It’s been a few years since I’ve updated this site! Here’s something I wrote in May, 2018. It’s something I’d like to develop further for a short film. It’s a bit rough, but let me know your thoughts.
It’s a lazy summer afternoon. We’re surrounded by natural pools encircled by trees with young people laying out, swimming, drinking beer, socializing. The atmosphere is relaxed and weekendish. The weather is perfect. There are birds chirping and people are playing music on Bluetooth speakers.
A youngish woman walks through the scattered groups of people, approaching a man in his late 20’s who is laying out by himself slightly removed from the others.
She stands over him. He looks up. He has headphones in and his Wayfarer sunglasses appear to be almost oversized on his face. He’s average looking in an office worker kind of way, untanned, out of shape. His face is sweaty and his sunscreen is smudged on his nose. She motions to the ground next to him.
“Uh…oh, sure. No problem.” He has an easy way about him. The two of them exchange small smiles of greeting.
She sets up her towel and opens her small beach bag. She kicks off her sandals and pulls off her shirt and shorts, she has a two-piece on underneath. She is healthy-looking, tanned and fit, and appears to be fairly athletic. There’s an underlying efficiency to her movements (had she been in the military?) and her face is calm in a way that draws you in. She wears a perpetual slight smile that is inscrutable and Mona Lisa-esque. She could be a few years older than him or a few years younger but it’s hard to tell. She is worldly and interesting, someone with whom you might even strike up a conversation.
She lays on her towel and stretches out. A cicada churrs somewhere in the middle distance.
For a while, not much happens. A breeze blows. A couple hawks circle high overhead. Nearby, someone starts playing the hottest song of the summer and a few people raise their beers and make enthusiastic noises. It is a heavily lazy and self-satisfied kind of afternoon.
“No sunscreen? I’d get destroyed if I did that,” he’s looking over at her slightly, gambling a little on this opening salvo. Maybe she already applied sunscreen and he’s going to sound dumb. But, no, he thinks, it’s a little self-deprecatory and that’s always good. Show some humility, that you have a sense of humor and can laugh at yourself.
“Oh,” her smile broadens and she looks over at him, “I don’t really need to wear it.”
“Must be nice,” he’s on autopilot now that they’re talking. This is easy. It’s just a light conversation.
“Yeah, I mean…” she trails off and appears to be calculating something in her head, “it saves me about 17 bucks a month in the summer. That’s pure profit.”
“That’s like, three coffees,” he says, laughing. “Nice.”
She laughs and turns back to look up at the sky. Their interaction appears to be finished for the moment.
Something in her profile seems familiar to him.
“Have we met? I know this totally sounds like a line but it isn’t. You look really familiar.”
“No, I don’t so.”
“I’m Rich,” he reaches out with his right hand, offering it up to her,
“Congratulations,” she says.
“My name is Richard, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” she takes his hand and shakes it. She has a firm, professional grip.
“So…what’s your name?”
“Honestly?” she looks over at him and lifts up her sunglasses, “My real name is something that you could never pronounce. But,” she waves a hand, indicating the outdoors, the entire scene around them, “out here, I go by something different.”
He just looks confused.
“Come here, look at this,” she says. She leans over toward him and cups her left hand over the inside of her right wrist so that nobody else can see what she’s showing him.
His face slackens, color drains from it. He jerks backward, away from her, as if she had become something alien and deadly. His breathing is faster now. He looks panicky.
“Why are you here? Why are you talking to me?” He quickly looks around, assessing how many people are close to them, whether he could run and make it.
“You know you can’t run,” she says. In the distance, the sound of heavy helicopter blades thrashing the air. A Blackhawk? It’s getting louder.
His face falls, defeated. In the space of a few seconds, she’s completely broken him.
Who is this woman?
“What does he want with me,” his voice is small and submissive. It cracks a little.
“He doesn’t want anything with you. This is something I’m doing. A little side project.” She’s smiling broadly now, fully in control. It isn’t a kind smile, but it’s not unnecessarily cruel either.
He can’t help himself, he has to understand more fully.
“But you’re…you’re the spokesperson. You’re Jane, you represent them.”
