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Detainee 717


Chapter 9

The man K13 calls the Diplomat presses a button and the tinted partition slides open with a robotic gurgle, plays an 8-second science-fiction soundtrack. The system is flawed. The noise seems to originate from a galaxy far away, or that effect might be attributable to the distancing drift of his preoccupations. Women tell him he is preoccupied, even the ones who are paid and have no reason to care. The Diplomat is aware of a creeping obsession with nuance now taking place vis-a-vis the partition’s sound and its less obvious ramifications. The robotic gurgle has nothing pleasant about it. In fact, it intimidates, like a knuckle-cracking Mafia thug. Of all the senses he finds hearing the most invasive and objectionable, whether the sounds penetrating awareness are fastidiously organized as in music, or chaotic, as in noise. For him there is no difference between bird song and the tiresome churning of machines. When the partition completes its lateral journey the first thing he sees is the faint hieroglyph of a scar on the back of the chauffeur’s neck, a primitive fossil of injury. He reads it and in it surmises the familiar story of violent blink-of-the-eye encounters, savage hand-to-hand assaults and disabling attacks executed with streaking speed, adversaries standing nosetip to nosetip in airless combat spaces, in dim corridors and narrow stairwells, in bathrooms or closets or on the trap-door-sized landings of fire escapes, combatants grappling with compressed and near-soundless efficiency. The chauffeur is capable of thinking, behaving and feeling like a weapon, were it possible for a weapon to think and feel. It may be possible, or close to possible at this point in time. Artificial intelligence aspiring to weave and cast out neural nets, simulacra of thought. The partition’s noise, this momentary role it is playing in his life, is unacceptable. He expects technology to present itself as a seamless performance, a glide over ice, the tasks technology fulfills wearing noiseless skates as they blade in figure-eight across glassy silent surfaces. Is this too much to ask? He believes the expectation is not unreasonable. The driver wears a navy-blue chauffeur’s uniform and hat, though he is so much more than a chauffeur.

“Human beings give so much of themselves to technology, Hans. So much time that can’t ever be regained invested in creating technological worlds,” the Diplomat states as he stares beyond the window. His voice is remote, vaguely adrift, somehow cosmological. Downtown streets populated with unsuspecting citizenry float by like derelict alpha waves. A parade is scheduled to take place in one hour and certain streets have been closed down, traffic diverted and rerouted. Hans, the chauffeur, knows this and is navigating the town car in ways that one could never have anticipated. He appears to be improvising, driving the car to its destination like fingers on a keyboard finding jazz. If someone were to ask the Diplomat what sort of music he preferred, his reply would be none. His reply would shimmer with uncharacteristic fervor, nothing like his typical unvarnished communication style, stripped of the gloss of individuality or animation.

“Sir, I’m trying to find a way to understand,” Hans admits soulfully.

“Would you like me to elaborate?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is elaboration required?”

“I think it is, sir.”

“What I’m saying, Hans, is that the noise generated by the partition is unacceptable. Technology should be noiseless. Anything we give so much of ourselves to should do exactly what we want it to do without these sorts of complications.”

“I’ll take care of it right away.”

“Maybe you will. But you can’t take care of it fast enough, can you Hans. It’s already happened, hasn’t it?”

Hans hesitates, then gamely pours a measured response from the cracked flask of his conviction. “But it’s not irrevocable, sir. Isn’t that the important thing?”

The Diplomat gazes out the window, like a ghost-husband staring with marooned longing at his solid three-dimensional wife. “You’re saying it’s not irrevocable.”

“I’m saying that, yes.”

“Then I suppose I don’t have to have your career, such as it is, run through the document shredder.”

Hans busies himself with a left turn that is not as smooth as the Diplomat would have liked, but he understands the man may be flustered. Everyone in this business elevates career above all else. “You needn’t take me so seriously. Relax, Hans. Think of something pleasant.”

In actuality this directive is a deadly sniper housed inside a cottage built from the Diplomat’s almost cozy, avuncular tone.

The chauffeur who is so much more than a chauffeur will not think of something pleasant, will realize that the last time he was capable of entertaining pleasant thoughts he would have been perhaps ten or eleven years old; he will feel mysteriously wounded by the remark, as though struck by a sniper’s bullet. But is this the Diplomat’s fault? Fault is probably the wrong word but often for him finding the right one is a battle with approximation, like trying to name the color contained in currents of wind or water. Silver is the hue suggested but the currents are not silver, they are the color of transparency fractionally diluted. Many times he traverses vast distances to link meaning to words and in doing so becomes, for all his seeming sophistication, a long-robed Bedouin wandering through a semantic desert. Never mind his Ermienegildo Zenga silk suits and cashmere coats, his Kurt Geiger Italian shoes. Though he manages the expectations of others by manipulating language in the same way that men and women manipulate each other for sex, with inborn cunning, it is only action that he believes in, action that magnetizes him. Just as, when a child, he was magnetized by the act of plucking iridescent wings from the thorax of a housefly with his fingers. Still a child but older, by accident once he hurt a stray cat, then hurt it the next day deliberately, for reasons that at the time seemed painfully inexplicable, reasons that he would come to understand much later, when he was an adult who had learned the value of self-reconciliation.

“Drive up to that,” the Diplomat instructs, meaning the yellow sawhorse barricades set up at intersections to demarcate a route for the parade on Main Street. The driver pulls up to the barricades and one of two policemen stationed at the corner strolls over to the car, the heel of his hand riding smartly on the butt of his holstered service revolver. But this policeman has an oatmeal physique that spills from the misshapen bowl of his waist. With frosty distaste the Diplomat observes that the man is out of shape, sloppy, with a fat man’s side-to-side pendulum gait. The sight of the other reminds him that he himself is 1 point 4 pounds overweight. A small crowd mills before the barricade, people asserting ownership over vantage points. The Diplomat takes note of women, men and children who wish to escape the confinement of prescribed lives gathering along the streets, eager for loosely scripted spectacle, surprise, free-association in three dimensions, the odds and ends of sensory process-flow; the parade is as close as they will come today to spontaneity, and they settle for it gladly. On the other side of the street is a bar called Sandman’s. The Diplomat is meeting a man there who calls himself December 25th, or December. Hans presses a button and the policeman leans into the lowered window, tilting his hat back an inch on his forehead with a tap of his thumb.

The Diplomat hears Hans’ crisp respectful tone as he addresses the policeman as “officer” and references the town car’s diplomatic license plates in a way that manages to masterfully skid around the roadblocks of aggression or gloating. A brief pleasant exchange ensues and Hans successfully establishes a rapport with the public servant. Laughter clasps them together, firm as a brotherly handshake. Not bothering to glance at the Diplomat in the back seat, the policeman straightens, pendulums to his partner, quickly confers, and then both slide the sawhorses aside and wave the town car through. Stepping aside, some of the waiting spectators look disgusted, others betrayed: the egalitarian atmosphere of a commonplace civic celebration poisoned by rank, station, hidden agendas and pulled strings. Rules that should apply to all set aside for one. So be it, the Diplomat thinks. If it were not this way, this would not be this America; it would be another sort of America – a variant of America, which is to say, a mutant nation, an America yet to be imagined.

Next Chapter

Chapter 10

Article By: dglenn

Arts | Fiction | Novels

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