Lolli said to raise the stakes, sex and death, so that’s what I do with Ampersand Matrix. Not that I kill or seduce him, but I cast a spell. Maybe this dictates the conclusion or maybe choice is an illusion. So many strings are being pulled, wings beating, creatures breathing. Guessing or regretting how it all happens is foolish. By the time we explain, it is has become inescapable. Too late if it wasn't always.
Ping! My not-boss summons via vid star avatar. He wants to meet in RR, which I incorrectly assume is the Rainforest Roundtable. Unfortunately Ampersand’s not there when I open the synth-moss door with the branch handle, and someone forgot to set the cute beetle on the external screen to Don’t Bug Us. Inside, KitKat and Chase are making sex face in the dark again while genitals are projected on imi-ivy walls. They jump up from plastic tree stumps, shouting, “You’re so fux!”
Last time that happened I was scared. But now the Team Liaison, Eclair, says the chances of contractors playing for keeps, staying at MoreCorp, winning the Lovesport, are probably nil. So I don’t feel anything … except reckless.
Indifferent to sexting superiors and their threats, I go to an electronic map of the Clubhouse. It shows there is another RR room, the Rio-Riyadh, downstairs, a tribute to places renamed in the Single System System tradition, which is the same just with an X, like X-Rio, disruption of status quo.
Having never visited old or new Rio or Riyadh, I can’t judge the appropriateness of the decor. It seems to be a cross between a favela and a luxury desert hotel, hi-lo, sand on the floor and corporate graffiti on the walls, things like No Wifi No Got My! (Vote). Ampersand is folded on a cushion, knees at his chin, elbows leaning on a low table with a backgammon board top. He welcomes. “Hey, Ellipsis. Sit.”
I choose a pink pillow from a pile in the corner, wondering where the sand comes from, inspecting the graffiti. It’s stickers made on an app that’s popular with genuine design fans — rebel sells and The Arts Old are hot though not practiced. Case in point, this sync.
“Ellipsis.” Ampersand sighs my name, slowly. “You’re knows-prose, right?”
I hesitate though it’s too late. My cover’s blown. Still, I’m tempted to say no. Is this a trap? Working for Prose Control is confusing and there’s reason to be paranoid in light of recent disappearances. Finally I reply, “Yes.”
“Ok kool, super, right on. Old-skool.” He says this awkwardly, as if testing the phrase and finding it not entirely to his taste. “I need you to use that. Creatives are great and you are one, like we saw on Greenween with those tree things you did. So can you do it?”
“Totally. Yeah. Or, I guess it depends. What am I doing? Writing a dress?”
“A little vid script. ” Ampersand looks desperate, balding scalp sweating, blue eyes misty. “Just do it! For the team. Eclair needs it tomorrow. It would be totally awesome.”
For me it is not totally awesome that Prose Control squashed The Arts Old and now no one needs writing except in emergencies. But this is a poetic burden, my struggle as it were, so no need to express. “Of course,” I acquiesce. ”What’s this script?”
Matrix is sheepish. He doodles in the sand on the floor with fat fingers and mumbles inaudibly until he roars. “FACTS! SECRETS!” Calming down, he settles low on the pillow, speaking quietly again. “What’s the difference? Gotta explain data collection in a corporation. Like that but in a kool vid, so make it fun. Entertaining.”
“Nice,” I lie, secretly fuming. FACTS! SECRETS! Didn’t I try to talk to him about this after I bombed Assessment X? Now he wants a vid! But I suppress my pout as it’s poor form for me to show displeasure, particularly about a chance to work on such a production. This will be seen on MoreCorp campuses worldwide. “So any guidance? Do you have ideas about the script or what to say?”
Ampersand tugs his hoodie strings, sad and mad, not glad at all but trying to smile. He glares, maybe because now his cover’s blown too, and he knows that I know that he doesn’t have a clue. “You’re creative,” he says. “Create! And quick! Also Marsh, Cocoa, Chase and KitKat all need to be in it. Me too, not a big role but the star. Candy will be the writer, like later, after you’re done. Because Big Daddy Cane. Awesome. Whatever. Appreciate that. Won’t be easy.”
“No, yes, well, we’ll see. Could be easy.” Thinking of no-prose Candy as the writer, I try not to explode, wondering how easy it would be to kill her in real life. Is this a slasher pic? A murder mystery? Snuff? This could be amazing stuff.
Kicking up sand exiting the luxury favela, I promise Ampersand to do my best. The thing is, my experience is limited. I’m so old-skool I’ve never written a vid script, still on my breakout book though the presses are dead. So it could be a bad scene, literally, although if Candy’s name will be attached maybe that doesn’t matter.
Whatever happens, it’s obvious that this script must be based on the classic vid Colored Pills. Remakes always do better than originals. That’s why there are dozens of versions of the Ampersand Matrix myth. Plus, my not-boss is named after the man-god, and everyone loves him ripping the fabric of the universe, uncovering truth, rejecting the blue pill and illusion.
I grab a caf+ from the kitchen for inspiration and return to my slot to get started. In our pod Apple is stretching for one-man badminton with electronic birdies that sing taunts. He’s getting pumped by cursing as he loosens his limbs. Our two other pod-mates termed out and there's plenty of space. The Clubhouse ranks are thinning.
Ignoring Apple’s practice insults, I consider Colored Pills. In it, Ampersand Matrix meets a revolutionary leader who offers to free him from an invisible prison. He can stop being a blink in the eye of a machine, escape the hive mind, recognize the lies, break on through to the other side. For this, Matrix must choose between two pills. Blue is the snooze and red represents truth.
Yet what the revolutionary really offers is not freedom but an impossible fight against machines that people rely upon for meaning and more, a senseless war. So what’s the difference? Isn’t that just the purple pill? A bit of blue and red?
Maybe there is nothing else. We’re not in prison, like Raz said, and I don’t know if distinctions matter, not the more I think about it. Human intelligence or machines, waking life and dreams, the hive and my own monkey mind. Isn’t it all the Single System System, just what’s happening, even deep in the forest where the wifi’s weak, outside the drone delivery zone?
Vid critics say the scene where Matrix tears the fabric of planets uncovering electronic fibers is a victory for humanity, like pulling the plugs is even possible. To me this seems absurd, refusal to recognize the likely scale of reality, the big hint in this vid, a warning — there could be infinite forces, Ampersands in all times, places, and directions, fighting and dying forever in a never-ending multiverse. Always a next level of truth, no total breakthroughs. Enjoy the purple pill.
Apple wakes me from my reverie with a tap of his badminton racket. “Outta here! Gonna slap birdies!”
“Good luck.” I take a sip of caf+ and stare at the blank screen, imagining my not-boss as a man-god learning about truth from smug revolutionaries Cocoa and Marsh, grabbing the red pill and getting killed by KitKat and Chase shooting lasers from their mouths, shouting, “You’re so fux!”
Typing that up with some stuff about secrets, I'm done, sending off the scene to Ampersand Matrix. Is it reckless? I can tell you already that my only regrets are Candy getting the credit and that I’ll never know if what happens next is borne of my spell. Probably not.
There’s a lot going on in the quantum. Thinking that magical realism makes much difference in a game of this scale is my failure of imagination. It’s me unable to fathom all the forces at play or the tendency toward chaos.