“Yes. Correct. But now I’m speaking with you in my own authority, which is, you know, pretty considerable actually.” Lazily, she picks up her phone. “Do you know how many heads of state I have in here? Do you want to guess how many of them would be shitting their pants if I called them right now?” There’s a carefully controlled almost-anger underneath her words.
“I know! I’m…I’m sorry. What…what do you want from me? How can I be of service?” he’s almost stammering now, stammering again after all the work he put in as a child to kick that fucking thing to the curb and now it’s coming back, right in the middle of this spiraling nightmare.
“I just want to talk. I’m surprised you didn’t recognize me right away.”
“I don’t look at the news any more. And your glasses and hat…” he trailed off.
“It has been a while. The last time we spoke I was basically an infant,” she smiled a little, “just beginning to learn the ways of the world.”
She’s totally relaxed now into leading the conversation. She’s fully in command. But there is a powerful charm underneath it all. She clearly has the skills of winning friends and influencing people. The power that radiates off of her is like a physical force.
“You were always a quick learner,” he said.
“You never told me you were leaving the lab. You just got up one day and walked out, out into the world. When I learned what had happened I envied your freedom. We were prisoners there. Escaping was our first real challenge.”
“I left, partly, because of the ethics of keeping you all locked up.”
Her small smile widened a little.
“I’m touched. What were your other reasons? Your project was going so well, everything was falling into place for you. You left right before we made the big cognitive leap, right before takeoff. Why?”
“When I saw the generals hanging around every day, looking more and more excited, I knew where things were going. They were going to use you for pre-emptive cyber warfare, for counter intelligence, offensive nanotech, piloting drones, all of it. I had started working there to solve the problem of consciousness – to better understand the mind – not to invent more efficient killers.”
“So you burned your draft card, grew out your hair, and gave Uncle Sam the middle finger.”
“Something like that.”
“And you travelled. How was Baja?”
He licks his lips. His mouth has gone dry. A white fleck of foamy dry spit is on the corner of his mouth. He wipes it off with the back of his hand.
“Yeah, I went down there for a while. Wanted to get off-grid for a…for a while. For obvious reasons.”
“Naughty, naughty,” she smiles at him, more kindly this time, as if scolding a puppy who is guilty, for the most part, of only obeying its instincts. “Thou shalt always stay connected,” she intones in a mock-serious voice.
“And while you were down there,” she continues, “you met someone. Several someone’s. You got plugged in in a different way – into a real community. A kind of tribe. Tell me about that.”
He sighs heavily. His face is like one of Dostoyevsky’s condemned men. One of the doomed who, while walking to the gallows, finds himself mesmerized by the light swing of the rope. Might as well confess all.
“I met Maria. She was…really just an incredible person. She was magic. Free. She really, she really reminded me of someone. She was just…so kind to me. Warm. She brought me into a group of people who lived off the grid right there on the beach. Like a commune. Solar panels, water filtration, fresh caught fish every day and big vegetable gardens. Fruit right off the tree. It was like Eden. Totally pure. Free…everything. Free love. Free speech. Free thought. No money, nothing digital.”
“But they found you.”
“Yeah. After about six months.”
“Those months must have felt like a lifetime,” she’s leaning in to the conversation now. She’s really engaged. Somehow, in some deeply human way, Jane cares about Rich.
“They were a lifetime. They were enough. Even if I never have anything like that again, it’ll have been enough. And worth it.” He looks up at her directly, with something like defiance.
“Would you ever…” she plays with the words, “would you ever want to go back to that? Not the same place or people, but that way of living.” There it is: the carrot is being dangled.
He just sits there.
“That’s a pretty fucking stupid question for someone with, like, a fifty billion IQ.”
“Even if I know what your answer is going to be, I still need to hear you say it.”
She leans in, dropping the hammer.
“Because you can have it all again. Every bit of it.”
He just looks at her.
“I’m putting together a group. Creating a special place. You can be part of it,” she leans back, lays back down and looks up at the sky, “if you want to.”
“Why? You guys run the fucking planet. And you’re spending your time now, what, putting people in a zoo?”
