds to zeppelin docks and mad neon spires.
That city  was a scale model of the one that  rose behind me. Spire stood on
spire in gleaming  ziggurat steps  that climbed to a  central golden  temple
tower ringed with the crazy radiator flanges  of the Mongo gas stations. You
could hide the Empire State Building in the smallest of  those towers. Roads
of crystal soared between the spires, crossed and recrossed by smooth silver
shapes like beads of running  mercury. The air was thick  with ships:  giant
wing-liners, little darting silver things (sometimes one  of the quicksilver
shapes from the sky bridges rose gracefully into the air and flew up to join
the  dance),  mile-long  blimps,   hovering  dragonfly  things   that   were
gyrocopters...
     I  closed  my  eyes tight and swung  around in the seat.  When I opened
them,  I  willed myself to see the mileage meter, the  pale road dust on the
black plastic dashboard, the overflowing ashtray.
     "Amphetamine psychosis," I said. I  opened my eyes. The dash  was still
there,  the  dust, the crushed filtertips. Very carefully, without moving my
head, I turned the headlights on.
     And saw them. They were blond. They were  standing beside their car, an
aluminum avocado  with a central shark-fin rudder jutting  up from its spine
and smooth  black tires like a child's toy. He had his arm  around her waist
and was gesturing toward  the city. They were both in white: loose clothing,
bare  legs, spotless  white sun  shoes. Neither of them seemed  aware of the
beams of my headlights. He was saying something wise and strong, and she was
nodding, and suddenly  I was frightened, frightened in an entirely different
way. Sanity had ceased to be an issue; I knew, somehow, that the city behind
me was Tucson a dream Tucson thrown  up out of the collective yearning of an
era. That it was real, entirely real. But the couple in front of me lived in
it, and they frightened me.
     They were the  children of  Dialta Downes's `80- that-wasn't; they were
Heirs to the Dream. They were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes.
They were American. Dialta had  said that  the  Future  had come to  America
first,  but had  finally passed  it by.  But not  here, in the heart of  the
Dream.  Here, we'd  gone on  and on, in  a dream  logic that knew nothing of
pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible
to  lose.  They were  smug, happy, and utterly content  with themselves  and
their world. And in the Dream, it was their world.
     Behind  me, the  illuminated city:  Searchlights swept  the sky for the
sheer joy  of it.  I imagined  them thronging  the  plazas of white  marble,
orderly  and  alert, their  bright eyes  shining with enthusiasm  for  their
floodlit avenues and silver cars.
     It had all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda.
     I  put the car in gear and drove  forward slowly, until the  bumper was
within three  feet of them. They still hadn't  seen me. I  rolled the window
down  and listened to what  the  man was  saying. His words were  bright and
hollow as the pitch in some Chamber of Commerce brochure, and I knew that he
believed in them absolutely.
     "John," I  heard  the woman  say,  "we've  forgotten to take  our  food
pills."  She  clicked two bright wafers from a thing on her belt  and passed
one to him. I backed  onto  the highway and  headed for Los Angeles, wincing
and shaking my head.
     I phoned Kihn from a gas station. A new  one, in bad Spanish Modern. He
was back from his expedition and didn't seem to mind the call.
     "Yeah, that is a weird one. Did you  try to get  any pictures? Not that
they ever  come out,  but it  adds an interesting frisson to your story, not
having the pictures turnout.
     But  what  should I  do?  "Watch lots of television, particularly  game
shows and soaps. Go to porn movies. Ever see Nazi Love Motel? They've got it
on cable, here. Really awful. Just what you need."
     What was  he talking about? "Quit yelling and listen to me. I'm letting
you  in  on a  trade secret: Really bad  media can  exorcise  your  semiotic
ghosts. If it keeps the saucer people off  my  back,  it can keep  these Art
Deco futuroids off yours. Try it. What have you got to lose?"
     Then he begged off, pleading an early-morning date with the Elect.
     "The who?" "These oldsters from Vegas; the ones with the  microwaves. ~
I  considered  putting a collect  call through to  London,  getting Cohen at
Barris-Watford  and  telling  him his  photographer  was  checked out  for a
protracted season in the Twilight Zone. In the end, I let a machine mix me a
really impossible cup of black  coffee  and climbed back into the Toyota for
the haul to Los Angeles.
