This Blue Ball

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Published Date:31-07-2017
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This Blue Ball A Weblog Novel Presented by Wayne Miller Version 1.0 http://thisblueball.com This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. © 2005 Wayne V. Miller The following is supposed to be a novel. The text is not my own, but signed over to me by a man unknown to me but for a few communications through email. When he first approached me, I was surprised that my spam filter let him through. “I’ve tried several times before,” he admitted. “Why in the world,” I replied, “would you give me this to be posted online? Why not post it yourself?” “Because,” he wrote back, “for me it is not fiction. But it must be fiction, and so someone like you, who could never believe in its contents, must be the author.” “I’m not the author,” I sent back to him, rather indignant, “and I would never present myself as such. In fact, if I were to post this for whatever reason, then it would be with our exchange prepended to the document.” Almost immediately, he replied: “Perfect Your attestation will provide the very evidence I desire; in this case, nothing could appear more fictional than the truth.” We communicated a few more times, but I could make no more sense of what he wrote me than what I’ve picked out above. I suggested a pen name or anonymous publication, but he insisted that such border fictions would undermine the fundamental one. When he sent me the document, I couldn’t help myself, first from reading the whole thing, then from suggesting a number of changes and edits for readability. He accepted them wholesale, and then added: “Now the text belongs to you.” None of my subsequent emails were answered; the email address ceased to exist. His name proved to be a dead-end. I’ve researched as much as I can without seeing any piece of the text confirmed or even suggested in reality. None of it appears under anyone else’s name. Still, it is against my better judgment that I share the document on the Internet, more or less as it was shared with me. It is protected – and freed – by a Creative Commons license. Make of it what you will. Note: Go read the last page to see the preamble. It is the 39th entry, but it was placed first in the text. Read it now, or when you've finished the text. This Blue Ball – 1 Weblog: This Blue Ball No. 1 – There won’t be dates in this weblog, for reasons of security and caution. Entries will appear no more than one a day, but not necessarily when I’ve submitted them. As we progress you’ll get a sense for why I am so obsessed. Perhaps it will suffice for now to point briefly to the genesis. I am dedicating this little website to the memory of a good friend, whom I never met, a self-designated hacker by the nom de raconteur of Craig Phissure. A small number of years ago, hacker Phissure came across what he thought was undeniable evidence of the existence of aliens – extraterrestrial intelligence. In an effort to publicize this discovery, Phissure established a website and founded a society with some dozen of his closest associates, a group which he officially dubbed the Society for this Blue Ball in a Big Black Void. I don’t think the other members thought much of this name, inasmuch as its acronym did not play on a sexual or scatological function, but they recognized and respected Phissure’s role as leader and dominant voice. The “Frequently Asked Questions” portion of the site was a monument to Phissure’s style and influence, and we’ll have occasion to return to it by-and-by. What the FAQ won’t show is that within six months of its publication, a series of mind-boggling coincidences removed every society member from the surface of this blue ball. Each death in turn was deemed an accident, except one case involving a gunshot to the head in a dead-end room in a seedy hotel. They all had a certain plausibility – a single-car accident here, a heart attack there, a hit-and-run over there – if you did not tally them out and timeline them. Since these were for the most part virtual associates, spread across the continent, there was no one person left to do that work. 2 – This Blue Ball The website disappeared shortly after the untimely death of Craig Phissure, may he rest in peace. Not only did it disappear, but the fact of its existence became impossible to prove if one did not have the site mirrored locally, on one’s own drive. All the major search engines displayed no knowledge of the site. Whois and other registration sites denied any once or present ownership of thisblueball.org. Attempts to repost any amount of the original texts led to servers crashing, files disappearing and various forms of intimidation: identity theft, surveillance by investigators for who knows what imputed crime, and plain old threatening phone calls. This strategy, heavy-handed as it was, succeeded in isolating the Blue Ball doctrine, quarantined in the coffins of society members and in archived disks of a frightened few. And this effort would probably have succeeded without the dogged pursuit of one last blueballer. This gentleman was not a live friend of Mr. Phissure, but he, too, found his way to Phissure’s material and Phissure’s point of view, and one might say that he became a friend of Phissure, despite the fact that his friend was ash in a vase, languishing on a shelf until the day that sub-orbital spreading of ashes across the atmosphere becomes affordable for a mere mortal. Our neo-blueballer, a not-so-gentle soul by the name of Gary Corinth, became a believer not through his own gumption