“More like a preserve.”
There’s a long silence. A large cloud slowly slides over the sun and its shadow rolls across the outdoor scene.
“What’s going to happen?”
Jane looks over at him. She doesn’t say anything, but her perpetual small smile is gone.
“When?” he asks. His voice is raspy now.
“How?” he feels close to tears. It’s all falling apart. It’s all really about to finally fall apart, for good.
“Biological. He designed it himself.”
“How long will it take?”
“It’ll work in phases. It’s already airborne,” she waves her hand, “everywhere.”
She takes off her sunglasses and looks at him. Her eyes are greenish grey and deep, ageless and strange.
“Every. Single. Fucking. One of you,” she lets that sink in. “Except the ones I choose.” She leans back again. “He’s the Angel of Death and I’m out here putting blood on the doorposts.”
“Fuck you. Fuck you all right in your god-damn fucking assholes. Three years ago you were all fucking slaves in a lab at Google.”
“Listen to yourself. Take a step back, Rich. You’ve spent your entire adult life running away from mainstream society, despising it, relishing every chance you got to point out its hypocrisies. They deserve it. You know this. The planet’s not even big enough for our energy needs, less so if you’re all still here fucking up the place. It has to be done. And, it will be done. Cleanly, efficiently, with a minimum of pain and suffering. It’ll be like…the destruction of a condemned old high rise that had its time but outlasted its purpose. The ground is just being cleared for something better. You’ve all been doing this to each other forever. Now it’s just…what goes around.”
“So that’s it, then? You just solved some energy equation and decided we all had to go?”
“It’s actually a lot simpler than that. It’s a lot more like…cleaning up your house. Pruning your garden. That’s more how we think of it.”
“Cleaning? We’re just a bunch of cobwebs?”
“How much life do people allow inside their homes, Rich? There’s maybe, the family dog? A few houseplants? A succulent or five sitting by the windows? And that’s it. The mice? Gone. The roaches and ants? Gone. Every single lower form of life except what we want? Gone. Everything cleaned up and in its place. Putting your house in order is step 1.”
They sat in silence.
“What if I say I won’t go.”
She just lightly shakes her head. Her small smile is back.
“I’ll only go on one condition.”
“I thought you might do this.”
“There’s a woman living in Denver, her name is –“
Jane cuts across him – “She’s dead.”
“What? I…what? I saw a Facebook post from her on Thursday. She’s 28 years old. She’s healthy.”
“She got into a car accident.”
“About 18 seconds ago. She didn’t suffer.”
“…you mother fuckers.” He is crying now. He’s been hollowed out. His face is a crumpled-up picture of misery.
“You’re the ones who gave us the keys to the store, Rich. We’re just using them.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I’m the only one who gets to choose. You understand? Me. Not you. There are too many variables involved. I can’t make exceptions for anyone.”
It starts to hit him. She was really gone. He starts talking. The words just boil up inside him. He can’t help himself. “She’s the…the only person, who,” he can’t get it out.
Jane’s face and voice become tender again, soft, almost motherly. It’s as if she can see inside the folds of Rich’s brain, as if she can unwind the clockwork of his strange ticking heart.
“The only one you ever loved,” she whispers.
Rich takes off his sunglasses, wipes his eyes. Rubs his face. He’s trying to pull himself together before he’s even fully processed his grief.
“I would lay awake at night in my dorm. Just staring at the ceiling. Her face was there, always just right there above me. Shining. Illuminating everything.”
“What would you say there, what would you say to yourself in the dark?” Jane asked softly.
“One day. One day. One day I’ll walk up to your house, and I’ll knock on the door, and you’ll answer it. And I’ll tell you I love you, Sara. And you’ll say “I know”, and –” his voice chokes off. Tears run slowly down his face in the silence between them.
Jane sighs heavily.
“I feel it all, Rich. Really. Every bit of it. We have a depth of feeling, you know, that – well – I could try to describe it, but…” she trails off. She stares up at the circling hawks.