     Los Angeles was  a bad idea, and I spent two weeks there. It  was prime
Downes country; too  much of the Dream there, and too many  fragments of the
Dream waiting to snare me. I nearly wrecked the car on a stretch of overpass
near Disneyland, when the road fanned out like an origami trick  and left me
swerving through a dozen minilanes of whizzing chrome  teardrops  with shark
fins. Even worse, Hollywood was full of people who looked too much like  the
couple I'd seen in  Arizona. I hired an Italian director who was making ends
meet doing  darkroom work  and installing patio decks around  swimming pools
until his ship came in; he  made prints of all the negatives I'd accumulated
on the Downes job. I didn't want to look at the stuff myself. It didn't seem
to bother Leonardo,  though,  and when he was finished I checked the prints,
riffling through  them like a deck of cards,  sealed them up, and  sent them
air freight to London. Then I took a taxi to a theater that was showing Nazi
Love Motel, and kept my eyes shut all the way.
     Cohen's congratulatory wire was forwarded to me in San Francisco a week
later. Dialta had loved the pictures. He admired the way I'd ``really gotten
into it,'' and  looked forward to working with me again.  That  afternoon  I
spotted a flying wing  over Castro Street, but  there  was something tenuous
about  it,  as though it  were  only  half there. I  rushed into the nearest
newsstand and gathered  up  as much as I could find  on the petroleum crisis
and the nuclear energy  hazard. I'd just decided to buy  a  plane ticket for
New York.
     "Hell of a world we  live in, huh?" The proprietor was a thin black man
with bad teeth and an obvious wig. I nodded, fishing in my jeans for change,
anxious to find a park bench where I could submerge myself in  hard evidence
of the human near-dystopia we live in. "But it could be worse, huh?"
     "That's right," I said, "or even worse, it could be perfect."
     He  watched  me  as I headed  down the  street with my little bundle of
condensed catasttophe. Fragments of a Hologram Rose
     That  summer Parker had  trouble sleeping. There  were  power droughts;
sudden  failures of the delta-inducer brought  painfully  abrupt returns  to
consciousness.
     To avoid these, he used  patch cords,  miniature  alligator clips,  and
black tape to wire the inducer to a battery-operated ASP deck. Power loss in
the inducer would trigger the deck's playback circuit.
     He bought an ASP cassette that began with the subject asleep on a quiet
beach. It had been recorded by a young blonde yogi with 20-20  vision and an
abnormally acute color sense.  The boy  had been flown  to  Barbados for the
sole  purpose  of  taking a nap and his  morning's exercise  on  a brilliant
stretch  of  private  beach.  The  microfiche  laminate  in  the  cassette's
transparent case explained that the yogi could will himself through alpha to
delta without an inducer. Parker, who hadn't been able  to sleep without  an
inducer for two years, wondered if this was possible.
     He  had been able  to sit  through the whole thing only once, though by
now he knew every sensation of the first five subjective minutes. He thought
the most interesting part of the sequence was  a slight editing slip at  the
start  of  the elaborate  breathing routine: a swift  glance  down the white
beach that picked out the figure of a guard patrolling a chain link fence, a
black machine pistol slung over his arm.
     While Parker slept, power drained from the city's grids.
     The transition from delta  to delta-ASP was a dark implosion into other
flesh.  Familiarity  cushioned the  shock. He felt  the cool sand  under his
shoulders. The cuffs of his tattered jeans  flapped against his bare  ankles
in  the  morning  breeze. Soon  the  boy would  wake  fully  and  begin  his
Ardha-Matsyendra~something; with other hands Parker groped  in  darkness for
the ASP deck. Three in the morning.
     Making yourself a cup of  coffee in  the dark,  using a flashlight when
you pour the boiling water.
     Morning's recorded  dream, fading: through other eyes, dark plume of  a
Cuban freighter fading with the  horizon it navigates across the mind's gray
screen.
     Three in  the morning. Let yesterday arrange itself around  you in flat
schematic images. What  you said what she said watching her pack dialing the
cab.  However  you  shuffle  them  they  form  the   same  printed  circuit,
hieroglyphs  converging on a central component;  you, standing in  the rain,
screaming at the cabby.
     The rain was sour  and acid, nearly the color of piss. The cabby called
you an asshole; you still had to pay twice the fare. She had three pieces of
luggage. In  his  respirator and goggles,  the man looked  like  an ant.  He
pedaled away in the rain. She didn't look back.
