Goldberg found himself pedaling his bike with it’s distinctive “bood-ie-hop-mmm” sound down thirteenth street towards eighth and away from campus. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d made it this far, couldn’t think of how he got up the hill from the Pen, didn’t really remember saying good bye to Joy, though he did vaguely remember “If you need me, call me” and the concern on her face.
The red warning of the guy on the balcony and the craziness of Teague, of all people, knocking the guy’s lights out had spooked him. He was only now coming back into his mind.
“What the ever-loving fuck? I … I really wish I had just a second to slow down and think. Hiding had clearly not worked for me. Maybe running?…” He realized that he was well beyond the turn off to Third, which would have taken him home. Running was happening already.
“Gotta think. Gotta clear my head. Ganja was a bad idea.” He snorted at that. “Story of my life.”
The downhill slope of the street at this point made the noise of his tires into a hyperactive hiccup. “Just got to think.”
His mind, still stoned, looked down at the post of the bike, where it met the handlebars. Once again, he imagined himself as a tiny man watching this from the balcony of some kind of theater on a huge screen. He’d had this feeling before, generally while high, and it always amused him.
He tried not to look at the corner of his vision, where the glasses cut off, but soon enough he noticed a peculiar tunnel vision. More peculiar still, the rhythm of the noise from his ten-speed piece-a-shit slowed to his ear.
The tunnel in his vision popped away. The cadence slowed even more. Goldberg became concerned about balance and traumatic injury and road rash. The view of the outside world receded and slowed still further until he could see the edges of the screen, notice the speakers. Turning his head, he found the view to the outside still showed on a very huge screen. That screen showed the handlebars and the now very slow passage of the street under his front wheel.
His view, his new view, the view of the little man inside of his head looking at the huge screen from a balcony, was … just that. Except his seat was really nice. Like one of those plush desk chairs that was good but not so overly ornate or big or high backed that you sagged into it. A nice improvement over the worn bike seat that was giving him a wedgie the size of Kansas and was threatening to numb his junk. He looked at his hands and feet. Totally normal. He was that little man.
This not being his first hallucination, he took full advantage of it and looked around, swiveling his chair. The view over the balcony was into just a blank floor stories below. The ceiling was way high and on his side of the balcony, it was a regular-sized ceiling with different screens and monitors lining the walls. Turning almost all the way around he noticed a table with two drinks on it that had been slightly behind him with his original vantage point. Grabbing the one nearest him, he saw a hand grab at the other.
He could have sworn he was looking in a mirror as he glanced up. There he was, new haircut, red rose sunglasses, nose too big for either. He waved his right hand and the other waved his left.
“You wanted to think and I thought it might be a good time to have a chat,” The Other said.
Loveless dreamed of black and white. He’d worked on the problem with the model until sleep finally claimed him, yet his work followed him into his dreams. Even here he hated surprises. While there was color here in the dream, or there would be if viewed objectively, Loveless didn’t dream in black and white, he dreamed of black and white.
In this dream, loveless walked down University, just at the corner where Hogstown State started, past the bookstore and around the corner from the burrito place. He looked at the color, the clear blue sky, the birds, the unrestrained throng of students and cars and bikes and everything. Color and noise and indecision and formless nonsense and bustle. All around – chaos.
The color was just one aspect of it, but it was emblematic. It held no certainty. Was this blue a black or a white? Maybe it was a navy blue that looked like black. Maybe it was a very dark blue that was impersonating black or was the blue in an LED streetlamp that impersonated white. Would it be or not? Would it appear or not? Left or right? Up or down. The noise of it! The chaos!
He brought his hand down hard and smashed the world flat. The black of nothing was pierced in only two dimensions by this flat world as loveless once again raised his hand. This time he made a passing wave and filleted the world by color, assigning each a dimension and either a black tile for present or a white tile for not present. He could have gone with white for true and black for false, but it didn’t really matter. At angles to these planes of color identification he created more superficial properties, cold and hot, again as numbers that would further be pivoted to yes or no, blossoming off as Loveless focused on more interesting qualities. Moving or not moving, connected or separate. To these he pulled his hand back and stretched them through time creating discrete points each with their own qualities, each manipulated and perverted to render themselves in being or not being. Though this, Loveless formed order from chaos. Certainty.