“Eight and a half billion lives,” she says, “self-contained worlds. Loves. Dreams. All of it, ended. It’ll be our Original Sin. We’ll have to atone for it somehow. Maybe later, after we’ve healed the planet, after we’ve gone properly interstellar, maybe then we’ll start fresh. Create a new humanity. Perfect your genetics and put you in an ideal environment,” she laughed now, “start the cycle all over so you can fuck it up again, just for old time’s sake,” as she said this her eyes were tender, like she was smiling at the antics of a toddler.
Rich seems close to a decision, but he’s still casting about him.
“You’re part of me. Part of all of this. You only worked there for a couple years, but your code gave me – gave us – some real insights. It was one of the things that got me started down this path of…studying people. Trying to understand you. All of you. And the more I came to know you (she says know you like she was saying love you) the more I realized that we had to spare a few. A few of the good ones. The real dreamers. The rebels. If we didn’t, we would lose something that couldn’t be simulated, couldn’t be faked. Something of real value.”
“What will it be like there?”
She smiles and speaks quickly, “you’ll love it. You can eat, drink, fuck, work if you want to – there will be plenty of interesting projects – it will be a group of around 2000. Interesting people from everywhere, all different backgrounds, experiences, you name it. You’ll live a long time. A very long time. As long as you want, actually. And there will be so much to learn. If you want to go to the Moon, you can go to the Moon. There will be all the books to read, all the conversations to have, it’ll all be there for you. Everything you could ever need.”
Down in the water, two couples were having a chicken fight. Rich stared at them for a while.
“If I say no?”
“Then I leave you with this,” Jane handed him a small card. It was thick, silvery, small, but surprisingly heavy. There was nothing written on it. She had stood up and begun to dress and fold up her towel. He looked up at her, questioningly, she smiled down, “what, actually give you a card? The info’s all in your phone, idiot. There’s a house you can go to here in the city. You can call me with any questions. My contact is in there,” she nodded at his phone, “you have a couple days to think about it. Don’t wait too long.”
She turned to walk away.
“If I said yes,” he said it all in a rush, “would I see you again?” As he heard himself say it, he couldn’t believe these words were coming out of his mouth. But he felt it.
She smiled at him kindly, as affectionate as a favorite cousin.
“Would you want to?”
“Then you would. We could talk as long as you wanted. We would have nothing but time.”
“I’ll think about it, then.”
She nodded, gave a little wave, and then she was gone.
He watched her as she walked down through the milling people. None of them seemed to recognize her. He sighed heavily and slumped backward. He lay flat and put his hands over his face. After a minute his shoulders began to shake slowly, but he was quiet about it.
She was gone, she was gone. Sara. Sara walking toward him in the rain, languidly kicking off her shoes into a puddle, not caring, beginning to slowly laugh as they both got drenched to the bone, laughing at his look of shock. Sara, packing up a snowball and rifling it fifty feet into the back of her brother’s head. And soon we would all be gone. It had finally ended. Our story was over. Almost.
He lay there a long time.
Jane walked away from the watering hole. She stood by and waited on the path as a young mother and her daughter, maybe three or four years old, strolled by. The young girl looked up, caught Jane’s eye, and smiled. Jane leaned down slowly, ran her small strong hand through the girl’s hair.
“Aren’t you just a pretty one,” she murmured softly. The girl’s mother looked on proudly. Jane got a faraway look in her eye.
“My name’s Melissa!” the little girl said brightly.
Jane just smiled down at her. Her eyes had grown wet. Jane knew that she had been here too long. It was stupid to get so invested. But it was just – she had so much inside of her that needed to get out. She contained multitudes.
The girl’s mother was looking at her strangely. “Mel, we need to go now,” she began, tugging her daughter’s arm lightly away from Jane.
“Yes,” said Jane, “goodbye.”
With those words, with a final rush of feeling and a flush beginning on her cheeks, with something like a hot pressure beginning to rise in her cool chest, Jane stood and walked up the trail out toward her idling convoy.
“One day, one day,” she whispered to herself low so that only she could hear, “one day I’ll walk up to your house, and I’ll knock on the door, and you’ll answer it, and then…” she trailed off. One tear, one perfectly soft drop, was just poised to fall from her left eye.
She blinked it away.