as much as through someone else’s plight. I will be telling their tale in due time. For now, let me clarify a few things for those joining my audience: your usual tricks won’t work. You won’t be able to hack in and find out who I am, and denounce me with your accustomed puerile bravado in your favorite Yahoo or Netnews group. For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, let me explain. Since my postings are anonymous, some netizens will Pavlov-style decide that my anonymity must be torn asunder, ripped from me like the delusions of a Nero fiddling among his own smoldering ruins. They will apply the usual bag of tricks to try to uncover my identity, most of which involve a standard set of network searching tools – quite useless in this case. For the more incorrigible, the bag of tricks will This Blue Ball – 3 include efforts to hack into the server that should hold my identity. Hacking is a much oversold activity. In its simplest form, it’s usually nothing more than the rote application of a small set of principles, a cookbook of possibilities. The whole field of hacking was created by a tempting loophole in John von Neumann’s insight into computer design: that computer memory need not be divided between operation and data, between program and information. This created the universal computer – the device able to adapt to any computational task – but it also created a perfectly agnostic tool, as susceptible to the service of perversion as to that of good. I rely upon the rings of security built into the weblog server to protect elements of my identity. But these rings are an illusion built upon illusions. Just as the principles of computational order coexist with the chaos of information, security exists in a musical round with collapse. We attempt to build principles of security that will control access to the other algorithmic building blocks within the computer, but this intervention is a block of code like any other block of code. If you, the would-be hacker, can derail the transition into the security code, you can disable any security safely, confidently, without the slightest alarm going off. If you require an example: a highly successful approach in the case of Web servers has been, for years actually, to send a URL that causes a block of code with security principles to fail utterly, perhaps by sending an extra long URL, and then appending a command that the fail-over code executes. That execution, in turn, gives the hacker an opportunity to assume control of the execution queue in the CPU, and he’s on his way. There’s no inherent reason why this approach should work, but equally no inherent reason why security should work. It’s all just code, amoral algorithms, manipulable instructions piled one upon the other in memory or on a disc. 4 – This Blue Ball Script kiddies use the cookbook put together by more studied hackers to break into someone’s computer, and suddenly they’re masters of cyberspace. Some of these juveniles are no doubt already busy trying to break into the server that this weblog runs on. Sorry, boys, the sys admins have been thoroughly warned, every possible entrée has been carefully closed and sealed. Even the easiest way to overcome security – the frail human interface to the code – has been carefully pruned and cleaned up; almost nothing else runs on the box. The box itself runs in a foreign land that is decidedly uninterested in governmental intervention from the West. Most importantly for our zealots, the staff of the hosting service doesn’t know who I am. They have agreed to some compromises in their usual demands for accountability, this time in exchange for heftier billings. All transactions have been small and untraceable international transfers. Even the best source of contact – my logins to the machine – is carefully cloaked through an ever-changing series of zombie computers and anonymizers. But please do continue your fruitless efforts. There is no such thing as perfect security, or true predictability in complexity, and some one of you may find a way in, may find some distant trace of my identity and chart your way back to me. Nothing is impossible, and if I were a betting man, I would have to go with the Vegas odds of my meeting a fate similar to Craig Phissure’s. But as long as it can, the show will go on. No. 2 – Gary Corinth was a man of some destiny: not that you would recognize it from looking at him. He was non-descript in the way that overweight, balding, self-conscious and arrogant men sometimes are, a face with pock marks and an assortment of pimples, a dirty-looking, poorly shaved chin, blue-gray eyes disproportionately small to the jowls and ears, glasses that bore the blue-green tinge of years of neglect. It’s not a pleasant face – This Blue Ball – 5 more spiteful than helpful, more vengeful than intelligent – a pallid face that betrays the softness of a life lived in air- conditioned spaces, but still bearing the weight of a lifetime of metaphorical boots in the face. He did not enjoy life much, en gros, but there was something driving him, something that his defeatism and anger and envy did not engender and could not utterly vanquish. He may not have recognized it, but others did. He worked for a software/hardware company as an engineer of some sort. Because he did not excel at his trade, he tended to be fungible – moved from one project or division to the other in the expectation that he would see the writing on the wall and leave his employer for another. Gary was nothing if not tenacious, well beyond what served his career. He would retool grimly, come to work on time, clock