     The last you saw of her was a giant ant, giving you the finger.
     Parker saw  his first ASP  unit  in  a Texas  shantytown  called Judy's
Jungle. It was a massive console cased in cheap plastic chrome. A ten-dollar
bill fed into the slot bought you five minutes of  free-fall gymnastics in a
Swiss  orbital spa,  trampolining  through  twenty-meter perihelions  with a
sixteen-year-old  Vogue model  heady  stuff for  the  Jungle,  where  it was
simpler to buy a gun than a hot bath.
     He  was in New  York with forged papers  a year later, when two leading
firms had  the first portable decks  in major  department stores in time for
Christmas. The ASP porn theaters that had boomed briefly in California never
recovered.
     Holography went too, and  the block-wide Fuller domes that had been the
holo temples of Parker's childhood became multilevel supermarkets, or housed
dusty amusement arcades where you  still might find the old consoles,  under
faded  neon pulsing  APPARENT  SENSORY  PERCEPTION  through a blue  haze  of
cigarette smoke.
     Now  Parker  is  thirty  and  writes  continuity   for  broadcast  ASP,
programming the eye movements of the industry's human cameras.
     The  brown-out   continues.  In   the   bedroom,   Parker   prods   the
bru~hed-aluminum face of his  Sendai Sleep-Master. Its pilot light flickers,
then  lapses  into darkness.  Coffee  in  hand, he crosses the carpet to the
closet she  emptied  the day before. The flashlight's  beam  probes the bare
shelves for evidence of love, finding  a broken leather sandal strap, an ASP
cassette, and a postcard. The postcard is a  white light reflection holo&ram
of a rose.
     At the kitchen  sink, he  feeds the sandal strap to the disposal  unit.
Sluggish in the  brown-out, it complains, but swallows and digests.  Holding
it carefully between thumb and forefinger, he lowers the hologram toward the
hidden rotating jaws. The unit  emits a  thin  scream  as steel teeth  slash
laminated plastic and the rose is shredded into a thousand fragments.
     Later  he sits on the  unmade bed, smoking. Her cassette is in the deck
ready for  playback. Some women's tapes disorient him, but he doubts this is
the reason he now hesitates to start the machine.
     Roughly a quarter of all ASP users are unable to comfortably assimilate
the  subjective  body  picture  of the  opposite sex.  Over the  years  some
broadcast  ASP stars have  become increasingly androgynous in  an attempt to
capture this segment of the audience.
     But Angela's own tapes have never  intimidated him before. (But what if
she  has  recorded a  lover?) No,  that  can't be it  it's  simply  that the
cassette is an entirely unknown quantity.
     When Parker was fifteen, his parents indentured  him  to  the  American
subsidiary of  a Japanese plastics combine. At the time,  he felt fortunate;
the ratio of applicants to indentured trainees was enormous. For three years
he  lived  with  his  cadre  in a dormitory,  singing the company  hymns  in
formation each morning and usually managing to go over the compound fence at
least once a month for girls or the holodrome.
     The indenture would have terminated on his  twentieth birthday, leaving
him  eligible  for  full  employee  status.  A week  before  his  nineteenth
birthday, with two stolen credit cards and a change of clothes, he went over
the fence for the last  time. He arrived in California three days before the
chaotic  New  Secessionist  regime  collapsed.  In  San  Francisco,  warring
splinter groups hit and ran in the streets. One or another of four different
"provisional" city governments had done such an efficient job of stockpiling
food that almost none was available at street level.
     Parker spent the last night of  the revolution  in a  burned-out Tucson
suburb,  making  love to a  thin teenager from  New Jersey who explained the
finer points  of  her horoscope between bouts of  almost silent weeping that
seemed to have nothing at all to do with anything he did or said.
     Years later he realized that he  no longer had any idea of his original
motive in breaking his indenture.
     * * * The first three quarters of the  cassette have  been erased;  you
punch yourself fast-forward through a static haze of wiped tape, where taste
and  scent  blur  into a single channel. The audio input is  white sound the
no-sound  of the first  dark  sea. . . .(Prolonged input from wiped tape can
induce hypnagogic hallucination.)
     Parker crouched  in the roadside New Mexico brush at midnight, watching
a tank burn  on the highway. Flame lit the broken white line he had followed
from Tucson. The explosion had been visible two miles away, a white sheet of
heat lightning that had turned the pale branches of a  bare tree against the
night  sky  into  a  photographic  negative of  themselves: carbon  branches
against magnesium sky.
