Wolf and I wind down the mountains in the dark, arriving in Silicon with the rising sun. The Clubhouse is empty as we slide into our slots on 1-day morning. But there’s mail. A lot of it, and shocking, missives from the the MoreCorp Wellness and MidCorp OK-ness departments, informing us Walden King is dead. He was killed in a car crash after Bud Wiser’s wedding.
Wolf stops by while I’m reading, signaling he wants to talk. We take the toxic backstairs to the parking lot. He’s pale, walking and smoking quickly, saying nothing. When he stops, I ask, “So King, do you think he was just drunk?”
“Yes, but not just. We know he was acting crazy. You did say he was under a table at the wedding, so … Maybe an accident.” Wolf looks down, kicks the concrete. “But he said public stuff about prose preservation, which considering he’s supposed to be controlling it is no good. Spam hates prose.”
“She didn’t kill him,” I reply confidently, although honestly I could totally see the chief — a wiry old lady boot-strapper — knocking off Walden, a soft middle-aged drunk. He was bold but probably not a fighter. Then I recall the gag at the wedding, how the Wisers ducked out on their own party, and suggest,“What if it’s a ‘dead and fled’ like instead of a ‘wed and fled?’ Maybe Walden’s alive and just hiding.”
“What if,” Wolf ignores my proposition,“his autopilot was mis-programmed? That could be what Eclair was talking about when you heard her in the bathroom saying ‘do it now.’”
“It wouldn’t be her decision to kill him. If anyone, it’s Metrix.”
“No,” Wolf says. “She doesn’t look like a killer.”
I consider the murderers I met at PoorCorp and Raz on campus, disagreeing. “It’s not etched on people’s faces, murder, and mean ladies don’t scare me, but I don’t mess with Metrix. She makes even Spam seem sweet.”
“Spam has prose control patents,” Wolf reminds. “Reducing text is her life’s work. And Walden was MoreCorp’s chief text reduction evangelist but he talked about The Arts Old and preserving prose all night. While Spam was around. See? Why I’m worried?”
“Yeah, I see,” I say, annoyed. “I saw then too. I mean, he started the evening chatting about the Patent Pax and I was surprised you had that discussion, frankly. That’s why I didn’t hang around.”
“What’s why?” Now Wolf’s angry. “Because you’ve crafted a perfect character for MoreCorp that doesn’t actually suit anyone? Especially not you since you’re always all boo hoo! This isn’t about the Lovesport anymore. It’s about lives!” Wolf confesses why he’s really worried. “Maybe yours and mine. I told him about some of the stuff we’ve done — your printies, the pamphlets, painting the towns red, all that.”
“You didn’t, Wolf! Shit. We haven’t even done anything since Metropolis.” I’m not thrilled he confided in King. But the guy’s dead now, so I try to sound reassuring. “We’re small-time, who cares? No one. Invisibility. My superpower. Walden doesn’t matter either. He’s not an inventor or an investor, just a reader in an era of abbreviation.”
“Relax with the poetry, Ellipsis. He’s past tense so he isn’t anything. But dead. And what matters is whether he was killed and if you heard the call ordering the hit. Because that would be a real bitch. Like if Eclair knew it was you.”
“So, what? This is a thriller now? Every week it’s a different story!” I protest. “It’s supposed to be a literary fiction about competition. Our farcical fight for a rare spot on the corporate scrapheap.”
“Literary fiction — ha!” Wolf laughs cruelly, knowing just how to hurt me. “Don’t flatter yourself. This is a mystery, always was. Us chasing a red herring. But no. You believe there’s a prize, and that I fuxed it up.”
“I did not say that.” It’s true. I didn’t. But I do feel a dozen years of suppressed rage swell up as I contemplate my true love and he momentarily feels like a stranger. Sure, I’m naive. I believe. I’m not like him, raised by wolves in the wild. I’m an alien trained to dream that dream. Still it seems King’s death is a sign I can’t play all sides. “Forget the Lovesport. Screw it. I’m done. They’re not gonna give us jobs, that’s obvious.”