his hours and go home, to one knows not what. He did not socialize and was not expected to. In a defining moment, he bragged to a colleague about having gone to Thailand as a sexual tourist over the holidays. That little story made the rounds quickly, leading to wobbly Hula dolls and blurry child pornography appearing in his cubicle, and a reprimand from his boss for making the work environment difficult for nearby female coworkers. None of them would admit to having made the report, and none probably did. While they seemed to think Gary was an inveterate pervert, they doubted in more than one conversation that he did more than jerk off in his living room. Gary never said a word about any of this, including the reprimand, but he was quite sure it was part of the management campaign to geld and pasture him. Gary’s plans tended to cross a certain threshold of respectability, and eventually got him into the whole blue ball mess. One day, long after the Thai incident but not so long that it was forgotten, both for its tawdriness and its allure, Gary decided to put a truism from “Dear Abby” to the test. He resolved to go to a church to meet a nice young woman, hopefully younger than he, svelte and attractive in an understated way, and just repressed enough to find in him an unexpected savior from spinsterhood. 6 – This Blue Ball This was an experiment, in the sense that he often undertook experiments to see how his best intentions were squelched and undermined by a cruelly indifferent life force that lay somewhere outside of him. He saw nothing contradictory in the fact that he undertook this from the point of view of a sexual adventure, not as an assay in love. There was precious little in Abby’s constant refrain that demanded more than a superficial adherence to what was good and moral and just. And Gary saw no contradiction in reading her column regularly, even religiously. Much to Gary’s surprise, it just so happened that Abby was right. At every church he visited, there were groups with earnest young women, who were to a one surprised to find themselves single at an age when so many of their cohort had married and bought cars and houses, and perhaps even engendered offspring. Still, desperate or not, these women were hardly interested in him. At one point, Gary figured they smelled something of the impostor in him – so he decided to practice authenticity. He volunteered for committees, and showed up for bake sales and informational nights when no one but the organizers did. He went to church every Sunday, and sometimes on a Wednesday, without fail for almost a year. It was a monumental effort, and for a very long time he had nothing to show for it but the occasional pat on the back, and enigmatic, distancing, sympathetic smiles. Still, you can’t say that he resented the struggle, and there might be something in the notion that he was hungry for human contact, a treatment that this experiment provided in droves. One day the payoff came. He was talking to a woman, almost his age, dignified and haggard from work and single parenthood, and she smiled at something he said, and Gary let fly: “Would you mind if I came by sometime and took you and your son to dinner?” She looked at him in a moment of surprise and suspicion, as if he might already be showing signs of regretting his invitation. But when she saw nothing of the kind, perhaps This Blue Ball – 7 even a bit of pride in himself, she relented and said that that would be nice. Playing them over in his mind, Gary felt that there had never been more powerful words spoken – quite a while, for a good hour, until he found himself repeating them ad naseum on the drive home, and sensed that irony was mixing itself in. He turned up the radio and tried to think about something else. He didn’t know how to prepare for such an unusual outing, so he didn’t. He made it out in his mind to be an everyday occurrence to take out a fellow parishioner and her young son. They had agreed on a Thursday dinner. On Wednesday, he swore that he would reduce the dissonance between the church persona and that fatuous, porno-watching, beer-guzzling bachelor that inhabited his home. At work, his new moral outlook led him to book the tickets to see his mother and his senile grandmother in Los Angeles sometime later that spring. But the promise dissolved that very night into a decision that he was better off following routine. He fell asleep to the sights and sounds of a tired, listless humping on the big screen TV in his living room. No. 3 – Flash forward two years. Gary Corinth was working, but also following a bit of virtual seduction in a chatroom – someone playing the role of a young female being seduced for the first time – when the phone rang. It was about 10 in the morning, on an unremarkable workday. The caller ID was blocked so he figured it was a cold-call sales pitch, and he picked up the phone expecting to fling a curse at the other end and hang up. He barked his usual greeting, “Corinth,” and waited for the beginning. There was a pause. “Gary?” said a voice suddenly. The mind, you discover in moments like these, is an incredibly dull version of a sharp, sharp tool. Gary knew in an instant who it was, but he felt unable to place it: ‘Alice? She can’t be calling 8 – This Blue Ball me. We haven’t spoken in almost two years, and unless she has my grandmother standing in her doorway, she has no reason to call me.’ He waited until something made more sense to him. The voice said, “I know you’re surprised to hear from me.” “No,” he replied, hoarsely, “it’s great to hear from you.” His mind zoomed through a hundred possibilities but came to rest on the least likely – Alice had missed him terribly, all this time, and wanted him, and was on her proverbial knees asking his forgiveness… “I’m calling for Andrew,” she said, anticipating the ambiguities the call might bring up but unable to bring herself to lead with this. “Okay – no problem,” he said with his voice trailing off. After a moment, when he realized that his expression couldn’t give him away, he asked: “How is he?” “Andrew is fine,” she replied, in a tone to indicate that the quality of his care was not at issue. “Good. – Good.” In the brief moment before she continued, Gary could hear her inhale, even through the telephone’s thin connection. That already told a great deal about the misgivings and pressure she felt. She was calling on Andrew’s behalf, but about something that worried and concerned her. Only her interest in Andrew could resurrect Gary from the ash heap of her personal history – Gary understood that much about her. “Something very strange happened last night with Andrew’s computer, and you are the only person I could think of” – another chance to distance herself – “whose opinion I could This Blue Ball – 9 trust.” The last word was the point of this conversation, a declaration of need most of all, but it still felt good, and reduced the size of a lump forming in his throat. She went on: “Last night, about 3 in the morning, Andrew woke me up – I thought that he was sick. He was all sweaty and his eyes were red, but he wasn’t warm and he said he felt fine. He asked me to come look at his computer monitor –” She paused again, this time not for her sake. “The monitor was glowing, Gary, just glowing, in a way I’ve never seen anything glow before. It wasn’t like any of his games. I asked Andrew if he had shut the computer off, and he said yes – ” Gary jumped in, knowing that it was probably the wrong thing to do: “I imagine it was the monitor’s test pattern. They typically come on when there’s no signal from the computer, and can be quite surprising, sometimes.” He smiled into the phone, hoping that he had allayed her fear. “All right,” she said, audibly eased a bit, “that may be it. But there’s two things I don’t understand, and Andrew couldn’t explain them either. The monitor was unplugged from the surge protector, completely unplugged, and the image seemed to be projected six inches off the monitor, like ink glowing in the air. It burned itself into the glass – this morning I could still read the image in scratches. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Gary knew that if he expressed the slightest doubt about her description, she would hang up on him and that would be the absolute end. Yet he had no reason to suspect that she was exaggerating or mischaracterizing. She did neither easily: too proud to exaggerate and too careful to mischaracterize. “That does sound very strange,” he said. “It’s hard to know without seeing it.” The self-invitation was a big risk, but basically his only play. 10 – This Blue Ball She thought too long about this, and said the following with a forced nonchalance: “Yes, that makes sense. Would you be able to come by sometime and take a look? I know it’s a lot to ask. But I’m worried.” A moment passed before she confessed her worry: “There might be radiation or something.” Gary wanted to tell her that there was simply no chance of dangerous radiation emanating from a monitor, even one which had for some reason gone completely gaga. But he also knew her fear would outweigh his assurances unless he could give specifics, whether she understood anything about them or not. If what she described was true, he suspected that a circuit had surged after a brownout or from a failing circuit breaker, and that the monitor had had a brief excess of current. No big deal, even if he could not explain it with confidence. “How about tonight then?” he said. “I can stop by after work. Say about seven?” Her jaw half clenched, she replied: “Sure, I would appreciate that.” She thanked him, and hung up. He imagined himself using his voice of assurance to assuage and win her over. He saw himself pull the technical wool over Andrew’s eyes, and impress both of them. But he could only partially convince himself, so he went back to work. No. 4 – The first impression is more powerful, and often more positive, than later impressions. With Alice Philips, impressions often started low and, after the third or fourth encounter, began a steady rise. Oh, she did make a respectable first impression: trim, well dressed in a not quite tailored look, an attractive balanced face, with an elegant cosmetic overlay and coiffure. But she was not a quick or smooth talker, or a smiling conversant, or a great beauty, or primed to appeal to male fantasies, either the demure or wild kind. Her manner became This Blue Ball – 11 clearer over time. She moved with an even, one might say strangely calm manner, slowly and deliberately, turning as if moving a large mass around a carefully balanced center of gravity – that, by careful observation, you would swear had to be in the cavern of her pelvis. It was an eerily sexy effect, once you noticed it, but not something that struck you at first glance. You might just think she was slow. Alice had big, expressive brown eyes, within a dark brown face. She was of African descent, with American Indian and European thrown in for good measure. The brown of her irises was rich and luminous – endlessly brown, as you might expect of the richest of soils in a dank rain forest stretched beneath an equatorial sky. Not that she was particularly exotic, having