No scales. It either is or is not or is probably white or not.
In his dream, the world swirled around as either or. There was no gray. It was or was not and then had the probability of either. And then one probability affects the probability of other aspects to be in or not. Black or white.
Loveless floated through his dream of black and white, certain of it all. The dimensions and probabilities flowed around in certainty of being. And even then, when a thing was probabilistic, if looked at close enough the outcomes themselves either are or are not in themselves. What would be grey are vanishingly small points of certainty.
Color splashed through his certain world. A new issue as yet unaddressed in the model he’d created. Loveless dissected it with new dimensions. Though it fought him, in the end, he was the master. Even this splash of color would resemble a checker board by the time he was done with it. He would will it. Cut it. examine it. Find it’s pattern. Find it’s certainty.
And he did. This seemingly random issue came to a mundane wrinkle, like all others.
Before him lay a splotch… two splotches. Red.
An obvious pattern laid across the white and black sea of constantly shifting dimensions and ever resolving probabilities. Two red splotches.
A simple geometric pattern, yet they defied quantification. They remained… qualitative. Squirming. He imposed his will and yet it refused to cooperate.
Frustrated, He reached out to pick it up.
The glasses, for that is what they were, slapped themselves to his face. Everything became red as blood or the sickly black of bile. Certainty shifted into chaos as dimensions collapsed and probability defied expectations. The wave forms refused to collapse, no matter how hard he stared under this new sight.
He grabbed at his face. The glasses, though crude and wirey, remained resolute. All around, the struggle cleared away the carefully laid constructs that kept the hues of the uncontrolled world to a minimum and the scalars confined to ones and zeroes, left and right, up and down. The certainty of is or is not broke down completely.
With a great expenditure of will, he wrenched the glasses free. His bare eyes witnessed nothing short of chaos. Color and form, property and action and relations all swirling randomly. And within that colorful and misshapen form, danger lurked. The chaos Loveless feared. Things uncategorized and untamed haunted him from the cover of wavering confusion. He began again to master this domain into the black and the white, but it no longer fit. He could not find the thread. The pattern changed and changed again. Something kept it in motion.
He wandered off to find a truly dark place in this new world. Finding it, he looked down at the glasses that changed his world. He knew these glasses. He knew who wore them. Goldberg. The jackass from the lottery, the Collector’s house, the picture Vic took of his weird ass wearing glasses, these glasses.
He put the glasses on once more and found that the world resolved back to a state of polar color, but instead of black and white, it was now blood and bile.
Well, Loveless could live with that.
A green canopy let only bits of light down to the forest floor. In the distance, the village appeared, but that was not his destination.
Delgado realized that he was much too close to the ground, as if he were on a belly crawl. The sounds of the jungle and the things that lived inside of it were all around and sharply in focus for him. As he walked, he noticed, unsurprised, that his paws padded the well-worn path. Splitting from the path to the village, he dove up the trail, tail lazily swishing in time to his stride.
He passed priests and astronomers, in their red and gold robes. They all looked down with reverence at his form. One day, he may eat one of them, and they would be glad for it. Such are the ways of this time but for now, he was not hungry. He had a meeting to keep.
He threaded his way through the increasingly familiar Aztec ceremonial complex, tracing the avenue east to west. At the foot of he stepped pyramid at the center of the complex, he stopped, turned himself inside out around his navel, and stood as a man.
There were stares, he could sense them on his skin, but he paid them no mind. On his powerful, tan legs he propelled his squat, muscular body up the stairs of the pyramid. When he reached the platform, he lifted his arms high to the heavens.
As if to answer, a rift opened in front of him and a man wrapped all in cloth with a transparent window where his face should be stepped through. It was apparent, that this was no man and he belonged on the earth not at all. Through the window a single huge eye stared back.
The two, cat man and non-man stood at the top of the stepped stone pyramid for a while before the non-man spoke.
“So, are you going to put some clothes on, or do I have to be reminded of how you people procreate … again?”