“You’re not done.” Wolf stubs out his smoke. “King is done.”
Back at the Clubhouse there’s much more mail. Stories of King’s text reduction glories circulate and grow until the spirit of the small man who was big in Prose Control so fills his colleagues that they can’t contain themselves and walk the halls emoting. In stark contrast to most days at MoreCorp, this is a good one for being weepy and seeking solace.
Even my not-boss, Ampersand, visits. In a year he has never done this. “How’re these pods doing,” he asks me. I’m the only person in the pod and the two flanking it.
“Good,” I reply. “Fine.”
“No. Bad. Sad. I just, umm, yeah.”
“Ok. Just checking if you’re ok.”
“Yeah.” I correct myself again. “But no.”
He walks away in search of other workers and I check the new mails. Admin twins Cocoa and Marsh are taking up a collection for King, supposedly a devoted father and husband to six kids and a wife X-country — pictures of the cuties are now inserted in messages. Also, King was very spiritual; see him here with the Humble Servant on a relaxation retreat.
Immediately, the dead man’s story is redrafted to suit the needs of the living. King didn’t see his family much. He traveled. He worked. He was a ghost, according to the story he told when he drank, which was often. He tried not to lie too often, to himself or others, and wasn't entirely sold on the the tale he wrote. Now he’s gone.
Bad omens are piling up, and Wolf’s accusation stung. Am I more interested in impressing MoreCorp, an entity impressed only with itself, than in truth and true love? Just for a prize that the books — now reduced — all say is illusory?
These are questions I’ve asked before. My answers are boring and undeniable. Greenies, survival. Even if I wanted to walk away from the game, which I don’t, we cannot. Wolf and I need to work. It’s not optional. But for a while I’ve wondered if there’s another way, besides hitting the jackpot, a reverse riches theory.
What if we ditch the big ideas and go real small, until we need almost no greenies at all? We could live at the edge of the grid, move deeper into the green. All over the forest are tiny shacks that seem abandoned. Surely there is one for us.
Because death makes life very special, briefly poignant, after King dies, Wolf and I resolve for a future we’ve long stopped trying to imagine. We must act fast before that feel fades and everything’s normal again. Impossible, impractical. Also, practically speaking, our MidCorp at MoreCorp contracts won’t last. We need to swing a loan, like real quick, and borrow for 30 years against earnings we’ll have for 20 weeks … if we aren’t killed first.
More omens. A baby deer lying dead in the woods right across the creek. All week the carcass gets picked to bones. Then they too go. Everything is compost.
A rash of wild orange poppies, miraculously blooming in our yard without rain, is razed while we’re at work. When I ask the landlord, he blames the caretaker, and when I go to him, he waves his machete menacingly and backs away from me, like I’m the scary one!
So Wolf scrambles the wifi and we comb the infra-webs looking for land, dirt cheap, and we spend weeks reading descriptions of rough terrain that’s too expensive. We’re prepared to pitch a tent and work our way up to a shack, live in a shipping container. But one day, magix. The price of a plot with a tiny cabin — off road, no street address, cryptically described — is slashed by nearly half. Now is the time to act. Old-timey summer home yours for a song!
“Forest eye can tell. This is the one.”
“Cute,” Wolf says. “So we’ll check it out?”
The posting lists a contact who — maybe sensing I’m using the reverse riches theory — employs reverse psychology sales tactics on me. She sends txts trying to dissuade with disaster emojis that say the area’s a mess, water’s low, terrible roads. The land’s outside the drone delivery zone and so deep in the green it doesn’t appear on MoreCorp’s maps.
But to me that’s very attractive, perfect actually. So we set our sights on a new prize, betting on bird nest futures. Because I am a believer, an American dreamer, I believe we’re too invisible to be killed and too small to fail. This is our strength.