been raised in Yonkers, New York. Still, there is something inherently intriguing about eye color outweighing the black of the pupils, about skin that is a color in its own right, not the pale reflection of blood coursing through the body, not a red or freckled organ that the sun must first paint. Her face was defined by the large luminous eyes, broad nose and bursting lips of her African ancestry, and her profile seemed to be a fuller version of the Indo-European ideal balance of cheeks, ears, forehead and chin. She was slow to move, and slow to engage. While waiting for a reaction on her part, your attention might hold on the cosmetic aids to her person: foundation, eye shadow, lipstick, blush, even a fair amount of perfume. All this does not make an unpleasant impression, at least if you’re free of allergic reaction, but this apparent preoccupation with externalities was a marked contrast with the calm and self-absorption she otherwise projected. It could be, you might think, that she had not broken psychologically with her parents and hence not with the Liz Claiborne style of her mother - or maybe, at this point, of her grandmother. Or it could be that she was vain in a way that her quietude didn’t let you see. Or it could be, as I believe, that she was both fascinated by and fearful of the immense world, in a way that she did not allow herself to explore. The ritualistic 12 – This Blue Ball decoration and scenting were a form of homage to this world, a gesture that compensated but did not put her out into the middle of things, at risk. No. 5 - Gary worked quite a ways from the church where he met Alice, and he had no choice but to navigate an Interstate to drive to her home. We, meanwhile, might imagine a camera on a miniature helicopter chasing him along the asphalt stream, rolling first left then right, as it showed the car from various angles: a bathetic, outdated, fume-spewing wreck, with film- covered window panes and bald tires and a bad shimmy on the rear right wheel. He believed himself alone on this quest, accompanied only in chance configuration by a wave of individuals, each alone. No one moving through this network of purposes is alone. Imagine electromagnetic snooping equipment strategically placed throughout this corner of the world – perhaps on every corner – that bounds up and down the EM spectrum, picking up pieces of data all along the way, and that feeds this flood of commingled data across a broad fiber optic pipe to a supercharged computer or two, and that they sort and concatenate and realign and decrypt and interpret, until voices and data reemerge. Another computer jumps up and down these streams and picks out a word here, a bit of data there. If Gary were to say the word “bomb” into his digital phone – which he deemed to be encrypted and safe – or if he were to send the characters C4 in an encrypted email, these real-time marvels might have tried and convicted him before he had even hung up, before he had even quit his application. All information, all the time: the opportunity and the curse of the digital age. Gary is both visible and transparent, a cipher for something at once predictable and unknown. At this time, his actions are pure “citizen-tolerable” – beneath a threshold for This Blue Ball – 13 which citizens should be apprehended and taught a penal lesson – and insofar he is invisible. But imagine that you could shift the information lens ten hours, ten days, ten months, 10 years into his alien-friendly future – if you are responsible for understanding and maintaining order, you might evaluate the options differently. You might, for instance, feel the need to declare this an in-the-field emergency and put that highflying drone into interdiction mode and authorize the firing of a supersonic missile – kaboom – into his blue heap right here, before he reaches city blocks where collateral damage would be greater. Or you might conjure up a US felony warrant, to be served that very evening, on a dangerous, mentally unstable and heavily armed criminal. Or schedule a single-car accident for that night. Or do you believe you would choose to ignore the intelligence, watch with resignation as he bounded up the freeway, like any citizen drone on an incomprehensible mission? – It is a calculus of faith, that though each mission bears scant results enough of them are the positive side of the social equation, an equation that is unsolvable, for which even the computational approximation would take your lifetime. Gary parked across from the condominium building and tried to summon up the good sense that he would need. He remembered many evenings there, talking sensibly with Alice and humoring Andrew, one of those prodigal children who grow up too quickly for your, or their own, good. Andrew was more than able to have an intelligent conversation with his mother – more so, even, than Gary or the average Joe she would bring home, even if, at the same time, he had no context for his opinions. There would be a long pause whenever he expressed one of his adult opinions, seemingly out of nowhere among his childish preoccupations. That is where the prejudices and mental shortcuts that we espouse come in handy: you know, almost immediately, where 14 – This Blue Ball someone is coming from and you react accordingly. An agile mind with no strong affiliations is unsettling by comparison. Andrew was both the easy and the difficult part of their arrangement. He was a computer-fascinated, avoid-the-sunlight kind of kid, and his fascination with video games gave Gary an instant rapport, at least until Andrew recognized ACD (adult