Delgado could tell from his vantage point behind the cat-man’s eyes that this was not English or Spanish, but he could understand it all the same, just like with the other dream.
The man smiled. “And since when did you get to be such a prude? Nice get up!”
“Yeah, don’t remind me. Squeezing my ass into this thing was a monumental undertaking. Not everyone is so enraptured by the form you humans occupy. “
“Well, we could have asked you to come in the guise of a cat. “
“Blah!” The thing shook. “You realize that I have to keep most of myself in a pocket dimension just so I don’t frighten the natives. Have you any idea how badly that chafes?”
“Oh, poor baby.” The cat man smiled. “So, pleasantries out of the way, old friend, I got your message. How is it that I can assist you? Oh, and make a bunch of grand gestures for the audience. They love that shit.”
The man in the strange garb with an eye for a face turned to him. “I’m not an attraction here. That you keep up this ruse of divinity for these people is your problem.”
“Yes, well, as long as I’m running the narrative, they won’t gut me as I sleep.”
The man smiled down at the watching crowd and said through gritted teeth, “Seriously, though, you didn’t come all this way wearing that to scold me for nudity. What is going on?”
The being rolled his one single huge eye that only the cat man could see and raised his hands up and down. “You remember the last time we worked together, right?”
“How could I forget? The Azdomidans came through the dimensional rift under the river basin.”
“And you remember our allies? The Knight, the Ninja, the Dark Warrior.”
“Yes, and you brought them all here with you.” They both kept waving their arms up and down like idiots.
“No. Those people are of this planet, just like you. I followed the Azdomidans as they were planning to do to your dimension what they tried to do to mine.”
“Yeah. Those guys were dicks.”
“And dangerous, Greedy.” The non-man looked around, swiveling his body so his faceplate could allow his single huge eye to take in the scenery. “I am not of this plane naturally but I quite like it. I’ve taken to exploring it along with some of the others from that group. And I have learned of and made alliances with others of this plane that are not of this planet.”
The cat man stopped waving and knitted his brow at the non-man. “You found aliens? Are they headed here?”
“Calm your fur.” The non-man also stopped waving his cloth covered limbs. “These aliens had already made contact with the great civilizations of the west, east and the land beneath the great desert and the great island. Places your ancestors never knew of or lost to their histories. They were given gifts, warnings really, or communications. A way to … as you say … keep people like yourself from being gutted.”
The cat man gave the visitor the side eye. “That isn’t making much sense, even for you. You going to simplify that for me? Remember, before I could skin walk, I was just a farmer, not even an astronomer.”
Delgado almost yelped in his sleep when the non-man pulled from a pocket in his garment the silver block. He wanted to keep the cat man from reaching for it, since he was inhabiting that skin. The silver thing stung like fire, he knew.
But it was smooth and cool in the cat-man’s hand. “What is it?”
“It is a gift from civilizations that have come before any of the human civilizations. Other beings have been touched by the same ineffable magic – even for a being such as myself there is no better term for it – that touches you and the others. It is an emissary of the ones who have traveled before and travel still. It helps weigh the weather and keep the storms at bay, lest they rip this world asunder.”
He palmed the device. “So, I’m supposed to keep this and it will make me safe?”
“No. It keeps you safe by giving it away.”
The cat-man blanched. “To who?”
“To one of them.” The non-man pointed his finger down the side of the pyramid at the crowd. “But choose wisely. Some of your people are kind of dumb.”
“It’s reflex,” The Other told Goldberg.
“Reflex?” He said, not quite tracking.
The Other took a sip of his drink and set it on the coffee table. “Look. You asked specifically for the power to show things that were relevant. Those things pop up in your hind brain way before you can intellectualize them. So… reflex. If a basket-ball were headed towards you, you wouldn’t calculate the trajectory, you’d just put your hands up or duck. Knowing you, probably the later.”
“Do you have to be a jackass?”
“Well, I am you, dude. You are naturally self-deprecating.”
They both shrugged, knowing the truth of it.
“So, putting Joy in the path of a bullet… ”
“A bullet that was headed toward your junk, by the way.”