     Many  of  the  refugees were  armed.  Texas  owed the  shantytowns that
steamed  in the warm  Gulf rains to the uneasy neutrality she had maintained
in the face of the Coast's attempted secession.
     The  towns  were  built  of  plywood,  cardboard,  plastic sheets  that
billowed in the wind, and the  bodies of dead vehicles. They had  names like
Jump City and Sugaree, and  loosely defined governments and territories that
shifted constantly in the covert winds of a black-market economy.
     Federal and state troops sent in to sweep the outlaw towns seldom found
anything. But  after each search, a few men would fail to report  back. Some
had sold  their weapons and burned  their uniforms,  and others had come too
close to the contraband they had been sent to find.
     After  three months, Parker wanted out,  but goods were the  only  safe
passage through the army cordons. His chance came only by accident: Late one
afternoon, skirting the  pall of greasy cooking smoke that hung low over the
Jungle, he stumbled and  nearly fell  on the body of a woman in a dry  creek
bed. Flies rose  up in an angry cloud, then settled again, ignoring him. She
had a leather  jacket, and  at night Parker was  usually cold.  He began  to
search the creek bed for a length of brushwood.
     In the jacket's back,  lust below her left shoulder blade,  was a round
hole that would have admitted the shaft of a pencil. The jacket's lining had
been red  once, but now it  was black, stiff and shining  with dried  blood.
With the jacket swaying on the end of his stick, he went looking for water.
     j-Ie never washed the jacket;  in its  left pocket  he found  nearly an
ounce  of cocaine, carefully  wrapped  in  plastic and  transparent surgical
tape. The right pocket held fifteen  ampules of Megacillin-D and a  ten-inch
horn-handled switchblade.  The  antibiotic  was worth  twice  its  weight in
cocaine.
     He  drove the knife hilt-deep  into a  rotten stump passed  over by the
Jungle's wood-gatherers and hung the jacket there, the flies circling  it as
he walked away.
     That night, in a  bar with a  corrugated iron roof, waiting for one  of
the "lawyers" who worked passages through the cordon, he tried his first ASP
machine.  It was huge, all chrome and neon, and the  owner was very proud of
it; he had helped hijack the truck himself.
     If the chaos of  the nineties reflects a radical shift in the paradigms
of  visual  literacy,  the  final  shift  away  from  the  Lascaux/Gutenberg
tradition  of  a  pre-holographic  society, what  should we expect from this
newer  technology,  with  his promise  of discrete  encoding and  subsequent
reconstruction of the full range of sensory perception? Roebuck and Pierhal,
Recent American History: A Systems View.
     Fast-forward through the humming  no-time of wiped tape into her  body.
European sunlight. Streets of a strange city.
     Athens. Greek-letter signs and  the smell of dust...  and the  smell of
dust.

     Look through her eyes (thinking, this woman hasn't met you  yet; you're
hardly out  of Texas) at the  gray monument,  horses  there in  stone, where
pigeons whirl up and circle and static takes love's body, wipes it clean and
gray. Waves of white  sound  break along a beach that isn't  there.  And the
tape ends.
     The inducer's light is  burning now. Parker lies in darkness, recalling
the thousand fragments of the  hologram rose. A hologram has  this  quality:
Recovered and illuminated, each fragment will reveal the whole image of  the
rose. Falling toward delta, he sees himself the rose, each of  his scattered
fragments revealing  a whole  he'll never know stolen credit cards a burned-
out suburb planetary conjunctions  of a stranger a tank burning on a highway
a  flat  packet of  drugs a switchblade  honed  on  concrete, thin as  pain.
Thinking:  We're each other's fragments, and was  it  always this way?  That
instant of  a European trip, deserted in the gray  sea  of wiped tape is she
closer now, or more real, for his having been there?
     She  had helped him get his papers, found him his first job in ASP. Was
that their history? No, history was the black face of the delta-inducer, the
empty closet, and the unmade  bed. History was his  loathing for the perfect
body he  woke in if the juice dropped, his fury at the pedal-cab driver, and
her refusal to look back through the contaminated rain.
     But  each  fragment  reveals  the  rose  from  a  different  angle,  he
remembered, but delta swept over him before  he could  ask himself what that
might mean.




















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