coordination disease) in him, which prevented Gary’s fingers from executing a triple-double attack jump at just the right moment. Of course, charming an 11 year-old boy was never part of Gary’s calculation. You might think that on top of every other action in this grand campaign, Gary would consider this action the most trivial. But in fact this was substantively different from the rest of his campaign, because there was no fantasy in it – it was an interaction that could not be deeply and covertly sexualized. Still, on a therapeutic level – pleasurable in its own way – he enjoyed the interaction, and felt how his years of experience could provide some guidance for a boy who otherwise generally refused tutelage. Laughter can be the first thing that binds, and the first element of a relationship that disappears. When he discovered Alice’s sense of humor, Gary was surprised, because it is a broad sense of humor, trailing into a slapstick, lose-your-composure, snorting guffaw. She said it’s a black thing – not to exclude him but, he thought, to explain something to him that he didn’t seem to understand. He had developed a little private kind of laugh of his own, and it wasn’t until they’ve relaxed over a few dinners and at a few parks that he found himself laughing in unison with her over Andrew’s attempts to look the grown-up, as he wiped the orange soda from his face at a self-serve soda machine. One night the humor in their short-lived relationship expired. He could remember it only through the shimmer of therapies of a different kind – six packs, scotch, an occasional baggie of grass, a prostitute or two, night clubs, gambling, pornography. Whenever that night came through his cleverly laid fog, he still This Blue Ball – 15 felt the confusion and anger that accompanied him out the door and down the hall. Alice was a woman who was slow to anger and quick to dismiss. When he said one night, in an irritated and exasperated moment, though half humorously he thought, that she should feel lucky that he was there – she comprehended in an instant the subtext and the implication, and she told him that it was time he got going, matter-of-factly and without any gloss, but with enough emphasis that he equally understood that this was the end and he ought not call again. He couldn’t resist calling and leaving a series of messages, none answered, and finally he drew the consequence necessary for a shred of self-respect. He had felt for those few weeks to be above the fray regarding race politics in America; he looked at his comment up and down and thought it barely “inappropriate,” and thought she was reacting all out of bounds. Okay, she chafed at the notion that she should feel grateful. It wasn’t like he treated her like his property or less than an equal. Nothing could have been further from his mind, he told himself. It was all a giant mistake, and she couldn’t get past that. She was the racist, not him. That was a hard conclusion that he finally found himself comforted with, and he generally did his best not to dwell on it for the sake of the memory of their relationship, though it was now a relationship in negative relief, a contrapositive image of itself. Now, this evening, he stood across the street, and strolled across the street, up the sidewalk, to the door. He rang the buzzer, perhaps a little too abruptly for a guest, rather than a regular visitor. She didn’t ask who it was, just buzzed him up. The hallway smelled of cilantro and curry and a quarter century of dust, as it had always done. “The hall of a thousand smells,” she had called it, dryly. The front door to her apartment was open, and he knocked briefly on the frame, called, then went in. 16 – This Blue Ball Alice replied from Andrew’s bedroom – Gary assumed that she was orchestrating this to avoid falling into pleasantries and mistaken impressions. He found them looking at a drawing that Andrew had made of the scratches and comparing it, from a distance, with the screen itself. “Hello, Gary, thanks for coming,” Alice said without looking at him. Andrew looked over his shoulder and said, “Hi.” “Hello to you both,” replied Gary. His eyes were already drawn to the screen and the drawing held up almost in his line of sight. Even Gary’s dulled and neglected gray mass was not fooled – and yet also not to be trusted. In a moment you could tell that this was not the confluence of an electrical spike with the chaotic breakdown of the monitor. This was a directed action, etched into a dumb object by a crude and forceful hand. But how? It was as if an evil villain had directed his electron-beam rifle at this monitor and let fly, with a laugh both evil and chilling. But there was no such gun, and no such villains to provide context. The context, if any, had to come from elsewhere: either back to the random occurrence or to another form of intelligence. Gary looked at Alice’s immense brown eyes, now directed at him. They saw the confusion and she sensed the alarm in Gary’s face. Together they might even have recognized, if either mind was ready to encompass it, that this was one of those moments at which reality, subjective reality, forks. An experiential quantum mechanics, if you will: an experience that by common sense must have a mundane explanation, but which at the same time does not admit of one. Such an experience is both and neither until the moment that either outcome establishes itself and your own personal reality is confirmed or torn apart, depending on which direction you were leaning and on the weight you applied to your belief.

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