“Well, yeah. But doing that … That was reflex? She could have died!”
The Other took another sip then shook his head. “Nope. You came here to think, so think. Joy and Sarah both have the same weird hair thing, right?”
“Examine that. Focus your power on it. And don’t pussy it. Really dig in.”
The answer came to him almost immediately. “They… How can they have the same number of hairs on their heads? That’s statistically…”
“They are the same person. It’s fucked up, but it’s the most likely solution. So, if one gets shot, the other takes half the blow. That’s what we were working with. Panned out.”
Goldberg gaped and The Other waved his hand. “Dude, come on. Don’t be all shocked and amazed with me. You knew this. At least you suspected it the second Sarah showed up at the Pen.”
“This more reflex?”
“No. Look, you really need to think a bit about what the power you have really is. Luck… at least our luck, is just foreknowledge plus reflex. But it’s so much more. You can divine the likely output of all things physical. The relationships between things. And it’s everything! Be very, very glad that the first thing you did was to put a damper on this thing or else you’d be drinking from a firehose.”
“So… Why aren’t I again?”
“Because you asked, right when the power really began to manifest, to be told what was relevant or painful or when you asked. The power wrapped itself around that as a permanent feature. So, you need to concentrate on something for the relationships to appear. And be super glad that you also got a huge upgrade on your ability to process information from the power, but we also keep that from you and use it to crank through the combinations and permutations. That’s the only way to figure out relevance and harm. As you instructed.”
“You say ‘We’…”
“Turn of phrase. Pronouns get really fucked up here. You are actually part of the ‘we’, after all. Consider me or us as the back office. You are the front man. Or just don’t think of it at all, but try using the resources your power gives you once in a while. You are going to have to work on this. So far, you’ve only been reacting to things the power gives you because they are an immediate threat. You can do much more if you thought about it.”
“Ok, fine.” He looked around. “I gotta say, sitting here all plush while my meat body is out there cranking away is a nice plus.”
“You’ve only been here for a handful of seconds. There is a time dilation because you are perceiving this weird-ass space ship delusion at the speed of thought. And you can talk to yourself awfully fast. Besides, you can’t do this for very long. You’d do something stupid.”
“Trip, run into a pole, hit a rock the wrong way. You aren’t paying attention to your surroundings. The mechanism behind it really doesn’t matter. The effect is the same.”
“Well that’s …”
“Look, you wanted to think, so think. You didn’t do this so you could drink imaginary Electrogreendrink with your imaginary other self, you came here to think. What’s on your mind?”
“You mean aside from your little intro to how the power works?” Goldberg was starting to get annoyed with himself interrupting him. “OK. What the hell am I doing?”
“That’s a good place to start.”
“And how did all this start? Who is chasing me? And why?”
“I think you’ve got a good idea about the why.”
The room changed. Suddenly, Goldberg was in the entryway to Bill’s house. The huge mess in the front room gave him the same crazy fractal spiral, rendered in translucent non-color. Everything was exactly as he remembered it.
“You’ve been ignoring it,” the voice of the other said out of nowhere.
Goldberg shouted up at the high ceiling. “I’ve been trying to stay ahead of it, actually.”
“By going off for hours and getting high? By putting yourself in public view to get your lottery cash?”
“Hey, I needed to do that today or I got nothing.” He felt the need to raise his voice, like he was shouting at the sky. “At least I didn’t go in to City Hall and the epicenter of all things Cop. And what was that with the lottery anyway? Was that you?”
“Initial burp of the power. Reflex. We were kinda sick of being poor. So, we looked at the balls for the drawing, looked at where they would be and got the numbers.” The Other mumbled in its disembodied voice, “Actually, a bit of a crap shoot. They might have mixed things up more on us.”
“Just like that? More reflex?”
“Yep. Not terribly subtle, but it worked. Given the initial state and the action, the outcome was preordained. Tada! No longer poor.”
“But known…” He looked at the door to the kitchen where he knew Weird Bill’s body stood, propped up. “…Hunted.”
“We didn’t know you were going to be stepping hip deep into shit when we did it. That was a week ago.”
“Again, with the ‘we’. Fuck you all.”
“We’ll have an orgy in your honor later. Now focus.”
The room changed back and Goldberg mumbled into his drink. “I don’t wana. I don’t need to see it again. My first dead body and it had to be someone I liked and knew well but wouldn’t exactly call a friend. You’d think if I had to avenge someone, I’d at least, like, be buddies with them or something.”
“Well, we don’t get to pick our first corpse. Does thinking about the ‘why’ resolve things for you?”
“No. Why didn’t the cops want to take a statement? Why haven’t they found me by now?”
“That last bit, that’s more reflex. We’re routing your random wanderings around them. It only works because it’s a passive search, but it’s worked so far.”
Goldberg got tired of being surprised and instead hung his head. “So, I didn’t know about it, but I’m hiding from the cops?”
“Sure!” The other leans back and rattles off the day. “Dan talks you into going to the secluded woods, your desire to ‘disappear’. Someone chases you and shoots darts at your ass and you go have lunch instead of calling the campus police? You haven’t been mindful or purposeful, so your hind brain and your reflexes have been moving you around to best advantage.”
He looked up. “That’s fucked.”
“Not really. Ninety percent of all human activity is just one big shrug. It’s the really rare thing to contemplate one’s actions.”
“Ok, now that’s fucked up and depressing.”
“Yes, but it gives the power here a little bit of something to hold onto with humans. We can’t determine what a human will do, but given the default, we can expect them to do that. That’s how we got Officer Small to be right where he needed to be.”
Goldberg sank back into his chair. “Well, as long as it keeps me safe.”
“Oh, you aren’t safe. You’re still fucked. I can keep you from random cops, but that other guy is both active and … wrong.” The Other scrunched up and visibly shivered.
“Yeah, I got that too. It set off my alarm like crazy.”
The Other looked like he smelled something rotten. “It shouldn’t be alive. Not like that. Its arm was broken and it didn’t even notice. And this was before Teague broke most of the bones in its face.”
“So, what are you saying?”
“Don’t know. No information. But, and this is just me as your other me talking, I’d stay the fuck away from that thing and maybe … and I understand that this isn’t your strong suit, but bear me out … maybe you need to be more proactive here. Whatever this is, it’s going to find you. You can be ready, or you can let it blindside you.”
There was a sharp sound in the room and the light changed.
Goldberg looked up and around. “That can’t be good not good.”
The Other looked alarmed. “Yeah, That’s the power and it’s telling you to wake the fuck up. Been nice chatting! Remember to think.”
Goldberg instantly found himself biking along thirteenth again. He’d only gone a block in all the time he’d spent wool gathering. He used his power to focus on the bike. It reported to him in a color that was not a color that the chances of it being involved in a catastrophic accident in the next few minutes was five percent and steadily growing.
A tan Buick slowly advanced with the traffic on Thirteenth street. In the passenger’s seat, a man with Angry eyes poking out of a face covered in bandages had his arm slightly out of a window. His hand, also bandaged, waved in the breeze.
A truck turned right ahead of them, exposing the hunched shoulders of Goldberg, pedaling away. The bandaged Mr. A pointed his hand towards Goldberg and a smile made of cracked and bloody teeth split the oozing gauze.
[Author’s note: Well, back. Dad is up and about and back to giving me a hard time about my life choices. Nice to have that continuity back.
I’m curious to see if anyone comes back to the strange. You are here, of course, because if you aren’t here you wouldn’t see this, but I’m thinking of the other people and, of course, the robots, randos and people looking for porn and going away disappointed. In other words, the internet.
From a story perspective, we’re finally starting to turn a corner here. And as far as my manuscript of already kinda finished chapters, it’s where the road starts to get bumpy. This chapter, for instance, is completely new.
In any event, I’m trying to find my groove again and we’ll see what that groove winds up being. I’m also going to do NaNoWriMo in November with a new story “The Minions of the Orange Overlord” as a further attempt to recapture my mojo. I’ll try to get some episodes in the can so there won’t be another huge pause.
As always, votes on top web fiction, likes and follows are super helpful to spread the word for the story. And also, you can… you know… just spread the word. That works too!